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Categorically

30 Jul

We just finished walking around the neighborhood. As we did, I noticed a man through a window. He was working at his desk, and I began to wonder what he was working on. Was he writing the next great novel? Was he writing a letter? Was he blogging? At the moment, I am sitting by a window, and people are probably looking in and wondering what I am doing.

I like to think that people like what they read here. It’s a hodgepodge of stuff, but it comes right out of my head. Sometimes, It’s travel. Sometimes, it’s music. Sometimes, its stories from the past. All the time, it’s something that is stuck in my mind and needs to get out.

I am not sure what needs to get out tonight, so I will just go down the list of categories on this blog and type this first thing that fits.Scattergories

Academics – School starts back soon. That means inservice.

Agriculture – The other day, I got gas at the Farmer’s Co-Op.

Art – There is a guy named Art who works at Beauty Boutique, Necole’s store.

Biography – The last one I read wasn’t very good, It was about Ward Bond, John Ford and John Wayne. It should have been good.

Books – I just finished The Eye of God by James Rollins. It is the further adventures of Grayson Pierce.

Childhood Memories – Tonight, I mentioned that my parents had a Weeping Willow in their front yard, and I used to play under it.

Comedy – Nothing is funny, at the moment.

Community – I was named to the local Planning Commission. This afternoon was my first meeting.

Crime – Tonight, I found out that a guy I once knew tried to kidnap his wife and lock her in a closet. Hopefully, he will get what’s coming to him.

Did You Know? – I forgot about this category. It needs to be revisited.

Dining – Tonight, we had a home cooked meal of meatloaf, mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese and green peas.

Dreams – Lately, my dreams have been less than memorable.

Government – Necole went to the DMV this morning. There is no reason they should be that slow.

History – I am getting my lecture voice warmed up.

Movies – We watched Batman Begins, and I realized that the guy who plays Joffrey on Game of Thrones was in it.

Music – We have a couple of concerts coming up – Don Williams and The Eagles.

Nature – There’s a great article about sugar in the latest National Geographic. Everyone should read it.

Photography – In a few days, we are getting more wedding photos made.

Rambling Ruminations – I think that is what this post is all about.

Relationships – I’m married.

Religion – I would like to write about it more, but a few things are better left unsaid.

Sports – College football is about to start, and my team, the University of Tennessee, is in the Southeastern Conference. However, you’ll never hear me chant S-E-C. I cheer for one team and hope the other ones lose every week.

Stupid Stuff – It’s an accurate description of this post.

Television – I’m waiting for Justified to crank back up.

Therapy – I used to go. I don’t anymore.

Travel – We just returned from California and will be heading to Arizona soon.

Writing – Am I the only person who doesn’t mess with those writing prompts?

Things on the Dresser

13 Mar

I have this weird notion that we can tell a lot about a person by the things they have lying around. That’s the reason I created a post about the things in my office. Well, that’s not the only reason. I was sitting in my office trying to come up with a mind-blowing topic to write about. At a loss, I just went ahead wrote about what I was looking at. It was also a good way to work on my description skills. Maybe I could create a mental picture with my words like most professional writers do. I am not sure if it work, but I am going to try it again.

I have meant to clean the clutter off of my dresser, and, before I do, I feel the need to record what is there.

Category 1 – Illumination

Like a lot of dressers, mine has two lamps sitting on it. You know the kind. They are skinny and have a small shade on top. They don’t put out much light, and the bulbs tend to blow out a different times. Usually, one works when the other one doesn’t.

I also have a couple of small candles. I am not a big candle fan, but they come in handy if I want to create a romantic mood – like when I am watching Cinemax After Dark.

Category 2 – Pictures

Most people would say this, but these are the most important items on the dresser. One is of me and my nephews piled up on a couch. It was made a few years ago when we took a luxury bus to the NASCAR race at Talladega. I’m not a huge racing fan, but I went because of them. It’s one of my favorite pictures.

Another picture was made when my dad was inducted into the Tennessee Softball Hall of Fame. We are standing there with some of his old players and friends. Everyone is laughing, and I know that he was very happy and proud that night.

