Back in Familiar Surrounding

I’m back in my study in Olde North Columbus.  The laptop is on my desk, and I’m typing this while I blare the Dave Brubeck Quartet’s Jazz: Red, Hot and Cool.  After the weekend working at the bookstore, and then making the very roundabout journey to St. Louis and back, it felt even more odd to walk into work this morning than it usually does after a three-day weekend.

I was home by 5 p.m. yesterday afternoon.  I wasn’t exhausted, because I had managed to sleep for most of the Chicago-to-Columbus leg of the trip, but I was quite frustrated, an emotion that I have never handled well.  The Wi-Fi worked less than 90 minutes of the entire journey, and the driver home stopped the bus once or twice because of strange noises he claims he heard the engine make.
The icing on the cake was when we came back to Columbus.  I planned to get off the bus at the OSU Student Union, which is closer to my house than the stop by Nationwide Insurance downtown.  The driver did not know where to drop us off, so we circled the block while some students gave the guy directions.
I cannot say I ate healthily on the trip.  The first rest stop was in St. Paul, Indiana, at Love’s Travel Stop.  (Considering the odd routes on Megabus, it wouldn’t have been impossible for a trip to St. Louis from Columbus to go by way of St. Paul, Minnesota!)  From Chicago to St. Louis, we stopped at the Dixie Travel Plaza in McLean, Ill.
I can say with pride that I managed to do everything on my St. Louis to-do list.  For the first time since 1993, I took the tram to the top of the Gateway Arch, and took some pictures, both to the east (toward Illinois) and the west (at St. Louis itself).  I am glad that I made a reservation online beforehand.  Since this was the last “summer vacation” weekend, the Arch was packed.
The Gateway Arch, photographed from the end of Market St.

I would not recommend a visit to the Arch for anyone with claustrophobic or acrophobic tendencies (acrophobia is the fear of heights).  The claustrophobia would kick in while riding the tram to the observation deck.  The cars in the tram are quite tiny, not much bigger than the handicapped stall in a restroom.  They seat five passengers.  The tram’s actual motion is not bad; the car adjusts itself so that you are never upside down or tilted sideways, much like the seats on a Ferris wheel.

And why would it bother a person with acrophobia?  Being 320 feet in the air does that to a person, I suppose.  (I am not really afraid of heights.  If I have a secure foothold, I can stay in an elevated place indefinitely.  Whenever I get on a ladder to change a light bulb, however, I can’t get down quickly enough!)

I reunited with my friend Alex for the first time in 30+ years.  He travels quite frequently for his job (both in the U.S. and overseas), so it was fortunate that he was in St. Louis at the same time I was, and that we were able to see John.  We had a good visit, reminiscing about common friends in various Unitarian youth groups, mostly in the Midwest.

My literary needs were neglected on the first leg of the trip, from Columbus to Chicago, since the little personal lights on the bus didn’t work, so I was unable to read.  (I am rereading Norman Mailer’s The Executioner’s Song, plus I also brought along two or three Hard Case Crime novels my friend Robert Nedelkoff gave me.)

I made up for not having access to the printed word after my visit with John and Alex at John’s extended-care facility.  I saw my friend, author Mike Nevins (who publishes as Francis M. Nevins, Jr.), for the first time in over a year.  I met Mike at an Old-Time Radio and Nostalgia Convention in Cincinnati several years ago, and immediately won him over when I told him (truthfully) that I had read Cornell Woolrich: First You Dream, Then You Die, the only biography that will ever be written of Cornell Woolrich, the author of “Rear Window” and The Bride Wore Black, among many other works.  Mike accomplished the impossible: writing the life story of a man who had no life.  (After the collapse of his brief and unconsummated marriage, Woolrich was an agoraphobe living in a Harlem residential hotel with his mother.)

Mike and I had dinner at Mi Ranchito, a Mexican restaurant he likes, and I ate quite well.  We had an interesting discussion when I mentioned Elliott Roosevelt, FDR’s son, had been the commanding officer of Robert Lowry, the novelist from Cincinnati whom I befriended in the early 1990s.  I said that I found it ironic that Elliott Roosevelt had also been a novelist after World War II, writing a series of mystery novels starring Eleanor, his First Lady mother.  Mike scoffed at this, telling me that Elliott Roosevelt used a stable of ghost writers.  (Many people have claimed the same thing about Margaret Truman.  On the short list of suspects was Marietta native William Harrington, best known for Which the Justice, Which the Thief.)

A pilgrimage to Vintage Vinyl proved fruitful, as it always does, but I was quite fortunate this time.  In the $2.99 bin, I found a record, The Voices of the 20th Century (Coral CRL-57308), narrated by Henry Fonda.  My dad found this album for me at a yard sale when I was a teenager, and it disappeared when I left Athens in 1989.  The record was quite a find.  It featured a recording of Edwin Booth reading from Act I of Othello, some test records made by Thomas Edison, and even P.T. Barnum.  Even when I learned of GEMM and, I could not search for this, because I had forgotten the title, even though I knew the cover.  So I felt very happy to see it in the cheap bin.

Alex was quite amused when John and I told him about our hitchhiking journey to Washington, DC from Marietta in the spring of 1982.  (I retired from hitchhiking after I left Athens.  In high school, I received all kinds of dire predictions from my peers: “Paul, you’re gonna get your head blown off,” and “Paul, someone’s gonna do that Deliverance thing to you and then cut your throat.”)  We also described our trip into Illinois Caverns near Waterloo, where they let us in despite not having hard hats or heavy boots.  The ranger told us to “Leave nothing but footprints, take nothing but pictures, kill nothing but time.”

We did bring a compass into the cavern, which was a total waste.  The rocks were so ferrous that the needle was swinging all over the place, not pointing north at all.  John’s friend, who guided this expedition, said that he had taken walkie-talkies down on an earlier trip, but the rock and the depth of the cavern rendered them useless.

I will leave you with this view from the Arch of downtown St. Louis.
With the Old Courthouse in the center, here is a westward-looking view from the observation deck of the Gateway Arch.  This is downtown St. Louis.

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