Road Trip Redux

Note: This is one of my favorite early essays from 2016, reconstituted and updated.

“Kathy”, I said,
As we boarded a Greyhound in Pittsburgh,
“Michigan seems like a dream to me now.
It took me four days
To hitch-hike from Saginaw.
I’ve come to look for America.”

–Simon & Garfunkel, America
I-whatever, photo by responsecrafting.com

The sun is lower in the horizon now, stabbing through the late afternoon windows when we drive westward home. My baseball team is starting to lose all hope of catching the division leaders. Even pet stores have back-to-school sales. It must be mid-August. It must be time for the End-of-Summer Road Trip.

Everybody’s had these. Maybe when you were a kid, and your parents loaded the station wagon/minivan/SUV with odds and ends and headed off to the Grand Canyon or the Smokies or the Adirondacks or Yosemite. Or, in college, when you and some friends just crammed into someone’s old beater and took off for somebody’s friend’s place where you could crash. Road Trips usually take place at the beginning or end of summer, or at the beginning or end of Something. They are part demarcation, part vision quest, like the mythic journeys where the heroes and heroines go into the underworld or across the sea.

Road Trips allow for a lot of staring out the window and contemplation as well as for Seeing Something New, possibly Interesting. Possibly Just Something. Let’s load the car. Personal epiphanies and experience, coming right up.

Continue reading “Road Trip Redux”

The Real Macbeth

When the hurly-burly’s done,
when the battle’s lost and won…


–Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Act I: Sc 1: Line 3

Macbeth was a real guy. King of Scotland. Lived in a Castle near Inverness. Defeated Duncan and succeeded by Malcolm. Many things that Shakespeare used in his play were factually accurate. However, most of the characterizations of king Macbeth were historical gaffes.

Those of us who had to read Macbeth in high school, who had to diagram Shakespeare’s five act opening-climax-denouement cycle and to write papers about how Macbeth’s tragic flaw, his obsession with ambition, led to his downfall, were given the wrong impression. Macbeth the real King of Scotland (1040-1057), was not a murdering madman, but a far more complex, elusive, and interesting person whose true ambition may have been to unite Scotland.

Cawdor Castle
Cawdor Castle, formerly home to Macbeth, currently home to the Campbell’s.
Photo by kajmeister.
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Come Out to the Coast, Have a Good Time… (Crossing the Pond III)

Suppose you are a fisherman in something something B.C., in the quite far western Mediterranean, and a gale blows up which pulls your reed boat out into those great Atlantic swells. You hunker down in the bottom, near the fish you’ve caught, hang on for dear life for a couple days, surviving on fish-scale-tasting rainwater, until you scrape up on porous rock, a thousand miles from your village on the mainland. You’ve discovered the Azores.

Reed Boat
Reed boat, from atlantisbolivia.org/areedboathistory

Not so, says a Portugese government commission appointed to determine who discovered those islands to the west of Portugal, which they own, which they got to first, which belong to them and no one else, mine, mine, mine. Still, archaeologists have persisted in trying to determine who got to the Azores first, and that’s one of the mysteries we encountered in our first week after crossing the Atlantic. Who were the first people on the Azores, and where did they go? How might you own half the world? If an earthquake and tidal wave were to level your city, how would you get past it? And, lastly, is it possible to have too much chocolate?

To answer these questions, we visited Ponta Delgado on São Miguel, Lisbon, and Bruges. Continue reading “Come Out to the Coast, Have a Good Time… (Crossing the Pond III)”

The Call of the Running Tide (Crossing the Pond II)

I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by;
–John Masefield, Sea Fever

Mayflower ship
The Mayflower, photo at mayflowernewyork.org

Sitting in the bar of this giant Princess cruise ship, sipping my non-alcoholic piña colada, I’m watching outside the window as the ship rail slowly moves upward, squeezing the visible waves until the rail is level with the horizon. Then it reverses, down, down, down, until most of the window is again filled with slate blue, frosted with whitecaps. Welcome to the Atlantic swells.

We are on a TAC, as some of the veterans here call it—the TAC and the TPC—transAtlantic, transPacific crossings. We are a week at sea, to be followed by a meander up the very western coast of the European continent. Get ready to hear about the Azores, Guernsey, Bilbao, Zeebrugge, and all the spots that meet the long blue horizon. But first, we have to get there. I am thinking of the others who came before me, though at first they mostly traveled in the other direction. Like Columbus, the Pilgrims, the kidnapped Africans, and the Irish.

Decent Sailor, Incompetent Governor, Expert Colonizer

One myth about Columbus is that as he sailed out of Palazzo Muger, he saw the ships with the 40,000 Jewish exiles who had just been expelled by Ferdinand and Isabella in August 1492. The timing was probably coincidental, though it conjures a great picture.

By 1492, the master sailors in Venice dominated the Mediterranean while the Portugese had a near monopoly on trade down the African coast. The Catholic monarchs, who had only recently merged Aragon and Castile to create a burgeoning Spanish empire, needed money to fund wars and expansion. It took a few years for that smooth-talking Genoese sailor Cristobal Colon to talk Ferdinand and Isabella into financing his trip, but by the fall of 1492, he was outfitting three ships. No jewel-selling was involved. Continue reading “The Call of the Running Tide (Crossing the Pond II)”

American Invention, American Arrogance

Frank Lloyd Wright farm in Wisconsin
Taliesin East, Midway farm designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Photo by kajmeister.

Today’s prompt: discuss three well-known innovators.  You might immediately think of Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk, and Steve Jobs. The high-tech pantheon goes on; there’s Sergei Brin of Google, Jeff Bezos of Amazon, or Bill Gates of Microsoft.  Along with changing how the world functions, they all have another thing in common: misjudgment and hubris.  Microsoft is as synonymous with “doesn’t work” as it is with “everyone’s software.” Google is how we gather most of our information, including how Google misleads us in biased search rankings, which we can learn about, by googling.  Facebook was vulnerable to foreign agent interference into our political process.

However, American arrogance from American inventors isn’t something high-tech leaders invented. In my trip through the Midwest, I had a chance to dive deep into the stories of three well-known American pioneers: Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, and Frank Lloyd Wright. Each in their own way let the genie out of the bottle, changing how we live. Each in their own way also left behind a spotted legacy as well.

Assembly Line Cars, Assembly Line People

Take Henry Ford for starters. He didn’t invent the automobile or the assembly line, but by putting them together, he created the ability to mass produce autos at a cost that made them affordable. He didn’t personally design the Model T, but with the right team of creative engineers, he spearheaded creation of a car that was easy to build, operate, and maintain on the rough roads of the early 20th century. Continue reading “American Invention, American Arrogance”