Jackie Gleeson’s overlooked statue


I collect the random, the obscure, the less well known sometimes. And just because I didn’t have much time in the last post, here is a statue to television history, we just happened to run into at the Port Authority Bus Terminal. Overlooked by most passersby, but beloved by my girlfriend Yvonne Rogers.

Ralph Kramden
I’ve only watched The Honeymooners recently in reruns on our local Knoxville channel MeTV that shows boomer shows, so it’s not like I had much exposure, except from its knockoff “The Flintstones.” As stated in the link above, it’s actually though one of many statues the channel TV Land put up to promote the shows it ran at the time.

The statue stands in a spot where most people are too busy to look at it. The light is too dim to really show the statue off much. Both are pointed out by the roadsideamerica.com post. But that just makes randomly finding it that much more amusing.

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Why New York, NY confuses East Tennesseeans


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New York, NY. Growing up, it was where everything happened in TV and movies from “Seinfeld” to “Sesame Street,” even though most shows weren’t actually filmed there. And its real life role as host of the UN and Wall Street make it hard to avoid. Not to mention its political importance as the city of Donald Trump before he was president, the place the world trade towers stood and fell nearly two decades ago and “The New York Times.”

Ralph Kramden
And “The Honeymooners.” More on that later.

So with all that in mind, it really struck me how alien the place is to a resident of the Knoxville, Tennessee area. It should be familiar given how much of it appears in popular culture. And it is still America: You’re never far from McDonald’s, Starbucks and the like, which is good as they’re cheaper than many local places. But the city’s basic mechanics are utterly bizarre to an East Tennessean.

This is not the first time I’ve found New York City confusing. While in Mexico, I’ll confess a fellow student in my program from NYC seemed more culturally different than the Mexicans I met.

My girlfriend Yvonne and I arrived July 14 and had to speed run everything, with Yvonne’s friend and now mine too, Cameron Williams, a local. But I suppose speed running NYC is exactly the right way to do it. NYC seemed to be all about speed, at least when traveling on foot. There were trains to catch and other people to catch up with. Indeed, NYC requires you to move faster and avoid stopping more when on your feet than when in a car.

I expected 42nd street to have parking. So, not having eaten since breakfast, and having roasted at mid-day in a Pennsylvania Dutch County traffic hold up for repairs, we searched. And searched. Until we found in and parked the car at a meter that was modern and digital and looked nothing like and East Tennessee one.

Starving, I headed with Yvonne to the glorious neoclassical structure of Grand Central Terminal and grabbed a spicy shrimp pastry at a Caribbean food stand. The stand only accepted cash, which was a bit strange to me but far from unique in NYC. It’s one of the few things New York has in common with a handful of backwoods hollers in Tennessee — which for the record are about equally strange to me.

Grand Central Terminal is, incidentally, a pretty impressive structure to visit for free. I recommend it.

While Cameron Williams, a friend of Yvonne’s who considers this city his home, if not his actual residence (that’s Long Island) wanted us to take the subway to meet him, we were confused enough at this point that we wanted to stay put and have him meet us.

We then went back to the car, and as Cam pointed out, there was a garage right there. It was just, apparently that all the people, buildings and everything else had made it so that a simple sign saying “Park.” As a side note, it was valet parking. Which to an East Tennesseean comes off about as normal, as any other case of giving your car to a complete stranger.

It was Saturday night and crowds swarmed everywhere we went as we ran around to get dinner and then ride the Staten Island Ferry. Often I found myself scrambling behind after taking pictures with my new phone, searching amid the sea of heads for Cam’s backward baseball hat.

Times Square
Times Square. More on that later.

Counter to what you might think, they were friendly crowds. And not formal ones like I’d expected from the city of Wall Street. It was summer, with plenty of short shorts, t-shirts and even a transparent shirt or two, not to mention the guy who did cartwheels in a bikini in Times Square. We stopped to pet dogs multiple times. A rude woman on the New York subway who was rude to others was an exception, not the rule. Indeed, complaining about her constantly telling people to “SHUT UP!” was a bonding experience with the other passengers once she decided to leave.

But I can’t honestly say I fit in here, as much as I enjoyed taking in the sights and sounds. The constant background noise of people talking, cars, subway station buskers and the like made me feel like I had to talk loudly. Which Cam kept telling me I was talking too loud. It was a bit of a mind blow that anyone could still hear me at normal volume.

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For dinner we had some tasty burgers at the Shake Shack, a licensed operation expanding from New York, but still unknown in the Knoxville area. To give a general idea of if you’d like it, the taste of its signature burger is somewhat similar to Cookout, a franchise that incidentally, hasn’t expanded farther north than Maryland and West Virginia.

Another observation: being an East Tennessean trying to scan my paper subway card and go through the subway turn-style is about as easy as being a two year old playing Super Mario Brothers for the first time.

I love New York, New York. I love the crowds in constant motion, speeding and slowing like rapids but always flowing. Yet the same time it’s like being in “Honey I shrunk the Kids” (that’s the non-superhero version of Ant-Man for you young folks). Familiar in a sense, but bigger and that bigness makes it weird. And on those streets I can finally know what plenty of tourists probably feel in the woods of my own Tennessee, scrambling between roots and rocks to avoid tripping.

Staten Island Ferry


It’s one of the few things in NYC that’s entirely free. Except its refreshments.

Manhattan
Manhattan as seen from the Staten Island Ferry. Photo by me.

I rode the Staten Island Ferry with my other half Yvonne and her good friend Cameron on the Staten Island Ferry, watching as Manhattan came into view, then faded behind us. Gulls flapped by and

From inside the city, it may seem crammed together, and unclear as to where what you’re seeing fits into anything larger.

