Taughannock Man, a Day at Taughannock Falls—With Special Guest Appearance by Bob Dylan

“It was a horrible, nasty, vicious piece of work,” hissed Andy Currant about Piltdown Man. But the reason it was horrible, nasty, and vicious is that it made his revered heroes look like fools. Had it been his enemies made to look foolish, he’d be singing its praises to this day, most likely. Scientists steeped in evolutionary thinking confirmed the prehistoric man was genuine. The fraud remained undetected for 40 years.

However, what is truly a horrible, nasty, and vicious piece of work is that nobody told me such dupes were to be found much closer to home—at nearby Cornell University. It took a trip to Taughannock Falls to break free from the blinders they’d all tried to fit me with. In 1879, local scientists, steeped in evolutionary thinking, had chipped a few small pieces loose from “Taughannock Man,” unearthed in by workmen widening a driveway, and had upon analysis declared the petrified man authentic. But it wasn’t authentic. It had been (literally) cooked up just weeks before in a local mechanic’s establishment, and was made of stone dust, eggs, minerals, iron filings and beef blood.

It had then been slipped in sideways though a tunnel. Tree limbs had been twisted about its neck, as though having grown there ages later. The dirt overhead, therefore, literally had been undisturbed for centuries, and this was among the circumstances that caused the Cornell experts to swoon that they, too, had discovered a prehistoric man—and right in their own back yard at that!

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It took the cautious application of alcohol to uncover the ruse. Or maybe the incautious application of it. One of the local good ‘ol boys drank a little too much of it at the tavern and began boasting of how he and his chums had buried the stone giant just to fool the great men.

Fooling the great men does not appear to be the motivation, as it was with Piltdown Man in at least one of the several theories offered as to its creation. Taughannock Man was a straight-up publicity stunt, aimed to drum up business for the expanding Taughannock Hotel. That same year, its proprietor had hired a stuntman to tightrope-walk the adjacent gorge. It was a lavish hotel build next to lavish surroundings. Railroads dropped off visitors at the north and south ends of Cayuga Lake, steamboats took them to a landing point, and stagecoaches took them to the hotel, which—alas—burned to the ground in 1922. If there is one common feature of magnificent historical wood buildings, it is that they burn to the ground,

The main attraction of Taughannock State Park is Taughannock Falls. You can see it from the visitor center on the northern rim of the gorge (built upon the site of the old hotel—a display legend indicates the location of an excavated wall), but for best results, you hike the easy 3/4 mile trail up the gorge from the main park entrance. The cliff walls close in upon you from either side and in due course you are just before the falls and looking up, not down as you would be from the visitor center. The water drops 215 feet, making Taughonnock Falls the largest single-drop waterfall east of the Rocky Mountains. It drops further than Niagara Falls.

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Besides the Park display legend, I found two other sources telling of the Taughannock Man hoax. One is a bland nostalgic piece from the Ithaca Times, gently chuckling at the outrageous old days that could never happen again because we are so much smarter. The other, from lifeinthefingerlakes.com, leaves open the possibility that it could happen all over again because we are just as dumb as we have always been. The bland piece even seeks to cushion the great men from Cornell University, saying their analysis yielded “decidedly mixed results.” But the fingerlakes piece and the park legend both say that they swallowed it hook, line, and sinker.

We are just as likely to fall for such pranks again—not the same ones, for we have been forewarned, and it will take a while for that forewarning to wear off—but different ones that we have not been (lately) forewarned against. Pride will blind us. Greed will blind us. Ideology will blind us. Some of today’s realities are yesterday’s conspiracy theories. Are we really to believe that none of today’s conspiracy theories will become tomorrow’s realities?

Gullibility is old and its not going away. Bob Brier, the Egyptologist, tells how pharaohs never recorded their defeats (so, of course, no one else dared to do so either). They only recorded their victories. He relates the exploits of one pharaoh who recorded victory after glorious victory! each one closer to his home base (because he was retreating).

With regard to the evolution theory, the Jehovah’s Witness organization appears to have no problem with “micro-evolution.” It is macro they choke on. Of course, they do not champion either, since that is neither their specialty nor mission, but micro, which is not all that different from animal husbandry, the stuff of what Darwin observed on the island, they can let stand without throwing stones at. It is the “kinds” of Genesis. They even invited Michael Behe over to talk shop.

Taughannock Man, along with the more famous Piltdown Man, is clearly macro. Piltdown is rightly more famous, because with it there was no town drunk to spill the beans within weeks, and the great men were fooled for forty years. However, in an effort to save face, they have declared that they were not fooled at all, they were not that dumb, that they smelled a rat almost from the beginning.

If so, this makes it worse. It replace gullible with fraud, for they said nothing about it. Moreover, it is contemptuous fraud, the sort that rt.com resorts to when reporting on Jehovah’s Witnesses, when whatever reporting they present takes place amidst of backdrop of religious crazies doing truly crazy, bizarre, pugilistic, cultish things that have nothing to do with Jehovah’s Witnesses, as anyone who knows the slightest bit about them will instantly attest. (chapter 13 of this work)  In the case of the evolutionist fraudsters, it is: “Tell the dummies anything you must to keep them on board—who cares if it is true or not.”

Thus it becomes necessary, as it so often is with me, to bring in Bob Dylan with what started as a joke. Explaining a metaphor to Evo-Ann that any child would instantly understand, it reached the point of my posting a tree fallen across the road with the comment that it was blocking “Evolution Row.”

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Sometimes something gets in your head and you knock it around a bit and come up with more. “Evolution Row” is actually not a bad interpretation of the song “Desolation Row.” Take this portion:

At midnight all the agents and the superhuman crew

Come out and round up everyone that knows more than they do

Then they bring them to the factory where the heart-attack machine

Is strapped across their shoulders and then the kerosene

Is brought down from the castles by insurance men who go

Check to see that nobody is escaping to Desolation Row.

Anyone familiar with the Bible, as Dylan is—he did a stint as a born-again Christian; listen to Slow Train Coming, for example, and you’ll see he is thoroughly familiar with scripture—will know who is “all the agents and the superhuman crew.”

At the darkest time, they round up everyone “who knows more than they do.” Well, nobody knows more than does the “superhuman crew,” so it must be a reference to those who think that they they know more than others, who think that are very smart indeed, and that take great pleasure in parading their knowledge before everyone else, quick to disparage anyone in their path, ones who don’t suffer fools gladly—and a fool is anyone who disagrees with them.

Despite their self-heralded knowledge, they are “rounded up” and processed, as though in a “factory.” The knowledge that they take such pride in is nevertheless death-dealing, like a “heart attack machine strapped across their shoulders,” with “kerosene” thrown in for good measure. 

Despite their knowledge being death-dealing—settling for a few dozen years lifespan at best and then eternal blackness—nobody must escape this tripe. “Insurance men” see to it. Nobody will escape from Evolution Row. (Dylan actually wrote “to Desolation Row,” not “from Desolation Row,” but it was probably a typo and I will set him straight when I see him next.) Let us not forget that the evolution teaching (in its full measure—not counting the intelligent design variety) is desolation to the Bible based hope of living forever on a paradise earth.

