The Blues + Van Gogh = Everything you know.

I top off the tank under the watchful eye of a fellow pumper. Like every other station in every other town along every other road, that one person is always there, always ready to start that conversation, “I had a Harley.”

“Oh yeah?” I respond.
“’85 FXSB,” he states.
“Damn,” I reply.
“My buddy and I went coast to coast in ’88, over 4000 miles in two weeks.”
“Really, that’s wild.”
Securing the gas cap, I mount the machine and switch the ignition to on.
“Where you headed?” he asks.
“Mississippi.”
He shifts his head and furrows his brow – “What the hell is in Mississippi?”
I hit the starter and allow the bike to help bring an end to the conversation; with a raised voice, I proclaim – “Spirit!”

I rumble down the road, east out of the hills of Arkansas, looking to find my way across the Mississippi River and into the lowlands of the Delta, with his question still in my mind.

Mississippi is Paramount

What the hell is in Mississippi?

I believe that a spirit exists in Mississippi. A nonlinear spirit whose growth, like a plant, weaves and meanders in pursuit to find its sustenance, a spirit that accepts that we are of a single existence and our expression is pure when delivered without pretense.

I believe that that spirit exists in the Blues. A dissonant, inharmonious combination of rhythms and harmonies that, born from experiences deeper than my own, create a purer tonal expression.

But that is just my opinion, and who am I to talk about the Blues –

My life is linear.

Currently, right angles make up my order. Straight lines build my home, my relationships, my future. I am comforted by the order or the right angle. It maintains my uninspired infrastructure and keeps well-planned progress moving along.

Finding a way across the Mississippi River.

I exit Arkansas by traversing the mighty river on highway 49.
The Helena Bridge spans nearly a mile and towers high above the water. Since 1961, its rigidness and strength have stood against the power of the current.

Impressive, but its form is soulless in its rivets, iron, and angles.

My destination is Clarksdale, MS. Known by some as the epicenter of the Blues, a town that lays claim to the Crossroads, the mythical intersection where Robert Jonhson sold his soul for a guitar tuning.

World Famous Ground Zero Blues

I enter into Mississippi, flanked by the fertile lowlands of the Delta and the random casino resort.

Clumps of trees divide the fields.

My machine rumbles, disturbing the peace and tranquility of emptiness; I ponder nonlinear expression in language and art.

An inspiration that is born from a tree’s random pathway of growth creating beauty that poets write about and an artist paints.

Without nerves or muscles, the tree pulls toward the sun, tearing through rock and twisting its form into a joyous tangled mess of life, unique and celebrated.

“I think that I shall never see – A poem as lovely as a tree” – Kilmer wrote.

Van Gogh’s Olive Trees, whose branches pitch dissident into the Yellow Sky, while those with the Alpilles in the Background curve softly, express years of emotion beset by a nonlinear life.

Do straight lines lead to an artist’s success, spiritual success, or is true and pure expression born from chaos?

Was Van Gogh’s style crude, Kilmer too simple, or the Blues not real music?

Or as Whitman stated, the “clearest expression is that which finds no sphere worthy of itself and makes one”

What expressions make the greatest impact or leaves a lasting impression of influence?

Are the Blues the equivalent to Van Gogh?

Blues music, a nonlinear expression, created from inspiration and emotion, not just the systematic and safe practices of major, minor, and modal scale?

Vincent, an artist, self-taught painting from the soul creating abstract that stirs the spirit, was rouge in his expression but subsequently inspired the world after his death.

Robert Johnson, a blues guitarist whose music and presents, arguably, allowed the world to experience the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin, expressed his emotions through the rouge music known as the Blues.

Is Robert Johnson as large of a contributor to the world of art as Van Gogh?

The Shacks of the Shack Up Inn

In Clarksdale, I secure my lodging in a shack on the main grounds of The Shack Up Inn. The Shack Up Inn is a collection of unique and eclectic lodgings, holding true to my nonlinear expectations.

