Sunday, September 5, 2021

Midwest Innovation with a Dark Tangent of Fiction

Before there was the digital world wide web there was the analog web or what I like to think of as libraries. One book leads to another. You read about a person mentioned in one story and want to know more about them and pick up another book and so on, not knowing where it will lead. Perhaps your subliminal is leading you down a path where you start to develop themes. I had this experience over the past year and I’ll call this theme, "Midwest Innovation." I suppose it came from the fact I'd grown up in a rust-belt town that had gone through it's own cycle of build, boom, bust, and transformation.

The journey started with Robert Laceys book Ford: The Men in the Machine focused on the extraordinary rise of Henry Ford and his automobile dynasty.
Ford took his inspiration from Thomas Edison the great inventor who held more patents than any other American in history.  Ford met Edison when he was a young man working in one of Edison's electric dynamo plants. The connection lead me to read Edison Inventing the Century a Biography by Neil Baldwin. 

Both the Ford and Edison books mentioned a series of ten-year of road trips the two took across the United States that included Harvey Firestone, John Burroughs, a renown naturalist, the occasional President, and others. They called themselves the Vagabonds that lead to next read book by that title, The Vagabonds by Jeff Gwynn.
 I knew little about Firestone and the rise of the rubber industry, I turned to Wheels of Fortune The Story of Rubber in Akron by Steve Love and David Giffels.
Then I circled back to read a very concise and useful little book called How Detroit Became the Automotive Capital of the World a self-published book by Robert Tata.  

Since Edison and Firestone were both Ohio natives and innovators, I couldn't leave the state without reading about Dayton's most famous residents in the book, The Wright Brothers by David McCullough.
Was there something special about Dayton that fostered the two bicycle mechanics to inspire their innovative spirit? I turned to an academic study of Dayton Ohio: The Rise, Decline and Transition of an Industrial City by Adam Milsap.
Sixty miles down the road from the Wright Brothers was Eddie Rickenbacker, born in Columbus, and an early fan of their airplane. In Ace of Aces, by H. Paul Jeffers, he tells Rickenbacker's story as the successful fighter ace in WWI as well as his career as a race car driver, automotive designer, military adviser and head of Eastern Airlines.
For balance to the inventors and industrialists, I looked to a voice of poetry and literature in Poems of the Midwest by Carl Sandburg and a biography, Carl Sandburg: His Life and Works by North Callahan.

And I couldn't leave Sandburg without reading about Chicago in The Third Coast: When Chicago Built the American Dream by Thomas Dyja. 

For a present day perspective, I read a collection of contemporary stories from The Best of Belt Magazine Vol. III with stories from Chicago, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Minneapolis, and everywhere in between. 

 At this point, I thought I'd give the Midwest Innovation theme a restbut over the summer, I read One Summer America 1927 by Bill Bryson, who profiled among other historic events that summer, Detroit, Michigan native, Charles Lindbergh in his historic solo trans-Atlantic flight. 
And then, thinking I would finally be safe by retreating to fiction, I read The Plot Against America by Philip Roth a dystopian novel that portrays an alternative history in which Charles Lindbergh becomes president of the United States in 1940 as part of a secret plot by the Nazis to take over the country. 

The web of course goes on and I could keep making connections but I'll end here. The web is endless.

Monday, May 24, 2021

Some Word Play and Desolate Doggerel

Combos Where I Couldn't Make Up My Mind

Heat and Stupidity
Heart and Stupidity
Comic Dance
Cosmic Dance
Honor a Horror
Horror of Honor
Maniacs Ate Grapes
Great Apes Ate Grapes
Dark Hoses
Dark Horses
Dark Houses

Unclaimed Baggage (fragments left in my notebook)

Reach in the falling rain and
descant that drink 
in your easy jeans

A child raised on maps
sits on the crust of the earth

The cat uses silence as a weapon

We've Never Been Here
Do you ever wake up and think,
"I've never been here before."
Here being this point in time; and
neither has anyone else. 
Every moment is unknown
for everyone.

