Three things recently have been unexpected honors. I’m not sure if that’s the right word — “honors” — but “acknowledgements” seems too cold, “tributes” seems like I’m dead, and “gifts” isn’t exactly right either. These are three nice things that people have done out of a sense of fun and the goodness of their hearts, and I just want to turn the gestures around and say Thanks to everybody behind these “honors.”
ONE: On Sunday September 13, I sat for several hours at a table in WQED’s Studio A and signed DVD copies of several of my Pittsburgh programs that were on sale ($10 each, a really good price) as part of the WQED Flea Market event. The Flea Market was Saturday and Sunday, but Saturday was the big day: lots of bargains, lots of people, lots of sales. (The sale did NOT include copies of our PBS program called A Flea Market Documentary.)
Anyway, I was there Sunday from noon till about 4 or 4:30. But early on, probably before 1 o’clock, two snazzy young people, hipsters you might say, came up to my table, and they just stood there coyly, smiling, for a moment till I realized they were wearing shirts with my picture on them.
The shirts said, “Sebak Is The New Black.” a silly play on the fashion cliché about “Red Is The New Black” or “Green Is The New Black.” I laughed. This cool couple introduced themselves as Autumn Leigh and Ryan Hadbavny, and Ryan had designed the groovy graphics. We took pictures and some of my WQED colleagues said they wanted to order one of the screened shirts.
I later became Facebook friends with Autumn and Ryan, and you can learn about the design & T-shirt company (and more) that Ryan is starting called “These Pistons Give Life.” Looks and sounds great.
TWO: Several months ago, I was asked to be the master of ceremonies at the gala opening of the new Performing Arts Center at Seton Hill University in Greensburg, PA, and I said yes. Back in 2007, I got to give the commencement speech there on campus, they presented me with an honorary degree (!) and so I was happy to come back and do something else to help my friends at Seton Hill. (They had also put me on the cover of the Fall/Winter 2007 issue of their Forward magazine.) Anyway, part of this new assignment was a pre-event visit to the new building to get me acquainted with the place before the craziness of the opening night party. The Performing Arts Center is an impressive structure with a central auditorium, a smaller theater and lots of rehearsal and performance spaces for students of music, theater, and related fields. It’s already nicknamed SHUPAC for Seton Hill University Performing Arts Center.
So on this prep day, Seton Hill mastermind and event planner Molly Robb Shimko and friends from the university took me out to lunch to talk about their expectations (and their secret plotting to have an unexpected appearance by Captain Jack Sparrow — or a reasonable facsimile — to surprise Seton Hill president Joanne Boyle.) They told me that Joanne Boyle really liked the first Pirates Of The Caribbean movie a lot and had even quoted Johnny Depp’s line at the end of the movie about “Bring me that horizon” several times. OK. I was skeptical but I said I’d do whatever they wanted. And I got a private tour of the building.
In the main auditorium, there are small brass plaques on the back of the seats, bought by various supporters of the university and this SHUPAC. I was surprised when someone (maybe Molly?) told me that one of the plaques was in my name, a gift from the Class of 2007 because I gave their commencement speech. I was honored and delighted to be so remembered. I took a picture with my iPhone. It’s not great, but you get the idea.
(By the way, on Thursday, September 17, I think the gala opening ceremony went off beautifully. The surprise visit of Captain Jack Sparrow worked perfectly. Joanne Boyle hadn’t suspected anything, and when Nathan May, the Seton Hill student who played Johnny Depp/Captain Jack, mumbled and bumbled his way through a list of thank-you’s, I thought it was a great touch on a brilliant evening.)
And finally, honor number THREE:
If you saw my recent Pittsburgh History Series program called “Right Beside The River,” you may remember that the first three stories in the show were all in West Virginia, in the towns of Moundsville and Glen Dale.
We covered the ancient Grave Creek Mound, the Official Marx Toy Museum and the fascinating old farmhouse known as the Cockayne House, and all the people involved at those three locations were so nice and so appreciative of the attention that I feel bad we hadn’t wandered that way before now. (That’s me above with Mound curator Scott Speedy.)
After the show aired, my shooting and editing teams and I were invited to a sort of thank-you party and special screening of the show in Grand Vue Park near Moundsville on Thursday night, August 27. (Above is chief instigator and organizer Nila Chaddock, her daughter Leslie, me and Nila’s son Josh.)
