I never worked at a factory. I did, for a few months, between my graduation from college and when I went off across the country to graduate school, work at an oil refinery, which at least is another industrial setting. That was the summer of 1988, which not coincidentally was the last time I was shaven; the refinery prohibited beards for safety reasons. I did a variety of things there; some clerical work, some gopher work, some light manual labor, so I was not bored. I find it difficult to imagine myself in something like an assembly-line job, doing the same thing all day long; I think my personality is not suited for that and it would be very hard on me. Other types of factory work are much more varied.
February 2016. How long ago that seems, and how innocent those times were. Children played and built snowmen, while a Trump presidency was a distant and unlikely proposition. Not so crazy about today’s reality? Journey back with me a glorious twelve months and let’s explore a bit of southern Ohio from those bygone days of 2016.
When last we met, we were in the middle of a sunny but cold February 2016 excursion into southeastern Ohio, just a couple of miles from the Ohio River itself in Washington County, whose county seat is Marietta. Washington County is one of the more prosperous counties of southeastern Ohio—its per capita income is 25-33% higher than that of neighboring counties—but everything is relative. Central Ohio counties have incomes similarly higher than that of Washington County. You can find prosperity and poverty both along the Ohio River here.
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.
In mid-May 2014 I had to travel to Chicago for work. I brought my camera with me so that, on the way home, I might be able to take a few photographs once I crossed back into Ohio. As I actually did so, I found myself in front of a major spring storm heading east from Indiana into Ohio. I wasn’t storm-chasing—the storm was chasing me. As I drove home, this game me some nice opportunities to turn around and take some photographs of the oncoming storm. Which I now present to you.
In which our intrepid hero visits a ruined castle of glass…
Let me pick up where I left off, and show the final part of my excursion in late November 2013 north to Lake Erie and east to the environs of Cleveland. As I drove east along the shores of Lake Erie—or as close as I could get to the shores—I came an amazing site, east of Sandusky and Huron: a huge, overgrown ruin of a greenhouse complex.
In which our intrepid hero passes motorcars and motor hotels to reach the shores of Lake Erie…
One day, when my sister and I were little, we were playing in the backyard of my grandparents’ house in El Paso. We got a little bored and were wondering what to do when I had a brainstorm. I went inside and brought out a spiral notebook—I almost always had one with me, because I loved to draw, even at that early age—and on a page of that notebook, I drew a treasure map, snaking around the outside of my grandparents’ house. It had a dotted line for the adventurer to follow and even a big X at the place where the treasure would be. When I was done, my sister and I started following the map, tracing that dotted line until finally we came to the place on the map marked by the X.
And you know what? There was no treasure there! Despite the fact that it was clearly marked on the map, there was no treasure in the actual spot. And I learned a valuable lesson that day: you make your own treasure.