Fast Food

Bread – that this house may never know hunger
Salt – that life may always have flavor.
Wine – that joy and prosperity may reign forever.
—  It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)

Let’s talk food. Specifically fast food. Though I typically don’t, I’ve been eating a lot of it lately. Holiday travel necessitates relaxation of all rules. (Not to mention, I knew when I started that I’d be taking December off from my diet to make it possible for others to live with me).

There’s a great deal of bread and salt (two of my favorite ingredients) in the typical fast food meal. Not enough wine, I suppose, and I would need to go to Europe to find a Micky D’s with beer, but, I digress. The truth is that I hate the stuff. All the salt in the world won’t help if there is no flavor to bring out.

The hamburger patties come in two basic varieties: thin-dry and greasy-thick. There are variations and amalgamations, such as greasy-thin and crumbly-thick. But I like my burgers flavorful. Neither grease nor sauce can substitute for appropriately used seasonings.

When at all possible, I order grilled chicken. But these restaurants usually serve rubber chicken that might as well be in a teapot and a skit. Besides, even more than burgers, fast food chicken has no flavor. Again, grease and sauce are not substitutes.

When we were in Cincinnati, we ate at Skyline Chili, a family favorite. We even got Caroline to have a three way. (It’s different in Cincinnati.) It tasted divine; I love cinnamon laced Cincy-Chili. But oh the nausea! It must have been two parts garlic to one part grease!

And don’t get me started on the pizzas. I’ve had them too thick, too thin, with too little sauce, with too much sauce, not enough cheese, burned cheese, disgusting toppings (that should have tasted just fine). Enough!

Scott and I have the solution. We want to start our own restaurant. It will be a sit down chain, with wait staff and food fit for adults and kids alike. And right in the middle of the room, there will be a glassed in play area. I don’t see us really doing that. But the day somebody does will be the one we remember how to have a pleasant meal on the road.


Red Writing HoodI’m linking this one up with the Write on Edge Red Writing Hood Flavor prompt.

Best Birthday Present Ever

Last month, when I went up to Cincinnati, I got to see my Dad. It’s the first time I’ve seen him without my kids since Caroline was born. We had an awesome lunch, and he gave me my birthday present. Now, Dad and I don’t typically exchange gifts. Only when we’ve found something worth giving, really.

He had been hinting about this present for months. He kept saying  “You are gonna blister me when you see this thing”. I couldn’t imagine.  Because Dad has pulled some very strange gifts out of thin air in the past. He got our family a Toboggan for four when we lived in Lexington, KY. We didn’t exactly have opportunities to use it. But he’s also given me some really cool useful things. He got me an ergonomic shaped purse one year that I carried for something like a decade until right after we moved down here. (A moving day accident involving Sam, WD-40, a can of paint, and the garage rendered the purse and most of its contents insalvageable.)

So it would be an understatement to say my curiosity was piqued. A big understatement. Dad insisted that as long as I packed right, I’d be able to tuck this thing into a carry-on bag for the plane, which pretty much eliminated ‘replacement toboggan’. But other than that, I knew it could be a-n-y-t-h-i-n-g.

When I met Dad for lunch, he had a gleam of excited mischief on his face, and a big box beside him on the table. I took his picture with my phone to commemorate the meeting.

my Dad

We ate, and we visited for something like an hour before the subject of the gift came around. Suddenly he was nervous. He had, after all, been working himself up since October with this thing.

a box

The present came out of the box in parts. First, there was a compartmentalized bag. (And I was waayyy too impatient to photograph the bits as I removed them.) I said, “Nice bag.” And even as I said it, I was thinking huh, looks like… and before the thought fully formed, I looked back in the box and saw what had been beside the bag in transit.

this astonishing camera.

…a camera bag. “It is a camera bag!” I said.

