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.

Road Trip Essentials
A My Gear Extra

rtecolI recently received a request/suggestion for a post on “must have” road trip items. I initially blew it off but returned to it a week or so later. Since I am about to actually head out on a road trip, I need to stockpile some “dateless” (“timeless” almost, but not quite, fits) articles for posting while I travel. You know, the “Trip Peek” or “My Wheels” sort of things that have no connection to what I’m actually doing but can be posted at anytime to meet the blog’s every Sunday schedule. In the middle of generating a couple of “Trip Peeks”, I remembered the email and realized that the suggested “Road Trip Essentials” was as good a topic as any. Of course, it would take more time than a “Trip Peek” but it could be sort of a consolidated “My Gear” and it might be fun. If it also made somebody (the requester) happy, even better.

The request came from RelayRides (now Turo), a peer-to-peer car rental outfit. I’d never heard of them and naming them is not meant to endorse them but I could see that continued references to “the requester” were going to get old. Though the services offered are different, the contact from RelayRides (now Turo) reminded me of a recent conversation with some friends about Uber, a person-to-person taxi service. After using Uber on several occasions in a couple of different cities, they were singing its praises. These person-to-person/peer-to-peer businesses are certainly worth keeping an eye on. The RelayRides (now Turo) call was for blog posts that could tie into an upcoming “Road Trip Essentials” campaign. There is absolutely nothing in it for me except the possibility of an extra visitor or two but neither are there any restrictions or guidelines. The friendly and conversational request used playlists, caffeine, and frozen grapes as possible essentials so my list may be a little more serious than what they’re thinking. I believe everyone knows, however, that, while I take my road trips seriously, they are rarely serious trips. There was no actual suggestion that I include a collage but the word was used twice and I figured making a small one might be fun. It was.

The camera needs little explanation. If I’m on a full tilt road trip, I need pictures for the daily updates and there are other trips taken with the clear intent of using all or part of the outing in a blog entry. In addition to pictures that, if they’re not too crappy, might appear in a journal or blog entry, I use a camera to take notes. Snapping a photo of a sign or menu is a lot easier and less error prone than trying to write down what I think I might want to know later. Even when there is no advance thought of documenting any part of a trip, l want a camera near by in case some Martians land along the road or Bruce Springsteen’s car breaks down and he needs a ride.

I imagine that almost everyone now considers a GPS unit at least useful on a trip. It can keep you from reaching Tijuana instead of Vancouver and can be a great help in finding gas, food, or lodging. I do use mine to find motels and restaurants and such but I also use it in a manner that makes it truly essential. Many of my trips are on historic (i.e., imaginary) highways. They probably don’t appear on any current map or atlas and there are few, if any, signs to follow. Even if there were, I typically travel alone with no one to constantly read maps or watch for signs. What I do is plot the exact route I want to follow and load it into the GPS unit which then verbally directs me along my chosen path. Yes, it does require a fair amount of advance work and a more capable than average GPS unit.

Even with every turn programmed into the GPS, I pack guide books and maps. The GPS can fail, the situation on the ground might not match the plotted course, or my intentions might simply change. Plus, guidebooks like those in the picture provide valuable information when putting together a journal or blog entry.

The last item pictured, the cell phone, is the electronic Swiss army knife of our age. It is almost essential to everybody everyday just to talk, text, search, and email. In my case, in the context of road trips, it is also essential as a backup camera and as a voice recorder. Not too long ago, I would have included a small voice recorder in my essentials but the phone now serves to make quick notes especially while driving. I still carry a digital recorder for use when appropriate but it no longer rides on the seat beside me.

rtecabOf course, all of those accessories have their own accessories. For many years, I only bought gear that used AA batteries on the theory that I could always buy power at the corner drug store if required. I believe that happened once. I carried around a bag of nicads and the chargers to fill them in either car or motel. I eventually had to abandon that position but I still cling to the ability to recharge everything whether stopped or on the go. I now carry spare proprietary batteries and AC/DC chargers for two different cameras and a cell phone. I do not carry a spare for the GPS since I seldom operate it on battery power.