No, I don’t really think Dylan had that in mind. Other stanzas don’t so readily lend themselves to that interpretation. But it’s not a bad interpretation all the same. Dylan often writes in a stream of consciousness and doesn’t necessarily have any underlying message. It’s like decrypting Kafka. The tone is distinct, but the underlying words can be taken any number of ways. He is not inclined to pose as a great man with deep underlying meanings he is cryptically recording for all of humanity if they can but prove their worth by unraveling the message. Naw. He describes himself more like a modern Aaron, who throws stuff into the fire and “out came this calf.” (Exodus 32:24)

To see the Taughannock Giant, if your interest is peaked, you might think you could find it somewhere within Cornell, since it plays a part in that university’s history, even if an inglorious one. However, they red-facededly want nothing to do with it. The baked giant can be seen at the History Center of Tompkins County. Docents there probably retrieved it from Cornell’s dumpster.

 

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The Publick Universal Friend and the Mennonite

Only one person knows where the Publick Universal Friend is buried, the candy store owner told me. When she is getting up in years, she tells someone from the next generation down. The Yates County assistant wasn’t so sure. Yes, it is a legend, she admitted, and in fact it was two persons, not one, but she is probably just counting differently, including the newly enlightened one with the geezer who will soon pass on. At any rate, if true, that geezer—she knows who it would be—had better attend to her duties, for she is indeed becoming a geezer.

Presumably, the reason the Publick Universal Friend would be so secretive about her burial place is that she knows about the spat Jesus had with the Devil over Moses’ burial. Nobody knows just where that is, and if they did, they would make a shrine to it, or worse, even dig him up for relics, and thus put all the attention on humans whereas it is supposed to be on God. I don’t know this was the Friend’s reasoning for sure, but it makes sense. The Friend’s biographer did speculate that maybe she became a genderless public figure because of the Galatians 3:28 verse that there is “neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Or it might be to get around the shock of a woman preacher, something that was taboo in her long-ago time. That idea is mine, but the assistant did not disagree. Then again, it is not her place to disagree. The Underwood Museum exhibit is set up as for schoolchildren, full of questions as, What do you think of this? and, How do you feel about that? and, How would you feel if you saw such-and-such? It is not set up to tell you what to think. Rather, it hopes that you do.

The museum annex—it’s quite small—included pictures of the Friend’s birthplace home, a ramshackle shed. It had pictures of her second home, and her stalwart huge third one, which still stands. I should have asked the owner about it, for there must have been 30+ rooms to it, judging by outward appearance, but I forgot.

My wife and I had driven to the house before visiting the museum. There is a state historical plaque before it, but also a sign indicating it is now a private residence. A Mennonite man attending to the accompanying barn spotted me photographing the house and gave me a friendly wave. The telltale way to spot a Mennonite house—there are a great many of them in this area, not to mention many local businesses—is to note the lack of motorized vehicles. However, even a non-Mennonite might have parked them out of sight, so the truly foolproof way on spotting is to note the hanging laundry—there is always abundant hanging laundry.

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“I’m not quite sure what is the point,” I had said to my wife earlier as we drove by a Mennonite woman peddling a bicycle with trailer behind. I mean, I get it that it is a simple wholesome life, and that is not a bad thing at all, but it is also a life consumed by simply existing. All the time you are doing things that machines could do in one tenth the time, you are not doing something else. On the other hand, there was one on these ridiculous American TV cop shows (which TV-less Mennonites do not watch) in which the homicide detectives, which always include a drop dead gorgeous woman cop, just as in real life, found themselves in an Amish home (Amish and Mennonite are more-or-less interchangeable, with Amish the more conservative) and after looking around, the hero detective observed, “If I had to live like this, I would commit suicide, too.”

Oh, yeah! Tell me about it, you who have moved on to a life of chasing down slimeballs all day. And not just guns, those Amish aren’t packing any STDs like your people are either, are they? And it wasn’t an Amish who was “high as a kite,” the Best Western night fellow told me—turns out he knew something of the community—who plowed into buggy procession, killing some and sending others on mercy flights to the hospital. I mean, it may be I don’t quite see the point, but that doesn’t mean there’s any great honor in “upgrading,” either.

The night man knew about Mennonites because his sister had married a lapsed one, who had a passion for flashy cars. But even among the faithful there are variations. Not all are horse and buggy. Some are moving to cars, which they prefer as Henry Ford said: any color, so long as it is black. And there were some who would buy the car, but then paint the bumpers black, as though the chrome was too worldly. And there was even a small subset of those who would temporarily blacken the bumpers with a tar mixture when the bishop was visiting, but then would clean them up again when he was gone.

Is that so different from our community? Yes, in the main, but also no. “The happiest sight in the world,” our circuit overseer would quote his dad, “are the tail lights of the traveling overseer.” He made those guys work. And then there are mild little quirks in things such as “counting time,” which leads to artificial situations and a vague concept of being “on duty” and “off duty.” My point is that there are idiosyncrasies everywhere, so I’m just not inclined to point a finger of ridicule even at those Mennonites who do blacken the bumpers. Any time you build a structure, which you must do in order to accomplish anything, you get people who immerse themselves into the minutiae of that structure, and you suspect, but cannot prove, that they may be focusing too much attention on the creation, perhaps at the expense of the creator. Humans are not the most rationale beings under the sun and if you ridicule others for their foibles, they will turn around and ridicule you for yours.

“Yeah, what is it about the horse and buggy?” I asked the Mennonite at the Friend home after he had brought up the subject. Is it lifestyle, is it biblical, or just what? He said it was just lifestyle. He reddened slightly when I told him I was a Witness. Did he think I was going to lean into him (a fear that is often justified with Witnesses), or did he think I had ambushed him, and that had he known he was “on duty,” he would have elevated biblical over lifestyle? But there was nothing sneaky on my part, or if so, just barely so. I just wanted to put it on the table that he was of an oddball religion, I was of an oddball religion, and here we were the two of us were talking of a woman two centuries past of another oddball religion. You put something on the table and you pursue it if they show interest, but if they don’t you continue with the thread. Maybe your come back to it and maybe you don’t.

The Publick Universal Friend was born Jemima Wilkinson in 1752, the eighth of twelve children, into a Quaker family. She fell seriously ill in her early twenties, and upon recovering, said she’d experienced visions. She was to preach to the “dying and sinful world.” Because she billed herself as genderless, the museum assistant told me the transgendered people today regard her as a hero of sorts, a forerunner. However, she was not one who would close prayer with “Amen and awoman” as some politician recently did, prompting a snide friend to declare it the dumbest thing he had ever heard. She knew that “Amen” had nothing to do with men, but was simply a word that meant “truly.” She certainly would never have extended the prayer—today’s wise ones have identified dozens of genders, and one wonders how wise they can be—into ainter, apoly, atrans, anon, apersonal, aeunich, arobot, and asoforth.

It hadn’t been my intention, but the friendly wave had encouraged me to press my luck. My wife stayed in the car, but I trekked up the football field length driveway, made friends with his old dog, and peered into the barn. He spotted me, and I told him he could tell me to go away. I get it that this is a private residence and he probably gets lots of nosy people and is tired of it. But he proved very friendly, more than willing to take a time out. As a cow took a dump behind us, I told him my dad had been raised on a dairy farm. He knew his house had historical significance, and even that the State would not allow modifications to it, but he expressed no great interest in it. He had just come up from Pennsylvania, where land was prohibitively priced, and picked it up as a divorce made it available. The barn was his own construction.