And is it ever a camera bag. My Dad got me a Canon T3 Rebel. I have been BEGGING Scott to consider investing in an expensive SLR camera, and this is what I’ve had my eye on. Dad and Scott had not been in contact. Dad had no idea. He just went out on a limb and got it.  Also, he got me a fantastic lens. At the wedding I was in town to attend that very night, I got tons of compliments from my Auntie Em and even the professional photographer.

The photographer (who taught me how in the hell to use the thing, by the way – really awesome guy) said many kit cameras are just glorified, heavier, handhelds. But the Rebel (as this thing appears to be nicknamed) is classy.
I have barely put it down since December. I’ve taken wedding pictures, baptism pictures, train pictures, kid pictures, everything. Dad followed up at Christmas with a long range zoom lens.
My crazy niece

When I took this picture, I was standing across the room from my niece, who had demanded proof that a lens like that would only photograph her eyeball if I used it indoors.

Can I just say that I think I’m taken care of for the next decade or so? I don’t think I can ever remember a birthday present this awesome in my entire life. Not one. It’s something I wanted SO badly but probably wouldn’t have gotten on my own. It’s something I’ll enjoy for a very long time. It’s a gift and  memory that I’ll always treasure. Thanks, Dad. 

And so I write

I knew what I wanted.

I’ve been a writer since age ten. Initially, I just wanted a career (yes, I was thinking seriously of my future career then) where I could use the old Remington Rand manual typewriter. I loved the way it felt under my fingers, and I savored the letter-arm’s whack against the paper. Even now when I’m feeling completely empty, I type just to hear the clickity-clack of my keyboard.

My parents supported me. My dad is a musician, so they kind of had to by default. “Write,” they told me. “But have a backup.”

That advice has haunted me, still haunts me. It is the thread that floats through my dreams and nightmares. It has brought some of the best things in my life, but also some of the worst. Thanks to two masters degrees, I can now earn gainful ‘backup’ employment as a librarian or college English teacher. I met my husband in grad school, and we have two wonderful children. But grad school brought out the worst of my bipolar, stole my writing for nearly four dull, hideous years, and pushed me into jobs that are not writing.

Before I was five, we used to scrape by on what my Dad sent home from the road, which wasn’t much. After he came off the road and both my parents went to work, our income level reached middle class status. But we were always the scraping-by sort.

Dad job-hopped. His life’s refrain was “I play guitar. I write music. It’s what I do.” I hated those words. And I swore to God I ‘d never be that.

Only I am that.

Exactly that.

Although I have a job, a good one, I am becoming increasingly unemployable. I work online, or I probably would have been fired eons ago. The more contact I have with my employers, the less sure I am what’s going to fly out of my mouth at any given time. I tell the truth, often to my own detriment.

Increasingly, all I can do is write. I’m frantic because I know the odds in this business. But this is what I do. I write. My writing has been deferred deferred deferred until my chest clenches, and my throat closes. Until my face burns and my angry soul rebels, demanding its own time.

And so I write.

Because I know what I want.


remembeRedButtonI’m linking up with this week’s RemembeRed post, Unfulfilled, which asks about an unfulfilled moment in our lives.

I’m also sharing this Awesome with Momma Made it Look Easy


Spring BubblesWinter Bubbles

Can you believe the 2 1/2 year old in the top picture is the exact same child as the 8 year old in the bottom picture? They don’t even look alike.


Memories CapturedI’m hooking this entry up once more with the Memories Captured project over on These Little Waves and Mama Wants This with effects and text added using Picnik‘s free online software.


In which we do not get sprayed by a skunk

Back in November, we decided to give Geocaching another whirl. Our first adventure, documented here, was a total failure, but a fun one. Also, we wanted to give Caroline a long ride on that two wheeler before the cold weather made access sporadic. As a final incentive, we could explore one of the few Rails to Trails sites in Alabama.

So, armed with some new equipment to make cache hunting more effective, we drove an hour to Valley, Alabama. It’s an old mill town located along the  Chattahoochee river.

