Tuesday, July 30, 2019

My Role in Watergate

In 1972, I lived in Washington, DC. I was 12. I had finished 6th grade and had a Washington Post paper route. I had long hair and was complaining about President Nixon and the Vietnam War. My dad suggested that I volunteer for the George McGovern presidential campaign.
Kier Strejcek, age 12
Me in 1972
He drove me to the downtown headquarters on K Street one August weekend, and they put me to work stuffing envelopes. I continued to go there on my own, taking the bus there and back. I don’t remember how often I did this, but I continued after school started.

I don’t know if they were starved for workers, or if I was a particularly good at my work, but they increased my responsibilities. My next assignment was to look through the daily papers, cut out any articles relating to McGovern, and add them to a scrapbook. Then I would take the scrapbook upstairs to Democratic National Committee (DNC) Chairman Lawrence O’Brien’s office.

McGovern buttons
Some of my souvenirs from the McGovern campaign. 
I was rewarded with buttons and posters. My favorite was a caricature of Richard Nixon standing on a soap box saying, “Those who have had a chance for four years and could not produce peace should not be given another chance,” dated October 9, 1968. At that time, he was running against Hubert Humphrey, and won. The joke was that now it was four years later, and Nixon was still president, still at war in Vietnam.

Poster: Those who have had a chance for four years and could not produce peace should not be given another chance

The campaign asked if I would work at the DNC headquarters, which were in – yes – the Watergate office building. The campaign would shuttle me over there from K Street, which was key, because it wasn’t easily accessible by bus. 

The infamous break-in had already happened in June. On my first day there, as we walked into the 6th floor office, my escort told me that the door we were walking through was the one that was taped open by the burglars, who had been caught red-handed. It had not yet developed into the scandal that would cause Nixon to resign two years later.

At the DNC, I worked in a room adjacent to an audio booth of a recording studio. We had a rack of audio tapes, like 8-track tapes, of recent McGovern appearances. We used what were very high-tech telephones at the time. They had a slot for a thick, credit-card-sized plastic punch card which would auto-dial the number of a radio station news desk. I would pick up the receiver, put a card in the slot, and wait for someone to answer. I would look at the day’s cheat sheet and say, “this is the Democratic National Committee, I have a tape of George McGovern speaking at some place. Are you interested?” They might say “No” or ask about its content or length. If they wanted it, they would do something with their phone, and I would push the tape into a player.

Information packet given to DNC radio volunteers.
At some point, there was a thank-you garden party at the Bethesda, Maryland home of McGovern’s running mate. Sargent Shriver was brother-in-law of the late JFK, married to his sister Eunice. Local volunteers, including me, were shuttled to it. I don’t recall seeing McGovern or Shriver there, but I might have met Maria Shriver, who was 4 years older than me. She was not yet a TV reporter or married to Arnold Schwarzenegger, of course. 

Meanwhile, I was adjusting to the Junior High school experience. Instead of one teacher per grade, I had different teachers for different subjects. One of my favorite teachers was for Social Studies, coincidentally named Mr. Nixon. Delbert Nixon, no relation to the president, was an average height, middle-aged African-American man with short hair and a mustache. 

As we neared the election, Mr. Nixon began to set up glass cases in the hallway near his classroom. On either side of the hall, one case would feature Nixon and the other McGovern. After class one day, I offered that I was working for McGovern and could get some campaign paraphernalia for the display. He drove us after school to the K Street HQ and we picked out some things, including my favorite poster. 
Another souvenir from the campaign.
By the time of the election, it was a foregone conclusion that Nixon would win. McGovern had lost too much ground back in August when he switched running mates from Thomas Eagleton, who had secretly undergone electro-shock therapy and was taking Thorazine, to Sargent Shriver. But we would only learn later that the Nixon "dirty tricks" campaign had earlier helped torpedo Ed Muskie’s campaign, and that the "White House Plumbers" had bugged the DNC months before the Watergate burglary. Nixon did not want to go against Muskie. 

