Let’s face it! The Eiffel Tower is one of the most photographed structures in the world. Since celebrating the 130th anniversary of its opening last week, more than 7 million people a year now flock to gawk at it’s imposing presence along the Champ-de-Mars.
I’m certain that it’s been photographed from every imaginable angle, in all sorts of light–day and night–and in all sorts of weather conditions.
But not by me! After arriving in Paris and settling in my hotel in Montparnasse, the first thing I wanted to visit was the Eiffel Tower. To me, it meant that I was in Paris!
There’s security now. Since July 2018, a 3-meter high wall of bullet-proof glass (2.5 inches thick) protects the “Iron Lady” and visitors from vehicle-ramming attacks, while two sentried openings scan personal property. But the inconvenience is minimal compared to the lines that form for stairs and elevators to the top.
Once inside the enclave, the enormity of the tower is that much more imposing, stretching the length of one football field in all directions from the center to its foundation footings.
Examining the intricacy of the lattice can be hypnotizing,
when studying the symmetry of shapes,
or it may seem random and haphazard by a clash of metal girders.
But if abstracting the Eiffel Tower appears upsetting or unsettling, a postcard version of this Parisian landmark can always please the senses…
On the third day of a four-day affair, the 1-mile approach to the Ritz-Carlton Hotel was thoroughly congested. In addition to stand-still traffic, an unbroken chain of cars akimbo were parked on both sides of the grassy shoulder.
A steady stream of walkers of all ages easily out-paced my Ford pickup on the way to the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance, north Florida’s premier destination for car connoisseurs–and in some cases–car collectors with deep pockets. They have come from around the world to claim bragging rights for owning many of the rarest sporting and cruising motorcars worthy of six to seven-figures.
We mastered the final quarter-mile in 30 minutes. Once past the event entrance, we took a quick right and followed the signs that led us to a string of ad hoc neighborhood parking concessions charging $40 for the day. Fortunately, as I approached the first backyard turn-in, a couple was just claiming their vehicle–leaving an open spot for me.
“Are you kidding?! I’m not paying that kind of money for a parking spot! That’s highway robbery!” announced Leah to me.
“Is it any cheaper down the road?” Leah called out to the attendant/mansion owner.
“It’s the same, but if you’re willing to walk back about 20 minutes, you might be able to park somewhere for half the price,” he offered, “but you need to make up your mind ’cause there’s traffic piling up behind you.
I turned into the lot.
“Location, location, location,” I declared.
The sunny skies were a blessing and a curse. The weather was perfect for strolling along the 1st, 10th, and 18th fairways of the Golf Club of Amelia Island…
to gaze at more than 400 classic and exotic automobiles.
However, the owners who were standing guard over their prized possessions were invariably hard at work, answering questions, overstating their cars’ value, and forever polishing away the glaring fingerprints of so many gawkers-turned-touchers.
A full representation of cars from every manufacturer was mostly categorized by brand, ranging from Datsuns…
with occasional support provided by corporate tents and stages…
showcasing concept cars…
elite production models,
and vintage heirlooms.
There were novelties…
steamed-clean engines to admire…
and glorious paint jobs to behold…
But most enjoyable was sitting on the sidelines watching a parade of auctioned vehicles…
as they were being polished,
by teams of attentive handlers in white gloves…
before facing RM Sotheby’s gavel. According to the auctioneer:
Leading RM’s string of 19 individual million-dollar-plus sales and claiming top honors of the 2017 Amelia Island auctions was a striking 1937 Bugatti Type 57S Cabriolet, one of only three examples sporting rare coachwork by Vanvooren of Paris. Offered for public sale for the first time in its 80-year history, the highly original Type 57S sparkled under the auction lights during Saturday’s sale session, commanding $7,700,000. Just moments prior to the Bugatti’s sale, a well-known 1929 Stutz Model M Supercharged Coupe, one of only three supercharged Stutzes in existence, proved demand remains strong for great American Classics at auction, selling for $1,705,000 against a pre-sale estimate of $1/1.2 million. The strong sales price represents a new record for a Stutz at auction.
Friday’s sale session was also one for the books, with the Orin Smith Collection generating $31 million in sales with a 100 percent sell-through. A wonderful showcase of RM Sotheby’s expertise and capabilities in handling private collection auctions, the sale represented the first time RM has hosted a Friday evening sale at Amelia, and provided a fitting tribute to a man beloved by the Amelia crowd, drawing a packed sales room. The group of 63 vehicles was headlined by a stunning 1936 Lancia Astura Cabriolet Series III “Tipo Bocca” at $2,145,000. Other notable sales included:
the 1956 Bentley S1 Continental Drophead Coupe, just two registered owners from new, shattered both its presale estimate of $700/900,000 and the previous auction record for the model at a final $1,683,000;
a superbly restored 1933 Rolls-Royce Phantom II Special Newmarket Permanent Sedan soared past its $1,000,000 high estimate at a final $1,237,500; and,
a 1966 Aston Martin Short-Chassis Volante, the very first example of just 37 built, sold for $1,705,000.
The power of ‘no reserve’ exhibited at Friday’s Orin Smith Collection sale was witnessed again on Saturday with terrific results achieved for a well-known private collection of 10 sporting cars. Highlighting the group, a dramatic two-tone red and black 1956 Maserati A6G/54 Frua Coupe Series III, much-admired by enthusiasts during preview, provided one of the most intense and lively bidding contests of the weekend, eventually selling for $2,365,000 against a pre-sale estimate of $1.6/2.2 million. From the same collection, a 1974 Porsche 911 Carrera RS 3.0 eclipsed its pre-sale estimate of $900,000 – $1.1 million to storm into the record books at a final $1,375,000 (an auction record for the model). Also commanding strong bids were a spectacular 1954 Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Gullwing, which realized $1,358,500, and a stunning 1955 Alfa Romeo 1900C SS Coupe, which brought $1,100,000.