The traffic and construction along I-70 made getting there an adventure, but it was a really great party, and we were knocked out again by the kindness and excitement shown by these West Virginians. We got all sorts of wonderful gifts, including a generous check from the law firm of Gold, Khourey and Turak, our extraordinary hosts for this evening. It would be hard to say enough thanks for all the appreciation shown by these neighbors of ours. (That’s Jonathan Turak shaking my hand in the picture.)
But the most amazing part of the evening was when Francis and Jason Turner, father and son from the Marx Toy Museum, gave me the mint condition Flintstones Play Set that I had made such a fuss over when we shot there. They had the Flinstones’ world all set up, concealed under a big cardboard box, and then the box was lifted and I was amazed. Thrilled. Touched. I had one of these sets when I was a kid.
My Aunt Mary gave it to me for Christmas one year and I think the little Fred and Barney, Wilma and Betty and friends were scattered over the years, showing up in the boxes of other toys, games and such. I mean it was just one of those things that gradually went away without a ceremony or a proper goodbye.
But seeing the whole set again was a revelation. The plastic Bedrock mat, all the houses and stores and the little gas station, the characters, the cars, all these things were so familiar, so loved and so instantly MINE again. They were things burned into my memory, my imagination, and it was comforting (?), reassuring maybe, just good to see them all again. (This set was so perfectly preserved that it included the delicate green plastic TV antennas that went on top of all the plastic/stone houses.)
I think this honor from the Official Marx Toy Museum was one of the great gifts of my life. I was amazed and honored and not worthy. (In the picture below, there’s Jason and Francis Turner from the Official Marx Toy Museum, me, along with Tom Tarowsky and Nila Chaddock — who both work with the Cockayne House but helped coordinate all our work in West Virginia — all sitting behind the Flintstones layout.)
I set up the playset in the lower lobby of WQED for several days so everybody could see it. Then to keep it safe, to preserve it, I put it all carefully back in the box. Now I’m seriously thinking about donating it to the Marx Toy Museum so it has a shelf and a display worthy of its beauty and its power to transport goofballs like me who thought Fred and Barney and friends were nearly mythological characters.
Last night I ate too much. I was one of the lucky judges at the 4th Annual Savor Pittsburgh evening on the South Side. Big white tents in the parking lot next to McCormick & Schmick’s on Sidney Street. They call it “A Celebration of Cuisine” and it was a pretty sublime evening of wonderful food. Perfect weather. Nice big crowd. Live band. All the proceeds benefit the American Respiratory Alliance of Western Pennsylvania. It’s a good deed. It’s talk talk talk. Food food food.
We 13 judges got to sit like culinary apostles at a Last-Supper-like set of tables, and culinary students brought us samples of all the dishes in the competition. Someone said there were 46 different dishes for us to taste! I didn’t count.
I missed the first few plates because I was socializing, and I missed all the desserts because I had to run home and help deal with a what-turned-out-to-be a minor family crisis. But just before I got the call saying I needed to get home, I had turned to Chris Fennimore, my fellow judge sitting next to me, and I said, “Hmm. All of a sudden I’m very full.” Maybe I got to leave at exactly the right moment, before that one thin mint led to disaster.
We started with appetizers. Logically. And oh they were impressive and memorable and startling and scrumptious at times. Lots of seafood. A rash of risottos. I didn’t take a picture of every one, but I remember the bright taste of the Pennsylvania Silver Queen Corn in a risotto with some “Sautéed Laughing Bird Shrimp.” Rice nice, shrimp tender, corn bright and sweet and a perfect starter.
Then there was one of the largest presentations of the evening, the classic oxymoron: a HUGE shrimp, maybe he biggest shrimp I’ve ever eaten. It was called “Dirty Shrimp with Sweet Potato Grits and avocado and Chili Oils.” My oh my. Spicy and luscious and served with style and color and panache. Today I found out that this dish won the Best Appetizer category.
But if you stopped to talk last night, I would have said, “Oh the Mussels Escabeche were amazing.” Three perfectly cooked (or marinated or whatever) well seasoned mussels, served cool. I think I remember a slice of radish or two, and wow! spicy Rice Krispies as a garnish. With a dollop of citrus-y foam atop the whole presentation.
I suspected it was a Kevin Sousa creation, and later when checking the program for the evening, I saw that this was one of his dishes, and I love the way he puts things together and makes my taste buds zing. I will long remember the big shrimp but tonight I wish I had more of those mussels.