Part of the mill along our trail

Right at the outset, we discovered not one, but two old bridges to explore. One was a covered bridge, a covered railroad bridge, which meant it was bonus on the route. The other was the town’s old driving bridge, a metal structure that climbed above the roadway. It was the perfect spot from which to photograph its covered counterpart.

Picturesque doesn't even begin to describe it

Although paved, the track was poorly marked, so we were lucky Scott had already scouted ahead online. Otherwise, it would have seemed like the most pointless adventure ever, since a major road cut through the path about a quarter of a mile in and it was impossible to see where it continued. The Geocaching GPS insisted our find was over a mile away, so we would have been mightily annoyed to stop so soon.

Let me pause here to say that Geocaching and Rails to Trails are not united things. The trails are handy spots to place Geocaches, and the two are certainly capable of coexisting. But they are separate entities, without very much technical in common. Keep that in mind.

The trail wound around past city hall, where we met this fellow. He’s a wise man, part of a nativity.

Plastic Camel Rides two dollars for charity (not)

I’m afraid my primary thought was “Too bad Sam’s already got a mount, because that camel is in serious need of a rider”. (Because Sam was abike, too. He still has his training wheels, but it was a perfect course for both kids.)

See Caroline? The bright pink dot on the path?

Can you see the little card to the right of the door? If you click the picture, you can enlarge it on its own page to see.

We’re pretty sure these were occupied as houses in spite of their run-down condition and the blank ‘store-hours’ card in the front of one. It was just one symptom of the very real poverty in this town. We passed numerous dilapidated homes, some in states of outright decay. And all of them were occupied. I took the above pictures when we thought it was just the town’s old business district. Beyond that, tourism photography seemed disrespectful.

After that, we followed the path away from town. It kept crossing roads, which was convenient for keeping Caroline in check. She could ride ahead to the next stop sign, which was only out of our sight a couple of times. Then, she had to either wait for us to catch up or ride back and forth to us in the interim. When we started the afternoon, she still needed a push off to get going. By the time we were finished, she could kick start herself. Cheers to boredom.

A mile and a half in, the geomachine said we were almost there. At a mile and three quarters, exactly at a trail end, the machine suggested we dive off into the underbrush. As I said, Geocaching is not directly related to the Rails to Trails project. Also, this kind of direction isn’t uncommon with Geocaches. They are typically located a little off the beaten path. So we ditched the bikes and headed into the woods. There was a little walking path to follow, and the machine agreed we were headed aright.

But when we got within three feet of our destination, things went a little haywire. The GPS software couldn’t quiiite get a bead on us, so it would jump from saying we were 9 feet away, to saying we were 15 feet away, to saying we were right on top of it without our ever moving a step. But we knew we were close. So we started looking for logical spots. Behind stumps and around bushes. We were so engaged with looking that I didn’t think to take pictures.

Then I saw it. The perfect little burrow in the ground.  Geocaches are often hidden inside hollow logs and down in holes in the ground. This had a bit of both going for it, but right away we knew something was wrong. There was, surrounding the hole, a very very faint odor.

It was so faint, in fact, that I was the only one who initially noticed it. I said, “We may have found it, guys, but I think a skunk moved in.”

Scott took my word right away and said, “OK, let’s go then.”

But the smell was so faint. I said, “Well, maybe not. Let me poke around a bit.”

So I took a stick, and I jabbed it in the hole. Nothing happened. I shifted around some leaves, and nothing continued happening. So I got bold and grabbed a longer stick. I had just started rooting around with that when the odor level increased (not much, but everybody could smell it) and a sudden movement in the pit snagged my gut.

A black and white head with beady eyes popped out and looked around at us as if to say “What the hell are you doing in my house? You want to come in? You want that we should meet more closely?”

With matching visions of having to burn our clothes and shave our heads, Scott and I seized the children by the hand and took off back down the path. For the rest of the way back to the car, Sam kept saying, “The skunk stole our Geode”.

