Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Assassin's Escape Route Dud

The other night, we watched a show on Travel Channel that I was initially excited to see.  Going along with the 150th Anniversary of the Lincoln Assassination, an episode of Time Traveling with Brian UngerLincoln's Killer on the Run, was pitched as:
Brian takes locals back to Washington, DC, at the end of the Civil War to follow the escape route of President Lincoln's assassin, John Wilkes Booth. They hide in a pine thicket, row across the Potomac River, and visit a special group of tennis courts.

The show was only 30 minutes and I initially wondered how they were going to fit a visit to all the places (at least 12 by my count) on Booth and David Herold's (an accomplice) escape route in that short amount of time.  So I eagerly tuned in.  At first I was happy to see that the show began in Baptist Alley, the space behind Ford's Theater where the escape route truly started.

But from there, the tour jumped to Rich Hill, the home of Samuel Cox, which would be Stop #4 if all 12 stops were included.  Admittedly, it was nice to see Rich Hill up close as it is completely off-limits to the public.  But by making this the next stop, the show completely bypassed several rather crucial stops in the escape route:
  1. The 11th Street Bridge. This passageway from DC to Maryland was completely off-limits to the public and guarded by the military.  However, Booth being the consummate actor, somehow managed to smoothly and calmly talk his way across it, despite having just shot the president, jumped to the Ford's Theater stage from the president's theater box and ridden at top speed through the city.
  2. The Surratt Tavern. Booth and Herold stopped here to pick up supplies that had been stored there earlier that day at the request of Mary Surratt.
  3. The home of Dr. Samuel Mudd.  Dr. Mudd was the physician who set Booth's broken leg, which happened either when Booth jumped to the stage or possibly when his horse fell on him during the escape).  There was and continues to be much debate over whether Mudd knew or recognized Booth during the visit.   
Three rather significant stops.  

From Rich Hill, the show then took us to the Potomac Crossing (accurate), discussed the failed first attempt at such and how a 2nd successful attempt was made a few days later (again, accurate), but then the show took us to Peyton House, veering past Booth and Herold's stop at Cleydael and the home of William Lucas.  I thought this was strange, considering the story behind both places.  Cleydael was the stately home of Dr. Richard Stuart, a confederate signal agent from whom Booth expected total support.  Booth thought wrong.  Instead, Stuart sent the men to spend the night at the cabin home of William Lucas, a black man.  Showing his racist sole, Booth made Lucas and his family sleep outside in the dirt so that he and Herold could have the cabin to themselves.

Eventually, the show brings us to the Garrett Farm, the final spot in the escape route, where Booth was gunned down in a burning tobacco barn.  The farm and barn are long since gone so there was really nothing to show.  But the show did take us inside Fort McNair to the site of the conspirators hanging following the trial.  It's the only spot on the trail that I've not been to personally, so I found that to be interesting.

I looked forward to this show and was disappointed.  It missed many opportunities to share the whole truth about the escape, as well as the country's attitude about what Booth had done.  Booth thought he would be praised a hero in the south, but was met with rejection and abandonment just about everywhere he went.  The show didn't really convey that.

Perhaps it's a lot to ask for a 30-minute show.  I liked the show and I think Brian Unger is a fun host (I realy liked him on How The States Got Their Shapes on the History Channel).  But I suggest reading My American Odyssey to learn more about this 12-day event.  It's really quite fascinating.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Starbuck's Don'ts

The 1st Starbuck's, Seattle
Every workday morning, I stop at Starbuck's to get a tea - sadly, not my long-gone beloved Awake tea, but a venti English Breakfast.  The new tea isn't as strong as the Awake, but it will do.  The experience is made better by the fact that there are two baristas at the Merchandise Mart location who know what I get and occasionally have it ready for me by the time I work my way through the cattle line.

But like most things, it's not always a smooth process.  Because tea is made by the baristas at the registers, I don't have to wait down in the mosh pit of yuppies, pining for their caffeine hit.  This means that once I get my tea, I need to navigate my way through a group of people who both individually and collectively don't seem to have any sense of spacial awareness.  Backpacks, large shoulder bags, and yoga mats should all be classified as registered lethal weapons with the FBI.  But even this isn't as tough as the next step: the coffee fixins' bar.

