Sunday, March 11, 2018



In our quest to seek out the best fried chicken in the country, we rolled into Forrest City, Arkansas just in time for lunch. We're not food critics or gourmets, but we know fried chicken when we taste it.  We left Chicago early in the afternoon the day before, a frigid January 9th.  The temperature hovered just above zero.  We were happy to head South, anywhere South.

We've been to Forrest City once before, last year, and it was memorable enough to return.  The restaurant is the Old Sawmill Inn, located in a sprawling shopping center which had passed its prime 20 years ago.  From the looks of it, maybe it was a Cracker Barrel in its previously life.  It is located a block or two from Interstate 40, about 50 miles west of Memphis.

Forrest City is named for Confederate General Nathaniel Bedford Forrest who built a railroad depot there after the Civil War.  It you watched Forrest Gump, you would also know that General Forrest also founded the Ku Klux Klan and was the Grand Wizard , or whatever you call the top dog there.  There is no statue of him in Forrest City although there is still a 25 foot statue in Nashville on privately owned land.  That statue has been repeatedly defaced and shot at, but always repaired.  The statue of Forrest in Memphis was removed in December, 2017.

The lunch is served boo-fay style, with the juicy legs, thighs, breasts and wings piled high in a stainless steel pan.  Nearby, you can help yourself to mashed potatoes with delicious white chicken gravy.  Oh, they have other stuff on the buffet, but I wouldn't drive miles out of the way to eat it.

Several weeks later, on the way home, we ate a late lunch at the Dixie Truckers Home, a truck stop in McLean, Illinois, about 50 miles north of Springfield, on Interstate 55.  We hadn't eaten there since last August when we drove down to Red Bud, Illinois to view the solar eclipse.   Every time we drive to St. Louis or beyond, we make an effort to eat their world class fried chicken.

The best we ever had was about 25 years ago at a road house near Paducah, Kentucky, but we've never been able to find the place again. There is a website listing the best fried chicken in each of the 50 states, but the panel and I have our disagreements.  On our next road trip, we'll try to hit some of these restaurants.   In Illinois, the website likes Dell Rhea's Chicken Basket in Willowbrook, IL., southwest of Chicago.  We'll have to try it.

Our immediate objective was to drive to Del Rio, Texas, on the Mexican border  to visit my old college buddy, Ron.    He has a factory on the Mexican side, in Ciudad Acuna, and he gave us the grand tour.  We crossed the border a couple times and drove along the border wall, a high fence stretching for miles.  These are workingmen's cities, and there really aren't any decent restaurants in the area.   Del Rio was the home of Judge Roy Bean, the law West of the Pecos.  We visited his grave inside the Western frontier park devoted to his life and times.

On the way to Texas, we stayed in Hampton Inns--Marion, IL, Sulphur Springs, TX, Del Rio, and later Alpine, TX, Phoenix, AZ, Yuma, AZ.  Hampton Inns  are part of Hilton Hotels, and by our accumulating points, we can stay in a Waldorf Astoria for a few days, as we did a couple years ago in China.  Hampton Inns are nice; they serve warm cookies when you check in, and they give you bottles of water or chips and then a free breakfast the next morning. 

After leaving Del Rio our next objectives on the road were Phoenix, AZ, and then Los Angeles to meet our cruise ship to Hawaii.   I'll describe below some of the interesting places we visited on the way and back. 


Driving through the desert in California on the way home, we were running low on gas.  Gasoline is expensive in California, and we were trying to make it to Arizona or Nevada before we ran out.  We were about 20 miles to empty on the gas gauge, and there are not a lot of gas stations on that stretch of Interstate 10.  Finally, in Essex, CA, in the Mohave Desert, we saw a large sign advertising gas.  We exited and pulled into the station.  Regular gas was $4.99 per gallon, more than double the price in most of the other states we visited.  The deal was PAY FIRST INSIDE THE STATION.  They posted a big sign explaining that it cost a lot of money to bring gas out to this remote area, so don't complain.  Apparently many people thought they were being gouged and did complain.  Hence, the sign.  I bought 20 bucks worth--4 gallons, enough to get us to Nevada.  Even in Barstow, a fairly large town, the gas is well over 4 bucks a gallon.   The only place we saw in California with reasonable gas prices was on an Indian Reservation about 10 miles west of Palm Springs.  Apparently, the Indians are not subject to California taxes.    One other thing, Arco stations do not take credit cards, only debit cards or cash.    I don't use debit cards. 


