Places That Look Ordinary Are Nothing But Extraordinary

Pullman National Monument Designation

President Obama Designates Pullman as a National Monument

I don’t often mix my work into More to Come…. But then again, I don’t often hear the President speak so eloquently about the work with which I’m engaged.  Last Thursday was one of those days.

After 24 hours in my own house, I was on the road once again to Chicago last week.  Cold. Frigid. Windy. Chicago.  It wasn’t a destination I would have sought out in February, except for the fact that President Barack Obama was going to designate Pullman a National Monument.  At the National Trust, we were part of a coalition working for this designation, and I was proud to join our team at the celebration.

These types of events with government and political leaders are often perfunctory – at least from the politician’s standpoint.  Last Thursday – with the President on his home turf – was anything but.  You knew we were in for a treat when his opening remarks began with this ode to Chicago’s winter: “It’s always been a dream of mine to be the first President to designate a national monument in subzero conditions.”

Pullman, if you do not know the history, is a remarkably intact industrial town of historic buildings and landscapes. Located 13 miles south of downtown Chicago, it was built by industrialist George Pullman and through all the change that has taken place in this small community, it stands today as representative of the heart of the American Labor movement. Strikes that began in Pullman in 1893 and spread across the country led – in the long arc of history – to the establishment of Labor Day, a 40-hour work week, the weekend, overtime pay, safe workplace conditions, and the right to organize for higher wages and better opportunities. The first African-American Union – the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters – had ties to Pullman. The men and women who worked and labored in Pullman – white and black – helped create the American middle class.


Pullman (Photo Credit: Cynthia Lynn via National Trust for Historic Preservation)

President Obama told the story of Pullman in deeply personal terms, as they related to his life, the life of his family, and to the life of all Americans.

I want this younger generation, I want future generations to come learn about their past.  Because I guarantee you there are a lot of young people right here in Chicago, just a few blocks away, living in this neighborhood who may not know that history.

I want future generations to know that while the Pullman porters helped push forward our rights to vote, and to work, and to live as equals, their legacy goes beyond even that.  These men and women without rank, without wealth or title, became the bedrock of a new middle class.  These men and women gave their children and grandchildren opportunities they never had. 

Here in Chicago, one of those porter’s great-granddaughter had the chance to go to a great college and a great law school, and had the chance to work for the mayor, and had the chance to climb the ladder of success and serve as a leader in some of our cities’ most important institutions.  And I know that because today she’s the First Lady of the United States of America, Michelle Obama.

Then he continued, and the White House transcript includes the reaction from the crowd:

So without this place, Michelle wouldn’t be where she was.  There’s a reason why I’ve got one of the original copies of the program for the March on Washington, a march for jobs and justice, with A. Philip Randolph’s name right there as the first speaker, framed in my office.  Because without Pullman, I might not be there.  Of course without Michelle, I’d definitely not be there.  (Laughter.)  Whoever she married would be there.  (Laughter and applause.)

Then – in contrasting the great national parks of natural beauty with a place like Pullman – the President spoke directly to the students who filled the bleachers in the high school gymnasium, saying:

…To the young people here today, that’s what I hope you take away from this place. It is right that we think of our national monuments as these amazing vistas, and mountains, and rivers. But part of what we’re preserving here is also history. It’s also understanding that places that look ordinary are nothing but extraordinary. The places you live are extraordinary, which means you can be extraordinary. You can make something happen, the same way these workers here at Pullman made something happen.

That’s not to tell you that life is always going to be fair, or even that America will always live up to its ideals. But it is to teach us that no matter who you are, you stand on the shoulders of giants. You stand on the site of great historic movements. And that means you can initiate great historic movements by your own actions.

Secretary Jewell with DJB

Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell with DJB at the community celebration in Pullman

It was a day of great celebration.  It was a day when one of the country’s most eloquent presidential speakers was able – because of what Pullman meant to him as a man, a husband, a father, a worker, and an American – to explain to all Americans why Pullman matters today, and tomorrow, and to future generations.  Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis were on hand, and I shared with them an ad we placed in that morning’s Chicago Tribune thanking the President, Secretary, and Director for their leadership in saving Pullman. And there were more than 500 people from the neighborhood – people who have been saving Pullman and recognizing its relevance for decades – who were there as well.

And I did say it was a celebration for the entire neighborhood.  Argus Brewery makes fine craft beer in a former Schlitz distribution center in Pullman. To celebrate the monument designation, they produced a one-day only brew – Pullman Monumental Lager.  My colleagues in our Chicago office got a case, and we shared one beer after the party. Even the President had four cases delivered to Air Force One.  Unfortunately, I was flying United and couldn’t take mine with me through airport security…something that isn’t a problem for the President!

Pullman Monumental Lager

Pullman Monumental Lager from Argus Brewery


Lager Description

Description of the Pullman Monumental Lager

What a way to celebrate!  Congratulations to all the folks in Pullman and the organizations such as the National Parks and Conservation Association who worked so hard to make this happen.