What else do I recall? Some good green-vegetable gazpacho with a scallop seviche (“cooked” in lime juice, tender and smooth) partially immersed in it, sort of riding on a spoon in the cold soup. Good dish for a summer night.
I also like the Sweet Corn & Lobster Vol-au-vent. The vol-au-vent is a squat flaky pastry tower that usually gets filled with something wonderful and this was a good one.
The scrumptious seafood ,just kept coming, and I’m not sure when the appetizers stopped and the main courses began, but when the student chefs starting bringing presentation platters as well as judges’ plates (usually smaller with a sample of the big plate), I figured we’d gone on to another course. Here’s the presentation platter for 0ne restaurant’s seafood risotto:
And below is what the judges got. Not too shabby. Perfectly cooked shrimp, scallops and other fruits of the sea. Big points for whoever made this. (I suspect it was from the Tuscan Inn when I look now at the program.)
I also really liked the seared scallops and asparagus salad that brightened the evening with a crisp sear on the scallop and a good blend of flavors. I could eat more of those too. (If I again read my program correctly, I think these were from Mitchell’s Fish Market.)
It was a great evening of food. I apologize for not pairing up all the dishes with their chefs, but last night, as a judge, I was just tasting great food without a knowledge of place or personality. It was a celebration of good ingredients, careful prep, cooking and presentation, and I’m honored to have had the opportunity to eat like those judges on TOP CHEF and IRON CHEF and WHATEVER CHEF. The food here was often world class.
I give huge thanks to Christina Dickerson from McCormick & Schmick for inviting me again. (I’ve been lucky enough to do this judging three times now. Ahh.) And a special thanks to my buddy Merritt Holland Spier from the American Respiratory Alliance who has been treating me like royalty even though we got back to my earliest days at WQED in 1987. I remember meeting Merritt in a tiny dark editing room on the ground floor of WQED when I went there for my job interview. So here’s a photo of Merritt and her husband Dave Spier and their fellow vote-counter, Cyndy Tallerico. Merritt spent most of the evening gathering ballots and Dave and Cyndy were calculating the results. I wish they had gotten a chance to eat more than they did.
Wow. It’s nearly a month since I wrote anything on this blog. August has been a mighty, busy, tense and terrifying, occasionally satisfying and rewarding month. 31 days can be all of that I think. There was no vacation or summer fun, but I finished the new show, RIGHT BESIDE THE RIVER, and the weather has been pretty amazing. It’s not been a beastly hot summer, and I’m fine with that.
I’ve snapped many pictures to incorporate into posts, but there’s not been much time for getting things and thoughts onto this on-line diary.
In the last month or so, starting in late July actually, I’ve seen several rainbows. Since the day in 1973 when I hitchhiked across Wales with Liz George, and we got a ride from a gentleman who kept driving us because we kept seeing rainbows — 6 if I remember correctly — I’ve always considered rainbows a positive sign. Now with my camera and my iPhone I can try to capture some of their brilliance and hope they are omens of good times ahead.
Last night at the Sewickley Car Store, right beside the Ohio River, there was a sneak preview of part of our new Pittsburgh History program called RIGHT BESIDE THE RIVER. We’re not finished editing yet, and we had just the first 35 minutes to present — we’re never ready for these preview parties — so I was kind of dreading the whole scene.
I got to the Car Store a few minutes before the appointed hour of 7, and people were already gathering at the new Porsche showroom. Beautiful cars out front, beautiful cars inside. I saw Joe Scarfone, one of our hosts and obviously a really good friend of WQED, because this was the second premiere soiree he’s hosted at his handsome car dealership, and I started talking to beautiful people as we walked in and started mingling. And I don’t think I ever stopped talking till the preview began about 8:30.
I talked to the Teorskis (Dave and the Engineers Society of Western Pennsylvania were our partners on the last local show, INVENTED ENGINEERED & PIONEERED IN PITTSBURGH) and to Bob Lubomski’s niece, to a woman who introduced herself as one of my new Facebook friends, and to Christine Davis and her Consultants (Oh, the excellent energetic archeologists turned out even though I warned that their segment wasn’t done yet!) Big points for showing up! They tried out a red convertible too.
I chatted for while with CONSOL Energy’s Joe Cerenzia and his daughter Eva Roman and some guy named Popovich (who wasn’t related to my old classmate Alan Popovich nor to the Russian cosmonaut with the same name.) Everyone was too kind to me. That was true all evening.
