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Travels with Charley:
(Don’t) Get on the Bus, Gus!
by Charles McKelvy
Remember Simon and Garfunkel singing: Get on the bus, Gus?
All right, I’m dating myself, but my point is that those balladeers of old would not be so bold as to urge Gus to get on the bus in 2020, the year of the COVID clampdown.
I don’t know about y’all, but all the bus trips I was looking forward to taking in 2020 have been cancelled.
No bus trip from the River Valley Senior Center in Harbert, Mich. to see the Sox beat the Cubs, like they did last year. (Full disclosure, director Tim Hawkins is a fellow Sox fan; he enjoyed the win as much as I did.)
No Krasl Art Center bus trip from St. Joseph, Mich. to Grand Rapids, Mich to explore Art Prize.
And, yes, in this election year, I should tell you that I was once one of the “boys on the bus” when I worked at the City News Bureau of Chicago in 1976 and rode Jimmy Carter’s press bus around Chicago while he was campaigning in the Windy City. I don’t expect to be riding any campaign buses with the jaded press corps this election season.
So, Gus, there be no bus for you to ride in 2020.
So, what’s a lover of bus trips to do in the time of the COVID clampdown?
Well, why not ruminate on some of our great bus trips of yesteryear and hope for even better ones in the post-COVID era?
First, let us celebrate the ease and efficiency of bus travel. You leave the driving to the professional in the driver’s seat, and although there could be more leg room on most buses, you usually have a comfortable seat with a big window for sightseeing along the way. And, the feature I most appreciate: a restroom in back so you don’t have to get off the highway every time all that morning coffee comes calling.
So, let’s look back on some particularly memorable bus trips we have taken.
For starters, there was the lovely trip we took a few years ago from the Midwest Museum of American Art in Elkhart, Ind. to see a special exhibit of ancient Greek vases at the terrific Toledo Museum of Art in Ohio. Director Brian Byrn served not only as our expert guide, but he and his lovely wife saw that we were fed and watered, both going and coming back. Brian gave an erudite, on-board lecture on the exhibit as we motored to Toledo, and so we were informed art patrons when we got there. He also encouraged us to explore the rest of that amazing museum. We are glad for his advice because the Toledo Museum of Art is an unsung treasure of the art world. And it is reasonably reached in a day, especially by bus.
Artist and staff member Nathan Margoni did the same for us a couple of years ago when we boarded the chartered bus at the Krasl Art Center in St. Joseph for a delightful fall tour of the city-wide exhibition, Art Prize, in Grand Rapids. We knew right where to go and what to do, thanks to Nathan and company. And, being on the bus, we never once had to look for parking in Grand Rapids. Trust me, you don’t want to have to look for parking in Grand Rapids. As a bonus, we stopped for dinner at the restaurants of our choice on way-hip 8th Street in Holland, Mich.
And last year’s River Valley Senior Center trip to see the Sox host the Cubs was made all the more memorable because the Cubs fans were so cocky heading into the Windy City, and so quiet coming home to Harbert after the Sox beat the Cubs. But we few Sox fans did keep our smug comments to a dull roar. We took the Skyway both ways; not only did we not have to worry about the exorbitant toll, but we got spectacular views of Chicago and the southern rim of Lake Michigan, both ways.
But I do want to close on a cautionary note: not all bus trips are confetti and cotton candy.
Consider, for example, a bus trip in December 2013 from South Bend, Ind. to Saint Meinrad Archabbey in southernmost Indiana, as part of a men’s religious retreat. I was chair that year; as such, I had to sit up front, next to the driver, and make pertinent announcements, en route, during what was expected to be a six-hour trip.
Well, the first announcements were easy-peasy, such as “we’ll be stopping shortly in Columbus for lunch.” And then a roll call after lunch before continuing on our way.
But as we headed south from Columbus, Ind. the weather turned for the worst. The freezing rain that had bedeviled us around Indianapolis turned to wet, slushy snow. Our driver was suddenly on the phone a lot with his headquarters and getting dire warnings about what lay ahead, particularly on that notorious stretch of I-64 between New Albany, Ind. and Ferdinand, Ind. That’s the part I call the “Hoosier Highlands” for its rollercoaster-like hills and thrills. And I call it that in clear weather.
