Tag Archives: adventure

Hidden Figures… and Signatures: Black History Month

William Benjamin Gould was a slave in Wilmington North Carolina. His owner Nicholas Nixon would rent Gould out as a plasterer working on mansions and public buildings around town.  When he was finishing up the interior trim work inside the luxurious Bellamy mansion, he did a risky thing for a slave, he signed his work. He scrolled his name on the inside of a section of some ornate molding before he attached it to the wall. No one knew of it till 100 years later when his signature was uncovered during a mansion renovation. It was quite the find, not just because it was unexpected, and not just because slaves weren’t supposed to be able to write, but mostly it was unexpected because historians actually knew who William Gould was.bellamysignaturebetter

In 1862, one year after that mansion was completed, William and six other slaves stole a small boat and rowed it out into the Atlantic Ocean where the Union Army had a series of ships blockading the Southern coast. They were scooped up by the USS Cambridge and now finding himself a free man, Gould joined the Navy.

At the war’s end Gould settled down and started a family in Massachusetts. He became an active member of the community and his story appeared in occasional articles in various periodicals. Not long after the signature was discovered in Wilmington, Gould’s diary was published as a book titled, Diary of a Contraband.

Remarkable story.

Even more remarkable is that out of the millions of black people who have lived in North America since the late 1600’s, we have such comparatively few records of their names or their stories. We know some, like Fredrick Douglass, but there were so many more. There was Henry “box” Brown, or Crispus Attucks, or William Gould. Black people have been present and participating in every step of the United States’ evolution and it is when we consider the level of that contribution that we realize how they are disproportionately invisible; so few names and even fewer stories. But if we learn to look closer, there is still a legacy.whole-hand

Trinity Church in New York City was built by black men. So was the U.S. capital. Dozens of universities, Harvard, Princeton, UNC, UVA, were built by black people. We can imagine that somewhere, even if only symbolically, in all these buildings, hiding under the plaster molding, are thousands of signatures just like Gould’s. The dome at Monticello, the columns at Mt. Vernon, and the masonry walls of St. Augustine, all built by people with hidden names. Look for them. Ask about them. On Bourbon Street, in Charleston, or even St. Louis, look for the black people. They were there.

But you have to look.

Leave a comment

Filed under history, places

True Action Hero: Eugene Bullard

Eugene Jacques Bullard was a real life action hero. James Bond, Indiana Jones, Wolverine, he was all of them.bullard Born in unreconstructed Georgia he ran away from home and joined a group of English gypsies where they employed him as a jockey. In 1912 he stowed away on a steamer and landed in Scotland. In Europe he began travelling along side a vaudeville troupe as a prize fighter. He was boxing in Paris when World War 1 broke out, and he joined the French Foreign Legion. He fought in Verdun, earning the Croix de Guerre, France’s medal for bravery. After being wounded twice in the trenches Bullard joined the Lafayette Flying Corps. He had flown more than 20 missions before the USA joined the war, but when he tried to join the American fly boys, they turned him down for being black.

After the war he stayed in Paris and bought a night club. He hung out with Josephine Baker, Louis Armstrong, and even married a Countess. When the Nazi’s started gaining power in Europe, Eugene was paid to spy till things got too hot (1940) and Bullard escaped to Spain, and then New York.

Once stateside, Bullard hustled from job to job, a perfume salesman, an interpreter, and a security guard. I’m not sure which one of those jobs he was doing in 1949 when the press got a photo of Bullard being beaten by cops as they rioted at a Paul Robeson concert. Just to be clear, it was the cops who were rioting, not Bullard.

In 1954 Bullard was called back to France where he re-lit the everlasting flame and was knighted by Charles de Gaulle.

He was working as an elevator operator and living alone when he passed away in 1961 and is buried in Flushing Cemetery in Queens.

