Southern Fortitude

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,

direction dial

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.

Overview

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.

gate

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.

Gorge Wall

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…

Demilune

…and transferred ownership to the Confederacy following Georgia’s succession on January 19, 1861.

the yard

It was a controversial gambit that ultimately escalated into eleven States joining the Confederacy–spiraling the South into Civil War by April 12, 1861.

spiral stairs

Hot Tub!

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.

pushing to the rear

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.

dragging the tub.jpg

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.

sled ride

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.

on the slab

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.

lining up the connection

So we went back to the well, and drew up a list of likely successors.

shimming for level

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.

hooking up power

“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.”

hooking up power

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.

installing speakers

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.

full moon (2)

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…

Leah approves

…and Leah couldn’t be happier.

Nighttime Sun Worshippers

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.

Dr. Parker--Joshua Lott for The New York Times
Photo credit: Joshua Lott for the New York TImes

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.

Google map.png

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.

sheriff patrol (2)

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.

electronic camera

Even its imaging display seemed more complicated than it had to be.

monitors

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.

Parker Probe

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:

…maybe…

…if I can keep my eyes open.

Zzzzz…

P.S. The Parker Solar probe successfully launched on time:

https://amp-space-com.cdn.ampproject.org/v/s/amp.space.com/41454-nasa-parker-solar-probe-launches-to-sun.html?amp_js_v=a2&amp_gsa=1&usqp=mq331AQCCAE%3D&jwsource=em

…and I got to see it…

…from my TV monitor!

Tourist Attractions

When showing family the sights of St. Augustine the first time around,

there are so many tried and true options that abound.

Naturally, driving onto Vilano Beach becomes the main outdoor attraction,

where short legs wade long lengths across silky, sandy satisfaction.

wading out

The Alligator Farm is another familiar and likely choice,

where eager grandchildren are apt to rejoice…

Alligator lagoon.jpg

at a place where rescued reptiles and denizens…

Maximo (2).jpg

Galapagos tortoise1.jpg

albino alligator.jpg

savor a seasonal delicacy,

so good!

yum!.jpg

and feathered friends…

heron

are likely to take up full-time residency.

pretty bird

stork

The Castillo de San Marcos gunnery platoon…

soldier and kids.jpg

castillo model

provides a cannon blast from the past very close to high noon.

cannon blast

And Anastasia Beach State Park’s estuarine channel

egret on the shore1.jpg

offers a vigorous workout with a kayak paddle.

Carrie, Devin, Dan and bird

The Aikens, Grammy, and Kayak

Or how ’bout a free ferry crossing Matanzas Bay…

ferry crossing.jpg

to inspect Fort Matanzas,

inside out

and its cannon array.

Fort Matanzas gun station.jpg

Then again, not withstanding the two-hour drive to Kennedy Space Center,

Kennedy wall.jpg

there’s a universe of exhibits to explore,

a walk on the moon

ISS.jpg

and The World’s Largest Space Shop to enter.

spaceman and kids

But when summer’s heat and humidity just…won’t…allow…another…step,

and when it’s subsequently rainy–as most afternoons are likely to get–

the chosen activity must absolutely meet

the standards of two curious kids, and satisfy their sweet teeth.

hairnet family

Happily, such a happening exists for the young and the grown,

and can be found at the artisan chocolatier, Whetstone.

Whetstone greeting.jpg

The tour informs you of its elaborate process and technique…

chocolate process

But realistically, we came for the chocolate samples we could eat.

Yet unlike the follies of Lucy and Ethel…

our guide served five tastings,

and each one was special.

 

For seven days our family wandered throughout St. Augustine town,

with plenty leftover to experience for the next time around.

Well Done!

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.

Rain Bird

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.

preparation

Using the Eenie Meenie Miney Moe method, Robbie determined where to place the wellhead…

drilling site

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,

about to raise the drilling mast

the drill mast was ready to raise.

raising the drilling mast

Eric and Robbie assembled the debris pump…

evacuation pump

and the mud tub (for lubricating the drill head) was aligned over the designated wellhead…

setting the mud tub

well ahead of tomorrow.