Other noteworthy sales of RM’s 2017 Amelia Island event include:
the 5,694-mile 1995 Ferrari F50, originally delivered to famed heavyweight Champion boxer, Mike Tyson, sold for an above-estimate $2,640,000;
a 1938 Graham 97 Supercharged Cabriolet, exquisitely restored by RM Auto Restoration, set a new benchmark for a Graham at auction with its strong $770,000 final price; and,
ending Saturday’s sale session on a fun note, a 1963 Meyers Manx—the original dune buggy—doubled its pre-sale estimate to sell for a record $68,750.
Collective sales for 135 blue-chip entries generated nearly $71M in sales–producing a record high in the event’s 24-year history…
…and at prices that would make a hood ornament blush.
Imagine playing recreational golf with one driver, an iron, and a putter. Accessing the game would be so much easier without the expense of all those clubs. And when playing the course, think how much time could be saved between strokes by not having to decide which club to select for each shot.
While it’s not the perfect metaphor, I’ve approached photography with the same minimalist philosophy. I’ve been photographing with a Panasonic Lumix digital bridge camera (fixed zoom lens) for the past few years instead of lugging around equipment that I might use, but most likely never would.
How do I know this? Despite decades of shooting a variety of photography disciplines (landscape, nature, portrait, street scene, architecture, etc.) that required a variety of prime and telephoto lenses neatly arranged in my equipment bag, I’ve noticed that I’m rarely disappointed by the versatility of the LEICA DC VARIO-ELMARIT 24X optical zoom permanently mounted to my Lumix DMC-FZ300, while also freeing myself of a senseless burden that would invariably sink deeper into my shoulder with every step and slow me down.
It’s truly a remarkable lens for nearly all occasions! The range and reach of the camera’s 25 – 600mm zoom has seldom left me needing more lens, or regretting my camera choice in favor of a full-fledged DSLR…until now…since there are times I’m wishing I could gain greater detail by getting closer to my subject.
For instance, walking across a boardwalk over marshland strictly limits my ability to get closer to wildlife. The following photograph is a hand-held shot of a heron that caught my attention at a scenic overlook while hiking along the Guana Loop of Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve (GTM).
At 24X zoom, the image is acceptable, but if I choose to isolate the heron by cropping the bird to full frame, the resolution suffers greatly. Ideally, a tripod could have provided better image clarity, but the digital noise would still remain the same.
However, I discovered another available option that allows me to get a bit closer without relying on the camera’s built-in digital zoom–which I’m inclined to deactivate since I prefer to shoot RAW. Years ago, Lumix created a 1.7X tele conversion lens with adapter, extending the optical zoom to 40.8X, or the equivalent zoom range of 1020mm. But alas, this accessory has been discontinued.
Fortunately there’s a secondary market for almost everything photographic, so after a brief visit to the internet, I found a seller on eBay that offered the requisite 1.7X tele converter, a close-up lens, mount adapter, and tripod mount ring, all for a fraction of the original price of the tele lens.
And I bought it!
Having traveled to the GTM with my new/used acquisition, and having survived the burden of carrying extra gear, I assembled the lens and carefully threaded it onto the existing camera lens. I planted my feet, braced myself and shot the heron again!
A side by side comparison tells the story…
The image on the right is noticeably cleaner, even though the focus appears to be a bit soft, informing me that capturing a crisp, hand-held shot at 40.8X is not my specialty, and probably ill-advised.
Ugh! So now I’m forced to carry a tripod or monopod to make better use of the lens extender. Oh, well. There goes the economy of my photography.
Then again, I could simply stick to the limits of the original lens…
but then again, with an impending trip to photograph big game animals in Africa at the beginning of May, I’m much better off adjusting to three golf clubs instead of one.
Security at our new house in St. Augustine has been a concern from the beginning. While we truly enjoy our privacy, we are physically isolated from all of our neighbors–alone in an outlying cul-de-sac that so far has eluded the new home construction spike occurring throughout our community.
However, it’s not as if we are inherently paranoid, or that we have a bucket full of anecdotal evidence to suggest that we have something to fear in our neighborhood. On the contrary, we’ve found our faraway neighbors to be friendly and caring.
But there are times when it would be nice to have some neighbors around to keep a watchful eye on things. Or have them circle the wagons in the event of an ambush.
Which would lead us to conclude that we are pretty much on our own when it comes to protecting our property.
The other day, Leah and I were introduced to a new neighbor for the first time, who asked the all-to-familiar question:
“So which house is yours?”
Which was answered in a patterned response:
“We’re pretty much by ourselves. Just look for the lonesome house with the red truck on the remote cul-de-sac,” I replied.
Our neighbor responded, “I know that house. It’s very pretty and lush by you, but aren’t you scared being all alone? Maybe you should get a dog!”
Well, no! Although we are dog friendly, there’s no plan for a dog in our household. Certainly not while we still intend to travel.
However, we had considered getting an alarm system, which doesn’t require regular walking or a vet. After an exhaustive search on the internet that challenged my inner geek, I opted for the wireless and flexible RING system to best integrate all security components (video doorbell, front door smartlock, cameras, floodlights, sensors, keypad and base station) under one umbrella. And the monitoring system–no contract necessary–was a genuine bargain at only $100 a year, with COSTCO picking up the first year expense.
I hooked everything up over the course of a few days, despite dangling from the top of a 14 foot telescoping extension ladder.
With all devices connected and communicating, I believe Alexa was immediately impressed, but Leah, not so much. She was waiting for a sign that the installation was worth all the accompanying chirps, bells, and whistles of every indoor/outdoor motion or open door–all in the name of stranger danger.