The fixins' bar (or whatever Starbuck's calls the Serengeti watering hole where you spice up your bev with milks, sweeteners and assorted other spices) is the area where my blood pressure raises.  Perhaps it's because folks haven't had their jolt yet that they seem to be mindless of their surroundings, not to mention their actions.  There are lots of lists already online about how to be the worst Starbuck's customer, but the list I created below is how to continue your horrid behavior after you got what you paid for:
  1. Stop dumping out your drink in the trash.  If you need the barista to leave room, just ask.  They're happy to do it.  Dumping out what you just paid for is tantamount to throwing money out the window.  Besides, it's dumb.
  2. For god's sake, put your phone away for the ONE EFFING MINUTE it will take you to add whatever you need to add to your beverage!
  3. Stop with the T-Rex arms.  Put down your bag(s) and enjoy the use of your limbs.
  4. You - the one adding nutmeg to your coffee - I hate you.
  5. Don't talk to me.  I equate fixing my beverage to peeing in a public urinal: no talking, eyes straight ahead, flush when finished.
  6. Put your trash in the trash.  Put your trash in the trash. Put your trash in the trash.
  7. Once you've added everything you need, die.  Or leave.  Either is fine, just move out of the way.  
  8. Don't socialize with someone while you are prepping your beverage.  You're not in the club.  Concentrate on your task then get the hell moving.
  9. See that dribble of milk you just spilled?  Yeah you.  Be a big boy, pull a napkin and clean it up.  What must your house look like?
  10. Also, if you have to add 16 packets of sugar to your coffee, you don't like coffee.
The key takeaway here is that people (read:me) are waiting.  You have 20 seconds to get in there, do whatever it is you need to do and get out.  Stop ruining my morning.

Friday, May 08, 2015

Pet Peeve #72: Peering Into Windows

And now for some classic Dop...

Window shopping is one thing:  walking by a brightly lit window, stepping in closer to see what's there, keeping a slight distance.  But cupping your eyes and plastering your face against a window to see what's inside is downright intrusive and annoying.  Especially if there is someone just on the other side of the window pane trying to enjoy a meal, a coffee (read: tea), or just hanging with a friend.

I experience this behavior more times than I can admit, most recently yesterday. First really warm day of the year so I leave my office to have lunch at Hannah's Bretzel (mmmm... soft, luscious bretzel).  No seating outside, of course, so I sit at the bar at the window for some much needed natural light therapy.  Attempting to have a quiet lunch, my sunny view is suddenly blocked by a woman pressing her entire body against the glass to see inside the restaurant - despite the fact that the open doorway to the place is just 4 feet to her left.  I shoot her my best WTF look, complete with half a Wild Alaskan Smoked Salmon on Wecken (mmm... soft, luscious wecken) hanging out of my mouth.  Oddly, she seems shocked to see me - me, a customer inside a restaurant trying to eat his lunch.  It feels invasive.

Shops and stores typically use non-tinted glass so that you can easily see what's on display in hopes of luring you inside.  Restaurants, to the contrary, tend to use tinted glass to provide some modicum of privacy for their patrons as well as maintaining the mystery of how busy the place may actually be, causing you to actually have to WALK INSIDE to see what's going on.

Is it really so hard to just walk into the store/restaurant/coffee shop to see whatever it is you think you want to see?

Are you giving any thought at all to the possibility that your big face might be disturbing people, or that you resemble some starving Les Miserable urchin knockoff begging for scraps?

Can you just freakin' back that shit up and use a door like a civilized person?

My goal is the next time I am sitting at a window and someone decides to wrap their face in their hands and press it against said window, thus blocking my view and/or invading my space, I will just have to give them a view to remember.

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Our Kinda Really First President

We all love the glamour and mythology of George Washington:  General of all the Armies during the Revolution, wealthy landowner, etiquette lover, wooden teeth-wearer, slave owner (yeah, we tend to forget that one), 1st President of the United States, ...

