If one is waking up in the middle of the night from having fallen asleep on the sofa, a sofa that’s in an eighth-floor apartment in Washington, DC, and the window is slightly ajar because the building-controlled heat is excessive, and the passing of cars on the wet surface below is intermittent, one could very easily think, at least for a very convincing nanosecond, that the “whoosh” of the cars below is a series of waves and everything east of 16th Street is the sea.
A visit last week to the Civil War battleground museum in Gettysburg served as a reminder of how far we’ve come in the past 153 years and, jarringly, how far we still have to go.
As one museum plaque says, “Americans fought one another over three fundamental issues: the survival of the Union, the fate of slavery, and the common rights of citizenship — what it means to be American. The war resolved the first two issues. The nation struggles with the third to this day.”
Another plaque notes that people living in the United States in the mid- to late 1800s “included new immigrants, American Indians, slaves, free blacks – men, women, and children. But with a few exceptions, only white males over 21 enjoyed all the rights of citizenships, including the right to vote.”
Sadly, not only do efforts to impose voting restrictions prevail, but so does the inhumane treatment of those living within the nation’s borders, including the most recent iteration of a relentless crackdown on immigrant communities — the recent separation of nearly 2,000 immigrant children from their parents at the U.S.-Mexican border, a practice condemned by the American Academy of Pediatrics for causing “irreparable harm.”
“Four score and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”
So begins the Gettysburg Address, a speech of a mere 272 words that Abraham Lincoln gave at a memorial service for the thousands who perished on 9.3 square miles of land in and around Gettysburg, PA.
At the time, the Gettysburg Address received mixed reviews. Some gave it high praise. “His little speech is a perfect gem; deep in feeling, compact in thought and expression, and tasteful and elegant in every word and comma,” said the Republican, published in Springfield, Massachusetts.
Others did not. “The ceremony was rendered ludicrous by some of the sallies of that poor President Lincoln. Anything more dull and commonplace it would not be easy to produce,” said the London Times.
The photo above depicts a distant view of the monument marking the place where Lincoln spoke. The monument is surrounded by low lying cement markers for the deceased. Today, visitors honor the site by placing pennies — heads up — on the monument and nearby tombstones.
It was about a year ago today on a trip out West when I first learned about the F Street underpass, a little known but pivotal gateway in the city of Las Vegas. It connects an area known as West Las Vegas to the city’s downtown. West Las Vegas is a historically black neighborhood where restaurants, nightclubs and casinos once thrived. Ironically, desegregation policies would precipitate its decline. As affluent African Americans left West Las Vegas, their former neighborhood lost its economic base, leaving room for both gang wars and urban blight to flourish. Revitalization efforts include a new park adjacent to the F Street underpass as well as beautifully crafted, tiled renditions of African American leaders in the underpass itself. What proponents of the revamped underpass failed to take into account, however, is its close proximity to the city’s homeless corridor, which led to another ironic twist. The F Street underpass has become an alluring way station for several of the roughly 6,500 homeless people who call the streets of Las Vegas home. #lasvegas#homelessness #FStreetunderpass #travelohotography #travelblogger
These flowers started out in a friend’s yard in Amissville, VA. She brought them to a dinner party Saturday night in Marshall, VA. I brought them from Marshall to Washington, DC. We’re doing our best to spread springtime mojo in hopes that Old Man Winter has decided to chill, so to speak, for a good long while.
Crossing the Potomac River near Harpers Ferry, an area where the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers meet and three states — West Virginia, Maryland, and Virginia — converge. This town of roughly 300 people changed hands 14 times during the Civil War. Known for a raid on a national armory and an attempted slave rebellion led by abolitionist John Brown, Harpers Ferry is now the headquarters for the Appalachian Trail Conservancy.#appalachiantrail #potomacriver #shenandoahriver#harpersferry #travelblogger
The second leg of my California journey began when I showed up on the doorstep of my friend Dennis who lives in the suburban Bay Area community of Walnut Creek. His home was my home for a couple of days while I saw some of the sites in and around San Francisco. With Dennis guiding the way, our first stop was Muir Woods National Park and its 200 plus acres of California redwoods, the tallest trees in the world.
The drive took us through Berkeley and up and down the hairpin turns of Muir Woods Road before we reached the park’s entrance. It was a rainy Wednesday afternoon, but neither the precipitation nor the occasional congestion of tourists on the trails detracted from the experience of walking through a wonderland of nature-made skyscrapers. Apart from the enormity of the trees, the first thing to catch one’s attention is the smell. It’s pungent and pleasing in the same way eucalyptus is, but earthy, woodsy, and musty.
Coincidentally, on the same day we went to Muir Woods, a video circulated on Facebook about the health benefits of “forest bathing.” A Japanese study found that trees emit a protective oil that is also beneficial to people. No running, rock climbing, or strenuous activity is required. Mere contemplation among trees slows down heart rates, lowers blood pressure, and reduces stress.
My own unscientific conclusion is this: the taller the tree the better, so the best of all possible places “to bathe” in a forest must be the seven-county expanse where Muir Woods is located. Five of the counties are in northern California, two are in southern Oregon, and combined, they form the Redwood Empire.
Finding myself living in Las Vegas (long story), I decided to make a trek up the California coast and back down again, beginning in Costa Mesa, home of a dear childhood friend who graciously put out the welcome mat for me four months ago when I first landed in the Pacific time zone. From Costa Mesa, I meandered north, stopping in Hermosa Beach to have lunch with a fellow education reporter from my writing days for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Next up was a nearly 400-mile stretch to the Bay Area in and around San Francisco to visit with fellow reporters from way back, from the 1980s when I was working for United Press International in Guatemala. The best part of my California journey was seeing old friends and colleagues, but the scenery wasn’t bad either. Here are a few highlights from the trip north.