He knew a Witness whom I did not know, but he did not know Bob the architect, one of the few Witnesses I did know from the area. Bob is older than me. When he first began collecting social security, he told me that he was now “on welfare” and that it felt funny. He never tells clients he’s not been to college, Bob told me, they just assume it. Several public and commercial buildings of his origin dot the community, and a bevy of residences. “When you get to drawing up plans for the Kingdom Hall build,” Davey told me back when that was our goal, see if you can get Bob. He mentioned a few other possibilities—they’re all capable draftsmen, he said, but “Bob is inspired.” They homeschooled their younger kids from their combination of two step-families, as did we did our two kids. That’s how we got to know them. They were two or three years in advance of us. The local school authorities were always threatening to shut them down. He said later that his homeschooled children interacted far easier with all ages than did his non-homeschooled children. He had looked for community activities to involve them in, also as we did ours.

Bob’s example on my mind, I asked the Mennonite if he did social security. The answer was no. His people have an arrangement with the government that they do not pay in and do not take out. He mentioned his Covid relief check. He sent it back, though he’s perfectly entitled to keep it as it has nothing to do with social security. Most Mennonites do that , he told me, though there are some who keep them.

“How well do you hold on to your young people,” I asked him, and so he did not suspect a holier-than-thou trap I added that we lose quite a few of ours. Pretty much the same here, he said, and then we had one more thing in common. There are things outside that you can’t do inside. There are things done inside that you don’t have to do outside. It’s pretty much like one of those laws of thermodynamics of order reverting to disorder, though I spared the Mennonite the science terminology.

I learned more about the Mennonites than I did about the Friend, whose group petered out as a sect soon after her death. Their descendants are faithful to preserving her memory, however, the museum assistant said as I bought a book from her—The Public Universal Friend, by Paul Moyer, a nearby college professor. (She also carried two other titles.) They continue to bring in factoids and artifacts for the museum. In this way they are like the ones who donate to the Keuka Candy Emporium, mentioned in the first paragraph. The owner collects all sort of bygone oddities, including an ancient pulley contraption mounted overhead to collect and dispense change for purchases—for historical interest, he doesn’t use it. The only other one, the owner told me, is in the Smithsonian, and that is only there because they had donated it from the candy store. Once you reach a critical mass in anything, people begin donating items to you so it does not go to the four winds when they die. That’s why, I told the candy man, Shultz is donating his ancient Watchtower tracts to Warwick, though I did not mention him by name. He doesn’t want them dispersed to the four winds and a dozen Goodwill stores.

I owe Shultz the mention, since I might never had discovered the Publick Universal Friend but for a local history book written nearly 150 years ago that he alerted me to. Shultz himself is a writer of religious history, centering his search around contemporaries of C.T. Russell. His book, co-authored with a niece, A Separate Identity, is considered the definitive guide of the time period. He hadn’t known about the Publick Universal Friend. It isn’t really his time period. Besides, there were so many preachers who “had the calling” that this part of New York used to be known as the burnt over district. I had driven through the Friend’s old territory many times without awareness, most often to visit Bob and his family. You don’t think the “Town of Jerusalem” sign shouldn’t have been a tip-off? But it wasn’t. I just drove through and said, “Huh! Where have I heard that name before?”

It was a fine couple of days for my wife and I. Covid keeps us cooped up and we just had to bust out. The weather was 10 degrees above average and the sun was mostly shining—nothing to take for granted in our neck of the woods this time of year. The Penn Yan Best Western let us bring out dog. More and more hotels do that, for an added fee. And—important for a Jehovah’s Witness—I got to speak to four actual flesh and blood real people, not digital ones, about the faith—the museum person, the candy man, the hotel night man, and the Mennonite. It is a little funny, I told the Mennonite, searching for common cause, “that religious people should poach from one another, but that’s what religious people do. It’s in the DNA.”

 

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At the Northeast Classic Car Museum

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It is a 1942 Buick 91F—that competed with Cadillac, much to Cadillac’s dismay. Only 85 were build before production ceased due to WWII. About 10 exist today. Purchased by a doctor who held it to his death in 1951, it eventually wound up property of Bennett Buick in Wayland, NY. Bennett is the oldest continual Buick dealership in the country.

The museum is in the tiny town of Norwich, southeast of Syracuse. It is several large metal barns cobbled together and you roam from cavernous area to the other. My wife and I had almost finished touring the complex when, struck with the idea, I backtracked and photographed nearly every car, as well as its placards. (My wife was very good about it.) The docents are mostly old guys. They love cars. They volunteer. It takes nothing to get them talking.  One fellow I chatted up had lost his wife after a lengthy illness. He had turned his life upside down so as to care for her, and he spoke of how he would not do anything differently were he to do it again. I spoke of the resurrection a bit, to his moderate interest, and told him how I had been able to care for Pop in his own home until he died.

So taken was I with the museum that I purchased an overpriced DVD covering stationwagons—hasn’t the breed died out now? does anyone still make them—entitled Wagonmasters. There were awards and praises on the jacket, such as, “A highly entertaining film.” George Conboy, the stockbroker, called those words “very faint praise indeed,” and indeed, the video was pretty much of a dud, but if you reveled in the bygone era, you still might enjoy it. The video I probably should have viewed first—but it is still wrapped in plastic on my bookshelf—is The Staley Collection, in which local collector George Staley rattles on with historical dope and personal anecdotes about 32 automobiles from his collection. I know that video is good because they had it running on a repeat loop at the entrance to one of the warehouses. Maybe George Conboy will do one of these with his collection, too, someday,

The wagon they should have had was the 59 Chevy I spotted just recently in Buffalo.

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Don’t you love those sideways fins? No other maker has such fins, though vertical ones were a dime a dozen. The finned era only lasted two or three years. Given how large those cars loom in memory, one would think it an entire decade. But they were just beginning in 1957–but 1960 there were just a few hints of them, and the following year they were gone.

I told George Conboy (via Twitter—I’ve never met him in person) about the Chevy—restored from Idaho, the garage owner told me, or was in Iowa?—and he said he wouldn’t mind it at all in his collection. He has a fair-sized one, and he will roll out a selected one, such as his 63 Corvair convertible, for special events in the city. “Shouldn’t you be out chasing TSLA to the moon?” I retorted to some barb of his at a time when the stock was headed there. But he replied that chasing stocks was not his style. Of course! He is the trusted area stockbroker, and he cannot be seen as flippant with other people’s money. Whenever there are gyrations in local stocks, such as when Kodak soared and then plummeted a few times at reports they might produce a Covid vaccine ingredient, coupled with allegations of insider trading (which turned out to be false), he is the go-to guy for media, and he explains it all to them. He also tweets photos of his cars, even devising ‘Can you identify?’ quizzes, and I torment him with pictures of Ramblers—like this one:

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“There!” I said to Pop as I laid down his breakfast before pulling the fuse for the stove so he wouldn’t burn down the house while I left for the day. “I don’t know why I’m so good to you after you were so mean to me, making me drive Ramblers, and all my classmates ridiculed me, when what I wanted was a Mustang!” “Seems to be we had a Mustang,” the amiable fellow with dementia replied, “and you smashed it up.” No, we never had one at all. We had Ramblers—straight up Ramblers. However, a teen has to defend his family’s choice of vehicles, and I may have developed my lifelong habit of sticking up for the underdog by continually doing just that.

My cousin’s husband restores Mustangs—just Mustangs, just first generation Mustangs, and just fast backs—he won’t touch anything else. If you price them 30K or so, people beat down your door to get them, but if you bump up the price to $50K, “that slows them down a little,” he tells me. Note this before and after (not the same vehicle):

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Are there that many salvageable old Mustangs left? “There’s getting mighty hard to find,” he says. Nonetheless, I just spoke to my cousin, and he has four on tap.

