Monday, October 21, 2013

Ninth Entry on a Long Journey

I looked across vast spaces hoping to see at least something moving. Instead I saw empty, slightly rolling plains and stark wasteland. This is the experience I have had the past few days driving across South Dakota and Wyoming. In its own right, the open vistas I gazed at were majestic, but in another way, they left me sad, since they reminded me of the tragic history of the Indians. These grounds had been the pastures 150 years ago of grazing buffalo. The animals to the south were already gone, systematically exterminated as part of the government's plan to subdue the Comanches, but there were a few herds left here in the north for the Indians. By 1876, most Indians of this region were already on reservations, but the remaining holdouts, mainly the Lakota Sioux under the powerful leadership of Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse, had organized and unified for the purpose of preserving their culture. This though could not last. The throng of Whites from the East moved steadily westward. A confrontation occurred when the Natives refused to sell to the United States the Black Hills of South Dakota, which was rich hunting land that had been guaranteed by treaty to the Indians. Gold had been discovered there and miners began to trespass with impunity. President Grant decided it would be easier to protect the miners, whose gold would help the country rebound from the economic depression of 1873, than to honor the commitment to the Natives. He ordered the military to convince the Indians to join the reservations or face the consequences of being subdued by force. Under these circumstances, the cavalry was sent and they confronted the tribes at Little Big Horn. The humiliating loss by George Armstrong Custer there incited a furious American revenge against the Sioux which eventually totally sealed the Natives horrible fate at Wounded Knee, South Dakota, in 1890.

I crossed the Sioux Pine Ridge Reservation at Wounded Knee and proceeded northeast into the Badlands National Park. Fortunately the road, which had been closed for the past 15 days due to the "Shutdown", was now open. There were few tourists and I had almost the park to myself. Before me were craggy spires and gorges, tall thin pillars, sandstone toadstools, unique plants and multicolored soil beneath which holds the mother lode of ancient fossils. This was one of the most frightening primordial environments I had ever seen. Once an ancient sea and then later low lying swamps, triceratops, t-rexes, Miocene animals, and sea creature bones have been unearthed in mass, many of which are on display in the Geology Museum in nearby Rapid City.

I managed to visit Mt Rushmore, drive through the Black Hills, and eventually tour Devil's Tower in Wyoming. Again the Indian theme came to mind. While gazing at the Tower, an incredibly beautiful stone monolith, which received notoriety most recently in the movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind, I remembered I had read that it had been an important religious symbol for native cultures. Families had camped under and around it as protection from the wind and tribes had used it as a giant directional post as a wanderer's aid for countless generations. While I was there, I saw that local Native Americans had placed prayer shawls in adjacent trees at its base and had hung prayer beads next to them. It then occurred to me that calling the place "Devil's Tower," the name coined by cavalry officer and Indian fighter, Henry Dodge in the 1840's, seemed both outdated  and showed a high degree of insensitivity and had even possibly a malicious agenda. As I hiked around this beautiful natural monument, I began to think of other more suitable, less threatening names like Majestic Tower or that it should even be renamed by what the natives had called it, Bear Lodge or Buffalo Horn.  After all, I had visited towns where cavalry officers had been memorialized such as Custer or Sturgis, South Dakota, or Sheridan or Reno Junction, Wyoming, but not found one city or monument name given to honor the those people who had blessed the area and had lost their lives for its preservation.

I am told that such thoughts occur when a person travels alone. It is said, they have too much time to think. Tomorrow I leave for Idaho for more solitary moments.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Eighth Entry on a Long Journey

                                The Tiffany Skylight in the old Chicago Public Library

                               The stately buildings of the Field Museum, Adler Planetarium, and
                                Shedd Aquarium linked together by gardens and paths along the lake
                                Sun Wah Duck restaurant on Chicago's North Side..  oooo so tasty!
                                          Fine dining in iconic Marshall Fields downtown

It has been suggested that I share a few more pictures of Chicago in order to illustrate more fully its natural and architectural beauty, its fantastic night life, the vast cultural opportunities, and its gourmet restaurants. To so many that live there "it's my kind of town". Special thanks to Stan Hollenbeck for his astute knowledge of the city and his unbridled dedication to making Chicago a better place to live.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Seventh Entry of a Long Journey

Its's snowing at the moment  here in Rapid City, South Dakota, and my destination is Mount Rushmore. So I'm in a holding pattern and waiting for the weather to clear, which, around here, could be next Spring. Otherwise I'll have to peer at those old geezers with dandruff on their heads and shoulders.