My temporary home is the Pine Top shack named after the legendary blues piano man Pine Top Perkins, an individual who knew Robert Johnson and had a left hand that would “roll like thunder.”

Pine Top at the Shack

An upright piano sits in the corner of the shack in desperate need of a visit to the crossroads.

Clarksdale, Mississippi, ground zero for the blues; I bum around the town and find only a few open joints on this weeknight.

The blues are alive, and I spend a few minutes and dollars on seeing Ike Turner’s cousin’s band play.

A make-shift stage and folding tables transform the abandoned store into a live music venue, and it could not have been more perfect.

Rain begins to fall, and I head back to the shack. Soft rain and road spray wick through my jean and into my boots. The road is dark on the way back to Pine Top’s shack; the shack is darker.

I sit on the porch and look intensely through the rusted screen. The clouds give way, and the rain subsides as my eyes look beyond the field and into the dark foreboding shadows of the trees.

Kilmer used his pen and Van Gogh his brush; those who called the Delta home used their voices.

The music was the medium. The inspiration was the world. The world is the spirit.

The Mississippi morning air is thick and heats up quickly as I top off my tank.
Securing the cap, a gentleman approaches me.

“Nice bike; I had a Harley once.”
“Oh yeah?”
“02 Sportster,” he states.
“Damn,” I reply.

Why stay in those old vintage courts?

Seventy -four years ago Clark Gable was here, “cabin” number 6 – Boots Court, Carthage, Missouri.

Tonight, I sit a voyeur.

Seventy-four years ago, Clark Gable was here, fresh out of the service, still mourning the death of Carole Lombard.

I feel the movement of air – as his silhouette moves towards the door.

Eighty-four years of memories thrive in these four walls my senses discard all other and focus on Clark Gable’s visit seventy-four years ago.

I fight the bitterness.  

Seventy-four years ago, 1947, Clark Gable was here, do I smell the Lucky Strike? Is blue smoke rising – drifting slowing before diverging.

I am olfactory overtaken.

Seventy-four years ago, Clark Gable was here, his voice, torn from tobacco, blustered firm statements between drinks.

I listen intently.

Seventy-four years ago, Clark Gable was here, tonight he is here, Boots Court is still here, that is why I am here.  

A Hotel’s Grim History

Ah – the 1920’s – those were the days.

Prohibition – that is what I am talking about. Gin tasted sweeter, drunk was more drunken, and hang-overs didn’t hurt.

Outlaws were admired, cops were Keystone, and gambling was found behind hidden doors – fun!

Roads were being built and tourism became an economy.  

Tourist camps, hotels and motels supplied the needed respite for souls journeying toward the God given right of Manifest Destiny.

Ah – the 1920’s – the decade that Texarkana, Texas, aspired to raise a grand hotel along the Texas and Arkansas state line.

The Hotel Grim would be spectacular and a spectacle.

Lots of work in downtown Texarkana

The architectural firm of Mann and Stern, while borrowing heavily from the Arlington Hotel in Hot Springs, Arkansas, designed an impressive structure, grand in a subtle way. A variety of building material inside and out created, somehow, a seamless, and elegant structure loaded with 90-degree angles – final cost 700,000 – yes, in 1925 dollars.

Guest could dine on the roof top – a dining room and garden, eight stories high, towering above the debauchery below.

The Grim, or so the legend goes, was a haven for illegal gambling. There are also rumors of an elaborate tunnel system below the town – allowing for a convenient transport of women and whisky – and the tunnels terminus, always the Grim.

Collector Items? Old doors from the Grim.

Her sins aside, the Grim lasted until 1990, better that what can be said for other hotels of the day – hopefully Texarkana found around 11,000 dollars a year worth of use from the hotel.

For thirty years the hotel was vandalized by mother nature and vagrants, teenagers and time. Ceilings collapsed and floors caved, as the once grand hotel became an eyesore.

Today – revitalization of downtown Texarkana is bringing the Grim back – well kind-of. Texarkana is not planning a luxury hotel but affordable apartment.

Never-the-less, Grim will be operating again and that is more that I can say about other hotels of the day.