Woodward and Bernstein of The Washington Post revealed some of this before the election, but the “smoking gun” White House tape would not emerge until later. Meanwhile, McGovern was portrayed as the “acid, amnesty & abortion” candidate. Nixon won 60% of the popular vote, and McGovern only carried DC and Massachusetts in the Electoral College.
George McGovern from 1972 poster, by Gary Yanker,
courtesy Library of Congress Prints and Photographs division.
Ten years later, I was a senior at Northwestern University in Evanston. A Political Science major, I learned that McGovern would be teaching a class. At first, we were told that it would be an small upper-level seminar, which was great. But demand was much higher, and “C-41 U.S. Foreign Policy” ended up being in the huge Tech Auditorium. After class, there were always students hanging around, asking questions. I really wanted to tell him that I had worked for him against Nixon. I eventually did, and he was quite gracious. I ended up with a B in the class. 

In 1984, McGovern decided to throw his hat into the ring again, but he didn’t get far in the primary. That’s just as well, because the Mondale-Ferraro ticket eventually lost to the Reagan-Bush re-election campaign in an even bigger landslide than in 1972. But McGovern was on the ballot for the 1984 Illinois democratic primary. I was old enough to vote this time, so I voted for him. 

Afterword: In 1972, I did not know that McGovern, whose father was a Methodist minister, had studied at Garrett Theological Seminary, on the Evanston Northwestern University campus in the late 1940s. He was a student minister for a time, but was never ordained, instead ultimately receiving an M.A. and a Ph.D. in History from NU. As I was putting the finishing touches on this post, I came across an interesting Bible verse. I was not searching for a quote, but happened to read this, which seemed strangely appropriate. From the book of Nehemiah, chapter 8, verse 3:

And he read therein before the street that was before the water gate from the morning until midday, before the men and the women, and those that could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive unto the book of the law.

Friday, July 26, 2019

Harry S. Truman's Middle Name

Once upon a time, in the previous millennium, I worked as a typographer at Paul Baker Typography (PBT) in Evanston, Illinois. We were using state-of-the-art laser typesetting machines from Mergenthaler Linotype. The laser exposed photographic paper that was wound on spools and needed developing with horrific chemicals. The developer was a cabinet that had motorized platens to pull the paper through a light-tight series of three baths: developer, fixer, water, then over a dryer. We typed on dedicated CRTerminals using bracketed codes for typesetting not unlike you might have found on primitive PCs using DOS word processors like XyWrite, or later in HTML. For instance, <f269> would change the font to Helvetica, <h10> the point size to 10, and <nj> would render the paragraph justified. We also used wax to paste up galleys, X-Acto knives to alter them if necessary, and Rapidograph pens and T-squares for charts and artwork. 
Mergenthaler Linotype Linotronic laser typesetter, CRTerminal, and TypeView.
Yes, those are 5-1/4" floppy drive in the CRTerminal. 
I had first "set type" at Gordon Junior High School in Washington, DC. In Print Shop with Mr. Cotton, we took metal type from wooden trays, and set them by hand into forms. We printed on a small letterpress printing press. Then in high school, I became layout editor of the Woodrow Wilson High School Beacon newspaper by default, cutting (with X-acto knife) and pasting (with wax) onto blue-line broadsheets that would be "camera-ready." When I went to Northwestern University in Evanston, I got a part-time job at the school newspaper back office as a "paste-up artist." When I graduated, I got a full-time job as a typesetter to pay the bills while I pursued rock stardom. (You can see how that turned out at Bands Kier Has Been In.)
Metal type in wooden tray, courtesy http://www.donblack.ca/
Metal type in wooden tray, courtesy Don Black Linecasting.
At PBT, I was the primary contact for Rand McNally (RMC), whose headquarters were and still are in nearby Skokie. We would send them photocopies of galleys for their proofreading and they would return them, marked up. I was making the corrections for a Rand McNally travel guide and came across a correction that I knew was wrong. So I made all the other changes and attached a note to the marked-up galleys informing them that "Harry S Truman" should not be "Harry S. Truman" (with a period) because it was not an initial, just the letter "S". His middle name, you see, was "S" since his parents did not want choose between his grandfathers (http://www.snopes.com/history/american/truman.asp).
Harry S Truman, 33rd president of the United States.
I did not learn this from Snopes.com because it did not exist yet. In fact, the World Wide Web was unknown to most of us. The Internet existed in the form of 2400 baud (bits per second) modems used only on a phone line. It was around 1990, before the Web gave us all this information at our fingertips. I might have had access to CompuServe at home by that time, connected to a 286 PC, and used for bulletin board forums (BBS). 