5 Comments

Filed under history

Harley Farms Goat Cheese: mancation IV

So there is this “thing” called the California Cheese Trail. I imagined it as a sort of cheddar brick road leading to a wizard who can instantly age Gouda. It isn’t. It is much more like the string of California Missions that the Spanish set up, except instead of Catholic churches and priests, it is herds and artisans. I should note that both are beautiful and have use for tasteless wafers.img_2141

It was raining when we arrived at Harley Farms outside Pescadero. We had never heard of Pescadero either. The rain was fortunate for us as it served to scare away all the people with sense and other places to be, so we had the place all to ourselves. If you want the place all to yourself you may have to plan ahead. Like a year in advance. The place is all booked from now till forever.

There is a reason why.img_1648

The first reason is that these animals make great cheese. It is the kind of cheese that inspires a bunch of poor planning lunks to quickly buy a Styrofoam gas station cooler to try to preserve this beautiful food through a long weekend. The goat cheese/chocolate cheesecake did not go in the cooler. We ate it before we left the parking lot.img_1631

The second reason to go is the dining. The party wasn’t for us and they wouldn’t tell us what they were serving that night. In fact, they never tell anyone what they will be serving. The surprise is part of the experience. It is a new menu every night (which is hard to fact check if they never tell you in advance what they are serving) and if the food is only half as good as the fromage, it will be worth it.img_2139

But again, the place is booked from now till forever so good luck.img_1654

cheeseplate

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Big Sur: mancation IV

It is easy to find- hit the west coast somewhere around Los Angeles, then go north. Sand and palm trees will eventually turn into cliffs covered in succulents. That is Big Sur.img_1495There aren’t many people there, at least not by California standards. There are camp grounds, small resorts, and the coast. Mostly, almost completely, there is the coast.

That is why people go there.

img_1458

I went there because I had never been and I needed to go somewhere.

It is the right kind of place for that. It is unincorporated, protected, and gorgeous.I am happily none of those things. Mostly I am hungry and just a touch bored.

Big Sur is also the right kind of place for that.

img_1464

More specifically, the Maiden Publick House, a pub right behind the River Inn is the kind of place where you can go pretend like you are in Brooklyn in 2008… which is pretending to be Appalachia in 1920. But just like believing and clapping makes Tinker Bell real, being a talented musician who is giving it your all, makes this music great.

I snickered a little when the bearded man wearing Carhart overalls finished his drink at the bar and joined the band. It was like someone had watched too many Lumineers videos, or maybe the Avett Brothers-but they were good. I liked it. A lot. img_1459

I am sure there is some sort of line that when crossed, things like authenticity or performance become the same, but I don’t know where that is so I just try to enjoy stuff. img_1477

Stuff like elephant seals.

These giant things without legs flop around and make an incredibly loud noise when they tip their head back letting this big trunk like nose drop down inside their throat. img_1409

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Mancation IV: a bromantic getaway

We selfied our way up the California coast.img_1304

It has taken me some years to accept the selfie as a photographic genre. Normally I prefer the standard ask a stranger to push the button, or perhaps a staged self timer on a tripod method of putting one’s self in the image. But in the spirit of true manliness and adulthood, I have relented.img_1344

Sometimes I kid myself it is strictly a visual form of journaling, more akin to record keeping than vanity. But really, it is just me refusing to act like a dignified grow-up. Or as some would say, a “man”.img_1506

What better way to record and commemorate Mancation 4 (or IV because as the Super Bowl tells us, Roman numerals are manlier) than to take self portraits via a method made famous by pre-teen girls and the Kardashians?img_1646

3 dudes on the PCH, one of America’s most romantic byways? Selfie. 3 hetero guys buying cream puffs at a bakery in Solvang? Selfie. 3 bearded fools in San Francisco? You got it; selfie.img_1704

Okay, two bearded fools and a scruffy guy. Feel free to confiscate my cool card- I don’t think I ever had one. But my man card holds firm. Come and pry it from my Charlton Heston hands.img_1952

We took 3 1/2 days, a rental car, and a complete disregard for planning and hit the road.img_2132

Mancation IV is in the books.

Mancation I

Mancation II

Mancation III

Leave a comment

Filed under places

The Coolest Possible Answer to the Question, “What Do You Do?”

What is the coolest possible answer to the question, “What do you do?”

Fighter pilot. Hands down winner. Race care driver and rock star will always be the best answer at a bar, unless someone else chimes in with “fighter pilot”.

