Orange You Glad It’s Autumn?

autdr01In The Soul of a New Machine, a true story about computer development in the 1970s where microseconds are a common measuring unit, one of the engineers explains his abrupt abandonment of the team with a note left on his computer terminal: “I’m going to a commune in Vermont and will deal with no unit of time shorter than a season.” I recently thought of that line as I read Freedom on Both Ends of the Leash and thought I’d use it in my review but did not. Ara and Spirit, the writers of Freedom…,  essentially live on the road and adjust their travels to be in the cooler north during the summer and in the south for winters. On occasion they have to deal with calendars and even clocks but the only unit of time they deal with on a regular basis is the season. I sometimes like to think that I deal with no unit of time less than a season but it’s not true. I also sometimes like to think that I’d like to live where the temperature is a constant 75 degrees but that’s not true either. I’ve been watching the seasons change for too long to quit now.

autdr02Trees around here seem to be changing color later or maybe I’m just anxious. A burst of warm and sunny days can do that to you. A burst that promises to continue through Monday started on Thursday and I took advantage of it to do some country road cruising. It wasn’t just aimless driving, though. I headed to nearby Greene County and followed a covered bridge driving tour described in a brochure I picked up some time ago.


The five covered bridges in the county, pictured in the order I visited them, are the 1887 Engle Mill Road Bridge, the 1883 Ballard Road Bridge, the 2013 Charleton Mill Road Bridge, the 1877 Stevenson Road Bridge, and the 1886 Grinnel Road Bridge. The brochure describes an 1883 bridge at the Charleton Mill Road location but that was closed, for safety reasons, in 2011 and what looks to be an exact duplicate opened there in 2013.

autdr05autdr04autdr03None of the bridges were surrounded by the glorious fall foliage I had hoped for and I never did find one of those walls of intermixed red, orange, and yellow that trigger oohhs and aahhs like some fireworks display, but I did find some nice touches of color around several farm houses.

autdr06I did some more country road cruising on Friday and this time it was pretty aimless. Still no big walls of bold color, though. No biggie. At the end of the day, I was more than satisfied with the warm temperatures, blue skies, and the occasional splash of orange. I think the guys in the boat were, too.

On Saturday I helped friends celebrate a wedding anniversary. I was best man at their wedding and have joined John and Sherry for some sort of merrymaking on most anniversaries. Over the years, both the level of partying and the degree of scheduling precision have lessened. This year it took us nearly three months to work through scheduling conflicts but we did eventually make the distillery visit that was originally planned for July.

icd03icd02icd01Indian Creek Distillery near New Carlisle, Ohio, is home to the oldest operating stills in the United States. In 2011, Joe and Missy Duer brought back to life the nearly 200 year old copper stills that Missy’s ancestors used to produce Staley Rye Whiskey in the early nineteenth century. The stills and other equipment had been hidden when Prohibition hit. Now they are installed in an old looking new building and making rye whiskey the old fashioned way from the original Elias Staley recipe.

Book Review
Freedom on Both Ends of the Leash
Ara Guregian and Spirit

fobeoth_cvrI really looked forward to the publication of this book. I certainly enjoyed reading it and expect to enjoy reviewing it once I get started but reviewing a book that is near impossible to describe isn’t all that easy. Saying it is the story of a man and dog traveling around the US on a motorcycle isn’t wrong but it sure is incomplete. The man, Ara Gureghian, and the dog, Spirit, have been traveling around the US on a motorcycle since November of 2006 with no plans to stop. I’ve followed their blog since April, 2007, and I have no plans to stop, either. When they started their journey, they were not leaving a home where they planned to someday return. They did acquire some land fairly early on and they do spend winters there but even it is more of a base camp than what most would call a home. From the beginning, Ara had called his online journal The Oasis of My Soul and the ten acres of Texas that his mother bought for him instantly became known as The Oasis. One definition of oasis is “something that provides refuge, relief, or pleasant contrast” and that is something both man and dog needed. Ara had suffered the painful loss of his son and Spirit has suffered abuse from a previous owner. Almost everything — the riding, the writing, the sunrises, the stars, the sunsets — is therapy to some degree but the writing is particularly therapeutic. Ara wrote, and continues to write, his journal for himself. He writes about his travels, his surroundings, and his thoughts. This book is something of a “Reader’s Digest” version of the journal. Neither book nor journal actually tries to be a travel guide or provide insights into living. Nonetheless, they do both.

