Tag Archives: James Rollins

D.C. Road Trip – A Long Day at the Museum

25 Jul

Going into the trip, we had not settled on what day we would visit the Smithsonian, but the decision was made on the road to Lynchburg. Through social media, my wife found out that some old friends were going to be in Washington, D.C. on Saturday and were planning on taking their daughter to a couple of the museums. It would be the perfect day to see them and see some artifacts.

It turned out to be, in my mind, an imperfect day. We started with a visit to Starbucks and a cab ride to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, a place that we definitely wanted to see. Then, we were informed that it would take almost two hours to get in. I could sense that, by this time, my wife had tired of getting tickets and hanging around for a while to see something. When she asked if we should stay or go somewhere else, my gut told me that we should go somewhere else. It would not be the last time that my gut spoke to me that day.

With plans to tour the National Museum of American History with our friends, we bypassed that one and went to the one next to it, the National Museum of Natural History. This is one of the most famous Smithsonian buildings and begins with the iconic stuffed elephant.image-23

That proved to be the first of many stuffed animals. It was cool to see, but, honestly, I thought it was kind of creepy. We have a collection of stuffed animals on campus that I do not find creepy, and I kept trying to figure out the difference. It could be because the Smithsonian is in the business of protecting information about the world, and these animals were far from protected.

The Hope Diamond was the highlight of the museum. I thought it was cool and could tell that my family thought it was more cool.

When we walked out of the building, we were looking straight at the Smithsonian Castle.image-24

I could only think that the secret headquarters for Sigma Force were underneath. Never heard of Sigma Force? It is a team of government agents whose exploits are chronicled in a series of books by James Rollins. I have been reading them forever.

I do not need to be a secret agent to know that my next decision was my worst. I already had the feeling that my wife was done walking and sightseeing, and I suggested going to the National Museum of the American Indian. The decision was made for two reasons. First, I thought it would be a cool museum. Second, it was time for lunch, and the restaurant in the museum was supposed to be the best around. I had seen it on television, and our contact in our congressman’s office said it was great.

As we walked toward the museum, my gut spoke up. It told me that this was an awfully long walk, and no one else was happy about taking it. It also told me that we were next to the National Museum of American History, and we were getting further from it by the minute. Funny thing, my gut was speaking to me more than my wife. In fact, she was not speaking to me, at all.

We get to the museum, and the restaurant is packed. Apparently, everyone was the same television show that I had watched. On top of that, it was all traditional food of the American Indian. I do not think my family found it very appetizing. Luckily, our friends arrived as we finished eating. Hopefully, that would make the day go better.

We toured the museum, and, to me, it was a disappointing experience. There were not as many artifacts as I expected, and there looked to be a lot of wasted space. The worst part? They displayed pottery from the Santa Clara Pueblo in New Mexico. Everyone knows that they should have displayed pottery from the San Ildefonso Pueblo.

Then, we made the trek back across the Mall. I must say that it went quicker because we had more people to talk to. However, it did not make it any shorter. By the time we got to the museum, my family had done enough. They went through a few rooms but, eventually, found somewhere to sit. We saw some cool stuff, though.

Dorothy’s ruby slippers.

Archie Bunker’s chair.

Abraham Lincoln’s hat.

Thomas Jefferson’s writing desk, which we heard about at Monticello.

However, it was not enough. At some point, my wife and I discussed the idea that we should have left some things out. In my book, those things would have been the museums of the Smithsonian. Look, the Smithsonian is a national treasure, but it does not rank with the other places we visited. That could be because I am not a big fan of museums. I would rather visit the places where history happened rather than a place that holds objects. Sure, they have some interesting items, but George Washington never walked through their halls.

Also, we went to the Smithsonian after a couple of days of continuous activity. We were all tired and ready for something else. If I had it all to do over, then I would skip the Smithsonian and continued our trip to Virginia Beach. However, we live and learn. That is what history and historic sites are all about.


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?