And then we discovered the unintended benefits of exterior motion detection: CRITTER CAM!
In addition to raccoon reconnaissance, we’ve also observed possums, bats, feral cats and cougars, which gave us a better perspective of what was digging up our yard since our move.
But then, I wasn’t prepared for the camera-mugging bluejay who seemingly came out of nowhere to find an unexpected perch…
Realizing that the video capture happened in a blur, I dissected the imagery to secure a better understanding of what I was watching…
Little did I realize–to my surprise–that RING would open up a (w)hole new dimension of peek-a-boo.
It was a bad day for Col. Charles Olmstead and the Confederate Army on April 10, 1862, when Capt. Quincy Gillmore’s Union artillery attacked Fort Pulaski from the northwest beachhead of Tybee Island, forcing its surrender thirty hours later,
and proving that a seemingly invincible coastal fortification that required 25 million bricks, 18 years, and $1 million to build could never catch up to evolving weapons technology.
Even 7½-inch-thick mortar walls were insufficient to protect the Fort’s garrison from the explosive bombardment of Gillmore’s experimental rifled cannon fire from one mile away.
Construction on Fort Pulaski began in 1829 as part of the Third System–in defense of Savannah’s 20,000 citizens and dynamic seaport–adopted by President Madison in response to the War of 1812.
With Fort Sumter under Confederate control by Christmas, 1860, Gov. Joseph Brown ordered state militia to seize Fort Pulaski–still unoccupied by Federal troops–on January 3, 1861…
…and transferred ownership to the Confederacy following Georgia’s succession on January 19, 1861.
It was a controversial gambit that ultimately escalated into eleven States joining the Confederacy–spiraling the South into Civil War by April 12, 1861.
After four months of establishing St. Augustine roots, and putting our house in order, it was time to satisfy our hot tub craving–a thought bubble Leah and I had discussed since settling down to our slice of paradise.
The notion of chilling in a hot tub had become my oxymoronic fantasy, while “a soak and a toke, so long as we don’t go broke” had become my new mantra.
Armed with a wellspring of research, we felt well prepared to test the waters, and immersed ourselves in the retail market. Our first inclination was shopping for value, so we patiently waited for Costco’s sale.
In the meantime, we diligently sifted through their online sales brochures to review the specs of different tubs at different price points, and screened all the consumer comments through a pro/con filter.
While there were many features to whet our appetite, we were nonetheless hesitant about Costco’s “ship it, and forget it” policy, fearing it could backfire into a “ship it, and regret it” experience. Having a transit outfit willing to drop a half-ton pallet at our curb and jet away without concern raised a red flag for us, possibly setting us up for a moving and installation watershed moment.
While we could easily hire a third-party to get the hot tub up and running, a catalog of complaints citing broken pumps, leaky tub molds, and buggy software, albeit warrantied, left us feeling lukewarm about this kind of investment.
So we went back to the well, and drew up a list of likely successors.
We received a call from a ThermoSpa agent less than microseconds after filling out an online form and hitting the <ENTER> button. He was quick to tout the health benefits of his product, but balked each time we asked about price, promising a more in-depth analysis within the confines of our home.
“It seems like a lot of work, but I’m very excited about you bringing over a sample for us to try,” I taunted.
“Unlikely,” he countered. We sell direct from our manufacturer, which is how we manage to keep our costs low and pass the savings on to you, but I have videos of our construction process that will demonstrate the merits of our brand, and I have videos of several models fully operational.
I, too was direct. “But I’m not buying a video,” I stated, “so goodbye.”
That’s when Leah determined that we had to get our feet wet, and truly test the waters. We visited a couple of second-generation dealers hawking Dimension One and Hot Springs spas from their local showrooms to better visualize our options.
To their credit, each shop owner invited us to take the plunge before we took the plunge. Of course, we were knee deep in questions, and they were awash with answers.
Ultimately, after much haggling, we selected a Hot Springs model for its five-year warranty, its installation coverage, and its assortment of desirable bells and whistles…
Taking nothing away from Comic Con, the assembly of tailgaters along Florida Route-401 at Port Canaveral was probably one of the largest collection of early morning geeks ever recorded. It was a carnival atmosphere, with fellow space cadets gathered from around the world to witness one of science’s greatest guilty pleasures–a space launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
But this was to be no ordinary launch. This time around, the payload carried atop the United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket has been 60 years in the making, named for Eugene N. Parker, a pioneer astrophysicist who predicted the existence of solar winds in a 1958 paper presented to an editorial panel who flatly rejected his claim.
Four years later, NASA’s Venus probe (Mariner 2) measured interplanetary energy particles that eventually vindicated Dr. Parker’s belief.
The Parker project was conceived for NASA by engineers at John Hopkins Applied Physics Lab in 2005, later amounting to costs running $1.5 billion in order to investigate the nature of our star, and gain an up-close understanding of solar winds.
Originally, Leah and I were on the fence about whether we should make the 2-hour trek from St. Augustine for the launch last night. After all, we’d been burned earlier in the year when we attempted to catch a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lift-off (T Minus 3 Days and Holding) during January’s Florida freeze-out.
But this time around, it was personal. Leah’s family had traveled to Florida’s Space Coast from Albuquerque last week (Tourist Attractions) with the intention of watching the Parker Solar Probe launch, only to be disappointed when the on-again-off-again mission was scrubbed for the third time on August 4, when a loose piece of foam was discovered inside the fairing. Daniel’s family was to be NASA’s guests to acknowledge SolAero’s design and fabrication of the probe’s photovoltaic assembly. Leah and I were to be tag-alongs.
Although we had no official invitation for this morning’s event, Leah and I were still determined to bear witness as a tribute to Daniel’s work. We departed at 11:30 pm, and made easy time on I-95S, cruising down the interstate to an uncertain destination. NASA had delivered a 65-minute window for the 3:33 a.m. launch, so we would pad our arrival time in anticipation of getting situated.
