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Observations from the road: First edition

With Kathleen Crowther in Shaker Heights

John Kennedy once famously observed that Washington, DC, was a city with “Southern efficiency and Northern charm.” As a native Southerner, I believe that the geniuses who run the Ohio Turnpike will give those of us from the South a run for our money when it comes to inefficiency!

But hold that thought…I am getting ahead of myself.

On past travels chronicled on More to Come… I have taken short observations that don’t deserve full blog posts (some might say they shouldn’t be uttered in any forum) and strung them together as Observations from the Road.  I can already tell, after two days, that there will be a number of these on our cross-country trip.  So here I go with the first edition.  Read on at your own discretion…you’ve been warned.

Wondering about the origin of words and phrases ain’t what it use to be – While driving through Pennsylvania yesterday, Claire asked “Where did the term ‘Bucket List’ originate?”

Years ago, when you had a question where you weren’t absolutely certain of the answer, we would have kicked around a number of theories and probably passed a good hour in conversation making (mostly) uneducated guesses.  But our minds would have been stretched a bit.  Now, after I replied that it referred to things you want to do before you die – or “Kick the Bucket” – she wanted to know the origins of that term.  And not waiting for me to answer, she picked up her iPhone and Googled it. The common meaning refers to execution by hanging, when the poor soul who was about to lose his or her life stood on a bucket while the noose was slipped around the neck.  When it was time to do the deed, the bucket was kicked out from under the feet.  Of course, on the upside, instead of speculating on the origins of kicking the bucket, we spent some time thinking about what should be on a bucket list.

I write about this because we’ve already had a number of these conversations – including at least one with our hosts last evening, Herb and Kathleen Crowther – where we ended the conversation with “Oh, we’ll Google it.”  Examples include, “How did the term “‘tater” come to mean a home run in baseball?” (Answer, according to Wikipedia’s Glossary of Baseball – “The term started to appear in the 1970s, specifically as “long tater”. The ball itself has been known as a “potato” or “tater” for generations. A long ball is thus a “long tater”, shortened to just “tater” for this specific meaning.”)

Sometimes I miss the speculation aspect of conversation.

You really get to know people when you relax with them in their homes – I’ve known and worked with Kathleen Crowther (pictured above), the incredibly talented President of the Cleveland Restoration Society, at least since the early 1990s.  Her husband, Herb, has joined her at many an event with the National  Trust.  But until Claire and I had a beer with them on their wonderful front porch in Shaker Heights, toured the neighborhood, and enjoyed a bountiful breakfast together before hitting the road this morning, I didn’t “know” Kathleen and Herb. Outside of our work, we found many common interests and Herb has a number of professional and personal pursuits that parallel things I’ve been working on myself.  I’ve been reminded of this truism in the past when I spent time in the homes of colleagues Myrick Howard, Mark McDonald, Paul Edmondson, and many other folks too numerous to mention. Professional life is such a narrow slice of who we are – and it was great to be reminded of that again.  Thanks to Kathleen and Herb for your wonderful hospitality!

Comments you want to hear from your daughter (#1) – As we were listening to the Dixie Chicks sing Tortured, Tangled Hearts, Claire opined that “One sure way to have a relationship fall apart is to put the guy’s name on you as a tattoo.”  Amen. Amen. Amen!  Can I have an Amen!  For those who don’t know the song, here’s the first verse:

Well there was a little falter at the altar of confession
Down on its knees true love did fall
After 31 days of sleepless nights, she woke up to end it all
With “I love you” on a fresh tattoo engraved upon his chest
She tore her name right off his heart
So here’s to the unblessed

And I promise that will be the last Dixie Chicks reference this trip!

Cancer Sign in Gary, Indiana

And the winner of “Best placement for a billboard is…” – Claire and I were driving through Gary, Indiana today when we nearly ran off the road.  With the factory bellowing smoke in the background, some enterprising attorney had strategically placed a billboard offering help with Cancer Lawsuits!  Claire’s hashtag, I believe, was #wellplayed.

Too many things to see, not enough time to stop – This country has too many things of interest to see – even when you’ve allotted three weeks to wander cross-country. Among the places we passed on the road today that screamed out for a visit, but wouldn’t fit in the schedule:  the Recreational Vehicle/Manufactured Housing (RV/MH for those in the know) Hall of Fame and Museum in Elkhart, Indiana, dedicated to the pioneers of the “industry”; and the Duct Tape Capital of the World in Avon, Indiana.  Fascinating!

Wander Coaster

Good omens can be found anywhere you look – I am actually writing this in the World of Beer in downtown Evanston, Illinois, while Claire meets up with a friend from school.  (There is enough time to stop at the right places on this trip!)  I almost fell off my bench (and I had not – I swear – had a drop at that point) when the waitress showed up with the beer coaster pictured above.  How cool is that for the Not All Who Wander Are Lost tour?  Now we don’t need t-shirts.  We have official beer coasters!