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The Northeast Classic Car Museum would jump on that 59 Chevy in a heartbeat, probably, though they would hold out for someone to give it to them. Most of their cars were donated and many were on loan, such as Bennett temporarily parting with his long-stretch Buick. I forget the details, but the governor of New York promotes the place as a tourism draw.

They might have to fight over the Chevy with the closer Buffalo Pierce Arrow Transportation Museum. This place is smaller, though the holdings may be larger. A docent there, who also volunteers, spoke of about a dozen warehouses throughout the city stuffed with both autos and memorabilia. They don’t do memorabilia at the Northeast Museum—it is straight cars for them—but at the Buffalo museum there is as much memorabilia as cars. Supposedly, the owner bought up scads of downtown property during the 80s and 90s blight, then accrued a fortune as Buffalo renewed by operating them as parking lots. The most plebeian car there, though it is hardly any slouch, but is there for sentimental value, is the owner’s own 63 Chevy convertible, bought new, for a price that seems absurdly low today.

It is the Pierce Arrow museum because Pierce Arrow was the upscale make built in Buffalo.

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Though the modern generation will scarce believe it, there were once about 150 auto makers in New York alone; a chart at the Northeast Museum lists them all.

Oddities at the Pierce Arrow Museum include a full-scale model gas station by Frank Lloyd Wright. In the early auto days, once cars were refined enough that one need not be so macho to operate one, Wright envisioned women drivers gassing up at stop-offs that would be built glamorous on their account.

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All the trademark Wright features are there, including the impracticality. (The tanks were to be atop the building.) People that own Frank Lloyd Wright homes declare them a nightmare to maintain, since the artistic vision invariably exceeded the technology available at the time. However, they are generally well-off, and they have the resources and wherewithal to either pull it off or put up with it. They figure they are doing their bit to preserve history.

The Playboy car was there in Buffalo, too. I think Northeast had one as well, but the one pictured is in Buffalo.

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To my surprise, the car precedes the magazine, and both are named for the man of leisure who can do whatever he likes. The connotation that he does nothing but chase women only came later, doubtless as a result of the magazine.

Maybe someday I will open a place like this for Ramblers. The Harley Rambler Museum—do you think anyone would bite? For now, I am content to snap pictures of them whenever I spot one rusting in the weeds. I already did my bit for auto history by writing an American Motors post with plenty of cool tidbits such as how James Bond jumped a river in a Hornet. That’s probably as far as I will go. Rambler representation was light at both museums. I think a sole AMX was the extent of it at Northeast, and Buffalo had nothing at all. Ah, well—so it must be. Those rusting Ramblers I would have to get someone to restore for me and my cousin’s husband does nothing but Mustangs.

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Segwaying in San Diego

It doesn’t take long to learn how to ride a Segway. The San Diego tour operator gave us about 15 minutes in the company parking lot. Lean forward, you go. Pull back, you stop. Turn right or left pretty much like you were riding a bike.

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There’s barely any point in saying how easy it is because the product is no longer made. It was sold to a Chinese outfit in 2015, combined with some other products, and then discontinued in 2020. Murray joined us in San Diego and he told me the Postal Service—he retired as a mail carrier—might have bought a few hundred, maybe even thousands, but the Postmaster General fell off his. The owner of the company later had problems, too, running his Segway off a cliff to his death.

Well—we found it easy. After our brief training session, off we went in single file, reconvening here or there as our guide pointed out spots of interest. We spent much time in Balboa Park, where our guide snapped pictures of anyone who asked. We did, and handed our over camera to him. Balboa is an urban park originally constructed in order to host the 1915-16 Panama-California Exposition World’s Fair. Returning late afternoon, we had to thread our way through the homeless who were claiming their nightly sidewalk spots. This made me slightly nervous—we weren’t THAT experienced at driving these things, but there were no incidents.

It was atypically cold during our several day stay, and the locals kept apologizing for it, as though they expected us to blame them. I did learn something very interesting about rain. When the San Diego weatherman forecasts a 70% chance of rain, that means it will rain like mad but only for about 10 minutes. Afterwards the sky will return to brilliant blue. Where we come from when the weatherman says 70% chance of rain, that means it will rain all day, it will rain all day tomorrow, and it rained all day yesterday

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Cincinnati—Fine Medium-sized City on the Ohio River.

Whenever I am trying to distance us from the 24-hour days-of-creation people, which is not that infrequent because Jehovah’ Witnesses are frequently supposed a “fundamentalist” faith—which they are in some regards, but in others they could not be farther apart—we are not the slightest bit political, for instance, not do we buy into the heaven or hell outcome those dead—“socially conservative” is how Joel Engardio put it—I like to been to point out that “we are not the religionists that put dinosaurs on the Kentucky ark. That is someone else.”

(Sigh—we are the ones who put them in the Bible—not the Bible itself, of course, but a tiny drawing of a dinosaur used to be included in the inside cover NWT artwork. But that was in the green Bible, the one produced in 1961, and it disappeared ages ago. Few will recall it.)

I heard via social media report that the Kentucky ark was suffering a devastating decline in tickets sales due to Covid-19. I responded that this was a problem in the original ark, too—tickets sold out and the counter was shut down after just eight were purchased.

My wife and I once stayed at a Best Western in Cincinnati. It was a last minute change of destination because our original one was beset by hurricane. The next morning in the breakfast room, nearly everyone was headed out for a day at the Ark, 40 miles away, most of them with kids in tow. The thing is even shaped as the storybook ark, and not as essentially a floating box, which is surely what it was.

We did not go, of course, but saw some other sights of the city. Animal-wise, we went to the Cincinnati zoo, where there were no dinosaurs, but I learned that it was the zoo at which a boy fell into the gorilla enclosure, prompting the in-house sharpshooter to shoot the gorilla dead. This triggered much outrage, especially since Harambe had seemed to be nothing but protective of him, as though he was his (her?) own—but the zoo didn’t want to take any chances. They had a little memorial to Harambe there when we strolled by the gorilla enclosure. I am not sure why, but a top ten list for ‘best zoos in the country’ includes three from Ohio—Cincinnati, Columbus, and Toledo. There is something about that state and zoos.

It was just an extended weekend jaunt. The city is of manageable size, and as soon as we discovered that, we took the trolley that does a figure eight through the city—it’s not quite a figure eight because the middle doesn’t quite come together, but there are two loops, one in the north where the historic marketplace is—we left the car there after exploring it—and one in south, where the downtown is. At the bottom lower loop is the riverside area, where you can ride the Ferris wheel, hike the massive bridge into Kentucky, or attend a ball game—whether it be a Reds game (baseball) at the Great American Ballpark, or a Bengals game (football) at the Paul Brown Stadium—they are at opposite ends of the Snale Riverfront Park. The next day the Bengals played their opening game of the season, and if memory serves, they won—but maybe it does not and they lost. The pic on display is taken from the trolley at where the loops almost intersect—paintings on brick as though windows with people looking out.

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Some attractions were closed for renovation during our stay, but we visited an art museum, a science museum, and a luxury hotel (where we didn’t stay—it’s Best Western for us, as mentioned—I’ll bet nobody at the luxury hotel was visiting the Ark Encounter next day) that had to match its name to certain initials because the name originally chosen turned out to be copyrighted by someone else, yet all the embroidery and plate had been stamped with those initials. 

And on the northern loop, driving this time, not taking the trolley, we spotted a small sign pointing to the William H. Taft home, so up the hill (where the family moved to escape the pollution of the old city—a pollution long since gone) we drove to spend a few hours at the childhood home of the 27th President, and for some stupid reason the pictures I posted there—pictures I took myself with my very own iPad, no longer display. If you see them there on the linked post, it means I have fixed the issue. If you don’t, I haven’t.