Infinite Questions
Does infinity have a map
Does infinity have a tail
Should I call it Mr. or Mrs. Infinity
Where does infinity send it's children to school
Does it have a handicap
Does infinity envy any other fact of nature

It's What You've Been Waiting For
Unfold the paper
read the words.

Just Unrelated Pieces
I loved you before it was allowed.

As an Illuminati
I defiled my illicit llama

The kids play in the dirt
and pick their scabs

The heart of my hell.

I returned a memory to a friend
that tastes like Italian rain.


My Mirror Jokes

What did the cynic say to the mirror?
Yeah right

What did the passive-aggressive say to the mirror?
If you say so.

Sunday, May 16, 2021

The Rouge (A Cento)

Every so often when I finish a book, I try to write a poem from it, this one is a Cento from Robert Price's Ford: The Men and Machine

 The Rouge

One of capitalism's alters
a vast satanic cathedral
All night the Rouge growls
its fires and flares
casting flickering shadows
its furnaces glowing dull red
around the base of its brooding bulk
The industrial guts of America
Europe has its palaces
but America celebrates her native genius
with monuments of a rougher sort.

—A Cento with credit to Robert Lacy, Ford: The Men and Machine

Sunday, May 9, 2021

Historical Highways

I mentioned I liked roads. It's a recurring theme of this blog starting with my cross country drive of my own. I've collected a lot of books on roads. Here's one category of books on the history of roadbuilding and of particular American highways.   

1.  First Highways of America: A Pictorial History of American Roads and Highways from 1900-1925, John Butler (1994). A history of the dirt-rock-to-pavement of America's early roads.  Fantastic black and white pictures of early cars, road construction and landscapes.  Bought new.

2.  Coast to Coast by Automobile: The Pioneering Trips, 1899-1908, Curt McConnell (2000).  A collection of early automobile adventures across the the U.S.  The appendix includes a great chronology of early automobile trips. Bought new.    


3.  U.S. 1: America's Original Main Street, Andrew Malcolm, Photographs by Roger Straus III (1991). Sometimes called America's original Main Street running from Main to Key West. First half stark black and white photographs; the second half a narrative of short histories.  Bought new.  

The National Road, Edited by Karl Raitz (1996).  
A history of America's first federally planned highway.   Orginally established by an act of Congress in 1808, the road originates from Maryland, crosses the Appalachians into the Midwest.  Based on Indian trials and pioneer tracks.  Provides a full history back up my maps and photographs. Bought used at the Raven bookstore in Amherst, Mass.  

5.  U.S. 40 Today: Thirty Years of Landscape Change in America,Thomas Vale and Geraldine Vale (1983).  More on the National Road but a specific slice in time.   Thirty years well contrast by black and white photographs from the same locations--sometimes with the same tree in the shot. Bought used at State Department book store. 


6. Divided Highways: Building the Interstate Highways, Transforming American Life, Tom Lewis (1997).  In 1919, Colonel Dwight Eisenhower lead an Army convoy cross country.  Over thirty years later, as President, he lead the effort to build the largest engineered structure ever built--the U.S. Interstate Highway system.  Bought new. 


7. A Pictorial History of Roadbuilding, Charles W. Wixom (1975). Commissioned by the American Road Builders Association, this book is filled with hundreds of photos from Native American trails to interstate highways and the equipment and engineering that went into their construction. Bought used but forgot where.

Saturday, May 1, 2021


Every so often you return to a book that influenced you growing up.  Maybe it's a clique but On the Road by Jack Kerouac was one such book for me.  I read it soon after I finished law school and it pushed me to do my own frenzied road trip— and Odyssey representing freedom and the unknown. The book is now sold over 3 million copies since its first printing in 1959. During the pandemic, I've returned to the book, waiting for that moment when we'll have freedom to move again. To get in the car and drive. Here's my short list of On the Road books that includes a couple others who attempted to retrace and re-kindle Kerouac’s spirit.