On Old U.S. 66 in San Bernardino is a McDonald's museum which is not recognized by the McDonald's Corp.  The reason is that it was founded by Dick and Maurice (Mac) McDonald who, when they sold the company to Ray Kroc, neglected to include the original location in the deal.  This free museum is a historical treasure. 

The McDonald Bros. purchased this location in 1940 when they opened McDonald's Barbecue Restaurant which featured 20 female carhops and a menu serving barbecued ribs, beef and pork sandwiches.  Hamburgers were secondary, but after a few years, the brothers discovered that 80% of their sales were burgers and fries.   In 1948, they took a huge gamble and closed the barbecue joint and remodeled the kitchen to cook only hamburgers and fries.  They pioneered fast food with the "Speedy Service System".  They reopened December 12, 1948, serving 15 cent burgers and 10 cent fries.  It started slowly when customers drove up looking for the carhops, but eventually, the crowds returned and the store started doing a land office business.   They sold huge volumes of milkshakes to wash down the burgers.  That prompted the brothers to purchase Multi Mixer machines from Ray Kroc. 

A few days later, on the cruise ship, we saw the Michael Keaton movie, The Founder, and we came to the realization that each side was trying to screw the other.    In 1961, Kroc gave the brothers a handshake agreement that he would pay them 1% of the profits in perpetuity, a deal that would come to be worth billions and maybe even trillions.  Of course he didn't pay.  After the written contract was signed, Kroc discovered to his chagrin that the original location was not included.  Kroc made the brothers change the name of the restaurant.  It became the "Big M", a name without the same pizazz. The furious Kroc then opened up a McDonald's store down the block, specifically to put the McDonald brothers out of business.  The original building on the site was demolished in 1972, but concerned neighbors prevented the wreckers from tearing down the sign.

The museum today is owned by a guy named Albert Okura who purchased the structure at a foreclosure sale in 1998.  His office is in the same building.  Okura owns 25 Mexican chicken restaurants and also the town of Amboy, California, population 20 , in the desert on Old 66.

You can't miss the place--in front is the huge McDonald's sign built in 1948.  Over one million sold. 
Inside, you'll find the Multi Mixer sold by Ray Kroc to the brothers.  Hundreds of vintage photos and memorabilia make this a destination worth visiting.

An artist was painting a mural on the outside wall of the building.  He is a Mexican guy from the South Side of Chicago, and we talked about the old neighborhood.  The mural has been a work in progress for quite a few years, and many guest artists have weighed in.  The walls have cartoon characters like Archie and Jughead, the Simpsons, the Peanuts characters, Bugs Bunny, etc.  The cartoonists all know each other, and this artist is friends with them.

I bought a new t-shirt and wore it out of the store. 


About 6 miles south of Old Route 66 and Interstate 40 in Arizona is the meteor crater.  It is located about halfway between Flagstaff and Winslow, Arizona. We've visited it twice in the past, the last time about 20 years ago.  But recently they built a new museum next to it.  The museum includes the Astronauts Hall of Fame which lists, in chronological order, all the U.S. astronauts going back to the early 1960's.  Starting in 1964, the U.S. Geological Survey and NASA have conducted astronaut training in the crater, which resembles the moon topographically.  Scientists knew that  the moon was pockmarked with millions of craters from meteorites, asteroids and comet impacts.  They were interested in what materials would lay on and beneath the lunar surface.  When the astronauts landed on the moon, they could collect material on ejecta blankets similar to the area around the Meteor Crater.

The age of the crater is estimated at 50,000 years, and you wouldn't want to be standing there when the meteorite hit.  We're talking about a large iron-nickel meteorite about 150 feet across, weighing hundreds of thousands of tons, hurtling though space at 26,000 miles per hour.  Within seconds, it created a crater 700 feet deep and almost a mile across, ejecting millions of tons of rock (ejecta) all over the desert for miles around.  You can see the outcroppings to this day along the access road.