I have been traveling exclusively back roads through the Great Plains and "Farm Belt" for over a week. I have cruised through Western Illinois, Iowa, Southern Minnesota, back into Iowa, then through a sliver of Nebraska, and across South Dakota. The landscape consists mainly of cornfields. The number of fields defies the imagination. I have seen thousands of cornfields holding millions of bushels. Looking like curious baby kangaroos sticking out of their mother's pouch, the corn peeks out and seems ready to be harvested. The leaves are brown and withered and the ears, I am told, are almost dry enough for the giant machines to pick them and then grind up the stalks. I have listened and learned about corn issues, such as genetic engineering, seed planting contracts, price management, and computer generated soil analysis. Signs in front of fields extol the merits of particular seeds. Trucks trudge down the highway taking loads to the silos. Hopper cars snake along railroad tracks in front of grain elevators, giant vertical piggy banks loaded with tiny "yellow gold" coins stored and saved for the right moment.
You might at one time have asked yourself what the need was for all this corn. After all, most of us are only good for eating one cob at a summer barbeque, and quite frankly, even this sweet treat, we are reminded rather indiscreetly, is not particularly well digested. Of course the main uses of corn are sweeteners, animal feed, and fuel. It's value to our diet and society as a whole has been discussed in countless periodicals and I have included one decent article for your review.

My route took me to the Las Vegas of corn or the ultimate in corny, namely the Corn Palace of Mitchell, South Dakota. In the beginning of the last century, a "Mecca of Maize" was built. Sporting events, vaudeville acts, major musical and theatrical entertainers have entertained pilgrims under mosaics of colored kernels. Even the exterior of the building, in a bizarre edible imitation, of European church art, is adorned in multi-colored nuggets. Seeing this laughable homage to the one true Lord in this religious area, namely the "Jolly Green Giant" was only surpassed in humor by the adulation of a Porky-like Pig at my visit to the Hormel "Spam Museum" in Austin, Minnesota.

The sky is clearing and the blue sky is peeking through fluffy clouds. I need to make use of this opening. The "Rock Band Boys" playing at the Rushmore are waiting for me. Can this be taken any more seriously?  Tonight I'll be in Wyoming, maybe?

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Sixth Entry on a Long Journey

                               "The Bean" Reflecting statue in the park by the Art Museum.
                                 See the guy taking the picture!

                                           Please look only at the name on the shirt!

                                Gertrude Spangler with her nephew along Lake Michigan.
                                                Photo by her daughter Anne Hollenbeck

                                Like any urban area, Chicago has its homeless but shelters are
                                insufficient and often dangerous.

                                  Elevated train on a quiet afternoon in the Loop. Note the proximity
                                  and architecture of the adjacent buildings.

                                One of the three Chagall windows at the Chicago Art Institute.

Years ago, while in Tanzania, a local fellow admonished me, that I, like most tourists, mainly took photos of the poor or of tribal people because they looked exotic and interesting. The pictures, he claimed, were useful as fodder for conversations about vacations and as an avenue to obtain praise from friends for my adventuresome bravado. Rather harshly, he concluded, that neither I nor the viewers gained any real insight about what it was like to live under the conditions as seen in such snapshots. He compared such photos as to those taken by a tabloid journalist of exotic animals on a trip to the zoo. To be at least fair to his country, he suggested that, if in fact my true purpose was to inform others what his country was really like, I should publish a number of boring pictures showing the majority people in their daily Western attire going about their business. Also I should include scenery of common places that could be almost anywhere in the world. Otherwise, I was consciously doing a disservice. Keeping this in mind, any attempt by me to describe Chicago carries a similar risk of distortion. In fact, my overriding feeling is that the task of transmitting a decent image of Chicago is too large and complex for me to express succinctly. Less accurate than a blind man who pokes his cane at a haystack and believes he has felt a bush, my brief experience in Chicago is limited to having "grasped a few straws." Even the proverbial Hillel who, it is said, was able to reduce the meaning of the Torah to one sentence while standing on one leg, would have been blown over if he had tried his luck at describing the Windy City. So keeping the above admonition in mind, the following is my feeble attempt.

During the week following the day of my arrival, various cousins and family gave me tours of their turf. They took me to the Loop (downtown), we walked along the lake, viewed the art museum, gazed at the city and Chicago River from a son's condo, gorged ourselves at eclectic, fashionable restaurants, listened late into the night to music at a  famous city jazz club, drove through ethnic neighborhoods, and relaxed at the assisted living facility where my 93 year old aunt lived.

My routes crisscrossed the city and suburbs which contained, according to recent figures, a staggering 9.5 million people, making it the most populous metropolitan area in the Midwest. Sometimes it felt like I was traveling down the rows of an urban version of a giant cornfield composed of brick stalks  filled with human ears of varying colors and size. The people that I observed seemed proud to be Chicagoans and well adapted to living in this mass of humanity. They resided in brick and wood frame houses, apartment buildings, many condominiumized, in subdivisions in the suburbs, stately mansions on the North Side, and in massive high rises along the lake. It felt like there was a busy upbeat tempo in the air, not a nervous sound, but a modern jazzy rhythm from the clicking of heels on pavement, the shutting of cab doors, the somewhat muted wheels from the el, and the voices laced with Midwest accents. There was an overriding sense of movement as well. Commuters recite subway routes and station departure and arrival times like they were practicing their times tables. They jam the Expressways called the Eisenhower or the Stevenson, or cruise the historic Lake Shore Drive or drive on Michigan Avenue for business or pleasure. The newest fad for transportation is to use bicycles, which the city supplies with the swipe of a credit card and which are attached to colorful docking stations at many corners throughout the metropolitan area.