We knew we had arrived when we discovered a cluttered roadside collection of vehicles illegally parked along a shoreline clearing with an ersatz view of the gantry in the far distance.
The eight miles separating us from the rocket would be as close as we could get, since access to the base was restricted and blockaded by a fleet of sheriff cars.
After a couple of runs up and down the strip, I wedged the F-150 into a narrow gap of parked cars, barely touching the inside road line, but nevertheless legitimate enough to get a pass from the deputy.
I found a vacancy among the scores of tripods already populating the tall grass beside the rocky beach, and staked my claim–although I felt totally inadequate and out-classed–while surrounded by all the super-duper telephoto lenses, and suffering from an acute case of optics envy.
In preparation of the big moment, amateurs and pros alike fussed and fawned over their equipment, changing batteries, polishing lenses, accessorizing camera bodies with autodrives and cable releases, and participating in riveting discussions on ISO vs. aperture vs. shutter speed.
Yet nothing could compare to the mobile telescope for astrophotography that occupied the largest footprint of our makeshift parking lot.
Even its imaging display seemed more complicated than it had to be.
While it was impossible to compete with all the big boys and their toys, I took a practice shot after setting up, although I knew the lighting would never compare to the day for night exposure once the rocket thrusters lit up the sky.
Zoomed to the max at 600mm, the ISO set at 200, the aperture set at ƒ/8, and a 1 second exposure, my Lumix FZ300 captured this shot of the gantry 8 miles away.
I reckon that if the atmospheric conditions had been less humid, the image would have been crisper-looking.
There was nothing more to do except wait…
The 3:48 am goal had come and passed without results.
The revised launch time was pushed to 3:53 a.m. The countdown resumed at T-minus-four, and again–for some unknown reason–the launch was suspended while engineers determined the fate of the rocket.
When NASA calculated to green-light the launch at 4:28 a.m., the buzz around us was that this would finally be the moment. Nobody would dare admit aloud or to themselves that this was just another dress rehearsal.
We mostly waited in silence for the next half-hour. The sound of jumping fish in the darkness was a pleasant distraction from the drone of distant internet reporting from a fan’s elaborate sound system.
And then the moment all of us dreaded…with under one minute before the serious countdown:
“Hold, hold, hold!” announced an engineer from Launch 37 Command Center.
The rocket’s helium pressure system had tripped an alarm, taking the launch back to T-minus-four. The 65-minute launch window was quickly closing with ten minutes left, leaving insufficient time to troubleshoot the red flag and light this candle.
The mission was aborted and a collective sigh crossed the highway.
Leah and I drove back home with the sun rising over Matanzas River as we approached St. Augustine. My sole consolation was knowing that besides driving roundtrip for a still picture of a rocket strapped to a gantry in the distance, all I had to do was unmount my camera and fold up my tripod, while somebody else had to wrap up and tow away that enormous mobile telescope.
We slept until noon.
Flight officials determined that in 24 hours they would try all over again.
And when that happens, it will be without us. Instead, I’ll be watching NASA’s live stream of the launch at 3:31 a.m. from my armchair:
…if I can keep my eyes open.
P.S. The Parker Solar probe successfully launched on time:
Long before we established Florida residency, our water bills were ridiculously high, averaging $500 per month. Leah and I immediately suspected that during our three-month absence–between closing and occupancy–the irrigation system zoned around our yard was bleeding us dry. Was this truly to be the continuing cost of keeping our flower beds wet and our lawn green? And if so, was this property threatening to become our Waterloo?
No doubt, our water usage was worthy of an investigation, but the city water department was dismissive–offering precise and up-to-date historical data of our consumption–so we turned to our long-distance neighbors for perspective and to the builder for relief, while wondering which direction to go.
A plea for answers and advice via social media prompted a measured response from Lisa and Greg, new community Facebook pals, who offered to monitor the irrigation interface over a time for evidence of any irregularities or abnormalities.
Greg’s systems check of our Rain Bird controller soon revealed a broken drip head now gushing water, and a twice-a-week watering cycle (as planned) irresponsibly programmed to repeat twice a day by the original landscapers.
Greg recommended shutting down the timer, and offered to manually manage the irrigation zones in accordance with the forecasted rainfall.
We were indebted to Greg and Lisa for their vigilance, and dutifully took over on water watch for the month of June and thereafter. A new appeal to the utility office revealed a literal disconnect between our residential meter and parallel irrigation meter, resulting in unnecessary sewer charges every time we watered our lawn. Yet despite our conservation efforts, our newest utility bill was only reduced by 10%. It was time for a new strategy; we would dig an artesian well, and feed our grass and plants with our own well water.
Of course, the process demanded that we file a permit with the city; petition the architecture committee of our Home Owners Association for permission; find a reputable well digger; wait for the job to be scheduled (weather permitting)…and continue to pay exorbitant water bills in the meantime.
Finally, three months from our earliest consideration, the drilling equipment appeared one late morning in our yard without warning.
Using the Eenie Meenie Miney Moe method, Robbie determined where to place the wellhead…
without benefit of knowing how deep or how difficult the drilling would get, although the placement of other artesian wells within our community (a retired golf course from the 1950s) informed that 250 feet was a worthy depth to plumb before groundwater made its way to the surface.
Once Eric deployed the truck jacks,
the drill mast was ready to raise.
Eric and Robbie assembled the debris pump…
and the mud tub (for lubricating the drill head) was aligned over the designated wellhead…
well ahead of tomorrow.
The generator started cranking at 9am. By 11am the drill rod had blazed through 95 feet of clay and sand.
By the end of the day, the drill had chewed through 14 feet of shell and shale (and probably some shark teeth and fossils) to a depth of 195 feet…
eventually reaching a ledge of limestone cap rock at 225 feet.
