Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Denver DNC on the Streets: August 25 Views

Denver's Civic Center Park provided the nexus for events, vendors, speeches, musical performances, and political dialogue. This couple dines alfresco on the grass with fellow students and activists.

The Food Not Bombs organization serves up dinner free of charge in Denver's Civic Center Park. Of course, donations are accepted to sustain the effort.

Within sight of the Greek Theater and a monument recognizing legendary Denver Mayor Robert W. Speer - who oversaw the Mile High City's last Democratic National Convention a century ago - students relax and enjoy the ambience afforded by Civic Center Park.

Bookends propped against Ionic columns: Two girls listen nonchalantly to passionate political speeches at the Greek Theater in Denver's Civic Center Park.

A politically active pair at the Greek Theater in Denver's Civic Center Park - wishing to be known only as Eva and James - lifts their masks slightly to exchange a loving embrace while preserving their identity.

The Recreate 68 organization assembled at the Denver Mint Building for the Shake Your Money Maker protest. The purpose of the short assembly was to call for wealth redistribution.

The Hollywood, California, based Citizens for Safe Access founder Richard Eastman extols the benefits of medical marijuana to passers-by at Denver's Civic Center Park. He proudly displays a photograph taken with former President Bill Clinton.

A charicature of former President Richard M. Nixon artfully graces the wall of a building on 12th Avenue in Denver.

Presented by the Manjushri Project of Crested Butte, Colorado, the pictures of you traveling multimedia exhibit features translucent images of Iranian people and culture. In this view, a mosque is juxtaposed with Denver's City and County Building prior to sunset.

Many Denver businesses are bullish about the DNC, so it should not be surprising that the Hooters restaurant on Colorado Boulevard caught the political spirit, too.

Denver DNC on the Streets: First Major Clash Between Protesters and Police

Against the backdrop of a breathtaking sunset on August 25, Unconventional Denver marched from Civic Center Park to the Wellington Webb Municipal Building on 15th Street, instigating a standoff with law enforcement.

Denver Police and Denver Sheriff departments cordoned off the area circa 7:15 p.m., trapping nearly 300 people in the process. Those not connected with the protest were ultimately released.

“This whole thing is complicated,” said 20-year-old Matthew Reyes, one of those detained accidentally. “The cops seemed confused and there was no logical explanation for who was arrested and who was let go.”

In a press release, Heather Barry, neighborhood liaison for Mayor John Hickenlooper, reported total arrests hovered around 100. Charges ranged from obstruction of streets or public passageways to interference and disobedience to a lawful order.

7:45 p.m.: One of the first protesters apprehended awaits arrival of the Denver Sheriff Department bus in front of the building at 1515 Cleveland Place.

9:20 p.m.: Denver Sheriff donning riot gear block public access to Cleveland Place at the 16th Street Mall intersection. Three buses were dispatched to shuttle protesters from the makeshift field facility 500 feet away (police vehicles were positioned in a manner that blocked this operation from public view) to the temporary processing facility at 3833 Steele Street.

9:30 p.m.: Bystanders are pushed back from Cleveland Place to allow departure of the first Denver Sheriff bus. Inside the bus, those arrested pounded on the windows and yelled out to the crowd on the 16th Street Mall.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Democratic National Convention Precursor: August 24

After an enlightening few days on the road with a close friend and 1400 miles on the odometer, I descended into Denver, Colorado, on Interstate 70 at 2 a.m. this morning. After a short sleep, I spent much of the day familiarizing myself with the Mile High City and observing happenings preceding the Democratic National Convention. Attached are a handful of images from the events at Civic Center Park.

An Aurora, Colorado, police officer prepares for possible altercation with protesters on Broadway Street, Denver.

A police officer clears Broadway Street of pedestrians and obstacles in the event of an altercation with protesters from Tent State University and other groups. The mood was tense for a minute, but fortunately did not erupt into violence.

Within sight of the stately Colorado state capital building, Pro-Obama and Pro-McCain supporters engage in meaningful debate, hoping to find common ground.

Among the numerous vendors in Civic Center Park, Political Plush of Littleton, Colorado, peddles Barack Obama dolls. Business is surprisingly brisk. Hillary Clinton and John McCain models are sold, too.

A tired attendee sleeps through a musical performance on the State Capital grounds, which is no small feat, considering the elevated volume and nearly 90 degree temperatures.