Soon after sending those galleys back to RMC, I received a call from the Rand McNally editor working on the travel guide. She told me that she knew the story of Harry Truman's middle initial, but that the reference was to the Harry S. Truman Library & Museum (https://www.trumanlibrary.org/), which regardless of its rationale for doing so, most certainly did have a period after the "S." Thankfully, I already had a good rapport with the people at RMC, so I was able to finesse the situation with humility and apology.
Oval office reproduction in the Harry S. Truman Library and Museum,
courtesy of TripAdvisor
The next time I had a question about a correction, I picked up the phone - yes, we even had touch-tone phones back then, though not cell phones, or even portable ones - and called the editor. So I learned not to think I'm right, even when I'm sure I am.

By the 1990s, Desktop Publishing software was hollowing out the typesetting industry. PBT retained some high-end customers, such as RMC, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Northwestern University Medical School. We began to offer them web design services, re-purposing their print content. Eventually, PBT morphed into Webitects, without typesetting, and still going strong. By then, I had already departed to enter the high tech market, first at a Motorola spin-off, then at Allstate.com and Allstate Financial, now at CA Technologies, which just got bought by Broadcom. 

These days, I would google "Harry S. Truman" before overriding an editor. I'm not sure how I "knew" the S stood for nothing. Maybe trivia, verified by a visit to the library. Wikipedia has certainly eased casual research, though there seem to be more sources of misinformation than trustworthy knowledge. 

P.S. In the tech world, LMGTFY stands for "Let me google that for you," a phrase many tech support personnel are tempted to utter. 

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

You Can Call Me Grandpa

You can call me grandpa now. 
Yesterday morning, July 16, my first grandchild, Ellis Jack Strejcek, was born to Laura and Conor Strejcek. Here are a few photos:


Ellis and Laura
Ellis and Conor
Cathleen and Ellis

Laura, Ellis, and Conor
Kier and Ellis

Monday, July 8, 2019

Our RV Adventure, Day 9: Conclusion

(To start from the beginning, see Our RV Adventure: Introduction.)

Thursday, May 9, Naperville, Illinois

In the morning, I take a ladder outside and climb up to see if the paint smudge from the drive-through awning comes off the cab overhang. It does! I don’t bother trying to do anything about the several thousand splatted bugs up there. We pre-payed for cleaning the RV inside and out. Plus, a special pet cleaning fee. And for a final dump and flushing out of the gray and black water holding tanks. Did I mention that RV rental is not a money-saving endeavor?

We have to get the RV back to Carol Stream by 11 am. They don’t open until 10:30. We stop for gas in Wheaton and I’m amazed that it takes another 12 gallons of gas. Later, I will do the math to find out that we got just over 9 MPG. We drove 2,209 miles.

Later, we return the one drinking water hose we did not use, the water filter, toilet paper, and chemical to Walmart. We keep the hose we did use and the gloves.

Now that we're home safely, let's consider this adventure.


I have mentioned that an RV trip is not a money-saving endeavor. The RV rental, including extra mileage, optional generator use, tire blowout insurance, general cleaning, pet cleaning fee, holding tank cleaning; gasoline; four nights of campgrounds; food; and tolls; cost over $3000. (All of these costs were anticipated.) I estimate that doing the same thing in our car, including gas, tolls, five nights in hotels, buying four lunches and five dinners, would cost about $1200. 

What benefits does an RV offer over a car? 
  • Convenience of not unpacking and packing at 5 hotels or homes
  • Convenience of having our own fridge 
  • Cooking (or bringing) healthy food instead of buying and eating fast food
  • Not having to impose the cats on our hosts 
  • Walmart dry camping could not happen with a car.  
  • Camping, even in a KOA, is closer to nature than a hotel or motel.
  • It's a completely different experience, and we have now had it once.
Let's face it, the only reason to travel by RV is because you want to. As with any travel destination or adventure, it has to draw you. My purpose is not to convince anyone one way or the other, just to report our experience, and possibly entertain a few friends. 

Lessons Learned

  • We should have taken two weeks to allow for full day visits and to not have back-to-back heavy driving days.
  • It takes a long time to load the RV before embarking. 
  • We are certainly older, and maybe wiser as far as RV knowledge goes.
  • I don’t quite feel like a trucker, but I feel their pain.
  • If there’s a next time, I’m getting a trucker’s atlas.