It turned out to be a nice, relaxed party. I had a really good time. I’m guessing the guest list of 200 people was about right, and most folks seemed to stick with the party as it changed venues. We began with drinks and eats in the new Porsche Showroom, then we walked across the driveway to the Audi Showroom where the screen and seats were set up. I didn’t take enough pictures. The always reasonable and helpful George Hazimanolis from WQED was good about asking for my camera and snapping away. (In the photo below, I’m in the middle between Judge Larry Kaplan and his wife Natalie Kaplan on the left, and Carole Horowitz and Barry Lhormer on the right.)
The screening went fast. 35 minutes zipped by. A good sign? People seemed to pay attention, and there were a few good chuckles which always is reassuring.
After the screening, lots of people came up to get a signed poster, including many very nice folks from OEV (that’s what insiders call Old Economy Village.) Also I really enjoyed talking with Paulette Nikel. She and her husband Bob (who introduced me to the crowd just before the screening started) founded this Sewickley Car Store back in 1976, and she had great stories about getting it all underway.
It was 10:20 by the time I got back on 65 and headed for home. A good evening.
This revival (tribute?) convoy sounds like it could be a hoot, a lark, a very cool adventure. Also: an organizational nightmare, a constant road blocker, a cross-country trip in a line of unchanging traffic made up of vintage vehicles that may develop all sorts of troubles. But why not? And the organizers timed it to be here in South Bend for the Lincoln Highway conference. With a parade on Friday morning!
That was just one of the many other amazing events and activities that were all put together by the Indiana Lincoln Highway Association for the edification of their fellow members. Let’s face it: it was a great conference.
Anyway, at this dinner, they give out awards. Awards to thank state organizations for outstanding work. Awards to state directors for things they’ve done. (Jerry Peppers got one for the work he did in New York City this year.)
Various awards for various people. (The conference organizers, Bill Arick and Jan Shupert-Arick, were recognized as well as all their loyal and wonderful Hoosier helpers who got this wingding together.)
And the #1 Cool Thing About The Lincoln Highway Conference in South Bend: they gave me an award for producing the PBS program called A RIDE ALONG THE LINCOLN HIGHWAY. I wish Bob and Glenn and Jarrett and Kevin and Matt and Paula and Frank and Buddy Nutt could all have been there too. It’s always nice to be recognized for your work, but I don’t do any of this by myself.
Nonetheless, the award I got was the first Gregory Franzwa Award, established in honor of one of the leaders of this organization who died earlier this year. Gregory Franzwa was one of the organizers and instigators who got the new Lincoln Highway Association started in 1992. He was the first president of this new group, and he remained active over the years, editing the Lincoln Highway Forum magazine, writing extensively about the highway in a series of books that explained the highway and its history on a state by state basis.
As a regular reader of Brian Butko’s Lincoln Highway News blog, I remembered reading about Mr. Franzwa’s failing health and his passing (an apt term for a highway enthusiast!) and the tributes to him from other members and current LHA president Bob Dieterich. I’m sorry that our paths never crossed last year, but I’ve heard Jay Banta talk very fondly about Gregory Franzwa, always including the points that while their political philosophies were quite different, they both had no great affection for the Bush administration, and that Greg was a wonderful friend. And I’m encouraged that he and his small press were involved with many different national roads because I like to think that all this work on the Lincoln Highway is just a beginning.
I am delighted and inspired to receive an honor in memory of such a guy. I want to dub it “the Gregory.” (That way it sounds more like an Oscar or an Emmy, and “the Franzwa” sounds a bit odd.) It’s been established to recognize folks who help promote the Lincoln Highway and the Lincoln Highway Association, and if our show did some of that, hooray!
I think we all enjoy riding these old highways because we’ve been guided by wise men like Gregory Franzwa, and his passion for all these roads is worth preserving and carrying on. We do that by driving, by paying attention, by reading guides and histories about all aspects of the roads, and by recognizing how important these pathways are to all of us in America.
In my previous post, I didn’t mention that, as part of my key note presentation, I did show one clip from the PBS documentary: the last story, the amazing tale of Esther Oyster and Bernie Queneau, and how the Lincoln Highway brought them together. It’s such a satisfying tale of old newspaper clippings, on-line research, a Sunday morning telephone call, a 70-year-old diary, great old photos of traveling Boy Scouts, a conference speech, concrete markers and romance in California. And like any true Lincoln Highway historian, Esther explains the outcome in terms of LHA annual gatherings: “Before the next conference, we were married!”