23 Jul

It seems that I have been surrounded by immortals lately. Not real immortals, but the ones found in the pages of books. I just finished Blood Line by James Rollins, a book about a secret cabal performing experiments on humans to find a DNA secret to immortality. Currently, I am reading The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. This is the true story of cancer cells taken from a woman and how they have continued to thrive since the 1950s. The cells have been used to further numerous scientific advancements.

Obviously, the books are different. One fiction. One non-fiction. However, the both center around something that humanity has often dreamed about – immortality. The scientists goal in the Rollins book may seem fantastical, but scientists in the Skloot book were looking at prolonging life as well.

Through this reading, I have been reminded about a conversation I had with some students. We were hiking through New Mexico when I asked what superpower they would pick if they could. I chose invisibility. One chose the ability to fly like Superman. However, another chose immortality. My first thought was how cool that would be, but then I started thinking about the problems.

1. When you get that power, you had better have a non-aging policy.

2. What happens when the Earth is destroyed? I suppose by that time people will be traveling to other planets.

3. How do you handle the death of loved ones over and over and over?

This brings to mind one of my favorite movies, Highlander – the story of Connor MacLeod, an immortal who must fight other immortals until only one is left. What’s the prize for the winner? He has immortality taken away. There is even a great song by Queen called “Who Wants to Live Forever“. And, what does that song say?

Who wants to live forever when love must die?

People have always been fascinated by immortality. After all, that is what religion is about. The Greeks and Romans worshipped immortals. Modern religions look for life after death. However, religion is not the only place immortality resides. Vampires have become a major theme in popular culture, and they hang around until somebody sticks a stake in them. Even zombies offer a glimpse at immortality, or an undead version of it.

So, why has humanity always had immortality on the brain? There’s probably more than one answer. First, people don’t want to stop being. No one wants to die even though it’s going to happen to everyone. It’s like a horror movie. YOU WILL NOT GET OUT ALIVE!!!

Second, we don’t want to miss anything. At least, this is what I think about. What will the world be like after we are gone? I call it “future history”. We have this urge to know what’s going to happen. What will the world be like in 2100? Will it be like The Jetson’s or like The Planet of the Apes? And, I use those examples for a reason. We like futuristic movies because it gives us a glimpse of what things might be like after we are gone. Some, like Star Trek, are about a hopeful future. Others, like Blade Runner, are about a desolate future. It doesn’t matter which because we just need to know what’s going to happen.

I feel bad for what people have missed. My grandfather was a huge fan of the University of Tennessee, and he passed away on a Saturday morning in 1995. That night his team, led by Peyton Manning, beat Alabama 41-14. I kept thinking how I wished he could have seen that. The next few seasons were great ones for Tennessee, and they eventually won the national championship in 1998. All I could think of was that he was missing it. I wish he could have seen it, and I wish I could see all of the games of the future.

But, those wishes are impossible because immortality is impossible. And, if it was possible would we really want it? I don’t know, but I do know that there is an old saying – Be careful what you wish for because it may come true.


20 Jan

A couple of Christmas’ ago, I was surprised to be given an iPad. It had never been something that I talked about, and I didn’t realize that the person who gave it like me that much. I don’t use the iPad very much to serve the internet because I find a laptop much easier to type on a read. However, I use the iPad to play games and read on the Kindle. This Kindle thing was a surprise to me as well. I was always one of those people who talked about how I was never going to give in to the technology. I like holding a book and turning the pages. I like spending hours in bookstores. However, it wasn’t long before those opinions started to change. Of course, I still like bookstores. Who doesn’t? But, I have now become one of those people who is killing the bookstores. Instead of buying books, I get titles and download them later. It’s terrible, I know. It feels like cheating.

I was thinking about this change of opinion while sitting in my office this afternoon. Bunches of books were taking up space, and I began thinking about how I needed to clean out my shelves. My office is nothing like my house. There are books on shelves, crammed in drawers, and places anywhere they might be considered out-of-the-way. Some of them were memorable. Some of them have were forgotten as soon as the last word was read. but, most are waiting in the queue to be opened before they are lost in the Land of Closed Drawers.