Themes that Emerged during the Trip

Cathleen had taken to calling “Be sweet!” to Dusty when he fights with Tallulah (as in the Roy Blount book, Be Sweet). In Pennsylvania we ate at The Bittersweet Kitchen. We stayed in Sweetwater, Tennessee. We had sweet (potato) fries in Sewanee. We avoided sweet tea in the south. Cathleen says that in her devotional time, God had been teaching her about the spiritual aspects of bitter and sweet and how it applied to herself and some family members.

Sunshine: Cathleen’s phone knows her as “Sunshine.” “Good night, Sunshine,” it says. We drove the Sunseeker RV model. In Indiana, the Sunshine Café was closed. Just before leaving on this trip, I purchased Bruce Springsteen’s latest song, “Hello Sunshine.” And there was a lot of sun on this trip, which was nice after months of rain.


Am I glad we had this RV adventure? Definitely. Family is important. Travel is always an adventure.

Would we have another RV adventure? Writing this account of the trip turned me more in the direction of saying yes. Overall, we had a good time, good visits, and the driving was not as hard is it could have been.

Cost aside, it would be better if we could take more time, alternating driving days with visit days. As for cost, if we were to make a habit of RV trips, it would make economic sense to buy a used RV rather than renting one.

We have definitely learned some hard lessons about our age, our limits, and how RV travel works. But those are things which we were actually warned would happen on our first RV trip. Any subsequent trip would happen from a position of experienced RVers.

I have found myself looking at different RV options since then. Teardrop trailers, van conversions, Class C RVs with slide-outs, Class A RVs. New versus used. Old versus older. Trailers require at least an SUV, maybe a pickup truck to tow them. Cathleen would want an RV that is less rattle prone, less bouncy. It was hard for our cats, for our bones, and our psyches. Perhaps a Class A or a trailer?

Last summer, when our younger son moved to Pennsylvania, we gave him my old Honda Civic as a college graduation gift. We decided to try to get by with one car and have done so since then.

Maybe our second car should be an RV?

However, we are not planning on renting or buying an RV in the immediate future. Instead, we are focused on our impending grand-parenthood. Perhaps that could be a subject for a future blog or two...

The Sunseeker 2300

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Our RV Adventure, Day 8: Cruise Control

(To start from the beginning, see Our RV Adventure: Introduction.)

Wednesday, May 8, Lebanon, Tennessee 

Before 5, roosters crow. They are anticipating, not informing us of the dawn. Then the cats use the litter box and require feeding.

At 6:47, I wake up before the 7:00 alarm. We will drive all the way back home today.

At first, I feel like a shower, then I decide it’s too much trouble moving the space heater tower and bucket with mop, broom, and cleaning supplies out and back in to the shower where we store them.

We decide that we will not launch before breakfast as we did two days ago. Cathleen wants to tour the farm before we go. We see horses, chickens, goats, sheep. They have six acres here, including a horse-riding ring. Donna gives us two dozen farm-fresh eggs for the road.
Cathleen and Donna look at the goats and other animals.
Cathleen and Donna look at the goats and other animals. Below:Horse and riding ring.

    Horse     Horse riding ring

We leave at 10, and take the route that Donna recommends, with which Google Maps agrees. We’ll be on some relatively small state routes but avoid Nashville and the Interstate until Kentucky.

KY101 is built on a berm with deep ditches or drop-offs on either side. It seems narrow when oncoming pickup trucks speed by. A small turtle looks to cross the road. Good luck. We see many butterflies, gold and black, and pretty gold meadows, but white-knuckle hills.

Even when we get to I-65, we still have big Kentucky hills. Can't wait for good old flat Indiana, cruise control country.

It was 80+ degrees in Tennessee, but the forecast high in Naperville today says 67.

Cathleen takes over driving at a gas station. The easiest way to get out is around the fast food drive-through, but a semi comes the wrong way around and Cathleen gets too close to the order window overhang. Hopefully no real damage to the RV over the driver seat. (There was a bit of paint which wiped off easily.)

The Abraham Lincoln Bridge over the Ohio River into Indiana is a cool white cable-stayed bridge. I didn’t realize it at the time, what with I-Pass, but there’s a toll.