A vast improvement.

A candid note to Walt Whitman

Piles of your yesterdays are growing higher as I walk this road alone.
I kick through what we both don’t understand but to what we relate.
Piles of successes, suffocating god.
I exist within the most significant day ever – my day.
Piles of you exist around me – some blocking my path.
If you are the present, can you be the past?
I trample you, not out of malice –
I have nowhere else to step-
I exist during the most congested time ever –
Piles of you exist all around me –
Through denouncement, you have become the rule.
You are what you never wanted to be – hats are removed to you.
You are a burden to the soil and soul – reexamination to the meter and rhyme.
You impede my travel.
Piles of you, tangible and spiritual, bring praise and despise.
I gently scape you from my boot –
I leave you to the soil –
I teach you.
Piles of you will continue to build,
In future generation minds,
Along the pathways of tomorrow.
Piles of romance – of your written day,
Piles that bury the beauty of candor.

The Evils of the Antonym

Sticks and stones might break our bones, but words, in particular antonyms, will certainly destroy us.

A war is breaking out, a conflict of opposing opinions centered around the acceptance of the division created by the antonym. While one side sees a necessity in the antonym, the opposing faction sees the words as destructive.

The latter identifies the antonym as a device that divides cultures, societies, and families due to the words’ decisive differences.

A recent event held in East Dover, Vermont, the free-thinking organization better known as The Liberation of Thoughtless Minds Coalition or (LTMC) presented the argument against the antonym.

Antonyms, in the LTMC’s opinion, create difference and an extreme divide among the population.

“This part (the anonym) of the English language is tearing us apart,” exclaimed Neil Burgess, an original member of the LTMC.

His sentiments were shared with the vast majority of the attendees, evident by the group’s t-shirts promoting anti-antonym.

“The antonyms are out of control!” the group chanted between speakers.

LTMC does not have an issue with all anonyms.

“We are fine with Complementary and Graded anonyms,” exclaimed David Delany, the acting president of the LTMC, “we only have an issue with the relational antonyms.”

According to the LTMC website’s FAQ page, the group does believe that opposites can exist, but the group is opposed to opposites being a necessity.

“If we eradicate relational anonyms from our language, we will eradicate prejudice and racial inequality from our lives,” Delany announced to an exuberant response from those in attendance.

“Relational antonyms lead to war and social injustice.”

“Without a master, there will be no servant; without borrow, there will be no lend, no slavery to man or money.”

Delany extended his rhetoric by proclaiming, “Anonyms have created the institutions that have led to destruction, the pathway to misery is pathed with anonyms.”, he shouted under the deafening roar of the crowd.

The LTMC acknowledges that the mission of exiting misery and division from society by removing relational antonyms will not be an easy task.

During a short break-out session, I sat down with Mr. Delany to discover more about the LTMC’s mission and the struggles to get more people on board.

“Our biggest struggle is pre-fixes,” Delany confesses.

“Any English speaker has the ability to create his or her own antonyms simply by adding a prefix to over one million words.

“A simple in-, un-, non-, etc. upfront will create opposition – Will create division.”
“We attempt to stay ahead of the antonym, but we find they (the antonyms) are growing each day exponentially.

The LTMC has, they believe, found a way to stay ahead of the antonym.

Delany explains, “We have created software that continually monitors social and political issues globally. An algorithm combines the identified issues with all possible combinations of antonyms and produces a report of future oppositions.”

“We can see the future.”

“We are continually adding antonyms to our list (found on the LTMC’s website) of the most detrimental words to the advancement of a peaceful society.”

Delany does admit that, if the LTMC is successful, peace with come with a price.

“To rid our lives of hate, we must lose love,” Delany expresses with a grim but confident tone and adds, “within a few generations, without the words, the emotions will come to pass.”

Redwater, Texas

Redwater, Texas, the first town a Bankhead Highway traveler will pass through heading east out of Texarkana.

Redwater, Texas, is located in Bowie County with a population of sub-one thousand residents, small yet still more prominent than it was when founded in the mid -1870’s.

