Author Archives: roadsrus

About roadsrus

Since the beginning, I've had to avoid writing about the downside of travel in order to sell more than 100 articles. Just because something negative happened doesn't mean your trip was ruined. But tell that to publishers who are into 5-star cruise and tropical beach fantasies. I want to tell what happened on my way to the beach, and it may not have been all that pleasant. My number one rule of the road's disaster is tomorrow's great story. My travel experiences have appeared in about twenty magazines and newspapers. I've been in all 50 states more than once and more than 50 countries. Ruth and I love to travel internationally--Japan, Canada, China, Argentina, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, etc. Within the next 2 years we will have visited all of the European countries. But our favorite destination is Australia. Ruth and I have been there 9 times. I've written a book about Australia's Outback, ALONE NEAR ALICE, which is available through both Amazon & Barnes & Noble. My first fictional work, MOVING FORWARD, GETTING NOWHERE, has recently been posted on Amazon. It's a contemporary, hopefully funny re-telling of The Odyssey.

The Smithsonian Treasure Chests


There’s a mini-Smithsonian in The Castle.  It’s a good place to begin any exploration of the 154 million artifacts, specimens, and art works that are spread among the buildings in the National Mall and elsewhere.  In a far back room is a fairly permanent display that’s representative of what visitors will see as they tromp through the Natural History Museum (don’t forget to see the narwhals), the American Indian Museum, and so on.   The Castle beckons with, “…you’ll see a tantalizing sample of the breadth and depth of the Smithsonian’s vast collections.”   This is true.

The Smithsonian was founded in 1846 with a gift.  18th century scientist James Smithson was an Englishman, but he left his fortune to the United States.  He never travelled there, which makes his bountiful gift all the more intriguing.  His will read, “I then bequeath the whole of my property to the United States of America under the name of the Smithsonian Institution…for the increase and diffusion of knowledge….”

The Castle was the first Smithsonian building.  It was completed in 1855 but  construction began the year after Smithson’s gift.  Made of red sandstone, it also contains an information center and this institution’s administrative offices in addition to the fine mini-museum that contains a Murano bowl, a Wimbledon Trophy, etc.  Below are Brian Boitano’s Olympic skates and a wooden African Baga figure.  Such carvings were thought to protect a village and bring success should combat become necessary.   All four and more are currently on display.

There are many Smithsonian affiliates now.  On recent trips we visited a couple of them.  We had never been to the Cooper-Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum in New York City across the street from Central Park on the East Side.  I had been to the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center of the National Air and Space Museum near Dulles Airport before it was the Udvar-Hazy but Ruth hadn’t.  It’s better than ever.  I really appreciated seeing the reassembled Enola Gay, which had been disassembled and stored in a Smithsonian warehouse. When they put it back together, less than a dozen bolts could not be placed.  That’s Smithsonian precision and expertise for you!







NASCAR in Trouble

The NASCAR season ended yesterday at Homestead-Miami Speedway.  Do you care?  It was the final day of NASCAR racing for 3 stars:  Matt Kenseth, Danica Patrick and Dale Earnhardt Jr.  Does anybody care?  Danica Patrick’s retirement announcement 2 days before the Sunday race shocked a lot of people.  She’s NASCAR’s only active female racer. Do women care?  She will compete in the Daytona 500 and Indianapolis 500, probably still racing’s two top competitions, in 2018 before ending her career.

Dale Earnhardt crashed and died in 2001 in the final turn of the Daytona 500.  His 42-year-old son, according to ESPN, has 26 wins in 603 starts including 2 Daytona 500 victories.  Because of a concussion, he missed the final 18 races in 2016.  This surely influenced his decision to officially retire.

When we were in Charlotte recently, Ruth and I had the NASCAR Hall of Fame on our list of things to do but made it to the last morning without going there even though it was very close to our accommodations.  We had a couple of hours before we had to leave for Columbia, SC.  Ruth’s father took her to the Indianapolis 500 when she was very young.  She still talks about the noise.  I surely enjoyed the NASCAR Hall of Fame better than Ruth even though I’m only a fine-weather fan.  I have been to professional races and do enjoy their unpredictability, but 2 hours in this hall of fame was enough.  I’m sure that huge fans feel differently about it and love the interactive exhibits, Glory Road, Pit Crew Challenge, etc.  It was a rainy weekday.

