Monday, October 26, 2009

Toto - I don't think we are in Kansas any more.

If you are ever in Lawrence, Kansas you MUST check out this barbecue place on 9th street, a nice, quiet little neighborhood, literally a couple of minutes off of the interstate. By far the BEST barbecue I have eaten since I moved to Indiana, with smoked meats served with an assortment of awesome sauces on the side. There'd be a picture but by the time I grabbed the camera there was nothing but empty plates and bones. Seriously if work takes me to Kansas city again I AM renting a car of my own to drive over there for dinner. It was THAT good.
I get through Kansas every few years. Driving out to see family West of there, as well as work that sometimes brings me and my colleagues into the state.
Wherever I am, be it for work or play, if I have time I will explore. As a pilot, I've overnighted in places as exhilarating as the Rockies, as surreal as the desert, and as desolate as a corn swept landscape. Yet even in the most innocuous of places, there are discoveries.

I had a couple days in Hutchinson a few years ago and went to the Cosmosphere. Yes that's right. A premiere Space Museum in Kansas. With a U.S. space artifact collection second only to the National Air and Space Museum and the largest collection of Russian space artifacts found outside of Moscow, the Cosmosphere's Hall of Space Museum is uniquely positioned to tell the story of the Space Race. In the middle of the plains you can actually touch capsules that went into space. Many of them look more like Frank Genry designs on crack. Or something my brother and I would have attempted to build with our erector set, giant tinker toy constructions, resembling bulky 1960's foil Christmas trees more than modern spacecraft, topped with antennas that could have been placed on top by someone,s drunken Uncle after a holiday evening of cookies and grog.

Yet I walked away in wonder, seeing it all and thinking that all of the things I built as a child and a teen, the weather radio, the rockets, could have become something like that, with no more imagination, simply more education. Museums are like that for me, a humanness of history that brushes you as you pass each display, clinging to you even after you leave. Guns, Germs and Steel as Jared Diamond coined the title of his Pulitzer Prize winning book; the genius, fixations and rage of humanity.

Some of it is sobering. Visit the Holocaust Museum in our nation's capital and you know, too well, the bromide of evil. The piles of shoes, obsessive compulsive logic of sick record keeping. Sit among the silent chairs, one for each life lost, at the Oklahoma City Memorial. You can't help but think that a good portion of our misfortunes arise, not from fate or ill health or the vagrancy of the winds, but from human rancor, fueled by innate stupidity, and those ever present justifications of the same, hell bent idealism and proselytizing mania for the sake of religious or political effigies.

Some are places in which you leave feeling as if the presence of those it immortalizes stand silently beside you as you solemnly take it all in. Such was the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum up in Whitefish Point. I had a flight up that way a number of times in a corporate jet, and while in Pellston, Michigan my copilot and I got a rental car and drove the short distance up there. It was well worth the drive, with a detailed display of sights and sound that chronicled the many wrecks due to the furies of that vast lake. But with respect to all the lives lost on the Great Lakes over the years, I especially wanted to see the display on the Edmund Fitzgerald, the most mysterious and haunting of all shipwreck tales heard around my beloved Great lakes.
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It's a story well told, in these regions, as much as the Titanic, and the strains of it's song, by Canadian folksinger Gordon Lightfoot, plays in my car stereo. The Edmund Fitzgerald was lost with her entire crew of 29 men on Lake Superior November 10, 1975, 17 miles north-northwest of Whitefish Point, Michigan. The Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society has conducted three underwater expeditions to the wreck, 1989, 1994, and 1995. With support of the crew members surviving families, the Fitzgerald's 200 lb. bronze bell was recovered by the Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society on July 4, 1995 with assistance of the National Geographic Society, Canadian Navy, Sony Corporation, and Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians. The bell is now on display in the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum as a memorial to her lost crew.

It was this bell I wanted to see. In looking at it, at the inscription of the names of the crew lost, it was personal. These weren't just numbers on a wall, or dates on a memorial, these were people living, these were people who like myself, loved the wind on their face, the draw of wild nature.

