Epilogue - August 19, 1999
Lois and I stayed through Sunday, August 8 at Stan and Parky's home in Wellesley. Parky is my first cousin. I'm named after her father, Wallace, (Robert Wallace Graham) although there is an interesting story there.
On my birth day, I was given a middle name after my mother's side of the family. On the way home from the hospital, my father saw a brand new store going up called 'Robert Hall's'. Realizing they were going to be a nationwide chain, my parents decided not to do that to me, and changed the name to Wallace. You could find 'Robert Hall's' clothing stores around until the late 60's. I would have outlasted them, but it would have been a difficult youth.
Lois, Parky and Stan
Stan worked in engineering at Raytheon in Lexington virtually his entire career, retiring just a few years ago. You know the expression, "it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure that out"? Well, Stan, basically IS a rocket scientist, so there aren't too many things he can't figure out.
My cousin, Parky, named after her mother's maiden name, works as a financial planner in a neighboring community. Stan does the housework and the majority of the cooking. And he's excellent at both.
I want to thank Parky here for taking the step several years ago of re-establishing the connection between her family and the rest of the Graham family. I had not seen her since we were both very young (1950's), and she accepted an invitation to my niece's wedding in 1995(?) in Pittsburgh, where she met up with all of us. And the re-connection was made.
It's clear to me that she possesses her father's spirit in this regard. It was her father, Wallace Graham, who spent hundreds and hundreds of painstaking hours collecting the Graham family history and compiling it into book form in the early 1960's. That book is the standard reference for us on any question of our ancestors from Ireland.
On Sunday, the 8th, Lois and I went into Boston and historied around.
The State House
Doesn't it look insignificant now? It's on valuable land and they had to fight very hard in the 1970's to keep it from being torn down.
From that balcony, the Declaration of Independence was read to Bostonians for the first time, I believe on July 5, 1776. If you squint, you can see the crowds gathered below the balcony, can't you?
That balcony was used, then, for how many important public proclamations over the next six years?
In December,1770, one of the earliest seeds of the Revolution to come were planted right in that little triangular traffic square below the balcony. A misundertanding between British soldiers stationed in Boston to maintain order and a few local, probably drunk Boston residents, escalated from a snowball bombardment to "The Boston Massacre". We got fantastic mileage out of that British "atrocity".
You have to squint REALLY hard to see that one, don't you?
They'll be changing this shortly to read, "BREWER, patriot". The truth is, he was a poor brewer, a poor businessman. But he WAS the right man at the right time.
I have always liked Sam Adams. He was the troublemaker who has been labeled the father of the Revolution. I get the impression that he was not as intelligent or well-spoken as some of the other great minds of the revolution, but I sense that he knew deep in his gut that things were wrong and that he wasn't going to stand for it. And he knew how to make a lot of noise and get under the skin of 'the enemy'. The powers-that-be hated him.
Bob and Sam
That's a clenched fist. I feel a strong bond with him. Many of the other Revolutionary figures seemed so, well, "enlightened" and rational. I don't get that feeling about Sam Adams. He was very human.
Samuel Adams is buried in the Granary Burial Ground next to Boston Common. John Hancock, Paul Revere, Benjamin Franklin's family, Crispus Attucks and other victims of the Boston Massacre, and numerous other American Revolutionaries are buried here. Wow.
America's most historic church?
This is the bulletin board in front of Park Street Church, which sits directly between Boston Common and the Granary. You can see the impact this church had on the social fabric of our nation.
Col. Robert Gould Shaw
Jumping to the Civil War, this monument appears in Boston Common directly across the street from the Massachusetts State Capital (hey, didn't there used to be a large codfish weathervane on the state capital dome? What happened to it?). The monument was erected by Shaw's family in the late 1800's(?) and was built as a monument to HIM, not the 54th Massachusetts Colored Regiment. Only when the movie "Glory" was produced in the late 1980's, was there a ruckus made about the fact that the names of regiment members did not appear anywhere on monument. Now they do.