In an introductory section of Freedom on Both Ends of the Leash called “About Us”, we are told that “This book has no chapters, a continuous life story.” That is one of two big differences, in addition to the major condensing, between the journal and the book. The journal, by its very nature, is broken into pieces clearly marked by dates while the book isn’t broken into pieces at all. In Ara’s words, “There really is no beginning as there will be no end.” The story is told in chronological order but with no artificial breaks or numbers or headings. The other big difference is the photos. Ara started his journey as a very good photographer and developed into an even better one. Journal entries almost always contain several photographs. They typically aren’t directly tied to the text but provide an often stunning view of what Ara was seeing during the time he composed and posted an entry. I believe Ara’s decision not to include any photos in the book is a good one. Trying to do justice to the photos would have really complicated an already complex task and they would not have really illuminated the text in any case.

Ara Guregian was born in France and spent time with relatives in Egypt and other parts of Europe and North Africa. Although he is quite fluent and comfortable with it, English is not Ara’a first language and he is not an English wordsmith whose product one devours for its own sake regardless of content. On the other hand, he can describe a sunset or a valley view in a a way that not only allows you to visualize it but that makes you want to go to that spot and experience it the way he did. That’s impossible, of course. There is too much of Ara in his experiences for anyone to have a shot at duplicating them.

Ara and Spirit cover a lot of territory. There are multiple visits to Utah, New Mexico, Colorado, Washington, Oregon, and beyond and between. At one point I thought I would describe their rides as going from here to there without, in many cases, any real idea of where “there” would be. Then, when I really thought about it, I realized that most of their rides were from here to here. It seems as if a majority of their camps are base camps from which they explore the surrounding area extensively by both motorcycle and foot. The exploration is not just to see different things but, perhaps partly because of Ara’s photographer’s eye, to see the same things differently.

Early on I referred to this book as “near impossible to describe” and four paragraphs of not describing it very well bear that out. It’s a little bit Blue Highways and it’s a little bit Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance but it is, of course, neither. On the other hand, anyone who enjoyed either or both of those books will most likely enjoy Freedom on Both Ends of the Leash. The book is available from Amazon and other sources at a discount or, for a few dollars more, signed by the authors, through Ara’s Oasis of my Soul website.

Freedom on Both ends of the Leash, Ara Gureghian and Spirit, Ara Gureghian (May 26, 2014), paperback, 9 x 6 inches, 216 pages, ISBN  978-0996083706

Greetings from the UK

Flooded Bonneville Salt FlatsI’ve received a fair number of email messages and even a couple of real mail messages from folks who have read my book By Mopar to the Golden Gate. Some reported an error or two but none have been negative and every one of them put a smile on my face. One, however, had me not only smiling but shaking my head in disbelief. It came from a race fan in England who wanted to be at the Bonneville Salt Flats to help celebrate the 100th anniversary of the first land speed record set there. His initial thoughts were to fly to the east coast of the US and dash across the country to the event. His wife thought attending the festivities was a fine idea but not so the “dash across the country”. She wanted to see more than a few expressways. They discovered the Lincoln Highway Association website and, in his words, “that was that… the LH was perfect”.

Detailed route planning, it seems, did not go much beyond that. There wasn’t much time and I have the impression that this pair of Brits is rather spontaneous as well as adventurous. After all, the idea of going to Bonneville had been hatched while watching a TV show about the upcoming centennial. He got a copy of By Mopar to the Golden Gate a few days before they left and started reading it on the flight to Newark. I was certainly grinning broadly as I read that but then came the line that led to the head shaking. “Your book was our guide as we did the 2500 miles to Utah”, he wrote.