The generator started cranking at 9am. By 11am the drill rod had blazed through 95 feet of clay and sand.

sifting the clay

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…

drilling thru cap rock

eventually reaching a ledge of limestone cap rock at 225 feet.

drill rigging

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,

setting up the pump.jpg

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.

ready to pump

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.

 

Dynamic Panoramics

Every so often, when visiting many of the iconic vistas across America, I’d struggle to capture the overwhelming awesomeness of the landscape around me.

Grand Canyon NP
South Rim, Grand Canyon National Park

Framing the image through my viewfinder frequently posed a tremendous challenge to adequately represent the expansive angle of the surrounding landscape.

Palo Duro Canyon
Palo Duro Canyon, TX

That’s when I knew it was time to put down my Lumix and pick up my phone.

Mount Victoria, Banff NP
Lake Louise, Banff National Park

By turning to the panorama feature of my Samsung Galaxy S8,

Johnson Ridge, Mt. St. Helens National Monument
Johnson Ridge, Mt. St. Helens National Monument

I found a tool that brought me closer to recording longer distances.

Zabriskie Point, Death Valley NP
Zabriskie Point, Death Valley National Park

By instantly and seamlessly stitching successive shots with integrated photo-manipulation software,

Iceberg Pass, Rocky Mountain NP
Iceberg Pass, Rocky Mountain National Park

I found another way to express the world around me.

Shenandoah Valley
Blue Ridge Mountains, NC

Panoramas provide an opportunity to share multiple perspectives simultaneously,

Horseshoe Canyon, Drumheller
Horseshoe Canyon, Drumheller, Alberta

gathering as wide an angle as the scene allows–

Watermark Vista, Capital Reef NP
Watermark Vista, Capital Reef National Park

–eliminating the frame lines and expanding the aspect ratio to maximum effect.

Rainbow Trail, Valley of Fire
Rainbow Trail, Valley of Fire, NV

When used appropriately,

High Bluff, Redwoods NP
High Bluff, Redwoods National Park

whether in color…

Great Smoky Mountains NP
atop Clingmans Dome, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

or black and white…

Mount Rushmore National Monument
Mt. Rushmore National Monument

there is no better way to establish a field of infinite view without sacrificing the integrity of the image.

Badlands NP panorama
Badlands National Park

Conversely,

Bald Butte, Cypress Hills PP
Bald Butte, Cypress Hills Provincial Park, Saskatchewan

a case can be made for showcasing the apparent aberrations and distortions that can arise from difficulty interpolating the multiple parallax points across a scene,

Cinder Cone Crater, Lassen Volcanic NP
Cinder Cone Crater, Lassen Volcanic National Park

thus creating something unique and/or imaginary.

Athabasca River, Jasper NP.jpg
Athabasca River, Jasper National Park

For instance, flattening a circular garden path…

Mable's Rose Garden of Ca'd'zan, Sarasota
Mable’s Rose Garden of Ca’d’Zan, Sarasota, FL

or warping a linear edifice.

Crescent Hotel, Eureka Springs, AR
Crescent Hotel, Eureka Springs, AR

Additionally,

Cedar Pass, Badlands, NP
Cedar Pass, Badlands National Park

by stepping away from the camera,

Bryce NP, Amphitheater
Amphitheater, Bryce Canyon National Park

and freeing oneself from the single-mindedness of staring,

Bryce NP, Yav Point
Bryce Canyon National Park

focusing,

Bryce NP, Queen's Garden
Queen’s Garden, Bryce Canyon National Park

composing through a viewfinder,

Canyonlands, NP Crater
Upheaval Dome, Canyonlands National Park

a feeling of liberation arises,

El Capitan and Cathedral Mountain, Yosemite NP
El Capitan and Cathedral Rock, Yosemite National Park

which can also deliver a moment of greater clarity of vision…

Waterfowl Lake, Jasper NP
Waterfowl Lake, Jasper National Park

and kinetic connectedness to the photograph,

Grand Tetons NP
Grand Tetons National Park

as the body slowly rotates to encapsulate the scene.