On the back.
Regardless, the statue is a "glorious" reminder of a magnificent chapter in our history; the establishment in late1862 of the first regiment of 600 Massachusetts volunteer free African-Americans to fight on their own behalf.
Here's the charge delivered to Colonel Shaw by Massachusetts Governer Andrew as inscribed on the back of the statue:
"I know not, Mr. Commander, where in all human history to any given 1000 men in arms there has been committed a work at once so proud, so precious, so full of hope and glory, as the work committed to you." Having seen the movie and knowing the story of the 54th, I get emotional just typing this quote.
As we stood looking in admiration at this beautiful sculpture, an open-sided tour bus pulled up in front of the monument. We heard the tour guide briefly introduce the monument, then ask, "Now, how many of you have seen the movie 'Glory'?" There was a long pause. "Really?? No one???" Lois and I both turned around to see for ourselves that not a single hand on that tour bus was raised in the air.
It won't be long before the buses drop this statue from their tours and, subsequently, the story it stands for. The fad is over.
A Good Samaritan remembered
As we walked down the "Freedom Trail" in Boston, my eye caught this plaque bolted to the front wall of a house. I have done an internet search on Clementina and have come up with zero, so she was apparently no one "great" as the world sees great. That makes me like the plaque even more.
This brings me to Patricia Young, the final Good Samaritan of the Route 99 experience.
While in Hartford (August 6) after I took the picture of Steve and Steve, the two good Samaritans from Hartford Public Works, I was distracted by my map and set the digital camera on the ground by a planter. And then just rode away.
Sometime in the next several minutes, Patricia Young, a legal secretary for Axinn, Veltrop &Harkrider, LLP of Hartford, walked by and saw the camera.
As I was pedaling furiously back in that direction, my single, but faint, hope was that the camera would be there. Of course, it wasn't. I don't remember how long it took for it to occur to me that there might be another hope: that a Good Samaritan would see the camera, rescue it, and return it to its owners. I know that that was not my immediate assumption.
But it should have been, shouldn't it? I mean, if I had been paying attention to my own journey, I should have known that Patricia would be the one walking on that particular street at that particular time. That she would see the camera. That it wouldn't enter her head to do anything other than work to find the rightful owner.
She had no choice but to be walking around that corner.
The camera had only 'Downers Grove North HS' 'AV Dept.' '60515' etched into its top (thank you, Mark McConnell, DGN AV master). Patricia got the zip code narrowed to Illinois, called the State Superintendent of Education's office, got referred to District 99, and then to our school. She spoke with Mike Wayne, assistant principal.
She wanted no credit, would take no money for shipping, and here is the text of the letter she enclosed with the camera:
"Dear Mark (Staehlin, our CFO):
It was a pleasure talking with you this afternoon. As I stated to you on the telephone, we are delighted to be returning this camera to its rightful owner. I hope the school gets many, many years use out of it!
Lois and I drove back to Illiinois on Monday and Tuesday (August 9 and 10), arriving late Tuesday night. The next morning, I got a call from Mike Wayne informing me of the return of the camera.
I remember my exact feelings upon hearing the news. I had absolutely not expected it, but I wasn't surprised. After the America I had experienced for the previous two months, no good deed performed by a stranger on my behalf could surprise me.
Mike gave me Patricia's phone number and I called her that afternoon. It was difficult, and still is, to find the appropriate words of thankfulness. I told Patricia that what she did was extremely unusual. Her response? She didn't do anything that she wouldn't have wanted her daughter to do. She and her husband, Chris, are expecting their first, a little girl, in November.
Of course, there is no picture available of Patricia, and somehow it's fitting that the last Good Samaritan should be an "invisible" one.