I’ll also almost always have my laptop along and some music/podcasts, and maybe, depending on departure time and length of trip, a thermos of coffee and a cooler. The cooler will have water or Gatorade and possibly a beer or two. There will probably be some carrots, or apple slices, or grapes in there, too. Next time, the grapes might even be frozen.

ADDENDUM 24-Nov-2015: This post has been edited to reflect a name change from RelayRides to Turo.

Book Review
Adventures Around Cincinnati
Hoevener & Weeks

Adventures Around Cincinnati coverTwo really big things have happened since I reviewed Terri Weeks ebook, How to Visit All 50 States in 12 Trips, in February.  One is that we one day had lunch together so I can no longer joke about never having met this fellow traveler in the “neighborhood”.  OK, so maybe that’s not all that big a deal, but the second thing, the release of the second edition of the book Terri co-wrote with Laura Hoevener, certainly is. I mentioned the book, Adventures Around Cincinnati: A Parent’s Guide to Unique and Memorable Places to Explore with your Kids, in that earlier review and pointed to the “Kids” in the subtitle as the reason I was not familiar with it. There is no question that the book is aimed at people with kids but a scan of the list of attractions in the first edition revealed that, just like the list in How to Visit…, most things on it can be enjoyed by us old folks, too. In fact, the majority were attractions that I had visited myself and enjoyed despite being an “adult of long standing”.

The new edition has the same basic structure as the first. The difference is pretty much described by the phrase “More to explore” in a red circle on the new cover so, if you are familiar with the 2011 version, you can stop reading right now and just go ahead and order your copy of the new improved 2014 model.

The bulk of the book — 266 of 336 pages — is devoted to describing more than 120 attractions which is a considerable increase from the “Over 80…” of the first edition. Since the authors report that there are “about 50 new Adventures” this time around, I’m guessing that ten or so have been removed for one reason or another. Of course, in addition to adding a bunch and removing a few, Hoevener and Weeks updated entries as needed. For each attraction, a fixed list of key features is followed by a paragraph or two of descriptive text. Although, as the math shows, the average entry fills a couple of pages, this entry for a railroad museum is otherwise typical.

Adventures Around Cincinnati interior

Attractions are listed alphabetically in four geographic groups. The first, “Central Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky” is centered around downtown Cincinnati. “Greater Cincinnati” includes Cincinnati suburbs and slightly less northern bits of Kentucky. There is a section for “Dayton” and “A Hop, Skip, and a Jump” replaces a section called “Columbus, Lexington, Louisville, and Indianapolis” in the first edition presumably because some of the hops and jumps went beyond those four cities. But even the most remote of the attractions are within a two hour drive of Cincinnati and those are two mini-van hours not two Ferrari hours. Each section begins with a map showing the locations of listed attractions and every listed attraction has been visited by at least one and usually both of the authors.

“Attraction Listings” is the middle of the book’s three major parts. The first part, “Creating Memories with Your Family”, tells how the two authors and mothers hatched the idea of regularly scheduled “adventures” for their families and how they have used it to great advantage for some ten years. Two words struck me as I read this section: “deliberate” and “intentional”. Every one has experienced ad hoc versions of what Terri and Laura call adventures but diving into them deliberately and intentionally on some sort of regular schedule is what has provided real value as a parenting tool. Beyond telling how they have done it, the authors give tips on how others, in different situations, might implement their own system of adventuring. The usefulness of these tips isn’t limited to the Cincinnati area and what is basically this portion of Adventures Around Cincinnati has been made available as a standalone ebook titled Adventures Around You.

The book’s third part, “Planning Help”, makes good on its name by providing help for using the other two parts in planning your own adventures. There are a couple of sample itineraries and some suggestions involving attractions not detailed in the book but the most help, in my opinion, comes from a table of all the attractions that are detailed in the book. It’s something of an index on steroids. The attractions are listed alphabetically along with the page numbers of the full entries then other columns in the table give general locations, identify the attraction type, etc. One column marks free attraction and there really are quite a few of them.

I’ve lived around here long enough and done enough poking that, as I mentioned earlier, I’ve visited the majority of listed attractions. But not all. There are several, like the Rumpke Landfill Tour and the Anthony-Thomas Chocolate Factory Tour, that even this old poker didn’t know about and which will likely be part of my own adventure someday. But the ideal audience for this book is the young Cincinnati area family with one or more curious young ‘uns ready for adventure. Hey, that sounds like my daughter’s family. I’m thinking gift list win.

