Thoughts whilst on post-Christmas tour.

My second-through-eighth-day of Christmas trip this winter: Jacksonville to Charleston to see my old college roommate, his wife and their kids; to Anderson, SC to feast with a friend on leave from Iraq; to Greer, SC to have breakfast with my best friend Chip; to Raleigh to visit Aabrock and Nikita; to Charlottesville to hang out with former dorm-mates from Cope Hall; and then back to Jacksonville, jiggety jig. Fifteen hundred miles.

At dinner with my friend Patton, he referred to a military project in a manner that suggested he couldn’t discuss it any further. Problem was, I’d heard a good deal about said military project on the radio a few weeks ago. Rattled off the details left and right. He was disappointed, but not at all surprised. I’m sure they’re resigned to having classified information discussed openly on the radio, or the net, or the tube.

It’s always interesting to talk to him and get a first-person view of what’s going on over there, and how radically different—not necessarily better or worse, but different—that view is from what we usually learn from various media reports.

In South Carolina, one of the local morning shows featured an oddly familiar game. Two of the shows’ hosts put the third host, an overweight middle-aged man, on a treadmill and asked trivia questions. For each question he got right, he won twenty bucks. For each question he got wrong, the treadmill was sped up.

The game was oddly familiar because it was almost precisely the same as “Treadmill to Bucks,” one of the gameshows produced by the evil TV corporation in The Running Man. The only difference was that in the book, the contestants had confirmed heart conditions. Life imitates Stephen King. Combine tasteless reality shows with a stronger push for assisted/legalized suicide, and gameshows featuring billion-dollar manhunts won’t be too far behind.

On Saturday, we went to Monticello. Admission was $15, I paid with a twenty and received two $2-bills and a single in return. (Why isn’t a $2 called a “double”?) This was convenient because the nearby vending machines accepted Jeffersons.

I need to spend a solid week or so up in central and northern Virginia–Monticello is just a few miles from Ash Lawn-Highland (James Monroe’s estate) and about 25 miles from Montpelier (James Madison’s estate). I’ve never been to Mount Vernon, or the Appomattox Court House, and it’s been twenty-plus years since I’ve been to the Manassas battlefields.

Jefferson spent forty years creating a mansion that was mostly a monument to the Founding. Here was the parlor where visitors could view artifacts of the expeditions into the Louisiana Territory; here was the bookroom that housed what became the Library of Congress; here were Jefferson’s chosen portraits and busts of adventurers, scientists, and leaders; here was the room where Thomas Jefferson died on the same day John Adams did, precisely on the fiftieth anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration; here was the room where James and Dolley Madison slept when they visited.

The other rooms showed off the architectural tastes he’d acquired in Europe (skylights, mirrors opposite large windows), the gadgets he’d seen in other homes (dumbwaiters for wine, a massive Lazy Susan, a clock-weathervane-compass-calendar combo), and a clever economizing of space: his bed was built into an alcove such that as he lay in bed, his study was to his right and his dressing-room was to his left.

Monticello also provides evidence that Jefferson–fluent and literate in at least six languages, philosopher, politician, diplomat, gadgeteer, interior designer, father of American paleontology, writer, architect, founder of the University of Virginia–was capable of screwing up. Walk in the front door of Monticello, look to your left, and you’ll see a set of weights that mark the days of the week–but only the first five days of the week. The weights were designed for a room much larger than Jefferson’s portico. His solution was either pragmatic, clever, or lazy: he simply drilled a hole in the floor and placed the Friday and Saturday labels in the basement.

The rest of the estate reminded me that I absolutely would not trade places with the wealthy of centuries past. Wine cellars and beer cellars are typically supposed to be underground or in the basement. But when your kitchens, chef’s quarters, food storage and “privies” are also in the dark, somewhat dank basement, I say, “That’s nice,” and thank God for electric refrigeration, indoor plumbing, and Wendy’s.

Apparently I’ve been mispronouncing the name of one of my college friends… for the last eleven years. It wasn’t my fault, and I was far from the only one in our group who’d been getting his name wrong. He said that he’d told us the wrong pronunciation of his name because the true pronunciation (AH’sum) made him feel arrogant. Perhaps it would have made me feel the same way. But dammit, if I’m AH’sum, I’m AH’sum, and that’s the end of it.

One Response to “Thoughts whilst on Post-Christmas Tour.”

  1. Doctor Hmnahmna Says:
    January 2nd, 2007 at 11:04 PM

At the risk of ticking off Mrs. Hmnahmna, you are welcome to use our abode as your launching point for the Central Virginia tour. We’ve been talking about doing something similar between Central Virginia and Gettysburg, which is also within a day’s drive from Charlottesville.

The food will be just as lousy as this past week.