Steel City

March 30, 2020

We left early Friday for Pittsburgh, the idea being to drop our daughter Laura off and get out of town again quickly. She had accepted a job offer and found an apartment there. Since this isn’t a good time for a weekend out of town, we drove the 250 miles up in the morning and the same 250 back that afternoon.

The route for us is Interstates 95/495 to 270 to 70 to the PA Turnpike at Breezewood, then a 120-mile straight shot into Pittsburgh’s Shadyside neighborhood. We’ve done it before, she lived there for a while about 10 years ago. The turnpike almost always is choked with traffic. Not this trip. Now it’s lit up every few miles with flashing signs warning drivers to “Keep Your Distance” and “Stay Home.” People are paying attention.

Typically it’s a kind of hypnotic ride, out of the congested D.C. suburbs that run nearly up to Frederick, Md. Beyond that you’re in rural Maryland through Hagerstown and Hancock. A mile past the “Welcome to Pennsylvania” sign I signaled to pull into the state welcome center, then jerked the van back on the road. The entry ramp was blocked, the welcome center closed. No advisory sign. It looked abandoned, dark and deserted, the employees likely sitting at home, furloughed.

PA Turnpike near Somerset

Westbound on the PA Turnpike prompts that old joke: “Pennsylvania: Philadelphia in the east, Pittsburgh in the west, Alabama in the middle.” Not really. You pick up the turnpike at the gas-and-junk-food stop at Breezewood. Then you head into rugged country oddly split between farms, pastures, and small well-worn industrial towns laid out in grids of streets of closely packed old two-story homes, often a tall church steeple points skyward. These are places where the local people mostly grew up and stayed, and work with their hands and backs at small plants and machine shops.

Years ago, when three of our kids lived in Pennsylvania, we trekked regularly to Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, and to Lewisburg, in the state’s heartland an hour north of Harrisburg. Driving into the midstate you enter a different cosmos, almost a different country, where—I’m reaching here—the locals have no use for the hothouse politics south of the border in Maryland and D.C. They’re engaged in real work—mining coal, building and fixing things, running railroads, and tough, rocky farming. Pennsylvania is one of those places where schools close for the first day of deer season. In fall 2016, when I drove up to Titusville, “Trump” banners hung from barns and fences in the small towns from Bedford to Altoona to Erie. I didn’t see them this trip.

The turnpike is nearly empty of cars, creating the bizarre look of miles of an interstate turned into a country road. The truck drivers no doubt appreciate it, while they work brutal overtime hours to provide resupply lifelines to crippled communities. The overwhelming impression is of the pandemic winning, driving people off the streets, away from their businesses. Past Somerset the turnpike winds through the steep, thickly forested Allegheny Mountains, the trees still brown and bare against the gray sky. It’s late March, but western Pennsylvania still is untouched by spring.

wp-15854080629461258541571513882321.jpgWe left the turnpike and cruised easily into the city on normally congested I-376. We found Shadyside, on the east side, and picked up a carryout lunch, since these days in America “carryout” is all that’s available. Although we were near two universities, the streets and sidewalks were almost empty, here and there we spotted a lone jogger. After unloading Laura’s gear at her place, we all got hugs and said goodbye and good luck. Then Sandy and I headed downtown. I had to see it again.

Pittsburgh, at the junction of the massive Ohio, Allegheny, and Monongahela Rivers, is a pulsating, dynamic city, announcing a vibrant, loud, richly diverse urban life. The Steelers, the Pirates, and the Penguins all share the same team colors, unique among cities that host multiple major sports teams. Forty or so years ago the town started breaking from dependence on the dirty, lung-killing economy of steelmaking and began transforming itself into a health-care research center anchored by the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and advanced technology at Pitt and Carnegie Mellon University. Mills were torn down or rebuilt as offices, shops, and townhomes. Older homes and rowhouses surrounding the city have been refurbished but remain affordable. The city’s skyline and majestic bridges offer graceful, eye-catching attractions for photographers and tourists.

wp-15854081856714892423969811289312.jpgParking was no problem. A few pedestrians wandered about, probably doing what I was doing, exploring the heart of a city coping with the daily alarms about covid-19. I was able to stroll down the middle of the Roberto Clemente bridge, which crosses the Allegheny to link downtown and north Pittsburgh. Just to the east you’re looking at the Andy Warhol Bridge, which recognizes the city’s eccentric son, who grew up in Pittsburgh and honed his offbeat talent at Carnegie Mellon. Both spans frame the iconic downtown skyline that showcases headquarters of U.S. Steel, PPG Industries, PNC Financial, and H.J. Heinz.