There are other smaller fragments scattered around the area.  These had split off when the meteorite passed through the atmosphere.  The meteorite itself does not exist--it was vaporized or melted from the heat of the impact.

The Native Americans in the area, of course, were familiar with the crater, but the first written report was made in 1871 by a guy named Franklin who was a scout for General Custer.  For years it was called "Franklin's Hole".  Nobody was sure what it was, and the chief geologist of the U.S. Geological Survey did some field work and concluded it was volcanic in origin. 

In 1902, Daniel Barringer, a Philadelphia mining engineer became interested in the site as a source of iron.  He became convinced that a meteorite was buried there.  He purchased the land containing the crater from the government.  He then spent the next 27 years digging, in a quest to find the giant iron meteorite.  He drilled down over 1300 feet to no avail.  The drill bit broke.  The project ran out of money, and they finally gave up that exploration in 1929.

The Barringer Family still owns the land  but negotiated a long term lease with a local rancher to manage the site to attract tourists and research scientists.  The rancher formed a corporation, Meteor Crater Enterprises, Inc. for that purpose.  Modern techniques have pinned down a fairly accurate age of the crater, 50,000 years.  Dr. Eugene Shoemaker, the former Chief of Astrogeology at the U.S. Geological Survey in Flagstaff, AZ. proved beyond any doubt that the crater was indeed the result of a giant impact event, and he calculated the size and speed of the object.    Dr. Shoemaker is a respected astronomer who has several comets named after him. 

We walked around on the rim, but didn't go down into the crater.  At my age, climbing back up a 700 foot wall is a very bad idea.   The crater is very beautiful in a surreal way, as the late afternoon shadows fell over the walls.    We inside to watch a movie called Impact! The Mystery of Meteor Crater, and we absorbed all we needed to know.   Then, after 20 years, I finally got my t-shirt. 


Dianne always wanted to take the Beverly Hills tour of the movie stars' homes, so we signed up for it.  We spent the night at the Best Western Hollywood which is an experience in itself.  The walls are festooned with movie posters and autographed photos of movie stars.  I got a nice selfie of me with Marilyn Monroe who still looks good at age 91.  Her large poster is on the wall of the elevator along with John Wayne and James Dean.   We ate dinner and then breakfast in the hotel coffee shop where many of the patrons look familiar, but I don't know who they are. 

The tour began behind Grauman's Chinese Theater in Hollywood.  It is next door to the Dolby Theater where the Academy Awards are held.   We rode in an open van up Mulholland Drive where we got a good view of the iconic Hollywood sign on the mountain.  The sign, built in 1923, originally read "Hollywoodland" which was a real estate development there.  In 1949, the last 4 letters were taken down by the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce to promote the city, not the real estate development.  The letters are 45 feet high and 31-39 feet wide.  It was originally built to last a couple of years, but by 1978, it had deteriorated and had to be restored to its former glory. 

The Walk of Fame starts in front of the Grauman's Chinese Theater and now consists of 2600 stars on the walkway, now stretching for several blocks.  New stars are being added periodically.  Many of the people honored I've never heard of.  The honorees come from the entertainment industry--the five categories are radio, television, movies, live performances and recording. 

To get a star with your name on it, you have to be nominated, and the sponsor must pay $40,000.   That weeds out schleppers like me.  The individual must be connected with the entertainment industry.   For some, the connection is pretty tenuous.  As you'll see, it doesn't have to be a real person.    The honoree is required to make a public appearance at the dedication.  Some stars don't want the obligation and choose not to comply.  For example, George Clooney, Clint Eastwood and Julia Roberts have declined to be so honored. 

Some people I wouldn't expect have stars, like Paderewski, Pavarotti, Mickey and Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck, two presidents, Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump, Governor Schwarzenegger, and Princess Grace (Kelly).  .  Lassie and Rin Tin Tin have stars and even Godzilla, but not King Kong (his creator has a star).    Thomas Edison is honored, but not Philo Farnsworth who invented television.  There are two Harrison Fords--one was a silent film actor.

A lot of people have two stars, one for radio and one for television.  Jack Benny and Tennessee Ernie Ford have three.  So does Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin  and about 30 others.  Heck, Gene Autry has five, one for each category. 