The third picture was taken many years ago and included most of my extended family. We were on the deck of my grandparent’s lake house. We had one of those timer cameras, and people are kind of looking different directions. Three people in the picture have passed away – my grandfather, my grandmother and my uncle. One of my nephews is cradled in my dad’s arms. The other one wasn’t even born yet.

Category 3 – Art

That is a term that I use loosely because one was created by yours truly. I had a girlfriend that liked to go to one of those ceramic places where you can drink and paint. This is a two-sided thing with a green, black and blue sun on one side. The other side has an orange moon with red stars. Apparently, I was going through my color experimentation stage.

The other is a piece of pottery I bought in New Mexico. An old Indian woman claimed to make it, but I think some old Chinese woman actually did. It is a cattle skull with cool designs painted on it.

Category 4 – Cards

These are not Hallmark cards. No, these are truly close to my heart. A blackjack strategy card; 3 MGM Players Club cards; a Resorts Casino card; a Hollywood Casino card; a Harrah’s Casino card; and a deck of playing cards with the theme, “Hooker’s Live Bait – There’s Something Fishy Going On Around Here”.

Before you start thinking that I am a total gambling addict, I also have an Elvis Membership card to get discounts at Graceland. Oh, there is also a business card from the men’s shoe department at Nordstrom’s. I would say that I don’t shop there much, but there is a stack of receipts under all of the gambling cards.

Category 5 – Notes

Before I get to the clutter (you thought the other stuff was clutter?), I was surprised to find a couple of notes during the examination. One was written by an ex-girlfriend (not the one who liked to paint) as a thank you note for taking her on a trip.

The other came from my therapist with the instructions that I tape it to the mirror and recite it every morning. It reads, “Stand in your own space and know you are there.” I’m going to tape it up right now.

Ok, I’m back

Category 6 – Other Crap on My Dresser

There is a small stone club with a clip sticking out of it. I think it is to hold letters, but I have a devious mind with it comes to the use of clips. Maybe I can put the therapy note in there.

It sits on top of a flat piece of quartz, or something that looks like that.

I also have an unused Fossil wallet that was once a Christmas gift. I have gotten two other wallets since then.

There is a pair of black running shorts. Obviously, I meant to run. All kinds of people run around here, but I can never figure out what they are running from.

Two pairs of glasses, one sun and one regular, sit in front of their cases.

Oh, there are also three watches. One is broken. Another is a sample that my watch salesman friend had in his truck. The other one is a Rolex that my parents presented to me when I got a Masters. It’s pretty, expensive and pretty expensive, but it doesn’t keep good time.

Somewhere on there is a small remote that operates my iPod when it is hooked into the speakers and some buttons piled on top of it.

I collect pins, so there is one from the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte, North Carolina. For someone who isn’t a big race fan, I just mentioned it twice in this post. I can feel my neck turning red.

There are some scissors and a jar filled with coins.

Next to those is a ticket to see Footloose. I never saw the first one and didn’t want to see this one, but my girlfriend wanted to take her daughter. It wasn’t all that bad, and I got to look at Julianne Hough. Yowser!

However, the prize of this category is my stuffed Jackalope. What? You don’t know what a Jackalope is? Well, it is a rabbit with antlers, and they are all over New Mexico. Google it and see what you come up with.

Category 7 – Coin Dish

Last category, I promise. My coin dish contains everything but coins. Actually, there are a couple of Kennedy Half Dollars. I got them at a casino.

Other than that, there is a souvenir golf ball from The Masters. It’s the only sporting event that remains on my “wish to go” list.

There is also a chess piece that was supposed to be a therapy reminder device and a blue rock with “courage” printed on it.

There are ear plugs and a couple of guitar pics that I picked up at a Metallica concert. Those and the plugs seem to go together.

I also have a Godiva Chocolate card and a gold chain from the glory days of the 1980s.

Oh, there is also the Brothel Inspector badge that some students bought for me in Madrid, New Mexico.

However, there are four items that are very special. Two belonged to my grandfather – his pocket knife and a University of Tennessee tie pin.