It was a quick there-and-back-trip. We were proud of our daughter’s achievement. Yet we felt the acute sadness of the moment: we drove past the Tree of Life synagogue in Squirrel Hill, site of the horrific mass shooting in October 2018 and still displaying the poignant mementos left to honor the 11 victims. Pittsburgh, like the whole country, is wounded, struggling with the continuing tragedy of sickness, its businesses mostly shuttered, its people mostly staying home.

Yet while downtown we took heart at seeing the barge traffic on the Ohio and Monongahela, still steaming, hauling the products of western Pennsylvania’s factories and farms to the mills and markets of West Virginia, Kentucky, and beyond to southern gateways. Life has been forced to take a break for good health’s sake. But neither the city nor the state have quit working. Pittsburgh is looking for the win against this thing, and the next chapter of its rough-hewn, march-forward American story.


March 23, 2020

In Friday’s Washington Post, retired four-star Admiral William McRaven describes an experience during his SEAL training when his class was trapped overnight in cold, neck-deep mud. Men around him were about to quit. Then one voice began to echo through the night—one voice raised in song. One voice became two, then three. He writes: “Those of us stuck in the mud believed that if one of us could start singing when he was up to his neck in mud, then maybe the rest of us could make it through the night. And we did.”

He goes on, “coronavirus has thrown us all in the mud. We are cold, wet, and miserable, and the dawn seems a long way off. But while we should not be cavalier about the dangers of this pandemic, neither should we feel hopeless and paralyzed with fear. Hope abounds.”

wp-15848149911383284523367270189969.jpgMcRaven commanded the U.S. Special Operations Command until he retired in 2014 and, before the SOCCOM job, the SEAL unit that killed Osama bin Laden in 2011. In his Post piece he advances a unique take on the pandemic—not another throwaway opinion, but a way of looking at life that’s largely alien to the spouting from the current slate of TV pontificators. One example: Bill Ackman, CEO of Pershing Square Capital Management and a certifiable billionaire.  “Hell is coming,” Ackman warned last week, if Trump doesn’t “shut down the country for 30 days.”

“America will end as we know it, I’m sorry to say, if Trump doesn’t take this action,” Ackman went on. “The hotel industry and the restaurant industry will go bankrupt first, Boeing is on the brink.”

Very soon, maybe this week, we’ll see network ads for “The Stand,” the interminable movie version of Stephen King’s bleak 800-page novel about a manmade virus that kills most of the world’s population.

At the other extreme, the deniers still are out there, picking up where Trump left off a week ago: covid-19 is a hoax staged by the Dems to wreck the economy and steal the election; it was manufactured in a weapons lab in China; the flu is way more serious; it’s the “beer (Corona) virus.” Until a few days ago, college kids were still having fun on spring break.

We drove home last Tuesday, the last leg of our 16-day odyssey to Florida and South Carolina. Traffic was light through Charlotte and Durham and didn’t pick up much in Richmond or in northern Virginia. Folks seem to be listening to the warnings. Arriving around 6 PM, we unpacked and watched the evening news: Trump at the lectern, more cases, more deaths, more warnings. The Congressional debate over a gargantuan mailing of cash to nearly every American citizen and business, without regard to actual need, was exploding in slow motion, as Republicans and Democrats fell over each other to buy the November election.

I went for a slow run Thursday. Traffic on the main street near our place was busy as folks still headed for work or, I imagined, to the supermarket, mentally preparing themselves for combat over stuff they think they’ll need in case of political and social collapse.

The sun was warm and comforting. Landscape workers with the local HOA were mowing lawns, cultivating flowerbeds, pruning trees. Roofers and plumbers were working on projects around the neighborhoods. A pack of kids in shorts and tee-shirts was heading for a neighborhood playground. The parking lot at a nearby strip mall was nearly full.

We are wrestling with the suspension of daily life. Some recognize the risk, some don’t. We know, or should know, the danger is out there, surrounding us. What distinguishes U.S. urban neighborhoods from those of Italy’s cities, where hundreds are dying? Is the risk lower for less densely populated suburbs? On Saturday, the local emergency room was empty when I stopped by, staffers were wearing masks. Social distancing is all we’ve got: wash hands, don’t stand next to somebody and sneeze. Still, it’s a crapshoot. We still need groceries.