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On the Southern Tip of Canadice Lake

It was a bright day yesterday, and many were out—out because it was Saturday and out because it was uncharacteristically sunny. Man, what a cold and wet spring it has been! At the foot of Canadice Lake (I had never been there) we met and chatted up a couple of birdwatchers—‘I photograph and he carries my gear,’ Sue told us. 13WHAM has posted some of her photos. There were plenty of birds to photograph that day, flitting all around us as we talked.

Canadice Lake is the smallest of the Finger Lakes and it is a little off the beaten track, unlike the others. The two birdwatchers were both wearing masks, as was my wife, and I said how I half-felt like a a bad boy for not doing so, but it is the great outdoors, after all. Last week they had not worn masks they said, but the course had earned them some dirty looks. It seemed a little silly, Tim said, since people naturally socially distance where there is room to do so, as we were doing at that very moment.

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They allowed that, as a retired couple, their new routine wasn’t that much different than their old one—something I have heard from other retired people—but that they could feel for younger ones, especially those raising families. “How are you holding up anxiety-wise?” I had asked a young woman on the trail the day prior, after a bit of chit-chat, and she responded that she was feeling a fair measure of it. I mentioned to both the jw.org post on coping with isolation and loneliness, the way I try always to do because it is just the ticket today, and if not me, my wife does. Sue entered it into her phone.

Their military son and family had been grumbling about Bill Gates’ proposal to microchip people to indicate if they had COVID antibodies or no—they brought it up, not me—and the son declared that he would refuse to do so. ‘Slippery slope’ is the phrase he used. Sometimes people in think tanks lose touch with the everyday concerns of real people. However, Sue said she wouldn’t make an issue of it—she was getting on in years, her sun waning, not rising as with the young people—but what a world they were facing!

Their granddaughter, whom they suspected might be driven too hard in pursuit of good grades, was enjoying the respite. Sue said she initially missed school a little bit, but soon adjusted. “They homeschool?” I asked, but only later did my wife point out that it is not much of a probing question anymore, since everyone does. Still, they knew the expression ‘unschooling,’ which only homeschoolers can be counted upon to know—the term refers to letting the child’s own interest dictate just what they learn and in what order. Assuming there is parental guidance and that the media that would otherwise devour all their time is kept under restraint, there is a place for it. Curriculum need not be jettisoned entirely, but to keep it as structured as it is in school—well, why leave school if you are going to do that? A news article told of how parents were pulling out their hair, feeling like failures themselves and stressing out their children, trying to keep them on schedule with public schooling that has gone online—utilizing apps that were never meant to be all-encompassing, but only supplemental. I made a mental note to ask parents in the congregation about that—you don’t put extra stress on family members—these are extraordinary times.

‘Letchworth angel’ had been one of Sue’s pictures submitted online—I named it that, not she, for the purpose of googling it later. An angel can be seen in the photo of the falls, she told us. However, many were the nasty comments interspersed with the nice ones when she posted it, and so 13WHAM told everyone to behave—disagree without being disagreeable if you can.

Walking back to the cars, she asked just what was our faith. When we said Jehovah’s Witnesses, she stated how mean people are to them. But I said that it was not generally so—it depended on the circumstances of the moment—after all, we come without appointment, something virtually unheard of today—people are usually doing things. I usually thank gracious people on that account—they clearly aren’t obligated to give us any time at all, and yet some do.

As it turned out, both of us had an offspring that had departed from the faith, at some personal cost, though also with their own reasons, of course—and that circumstance drew us to each other, facilitated conversation, made each seem more human to the other. You don’t hide stuff like that—you bring it out in the open. People are people and go every which way.

Next day at the congregation Zoom meeting was read a letter from HQ. Some states were starting to open up from quarantine, largely for economic reasons, and it was for each family head to decide its own response. Each head knew his family’s own circumstances and what was advisable and safe for one family might not be for another. All Kingdom Halls would remain closed, however, as well as all forms of public preaching.

Searching ‘Letchworth angel’ did not turn up any pics as I thought it might, even after I appended ‘13WHAM.’ To be sure, I didn’t devote a lot of time to it. I did otherwise elicit a few photos of the falls at that State park—there are three of them and they are spectacular—but I could not discern angels in any of them. To each his own, however, and probably Sue’s picture evaded me.

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Searching for the Twilight Zone—in Binghamton NY

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Pictured above is the bus terminal of Binghampton, NY. It is no longer just for Greyhound—all county buses now launch from the site. Built in 1938, it is of the Art Deco design known as Streamline Moderne—I love this design!—intended to convey aerodynamics and speed. Only a half dozen of such terminals still exist—there were once ten times that number.

This particular station was the inspiration for Rod Serling’s “The Mirror,” an episode of the anthology series The Twilight Zone. That episode terrified me. All Twilight Zones did, but I didn’t see too many as a boy because it was past my bedtime. Every so often, however—due to circumstances I no longer recall—I succeeded in outmaneuvering my parents and scared myself silly with the off-limits show.

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The Mirror is a story of a woman waiting for the bus who becomes unnerved when her exact double appears from another world, intent on replacing her. She is assured by others that such things are imaginary and do not happen, but then she looks up from outside the bus and—gasp!—there is that double seated on board, gazing down upon her.

Rod Serling narrated every opening and closing of The Twilight Zone. For “Mirror Image,” he began with:

Millicent Barnes, age twenty-five, young woman waiting for a bus on a rainy November night. Not a very imaginative type is Miss Barnes: not given to undue anxiety, or fears, or for that matter even the most temporal flights of fantasy. Like most young career women, she has a generic classification as a, quote, girl with a head on her shoulders, end of quote. All of which is mentioned now because, in just a moment, the head on Miss Barnes' shoulders will be put to a test. Circumstances will assault her sense of reality and a chain of nightmares will put her sanity on a block. Millicent Barnes, who, in one minute, will wonder if she's going mad.”

A young man in the episode, concerned for Millicent’s visibly deteriorating mental health, settles back in his seat at the terminal after the officers he has summoned have taken the woman away for help. He notices his bag is missing. He spots the thief absconding with it. Overtaking him, he discovers that—gasp!—it is his double!

Serling closes:

Obscure and metaphysical explanation to cover a phenomenon. Reasons dredged out of the shadows to explain away that which cannot be explained. Call it 'parallel planes' or just 'insanity'. Whatever it is, you'll find it in the Twilight Zone.”

Rod Serling was a favorite son of Binghamton, born and raised there. You can run around and view, as we did on a recent visit, the homes in which he grew up—well, two of the three, anyway. It is a small city. Getting from anywhere to anywhere else is a snap. The Rod Serling Archive produces a map that lists other sites. There is the site of Serling’s Market Sanitary—it is a parking lot today. There is Serling’s Market—now a vacant lot, as is the former site of the Arlington Hotel, the inspiration for an episode of Night Gallery, a show he later hosted. The temple where his family once worshiped is now the Binghamton Housing Authority. His six Emmys and Peabody Award are housed at Ithaca College, about 45 minutes away. His own nondescript gravesite is at Interlaken Cemetery, another 45 minutes to the northwest.