The boring rods were replaced with PVC pipe, and anchored in place with cement.
The next day saw slow but steady progress, as a slimmer rod and bit sank into the hole to chip away at the more resistant stone.
While Eric sat on a 5-gallon bucket monitoring the levels with a cigarette balanced on his lower lip,
Robbie pre-wired the pump, and cut off power to the panel at 11:15am to make the connection. I was stepping out of the shower at the time when the lights went dark, the AC had paused, and Agent Strzok’s House Inquisitors were no longer embarrassing themselves on my bedroom TV. It was eerily quiet except for the growl from a nearby generator.
It took me a moment to figure out that this was not part of a rolling blackout to cool down an overloaded town grid. Nor was it the drill guys in the yard, who would have been lit up after accidentally severing my buried power cable.
It would take three additional hours to grind through another 15 feet of compacted limestone until fresh groundwater eventually flowed to the surface. Robbie dug a trench to the pump, and tied into the irrigation backflow, protecting us against future contamination and eliminating our dependence on costly city irrigation water.
All that was left to do was pay the well digger, and put the water to good use.
Although we’ve recently received June’s water bill crediting the city’s bogus charge for superfluous sewer usage, we will anxiously await the next billing cycle, already knowing that the grass is always greener on the other side.
and completing the 105-mile drive through Shenandoah National Park’s Skyline Drive from Front Royal to its southern terminus…
exposed us to more rain in 4 days than we had seen in all of one year on the road. There were moments when the deluge abated long enough to give us broken clouds and glimpses from some of the nearly seventy overlooks of the infinite Piedmont range to the east…
and the Shenandoah Valley to the west.
But mostly, we held our breath as we rolled along the two-lane ribbon of asphalt that wound around the mountains and climbed through a fog and cloud cover so dense at times that Leah and I asked ourselves if our summary road trip on the way to retiring the Airstream could literally be a watershed event.
Our travel plans were non-negotiable, as campgrounds had been prepaid along Skyline Drive and the first 300 miles of the connecting Blue Ridge Parkway before we’d exit eastbound toward Charlotte. We had given ourselves this time aboard the Airstream as a last hurrah–a chance to enjoy one more trip and indulge in driving one of America’s great “scenic” byways.
A moving van brimming with our belongings was awaiting departure from New Jersey to Florida, and slated for delivery by the first Monday in June while we slogged through foul weather on our way to Huntersville, North Carolina where our Airstream was destined for dry dock until the following year, giving us ample time to put our St. Augustine house in order and acclimate to Florida living.
Meanwhile, current weather stats revealed that remnants from Alberto (the first official storm of the 2018 hurricane season) had dumped over eight inches of rain along our travel route, punishing nearby dams and washing out essential bridge footings ahead of us, but we dutifully soldiered on, imagining the glorious views that would be to our left and our right.
Every so often, we’d take a break from our mountain miasma, and venture into the valley to escape the cloudburst and capture some of the local color (see A Touch of Blue and Mount Airy, NC), only to return to the Airstream and listen to the downpour pelting the roof like a torrent of bullets.
At times, we’d have a moment of clarity, like when we reached Mabry Mill at Milepost 176 (see Favoritism) and stopped to gawk at red-tailed hawks as they danced atop the thermals,
but it would be another hundred miles of slogging through doomsday rain before we’d catch another break from the storm.
Eventually, we disengaged the Airstream at Price Park Campground near Blowing Rock, North Carolina, and backtracked to investigate Flat Top Manor, a 23-room, 13,000 square foot national historic landmark…
and once the summer home of Moses Cone, son of German Jewish immigrants originally named Kane,
and aptly nick-named the The Denim King, for Moses and his closest brother Ceasar dominated the textile industry by acquiring and building manufacturing mills throughout the deep South, becoming the world leader in denim, flannel, and corduroy fabric production, and the sole supplier to Levi Strauss for its “501” brand jeans. Moses Cone, entrepeneur, conservationist and philanthropist had led the South to the Promised Land.
Moses and Bertha built their mansion at the turn of the 20th-century for $25,000 with every modern convenience of the time, despite their 20-mile distance from the nearest railhead, and the remoteness of North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains.
The couple (they never had children) enjoyed central heating, indoor plumbing, telephone, and gaslight–for Bertha eschewed electric light–disliking its unnatural glow and how it affected her skin tone. However, years later, after the death of Moses in 1908, she allowed electricity into the house, replacing the blocks of ice once cut and carried from Bass Lake with a food refrigeration system supplemented by one light bulb in the basement pantry.
The house stands empty, and appears unfinished. No furniture accentuates its over-sized rooms, and cracks have ravaged once-smooth walls.
But there are notable wall decorations…
and at one time, a treasure trove of avant-garde art adorned the mansion thanks to lasting friendships and patronage between two unwed Cone sisters, Dr. Claribel and Etta,
and Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse. Their collection ultimately passed to the Baltimore Museum of Art, now recognized as the Cone Wing, and valued at over $1billion.
Today, the estate–managed by the National Park Service–services over 25 miles of carriage roads and trails.
Leah and I dared the rain, and hiked five miles to the Observation Tower at the southeastern edge of the property, where we were rewarded with pastoral guests,
intriguing butterflies feeding on unknown feces,
and a breathtaking panorama of nearby Boone–home of Appalachian State University, endowed by Moses Cone–and the neighboring wilderness.
Upon our return, we stopped to pay respects to Moses and Bertha, buried together under Flat Top Mountain,
and overlooking 3,500 acres of his legacy, where an orchard of 35,000 apple trees once produced prized fruit for the gentleman farmer.
The rain returned during the brief drive back to Price Park, but abated just as quickly to capture a lasting moment of smoke wafting across Sim’s Pond.