In looking at the artifacts of loss, the fascination comes from the step we take into connection. Strolling past the exhibits, pieces of wood and glass and rope, what we are looking for are familiar things, the small quarters where the crew gathered, the hall where the hungry and thirsty ate meat and beans and drank strong coffee. We know that when the ship sent down, there were people thinking and scheming, composing a letter to their families in their minds, the seas too rough to write; worrying, handling a task, dreaming of calm seas and the blue eyes of the one they loved. That knowledge, that thought, brought with it a chill, and a touch of familiarity. Like a hand from the vast waters touching my shoulder, what I left with was not a concern for the dead, for they are at peace now, but for the living, those people with me, now.

I suppose while on such flights around the country, and the multiple layovers we had, I could have done what others did, and simply had "fun". Laid on the beach for a brief hour or two before schedule dictated sleep was in order, or on a very long layover, go to the bar and sling back a beer and watch sports on TV. But those activities held little appeal for me as the world was mine to explore, in all it's goodness and bleak history and delight.

At the Museum of Natural History, it's the dinosaurs that brought in the children, they like to look at things that aren't their world. All of us are like children in that respect, pilots especially. We look through the window of the aircraft as if it's a doorway to another dimension, wild, tremendous landscape stretching farther than even the eagle could see, blue-green mountains reaching up from the vermillion shores of the high plains. We dash out into the skies, like kids released from school, dodging cloudbursts raining down unnamed canyons, looking down with a god's eyes onto the desert homes of the cliff dwellers, hundreds of houses built into stone before you were even born, abandoned thousands of years ago, close enough to touch. Such is the world we see, echoed in the halls that we can wander at the museums that await when we land.

This is why I visited such places as my aircraft took me around the country. Natural History, the History of Flight or Memorials honoring the dead, remembering the cruelties that brought them to that place, so that I don't forget, that man does not forget. That is why I strolled the halls and displays of vast buildings that encompass all of man's wanderings, earthbound, sea bound and airborne, paths both light and dark. For every journey I've made in this life there are some that had outcomes both joyous and bright, and others that during their course I saw things in my nature that were less than good. Times when I found darkness not only in the sky, but in myself.
Such it is with history, and the viewing of its pages, finding darkness not only in one's world but within oneself. It is at such time, when we are truly solo, truly adult, that we accept responsibility for a soul that survives in a world of such anomaly. You make good decisions based on the bad ones others have taken before you, or you, yourself will spiral down into the blackness.

In the Cosmophere in Kansas I reached out and touched a spaceship that had gone to the heavens, and the cold metal felt no different to my hand than the cold forged metal of a lost diving bell. As my hands warmed it, I realized that there are not absolute answers to all of the great questions. I can simply persist to live through them, pressing onward and up, making my life a worthwhile journey that soars into the light.

23 comments:

  1. If you are ever in Tucson, you need to go to the Pima Air Museum.

    I understand they have finished restoring a B-36. 6 turning and 4 burning is something every aviation buff needs to see, even if just parked on the ground.

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  2. Another place to try in Lawrence (if they are still open) is the YELLOW SUB. There were 2 of them, one up on campus and the other on 23rd and Iowa. The kids working in there all looked like hippies, but boy could they make a sub

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  3. Enjoy what life give us. I too am fortunate that my career takes me across this country and even on occasion beyond its borders. It has allowed me to visit the redwoods of California, to see the Rocky mountains, and visit many places I would never had gotten to experience.

    My own bittersweet favorite was in Ogden UT. There is a small USAF museum there. I stop in and was wandering through the plane on display. I saw B-52. "I used to work on them", I said to myself. Getting closer it was a B-52G, 'the same model I worked on". Standing next to it, I recognized the tail number, it literally was one I had worked on. Retired after many years of service sitting in a museum. I felt a little older then when I walked in.

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  4. In centuries past there were the bards who traveled the lands and told stories of adventure, romance, and mighty deeds. Today, we have our own bard(bardess?), who uses a keyboard instead of a lyre and tells tales that transport us with her on her journeys, both through life and geography.

    Thanks, M'Lady
    It's a privilage

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  5. I've shared this before, but the Mayor of "Orlampa" has a very nice collection of airplanes out at his facility which most people would drive right by without giving a second thought.

    http://www.fantasyofflight.com

    Any of your aviation-oriented readers should go if they find themselves within driving distance. Plan to spend the day and take the tram and worksop tours. If you love airplanes or complex machinery, the place and the people running the show are much more interesting than the nearby Mouse complex.

