P is for People – #atozchallenge

I am enriched by people. They inspire me, they teach me, they bring me joy.

I have often been told that I have never met a stranger. And it’s true. I am unabashed around people. Whether it’s joking with a person in line at a grocery store or interacting with the person at a table next to me in a restaurant, I always feel comfortable.

Having a huge elephant ear with friend Robert Phinney in Dayton, WA
Got to meet Nelson Campbell, Director of the well know documentary Plant Pure Nation, in Louisville, KY

The same goes with my travels. I have been blessed to have met hundreds of unique individuals from all walks of life.

The diversity of people enriches us.

Unlike my other posts in this series, I am stretching far beyond the boundaries of back roads in America. This post will take the reader to Japan, the Philippines, Canada and beyond. As a tour guide in Flagstaff I got to interact with 100s of nameless tourists from all over the world. Working in Japan in the late 1980s, I met more unique folks from the far corners of the earth.

Met the Seattle Smile Guy along the way. Didn’t want money… just wanted smiles
Motorbike Quartet in Cebu, Philippines
Street Person – Cebu

First off, there are the “random people.” The people I have photographed on the streets while traveling. Here are a few, including some from the Philippines during my trips there in 2007. From the loneliness of street people, to the unique shots I would see from the car as I drive by in some small town, these people add color.

 

Siesta Time – Cebu
Belly Rubbing – Carbon Market – Cebu
Street Person – Toronto
Walking by the Art – Toronto
Relaxing – Weatherford, Texas
Standing – Antlers, Oklahoma
Old Man – Paducah, Kentucky
Sleeping on a Bench – Lexington, Kentucky
Street Person – Dallas, Texas
Meditation – San Xavier del Bac, Tucson, Arizona
Hanging with Ukranians at Fat Smitty’s in Discovery Bay, WA
Sumoflam and Antsy McClain

For years, I have worked and often traveled with singer/songwriter Antsy McClain to many parts of this country. I have been blessed to meet many wonderful musicians, some very well known, others not so well known. Many I have gotten to know well…not as musicians, but as people.

Many of the musicians I have met are genuine.  They are such neat people…not pretentious at all.  It is nice to talk to them about life.  One of them, Bobby Cochran, who played guitar for Antsy for a few years, was also the lead guitarist for the band Steppenwolf in the 1970s.  I saw him as a fan back in 1975 and never imagined I would be traveling on the road with him talking religion, politics and life.

Hanging with guitarist Bobby Cochran in Bardstown, KY in 2011
Sumoflam and world renown guitarist Tommy Emmanuel, c.g.b.
Sumoflam and GUITARIST EXTRAORDINAIRE Edgar Cruz from Oklahoma
One of my favorite people – multitalented musician Bruce Wandmayer, from Santa Cruz, CA
Hanging with my Aussie mate, multiinstrumentalist Pauly Zarb.
Have become good friends with the lovely former country rock singer Patti Hall, who now sells real estate in Phoenix
Sumoflam and guitarist Michael Kelsey from Indiana – he is one of my favorite guitarists and musicians. He is also a fabulous person.
“Crafty” Jack Burger from Lethbridge, Alberta

Another Antsy fan I met in Lethbridge, Alberta. Crafty Jack is a carpenter and master luthier. I spent two days with he and his sweet wife “Little Debbie” back in 2008. He taught me and my son about guitar making and took us on a nice adventure to Vulcan, Alberta to learn about Star Trek. Also, while in Lethbridge we enjoyed a dinner with him and Debbie in a converted water tower.  What a trip! Our visit with him was out of this world!

I have spent time with Crafty and Debbie in California and also on a cruise to Cancun.  We strolled the historic site of Tulum in Mexico together.  So blessed to know these great folks.

Sumoflam at the USS Enterprise Monument (with Crafty Jack) in Vulcan, Alberta (2007)
One of many Flamingoheads

Along the way I have become close friends with many Antsy fans. These “Flamingoheads,” as they are called, are also a diverse and lovely flock of folks. Some have become lifelong friends.

A couple of these Flamingoheads took great care of me on a visit to California in 2015. “Christmas Carla” and “Princess Ione” provided housing, touring and transportation for nearly a week. I got to know them, not as fans of Antsy, but as the real people they are with their unique life stories.