In addition to being available through Amazon and some area bookstores, signed copies can be purchased directly from the authors.

Adventures Around Cincinnati: A Parent’s Guide to Unique and Memorable Places to Explore with your Kids, Laura Hoevener and Terri Weeks, Hourglass Press; Second edition (March 15, 2014), paperback, 8.5 x 5.6 inches, 336 pages, ISBN 978-0991085408

Book Review
Outside the Wire
Jim Ross

Outside the Wire coverThis book is different. It’s different from what I typically read and it’s different from what Jim Ross typically writes. It is also different from other Vietnam memoirs; at least I think it is. I’ve not read a ton of Vietnam memoirs so I can’t speak to that last point with any authority but I can try to explain why I believe it. In the more than forty years between the events told of in the book and the book’s completion, Ross wrote or co-wrote several other books and developed some formidable writing skills. That’s hardly all he learned, of course, but he somehow manages to keep most of those other things out of this book. In Outside the Wire: Riding with the “Triple Deuce in Vietnam, 1970, Jim Ross tells the story of a twenty year old kid, including the words and thoughts of that kid, with the skill of an accomplished writer and my sense is that that is a rare combination.

Not different is the basic story being told. Thousands of kids got drafted, trained, and sent off to Vietnam to shoot and be shot at. The details vary, of course. In Ross’ case, the shooting started with an M16 then he eventually became the man behind the 50 caliber machine gun mounted atop the armored personnel carrier to which he was assigned. Being shot at started with misdirected cluster bombs fired by US artillery then went on to include grenades, mortars, machine gun fire and other assorted projectiles from the other side. Even when the enemy wasn’t actively sending harmful things their way, the men had plenty to fear from the booby traps and land mines that were left behind.

I recall briefly questioning, early on in my read, how anyone could remember such detail through all those years but I soon realized that these are the sort of details that it is impossible to forget. Ross did some truly heroic things in Vietnam and he tells about them quite matter-of-factly. He also did some rather dumb things and tells about them just as matter-of-factly. That is not to say that the book is only a catalog of facts. Ross is as adept at describing his younger self’s emotions — plenty of fear and anger — as he is at describing the actions of a firefight.

Both friend and foe figure into that fear and anger. Being afraid of and angry at someone who is trying to kill you is pretty easy to understand but the soldiers on the ground also feared that the higher-ups would do something stupid and were justifiably angry when they did. From a four decade distance, it might be tempting to write about anger being directed at the safe-at-home politicians responsible for the war’s existence but that was rarely the case. For the most part, an enlisted grunt was concerned only with the decisions that affected his odds of staying alive for the next hour or day. Blame was rarely directed higher than the platoon leader. It only happened when it seemed that some big shot was padding his resume at their expense. After a particularly costly battle in tight quarters, Ross comments that:

Once again they had proven that mechanized infantry was always good for a sucker punch when shackled by terrain. It was as if we had brought a gun to a knife fight and still lost. Even though they had likely sustained greater loses, the psychological edge was theirs.

Several pages of color photographs help illustrate Ross’ words. These are not the artful photographs Ross fans are used to seeing in books like Route 66 Sightings. These are snapshots of soldiers taken by other soldiers. They no doubt help in visualizing what the words describe but the words need little help. The words paint vivid pictures. They are profane. They are the words soldiers use in profane situations and there is no more profane situation than war.

Ross draws no conclusion and does no preaching. What he does do is bring veteran skills to the telling of a rookie’s story. Well done.

Outside the Wire: Riding with the “Triple Deuce in Vietnam, 1970, Jim Ross, Stackpole Books, February 2013, 9.1 x 6.1 inches, 320 pages, ISBN 978-0811712224

Book Review
The Narrow Road
John Jay Abbott

Narrow Road coverThis book could be called a near opposite of the one in my most recent review. That one contained lots of information and was well researched but not so well written. The Narrow Road: An Adventure on the Lincoln Highway tells me little that’s new and involved almost no research but is fairly well written. Yes, I do have variety in my reading.

