Thursday, September 28, 2023

The Sheraton Hotel Dubai: A Sheik and his Entourage

My wife and I had just finished a 10-day visit to Dubai and the United Arab Emirates.  It was a stunning trip.  I had taken her to the airport for her return trip to the States.  I returned to the Sheraton Dubai Creek Hotel for my final night before flying back to Afghanistan.  It is an incredible five-star hotel located in the heart of old Dubai.  

I was sitting in the Hotel Chelsea Arms Pub, drinking a black and tan, eating Bangers and Mash.  Suddenly, a group of traditionally dressed Saudis entered the bar, taking a table near where I was sitting.  The clear leader of the group strikes up a conversation with me.  He asked me to join him at their table.

He said us Suadis and you Americans are a lot alike.  We support our friends and take care of our families.  Come to find out, he was some sort of Arab Royalty, hence the entourage accompanying him.  He had a son in the Suadi Airforce who flew F16s and Commanded an Air Wing. 

He had come to Dubai while his wife and daughter were visiting his younger son, who was attending the University of Southern California.    Sharing the intricacies of hunting deer with a falcon.  I will remember his stories of him hunting with his $400K Falcon in Pakistan for the rest of my life.  He and his boys were getting ready to tear up the town Vegas-style.  

He asked me to join them, but I had an early flight to Bagram Airbase in the morning.  We wished each other a happy life, and I retired to my room.  I don't remember his name, but it reaffirmed my belief we are all on some level the same.  That some basic good exists between all of us people on earth.   

Sunday, September 24, 2023

Pana Illinois: A Pair of Basketball Championships

While traveling in the RV, I pulled into a gas station in Pana, Illinois, a town of 5700 people.  While pumping gas, an older lady in a red truck beside me commented on Abbey sitting in the front seat.  She always jumps into my seat when I get out of the RV.  She said that's a cute-looking dog.  

I told her the story about her being in a shelter for 10 months when we got her 2 years ago.  She asked where we were from; I said Nashville.  Then, after asking, she said she had lived in Pana all her life.  She went on to tell a story that will live with me for the rest of my life. 

She played on the Girl's Basketball team in High School, and her husband played on the boy's team.  At the time, they were both boyfriend and girlfriend.  They both won the state championships in the same year.  I told her that's neat and congratulations for such a long marriage and the state championships.  

We smiled at each other, and I thanked her for the conversation. I'm sure it was one of the greatest times in their lives to be in love and win state championships.  As her husband walked out of the convenience store, we wished each other a great day.  He got into their red truck, and then they rode off into the sunset of High School Basketball Glory.

I learned afterward that it almost didn't happen.  If it wasn't for Title IX of the Civil Rights Act there probably wouldn't be any girl's basketball in Pana.  Title IX made it all possible.  Passed in 1972, it made girl sports equal to boy sports.  That story is explained in this news article, We just wanted to play: Pana High celebrates Title IX and 50 years of Girls Athletics.

Wednesday, September 6, 2023

Iowa and the Great Plains

As you drive towards the Mississippi River from Wisconsin into Iowa, you drop into the Mississippi River valley.  Climbing out of it as you enter Iowa, you join the Iowa River and Ceder River Valleys.  They create a varied terrain that is beautiful in its own way.  After these rivers, the Great Plains lay in front of you.  

Its flatness stretches all the way to the Rocky Mountains.  The Great Plains has a strange beauty, like a stand of corn as far as the eye can see or Sunflowers blowing in the wind.   Throw in a super blue moon, and you have one heck of an experience. 

We are driving through Iowa, staying at small county campgrounds.  Every little town is like a fingerprint on the land.  Giving way to its own character.  The great small town parks, trails, and lakes fill in the gaps of the farm fields.  It's a good place to walk and be one with it all.  We saw some cool stuff in Iowa, the American Gothic House, the same house in the famous painting.  Which we have seen at the Chicago Art Institute.  

"American Gothic" is a 1930 painting by Grant Wood in the Art Institute of Chicago collection.  Wood was inspired to paint what is now known as the American Gothic House in Eldon, Iowa, along with "the kind of people [he] fancied should live in that house."  It depicts a farmer standing beside his daughter – often mistakenly assumed to be his wife.  The painting's name is a wordplay on the house's architectural style, Carpenter Gothic.'

We did many walks in Iowa.   The Bloomington, Iowa, walk was interesting.  They have a Carnegie Library dedicated in 1913.   It looked like it had been renovated, also.  The 19th-century industrialist Andrew Carnegie built 2500 libraries worldwide, but most were in the USA.

The National Czech and Slovak Museum in Ceder Rapids was very interesting and personal.  I was in Europe when the Iron Curtain in Europe came down, and the Velvet Revolution happened.  It was interesting to see the history you lived through being represented.  Prague and Bratislava are some of the finest old-world cities in Europe.

While walking at the Presidential Hoover National Historic Site in West Branch, Iowa.  I had to go into the  Jack and Jill Grocery Store in West Branch.  The store was run by a guy named Luna from Nepal.  I had to go into the store to get our AVA books stamped.  We got to talking and were both in Dubai around the same time.  He was a construction worker, and I was traveling back and forth to Afghanistan.  We both said it was a small world and wished each other a good life and health.  It was a good exchange. 

In Iowa, you get a feeling that the state hasn't caught up with the rest of the world and doesn't care if it does.  The emptiness gives you a disconnected feeling from the outside world.  A sense of peace sweeps over my body.  I ask if I really want to return to it all.  To the rest of America.