Euclid Avenue Cleveland

Even though Andrew isn’t with us on this trip, we still think of him often – Claire’s twin brother Andrew is still in Washington finishing up his summer internship before he returns to school.  But we think of him often while on the road.  When Herb Crowther said, “You have to go and see how they are redesigning Euclid Avenue in Cleveland to accommodate many different modes of transportation,” we thought – “Yes we do…and we have to take a picture for our Urban Studies student back in DC.  So Andrew – this picture is for you.  I’ll explain more about how the bike, bus, car, and pedestrian elements are all wonderfully coordinated when I see you later this month.

Comments you agree with that your daughter says…but perhaps you need to remind her that this is a family blog (#2) – As we were driving through the mess that is Chicago traffic today, a huge SUV started tailgating me, then switched lanes quickly once or twice, only to start tailgating this poor small compact WHICH WAS DRIVING THE SPEED LIMIT!  The jerk stayed right on the compact’s tail, until the driver pulled over to the next lane to let the SUV speed by.  Claire and I were aghast, and she said, “I think before anyone  can buy a big car they have to pass a ‘No a*#%@&$ test.'”  Amen!  I was trying to think if I could have phrased it differently, but in fact she pretty much nailed it.  Sorry for those who are offended.  We’ve been to the Rock and Roll HOF on this trip, where they warn you as you come in that the content is often “For mature audiences.”  Perhaps I should have done that before beginning this series of observations.

Comments you agree with that your daughter says…and you realize that she is wiser than you (#3) – And now, to redeem Claire a bit (if such a thing is even required).  We were driving along the turnpike today, when we passed a billboard for a “Plus Size Bridal Boutique.”  I made some sort of snarky comment, and Claire immediately caught me up short by saying, “I think that’s a really good idea.  Imagine you are planning one of the great days of your life, and you can’t find a decent wedding dress because they are all designed for thin models.”  She then went on to tell me about her studies of how obese people are seen as fair game for discrimination by many Americans.  It was a (not altogether rare) instance of my seeing that I have a very wise (and thoughtful) daughter.

Ominous Ohio weather

And finally, can’t anyone run a decent toll road/turnpike up here? – You thought I had forgotten about that Ohio inefficiency, didn’t you?  Well no.  I’ve just been letting my rage build up.  We left Cleveland with beautiful sunny skies.  We arrived in Chicago to beautiful, sunny skies.  In between, we hit some “weather” as they say.  Claire’s hashtag for the photo above was #ominous.

So that was the setting today on the Ohio turnpike.  Perhaps it was all the water coming down, but we both decided we had to make a pit stop.  Quickly.  Unfortunately, the folks who run the turnpike have decided that information isn’t really something that drivers need very often. And, they also want to force you to use their service plazas.  We had no idea when one was coming up, and – for once – Google failed us as we searched.  But Claire did find a Marathon service station off the turnpike in a mile or two, so we quickly took the exit.  Only to find that the toll plaza was backed up to Cleveland because 1) they can’t figure out how to give Easy-Pass cars their own lane, and 2) because we always pick the lane with the guy who forgot to get a ticket and has to explain that in great detail to the attendant.  After a five-minute wait to get through a simple exit ramp toll plaza we race to the gas station…only to find that here in the 21st century, we found the only gas station without indoor bathrooms.  Yep.  Go to the porta potties in the back.  Did I mention it was raining.  This really is a family blog, so I won’t describe the conditions, but – well, let’s just say that we were cursing the Ohio turnpike commission as we were getting back on the road after our adventure.

So we were already a bit perturbed as we came to the last toll booth in Ohio…and we were backed up.  Two miles from the toll booths.  And the reason – once again – the Easy-Pass folks couldn’t zip through as you can at almost any other state because they put up crossing arms that drop down between every car.  JUST TAKE A PICTURE OF THE OFFENDERS AND LET THE REST OF US THROUGH!

The only good side of this…we got to tell the nice folks in the car sitting next to us – for minutes, it seems – that we liked their array of bumper stickers, which included Vietnam Vet, Ready for Hillary, Not a Republican, and a couple of others that were pretty darn funny.  They waved and thanked us.  That contrasts with the bumper stickers on two cars that were tailgating us through an especially difficult traffic period on the Indiana turnpike.  The bumper stickers on the tailgaters?  Grace.  And Turn to Jesus.  I don’t mind turning to Jesus, I just don’t want your bad driving habits to force me to meet him on the other side sooner than I am ready.

Now…that I’m through with that rant, I’m ready to go have a nice dinner with our extended family here in Evanston.

More to come…



I am David J. Brown (hence the DJB) and I originally created this personal blog more than ten years ago as a way to capture photos and memories from a family vacation. After the trip was over I simply continued writing. Over the years the blog has changed to have a more definite focus aligned with my interest in places that matter, reading well, roots music, and more. My professional background is as a national nonprofit leader with a four-decade record of growing and strengthening organizations at local, state, and national levels. This work has been driven by my passion for connecting people in thriving, sustainable, and vibrant communities.


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