Rainbow Curve, Rocky Mountain NP
Rainbow Curve, Rocky Mountain National Park

What follows is a retrospective of panoramic images of some of my favorite places,

Painted Desert, Petrified Forest NP
Painted Desert, Petrified Forest National Park

in an attempt to convey the diversity,

panarama scenic canyon (2)
Capitol Gorge, Capitol Reef National Park

and beauty of wide-open spaces across America,

Olympia NP, Hood Canal.jpg
Hood Canal, Olympic National Park

albeit,

Athabasca Glacier
Athabasca Glacier, Columbia Icefield

with a word of advice:

Lake 4, Jasper NP
Lake 4, Jasper National Park

Although this post can be enjoyed on a mobile device,

Painted Canyon, Theodore Roosevelt NP
Painted Canyon, Theodore Roosevelt National Park

many of the images are rich in detail,

Olympia NP, Olympic Peninsula
Olympic Peninsula, Olympic National Park

and are best viewed on a larger screen…

Navajo Knob, Capital Reef NP
Navajo Knob, Capital Reef National Park

to better take advantage of the breadth,

Mt. Edith Cavell, Jasper NP
Mt. Edith Cavell, Jasper National Park

the scope,

Moro Rock, Sequoia NP
Moro Rock, Sequoia National Park

the scale,

Louise Lake, Mt. Ranier NP
Louise Lake, Mt. Ranier National Park

and enormity of the subjects.

Joshua Tree, NP
Joshua Tree National Park

Also,

Bearhat Mountain & Hidden Lake, Glacier NP
Bearhat Mountain & Hidden Lake, Glacier National Park

my apologies in advance to those who are downloading on slow networks,

Gooseneck Overlook, Canyonlands, NP
Gooseneck Overlook, Canyonlands, National Park

for the generous number of photographs with large data files…

Forest Canyon, Rocky Mountain NP
Forest Canyon, Rocky Mountain National Park

may make it seem like an eternity before everything eventually loads.

Garden Wall, Glacier NP
Garden Wall, Glacier National Park

But such is the case when shooting a photograph.

Custer Battlefield National Memorial
Custer Battlefield National Memorial

The virtue of patience…

Bryce Canyon
Yav Point, Bryce Canyon National Park

is ultimately rewarded…

Blue Mesa, Petrified Forest NP
Blue Mesa, Petrified Forest National Park

by the satisfaction of knowing that the final image can finally be appreciated.

Brokeoff Mountain, Lassen Volcanic NP
Brokeoff Mountain, Lassen Volcanic National Park

The Denim King

Starting from Shenandoah River State Park…

the Shenandoah

and completing the 105-mile drive through Shenandoah National Park’s Skyline Drive from Front Royal to its southern terminus…

park map (2)

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…

Thorton Hollow Overlook

and the Shenandoah Valley to the west.

green to blue infinity

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,

dancing hawks (2)

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…

porch.jpg

and once the summer home of Moses Cone, son of German Jewish immigrants originally named Kane,

Cone manor.jpg

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.

storm brewing

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.

pantry

The house stands empty, and appears unfinished. No furniture accentuates its over-sized rooms, and cracks have ravaged once-smooth walls.

master bath

closet window

But there are notable wall decorations…

letter

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,

Cone sisters (2)
Dr Claribel & Miss Etta (Cone Sisters) by Ronald Brooks Kitaj, c. 1997-2000

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.

cone sign

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,

young head old ass

hare

intriguing butterflies feeding on unknown feces,

butterflies

and a breathtaking panorama of nearby Boone–home of Appalachian State University, endowed by Moses Cone–and the neighboring wilderness.

Observation tower view

Upon our return, we stopped to pay respects to Moses and Bertha, buried together under Flat Top Mountain,

grave stone

and overlooking 3,500 acres of his legacy, where an orchard of 35,000 apple trees once produced prized fruit for the gentleman farmer.

grave site

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.

smoke on the water

The next morning–our travel day to Charlotte–we awoke to blue skies and sunshine beaming across Grandfather Mountain.

Grandfather Mountain

The run-off from Price Lake was fierce, barreling down Bee Tree Creek.

overflow

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.

