Pork ribs to die for.

Juice and sauce mingle as one.

Apply the moist towelettes!


We visited the William J Clinton Library located in Little Rock, Arkansas on the advice of a friend. It turned out to be a moving experience. During Clinton’s time in office I was a  Rush Limbaugh fan. A ditto head. At that time I wasn’t focused on his achievements as much as I was on his scandals.  

When I looked over the list of his accomplishments it was a pretty impressive list. Many of them consisted of empowering people and working together with world leaders.  The further I explored the library,  the more I realized that my vision of America looked a lot like President Clinton. I regret that I was checked out while he was in power.

At one end of the library there was a short fifteen video of President Clinton refecting on the past and looking to the future. When the lights came up I was crying. Not teary eyed. Crying.  

Here is a man who is still working to better people’s lives. I wish we could say that about the present administration.

On our last full day in Memphis we drove across the border into Oxford, Mississippi . It’s the seat of Lafayette county. Founded in 1837 it was named after the British University in the city of Oxford, England. They hoped the state university could be located there, which it was. It is referred to as Ole Miss and is ranked sixth in the nation of college towns. As we walked around, the town square it was lined with trendy shops and restaurants as well as a fair amount of shoppers milling around.

During the Civil War Grant and Sherman invaded Oxford. Andrew Jackson burned down all the buildings in the town square. Reconstruction was slow. During this time African Americans started moving from farms into towns. They founded a district they called Freedmen Town. Even dealing with discrimination, the African American residents exercised their rights as citizens. The hindrance was that in 1890 most African Americans were disenfranchised from voting by the Mississippi State Constitution.

During the Civil Rights Movement, of 1962, Oxford gained national attention with the Ole Miss riot. State officials including the Governor prevented James Meredith from enrolling at the University of Mississippi. After back channel discussions with JFK, they came up with a work around.  But thousand came into town as armed volunteers showed up at Oxford. That evening cars were burned, federal marshals were pelted with rocks, bricks, and small arms fire. There were three thousand segregationists. Order was restored with the help of the Mississippi National Guard.

In 1966 James Meredith, started marching from Memphis, Tennessee to Jackson, Mississippi on his own.  A couple days into the walk he was sent to the hospital from a sniper bullet. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Stokley Carmichael arrived later to complete the march on James’ behalf. James joined them for the last few days.

On September 26, 2008 the University of Mississippi  hosted their first presidential debate.  It was a debate between John McCain and Barack Obama. It was moderated by Jim Lehrer, and focused on foreign policy and national security.

I was struck by how far we have progressed, and realized how far we have to go. What I saw was a sleepy square that was doing great retail business. Reading about the riot felt like it could be the next day’s news. We move ahead with fits and starts, hopefully more starts than fits.

It had been a hefty drive from Plymouth MN to Memphis TN. We were there to spend the weekend with our daughter. As a younger man I could order my bladder to zip it and knock off 300 miles. Now it dictates how long I can go between rest stops on a cup of water.

Needless to say it was a longer trip than planned. Pulling up to our daughter’s townhouse, I was tired and could easily have been talked into a nap.

Instead we checked into our hotel room. The bed in the room called to me as well. I resisted and soon we were heading out into the Memphis afternoon, ending up on Beale Street in the evening.

Walking down Beale street we were assaulted by a cacophony of musical noise from competing establishments. Not really wanting to pay a cover charge we wandered down the the street. My daughter found The New King Palace.

The venue was a single African-American man around seventy, dressed in all black and topped with a pork pie hat. He went by the moniker DLB. We sat in the front row and as the wait staff directed us to the tables, there was no request of a cover charge.

DLB played an 8 stringed guitar and operated a bank of foot pedal sound effects. One of his more intriguing boxes made it sound like he had two or three backup singers accompanying him. His music was a combination of soul, blues, and jazz, smooth and mellow riffs.
He sang songs he wrote as well as the good old oldies. To our left were seven African-American women. They were quietly talking and giggling, having a great time.

In his soft jazzy voice DLB announced that he was going to play one of the sweetest love songs he knew. “Let’s Stay Together”, by Al Green. He slid into the song, and the women could not sit still. They sang along. They swayed to the music and two followed the spirit within, stood and danced between the tables. One was a little less spirited than the other but they both danced.

I am glad I didn’t nap. I would have missed the Spirit at the New King Palace. And DLB. That would have been a loss.