Record scratch

You may not know that America was not originally a constitutional democracy, but a confederation (which meant the states were sovereign entities) from 1776 until the Constitution was ratified in 1789. And while the individual states were free to run things however they chose within their own borders, they still decided that there would be a national one-house ruling body with very limited power called the Congress of the Confederation.

During the eight years that the Congress existed, eight men held the title of President of the Continental Congress - essentially the highest seat in the land - for 1 year each. It wasn’t anywhere near the same thing as the current Presidential office; it was far less powerful and had far different duties.  But it was the closest thing they had to such an office. Thus, the first official “president” of the United States was John Hanson, a delegate from Maryland.  My home state representin'!
Further Presidents of the Continental Congress from 1782 onward were Elias Boudinot, Thomas Mifflin, Richard Henry Lee, John Hancock (yes, that John Hancock), Nathaniel Gorham, Arthur St. Clair, and Cyrus Griffin.

The more you know...

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Wrap Rage

A few weeks ago, I posted the picture at right on my Facebook account, stating that in order to open the package, I clearly needed the scissors inside.  Oh irony!  Funny to readers; not so to me.  
Attempting to unwrap a package that is seemingly impossible to unwrap can be a frustrating problem.  And not just for me - there is actually a diagnosis for the hatred, anger and exasperation one feels when not being able to open packaging:  wrap rage.  You know it's real because it has its own Wikipedia page!  
It's the immense, sweat-inducing fury we've all felt trying to open packages that are simply impossible to open easily: light bulbs, potato chip bags, boxes of cereal, medicines and (10 years ago) CD cases.  Have you ever found yourself standing in your kitchen, unfathomably frustrated — fuming, even — after several attempts to open a bag of something only to realize it’s more secure than Fort Knox?
Manufacturers say that their packaging is simply the safest way to ship and store their products, and ask for "consumer patience" when opening the goods.  Easy to say, impossible to do.  Besides that, it's wasteful.  Nearly 1/3 of American waste is packaging.
I've a longstanding joke about my health that "I've survived a car accident, a stroke, cancer, a heart attack, and open-heart surgery all before the age of 40: which means that one day I will probably choke on an M&M and kill myself".  However, I am going to amend this phrase to add "...if I first don't puncture an artery with a screwdriver trying to open a pack of pens."

Monday, April 27, 2015

Joseph Palmer: Beard Wearing Freak

Since December 1, 2014, I've been allowing my beard to grow out.  I've never done this before, having what equates to a 5-day growth on my face for most of the past 20 years of my life.  But since full, long beards are still considered stylish, I thought I'd give it a try.  There are obvious limits to me being able to change my look.  Short of gaining and losing a few pounds here and there, and plus a few more wrinkles, I have pretty much looked the same way since the mid-1990s.  I mean, it's not like I've been able to change my hairstyle.