I hate getting rid of books. It takes a lot of effort, both physical and mental. Figuring out which ones go and which ones stay. Picking up a totally overloaded box. coming up with a place to take the overloaded box. Hoping that the books find good, caring homes. Thinking about all of that trouble made me appreciate the Kindle in another way. When a book is finished, I just place my finger on it until it shakes and “x” it into the archives. No shelves. No drawers. No boxes. Just a button.

With that in mind, I decided to look through the Kindle archives and see what I have filled my mind with.

1. “The American West” by Dee Brown – This semester I am teaching the Expansion of the United States and read this work to brush up on the history of that time and place. Brown is a famous writer of the American West, but he is not a true historian. He  falls into the category of popular historian that academic historians love to complain about. The latter does the research while the former gets the fame. Actually, there are a lot of good “popular” writers. Unfortunately, Brown is not one of them. The book is badly arranged and needs an editor badly. He knows a lot of good information and tells great stories. However, it took an effort to get through it, and I love this stuff.

2. “The Big Scrum” by John J. Miller – This book chronicles the early days of college football and how it was saved by Theodore Roosevelt. At the turn of the 18th/19th Centuries, academic leaders were outraged at the sport taking over their campuses. Violence. Horrible injuries. Cheating. Paying players. Recruiting issues. It seemed that the game was going to drag universities into the gutter of professional sports. Before they could take action, TR and other leaders stepped up to claim that the game was good for America and the development of manhood. I am not sure about that, but I like college football. So, I’m glad they saved it.

3. “Blood of the Reich” by William Dietrich – Dietrich has written a series of novels about Ethan Gage, adventurer extraordinaire. His hero outwitted Napoleon; defeated Barbary pirates; and survived adventures in the unexplored American West. In this book, new heroes fight Nazis, both old and new, to find a great power in Tibet. I didn’t like this as much as the Gage adventures. However, I don’t think it was the fault of Dietrich. Before this book, I read “Sleepwalkers” by a writer that I won’t name to save him from the embarrassment. It was about a Jewish detective looking into a horrible crime before Nazis took power in Germany. It was terrible. No character development. Telegraphing of plot. Jumped from scene to scene without any connection. The only good part was the prostitute that he spent a lot of time describing. Unfortunately, she disappeared without any explanation with what happened.

4. “The Devil Colony” by James Rollins – I really like the adventures of Grayson Pierce and the Sigma Force team. In this one, they head into the American West to stop a mysterious force from destroying the globe. They hit some places that I have been, so it was easy to visualize the action. Plus, they ended up in Yellowstone. How can you beat that?

5. “The Devil’s Gold” by Steve Berry – This is a Kindle-only short story used to st up the action in an upcoming novel. In short, an operative is looking for lost Nazi gold in South America. In the process, he finds the offspring of Adolf Hitler. Short story equal short description.

6. “The Jefferson Key” by Steve Berry – This is the novel set up by the previously mentioned short story. Cotton Malone goes after a secret cabal of pirates whose families have been protected by the United States government since its inception. It starts out with Andrew Jackson being himself and sticking to the pirate ancestors. Those of us in Tennessee know how Jackson was. He didn’t take any shit. Well, the pirate descendants are figuring out a way to get out of the situation Old Hickory put them in. Malone has to stop them.

7. “Evel: The High-Flying Life of Evel Knievel: American Showman, Daredevil, and Legend” by Leigh Montville – As a kid, I was fascinated by Evel Knievel. I watched the jumps; had the toys; and wanted to be just like him. This is an all-encompassing biography that follows Evel from his youth in Butte, Montana to his death as broken, both physically and financially, old man. In between were adventures that you would assume the world’s most famous daredevil would have. Women. Alcohol. Parties. All the trappings of decadence and fame. The surprise comes when it’s revealed that Evel was afraid of dying the entire time. He created a persona that he couldn’t escape. His job was facing death with the world watching and death was looking back.

That gets us halfway through the archives, and I have discovered that typing about the finished books is almost as tiresome as putting them in boxes. We will explore the next half in the next post.