Now, six years later, Bernie will soon be 97 (actually on July 14 Bastille Day), but he and Esther are still spry and active members of the LHA, and at a conference like this, they are a bit like royalty. Even before I showed the video clip on Thursday, Bernie had come up to me and quietly asked if I would join them for a special dinner on Thursday evening.
He said it would be not too fancy. And we didn’t get dressed up, but in South Bend I don’t think it gets any fancier than dinner at the Tippecanoe, the beautiful old mansion that had once been the home of the Studebaker family. We had a full table with Brian Butko too and several members of the Ohio delegation to this conference, including Esther’s brother and his wife.
Good food. Lively chatter. Impressive surroundings. It made for a wonderful evening. (Butko took this picture.) Getting to know Esther and Bernie is just a superb benefit of my work, and I can’t thank them enough for all their time and generosity. Now I owe them a nice dinner too!
We weren’t invited to stay the night at the Tippecanoe. Back at the Holiday Inn, I think I normally would have gone straight to bed, but someone mentioned that Russell Rein would be opening the “book room” on the sixth floor of the hotel for one last late-evening shopping opportunity, and when I went there, I ran into Brian Butko, Kevin Patrick, and Mindy Crawford, and since we were all part of the Pennsylvania delegation, we decided to go around the corner for a beer.
The Irish-themed pub around the corner, really in the same block as the hotel, is called Fiddler’s Hearth. I’ve been to South Bend three separate times: Once with my video team as we were en route to a shoot in Chicago and we stopped in South Bend for lunch. We ate at Fiddler’s Hearth. Then, in the summer of 2007, when we came back to South Bend to interview David Hay about the Lincoln Highway, we ended up back at the Fiddler’s Hearth again for dinner. It has good solid Irish pub food and beer, and I’m not complaining, but it seems to be the only place to go for a non-franchised experience around here. So, this was my third visit to South Bend, and this was my third visit to the Fiddler’s Hearth.
We each had a couple of beers, some appetizer-type bar food and some salty gossip and spicy commentary on the last few days here at the conference. Good fun. Late night musings. I think we were the last 4 customers. We closed the place. A nice end to a good and full day. Isn’t this what any good conference on any topic is all about?
It was months ago. Jan Shupert-Arrick, a friend from the Indiana Lincoln Highway Association and a past president of the national organization, called and invited me to this Lincoln Highway Conference. She asked if I would give the key note address on Thursday afternoon, and I was way too flattered to say No. Flattered and foolish.
“But,” I said, “What can I tell the members of the Lincoln Highway Association? Everything I know about the road I’ve learned from them.” (Oh, I learned a lot from Brian Butko, his books and his blog, but he’s a member too, a founding member I believe.)
Jan said she knew I could think of something to say. And it didn’t take me long to remember that there were things I had learned about the highway that never got into the program because I never interviewed myself. And if nothing else, I could offer Thanks to all the LHA folks who helped in countless ways.
A month or so later, before I wrote a word of the speech, I gave Jan the title: THE GLORIOUS & GOOFY JOYS OF CELEBRATING OLD HIGHWAYS or WE’VE GOT TO PRESERVE SOME OF THESE THINGS OR THEY WILL DISAPPEAR FOREVER. I love a long title. And it was sufficiently nonspecific so Jan could put it in the conference program and I wasn’t really limiting what I could talk about in any way.
Jan also told me that my appearance would be funded by the Cornelius O’Brien Foundation, and the kind folks there would help cover my expenses and such. Big thanks to everyone at the Foundation.
I started thinking about possible video clips to include in my talk, trying to come up with Lincoln Highway stories that maybe weren’t in the national broadcast of A RIDE ALONG THE LINCOLN HIGHWAY.
I could show clips from THE PENNSYLVANIA ROAD SHOW that I put together back in 1992 when I first met Brian Butko and he started telling me about the road.
I had a couple of stories from my program called PENNSYLVANIA DINERS and an old favorite tale (about the giant swimming pool called Ligonier Beach right beside the Lincoln Highway in Ligonier, PA) from a local show called THINGS THAT ARE STILL HERE.
I started to concoct comments to try and link all these clips together.
Even as I drove across Ohio on Tuesday, I took notes en route to South Bend, trying to come up with a good list of the sorts of things you can see every day on the Lincoln Highway that you would never see if you were on the interstate. I think my first note was about a console organ that had a cardboard sign on it in Lisbon, Ohio: FOR SALE. I love that. Someone is simply trying to tempt passers-by with a big old musical piece of furniture. I forgot to mention it during my speech.