New York City
Looking up from street level. Photo by me.

From the harbor you can really see it as a whole.

Manhattan
Manhattan as seen from the Staten Island Ferry. Photo by me.

I’m not seasoned enough to know how many of the faces of different ages, costumes and races and even language speakers aboard were locals as compared to tourists, although plenty of them on the deck seemed interested in a lot of what was there.

Cameron pointed out certain details of Manhattan, Jersey City, Staten Island and various ships as we went by.

Staten Island Ferry
Cameron points out various sights. Photo by me.

Probably for tourists, though, the ferry may be notable as a free way to see the most famous landmark in the area, a certain French statue. Cameron mentioned his great grandfather passing by it. And now we see it perhaps as it was meant to be seen, passing by it. I will warn you though, cell phones aren’t the best way to photograph it in the evening.

The mother of exiles
My ancestors would have seen this, if they hadn’t instead immigrated to Boston. Photo by me.

 

 

Fence lizards and sex


I’ve touched on eastern fence lizards before in my book Wildly Strolling Along. I’ve seen them on the tops of the Cumberlands and more recently at the top of House Mountain in the summer. Oddly enough though not much on fences.

Fence Lizard
Blurry? You try getting a fence lizard to stay still to be in focus.

I have so much else to write about, between New York City, NY; and Rumney and Stinson Lake NH which I’ve done since the House Mountain trip that I don’t have time to give a full run through on everything about these animals. So instead, I’ll just focus on mating.

And indeed, male fence lizards do much to sell themselves to females. If you want an academic take, this might be up to your speed. To summarize, males show off their blue throats and do push-ups to attract mates. I can do neither. You’d be lucky to see five pushups in a row from me before I collapse, as my girlfriend can attest. And yet she’s stayed with me for five years.

Immediately after sex, fence lizards go their separate ways and then the males try to hook up with someone else, so comparing them to any long term romantic human relationship isn’t really helpful. That’s probably just as well. If you pick a long term husband based on how well he shows off his blue throat, I doubt it would work out.

Also, the mothers also bury their eggs rather than watching them. We can’t judge them by our standards.

Also according to the above link, fence lizards are “fully mature” after one year.

As a side note, it’s rather odd that we consistently refer to sexual passion as being “animal.” And yet many animals have a specific mating season and never do anything else about sex at any other time of the year.

 

 

 

Berry Time in Tennessee!


Not quite ripe berries.
Some not quite ripe fruit near House Mountain.

It was just barely berry time a few weeks ago at the bottom of House Mountain. Meaning back in Tennessee it should be berry season now. I’m in New Hampshire meaning I have wild blueberries to eat, but anyone in Tennessee can enjoy the berries you have now. Any overgrown clearing, such as the one near House Mountain should be teeming with blackberries and raspberries.

Some taste sour when not quite ready, but so long as they’re at least kind of black, I tend to dig in.

My book “Wildly Strolling Along” has a section on Tennessee’s wild fruit, which I encourage you to check out. Blackberries and raspberries aren’t actually berries in the botanical sense of the word, but rather aggregate fruit. They’re pretty distinctive looking things and as my botanist Dad told me recently, no toxic fruit look like them.

If you want to learn more about which blackberries, blackberries or dewberries the ones in your area (if you’re in Tennessee) might be, check out this page  from the same university that gave my Dad his degree. Go Vols!

 

Does whatever a spiderwort can


Spider wort
Spiderwort at House Mountain near Knoxville, Tennessee

It’s time for summer wildflowers in East Tennessee, including spiderworts.

That link, by the way, is for people who want a scholarly overview of what in Latin are called Tradescantia. The truth is, I can recognize the genus, but need my Dad, Dr. Larry Pounds along to look closely with his field glass give the precise species. I love hiking independently from him, but sometimes I feel like he spoiled me in that now I miss being able to name every single species. The plant has long leaves with a small flower in the middle.

I know the name sounds like some kind of wizard school. “Wort” spelled that way is an old word for “plant” and has ended up in quite a few plant names.

I’ve seen spiderworts in the Cumberlands as my Dad and I discuss in our book: Wildly Strolling Along. Get your copy today at that link to learn more about Dad me and the plants of Tennessee!). The ones shown in this post however were from last weekend at House Mountain’s Mountain Trail.

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Hiking House Mountain in summer


House Mountain is a hidden treasure: a mountain very close to Knoxville, apart from both the Smokies and Cumberlands. While short even by East Tennessee standards, you can still see miles of surrounding countryside from its summit.

House Mountain overlook
The view from House Mountain.

Yvonne and I climbed up the Mountain Trail recently with our friend Linda. The two of us had originally wanted to reach Gregory Bald in the Great Smoky Mountains, but due to time concerns we aimed for something closer and shorter.

Closer and shorter, but still sweltering in the summer. Our older friend Linda, who came with us, decided to quit and lie on a rock rather than climb up all the way. We also ran out of water quickly in spite of me thinking I had enough bottles for Gregory’s Bald.

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House Mountain’s trail features various wildflowers.

In the summer, the climb features berries, butterflies and wildflowers, many of which will lead to later posts on this blog so stay tuned. It also features poison ivy, which doesn’t much affect me, but may lead to problems for others. So you may need long pants and even more water. But for me the trail is worth it.

Many locals know it well, so you won’t be entirely alone. At least we weren’t. But once they cleared out at the summit, it was just the two of us, the fence lizards and the vultures circling below us.

The trail is rocky. This used to make Yvonne panic but now she just sees it as part of a strategy. My strategy heading down is to trot fast enough that my momentum stops me from falling. Yvonne insists on carefully putting her feet in exactly the right places.

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Another view from House Mountain