Notes from the Southwest Corner: A Shrek and Donkey excursion

Published in The Lebanon Democrat Tuesday, October 21, 2014.

PARK CITY, UTAH – This past weekend, Maureen and I launched another test of exploiting our new found freedom beyond work days.

Our friends Pete and Nancy Toennies invited us on a road trip to Park City, Utah, the former silver mining town turned winter ski resort for golf before the snow falls.

road_trip-beginning-1Saturday, we drove to Temecula, the Southwest corner’s wine country. Pete and I golfed while the ladies shopped, dined, and tasted wine. Afterwards, we drove to Nellis Air Force Base just outside Las Vegas, for the night. We completed the trip on Sunday.

The test, thus far, is successful. Pete and I, as mentioned here before, have been friends since 1979. The accompanying photograph demonstrates we were aptly nicknamed Shrek and Donkey about four years ago by Zack, the son of our good friend Steve Frailey.

After leaving Temecula on the southern border of Riverside and San Diego Counties, there simply isn’t much for 275 miles except high desert. Sand, rock, and scrub vegetation are just about all one can see. It is majestic in its sweep. Elevation changes are striking. Except for Interstate 15 egresses and ingresses where gas stations, food marts, and fast food abound, the vista reminds me of being at sea.

Occasionally, several houses would appear in the distance. Sometimes we would spot one small house with farm vehicles, sagging sheds, and fences.

I wondered how someone could live all alone with nothing as far as the eye could see. To this untrained eye, there was no viable food source. Occasionally, a windmill would confirm the availability of water. Did the electric company run one line that many miles for one home?

Places like this have existed for years. People have been doing this long before air conditioning or even electricity. As we plod through the mid-October landscape, it was well over 80 degrees. How did these folks live in the summer? Under ground?

As usual when I drive east through the deserts of California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and now Utah, my mind turns toward the past. I try to imagine a Conestoga pulled by oxen with a family living off of hardtack and the surviving livestock they brought with them from some jumping off place back East. I envision topping a promontory before even a trail was cut through this desolate place and seeing nothing but more desert, wondering what lay beyond the horizon, wondering if they would ever get to the promised land.

After four hours, we tuned the GPS to our chosen Outback restaurant for supper, reasoning it would be away from the city glitz. Vegas lights were visible for miles. Soon the hotels jutted into the desert night with inventive and unique neon beckoning. We ignored them and exited the ramp per GPS instructions. Our exit took us into the heart of “The Strip” and a traffic jam that New York or Los Angeles would envy. The Outback was located within a block of Caesar’s Palace. There were more people on the streets, moving slowly. It took us a half hour just to get back on the interstate and finally to our destination.

The next morning, we continued. High power lines, phone and telegraph wires, and antennae galore ran back toward Vegas. “Umbilical cords,” I thought, “giving life to its fetus ‘Sin City.’” Take a spot in the desert, add water, electricity, steel, and plastic. Lure folks with false hope of fortune and good times. Viola! A major city, a modern Sodum. We love it.

We quickly reached Utah. Initially, the vistas were the same. Gradually as we climbed, a tree or two appeared, then a few more houses and businesses. Soon, hay fields appeared, more hay than Middle Tennessee could imagine. Aspens in their glory of yellow foliage appeared. The mountain peaks were higher, the interstate climb steeper. We turned onto US 189 at Provo and reached Park City around 5:00 p.m.

Remarkably, we drove the 757 miles and were never out of traffic, even in the desert with speed limits of 80 mph.

So Shrek and Donkey are in the high country with their very understanding wives. When you read this, we will be on some mountain course, searching for our lost balls in the aspens and pines with incredible vistas and perfect weather.

The drive will not seem so bad.

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Notes from the Southwest Corner: Potpourri time again

Published in The Lebanon Democrat Tuesday, October 14, 2014. The accompanying photo of Dirty Harry was a three-column job at the top of the op-ed page. In addition to being a great “Director of Content” (or Editor as old folks would call him) for a local newspaper, Jared Felkins has some great ideas. 