While researching beard-care and products, and image-searching for beards I wanted to emulate, I came across the story of one Joseph Palmer - a veteran of the War of 1812 and a member of the short-lived Utopian community “the Fruitlands”. He was described as a kind and tolerant man, but life was not easy for Joseph Palmer after he moved to Fitchburg in 1830. People would openly insult him, throw rocks at him, regularly break the windows of his home, and even cross the street so as not to be near him when he passed by. Despite being a deeply religious and God-fearing man who regularly attended church services, Palmer was publicly denounced during sermons by his pastor, Rev. George Trask, and even refused communion.
What awful thing had this small town butcher done to warrant such persecution? Joseph Palmer’s crime was that he was the only citizen in Fitchburg, Massachusetts who chose to wear a full beard, which (contrary to my vision of the 1800’s being a beard grower’s paradise) had been out of fashion in the United States since the time of the Pilgrims.  Think about it.  Look at all the photos of American men during the 1700's and the early 1800's.  You won't find a beard among them.
Mr. Palmer was so reviled that in 1830, while walking out of the Old Fitchburg Hotel, he was attacked by four men who attempted to forcefully shave his beard on the grounds that his beard was immoral. Palmer was thrown on the stone stairs, and even though he was a muscular, 200 pound farmer, he was unable to repel the four men and resorted to stabbing two of his assailants in the legs with his jackknife. His attackers were only hurt badly enough to curtail their efforts, but Palmer was arrested and fined for committing an unprovoked assault. Even though he had the resources, he refused to pay the fine on principle, and was jailed as a debtor in the Worcester city jail. He spent over a year in prison, during which time he repelled two more attempts by jailers and prisoners who sought to shave his beard against his will.
Palmer would be quietly released thanks to the large amount of bad press that was generated by his story as it wound its way through the national newspapers, but he would refuse to leave until he could secure a proclamation that it was perfectly acceptable to wear a beard. He was never given that assurance, and he was eventually tied to a chair and carried out of the jail against his will.
Joseph Palmer achieved national celebrity status at the time, and used his position to contribute time and money to the Temperance and Abolitionist movements. He would go on to circulate in New England intellectual circles with Transcendentalists like Emerson and Thoreau, and even appears as the character, Moses White in the Louisa May Alcott’s Transcendental Wild Oats.
Palmer died in 1873 at the age of 84, and on his grave in Leominster, Massachusetts is a picture of a man with long, flowing beard and the words, “Persecuted for wearing the beard”. He was one of the most ridiculed and persecuted men of his time simply because he chose to stand up against the herd in support of his right to wear a beard. Not ten years before Palmer’s death, Abraham Lincoln would be the first president of the United States to wear a beard in office.
The next time you’re feeling like a freak and thinking about giving up your individuality for a spot in the herd, remember: resistance is not futile, and sometimes freaks are only freaks because they’re ahead of their time.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

2005-2015: Ten Year Blog Anniversary!

Me, the month I started writing this blog
At the time, little did I know that 2005 would be such a pivotal year in my life.  A lot happened.  I mean A LOT happened.  During 2015, the launch of several 10-Year Anniversary markers will occur for me.

The first of which is that 10 years ago on April 11, 2005, I started this blog.  My first post was titled Kicking The Tires and it was about my trepidation at trying new things (some things never change) while comparing technology to my then dating life.  That post, a the few more that followed, were looong posts.  Blogging was still a fairly new endeavor for most people, including me.  I had initially built out a personal website, but my postings were pretty much just opinion pieces.  So BF#6 (the one just preceding Kevin) suggested I start writing a blog instead - which I did - 2 week after he dumped me.

A similar situation occurred back in 1993 when BF#3 broke up with me after 2 years.  Only then, I actually wrote an entire book.  It was never published, but parts of it have shown up in this blog over the course of the last 10 years.  I was proud of that book and I am proud of this blog.

Look for more 10-Year Anniversary markers during 2015.  

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Lincoln Assassination 150 Years Ago

One hundred and fifty years ago tonight, at about 10:20 PM (EST), Abraham Lincoln was shot in the back of the head by John Wilkes Booth during a performance of "Our American Cousin" at Ford's Theater in Washington, DC.  He will die the next morning at 7:22 AM (EST).  This event, as well as those leading up to and following, have fascinated me - and many others - for the past 40 years.

What began as a failed attempt at a kidnapping ended in the first assassination of a sitting U.S. President.  Lincoln certainly was not popular during his presidency, but his death made him a martyr and he has since been elevated to greatness because he fought for what was right.  In some ways, his life is an allegory of Christ:  born in modest and meager surroundings, lifelong student and teacher, champion of the downtrodden, leader of people, eschewed personal sacrifice for the greater good, put to death publicly for a cause in which he believed.  The more I continue to read about him, the more he guides my moral compass. His death is one of the more fascinating pieces of a life filled with adversity and challenge.

During the past 40 years, I've read about 30 books on the subject, visited Ford's Theater & Museum an uncountable number of times, visited Lincoln's home, office, grave site, and Presidential Museum in Springfield, IL, seen the gun with which he was shot as well as the chair in which he was sitting, the room in which he died, and even the bed in which he drew his last breath inside the Petersen House.

I've also visited both the boyhood home and eventual grave of Booth, as well as found the spot where Booth died, which is now a nondescript site in a median strip along Route 5 in Southern Maryland.  I've even seen the vertebrae removed from his neck during his autopsy, which is now  held in the National Museum of Health and Medicine in Silver Spring, MD.