The other two are championship rings. In 2010, my university won the baseball national championship, and I got a ring for serving as Faculty Athletic Representative. The second ring represents the ten state championships that my dad’s softball teams won over the years. That’s why he was inducted into the Hall of Fame.

And that, as they say, is that. Can you tell anything about me from the items gathered on my dresser? Or, did you make it this far?

The Smell of Cape Jasmine

23 Jan

As a historian, I have never been interested in studying the past of my region, the South. I have heard about the Civil War and other aspects of its history all of my life and never really wanted to go behind the scenes of the stories and anecdotes of my childhood. However, this does not mean that I have turned my back on the South. As written in other posts, I have traveled throughout the United States, but I have never considered living anywhere but here. It is my home and everything that is associated with that word. Family. Friends. Familiarity. The “Three F’s” I suppose. I study the West, but I am a child of the South. But, like many others, I am not sure what it means to be a southerner.

Does it mean that I should be ashamed of a heritage of slavery and rebellion? Or, does it mean that I should be proud of a heritage of southern Founding Fathers like Washington and Jefferson? Does it mean that I should be proud of being raised in the Bible Belt? Or, does it mean I should be ashamed to be a native of a region that still argues over teaching the theory of evolution? Before answering those questions, I should explain what being a southerner is all about (at least for me).

It is eating black eyes peas and hog jaw on New Year’s Day for good luck.

It is going to college football games on Saturday’s in the fall.

It is visiting family on Sunday afternoon.

It is watching “Smokey and the Bandit” and realizing that you know a sheriff just like that.

It is going for a ride on a country road.

It is pulling over to pay respects to a passing funeral procession.

It is saying hello to a stranger that you pass on a sidewalk.

It is having a meal of fried chicken and turnip greens.

It is going to the National Walking Horse Celebration and wondering why the federal government won’t leave them alone.

It is being baptized when you are eleven years old because that’s what you are supposed to do.

It is wishing that people in other parts of the country would understand that you are not stupid because you talk differently.

It is thinking that people in New England talk funny.

It is being proud that Blues, Country, Rock ‘n Roll, Southern Rock, Bluegrass, Gospel and just about every other genre of music came from the South.

It is knowing that not all southerners would make this same list because we all don’t fit into the southern stereotype.

Notice that the list does not include driving a pickup truck; hunting or fishing; flying a rebel flag; drinking beer in a field; being a racist; having no teeth or shoes; or handling snakes in church. Of course, there are people who fit those descriptions. Just like there are people all over the country that fit those descriptions (except for maybe the snake handling). I am proud to be from the South and accept its good and bad qualities, but I have never known how to explain that pride. Maybe this post has done it. If not, then I will finish by writing about a song that I have always liked. It is country (which is strange for me), but I feel a connection to it. I will try to explain why.

“Good Ole Boys Like Me” by Don Williams

When I was a kid, Uncle Remus he put me to bed

With a picture of Stonewall Jackson above my head.

Then daddy came in to kiss his little man

With gin on his breath and a Bible in his hand.

He talked about honor and things I should know.

Then, he’d stagger a little as he went out the door.

(Uncle Remus is a collection of stories that were passed down from the days of slavery. They are mostly fables and tales that teach lessons. However, they are racist in the way they present Uncle Remus, a docile African-American man. Disney made a movie based on the stories which has faced a racist backlash as time has passed. I never heard these stories when I was a kid, but I was told plenty of stories along the same lines, namely the story of Little Black Sambo. Despite this experience, I did not grow up to be a racist or a member of the Klan.)

(Stonewall Jackson was a Civil War hero for the confederacy. While most southerners did not have pictures of Civil War officers hanging in their houses, this line aims at the importance many southerners still place on that terrible time in our history. Southerners have tended to forget what the war was about and focus on the fact that the South lost. For generations, this created a sense of inferiority. Of course, the economic conditions didn’t help. I once read an article with the theory that the debacle of the Vietnam War did not affect the South as it did other parts of the nation because the South already knew how it felt not to win.)