According to ESPN, NASCAR is in bigger trouble than other sports.  Empty seats at major races affect attitudes, and some say that there are fewer and fewer younger fans attracted to the sport.  This would certainly seem to be the case if our visit to the NASCAR Hall of Fame was an indicator.  It began promisingly with an adrenalin-charged film in the High Octane Theater, an excellent 278-seat venue with a 64-feet-wide screen and surround sound.  I especially enjoyed the part of the film dealing with NASCAR’s founding in 1947 with scenes of law officers chasing illegal in-the-woods still workers who enjoyed,”making cars go faster than the speed of law”.  Most of the theater’ s seats were empty, and the ones occupied were mostly filled with senior citizens.  I went on to browse most of the exhibits alone.  The only place I was in a modest crowd was in the circular Hall of Honor which profiled the careers of some familiar names like Richard Petty and Jeff Gordon.

Probably my favorite race car was a Camry.  In 2015 Kyle Busch won Camry’s first NASCAR premier series driver’s championship, and the next year Toyota won its 1st NASCAR premier series manufacturer’s championship, assuring me that “tough Camry” is far from an oxymoron.

A temporary “Cars 3: Inspired by NASCAR” exhibit in the Great Hall shows that this organization is trying to appeal to the young.  However, it closes on May 31, 2018.  Good luck, NASCAR.





South Carolina’s Only President’s Residence

Historic house tours are popular in Columbia, South Carolina.  The 4 big ones are the Hampton-Preston, Robert Mills, Mann-Simons, and Woodrow Wilson.  They’re all in the same neighborhood and relatively close to each other.  Visitors to Columbia can tour all 4 if they have 7½ hours to devote to this activity and $28 per person for adult tickets.  Tickets can be purchased in the lovely gift shop at Robert Mills.  Ruth and I decided to try one tour with a plan to return the next day for another.  We chose the Woodrow Wilson home because of timing and familiarity with the subject.  After all, the home of a 2 term President seems more interesting than the home of a wealthy local merchant.   The tour was so-so.  We didn’t go back.

If we had returned, Ruth and I would have chosen to see the Mann-Simons property.  The brochure for all 4 said that it told the story of Columbia through the experiences of several generations of an entrepreneurial African-American family, “from enslavement to freedom”.  This sounded quite interesting.  When the Wilson family moved from Augusta, GA, to Columbia, SC, five years after the Civil War ended, the population of Columbia was 57% black or mulatto according to an interpretive sign in the house, which was sparsely furnished and more of a museum than a home.

The Wilson family lived in this house for only about 2 years before relocating to Wilmington, NC.  Our guide Bernadette told us that Woodrow’s mother Janet, nicknamed Jessie, financed its construction.  The Wilsons paid $7,500 for it.   Home ownership was less common and a big deal back then.  I didn’t know that General Sherman, who apparently loved burning down entire cities, destroyed 1/3 of Columbia during the Civil War.  As a result,  reconstruction was booming when the Wilsons came to town and built this house.  Woodrow, who was far more commonly known as Tommy until he became an adult, spent only about 1 year in it.  His father Joseph taught at the Columbia Theological Seminary, now the tourable Robert Mills house, while the Wilsons lived in Columbia.  Jessie had a brother named Joe.   He taught in the same school as Joseph until he was let go for supporting Darwinism.  Woodrow Wilson, future President, was a devout, lifelong Presbyterian.

Woodrow loved cars, doting especially on his Pierce-Arrow, and baseball.  Before becoming President, he served as President of Princeton University and was Governor of New Jersey.  As President, probably because of his interest in automobiles, he found funding for public highways when there weren’t any and was a mostly popular national leader who led the United States through World War I, fought unsuccessfully for the League of Nations, started the Federal Reserve, and extended voting rights to women.

His 2nd term as President was clouded by a personal tragedy.  With 2 years left to serve Woodrow had a stroke that left him paralyzed on his left side.  For much of the 2nd half of his 2nd term the country didn’t know how ill he was because his 2nd wife Edith and his doctor controlled access to him.  Some might argue that she was the first female President.

The Wilson House in Columbia underwent a $3.6 million renovation and was closed for many years before being opened to the public as a historic property.  Joe and Jessie sold it for $5,000 when they moved to Wilmington.


This 18th century print is from Frank Leslie’s Illustrated.  Columbia had a population of about 10,000 when the Wilson’s lived there.  Wilson became the 1st Southern President since 1848 when he was elected in 1913.

Chattanooga National Cemetery’s Loose Change

The day before we went to Chickamauga, Ruth and I happened to pass the Chattanooga National Cemetery on Bailey Avenue.  We stopped to take a look.  There are 135 national cemeteries.  The last one I visited and wrote about was Tahoma in Kent, Washington, which was created in 1993 and opened for burials in 1997.   Chattanooga National Cemetery opened in 1863 to commemorate the Battle of Chattanooga, which followed the Battle of Chickamauga.   Established in 1867, it was not the 1st national cemetery.  They had been created since the Mexican War.

