Once upon a late night in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, two college administrators threw in the towel. It had been a long day at Old Dorm – one of the few original buildings on the campus of Gettysburg College. The fourth floor was a busy place, with paperwork to file, admissions to check, and records to store. It made for a lot of work, and the women found it easier after the students left for the day. So, they clocked some overtime in exchange for the peace and quiet. However, quitting time had long-since arrived, and now they headed for the elevator.

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Let’s set the mood before their bizarre tail unfolds. The corridors were probably dark. The few lights left on flickered with a quiet hum. The women, chatting and happy to be going home, stepped into the elevator. One pressed the button for the first floor. With a jolt, the box began its slow, creaking descent.

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I first read the Grapes of Wrath in junior high. Perhaps a bit young for such heavy content, but sneaking “grown up” books was a favorite childhood past time. I’m glad I got my hands on this one, because it remains one of my favorite novels ever written. The dramatic struggle of the family Joad hooked my attention (you’ll never forget that ending), and so did the story of the “Okies” in general. In the Grapes of Wrath, Steinbeck unfolds the trials of the Dust Bowl at large, making it human with his family Joad.

But Steinbeck also introduced me to a road. A mother road, a road of flight. A vital artery for Westward travelers spanning most of the United States. “Route 66 is the main migrant road,” Steinbeck wrote in his novel. “…66 is the path of a people in flight, refugees from dust and shrinking land… they come into 66 from the tributary roads, from the wagon tracks and the rutted country roads… Cars pulled up beside the road, engine heads off, tires mended. Cars limping along the 66 like wounded things, panting and struggling… People in flight along 66. And the concrete road shown like a mirror under the sun…”

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Cool Springs, Arizona

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An Ode to the Mother Road

Hello readers!

I bet you’ve been wondering where I disappeared to over the last several weeks. Well, I’ve been a little bit of everywhere, if you want the honest truth. Sometimes, we all just have to refill the old well – both the spiritual well and the writing well. As for my husband and me, one of our favorite ways to do that is with a road trip. Usually, it’s just a short jaunt to somewhere close, like Solvang or Santa Barbra. Maybe if we have some extra time, we’ll do Big Bear or Yosemite. For this road trip, well… we went a little grander in scale.

Both of us have had long-time dreams to do Route 66. Not just a state or two. We wanted to do the whole dang thing. I had wanted to try it ever since I first read the Grapes of Wrath (which was much longer ago than I will admit here!) My husband’s parents went several years ago, and he had always wanted to follow in their footsteps. Read More

A while back, I wrote a post about a big explosion on the Ypres Salient in WWI. It had an impact, you might say – oh, the puns. Many of my friends here said it reminded them of a similar incident that occurred during the US Civil War. So I thought, why not make that article a two-parter? Here for you is the story of the Petersburg Mine of 1864. My readers correctly pointed out that the two stories follow a very similar path, right down to the horribly tragic ending.

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It’s been awhile since we’ve checked in with this incredibly long poem, hasn’t it? I figured it was time to post another segment.

In the First World War, poison gas saw its first large scale use on the Ypres Salient in 1915. It was a very potent chlorine gas, and it caused hundreds of casualties and almost 70 deaths. As the war advanced, so did the cruelty of this particularly barbaric weapon. Phosgene and Mustard gases were introduced, both of which rotted the lungs and caused blisters and burns on the skin. Some variants of these gasses were invisible and hard to detect by smell, which meant soldiers wouldn’t know they were exposed until they were already symptomatic. I’ve read many accounts of gas attacks on the Western Front, and it’s hard reading to get through. Poison Gas became one of the most infamous aspects of the first world war, and one of the most feared weapons. Although it’s difficult to read about much less write about, I felt I had to include it in this poem. Here for you is the third segment of Part II of the “Let Me Tell You How I Died” war poem series.  Read More

When you visit a city enough times, you learn some fantastic things about it. One of my best friends lives in Seattle, and it is an easy plane ride from Los Angeles. So, I have become a frequent visitor to the rainy city up north. As a 10-years-running SoCal resident, I can’t quite get used to all the gray skies and moisture, but Seattle still boasts many charms, including the famous underground (click here to read all about that).

On my latest visit this past April, my friend took me to another Seattle attraction that is um… well… not like something you would find in other cities. In a word, it’s gross. However, I mean that in the most amazing way possible.

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Ladies and gentlemen, say hello to the Seattle Gum Wall! Which, as you can see, is actually an entire alley way covered, from top to bottom, in sticky, germ-infested, multi-colored, disgusting wads of already chewed gum that smell like a stale candy store. From the minute I smelled it coming, I could tell I was in for a treat. And trust me, you definitely smell it before you see it. My friend and Seattle resident who took me there, Erin, warned me that I would – “that wall is two senses in direct contrast to each other,” she said. “Everything smells amazing, but I don’t want to touch anything!”

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It was 1944 in Benouville, a little village in France. German soldiers had occupied it for four years. Every day, they infiltrated the humble little town for food, drinks, and supplies. They didn’t always ask nicely either. They invaded private homes for billets, and they constantly paced back and forth over the gray-painted road bridge over the Orne Canal. Their boots clunked on its metal surface, and the shadow of its tower enveloped them. They nestled machine guns in its steel flanks, and they strapped packs of explosives underneath it, with a single button to set them all off.

It seemed like a small bridge to make such a fuss over. However, along with another bridge in Ranville, this was the only crossing of the River Orne and Caen Canal. Without those two bridges, German defensive units would be ensnared with delays and run-arounds in the event of an invasion. German command wanted those bridges held at all costs when the allies came. If it looked like they would be taken, then they would have to be destroyed.

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Picture this.

It is early 1942. Memories of a vicious attack in Pearl Harbor burn hot in your mind. They especially trouble you, because you are a young man in the Seventeenth Bombardment Group of the United States Army Air Corps. Now, war has been declared and training has begun. You suspect you will go to battle soon. You’re restless, and your nerves jangle and rattle.

One day, you attend a meeting with a high brass officer who is part of a special mission. He says it will be dangerous and some of you will get killed. You will leave the country for a long time too. He can’t tell you where you are going or what they have planned for you. All he can say is he needs volunteers.

This is the exact scenario, and the choice, that one hundred and forty men faced in 1942. When it came, their hands shot up in the air. Little did they know, the mission would be one of the most dangerous and daring of the second world war, and it would come to be known as the Doolittle Raid.

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The “Let Me Tell You How I Died” series is back! Continuing this week with Part II, which has seven segments about World War I. Segment two of Part II covers the horrors of charging out of the trenches against well-fortified positions, machine guns, and barbed wire. It was a tragic scenario that played out countless times across the Ypres Salient, and I saw the results with my own eyes – the thousands of white grave stones all across Belgium.

LET ME TELL YOU HOW I DIED

PART II – SEGMENT 2

Over the Top!

Over the top and give ‘em hell!

That’s the command we know so well

The watch hands tick, it’s almost time

The shells start flying and churn up the grime

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Fire in the Wilderness

May, 1864.

Spring had arrived in the state of Virginia, but so had the Union army. It wasn’t the first time, either. Since 1861, the boys in blue had slugged it out, and lost, against the formidable General Lee and his Army of Northern Virginia. These fights carried a heavy price tag too. Thousands of soldiers lay buried under Virginia’s thick soil. Countless more bore wounds from physical scars, or the painful emotional blows from the hell they endured. That said nothing of the civilians caught in the crossfire, who lost their lives, their homes, and their precious family members who never returned from the fields. Few tables across the country escaped the tragic vacant chair.

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