(My dad does not drink, but he is very religious. He has been a deacon in the church and complains about why I don’t go. However, this line hits home because I still call him “daddy”. I saw George Carlin (my favorite comedian of all time) in concert, and he made fun of grown southern men using this word. It may be dumb, but we still do it. It is not a childish act but an act of respect. The gin and Bible part is very southern because both play an important role in southern society. Honor is also an important part of southern ideology and society. Heck, that was one of the arguments for the Civil War – the north was challenging southern honor. There is a reason that dueling was legal in the South longer that it was anywhere else. And, it is still important in the South. It isn’t polite to air your dirty laundry in public.)

I can still hear the soft southern winds in the live oak trees.

And those Williams boys, they still mean a lot to me –

Hank and Tennessee.

I guess we’re all gonna be what we’re gonna be.

So, what do you do with good ole boys like me?

(Live oak does not mean that the tree is not dead. This is an iconic tree throughout the South and is the state tree of Georgia. Any picture of an old plantation has live oak’s in it. There is a reason that Twelve Oaks is one of the plantations in “Gone With the Wind”. While this may be a natural symbol of the region, it actually has a varied geography – mountains, river bottoms, swamps, hills.)

(The Williams boys shows the variety that the South has offered to American culture. Hank Williams was a legend in the world of country music and a songwriting genius. Tragically, he drank to excess and died in his 20s, but his music continues to inspire musicians and singers. One of the great writers of the 20th Century, Tennessee Williams provided us with plays and literary works that delve into the psyche and soul. “The Glass Menagerie”. “A Streetcar Named Desire”. “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof”. The list goes on and on. The South may have produced rednecks, but it also produced artistic geniuses. These are but two.)

And nothing makes a sound in the night like the wind does.

But you ain’t afraid if you’re washed in the blood like I was.

The smell of cape jasmine through the window screen.

John R. and the Wolfman kept me company

By the light of the radio by my bed

With Thomas Wolfe whispering in my head.

(The wind is blowing now, and it is one of my favorite sounds. However, that is not a southern thing. Being washed in the blood is. Baptism is a rite of passage in this part of the world. It is something that everyone I know was expected to go through. Each denomination has a different way of doing things, but most have similarities. At the end of the church service, the preacher asks for those who want to accept Christ to come to the front. If you feel the spirit, then you go to the front. Once the singing stops, the preachers announces to the congregation that you have made a decision to join the church and asks them to affirm it. At some point, you are baptized. In my church, this meant a full immersion under water. There you go – afterlife insurance. I joined at 11. My dad joined at 5. Neither one of us knew what we were doing, but we were saved nonetheless.)

(Cape Jasmine is a white flower known for its fragrance. It is called Cape because people thought it came from the Cape of Good Hope. It actually originated in Asia. There are all sorts of flowers and plants throughout the South due to the warm climate. Some, such as the Cape Jasmine, have brought beauty and an air of social standing. Lots of flower clubs exist around here for the uppity women of the South. This is probably left over from the days of plantations that fancied themselves as cousins of British aristocracy. Other plants, like cotton and tobacco have brought fortune but also infamy.)

(John R. and the Wolfman are my favorite names in this song. John R. was a Nashville legend as lead disc jockey on WLAC-AM, a clear channel station that reached 28 states. He played rhythm and blues and introduced southern African-American performers to listeners throughout his range. John R. became so popular with African-American audiences that they thought he was African-American as well. Wolfman Jack was a more famous disc jockey and gained this fame on the most powerful signal in North America, XERF-AM out of Ciudad Acuna, Mexico.)

(Thomas Wolfe, from Asheville, North Carolina, was a great southern novelist. I believe he is referenced in this song for his 1940 work, “You Can’t Go Home Again”. Once you have grown and left your surroundings, you can never go by to that “idyllic” lifestyle again. I put idyllic in quotations because once we look back we realize that it was never as good as we imagined. People often talk of the good old days, but they were never that good. Southerners, especially of the white variety, may think times were simpler then, but were they really? Segregation. No air conditioning. Many without electricity. Few well-paying jobs to be found. A great distance between the wealthy and the non-wealthy, both white and black. We can go home again physically, but we can never return intellectually and emotionally.)

