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. The fixins' bar is not the place for you to get organized.  Don't reassemble the purse, don't switch out phones, and for-the-love-of-all-that's-holy DON"T change out your shoes!
  5. You - the one adding nutmeg to your coffee - I hate you.
  6. Don't talk to me.  I equate fixing my beverage to peeing in a public urinal: no talking, eyes straight ahead, flush when finished.
  7. Put your trash in the trash.  Put your trash in the trash. Put your trash in the trash.
  8. Once you've added everything you need, die.  Or leave.  Either is fine, just move out of the way.  
  9. By the way, have you ever made your own coffee or tea before?  You don't know how much milk or sweetener to put in?  Add a little, taste it, add a little, taste it...  I want to stab you in the eye.
  10. 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.
  11. 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?  Slob.
  12. Don't hoard the milk carafe.  Take it when you're ready to use it - don't pull it away from everyone and stockpile your supplies.  Share, sweetie.  Share.
  13. 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...