Jim Terry
July 27, 2010
Corning and home
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By Jim Terry

(Last in a series about a two-week road trip across America)

Before wrapping up our visit to Watkins Glen we drove twenty miles south to Corning, New York to visit the Corning Museum of Glass. The museum was founded by the Corning Glass Works, now Corning, Incorporated, in 1951 as a non-profit museum dedicated to the history and scientific uses of glass.

A visit to this museum will change your opinion of that glass in your kitchen pantry. The museum houses the Heineman Contemporary Glass Art Collection, 240 beautiful, some unusual, pieces of glass art. The value of the collection is stated at a little over nine million dollars. Of course, the real value is priceless because it is irreplaceable.

The museum contains a collection of glass objects from around the world made over nearly 3,500 years beginning with glass from Egypt ca. 1400 B.C., with a replica of an Egyptian oven, to early twentieth century pieces from Tiffany.

You can make your own glass souvenirs and some of the scientific exhibits literally mess with your mind. Press a button and watch a car windshield bend almost to its breaking point; stand before a large mirror used in telescopes and walk toward the mirror along a straight line on the floor with your eyes fixed on the center of the mirror. As you approach, your image comes directly toward you. The mind is suddenly confused and your arms reach out to buffer the bump into the mirror. That is, until you look down at the line on the floor and realize you are still five or six feet from the mirror. Our three year old NattyNic thought it was fun, but she was as confused as we adults.

We discovered a curious bit of culture in Corning-the Rockwell Museum of Western Art. A quote from On the Road, the 1951 novel by Beat Generation leader Jack Kerouac about the odyssey of hopped up social misfits careening across America in a beat up Hudson, greets visitors in the foyer. Somehow, Jack Kerouac doesn't come to mind when I think about a brush popper in fierce battle with a stray Longhorn in South Texas brush country. The Roswell (New Mexico) Museum and Art Center as well as the Plains Indians and Pioneer Museum in Woodward, Oklahoma have more to offer than the Rockwell.

We left Watkins Glen early on Friday morning and retraced our path through Erie County, Pennsylvania where I have a great-great-great-great grandfather buried; back past Cleveland, just ahead of a storm which brought tornadoes to the area; and on to Columbus. We chose to turn south and through Kentucky, Tennessee and Arkansas back to Texas. We feared the young deputy sheriff in Indiana would be waiting for us.

We drifted into Bowling Green, Kentucky around eight in the evening and were lucky to find rooms. Well, maybe not so lucky. The hotel was nearly full with tattooed, no necks, scurrying around drinking martinis from Styrofoam cups. They were in town for a diesel competition. I never learned what the competition was, but I doubt any of the tourists cared after a night of drinking.

We left town before the highway became crowded with the diesel crowd and headed toward Nashville. The flood waters which had devastated much of that area in late April and early May were somewhat subsided, although, as we say in Texas, the bar ditches were still full.

A Texan east of the Mississippi rejoices in a turn toward home and we began that sweep to the west at Nashville where we entered IH 40 heading southwest to Memphis. It is like going to the ocean. At some point, the air changes and you can smell the sea. Texans get that breath of home at some point in a return journey to our state.

We had tried a Chicago pizza in Chicago and now we wanted some Memphis BBQ. The Pig-n- Whistle Restaurants are old establishments in and around Memphis and we knew it wouldn't be like Texas BBQ. Once you leave Texas, headed east, the BBQ is pork. In Texas we raise cattle and most of our BBQ is beef. And we don't put cole slaw on the sandwich as they do in the southern states. But the Pig-N-Whistle sated our mid afternoon hunger and filled us for that last leg across Arkansas and back home to our Lone Star State.

When I began this series of pieces about our two week road trip, I said it was no Travels With Charley voyage. You may remember John Steinbeck's 1960 voyage across America with his old French Poodle, Charley, in a custom pickup truck and camper. The title of his book is actually Travels With Charley: In Search Of America.

I found my old yellowed, cracked page paperback copy which I had read nearly fifty years ago and read it again.