    BTW, we live in the next county so I can't offer any insights on the BBQ restaurant at the "Orlampa" freeway exit near the museum. Sorry.

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  6. Hutch is a wonderful place. I was amazed to see the actual Apollo 13 command module there. Oh yeah, and the SR71. I did not realize how big that plane was.

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  7. Yet another great post. I have had to pleasure to spend quite a bit of time at FT Leavenworth (Outside the walls) and always take time to explore the area. Having freinds in Topeka leads to fun adventures. In Lansing, about 2 miles from FT Leavenworth is one of the best used book stores I've ever been in. Stuffed full of old dusty tomes speaking of places and times distant.

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  8. Hi Brigid -
    This is a very entertaining post. It highlights your curiosity and your interest in some of the finer things. Recommendation:: Jack's Stack BBQ, 135th and Holmes or Arthur Bryant's BBQ, near 18th and Vine (near the Jazz Museum and Negro Leagues Baseball Museum). Both in Kansas City, Missouri, and both provide wonderful meals at reasonable prices. Thanks for the great postings. PS: This is Jason's Birthday. FYI. Best Wishes. Ron

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  9. The best BBQ around the KC area is Jack's Stack. There are four, I think, now around KC. KC is one of the top BBQ cities around the US. TX, TN, GA and others "think" they have good BBQ, but none comes close to KC.

    I've been to Biermer's BBQ, sometimes called Beemer's by the locals. It's good BBQ. But, it isn't the best in the area. IMNSHO, the best is Jack's Stack in Martin City on the far south side of KC.

    http://www.jackstackbbq.com/info.asp?ii=2&sid=&eid=&tid=

    Brigid, next time you're coming through, give us a holler and we'll take you to the best BBQ site.

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  10. Having had two daughters attend and gradute from KU I can 'almost' agree that Biemer's BBQ is the best. I say almost because if you follow I-35 west out of KC you will come, some 40 miles down the road, to a very small Kansas town named Willamsburg that is home to Guy and Mae's Tavern, THE VERY BEST BBQ in the region. With all due respect to Biemer's, and yes I have actually eaten there more than once, and it is very good, Guy and Mae's is hands down the best. If ever given the opportunity don'e forego it, you won't be sorry.

    I also concur that the Cosmosphere is a world class surprise. I'm about 90 minutes away from Hutch and when the girls were younger we would make the trip every two or three years just to see what had been added. I don't think we ever spent less than three hours perusing the exhibits and just wondering around. They added a SR-71 to the outside exhibit several years ago and it is awe inspiring. Many of the replica's made for the filming of Tom Hanks film Apollo 13were fabricated in Hutch using the actual componants as templates.

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  11. Beimers?? Seriously you were there?? I grew up in Larrytown...That place used to be Sandy's. then it morphed years ago into Bucky's, and recently became Beimers. If you want good 'Q', it's pretty good for Lawrence, but have you visited Gates in KCK yet? MMmm...good!

    I still have family in the area, so I go there a couple times a year.
    --Vic303

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  12. Brigid, I know exactly what you meant in your post on visiting the shipwreck museum at Whitefish Point. Talk about feeling the presence of those immortalized lost souls of the "Edmund Fitzgerald" I had a similar experience.

    I was in Sault Ste. Marie, a few years ago for some joint anti-terrorist training with the Coast Guard, Border Patrol, U.S. Customs and the OPP (Ontario Provincial Police) from Canada.

    While there, I took the opportunity to visit the "Valley Camp" ore freighter turned museum. In the hold of the ship they had an area dedicated to the "Edmund Fitzgerald." On display were two of the lifeboats from the Fitzgerald that washed ashore close by. Looking at the twisted and ripped apart hunks of aluminum with the ship's name stenciled on the side, I stood there slack jawed just staring at them. I was alone with the artifacts... no other tourists in sight.

    As I reached out and touched one of the lifeboats, I got a shiver through my spine and I noticed I was weeping. Although doubtful any crewmen even made it to the lifeboats, I felt their presence!

    Yes, I violated the sign which admonished people not to touch, but for me, as a professional rescuer, it was a spiritual moment and I felt compelled to touch that artifact. I bowed my head and said a small prayer.