But, as two lanes turned to one, and we began creeping tentatively through the gathering darkness with blinding snow beating against the windshield, I phoned the retreat master at Saint Meinrad to tell him we might be running a “little late.”
Well, the good brother said, in so many strongly-worded words, that we should turn about at once and abort our mission.
Shortly thereafter the driver received a call from headquarters telling him, in no uncertain terms, that he should exit ice-bound I-64 at his earliest convenience and seek lodging for the night at the first available motel.
I gulped, looked at the 70 or so gentlemen of a certain age looking to me for answers, and told both the brother and the driver that we absolutely must press on. As I told the driver: “Unless that motel has rooms for 70 men, we’re not stopping there.”
And I told the good brother that we were Saint-Meinrad-bound, come havoc or high snow.
He said, “All right, then;a you’re going to go an extra exit and get off at Ferdinand and double back from there. You’ll never make it the traditional way.”
Well, we did make it the untraditional way, and, yes, I was done with bus rides for a while.
But then we had to return two days hence, and, lo and behold, the highways were plowed, the snows had headed east, and we sailed back to South Bend with relative ease.
So bus rides can go wrong, right? You betcha.
So, Gus, if you ever get back on the bus, be sure and check with the Centers for Disease Control and the National Weather Service before you go. And leave the driving to the professionals.
by Charles McKelvy
He was told to speak his mind, so he did.
Specifically, he called out the rookie pitcher and told the listening public: “That lout couldn’t strike out a hobbled Little League rookie. No, that’s not right, he couldn’t strike out the Nursery School All Stars. This guy is a bum. A total loser.
He comes in for a save, with a two-run lead, and he loads the bases on three consecutive walks, and now their best hitters are at the plate—and, yep—there it goes—a slam. They win by 2 and we walk off the field with our tails between our legs because the GM thought this guy was the ticket to the promised land. Are you kidding me?!? This guy is a one-way ticket to Loserville.”
The announcer came up for air and watched the object of his ridicule stumble off the field. But when he got to the dugout, one of his teammates held up his smart phone and had him listen to what the announcer had just told the listening public.
The losing pitcher glared up at the broadcast booth and disappeared into the tunnel.
The announcer gulped and tore off his headset and high-tailed it for the elevator. He frantically punched the button and cursed the elevator for being “so gal-darned slow, already!!!”
That didn’t work, so he punched the button until it hurt, both him and the button.
When the elevator still didn’t appear, he took off down the ramp.
He was halfway down when, who should he meet, but the loser who couldn’t strike out the Nursery School All Stars.
And that’s when things got really, really interesting.
by Charles McKelvy
But there’s House Coffee, right?
And it kept me awake when I got to the 7 AM meeting.
I didn’t really need a cup of the House Coffee, but it helped remind me of the cup of suffering we had all shared.
And, as I sipped, that cup of hot, black brew, I heard friends say they don’t have to look over their shoulders anymore, and that, when they sit around the tables and sip House Coffee, they feel at home.
So, I am at home with my cup of House Coffee and with my homies around the table.
(And, yes, it works around the virtual tables of Zoom meetings as well. But my house coffee never tastes as good as House Coffee.)
NO COLON; STILL ROLLIN’
by Charles McKelvy
An ominous look from the white coat with the clipboard and then: “We don’t like the size of that mass in your colon.”
The patient gulped and choked out a feeble: “So—“
“So,” the white coat said, “we’re going to do another colonoscopy in a month, and, if it’s still there, your colon’s coming out.”
The patient swallowed and dragged his drooping tail out of the vast medical center and headed for home. He passed a funeral home on the way and thought briefly of stopping in and pre-arranging his funeral.
Why not? I’m toast, right?
Or so he thought.
Life was over as he knew it.
But then he thought of his friend Shirley who had reversed her type-2 diabetes by simply switching from the traditional American fare of meat, cheese, eggs, and milk to a low-fat, whole-food, plant-based diet. Shirley radiated good health and ran 10Ks with kids half her age.
So he got Shirley on the blower, and found that she was glad to help, complete with links to healthy recipes and sound medical advice.
He took everything Shirley suggested to heart and colon, and so helped his heart and colon and every other organ, including the one hanging between his legs, by switching to a low-fat, whole-food, plant-based diet.