And if you have about 25 or 30 minutes, do yourself a favor and listen to the President’s remarks about Pullman.  It is a great history lesson.  The President’s comments begin after the 32 minute mark.

More to come…


Just Another Beautiful Day in Southern California

Swimming Coach JP Gowdy with Claire

Swimming Coach Jean-Paul Gowdy with Claire following a Family Weekend practice

Not even ten hours – TEN HOURS – stuck in the Phoenix Airport on Thursday was going to ruin our last Family Weekend at Pomona College with Claire.  (Phoenix Airport motto:  “And you think our city has sprawl – just wait until you have to go from concourse-to-concourse in our lovely airport.  We’ll show you world-class sprawl!”)

Yes, the time has come for the last of our family weekends during the college years.  We’ve made 7 of 8 over the course of the four years between our twins and their two schools.

Some parents poo-poo the Family Weekend, saying they are only for freshmen parents who miss their children.  But we love them.  Why?

Well, beyond the obvious of getting to spend time with Claire and Andrew, we get to meet and hear great professors talk about fun things. In the fall at Brown, our favorite was Fundamentals of Healthy AgingThis year’s topic of choice at Pomona from Professor Joti Rockwell was entitled  Sympathy for the Devil:  The Meanings of Fiddle and Guitar Music which addressed fiddle and guitar-oriented music from historical, theoretical, cultural and analytical perspectives.  Topics included “Greek mathematical and cosmological foundations for understanding stringed instruments, and the fiddle as a morally questionable instrument!”  The Devil’s Box!!  Right up my alley.

We get to spend time with our children’s suite-mates and friends.  What a sharp group of young adults.

We get to hear talented professors and students perform in various ensembles in some beautiful spaces. Comedy, poetry, jazz and dance ensembles, and improv. Two years ago at Pomona we had a chance to hear fiddler extraordinaire Richard Greene play with Professor Rockwell.

We go to a breakfast where we hear of the work of Pomona’s professors and students, who are having an impact worldwide in so many fields.  People such as Poet and Professor Claudia Rankine with her most recent work Citizen; Noah Simon, an alum who was named to Forbes 30 under 30:  Young Scientists Who Are Changing the World for his algorithms which are being used to characterize the biology behind Crohn’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and various cancers; and Assistant Professor Amanda Hollis-Brusky with her work studying the Federalist Society. At that same breakfast, we engage in a discussion with parents and staff about the importance of standing up and speaking out for the liberal arts, in the face of STEM-only education and the push in some quarters to turn institutes of higher learning into trade schools.

We get to meet and thank adults like swimming coach Jean-Paul Gowdy who have had such a profound influence on our children as they grow into adulthood.

And, because our children go to school on opposite coasts, we go to New England during the height of the fall color season…and we go to Southern California in February!

Haldeman Pool

Haldeman Pool

Did I mention that we hung out around the pool today watching Claire and her teammates train for next weekend’s conference championship?  And we were in short sleeves?  And shorts? And did I mention that while we were there – in 82º weather – Andrew texted and said it was -14º wind chill in Providence?

Yes, just about the time Candice and I think we are going to pull our hair out because of the weather at home, this little oasis of a trip comes up.  And we do love it!

Main Quad at Pomona College

Flowers from Pomona Family Weekend

James Terrell work at Pomona

James Terrell art work at Pomona

As we walk through the bucolic campus at Pomona, we keep getting whiffs of the flowers that are all in bloom, and we wonder which plant is calling us over for a closer inspection. The quadrangles, trails, buildings, fountains, art, and plantings work together to form a place of incredible beauty.

Today we have a jazz brunch in a beautiful dining hall that could have come out of a Harry Potter movie.  Then we’ll go to the farmers market in the village of Claremont. (Village motto: One of the most wonderful places on earth.) Candice and I will hang out in the 83º sunshine for as long as possible before having an early dinner with Claire and getting ready for our flight home.

I think we’re going to have to come up with some excuse to return next February!

More to come…




Quest for the Best (2015 Edition, Round 2)

Film ReelSince our last report on our quest to see the Best Picture, Candice and I have seen three more of this year’s nominees.  So let’s get to it.

We walked to our “commercial” theatre (the Regal) in downtown Silver Spring earlier this week to see Selma. This movie has had its share of controversy, from the treatment of Lyndon Johnson in the film, to the snub from the Academy in terms of award nominations. David Oyelowo was excellent as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in a performance certainly deserving of a Best Actor nomination. But the film was stilted at times, and uneven.

Selma is not the year’s Best Picture, but it is the most important film of the year.  We forget too quickly how difficult it was to attain rights for all, and how much pressure there is, even today, to restrict or even take away those rights.  I have members of my extended family who love to wave the Confederate flag, without any understanding of what that really means. I grew up in the South in the 1960s. I remember seeing these scenes on television. I saw first hand how blacks were treated then.  It was terrible. In some ways, it is still terrible. We can do better.