By 1874 there had been 12,928 interments here with 4,860 of them unknown.  There was a grave locator and I was able to discover that 2 Harbaughs are buried here.   The one named Peter died in 1863 and was clearly a Civil War casualty.  Five years after the Civil War ended there were already 12,800 graves in this cemetery; 8,685 of those interred were known and many were men who died in local battles.  I don’t know if any of the casualties were women, but I did learn that there are veterans of other conflicts buried in Chattanooga National Cemetery (CNC), including 78 German prisoners of war.  Surprisingly, it still has space available.

It is estimated that 700,000 Union and Confederate soldiers died in the Civil War according to one sign.  President Lincoln was given the authority to create military burial grounds by 1862 and 14 were already established before that year ended.  By 1872 there were 74 national cemeteries with 305,492 Civil War casualties buried in them.  2% of the U. S. population died as the result of this war.  Most of the 74 were less than 10 acres.  CNC wasn’t listed on the National Register of Historic Places until 1996.

Ruth and I noticed coins on some of the markers, and neither one of us knew why they were there.  Apparently, many people don’t know.  Ruth looked this up as we were leaving, and we learned that a nickel means that the visitor trained at boot camp with the person buried.   A quarter signifies that the visitor was with the soldier when he or she was killed.   A penny simply means that you visited.  The money is eventually collected and used for maintenance or the burial of needy veterans.

It was already late in the day when we arrived but we did see most of the monuments, like the 19th century train.  We didn’t find the Harbaughs’ graves.  However, our time spent at Chickamauga was far more meaningful because of this unplanned visit to Chattanooga National Cemetery where many of that battle’s fallen soldiers are buried.



I saw a very fine museum show about hotels a few years ago, and I thought of it when we stayed at the EpiCentre in Charlotte, NC.  The hotel show challenged us to think about past hotel experiences because “EVERYONE HAS A HOTEL STORY”.  That’s probably why so many books and movies have taken place in them.

The Epicentre is a downtown Charlotte entertainment complex.  In it are shops, a movie theater, lots of bars with nightly entertainment, and an aloft hotel.  We had booked 3 nights in this hotel.  Reception put Ruth and me on the 14th floor.  The room was cleverly decorated but small and dark.  After somewhat solving the nightmare of parking for aloft, we went to the room and found earplugs provided.   When it got dark and the Epicentre came to life, the noise level throughout the hotel explained why.   Under the circumstances, the hotel graciously cancelled our reservations for the 2nd and 3rd nights, saving us close to $500.

Hotels, according the show we saw in Vancouver, BC, are interesting cultural phenomenons.   It told us that the earliest known structures used for overnight guests were caravanserais along ancient trade routes like The Silk Road.  One of their main purposes was to protect traveling merchants from robbers.  Some of these inns looked like castles from the distance, were built by sultans, and were purposely placed about 25 miles apart, the distance one could usually travel by camel each day.

Hotel chains came along in the 20th century.   Sabena, the national airline of Belgium, was the first to offer a network of guest houses and hotels in the 1920s.   Their first accommodations were in the Belgian Congo.  This airline declared bankruptcy in 2001.  InterContinental, which has 4,500 hotels in 100 countries, got its start when Pam American World Airways was in business.  Between 1948 and 1960, this airline built or bought 17 hotels in Latin America and the Caribbean.  Smart Conrad Hilton built Western-style hotels in places like Egypt after World War II, and the first motel/hotel with the name Holiday Inn came along in 1952.

This show, which was called Grand Hotel, no longer exists.  I thought it was a cool, thought-provoking idea for a museum exhibit.   Its 4 main themes involved travel, design, social aspects, and cultural considerations.  It pointed out that hotels have to stay ahead of the competition to survive so they, if they’re worthy, constantly upgrade, remodel and repair.  Ruth and I have had the experience of returning to a hotel and finding it either headed toward dilapidation or being redone.  It pointed out that hotels are gathering places, business centers not unlike golf courses, and places where social interaction, often pleasant, tends to occur.   Recently we had to spend time in a hotel basement with all the other guests because a storm was in progress.   “Because hotels are sites of temporality and transition, we rarely contemplate the nuanced effects of their spaces as we would those of a home, office building or church.  Yet they leave a strong imprint on us,” this show explained.  Some even affect your hearing.


What’s your hotel story?