    That was my first trip to the Great Lakes. The "Lakes" had a profound impact on me. I did not have the time to drive up to Whitefish Point, though I really wanted to. I vowed to return one day to take in more of what the Great Lakes has to offer.

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  13. I've been up to Whitefish Point. They did a fantastic job.

    I've always wanted to go to the Air Farce Museum in Dayton, seems like every time Iwant to, something comes up and I have to put it off until "next year". The Kalamazoo Aviation History Museum is very good as well. They also have an SR 71 and an F 14.

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  14. I've been to the OKC memorial, and a few other places, where I've felt that connection to those that have passed beyond. It's eerie, and comforting, all at the same time. I'd love to visit the Great Lakes site you described someday.

    Obscure road trip diversions are the BEST! Whether they are unexpected museums, great dining discoveries, or simply spots that affect you personally in some way.

    If I had my way, I'd never get on an interstate hiway again.

    Backroads Rule.

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  15. I can attest to Ron and Crusis said regarding "Jack Stack BBQ" being the best in Kansas City, although I am a little biased. Jack Fiorella the owner is my cousin.

    His dad, Russ opened the original Smoke Stack BBQ on old 71 hwy in 1957. I was weened on their Ribs & Baked Beans.

    Brigid, Jack Stack's baked beans are to die for! They are loaded with burnt ends and they smoke them in the "pit" below the briskets so the juices drip down into them.

    Russ's oldest son Jack took the family business to an all new level. He changed the name to Jack Stack to separate himself from his sisters who owned the original after uncle Russ died, and another sister owns one other under the original Smoke Stack name. The original one my uncle Russ started finally closed down a few years ago, but Jack now has 4 or 5 restaurants of his own in KC.

    Next time you make it to KC stop by one of them. You won't be disappointed! I'll even buy you dinner if you shoot me an email before you stop by.

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  16. I have had the honor of viewing the OKC Memorial. The little chairs
    make me want to hurt people and
    break things! (How can an American
    do this?!)

    I am second generation Airborne!
    and have the honor of being the
    step-father of a THIRD generation
    submariner.

    As usual, your words have power.
    Cosmolined

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  17. Ma'am:

    I apologize if I in any way infringed on your peace of mind.

    Thank You for letting me share your words for a brief time.

    Cosmolined.

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  18. Damnit....

    Assuming one of us said something that was not public knowledge, I must assume I'm now a
    Commie spy? I was a Mustang. I joined 23 June, 71. I was commissioned with the ARNG and made 1LT with Charlie Company, 5th Battalion, 19th SFGA. I made Captain as a result of AT with the S-2 shop of 5th Bn. 5th SF in '85 at Ft. Bragg, North Carolina.

    That should give the spooks enough info on me that I don't hear a knock on my door. Sorry Brigid.
    John L. Fann

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  19. Maybe someday I can get to the Cosmosphere. I've touched a Gemini capsule that went into space at the St. Louis Science Center; my kids weren't impressed, but I got an Obama level chill.

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  20. Y'know, I spent 9 winter in the Republic of Korea, and, as a former Wolverine, I still shiver every time someone says "Pelston." For a state in which a town called "Hell" freezes over annually, Pelston is infamous for ALWAYS having the coldest temp of the day.

    Last time I visited Whitefish Point/Laughing Whitefish Bay, there was no museum yet. My most memorable visit up that way was before the Fitzgerald went down, we were there at sundown and the no-see-ums almost carried us away.

    During a visit Up NOrth, detouring from a family reunion, Mrs. Drang remarked that "the UP is very pretty, it's like a flat Washington, I wouldn't mind retiring up here." I pointed out that we were on a two lane highway in which each shoulder was as wide as the entire highway, to have room to put the snow they plow. "See those tall red stakes? That's so the snow plow driver knows where the road is."

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  21. I'll have to try the BBQ there the next time I get to Lawrence, Dr. And thanks for saying something good about Kansas. So many run it down after driving through on I-70 or I-35 once or twice.

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  22. It's nice to see someone appreciating my home state!!! Where is that BBQ on 9th? I don't recall ever seeing it, but I haven't lived in Lawrence for 10 years. If you go there again, you have to try the Burrito King - also on 9th.

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