Surely he can’t mean that, I thought. The book certainly was not intended to be a guide book and I could not now imagine it being used that way. There are no real directions and no maps with resolution much finer than the average county. Eventually, though, I think I understood. From the online map and other sources, they had a pretty good idea of the highway’s course and roadside markers, beefed up in spots for last year’s Lincoln Highway Association Centennial, were quite helpful. The couple wasn’t trying to follow every inch of the old highway. They wanted to get to Bonneville and following the general route of the Lincoln Highway was an entertaining way to do that. The book is about the LHA Centennial Tour which stopped mostly at major highlights so highlights are essentially what appears in the book. It provides a list of some major spots that define the Lincoln Highway and that is the sort of guide that was meant.

Reading the following paragraph gave me more of an ego boost than is healthy but it’s really the road and not the book that prompted the praise.

Denny we had a great time we met fantastic people in all kinds of small towns we stayed in some really cool places such as the Virginian in Medicine Bow and were guided by you and the Valiant mile after mile. We lost the markers from time to time but always got back on track.

Sadly, rains and flooding caused Bonneville’s Speed Week to be canceled (Which is why I started this article with a picture from the book of our similarly flooded out 2013 stop.) but the drive saved the trip. Ian and Caroline are planning to return to the US for Speed Week and the rest of the Lincoln Highway in 2016. Plus, a colleague borrowed and read the book and is now starting to think of his own Lincoln Highway trip.

By itself, By Mopar to the Golden Gate cannot actually guide anyone along the Lincoln Highway (for that I recommend Brian Butko’s Greetings from the Lincoln Highway) but maybe it can identify some highlights along the historic route and introduce it to some folks who know little or nothing about it. I’m ending this with the sentence that ended Ian’s email. It makes me grin every time I read it.

So thank you Denny you gave me a plan and we have had a blast, driving on red brick Ohio lanes and seeing seedling miles (after filling up with gas at the garage) dirt roads drive ins and a sense of adventure.

Trip Peek #26
Trip #62
Original OH LH

pv42This picture is from my 2008 Original OH LH trip to attend the Ohio Lincoln Highway League annual meeting in Galion. The route initially announced by the Lincoln Highway Association, now known as the Proclamation Route, included the cities of Kenton and Marion. When a revised route was announced a few weeks later, the route was moved to the north and these cities dropped. I decided to take a look at Ohio’s part of the Proclamation Route on this drive which is how I ended up in Kenton where this Gene Autry Mural is located. The drive continued through Marion and other Proclamation Route towns. The manufacture of Gene Autry toy pistols is a big part of Kenton’s past and that’s why the big mural is there and why there used to be an annual Gene Autry Days festival. As I prepared this post, I learned that the 2013 festival was the last.

Trip Pic Peeks are short articles published when my world is too busy or too boring for a current events piece to be completed in time for the Sunday posting. In addition to a photo thumbnail from a completed road trip, each Peek includes a brief description of that photo plus links to the full sized photo and the trip journal it is from.

Bye Bye Four One Two Five

dg4125This week I lost something I’d had for forty years. In 1974 I contacted United Telephone of Ohio to arrange for a phone in my first post-divorce home. It was a rental unit in a trailer park near Morrow, Ohio. Few things say noncommittal like renting a mobile home. Unlike the big outfits such as Cincinnati Bell, United couldn’t assign me a number when I placed the order. “We’ll have to see what works,” I was told. What worked was (513) 683-4125. I carried the number through another United Telephone served address plus three different addresses in Cincinnati Bell territory. On Thursday, the land line associated with it was switched off and, for the first time in four decades, (513) 683-4152 became available for reassignment. Here’s how it happened.

Sometime after I moved into (really just returned to) Cincinnati Bell territory, mobile phones and the internet were invented. Maybe they weren’t actually invented at the exact same instant but it was close. I got on the internet fairly early and used my Cincinnati Bell telephone to connect to service providers like Prodigy and Compuserve. I was hardly an early adapter of mobile phones but did get in early enough that I started with a clumsy bag phone from Ameritech that plugged into the car’s cigarette lighter. While my home phone stayed with Cincinnati Bell, I sequenced through a small collection of vendors for my internet and mobile needs. Cincinnati Bell got my internet business when they brought DSL to my door around the turn of the century. They got my mobile business toward the end of 2008 with a really attractive bundling deal. With me being too lazy to change on my own, things might have stayed that way forever if Cincinnati Bell hadn’t decided they didn’t want my — or any other — mobile phone business.