He felt a whole lot better than he had ever felt, even in high school. But, he had to remember, in high school he lived off greasy pizza, cheeseburgers, fries, chips, shakes, candy, coke, and huge glasses of milk for breakfast, lunch, dinner and a bedtime snack.
Still, he was the right weight for his size in high school, and he could swim laps forever. Which he did, because he did an apple a day back then and because he was team captain. In fact, he could have qualified for state his senior year, if he hadn’t discovered his latent love for alcohol at that time, but that’s a story for another time.
Anyway, all was right with his world thanks to Shirley’s good, orderly direction, and he took the long view that he would eat and exercise Shirley’s way the rest of his life. Yes, he even began looking forward to a healthy and pain-free old age.
So he went back to his doctor for another work-up. She was delighted with the results and said, and we quote: “Whatever you’re doing, keep doing it.”
So he did, but then he went to bed one night and heard his wife, his Honey Peach whisper: “I miss my Cuddly Teddy Bear.”
“You’re all skin and bones. You look like one of those starving refugees on the news.”
He certainly didn’t want to look like one of those starving refugees on the news, so he returned immediately to the standard American diet, beginning with a breakfast the next morning of six eggs, six slices of bacon, toasted white bread with butter, and some hash browns in oil for good measure.
In no time flat, Honey Peach had her Cuddly Teddy Bear back, but the bear needed some help from a little blue pill in order to make Honey Peach truly happy in the bedroom.
Plus, he wasn’t feeling so hot. Not in the least.
So he resolved to seek more medical advice.
But he didn’t want to go back to the doctor who told him to keep doing what he was doing with all that rabbit food crap.
Hey, he thought looking at his cuddly self in the mirror, do I wanna look like Bugs Bunny? Hell no.
So he went and got a second opinion from a world-famous surgeon at a leading medical center.
That doctor took one look at his colon and said: “It’s got to come out. The sooner the better. When can we schedule you?”
“We have free valet parking and a luxury suite for you and your wife.”
“The sooner the better,” he said, reaching for his premium health insurance card.
And, in no time flat, he had no colon, but he was still rollin’.
But after stuffing himself with chips, dip, and all the eggs and bacon and cheeseburgers he could possibly eat, he gave his Honey Peach her Cuddly Teddy Bear back, complete with those little blue pills.
Travels with Charley:
Cruising Russia on Viking Pakhomov
by Charles McKelvy
I have written extensively about the Viking River Cruises “Waterways of the Czars” trip my 86-year-old mother and I took in Russia in October 2007. Until now, I have not written about the cruise itself, focusing instead on shore activities in Moscow and St. Petersburg, and points in between.
Now, I would like to take you aboard our ship, Viking Pakhomov, which was fully renovated in 2003 and offered us 423-feet of cruising comfort on three decks. Designed for a crew of 114 and 212 passengers, Viking Pakhomov featured a walk-around promenade deck, two restaurants, lounge, bar, library, sun deck, souvenir shop, sauna, internet station and laundry service. There was a doctor aboard and a hairdresser.
Mom availed herself of both the doctor and the hairdresser, but more on that presently.
We boarded the ship as soon as we arrived in Moscow, and we slept on the ship all 13 nights of our cruise. I had a small cabin on the main deck, near the reception desk, and Mom was quartered with a friend in a large cabin on the middle deck.
There were no escalators or elevators, so I had to “assist” Mom up and down the stairs, or ladders, as they are called on a ship.
Yes, I am probably the only passenger on that cruise who actually lost weight.
And trust me, I did not lack for food.
They fed us quite well, spasiba very much, and they honored my request for a strictly vegan fare with imagination and flare.
I’m sure you have seen the Viking River Cruises ads on PBS, so you know these people are a class act.
They certainly were for us, and we cruised Russia in style and comfort.
So come aboard with me now and get a flavor for life on a river ship in the heart of Russia in October.
Yes, it was getting colder by the day when we were there, and it even snowed during our visit to a monastery in Goritzy. And, yes, there were passengers who had dressed for summer weather in Atlanta. (What is with people from Atlanta?) Well, we had typical October weather in Russia, and Mom and I were prepared. I was, after all, a Boy Scout, and I took the Scout motto, “Be Prepared” to heart.
Meaning that Mom and I were caparisoned for the brisk Russian autumn.