During the 2016 presidential campaign, some knucklehead defaced the Trump star with a  swastika, using a magic marker.  He drew it backwards which was not the German Nazi symbol but rather an ancient American Indian symbol.  I expect the perpetrator didn't know that.  It was cleaned off by the time I saw the Donald Trump star.  Prior to that, a guy named Otis who claimed to be an heir to the Otis Elevator Co. tried to remove the Trump star with a sledge hammer and pickaxe.   There are cameras all around, so they got pictures of him.  He didn't know that the star weighs about 400 pounds.  He was charged with a felony and got 3 years probation. 

Once the star is there they won't remove it.   So Bill Cosby's star is still there.  Same for Kevin Spacey.  Harvey Weinstein and O.J. Simpson weren't on there to begin with. 


Taliesin West, on the outskirts of Scottsdale, Arizona, was the winter home of the famed architect, Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959).    He purchased it in 1937 and lived there until his death.  It is the campus of the School of Architecture and the headquarters of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation.  The school awards Masters Degrees in architecture.  In the summer months, the school meets at Taliesin East, or rather just Taliesin, in Spring Green, Wisconsin.   We have visited both.

The Wright family was of Welsh descent, and they named the home after Taliesin, a musician, poet and priest in Welsh mythology. 

We took the guided tour of the house.  They have another tour of the outside grounds which covers 620 acres of desert, but we chose not to take that also.   Maybe next time.

The house was built in Wright style to blend in with the desert environment, using local rocks and other materials.  The site is a National Historic Landmark, and is on the list to maybe become a Unesco World Heritage Site.   It is maintained by the architecture students living there.  They do all the work and eat together in a communal life style. 

Wright was a feisty guy.  In the 1940's the government decided to install overhead power lines in the area which would be visible from the house.   Wright complained, on aesthetic grounds to no avail.  He went so far as to call President Truman to intervene.  That didn't work either, so Wright moved the entrance to the rear of the building. 

Wright's personal life was an example of truth being strange than fiction.  In social mores, he was about 75 years ahead of his time.  His first wife, Catherine, or Kitty, bore him 6 children until he deserted her in 1903.  He ran off with their neighbor Mamah Cheney.  Cheney's husband had hired Wright to design their house.  Wright saw Mrs. Cheney and said "Mamah Mia!"  She said "Mr. Wright is Mr. Right."  Shortly thereafter, the two departed for Europe to live in sin.  In those days, divorces were difficult to obtain.  Mrs. Cheney had to stay in Europe for two years before her husband would grant the divorce on the grounds of desertion.  Wright's wife was not impressed, and she never did grant him the divorce.

Then came the

fire.  In 1914, a male servant from Barbados, Julian Carlton, killed 7 people with an axe and burned down the living quarters of the Wisconsin home.  Among the victims were Mrs. Cheney and her two children.  Carlton tried to kill himself by drinking acid, but he lingered on for several weeks at the jail hospital.

Wright finally got his divorce in 1923, but was required to wait a year before marrying his mistress Miriam Noel.  That marriage failed within a year when he discovered that Noel was addicted to morphine.  Then came the Russian connection.

While still married to Noel, he met Olga Hinzenburg at a Petrograd Ballet performance in Chicago where she performed as a dancer.   Within a year, she and her daughter Svetlana moved in with Wright in Wisconsin, and in 1925 the couple had another daughter, Iovanna.  Meanwhile, in 1925, Taliesin burned down again, this time because of crossed wiring.  Wright had it re-built as Taliesin III. 

In 1926, Hinzenburg's ex-husband sought custody of his daughter, Svetlana.  He went to the authorities, and the cops arrested Wright and Hinzenburg for violating the Mann Act (transporting a minor across state lines for immoral purposes).  Remember, he was still married to Miriam Noel.  The charges were later dropped, Noel granted the divorce and Wright married Olga in 1928.  They remained married until his death.

Olga's daughter, Svetlana, married William Wesley Peters who lived at Taliesin and was later its director.  Unfortunately, she was killed in an auto accident in 1946.  Peters later married another Svetlana,  the only daughter of the Russian dictator Joseph Stalin.  Peters was Svetlana's fourth husband.  Her first lover got 10 years in a labor camp in Siberia.  Despite this, young men kept coming around to court her.    She married her first husband despite Stalin's disapproval.  Stalin refused to ever meet him, but at least the guy didn't wind up in Siberia.  Fortunately for the later husbands, Stalin died in 1952.