Processed with Snapseed.

I would go on to argue that this is the coolest possible answer NOT because of the movie Top Gun, but rather Top Gun exists as a movie only because fighter pilot was already the coolest possible thing anyone could be.

Now the coolest jet to ever take flight, is the SR-71 Blackbird. Again, no contest.

Processed with Snapseed.

Not only has this plane flown higher and faster than any other plane ever built, but it looks like something right out of the Dark Knight Batman movies… only scarier.

Make note that I said the coolest jet. I did so because the coolest plane is up for debate. My vote has always gone for the P-38 Lightning.

Processed with Snapseed.

Something silly was going on over at Lockheed (the company that designed both the SR-71 and the P-38) back in the day and they produced a series of planes that look more at home on the pages of comic books than at an air port.

Which is where I saw them.

Processed with Snapseed.

March Field Air Museum is the kind of place where the 12 year old me gets very angry at the current me, for never becoming a fighter pilot. I am now much older than 12. The adult me no longer cares for cartoons, doesn’t really get into make believe, but I still very much want to fly in a fighter plane.

Soooo badly want to fly in a fighter plane..

Processed with Snapseed.

There was this old TV show called Amazing Stories  where I watched a tale of a gunner trapped in the a ball turret of bomber whose landing gear was stuck. I loved that show. It aired in 1985 and touching this turret brought it right back like yesterday.

That show was awesome.

Processed with Snapseed.

I have never been a big fan of death. Wait, maybe death isn’t my real issue but more so killing. Death is inevitable, killing is almost always avoidable and bad. But if looping, spinning, great graphics or design, and even explosions (missiles and bombs, not planes) could all be in play without the actual killing… I’d die for that job.

Processed with Snapseed.

And also- I touched a MIG.

Eat your heart out Maverick. I touched a MIG.

Processed with Snapseed.

Processed with Snapseed.

Processed with Snapseed.

Processed with Snapseed.

4 Comments

Filed under places

Emigration Longboards

Somehow I found myself at the summit of Emigration Canyon at 9pm, prepared to ride a skateboard down a lightless winter road. I had planned to spend the evening watching TV but there I was with sweaty palms and shaky knees, all because I didn’t know the guys who invited me up there well enough to say no. Brooks and Daniel had knocked on the door of my dorm room and said “hey, we need a third. Wanna come?” I had no idea what they meant by a “third” so of course I said yes.longboard

Riding in their Volkswagen bus up the canyon they explained to me that the idea is that two of us would ride the longboards down the canyon road, and the third would drive the van behind the skaters, to both give them light as well as block the way of any traffic that may be coming down the road. I assumed I was to be the driver. “Naw man. You can drive the next run. You are doing us a favor so you should get to go first. Besides, Sophia gets kinda nervous without me in the car.” Sophia was the two year old girl smiling at us from her car seat. This was Utah after all and it is not uncommon for an undergrad to be married with a two year old named Sophia.

“Uh. Cool. Thanks. Uh… I have never ridden a longboard before. Maybe I shouldn’t go first.”

“What? No way! Don’t worry bro, we have never ridden the canyon before either so we are like even. No worries bro.”

I was a very good student so this made perfect sense.

It was explained to me that longboarding is nearly the same as snowboarding, which I had plenty of experience with, except for the whole stopping business. Since you can’t really stop a longboard they told me that the key is in checking your speed with weaving turns, and when that doesn’t slow you down enough, you simply jump off the board before you get going too fast. I asked how fast is too fast and they just chuckled and responded that it would depend on how fast you can run as you jump off onto your feet. I wasn’t entirely comfortable with that concept but I was already in the car. It was too late.bowboardtreescopy

So there I was. The headlights of the van cast our shadows down in front of us and Daniel just smiled and said, “Here we go,” and pushed off. He was a good ten yards out ahead when I did the same. I could feel the rumble of rough pavement travel through the wheels, past my feet, and into my knees. I made a couple of awkward turns and leapt off the board landing on my feet. The board just rumbled into a snowbank. Daniel had done the same up ahead and looking back shouted “This ain’t so bad is it?” We both pushed off again. As we made our way down the dark canyon road I started to get the hang of it. I was cautious at first, jumping off at the slightest hint of discomfort, but I began to sprout some courage. Perhaps it wasn’t real courage but more a mix of adrenaline and embarrassment. I started pushing myself a little more than before.skater