Folks beat the sweltering heat by cooling off in a Civic Center Park fountain.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Doing the Gentle Thing in an Inhospitable Climate

Beowawe, Nevada: August 15, 2008

Precisely 145 years ago today, 70-year-old widow and wagon train matriarch Lucinda Duncan died of an unconfirmed cause in the harsh Great Basin of Nevada near Beowawe while emigrating on the California Trail with her family. She failed to complete the arduous overland trek westward from Richmond, Missouri, to Galena, Nevada, but her memory survives thanks to unwavering dedication.

“The scene was truly a sad one to leave a beloved mother on the wild and desolate plains,” James Yager reported of her death in his diary entry of August 17, 1863. “A board with the name of the deceased was put up at the head and boulders was laid over the grave to keep wolves from scratching in it.”

The crude grave sat uninterrupted in the desert for five years until Central Pacific stumbled across it while pushing the first transcontinental railroad eastward from Sacramento, California. Respectful railroad employees cleaned the site and enclosed it with a wooden fence. At the behest of a division superintendent in 1871, a cross was erected displaying Maiden’s Grave on one side and Lucinda Duncan on the other.

Fact and folklore often conflict in historical accounts of the West: Lucinda was originally thought to be a teenage girl. Years later, diaries and family accounts verified her advanced age, but the Maiden’s Grave mystique lingered and the moniker stuck.

Central Pacific successor Southern Pacific realigned the railroad in 1906, and finding the grave in the way, carefully moved it south to a mound overlooking the wide Gravelly Ford crossing of the Humboldt River where it is believed she perished.

But compassion for a heroine persisted.

Southern Pacific replaced the aged cross with a larger one made of hefty timber in 1950. Perched on the hill’s edge, the cross stands 20 feet high and is obvious enough to garner the attention of curious railroad passengers, infrequent motorists, and herds of antelope within a half mile of the site. Railroaders and well-wishers repainted the cross and occasionally left fresh-cut flowers in the ensuing years.

Despite the site’s remoteness along a dusty road three miles east of Beowawe and the ceaseless passage of time, devotion for Lucinda endures today. Eureka County now owns and maintains the still-active cemetery. The Oregon-California Trails Association erected an interpretive plaque in 1997 and maintains a watchful eye.

On a frigid, late night visit to the cemetery in January 2006, the intense light of the full moon revealed six inches of fresh snow and a pot containing fake flowers at the foot of the cross. Surely this symbolic presentation was a matter of practicality in an unforgiving environment. While gazing across the broad valley toward a westbound freight train and a patch of pogonip fog hanging over the Humboldt, I realized that the flowers may be plastic, but ongoing reverence for Lucinda Duncan at this extraordinary place is far from artificial.

Endnote: The author makes an annual pilgrimage to Beowawe to pay his respects to the memory of those who possessed the courage to face unspeakable hardships to emigrate west, and most notably, the brave septuagenarian pioneer, Lucinda Duncan.

Sources consulted: The Bulletin (Southern Pacific), May 1958; Crofutt’s Transcontinental Tourist’s Guide by George A. Crofutt; Eureka County Assessor’s Office, Eureka, Nevada; High Road to Promontory by George Kraus; New Overland Guide by George A. Crofutt; Northeastern Nevada Historical Society Quarterly, Issue
99-1; Oregon-California Trails Association website; The Pacific Tourist by Frederick E. Shearer

Monday, August 4, 2008

Hotels Do Not Offer Five-Finger Discounts

Fairfax, California: August 3, 2008

To contain theft today, hotels threaten you the consumer with pox, excessive credit card charges, kidnapping of first born, and other dire consequences if anything turns up missing from the room on your watch. But let’s face it: Folks love to get something for free. Seemingly everyone in the traveling public is guilty of popping stationery and unused soap, shampoo, or lotion in the suitcase before checkout. That is socially acceptable behavior. Braver souls with far stickier fingers gaffe ice buckets, coffee makers, or tacky framed art on the way out. But the primary universal target has always been towels.

About 25 years ago on a family trip to Wisconsin, my parents lifted a few of those stiff white bath towels emblazoned with the regal emerald green Holiday Inn logo. Mom must have thought they would make fine beach towels. I recall embarrassment with the prospect of taking these towels to the local pool – that is – until I realized that the other kids’ parents sent them out with identical “hot towels” gleaned from Holiday Inns, too.

