Louis G. Pol – The Traveling Dean

I began this blog in March 2013 because I wanted to document some observations about my travel experiences in India. As I reflect back on other travel taken prior to March 2013, I wish I had begun posting about my adventures in 2003 as I made my way to St. Petersburg, Russia, or 1992 during a trip to France and Italy, or in 1991 while travelling in Romania and Moldova. Oh, well…

I am the dean of the College of Business Administration at the University of Nebraska at Omaha (formerly Omaha University). I became the dean in August 2003, which means that at this point in time, March 2017, I have been the dean for nearly 14 years, a very long time in one place for a business school dean. The average stay for a business school dean is about 4.5 years. Prior to being named dean, I was a faculty member here, at Rollins College, and at Memphis State University, but not all at the same time. If you want to learn more about me, I am providing a link to my website http://cba.unomaha.edu/lpol. Also, you may wonder what I look like, so here is a picture.

dean-pol-full

As you can see, I am in my official dean uniform. The sculpture in the background is one created by Jun Kaneko. You should look him up.

My goal in regard to this blog is simple. I want to share my experiences with anyone who wishes to know more about the places I have visited. At the same time, if you continue to read, you will gain some insight into my opinions about the places I visit and the people I meet. From time-to-time, you will learn more as I offer comparisons of places, including those experienced before I began this blog. I will try to remain apolitical as I write about what I see, but I will fail at times. Keep in mind that it is March 2017, and remaining apolitical is most difficult.

Finally, I enjoy receiving your comments and corrections.

Portland (Oregon)

I flew to Portland with a NU Foundation colleague in early June to meet with an alum/donor. I had not met him before even though he has supported us over two gift cycles. He visited Omaha two years ago, but I was traveling elsewhere. As a side note, he followed up our Portland meeting just a few weeks later with a trip to Omaha. I was able to give his daughter, one of his colleagues, and him a tour of Mammel Hall. I also took them to dinner.

While our 2017 train trip out west took us through Portland, I hadn’t spent any real time there since 1974. As part of a job I had as a project supervisor, I was assigned to Portland. This was only my second “real job” as a social scientist, and I was most excited to be part of a national-level study. Our project involved assessing the quality of dental services available to young men who were in the Job Corps (Portland). The Job Corps is a program administered by the Department of Labor and offers free education and vocational training to young men and women 16 to 24 years of age. My specific assignment involved supervising a group of interviewers who were questioning program participants about the support services they were receiving. My bosses were two university professors, one from the University of Maryland and the other from North Carolina Central University.

The experience was fraught with trouble from the outset. It was clear that the local Job Corps administrators did not want us there, and they tried to undermine our work. There were two very unpleasant exchanges, and at one point I thought we would be told to leave. From their perspective, we were the kind of people who could make them look bad. Imagine if we had found that their participants reported that the dentists were doing a lousy job. They were safe though. For the most part, the dentists, and the program administrator, came out looking pretty good. So much drama, and so little reason for it all. I was happy to leave town.

This trip was much better. In addition to meeting with the alumnus who had supported us and who had a very interesting story behind his business success, we toured Portland and its outlands, including the botanical gardens at Washington Park. Perhaps best of all was the artwork and architecture we observed. Portland has a great mix of modern features well integrated with traditional early and mid-twentieth century structures. And, then there was Mt. Hood off in the distance….

We also with another alum at who works at Nike World Headquarters in Beaverton. There are apparently 15,000 Nike employees in the Beaverton location, spread out over 286 acres and 75 buildings. The grounds and architecture are stunning. Yes, I would work there. Soon after we arrived, we were able to walk through a covered walkway out to a pavilion where hundreds of Nike employees were watching and partying as the U.S. thrashed Thailand, 13-0, in the first round of the Women’s World Cup. Brandy Chastain was in attendance, and quite popular, and stayed around after the match for conversation, photos, and autographs. The food and drink were excellent, as well. Our alum was late in catching up with us, but we did not mind the delay. She was caught up in a meeting. She finally shook free, but rather than go to an office or other location inside we met outside at a table on the pavilion. She told us that she loved working there, although her path to initial employment was non-linear.

Nike World Headquarters is part office, part museum, and certainly dedicated to the athletes who have donned their shoes and apparel. It’s not hard to miss Steve Prefontaine Hall and the Michael Jordan Building. The Serena Williams building was under construction. There is also a Japanese garden, plaques galore, Marcus Mariota’s 2014 Heisman Trophy, the waffle iron Bill Bowerman used to make the first pair of Nike shoes, and the van that Bill Bowerman and Phil Knight used to sell shoes out of when the company was first started. Amazing. We need to go back for another visit.