I started leaning into the turns and holding on instead of bailing. I shifted my weight to the front foot and with my back foot I slid the tail of the board out making turn after turn. I felt fear slip away replaced by fun. I started to like it. I liked the winter wind biting my face, the blur of the yellow dashes as they sped past my feet, and the rhythmic sway of carving turns down the road. Yes. I liked this. But then a shaky turn snapped me out of it. My wheels caught just a little and as I regained my balance I regained my senses. I was going just a little too fast. Daniel was behind me now and the headlights were behind even more. I was right at the edge of controlling the board, but unfortunately going much faster than I could run. I turned by leaning back on my heels- an awkward angle from which to jump. I tuned the other way leaning on my toes- not as awkward but twice as fast. Stuck. Stuck riding a plank projectile. I began eying the snowbanks on the side of the road, planning, or timing, my last hope of escape. Not that one, there is a ditch between me and the bank. Not this one, I’m not quite ready. Too afraid. Going faster. It has to be the next one. I have to hit the next snow bank. I prepare to eject.

And as I leaned into the turn aiming at the snowbank, the glow of the snow disappeared, replaced by the dull grey of a guardrail.

-redacted word-

Time stood still in my mind as I floated in air above the pavement. I moved my legs as if to run, hoping that when my feet finally touched down I might, somehow, stay upright. I did not. My legs were moving at the speed of me and the ground was moving at the speed of light. When feet hit ground they slowed, but torso head and arms did not. I tucked my head as I rolled bottom over top and put my arms out in front before I did tumble number two. The board clanked off the rail and ricochet back into a ditch on the other side of the road. I, having caught myself in push-up position, stood upright and stared at nothing. “Duuuuuuuuuude!” Daniel shouted as he came bounding up beside me. Startled back out of my slow motion daze I grinned and sauntered off to reclaim the board. “You cool?” Daniel asked. “Yeah. That scared the crap out of me. We are almost to the bottom, let’s finish up.” “Hecks yeah,” he agreed.

I tried to push off but couldn’t stand on the board. My legs had obtained this uncontrollable wobble that I didn’t notice till I tried to stand on the board. Two legs were fine, but when I lifted one foot up to stand on the board I was all Jell-o from the waist down. I was done. I expressed my unfortunate failure to Daniel and he compassionately replied, “Well broham, looks you got the wheel for the rest of the night.”

Back up at the top of the canyon Brooks stepped on the emergency brake and hopped out. I jumped over into the driver seat, smiled back at the kid in the car seat, and tried to grab the wheel. It wasn’t till I gripped the wheel that I realized that where I once had palms, I now had a mixture of flesh, gravel, and gore. Hamburger is great on a grill but gross on your hands and I figured the polite thing to do would be to simply drive with my finger tips.

HANDS

When I got back to married student housing my wife was sitting on the couch. I said “Hey babe,” nonchalantly and she mumbled “hey,” staring at the television. I went right to the bathroom, normal behavior, but once inside I didn’t pee but rather flushed the toilet with my foot as my hands were in the sink trying to rinse away gravel and blood. I walked back into the other room and flopped onto the open end of the couch.

“What’s on?”

“Scrubs. Where ya been?”

“So funny thing. Brooks and Daniel came by and invited me to go longboarding with them.  I had never been before. It was cool.”

She looked at me sideways in the way she always did when I talk about, or do things, that she did not understand or have any desire to understand; which was normal and often.

“”Oh. Cool.” Was all she said. It was at about this point, the two of us quietly looking at the screen, when she instinctively reached over to hold my hand. Her fingers brushed my palm and my hand involuntarily jerked away. It startled her. She looked at me. Looked at my hand. She looked at me. Then without a word she just shook her head and turned back to the television.

On my next birthday she bought me a longboard of my own.

4 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized