Saturday, March 17, 2012

Recent road trips to Goshen and Shipshewana, Indiana


My recent "wandering in wonder" has taken me to the land of Goshen and Shipshewana in the Amish country of northern Indiana, with my dear friends and fellow travelers, Ted and Rose Marie.  (For readers living in or visiting the Washington, DC area, "Amish country" is a shorter drive away, in southeastern Pennsylvania's Pennsylvania Dutch Country, familiar to some as the setting for the 1985 Harrison Ford / Kelly McGillis film, Witness.)


On Saturday, January 21st, I accompanied my cohorts on their regular rounds to the Goshen Farmer's Market and the Goshen Public Library, where we observed a gaggle of young Amish girls crowded around a public Internet terminal, looking (we guessed) surreptitiously at porn, which (we also guessed) consisted of the Wikipedia articles on indoor electricity and plumbing.  Upon leaving, we spotted their getaway vehicle in the public library parking lot:

GetAwayVehicle 2012 01 21


After lunch, we visited Yoder's.  Not just one Yoder's, but multiple Yoder'ses.  First, we visited Yoder's Meat and Cheese Market, where you can purchase locally produced meat and cheese, and other staples of the simple life, such as:

DehydratedAssortedMarshmallowsBits 2012 01 21


(in case your box of Lucky Charms is disappointingly marshmallow-challenged), and of course:


GummiFriedEggs 2012 01 21

which I frankly haven't quite gotten my mind (much less my taste buds) around yet.


Then we went next door to Yoder's for a delicious warm pretzel:

PretzelQuest1 2 2012 01 21


Onward, we visited Yoder's, the department store, where we confronted the existential question:

HaveYouHadYourFeetMeasuredLately 2012 01 21

(No, but when we feel the urge, we'll know where to go.)


On Saturday, February 18th, it was time to feed our pretzel craving again:

PretzelQuest2 2012 02 18

(Ted and Rose Marie and I are not easily satiated where warm pretzels are concerned,)


I'm suddenly hungry.


Monday, June 27, 2011

Wandering (and wondering) anew -- part 3 of 3

It is the summer of 1971 and my mother and I are slowly making our way by automobile from our home in South Bend, Indiana to Dallas, Texas, for the American Library Association (ALA) Annual Conference.  I am 13 years old, not yet old enough (or tall enough) to share in the driving duties.  My mother recalls only too well being driven across the Great Plains by her father with her mother during the Dust Bowl era of the mid-1930s when she was younger than I am now.  She often expresses her feeling of duty to likewise expose me to this experience (sans Dust Bowl).  I believe she may feel cheated when I fall fast asleep in the face of endless miles of flatness, perhaps asking herself why she didn't think of that at my age.

We've driven nearly the length of Illinois.  Contrary to my mother's initial expectation, we have ascended the Gateway Arch in St Louis by elevator / tram.  We have fed the birds outside the Climatron at the Missouri Botanical Garden.  We've driven the entire width of Missouri and two-thirds the width of Kansas to find our scheduled two- or three-day covered wagon "experience" canceled, but have spent a night in a Conestoga wagon anyway.  And now, leaving Quinter, Kansas on a generally southeasterly trajectory toward our eventual destination of Dallas, we have two extra days -- "found" time -- to use.

At age 13, I'm still in the early stages of acquiring what will become a lifelong affection for art and art museums -- an affection long near and dear to my mother.  My tastes this summer run more along the lines of aircraft.  Realizing this, my mother seeks to strike a deal:  for every art museum we visit, we'll also visit an airport or other aircraft-related site.  I briefly consider seeking a three-for-one deal, but decide that is a tad greedy, especially for a friendly and good-natured negotiation between mother and son.  So I shoot for a two-for-one trade-off.

I cannot stress too strongly how very uncharacteristic it was for my mother not to have gotten the memos about the St Louis Arch or our next destination, Wichita.  Mom was one of the most clueful individuals I've ever known, and thus it was no surprise that the Wichita Art Museum was clearly in her sights when she plotted various routes to Dallas from Quniter.  Little did she suspect, however, that as with the Arch, I had done my due diligence when it came to Wichita, the "Air Capital of the World," due to the presence of firms with names like Beech, Cessna and Lear :-)  Wichita had two public airports -- one commercial, one civil -- as well as private airfields for the aircraft companies. And a major Air Force Base, McConnell, then home of the Tactical Air Command.  As good as the Wichita Art Museum was -- they even had works by Edward Hopper, one of my favorite artists -- I definitely scored an overwhelming victory in Wichita in the summer of 1971.

Wandering (and wondering) anew -- part 2 of 3

Our family drive to Dallas in the summer of 1971 was notable for reasons other than the Gateway Arch ascent.