On Thursday at lunchtime, I walked from the hotel down the street to the Century Center where many of the conference events happen. I putzed with the AV equipment for a while. The multimedia expert from the Center was named Holly (I think) and she helped me a lot in trying to figure out how best to show my DVD clips through the laptop and connected projector.
Then, shortly after 2 p.m., David Hay who’s in my PBS documentary (talking about highway paths, Indiana and the Ideal Section) and who’s president of the Indiana Lincoln Highway Association this year, introduced me, and I was on my way.
Talk talk talk. Acknowledge my Indiana heroes: Kurt Vonnegut & Hoagy Carmichael and one of my favorite movies: Breaking Away, set in Indiana. Tell a story about my Brazilian-foreign-exchange-student family in Rio and their old Studebaker (nicknamed the “Schtudeezauro” or “Stude-saurus” because of its size and age) and the universal human love of long road trips. I figured the Schtudeezauro must have been made here in South Bend, and maybe I would still have it if I had been brave enough to drive back to Pittsburgh from Rio in 1970. (My Brazilian family had offered to give me the old car if I’d drive it all the way back to America.)
I try to pepper my talk with video clips. I ramble. Apologize for things, even whole stories, that weren’t included in the final program.
I show the story we made about Woodbine, Iowa. (Losing any story is hard, but it’s part of this business, and it’s never predictable which piece will slide out of a program. We had five fully edited stories that we had to cut to bring our show down to its just-under-an-hour time limit. Woodbine was especially difficult to cut. But I’m happy to say that PBS Video allowed us to include all 5 of the extra stories on the DVD.)
In the speech, I try to explain my love for the Lincoln Highway. I love its scope, its many layers of history, its multiple routes (or “alignments” as the LHA people like to say.) I love that there’s a group of people who get together to celebrate a road, and I find it reassuring that these people seem to get along and look forward to going to a different place on the highway every year for this get-together called the Annual Conference, and they enjoy seeing each other.
But the thing I like most is simply that the Lincoln Highway lets everyone travel across America, not in the shortest time anymore, but in one of the most interesting and time-tested fashions. This road is a route (and variations) that have been tried by drivers and truckers and various travelers since 1913, and the original paths take you through the hearts of towns and cities, along roads where you can see things: beautiful and depressing locations, colorful and decaying buildings, all depending on where you happen to be. And you don’t see just landscape and greenery. You see EVERYTHING. I recited some of my list of things from the car, happy to point out that on a highway like the Lincoln, you see it all: dry cleaners and day care centers, dead shopping malls, car washes, trailer parks, moving vans in driveways, cheese factories, Chinese restaurants, downtowns, laundry hanging on lines in backyards, chiropractors’ offices, used car lots, bars and taverns, schools, drive-thru beverage shops, funeral parlors, beauty parlors, municipal buildings, county courthouses, welding shops, cemeteries, flower gardens, homemae signs signs saying FRESH STRAWBERRIES, laundromats, VFW halls and Granges, frustrating banners for church book sales next week, bait shops, hog markets, cool old restaurants where you might find an unforgettable sandwich. On top of that, you’ll see people walking, jogging, window shopping, sitting on benches, on front porches, going about the everyday business of life. It’s all super-wide-screen, full-vision pictures of a country that you can’t see on the interstates.
But I always like to say a good word about interstates. They have pulled most of the mind-numbing traffic and trucks off the older back roads, including the Lincoln Highway, making the older roads more pleasant and passable.
I have to remember: keep talking. Walk around the theatre. Try to keep energy up. Try to prevent people from falling asleep. Show another video clip.
The video clip that gets the biggest reaction is the short video-diary-entry that my cameraman Bob Lubomski taped on our unexpected morning in Fish Springs, Utah, last summer. Bob is tall, and he’s a very persnickety sleeper, and unless the conditions are ideal, he finds it hard to fall asleep, and the bunkhouse at the Fish Springs National Wildlife Preserve just weren’t exactly to his liking, so he was up early and started playing with the camera. Glenn Syska (who’s the featured actor in the clip) edited it, put it in our blog, and it’s funny in its mock-Apocalypse Now style.
I also wanted to be the kind of down-to-earth key-note speaker who wasn’t too proud to show himself snoring in the bunkhouse, his big old butt in his underwear.