Redwater was initially named after the great oratorial expert, friend to the rich and powerful, and the “OG” Agnostic, Robert Green Ingersoll, reported by the Washington Post in 2012 as, “the most famous American you never heard of”.

Riding the Old Redwater Road – out of Texarkana.

Riding into Redwater, Texas, via Redwater, Road.

Ingersoll’s legacy was short-lived in the town that would eventually become Redwater, Texas. A revival was held one night in Ingersoll, and the Spirit was in attendance. The evening resulted in over 100 people finding the Lord.

A bit of the Bankhead Highway near Redwater, Texas

Quickly enough, the citizens felt that their highly spiritual town should not be named after “The Great Agnostic” and began searching for a new name. They settled on Redwater a homage to the tint of the water in the wells and springs.

Pass STAAR with only Five Correct Answers

Spring is quickly approaching, and Texas public schools are gearing up for the STAAR. The anxiety-building state assessment, loved by students, parents, administrators, and teachers, well, maybe not. The STAAR does not need to be feared or hated; it is a playable exam that any student can pass only knowing the correct response to five questions.


Keep reading if you would like to understand how.


The following “plan to pass” was developed with the collaboration of a group of my cohorts. I want to communicate what we found while compiling released STAAR data from the state of Texas.
This plan is designed to improve the scores of students and have a 100 percent passing rate.
This plan was devised for 5th-grade math students in a Texas public school. Please do your research and do what is best for your students.


Fifth-grade math success plan and how to get 100 percent passing
.


Historically, a student must answer seventeen questions correctly on the STAAR fifth grade math test to pass.
Except for the grid questions, the majority of problems are multiple-choice. I will refer to these as A, B, C, or D, to keep confusion to a minimum for non-educator readers. Each year the correct answers are distributed among A, B, C, or D, consistently.


We found that “A” is the right choice 12 to 14 times, “B” is correct 12 to 14 times, with “C” and “D” following suit. So, if a student were to answer only “A,” he or she would have 12 to 14 answers correct.

Teachers are aware that this could show a vast improvement for some students who historically are sub-ten correct answers. This improvement would be celebrated but would fall short of the goal of having 100 percent passing being 17 correct is the magic passing number.
Teachers know what is assessed on the STAAR test and what the questions look like. We can use this knowledge to help “play” the test to get to 100 percent passing.


It is all about the TEKS’ verbs.


The STAAR will assess TEKS with the “simple” verbs. These TEKS require the student to perform simple one-step tasks like identifying. These quick questions, coupled with the consistent distribution of correct answers among “A,” “B,” “C,” “D,” are the key to 100 percent student success.
All students, I believe, through rote memory and conditioning, can find success on these questions that consist of concrete knowledge and recall.

We found five to seven questions we considered “easy verb” questions each year while examining the released tests.


Playing the STAAR.


When a student receives the STAAR assessment, he or she will answer the easy verb questions first. The student will be able to identify these due to the conditioning and the familiarity of working with released questions focused on the same TEK during class.
The student will only answer the questions he is 100% confident of the answer. There must not be any guessing.
Once at the end of the exam, the student should have at least five to eight questions answered. Again, these concrete knowledge questions are the keys to passing.
With these questions answered, the student will close the test booklet. The student will now examine the bubble sheet, aka answer document. Once the student determines where the majority of his or her correct answer are on the bubble sheet, he or she is ready for the last step to passing the STAAR.

Last step to success.

Let us imagine that the student is 100 percent sure of six of his answers. Let us assume that these correct answers fell on the “B,” “C,” and “D” column of the answer document.
With our knowledge that historically “A” is the right answer twelve to fourteen times, if the student bubbles straight down “A,” excluding his right answers, he will pass the STAAR with 18 to 20 correct.
Does it work?
With lots of focus on those few TEKS and having students understand the plan, it can succeed.