The Abraham Lincoln Bridge over the Ohio River between Kentucky and Indiana.
The Abraham Lincoln Bridge over the Ohio River between Kentucky and Indiana. 
We intend to stop at one rest area, but it’s full of trucks, with one blocking the entrance to the RV/truck parking. We back up and drive through the car area without stopping.

Later, I’m driving. There’s some kind of convoy, consisting of trucks from Rain-Blo, Amazon Prime, and Morehouse. The latter one passes me, annoying. Later, I am passing, and I pause when I see a speed trap. “What did you do? Were you speeding?” Cathleen demands. “You’re allowed to exceed the speed limit when passing someone who is going slower than the speed limit,” I say. “No,” she says. “That is illegal.” No comment. Other than that, I’m on cruise control.

We are hungry, and excited when Cathleen finds that Sunshine Café is at an upcoming exit and has received good reviews. Unfortunately, it is closed due to a water outage. We can’t quite sort out the symbolism there. We get back on the interstate.

We are an hour south of Indianapolis. I say we should power through to get by Indy before rush hour. I am assuming we are on Central Time as we had been in Sewanee and Lebanon, Tennessee, looking at the RV radio clock. I should know better that most of Indiana is Eastern except the 12 counties in the northwest and southwest. Indiana used to ignore Daylight Saving Time, but no more. So, it’s an hour later here than I thought. We don’t run into too much traffic in Indianapolis however. Later, at 5:30 Eastern Time, we eat at Arby’s in Rensselaer.

Cathleen with the RV in Rensselaer, Indiana.
Cathleen with the RV in Rensselaer, Indiana. 
Cathleen is driving. Our timing for arriving in the morass of intersecting interstates where northeast Indiana meets “Chicagoland” is not bad. We get to Chicago. On I-294, I ask “Did someone shell this highway with mortars?” I always prefer the newer I-355, but Google Maps always prefers this.

We arrive at home before 8 pm, 10 hours from Lebanon, and only 2 more than Google Maps said.

Unpacking takes slightly less time than packing. We start out in the twilight, and it rains a bit before we’re done. The cats are surprised and excited to be home. I wonder what their little cat brains are thinking. “Was this all some kind of joke?” “Is this The Wizard of Oz?”

In Naperville, there is an overnight street parking ban. You can call the non-emergency police number and tell them if you or a guest have to park on the street. Then they won’t ticket you, for up to three days. Around Thanksgiving, they don’t enforce it, and if you are resealing your driveway, and it’s obvious, they won’t ticket you. I go to the trouble of calling in the RV, but Cathleen says I should ask if we can block our driveway. I do, and they say no, you can’t. After hanging up, I decide to park in the driveway, even though it’s on an incline. I set the parking brake.

I’m supposed to work tomorrow, and also return the RV, so it’s off to bed.

To be concluded... 

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Our RV Adventure, Day 7: Fine Arts and Farms

(To start from the beginning, see Our RV Adventure: Introduction.)

Tuesday, May 7, Sweetwater, Tennessee 

At 3:47 am, the cats are restless.

At 6:15, I wake without an alarm, feed the cats, and make breakfast.

A songbird lands on our roof and sings. The roof vent is open. The campsite is peaceful, and even though we are in a steel and wood house that is also a gasoline-burning vehicle, we are in nature. The quiet hours policy is working well right now. We are not late, or hurried, or exhausted.

As I eat my oatmeal, Dusty sneakily reaches up to the table to playfully paw at my cup of vitamins.

After breakfast, I unhook, we pack, and drive to the dump station. Piece of cake.

We are two hours from Sewanee, where we will lunch with my Aunt Sally, Uncle Ed, and cousin Malia.

It’s a beautiful view of Chattanooga from the Interstate. The Tennessee River is wide. We briefly cross into Georgia. We start going uphill because Sewanee is almost 2,000 ft up.

Sewanee basically is the University of the South, at least since 1857. Ed and Sally, retired teachers, live on the campus, which is beautiful, especially in early May. Ed had been the chairman of the art department there. We consider parking on the street in front of their house but there is a No Parking sign. They have a semicircular drive in front of their house, so they suggest that we back up the RV into one side, and we can drive their car out of the other side. Backing up into the driveway requires Ed directing traffic on the street and Cathleen directing me from behind while I drive. We take a few branches off their heavily wooded drive, but seem not to have damaged the RV. Later I will climb up the RV ladder in the back and use a broom to brush a branch off the RV roof.