And They Had a Funeral For Big Tex

I was back in Texas in September, visiting with my dad and my sister Terry. I am committed to returning to Sanger, Dallas, Denton, and the remainder of the metroplex more often. My dad will be 89 in February, and I want to see him more often. This was a short trip, and with one exception, no time to see friends. Given the short turnaround, I flew directly from Omaha to Dallas Love Field.

In a previous post, I wrote about the fact that in 2012, Big Tex, the 52-foot statue at the Texas State Fairgrounds in Dallas, had caught fire and burned (yes, statues that are not made of stone and steel and such can burst into flames, especially if there is an electrical short circuit related to the lighting of the statue). Anyway, the fire was caught on video and played many times as fair aficionados gasped, giggled and mourned the passing of an icon. Big Tex had been the official greeter at the Texas State Fair since 1952, and most Texans assumed he was 60 years old, way too young to go out in this way. Research revealed that Big Tex lived somewhere else in a prior life with a different persona…more on that in later installment.

What I did not know prior to this trip is that there was a funeral for Big Tex. No, I am not making all of this up, and I am offering proof via the videos in the following links. In the first video, which is rather long, on-lookers seem sad and amused, and the video is peppered with numerous quips about the fire, his age, and the parts of his anatomy as they become involved in the fire.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tzHhUF6YTIk

The funniest exchanges come from this link from the Russ Martin Show, on 97.1: The Eagle, a Dallas radio station – Big Tex Eulogy.  The audio archive has numerous pictures, but no actual video. The clip begins with the Dallas Fire-Rescue dispatchers and responders, it follows with a hilarious, if irreverent, revival-tent-style funeral service held by Russ Martin and his sidekicks. It ends with some final words from Big Tex himself as his remains are removed in a rather somber ceremony from the Texas State Fair Grounds.  Caution: Don’t watch or listen if you are easily offended.  Some of my favorite quotes include, “Dispatch 6, Big Tex on fire,” “We’ve got a rather tall cowboy with his clothes burned off,” and “Big Tex is gone.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h5ewyqHMyTI

So, the original Big Tex is gone. Don’t feel bad though. There is a new Big Tex at the fairgrounds, one made of non-combustible material. He’s taller, 55 feet, and weighs more.

As I said at the beginning, on this trip I flew to Dallas. The construction that has modernized Love Field is complete, and the work has left behind a very, very nice airport; a sentiment shared by many. I’m not writing this just because there is a Whataburger in the main atrium. There are other food options, and the use of information boards at each gate is the best that I have seen. The individual gate boards include gate number, flight destination, flight number, time to boarding/time of departure, and the destination of where the flight continues to. The boards also contain information on the next flight departing from the specific date-destination, flight number, and time of departure. The font is large and colorful, making it easy to spot. Keep in mind that Love Field has only 20 gates—it’s legislated that way—making the walk from one end to the other short, only seven minutes on the day I timed it.

I have also written before about the statue of the Texas Ranger (not related to Big Tex) that can be seen as you first enter the airport. I first saw the ranger in 1965, the first time I flew out of Love Field. In the old days, when there was no TSA or a conga line waiting to get through security, the ranger stood tall in the atrium in stark contrast to the colorful tile map of the world that lay at his feet. Folks would gather up around him and take his picture, with or without humans in the photo. I was impressed, but given that I was 16 years old and didn’t have ‘a lick of good sense’, that’s not much of an endorsement. Well, you can imagine the shock I felt on this visit when I found that the ranger had been moved. He now greets passengers at the bottom of the escalator/staircase after they arrive from another city. He is now not located in the main atrium, and when you see him after walking into the airport you get an ass-end view. So sad, so sad.

I did a bit of driving around in Denton during my travel from Dallas to Sanger. In particular, I drove by almost all of the places I lived in while residing in Denton, the ones that haven’t burned or been torn down. Those places look so different to me now. It’s been 54 years since we first moved to Denton and 44 years since I last lived in Denton. The drive-bys, plus pictures, also got me thinking about the number of places – – houses, apartments, and rooming houses – – I have lived in over my lifetime. It turns out that I have lived in 41 separate residences across 11 states, including three countries other than the U.S. That’s a lot of bad mattresses, noisy neighbors, and weird stuff. It also represents many good friends and a lot of exciting experiences. I will leave you with one last photo, The Denton County Courthouse. It’s a dandy, a truly iconic structure.

