This Week (and Last Week) in Awkwardness

I read an article recently about a company that wants to build a huge complex on the north rim of the Grand Canyon complete with a cable car system capable of taking 10,000 people a day down to the bottom of the canyon.  The argument for this is that it would bring money & jobs to the local Navajo community, as well as allowing everyone to experience the beauty & serenity of the canyon bottom.  But if there’s 10,000 people through there on any given day, what beauty or serenity will be left?  Never mind the gaudy souvenir stands on the rim and the ugly slash of a cable car down the side – I shudder to think what the bottom of that canyon will look like once millions of people have been through it, tromping over the vegetation, leaving garbage everywhere, and carving their names all over the rocks.  If you destroy something in your effort to experience it, what exactly have you experienced?

Book Finished:

In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson

My Larson kick continues….

In the years leading up to World War II, American ambassador William Dodd and his family lived in Berlin, watching as the Nazis consolidated power, Jewish Germans lost their rights, and Hitler rose into a dictator.  Larson tells the story from the perspectives of Dodd and his daughter, Martha, using diaries and memoirs to give us a first-hand look at the New Germany.  I was surprised to find out how naive everybody seemed to be about what the Germans were really up to, as well as how sympathetic seemingly sane people were to the “Jewish problem”.  This was a good follow-up to Dead Wake, since that book deals with some of the attitudes & politics leading up to World War I, which contributed to the attitudes & politics leading up to World War II and was a subject that historian Dodd discussed a few times with his high-ranking Nazi hosts.

Favorite Quote:

“With few exceptions, the men who are running this Government are of a mentality that you and I cannot understand.  Some of them are psychopathic cases and would ordinarily be receiving treatment somewhere.”

– American consul general to Germany George Messersmith, in a dispatch to the State Department.

Added to the Travel Map:

Fort Hancock, Sandy Hook, New Jersey – an abandoned Nike missile site, now part of Gateway National Recreation Area.

Eastern State Penitentiary, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania – an abandoned prison.

The Corner House, Rīga, Latvia – former headquarters of the Latvian KGB.

This Week in Awkwardness

I requested a transcript from my community college to be sent to USF so I think that’s my application completed, now I’m just waiting to find out if they’ll let me in.

Every year I tell myself I’m going to go on a trip in the fall, and I never do.  Maybe this will be the year….

I found a show called Aquarius that’s a sort of half-fiction based around Charles Manson.  I’ve only gotten through the first episode so far but it seems pretty good.

Book Finished:

Dead Wake, by Erik Larson

This is the story of the Lusitania and her fatal meeting with Unterseeboot-20 off the coast of Ireland in 1915, set against the broader backdrop of war and espionage.  Larson does an excellent job weaving his tale from the smaller experiences of the liner’s passengers, the the captains and crews of both ships, and the highest officials of England, Germany, and the United States.  Suspense builds throughout as “Lucy” steams toward Liverpool and U-20 makes her way around Ireland from the north.  I’m always impressed when an author can make me dread the ending to a story I already know – Larson doesn’t disappoint.

Favorite Quote:

“He was to be a willing guide for first-class passengers wishing to learn more about the ship; he was to preside over dinners with prominent passengers; he was to walk the ship and engage passengers in conversation about the weather, their reasons for crossing the Atlantic, the books they were reading.  [Captain] Turner would sooner bathe in bilge.  According to Mabel Every, he described passengers as ‘a load of bloody monkeys who are constantly chattering.'”

Added to the Travel Map:

Wicklow, Ireland.

Wicklow Mountains National Park, Wicklow, Ireland.

This Week (OK More Like This Month) in Awkwardness

I completed my application to become a student at the University of South Florida in the winter.  o_O   I still have to send them some test scores & transcripts but Phase 1 is out of the way.

Mostly I’ve spent these last couple weeks getting back into the swing of island life.  Recently I’ve realized that crazy weather is one of my favorite things about this place.  Arizona got dull because it was the same every day; blue skies and sunshine get old after a while.  Here, you can wake up in sunshine and walk to work in fog, a wild storm will come out of nowhere followed by an incredible rainbow, it might snow in the morning and then be blazing hot by afternoon.  This time of year is especially rocky.  Every once in a while it decides to be spring for a day, but mostly it’s still winter.  The early trees are just barely budding, and it occasionally bursts out raining with almost no warning.  30 miles south of here it’s summer.  But I love it, and for some reason the tourists keep coming through the wind and fog to spend their money on sweatpants and winter coats once they get here so I guess it’s all good.