Getting back to McRaven’s take, his Post piece was excerpted from his 2014 commencement speech at the University of Texas, his alma mater, in which he advised the graduates to make their beds. Make their beds? Make your bed, his message for brand-new college graduates?

He goes on to talk about the challenge of his SEAL training, which apart from the physical and mental intensity, actually is like making your bed, which is: face the task at hand and complete it, every day. If your day is filled with disappointment and failure, you still come home to a task completed. And that task is one completed, one act accomplished, no matter how simple and mundane. A task completed represents the exercise of will, it represents discipline and perseverance. And discipline and will point to a singular virtue: hope. For McRaven, through the daily torture of his training, hope remained, and sustained him.

For Christians, for all believers, hope is a theological virtue. In the Catholic catechism, hope “responds to the aspiration to happiness which God has placed in the heart of every man … it keeps man from discouragement; it sustains him during times of abandonment; it opens up his heart in expectation of eternal beatitude. Buoyed by hope, he is preserved from selfishness and led to the happiness that flows from charity.”

These lines express one more fundamental truth: hope is personal, a quality of the soul. McRaven seeks to inspire, to frame the inner blessings of hope for the nation, or nations struggling to confront a still-mysterious plague. He seeks what FDR sought to achieve with “nothing to fear but fear itself” nearly nine decades ago: to raise the public spirit by elevating the individual soul.

The discourse that pounds us daily with the parlous litany of covid-19 statistics alongside the continuing fumbles of government tempts us to anger, despair, abandonment of any sense of hope. McRaven, one eloquent dissenter—and there are others—reminds us to make our beds, to stand fast as we face the nightmare, to complete our tasks, to hope, to overcome.

Warning and Answer

March 16, 2020

We started to walk out the door of our daughter’s home near Greenville, S.C., to attend a school program at which our grandson had a starring role in front of 300 people. My phone rang. Our son, a medical physicist at a New Jersey hospital urged us, with no give in his voice, to sit tight. We, like millions of Americans, now are “social distancing”: staying home.

Suddenly we’re all staring at our mortality. It’s highly likely we are going to get this thing. We understand that the projections of positives still are too optimistic. Contact is nearly unavoidable. The updates overwhelm the tenuous confidence we feel, or felt, about life in the pseudo-techno age. We assumed the federal government, some expert or agency, would take charge and clear all this up. We know now, four months after we first heard of covid-19, how wrong we were.

So–now what? Only this: persevere. Stay the course, whatever it is. Appreciate the fear and the panic, adjust for it.  Remember faith. Encourage, console others. Fly the aircraft.

wp-15842223838017570669461693543713.jpgBefore the world changed we finished our two Florida weeks peacefully in Edgewater, visiting cousins Eugene and Jean. Edgewater is a small, quiet spot. Modest-to-elegant neighborhoods are bound by U.S. 1 and the Intercoastal Waterway, which spreads a gentle tidal flow through a network of unpopulated, semi-tropical islands. It’s typical Florida—retirement and fishing are very big, but without the crowds and bedlam of the south or the glitz of the Gulf side.

Monday we discovered the gopher turtles at Dunes State Park in New Smyrna Beach. We drove four miles along the beach to reach the park. The Atlantic, whipped by a wp-15842763750601758190408507539657.jpgstiff wind, broke into whitecaps. The turtles live in the dunes, you can watch them dig their nests, as deep as 30 feet, from a two-mile-long catwalk. In the distance to the north we could see the highrises of Daytona Beach, Cape Canaveral is just to the south. The breeze stayed with us, easing the warmth of the March sun. On Tuesday we got Eugene’s boat out on the Waterway and chugged through calm waters. Near the ocean Eugene watched his fishfinder, and we dropped anchor a couple of times so he could toss a baited line, the fish weren’t interested. Sleek sailboats cruised by, their hulls gleaming in the glorious sunlight, crewmen waving.

We headed inland the next day. Blue Springs State Park lies along the St. John’s River in a Florida wilderness, miles from the coastal breezes and lush with tropical rainforest.