I’m sure no one will be surprised to read that I sometimes visit Amazon and type “Lincoln Highway” into the search box. I used to do it to see if there was anything new that I hadn’t heard about but recently I’ve been doing it to see where my own book appears. The Narrow Road popped up in the search results and was not only “something new that I hadn’t heard about”, there were similarities between it and my book, By Mopar to the Golden Gate. Abbott’s book was published on December 17, 2013, mine on December 27, and both were travelogues of full length drives of the Lincoln Highway during its centennial year. Abbott lived far from the coasts, in Springfield, Missouri, so that, like me, he had to start his journey with an eastbound drive to New York City and end it with an eastbound drive back home. Beyond that, however, the similarities peter out quickly.

Abbott knew next to nothing about the Lincoln Highway before setting out to drive it. He was between jobs but had a little money in the bank. The recent death of his mother left him with no obligations and a cross country drive seemed like just what he needed. He more or less stumbled on the Lincoln Highway when he started looking for a route to connect the east coast with Route 66 which he knew about not only because of its own fame but because it ran through his home town. I think the coincidence of the Lincoln Highway’s 100 year anniversary and his own opportunity to run free for a bit clinched the decision to follow this newly discovered piece of history. He explains, “I didn’t go with any preconceived ideas. I learned just enough about the route to find my way.”

Amazon’s description of the book includes “…a travel narrative in the tradition of Travels with Charley“. I don’t doubt that’s what Abbott was going for but Steinbeck had a couple of decades of living and a shelf full of best sellers on the forty-three year old so that his “careful reflection and discovery” (also part of the Amazon description) ran a little deeper and carried a little more weight. One bit of discovery that, at least in my opinion, Steinbeck and Abbott share is the discovery that they don’t really like road trips. Neither says this, of course, but neither seems to be having the time of their life during their journey. I reviewed another book in the Travels With Charley tradition, Long Way Home, last year and the writer of that one, Bill Barich, seems to enjoy his trip a lot more than either Abbott or Steinbeck.

Steinbeck had no practical limits on time or money. Barich definitely did. Abbott’s time might not have been limited itself but his clearly restricted budget did certainly limit the amount of time he could spend running around with no income. Restaurants and motels were luxuries. Abbott ate a lot of canned fruit and peanut butter. He camped quite a bit and spent several nights sleeping in the homes of people contacted through a website. Both the camping and the home sharing contributed stories.

When Abbott left home, he was committed not only to the full coast to coast road trip but to producing a book about it. That commitment may have made him a little more observant and definitely kept him on the lookout for subject matter. More than once he noted that an encounter provided “something worth writing about”. Things observed and people encountered are written about and are sometimes used as launch points for essays on whatever enters Abbott’s thoughts at the time. None of the observations are particularly enlightening or the essays especially insightful but I enjoyed them — largely, I think, because they were quite different than my own observations and essays on a very similar trip. I believe this was Abbott’s first big road trip and I suspect part of my enjoyment of the book came from telling myself that some of Abbott’s thoughts were the thoughts of the typical first timer.

In the first paragraph, I described this book as “fairly well written”. I added the “fairly” qualifier because the writing, while extremely literate, has some issues. Or maybe it just has one issue. Abbott doesn’t exactly repeat a thought but neither does he let go of one easily. There were times when the same thought was expressed in so many different ways that I wondered if it might be some sort of writing exercise.

The Narrow Road: An Adventure on the Lincoln Highway, John Jay Abbott, December 17, 2013, Kindle ebook only, 388 KB, ASIN- B00HESQC2G

Book Review
The Authentic History of Cincinnati Chili
Dann Woellert

History of Cincinnati Chili coverThere is definitely a lot of information in this book. That’s why it’s here. I’ve often said that all my reviews are positive not because I like everything I read but because I see no reason to spend time reviewing something I don’t like. The Authentic History of Cincinnati Chili had me wavering. The subject matter is clearly in my strike zone. History? Check. Cincinnati? Check. Chili? Are you kidding? This looks like a book that could have been written specifically for me, right? Digging into it, however, was not quite as tasty as I thought it would be.