A rainbow in a harbor with storm clouds in the background. Mackinac Island, MI, USA. Shutterstock(R): 166408127 R iStock: 31374616 4 Sales

Prints of this photo can now be purchased here.

Book (Re)Finished:

Warriors Don’t Cry, by Melba Patillo Beals.

Melba Patillo was fifteen when she was chosen as one of nine African-American students to be the first to integrate Little Rock Central High School.  I read it a few years ago and picked it up again after I visited Central.  Her first-person account of that year is stunning.  For me, growing up 40 years later in the north, the extreme reaction she describes white citizens having to the very idea of school integration is almost unfathomable.  Racism is alive and well in Michigan, but to think that a whole city could care SO MUCH about someone’s skin color that they would hold riots and call out the National Guard to keep a few teenagers out of school is just bizarre.  Anyway it’s a good book and you should read it.

Added to the Travel Map:

Jiayuguan Fortress, Jiayuguan, China – Guards the western end of the Great Wall.

Reykjadalur, Hveragerði, Iceland – beautiful river valley with steaming geothermal pools.

Rutland State Park, Rutland, Massachusetts – contains the ruins of an abandoned prison.

Appuldurcombe House, Isle of Wight, England – abandoned manor house said to be the most haunted site on the island.

Deutsche Demokratische Republik Museum, Berlin, Germany – dedicated to the communist East German police state.

The Totalitarian Art Gallery, Amsterdam, Netherlands – covers the art & design styles of communist states.

Montemor-o-Novo Castle, Montemor-o-Novo, Portugal – abandoned ruin.

Wistman’s Wood National Nature Reserve, Devon, England – a beautiful wild forest.

Museum of KGB Cells, Tartu, Estonia – original holding rooms in the basement of what was once a KGB headquarters.

Bay of Nouadhibou, Nouadhibou, Mauritania – people just abandon ships here for some reason, so there’s wrecks laying around all over the place.

If you haven’t noticed by now, today’s list should make really obvious my bizarre fascination with all things Communist.  Not that I AM a Communist (although I don’t think it would matter if I was), I just get caught up in things that are so completely different from anything I’m familiar with.  North Korea is my ultimate goal of state-controlled weirdness, although I doubt I’ll ever be brave enough to actually go there.  In lieu of a country where they take your phone on arrival and don’t let you go anywhere without a chaperone, I keep finding European museums centered on the Soviet Union and East Germany, or Cold War sites right here at home.

This Week In Awkwardness

I left Arizona and have now made it across New Mexico and half of the Texas panhandle.  I-40 parallels Route 66 through this area so even though I’m not on that road I’m passing through the same towns, most of which still embrace their Mother Road history with many hotels and quirky tourist traps from that era, and of course plenty of memorabilia.

I feel like the land is getting progressively flatter and emptier as I go.  Still looking forward to trees.

I woke up at 5:30 one morning to a nearly complete lunar eclipse that I had totally forgotten about.

I’m always surprised by how many abandoned buildings there are on the plains.  Maybe it’s just because they’re out there in the open, not hidden by plant growth, but they seem to be everywhere.  Trespassing has never been something that bothered me much, but these places always feel so exposed I can never bring myself to explore them.  I get questioned by the police often enough as it is.

Book Finished:

The Girls of Atomic City, by Denise Kiernan

This was a fascinating look into the sudden rise of Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and the everyday lives of its residents.  The town grew up around the nuclear enrichment factories that were part of the Manhattan Project, an organization so secretive that most of the workers had no idea what they were actually working on.  Many of them were women out on their own for the very first time.  The stories were a little heavy on the women noticing how many single men there were around them, but I guess if that was what was going on, that was what was going on.  Amongst the experiences of the female employees and their feelings about the work they were doing, Kiernan does a good job of explaining the history and science behind the rise of the Manhattan Project and its role in World War II.

Favorite Quote:

“And if you got your M voltage up and your G voltage up, then Product would hit the birdcage in the E box at the top of the unit and if that happened, you’d get the Q and R you wanted.  It was that simple.” – they seriously had NO IDEA what they were working on.