1. On the Road, Jack Kerouac (Penguin 1986).
I can see how much of an impact made on me since it’s heavily annotated with my pencil markings. I suppose the high points and stay with me always are when he describes is the most fun cross country ride of his life on the back of a flatbed truck with a cast of characters from Iowa to Wyoming and the closing paragraph.  Likely bought at a college bookstore at the University of Pittsburgh. 

Kerouac : The Definitive Biography by Maher, Paul A., Jr.
 2. Kerouac: The Definitive Biography, Paul Maher, Jr.  (2004). A thoughtful and complete biography that details Kerouac’s triumphs and struggles with a seal of approval from Kerouac’s family. A birthday or Christmas gift. 


3.  Jack Kerouac‘s American Journey: A Real life Odyssey of On the Road, Paul Maher, Jr. (2007).
Maher provides narrative history of Kerouac's different road trips and friends and how they translated into On the Road. Bought online. 

4.  Paradise Roadhouse: Jack Kerouac‘s Lost Highway in My Search for America, Jay Atkinson (2010).  Loose retracing of some of Kerouac‘s journeys by journalist Jay Atkinson. 

Wednesday, April 28, 2021


Do you need a good, clean, unused fragments to complete a poem or maybe
as a spare part in case you run into unexpected writing trouble?  Our 
inventory has grown and we need to make room for next year's models so 
we're holding a clearance sale. We've got fragments for every budget--from
a single sentence to a full stanzas, some complete with metaphors. No 
reasonable offer refused. Trade-ins considered. Test drive for thirty days 
and if not completely satisfied return for a full refund. Check out these models:



You keep whispering to me 

but you don't say why.



I got paid in diamonds and dynamite.


Out in the void

secure in his ship 

sails an off-course astronaut

...when will he know?


After the last leaves fall

unfed ghosts hang

one or two from a tree

waiting for what the wind brings them.


She was not measured on the ordinary scale of gods.


I would like to catwalk among the parapets wearing 

a cravat and epaulets 

not because I look good doing this 

but because of how it sounds.


The public relations firm I hired keeps sending me memos 

instructing me to "act more like myself."  

I keep trying but make too many mistakes... 


Her neighbors unaware 

the girl who walked out her front door

cascaded into happiness.  



Saturday, April 24, 2021

Up North

Men seek for seclusion in the wilderness, by the seashore, or in the mountains - a dream you have cherished only too fondly yourself. 

                    --Marcus Aurelius

Everyone has their happy place. Mine is "up north" on Michigan's Leelenau Peninsula where I've gone since I was six to meet up with Aunts, Uncles, cousins, and annual friends. Here's my small collection of books on the area. 

1. Above the North: Aerial Photography of Northern Michigan, Marge Beaver (2006). Beaver captures a four season, bird's eye view of the Peninsula, Sleeping Bear Dunes, Lake Leelenau and the lakes of of Crystal, Roch, Elk, and Glen. Gift.

2. Leelenau: A Portrait of Place in Photographs & Text, Ken Scott & Jerry Dennis (2000). Extraordinary collection of timeless pictures around Leelenau County.  A gift from my sister July 2003 after our largest family reunion up north.  










3. Letters from the Leelenau: Essays of People and Place, Kathleen Stocking (1990). One of my favorite all time authors.  Letters is the first of a trilogy by Kathleen Stocking on a sense of place. She provides an small gems profiling small town life, local artists like Jim Harrison and New Yorkers, and personal reflections including her father Pierce Stocking, a lumberman who helped preserve much of Sleeping Bear Dunes and constructed what is now Pierce Stocking Drive. We may be cousins through my paternal grandmother's people who were also Stockings from the Grand Traverse region.  Cover painting Manitou Dreams by local artist David Grath. Bought new and later met the author at Van's Garage in Leelenau who inscribed my copy.   





4.  Lake Country: A Series of Journeys, Kathleen Stocking (1996).  A series of journeys to the islands of Lake Michigan and Lake Huron.  Bought at Leelenau Books.











5. The Long Arc of the Universe: Travels Beyond the Pale, Kathleen Stocking (2016).  The final series in the trilogy and is less about Up North but the final chapters return to a trip to South Manitou Island.