The next morning–our travel day to Charlotte–we awoke to blue skies and sunshine beaming across Grandfather Mountain.
The run-off from Price Lake was fierce, barreling down Bee Tree Creek.
Rangers alerted us that the Parkway heading south had been temporarily closed. Flash floods and mudslides had forced a partial shutdown of Interstate 40, necessitating a detour through rural America before we could connect with I-77 S.
Putting our Airstream on blocks in Huntersville was bittersweet. It marked the formal ending of Streaming thru America, but our future holds new surprises.
Already, we’re pre-planning a trip to circumnavigate the Great Lakes during the summer of 2019. Until then, we’ll have to settle for a journey of a different sort, and I hope to keep the world posted.
When I was eight, it was thrilling to be able to watch television. It was 1960, and as America’s new favorite past-time, television had quickly taken over as the modern recipe for family togetherness.
Early television programming came from only three channels (NBC, CBS, ABC), so the networks’ scheduling had to appeal to as many home viewers as possible to attract sponsors’ advertising dollars needed to fund the show. Usually that meant finding a personality with versatility and broad appeal, and crafting a show around their persona.
Aside from notable comedians (Sid Caesar, Milton Berle, George Burns, Jack Benny, Groucho Marks), variety stars (Ed Sullivan, Arthur Godfrey), and singers (Perry Como, Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland), movie actors were also drawn to television with an opportunity to increase their audience. Yet few would cross over with the success enjoyed by Andy Griffith.
Already a star of stage…
Andy Griffith easily transitioned to sitcom television as a guest star on an episode of The Danny Thomas Show, playing a country bumpkin sheriff who arrests Danny Thomas for running a stop sign in Mayberry.
The Andy Griffith Show pilot ran on CBS later in the same year, where Andy reprised his role of sheriff,
often playing straight man to a host of characters…
who worked and lived in a fictionalized town patterned after Andy’s beloved hometown, Mount Airy, North Carolina, where today, the Andy Griffith Museum shares space with the Andy Griffith Playhouse,
bringing fans from across the nation…
to follow the career of Mt. Airy’s favorite son, and enjoy a collection of memorabilia,
dedicated to a cultural icon.
Whenever I watched The Andy Griffith Show, I’d pretend being Opie Taylor (Ron Howard), Andy’s son,
walking hand in hand with Pa, down to the Fishin’ Hole,
while whistling the show’s familiar theme song:
There would be lunch at Snappy’s…
and a haircut at Floyd’s…
before heading back home, where Aunt Bee would be frying up the catch of the day for dinner.
Without sounding too utopian, life seemed simpler in 1960. Looking back, our role models were wholesome, our families were intact, and civility was practiced in earnest.
How many of us Baby Boomers yearn for the nostalgia we remember from classic TV, before the innocence was shattered by the assassination of JFK, and television brought us closer to the horror and tragedy that’s so commonplace today?
The automotive industry has a lot to grin about, and they put it on display for all to see at the 118th edition of the New York International Auto Show, showcasing over 1000 cars and trucks from around the world at the Jacob Javits Convention Center in New York City.
Conventional wisdom affirms that mid-week crowds are typically thinner than weekend crowds, but judging from the sea of people milling through manufacturers’ exhibits, the blustery New York weather seems to have driven most tourists indoors to gawk at gleaming metal and polished plastic.
Online ticketing expedited entry access, however, there was a brief hold-up at our security clearance gate when a customer refused to surrender his pen knife to a yellow-shirted official.
“But it’s just a penknife,” he asserted. “Do you really think I’m a mass murderer carrying a blade that’s smaller than your pinkie?”
Like his knife, he had a point! But the security supervisor poured acid rain on his parade and confiscated it anyway, overruling his protests.
Eventually, we safely entered the cavernous space…
only to overdose on a melange of oversized banners and advertorials covering all makes and models, with curtains of graphics and gargantuan walls of hypnotic lights coalescing into dizzying displays of one-upmanship.
Once we got our bearings, we targeted the pedestrian brands, for as much as this was an opportunity to regale in the glory of all the shapely models present (as well as the cars they were pitching), Leah and I were on the hunt for a new car. It was time to say goodbye to our Honda Civic Hybrid–who was showing her ten-year tenure after 130,000 miles–and “kick the tires” at a one-stop shopping venue like the car show with the notion that we might meet her worthy successor.
While navigating through the different brands, it became very clear that the array of chiseled lines and sculpted edges of each steel-coated body acts as a magnetic lure to onlookers, in the hopes that physical attraction follows the initial subliminal or emotional response.
Hence, each brand had its own legion of followers. Many were merely window-shopping. However, there were hundreds with more serious inclinations, who were infected with a seat-adjusting, knob-twisting, radio-tuning, steering wheel-gripping, and backseat legroom-testing fever that left long queues by the sides of the cars and trucks, as make-believe owners feature-fucked their way through the vehicle.
Of course, there was also a corps of car counselors available to cover all questions asked of them: “What’s the fuel economy? What’s the warranty? What’s the availability? What’s the cost? What’s the show discount?”
Virtual and augmented reality’s fingerprint was all over the show. Ford offered high-tech headgear tethered to microprocessing for a flight over an imaginary landscape of tomorrow’s transportation network. Dodge staged a roadster drag race challenge through a simulation windshield, complete with whiplash acceleration vibes synchronized and transmitted through the seat and steering wheel. Chevrolet incorporated dynamic movement and 360° engagement by throwing VR drivers up and down and around a test track with the wind in their faces. And Nissan employed a smartphone app and cardboard origami to build a viewer that thrusts the user through the internal combustion of their VC-turbo engine.
In keeping with the technology theme, auto companies were eager to email brochures, but almost always had oodles of glossy brochures for the taking, which made sponsor-driven shopping bags a hot commodity. Hyundai and Toyota were the giveaway gurus, providing popular blue and red totes for the asking…until there were none.