Well, no honey. Not exactly. But the effect was the same. As with our last failure, the adventure was so much fun that we knew we would give Geocaching another shot. The very next day, in fact, we made our first finds. Four of them, once we got the hang of how to look. But none of those were so fun as the one we didn’t find, the one that got “stolen”.

Gratuitous adorability


a flicker of inspiration at Lightning BugWith apologies, I’m linking up with The Lightning and The Lightning Bug’s Flicker of Inspiration post. I must say, I didn’t understand the prompt right. When the prompt said to ‘fix’ something that went wrong, I assumed ‘fix’ meant ‘write about’. I now realize we were supposed to do a fictional re-work of the scene. Oops. My gaffe. Just to be clear, we were absolutely never sprayed by the skunk.


There’s this story in my mother’s family about my great-great uncle. He and his wife once forgot their passports and nearly missed a plane rushing home to get them. Thereafter, each demanded of the other several times before any long journey, “Did you get the passports?” It became a running joke, a family-wide reference to anything small, important and forgotten. Tickets to a play? “Honey, don’t forget the passports.” Social Security Card? “Honey, don’t forget your passport.” Turning off the appliances before my grandparents’ annual pilgrimage to Floria? “Passports!” In fact, neither of my grandparents nor my Mom had a passport, serving to further confuse friends who happened to overhear the reference.

In my Dad’s family, in contrast, it’s considered sinful to lack a passport. I guess they want to be prepared to flee the country. Mom flipped when Dad got me my first one at the age of ten. She thought he was going to kidnap me across national boundaries or something. I used it exactly once, going to Canada with my paternal grandfather long before a kid needed a passport for such a crossing.

In spite of this lack of use, the absence of a passport in my life has nagged me ever since the old one expired when I was fifteen or so. (Sometimes, it takes a lot of nagging to get action out of me.) This year, Scott and I bit the bullet (and the expense) and got our whole family passports. We have no international travel planned in the immediate future, but we would like to be ready should an opportunity arise. (Please, opportunity, find me!)

So we dragged the kids out on a day we were already taking family pictures (or maybe it was the other way around) and got our passport photos at the same time. The woman taking our photos at the post office could only be described as a harridan. She was shorter than I was, meaning she had to look up at practically everybody, making already unflattering photos even worse. She stalled and shooshed, scathed and snarled, and she consistently refused to do retakes, even in the case of the woman whose head got chopped off above the eyes, until her supervisor intervened.

“No smiling!” That was her biggest edict. And have you ever tried to not smile when somebody is screeching at you about it? It’s like white polar bears. As soon as somebody says “no”, it’s all I can do. She finally got three of us straight-faced long enough to take her shot. But Sam, who she had to perch up on a stool anyway, was too nervous to stop cackling. She had to retake him twice without argument because he kept flipping forward to grab interesting things under the stool and vanishing from the photograph. So when his final picture came up with a half-smirk, she let it ride.

We sent out the forms and such, and the passport folks eventually returned the completed applications (along with our birth certificates, thank you very much). They also gave back the ‘extra’ pictures, since you have to submit two, but the office only uses one.

Oops, I scanned Sam upside down

Oops. I scanned Sam upside down

They’re horrible. Even Caroline looks bad. Sam’s is saved by the half smile, but all of us still look like felons.

The felons confess

 Family Convicted of Something Really Bad

Deputy T.W. Trogdolyte didn’t bother with a trial when he picked up this group. “Between the famer’s tan on the man, the frown line and double chin on the woman, and those pale, pale children, I knew I’d found my rat.”

This reporter was lucky enough to gain access to the prison to ask the group about their horrific deeds. The man said, “I can’t believe they caught us.” His wife added “Don’t shoot until you see the whites of my eyes!” The daughter said, “I accept responsibility for my actions and look now to the future, the future.”

