Another Christmas Squirrel

Exactly two weeks ago I pulled out of my garage and waited, as I always do, for the door to close behind me. As it rolled down, I glanced up to my left to see a squirrel perched like a sentry at the peak of my condo’s roof. He or she waited as I thrashed around the car for a camera. I found one and hastily snapped an insurance photo through the window in case opening it spooked my subject. No worries. The squirrel held its position as I snapped more pictures through the half-open window. It darted down the roof’s far slope when I finally started moving the car forward.

The scene and the season connected in my mind and reminded me of my four year old My Christmas Squirrel post. The photo at left is quite a bit different from the one leading off that post but some of the key players are there. In particular, the tree, the snow couple, and the merry-go-round are in both.

My recent west coast trip provided an opportunity for a friend to tackle some sorely needed cleaning and repairs in my home. As my return would be just after Thanksgiving, she saw fit to not only expose (for the first time in years) the surface of my dining room table but to give it a Christmasy look. The aforementioned tree and snow people were joined by the basket of small stuffed critters which, while not specifically Christmas creatures, looked very much at home. I added the merry-go-round and brown bear.

The merry-go-round is one my Dad made. The figure I called “My Christmas Squirrel” in that earlier post rides on it. Other than being a toy, there is nothing Christmasy about it and my sister, who also has one, expressed surprise when I mentioned that it was among the things I displayed for the holiday. Makes sense to me, though. There’s also a connection between the bear and my Dad. Dad collected stuffed bears and had a double bed in a spare bedroom covered with them. Xavier Roberts, the guy who created Cabbage Patch Dolls, also made a series of Yonah Mountain Bears and I bought one as a gift for Dad when I stopped by Babyland General Hospital in 2004. After his death, Dad’s bears were divvied up among the grandkids and I accepted the return of the bear with the “Santa’s Favorite” bib. It is now part of my Christmas menagerie. Snowmen and squirrels and bears. Oh my!

Finding It Here

The goodies at right are what Oven Master Mary calls “a few cookies”. They certainly added some color and sweetness to a gray first day of my 2016 Christmas Escape Run. That first day ended in Athens, Ohio, and is now posted. The next two nights will be spent in Burr Oak State Park near Ohio’s version of Rim of the World. 

The journal for the trip is here. This entry is to let blog subscribers know of the trip and to provide a place for comments.

Book Review
True Tales from a Cemetery Cop
Jaimie Vernon

I’ve never met Jaimie Vernon but we’re friends. We’re the kind of friends that didn’t even exist a dozen years ago. Yes, we’re Facebook friends. It’s because of music. Vernon runs Bullseye Records which represented the band Klaatu through part of their career. I’m a Klaatu fan and stumbled onto a related online group in which Vernon played an active role. The e-group eventually became more or less dormant but we remained e-friends in the Facebook world. I’m sharing this, not because it has anything to do with the contents of this book, but to explain how I even know of the book’s existence. I am not in the habit of chasing down either cop books or cemetery stories.

For most, I imagine the phrase “cemetery stories” is associated with tales of hauntings and the supernatural. The tales in True Tales from a Cemetery Cop are not those. I knew that going in. I’d read the earliest versions of a few of them on Vernon’s Facebook page when, still freshly amused or appalled, he related them initially. While some of the behavior documented in this book might not seem exactly natural to everyone, it is decidedly not supernatural.

Even though Vernon has written other books, including the two volume
Canadian Pop Music Encyclopedia, this was the first time I’d read anything of his beyond a few liner notes and those Facebook postings. I was happy to discover that he is a very competent writer and often a thoughtful one as well.

The book comes from Vernon’s one year stint as a security guard at Toronto’s largest cemeteries. It was a job he took to keep his family afloat through some rough times. Like many jobs of this sort, guarding cemeteries has plenty of short periods of hyperactivity separated by long periods of no activity at all. Being alone with your thoughts is something that most guards, patrolmen, and motel clerks experience but the thoughts that come while waiting for the next speeder or call for more towels are not the same as those that come in the middle of the night in the midst of thousands of people not one of which is living. Vernon shares some of these thoughts without being overly spooky or preachy.

But the “true tales” promised in the title come not from his time alone or non-existent interaction with the dead but from his interaction with the living. Sometimes it’s with living critters like raccoons who call the cemetery home but more often it is with living human visitors. The human residents present no problems at all. There are some funny incidents and some incredibly sad ones and some that are simply frustrating. Along with those lonely night reflections, the tales provide a glimpse at a job we all know must exist but which we have probably never even thought about.