Mount Airy, NC

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.

entrance window

Already a star of stage…

destry Rides Again.jpg

and screen…

No Time for Sargeants swag

A Face in the Crowd poster

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.

Mayberry Courthouse

jail keys

The Andy Griffith Show pilot ran on CBS later in the same year, where Andy reprised his role of sheriff,

Sheriff shirt

often playing straight man to a host of characters…

Mayberry cast (2)

Goober hat

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,

museum and playhouse

bringing fans from across the nation…

the odd couple

to follow the career of Mt. Airy’s favorite son, and enjoy a collection of memorabilia,

Take a Stroll with Andy

The Taylor House

Matlock

dedicated to a cultural icon.

Andy at sculpture dedication

Whenever I watched The Andy Griffith Show, I’d pretend being Opie Taylor (Ron Howard), Andy’s son,

The Taylors

walking hand in hand with Pa, down to the Fishin’ Hole,

Andy and Opie going fishing sculpture

while whistling the show’s familiar theme song:

sheet music

There would be lunch at Snappy’s…

Snappy Lunch

and a haircut at Floyd’s…

Floyd's Barber Shop

before heading back home, where Aunt Bee would be frying up the catch of the day for dinner.

comic book cover

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?

Front End Smiles

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.

Javits Center

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…

welcome

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.

glasses.jpg

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!…

…with miles and miles of beguiling smiles!

April Fools PSA

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:

Screenshot (9)

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:

Hi,

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!
Regards,
Neal D
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:

Date: 3/30/18 5:29 AM (GMT-05:00)
To: Neal <Neal_D@msn.com>
Subject: RE: ATM Card
Just got your mail I have answers to all your questions lets get started
Name
Location
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…
Hi Harrison,
What’s up?
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.
Neal
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…
From: Harrison Williams <harrisonwells989@outlook.com>
Date: 3/31/18 3:17 AM (GMT-05:00)
To: Neal <ndl7@msn.com>
Subject: RE: ATM Card
Ok first thing its illegal
You don’t need to worry about where to use it
Yes you can only withdraw twice a week
It depends on the card you want
The card is durable for some months
$400usd
It depends on the encrypting of the card
Your information
Does are the answers to your question
Sent from my Windows Phone
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:
Dear Neal,
Let this email serve as fair warning… Any urge to get rich quick should be quickly dismissed and filed under scam spam.
Thanks for the heads-up, Harrison!

My Word!

It’s always a pleasure returning to DC’s National Mall…

mall (5)

where I like to keep an eye on my tax dollars by walking through the Smithsonian museums…

Smithson remains

to inspect the work being done by museum curators on my behalf.

nave (2)
Smithsonian Castle Commons

Aside from being a great depository of great aeronautical history at the National Air and Space Museum…

Spirit of St. Louis
donated by Charles Lindbergh

or interpretive history at National Museum of American History…

WE BUILD
Horatio Greenough

I’m always inspired when browsing through the Hirshhorn.

dry fountain
Gordon Bunshaft–Hirshhorn Fountain
rockface and car
Jimmie Durham–Still Life With Spirit and Xitle

where I get a chance to meander beside the curvy gallery walls, as I contemplate Mark Bradford’s updated Civil War cyclorama detailing Pickett’s Charge

Pickett's Charge panels (2)

or introspect on a retrospective of the 80’s, where everything is rele-vent again…

ON VEND DU VENT
Haim Steinbach–ON VEND DU VENT
SILENCE=DEATH (2).jpg
Gran Fury–SILENCE=DEATH
stripes
Jenny Holzer–Inflammatory Essays

or think deeply in the basement, where I’m reminded by Barbara Kruger’s BELIEF+DOUBT installation that words matter…

Belief

Bad Day

FORGET

Men's Room1

Women's Room

…and can make a difference…something I’d rather be doing.

First Flight

In the distance,

Kill Devil Hill

on a grassy sloped hill,

Looking down Kill Devil Hill

there stands a monument,

Wrights Monument

built of grit,

Brothers (3)

and will.

Brothers1 (2)

On a wing…

wing assembly

and a prayer…

Pea Island

The brothers moved

to Outer Banks

to dance

on open air.