When I was a kid I ran with a kid down the street,

And I watched him burn himself up on bourbon and speed.

But, I was smarter than most, and I could choose.

Learned to talk like the man on the six o’clock news.

When I was eighteen lord, I hit the road,

But it really doesn’t matter how far I go.

(Much of this song is more appropriate for the experiences of generations before mine. However, this part remains true to today. Several of the people I grew up with and played with as a child have become town drunks that waste their time in the bars a beer joints around town. I realize this happens all over the world, but I know that they never had aspirations of becoming the “town drunk”. Unlike the song, I didn’t leave. I found opportunity in the area and went with it. That makes me lucky. But, it makes me sad to see people with the same opportunity go down another path.)

So, what was this post? I am not sure myself. It is a defense of a region and a critique of the same region. Maybe it’s like family. I can talk about them all day long, but I’ll defend them if someone else says the same. That’s what being from the South is like. We can talk about each other and realize that we have issues. But, other people had better not join the discussion. Now that I think about it, that’s probably what the people who seceded from the country thought too.

The post is also an excuse to analyze one of my favorite songs (even though it’s country). So, if you made it this far I hope that you learned something. I learned that some questions don’t have answers. So, what do you do with good ole boys like me?

Of Red Lights and Research

19 Dec

When I began my career as a graduate student in History, I knew that I wanted to focus on the American West. While popular culture has developed the myth of the lone rider traveling the region with absolute freedom, I realized that the truth was more complicated than that. People who went into the West were not looking for freedom. They were looking for economic opportunity. Therefore, I became interested in the economic aspects of the West rather than the typical subjects, such as gunfighters and outlaws. Of course, economics encompasses a great deal, and I was informed by my guiding professor that some limitation were in order. Then, the following transpired.

I would like to study the cattle industry.

There’s already a lot of research on that. What else are you interested in?

The mining industry was huge. How about that?

That’s been done to death, too.

Ok, what about the lumber industry?

That won’t work either.

(This is when I realized that I should go ahead and ask him what I should do.)

Ok, what should I do?

Did you ever think about researching prostitution? People are just not starting to look into it.

Sounds great to me. Thanks.

With that short conversation, I began life as an expert on prostitution in the American West. Through the years, I have read, researched, written and spoken about the economics of prostitution in the West and the everyday lives of the people involved in the industry. When people (especially men) find out about what I know about, they immediately start in. What are the brothels in Nevada like? Leave it to you to study whores. Ever study the whores on Dickerson Road (a notorious spot in Nashville)? I am left to explain that I have conducted scholarly research about dead prostitutes – not ones that are currently working. And, I did not choose the topic because I am a pervert (although plenty of girlfriends have accused me of that). With this in mind, here is a synopsis of my life as a historian of prostitution in the West.

I went to graduate school in Tennessee, and my fellow students said only I would choose a topic halfway across the continent to research. People usually research something more conveniently located. However, I was not going to pick the Civil War or Andrew Jackson over the American West. I read all I could locally but knew that I would eventually have to travel. Luckily, I found two brothel museums fairly close together. The first was the Dumas Brothel in Butte, Montana. I spent several weeks in Butte and came to know the city quite well. Actually, there’s not much to know. I spent a lot of time at the Dumas, the archives and the Denny’s. I met some great people who helped me considerably and learned a great deal about the history of the city and of the Red Light District.

Wallace, Idaho sits just over the Idaho/Montana border and was home to the second museum, the Oasis Rooms. I only spent a few days in Wallace, but the people there were more than helpful. I took some great pictures and got some greater information.

With the information gathered from these locations and documents about the industry throughout the West, I was able to write a concise history about prostitution. In the midst of getting my graduate degree, I was hired at my current teaching position. As a new faculty member, students had no idea what to expect. Honestly, I had no idea what to expect either. But, I was determined not to let the research go to waste. I was going to talk about whoredom every chance I got. The first class was stunned when I gave the lecture on the 19th Century sex industry, and it was not long before word got around. I was the cool teacher that studied prostitutes instead of something uncool like regular History. From then until now, my classes constantly fill, and my office is always busy. They come by to see the photographs of prostitutes and the paintings of brothels on my walls.