Westbound on dusty country roads, I recalled I once had a family connection to inland Florida. Decades ago Eugene’s parents, my aunt and uncle on my mother’s side, moved here from farther south, after pulling up their stakes on Long Island. We drove past their old neighborhood in Orange City, an off-the-beaten-track place but a gateway to the rural inland. The settlements are fewer, the scrub woods denser. For me it was a foreign place. When the aunt and uncle passed their children brought them back to Long Island. The family tie was fleeting, but prompted memories.

Just north of the park Eugene and I got out of the truck and walked up a faint trail along the river. “Watch out for the alligators,” he suggested, only partly joking. The forest got thick quickly, the air was thick and pungent. I looked around nervously.

wp-15842222279424391220489525465895.jpgA park ranger briefed us on the variety of the area’s wildlife, including panthers, that visit mostly when the tourists leave. The park borders a natural spring that brings crystal-clear water to the river. The spring is home to a rich range of marine life and is famous as a haven for manatees, slow-moving mammals native to tropical waters that can grow to 12,000 pounds. We caught a glimpse of one huge adult, scarred by boat propellers, grazing on water plants as he or she cruised slowly to the river.

I walked the half-mile trail through the surrounding jungle to the mouth of the spring, which extends more than 100 feet into the earth to a subterranean river. I was alone. The silence was welcome but drew my thoughts to the strangeness of the moment, the covid-19 news encroaching, stocks crashing, the Trump indifference. Meanwhile, our thinking about the future is suddenly more complicated, less certain, than the previous week.

As a sort of comic relief, last week was Bike Week in Daytona Beach. Thousands of husky, tattooed guys and gals on huge Harleys cruised U.S. 1 and adjoining highways, packing bars and fast-food and pizza joints, their engines blasting and deafening the locals, the bikes massed row on row across acres of parking. The local cops and state troopers circled in squad cars nearby. The event rivals the big biker rally in Sturgis, S.D., in August, which I’ve told Sandy we’ll get to one of these years. Today I wonder: are they social distancing?

We skipped Trump on TV Wednesday night. We shoved off Thursday, as Eugene and Jean talked about cutting their winter short and heading back to New York. Ten hours later we stepped out of the van at Mike’s and Marie’s place, dazed by 500 miles on three interstates. Michael’s call came the next morning while the warnings and cancellation announcements lit up the networks and the internet. A trip to a couple of grocery stores confirmed the national uneasiness, with shelves of non-perishables cleared.

We’ll talk, as we always do on these visits, about the attractions of South Carolina, the state parks, mountains, beaches, mild weather, quality health care. We may see a little of that this trip, nodding at the panic but steering clear of crowds. Then home, with memories, hard lessons, and a constant thought. Now, today: courage.

Gulf Coast

March 9, 2020

The second night of our Florida junket was the night of tragedy in Tennessee. We checked on family and kept those victims, the well-off in East Nashville and the less-well off in Putnam County, in our prayers. Tornadoes don’t discriminate, but news directors do, and within 24 hours the networks had turned their attention back to the coronavirus and “super Tuesday.”

Trucking from Savannah to Sarasota, we were waylaid at the Florida welcome center by the state transportation department, which threatens gullible tourists like us with tickets and fines if they don’t buy a “Sunpass” to pay tolls electronically. We spent an hour fumbling with the vending machine that sells the pass and the computer terminal that registers your user name, password, license, etc., costing us $45. We learned later that the locals don’t fall for it–they pay the tolls in spare change.

We spent a couple of days with friends Bill and Gina in Sarasota, wishing that were longer. On a boat ride at Myakka River State Park we looked at the alligators sprawled along the riverbank. They seldom move a muscle, enjoying the attention. We did hit Venice Beach after battling snowbird traffic. The air was warm, the water chilly. We stared out at the Gulf’s weird aquamarine shades, the reflection of sunlight on the shallow sandy bottom. Bill treated me to a visit to a spot off the tourist route, the Sarasota National Cemetery, nearly 300 acres of exquisite solemnity. We walked through the delicately engraved pillars that honor the nation’s warriors. When we left town the next day Sandy and I detoured back for a second visit to take in again the quiet beauty of the place.

wp-15835033617374463923597123937385.jpgInterstates are interstates, but I-275 took us soaring up that monster Sunshine Skyway Bridge over Tampa Bay, aptly named, since you see only sky on the ascent, then only water on the way down. The highway to New Port Richey then winds through the St. Pete and Tampa suburbs, the downtown skylines gleaming on the horizon through a thin haze that even in early March advertises that classic Florida summer heat. The trip becomes a long slog along U.S. 19, one of those hundreds of six- and eight-lane roads across America lined with auto dealerships and fast food and chain restaurants, and divided every mile by traffic signals. Since it’s the South, here and there you see a small church perched amidst the retail jungle.