Steinbeck realized he had lost touch with the country he had been writing about for thirty years. He said, "I, an America writer, writing about America, was working from memory, and the memory is at best a faulty, warpy reservoir. I had not heard the speech of America, smelled the grass and trees and sewage, seen its hills and water, its color and quality of light."

Steinbeck logged almost 10,000 miles over nearly four months from his home in Sag Harbor, New York across the country to his boyhood home of Salinas, California and through the Southwest and a few southern states back to his home on Long Island.

As I read, once again, of Steinbeck's trip, I looked for his conclusion. Steinbeck didn't make a grand conclusion about the America he re-visited. He said that as he planned his trip he formulated questions to which he wanted answers, and the questions could be summed up in one, "What are Americans like today?"

Steinbeck distinguishes between an American and Americans. The nearest he comes to a conclusion is his statement that Americans are individuals, but that they have some generalized characteristics-an American image- which he can't describe because of its paradoxes. Steinbeck pointed out the racial divide in America with his description of New Orleans' cheerleaders- a group of women who daily appeared at a pubic school to lead rants and jeers aimed at black children being brought to school under federal court desegregation orders- and how repulsive their demonstrations were.

How would Steinbeck see America today if he made a similar tour? He wouldn't see the "cheerleaders" in New Orleans opposing the desegregation of the schools, but he would see an America divided not only in racial matters but in economic matters, not in reality, but in politics. I suspect Steinbeck, no right wing conservative, would be shocked by criticism of an American president and his policies being characterized as racist. But that is the liberal play of politics in today's world.

He relates an incident at the U.S.-Canadian border when he attempted to enter Canada. The Canadian officials asked if his dog had papers showing proper vaccination. When he admitted he didn't, they warned him if he continued on into Canada he would encounter difficulties returning into the U.S. They told him it was his own country, not theirs, that would cause him trouble.

He turned around, without having entered Canada, and headed back into the U.S. only to face lengthy questioning by U.S. border guards. As a result of his experience, he said, "I guess this is why I hate governments, all governments. It is always the rule, the fine print, carried out by fine print men. There's nothing to fight, no wall to hammer with frustrated fists."

After kindness shown by the toll bridge attendant, who didn't charge him a toll upon his return because he had watched the incident and felt sorry for Steinbeck, he wrote, "But government can make you feel so small and mean that it takes some doing to build back a sense of selfimportance." I think Steinbeck would be angered by the tidal wave of government covering our land today.

My observation is that we are a country still beautiful, still wondrous and historic. We are a free people, but with more restraints than in Steinbeck's America of 1960. Our freedoms have been restrained because of political power imposed by those who disdain America's sovereignty. Our security, whether in a shopping center parking lot, sitting in a broken down car on the shoulder of a highway, or entering into a pubic building under scrutiny of hired guns who view each of us as a terrorist, has been jeopardized by political thought and policy which doesn't see a need to defend America's borders, punish America's criminals, or seek the downfall of those who want to destroy our country.

The answer to John Steinbeck's question, "What are Americans like today?" still can't be answered. The American image he saw in 1960 but couldn't describe because of its paradoxes is foggier today because of a rush to multiculturalism instead of a rush to an identifiable American image.

The amalgamation of the people of this country, which began generations ago, has ceased. Newcomers no longer have loyalty to this nation-only loyalty to the things they can attain from this nation. Much has changed since John and Charley smelled the grass and the trees and the sewage of America and gloried in its mountains and colors and the quality of light in their search of America.

In spite of some of the frustrations we faced on our excursion, it is a delightful memory. We look forward to doing it again, perhaps when NattyNic is four.

© Jim Terry

 

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Jim Terry

Jim Terry has worked in Republican grassroots politics for 40 years. Terry was an administrative assistant to a Republican elected official in Dallas for twenty years. In 1996, he ran for and was elected to Justice Court 2 in Dallas County where he served eight years. Contact Jim at tr4guy62@yahoo.com

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