Among Lincoln Highway fans, two of the biggest, most important names are Carl G. Fisher and Henry B. Joy. Carl Graham Fisher was the Prest-O-Lite headlights man who came up with the idea for the cross-country highway, and Henry Bourne Joy was the Packard Motor Car man who decided the road should be made a memorial to Abraham Lincoln.
Also Henry Joy was the first president of the original Lincoln Highway Association, and there are many beautiful old black-and-white photos of him in his Packard in the Lincoln Highway collection at the University of Michigan Library.
Well, the great-grandson of Henry Bourne Joy was at this conference! He’s a filmmaker in Michigan and he was part of one of the morning sessions on Thursday, offering some familiar insights into the life and attitudes of his great-grandfather.
Then that afternoon about 5:15, he and his family helped unveil a new plaque that was installed on the American Trust Bank Building at the corner of Washington and Michigan Streets in downtown South Bend. That would have been an intersection of the original Lincoln Highway and the Dixie Highway, and the bronze plaque honors both of the highways, the bicentennial of Lincoln’s birth, and both Fisher and Joy for their work that helped get Americans onto the highways.
The next morning I happened to end up sharing an elevator with the young Henry Joy and his kids, and I had a chance to chat and say hello. I think they might have been pleasantly surprised by how much attention is paid by the Lincoln Highway Association to their ancestor’s work with this road. I gave them a DVD of A RIDE ALONG THE LINCOLN HIGHWAY.
In our PBS program, we didn’t include anything specifically about the Henry Joy monument out in Wyoming, but we shot it back in 2007 when we stopped at the Lincoln Statue at the rest area on I-80 near Cheyenne.
I still think that’s the most interesting rest area I’ve ever been to. Interesting art. A welcome center full of information. And an Art Deco style Henry Joy monument that might lead you to believe he’s buried here. But he’s not.
As I understand the story, the old Henry Joy once said that he hoped to be buried out in Wyoming at the spot (on the Continental Divide about 30 miles west of Rawlins) where in 1915 he saw the most beautiful sunset of his life. But he wasn’t interred there. Instead, in 1939, this striking monument was erected at that remote spot, and it sat there for years, but fears of vandalism led to its being moved to the rest area off I-80 in 2001. I don’t care where it is. It’s beautiful and well sculpted, and striking. And surrounded by 4 Lincoln Highway markers.
I especially like how the stone cutters used little simplified Lincoln-Highway-sign marks at the top and bottom of the main text.
The Joy quote at the top of the stone is simple and direct: “That there should be a Lincoln Highway across this country is the important thing.”
Some people leave pennies near the base of the monument, leaving a little copper Lincoln as a tribute, a thank you, a token of hope that one day you’ll be back or that one day you’ll drive again along this stretch of the Lincoln Highway.
I’m not sure why people throw nickles, dimes and quarters.
I don’t go home from the conference the same way I came. I don’t follow the Lincoln Highway back. I have to stop outside the town of Delaware, Ohio, at my sister’s house to get my mother who has been staying there for a couple of months. My sister told me to watch for Route 33 that essentially connects Van Wert, Ohio, with Delaware, or nearly so. And the relaxing return-ride turned out to be another highlight of this conference experience too.
On that Saturday morning in South Bend, I sat next to Russell Rein at the final breakfast meeting. I learned from Russell (who in addition to being an avid postcard and Lincoln Highway collector is also an enthusiastic foodie) about several Indiana food opportunities, and he told me about Nick’s Kitchen, the place that claims to have invented the pork tenderloin sandwich. It’s in Huntington, Indiana, and if I alter my route just a bit, I can be in Huntington for lunch. Yes.
I don’t dawdle getting out of South Bend. I head south on the Dixie Highway until it meets Route 30, and I turn east, riding on the 1930 route of the Lincoln, but I’ll turn farther south on Route 5 before I get to Fort Wayne.
It’s not hard to find Nick’s Kitchen. It’s on North Jefferson, the main street of downtown Huntington, and there’s a cool old neon sign hanging out front. (I later find out that it’s a reproduction of the old sign, but it’s a beauty. Every classic eatery should be so aware of the potency and power of old neon.)
It wasn’t till I got inside and sat in an empty booth near the front window that I remember Russell had mentioned that Dan Quayle used to come to Nick’s when he lived here in Huntington, and in 1988 he announced his candidacy for Vice-President here or somewhere just outside this cozy little place. (Look at the old sign in the historic photo!)
Who cares about stupid politics when there’s a regional food specialty to be sampled? And I see on the menu: there’s a history of how a veal cutlet, a wiener schnitzel, became such a popular sandwich, especially once the veal was replaced by locally raised pork. This is where the sandwich originated. OK. Good idea!