As I read, I noticed some repeats and the occasional oddly formed or slightly out of place sentence. There were many tiny details, like the address of a parlor owner’s home or the what movies played in nearby theaters, that pushed the too-much-information boundary. I was about halfway through the book when I had an epiphany. I’m not sure it was a real epiphany in which truth was revealed or a pseudo-epiphany in which i concocted a theory that made things make sense to me but it suddenly struck me that I was reading somebody’s notes. Not completely raw notes but notes that had been jotted down to record every bit of information that an interview or newspaper article provided then wrapped in enough conjunctions, adverbs, adjectives, and punctuation to turn bulleted lists into paragraphs. There are exceptions. The introduction and a chapter called “Unlocking the Flavor Secrets”, perhaps because they are overviews of multiple chili operations and recipes, manage to avoid the just-the-facts but all-the-facts style of most of the book.

All-the-facts is a lot. Woellert obviously did extensive research and interviewed several members of Cincinnati Chili’s founding families. Founding family members also supplied several photos from the early days of Cincinnati chili for inclusion in the book. There is a family tree type chart showing how it all goes back to Empress. If you have a question about the history of chili in the Queen City, chances are the answer is in this book; maybe more than once.

I did not have a question but I did have a suspicion that was validated by this book. Tradition has it that Skyline Chili’s name came from the view of downtown Cincinnati from the chain’s original restaurant. Some versions of the story claim it was the view from the kitchen. I readily accepted that until I visited the site on Glenway Avenue last year. The original building is gone but I couldn’t imagine how anyone could see down town from the ground floor of any building at that location. Bill Lambrinides, one of the founders, tells a different story which, since it’s one of the few “revelations” in The Authentic History of Cincinnati Chili, I won’t retell beyond saying that Bill confirmed that the view was not from the restaurant.

There are some errors in the book but I’ve a feeling that all the dates and addresses associated with actual chili parlors are not among them. In my most recent book review, I used the phrase “well researched and well written”. I can’t use it here. One out of two it is. I found myself scratching my head or chuckling at some of of the writing but still ended up believing the collection of information made this book worth keeping around.

The Authentic History of Cincinnati Chili, Dann Woellert, The History Press (April 16, 2013), paperback, 9 x 6 inches, 176 pages, ISBN  978-1609499921

Book Review
Thus Fell Tecumseh
Frank E. Kuron

Thus Fell Tecumseh coverOne of the few undisputed facts of Tecumseh’s life is the date of his death. The date of his birth is only known approximately and there are multiple possibilities for its location. He was born about March 1768 somewhere in the Ohio territory. It’s pretty much accepted that he met his end at the Battle of the Thames but that statement isn’t quite as precise as it might appear. While it is generally believed, as most reports indicate, that he died as a combatant in the battle, reports do exist that describe his death as an accidental shooting some distance away from the actual fighting. What no one questions is that Tecumseh was alive on the morning of October 5, 1813, and dead at the end of the day.

Use Grammarly’s grammar check because smart words should be presented smartly.

A little more than half of Thus Fell Tecumseh involves that day which means that nearly half of it doesn’t. Kuron spends that other half providing a well researched and well written description of the early part of the War of 1812 and the circumstances that led to it. He also manages to fit a pretty good biography of Tecumseh in there. By the time the Battle of the Thames begins, the reader has a more than decent idea of what those British, Canadian, American, and Indian forces are doing there.

Kuron also provides a good summary of the battle before starting to present the various accounts of Tecunseh’s death. There are accounts from eye witnesses with details that, if there were no other reports, would make them readily accepted as absolute truth. But there are other reports. Lots of them. Some name different individuals as the slayer and some name the same man but differ in other significant details. Even more problematic are the differing reports that one witness might give over time. Like testimony in a trial, the reports are presented unmodified. Kuron never urges the reader to accept one report or another. He does point out the discrepancies in each. If this was a real trial where the killer would be punished rather than glorified, every suspect named would almost certainly be acquitted thanks to mounds of reasonable doubt.