Svetlana No. 2 called herself Lana Peters and moved into the Taliesin Fellowship with Peters and their daughter Olga.  After awhile, communal living didn't agree with Svetlana 2.  Believe it or not, she detested the "communist" lifestyle at Taliesin and ultimately she and Olga left Peters, beginning their personal odyssey.   The two moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts, then to Russia, then back to her ancestral home in Tbilisi, Georgia (hint:  it's not near Atlanta), then to England and finally back to Wisconsin where Svetlana died in 2011.


Many of the people from our cruise took this opportunity to visit the Pearl Harbor memorials.  All of those excursions were cancelled earlier in the week when the politicians shut down the U.S. government, but they worked things out and the memorials opened again.   We have visited the memorial once before, so we didn't book an excursion.

We walked around Honolulu from the harbor to the government complex.  Honolulu is the capital of Hawaii.  The traditional capitol building is the Iolani Palace which is now a museum of Hawaiian history.  It was replaced as the capitol by the new, modernistic, capitol building in 1969, located next door.    The Iolani Palace is one of two Royal Palaces in the U.S.  The other is also in Hawaii, the Hulihe'e Palace in Kailua-Kona on the Big Island.   The iconic Iolani Palace was built in 1879 in American Florentine architecture.  Aside from being a museum of history, the building has a lot of history in itself.  The last Queen of Hawaii was imprisoned there in 1893 when the monarch was overthrown.  When the U.S. took over in 1898, the building became the state capitol.

In Hawaii, we explored museums and learned much about Hawaiian history.  The British explorer James Cook "discovered" the islands in 1778.  He named them the Sandwich Islands after his sponsor, John Montagu, the Earl of Sandwich.   Captain Cook got embroiled  in a dispute when the locals "borrowed" one of his boats, and got himself killed by the natives.  Several years later, the Hawaiians, led by King Kamehameha I, used European style weapons to unify the islands under one rule.  Up to that point, each island had its own king.  The islands became prosperous because of their
agriculture and strategic position in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.   


Our cruise visited Oahu, Maui, and Kauai.  Our last stop was Hilo, on the big island of Hawaii.  It is pronounced "hee-lo", not "high-low" like the grocery store.  We were whisked from the harbor in a van to the airport where each person was WEIGHED.  In a 7 person helicopter, they have to distribute the weight evenly.  Then a computer determines where each person will sit.  There is no first class.  If you weigh over 270, there is a $100 surcharge.  Fortunately, we were OK.  Two people sat next to the pilot in the front row, and 4 of us sat in the back row.  Dianne sat by the window, and I sat next to her.  The pilot was experienced.  He had flown combat HUEY's in Viet Nam. 

The chopper took off and flew over the vast lava fields at an altitude of less than 1000 feet.  I could clearly read the control dials on the dashboard.  Essentially, the entire island is lava fields, but the recent ones are more pronounced because they are not covered with vegetation.  We flew over the National Park.  We had signed up for the chopper ride because we had concerns whether the  government would shut down the park after the experience on Oahu.   By now, it was, of course, open. 

We flew in low over the active Kilauea Volcano where the lava in the crater glowed bright orange.  The chopper came in at a 45 degree angle to the ground.   It was scary, but exhilerating at the same time. 

The big island of Hawaii is the youngest of the Hawaiian Islands and the only one with active volcanoes.   The other islands are also volcanic,  but due to drift of the Earth's mantle, are no longer sitting over the hotspot in the Earth's crust.  The oldest is Kure Atoll, 1500 miles to the Northwest.  Mauna Loa volcano is considered the  tallest mountain on Earth when measured from the ocean floor to the peak.  The mountain is several thousand feet higher than Mount Everest. 

Then there is Loihi, an active volcano about 22 miles Southeast of the big island of Hawaii  It has been erupting fairly constantly for about 400,000 years, and it causes swarms of earthquakes which are felt on the big island.   The summit of Loihi is 10,000 feet above the sea floor but 3200 feet below the level of the ocean.  In another hundred thousand years or so, it will emerge as another Hawaiian island. 