They Don’t Even Come Out at Night, Anymore

We were back in Florida for eight days at the end of September. We stayed at the Villas of Clearwater Beach in a unit where we’ve camped out before. The Villas are at the north end of the beach, walking distance to just about everything, but not in the middle of all the horn honking and other nonsense that can sometimes be found at the south end of Clearwater Beach.

We had an all-purpose trip, complete with three fun visits with my mother and Sid, a drive to Tallahassee to watch the Seminoles play Louisville, a Sunday afternoon at Raymond James Stadium where we watched the Bucs give up a big lead to the Giants, a manicure-pedicure session, and a late morning in Deland with an artist whose work we really like. Of course, there was the usual beach walking, hanging around at the pool, and eats at Frenchy’s and Palm Pavillion—after many years of great food and service at both places, Palm Pavillion has now become our favorite (Frenchy’s was number one for us for many years).

The title of this post is in reference to Scientologists. I have written about Scientology in previous posts. So, you already know about the history of Scientology since their purchase of the Fort Harrison Hotel in Clearwater in the mid-1970s, including recent stories about conflicts between Scientology leaders and the City of Clearwater. Scientology now owns a lot of downtown Clearwater, 22 downtown facilities alone. Over eight percent of the population of Clearwater identifies itself as Scientologists. The Flag Building (aka The Super Power Building), all 889 rooms, is the iconic structure in downtown.  It is connected by an enclosed skywalk to the private Fort Harrison Hotel where visiting Scientologists stay during “auditing and rehabilitation” sessions (whatever that means).

When we first visited Clearwater in 1988, and in many following trips over three decades, we observed a large number of people on the street, day and night, dressed in sea org uniforms (now matching blue slacks and vests with white shirts and black ties). On our first visits, we incorrectly thought that there was a naval base in Clearwater (the U.S. Navy, not the L. Ron Hubbard Navy). Those in uniform looked sharp, and many of the men had haircuts that fit the part—high and tight. It was only after we started reading about Scientology that we realized that there was not a U.S. Naval base in Clearwater.

On more recent visits, this one included, we have observed that the street traffic with regard to those in sea org uniforms has declined, markedly, day and night. Without sea org members out and about, the streets of Clearwater appear to be virtually deserted. The effect of the lack of foot traffic can be easily observed in what was previously a High Pedestrian Area. On this visit, we walked (and drove) the main streets in the downtown area, including Cleveland Street, over the lunch hour on a weekday and found that many of the storefronts were empty. The existing restaurants had few customers as well. Please check out the linked YouTube video of a drive around downtown Clearwater. How many people do you see?

Like other cities, Tampa and its suburbs has its idiosyncrasies, one of which is worth noting. First, let me begin by declaring that Lady Bird was right, billboards are the scourge of too many highways and streets. These message boards hawk all kinds of products and services, inform us of events, and provide political and religious messages. In Seminole and Largo, Florida, my mom’s neighborhood, as well as along Interstate 4 from Tampa to Orlando, many of the billboards have a coherent message. Yes, you read this correctly. I used the words coherent message. The message is that the west coast of Florida is a dangerous place to drive, and many of those who venture out are at high risk of a crash and injury. Those who manage to crash all have something in common. They need an attorney. I noticed one or two of these billboards on previous visits, but did not pay much attention to their catchy messages and phone numbers. For some reason, on this visit I noticed more than one or two, and decided that we should catalogue some of those we observed. A large number of them appeared along a five-mile ride from Clearwater to my mother’s place in Seminole. Here it is, a sign by sign summary followed by some pictures we captured along the drive. I hope that you find these as entertaining as we did.

  • Auto Accident? Lawyers Matter  1-800-Ask-Gary
  • Arrested? WeGotYourBackDaytonaDefense.com
  • See Our Results TheInjuryLawyers.com
  • We Sue Drunk Drivers  1-800-Burnetti
  • Injured? Dial #Law
  • Auto Accident Law Firm #Hurt
  • Car Accident? 727-Call-Mia
  • Accident? 727-847-Hurt
  • Injury Law Harvard Law Graduate
  • 1-800-FL-LEGAL
  • Auto & Motorcycle Accidents – Injury Law
  • Your Local Injury Attorney – Helpforthehurt.com

 

 

 

 

More Cousins and N.Y.C.

Our travel pace has really picked up in the last two months.  A combination of “last travel as dean” efforts and a pent-up desire to explore has put me on the road two to three times per month, and in some instances for longer periods of time.  We were in New York and New Jersey twice in August and early September, first to the wedding of our unofficially adopted son Boris (and his wife Oxana), and then for an Ardovino cousin reunion.