Vernon’s writing is enjoyable and easy to read. He provides all the details necessary without being burdensome. He avoids specifics that could embarrass anyone although I found myself hoping some of the players were embarrassed at the very least. The book is self published and there are some “typos” that might not make it to print with a full publishing house team involved. With today’s spell checking technology misspelled words rarely get through but they do sometimes get turned into the wrong word. That has happened here in a few cases. An example is the word ‘undo’ appearing rather than ‘undue’. The rest are of the same caliber. They never prevent understanding but they might cause some readers to pause.

I won’t claim that the book made me cry or laugh but the job had Vernon doing both along with shaking his head at what some of the living consider appropriate behavior around the dead. As I was reading the last part of this book, publication of a second volume was announced. It’s on my list.

Signed copies are available directly from the author at CemeteryCop.com

True Tales from a Cemetery Cop: To Serve and Protect the Dead, Jaimie Vernon, Bullseye Publishing/CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (September 18, 2016), 9 x 6 inches, 160 pages, ISBN 978-1537138022

My Apps — Chapter 9
DeLorme Street Atlas

DeLorme Street Atlas is one of my oldest tools. I started using it in 2001. I’ve talked about it in a few posts but was surprised to see that it has never been the primary focus of a post. The reason, I suppose, is the old story of taking something for granted until you lose it. The first version I used was 9.0. There were a few more numbered revisions and a misstep into a Road Warrior version before the numeric year was used in the product name and a string of annual releases began. I didn’t grab every one. I more or less fell into biennial mode and upgraded just every other year. 2016 was to be my next planned update but plans changed. In early 2016 Garmin closed a deal to acquire DeLorme and all Street Atlas development was stopped. 2015 was the final version produced. This first post with DeLorme in the title will also be the last.

I did an earlier than planned update and purchased the 2015 version so I could have the latest possible. As I’ve written before, there is considerable overlap between Street Atlas and Garmin’s BaseCamp and it would make no sense for one company to maintain both products. BaseCamp can communicate with Garmin devices while Street Atlas cannot so the choice of which to keep is obvious.

However, even though I don’t believe that Street Atlas can do anything BaseCamp can not, I do believe there are things that Street Atlas does better or more conveniently. In some cases this really is simply my belief. When I purchased the latest version I looked through some of the customer comments and noticed that most of the negative comments were aimed at the user interface, the very thing that has kept me hooked.

For the immediate future, I expect to continue using Street Atlas for.a couple of tasks while admitting that the primary reason is nothing more than the fact that “old habits die hard”. I’m basically talking about routing and things related. Garmin seems to have eliminated all of the real problems that BaseCamp once had in this area and I accept that BaseCamp’s methods are probably just as easy as Street Atlas’s. But I have years of experience with Street Atlas and I sometimes struggle to do something in BaseCamp that I can accomplish in an instant with Street Atlas. I have plotted a few short routes directly in BaseCamp and I realize I need to switch over to it completely at some point but I’m going to continue living in the past just a little longer.

I will also continue using Street Atlas to produce the locator map posted for each documented trip. The “old habits” thing is certainly at work here but the truth is I have yet to seriously attempt to produce an equivalent map with BaseCamp so I have no idea what is hard and what is easy. I may eventually find that making my little maps is easier and quicker with BaseCamp but for the near term I’ll be posting maps that look just like they always have because they’re made the same way with the same tools.

Street Atlas is almost certainly not the only DeLorme offering that will be vanishing. It is pretty much accepted that Garmin bought DeLorme for its InReach satellite communication technology and that all other products, including maps, gazetteers, and GPS receivers are candidates for elimination. The Yarmouth, Maine, headquarters remains although the map store has been closed. Reportedly one of the conditions founder David DeLorme put on the sale was that Eartha, the World’s Largest Rotating, Revolving Globe, remain accessible to the public and so it is. The photo at left is from my 2015 visit.

The inevitable isn’t always easy to accept and sometimes we can even hold it off for a little bit. It may even be appropriate that, for at least a short while, I’ll be following decommissioned routes to abandoned buildings and ghost signs in bypassed towns with orphaned software.

My Apps — Chapter 8 FastStone Image Viewer

Book Review
Born to Run
Bruce Springsteen

It’s exactly what you’d expect. That’s not to say that there is no new information and no surprises but the sometimes almost poetic writing style is exactly what I expected from a man who has produced some of the most notable English language lyrics of the last four decades. It’s no secret that some of those lyrics were just a bit autobiographical so it’s possible to think of this as sort of a much longer and more detailed version of the story he’s been singing since he first greeted us from Asbury Park.

It’s all intertwined, isn’t it? Central to the story that he tells so compellingly is the fact that he is a compelling story teller. The reason we know the name Bruce Springsteen and the reason we are interested in his biography is that he is a phenomenal performer, talented musician, skilled song writer, masterful band leader, and… compelling story teller.

