Sunday, August 31, 2008

weekend time out


I took a deep breath and realized how long it had been since my last one. Yesterday, for a quick change of pace, I escaped our full house for a drive through typical traffic congestion out into the quieter countryside in my little red convertible. Just driving along on narrower roads less congested by the hurry of urban life, the wind streaming through my hair, the sun warm and comfortable on my skin proved a great tonic. Lots of trees, green rolling valleys, a steel bridge or two to cross, nowhere in particular to go, happy to be enjoying the view. Remember the post-war American dream, when new highways and cars combined to allow us to just go for the sake of it?

Did you know that the first coast-to-coast car race was in 1903? Cars were still an individually-handmade novelty then, and despite our westward-ho folklore, most Americans had still never ventured further from home than a horse could comfortably travel in one day (twelve miles). A young Boston doctor, Dr Horatio Nelson Jackson (what a name!), vacationing in the "young wild city" of San Francisco a couple years before the 1906 earthquake, became so enamored of a custom-built Winton roadster that he impulsively made a $50 wager that he could drive it cross-country to NYC in 3 months.

Nobody believed him. He set out anyway. As publicity for this stunt grew with his incredible trials and successes, two grand custom car companies decided to join in, each sponsoring a competitive car and team, and make it a race. All 3 cars dealt with a phenomenal lack of roads, often just dirt tracks and old trails, in most of the country outside city limits. They had to plan much of their routes to coordinate with Pony Express and train depots, especially relying on trains to bring them the replacement car parts they regularly needed and often using the railroad beds as roads. But in true American underdog fashion, the doctor, his bulldog Bud, and his bicyclist-turned-mechanic co-driver arrived in NYC first, greeted by a ticker tape parade. Happy with his marvelous adventure, Jackson declined to collect on his bet. But his little-known story turned into a recent Ken Burns documentary well worth seeing, especially if you still love the freedom of a drive out of the city into what's left of the magnificent American landscape.

Right after the Labor Day weekend, I'm off again, flying to Phoenix for Creative Escape 2008. A big part of the fun will be visiting with my friend Carol, who will return to CE Friday night as part of the alumnae reunion class. Downtown Phoenix has just had one of its monsoon storms, thundering through at abut 85+ mph Thursday night, destroying the ASU Devil Dome, toppling trees and a downtown statue and, most importantly, apparently doing some roof damage to Melrose Vintage, one of the stores I'm hoping to visit before classes start and where another friend Debby is teaching next weekend. Hope the sunny weather prediction (with temperatures in the low 100's) helps everyone get restored to normal.

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