Enjoying the ride in California with “Christmas Carla” (she was born on Christmas day.
Ione (L) and Carla (R)…kissin cuzzins!!
BBQ Pitmaster Oliver Zuder showing off his trophy at the Oshawa Ribfest in 2008 in Ontario

My travels across Canada and the US have led me to others. Take, for instance, Oliver Zuder, a BBQ pit master from Ontario. I met him at Camp 31 BBQ in Paris, Ontario in 2013 and we became friends soon. I went to BBQ competitions to watch him and his brother Davor make people smile with satisfaction.

In the past couple of years, Oliver has started a new BBQ business called Uncle Sam’s BBQ, also in Ontario.   We keep in contact and my mouth waters every time I think of him.

Davor Zuder and some smokin’ ribs at Oshawa Rib Fest in Ontario in 2008

Crisscrossing the country I have met and chatted with cafe owners and shop owners. Their colorful stories enrich.

Carrie Fields, owner – Tightwad Cafe in Tightwad, MO
Tonya Floyd, current owner of the Wigwam Drive-in in Ravenna, KY
Sumoflam with Nancy Starvaggi Schaffer, showing off the AMAZING homemade sausage and pasta from Mama Santa’s Restaurant in Cleveland, OH
Donating on of my “MARDUP” license plates at Carhenge. I wonder if it is hanging on the wall…

I have also had my brushes with celebrities in my travels. As a tour guide in Arizona in 1983, I once met Alice Cooper in a restaurant parking lot in Sedona. We talked Golf and politics for 30 minutes. No selfies, no autographs. Just two people chatting.  On another occasion, I was attending a solar conference in Kobe, Japan in 1991. At lunch I sat with some other non-Japanese from Norway. We chatted a while and then I was introduced to Morten Harket, who I immediately recognized as the lead vocalist for the group A-ha (Take on Me). He happened to be a huge advocate of solar energy. We talked about many things. No pictures or autographs. Just enriching conversation.

David with Nadia Comanci – spent three days with her as her personal guide in Kyushu

One of my fond memories was being on the road for three days in Kyushu, Japan as the personal guide and interpreter for Olympic gold medalist Nadia Comaneci. I spent hours listening to her harrowing escape from the Communist regime in Romania. Though a national hero, she was also a prisoner to dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu. Fascinating stuff.

 

Sumoflam and Swamp People’s Troy Landry…one of the friendliest and most personable guys you’ll ever meet (Troy that is…)
Sumoflam with Troy Landry – 4 years after saying I would meet this guy

Back in August 2010 I watched the first episode of the TV show Swamp People. Already an avid traveler and travel writer, I became fascinated with the show, which featured Gator hunters in Louisiana. One of them, Troy Landry, was quite a character. I told my wife “one day I am gonna track him down and meet him.” In 2015 I did just that. I visited his bait shop and crawfishing facility in Pierre Part, LA. He happened to be there buying loads and loads of crawfish from fishermen. We talked and chatted for 30 minutes or more while he worked. Friendly and outgoing, and totally good natured, he told stories of Gator hunting, told me about the crawfishing business and the let me “choot him” in a selfie.

Hanging with Danielle Colby from American Pickers at Antique Archeaology in 2012

On another roadtrip, this time into Iowa, I visited the small town of LeClaire, on the Mississippi River. This was the home to Antique Archaeology, the Antique shop made famous by the hit TV Show American Pickers. While there in that hot July afternoon, I was told that Danielle Colby, one of the cast members, was around and was always happy to meet fans. She is the tattooed friendly gal that works with the pickers on the show. During my visit, I learned that she had her own business creating unique clothing and had a shop across the street. I went over there and we chatted about her work, her roller derby hobby and her work as a burlesque dancer. She welcomed a selfie too.

Under one of Clyde’s massive creations…his 12 foot tall dragon
Clyde Wynia, the creator of Jurustic Park and the artist behind all of the work

Not so famous, but just as unique, was my opportunity to meet 80 year old Clyde Wynia, the creative mind behind the amazing Jurustic Park in Marshfield, WI. This former attorney turned his welding passion into a unique menagerie of metal creations, including giant dragons and small spiders. He gave me a personal tour and told some amazing stories.