SAN DIEGO – As I write on Saturday, autumn is in the air in the Southwest corner, even though the air is quite a bit different from the autumn air back home.

I have fond memories of autumn about there then and here now. One of the definitions of “potpourri” found in the “Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary is a mixture of dried petals of roses or other flowers with spices, kept in a jar for their fragrance. My wife makes a potpourri up frequently. I associate them with the turning leaves back home. Another definition is a collection of miscellaneous literary extracts.

This weekend, I find my mind filled with such autumn recollections, anchored by one event in particular.

*     *    *

My computer forecast predicted rain for the Castle Heights Homecoming, but the photos I’m seeing show even if there was some rain, it did not deter the reunions. The Castle Heights Homecoming is unique.

Each year, I’ve haven’t attended because of Southwest corner commitments. I greatly regretted missing the 2012 homecoming, my class’ 50th reunion. My memories of my four years on the hill are most poignant when autumn rolls around. It was a wonderful time of year. The annual celebration is a great way to remember.

All of the CHMA alumni owe thanks to all of the cadets who turned the old library into the Heights museum, and especially Rob and Susan Hosier who have been the main drivers of bringing our memories alive.

*     *    *

In the rush to meet a deadline – not really: I am, after all, the great procrastinator, and without my mother, Estelle Jewell, my resident history resource – I did not include two of my father’s main fishing partners in a recent column. Glen Bishop and Gwen Baird went on many fishing trips with Jimmy Jewell. As with everyone else who fished with him, they considered him a friend and a good man.

*     *    *

Returning from San Francisco, I marveled at the beauty of the land here outside the cities. We avoided interstates as much as possible, driving along splendid vistas of shoreline, hills, and the agriculture world of the mid-coastal area.

Once away from the hubbub, this is a beautiful place. It is different from Tennessee but just as beautiful. Every time I am in the California hills, I am reminded of the scenery in “One-Eyed Jacks” starring Marlon Brando and Karl Malden.

*     *    *

Another advantage of the Southwest corner is timing. College football games begin televising at 9:00 a.m., NFL games begin at 10:00. Except for events on the left coast, night baseball and football games usually are completed by 10:00 p.m. All of the scores of sporting contests are in the morning newspaper. Amateur baseball is played year round. Still, I prefer to watch Vandy and Tennessee sports events in person.

*     *    *

On Friday night in Albuquerque, San Diego State’s football team dropped favored New Mexico, 24-14. The Aztecs rushed for 397 years with Donnell Pumprhey scoring two touchdowns and 246 yards. Pumphrey’s 93-yard rushing touchdown was reminiscent of LSU’s Billy Cannon’s 89-yard punt return against Ole Miss in 1959. But the Aztec’s run took me back to a much closer comparison: A much better and clearer image is Clifton Tribble cutting through the line for the Blue Devils in the early 1950s. I can see him cutting left, then right, and outrunning the entire defense. Pumphrey’s run was that good.

*     *    *

I have come to agree with Clint Eastwood, as Dirty Harry in “Magnum Force. I laughed at the line for years, thinking it could be an excuse for doing nothing.

Then on Saturday, Maureen returned from her yoga class and proclaimed, “Look, I learned to do the side crow today.”

Thinking her a bit daffy but wishing to show support, I asked her to show it to me. She did.

She has been practicing yoga for a long time and began going to a class almost daily since her retirement four years ago. I recognize yoga would be good for me at my age but have crafted great excuses to avoid. No more.

I cannot adequately describe the pose Maureen accomplished, but if I tried it I would look like a pretzel after it had been run over by a steam roller.

I now know what Dirty Harry meant when he stated, “A man’s gotta know his limitations.”