As a small university, we are also expected to speak to community groups and perform other types of community service. This has created some interesting speeches for me. I am a member of the local Rotary Club and was asked to speak when I first joined. They insisted that I talk about my research. I tried to warn them that it wasn’t all fuzzy stories about Miss Kitty and the “whore with the heart of gold”, and they said it was fine. So, I gave them all the gory details. I think half of the audience was gone by the time I was finished, as several women walked out in disgust. Interestingly, no men left. I learned something that day. While people say they want to know history, they would rather not know the darker sides of the subject. I toned down the presentation after that experience.

Many people think that if I know about prostitution in the 19th Century American West, then I also know about prostitution at all other times as places. A retired colleague thought that and told the Daughters of the American Revolution that I would speak to them. When I said that they probably know more about the revolution than I do, he replied that I should talk about prostitution. I knew nothing about prostitution in the American Revolution, so I did some research. But, with the Rotary experience behind me, I was nervous about talking to a room full of elderly women. To make it go smoother, I used a historical code word – camp-followers – instead of a more descriptive term. As I spoke, I heard the following conversation between told ladies in the back.

What’s he talking about?

Camp-followers.

What?

Camp-followers.

What?

HE’S TALKING ABOUT WHORES!!!

Oh, now I understand.

So, now I am famous in my little town as the expert on whores. An older man in town, who has since passed away, came to me with a book that he had read about a madam in New Mexico. He had found a name in it that he recognized – mine. I was used as a footnote in the introduction, which was written by the professor who sent me on the journey through the Red Light Districts. I was proud to see my name in print and, for the first time, felt like a real historian. I bought a copy for my parents. They looked at it, and my mom said, “All those years of study, and you are in a book with a picture of a naked women on the front of it.”

Yep, I had made it.

Childhood Memories – Road Trips

14 Dec

I am amazed at what my friends call a vacation. They talk about going to the beach; staying in a condo; eating seafood; and, generally, lying around for several days. They talk about how great it is to relax in the sun and read books. I know that many people think this is the perfect idea of fun and frivolity. I think it is hell on earth. It’s hot. It’s sweaty. Sand gets everywhere. Seafood is not meant to be eaten for a solid week. But most of all, sitting around all of that time is mind-destroying. I need to see something besides the same waves coming in from the same horizon before eating the same crab legs while wearing the same lobster bib. And I know whose fault it is that I think this way…

My dad dreamed of being a truck driver when he was a kid. He did not reach his dream but did become successful in the business world. With his dream of being a trucker dashed, my dad made sure that he ventured on that endless black ribbon by taking his family on road trips every summer. Other families went to the beach. We picked a cardinal direction, usually west, and headed out for a couple of weeks of constant changes in hotels and landscapes. My dad’s motto was “never burn daylight”, so we went from daylight to dark touring the country and checking out the scene. My mom even packed a cooler with sandwich stuff and drinks, so we could eat on the move. We were the real Griswold’s, and nothing from a movie can come close to what we experienced.

Because of my dad, I had visited all 50 states by the time I was 24. I developed a love for history from visiting the places where history happened. Some of my greatest memories are from the road, but it wasn’t all pleasant. Spending that much time in a cramped vehicle led to funny events that weren’t very funny at the time.

1. The Great Winnebago Trip – One year my dad got the bright idea to rent a motor home to drive cross-country. It started out good enough with my dad driving while the rest of us whooped it up in back. However, problems soon arose. The Winnebago broke down. And it broke down again. And it broke down again. In fact, it broke down all the way to California and back. It ended up with three fuel pumps that my brother had to hose down every time we stopped. The trip is legendary in these circles and can’t be accurately depicted here, but a few things stand out.

On a Saturday night, we broke down in Amarillo while heading west. The next Saturday night we broke down in Amarillo on the way east. The same mechanic worked on it both times. My mom took his picture. In between those two stops, we broke down in the middle of the Los Angeles freeway. We also broke down in a blasting zone. There was also the time we broke down in Needles and watched them fry eggs on the sidewalk. That was the last motor home.