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Other episodes of the Twilight Zone were fashioned in his home town. The carousel and bandstand of Recreation Park serves as the setting for “Walking Distance.” This is the episode—not particularly scary, though it probably terrified me at the time—in which a man named Martin has his car break down—they often did back then—necessitating repairs in his hometown that he happens to be driving through. While waiting, he wanders into the park that he remembers so well, and finds that time there has stood still. Why—he spots himself as an eleven-year-old riding the carousel! He calls out to his younger self. His call distracts the boy, who tumbles off the horse and breaks his leg. Instantly, the adult Martin feels the pain. And so forth—on goes the storyline.

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Closing narration:

Martin Sloan, age thirty-six, vice-president in charge of media. Successful in most things but not in the one effort that all men try at some time in their lives—trying to go home again. And also like all men, perhaps there'll be an occasion, maybe a summer night sometime, when he'll look up from what he's doing and listen to the distant music of a calliope, and hear the voices and the laughter of the people and the places of his past. And perhaps across his mind there'll flit a little errant wish, that a man might not have to become old, never outgrow the parks and the merry-go-rounds of his youth. And he'll smile then too, because he'll know it isjust an errant wish, some wisp of memory not too important really, some laughing ghosts that cross a man's mind, that are a part of the Twilight Zone.”

We stopped at Recreation Park. The bandstand is still there at an intersection of sidewalks. It is dated, a bit ragged, and is perhaps no longer used for its intended purpose, but the nearby carousel was only closed up because fall had arrived—during summer it sees regular use. Sturdy trees tower over both structures, indeed over all of the park except for what looks like a more recent addition of athletic fields. The leaves were turning—yellow and oranges predominated—and only some had fallen. The small city itself is surrounded by hills—bursting with color during our visit. The day was sunny. The autumn air was crisp.

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Then there was Fowler’s (now Boscov’s), a department store on the corner of Court and Water streets. In the old days, the Boscov’s salesman told me, a piano player entertained shoppers. This site was the inspiration for “The After Hours,” an episode featuring a woman named Marsha, who chances into the store and passes all the mannequins. For a transaction, someone asks her for ID, and hers only goes back a month! More strange things transpire. She tries to run away, but freezes into plastic as she does so. The show ends with her a mannequin on display—her turn to be a human has expired—and another store mannequin, one that she passed earlier, is now taking his turn walking about shopping as a human!

Imagine standing forever still, unable to act, to speak, to touch a reassuring hand. If you were released from such a fate, even for a while, wouldn't you hope to forget that in reality, you're only on a short leave of absence...from the Twilight Zone?”

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Boscov’s proved an interesting find in itself, if only because downtown department stores are a dying rarity in most cities. This one is growing—not dying at all—and it is one of a chain of 48. It began as a single dry goods store in Reading PA purchased by Solomon Boscov, a Russian immigrant who arrived in 1914 speaking only Yiddish. 26 Boscov stores are scattered throughout Pennsylvania—it’s first (1962) out-of-state store is this one here in Binghamton, just a few miles over the state line—with four floors, escalators at center, elevators on the side, adjacent to a four-story parking garage, so that you can exit on any level and walk straight to your car. Mirrors make the interior seem larger than it actually is.

Is Boscov’s the department store equivalent of Wegman’s, the family-owned supermarket chain from my home town, Rochester, which opened its 101st store in Brooklyn this week? I left my wife in the store while I walked around the downtown area to snap a few pictures for this post. When I returned, she was exactly where I would have imagined she would be—in the bargain nook on the 4th floor—the Auditorium, probably a preserved holdover from Fowler’s. “This place is like a mall in itself—it has everything!” she exclaimed. I left her there to stroll the floor, where the salesman mentioned previously tried to interest me in furniture. “I might buy a couch if you could deliver it to Rochester,” I responded.

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We fell into conversation about my visit to Binghamton. He knew about the Twilight Zone episode at his store, but he hadn’t seen my Archive map of Rod Serling destinations. He didn’t endorse our previous visit to the Cracker Barrel for lunch because each year the chains take about 2% from the business of the struggling Mom and Pop diners that he favors—he had been one of the Pops himself and now he is selling furniture at Boscov’s. So I told him about Dave back in Rochester from my season or three of carrying newspapers.

Newspaper carriers arrive at a ridiculously early hour to pick up and bag their papers for morning delivery. They do this in one of several large warehouses, and I got used to preparing my stock across the table from old Dave, who was preparing his. I lamented the morning that Wegman’s Chase Pitkin home repair store chain went down. Wegman’s had declared that they wished to focus on their core grocery business. The real reason, I said, was that they were steamrollered by the out-of-town corporate Home Depot’s and Lowe’s, and wasn’t that too bad. But Dave didn’t have a bit of sympathy for them. What goes around, comes around, he said. He had once been the Pop of a Mom and Pop hardware store, and Chase Pitkin had sent him packing—now here he was, in his 70s, delivering the morning paper. Karma might be a bitch for Chase-Pitkin, but it but it didn’t bother him even the slightest.

87 Court Street is the former home of Resnick’s Woman’s Apparel, which inspired the Twilight Zone episode “Where is Everybody?”

There is a fifth dimension beyond that which is known to man. It is a dimension as vast as space, and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, and it lies between the pit of man's fears, and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area that we call, The Twilight Zone.”

In this episode, a man in an Air Force uniform—he cannot recall why—enters a town, finds it completely deserted. As he wanders, he grows increasingly paranoid that he is being watched. His fears grow upon spotting the paperback on the spinning book rack—who set it spinning?— “The Last Man on Earth, Feb, 1959”—his time! Panic mounting, wildly running through the street, he hits a pedestrian call button and screams for help. The pedestrian call button turns out to be a panic button. Military personnel stop the experiment. He has actually been in an isolation booth, and they have been running tests to see if he can endure the long periods of isolation he will encounter on his upcoming space launch to the moon.

The barrier of loneliness: The palpable, desperate need of the human animal to be with his fellow man. Up there, up there in the vastness of space, in the void that is sky, up there is an enemy known as isolation. It sits there in the stars waiting, waiting with the patience of eons, forever waiting... in The Twilight Zone.”

There is no Resnick’s Woman’s Apparel anymore. It disappeared long ago, as though it, too, had been part of the experiment. The street-front building now houses university students.

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Housing students is a growth industry for Binghamton today. The students like to move off campus and into town—same as I did when I was in school. Binghamton University is growing, even though the Bundy Museum docent told me that only 10% of those who apply are admitted. Its prestige shot up recently when one of its professors was awarded a Nobel Prize in chemistry—highly unusual for a college in the state SUNY school system—it is a prize that generally goes to the most prestigious universities. Professor M Stanley Whittingham had, years prior, conducted research that led to the development of the lithium-ion battery. “I think it’s no question this will make more people know of the university and make people look up, ‘Where is Binghamton,’” he said at a press conference.

Professor M Stanley Whittingham, a brainy type, a man whose claim to recognition came and departed long ago. Some would call him a has-been, his deeds overlooked by time. A pedant who now teaches ordinary students at an ordinary college in an ordinary small town in upstate New York, the professor long ago resigned himself to a slow downward slide into obscurity. Impossible for such a forgotten man to receive the Nobel Prize, you say? Ordinarily yes. Unless that college happens to be located in the town that forever remains the birthplace of...the Twilight Zone.”

[Paragraphs in italics are the words of Mr. Serling, except for the last, which is mine.]

 

 

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At the Toledo Zoo

We told the border officer at the Ambassador Bridge, en route from Windsor to Detroit, that we had planned to go to the Detroit zoo, but we might go to the Toledo one instead because we had heard that it was better. He agreed that it was. He thought that because he was a member himself. The Detroit zoo was okay, he said, but it meant a lot of walking to see not that many animals.