Last April, Cincinnati Bell announced that they were selling their mobile phone business to Verizon. In recent years, they had gotten into digital TV, home security, and some sort of energy management. Apparently those products were considered to be the company’s future and the wireless component of the company was no longer wanted. Wireless customers would not automatically be moved to Verizon but we needed to go somewhere by February.

I didn’t rush into anything. I causally quizzed some friends about their own experiences with wireless vendors but I had not made any real plans. Then, on Thursday the 25th, I walked by a nearby Cricket store that I hadn’t even realized was there. A friend who uses Cricket is reasonably happy with the service and it was one of the possibilities I was seriously considering. I stepped inside. I could use my existing phone by buying a $10 SIM card, an appropriately sized service plan was reasonably priced, and there was no long term contract. It would be month-to-month just like that trailer park rental back in ’74.

I left without signing on but by the next afternoon had pretty much decided that was what I wanted to do. That’s when the decision making process got a step input. Maybe something got jammed into it or maybe it just wore out but, whatever the cause, my phone’s USB connector broke. The phone still worked but it could not be plugged into a charger. I own two batteries and an external charger so I technically had the means to keep the phone going but it would hardly be convenient. I considered it for awhile but quickly decided that buying another phone would be a better move. I had no spare time on Saturday so I just made sure my two batteries were charged and continued on with life. By Sunday I had come up with the idea of repairing the phone and had located a repair facility not too far away. On Monday, I stopped in.

Replacing the USB connector would cost about $60. I was leaning toward going for it when the technician asked if the phone had been unlocked. I know next to nothing about unlock codes and had blindly been assuming that the “if available” which Cincinnati Bell appended to every reference to them did not apply to me. It did. I learned that codes were not available from Cincinnati Bell for most phones older than two years and, when I visited the nearby Cincinnati Bell store as suggested, I learned that my nearly three year old phone was among them. For $30, the repair shop could unlock the phone with an electronic lock pick or some other magic.

Without their own wireless service to sell, Cincinnati Bell stores have become agents for Verizon. I had some concerns about Cricket coverage in some spots I’ve been known to visit and, since the cost of moving my existing phone there had just jumped from $10 to $100 ($10+$60+$30), I decided to look into what Verizon had available. I liked it and left the store with a suitably sized and reasonably priced service plan and a new $50 phone. Sensing that this would be a good opportunity to drop my virtually unused home phone, I also made arrangements to do that while in the store but that didn’t take and had to be repeated before the dial tone went away on Thursday.

To my surprise, the standalone internet connection is exactly the same price as it was as part of the “cost saving bundle”. The monthly Verizon charge is less than what I have been paying for a similar plan at Cincinnati Bell and the land line voice charge is simply gone. I’ll be saving about 50 bucks a month and a lot of aggravation checking caller ID to see which marketer or politician I won’t be talking to. All in all, I think I’m going to like being homephoneless.

Hail! Hail! Rock ‘n’ Rail

octrainAmtrak has a simple but incredibly effective way of avoiding scenes like this at its station in Cincinnati. Eastbound trains are scheduled to depart at 3:27 AM; Westbound at 1:23 AM. That’s AM as in “ante meridian”, as in “before midday”, as in “middle of the night”, as in “dark as a black cat in a coal mine”. That would seem to be sufficient discouragement but, just to be on the safe side, Amtrak frequently misses those times by sizable amounts. On rare occassions, they might even cancel a train a day or two before departure as they did for me in 2011.

I made it this time though not exactly as planned. Between the time I left home and the time I reached the station, the Amtrak Cardinal had gone from 8 minutes late to 3 or 4 hours late. It finally pulled out of Union Terminal with me on board at 8:03 — a mere 4 hours and 36 minutes behind schedule. It was no longer dark. My plans for the evening are clearly demolished but I still have hopes for the rest of this trip to Washington, DC. A Saturday concert remains on the agenda followed by a couple of days roaming around the National Mall before heading back home on Wednesday.

The trip journal is here. This blog entry is to make blog-only followers aware of the trip and to provide a place for comments which are very welcome and appreciated.