Clyde tells stories of his various pieces of art

I also can’t forget to mention my encounter with “the one and only JFK,” James Frank Kotera, the Twine Ball Man of Lake Nebagamon, WI. (See full story and video HERE.)

Sumoflam with JFK, “Mr. Twine Ball” and “Junior” – August 2007

My travels have also led me to chance meetings with individuals with similar interests. And social media, especially Facebook, has extended that opportunity.

Portrait and landscape photographer Derek Ace (photo by Jeff Dostalek)
Derek Ace self portrait

On a trip to Wyoming in 2013, I stopped at a place called Hell’s Half Acre. A unique geological formation, it was a must see photo stop for me. I struck up a conversation with a young hot shot photographer named Derek Ace, from Madison, WI. We hit it off and I got his contact info. Derek and I have been Facebook friends ever since and I have been enlightened and enriched by his amazing photography, especially his desert works and his off the chain shots of abandoned buildings, rusted cars and sundry other forgotten treasures left behind.  See his Rural Ruins page for some great photos.

Author, travel writer, lecturer and musician Tui Snider of Azle, TX
Sumoflam and Tui Snider, June 2014

As an avid blogger of quirky things, I had a chance virtual encounter via the web of Texas Travel blogger Tui Snider. We exchanged notes about offbeat and quirky places in Texas and soon became good Facebook friends. On a subsequent trip to Texas in 2013, I finally met this amazing individual and her husband Larry at their gothic-accented home in Azle. Besides quirky things, Tui is also fascinated by the paranormal and has also become quite the expert on cemetery gravestone symbolism. She has published numerous books and articles. I count her as a dear friend.

Sumoflam with Shelly Cumbie in front of the historic Denton County Courthouse for a tour of the “Ghosts of Denton”
Writer, Radio Host, Sacred and Mysterious Site Traveler Teal Gray

Through Tui I have met ghost tour guide Shelly Cumbie in Denton, TX, who has provided many fascinating stories. I have also become a virtual friend of writer, blogger and podcaster Teal Gray.

Teal has actually done a live podcast interview with me on her internationally syndicated podcast.  She also recently write an article about my travel blogging and photography for the Dallas Entertainment Journal (see the link here)

Teal Gray Worldwide

The podcast can be heard in its entirety here:

Even my local staycation trips have led me to fascinating new friends, such as local bird and nature photographers and enthusiasts.  See some great photos by the members of the Jacobson Park Photographers Group which I started on Facebook. (see the site)

Photographing Wildlife with some of the Jacobson Park Photographers

I have also had the opportunity to meet local chefs that have been on Food Network competitions such as Cutthroat Kitchen or Guy’s Grocery Games. Ranada Riley, co-owner of the Lexington Diner, was one of these. Her “amazing” hairdo and unique cooking style have made her a local celebrity. But there is so much more to her beyond the cooking, whether it be her faith, her love for life or her diverse lifestyle. Meeting her in person and then following her life through social media has been a great adventure.

Ranada Riley, owner of the Lexington Diner in Lexington has been on television Food Network Competitions such as Guy’s Grocery Games and Cutthroat Kitchen

What more can I say? People bring me great joy and it is so fun to meet new folks every week!

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I is for Ingenuity – #atozchallenge

I am always intrigued about the ingenuity of humans. Their ability to build and create things that solves problems for them.

There are many examples of ingenuity to can be seen on the back roads of America. Whether it be bridges or towers or buildings. There is always something unique and interesting to see.

Tuckhannock Viaduct – Nicholson, Pennsylvania
Nicholson’s welcome sign features the Viaduct

One of my brightest memories of fascination comes from a town in eastern Pennsylvania called Nicholson. In this town, the train company needed a solution to get the train up high to pass by as the town was down in the valley. So, a giant viaduct was built. Called the Tunkhannock Creek Viaduct, this giant structure. towered over the town and allowed the trains to pass by way up on top of the town nestled below in the valley. To realize that this was built in 1915 is amazing to me. It is 2375 feet long, 240 feet tall and 34 feet wide. Yes, 24 stories tall!!!!! The bridge was built as

The viaduct is dizzying when looking up from below

part of the Clark’s Summit-Hallstead Cutoff, which was part of a project of the Lackawanna Railroad to revamp a winding and hilly system. This rerouting was built between Scranton, Pennsylvania and Binghamton, New York. All thirteen piers were excavated to bedrock, which was up to 138 feet below ground level. Almost half of the bulk of the bridge is underground. The bridge was built by the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad and was designed by Abraham Burton Cohen. Construction on the bridge began in May 1912, and dedication took place on November 6, 1915.

