Excursion 41, Part 2 (The Cashier)

Even when I was a child, I always wanted to “go down in history” in some fashion—hoping that some part of me would live on, even if only as part of people’s memories.  Today, many years later and pretty much in the throes of a mid-life crisis of sorts, it seems obvious to me that my chances of being remembered will be slim.   But it is interesting how people are memorialized and how they are chosen to be remembered.  We’ll see an example of what I mean, bye and bye.  The photos here are from the second half of an excursion that my friend Tsuki and I took on a bleak day in late November 2014. Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

Excursion 28, Part 2 (The Fronts of Things, the Backs of Things)

Here we pick up midway through my trip to western Ohio, hugging the Indiana border closely without accidentally crossing over and touching something Hoosierish.   Actually, on this beautiful April day in 2014, I was just about to start circling back to the northeast.  It was great driving weather, especially since in Ohio April showers are indeed a thing.  Birds were chirping, groundhogs were grunting, and even bales of hay seemed to have their own personal message to me…

Continue reading

Excursion 27, Part 3 (Home through the Hills)

It is a shame that Appalachian Ohioans cannot replicate some of the successes that West Virginians have had bringing federal money to help their struggling state.  But the problem is that all of West Virginia lies in Appalachia, while only part of Ohio does.  None of the power centers of Ohio, all urban or suburban, are in Appalachia; the region does not have the population to have political clout nor money to purchase politicians’ attention.  With no real economy, plus underfunded and under-attended schools, the region cannot attract money from the state of Ohio, to say nothing of the federal government.  The region is a fairly equal mix of “red” and “blue” counties, but neither party pays attention to them, Republicans because they care nothing for the poor and Democrats because they know and care little about the rural white poor.

Continue reading

Excursion 27, Part 2 (A Glimpse of Glouster)

“Some fifteen miles north of Athens on the Kanawha and Michigan railroad,” reported the  Athens Messenger and Herald in 1894, “is situated the thriving little city of Glouster in the center of the rich mining region of the Sunday Creek Valley. It may not be generally known that Glouster claims a population of about 3,000 and is therefore entitled to a greater degree of distinction than is usually accorded the ordinary mining village.  The reporter predicted great things for Glouster, based on the below-ground mountains of coal:  “The development of the Sunday Creek Valley coal field is yet in its infancy and the field is practically inexhaustible.”  Sadly, the truth turned out to be otherwise.

Continue reading

Excursion 23, Part 1 (Northern Exposures)

In which our intrepid hero journeys into the northern wilds of Ohio…

During the course of 2013, I was able to visit several stretches of Ohio’s Lake Erie shore, but one stretch had eluded me—the area roughly from Sandusky to Cleveland (the central shore).  So, on a bright but cold day at the end of November, I decided to complete the chain and headed north across Ohio’s farmland to Lake Erie.

Continue reading

Excursion 20, Part 2 (Everybody Hates Kevin)

In which our intrepid hero coasts along a coast…

Lakes, great or not so great, are hard to come by in West Texas, smack in the middle of the Chihuahua Desert.  The first lake I ever saw was Caballo Lake in New Mexico, about a two hour’s drive up the Rio Grande from El Paso.  Caballo is a reservoir lake, created during the Great Depression, and is the smaller cousin to Elephant Butte Reservoir.  The first time I saw the lake, I did not even know that I had seen the lake.  In the 70s, my dad was hunting buddies with a family who owned a convenience store/gas station near the reservoir (and also owned a valuable New Mexico liquor license!).  The first time my family went up there, I craned my neck as we got close, so that I could see the lake, but to my disgust the lake was totally blocked from view by a high light-blue wall that someone had put up.  It was a long time—an embarrassingly long time—before I realized that the “wall” was actually the lake itself.

Continue reading

Excursion 17, Part 1 (The Eagle Has Landed)

In which our intrepid hero encounters an unusual eyrie…

I saw a UFO once.  I use this term in its literal sense—an unidentified flying object—rather than as a synonym for “flying saucer” or “alien spacecraft.”  I was probably about 13 or 14 years old at the time.  It was very early in the morning—I was outside putting stuff in the car, as my family was getting ready to go on some trip (one of our rare vacation trips, I suppose).  The sky was perfectly clear and I just happened to notice an odd little circle hovering high up in the sky.  It was extremely tiny and I was kind of surprised I even managed to see it in the first place.  I couldn’t figure out what it was, and neither could my family.  My father suggested getting his spotting scope, so we brought it outside and looked at the object through it.  Even through the spotting scope, we couldn’t really make out any details.  We eventually decided it was most likely a weather balloon, which I still think is the most likely explanation.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

Excursion 16, Part 2 (Ashes to Ashes, Rust to Rust)

In which our intrepid hero returns to the Rust Belt along the Ohio River…

The city where I grew up, El Paso, Texas, had industry of a sort, but mostly of the resource-processing kind, such as the city’s numerous refineries (oil, copper, etc.).  I think the first time I ever encountered America’s stereotypical industrial economy was the first time I visited Cleveland, Ohio, circa 1989.  I was driving on one of the Interstates in the metro area and there was a certain point where, if I looked south, all I could see, it seemed, was a vista full of smokestacks belching fumes.  That was my welcome to industry.  Of course, by then Cleveland had already been a rust belt city for some time, so I could only image what it might have been like in, say, the 1950s.  Still, even in the 21st century, Cleveland still operates as an industrial city, both in the old sense (polymers, automobiles, etc.) as well as in the newer sense (information technology, biotechnology, etc.).

In contrast, the cities and towns along the Ohio River have been less able to weather the storm.

Continue reading