Crossed Off the Travel Map:

This Week (and Last Week) in Awkwardness

I attended the Sedona St. Patrick’s Day parade & festival (which is apparently a big deal, even though I’ve never seen a single reference to anything Irish anywhere in Arizona before) where I saw this gem of a float, labeled “Flags for Freedom”:


Book Finished:

Helter Skelter, by Vincent Bugliosi

I was generally aware of the Manson Family murders but had never studied them in depth.  Bugliosi prosecuted Charles Manson & a few of his followers in the trial of their most famous crime spree, the Tate-LaBianca murders, so the book is an in-depth, mostly first person account of one of the most sensational events in recent history.  I didn’t expect to be genuinely creeped out, but the idea of one crazy person so thoroughly controlling his followers is pretty terrifying.

Favorite Quote:

“‘I think historically the easiest way to program someone into murdering is to convince them that they are alien, that they are them and we are us, and that they are different from us.’ [Dr. Joel Hochman, psychiatrist for the defense.]

Krauts.  Japs.  Gooks.  Pigs.”

Crossed Off the Travel Map:

West Fork Trail, Oak Creek Canyon, Sedona, Arizona
West Fork Trail, Oak Creek Canyon, Sedona, Arizona

Sedona Heritage Museum, Sedona, Arizona

Added to the Travel Map:

Memphis, Tennessee – just because I’m heading that way I guess.

Mojave National Preserve, Kelso, California – sand dunes & whatnot.

Fort Carroll, Edgemere, Maryland – abandoned, now a bird sanctuary.

This Week (And Last Week) In Awkwardness

I’ve realized that I don’t much care for the landscape here.  The rocks & desert are pretty but ultimately I prefer forests.

Book (Un)Finished:

Reclaiming History: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy, by Vincent Bugliosi

This is the book I mentioned in another post, the one Parkland comes from.  I’m sure it would be fascinating for a hardcore Kennedy scholar or conspiracy buff, but I’m neither and it would take me a year to get through this dense, 3 inch thick beast with any kind of comprehension.  I just flipped around and read pieces that seemed interesting, like the section on Oswald’s childhood and the analysis of the Zapruder film.  Even with the little I covered it’s very clear that Bugliosi doesn’t think much of the Kennedy conspiracists or their theories.  A full third of the book is devoted to shooting down these plots; the lists of conspirators named by theorists include more than 200 individuals, every group from the Catholic Church to extraterrestrials, and nearly 100 assassins.  As Bugliosi puts it, “With at least 82 gunmen shooting at Kennedy in Dealy Plaza that day, it’s remarkable that Kennedy’s body was sufficiently intact to make it to the autopsy table.”


Added to the Travel Map:

Cevennes National Park, Languedoc-Roussillon, France.

Sweetwater Creek State Park, Lithia Springs, Georgia – has ruins of a cotton mill burned during the Civil War.

This Week in Awkwardness

Book(s) Finished:

The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins

I know I’m a few years late to this party, but I was honestly avoiding it because it seemed like the kind of series where I would fall in love with one or more characters who would then drop dead & leave me heartbroken (I was right).  Listening to Katniss waffle back & forth between the two male leads was really annoying but otherwise I enjoyed the series.  The characters & their world were well-developed and I couldn’t help but see endless metaphors in the storyline of the ways poor people/countries are exploited and enslaved by rich people/countries who couldn’t live without them but don’t seem to realize it.  It’s been awhile since I read anything like this, due to my habit of crying over literary mortality, so it was a nice departure from the non-fiction I’ve been snapping up lately.

Favorite Quote:
“‘Now we’re in that sweet period where everyone agrees that our recent horrors should never be repeated,” he says.  “But collective thinking is usually short-lived.  We’re fickle, stupid beings with poor memories and a great gift for self-destruction.'”

Crossed Off the Travel Map:

Added to the Travel Map:

Leffrinckoucke Bunkers, Leffrinckoucke, France – abandoned Nazi bunkers on the beach, now with awesome graffiti.

This Week In Awkwardness

Book Finished:

Parkland, by Vincent Bugliosi

An excerpt from Bugliosi’s Reclaiming History, considered a masterwork of the John F. Kennedy assassination and the many conspiracy theories surrounding it, Parkland tells the story of the murder and the days that followed it through the experiences of the many individuals involved.  Bugliosi arranges the narrative so that there are no chapters nor any other real breaks, just timestamps as the events unfold.  The emotions of the Secret Service agents who tried to protect the president, the doctors who tried to save him, and the public who loved him really come through.  I think it’s easy to forget that these famous people really are people, but Bugliosi does a good job of bringing home the experiences of Jackie Kennedy, their children, and the rest of the Kennedy family & friends.  He never comes right out and accuses Lee Harvey Oswald, or gives any opinion at all on that front (although I imagine he does in Reclaiming History), but simply relates the experiences of the people around Oswald, his family, his coworkers at the Texas School Book Depository, witnesses to the J.D. Tippit shooting, and the officers & agents who dealt with him.  This is one of those books where even though I know how the story ends, the author was good enough to have me dreading what was coming.  I was disappointed that the Kindle version left out the photo section, but all in all it’s a very interesting read that gives a grounded perspective to one of the most famous events in American history.