Such was our luck after accruing an armful of stuff that could no longer fit our coat pockets. After visiting a number of surrounding company information counters, Toyota reassured us of a mid-afternoon delivery. Fortunately, our good timing was rewarded with a couple of red handbags before they quickly disappeared. Yet we couldn’t help but covet State Farm’s flattering, complementary shoulder bags worn by many hands-free car insurance enthusiasts.
As we moved through two levels of automotive mania, and contemplated the contours of carchitecture, it was reassuring to watch the happiness on people’s faces–their smile an irrational testament to the prospect of owning a new dream car–as they engage the navigation software to plot a course to the poorhouse.
Likewise, it seemed that the cars were grinning, laughing, howling and roaring back at them too. Gotcha!…
While culling through the many comments attributed to my Epilogue post–recently featured on the WordPress Discover site–I came across one comment in particular that so startled me, I had to read it twice:
I couldn’t believe my good fortune! Somebody felt so strongly about my post that they were willing to make me rich!
Yet on the surface, it all sounded too good to be true. I had to find out more information about this amazing opportunity before it slipped away. But how?
I thought about calling him, but not wanting to embarrass myself by appearing too anxious and maybe saying the wrong thing, I decided it was safer to dash off the following email to Harrison Wells instead:
I got a communication from Harold Wood, who told me a story about a blank ATM card that could withdraw huge sums of money. Is this for real? Cause if so, it certainly sounds interesting.
What more can you tell me about it?
I have a bunch of questions, so the sooner you can get me answers, the sooner I can get my hands on this card!
1) First of all, it sounds a bit fishy, so is it legal?
2) Do I have to worry about where I use the card?
3) Do I have to worry about how often I use the card?
4) How much money can this card generate?
5) How long is this card good for?
6} How much is this card gonna cost me?
7) I got bills to pay, so how long will it take to get me a card?
8} What do you need from me to get started?
Thanks for all your help!
While, I waited patiently for a response from Harrison, I thought aloud, “How cool is it that he should have the same name as the founder of S.T.A.R. Labs from The Flash TV series.” I hoped he was as fast as The Flash when it came to writing me back.
Fortunately, Harrison didn’t leave me waiting very long, but his response was disappointing:
Just got your mail I have answers to all your questions lets get started
Date of birth
Cell phone numberSent from my Windows Phone
It seemed Harrison was intentionally ignoring the answers to all my questions. He had eliminated the foreplay (the best part), and was going straight for my wallet. I felt let down–even betrayed. What kind of con was this anyway?
It was time to take greater control of the narrative…
Before we get too personal, I think you forgot about that part in your previous email where you answer my questions first.
I am looking forward to your responses so we can get this party started.
Thanks for writing back.
Immediately after I dispatched the email, I began having second thoughts about my tactics:
Was I coming on too strong? Would Harrison continue to see me as an April Fool and valued patsy, or would he simply ignore me and concentrate on another dance partner who was less difficult and more willing to be be led?
Thankfully, he ramped up his customer service skills, and gave me short-hand answers to all my questions…
Wow! Going down the list, I matched up the answers to my questions, and had a much better picture of the cost of committing a crime. For $400, I could risk it all and finance my next trip to Sing Sing, Leavenworth or San Quentin.
I immediately sent a public service announcement to my future self to serve as a reminder to ignore all blank ATM card invitations in the near future:
Let this email serve as fair warning… Any urge to get rich quick should be quickly dismissed and filed under scam spam.
Every student of science, history and commerce knows the importance of Thomas Edison’s contributions (2332 worldwide patents),
and how through his imagination and industry…
he single-handedly reshaped the 20th century.
No less famous and equally as successful, Henry Ford’s lifetime commitment to automotive innovation was without peer.
Now put the two titans together…
as next-door neighbors within their Ft. Myers, FL winter compound…
beside the Caloosahatchee River…
and the sum exceeds the parts. Adding John Burroughs, the nation’s leading naturalist and conservationist of his time to the party,
resulted in the birth of the car-camping movement in America as we know it today: motoring across the country in search of fulfilling outdoor recreation and adventure.
Better known as The Vagabonds, the caravan later included tire magnate, Harvey Firestone, who would travel with the pack across America for the next ten years, taking vacations in an elaborate Packer and Ford motorcade that always included Edison’s battery of batteries to light the campsite,
a Ford chuckwagon attended by Firestone’s personal chef,
and a pack of newspapermen and paparazzi who would record The Vagabond’s every step and conversation.
Edison’s inventions are presented in historical perspective in a comprehensive on-site museum space that credits Ft. Myers as an inspirational Eden for Edison’s genius.
Additionally, by recreating his West Orange, NJ laboratory in Ft. Myers,
Edison could work uninterrupted throughout the year, never missing an opportunity to tinker or embellish on an idea, while enjoying the comforts of a home…
that he designed in 1886,
and Mina attended until his death in 1931.
Henry Ford acquired the neighboring bungalow known as The Mangoes in 1916,
and the two titans drove each other to continuing heights of excellence in achievement.
But of all their noticeable accomplishments, their mutual love of country living coupled with the enormous publicity generated by their expeditions most certainly inspired an army of auto owners and outdoor enthusiasts to follow their example.
Thus, The Vagabonds paved the way for the popularity of motor camping, and gave rise to a recreational industry that advances the dream of this sojourner’s lifestyle: where the highway is my lifeline and my Airstream is my cradle.
Note: Historic photos courtesy of Edison and Ford Winter Estates collection.