Tuckhannock Viaduct towers over the small town of Nicholson, PA
Cleveland’s tallest buildings

One needs only go to some of the older big cities such as New York, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Cleveland or Cincinnati, to see the tall buildings that were built in the 1930s and 40s. Naturally, these were to accommodate offices are in a crowded area. The building designs were amazing and are still beautiful to look at.

I really love the older buildings as they were obviously much more difficult to build and their architecture is so reminiscent of the times. I guess I grew up watching the old Superman movies and saw the old buildings used in these.

New York City 1959 (from an old family picture – I was actually there when this was taken.  Only 3 years old)
New York City, 2013 – taken from Hoboken, NJ
Cincinnati Skyline with its old buildings and numerous bridges
The Ascent at Roebling’s in Covington, KY across the river from Cincinnati

But not all of the buildings are old. There is a unique condominium structure that was built in Covington, which is a suburb of Cincinnati across the Ohio River into Kentucky. The structure is unique in its architecture.  And the amazing PPG Building in Pittsburgh really blows my mind…a true glass castle!

 

A view from below One PPG Place
Bridge over Mississippi River at Cairo, IL

I have also grown a fascination with bridges. These are massive structures that cross rivers great and small. In Cairo, Illinois there are two massive and Long Bridges. Cairo is where the confluence of the Ohio River flows into the Mississippi River. The Ohio River is at its deepest and widest point here and when going south through this area one must cross a bridge over the Ohio and then over the Mississippi. These bridges are amazing and it stuns me that the traffic and the years have not worn these bridges away.

The New River Bridge in West Virginia is THREE Statues of Liberty high above the river.  An amazing feat of engineering.

River Crossing near Cairo, IL
A view of the Detroit-Superior Bridge in Cleveland
High Level Bridge in Lethbridge, Alberta was built in 1909. It is 5327 feet long and the largest of its type in the world
Roberto Clemente Bridge in Pittsburgh
Cut Bank Creek Trestle, built in 1900 in Cut Bank, Montana
Sunset over Tacoma Narrows bridge in Washington
Bridges of Pittsburgh
Some of the kids viewing the massive New River Gorge Bridge in West Virginia in August 1995
Green Bridge near Redcliff, Colorado

I once crossed over a bridge in a valley in the mountains of Colorado (see above). This bridge to was stunning to me is you come down off of the hill and see the bridge down below. I wondered out loud at the time how engineers could fulfill this feat.

Golden Gate Bridge in 2016

Another of the great and fascinating Bridges is the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. Not only is it massive like the bridges in the east, it is also crossing over a giant bay and must also be earthquake proof.

Delaware Seashore Bridge
Veterans Memorial Bridge in Steubenville, OH

 

Some of the newer bridges are more unique and have their own kind of personality. The bridge crosses the bay in Delaware was stunning to me. I was fortunate enough to be at this bridge during sunset and cut the lovely photo of it above.

Many of the newer bridges have dozens of cables attached to large pillars.  They look futuristic and are cool to drive over.  I have seen quite of a few of these in recent years.

 

William H. Harsha Bridge from Maysville, KY into Ohio.
Rexburg, Idaho LDS Temple

Ingenuity is this not stop just at skyscrapers and bridges. There are many religious structures that can be seen across the country that are also amazing feats of engineering. Take for instance today LDS temple in Salt Lake City. The stones gathered to build that building came from the canyons and had to be hauled by horse drawn wagons.

Many of the other LDS temples are also spectacular.  But they are not the only religious buildings.

Old Church “San Xavier del Bac” in Tucson

The old church in Tucson, Arizona called San Xavier del Bac, was built in the 1700s and one can only wonder how the Spaniards built this beautiful and unique structure in the middle of the desert.

Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Galveston
Chapel of the Holy Cross in Sedona, AZ
St. Mary’s Basilica, Marietta, OH
Central Presbyterian in Cambridge, ON
Hoover Dam and Bridge (photo credit hdrinc.com)

I have crossed over the Hoover Dam in Nevada and the Glen Canyon Dam in Arizona numerous times. These are some of the largest dams in the United States and when you stand on the edge and look down it is dizzying. And to think that these damn’s were built in the 1940s and 1950s is amazing. The ingenuity of the engineers that designed and manage the construction of these is beyond words to me.

On the top of the world on Beartooth Highway that borders Wyoming and Montana south of Red Lodge, MT
Sumoflam at the Oak Creek Canyon Overlook in 1982. You can see hairpin turns at right

And finally, some of the highways themselves are stunning pizza engineering. Have I overused those words already? The Beartooth Highway in northern Wyoming and the highways that go across the Rocky Mountain National Park are a couple prime examples of this. Even the winding hairpin turns of Oak Creek Canyon Road from Flagstaff to Sedona are quite amazing.

Ingenuity from the 1880s — Longest Covered Bridge in Canada, West Montrose Covered Bridge, West Montrose, ON opened in 1881

Though I am more drawn to the unique and quirky things to see around the country and perhaps closer to the nature of birds and animals and trees and clouds, I am nevertheless grateful and overwhelmed by the ingenuity of humans in the spirit of design and innovation. What needs only open their eyes on the highway and think about some of the things that have been built whether they are bridges, buildings or even monuments to fallen heroes. There is always inspiration to be seen and felt from the ingenuity of the human spirit.

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H is for History – #atozchallenge

One cannot travel any road in America or Canada without running into some sort of historical site, monument or building.  That is part of the fun of a back road adventure.  Our country of 2017 is defined in great part by the history of the country dating back to the 1600s (and earlier if you count the Native Americans).

Camp Disappointment west of Cut Bank< Montana looks out towards the mountains of Glacier National Park.  This is one of many Lewis and Clark Monuments across the United States.
Monument in Beachville, Ontario commemorating the first baseball game in Canada.

Dotting the roads of America are historical markers that tell about events that occurred in that exact location or nearby. There are literally 1000s of these. In the eastern US many of them are about Civil War incidents while in the west many are related to Indian Wars, Lewis and Clark or pioneers.  They are often interesting to stop and read.  As a History/Geography major in college, I have found these to be a sort of “roadside wikipedia.”

Historical Marker about West Columbia, TX
Fort Steuben Historical Site, Steubenville, OH
The Overland Trail historic Sign
Pound Gap Historical Sign on the Virginia/Kentucky Border
Rugby, ND in 2014
Alligator Blues Marker in Alligator, MS – One of many markers along the Blues Highway in Mississippi
Plaque describing the naming of the roads This Way and That Way in Lake Jackson, TX
Meriwether Lewis meets John Clark at the Falls of the Ohio in Clarksville, IN

When traveling through the heart of the country, one can come across a myriad of monuments and historical sites dedicated to Meriwether Lewis and William Clark…better known as just Lewis Clark.  From May 1804 to September 1806, these two, accompanied by 29 or 30 others, in what was named by then President Thomas Jefferson as the “Corps of Discovery.” They left Camp Dubois (near St. Louis) and ventured westward to the Pacific Coast.  In my travels I have come across dozens of monuments, plaques, museums and other places all dedicated to or referencing this amazing expedition.  Their pioneer spirit has always amazed me.

One of a number of Lewis and Clark Murals in Independence, MO
A plaque commemorating a Lewis and Clark Campsite near Elk Point, South Dakota
Pioneer Relief Sculpture at Council Bluffs Library

Of course, after them went the pioneers.  There were those who followed the Oregon Trail.  Others, chiefly the Mormons, forged their own trail, now called the Mormon trail.  In the south there was the famed Santa Fe Trail.  Then, along the way there were other smaller, lesser known trails, such as the Oyate Trail in South Dakota, and others.  Travel the roads that follow these trails and an abundance of unique history can be seen.  As a member of the LDS Church (Mormon) I have been able to visit many church historical sites.