The waitress is fun and helpful. She suggests the onion rings (made here!) and says that the pork tenderloin is a good choice, especially if I’ve never been here before. They have a grilled tenderloin on the menu (and that’s what I liked so much at the Whitehouse the other day) but I don’t see it till after I’ve ordered. Who cares? It’s the breaded pork tenderloin that they invented here.
My food is delivered by a slightly older woman, not my waitress, and she’s friendly too, so I ask, Are you the owner? And she says Yes she is. And we start talking about how I found out about the place, and I tell her a friend in South Bend, and she confesses that her business has increased significantly and so has her own enjoyment of the place since Jane and MIchael Stern included it in one of their Roadfood books. “I was tired of the same thing every day, the same people, then after they recommended us, people from all over the world have been coming here.” She seemed genuinely happy.
The sandwich was pretty great too. Fresh and moist. BIG. I had thought I’d probably get one to go for in the car too, but one tenderloin was so much food that I couldn’t even consider it. It wants to flop and wiggle out of your hand sometimes, but I managed to keep it all together.
Then the owner, Jean Anne Drabenstot Bailey, says I’d be crazy to leave without having a piece of her sugar cream pie. “My recipe was featured in Gourmet magazine,” she bragged. It was simple, delicious and cinnamon-y. I could love that pie for breakfast. I asked Jean Anne about breakfast (because I’m gonna make a program called BREAKFAST SPECIAL for PBS starting later this summer), and she said they make a great breakfast and she gave me a quick lesson in how to make a consistently tasty sausage gravy. A definite possibility.
I love this lunch, but eventually I head southeast out of Huntington toward Ohio. Just after I cross under Interstate 69 at the town of Markle, I see a large Antique Mall on the right, and I turn in there to see what I might see on a Saturday afternoon. Lots of good stuff. I buy a set of old cotton pillowcases with blue stitching on them, a couple of CDs, and I see lots of things I want.
I spend too much time looking at a rack of postcards, and I find one that shows the California Palace of the Legion of Honor and a flagpole terminus for the Lincoln Highway. Had to have it. Souvenir of the conference and the nice ride home.
I collect things. I own too many books, CDs, DVDs, postcards, bookmarks, promotional cards and various pieces of printed matter. But many of these Lincoln Highway Association members are collectors too, and I love them for that. And at these conferences, they set up a “book room” where people can display, sell and swap all sorts of Lincoln Highway memorabilia. Oh, there are vintage postcards and maps, old signs and guidebooks, and there are modern T-shirts, coffee cups, books and DVDs put together by people who are attending this event.
Russel Rein from Ypsilanti, Michigan, is one of the biggest — if not THE biggest — collectors of Lincoln Highway stuff, and he was in charge of this year’s book room on the 6th floor at the South Bend Downtown Holiday Inn. He had some postcards and books and magazines to show and sell, and many are really reasonably priced, some on sale big time! And I got some stuff from him: a “Greetings from Ambridge Pennsylvania” postcard (the Lincoln Highway went through Ambridge from 1913 till 1930), and John Baeder’s book on American signs as folk art called Sign Language, among assorted other things.
One evening, while people were looking over the stuff on his table, Russell told a tale about bidding what-he-thought-was-a-preemptive $170 on eBay (his highest opening bid ever) for one postcard — a photo postcard — of waitresses outside a barbecue restaurant, and then his surprise when he lost the item to a higher bidder! This tells me Russell is in a bigger collectors league than I am. I’m just a piker.
The book room had odd hours, essentially anytime there wasn’t some other activity planned, and it was always interesting to go and see who and what was there at any time. But if you stayed at the conference till the final dinner on Friday night, at each place setting on every table, there was a small polypropylene archival envelope with a white card inside and a small, vintage, printed label.
The mint condition wrapper was colored gold, red, white and blue and was printed once upon a time for a LINCOLN HIGHWAY cigar made in Frankfort Indiana at the National Cigar Company. Oh, a little gem in a clear plastic sleeve! It’s a real beauty. I heard Russell say that he got a big supply of the labels, and he thought he’d give one to everyone, and he even tried to find a cigar company that would put them around cigars, but that didn’t happen. People are way too brand-conscious these days.
I think it’s a perfect souvenir. Indiana. The highway. A collectible item. A far away whiff of a cheap cigar. One more thing for me to hang onto and cherish.