Thursday, February 27, 2014

On this date in 1861...

Five days ago, I wrote about Edward Payson Weston's attempt to walk from Boston to Washington in ten days to witness Lincoln's inauguration. On this date (Feb. 27) in 1861, Weston reached New York City. The following is from my forthcoming book, Pedestrianism: When Watching People Walk Was America's Favorite Spectator Sport:
At 9:45 on the morning of Wednesday, February 27, five days after leaving Boston, Weston walked across the Harlem Bridge and entered Manhattan. His first stop was the offices of Grover & Baker, a sewing machine company that was his main sponsor. There he curled up on a table and took a nap. At five o’clock that evening he rode a ferry across the Hudson to Jersey City, New Jersey—his only respite from bipedal locomotion since setting out.
By now Weston’s walk was attracting considerable attention up and down the East Coast, and when he arrived in Newark the crowd that greeted him was so large and unruly that several policemen had to be called out to maintain order.

Weston captivated the country because the nation empathized with him. America was a walking nation in 1861. The overwhelming majority of people traveled primarily, if not exclusively, by foot. Only the wealthy could afford a carriage—or even a horse; a good one would set you back more than one hundred dollars, at a time when the typical laborer was lucky to earn a dollar a day. More than 80 percent of the population lived in rural areas, where public transportation was practically nonexistent. To put it in contemporary terms, the 1 percent sat when they traveled; the other 99 percent walked. Virtually everyone had, like Weston, trudged many miles over dreadful roads in harsh conditions, whether to attend services at a distant church or to fetch a doctor in the middle of the night. 

Monday, February 24, 2014

Me and the Führer

So, just for fun, I Googled myself in Google Images using the "search by image" feature. The results produced a list of "visually similar images," including good ol' Adolph Hitler (top row, third from left). Thanks, Google Images! 

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Today in History (Pedestrianism Version)...

One hundred fifty-three years ago today, on February 22, 1861, a door-to-door bookseller named Edward Payson Weston set off from Boston on an attempt to walk to Washington, D.C. in ten days. He hoped to arrive in time to witness Abraham Lincoln's inauguration. He didn't make it, but his valiant attempt captured the nation's heart and helped launch a new sport: pedestrianism. From my forthcoming book, Pedestrianism: When Watching People Walk Was America's Favorite Spectator Sport:

Edward Payson Weston
Late on the cold, gray morning of Friday, February 22, 1861, Weston arrived at the yellow-domed State House on Beacon Hill to commence his long walk. He was dressed in blue wool tights and a white blouse covered with a heavy blue coat with brass buttons. On his feet he wore sturdy boots a few sizes larger than his usual size. A large crowd was waiting to see him off. It seemed an auspicious beginning, but things did not get off to a good start. 
Weston had a habit of falling into debt, and when two of his creditors in Boston caught wind of his intended jaunt, they sent constables to the State House to arrest him. One creditor was owed eighty dollars, the other ten dollars. Just minutes before noon, the time he was scheduled to leave, he was hauled off to a police station. Weston was a smooth talker—he was a traveling salesman, after all—and he somehow managed to talk himself out of this embarrassing predicament. He was released after promising to pay his debts as soon as he returned to Boston. 
At twelve minutes before one o’clock, Weston finally started his journey. He was already forty-eight minutes behind schedule.... 
At 5:45 that evening he stopped at an inn in Framingham for supper. Afterward he went to the parlor to rest but found “a number of ladies” were waiting there to see him. One of them asked if she could send a kiss to the president. Weston said he “had no objection to receiving the kiss,” but “could not promise to deliver it to the president.” The lady kissed him anyway, as did the others. Feeling “highly flattered,” he resumed his journey.


Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Win a signed copy of The President Is a Sick Man!




In honor of Presidents Day (aka Presidents' Day, aka Washington's Birthday), my publisher, Chicago Review Press, is giving away a signed copy of my book The President Is a Sick Man. Click here to enter! Hurry, the contest ends February 21.

Monday, February 10, 2014

The Water Diet, Day 8--Food coloring helps

It's been a week since I started drinking nothing but water (to be clear, I am still eating food!). And I feel pretty good. I don't know that I've lost any weight (I only got around to weighing myself for the first time since I began the experiment this morning). But I definitely feel better. Now, I'm not being a fundamentalist about this. I allow myself to drink club soda, or water with a slice of lemon or lime. Also, to ward off the monotony, I've found it helpful to add a couple drops of food coloring to a glass of water. (The psychological benefits of this are really surprising.)

I'm hoping to keep this up until I begin my book tour in early April. (More information about *that* coming up!)

Now that's I'm a water-only drinker, I seem to find articles about the benefits of drinking water everywhere. Here's one on Slate about the 19th century practice of "hydropathy," which led to the persistent (if unproven) belief that a person should drink at least 8 glasses of water a day. And here's one by the writer Ben Marcus about the benefits of a six-day "water fast." (That's much further than I'm willing to go right now.)

Another thing I've discovered: If you're drinking a lot of water all the time, it's better to drink it out of a cup or a glass, not a bottle. I don't know why, exactly, but drinking from a bottle all day is a drag.

By the way, Allyson is joining me on this experiment until the beginning of March (at least). Tomorrow she leaves for a three-day trip to Khovd, in western Mongolia. Let's hope she doesn't have any trouble finding bottled water there. (The baby, for the record, is not participating in this experiment!)


Friday, February 07, 2014

The Water Diet: Day 5

The new year got off to a bumpy start, so Allyson and I have hit the rest button, and this week I began a diet of my own devising (though I’m sure I’m not the first to come up with the idea). I call it the water diet, and it’s pretty simple: For the next two months the only thing I will drink is water. No coffee, no booze, no soda, no juice. Just water. (As an aside, it’s generally not recommended to drink the tap water here in UB. Our tap water is distilled, and when I go out I order bottled water.)


This experiment began last Monday (Feb. 3). So far it’s going well. It gets a tad boring, just drinking water all the time, but the lack of calories compensates for the lack of variety. I'm trying to be more conscious of what I eat, too, but I'm not radically altering my diet in any way. The goal is to lose a few pounds and give myself a bit of a cleanse. We'll see how it goes...