Growing up in West Texas, as I did, I acquired the habit of looking down over the railings every time I drove over a bridge. The reason why, of course, was to see if there was any water in the arroyo or canyon or streambed or riverbed below—because more often than not, there wasn’t. If you did see some water, it was like a pleasant little surprise, something always to be remarked upon as you drove past. In Ohio, of course, there’s always water under the bridge, but it took me many years for my subconscious to pick up on that, because I was always looking.
Tag Archives: bridges
Excursion 50, Part 3 (Steubenville at Dusk)
My fiftieth excursion had been a long, nice day and I was ready to go home. But though I was already heading south for home, there was one stopping point left, as long as the light held out: Steubenville, Ohio. Steubenville is south of East Liverpool, also on the Ohio River, and also a struggling Rust Belt town.
Excursion 48 (Like Emptiness in Harmony)
When I was in high school, I was a member of the Math Club. Yes, you heard me correctly, I did not lose my virginity in high school. One year we traveled to Monahans, Texas, about 250 miles away, for an academic competition. It was probably more than just a math competition, because we went in a school bus. On the way back, after a long day, I stared out from the bus into the darkness of the west Texas desert, listening to Simon & Garfunkel’s Concert in Central Park on my Walkman knockoff. When the song “Homeward Bound” started playing, I was suddenly swept up, listening to the lyrics, by a feeling of incredible melancholy. To this day, when I hear that song, especially when I am traveling, I still feel those strong emotions—there is something in that song about a desire to be rooted, to be anchored, to belong somewhere, that to me is very powerful. It may speak to me so strongly because it sometimes seem to describe my entire life rather than merely an episode in it.
Excursion 32, Part 2 (In My Father’s House Are Many Mansions)
Once upon a time, before thumb drives and smart phones, people actually had to remember things. Do you remember that? No? Look it up on your smart phone; I’ll wait. The ancient Greeks and Romans sometimes used a technique called the Method of Loci (i.e., places). It’s more commonly called a memory palace. The idea behind a memory palace—an idea stolen by the movie Inception—is that you create in your mind some sort of reality, like a house or museum or row of shops—or a palace. When you want to remember something, you “store” it in a particular place in this mindscape. For example, you may remember your locker combination by “storing” it inside the disgustingly pink vase on the mantel over the fireplace in the living room of your mind mansion. It is the combination of the item and its virtual surroundings that create a memory connection for you. It’s kind of like a mnemonic only in space rather than via words or sounds.
Excursion 31, Part 2 (Return to East Liverpool)
I often think that being a child consists largely of being oblivious to the world around you. Children live in a world within a world, seeing all sorts of things, but comprehending or even noticing only a few. Children often have no idea why parents make certain decisions, for example, unless those decisions are explained to them. Things just happen, or don’t happen. My childhood was certainly this way. Many reasons and significances I only learned years later, or not at all. I’ll give one example. When I was around 12 or 13, my father, an inveterate hunter, took me deer hunting for the first time. Every year he went deer hunting near Caballo Lake in New Mexico with a family friend and relatives of that friend. This time he took me with him. It was very cold, up in the desert mountains in November, but I had a lot of fun (though I did not get to shoot at any deer). I kind of assumed that this was simply the first of what would be a long series of annual deer hunting trips I would now go on. But things did not work out that way. My father never took me again. Not once. To this day, I have no idea why. Had I somehow embarrassed him in front of his friends? Had I done something wrong? If I had, I never realized it. But that was the first and last time I went deer hunting.
Excursion 22, Part 2 (Shacks of Yore, Galore)
In which our intrepid hero gets to dwell on dwellings…
Are you a home orphan? By that, I don’t mean homeless, but do you no longer have ties to the home in which you grew up? Some of us can easily go back to the home of our youths, because other relatives, typically parents, may still live there. You can revisit your old room, for example. But not me. My parents sold my childhood home in 1988 or so, the year I graduated from college and moved to Ohio.