Leah and I had counted down to the last possible day when we could tour Kennedy Space Center (KSC) while still parked at Melbourne’s Land Yacht Harbor,
an Airstream-only campground (with a sprinkling of some other brands–SOBs), mostly occupied by retirees and their vintage motorhomes,
At first, the weather on the Space Coast was uncooperative–cold and rainy–but we were determined to time our visit in conjunction with a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launch–the first scheduled launch of the year, where the rocket’s reusable first stage would attempt a controlled landing back at Cape Canaveral Air Force base. Of course, we were departing for Playa del Carmen on Saturday, so we had also run out of time.
With a break in the weather, we would make a day of it at KSC,
and apparently, so would thousands of other visitors. With the rest of the country seemingly paralyzed by meat locker temperatures the first week of 2018, we felt fortunate to feel the sun through brisk winds and crisp air.
After mapping our itinerary for the day at the nearby Visitor Center, we filed past the admission gate…
through a labyrinth of attractions dedicated to Mars exploration…
and a dedication to fallen explorers…
in search of an Astronaut Encounter…
with Heidi Piper…
a mission specialist, credited with flights aboard Atlantis in 2006 and Endeavor in 2008 to expand the systems and living quarters aboard the International Space Station. In addition to following her career from Navy to NASA, her presentation included factoids about the Shuttle and the shittle, detailing the water-recycling and freeze-drying properties of the squateroo.
Following a profound 3D IMAX film on space exploration–as only Captain Picard, aka Sir Patrick Stewart could narrate–we gravitated to the Orbit Cafe…
where freeze-dried ice cream was not an option on the menu (albeit, available at the gift shop).
From there, it was an hour-long queue…
with enlightening graphics along the way,
for the tour bus…
that carried us to the Apollo/Saturn V Center, with drive-by glimpses of the Vehicle Assembly Building,
and a launch pad along the way.
After experiencing a multimedia simulation of the Apollo 8 lift-off,
we were giddy with excitement to witness the technology that captured Kennedy’s imagination and took us to the moon. But nothing prepared us for the enormity of the Saturn V rocket stretching across a football stadium-sized hanger.
Measuring 111m/363 ft long,
we slowly strolled the length of the boosters, making our way through the different stages suspended above our heads…
before approaching the grounded command module,
which dwarfed the Apollo 13 L.E.M. hovering above us.
Behind a bordering wall, the Apollo 14 capsule rested on a protected pedestal in a dimly lit room which seemed to heighten the drama.
We transitioned to a multi-sensory surround presentation of a space shuttle launch, culminating in a dazzling, thunderous lift-off that shook our core. When the exhaust plume cleared, the projection scrim rose for the big reveal…
giving all of us a true appreciation for the engineering wizardry that could shoot a glider strapped to a rocket into space,
and have it safely return to earth…flying a total of 33 missions and over 126,000,000 miles before retiring!
And how apropos, that the mission transport vehicle selected by NASA should feature an Airstream to introduce our astronauts into space?
Unfortunately, the SpaceX mission that we so wanted to witness was put off until Sunday, when a worthier weather window made the wonder more winsome.
This is how the launch looked to us from Mexico, where we streamed it in awe.
On our recent travels through Southeast Florida, I had occasion to visit with my brother Ron, whose wife, Natalie had given birth to their son, Benyamin Emmanuel Uriel nearly nine months earlier. Having been on the road for just as long, our paths had yet to cross, until now.
The name was a mouthful.
“The kid will definitely need to grow up being a speller,” I thought, although according to Ron, he’s already achieved Einstein status. Apparently, Emmanuel is meant to honor the memory of our mother’s father, while Uriel honors the memory of Natalie’s father.
“So what am I supposed to call him?” I needed to know.
Ron responded,” Natalie doesn’t like the nicknames: Ben, Benny, or Benjy. So I think we’re just going to have to call him Manny!”
As a new uncle, I eagerly anticipated my meeting with Manny, wondering how he would acclimate to new faces. But first, I had to spoil him with a new toy to also celebrate the eighth night of Hanukkah.
A quick trip to Walmart proved worthy of the challenge. We discovered a learning toy with literally all the bells and whistles.
The playset mounted onto a rolling cart with a two-tiered volume control–loud and louder.
The moment I picked it up, the toy activated with a rendition of Old McDonald Had a Farm, causing me to sing along on the way to the cashier.
“Natalie’s gonna hate you for this,” announced Leah.
“She needn’t worry. This is a toy for toddlers,” I jested.
We arrived at Ron and Natalie’s house in Aventura, Florida just as Ron was arriving home from work. As I grabbed the toy from the back seat of the truck, I inadvertently initiated Mary Had a Little Lamb without any way of shutting it off.We walked through the garage to the house, arousing three barking dogs and a quiet bunny.
“I told you that toy was a bad idea,” scoffed Leah.
“Maybe you should leave the toy in the garage for now,” advised Ron, “because I think Manny might be sleeping upstairs, and Natalie wouldn’t approve if he woke up before his naptime was over.”
We waited downstairs in silence for nearly thirty minutes, while listening to muffled, upstairs conversation between Natalie and Svetlana, her sister visiting from Atlanta. Eventually, Ron emerged down the staircase with Manny clinging to his neck, followed by Natalie and her family.
“Can I hold him?” I asked with outstretched arms.
Instantly, Manny leaned towards me, accepting my cue, and I was hooked. I presented his present, now crooning about the Farmer in the Dell, and soon nothing else mattered to him. The phone receiver that hung from the playset became the perfect drum tool to bash the toy into oblivion, with banging so loud, we could no longer hear the singing.
The toy was a “hit”.
“Don’t worry. He’ll figure the rest of it out in no time,” I predicted, “and it’s supposed to stimulate his intellectual growth.”
“I think he likes noisy toys,” Ron interjected.
I looked at Leah and smiled. My official act as an uncle had been confirmed.
Here’s to you Manny…and many years of joy and songs to follow.