Last weekend my wife and I spent the night in Lansboro Minnesota. My wife heard that it was a cute little town, with a number of cute shops. We had purchased tickets for a play at the local theatre. The show for the evening was “Steel Magnolias.” We plotted out where we were going to eat. We found a place that had a picture of a barbeque burger on the ad. That is exactly what my wife was craving. The Old Barn Resort was in the town of Preston, about 12 minutes from Lanesboro.

With help and guidance from Siri, we set out for dinner. It wasn’t long before we were on dirt roads. Some of the gravel road was smooth, other parts were rough. My Kia Soul managed the miles. While it looked like we were way off course the turns looked to be correct. The restaurant was also a golf course. We went from corn fields to dense foliage. There was nothing that resembled a golf course.

And then there was. With amazement we followed the gravel road, leading us to the club house. There was one sign that gave us pause.”Bridge closed.” It was the end of the road.  There were no instructions as to where to go. We back tracked our route, reminded of every bone jarring divot. There were several rabbit trails we drove down, and had to retrace our steps.  Siri was in and out of service. At times we felt abandoned and orphaned.

 There were trees and corn,  nothing that resembled a golf course, until we were driving along a golfing green. We followed the road until we came to the parking area. At the far side of the lot was a blocked thoroughfare the other side of the bridge we could not pass. 

All told we went six to nine dusty miles out of our way for dinner, but my wife, who is kind of a burger aficionado proclaimed the BarBQue burger exceptional.

Several years ago I was listening to a book review on the radio. In passing it documented a not so well known part of our history. German Prisoners of War in the Midwest. One such town was Algona, located in the  north west quadrant of Iowa. 

There is a museum in town that provided information about the activities occurring in 1943, as well as World War 2. In 1943 the fighting was changing in favor of the Allied forces. There was an increased need for the US to house prisoners. Countries in Europe were turning away the influx of captured soldiers. The US made the decision to house German captured troops in the US . Thousands of POWs were  shipped to the Midwest, where they sat out the war.                                                                

POW camp Algona was a main camp, and oversaw 34 branch camps, spread out over four states. Some of  branch camps were located in Moorhead, Owatonna, New Ulm, and 31 others. The camps were built quickly and when they were done, they were deconstructed just as fast. The camp in Algona was built in 1943 and torn down in 1947.  It became the National Guard Armory, and a municipal airport.

 While the prisoners were there they lent themselves to the industry of the town. The POWs cleared land, detastled corn, and eviserated chickens. They were a great help to the community. Not only were they involved in physical labor, many of them were gifted artists, musicians, and wood carvers. Some of the prisoners carved a nativity, 60 pieces hand carved.   To this day it is cared for by the First United Methodist  church.

Many of the guards for the camp were deemed unfit for oversea service.  There were numerous escape attempts. Most returned to camp within a few days. One can only conjecture the reason why they came back.

“What is there to do in Iowa?”

There were a lot of predictions about the presence of Northern Lights last night.  To see them has been a desire of mine. 

The first attempt was a number of years ago.  News outlets promised a good showing. My adventure loving daughter asked to ride along. She had recently been diagnosed with Cronhs disease and was so weak, the best she could do was curl up in a blanket on the passenger’s seat. We had a choice of heading up to Milaca or over to Alexandria. We made the choice to go to Milaca. It was the wrong choice. The lights turned on in Alexandria and were a no show in Milaca.  We started out about 7 pm and didn’t return till 3am. Much of the time she slept. I look back on that night with tender fondness.

The second time was not a memorable experience. My wife doesn’t remember it at all, and what I remembered was that I felt bad that she was along for the ride when I had no clue where I was going. Yet, she stuck with me even in my confusion.

When we got to the lake, the scene was idyllic until we stepped outside. We were met by a reception committee of blood suckers. Frogs near the  shore called out with sounds like jaws harps. A few cars came and went. We were there from 9pm to 11:30 and did not see any Aurora Borealis like lights in the sky. We got home 12:30 and both agreed that we had made the right choice being closer to home.

What does it matter that I have not found the Northern Lights? Maybe I’ll find them and maybe I won’t. What is crucial is that we have been on a journey. On a journey, there is no guaranteed outcome. You can’t know what you will discover.