But the son’s reaction was the most astonishing of all. He smiled directly at the camera and told me, “I’d do it again for a bag of Skittles.”


Writing is a business for me. It is my passion. It is the thing above all other things that I must do to remain sane. It is the guidepost I use to measure my bipolar, because when the crazy gets too bad, the writing goes away and I have to Do Something Else Pharmaceutical About It. So when I’m not grading, doing other things for my paying job, getting obsessive-compulsive about the state of my house, or being a Mom, I write. Sometimes, often, I throw over those other things to write, because the writing, in addition to being my bipolar barometer, is also my therapy.

And sometimes, I sacrifice my writing time to become my own marketing department. Because I have not yet either reached the level of success that mandates that I need an agent nor yet found one with whom I mesh perfectly. And because writing is my passion, and it is also my business. One I would like to get paid for.

In spite of the fact that my blog is almost exclusively nonfiction, my strongest writing can be found in my fiction.  I don’t harbor the illusion that many people want to pay a lot of money to buy copies of Sam’s Hide N’ Go Shit Report. I do harbor that illusion about my speculative, mystery, and ‘other’ fiction. But I have to hunt around to find those people. There’s a statistic that I can’t be bothered to find that says I have better odds trying my luck at major league baseball.

Today, I spent my time looking through various magazine guidelines to see who might publish my short stories. I started by combing through Writer’s Market, then I visited a bunch of potential websites, and I eventually narrowed the list down to five places where I might send one short story I’ve been working on. It’s a tedious process made more frustrating by baffling publisher websites.

When I’m shopping stuff around, I maintain an excel spreadsheet for each story. I keep things simple, logging the publication’s name, its web and e-mail address, the fiction editor’s name, the submission guidelines, and whether or not it accepts simultaneous submissions. Once I actually submit, I add more, but when I’m just planning, that’s it. An astounding number of journals and magazines can’t be bothered to provide me with these mundane details. I need a WTF column in that spreadsheet for the ones that explain themselves like this:

SouthTurn* is a shockingly original journal concerned with the postmodernist crisis of identity stemming from pantheistic atavistic anti-nationalism. Published on an unpredictable schedule. Circ. 3. Because only our parents would buy the thing. And not all of them.

We publish creative stories only. Things you wouldn’t find in another magazine.

Accepts submission only by snailmail with SASE, replies in 100 to 10,000 days.

No simultaneous submissions.

Guidelines available by SASE. If you can find the address.

I get it that magazines would like me to read them before I submit. That doing so is in my best interest and theirs. And part of my research process does generally include reading online samples from the publisher. (And sometimes getting so engrossed in those that, even though I have eliminated a particular publication as having potential for my story, I spend hours on the site just enjoying myself.)  When possible, I order a copy and pay them something.

But I cannot afford to be part of the mill of writers that support a whole host of publications by buying copies only so they can figure out the submission guidelines. I am a working mother married to my kids’ working father. I do not have time to sit around the bookstore and browse copies. And we have to share the mail with Sam and Caroline. Pretty much anything that comes into the house has to survive their interest before it can get to Scott and I!

Moreover, this is the twenty first century. In the old days, “SASE” was the only way to get those coveted guidelines, many age spotted and faded from too much photocopying, some still showing symptoms of a close relationship with a mimeograph machine. In the old days, snail mail was the only way to submit at all. And in the old days, journals distinguished themselves from trade magazines with verbose semi-pompous self-descriptions.

But this isn’t the old days. The good journals have either developed a strong elite following for their niche or else come down off their high horses. Pretentious wording is just pretentious wording, and it doesn’t make me want to send in my work.

Beyond that, most of these journals have websites, but many fail to make appropriate use of them. Why the hell should people have to send out an SASE for writer’s guidelines when the publisher can put those online? Doing so will increase traffic to the website and save time for the editorial staff. Similarly, why not accept e-mailed or online submissions? Glimmer Train does it, so why not The N’oreast Nevada Review?** I can’t be persuaded that virus protections software isn’t effective or that it’s too much of a hassle for the editor to learn how to open webmail. Besides, it’s oh-so-easy to bounce back work to the people who blow off the requirements and even give them a link to the guidelines page!