Our friend Tricia arrived on the Gulf Coast from Virginia 10 years ago and established herself as a savvy real estate agent. The local market is booming, she says. Thousands are moving in daily, filling new subdivisions and gated communities and jamming the roads, even while the immigrant oldsters meet their Maker or return north. We walked through New Port Richey’s brand-new city park, snapping photos of the egrets. The modest downtown is wedged between high-rise condo towers along the water and older ranch-type homes on the east side. In the evening we trooped to the nearby Tarpon Springs waterfront, settled by Greek fishermen whose descendants harvest natural sponges from the Gulf seabed. Dozens of shops around the harbor sell them, along with Tarpon Springs tee-shirts, knickknacks, Tarpon Springs anything.

wp-15836153083841599943910994929729.jpgWe quit being tourists the second day in New Port Richey. I helped with chores: crawling through the attic looking for water damage, laying roofing tar, recaulking the tub. It was mundane, nuts-and-bolts stuff, but I enjoyed it all, glad to be useful, recalling all the odd maintenance projects I’m wrestling with at home. More normalcy: we trooped into Tampa that evening for an Orioles-Yankees spring training game at George Steinbrenner Park, which sits next to Raymond James Stadium, home of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the junction of three traffic-choked local roads. It was a peaceful evening watching mostly non-roster players try to make their teams without the manic electronic cheerleading of big-league parks.

It was a rushed visit, as they always are. Tricia fielded calls the way real estate people do, weekdays, evenings, weekends. She left for a while to show a house, we kept busy. Then more chores, more local tourism, more Florida. Yesterday we said goodbye to New Port Richey and headed for Edgewater, on the Atlantic coast, to see my cousin Eugene and his wife Jean, who winter there. We cruised U.S. 54 out of Pasco County, past acre after acre then mile after mile of newly excavated swampland, sites of soon-to-come subdivisions.

Hitting I-75, then I-4, we relapsed into wondering what’s next. Probably not Florida. The mild weather is a nice break, but summer is rushing in here, with its relentless tropical humidity. The rush-hour traffic reminds us of I-95 at home. This place, for me, is for visiting, in midwinter, once in a while.

But our ties to Virginia have loosened. Friends and family have uprooted themselves with no regrets. The Woodbridge running group members, those still around, are planning escapes to sunnier, cheaper places. I’m painting our hallways and bathrooms, sprucing up the yard, checking the plumbing and electrical. We’re talking to the home-repair people and to friends who’ve done it already.

We know any place, its local attractions, and climate and tax situation are a distraction, a sideshow. The Tennessee tornadoes seem to be still with us, although it’s 32 years since we left friends and family there. Others are in Florida, but they’re also in South Carolina, Colorado, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Seattle, elsewhere. We’ve seen all those places.

We know, really, what we want and need. It’s not complicated, it’s what everyone wants and needs: the human connections that create the sense of–well, the sense of being in the world, meaning finding the way to hold those connections close, to watch the kids and grandsons grow to be themselves, then to start summarizing things, meshing the lessons we can still take from what’s past with what remains ahead.

No Reservations

March 2, 2020

We loaded the van Saturday night, then yesterday headed down I-95, destination Florida. We were due, after a rough week. The anticipation has been building since last weekend, when I volunteered at a monster trail event, the 71-mile Reverse Ring out in Virginia’s Massanutten Mountains. Brutally cold, around 15F at the start. Only 29 runners showed up, the running club’s hard core. Maybe the others are catching on to how tough that thing is.

The early cold hung with us as I sneaked through my 71st birthday on Tuesday. Our youngest daughter sent a card showing a farmer looking at a field of wheat and saying, “This wheat looks great, but I could’ve sworn I planted corn.” Me, too.

We observed Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent, the season of repentance. By then the whole world was repenting—scratch that, panicking.

You can watch the evening news, but you can’t do anything about the virus, nor about the crashing markets. That’s life, in all its tragedy and strangeness; we’ve bumped up against the outer limits of medical and financial expertise. No one really knows what’s happening. Best to think of other things.