2. The “My Mom Lost Her Mind” Trip – We spent the night west of the Colorado/Kansas border with the plan to drive to St. Louis the next day. Road trips are a loop, and the turn home was always seen as the home stretch. My mom was driving as we neared St. Louis in a rain storm. It was then that we discovered no rooms at the inns. St. Louis, big city that it is, was completely booked. My mom drove on. And drove on. And drove on. We tried to get her to stop, but she held a death grip on the wheel and wouldn’t listen. Her eyes got wide as she focused on the road. Ignoring the pleas of myself and my dad, she drove all the way home. We drove from Colorado to Tennessee in one day.

3. The “Speed of Sound” Trip – In junior high, my teacher asked us to write an essay about our summer. I wrote about our road trip, and she gave me an F for making it up. My mom had to call her and explain that it was all true. Simply, we drove to Virginia and toured the sights around Washington. We saw Mt. Vernon, Monticello, Arlington Cemetery and the Smithsonian. We then drove to Philadelphia and saw the history made there. Next, came New York (which I will discuss in more detail in #4), and a drive up to Niagara Falls. After the falls, we went into Canada and reentered the United States at Detroit. There we toured the Ford Museum. All of that took five days.

4. The “Tour of New York” Trip – Technically, this is the “Speed of Sound” Trip, but it deserves its own number. By this time, I was the official navigator and map-reader, and this was my job as my dad drove through the streets of New York City. He wanted to see Central Park, so I got him there. As we went through the park, I set the map to the side and looked around. When we came out of the park, we began to notice a degradation of our surroundings. Cars were on blocks. Windows were smashed out of buildings. It looked like a war zone. I picked up the map and told my dad not to stop at any cost. Don’t stop at red lights. Don’t stop if someone walks in front of us. My dad was driving his Cadillac down the street that separated Harlem and the Bronx. His orders were to drive to Yankee Stadium as fast as possible and get on the interstate.

5. The “That’s A Big Hole” Trip – Like a lot of people, my dad always wanted to see the Grand Canyon, and he made sure to stop the first chance he got. We parked the car and walked to the edge. As we stood there my dad declared, “That’s an awfully big hole.” We replied that it was. Then, he asked, “Ready to go?” In unison, we said, “Yes.”

Everyone should see the Grand Canyon once. It’s one of those things that makes the American landscape what it is. But, I’m not impressed with it. I think that it may be too big to appreciate, but it is not my favorite natural wonder. My nephew camped in the bottom last year and said it was great. That may be true. Riding the mules or flying over in a helicopter may be great too. However, I would rather see a lot of things than stand at the edge of the Grand Canyon and look into a big hole.

I know. All of this sounds terrible, and you are thinking that we would have been better off at the beach. However, these bad experiences were few and far between and gave us great stories to tell at family gatherings. The road trips were great bonding experiences and gave me the opportunity to see things that many people do not. For that, I am eternally grateful. Therefore, I am going to end this post on a positive note and list my favorite historic sites and natural wonders. I owe my parents for the love I have for these places.

My Favorite Historic Sites

1. The Little Big Horn Battlefield – I have mentioned this several times in other posts and will not go into great detail here. Just know that this is the one place where I can mentally take myself back in time.

2. Alcatraz – The first time I saw it the prison wasn’t open for tours. The second time it was and proved to be an amazing experience. You haven’t done anything until you have stood in Al Capone’s cell.

3. Biltmore Estate – This is the largest privately owned home in the United States. Built by an heir to the Vanderbilt fortune, it is the perfect example of Guilded Age decadence. No castle in Europe has anything on this.

4. The OK Corral – Tombstone, Arizona is the quintessential tourism laden ghost town. It looks kind of hokey today, but it held an important place in Old West history as the location of America’s most famous gunfight. As a bonus, Ben Traywick, who is from my home county, is the unofficial Tombstone historian.

