Saturday, September 3, 2016
You can’t just visit as you would any other place of worship; Mormon temples are only open to non-Mormons for a short while before they’re consecrated. After that, if you want to see it, you have to become a Mormon, down to right down to the eschewing caffeine and booze and wearing the special underwear. I wasn’t going to miss my chance as what realtors call a “looky-loo” and right from the start, I'd ruled out religious conversion in order to get a look.
The Fudge Kitchen after dinner every night for my free sample of rich, creamy fudge. The sacrifices I make for my blog!
I called my friend Martha see if she’d join me, but she’d already been and wasn’t up for a reprise of the experience. She told me that there were scads of volunteers and parking would be a breeze. I’m not sure how many stars that translates into on Yelp, but presumably it’s more than zero.
Martha told me I’d have to go to the temple’s website to make a reservation for a tour. When I did, I chose a time in midday so I wouldn’t have to sit too long (in theory) in Philadelphia traffic. The website told me that I’d have to print and bring my ticket with me or have it available on my phone. And to dress modestly, too! In other words, don’t dress for a Kardashian-ready red carpet scene hosted by the panelists on E!’s Fashion Police.
I have only a very limited experience with Mormon-themed tourism. Many, and I do mean many, years ago my friend Pat and I visited the Joseph Smith Birthplace, on LDS Lane in Royalton, Vermont. Joseph Smith, as American history buffs know, was the founder of the church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints, aka the Mormons. The faithful say that he was the scribe of the Book of Mormon—the one you find in the nightstand of every Marriott hotel—not the Broadway show.
Bennington Battle Monument, which at 306’ is not quite ten times the high of the Joseph Smith memorial. Oh right, size isn’t everything.
And so, on the appointed day, after sitting in a traffic jam on the Vine Street Expressway, I was there, ready for my tour. Martha was correct: parking was a breeze. There were scads of volunteers directing me to the right spot in the garage. Perhaps my modest clothes were a dead giveaway, but no one asked to see proof of my reservation.
I have no doubt that operating rooms at the Mayo Clinic are dirtier than that parking garage. I wouldn’t have been surprised had there been a paper barrier on my parking spot informing me that it had been sanitized for my protection. Are all Mormon-operated parking garages as sparkling?
A smiling Mormon at every turn directed the crowds from the parking garage to the meeting house across the street from the temple for the start of tours.
When there were about 20 visitors in the room, two young women, each with a decidedly Stepford-ish mien, introduced themselves to us. They had the not making eye contact with anyone thing down pat. Perhaps they cannot smile and make eye contact at the same time? At the end of their somewhat robotic welcome, they played a brief introductory video, that mostly said, God loves us.
The video covered Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist and that’s pretty much when I lost interest…at the exact point when I decided that the Biblical-era costumes had been recycled from Lancaster’s Sight and Sound Theatre. When the video ended, the Stepford girls introduced us to our docent and reminded us that we weren’t to take photos in the temple. (I was compliant, all of the interior shots I have used were publicly available.)
We followed our docent out into the hall and down a set of stairs—Martha clued me in that there would be lots of stairs—and out onto the sidewalk where we waited to cross the street to the temple grounds. While were waiting a man walked down along our group handing people a newspaper. He was from Mission to Mormons, an evangelical Christian group that seeks to convert Mormons into evangelical Christians. One of the people in my tour group asked the man who his newspaper was from and he said “It’s from me.” Clearly this wasn't his first rodeo.
The smiling Mormons took no notice of him. They just smiled. In fact, all the Mormons on duty were really good at smiling. The special Mormon underwear they're famous for must keep chafing to a minimum.
I’d barely had time to look at my paper from Mission to Mormons when it was time to walk across the street to the temple itself.
LDSTemples.com (a self-described labor of love not affiliated with the LDS church);
The granite-clad Philadelphia Pennsylvania Temple has been designed with architectural elements to complement the classic architecture exhibited in the neighboring buildings and throughout historic Philadelphia where the United States was founded in 1776. The spires, for example, are reminiscent of the clock tower on Independence Hall…
In the building’s forecourt we were met by yet another smiling Mormon (I think the count was up to 10) who pointed out the inscription on the front of the temple: Holiness to the Lord The House of the Lord. Smiling Mormon #10 acted as if this were the great American novel, boiled down to nine words, something I just wasn’t getting. I didn’t have much time to not get it, since we were soon directed to walk across the forecourt to a station where we would get disposable shoe covers.
I have been on lots of tours where you have to wear disposable shoe covers so that you don’t scratch the floors of the house you’re visiting. They’re standard at the Stone Harbor Garden Club Home Tour. Apparently the conspicuous consumers who open their mega McMansions to garden clubbers and their friends are worried about someone wearing Tory Burch flats tracking Shih Tzu poop into their mega McMansion. Or something. Who knows?
However, on the Garden Club Home Tour, you pluck your booties from a tasteful wicker basket on the porch of the mega McMansion you’re about to visit and put them on yourself.
The Smiling Mormon in the entrance lobby was wearing shoe covers, just like every other Smiling Mormon in the temple. I wondered if they’d taken the plastic slip covers off the furniture just for us.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen a painting of the Signing of the Declaration of Independence in a house of worship before. Perhaps this was just a nod to the local culture; if so, the Bayonne, New Jersey temple probably has a painting of the invention of the toxic waste dump.