The Buckhorn Baths – Mesa, Arizona

Ted Stiger, by accident, created an iconic roadside oasis in the desert. The Buckhorn Baths in Mesa, Arizona, a mecca that denounced segregation, lured Hollywood stars, played host to the political elite, and arguably developed the Cactus League. Ted’s relationship with baseball ushered in the spring training of Americans favorite pastime to the East Valley – and all he did was dig a well.


Arizona was a no-mans-land for centuries, an arid desert, a harsh environment that few called home until the Granite Reef Dam’s construction. Completed in 1908, this early 20th-century engineering marvel on the Salt River diverted water via irrigation canals to Phoenix, allowing growth and development. Soon after, in 1911, the Roosevelt Dam was constructed, providing the valley with affordable electricity.

Inside the Buckhorn Bath’s overgrown courtyard.


While Phoenix thrived with its new wealth of utilities, America was on the move. The pursuit of mapping all-season and all-weather roads was in full swing. Routes such as the Bankhead Highway, Dixie Overland Highway, Old Spanish Trail, and U.S. Highway 80 trudged west, each claiming the title coast-to-coast.

Historic Routes – Coast to Coast


Soon travelers filled the roadways. Cars needed gas, passengers needed groceries, resulting in mom and pop shops popping up all along the newly formed transcontinental routes.
In 1936, Ted and Alice Sliger purchased a parcel of property just east of Phoenix in Mesa, Arizona, a purchase that would set in motion a series of events that would culminate into the development of the Buckhorn Baths.
Initially, the couple’s space was occupied by a store, a gas station; in addition to these, Ted found space to display his extensive taxidermy collection.


By 1938 business was good, but there was a problem. Ted had to have water delivered, and with an increase in traffic and patrons, this was becoming impractical. Ted set out to dig a well to find some water beneath his feet. Ted did find water, but not water worth drinking; Ted opened a 120 degrees mineral-rich water well. Water that, at the time, was believed to have healing powers.
Understanding the unique opportunity flowing under their feet, the two built a 27 stone tub bathhouse that could serve 75 guests per day, added cottages, and ultimately employed a staff of 25.

Yum.

The Cactus League
Bill Veeck, who owned a ranch in Arizona, purchased the Cleveland Indians in 1946. Veeck also intended to introduce African American players to his roster. This would be problematic during spring training in Florida, where Jim Crow Laws still subjected African Americans to sever discrimination; he chose to move spring training to Arizona.
The big issue with this move was that there would be no other teams to play during spring training; Cleveland needed another Arizona team during the spring.
Horace Stoneham, the hands-on owner of the New York Giants, also wintered in Arizona. And as legend has it moved the Giants spring training to Arizona the day he discovered the Buckhorn Baths and the healing waters.
The Giants would call the Buckhorn Baths home each spring for the next 25 years. Legends such as Ty Cobb and Willie Mays would soak in the mineral baths, wander the grounds, and enjoy the mild desert winters.

During a time of racial inequality, The Buckhorn welcomed all players of all colors, allowing the team to stay together on site, something that was not allowed in Florida.

Today, fifteen professional baseball teams call the Phoenix area home during the Cactus League’s season.

Ted passed away in 1984; although it had been decades since the Buckhorn was the Giants’ home base, the baths were still opened and operated along with the motel and the museum, by his wife, Alice.

The Buckhorn Baths Cottages

With Alice at the helm, she drew the last bath in 1999. The motel and museum shuttered around 2005. On November 10, 2010, Alice passed away at 103 years of age.

Today the Buckhorn Baths stand abandoned but well preserved. The mineral-rich still flows through the pipes. A roadside gem. A collection of Americana history.

Midway Drive-In

Years ago, darkness filled the space between city limit signs, a void of life and light. These lonely stretches of blacktop created ideal spots for drive-in theaters.

In the middle of the last century, “Midway” drive-ins popped up along those segments of highway. Strategically placed midway between towns, the Drive-ins would benefit from both populations’ patronage. Mid-century summer nights would come to life in these otherwise desolate areas midway between towns.

One such “Midway” Drive-in existed along what was once known as the Bankhead Highway in Sweetwater, Texas.

The Midway.