And so, the final chapter of the book, the final "Link across America", was yet another confirmation of the goodness of the people of America. I found this goodness literally, not figuratively, all across this nation, from the redwood forests (Jim and Sue Baldwin, June 6) to the New York islands (Officers Nelson and Winslow, August 3), finally at the Cradle of Liberty and a hundred places in between.
God shed his grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea"
I wrote about this song in the July 4 entry. I stand by what I wrote.
Note: I keep thinking about the "continuation" of that goodness through the two pregnancies of the final Samaritans of this adventure, Peter and Denise Conant on the dock at Plymouth, and Chris and Patricia Young of Hartford.
In the retrospect that a week and a half can provide, here are a few lessons that have emerged:
1. The theme of the Good Samaritan, as witnessed on virtually a daily basis and confirmed resoundingly in the closing days of the trip. The Good Samaritan is an illustration of the Biblical concept of "grace" - receiving kindness we've done nothing to deserve from someone we really don't know. This concept sets Christianity apart from the other major world religions.
My students had one concern when they discovered I was taking this trip alone: the number of evil people out there who would surely kill or mutilate me. (See FAQ page) Where do they get this impression of America? Just take a look at your TV Guide and see the recent "stars" of American television (Thank you Jerry Springer, Leeza, Montel, Cops, Dennis Rodman, WWF, etc. etc. etc.) Since lowlife all they see, kids today just assume that that's what America is filled with.
For the record, I didn't run across one chainsaw killer, one ax murderer, one hate crime in action, one severed head, one case of road rage, one body in a trunk, one drug-crazed mutant, or Jesse Ventura.
2. Up versus Down. Without having exact measurements, I'm pretty sure that every foot of slope I coasted or screamed down was met with a corresponding slope I had to climb back up. When people take pictures of bicycle tourers they are always either running down a hill or pedaling easily across the flat. It looks like SUCH fun. But in terms of real time, that picture is way out of whack. Three days up the Sierras, twenty minutes down. Three days up the Rockies, three hours down. And innumerable mountains and hills in between. One hour up at 5 mph, two minutes down at 40 mph. And I don't even want to TALK about the Appalachians!
I'm working on a life analogy here. There is no way I would have enjoyed the thrill of the downhills without the pain of the uphills. Yes, I could have gotten a ride to the top of every hill and just ridden down. What a rush. But the pleasure wouldn't, couldn't have been the same.
American culture has been inundated with advertising that, no matter what the product, has told us over and over for years and years now that we DON'T have to climb the hill in order to enjoy the thrill of the drop. We've heard it so many times it has become a part of our cultural fabric. (And we're spreading it so successfully to the rest of the world!)
Problem: you can TRY to hide from truth, but you can't succeed. So we have a nation full of people who think they're happy. They MUST be happy. Why? Because the TV tells them 10,000 times a day that they ARE happy. Get your pleasure with no pain attached!! And get it NOW! No waiting!!! Who even hears anymore the few true preachers of the Word who are saying the opposite? It's a million against one. No contest. Game over.
But the gut doesn't lie: we feel crappy. We keep buying, using, consuming; keep finding steeper and steeper hills to go down, using stronger and stronger drugs...and it's all so temporary. Nothing makes the ache go away. And we have no idea why. (We used to vaguely remember, but we're in the 2nd television generation now. And the preachers have joined the circus.)
We wonder why our suicide rate is skyrocketing, why our mental health industry is exploding, why our pharmaceutical industries are on top of the stock market (are YOU making money off the nation's death throes?), why illicit drug use continues to plague us, why extreme sports are getting more extreme, why we have that dull blankness in the pit of our stomachs.
There's only one solution. You've got to climb the mountain in order to experience the full joy of zooming down the other side. The climb takes way longer than the zoom. And that's just how it is. People I know who are happiest understand this formula. It gets harder and harder to teach.