Still, I was the one who spent a good deal of time on the promenade deck, just drinking in the passing scenery of Russia. I was warm and toasty in my winter parka, and I pretty much had the promenade to myself, except for another passenger or two. I recall one woman walking laps as part of her daily fitness routine.
Mom and most of the other passengers preferred to spend their days in the library, playing bridge as Mom did, or sitting in their cabins.
Viking Pakhomov was a good, seaworthy, river ship, so there were no gimmicky distractions for the passengers such as one would find on a cruise ship in the Caribbean.
But we didn’t fly all that way to Russia to be distracted by bells and whistles. We wanted to see Russia; we did, and Viking Pakhomov was the perfect platform from which to do so.
My favorite shipboard memory came the day we were sailing over a village that had been deliberately flooded by Stalin to create a waterway between Moscow and what was then Leningrad. The top of a church was all that was there to remind us of this feat of brutal dictatorship. As we passed the church dome, one of the Russian guides stood next to me and asked: “Do you feel them?”
“What?” I replied.
“The bones of those who died to make this waterway. I feel them.”
I thought about it, and, yes, I did feel them, too.
Cruising the waterways of Russia tends to do that to a person.
I knew I was in Russia every moment on that ship; I was particularly keen to it when I was leaning on the rail and watching the passing scenery. It was fall, remember, so there was color in the birches and other hardwoods. The ducks were on the wing, and occasionally a couple of local duck hunters would appear in their motorboat.
It was like cruising the Mississippi, but so much more. We were plying the Moscow Canal, and then the Volga-Baltic Waterway, and then Like Onega, followed by the Svir River, and then across the vast expanse of Lake Ladoga to the Neva River and the city Peter the Great built, St. Petersburg.
I was the only passenger on deck for the crossing of Lake Ladoga because the seas were running, the skies were cloudy all day, and the mighty Viking Pakhomov was put to the test. And, yes, I remembered from a history test that the lake that so much reminded me of our own Lake Michigan figured prominently in the lifting of the siege of Leningrad during what the Russians call “the Great Patriotic War.” Supplies could not be brought to the embattled city until Lake Ladoga made a handy ice highway by freezing sufficiently enough to bear the weight of trucks.
What a lake, and what an honor to cross it on a stormy day.
But the good ship weathered the open seas as well or better than any American ship I had been on, and I had been on a few, having served in the U.S. Navy.
Life on board was a delight. When my mother cut her leg while getting settled on a bus during our stop in Yaroslavl, we did avail ourselves of the on-board doctor. He was a delightful man who gave my mother excellent medical care and talked openly of the comparative merits of our two healthcare systems.
We were pampered by the crew, fed almost to excess at every meal, and borne across the Waterways of the Czars in comfort and style aboard the good ship Viking Pakhomov.
And, yes, I would gladly sign up for another cruise on the Waterways of the Czars any day, at least when the pandemic has passed.
I took a bike ride at 9 last night, and it was already dark. Gone the endless light of summer. Oh well. As a bonus, however, I observed the passage of Amtrak’s Pere Marquette. Nothing like seeing a speeding passenger train in the dark. Makes you want to book a trip, right? Here’s a recent video of the Pere Marquette, passing when it wasn’t quite so dark:
Thanks, Detroit Jazz Festival, for four days of fun and music. Here are a few more highlights from the 41st Detroit Jazz Festival that was streamed worldwide.
by Charles McKelvy
He wondered as he wandered if he could make them all disappear.
So he stopped, inhaled deeply, whispered softly:
Then he blew them all away, and they didn’t come back until the following Memorial Day.
(Detroit, Michigan) Here are some images from Saturday’s line-up at the Detroit Jazz Festival, which continues today and Labor Day. (Visit: http://www.detroitjazzfest.com before you visit.)
Travels with Charley:
Getting My Day at DIA
by Charles McKelvy
The third time was the charm. First, we four were going to go to Detroit Institute of Arts on July 24, and then I was going to go all by my lonesome on August 6, but those two missions were aborted.
Both in favor of a third, and successful, launch across the great State of Michigan on August 20, featuring the fabulous foursome of Natalie McKelvy, Arthur Anderson, Joe Rochetto and Yours Truly. We four are especially fond of art and opera, so we listened to opera as we motored our way east on I-94 to that great repository of art at 5200 Woodward Ave. in the magnificent Motor City. Actually, I think we discussed opera and politics, but you get the idea, and you should now get an idea of the wonders we beheld during our day at DIA in the time of COVID-19.