Of course, the killing of Tecumseh was no crime. The Shawnee chief was almost universally admired and respected by friend and foe but another of those rare undisputed facts about him is that he was a very active and effective enemy of the young United States. There was fame to be gained from his killing and the man most often named as the killer, Colonel Richard Johnson, was boosted to the Vice Presidency by that fame. Of the three most popular candidates for the honor, one (David King) shied away from any publicity and another (William Whitley) died on the battlefield. Johnson himself never quite claimed to have slain Tecumseh but supporters did make the claim for him and his political career clearly benefited.

Part of the difficulty in identifying the slayer is in identifying the slain. At least two of the bodies left on the field of battle were identified as Tecumseh plus there are claims that the body was carried away by companions and even that it was never there.

Kuron does not offer an answer to the question of who killed Tecumseh. He does supply a terrific amount of testimony, from participants in both sides of the battle as well as others, that suggests several possibilities. Interest in the War of 1812 has certainly increased during its bicentennial but has been overshadowed even in that by the sesquicentennial of the American Civil War. As the final use of the British military against the United States and nearly the last, and possibly the largest, organized resistance by Native Americans to advances of the new country, the War of 1812 is extremely important in this country’s development. Thus Fell Tecumseh is a very well done look at the war, the Battle of the Thames, and the many ways in which Tecumseh might have fallen.

Thus Fell Tecumseh, Frank E Kuron, Kuron Publishing (January 14, 2011), paperback, 9 x 6 inches, 352 pages, ISBN 978-0615415222

Book Review
The House on Hathaway Road
The Henkalines

The House on Hathaway Road coverNot only did I graduate from high school smack dab in in the middle of the ’60s, it was smack dab in the middle of the Henkalines, too. There were four of them; a girl and three boys. The girl was a few years older than the boys. The oldest boy graduated a year before me and the next a year after. Though I was most familiar with the two boys closest to me in age, I knew them all. It was a small school in a small town in rural Ohio. Everybody knew everybody.

All four siblings contributed to the book. Jack, the guy just a year behind me, got things started in the 1990s by recording remembered stories on his laptop during idle time on business trips. The idea was to provide some personal history to his own children. This was a low priority and sometimes forgotten task until the death of a friend gave Jack a nudge. The friend had long maintained a journal and his widow told Jack how much that helped her and the children deal with the loss. It prompted Jack to return to his recording. In time, the brothers and sister became involved in filling in some blanks and recording their own stories and ultimately producing The House on Hathaway Road.

After introducing their parents and the house they grew up in, each of the four “kids” provides a chapter. Chapters on the final days of the parents and on the next generation follow. A member of that next generation died in an automobile accident in 2007 and there is a chapter dedicated to her. A Henkaline family tree concludes the book.

Jack’s original goal, to pass on some history to the next generation, is clearly accomplished and then some. There are certainly items in the book that will be of little interest for non-Henkalines but there are many more that provide glimpses of the 1950s and ’60s that almost anyone can enjoy. There are some truly universal memories like 24 cent gas and gathering in front of the TV to watch whatever Dad wanted to watch. The Henkalines even include a chapter titled “Nostalgia” with pictures of things that most people of a certain age will remember. Things like skate keys, TV test patterns, and Burma Shave signs. Other memories might not be exactly universal unless you lived in “the country” in the Midwest. In that case, things like chicks in the mail, laundry day with a wringer washer and “on line” drying, party line telephones, and all-purpose aprons might sound familiar.

One of the stories that Jerry (the guy a year ahead of me) tells might be simply entertaining to most readers but for anyone attending Ansonia High School in 1963 it’s a major highlight on the memory reel. Jerry was a starting tackle on the team that broke a 38 game losing streak. I recall a story that newscasters Huntley and Brinkley, who ended most programs with something lighthearted, used our first victory since 1958 as that night’s closer. I’ve never found any documentation for that but Jerry’s reporting of an uncle in Oregon who first heard the news on radio indicates there was some national coverage and that the Huntley-Brinkley story could possibly be true. I’ve always considered my time at AHS to have been excellent preparation for being a Bengals’ fan.

The book’s dust cover speculates that readers might find themselves saying, “That story reminds me of what happened to me growing up.” That’s likely true of almost any member of my generation regardless of where that growing up occurred and absolutely true for those of us who grew up within a few miles of Hathaway Road. Those in other generations will still enjoy the book but they might get jealous.

The House on Hathaway Road: Where Memories Began, The Henkalines, Aventine Press, February 18, 2013, hardcover, 9 x 6 inches, 286 pages, ISBN 978-1593308124

Also available on eBay.

We Have Ways of Making You Talk

Ohio Lincoln Highway League West meetingWhen the Lincoln Highway Association was reborn in 1992, Ohio’s organization took the form of three chapters operating as a “league”. However, until late last year, that was on paper only. In October, a West chapter was formed to join the existing East and Central chapters and Larry Webb was elected its first president. Larry knows my cousin who lives in Van Wert and one day she mentioned my recently published book to him as something he might be interested in. He ordered his own copy and gave me a call after he’d looked it over a bit. He asked if I was making presentations related to the book and I answered, “No, but I probably should be.” He then offered up the recently formed chapter as “guinea pigs” at their next meeting on February 18. Although I put him off for a bit, I eventually agreed and found myself asking, in a conversation with myself, “Just what have you gotten us into now, Bunkie?”

During my working days, I had spoken to a few small groups but was never very comfortable with it and it was a long time ago. The book in question is By Mopar to the Golden Gate which tells of a cross country drive on the Lincoln Highway which is why a Lincoln Highway Association group was interested. It contains a lot of photos and I had taken many more on the trip so that’s where my planning headed. A few pictures would help a bunch. Not only would each one reduce my speaking requirement by a thousand words and give the audience something to look at, they could be my notes. With a little time to refresh myself on dates and such, I could rattle on about some pictures I’d taken without a teleprompter or learning a lot of new stuff.

I started browsing through my pictures and, at the same time, started looking for a way to present them. Larry had told me a projector and screen would be available that I could (hopefully) run from my laptop. I looked at a few slide show programs and ended up settling on OpenOffice Impress, a free PowerPoint-like application. It allowed me to add information (reminders) to photos as well as create non-photo slides to provide other information.

I made a pass through the photos picking out candidates. I reduced this rather large list to about 125 photos that I thought might be good for some presentation then to about 50 that I thought would be good for this presentation. I recorded myself going through things a couple of times to get a handle on the length and to determine where my memory was going to need more help than a photograph provided. I made up a couple of slides with some general statistics and other items. I decided I was as ready as I was going to get.

When I’m on the road, leaving a motel is often a slapdash sort of thing. Half the time I’m packing up the power supply while my computer is doing its shutdown on batteries. As I got ready to leave home on the day of the presentation, I took no short cuts and made sure everything shutdown in the right sequence. I drove to Van Wert and, as soon as Larry arrived, carried my computer in and turned it on. “Gotcha!”, it said. Or something along those lines that meant things are not right and I’m going to run a disk check. It ran the check, it fixed a thing or two, and it completed powering up. All was well and any risk of me becoming too relaxed during the evening was effectively eliminated.

Main Street Van Wert adAll really was well. Not only did the computer function properly, so too, within limits, did I. The audience of approximately twenty-five was just about perfect. They knew enough about the Lincoln Highway to be interested but not enough to be bored. There was even applause, which is something I’m not at all familiar with, at the end and their interest was further demonstrated through several very good questions. It remains to be seen whether I do any more presentation of this sort but I survived this one and even enjoyed it. For me, the primary purpose was to get some experience and not to sell books but I did sell some. Four copies were sold and a few more placed on consignment with the canal museum in Delphos. Add to that the fact that I arrived in Van Wert early enough to take advantage of a $1 pie sale at Balyeats (apple) and that I spent the night and chattered away the next morning with friends who came to the presentation and I count this as a darned good trip.

Book Review
Twelve Years a Slave
Solomon Northup

Twelve Years a Slave coverLike most of the world, I had no idea this book even existed before the movie about the New Yorker kidnapped into slavery came out. When I saw the movie, I was moderately less impressed than some but I left the theater with two basic questions: was the book an actual memoir and how close did the movie track it? As I poked around the internet, I encountered no suspicion that either Solomon Northup or the story he told were fiction which made the answer to the first question “yes”. I then located a free PDF copy of the book and set out to answer the second question myself. I had my doubts as I read the book’s early pages but it became apparent before too long that that answer was “very close”.