Somewhere in her voluminous reading, my mother had run across an "authentic covered wagon experience" somewhere in western Kansas, and decided she and I needed to take a two- or three-day ride across the Kansas plain in a Conestoga wagon, which included eating on the ground around a campfire and sleeping overnight in the wagon.

To put this in context, it should be noted that never in my childhood did I go through a cowboy or pioneer phase.  There was nothing about cowboys or indians or pioneers that attracted or fascinated me in the least.  I never watched Westerns, and while I may have had a toy Smith & Wesson revolver and holster and the requisite hat, I rarely if ever wore them.  Add to this that I was only just emerging from my secret agent phase, and that during an educator's tour to the Soviet Union two or three months previous, I had actually identified three individuals following me when I ventured out of our hotel alone in Kiev, a covered wagon "experience" in the wild prairies of Kansas simply didn't float my boat.

That said, my mother made arrangements for us to arrive in Quinter, Kansas on a Sunday afternoon, and start our adventure that evening.  Quinter was (on a Sunday afternoon, anyway) a very quiet little town on Old Highway 40, west of Wakeeney and way west of Hays (the last place name I recognized on our way there).  We had set out from South Bend, Indiana on Friday afternoon and had visited the Gateway Arch and the Missouri Botanical Garden in Saint Louis.  Following those visits, however, I remember having already had my 13-year-old fill of plains by the time we pulled into Quinter.  It was, to me, a pleasant-looking outpost of civilization in that it had some brand name fast food spots and at least one motel sporting a sign that said "Vacancy" and "Color TV."  At that point in my life, such a roadside motel represented an experience as close to "camping" as I ever wanted to get.

My mother had received directions to the rendezvous point for "Wagons Ho!," the name of the host enterprise for our adventure.  We arrived at the rendezvous point slightly before the appointed time -- early arrival being something highly unusual for the two of us, individually or collectively -- and found ourselves ... alone.  Not a soul or an automobile in sight -- not even a Conestoga wagon, for that matter.  We waited a little while before wandering again in search of a pay phone -- 1971, remember -- and calling the woman with whom my mother had made the arrangements.  Some Googling indicates this woman was almost certainly Mrs Ruth C Hefner.  Mrs Hefner was abjectly apologetic, explaining that some of our fellow adventurers had canceled late in the week due to an emergency, thus denying our scheduled wagon ride the critical mass required for financial feasibility.  Mrs Hefner had been able to reach the rest of the scheduled passengers by phone before they left for Quinter, but had missed reaching us by hours on Friday.  She offered to buy us dinner and put us up in a motel overnight by way of compensating us for the inconvenience.  I already liked Mrs Hefner a lot:  no covered wagons, a free meal, and an air conditioned motel room likely containing a color television.  Did I mention "no covered wagons"?

Over dinner my mother, who never met a stranger, quickly put Mrs Hefner at ease and got her talking about local history, life rolling across the prairie, the history of the "Wagons Ho!" program, and specifics about the wagon train experience.  Never the sharpest tool in the shed, I didn't see where this was going until it was too late: when Mrs Hefner asked what we would like for dessert, my mother opted out of the strawberry shortcake and instead asked if it might be possible for the two of us to stay out in one of the Conestoga wagons instead of the motel.  What was she doing??  I felt my right leg jerk involuntarily.  Luckily my legs were still short enough that I only grazed my mother's accelerator shin (as opposed to her clutch / brake shin), drawing her attention rather abruptly to my suddenly apoplectic facial contortions without actually harming her.  The shock of her proposal had also luckily paralyzed my vocal cords, so that only a faint sound, something akin to a death rattle, could be heard from this young redheaded boy.

Mrs Hefner was nearly as surprised as I was, although I don't recall her kicking either of us under the table.  While she had accepted Mom's payment for the now-canceled covered wagon adventure, and had been unable to reach us in time to keep us from making the drive from Indiana to Kansas, Mrs Hefner had offered us a very fair compensation package:  full refund of the adventure fee, dinner, comfortable overnight accommodation, and even breakfast the next morning.  She was clearly flattered by the depth and enthusiasm of my mother's interest in the "Wagons Ho!" experience, so when Mom popped the question about us spending the night out in a Conestoga wagon at the campsite. Mrs Hefner knew the request was genuine.

In the absence of the moon, the prairie is pitch black dark at night.  You might also think it is stone deaf silent.  You would be mistaken.  There are no automobile or truck sounds in the distance, nor any aircraft noises overhead.  But the prairie is a very noisy place.