First, you should know that we had to get advance tickets on-line and read the protocols for visiting DIA during the pandemic.
But you already know that, right?
It’s the new normal. The new normal at DIA on August 20 was that a friendly official greeted us at the Farnsworth Street entrance and had us each stand in turn on the marked area so she could remotely take our temperatures. I know it didn’t hurt, but I wonder what they would have thought if they had taken a brain scan of me.
Our tickets were for 1 p.m., and DIA was due to close at 4 p.m. that day, so we each had specific galleries of interest.
And wouldn’t you know, we all converged on the Schwartz Galleries of Prints and Drawings for an extended exhibition titled: From Bruegel to Rembrandt: Dutch and Flemish Prints and Drawings from 1550 to 1700.
Folks, if you are looking for an excuse to visit DIA in the near future, the Schwartz Galleries is it. For what we beheld were such masterpieces as Rembrandt’s “Self-portrait in a Velvet Cap with Plume.” For the 1638 etching, Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn donned the clothes of a courtier from the previous century, complete with a jaunty feather in the old-fashioned velvet cap. Rembrandt’s direct gaze in this self-portrait conveys his confidence and success; we four agreed that this portrait was worth the price of admission, even though, due to circumstances, admission was free.
Our interests diverged after the Schwartz Galleries, but we agreed to meet at the museum store at 3:30 p.m. Normally, we would have met at the Italianate treasure that is Kresge Court, but DIA was not allowing us to hold court there, or in the cafeteria, during our visit.
Alas, the sacrifices that art-lovers must make in the time of a pandemic.
Arthur Anderson and I headed to the nearby De Salle Photography Gallery to enjoy another extended exhibit, Michigan’s Great Lakes: Photographs from Jeff Gayash.
We were not disappointed because Gayash specializes in long-exposure photography and fine-art, black-and-white print-making. His images thus bespoke an ethereal sense of the Great Lakes that surround our Great Lakes State of Michigan. Gayash noted that he was often alone on harsh days when he took his long exposures; one certainly had that sense seeing the magic he created. I was with him in spirit, because I most enjoy walking on our stretch of Lake Michigan when the wind is up and the crowds are gone.
The Great Lakes are works of natural art, and Jeff Gayash certainly brought that to life for Arthur and me.
And then we dashed off to join our wandering partners and to, of course, see the “Detroit Industry Murals” by Diego Rivera in Rivera Court. Because admission was limited, there were no crowds in Rivera Court, or anywhere else. So what a treat to sit back and truly enjoy a national art treasure that has been deservedly designated as a National Historic Landmark.
I found Natalie parked on a bench at one end of the sun-dappled court, and joined her for a moment of quiet reflection on Diego Rivera’s socialist expression from 1932-1933. There were those who wanted his daring murals painted over, but cooler heads prevailed: thus in the tumultuous year of 2020, we got to reflect on just how prophetic Rivera was.
And then, rested and refreshed, we bounded off to pass the remainder of our time at DIA with African-American, American, and European artists of yesteryear, particularly those amazing, Renaissance Italians. We picked a painting of Saint Anthony preaching to the fish as our “best of the day.” Then we dashed off to the museum store to get with Arthur and Joe and to purchase a parcel of post cards bearing images from the permanent collection. Then off we went on I-94, heading for the exact opposite side of the palm of lower Michigan.
Yes, we had to drive into the sun. It was hot and Joe’s air-conditioning was on the fritz, but we had minds full of art. After a stop, our bellies full of food, we counted it as a great day at DIA, the pandemic notwithstanding.
Oh, and did I mention that one of our party played a tune or two in the parking lot before our departure? Seems to me I might have mentioned that in a previous story, so let’s leave it at that and urge you and yours to make plans soon to spend a day at DIA. Do contact them before you go, at (313) 833-7900 or at http://www.dia.org.
(KALAMAZOO, MICH) We took in the West Michigan Area Show at Kalamazoo Institute of Arts last Saturday, and we thought it was one of the strongest shows they have put up in quite a while. COVID restrictions applied, so we pretty well had KIA to ourselves for the show. Here’s some of what we saw: