Sunday, September 30, 2007

Drove from Kansas City to Decatur, Illinois, today. Trip took about seven-and-a-half hours, including a lunch stop in Hannibal, Missouri. On the road I came across several pickup trucks with dogs riding in the back. One stood sentry atop a toolbox, his nose pointing straight into the wind. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a happier animal in my life. (I know it’s not a good idea to drive around with a dog in the bed of your pickup. Nonetheless, when I was a little boy, my parents had a pickup and they used to drive around with my sister and me in the back!)

After I crossed the Mississippi into Illinois the landscape suddenly became more, well, boring. Flatter. Less colorful. It didn’t help that the highway I’d been on, U.S. 36, suddenly became a charm-free Interstate.

Around 4:30 I reached Springfield, home of the Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, which I will visit in the morning. Can never have too many presidential libraries on a road trip!

I stopped at a Super 8 – I actually have a Super 8 frequent traveler (or whatever) card. I checked in and went straight to my room. My tummy was rumbling, and I had to go to the bathroom RIGHT AWAY. I opened the door and immediately sat down. Then I noticed that the trash hadn’t been emptied. And that little bar of soap on the sink had been used. When I finally walked into the room I saw that the bed was unmade. For a minute I thought I’d just busted into somebody else’s room and gone to the bathroom urgently. Turns out the room hadn’t been made up. I went to the front desk and got a new room – in which the AC is broken and the TV remote is missing. But at least the bed was made.

Thursday, September 27, 2007


Yesterday I drove from St. Louis to Kansas City. Along the way I stopped at the Winston Churchill Muesum in Fulton, Missouri. Why is there a Winston Churchill Museum in the middle of Missouri? Because it was at Westminster College in Fulton that Sir Winston delivered his famous "Iron Curtain" speech. (His friend, the Missourian Harry Truman, had encouraged him to speak at Westminster.)

Anyway, it's a lovely little museum in the basement of a Christopher Wren church that was destroyed by German bombs during the Second World War, then reconstructed in Fulton. My favorite piece was a gray felt top hot signed on the top by Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin at Yalta.

Some random thoughts: Churchill and Truman couldn’t have come from more different backgrounds, but Harry didn’t hold Winston’s upbringing against him, and the two became quite close. … I hadn’t realized until yesterday that British MPs need not live in the districts they represent. … Churchill switched parties twice: from Conservative to Labour, then back to Conservative. … Churchill lost parliamentary elections in 1922, 1923, and 1924! … When his wife told him that losing the 1945 election might be a blessing in disguise, Churchill replied that it was “quite effectively disguised.”

Today I did some research at the Truman Library. I expect to stay in Kansas City until Sunday, when I will resume my journey.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

I'm in Merrillville, Indiana, which is about an hour south of Chicago. Staying at a Holiday Inn "Express," which means everything is smaller than it is at a regular Holiday Inn - except the price.

It seems a team of Under-16 soccer players has just checked in. They are currently running up and down the hall screaming. Oh those ruffians!

Yesterday I spent the day in Indianapolis with a delightful woman named Clair Clark. Clair's father, a Democratic Party bigwig named Frank McKinney, was a good friend of Harry Truman's, and Harry and Bess spent the night at the McKinney house on their way back to Independence back in '53. Clair showed me some of the letters Harry had sent her father. In one he says, "You can call me 'Harry'" (instead of "Mr. President").

The trip is going well. I'm getting a lot of research done. But it hasn't been a lot of "fun" - mostly work.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Last night I stayed at the McLure Hotel in Wheeling, West Virginia. Harry and Bess stayed here on their trip back East. The McLure was also the site of one of the twentieth century’s most notorious political speeches: On February 9, 1950, speaking before a meeting of the Ohio County Republican Women’s Club, Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy declared, “While I cannot take the time to name all of the men in the State Department who have been named as members of the Communist Party and members of a spy ring, I have here in my hand a list of 205 that were known to the Secretary of State as being members of the Communist Party and who, nevertheless, are still working and shaping the policy in the State Department.”

McCarthy, of course, had no such list, but his speech launched the witch hunt that would take his name: McCarthyism.