Sometimes, lucky networking can be more effective than these fruitless searches for valid outlets. I actually found the folks who published Divorce: A Love Story  by networking. The husband of a friend of a friend was starting a small publishing company with some lady in England, and I found out because we were Facebook friends. Seriously. And let me pause to say that Throwaway Lines is a very cool small press. The lady in England turns out to be this fantastic idea dynamo who is willing to put in time and enthusiasm to make things work. Jason and SJ have fought through some of the hardest things a small press can fend off, have completely lost the battle once, only to reform successfully in this current incarnation. I have no idea what their publishing future is, but I want it to be awesome. (The Throwaway Lines blog/website is currently under revision. I’m sure that when it is all prettied up, it will have all the things an author needs to submit, so stay tuned over there.)

Anyway, to get back to my original topic, I spent around five hours on a search today, and I really only found four or five potential matches for one piece. Another is weird enough that I have to pore over my physical copy of Writer’s Market (yes, I do still have one) before I decide my online search strategy. I plan to shop the first one around, see what kind of rejections I get, then revise it some more and repeat the process. And then do it again a few more times. If nobody accepts it, at some point, I’ll deem it revised to death and stop making changes. After that, at some other point, I’ll deem it submitted to death and stop sending it around.

I’ve got another piece outstanding. I sent it to two places last August. One rejected it sometime in December. The other made ‘drowning in our own inboxes’ squeaks, but at least took the time to contact me, meaning I’m waiting a little while before taking the next steps in this cycle. And the interesting thing about that last one is that it’s got networking potential, much like the novel did. I have an interested party, I know what guidelines to follow, and I’ll be sending it along there when the second place I actually hunted up and already submitted to gets around to rejecting me. I’d do it sooner, but I think I’ll get a guided rejection out of these other people, and I’d like to see what they say.

Although I’m a little bit jaded by the whole submission process, I think it’s fair to say that I’m a little bit jaded about everything. My handle is jesterqueen because ‘jaded queen’ sounded kind of stupid and I’m often too scathing to have any legitimate claim to the word ‘snark’.  Mostly, I want to see my writing in other people’s hands. I devote a lot of research to that process, in addition to my writing and revision. While I really would like to see clearer submissions guidelines, there’s a nasty little part of my soul that revels in disambiguating a magazine’s requirements all by myself. I imagine that this somehow makes me a better match for it. And I harbor that fantasy right up until the moment I am rejected. For being 3,000 words over the upper limit. Because the guidelines mentioned nothing about that little detail.


* Magazine name and precise wording made up to protect idiots. But it’s pretty close to about six of them that I saw today.
Just take me back to the damned entry

** Yes, I invented this one, too.
And you brought me down here to tell me THAT?

Hello world!

Welcome to WordPress. This is your first post. Edit or delete it, then start blogging! What the fuck? I can’t delete it. Fuck you WP

Notes From The Road: Happy New Year

Notes From the Road: Happy New Year

I don’t typically make New Year’s resolutions. Deciding to do something  just because of the day of the week has never really made a whole lot of sense to me. But sometimes, the first of the year seems like the perfect time to make a change.

And in the next twelve months, I have a big change coming.

Scott knows what it is.  But as of now, only a couple of other people do, and it would be stupid to announce it just yet.  The blogging equivalent of posting  nude pictures to Facebook. For one thing, it may not happen. And if I said “it’s coming”, then couldn’t pull it off? Yeah. For another, assuming it does work, I’m going to piss some people off. Not that this is anything new for me.  Pissing people off is practically a second job some days. But I think I’ll wait to give them notice to be angry before I say anything less vague here.