Sweetwater’s Midway Drive-In opened on May 20, 1948, with a screening of “The Time, the Place and the Girl,” starring Dennis Morgan. Warner Bros’. most successful film during 1946 and 1947, earning $3,461,000 domestically and $1,370,000 foreign. Might this success be the reason the Midway opened with it two years later?

Owned by Jack Wallace. He, Dorothy, his wife, and son J.D. ran the theater. The projectionist was Billy Faught.

Many other outdoor cinemas share the Midway’s demise. Victims of changing culture and fluctuating populations. Today the screen still stands, a mammoth white cement wall, waiting to continue to perform its duty, frozen in time, just off West Broadway, Sweetwater, Texas.

A Traveling Man’s Last Flight

A hint of smoke fills the cabin of the Douglas DC-3, 6,000 feet above East Texas.

Two crew and seven passengers, en route to the next show, be-bopping and energetic from previous engagements, three sold-out nights, a recently signed record contract, and the resurgence of the lead singer’s career, are unaware of the horror that lays ahead.

The plane’s owner and band’s leader is a rockabilly icon, teenage idol, television star, and a victim of his successes.

His rise and fall led him through many struggles, but the future was bright. New opportunities were certain, and at only forty-five, his life was beginning.

The passengers, concerned but not overly alarmed with N711Y’s situation, living was on their minds. Renewal and resurgence on the horizon.

Pilot and co-pilot bumble in their actions, every decision they make, as smoke drifts through the 14 seat aircraft, errors in their duties.

With the band’s future renewed, confidence is rebuilding, and his assurance of being a sober, respected, musician not just an aging teen idol.

His mind is on the future while appreciating his celebrated past of music and entertainment, millions of albums sold and memories of gold records, and starting a band as a teenager with an 18-year-old guitarist named James Burton.

N711Y, a moody machine.

Earlier that day, December 31, 1985, the passengers and crew loitered around the airport during a lengthy delay.

N711Y was having issues.

N711Y was always having issues, no cause for alarm.

These usual troubles were not accepted by all band members, who regularly voiced concern about traveling on the vintage plane.

December 31, and the air was cold.

The onboard heater, indiscriminately, blowing cold, blowing hot, overheating, a nuisance to both crew and the cold passengers in the magnesium tube.

New Years was only hours away, and a music starved crowd awaits the band to help ring in 1986.

For five decades, he entertained on radio, television, movies, and live. He was born with a pedigree for music and entertainment, a musician whose soul was tuned to Rockabilly and country roots, whose success veiled his loves and promoted Pop music and good looks.

He rose and fell but came out with a fresh look on life.

N711Y has issues but also a fascinating history.

She is a Douglas DC-3, vintage 1944. An aircraft whose history is rich as her current owners. Initially, Richard Dupont’s property and once Jerry Lee Lewis’s possession, this aircraft had taxied the rock-n-roll royalty along with the rich and famous.

Today the forty-five-year-old owner is only thirty minutes away from Love Field, in Dallas, Texas. His band and fiancé fill the plane with exuberance and merriment of the good life.

Last night his final words to the crowd were, “Rave on for me!” as he finished the band’s final song. Rave On, a Buddy Holly cover that, only posthumously, would weave irony into the story of this musician’s life.

Smoke becomes thick throughout the plane as the pilot and co-pilot radio for radar vectors to available landing strips.

As smoke fills the cockpit, radio communication becomes difficult, as the distressed pilots struggled for their words.

Choking for air, the pilot ditches the plane in a haphazard landing. Smoke turns to fire, and soon, N711Y’s fuselage is engulfed in flames.

The pilots, severely burned, escape through a window, and stumble about while the N711Y lays consumed in a fire in an East Texas farmer’s field.

Once the flames subsided, recoverers found all nine passengers’ lifeless and burnt bodies huddled around the plane’s door, a futile attempt to escape the inferno.

Today the tail of N711Y is on display in the community museum, next to Dollar General, in Del Kalb, Texas.

N711Y’s rudder was last seen at Air Salvage of Dallas.