A sculpture of a pioneer/trapper overlooks the Shields Valley in Montana
Pioneer brotherhood – Pioneer Memorial, Omaha, Nebraska
Pioneer Monument – Opal, WY
Life size Pioneer Diorama on outside of the National Oregon/California Trail Center in Montpelier, ID
LDS Church founder Joseph Smith’s Cabin in Palmyra, NY
Martins Cove in Wyoming, part of the Mormon Handcart Trail
Sumoflam and Cannons at Vicksburg National Military Park

Across a good portion of the southeast and all the way into Ohio and Pennsylvania, one will come across a plethora of Civil War related monuments, historical sites and otherwise.   Many sites have annual Civil War reenactments.

The big parks such as Vicksburg and Gettysburg are huge and have a ton of history.  But there are smaller ones, such as Perryville Battlefield in Kentucky that are unique in their historic perspective.

Sculpture at Vicksburg
Gettysburg Address Commemorative Sign, July 1998
Seth and Solomon with Civil War reenactors in Perryville, KY October 1994
Perryville Battlefield ReEnactment
One of four bronze statues that surround the large Civil War monument in Cleveland, OH. Called “At Short Range” it is a representation of the Artillery Group

In the far eastern parts of the United States one comes across places like the Jamestown Settlement and Williamsburg.  There are many others.

Kids in the Jamestown Settlement in August 1995
Kids take over the ship at Jamestown, VA – August 1995
Lucille Ball Birthplace

For fun, many cities have the “Birthplace of …” signs when you enter their small towns.  These could be famous actors, historical figures or athletes.  Typically there are monuments or statues.  I have come across many of these.  They are always a fun little side adventure.

I have come across many of these over the years.  Its always fun to “discover” the birthplaces.  (Ironically, Lucille Ball was born in Jamestown, NY…not the same as Jamestown, VA which I posted above.)  Some of the “birthplaces” are a bit on the corny side.

Sumoflam at Judy Garland birthplace in Grand Rapids, MN
Birthplace of John Wayne, Winterset, Iowa
Dean Martin mural in his birthplace of Steubenville, OH painted by Robert Dever in 1998
Singing Perry Como statue in downtown Canonsburg, PA
A couple of my children at the birthplace of Abraham Lincoln in the 1990s
Birthplace of Kermit the Frog, Leland, MS
Future Birthplace of James T. Kirk in Riverside, IA
Washington County Courthouse in Washington, PA

Then, of course, there are the historical buildings.  Hundreds of unique courthouses and their fascinating architecture can be seen in diverse little towns and counties.  There are old churches large and small.  And many long forgotten dilapidated old buildings.  All of them tell some sort of story about the place.

I have visited dozens of courthouses around the country.  I love the old architecture.  I have some favorites.  Some are more interesting than others. I have added a few below.

 

Denton County Courthouse-on-the-Square in Denton, TX
Woodstock, Ontario City Hall
Old courthouse in Wharton, TX
Courthouse in Buena Vista, CO
Madison County Courthouse, Winterset, Iowa
Lit Pillars at Courthouse in Columbia, MO
Old Church “San Xavier del Bac” in Tucson
Sumoflam and Pyramid in Nekoma, ND
Sumoflam Gothic at the Grant Wood American Gothic House in Eldon, IA
Old Prairie School House on Smith-Frisno Road west of Havre, MT. I wanted this one in black and white…
Mustard Display – Plastic Bottles – Mustard Museum in Wisconsin

 

Finally, there are the many “oddball” or “quirky” historical sites and objects.  One never knows what they will run into in a small town.  A quaint historical museum? An oddball monument? A unique cemetery?

 

 

I have had fun discovering historical sites, quirky museums and other fun stuff.  Here are a few below.

Sod House Museum, Gothenburg, NE
Mothman Museum in Point Pleasant, WV
Canadian Warplane Museum in Hamilton, Ontario
“Where’s the Beef?” memorabilia from the famed advertising campaign in the Wendy’s Museum in Dublin, OH
At the Idaho Potato Museum in 2013
My son Seth at the SPAM Museum in Austin, MN July 2004
The Pyramid in Nekoma, ND
Gateway to the Blues, Tunica, Mississippi
Kregel Windmill Factory Museum in Nebraska City, NE
The Rockpile Museum in Gillette, WY

History is the fabric of our country!

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