May 2007

We’re in NYC for Book Expo. It’s a really nice evening, so we went for a bit of a walk down to Lincoln Center and over to Central Park. Just across from Lincoln Center is an apartment building I lived in for a few months back in early ’87. Still looks the same. It’s the white and silvery one. We were up on the 5th floor if I remember right. Beautiful place overlooking Lincoln Center. At the time, the company  I worked for was paying $3200/month for the place. I can only imagine what it goes for now.

Old Apt Bldg

Tomorrow we’re off to Book Expo in New York City. Book Expo is where publishers show off all their new or upcoming publications. There are free books galore (although the price is sore feet, tired shoulders, lots of bumping into people, and shipping all the books home). It’s also a great place to people watch as you never know who you’ll bump into. Last year I couldn’t understand why someone would point a real video cam complete with bright lights at me, until I realized I was standing beside Steve Wozniak, who was about to promote his new book. Ex-cuuuuuuse me, please. It will also give us a chance to eat at some really good restaurants, including Mitali East, a to-die-for Indian place on 6th St. You’ll be reading about that and other delights on Greasy Spoons

Then it’s back to Sarah’s folks’ house in Newington, CT for a few nights, although Sarah has a speaking engagement at a library workshop in western MA on Tuesday.

Next Thursday it’s off to Albany, NY for the North American Conference of The Historical Novel Society. Sarah’s been the one of the planners of this conference as she was for the original conference, which was held two years ago in Salt Lake City.

Finally, we fly home the following Monday. I think I’ll need a week off to recuperate.  😛

Forty-five years ago EIU botany professor Wesley Whiteside bought 5 acres of land on the east side of Charleston, Illinois and saved the land from becoming a junkyard. Today it is a work of art. Professor Whiteside created an impressive wonderland of trees and plants that have been enjoyed by thousands of central Illinois residents for years during the annual Garden Ramble. It took us five years, but we finally made it to our first Ramble. I can see it becoming a tradition for us. The garden is incredible. So many different trees and plants everywhere you look. The few images below are merely a tiny sampling of the vast cornucopia of flora one sees during a visit. As I walked through the tour I couldn’t help thinking that some of the trees here have been in existence almost as long as I. This is truly a lifelong labor of love.

Garden Garden Garden Garden Garden Garden Garden Garden Garden Garden Garden Garden Garden Garden Garden
Garden Garden Garden Garden Garden Garden Garden Cat Garden Garden

Put out a little birdseed and you never know what you’ll attract.

Furry Bird

Although it wasn’t the best day for it, we decided to drive out to Monticello and walk around Allerton Park. With 1500 acres and 14 miles of trails, it’s a great place to spend an afternoon. We weren’t prepared for major hiking today, but we still had a pretty good walk. Two words of advice for anyone planning on walking around out there this time of year – insect repellent. We walked down by the river and I got attacked by some bloodthirsty mosquitos. While they were deciding whether to suck me dry right there or bring me back to the nest, we made our escape back to the car. Still, one made it into the car and valiantly tried to continue feeding before I squashed him like…well, like a bug.

Here’s a few pics of Allerton House and the surrounding area.

Allerton House Another view. Courtyard Goldfish pond River Garden Vines Statue

On the way back, we drove through Monticello and stopped for dinner at Montgomery’s on the Square. You can read about that over on Greasy Spoons.

No real subject tonight. Just some Friday evening rambling.

1. I joined the Mount Washington Observatory (MWO) Summit Club today. When I was a kid, my parents took us camping in NH several times each summer. I’ve been to the summit of Mt. Washington a couple of times, although I have to confess I drove up both times. I’ve enjoyed the MWO webcams for a couple of years now, so I figured it was my turn to give back. Money well spent.

2. This is not only Indy 500 weekend, it is also the weekend for the Formula One Grand Prix of Monaco. Despite what you might hear in these parts about the Indy 500 being the greatest spectacle in racing, any racer worth his or her salt will tell you that the most prestigious race is the F1 GP in Monaco. And in true F1 style, the parties are in constant competition for the title of “the place to be.” This year it was apparently on the yacht (at 93 meters, really a ship) belonging to the owner of India’s Kingfisher Airlines (and, I believe, Kingfisher beer). This is a serious dingy.

Nice boat

3. Weird weather, eh? Yesterday it was hovering around 90, but was very dry. It was comfortable to be outside. Today it barely got into the 70’s, but late this afternoon it was sticky and felt tropical. I’ll take dry any day.

