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Sunday, August 13, 2017

Doc Holli-Days



On a muggy August 14th, 1851 in Griffin, Georgia a bundle of joy was delivered to Henry and Alice Holliday. The thrill of having a son must have been awesome for the couple, but tuberculosis would take Alice in September of 1866 leaving her then fourteen year old son mother-less. He was a smart child and eventually went on to earning a degree in dentistry from the Pennsylvania College of Dental Surgery at the age of twenty-one.

The real life John Henry 'Doc' Holliday

It was time to build a practice to make his mother proud but that would not be the case for John Henry Holliday - aka, Doc Holliday. No, he too came down with tuberculosis to which his mother and his adopted brother Francisco had succumbed. Under guidance the young man moved west to drier climates in the hopes that would ease the congestion and perhaps neutralize the disease.

John Henry moved to Dallas, got into a partnership in dentistry with Dr. John A. Seegar and their practice won award after award for the job they did for their patients. People were happy with their teeth in Dallas. In March of 1874 the partnership dissolved and Doc moved onto his own practice but that didn't seem to work out.

The move west had not cleared his tuberculosis and coughing out phlegm and other bodily fluids was not a good thing for a dentist to do. His practice dwindled and when he took to the life of a gambler, he began to garner a reputation for being pretty handy with a knife and a pistol.

Thus the sullied reputation of a dentist from Georgia was born. And it would have probably died if Doc had not run into a fellow by the name of Wyatt Earp.

Kurt Russell as Wyatt Earp and Val Kilmer as Doc Holliday

A star was born.

One hundred and sixty-six years after Doc Holliday was born, his name continues to be immortalized in the small town of Tombstone, Arizona. It was here that a dentist turned gambler and killer would make his mark, standing side by side with Wyatt, Morgan, and Virgil Earp against the Clanton gang at the OK Corral. A thirty second gunfight would go down in the annuls of history as the most retold gunfight in western lore.



In 1993, a film was released featuring Kurt Russell named 'Tombstone'. The movie detailed all the events leading up to that famous gunfight on October 26, 1881. It was a blockbuster hit and still is with millions of hard-core western genre.


One of the main characters, of course, was Doc Holliday played by the very talented actor Val Kilmer. When the film was released the star of the show was Kilmer - Russell being the humble person he is (by all accounts) allowed Val to take the best lines and with this also allowed the film to become one of the most watched westerns of all times.

Val Kilmer as Doc Holliday

So, the town of Tombstone, yes it still exists happily looking over the valley toward the Dragoon Mountains to the east, decided to start an annual Doc Holli-Days celebration. A three-day event honoring the birthdate of the real Doc Holliday and who best to knock the inaugural weekend off but the one and only Val Kilmer.





 J and L loaded the trusty Dodge Ram and drove nearly nine hours to participate in this new yearly event in the town deemed - 'Too Tough to Die'. Of course, friends were waiting graciously in Tombstone and together they all dressed to kill - fictionally and not literally for the gala.


Some of the 'bad boys'



John, Robert and Barry on the streets of Tombstone



Michelle and Laureen

There was a meet and greet with Val on Saturday, a parade through the tiny town, a key to the city presented to Val, and many more events.

It was a grand affair and twenty thousand people from around the world - yes, there was a gentleman from South Africa present for the soiree, swarmed the wooden sidewalks and dirt streets to take part in this birthday celebration.

When meeting with Val at the Schieffelin Hall the actor sat in a straight back chair - smiled, shook hands and was happy to have a photograph taken with the fans. J and L were fans and had a photo taken with this truly adaptive and talented man. J then presented Val with a copy of his novel, Hunted, and Val seemed very interested and promised to read it shortly.

Val Kilmer accepting one of John's novels as a gift

Within an hour the parade was on with Val as Grand Marshall.

The Grand Marshall - Val Kilmer

Well, this blog has taken on a bit of length but we at J and L are not done with the trip to Tombstone. There will be more to follow - and to paraphrase Ike Clanton from the film Tombstone:

                                                         "We'll see you soon - real soon."

Tombstone - too tough to die! Whaaaattttt?




Saturday, July 22, 2017

Some Mysteries Must Remain Mysteries



J has a framed photograph, poster size, of the famed aviator Amelia Earhart hanging on his classroom wall. It's there for the purpose of showing a person who can inspire children to be whatever they are capable of being.

This female flyer took risks and challenges during a time when it - in many circles - wasn't considered 'lady like' to venture into the heavens in small planes to outmatch, which she did numerous times, her male aviation counterparts.

Okay, not Amelia but pretty brave and risky!
In the nineteen-thirties, a woman's place may have been thought to be at home with the children, but with Amelia, her calling wasn't for such a life. Her place was to stand alongside those other adventurers and world changers who smirked at danger and were willing to risk everything to prove they were correct.

Eleanor Roosevelt as first lady paved the way for a president's wife to hold her own news conferences, write syndicated columns for newspapers, and never hold her tongue on national or international news.

A first for a First Lady
Jesse Owens - the African-American track and field star of the 1936 Olympics held in Berlin, shattered Adolf Hitler's ridiculous conception of Aryan supremacy. Four gold medals later, he proved he was one of the best in the world. To this day, according to ESPN, he is considered one of the top six greatest American athletes of the twentieth century.

Thanks, Jesse 

Gertrude Stein was American novelist, poet, playwright and avid art collector. This woman almost single-handily broke the 'paper' ceiling. She hosted and inspired such notables as Pablo Picasso, 'Papa' Hemingway, Sinclair Lewis, The Fitzgerald's, and others at her Paris salon.

Gertrude - couldn't say it any better
This was a time when the 'outsiders' made the 'insiders' nervous.

Amelia Earhart was such a person. Her passion had always been flying even from a young age. She was the first woman to fly a plane to 14,000 feet, setting a world record for female pilots. In 1923, she was the 16th woman to receive her pilot's license in the United States. She even went so far as to purchase a small biplane, she named 'Canary' to continue with her flying adventures.

She wanted to make it in the rare world of flyers, but she realized that her young appearance could be a hindrance at being taken seriously. She cut her hair short, as was the fashion for those few other female pilots at the time, and even slept in her signature leather flying jacket for three months to give it the appearance of a well worn old friend.

Now, that's a true flyer by the looks of her.
But sometimes reality stands in the way of immediate fame.

Sadly when her inheritance ran out, she had to sell almost everything, including the 'Canary' and she took a job as a social worker in 1925 near Boston at a settlement house. Not to be deterred, she stayed as close to the runways as she could when time allowed, to ensure she was not forgotten and was finally approached for a transatlantic flight by Captain Hilton H. Railey. He was wondering if she'd like to copy Charles Lindbergh's 1927 solo flight across the Atlantic.

So, in April 1928 and the young woman eagerly accepted the offer. Unfortunately, Amelia did not have adequate personal experience, so the flight from Newfoundland to South Wales was really instrument flown by Wilmer Stultz - a fellow pilot. She always felt as though she was nothing but baggage and not the woman who flew the Atlantic solo for the first time.

Fame came anyway and so did her marriage to George P. Putman - who was the one who had truly coordinated the Atlantic flight in the first place. Amelia fell in love with the book publisher and publicist whom she married in 1931. Of course, she wasn't really the marrying type and it did take Putman asking her six times before she agreed.

Mr. and Mrs. George P. Putman - but  just call her, Amelia
As a publicist, George knew a good thing when it was standing or flying in front of his eyes. With the newly married couple, there was a strategy to make Amelia a household name. They did and Amelia's influence was in the fashion industry, luggage, household products, and even Lucky Strike cigarettes.

Amelia - we're in - where next?

She was one of the most recognizable people in the world.


It even got better - she had dreamed of actually flying solo across the Atlantic and achieved that feat in May of 1932. From Newfoundland to Derry, Northern Ireland. The nearly fifteen hour flight catapulted Amelia in the record books once and for all.


After this incredible feat, she continued on breaking record after record, but the main thing for which she is remembered, is for her attempt to fly around the world. She wanted to be the first woman to fly a plane around this floating rock in space called earth. Of course, a navigator would be aboard but only to provide critical information to the pilot when needed.

Ah, Fred - maybe a left here?
Amelia would be at the controls the entire time.

The first attempt ended with the plane damaged in March of 1937. The second attempt - the one that made her more famous than she ever had envisioned, began in Oakland, California May of 1937 (that's where her plane, the Electra had been repaired from the first attempt). She and her navigator, Fred Noonan, announced in Miami, Florida that they would circumnavigate the globe, shocking the world but probably not the flying community. Anyone who knew this brave woman realized this day was bound to to come. It came on June 1st, 1937 when they took off from Miami planning to circle the planet. Twenty-eight days later the duo found themselves with only 7,000 miles left in this epic journey. The problem was it would be mostly above the wide and dangerous Pacific Ocean.

Where the Electra went down, perhaps?
What happened to both Earhart and Noonan has gone down in history as one of the greatest mysteries of aeronautics.

There were sporadic radio signals from Amelia but in the end none of those hearing the comments could be sure the Electra was on the right track. They were heading for was Howland Island.

The USCGC Itasca was stationed near Howland Island just in case the flyers needed assistance in finding this small outcrop in the Pacific. The last communication they had was near the Nukumanu Islands.

At 7:42 a.m. was one of the last, if not the last, call from Amelia to the Itasca: "We must be on you, but cannot see you - but gas is running low. Have been unable to to reach you by radio. We are flying at 1,000 feet."

There may have been one or two more radio calls but the fact was Amelia and Noonan were in serious - make that deadly trouble. It has to be understood that the bottom radio antenna on the Electra may have been sheared off at take-off from Lae, New Guinea due to the amount of fuel the plane had to carry for the voyage. This could make accurate radio tracking signals almost impossible.

The Electra was never seen again.

One of the largest air and sea search and rescues began, but to no avail.


In the past eighty years there have been rumors, intrigue, eye-witnesses, researchers, and a host of others who have tried to solve the mystery of Amelia Earhart's last moments. Countless articles have been written spawning countless documentaries. Books, both fiction and non-fiction, have been published in an attempt to explain how a person so talented and accomplished as Amelia Earhart could just 'disappear' from existence and not leave one single piece of evidence.

Perplexing to say the least.

Recently, on July 5th, 2017, a photograph surfaced perhaps proving Amelia and Noonan had survived the crash and were taken prisoners by the Japanese. That rumor has been around since World War II. The photo shows a group of people on a dock in a large bay. One boat has what looks like a plane similar to the one Amelia had been flying and the woman sitting on the dock appears to be Amelia -same build and characteristic hair style. A tall man on the left of the photograph has an uncanny appearance to Fred Nooaon, her navigator. All of the others appear to be either islanders or of Asian descent.

Hmm - looks like Earhart and Noonan

Was the mystery solved?

Whoops - not so fast.

On July 11th, a military history blogger by the name of Kota Yamano declared that the photograph was taken two years earlier in Palau. He stated that the woman nor the man were either Earhart or Noonan. The blogger didn't say who the two obvious 'foreigners' were though. Those crazy bloggers!

By the way, Palau was under Japanese control during that time. And by the way again, the ship in the photo towing the plane which looks a lot like the Electra was a Japanese navy survey ship - the IJN Koshu. And by the way again, this ship supposedly helped in looking for the real Electra in 1937, but with no luck.

The Electra on the rear of the IJN Koshu - hmm, again
Coincidence? Who knows but the mystery is not solved - yet.

'Breaking news as of July 21st, the long time searcher for the truth behind Amelia Earhart's disappearance has reiterated  that the photograph from the Jaluit Atoll is indeed Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan. It was taken in July of 1937. Former FBI official Shawn Henry - who starred in a History Channel documentary says he is one hundred percent certain the photograph is real and taken in 1937 showing Amelia and Fred were taken prisoners by the Japanese.'

The plot thickens. One searcher says it's her and a blogger says it was taken two years earlier. Though, this team of bloggers sees quite a resemblance there in that photo of the two missing aviators. Just saying.

So the photograph of Amelia Earhart hangs on one wall in J's classroom as a reminder to his students that they can be whoever they can - as long as they have the skills - and to never give up on their dreams.

They may succeed with those dreams.

But, sometimes dreams are mysterious things - such as in the case of Amelia Earhart.

Then again - sometimes mysteries are to remain a mystery. They seem to assist in the human condition called - imagination.

An adventurer? Yes, and an icon for such.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Miles of Smiles

One valley in the Faragas mountains
On a cool September 20th in 1974, the Transfagarasan Road was completed. It took four and a half years to carve this engineering marvel over one of Romania's highest mountains. Today it is considered one of the most beautiful highways in the world.

In fact, the popular television show, 'Top Gear' referred to this asphalt ribbon as one of the world's best roads.

We can not refute that claim.

J and L drove this beautiful landmark late June and breathtaking would be an understatement to describe this majestic highway cut through passes, valleys, and anything else that got in the way of the dream of a megalomaniac.


A bit of a winding road.


In 1970, the Communist Dictator of Romania, Nicolae Ceausescu, came up with an almost impossible task. Of course, no one says 'no' to such a ruthless person as Ceausescu, and thus the idea of a road through very high mountains was to be realized. Now, it was up to the engineers in the military - isn't that always the case with communist regimes? It's up to the military to make things happen because civilians may say - 'Huh, a highway where and what for?"

Build what over what?
Ceausescu wanted to build a road between the counties of Wallachia and Transylvania in case the Soviet Union invaded Romania as they had done with Czechoslovakia in 1968. He thought if the Soviets invaded, he could command his military to secure this road and keep the Soviets on their heels. They may lose either Wallachia or Transylvania, but one would be saved. Too bad that the road is closed most of the year due to the heavy amounts of snow that build up at this high elevation, making it nearly impossible to secure any of it.
A lot of bridges over the roadway


Oh well - sounded like a good idea (not).

The road was built in a little over four and a half years using 14 million tons of dynamite and the loss of 38 military personnel. The cost of building a road - unknown tons of mountain side along with a the human fatalities. Ceausescu demanded the road and the highway was built, and so it deserves the nickname it earned from the Roma (locals): Nicolae's Folly.

It's the Communist way, but enough of the politics - for now.

Laureen feeling the power of the waterfall
The drive through the Fargas Mountains takes roughly three hours but could be less if the scenery wasn't so darn unbelievable. It truly is one of the most scenic roads J or L have ever driven. The switchbacks (a million of them if we counted correctly) make for a spectacular view at every turn. The thick green forests making visibility out either the driver or passenger window nearly impossible and then suddenly getting so high in elevation that the tree line is staring you in the face is amazing. Nothing but mountains - bare, exposed and stunning. That's where the road can really be appreciated.
John trying to help a runaway piece of glacier



Magnificent glaciers poke their iciness around nearly every bend, waterfalls pounce out of nowhere allowing the traveler a chance to hear and see one of natures most beautiful acrobatics, stunning views of nature at every inch of the highway and yes, there are also sights only humans can create.




So many sheepies and no where for them to go except the highway.


Not once or twice, but three times J and L had to stop on this highway for a time to allow sheep and sheep herders to clear the roadway. This road is the access from one side of the Fagaras Mountains to the other and the sheep herders don't mind the walk and it seemed as though the sheep didn't mind either. There was a 'baa' here and a 'baa' there and we were obliged to wait until the sheep cleared to one side or the other on the highway before we could safely to pass. No warning was needed - a sheep hood ornament was not on order for the day.


Thanks for the help. How to pass a million sheep? A sheepherder, of course.

This road had everyone, both locals and tourists, stopping to take a thousand photographs with phones, cameras, whatever was handy. No one got angry if a vehicle slowed to a stop since it only made sense to get out and breathe the fresh mountain air, and enjoy the wonder that both God and man had a hand in making.

Top Gear had it right, but perhaps the best aspect of this path through the Fargaras Mountains is how peaceful the scenery surrounding the road is. It's a highway to experience with all senses.

Our rented Audi handled the road expertly and there were times that J put his foot into the pedal - after all, sometimes a hair-pin turn needs to be tested.


Friday, June 23, 2017

In Search of Vlad


Where the research and exploration took place


A very warm afternoon in late June found J and L landing in Bucharest, Romania.


We were on a quest to discover the true identity of Bram Stoker's infamous villain - Dracula.

Exploration and research was afoot - to borrow a phrase from the greatest detective in all literature, Sherlock Holmes.

The dynamic duo - J and L, not Holmes and Stoker, flew nearly fourteen hours from LAX to Charles de Gaulle  and then on to Otopeni International in search of this legendary badman. Of course, in certain sections of Transylvania, Wallachia and most of Romania itself, Vlad is not cursed. The fourteenth century prince is actually exulted as a hero.

The Hero - Vlad Dracula
Then why paint him as a killer? Why did Stoker pen such a sinister character based on Vlad III of Romania? Could it be because the Ottoman Empire had dubbed him 'Vlad, the Impaler' after the nasty habit he had of impaling all those with whom he disagreed? That would include Turks fighting for the Ottoman Empire, the Boyars (those rich nobility who often looked down their long noses at Vlad's family), the local people, the peasants, and pretty much anyone else who, in his eyes, had committed a crime.

A German woodcut depicting an impaling lunch
Vlad, according to many historians, was a product of his times. The thirteen and fourteen hundreds in Eastern Europe was not for the squeamish. Rulers fought other rulers for the right to rule. Sometimes those wars would last months or years and then start over again. Land was at a premium in Europe and the nobility was not against killing tens of thousands of their own people, soldiers and peasants, for as much land as they could obtain.

So, Vlad Dracul (his father - the suffix 'a' means 'son of'') raised Vlad and his two brothers to fight like champions because they would need the skills to rule. Without warrior talent during those years in Eastern Europe, you could not hold onto any land. It would be taken from you by a mightier warrior.

Vlad Dracula - the son of Vlad Dracul - would take the lessons learned to an entirely new dimension. But once the research started, we discovered that there is much more to the story of this man - this prince.

And this is why J and L found themselves in Eastern Europe in the summer of 2017. To learn more and more about this man of many faces. This Vlad Dracula - Vlad the Impaler - Vlad III - or the voivode (war-lord) of Wallachia.

Who was he? Why did he obtain the reputation he either deserved or did not deserve?

The real Vlad Dracula
There were trails to be hiked, bridges to cross, castles to explore, and libraries to research all through Romania, in search of the answers to such questions.

Many steps to numerous deserted castles
That's why J and L were there. And, J was doing research for a new historical-fiction on Vlad the Last Crusader.

Not just curiosity but a more long lasting purpose - a new book - a new genre than J is used to writing. The research would be done, the exploration complete, and then the challenge of putting all the pieces into a piece of literature would come to light.

But - for now the traveling had just begun.

Let the sleuthing begin!


Sunday, June 18, 2017

Our Friend - Robert Brickman


Bob and John at Oktoberfest - 2016
Life is a wonderful experience, and one we are hopeful will extend into the after-life, regardless of religion, or other belief to which one subscribes.

The idea that life ends at death is not something one wants to think about.

But recently J and L received the news that a very close friend of ours - more like a brother than a friend had passed from this realm.

Vicki and Bob - blissful
J had known Robert Brickman, 'Bob' for over thirty years. Bob had come to the United States from Germany as a kid, worked hard and became a citizen. His German was flawless but his English better. He loved these lands we call 'our country'.  In all the decades Bob lived here, there was nothing but praise for the country Bob proudly called his home. Sure, J would tease Bob about this or that but it always came back to the fact both men were true patriots - they loved America.

Bob loved America and a good meal
After a courageous battle with multiple cancers, Bob left this earth. That hideous monster cancer had taken a man who could snow ski better than J knew how, could navigate his 26 foot ski boat like a man born to water, and always have a sparkle in his eye when things got rough. It wasn't fair that he was taken so soon.
Captain Bob at the helm
It wasn't fair to his young son, Jeremy or his loving wife Vicki who stood by him day and night as Bob endured every treatment that was 'to cure' him. It broke our hearts when Vicki called us to break the news. But life isn't fair - it is just life and with that burden fair has no place. It's just life.

Bob loved large parties at the river house
 Yes, this isn't the typical blog that J and L put out but there is a point.

J traveled with Bob for over three decades. Their adventures covered states, countries, adventures, misadventures, and just being great and loyal friends.

John giving Bob directions which were ignored as always
As friends, when there was a need, no matter who needed what, they were there for each other.

J loved Bob and Bob loved J as brothers.

So, this is a very short blog honoring one of the most special people both J and L have had the pleasure to know and love.

Bob's greatest joy - his son Jeremy
Head skyward our friend - we love you and will always miss you until we meet again.