The real Solomon Northup did not have quite the wealth and social rank that the movie Solomon Northup seems to have. My guess is that’s to make his enslavement more shocking and I have no problem with that. Quite a few pages of print are used to establish that Northup had little reason to fear for his safety. On film, fancy clothes and strolls in the park do that more quickly. There are a few cases of the movie combining multiple incidents into a single event or more than one person into a single character but that’s a fairly common practice and does no damage to the gist of the story. I might not be crazy about the too long shots of unmoving faces or moss draped trees but I have to say the movie is fairly well done and more than fairly accurate.

But, just as the book didn’t become a movie without compromise, neither did Northup’s story get to the page completely pure. The book is one of those “as told to” things. In this case, the printed story is as told to and edited by David Wilson. The prose at times becomes more flowery and stilted than how I imagine Northup actually communicated his tale but there is nothing at all wrong with that. That’s why professional writers are employed in situations such as this. Wilson’s job was to make the story readable and attractive. Did he also alter or embellish things? I can’t really say, of course, but my sense is that he did little or none of the former but did slip in some amount of the latter. I suppose that’s to be expected since his job also involved making the book successful. That it was; selling 30,000 copies and being considered a best-seller in its day.

About halfway through the book, I thought of posting a review of it. Nothing too serious, as the book was 161 years old, but something as sort of a novelty in the midst of all the bustle around the movie. Then, about three-quarters of the way through, I decided there was something else I needed to do first.

Twelve Years a Slave was published less than a year after Uncle Tom’s Cabin, originally a serial, was published as a book. Northup dedicated it to Harriet Beecher Stowe. Thinking that I had not read Uncle Tom’s Cabin since high-school, I decided that reading it now was a good idea so that I might compare the two. So I found a free PDF of Stowe’s book and soon after I started reading it came to the realization that I had not just gone since high-school without reading the book. I may have read some chopped down “Cliff’s Notes” style version and I’ve seen skits and other portrayals but it was soon obvious to me that I had never read the full original novel. I found myself very impressed with Stowe’s writing as well as her story. I found her story quite similar to Northup’s or at least to Wilson’s recording of it. By the time I finished Uncle Tom’s Cabin and got ready to do this review, I was starting to think that Wilson might have taken nearly as much from Stowe as he did from Northup. I was, however, very wrong.

I saw the movie in early December and searched out the free PDF shortly thereafter. Then as now, the search phrase “12 years a slave” yields a list of hits that almost all reference the 2013 movie one way or another. It takes adding “book”  or some other qualifier to get much else. I must have done something like that in December — I did find that PDF somehow — but now there seems to be more. I’m sure there are things that I simply didn’t notice before but it’s also true that there are new things. One example is a USA Today article that is just a few days old and talks about the recent growth of interest in the original writing that I felt but could not quantify.

One of the things I became aware of only after reading both Twelve Years a Slave and Uncle Tom’s Cabin is the work that Dr. Sue Eakin and Dr Joseph Logsdon did in verifying events in Northup’s narrative. I shelled out 99 cents for an electronic version of the recently published “enhanced” version of Twelve Years a Slave that includes some of their findings and more. I did not reread Northup’s story or even all of the notes but just skimming over them made it evident that the story was firmly anchored in reality. Another real world connection popped up in the search list. An article here tells of the diary of a Union captain who reached the plantation from which Northup was rescued some ten years after that event.

Even with the help of a professional, Twelve Years a Slave is not as well written or easy to read as Uncle Tom’s Cabin but the stories they tell are frighteningly similiar. Maybe the totally factual basis of the one compensates for the skill of the other (and neither is poorly written). I’m actually somewhat glad that I was mistaken in believing I had read Stowe’s novel decades ago because reading these two back to back made quite an impression on me. The movie is really good and deserving of awards and praise. I’ll even offer my own praise for it being a whole lot truer to the book than many I’ve seen. But, as is very often the case for some of us, the book is better.

Twelve Years a Slave, Solomon Northup through David Wilson, Derby & Miller, 1853, hardcover, 5 x 7.5 inches, 336 pages