In both cases we flew from Omaha to Hartford, Connecticut, although not directly.  For the wedding we flew through Minneapolis, and for the reunion we flew through Chicago (Midway).  Our reasons to fly to Hartford included: 1) we had never been to Hartford before, 2) we thought that the drive from Hartford to Bridgeport would be interesting (it was), and 3) we wanted to take the ferry across Long Island Sound.  The ferry from Bridgeport to Port Jefferson (they call it Port Jeff) takes about an hour.  Industry-based Bridgeport looks and feels much different from tourist-oriented Port Jeff.  The port in Bridgeport is in a relatively worn-down area of the city and is isolated from most of the rest of the ‘what to dos.’  The port in Port Jeff is in the center of town, in the middle of shops, restaurants and small hotels.

For our three ferry runs, the relatively calm waters, ample sunlight, and the distinctive smell of saltwater made the trips a delight.  We watched other boats come and go and saw children, who seemed to be having the time of their lives, walk and run on the upper deck, hair blowing in all directions, arms and legs flailing, not a care, with parents trying to chase them down from time-to-time.

For both trips we drove from Port Jeff to Baiting Hollow to stay at my cousin Vinnie’s place, quite close to Long Island Sound.  I’ve written about Baiting Hollow before (our trip last year) and will not do that again here.  We did have a wonderful time on both occasions.  A combination of great food (thank you Mary, Jim, and Terry) and drink brought out the best in conversations.  My mother, my sister Terry, my cousin Patricia, and other cousins from New York and New Jersey gathered up, with some heading down to the beach and others just hanging out, telling old family tales (how did he get that nickname?), and planning for the reunion the next day.

The reunion was hosted by my cousin Joann and her husband Tony.  They were most gracious in their hospitality.  Imagine 30 or so Ardovino cousins and 20 plus outlaws showing up at your place intending to have a really good time.  The celebration was held outside around their pool and expansive deck and patio combination.  The weather was great: no rain, moderate temps, and a nice breeze.  There were four generations of us there, talking the Italian way, hands and arms flying everywhere.  There were no arguments, and only the slightest hint of stories about who did what to whom 40 or 50 years ago. My mother was delighted.  She is now the second oldest in her generation and was the oldest in attendance.  The pictures, by generation, tell the whole story in many ways.  I have included my mother’s generation picture in this post.  She is on the left.  The age range is from 91 (my mother) to 62 (my cousin Vinnie).  I am also including the outlaw picture (non-Ardovinos who are in some way connected to us).  They appear to be having a lot of fun as well, probably happy that they are not related to us by blood.

We spent the last days of the second trip in the city, and then driving back to Hartford for our ride home.  Our hotel in the city was located near the corner of 39th Street and 8th Avenue, a very short walk to much of the Theatre District and the Garment District and not far from the Hudson River.  Manhattan is quite small in many ways, making it possible to quickly walk to places like Grand Central Station and the New York Public Library from our hotel.  For our visit to the city, my sister Terry and cousin Patricia joined us.  We saw The Book of Morman, at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre, a great production.  We laughed and laughed, even a long time after the show had ended.  Patricia had already seen that show, so she went to see Ain’t Too Proud to Beg at the Imperial Theater.  She told us it was excellent.  She also saw To Kill a Mockingbird – she arrived in New York a few days before we did.

I mentioned the Garment District earlier in this post.  This is a special place for me.  Giorgio Giunta and Ersilia Ardovino Giunta, my mother’s parents, met there.  She was a beader, among other things, and he eventually became a shop foreman.  Together with his cousins, the Pantanos, they became a tight-knit group.  The level of discrimination against Italians was less in the ‘rag business’ than in some other industries.  It was a place they could move up. My grandfather loved his work, and my grandmother was a real talent.  One of my favorite stories (though a bit gruesome) shared with me by my grandfather (Pop) occurred while he was at work in the Garment District. A military plane crashed into the Empire State Building on July 28, 1945.  It was a Saturday, but he was there just down the street. It was a miserable day weather-wise.  Thick fog enveloped Manhattan, clearly not a day to be flying.  And, the destination was not even New York City.  The pilot and his crew were headed for Newark Airport (you now know it as Liberty Airport).  Because it was a Saturday, there was a small crowd on 34th Street that day. Pop witnessed the aftermath.  The B-25 had crashed between the 78th and 80th floors of the tallest building in the world, sending one engine straight through the building.  The pilot and his crew as well as 11 others died in the crash.