Long ago, luxury hotels and resorts from Monterey, California, to Miami, Florida, offered their status conscious patrons a way out of the guilt: purchase the plush towels and fuzzy bathrobes enjoyed during the stay and take them home. This philosophy trickled down to the modest chain motels as well. A Super 8 Motel in Abilene, Texas, for example, advertises that all of the room’s accoutrements – including the multi-colored bedspreads and skimpy towels – are available for sale. Simply check the price list on a laminated sheet contained in the drawer of the nightstand and place an order with the front desk.

The very idea that nothing is to be borrowed permanently from a hotel room is simply understood, not overtly advertised. But while staying at the quaint Melsask Motel in Melville, Saskatchewan, eight years ago, I discovered a firm admonishment posted on a wall next to the room door. The faded, water-stained 3”x5” cardboard sign read:

Please … LEAVE KEY ON DRESSER – TURN OUT LIGHTS! If You Leave Anything, We’ll Send it to You … If You Take Anything, We’ll Send for You. License Number on File. THANK YOU, COME AGAIN!

Form 521N - Hotel Systems & Supply Ltd., Winnipeg

It doesn’t get any plainer than that. Thoughts of requisitioning the old cotton bed sheets – assuming any such notions existed - were extinguished immediately.

But, ironically enough, I couldn’t resist the temptation to swipe that sign, smuggle it from Canada into the United States, and affix it to a bulletin board above my desk at home. Let this minor transgression be our little secret, lest the management of the Melsask crosses the 49th parallel and sends for me.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Life of a Railroad Boomer: James H. Johnson

Stockton, California: Early 2005

Booming and articulate, witty and persuasive, intelligent and communicative, one could easily mistake Engineer James H. Johnson for the general manager of a railroad. And while certainly capable, the polished and conservatively dressed Jim avoids supervisory positions like the plague.

A fourth-generation railroader and native Californian, Jim hired out with the Southern Pacific as a fireman right out of high school in 1961. Toiling in train service positions, his career saw promotions to conductor and engineer and – in typical boomer fashion - transcended tenures at numerous railroads: Southern Pacific, Santa Fe, Western Pacific, and Union Pacific. Jaded with the large railroad mentality, Jim departed Union Pacific in 1990 and has since been an extra board engineer for short line railroads Napa Valley, Sierra, and California Northern.

Jim left the industry a few times during the last 43 years to further his education and pursue careers in law enforcement and teaching, but he simply could not resist the lure of the rails.

“Like a mistress in the night, railroading kept calling my name,” he admitted.

And while not number one as far as seniority is concerned, chronologically Jim – known alternately as “Pops” - is the oldest and most respected man on California Northern’s engineer roster.

Railroaders are idiosyncratic and Jim proves no exception. He will only work in an immaculate engine cab and periodically butts heads with union brothers that do not live up to his elevated standard of cleanliness. Jim dresses appropriately and expects others to follow suit. Gadgetry is his bailiwick: Digital cameras, palm pilot, Internet access, and cell phones are all kept practically within arm’s reach. A tireless and resourceful jack-of-all-trades, Jim moonlights as a wedding and school photographer.

In more serious moments, Jim extols time and again, “I’m blessed,” and he uses the phrase to describe more than family and faith. An engineer on one of the trains involved in a nationally publicized accident on the Western Pacific near Fremont, California, in 1980, Jim survived with a broken back, leading to excruciating pain and two years of paralyzing convalescence. His conductor and brakeman perished.

“At the time, I believed that I should have, too,” he shared after a pensive moment.

And like many of his brethren, Jim suffered from family separation issues and chronic bouts of alcoholism when out on the road for Western Pacific.

“I was drinking a bottle of beer in the shower on the 1979 day that my first wife walked out on me,” he said. “That was my last drop.”

Much to his liking, Jim is now comfortably settled in a modest home in an established Stockton, California, neighborhood and no longer deals with the disorienting feeling of not knowing when he will work next or the transient nature of railroading out of a suitcase.

Jim has two families separated by time and little else. “My ex-wife lives in Modesto (California) and we have become friends; in fact, she often spends Christmas at my home.” Two now Generation X aged daughters from this first union live nearby and blessed Jim with three grandchildren apiece.

He met his present wife Robbie via a blind date in 1983 and their loving marriage has yielded two active children: Josh, 10; Jamie, 12.

Now 61, when asked if he will ever retire, a twinkle comes to Jim’s eyes and he humorously quips: “If I leave, who will be left to stir the pot? And besides, I love this shit.”

Author’s note: Jim retired from the railroad on June 30, 2006, and is today a self-avowed Mr. Mom.