Last evening, we returned to the AFI Silver Theatre to see Birdman. Though it took a bit for me to get into this film, once drawn in I very much enjoyed this story of a faded Hollywood actor’s attempt to make it on Broadway. The acting here is terrific, beginning with Michael Keaton as Riggan Thompson (the Birdman), Emma Stone as Riggan’s daughter Sam, and Edward Norton, Jr. as the acclaimed Broadway actor Mike Shiner.  (Note: Ed Norton – Edward’s father – is a former colleague.) The chemistry between Stone and Norton is terrific. Naomi Watts as the actress Lesley (and Mike’s former girlfriend) and Zach Galifianakis as Riggan’s lawyer are also wonderful. The long single-camera takes are a great device, and the drumming in the soundtrack sets the tone for the story.  While this isn’t my first choice, I could understand – and support – this as the Best Picture winner.

This afternoon, we visited the Union Market redevelopment area of Washington, north of Union Station, to see Boyhood in the Angelika Pop-up Theatre.  This is another excellent movie, but to me it was flawed by being about a half hour too long. Tighter editing would have helped.  However, I enjoyed this coming of age story, and thought that the mother – played by Patricia Arquette – was especially good. Much has been made of the filming of this movie over a total of 12 years. I certainly enjoyed watching the characters age, and – with only a few exceptions – become more sympathetic.

We’ve now seen six of the eight nominees.  We’re planning on catching Whiplash in a few days, and we’re not going to see American Sniper.  (I’ll explain that choice in my next post.)

Here are my rankings of the six we’ve seen to date (and I’ve even changed my order from the last post):

1.  The Imitation Game

2.  Birdman

3.  Grand Budapest Hotel

4.  The Theory of Everything

5.  Boyhood

6.  Selma

And Candice has also weighed in as well.  Her rankings are:

1.  The Imitation Game

2.  Grand Budapest Hotel

3.  Birdman

4.  The Theory of Everything

5.  Boyhood

6.  Selma

Check back next week when I “declare” the winner.

More to come…



A Quest for the Best Picture (2015 Edition)

Film ReelAs we entered our empty nesting period, Candice and I took the plunge in 2012 and made a pledge to try and see all of the year’s films nominated in the Academy Awards’ “Best Picture” category.  We (almost) succeeded – seeing eight of the nine 2012  nominees – and every year since we’ve taken on the same challenge.  While we seldom get to all the films (we generally avoid the gratuitously violent ones such as 2013’s Django Unchained), we’ve seen the vast majority and have really enjoyed talking and – in my case  – writing about them.

This year there are eight nominees, and as we enter the final month we now have three under our belt.  The Grand Budapest Hotel is a wonderful, lush, and very funny film by Wes Anderson, which we saw in March when it was first released. The acting by Ralph Fiennes as the concierge, along with that of the rest of the ensemble, is delicious while the plot is convoluted and crazed.  This is a very good film…but not the winner!

On Saturday, we walked to the historic AFI Silver Theatre in downtown Silver Spring to see The Imitation Game. The story of Alan Turing, who helped break the German code in WWII and pioneered the computer in the process, is simply terrific.  There is so much to consider when watching this movie. It covers three periods of Turing’s life – his unhappy childhood, his work during the war, and his arrest after the war for his homosexuality.  His physical and mental deterioration is such a sad ending for a unique talent.  The line that spurs Turing in his youth, he then uses on fellow code-breaker Joan Clarke, and she ultimately uses to encourage him during his last year of life sums up the wonderful message of this movie:  “Sometimes it is the people no one imagines anything of who do the things that no one can imagine.”  Benedict Cumberbatch as Turing and Keira Knightley as Clarke are both remarkable.  They turn in top-flight, Oscar-worthy performances.  Highly recommended, and a great candidate for Best Picture.

Earlier today, we returned to the AFI Silver Theatre to watch The Theory of Everything, about the life of physicist Stephen Hawking and his first wife Jane Hawking.  This was another excellent movie, with incredible performances by Eddie Redmayne as Stephen and Felicity Jones as Jane.  Hawkings’ diagnosis of motor neuron disease, soon after he meets Jane, sets up the challenges of increasing fame and increasing physical deterioration that drive the movie forward.  Both The Theory of Everything and The Imitation Game demonstrate that movies without animation and action – and focused on brilliant minds, no less – can still be gripping, powerful, and moving.

Candice didn’t have a favorite between the last two, but I feel that The Imitation Game has more depth and is ultimately more satisfying.  So with three down, the completely untrained but joyfully opinionated DJB rankings for Best Picture stand as follows:

1.  The Imitation Game

2.  The Theory of Everything

3.  The Grand Budapest Hotel

Come back next weekend, as we’ll have at least two others to add to the list.

Let’s go to the movies!

More to come…