Statues can be found everywhere in New York City.  Most of these celebrate the city’s rich history, including Judith Wellers’ 1984 work, “The Garment Worker”.  The statue is of her grandfather sitting at a sewing machine, but it could be of any of our grandfathers who were so talented and worked so hard.  Just a few feet away is another statue, Button and Needle, again celebrating those who made New York City the fashion center of the world.

I made mention of changing laws vis-à- vis marijuana in my most recent post about my recent drives to Texas.  Most of my references were to roadside and other signs I observed in Oklahoma.  New York is New York and as one might expect citizens and visitors encounter different forms of promotion in a post-legalization environment.  My favorite is The Weed Store, a large corner mart on 7th Avenue that offers a range of products, including Weed World candies, weed-related clothing, and every kind of bong you can imagine.  Employees work hard out in front of the store as they hawk various options while potential customers, real customers, and gawkers make their way into the store.  Not to be outdone by competitors, Weed World has gone mobile with a Weed World vehicle that looks like a greened up Good Humor ice cream truck.  Why does everyone look so happy in their promotional pictures?

Just a few more pictures; my favorite building, The Chrysler, along with Grand Central Station and the New York Public Library.

Back to the Boot — Rome, Salerno, Caserta, San Cipriano Picentino, and Positano

We returned to Italy in mid-May, nine days of sights, family, friendships, and searching for an answer to the question, “Why did they leave?” Our initial route was an easy one, Omaha to Dallas to Rome. Post Rome it was trains and cars (drivers and then me as the777-200 driver). The Dallas to Rome leg of our travel involved a 777-200. For 9 hours and 51 minutes we were packed in with 188 of our best new friends. The flight was full. It was our first experience with bulkhead seats for an international flight. There is a lot of room on the bulkhead, and a nice footrest if you are like me and too cheap to ride in business class. Try it.

It was great to leave Omaha. At departure, I had only 97 days left as dean of our college. I needed some time away, a chance to think more carefully about how I would spend the last three months in a position that had given me great joy over a 16-year run. Yet, I knew that it was time to go. I had and have other ideas on how I want to spend the next two decades, if I live that long. After 90, who knows.

I very much enjoy international flights that arrive early, very early, in the day. My initial experiences in global travel involved late afternoon or evening arrivals. I remember my first trip to Iasi Romania: Omaha to Atlanta to Frankfurt to Bucharest (overnight); train to Iasi the next morning with arrival in the late afternoon. Between the change in time zone plus the wear and tear of the travel itself I arrived pretty well spent, not much good for anything. I wanted to sleep. But, the folks on the other end had other ideas. They wanted to eat, drink and talk, until late in the night. We had a good time.

Our early morning arrival at Leonardo de Vinci airport in Rome had one other advantage: short lines for immigration and customs. Soon, we were on our way toward Trevi_Fountain_in_2014our B&B. We could not check in, but we were able to store our baggage. It was time for a walk, a long hike to the Trevi Fountain. I have been travelling to Rome for more than 25 years, yet I had never seen the fountain. It is spectacular. Our early day arrival translated into a smaller crowd around the fountain and we were able to move about easily. We stopped at a small shop for coffee, pizza, beer and such, observing that the Polizia and unlicensed vendors were engaged in a bit of hide-and-seek. The vendors had lookouts, and were able to quickly pack up their wares when their spotters gave them the signal. The narrow alleys teeming with a growing crowd gave the vendors good cover.

I have given you my take on visiting the Colosseum and Forum in another post, so I will not cover that same ground again. colosseum cafeWe did employ a great tour guide (you should do the same if you visit), and the history Giovanna (which also happens to be my mother’s name) gave us, on top of the visuals, was first-rate.

Two more observations. At the end of our tour, a thunderstorm rolled up, complete with small hail. Being pelted by hail is not fun, but also is not unusual in the hinterland of the U.S. Besides, we had umbrellas and were reasonably protected. In Rome, however, hail is rare and many people seemed startled as they were hit by this relatively unknown substance. The hail was short-lived and folks scrambled to at the colosseumget away in taxis and by Uber. About the same time as the rain commenced, we also saw five guys, all wearing t-shirts (black with maroon letters) that read, “Make Rome Great”. We were not sure exactly what that meant, but speculated: bring back Nero, re-introduce the ‘games’ in the Colosseum, attack Gaul, again.