Added to the Travel Map:

Le Jardin d’Agronomie Tropicale, Nogent-sur-Marne, France – ruins of the 1907 Colonial Exhibition.

Plum Island, Southold, New York – some kind of secretive government thing, but they have tours occasionally.

Leri Cavour, Italy – ghost town.

Feltville, New Jersey – ghost town.

This Week in Awkwardness

I was passed on the highway by a pickup truck with a load of cow skulls.

I went through a Border Patrol Checkpoint coming back up from Tombstone.  They just waved me through, I guess I didn’t look like I’d be harboring illegals.  One of the officers was staring off into the desert with a serious pair of binoculars, which looked like about the most boring job on the planet.  I’m not totally convinced he was actually facing the border.

We got our first little bits of snow up on the mountains here in Sedona, I’m hoping for more but I guess they really didn’t get any last year so who knows.

Book Finished:

The Shining, by Stephen King

I’ve tried to read King before, but just could never get into it until this one.  I don’t think I’ve ever read a book that was genuinely creepy, unless you count Goosebumps and that was so long ago I don’t remember if they were scary or not.  Anyway I’d already seen the movie (Shelley Duvall runs like a puppet), the TV miniseries, and the episode of Friends where Joey spoils the ending for Rachel so I already had some idea of what was going on but I still enjoyed it.

Favorite Quote:

“He had always disliked the snowmobiles.  They shivered the cathedral silence of winter into a million rattling fragments.  They startled the wildlife.  They sent out huge and pollutive clouds of blue and billowing oilsmoke behind them – cough, cough, gag, gag, let me breathe.  They were perhaps the final grotesque toy of the unwinding fossil fuel age, given to ten-year-olds for Christmas.”

Crossed Off the Travel Map:

Added to the Travel Map:

International Cryptozoology Museum, Portland, Maine – because how awesome does that sound?

This Week in Awkwardness

Achievement Unlocked:

I found a scorpion sucker at the grocery store.  Just chilling there with the other impulse candy at the register.  Scorpion.  It’s even listed as an ingredient on the back.  I guess you’re supposed to eat the scorpion when you’re done with the sucker?  I don’t know.  Sounds gross anyway. scorpion

Book Finished:

Dr. Mütter’s Marvels: A True Tale of Intrigue and Innovation at the Dawn of Modern Medicine, by Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz

If you ever want to feel very, very fortunate that you don’t live in a squalid, mid-19th century city with squalid, mid-19th century medical care, this book will do it.  I was hoping it would focus a little bit more on the individual patients whom Mütter treated, as he was known for taking the toughest, most interesting cases, but it was fascinating to find out how he directly revolutionized medicine in ways that we would consider common sense today.  The Mütter Museum in Philadelphia now houses the huge collection of medical “marvels” he amassed in his lifetime, and is most definitely on the Travel Map.

Favorite Quote: “Woman, as usual, finally had her way,” a male member would later slyly write about the election [of the first woman to the Pennsylvania Medical Society].  “And yet the earth did not rock, the sea did not overflow its banks, the stars did not fall.”

Places Added to the Travel Map:

Kanab Creek Wilderness, Kaibab, Arizona – deep gorges.

Lost Dutchman State Park, Apache Junction, Arizona – entry point to Superstition Wilderness.

Tonto Natural Bridge State Park, Payson, Arizona – beautiful creek with a stone arch over it.

Superstition Wilderness, Tonto, Arizona – hiking, legends, etc.

Sycamore Canyon Wilderness, Williams, Arizona

Tanah Lot, Bali, Indonesia – island temple.

Old Letchworth Village, Pomona, New York – abandoned mental hospital.

Desert Botanical Garden, Phoenix, Arizona

Phoenix Zoo, Phoenix, Arizona

Zabaikalsky National Park, Russia – on the shores of Lake Baikal.

Pando, Fishlake National Forest, Utah – grove of aspen trees that is actually all one big organism, probably the oldest & most massive in the world.

Sunflower, Arizona – 4WD trail to abandoned mine.

Arizona Museum of Natural History, Mesa, Arizona