The RV parked in the Carlos driveway.
The RV parked in the Carlos driveway. 

The RV is in the shade, and we open the windows and roof vents, so we feel like we can leave the cats there while we go to lunch. We drive to the Golf Club for lunch. Malia, who is Mardi’s age, meets us there. She teaches and chairs the English Department at St. Andrew’s-Sewanee School, an Episcopal prep school related to the University, where her mother Sally taught mathematics for years. We trade family updates: school, significant others, our impending grandparenthood. I have a burger and yummy sweet (potato) fries. It's a nice day, and a nice time together. We have our goodbyes with Malia, and leave with Sally and Ed. 

Scenic overlook from Sewanee, Tennessee.
Green's View scenic overlook from Sewanee, Tennessee. 
We drive past a scenic overlook (Green's View) on the way back to their house. We check on the cats, who are fine, and will stay in the RV. We will now go to Ed’s “Iona Art Sanctuary,” a few miles down the road.

Ed and Sally’s Ford 15-passenger van has the same Ford E-350 engine and chassis as our RV. This is funny because Sally had asked me if the RV would be bigger than their van and I didn’t know it was the same cab. Of course, the RV is bigger – taller, wider, and longer – due to the house built onto the back. I looked this up later: the passenger van weighs 6,432 pounds empty, while the RV is 12,500 pounds empty.

Ed will take me and the dogs in the van, while Sally and Cathleen follow in the car. The dogs are Willa, who has only three legs; Babe, who is smaller; and Echo, a lap dog. The dogs run around the van trying to stick their heads out of the windows unless I pet them. When we arrive, they run around the field joyfully. Ed, who is 81, is surprisingly comfortable driving this van down the country road. I have to remind him to put on a seat belt, which he seems to find a burden.

Echo and Babe in the sanctuary
Echo and Babe in the sanctuary.
IONA: Art Sanctuary is a large (about 70 x 80 feet), peaked-roof, insulated, steel storage building, set back from the road. Ed had it built starting in 2005. There is a large field behind it, lower. The main entrance faces west to the field, with 12 steps down to it. About 100 feet from the foot of the stairs is a Shinto Torii gate – an entrance to the spiritual world, walking either to or from the structure. Over the entrance hovers a life-size guardian angel sculpture. Inside, the first thing you see is a life-size multi-racial creche of sculptures, surrounded by 12 luan wood and tile-board sheets sheets called “GALAXY.” The framed rectangles each have hole puncture arrays resembling constellations, meant to be viewed with light peeking through them. 
Inside the creche GALAXY.
Inside the creche GALAXY. 
GALAXY creche panels.
GALAXY creche panels.
The walls of the various rooms are covered in Ed’s paintings, drawings, and mixed media. The east end of the building is set up with a podium and seating for poetry readings and presentations. Facebook has an IONA page with many photos of artwork and the building.

Podium for poetry, presentations, and art
Podium for poetry, presentations, and art.
Currently, Ed is working on an installation of 13 metal sheets outside, similar to those inside, named The Celestial Sky – Messiah.” My cousin Aaron, who we will not see today, has been helping Ed extensively. We got to see Aaron and three of his children over Christmas break in 2016 when we were visiting my mom in DC.

Carlos' latest art installation in progress at IONA: Art Sanctuary. Sally is walking to its left.
Carlos' latest art installation in progress at IONA: Art Sanctuary. Sally is walking to its left. 
Ed says that most of his art has been inspired by encounters he has had with angelic spirit beings. He had once thought they were aliens, but no longer. He now calls them "living beings or angels - i.e., as hayyot" as in the biblical book of Ezekiel. As a Christian, I believe in angels, so why not? As Clarence says in It’s a Wonderful Life, “Don’t they believe in angels? Then why should they be surprised when they see one?” On the other hand, angels in the Bible are nothing like Clarence.

A turning point for Ed may have been two encounters he had on the isle of Iona, Scotland on Easter Sunday in 1990. The photograph and painting of it are called “Lightfall” (below).