In Costa Mesa, a coffee shop called the Blackmarket Bakery very quickly became my office. It’s located in a wonderful cluster of restaurants, shops, and cafes called The CAMP, where the parking spaces say it all. Instead of numbers to be punched into a parking meter, each one has a zen-like message. Two of my favorites were “Follow New Trails” and “See the Forest.” And the pastries at the Blackmarket Bakery, especially a bread pudding made from chocolate chip, snickerdoodle, and molasses toffee cookies, are delicious.
Also worth checking out in and around Costa Mesa are the meandering marshland trails of the Newport Back Bay, and Crystal Cove State Park, 2,400 acres of seaside wilderness that that includes 3.2 miles of coastline, a remodeled seaside colony from the early 1900s, and 15 miles of hiking trails, not to mention the vast selection of top-rated milkshakes at Ruby’s Shake Shack.
My next stop was Hermosa Beach, which packs a lot into its 1.5 square-mile expanse — most notably biking, bars, sunbathing, surfing, and, above all, volleyball. I’m guessing there are good eats in Hermosa at every turn. If you’re looking for a low-key sandwich shop with sidewalk seating, Gum Tree Shop & Café is a good place to go, and its turkey, tomato, and avocado sandwich with sweet chili aioli on sourdough proved to be a good choice for lunch.
Leaving, Hermosa Beach, I headed north with no agenda other than to skip some of the main attractions — e.g., Hollywood Boulevard, Santa Barbara, Hearst Castle — and to keep an eye out for off-the-beaten-path destinations, which led me to the following gems….
The edge of the Grand Canyon was a mere few feet away, and I was torn. Everyone else, it seemed, was walking up to it and posing for pictures. Children ran around with an enormous amount of freedom given that certain death was just a slip of the foot away. And there I stood, camera in hand, desperately wanting to capture the depth of what I saw, yet worried that one minor misstep and over the edge I’d go.
I wasn’t alone. There were others who were skittish of the canyon’s edge. One was a roofer — either professional or amateur, I’m not sure. What was clear is that he knew his way around a roof, yet he was the one in his group most ill at-ease near the canyon’s edge. In response to a little teasing from his friends, he had these words of wisdom: “A roof is only 20 feet up, maybe 24. The fall isn’t going to kill you.”
Another skittish visitor at Guano Point, located along a stretch of the canyon’s west rim located on land owned by the Hualapai Tribe, asked a security guard for advice. This is what he had to say: “As long as you stay six feet away, you can’t go over.”
Good to know.
Six feet, however, is too far away to get a good sense – much less photos – of the canyon’s depth, so I joined the brave and skirted along the edge. I walked very carefully at first, making sure I’d found a secure foothold before raising my camera and clicking away, desperately trying to capture the contours, the ridges, the sheer magnitude of this twisting, turning, 277-mile hallway that Mother Nature’s glacier-paced bulldozer — the Colorado River – has been digging over the course of millions of years.
Capturing the grandness of the Grand Canyon on film proved to be a challenge. But what I learned in the process is that by staying focused on the one thing, the camera’s lens, the other thing, the fear of walking near the edge, started to wane. It didn’t go away, which, is a good thing given the precipice at my feet, but a sense of sure-footedness returned. That feeling alone was worth the trip.
Editor’s note: A few years ago, I attended a personal finance course offered by the Latino Community Credit Union. I was impressed then and still am with the effort the LCCU puts into working with the Latino community and coaching those new to the United States through the intricacies of a complex banking system. Here is the text of the story as it appeared in the Raleigh News & Observer in November 2010.
Latino credit union helps Hispanics make sense of the U.S. economic system
By Lucy Hood
“I have never made a late payment,” she told a small group of immigrants gathered at the main office of the Latino Community Credit Union in Durham. “And I am proud of that.”
Concha Pérez is manager of the LCCU’s branch office in Durham. She also conducts workshops offered by the credit union to help its largely Hispanic client pool grasp the basics of personal finance.
Throughout a recent seven-week course there was one recurring theme: the enormous difference between personal finance practices in the United States and in Latin America.
“In the United States,” Concha Pérez said, “it is extremely important to have a credit record.”
George Williams arrives at the Maranatha Baptist Church parking lot in Plains, Georgia, Sunday mornings at 5 a.m. to give out numbers to those who show up for President Jimmy Carter’s Sunday school class. My friend Sharon and I pulled into the lot at around 6 a.m. last Sunday, early enough to be third in line and get a front row seat just a couple of feet from where Carter would speak later in the morning.
But first things first.
We still had four hours to go – an hour of waiting in the car, an hour allotted for visitors to file through the Secret Service checkpoint, and two hours of the Jan Williams show, a delightful blend of humor and menace aimed at keeping us entertained while making sure that no one broke any of the rules involved in attending Sunday school with the 39th president of the United States.
Jan is George’s wife as well as a no-nonsense former teacher who, no doubt, had few, if any, discipline problems in her classroom, and she wasn’t going to have any with us. When Carter walked into the church sanctuary, she told us not to stand up or applaud; during the photo op, he would be seated on a stool and we would not shake his hand or put our hand on his shoulder; nor would we talk to him other than to say “Good morning. Glad to be here,” and if we did address him by name, President Carter or Mr. Carter would be “perfectly fine.” Mr. President, she said, was not an option, because he’s not the president, and references to him being an ex or former president were not necessary.
“He’s aware of that,” Jan said.
As 10 a.m. approached, Jan wrapped things up by telling us she ‘d be standing at the front of the church, off to the side. “All you have to do,” she said, “is glance my way and you can tell if you are the gifted class or not.” With that reminder, she took her place on the sidelines, and President Carter walked into the room.