Florida is one. We’re visiting friends and family there. But Florida, as I wrote a while ago, is a kind of metaphysical destination, an otherworldly, faraway place to shoot for when you know you need to change the scenery, and maybe other things along with it.

The trip is a bit of wishful thinking. In my imagination it mimics the Road Trip we embarked on in August 2018, which gave birth to “On the Road.” The original idea was that the blog would be a journal of the trip. I’ve been short on reporting on places that take us beyond our present predicament. The Montauk, Long Island junket back in October qualified, although I had been to Montauk as a kid, that is, a lifetime ago. So did Chadd’s Ford, Penn., at Thanksgiving, when we walked the battlefield at Brandywine, where in September 1777 the British guessed smartly and General Washington did not.

The point is the experience, the newness, but only a certain kind of newness. We’re tourists, like people who go for river cruises in Europe, who like museums, cathedrals, statues, fountains. We’ve all done it at some point, to some degree.

But admit it, you’re trading away something to gawk at all that antiquity. It’s not just the expensive tickets, the herding along with the crowd. It’s becoming a hostage to your “bucket list,” in the cliché.  You’ve paid all that money and are finally in the famous place or looking at that famous painting or statue. You’re also lugging the brochures, snapping cellphone photos, mostly forgettable, ducking or not ducking the souvenir vendors and buying overpriced stuff at the gift shop, standing in line at tourist restaurants. You’re vulnerable to airline delays and other travel nightmares. The local people want your money but otherwise wish you’d go away.

Sorry about the grumpiness. Lots of people put up with all that. My instinct: if you want history, read it.

For the Florida trip we looked at airfares from D.C.’s three airports and car rentals through the car rental companies, “Priceline,” etc. We added in the costs of a cab to and from the airport and of checking a suitcase. We thought about the petty officiousness of the TSA gauntlet, the conveyer belts, the scans, the drudgery of the boarding ritual, the sense of helplessness at flight delays and cancellations, and now, more than ever, the germ incubator that is a commercial aircraft.

Our Road Trip had one bottom line: freedom. We stopped in odd places, put up our tent, and cooked our dinner. We walked around a bit, snapped some pictures (many forgettable), then crawled into the tent for the night. In the morning we gulped our cereal, threw the gear in the van, and took off. It wasn’t all hard duty, we holed up in a few roadside motels. We saw Athens, Ohio, Seymour, Ind., Sumner, Ill., Shamrock, Tex., Williams, Ariz., Meridian, Miss. We rushed through Austin, San Antonio, Galveston, as the clock ticked down on my biopsy appointments. We did pick up some brochures. But we were free.

wp-15831074980161161935572043824993.jpgWe left before dawn yesterday for our overnight stop in Savannah. Just ten miles out, the angled spire of the Marine Corps Museum at Quantico beckoned, a graceful steel metaphor of that iconic photo of the flagraising on Mount Suribachi.  Then Fredericksburg, Richmond, Roanoke Rapids, Fayetteville. The exits and rest stops flew by.

Memories sneak back. Twenty-odd years ago I drove this route in our snug little Buick Skylark with our son and two younger daughters to Kiawah Island, just south of Charleston, for a free week’s vacation at a house owned by an old friend who had offered us the place. To ease the car crowding, Sandy flew. Michael was 15, the girls were 13 and 10. At Florence, S.C., I left the interstate and let Michael drive. For hours we chugged through forests and swamplands along U.S. 52, skirting the Francis Marion National Forest and giant Lake Moultrie, the mangroves draped in thick Spanish moss. We saw by accident the vernal, hidden corners of the Carolina Low Country, beauty side-by-side with poverty. The kids still talk about it.

St. John’s, Savannah

In Savannah we got dinner at the loud but easygoing Crystal Beer Palace, the former Gerken Family Grocery. At dusk we walked past the lovely gardens on Harris Street to the Cathedral. The air was clear with a gentle chill, reminding us that it’s still winter, the winter they endure in this genteel Southern place.

But we’re skipping side excursions this time. This trip has a rushed aspect, as if it’s long overdue, a reunion with friends and family long distant, busy with their own lives. We’re keeping our promise to ourselves to see them in our own deliberate way, detouring around the glitter, the pizzazz, the myth of the place that lures millions. Not our scene.

We’re looking forward to all of it, the recharging, the renewal, the lessons to be learned from change and discovery. It won’t last forever, it won’t last long.  But then, no reservations, no waiting. Then a wave goodbye, and a course set for home.