We visited the Vatican and St. Peter’s Basilica, just as we had last year. Nothing new to report here. The Pope still lives there, and the artwork is still spectacular. I did receive a religious omen while outside the Vatican. It came in the form of a pigeon dropping. I don’t know what that pigeon had in mind as it considered the possibilities in this particular bombing run, nor do I know what St. Peter was thinking about when he sent that pigeon my way. pantsYet, the pigeon arrived, and angled his dropping on me such that it formed a cross, on my pants. Holy moly! Check out this picture. Is it a sign of something? I’m happy that I wore pants that day.

We did get together again with my Rome cousins, Thomas and Addie. They are a delight to be with, and their stories about their lives are most interesting. I wish that I could spend more time with them and perhaps convince them to visit us in Omaha. We met at Il Grottino, The Grotto, Thomas’ neighborhood restaurant. We ate there last year. Il Grottino is located only a block from the Tibre, and in an area great for walking. The pizza, stuffed fried zucchini flowers, rice balls, and Calzone di Thomas (calzone covered with prosciutto) are all excellent. We were somewhat limited in our time with my cousins. il grottinoThomas had an early start the next day. He was flying to Cannes for some sort of film festival.

The train to Salerno from Rome is modern and swift. The train’s speed is displayed on a screen in front of each car. The fastest speed I observed was 297 kph, about 180 mph. Nice. We arrived on time, ready to go on a new adventure. Our B&B was neat and spacious, and we were ready to explore. But, it was chilly, and later in our first walk it rained, hard.

Salerno was also our home base for our travel to Caserta and San Cipriano Picentino (SCP). My friend Mike’s mother was born and grew up in Caserta, moving to Kansas City in 1947. Mike was on a quest for more information on his mother and her home, and Janet and I were there to observe, enjoy, and mikeprovide moral support. Our driver, interpreter, and friend Pepe was most helpful. Mike’s biggest finds were in the parish records of his mother’s family’s church. There is more to learn, but he is off to a fine start. We visited the building in which her family lived, and even found a neighbor who knew the family.

This was my second trip to SCP in the last year. We were greeted by family, my cousins, who seemed genuinely pleased to see us. Stories were told, hugs were given, and we all agreed that the next visit needed to last longer. SCP is beautiful. From one side of my cousin’s place, you can see the Bay of Naples. The land is hilly, but fertile. So, we return to the question, “Why did they leave?” Again, I am writing of Vincenzo and Teresa Ardovino, my great-grandparents. I intend to write an essay on scp peepsthis topic, but I can report that there was confirmation of the story that the departure was linked to a feud between my great grandfather and the mayor of SCP. My cousins in SCP told me that the mayor was in fact my great grandfather’s brother. A family fight spurred their departure. I know that my great grandfather was very high strung, and probably prone to rash actions. More to come. The picture below is of the house my great grandfather grew up in. It was built in 1799.ardovino scp

Our last stop before leaving from Rome to the U.S. was Positano. Yes, I reported on Positano last year, and it remains the second most beautiful city I have ever seen (Istanbul is number one). We were back at a lovely B&B, way high on the cliffs, and 195 steps up a stairway from the closest road to the place. I am just happy that we had partners to schlep our bags up and eventually down those stairs. From our deck, we had a fabulous view of the very colorful hillside homes, the small port of Positano, three churches and the twisting and turning roadway that carried cars, buses, and a lot of walkers between homes and shops. Check out the photos. Even at night, Positano is a special place. We will return.positano d-n

I have left out our time in Pompeii, the ruins, and Janet and Debbie’s horseback ride on Mt. Vesuvius. I’ll get to those in another post. I did drive again in Italy, Salerno to Pompeii and back. Yes, there was a roundabout, and yes, I found myself face-to-face, nose-to-nose, hood-to-hood with an oncoming car. He blinked. There was no accident, and I can’t wait to drive in Italy again.

Kansas City and the War to End All Wars

 

I was in Kansas City in early June, primarily to see the Royals play the White Sox, eat again at Q39, and spend time with Janet and our very good friends Mike and Debbie. The Royals have had a rough year, and are a long way from the team that won the World Series in 2015. Q39 has not had a rough season, and since our last visit has picked up a few deserved recognitions for its food.

The real treat to our visit was spending some time at the World War One Museum. Okay, maybe you’re not the museum type, especially one that focuses on an event that ended badly 100 years ago. But, please read me out. First, the physical layout of the museum is welcoming, with plenty of room to walk around the exhibits, listening to the audio guide. Second, the grounds around the museum contain an adjacent park and memorial walk. They offer some of the best views of Kansas City. Third, the sights and sounds from the top of the tower at the museum are very cool, providing a panorama of Kansas City and beyond from a 200 foot plus elevated vantage point.