But.  Within the next year, there’s a major adjustment I need to make in my life. And it’s the kind of thing I’ll be positively tap dancing about over here. It has to do with the recent publication of Divorce: A Love Story by the very awesome people over at Throwaway Lines.  (And it’s definitely not them I’m planning to make mad.)

Stay tuned for infrequent updates. I don’t set goals. Those are just invitations to failure for me. I either do things, or I don’t do them. And this is something I plan to do. It’s something I need to do. And I’m very goddamned resolved.

Notes From the Road: Union Terminal

I should be grading. One of the sucky things about my job is that it never takes breaks. Which means that when my husband, who is also an academic (is even more of an academic) has a school break, I don’t. Ever. I get one month off a year, all at once, and the school doesn’t take holidays. My month off is March. So when we travel at the holidays, work comes with me, and I have less time for family and much less time for writing than normal.


I’ve been grading on and off for I think the last twenty four hours. (Now forty eight) I slept somewhere in there (and now also visited with family awhile), so that can’t be right, but it feels like I’ve done nothing but SCHOOL on my computer since yesterday (now two days ago) afternoon. Mama needs a break. (I’ve now had to bounce back and forth a zillion times over two days).

So, I will tell you how I spent my time yesterday (two days ago) afternoon. As a family, we went down to Union Terminal, the place where Scott and I started our honeymoon, where Amtrak still has a station, and where three different museums now reside. After we had gone to see the holiday train display on the history side (more on that another time), I had to leave the kids with my husband and mother-in-law to fend off the dinosaurs in the Natural History Museum and the plastic balls in the Cincinnati Children’s Museum so I could grade. Mostly, so I could download my work so I can grade offline, when my aircard is being persnickety.

I didn’t miss much in the Children’s Museum. Quite frankly, it bores me, and would have done when I was an actual child, as well. My kids love it, though, and I would have enjoyed the time to visit with my Mother-In-Law and spousal unit. And I definitely regretted having to pass on the Natural History Museum, where the coolest manmade cave on the planet thrills us all.

Instead, I cozied up to a table in the crowded lunchroom floor and spent two and a half hours downloading essays. (I have a hundred students right now, and about a third of them had something due on Christmas day. I extended all deadlines, but still, it means they technically were expected to work on Christmas and so was I.)  While I was clicking and waiting and answering e-mails, I looked around at the vast museum atrium and pondered urban decay.

Because that’s what everybody thinks about at such times, right?

No, really, it came to mind because Union Terminal came so close to ending up a piece of elegant decay. Shaped like a giant old-time radio, it stood practically abandoned for years, and most of the glorious murals that once lined the whole building were removed and reconstructed at CVG airport. If not for the enormous risk taken by The Museums of History and Natural History to jointly move to the building, it would be no more than a glorious remnant.

Think about that a minute. Two separate museums co-located here. And there was room left over so they installed a third. And they still had more room, so they opened that up for a holiday display that used to be setup in a huge room in downtown Cincinnati. Though this section will only be open once a year, it will be stored there year round. Intact. Does that give you a sense of how sprawling Union Terminal really is? 

I only took a few pictures with my cell phone (again, I’ll be revisiting this from another perspective), but here is one of the few murals that either remained or could be added.

MuralIt’s pretty amazing. Consider those relics you find in pictures by searching “Urban Decay”. Imagine how they used to look. And think about what must have gone wrong for those beautiful visions to collapse. Perhaps it was outrageous to begin with. Maybe it was incompatible with its owners’ economic stations.

I think of the David MacAulay book Motel of the Mysteries, in which a team of archaeologists (and one avid runner) in some future time unearth a motel and assign to its contents various religious significances. What would those future scientists make of the gorgeous ruins that dot our urban landscapes? How would they view our culture through the lens of things we abandoned?

And how would they interpret Union Terminal, which, through a little miracle, has not been abandoned, retains its grandeur, and shows vividly what a culture can do when it bares its soul?