These are not guys that are known for chit-chat. Upon being waved through, we headed straight for Toledo, though the bridge itself empties directly into Detroit.

The hour drive down, along I-75, was not pretty. I thought of some Vietnamese friends, who had yet to master the language, describing a certain picnic at which they had all sat on the ground, as “not beautiful.” This drive was also not beautiful. Detroit went bankrupt in 2013, long-ago dethroned as Emerald City of the automobile. It is a pretty gritty place today, though the downtown itself is vibrant and we will return someday to explore more thoroughly. I-75 itself was under heavy construction. A billboard whizzed by for the Detroit Pistons; only then did it occur to me: Of course! Pistons—what else would you name the team from the motor city?

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You can see Detroit from the Windsor shoreline, a narrow strip of park. It is very pretty and the GM building dominates. Peter Lynch once wrote that the nicest thing that he could say of General Motors was that it was a terrible company—bloated and inefficient, but that was long ago. No doubt it is firing on all cylinders now. Do not say that these stone figures became such when they fled the sinking town and disobediently looked back, as though fleeing Sodom. It is a cheap shot. Don’t go there. No. This is a statue of Canadian people doing something else.

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We had spent the night in Windsor because, from upstate New York heading to Detroit, you are better served crossing into Canada and traveling “atop” Lake Erie.

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Phone service dies, because we don’t have Verizon, and you have to drive those things they have there instead of miles, but the trip is shorter. We stayed at a Best Western—it was once called the Waterfront Hotel. The next morning in the elevator someone commented on how Justin Trudeau had also spent the night there.

Could it be? The Chrysler Theater was right next door—there is even a connecting passageway—and there had been a long line wrapping around the night before. I had gone out to investigate, but I assumed it was for a music concert, as the marquis suggested. Quite a few cops were there, too, but not that many—I mean, Trump would have shut down half the city. A protester there had been shouting that Trudeau was a racist, and though it made no sense then, afterwards I found out that some college photos of him in blackface (“face-darkening make-up,” a friendly news source said) had been discovered and published by those who didn’t like him. It occurred to me that protests are pretty much the same everywhere—just plug in a fresh set of faces and you are good to go in any land.

It turned out that he had not stayed overnight. That was just rumor encouraged by the guest having seen a SWAT team. He had just been there to give a campaign speech—he was in and out. Moreover, the relatively small police presence occasioned remarks afterwards of how nice they are in Canada, how just a few cops will do for a visit from the Chief of State—you really don’t need too many—and how even the terrorists, should they feel obliged to shoot up the place, are invariably polite and apologize for the inconvenience.

My wife and I were on the final leg of our Zoo tour. We had signed up as members to the Cincinnati zoo last year so as to get in at half price; the clincher had been when they told us that we could then get into other zoos at half price. We had planned to see about 20, but life gets in the way, and we only made four: Syracuse, Buffalo, Hershey, and now, Toledo. Even Rochester, closest to where we live, we did not get to.

We did not even need our membership at the Toledo Zoo—it was senior day—“Senior Safari”—and oldsters that we are beginning to resemble were admitted free! They were trucking them in, hauling them around in golf carts, and lining them up for vendors and agencies who would pitch services to them.

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It was all sponsored by the Office for the Aging. The old people didn’t look too healthy, many of them—old age is not kind—and one of them (who did look healthy) keeled over right behind us in line for no reason at all. He suffered no injuries, fortunately, except for pride. It was a splendid day weather-wise—sun, mid-seventies, with low humidity.

They offered seniors a special deal for lunch, just five dollars per head, so of course, my wife and I signed up. I absolutely refuse to wear the “Where’s My Senior Discount?” tee shirt that some nutty friend gave me a while back, but when a bargain falls right into your lap, of course you take it. So did hundreds of others—when I saw how long the line was, I began to regret it. But it moved quickly, and once inside, we were seated at round tables of ten—with tableclothes—and waiters placed identical meals of a hamburger and a few tiny side dishes before each old person.

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And then, lo and behold, the master of ceremonies, standing before the aquarium, introduced the Contours, that Mo-Town band of the 60s! I had seen them entering from the other side of the building and had not known who they were. There may have been close to 1,000 in attendance to hear these guys. Who would have thought it? See them here on-screen, but also in person away to the left in the connecting room. They only sang four or five songs. The topper was: “Do You Love Me?”—a 1962 hit that became a hit all over again from the 1988 movie “Dirty Dancing.”

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They are still the showmen they once were. One of them exclaimed: “There’s a lot of good-looking women here!” What was he smoking? Even local realtor Sam Morreale, extrovert like you’ve never seen an extrovert, who thrives on people-contact and has done several deals for family members—I would recommend him in a heartbeat—told me that he doesn’t go to class reunions anymore because “the women don’t look so good” (as though the men do). There may have been a few good-looking women there in Toledo, but it WAS senior day, after all. One band member introduced another—I wish I could remember the names—and observed that even after all these years—even with his store-bought teeth—even with his store-bought teeth, that he got from K-Mart, he can still “really shake ‘em down.”

I love the scene from “Dreamgirls,” code name for the Supremes, where Eddie Murphy croons some song nice and bland, so as to appeal to the white people, and breaks down mid-song. “I can’t do it,” he cries. He then lets out a shriek and launches into pure funk, at which point the all-black horn section exits the bleachers and parades single file past him, joyously blowing for all they are worth. Let’s face it—modern music doesn’t really get interesting until the black musicians get their hands on it.

The Toledo zoo is rated by the Ranker.com site as the seventh best zoo in the country. Is it just a coincidence that the #2 (Columbus) and # 3 (Cincinnati) zoos are also in Ohio? As good zoos do, it intertwines people pathways with animal quarters. The former get many viewing angles—see how you can look through this aquarium and see folks on the other side?

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The animals have varied terrain and relatively spacious quarters. Probably not as spacious as Detroit, which is still in the first half of the Ranker list—after all, if you have to walk a lot to see not that many animals, it means that the animals have more space. The American Zoo Association mandates 5000 square feet for every two wild animals. When I was a boy, zoos used to be jails for animals—they have come a long way. Still, that is hardly the space that they would have in the wild, and my brother (the one who cheats at Scrabble) doesn’t like zoos for that reason. They represent one segment of humanity protecting animals from another segment that would kill them off in one way or another. I don’t know how the animals might feel about that.

Toledo used to be one of those jails for animals—most zoos were. The former gorilla enclosure literally looks like a jail, but it is now a restaurant where people come to dine behind the bars. It opened in 1993–it is called “Carnivore Cafe.” As I panned my camera, so as not to be obvious that I was honing in on a couple of diners, the woman wasn’t fooled a bit, and she began waving even before I pointed toward her—how can people be so clever? Later, when I sat back there myself, my wife exclaimed that they still do have great apes back there—see what I have to put up with?

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These days the gorillas get some revenge for their forebears being jailed. They can soak visitors if the latter happen to be standing in the wrong spot and the former are quick enough.

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And the translucent mannequin simulating how the body reacts to venoms and stings, who in this case represents just an ordinary joe cleaning his house gutters, dies after disturbing a nest of wasps! I mean, they went out of their way to have him die—ordinarily he wouldn’t have, but this fellow had a specific allergy.

The New York zoos that we went to—Syracuse, Buffalo—and we know Rochester from before—are all down near the bottom of the Ranker list. They are well done—almost all zoos are improving—and reflect people dedicated to their care, but they are smaller. Even ZooAmerica in Hershey, Pennsylvania—with a name like that we figured it must be spectacular, but it actually meant that it contained, as a refuge zoo, only animals native to North or South America—one would never describe as “bad.” Sometimes less is more, and having defined their more modest goal, they go on to do more with it.