I grew up in a house on 2624 Hawick, El Paso, Texas. This was a subdivision with streets named on Irish themes built in the late 1950s. My house was built in 1959. It was a tiny house, three bedrooms but only around 1,000 square feet or so. My mother was from El Paso, my father from Pennsylvania. They lived in Pennsylvania after getting married but in 1970 they moved back to El Paso. I was four years old. We stayed at my grandparents’ house until my parents bought the home on Hawick.
Excursion 16, Part 4 (The Hanging House)
In which our intrepid hero encounters some bad noose…
This year I “celebrate” my 20th year of studying extremists in the United States, something that began as a completely unplanned and odd little outgrowth of my dissertation (which had nothing to do with extremism or, for that matter, the 20th century). By January 1995, I was spending a lot of time looking at domestic extremists and the April 1995 Oklahoma City bombing essentially changed my life forever, causing me to focus on extremism and terrorism, first voluntarily and soon professionally. I’ve done that ever since. But my very first encounter with extremism occurred decades earlier, when I was a child.
Excursion 16, Part 3 (Requiem for a Limousine)
In which our intrepid hero sees horses and horseless carriages…
When I was a kid, my father bought a horse. He liked to hunt and his hunting buddies liked to go deer hunting up in the Gila Wilderness. They used horses to get back up in the mountains where there were no roads, so my dad decided he needed a horse, too. He found a quarterhorse with the dubious name of Maude, a former barrel racer whose career in rodeo ended with an injured leg. I don’t know how much Maude cost him, nor how much it cost to keep Maude at a time when not much money was coming in. Horses are expensive. My father did save on the stabling. He convinced an uncle-in-law, who owned a small farm that grew cotton and alfalfa, to let him build a corral on the uncle’s property (probably paying him some form of rent). This began for me a long relationship with Maude and an even closer relationship with Maude’s manure.
Excursion 14, Part 3 (On the Trail of John Hunt Morgan)
In which our intrepid hero encounters the ghost of a Confederate general…
The Civil War has long fascinated me. Of course, on one level it should, as I have a Ph.D. in American military history. But it began long before that. I probably have my grandparents to thank for that, because at some point they purchased American Heritage’s Picture History of the Civil War (1960) for my uncle Dennis, when he was a child. This amazing book, containing fascinating diagrammatic paintings of battlefields and text written by famed Civil War historian Bruce Catton, remains today about as perfect an introduction to the Civil War as I could imagine. I soon discovered that they had related gems on their living room bookshelves, including Reader’s Digest abbreviated versions of some of Catton’s histories. These were among the earliest books I read on military history and certainly had a lifelong influence on me. They also produced another effect on me that still lasts, too—a wistful realization of the immutability of history. Sadly, no matter how many books on the Civil War I read, no matter what new material they may uncover, McClellan never manages to take Richmond; Hooker always loses his nerve. It is Groundhog Day, but where Bill Murray never changes.
Excursion 12, Part 3 (All Roads Lead to Coshocton)
In which our intrepid hero discovers a lonely house on a hill…
Having always basically been a city boy, some aspects of living in the country seem very different to me, including basic issues of convenience. For example, for many years I lived in a townhouse apartment in Grandview, a Columbus neighborhood/incorporated town. My apartment was not just in walking distance but within ridiculously easy walking distance of a grocery store, a pharmacy, several ATMs, a gas station, a number of restaurants from fast food to fancy, two bookstores, a couple of coffee places, two bakeries, a post office, a produce store, and much more. I live in a more typical suburb now, which means that only a few things are that close, but essentially everything is just a short car ride away. But if you live in the countryside, nothing is going to be close, and your options will be fewer. There are many places in Ohio so far away from a gas station that unless you maintain a gas tank on your property you essentially have to plan when you are going to get gas. Do you have a late night craving? Better hope you took that into account when you bought groceries two weeks ago, because no store within many miles will be open.