As a long time fan, I knew the basics so the book really did do a lot of detail filling in for me and most of those details weren’t surprising. They were just additional and better information that fit what I already knew about his family, early bands, management squabbles, and the like. To a lesser degree that’s even true about the battles with depression. There’s no doubt that one of the highest highs in the world is being Bruce Springsteen on stage so it’s not hard to accept that being Bruce Springsteen off stage can sometimes be one of the lowest lows. He writes candidly about it as he does with everything else.

Although not all do, an autobiography, besides being able to include some otherwise unknown details, can include intimate thoughts and attitudes not available to biography writers. I had read almost the entire book before it finally registered with me that this was the case with Born to Run from the very first page. By “almost the entire book” I mean the last sentence of the next to last chapter. In a paragraph that may have been the final one in some not quite finished version of the book, Springsteen tells us that “Discretion and the feelings of others…” have kept certain things out of the book but that the inside of his head isn’t one of them. “But in a project like this, the writer has made one promise: to show the reader his mind. In these pages I’ve tried to do that.”

The book contains plenty of insightful serious glimpses into that mind but a couple of insightful fun ones really registered with me. Both were in the relatively recent past. One shows his unstoppable ambition  and the other his sheer love of rock and roll.

The E Street Band’s 2009 Super Bowl appearance has been cited as the seed for this book. I’d seen the four song performance and kind of assumed it was no big deal to Springsteen. It was and he was extremely nervous in the days and minutes before show time. He had played to plenty of filled stadiums but not to 150 million TV viewers. He still had worlds to concur. “I felt my band remained one of the mightiest in the land and I wanted you to know it.”

In 2012 the Rolling Stones were playing in Bruce’s neighborhood and asked him to join them for “Tumbling Dice”. There’s a video online and in it Bruce never stops grinning. It’s possible he hadn’t stopped grinning since the night before when they rehearsed it — one time! — in a warehouse. “…these are,” as Bruce explains it, “the guys who INVENTED” my job!”

The last chapter, titled “Long Time Coming”, could serve as an epilogue if a labeled epilogue didn’t begin on the next page. It begins with some thoughts about the Springsteen generations immediately before and after his own. Writing this book helped him understand his parents and he has some hope that it will help his kids understand him. The sentence that begins the chapter’s second paragraph is “I work to be an ancestor.” Like so many magic snippets of his lyrics, those half-dozen words say more than most people can say in a full page. Almost everything he’s written about his own ancestors throughout the book and about his own offspring in its most recent chapters is brought into sharp focus with that one sentence.

The epilogue follows and there is even an essentially unnecessary “About the Author” page. The book ends with several pages of photographs that begin with baby Bruce and end with Bruce and wife Patti on horseback leaning together to share a kiss. My guess is he’s going to be a pretty good ancestor.

Born to Run, Bruce Springsteen, Simon & Schuster; September 27, 2016, 9.2 x 6.1 inches, 528 pages, ISBN 978-1501141515

Trip Peek #47
Trip #15
Hot Rods and Lincoln

pv7This picture is from my 2003 Springfield Route 66 Festival trip. The name “Hot Rods & Lincoln” was used for the trip in a few places. It was just my fifteenth trip to be documented on the web and many conventions (like consistent names) had yet to appear. The festival was my first contact with what I now think of as the “Route 66 community” despite the fact that I had already driven Route 66 end-to-end twice. Of course, the community had already existed for many years but it took the internet for it to spread beyond the route’s physical reach. It was a three day trip with the first day spent reaching and crossing the Chain of Rocks Bridge then moving on to the festival. The second day was spent at the festival meeting a lot of people and looking at a lot of cars. I saw the pictured Rat-Mobile several times as it cruised the streets. I drove home on the third day and caught a few more interesting sights along the way.


Trip 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 associated trip journal.

Fear Is Very Scary

sputniknamOn the day following this year’s elections I arrived in Los Angeles to attend a Route 66 conference. Los Angeles was one of the cities where people, predominantly college aged, took to the street to express their displeasure with the results. They were nowhere near where I was staying and at first I thought them just silly. As reports of scattered violence and destruction came in I begin the see them as counter productive or worse. On Thursday I was in the back seat of a car rerouted by police because protesters were blocking our original path. Protests continued through the weekend and I saw some of the participants on a couple of occasions. It was seeing a group of them arrive downtown on Saturday that planted the seed for this article. To be accurate, it wasn’t the sight of the protesters that planted the seed, it was something one of “my people”, the Route 66 enthusiasts, said that did it.