Loihi is being closely studied by scientists worldwide  An amazing discovery is that the superhot vents (over 200C) of the volcano, 4000 feet below the surface, are the home to millions of microorganisms, especially iron oxidizing bacteria.  Scientists are researching these archaea extremophiles to determine if any lessons can be drawn.


After our helicopter ride, we leafed through the Chamber of Commerce literature in Hilo.   We came upon the Pacific Tsunami Museum. We found that Hilo gets inundated by a tsunami about every 10 years on the average.  The city was completely destroyed in 1946.  They experienced another biggie in 1964 when a magnitude 9 earthquake hit Alaska.  The same quake caused a tsunami in Crescent City, California which we visited several years ago. 

We used to call them "tidal waves", but they have nothing to do with the tides.  Scientists decided to adopt the Japanese name "tsunami" because Japan gets hit by them quite often.  The word means "harbor wave" in Japanese. 

The museum had exhibits and photographs of each of the many tsunamis that leveled Hilo over the years.  In every case, they were caused by earthquakes or volcanic eruptions thousands of miles away.  A 9.6 magnitude in Chile in 1960 caused an 80 foot wave in Hilo, 10,000 miles away.  These walls of water move across the ocean at incredible speeds, up to 600 miles per hour. 

Ships can sail through them on the open sea without incident.   The waves slow down as they approach the shoreline,  but they build up in height.  The waves level everything in sight and kill thousands of people who cannot get to high ground in time.    Tsunamis are deceptive.  Often, up to a half hour before the wave hits, the water on the coast draws back for miles.   Curious people come out to view this, and then they get swept away when the water comes back.  Also deceptive is that tsunamis come in several waves, minutes apart.  Often, the later wave is the most destructive.

Earthquakes and volcanic eruptions are the most common causes of tsunamis, but there can be other causes also.  For example a meteorite hitting the ocean can cause a tsunami.  If one were to hit the Atlantic Ocean, New York, Miami or Boston could be inundated under a 100 foot wall of water.  That did happen in Lisbon, Portugal in 1755 due to an underwater earthquake.  The highest recorded tsunami occurred in 1958 in Lituya Bay, Alaska--a 1700 foot wall of water.  It was caused by a landslide.  Only two people were killed in this thinly populated area. 

The Indonesian tsunami of 2004 was caused by a 9 magnitude earthquake.  A section of the seafloor the size of California suddenly lifted 30 feet, displacing enough water to kill 280,000 people, many of them Western tourists in seaside resorts. 


In the waters near Maui, we took a catamaran ride to go whale watching. Humpback whales migrate between Hawaii and Alaska.  The best time to view them in Hawaii is January and February when we were there.  It was mating and calving season, and there were lots of whales.  Although they are considered endangered, there are an estimated 10,000 whales in the Hawaiian Islands.  The whales are as big as the boat--they are 45 feet long and can weigh 50 tons.  They are difficult to photograph because you don't know when they will surface.  A whale will surface, and by the time you can focus the camera, the whale dives under water again.   Maybe the best way is to take a video of an area and hope a whale emerges.  


If you always wanted to know where all the garbage in the world turns up, look no further than the gyre in the middle of the Pacific Ocean where the currents converge.   The result is a garbage patch larger than Texas, and maybe larger than the Continental United States.  It is difficult to measure precisely because most of it is composed of small plastic particles that break down to smaller and smaller pieces and wind up eaten by fish and other marine life, particularly sea turtles and albatrosses.  On the Midway Atoll, about 20 tons of plastic debris wash up on shore each year and significant amounts are eaten by the birds. 

Because the particles are small, the garbage patch is difficult to detect by aircraft or satellite.  If you are sailing through it like we were, you might not realize it.   There are no islands of trash--it is more like a soup with plastic particles.

The Pacific garbage patch (gyre) is not the only one in the world's oceans.  You also have them in the Atlantic and Indian Oceans.  The bottom lie is you probably don't want to eat sea turtles or albatrosses.  And think about that when you throw out the 2 liter plastic bottle of Coke.