While I learned a great deal at the museum and found the buildings and grounds most attractive, my real motivation for going there was much more personal. My great grandfather Felix (my father’s side of my family)  fought in World War One. He was gassed (mustard) and was held as a prisoner of war by the Germans. The effects of the gas had lasting effects on him throughout his life. Moreover, their town in France, Abscon, was only a short distance from Cambria where the first large scale use of tanks in battle took place on November 17, 1917. The battles raged, and the people of the region suffered. They lived in the wrong place at the wrong time. Less than three years after the historic battle, Felix, my grandfather Louis, and the rest of their immediate family sailed for Ellis Island and a new life in America.

Abscon lies close to the Belgium border, and not far from the English Channel. That location has witnessed many boundary changes over the centuries. When I used Ancestry.com to analyze my DNA to learn more about my background, the results were somewhat surprising. I am the product of a mixed marriage, mixed in a different way than is often meant today. My father was, I thought, 100 percent French (French father and French mother). My mother is 100 percent Italian (Italian mother and Italian father). So, I expected a nearly 50/50 split, with perhaps a one percent Neanderthal or some other small portion as part of my DNA. I was right about the Italian side, 46 percent with some odds and ends (most likely Albanian). To my surprise, I am only 36 percent French. I will be looking into what that’s all about in the future.

The museum visit helped me in one other regard. I have wanted to visit Abscon for some time, and the addition of new information (the tank battle) pushed me to finally decide to go. Janet and I already had planned a visit to Ireland (both the north and the south) for May 2020. Now, we will extend the trip and fly on to Brussels and drive to Abscon (location marked with the pin) so that I can continue my research about my family. You will be reading more about this in the future.

 

Back in the Lone Star – – Twice

There were two visits to Texas, one in late May the other in early July, and I am writing about both of them together. Each time we chose to drive because we seemed to “need” a longer road trip, along with a non-airport change in scenery. Our time in Texas was spent largely with my dad, in Sanger, and with one of my sisters, in Dallas, although we drive around parts of Denton more than once.

Because in the past I have documented a number of air trips to Dallas, I will refrain from my usual references to Whataburger and Chuy’s and focus on our observation regarding new (for us) stuff. texasOne of the the biggest changes was found in roadside signs; specifically, those related to the nationwide shift in laws regarding the legal status of marijuana consumption. The 1960s and 1970s references to reefer (and reefer madness), joints, doobies, pot, alligator cigarettes, weed, dirt weed, devil’s lettuce, grass, party parsley, mary, mary jane, hash, herb goofy boots, and bogarting take on a whole different meaning when rolling down the road at 80 mph or passing through a town and seeing signs such as:

  • Weed Maps Guide to Cannabis – Learn, Order, Smile
  • Lotus Gold Marijuana Dispensary
  • Hempyz Smoke Shop
  • Ivy League Cannabis
  • The Main Street Dispensary (in Stillwater, Oklahoma)
  • Stillwater Dispensary
  • Flippen Farma

It’s hard for me not to laugh loudly when I see these signs, given that in the early 1970s in Texas simple possession (less than an ounce) could yield serious jail time, and a life permanently ruined. Yet today, there is a raging debate about legalization. weedmapsThe September 2019 edition of AARP magazine has a picture of the evil weed on the cover with the title: Special Report, Marijuana and Your Health.

My grandmother Ersilia (we knew her as Elsie or Nan) would feel so much less embarrassed by her early consumption of the evil weed given society’s shift in opinions about smoking or otherwise ingesting the key element of this plant. Her toking took place before the 1937 Marijuana Tax Act became law, thus when she imbibed it was legal. I wonder what she called it. Too bad I never asked her.

The late May drive was marked by almost constant, and sometimes pounding, rain from about 50 miles north of Topeka to Paul’s Valley, Oklahoma, our stopping point for the night. Virtually every river we crossed was out of its banks, and on a few days prior to our drive Interstate 35 the 35 in west coast speak) was closed due to flooding. We saw the Arkansas River, Salt Fork, as well as the Chickaskie, Washita, and Ninnescah Rivers well above flood stage, water covering many acres of crop- and ranch-land. We had seen news reports about flooding around Wichita and Emporia, Kansas, but seeing it first hand provided a whole new layer to the images we had observed on TV. In addition, El Dorado Lake had gone well beyond its banks and had flooded the 35 just a few days before we drove that way. Even the Flint Hills, which has the most dense coverage of intact tallgrass prairie in the U.S. was flooded in spots. I have driven from Omaha to Dallas many times since 1984, often passing through the Flint Hills. I have never seen this area as green or as wet as we observed this time around.