Photographs of LightfallPainting of Lightfall

Ed guides us around IONA, explaining these things. He also reiterates an offer he had emailed us two years ago: choose an artwork as an inheritance gift. We choose “Atziluth,” a 40" x 60" drawing with paint and china marker, layered mixed media, one of a series of four spiritual worlds. 
"Aztiluth" on the wall in our house.
"Atziluth," depicting supernal light on water, on the wall in our house.
We take the painting in the van, back to their big old house, which they are rehabbing. We chat briefly in their dining room, but we have to leave to drive 90 minutes up to Lebanon, east of Nashville, to see Cathleen’s sister Donna and her husband Rich.

Between Sewanee and Lebanon, I see at least half a dozen roadkill armadillos. In Tennessee. Really?

Bridges everywhere are the worst for RVs: bumps, patches, potholes.

In Virginia and Tennessee, I’ve seen Attractions signs with nothing listed. There’s a claim to fame.

We are meeting Donna and Rich at Shoney’s in Lebanon for dinner. We wait out front. It’s a beautiful day.

I am about to ask about the large purse Donna is carrying. I perceive that it has a dog in it, which doesn’t make a peep the entire time we’re there.

We catch up on news. They will be performing in a wild west train robbery show as part of a country & western church ministry act with a gospel message. 

After dinner, we follow Rich and Donna in their pickup truck on increasingly rural roads to their hobby farm. It takes a little while to navigate backing up near their 30-amp hookup in the dark. They have had a succession of RVs, thus the hookup. After we get set in the RV, we join them inside their house for a jam session. The many dogs inside are not quiet at first, but Donna and Rich manage to calm them down. Three of us on guitars and Donna on violin. We start with “Folsom Prison Blues,” do some modern hymns, some Chris Tomlin, some classic hymns. We play one of ours, “Reconciled,” which Cathleen leads. We quit well after the planned 10 p.m. 

Back to the RV. We stay up too late, putting things away. Midnight. Set the alarm for 7 a.m.
The RV next to their house, in front of the stable
The RV next to Donna and Rich's house, their vehicles, in front of the stable (taken the following morning).
To be continued... 

Monday, July 1, 2019

Our RV Adventure, Day 6: Early to Rise

(To start from the beginning, see Our RV Adventure: Introduction.)

Monday, May 6, Washington, DC  

At 2:53 a.m., the cats jump on the bed. I give them dry food and fall asleep again eventually.

At 5:00, our phone alarm clocks go off. I start moving around in my pajamas. Then there’s a knock on the RV door.

I say, “Yes?” thinking that it might be the police or an annoyed neighbor. It is my mother, fully dressed, asking if we want to go inside the house for anything. I slip on my shoes, open the door and say no thank you. I go out and give her a hug goodbye. She goes and sits on the front porch until we leave.

I begin to get curt with Cathleen as I get anxious. We need to be on Canal Road north of Chain Bridge before the police decide to roadblock it for Monday inbound rush hour. We pull away from the curb at 5:36 a.m.

Getting through Canal Road and Clara Barton Parkway works! At 6 a.m. both lanes will be inbound, and we would have had to go further afield. 

The DC Beltway to I-66 is smooth. By 6 am, inbound traffic is building. We are cruising in the opposite direction.

Virginia hills
Appalachian foothills in the Virginia distance.
On I-81, the scenery is gorgeous. The distant mountains look like felt blankets dropped lazily, green with black accents from clouds. Before them are pillows of ground fog in the valleys.

We have breakfast in the RV at 7:30 am at a truck stop on I-81, in Mt. Jackson, Virginia. We get supplies, use the bathroom, and stretch, but we can’t get gas because they only have diesel. We go down the street to an actual Exxon for gas. The whole process takes over an hour. But we’ve made good progress, back on I-81 before 9 am, well clear of the DC rush hour.

We have already been in DC, Maryland and Virginia today, and plan to stay in Tennessee tonight. 

While driving, I notice many different license plates. By the time we get to Sewanee tomorrow, I will have seen plates for every state east of the Mississippi except Vermont, Rhode Island, and Wisconsin; plus, Texas, Kansas, Arkansas, Missouri, Nebraska, California, and Washington state.

As I’m driving, I sense something to my right, between Cathleen and me. It is Dusty the cat, walking up to visit us, as if to say “OK, I’m here now. I got myself out of that thing.”

“What?” I say. “How did he get out of his travel carrier?”

“He unzipped it with his nose, I think. His little nose is rubbed raw,” says Cathleen as she picks him up into her lap in the passenger seat. We will zip him back in at our next rest stop.