4. This weekend is the unofficial start of summer. Not as significant to me now as it used to be when I was a kid, because this was usually the weekend of our first camping trip of the season. We’d go up the NH for the weekend and it’d be chilly in the morning, warm or even hot in the afternoon, and cold enough at night to really enjoy the campfire. If we were really brave, we tempt fate by swimming at Sabbaday Falls. Sometimes it was so cold that your jaw muscles would instantly cramp when you hit the water. But the pool under the falls was crystal clear and so deep you couldn’t reach the bottom even if you jumped off the surrounding cliff. But you could clearly see the bottom like it was 4ft away. I miss those days, especially the smell of bacon and eggs wafting through the trees first thing in the morning.

Ninety years ago this Saturday the third deadliest tornado in Illinois history tore through Coles County, killing over 100 people. Witnesses described two boiling cloud masses coming together, but no funnel cloud. It’s thought that the accompanying wall cloud was too low and dense for the classic tornado funnel to be seen. The destruction wrought by this storm left no doubt there was a tornado, though. Here’s a section of the damage chart showing just Mattoon and Charleston.

Damage info

The path shown below passes very near to our current home. The text of the report says the tornado passed a mile north of Eastern Illinois University, so that would put it on the north side of town, but the path below places it right along Rt 16. Either way, too close for comfort.  😯

Tornado Path

Atmosphere is defined as “a distinctive but intangible quality surrounding a person or thing or place.” It’s one of those things you just know when you see it. The Germans call it Gemütlichkeit. Yet this, too, is easier to show someone than it is to describe. It’s a feeling of comfort, of uniqueness, of having a sense of place. A restaurant or bar either has it or it does not. And it cannot be manufactured or bought or instilled by even the highest paid decorator. Just as you can’t buy “cool,” you can’t buy atmosphere. It just is.

Today we drove about an hour south of here to the Moonshine Store in Martinsville, IL. This place had atmosphere to spare. It’s a general store way out in the middle of nothing but flat. It’s a bear to find even with GPS, but once you’ve been there, you’ll know how to get back. It’s a big favorite of bikers because the roads leading to it are actually curvy, which is a rare thing in these here parts. They serve up really good hamburgers, rare soda flavors (I had a birch beer today.), and it’s all done quick and cheap. Their record is 712 burgers in one day. Pretty impressive. When we walked in today, there was quite a crowd and, being a crowd hater, I was about to leave. But I noticed the area around the grill was clear and no one really seemed to be standing in line. So I walked right up and ordered two cheeseburgers. We sat around for a bit checking the place out. This is an old country store with neat old devices like a light on a rolling block and tackle setup suspended from a wooden beam overhead. The ceiling is typical central Illinois pressed tin. In the back of the store is a grill where a small army of folks prepare the burgers with pit crew efficiency. Despite the crowd, we had our burgers in about 10 minutes. They were pretty good, too. (You can read my review over on Greasy Spoons.) We added toppings and condiments and took our lunch outside to the dozen or so large picnic tables. It was a perfect day for it. Check out some of the pics below. The smoke in the interior pics is from the grill. It made a great appetizer as it smelled delicious and didn’t fill us up before our meal. The bikers filling the place were all decent, friendly folks and there were a few of the locals mixed in. As we walked out, a Cadillac full of retirees pulled up. Great burgers make for strange dining company, I guess. 😎

The Moonshine Store. Cool or what?

The Moonshine Store

Now THIS is atmosphere.


Not much going on lately. The semester is winding down, the Red Sox are winning again, Manny came out of his slump in a big way last night, and there’s still a few weeks left to enjoy the mostly deserted backroads here. This is one of my favorites. It’s flat, smooth as glass, and completely devoid of sight line obstructions.  😎


Nice sunset captured by the Mt. Washington summit cam.


I found another webcam that’s oddly captivating. This is the entrance to the Nürburgring race track. On non-race weekends, anyone is allowed to take his or her vehicle on the track to test its limits (or their own). The highlight of the course is the 14 mile long Nordschleife section. Several deaths occur here each year when drivers overstep the limits of their ability or their vehicle. Such a thing would never survive in our lawsuit happy land. What makes this webcam fascinating is the endless parade of high end super cars rolling though the image. Equally fascinating are the cars that make you go, “Hunh??” like the station wagon in the lower left of this image. Can’t image he stood much of a chance against the two Porsches behind him.  🙂

Nurburgring webcam

Ok, so Jonathan Papelbon isn’t a god after all. He’s just another guy who can have a bad night. Can’t win ’em all, I guess. 🙁