5. Pearl Harbor – Technically, I did not see this on a road trip. Even my dad couldn’t drive to Hawaii. However, this is a historic site that everyone should see. Walking onto the Arizona Memorial is a spiritual experience.

My Favorite Natural Wonders

1. Monument Valley – The banner at the top of this blog is a photo I took at Monument Valley. Those buttes have been shown in countless movies and have long been symbols of the American West. It sits in the Navajo Nation and serves as a reminder of what they lost in the United States’ drive toward Manifest Destiny.

2. Yellowstone National Park – There is so much in the park that it is indescribable. Therefore, I will boil it down to my favorite thing. There is nothing like waking up in the Old Faithful Lodge; walking onto the porch; and, seeing buffalo walk through the steam of the geysers.

3. Sequoia National Park – Imagine trees sold old that they started growing when Jesus supposedly walked the earth and so large that they look as if they had been constructed. That is the best way I can describe this park. I will leave out the time I got lost in it when I was two.

4. Bryce Canyon – This is a canyon filled with rock formations called “hoodoos”. They fill the landscape and make you feel that you have landed in another world.

5. Denali National Park – We did not drive to Alaska, but Mt. McKinley is the most amazing thing I have ever seen. We were lucky enough to view it on a clear day and see the peak. I have no idea how big the mountain is, but I know that it filled the landscape from miles away.

There you have it. My road trip adventures. Isn’t that better than a beach?

Game Night

12 Nov

I just spent a fun evening with my girlfriend and her daughter. They invited me to their house to eat homemade chili and have a “game night”. They supplied the food, because I’m not good when it comes to food, and I supplied the games. Most of the games at my house are of the adult variety, so I bought a few today. The selection included Trouble (always a favorite), Guesstures (which I had never played before), Pictionary (which I have played a few times), and Disney Trivial Pursuit (one that I already had because an ex-girlfriend could never beat me at the regular one).

I have never been married and do not have kids, and that led my girlfriend to worry about how this would go. Before I met her daughter, she kept talking about how they would stress me out and run me off. I tried to explain to her that I get along with kids very well. Heck, I’m a big kid myself. I thought it best not to tell her that I have dated people with kids before, and those kids all loved me. I was afraid that it would make her worry more. After all, those kids became close to me, and I am no longer in their lives.

It is probably hard to understand, but I feel that I have had several “families” in my life. I have gotten close to several kids but their moms and I ended up breaking up. I miss them all even though I don’t miss their moms that much. Is that what divorce is like? I’m sure it’s not. In fact, the pain I have felt when I realize I will never see someone again makes me realize that people being separated from their children must be unbearable.

This is a rambling post and completely got off track from where I was headed. Several of my posts have had dark or sarcastic tones, and I meant for this one to be fun and positive. Must be the mood I am in a the moment.

At any rate, game night was fun, and I hope that we have more in the future.

Please Allow Me To Introduce Myself

1 Nov

That’s the perfect way to start a song (Sympathy for the Devil for the imbeciles out there), therefore it is the perfect way to start a blog.

In the summer of 1998, I was standing on a bridge in Little Rock, Arkansas with my assistant coach. The heat bore down as we watched the sewage flow through the ditch beneath our feet. Our struggling team was taking batting practice as we attempted to make out a decent line-up. It was a miserable day in the middle of a miserable season, and suddenly it hit me. As I watched the crap flow by I said, “We are surrounded by imbeciles and wallowing in mediocrity.” Hence, the name of the blog.

Life has changed dramatically in the 13 years since that “profound” statement. I stopped coaching at the end of that season and pursued a graduate degree. For the past decade, I have taught history at a small, private university in Tennessee. This blog will be a synopsis my life in academia and whatever else I can think of. It’s funny though. Things change but also stay the same. At times, I still feel that I am “surrounded by imbeciles”. Of course, history proves that they have always been around.

By the way, (for the imbeciles out there) the heading photo is not of scenery in Tennessee. That is Monument Valley, which sits in the Navajo Nation in the American southwest. It is my favorite picture of my favorite place. In the future, I may tell you why.

Happy Blog Browsing!