Ultimately the question I need to ask myself is, did I journey well?  Did I journey well  with my debilitated but determined daughter? Did I journey well with my kind hearted wife, encouraging me to find my dreams? Did I journey well yesterday as we chose adventure over frustration?

Maybe someday I will find the lights. But it will not diminish my sense of wonder of those I travel with. 

Superior is the other side of the channel from Duluth, as well as the city at the top of the Minnesota and Wisconsin border.  Up from Duluth on Hwy 2, we crossed a bridge that soared high above the back channels of the Duluth Harbor, and then landing us back down onto Harbor View Road.  We were looking for a restaurant called “The Anchor Bar.” The roads were all torn up and our GPS was sketchy.

I have to be honest, the outside was not what you would consider a 5 star dining experience. There were multiple types of siding on the wall, and we parked in weeds growing up through a gravel parking lot.  A plain sign on the front of the building identified it as the correct place.It was dark inside. Lining the walls was paraphernalia from boating and fishing. As we had been on the road for a few hours, B and I needed to use the bathrooms. I didn’t see the interior of the women’s, but the men’s was the size of two airline lavatories, squeezed together.  

We located the person we had come to see in the hall outside of the bathroom. It was my wife’s childhood neighbor and friend (CF). She and her husband are dairy farmers in Ashland Wisconsin, which is a distance from where we live. Whenever B would document our vacation trip along the north shore, CF would see it and contact us to encourage us to meet her in Duluth/Superior. This last time we set up a time to meet as we passed through Duluth. She was as good as her word. She drove the one and a half hours to do lunch with us.

We decided to meet out on the deck. It would be lighter and not so noisy.  The food there was wonderfully inexpensive and B pronounced the hamburgers there, some of the best she has ever tasted. Our bill for two people was $9. Pretty amazing.

B, a retired senior management  and CF, a dairy farmer, spoke of different career paths. But, when they got to reminiscing about the fates of the people they knew, differences melted away.  They were who they had always been, good neighbors and good friends. It felt affirming to realize that time had changed in some areas, but also their willingness to go out of their way to validate their bond. And we found a local burger joint to boot.


We drove through the mountains on a narrow two lane road. The long ride from Memphis had placed us in the Smokey mountains at dusk and then night. We came into Bryson City and after finding a room for the night, went out for Mexican food. The whole mountain town is built on the sides of ridges. Driving up several switch backs, we were really high above the road we had come in on.  We were here to ride on Great Smokey Mountain Railroad in the morning.

The train left the station at precisely at 10:30 am. We were comfortly seated in a climate controlled car with a meal served on the way. Shortly after leaving the station, a banjo player and guitar player entertained us with some blue grass.

Then there was Tim. He billed himself as a story teller and a mountain man. He talked about how many mountain peaks he had climbed. He had white hair and a white beard,  that would have made Santa lust. His voice was that of a prophet. He roamed from car to car keeping the passengers amused. One rant was passionate about ginseng and how greedy people are stripping and depleting the forest of of such a powerful root.

The train stopped for an hour break at a park consisting of several restaurants, and a couple of wilderness outfitters. One hour later the whistle sounded and we all gathered for the return trip.  At 3pm the train arrived back at the station and all passengers got off the train and funneled into a gift store.

As I was walking to retrieve my car, I saw Tim one last time. He was sitting in front of a storefront with the name, “Storytelling Center” sign behind him. I nodded and he nodded in return. Later I looked him up online. He is a man who is on a mission to keep alive the culture of the people of the Appalachia. He is located in the small mountain town of Bryson City and he works to make the world a better place. On the train he told stories with passion and a deep love for the mountains and the people there.  He is a teacher, working to create grea
te understanding with every person he meets. What he is working on in is to make the world a better place one person at a time. So he hitched a ride on a tourist train and shared what he knew with people he didn’t know and created deeper understanding of the world we live in. I doubt I will ever be able to see ginseng again without seeing the fiery and wounded eyes of the story teller talking about the cost of greed.

Our daughter graduated from college today, from Concordia Moorhead. What an achievement! Her brothers, her sister, and their two kids. We drove into Fargo to find a place to celebrate. The first place we came to was an Irish pub theme to it. We all sat do
wn and then were informed that no one under 21 could be in the pub. Management refused to serve our party because we had a 3 year old and a 1 year old. The pub wasn’t even that full.

We left, frustrated but ready to find someplace else. Which we did. Turns out that it is the company you keep more than the place itself that makes for a good time.