Cape Hattaras

With gusting winds

kites on dunes

and dunes so tall,

dune patterns

the rail in place

to guide her,

following the rail

Orville readied

at the stick,

Orville at the stick

while Wilbur ran

beside her.

Sculpture1

Propellers spun,

the engine roared–

Original photo

the plane was

swept aloft.

The rescue crew

would cheer them on…

Rescuing Service

no matter

what the cost.

The Brothers Wright

achieved success–

Commemoration

a boulder

marks the sight.

granite and plaque

They passed the test,

and lit the way,

Bodie Island Light House

for they were

first in flight.

Monument and Family

*filed under picture story

Titans of Industry

Every student of science, history and commerce knows the importance of Thomas Edison’s contributions (2332 worldwide patents),

Early-Light-Bulb (3)

and how through his imagination and industry…

patent schematic for kinetescope

kinetescope projector
Kinetoscope Projector

inside the phonograph

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.

Edison's Ford

V-8 engine (2)

Now put the two titans together…

Historic Friendship

as next-door neighbors within their Ft. Myers, FL winter compound…

Eden

beside the Caloosahatchee River…

dock1

and the sum exceeds the parts. Adding John Burroughs, the nation’s leading naturalist and conservationist of his time to the party,

Edison_Burroughs_Ford (2)
Edison, Burroughs, Ford

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.

camping caravan

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,

batteries

a Ford chuckwagon attended by Firestone’s personal chef,

chuckwagon (2).jpg

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.

There Is Only One Ft Myers

Additionally, by recreating his West Orange, NJ laboratory in Ft. Myers,

In the Lab

Edison's Lab

Lab2

office

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…

Living Room

dining room.jpg

Pantry

bedroom

and grounds…

Edison home

Caretaker cottage

pool

the tree

that he designed in 1886,

Designing a Retreat

and Mina attended until his death in 1931.

Mina and Leah

Henry Ford acquired the neighboring bungalow known as The Mangoes in 1916,

Henry Ford and cottage

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.

 

 

T Minus 3 Days and Holding

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,

Land Yacht Harbor

an Airstream-only campground (with a sprinkling of some other brands–SOBs), mostly occupied by retirees and their vintage motorhomes,

Land Yacht (2)

and trailers.

vintage airstream

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,

rocket park

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.

Nasa ornament (7)

After mapping our itinerary for the day at the nearby Visitor Center, we filed past the admission gate…

explore

through a labyrinth of attractions dedicated to Mars exploration…

rover stats

Mars rover

Orion capsule

and a dedication to fallen explorers…

Heroes and Legends

in search of an Astronaut Encounter…

astronaut encounter1

with Heidi Piper…

Piper portrait (2)

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…

Saturn rocket and 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…

bus queue

with enlightening graphics along the way,

bus queue graphis

for the tour bus…

bus tour interior (2)

that carried us to the Apollo/Saturn V Center, with drive-by glimpses of the Vehicle Assembly Building,

rocket assembly

bus tour

and a launch pad along the way.

launch tower (2)

After experiencing a multimedia simulation of the Apollo 8 lift-off,

Apollo mission control

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.

rocket oulets (2)

Measuring 111m/363 ft long,

stage 1

booster (2)

we slowly strolled the length of the boosters, making our way through the different stages suspended above our heads…

stage 2

stage 3

before approaching the grounded command module,

command module

which dwarfed the Apollo 13 L.E.M. hovering above us.

LEM (2)

Behind a bordering wall, the Apollo 14 capsule rested on a protected pedestal in a dimly lit room which seemed to heighten the drama.

Apollo capsule (2)

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…

Atlantis shuttle (3)

giving all of us a true appreciation for the engineering wizardry that could shoot a glider strapped to a rocket into space,

shuttle belly

and have it safely return to earth…flying a total of 33 missions and over 126,000,000 miles before retiring!

shuttle tail

And how apropos, that the mission transport vehicle selected by NASA should feature an Airstream to introduce our astronauts into space?

mission transport (2)

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.

Manny

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!”

Okay.

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.

Manny