Two conference related events, a breakfast and a tour, were planned for Saturday morning. They were not conflicting but both had limited capacity. Some had signed on early enough to be included in both. Others had not. I was part of the breakfast only group. Following breakfast, as we headed for the train to return to our motel, the train carrying the tour only group arrived. A fairly large number of protesters were on the same train. The two groups of 66ers exchanged greetings and the tour only folks made a couple of comments about riding the train with the protesters. “They’re just really scared,” someone said.

cumissmapA few days later I was in San Diego touring a collection of ships maintained there by the Maritime Museum. One was a Soviet submarine of the type that came quite close to North America during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Audio and video recordings are used to give some sense of what things were like during that crisis. I have strong memories of my own. I was a high school sophomore and remember being seriously scared during those tense days in October 1962. It wasn’t a horror movie scared or a sudden loud noise scared or a that car’s coming at me scared. It was so much bigger and longer lasting and simultaneously unimaginable and imagination driving. Maybe it was the kind of scared that some of those kids with the signs were feeling.

It wasn’t the first time I’d felt that kind of scared. The first was in 1957 when Sputnik I was launched. I was ten and personally thought it one of the coolest things ever. But I began to sense real concern in my parents. Barely a decade had passed since World War II ended plus many were far from certain that the fighting in Korea was really over. Now our nation’s greatest enemy had an object crossing our borders and passing over our heads on a regular basis. The two huge oceans on our coasts simply weren’t big enough to protect us anymore. At the time I didn’t completely understand their fear but I was very aware of it and shared it just a little. The picture at the top of this article is one I took a few years ago at the Armstrong Air & Space Museum. A full size replica of Sputnik I hangs from the ceiling. When the real one flew overhead, I looked a lot like the young Neil Armstrong in the framed photo at lower right and the TV I saw the news on looked almost identical to the one he’s standing next to.

I still thought of Sputnik more as a human accomplishment than a Soviet threat but my innocence was chipped. By the time missiles were discovered in Cuba just five years later, phrases like “Soviet threat”, “nuclear war,” and “mutual assured destruction” were all too familiar and the fear I felt as Kennedy and Khrushchev bluffed and bartered was my own and it was real. Thirteen months later, Kennedy was dead.

nytkaI’ve sometimes said that the Cuban Missile Crisis was the scariest time of my life and that’s true in the sense that there was a very real possibility that the world would be completely destroyed before Walter Cronkite even had time to announce it. But in other ways, the fear that followed Kennedy’s assassination was probably worse. Until it was proven otherwise, it was natural to assume that it was the work of our Cold War adversaries. Flying a silver ball over our cornfields was intimidating and pointing loaded rockets our way was a clear threat but eliminating our leader was the real thing. If the USSR had a hand in the assassination then the Cold War wasn’t very cold anymore. What would be our response? What would be their next step?

In hindsight I think that what happened after the president was killed was actually reaffirming. There were bumps and missteps and unanswerable questions and even today the word conspiracy is usually lurking nearby when the words Kennedy assassination are used but the rules basically worked and the United States of America survived and continued on it’s often lurching but generally hopeful path.

wdem681968 was the first election I was old enough to participate in and there are indeed some similarities between it and the one just past. Then many wanted McCarthy or McGovern but got Humphrey. This year many wanted Sanders but got Clinton. Humphrey and Clinton both lost and maybe for some of the same reasons. I suspect it’s a much older joke but I first heard it applied to the 1968 victor. “If Nixon ran unopposed he’d have lost.” It’s possible the same thing could be said this year regardless of whether it was Trump of Clinton who came out on top. I believe I heard just as many people proclaim who they were voting against as who they were voting for, The convention that nominated Humphrey was preceded by the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy and accompanied by police violence directed at protesters. The latter was, to me, the most frightening occurrence of a very frightening year. Things aren’t the same today but they’re not entirely different either.

Although our perspectives can’t possibly be the same, some of those LA protesters and I share memories of the incredibly frightening events of September 11, 2001. I know I had many of the same fears and questions then as I had back in 1963 when President Kennedy was shot. Maybe they, at least the oldest among them, did too. But I doubt their 2016 fears have the same relationship to their 2001 fears as my 1968 fears had to my fears of 1963. I doubt even more that their fears are very much like mine. I cannot, in fact, claim to even understand or appreciate all of their fears.

I may have started writing this because of those sign carrying California kids but I did not write it for them. The chances of any of them even seeing this article are pretty much nil. No, I wrote it for me. There is a certain amount of John Barth scriptotherapy involved where the mere act of writing is therapeutic and there is no question that putting words into a structure makes your thoughts a little more structured as well. But I think the main reason was to remind myself that I’ve seen the world survive some pretty deep piles of doo doo in the past. Today’s doo doo is different and may even be deeper in spots but history suggests that there’s a pretty good chance that the world will survive it too.


As would any Cincinnatian around my age constructing a title with the word “fear” in it, I seriously considered simply stealing the title of the Raisins’ 1983 regional hit song. Even though I ultimately decided it wasn’t entirely appropriate, revisiting the song convinced me that anyone who hasn’t heard it needs to and anyone who has wants to. Here you go:
Fear Is Never Boring