Before dinner last night, I dug out a copy of the article about McCarthy’s speech that was published in the next day’s Wheeling Intelligencer. It said the speech took place in the hotel’s Colonnade Room. On the way to dinner, I figured I’d ask the night clerk if he knew where that room was.

When I left my room, I noticed for the first time that there was a banquet room directly across the hall from my room: the Colonnade Room. It was locked, but I could look through a window in the door. The room was dimly lit. White tablecloths covered large round tables. The chairs were all in place. It reminded me of something in The Shining and really creeped me out. If not for the Tylenol PM, I would've had a hard time sleeping.

This morning I drove to Columbus, where I did some guerilla research: in and out of the city in three hours. (Me, panting, at the Columbus Public Library reference desk: "Give me everything you've got on the Deshler Hotel - STAT!")

I'm now at the Motel 6 in Richmond, Indiana, where I have some research to do in the morning. Then I'm off to Indianapolis to meet with a woman whose parents hosted the Trumans on their trip.

I still can't shake this cold, but otherwise I'm not feeling too bad. Allyson, meanwhile, has been given a temporary assignment in Conakry, Guinea, where she will be working for the next two weeks. Suddenly, Richmond, Indiana doesn't seem so bad...

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

I'm at the Red Roof in beautiful Washington, Pa. Been a good couple days. Yesterday I was in Harrisburg, mostly looking up stuff at the State Library. This morning I drove to Washington (Pa.) and spent the day at the local historical society, researching the hotel that Harry and Bess stayed at when they stopped here on their road trip (that hotel is now a retirement home, which is why I'm at the Red Roof).

Tomorrow I'm off to Wheeling, then Columbus and Indianapolis.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

I’m feeling a little better today (thanks for asking). Managed to put in three hours at the Library of Congress microfilm room. Ah, yes, the microfilm room: where the socially awkward go to hone their awkwardness. If eye contact’s not your thing, the microfilm room is for you.

Speaking of awkward, did I tell you about my haircut on Monday? I went to this place in Ballston that I’ve gone to several times in the past. It’s Chinese-owned, and the barbers/stylists/whatever you call them are mostly twenty-something Chinese women. Mine was named Rose. After she finished cutting my hair, Rose started massaging my shoulders. “You walk lots today?” she asked. It was really weird/creepy. After a minute or so she stopped and that was that. It was only when I left that I noticed the sign in the window: “Free massage with every haircut.”

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

I woke up on Sunday morning with a sore throat, an ominous beginning to my 24-hour, 10,000-mile journey back to the States. By the time I boarded the plane in Bamako that night, I had a persistent nagging cough. On the flight to Paris, and again on the flight to Philadelphia, I was “that guy" - the sniffling, coughing guy who is giving everybody else on the plane his cold.

Today I’m feeling even worse. I went to the Library of Congress, but only managed about 90 miserable, cough-suppressing minutes before I fled. I didn’t want to be “that guy” at the LOC, too.

Here in Washington I’m renting a room in a condo from some guy I found on Craigslist. I don’t know what he and his roommate do all day, but it doesn’t require them to leave the house much. So here I am, stuck in a stranger’s house, feeling pretty lousy.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Pictures from our recent travels...

On the ferry to Djenne...

Allyson being interviewed on the radio station in Djenne (on the left is the Peace Corps volunteer who translated the interview from French into the local language)...

An early-morning soccer game in front of Djenne's famous mud mosque...

Where we stopped for lunch on the way home (the mutton was good)...

Tomorrow I'm off to the States.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Sorry I haven’t posted anything for a couple weeks. I know my faithful readers have been eagerly awaiting an update. It's been a busy couple of weeks. Two weeks ago Allyson and I went to Djenne and Mopti. Had a nice trip. In Djenne we even got to go inside the famous mud mosque, which was very cool. (We also stayed in a hotel with bedbugs, which wasn't very cool. Fortunately we didn't bring any of the little buggers home with us.)

In Mopti Allyson worked hard all day, while I mostly sat in my air-conditioned room and did some research (i.e., reading).

Last week Allyson’s parents were here for a visit (they just left last night). We had a nice relaxing week, saw the sights around Bamako, but mostly just hung around the house.

On Sunday I leave for the States to begin working on the Harry Truman book.