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Notes from the Southwest Corner: A bunch of different worlds collide

Published in The Lebanon Democrat Tuesday, October 7, 2014. Maureen and i are back in the Southwest corner. It was a wonderful trip thanks to Alan, Maren, and Eleanor Hicks, but we missed Cy and Julie Fraser and their family. Tomorrow, i will write of our adventures with photos, but tonight, we are relaxing and getting back on a less than hyper schedule. Hardly Strictly Bluegrass remains a truly unique experience.

SAN FRANCISCO – Five years ago, Maureen and I made our first trip from the Southwest corner to San Francisco’s Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival and have only missed one since then.

Ever since I wrote my first recounting of the experience, each successive year I am initially disinclined to repeat myself. Each year, I recant that inclination and end up with my observations in this column

This year, I was even more disinclined to write of this past weekend. Two of the mainstays of our group attendance, Cy and Julie Fraser, were unable to attend. Julie is our road manager, and Cy’s love and knowledge of all types of music, especially bluegrass, kept us informed and eager for the next act on stage, or rather all six stages. With them there is varying list of other folks who tag along with the Frasers.

For the first time, we chose to drive up from the Southwest to stay, as we always do, with Alan and Maren Hicks in their lovely, comfortable home in Forest Hills, an area straight up the hill from Golden Gate Park. Even though the Fraser’s absence left a hole in our lineup, our coterie of Alan and Maren, their daughter Eleanor, and the two of us attended. It didn’t seem quite the same, and I considered another topic for this column.

Perhaps my age plays a part, but this year’s Hardly Strictly Bluegrass was even more poignant for me, convincing me I once again should recount the experience here.

Each year, I am amazed at the number and variety of people who attend. They come in all ages, sizes and all places matching the variety of the performing artists. This year, we met folks from North Carolina, New Orleans, and Nashville. The attendance figures have not been published as I write. The crowd over the three days was significantly more than the 750,000 in 2013. I guess there were around 800,000 this year.

The numbers are due in part by the fact there is no charge for attending. The festival was founded by the investment financier Warren Hellman. He completely paid for the entire event for a dozen years. He established an endowment to continue the festival after his death and to keep the entire affair commercial free. This was the 14th festival.

The collision of people from all walks of life, a complete journey through the political spectrum, religious and sexual preferences, and ethnic backgrounds is stunning. Maureen and I went to see Nitty Gritty Dirt Band on the Arrow Stage. An Asian couple allowed us to sit with them for the show. In front of us was an older gentleman in jeans who had stapled bottle caps to the fingers of his glove with a tie of metal strips he played like washboard. Several people down from him, two turbaned Sikhs swayed to “Mr. Bojangles.” One had added a golf visor to his headgear.

Even in the unusually hot weather, one man was dressed as Santa Claus. There was a man in a masked outfit completely covered with colored sequins. Even his 10-inch wedges shoes were sequined. Police on horseback roamed and one was nuzzling a cat being held by its owner.

The collision of people was not a collision but a synthesis focusing on enjoying the moment with each other. The Monday edition of “San Francisco Examiner” reported not one major crime was committed during the three-day event. “That is not a surprise, as the…festival has a reputation of offering a safe environment for people of all ages…It’s a family atmosphere, a family event.”

There were people most likely bitter enemies in the political arena, religion, or philosophy for living. Yet they stood side by side, dancing together to the Earls of Leicester, a group devoted to recreating Flatt and Scruggs’ style of bluegrass, right down to the western style fedoras.

That particular group took me back to Nashville in the early 1960s. I joined my two friends Cy and Alan in listening to the Foggy Mountain Boys every Saturday at 5:00 p.m. on WSM-TV. On free Saturday nights, we might go down to the Ryman around 10:00 p.m. The full house had filtered out by then. We usually found good seats down front to listen to Flatt and Scruggs and then Marty Robbins.

Hardly Strictly Bluegrass brought me wonderful memories and hope for harmony, the musical as well as the human kind.

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