3. I'm not cut out to be part of an organization. I probably worked harder this summer, physically and mentally than any 60 day stretch of my previous life. I worked on my own schedule. I wrote late at night, when my mind is most productive. This meant bicycling later in the day, generally when it was hotter. It was fine. I have never been a more positive person in my life. The only stress I remember feeling is when I came in contact, usually involuntarily, with organizations of which I was a part (and the Illinois State Police). I have some decisions to make.
4. Family. The realization pressed itself upon me the longer I rode, that what I was doing was of less and less consequence when compared to what I do as a husband and a father. I feel very good about my role modeling as a teacher through this adventure. But I felt less and less confidence in my husbanding and fathering the longer I was gone. I couldn't shake the feeling that I was an accident waiting to happen, and that if that accident DID happen, then all the "coolness" of this "lifetime dream" would instantly turn into the stupidest way to either die or be a burden to my family for the remainder of my days as a vegetable. The feeling really kicked in after being home for four days in July, and I never did shake it until the very last day of the trip. Being done with the trip hasn't really changed the feeling. The number one emotion upon completion of the trip? Relief.
I don't think I could do it again.
Ruth and Alyce
These are my daughters. Ruth is 19 and will be a sophomore at Wheaton College, Wheaton, Illinois. Alyce is 17 and will be a senior at Wheaton North High School. They are the two greatest gifts I have been given in this life. I love them with all my heart. This is taken at our first time together after getting back home.
And this is my wife. I can't begin to explain how much she has changed me, how much I love her and how much I owe her. While I biked the continent, she tended the flower garden, drained the pond, tended the vegetable garden, spent time with her daughters, painted two rooms, carpeted our office, cut out trees from the lilacs, organized the amazing Chicago homecoming reception (see July 19), hung new window fixtures, moved all the furniture, cleaned the basement, caulked the bathtub, took care of the house, led a 2 1/2 week student tour to Europe, drove out to see me in Colorado, drove out to pick me up in Massachusetts, flew to a cousin's wedding in California... and that's only what I remember. That's a pretty amazing summer. But Lois is an amazing woman.
Jon and Karen
I felt so badly about missing my chance to get a picture of my nephew Jon and his bride, Karen, when I stopped in Philadelphia (August 1). So here's a wedding picture taken June 19 that shows the very heart of Jonathan's personality. (Technical note: this picture and the next one were taken by the Sony Mavica taking a picture of an existing color print.)
The little bitty lady in the middle of this photo is my sister, Beth. So now I have pictures of all three of my little bitty sisters on the web site, as well as my little bitty Mom and her two sisters. Beth is surrounded by her four children (David, Michael, BethAnn and Jon) all of whom are now married and all living in the Philadelphia area. Her ex-husband, and father of all four kids, Howard Swart, is on the right. Beth lives just five minutes from us here in Naperville.
End of the road
So that's it. Route 99 ends on the front porch at 29 W. 6th Avenue, Naperville, Illinois.
This is a traditional bike touring picture, usually taken at the point of conclusion of a trip.
This is my point of conclusion.
The bike is hanging in the garage.
School starts in four days.
THANK YOU to every single one of you who participated in this grand adventure of a lifetime, be you student, family, friend, stranger, or new acquaintance. Whatever your level of participation, you all, of course, became links in the great chain of Route 99. Thank you for joining the ride.
Things I hope to add to this web site:
1. A complete equipment analysis/review, from the bike itself down to the Vaseline Lip Therapy.
2. Email excerpts. I received over 500 emails, all but a very small handful uplifting and encouraging. I want to share excerpts from some of these wonderful messages.
3. List of 'links across America'. The stated theme of the trip, found on the official logo of the website, is "Links Across America". I would like to list the name and perhaps a brief description as well as location of every person that made up the great chain of Route 99.
4. List of did/didn'ts (didn't have a single accident, didn't see a single animal killed, didn't see a star-studded sky, high temperature/low temperature, etc.etc. etc.)
5. I'm open to suggestion.
Previous Day (8/7)