I found it hard to conceive the massive amounts of financial and natural resources and manpower that are necessary to make the city of that size work and flourish. Just imagine the public sector's challenge to provide an adequate number of police cars, fire engines, school teachers, case workers, jailers, street sweepers and even aldermen that are needed to provide basic services. Guess the the amount of water, gas, electricity and sewage required to meet the demand. Speculate on the dollar value spent by the private and public sector on basic products such as food clothing or supplies. Look at the amount of dollars earned in commerce from offices, businesses, stores, and factories. The image is monumental. It blurs the mind. That is the case with me. For those who live in rural areas, or haven't visited a big city for a long time, it is hard to grasp the social and political implications such a metropolis has, let alone absorb the daunting realization about the number of people in the world.

The pictures  which I have chosen to share indicate that I have not adequately learned the lesson of Tanzania. These are selected frames that tell some aspect of Chicago, but omit many key elements. They are like random flowers plucked from a gigantic vase. They are shots from an amazing world and are meant to encourage viewers to plan to see the city on their own. On another note, I wish to thank publicly, my cousin Anne and her husband Stan Hollenbeck, my cousin David and his wife Bonnie Spangler, their son, Benjamin, and my cousin Ron and his wife Toni Ellis, for their gracious hospitality, kindness and love.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Fifth Entry of a Long Journey

When I mention Chicago, some of you may think of Al Capone or hear Frank Sinatra's voice crooning "....It's my kinda town." For me the word has a special meaning. It is the name I have inserted on countless forms over the years in the blank marked "Place of Birth."  My earliest memories contain images of coal-stained brick apartment buildings, ornate downtown skyscrapers, boxy little houses, amazing museums and zoos, summer thunderstorms, swimming in a huge lake, and playing in spacious parks which were filled with terrific climbing trees.  I recall going to synagogue, walking with my sister to elementary school along noisy busy streets, and playing marbles in sand lots. It was where I first became conscious of class and racial differences. There were "colored people" who lived across 47th Street on the South Side. These were poor people whose tenements, run-down clapboard houses, and storefronts I would see from the elevated train on trips with my mother to downtown or peer at through the window from the backseat of our car on the way to my father's office. These people had lives beset with bad habits and, in my eyes, most were not clean, refined, or, for that matter, safe to be around. For the first ten years of my life, I accepted resolutely my place that I was a small, anxious, nervous "city boy" living among a dense mass of diverse people.  In 1956, our family moved to Southern California and my attachment to Chicago faded rapidly as I began to connect to a new environment. Nonetheless, I have always felt a peculiar excitement and subsequent stimulation of old memories when I have returned to my old neighborhood. It is hard to define the feeling and value of the experience, except that it is similar to discovering a box of long misplaced puzzle pieces. For some reason a person feels wealthier because he has found lost shapes which contribute to the picture of his whole being.
Another benefit that returning to Chicago affords me is the opportunity to renew contact with relatives who still reside in the Windy City, most important among them my 93 year old Aunt Gertrude, the remaining member of my parents's generation.

So this past week, with great anticipation, I entered the South Side of Chicago from Indiana. My route took me on Lake Shore Drive  passing the 76th street beach, Hyde Park, the Museum of Science and Industry, and Jackson Park. My first destination was to stop at the Field Museum of Natural History to ogle at the face of one of the city's most famous celebrities, the lovely Sue. (to be continued)

Friday, October 4, 2013

Fourth Entry on a Long Journey

I entered the Midwest by crossing a bridge over the Ohio River. Kentucky and the South were now behind me. As I headed Northeast driving along State Route 7, I snapped pictures of the big river which composed the border between Ohio and West Virginia. My destination was a stop in Pomeroy, Ohio, and to spend the night in Marietta, the first Ohio city of the Northwest Territories.

The egg carton topography of Appalachia was gone and had yielded to rolling deciduous tree-covered hills and flat expanses of river bottom land rich with recently harvested cornfields and soy beans plots. Small farms and quaint, clean homesteads decorated with Halloween ornaments dotted the tranquil landscape.

I stopped at an oldtime tavern and grill across from the courthouse in Pomeroy, a historic steamboat landing, and which had been by-passed by the main highway, ate a burger filled with hot homemade cole slaw and listened to the "aaaaksent" of the local people. On other occasions on my trip, like a sophomoric sociologist, I had initiated conversations to glean political opinions on current topics from folks sitting by me, but not this time. I wanted to be simply a fellow passing through town and enjoy the role. My attention turned to the wall adjacent the mirror, elaborate woodwork, and shelves of bottles. There, amid the posters and pennants heralding local athletic teams was, curiously enough, an old placard announcing an evening with jazz-blues great Joe Bonamassa.

In the late afternoon as I moved onward, the wind picked up and blew thousands of brown wilted leaves from the trees. They flitted and dove above the roadway like flocks of small frightened birds. Those that fell on the pavement thickened into a mat and gave the appearance of oddly shaped stones composing a mud wagon trail. There was little traffic and I, cruising along in reverse the direction of countless pioneers that had come this way, slowed my pace even more until I stopped at a wayside to get out to stretch and, in the quiet, appreciate my fortune.