Most zoos undertake the mission to educate as to how to be better stewards of the planet. The aquarium building had photos—they are spotted only as you are close to the exit—of just how damaging human pollution is to marine life. Some birds will feed on small discarded plastic items, filling their stomachs and causing starvation when real food no longer fits, one sign informed. And the next one of the turtles speaks for itself:

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Another exhibit of the Cassowary bird even illustrated a Bible verse for me. The creature defecates thousands of seeds that sprout and serve to repopulate the rain forest in which it resides. That called to mind the derisive title given the apostle Paul by the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers, who wanted to know “what is it this chatterer is trying to say?” (Acts 17:18) Literally the word means “seed-picker” and it denotes a bird that picks up a seed here and poops it out there—it is not as though they held him in high esteem

Just as some other creature did something so amazing that I was overwhelmed with appreciation for God’s design, some evolutionist behind me exclaimed: “It seems almost a miracle that natural selection has resulted in these ingenious behaviors!” So I spun about and threw him into the lions den behind me, where he was instantly devoured, as the three Hebrew lads had not been. Look—I gave him a chance to prove survival of the fittest—don’t judge me. I admit that it was an overreaction, but I was tired of his type carrying on about how the Chinese steal intellectual property, whereas nobody steals intellectual property today more than scientists themselves. The way jet wings tip up at the extremities, the way they never used to? That comes from watching buzzards, eagles, and storks. It wasn’t the brainchild of any human, but of God. Fortunately for them, it was not patented, and God doesn’t begrudge them for copying it. But they have no right to pass it off as their own brilliant idea and not give credit where credit is due.

 

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Wandering N.Y. Route 80–The Prettiest Drive

The traveler just arrived at the whistle stop town asked what folks were like there. The geezer just sitting around responded by asking what they had been like where he had come from. “Aw, they were just great people! Friendly, warm, helpful,” the visitor replied. “I think you’re going to find people here are pretty much the same,” said the old guy.

Another visitor arrived on the next train and asked the same question—what were folks like here? As before, the geezer countered—what had they been like there? “Miserable. Just plain ugly. Backbiting. Hard to get along with.” “You know,” the geezer said, “I think you’re going to find folks here are pretty much the same.”

To set the story up—the moral of which is that people are to a large degree what you focus upon—the circuit overseer had prefaced a history of the locomotives. In the early days, they had to stop every 100 miles or so in order to refuel with wood for the tender and water to make steam. So towns sprung up about that distance apart.

It is true of many transportation modes. The Erie Canal, connecting Buffalo to Albany, triggered quick growth to several former villages in between, most notably, Rochester and Syracuse. Buffalo—at one time the third most populous city in the country—became so because it was chosen as the western terminal. Had the competing village of Black Rock won out instead, nobody would have heard of Buffalo.

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The New York State Thruway, its first section completed in 1954, connects these cities as well, though it skirts well south of Rochester. I can, as a boy, recall politicians of that town grumbling that, whereas Syracuse had five exits on the Thruway, Rochester had only two, and—well—it just wasn’t right. This was partly remedied with 490W extending from the city 20 miles to the west to connect to the big road, but even so, three is not five, and the more exits there are, the easier it is for commerce to take place.

The tolls on the mighty road were meant to be temporary, but the politicians got used to them, and they will no doubt exist until Armageddon. “Worth every penny!” I tell the toll-collector, which they always appreciate, though one in Geneva said: “It is not!” It appears that he will soon be out of a job, because the plan now is for cameras to scan license plates and access tolls with no human interaction at all, and the governor is making everyone in the state switch (for $25) to a new design of plate easily read.

Prior to the Thruway, U.S. route 20 was the primary east-west corridor in New York State. This road scoots well to the south of the Thruway cities, and connects ones that have not grown so quickly, or have even shrunk at being ignored by the big road—places like Lancaster, Geneva, Canandaigua, Auburn, Morrisville, Waterville, and Sharon Springs. It is the road we used to take, prior to the toll road, when visiting the region north of Poughkeepsie where my Dad’s people owned a dairy farm—years after everyone left their agrarian roots, we still referred to family reunions as “going down to the farm.”

Then there is N.Y Route 5, another east-west corridor, and this one does link—like the Thruway—the big cities of Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, Utica, and Albany, plus a new assortment of smaller towns. The big names I well remember as highway markers along the never-ending drive to and from the reunions, occasions for my young siblings and I to whine from the back of the station wagon: “How soon till we are there?” until my fed-up dad would again holler: “If you kids don’t stop crying back there, I’ll stop this car and give you something to cry about!” I thought that he was being mean then. I did not think of him then as a sage prophet for latter times, for sometimes that is exactly the answer that must be given.

All of these routes—from canal to Thruway to highway—are means of going in a straight line, from point A to B, or A to C via B, or A to D—and so forth. You take them if you want to get somewhere. But if you don’t care about getting somewhere—if you just want to meander, you take N.Y. Route 80, which runs from Lords Corners to Tully to Georgetown to Smyrna to Sherburne to New Berlin to Cooperstown to Nelliston. Never heard of these towns, you say? No, you haven’t—except for maybe Cooperstown because the baseball museum is there.

Why would anyone want to connect these towns with a N.Y numbered route? Your guess is as good as mine. These are not straight line towns. They are more like connect-the-dot towns. The route follows various waterways and stage coach turnpikes of long ago. As the crow flies, the east and west terminals are only about 80 miles apart, but the roadway must be at least twice that.

At times, it seems that the locals have stretched pretty hard to find history where perhaps not much of it actually occurred. Such is the case with a marker for the Beaver Meadow Hotel, which “provided an overnight rest stop for guests passing through the area” in its day. I mean, didn’t all hotels do that? But this is not a New York State marker, even though that is what it looks like. The state stopped funding markers in 1939, and it is left to the William G. Pomeroy Foundation to detail and commemorate community history of rural America. All is forgiven. It’s a good idea for a volunteer organization to recall what went down in this tiny locality or that, even if it would be silly for the state itself to do so. This also explained for me why so many New York historical signs—gold print on blue—are in deplorable shape. They don’t do that anymore, and it is left to someone else to notice and pick up the slack.

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Route 80 also takes you through Smyrna, New York, and that’s hardly nothing, is it? That is the town you must go through (unless you go the back way) to reach Wolf Mountain, where “Wolfman” and myself enjoyed a fine visit not too long ago. And at Rogers Environmental Education Center, not too far to the east, I learned through a series of posters that New York has a state bird (the bluebird, though it should be a robin—nobody ever sees bluebirds around here), a state flower, a state fish, a state insect, a state mammal, a state tree, and a state reptile. And no, the state snake is NOT that politician you don’t like. Nor is he any lawyer. Don’t even go there.

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Come to think of it, I have never actually driven the entire roadway, just different segments of it at different times. I think that I have never driven through the mightiest stops on the route, such as New Berlin, population 2700. It doesn’t mean that I won’t someday, but always there are bigger fish—though not the state fish—to fry. But what I have driven confirms what some touristy website stated—that it is among the prettiest drives in the state—winding through lush hills and picturesque villages. It is one for someone who is in no hurry to get anywhere.

 

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the ebook ‘I Don’t Know Why We Persecute Jehovah’s Witnesses—Searching for the Why’ (free).... and in the West, with the ebook ‘TrueTom vs the Apostates!’ (free)