I've ridden Booth and accomplice Davy Herold's escape route a few times including visiting the Surratt Tavern in Clinton, MD, and the home of co-conspirator, Dr. Samuel Mudd in Bryantown, MD.  And in December 2013, I visited Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas, the prison where 4 of the conspirators lived and died.  I've visited the graves of 6 of the 8 co-conspirators as well as a few of their homes.

I've done all of this to get as close to and learn as much about this event and this man as possible.  To say I am fanatical is fair, but what is cool is that those who know me well cannot hear the name Lincoln and not think of me, if even for a flash of a second.  My friends and family have showered me with books, magazine, pamphlets, movies, documentaries and many trinkets that I hold dear - all now prominently displayed in our new home.

So tonight at 9:20 PM (CST) I will pause to offer reverence for one of the greatest men to have occupied the Office of The Presidency; a man who changed the course of the country in his lifetime.  And I'll wonder, as we all should, what we might have become had the event on that night 150 years ago not taken place.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

My Irish Heritage

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

While everyone is just a little bit Irish today, I pay tribute to my Mother's Irish lineage.

Mom's paternal 5xGreat-Grandparents, John and Jean Anderson, came to the United States from Ulster, Ireland (which is in northern Ireland)  in 1722 by way of Philadelphia and settled in Augusta, VA in 1735.

John acquired 747 acres of land on Middle River in Augusta County, VA by grant on June 3, 1738, and was also granted 270 acres of land on a branch of Catherys River, now called Anderson Branch.

In 1742, John was a member of Captain John Smith's Company of Augusta County Militia, and in 1756 he belonged to Captain Christian's Company of Militia.  He was one of the first elders of Old Stone Church (near Staunton) and on October 30, 1745, Governor William Gooch commisioned John one of the first magistrates in Augusta.

John and Jean had 10 children - 3 daughters born in Ireland, then 5 sons and a daughter born in Augusta.  The fourth son, William, born in 1750, is from whom my Mother's line descends.

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

March 4, 2014: The Toughest Day Of My Life

First off, this is a little long.  I've waited a year to get this off my chest, so bear with me.

Little was going the way it should, despite us doing everything we were supposed to do.  I'd notified the building that we were moving out three weeks in advance.  On February 12, 2014, I told them that I wanted to reserve the elevator for March 5th.  And since we lived on the 36th floor of the building, reserving the elevator was priority for getting all of our belongings down and into the moving truck.  The building concierge confirmed the date and time.  She said we could have the elevator reserved for all day March 5, 2014.

Experience told me that this seemed too simple.

This being Miami, I smartly decided to follow up.  If living here for the past year had taught me anything, it was that no one did what they said they were going to do.  I'd needed to constantly follow up with the post office, building management, utility companies, and building maintenance.  Even 128 of the 131 resumes I had sent over the past year had garnered no response.  Constant follow-up had become my way of life.

So the next day, February 13th, I stopped by the building front desk to confirm the reservation I had made the day before.  Not surprising, there was no record of it.  So when I resubmitted my request, I was told that I could not use the EAST elevator bank (located just outside our unit door which then opened near the loading dock downstairs), but would have to use one of the 4 elevators on the WEST side of the building instead.  It was as if I had sniffed glue.  All I could muster was a simple, "Um, what?"  Once the concierge repeated what she had said, I reminded her that in order for us to move our belongings out of our unit and down to the loading dock, we would need to pass through 3 sets of doors, a security gate, cross the outdoor pool deck area, dodge sunbathers while trying to avoid water damaging our belongings, pass through another security gate and another set of doors just to get to the west elevator bank on the other side of the building, ONLY TO THEN walk our items out the front lobby doors and around to the other side of the building to get to the loading dock where the van had to be parked.  To give you some idea, here is a diagram:

And here's another view:

I asked the concierge if she could see the absurdity in this. She just looked at me and said that's how it needed to be done.  I pointed out to her that this was not the way we had moved in to the building, so it would not be the way we move out of it.  Without excusing herself from the conversation, she walked into the "back office".  After I spoke with two more people, the building acquiesced and allowed us to use the east elevator bank instead, letting me know they were making an exception.