After having us take what we thought we needed for overnight from our luggage, and making sure we had both used the restaurant's "facilities," Mrs Hefner drove us from town out to the campsite.  Dusk was beating a hasty retreat, so during the drive Mrs Hefner wasted no time in briefing us on what we were about to experience.  I think even Mom may have had second thoughts during that ride.  First, we should not be concerned about the bison.  (Bison??  What bison??)  Yes, they were pretty big, and yes they wandered freely and no, there was no fence between them and the covered wagons.  But they were basically not terribly interested in sleeping humans.  The snakes, on the other hand ...  (Did she say snakes??  Okay, so no middle-of-the-night stepping out of the wagon to relieve oneself.)  And by the way, it can be a little breezy.

Mrs H got us settled in one of the wagons, and then, after assuring us all would be well, she skiddoodled back to her car and drove home to the comfort of a real bed and possibly color television.

Mom and I were in a clean but unavoidably musty smelling wooden wagon in the middle of nowhere, in a one-night "home where the buffalo roam," and the snakes slither.  But it was a little difficult to hear the buffalo roaming or the reptiles slithering over the creaking of the Conestoga wagon rocking in what felt like gale-force winds.  "A little breezy" did not begin to describe the movement of wind across the prairie that night.  Rather than buffalo and rattlers, Mom and I were keeping our ears tuned for evil schoolmarm Elvira Gulch, bicycling through the twister with Toto trapped in her basket.

At some point during the night, the wind died down a bit, and our audio feed switched to all-night, all-bison talk radio.  After trading conjecture about the topic of the large hairy mammal conversation, I eventually drifted off to sleep.  Protective mother that she was, I doubt Mom got any shuteye at all.

We were retrieved by Mrs H early the next morning, and after waving goodbye to the nearby grazing bison, we were driven back to civilization, treated to a solid American breakfast, and sent merrily on our way, to continue our excursion to Dallas, now with two extra days to spend as we chose.

A 13-year-old learns the art of negotiation, in the next segment :-)

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Wandering (and wondering) anew -- part 1 of 3

Is it ever too late to start over? I'm hoping not.

I descend from wanderer / wonderer types: I'm the biological son of two librarians, the godson of a third, the honorary adoptive son of a fourth, and the friend or acquaintance of countless others, of my parents' generation, my own, and now, succeeding generations. They are an inquisitive and interested breed, and thus interesting and exciting to know and with whom to hang out.

Though not a librarian, my maternal grandfather was also a wandering / wondering sort. He was born in the early 1890s, in rural Oregon, and traveled east, against the current, to Ohio while still a young man. There he met and married my grandmother, and took her on the road.

My mother's childhood, in the late 1920s and the Great Depression of the 1930s, included much moving about from place to place, wherever her father, a structural engineer, was transferred.  Family vacations consisted of road trips throughout the Midwest, the Great Plains, and the West, all duly documented photographically.

When I was young, and gasoline was unbelievably inexpensive, my mother would pack a picnic lunch for us on Sunday mornings, and as soon as church was out, we would get in the Ford Falcon with a full tank and head out of town for the express purpose of getting lost and finding our way back.  At some point we would stop at a scenic overlook or a state park and have our picnic lunch.  And then we would work our way back home, nearly always arriving before dark.

When I got a bit older, my mother began taking me on longer road trips,centering our yearly family vacation around one of her regular professional meetings, the early summer Annual Conference of the American Library Association (ALA).  From the tender age of ten through high school, I attended ALA Annual Conferences in Kansas City (1968), Atlantic City (1969) (notable for coinciding with the death of Judy Garland, during, but neither at nor due to, ALA), Dallas (1971), Chicago (1972), New York (1974), San Francisco (1975), and Chicago again (1976) for ALA's Centennial.

Some of these road trips involved themes.  The drive from South Bend, Indiana to Dallas, Texas in the summer of 1971 was intended by my mother to introduce me to what lay west of the Mississippi River.  Our first stop was St Louis, home to the still-new Gateway Arch.  As we drove west through Illinois toward St Louis, my excitement about the Arch grew, and when it finally became visible on the horizon, I told my mother that I really wanted to go up the elevator to the top.  For the only time I can remember her ever addressing me thus, my mother briefly turned her attention from the highway to her son, and told me to 'please use the good common sense God gives all living creatures' -- making it implicitly clear no "elevator" could exist in an arch.  She was not picking nits regarding my use of the term "elevator" for what Wikipedia today calls the "half-Ferris wheel and half-elevator" tram.  She simply (and quite uncharacteristically) hadn't gotten the memo about the tram, whereas being my mother's son, I had performed my "Jefferson National Expansion Monument" due diligence.   It was with teenage glee that I relished my vindication the next morning when we made our way downtown and up the arch.  My mother took it all in stride and with her hallmark good humor.

More on the 1971 family vacation in the next installment.