Later, Cathleen uses the bathroom while I’m driving. “Wobbly,” she calls it.

At noon, we phone app order lunch to pick up at a Panera Bread in Christiansburg, Virginia. We eat in the RV parked at the edge of the Panera lot in some shade. They leave the apple chips off the Fuji Apple Chicken Salad, so I walk back in to get some apple chips. They are apologetic. While there, I order a pumpkin muffin. They’re not apologetic enough to give it to me free, however.

The cats’ behaviors have evolved during the trip. They both seem to realize that we let them roam around the RV when we are stopped, and that we put them in the carriers before we move. However, they evolved differently. At Panera, Tallulah decides to hide under the driver’s seat, from which it is difficult to extract her. Subsequently, we will put a backpack in front of the seat when stopped. Dusty, in contrast, begins to present himself in front of his carrier when we are ready to go.

The speed limit is 70 mph on the interstate. In Virginia, a billboard informs us that exceeding 80 mph is considered reckless driving and will warrant a second ticket. We see several Virginia State Troopers openly aiming their radar guns at oncoming traffic. That’s fine with us because the RV does not seem too comfortable going 70 or faster. We are mostly in the slow lane.

About 1:40 pm, just north of Pulaski, Virginia, in the left lane, 8 white vehicles proceed quickly in tandem. All have Federal Protection Services in bold blue letters and a Homeland Security logo on their doors. All were sedans except the fifth which was an SUV. Looks like a prisoner relocation convoy. Cathleen looks for prisons on the map. The nearest is Marion Correctional Center. No other news was available. She hypothesizes, “maybe it’s el Chapo.”

Cathleen is driving when Google Maps warns of a vehicle fire on I-81 near Bristol. It suggests a detour through town that would save an hour. From Business 381 to smaller and smaller roads, when we can barely share the road with a mail delivery van, then back to Highway 421 and I-81. We did see a bright pink temporary sign stating “Emergency Situation Ahead” just before leaving I-81, so we can assume that we saved time. But we hadn’t actually seen a backup on I-81, or smoke. One mile later, we’re in Tennessee.

Three little words strike fear into the hearts of drivers: Road Work Ahead. However, though we have seen them several times today, the impact has been small and surgical, unlike Pennsylvania’s miles and miles of sometimes just vacant closed lanes.

Knoxville traffic is busy but moves quickly for rush hour.

We check in to the Sweetwater KOA at 6:24 pm, less than 13 hours after leaving DC. The clerk says my name perfectly. Cathleen is suspicious of that. I point out that he looks very similar to the Pennsylvania KOA clerk. Coincidence?

We hook up the RV, Cathleen cooks, and I investigate the campground shower situation. Most of the people here are older than us, except for a young couple with a baby in a backpack walking two dogs, one giant, one small.

After dinner - quinoa, cauliflower, peas, and chicken sausage - we put the cats in strollers and make a circuit of the camp. Many greetings are offered. Many weathered faces, I suspect from cigarettes, but maybe from sun or farming. Some RVs, the larger Class A models, have HD TVs mounted on the outside. Retirement-aged couples sit on lawn chairs watching TV with a campfire nearby.

Cathleen strolling the cats in Sweetwater, Tennessee.
Cathleen strolling the cats in Sweetwater, Tennessee. 
One couple is camping in just a tent, which is not the norm here. There is a variety of camping styles here, including tents and cabins. Most of the nature surrounds the campground. Our site has water, electric, and cable (which we don’t use – the TV is still face-down), but not a sewer hookup. We can dump the sewer holding tanks at the dump station before leaving tomorrow. We intend to leave hours before check-out, so there shouldn’t be a line or anything. Also, it’ll be Tuesday morning, not an obvious leaving time. Our site is a “Premier Site” due to the nice table and chairs on a paved area by the RV. Also, it is a “pull-through” rather a than a “back-in” site, making it easier to get in and go out.

After eating and walking around, we take showers in the office building by the pool. Yes, there is an outdoor pool, with your basic poolside showers and bathrooms. Then, I do the dishes.

I am surprised that after five nights sleeping in a strange RV bed, my back has been better than usual. No ibuprofen needed. It is a pillow-top Serta. For the sake of research, we should verify its worthiness for intimacy. We’re in bed by 10, asleep by 11.

To be continued...