A week before our scheduled March 5th move out, the building management called to bump us up a day to March 4th.  When I asked why, they said others had scheduled to move in/out on the 5th.  My reminding them that I had already RESERVED the elevator and loading space for March 5th fell on deaf ears.  Luckily, Kevin was able to change his day off work at the last minute.

Three days before our now-scheduled March 4th move out, the building management called me again - this time to change our scheduled start time from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. because they scheduled someone else to start at 8 a.m.  SOMEONE ELSE?  How could SOMEONE ELSE reserve the elevator when we apparently weren't supposed to use it in the first place???  So again, I reminded them that we had the elevator RESERVED for the entire day.  It was then that they told me that I couldn't do that - I could only have it for a 2-hour window.  On this, they were unyielding.

At this stage, I lost track of the number of times I said "What the f*ck?" to someone's face.

So finally our actual move date arrived and we picked up the rental truck.  While waiting patiently for our turn to use the elevator, of course the people ahead of us took longer than scheduled.  Add to that, that as soon as they finished, the elevator stopped functioning.  The elevator inspection company came to fix it, but then forgot to turn it back on until Kevin chased after them.  Once the elevator was functioning again and we asked the building concierge for the key to lock the elevator for use, we were told that because it was a public elevator we could not lock it for use and had to share it with the rest of the building.  All 36 floors of tenants.  This slowed the process immensely.

So to sum up at this point - every conversation in which I had involved the building management about our move out of the building ended up being a colossal waste of time.  "Welcome to Miami", indeed.

To our credit, Kevin and I were well-prepared for the move.  Everything was boxed and we had a packing plan.  It took many trips in the elevator, but once we were finally able to start moving at 1 p.m., we managed to get everything loaded in 2.5 hours and were done by 3:30.

This was when an already horrible day turned worse.

The plan was that I would drive 95% of our belongings back to Chicago and move back into our condo while Kevin remained in Miami for an additional 6 weeks to work out a notice at his job.  Neither of us were fans of being separated for 6 weeks, especially since we had come to rely on each other so much for the past year.  But I was starting a new job in Chicago soon and this seemed like the best plan.

But because it was now much later in the day than we had planned (we had originally planned to be done by 10:30 AM), I reached out to the building manager and asked permission to park our now completely loaded truck in a small, hardly-used, gated lot on the building property overnight so that I could start the drive to Chicago early the next morning.  I pointed out that due to the building's incompetence and constant rescheduling, it was too late to begin a road trip (especially starting in rush hour).  The rental truck was too tall to fit into any of the area parking garages and we were not keen on leaving the truck with everything we own sitting on the street overnight.  Without hesitating, she simply said, "no".

So with no other choice, and exhausted, I looked at Kevin and said, "well I guess I need to get going then".  Neither of us was prepared for this.  After so much disappointment the entire day, I now had to get into a truck and drive away from the man I love, leaving him in a city that I know he hated and perhaps not seeing him for 6 more weeks.  It was the hardest thing I've ever had to do.  We both tried to keep brave faces, but the pain was excruciating.  He walked out onto the street and stopped traffic to motion me out of the loading dock, I took one more look at him fighting back tears, mouthed "I love you", and then drove away.

I honestly don't know how I made it out of Miami.  For 20 minutes, I fought the urge to turn around.  Any chance I had to see our building from any street, I took it - thinking Kevin might have gone up to the pool deck to watch me go and I could see him - tiny him - just for a second.  I didn't want to miss that chance.  Miraculously, I didn't crash into anyone.  With a face full of tears, I cursed the city and yelled "I LOVE YOU BUN" probably a hundred times.

At some point, probably 20 miles into the drive, I accepted life as it was, took a deep breath, and just drove.  I didn't even turn on the radio.  I finally stopped for the night in Valdosta, GA, just over the Florida/Georgia line.  It took me 7 hours, but I wanted to just get the hell out of Florida.  The trip home took me three days.

The eventual bright spot in all of this, is that 7 weeks after this horrific day, Kevin proposed.  :-)