floodWe took periodic notes (and pictures) regarding the weather and flooding. Here is a sample of our observations:

  • Rain began near Holton, KS (it would rain for the next 380 miles)
  • Kansas River at North Topeka is high, evidence of flooding
  • 5:13 pm – weather alert for our area, flash flooding
  • Mile marker (MM) 139—frog strangling rain, 10 miles north of Emporia, lots of lightening
  • Neosho River out of its banks; yikes, we are hydroplaning
  • Cottonwood River, well out of its banks, flooded fields in all directions
  • Local flood traffic (sign), right lane
  • High water when flashing (sign), it was flashing
  • Car in the ditch at MM 108, young people involved, no one is hurt
  • Car in the ditch at MM 106, no damage seen
  • Raging water everywhere
  • Worst rain yet at MM 83, cars pulling off, traffic at 30-40 mph (top speed)
  • Car crash at MM 77
  • White Water River out of its banks at MM 65, flooding everywhere
  • Arkansas River is flooding, again fields are covered with water
  • Just south of Wellington, Kansas, hard rain and lightening
  • Major flooding 30 miles north of Perry, Oklahoma
  • Arrive in Paul’s Valley, light rain

The Flint Hills stretches south from near the Kansas-Nebraska border to northern Oklahoma, over 200 miles. It is about 100 miles wide, covering cities such as Manhattan and Emporia, Kansas.

flint hillsThe drive through the hills provides a very pleasant break from the monotonous grey slab interstate ride, and is marked by gently rolling hills, endless horizons, tall grass that stretches forever, and rock outcrops that glisten (if there is enough light) because of the bands of chert that are contained in the limestone base. The land is no good for crops, the natives and others tried that, but excellent for grazing. bisonImagine, more than 160 years ago, millions of bison walking, trotting, or running across this immense area. The sight, and the sound of hoofbeats and grunting (bison are very loud and expressive animals) must have been amazing.

As noted above, we stopped in Paul’s Valley, Oklahoma, for the night (both trips), in part because we had a later departure from Omaha. Paul’s Valley is a very small town that has adjusted well to the completion of Interstate 35, 50 years ago. In the 1960s when I first drove with my parents south from Stillwater to Dallas, we traversed national highway 77, and moved right through Paul’s Valley. Back then, the traffic through this part of Oklahoma proceeded slowly, or very fast, and dangerously. The steep hills of the Arbuckle Mountains meant that the vehicle flow was either at 30 mph, the speed of an 18-wheel truck straining to get up a hill, or 75 plus mph as the trucks and passing cars careened down the hill, soon to be slowed again. I would close my eyes as this variable speed conga line of cars, buses, and trucks did this dangerous dance, again and again, especially when it was downhill and the road was curving. Today, the 35 skirts the town, yet business development along the interstate has kept the area economy relatively strong. And, the traffic goes 75 mph plus both up and down flattened out hills.

You can learn a lot about a place spending 30 or so minutes looking through the local newspaper. The Saturday-Sunday, July 6-7, edition of the Paul’s Valley Democrat was full of local stories that provided a good sense for the goings-on in the community. The lead story was about a new delivery service business started by a 23-year-old local. There were lessons on pest control (dried coffee grounds help control yard pests such as chiggers, ticks, and mold). pauls valleyThe world championship for watermelon seed spitting was held in Paul’s Valley on July 4—the story contained a less than complimentary photo of a middle-age woman with nice earrings and other jewelry letting one of those seeds fly from her mouth. There was an editorial arguing for an end to congressional gridlock. There was good coverage of education-related events: local students attended a STEAM academy and band camp, and a young man with local connections had received his Ph.D. from the University of California-San Diego—post doc at John Hopkins next. The sports page stayed local, with pictures of the best teams from a charity-related golf tournament. The help wanted section of the paper was full of health care related jobs. Finally, there was a full page color story with pictures and graphics celebrating the 50th anniversary (July 20) of our lunar landing.

turner fallsDuring the May Texas drive, we stopped at Turner Falls, one of my favorite places for camping, hiking, and wading when I was a college student. We were able to drive there on the 35 in about 90 minutes from Denton and relax and recover from the stresses of being students—are there really any stresses from being a student? Today, the park is modernized. The campsites have more amenities. There is a restaurant, and the basin for wading and swimming at the bottom of the falls has been enlarged. The trail system has been greatly expanded, making hiking, biking, and running even more fun. It’s a cool place.