There are some more paintings on the wall, including one of two men in 19th dress, in a river, fully clothed. Perhaps the painting depicts baptism, perhaps they were just too embarrassed to go skinny dipping. Who knows? None of the smiling bootie-wearing Mormon docents—and there were enough to create quite a line at Starbucks if they would ever go to Starbucks—ever mentioned any of the art at any point in the tour.
So, about that art.
The building is filled with what seemed to be reproductions of paintings done in a School of Thomas Kincaid Does the Children’s Illustrated Bible style. If you were thinking our best and brightest artists would be commissioned to decorate the temple the way Pope Julius II commissioned Michelangelo, think again. And keep thinking.
I purposefully checked out the paintings and some locally inspired works caught my eye:
The three Magi meeting at the Wanamaker’s Eagle while they’re out Christmas shopping
Jesus feeding the multitudes with cheesesteaks from Pat’s AND Geno’s.
Moses parting gaper delay on the Schuylkill Expressway's Conshohocken Curve
And finally, my favorite,
Jesus at the Linc preaching to the angry multitude, Let he who has an all-Eagles fantasy football team cast the first snowball at Santa.
OK, those paintings weren’t really there. But they would have fit right in!
A smiling bootie-wearing Mormon married couple explained that in ceremonies in this room you could be “sealed” to your spouse and family for eternity. ETERNITY. As in for longer than life. She thought that this was the best thing ever. I, on the other hand, sat there thinking, “Holy crap. Eternity with my family or the as yet undrafted Mr. Right…I’d kill myself.”
I remembered my friend Kathleen’s 18/36 rule for visiting her parents. Fewer than 18 hours was too short, more than 36 hours was too long.
Eternity, even if during much of that time you are technically dead, well, that’s just beyond the pale.
Once we’d done the Sealing Room and the Celestial Room our tour was over. We were invited to go to the visitors’ center next door—no booties required. There was no gift shop—not even a pop-up, and of course, no coffee shop.
When it was all said and done, I didn’t learn much about the Mormon faith. In fact, I’d hardly learned anything about it. For a faith community so practiced at proselytizing, that was a shock. None of the smiling bootie-wearing Mormon docents said much about the essential tenets of the faith though they tried to answer the few questions from the folks on our tour. There was more information about the LDS church in the newspaper that I got from the evangelical anti-Mormon than any of the smiling bootie-wearing Mormons provided.
Likewise, I didn't learn much about the Mormon temple. The smiling bootie-wearing Mormons dished out even less information about the Temple building than they did about their religion. If I wanted to know that the exterior was clad in granite quarried in Maine but finished in Canada, I’d have to look elsewhere. They even skipped the details on the unique symbol of their faith, the statue of the angel Moroni statue atop the place. In case you’re wondering, it’s 21 feet, 2 inches tall, made of fiberglass, and covered with gold leaf.
The tour was light on information, but heavy on smiles. I didn't know a whole lot more than I did before I took the tour, but I did get to see the interior of the temple, and that was the whole point of the visit. My one regret is that I didn't ask someone about Mormons not drinking coffee.
Oh well. I couldn't stand that much smiling in the line at Starbucks anyway.
Tuesday, August 23, 2016
Now you go through St. Louie
And Oklahoma City looks mighty pretty.
You'll see Amarillo,
Gallup, New Mexico,
Don't forget Winona,
Kingman, Barstow, San Bernandino.
You’re welcome for that earworm.
The closest I’ve come to doing it was an unplanned drive from Omaha to State College in November of 1980 something. My father and his wife were driving home from a hunting trip to South Dakota when he had heart trouble in Fremont, Nebraska. After a stay in the local hospital, they flew back to Pennsylvania, leaving their Jeep Cherokee in the parking lot at the Omaha airport. I was visiting my sister in Texas at the time, so I flew to Omaha, dug the car out of the snow, spent the night with the parents of a good friend, and headed east.
Louis Sullivan designed bank in Grinnell, Iowa.
Herbert Hoover Birthplace and Presidential Library in even smaller West Branch, Iowa. Hot spots on many a bucket list, I know. I spent the night in Elkhart, Indiana, in a Red Roof Inn with the thinnest towels ever. I haven’t stayed at a Red Roof Inn since. In fact, whenever I see a Red Roof Inn I wonder if it has crappy towels, too.
I did have two nagging thoughts. In the tchotchke moving department, didn't M. remember that I was voted the clumsiest member of the State College Area High School Class of 1975? And as far as the driving was concerned, surely she knew that I was good at wrecking rental cars, especially in Arizona. Fortunately for my easily bruised ego, if Martha had doubts about me as a he-man tchotchke mover, she kept them to herself.
Rosa Klebb. The interview consisted of her asking me if I had any aliases. No aliases here, so I passed. She told me that I should have my clearance in about ten days.
It’s been 45 days since my appointment. Still no TSA clearance. They tell me on the phone that it’s coming soon, a promise along the lines of the check’s in the mail and I’ll respect you in the morning.
Since Martha was coming from Philadelphia and I was coming from State College, we arranged to meet at the Phoenix Airport. I had time to kill so I killed it by the tram between terminals. Yes, I’m easily amused.
I’d reserved a minivan, not because I was trying to pass as a soccer mom, but since Martha was unsure just how many tchotchkes we were picking up. And I got a GPS, too. Just because the specter of the Donner party isn’t lurking around every bend doesn’t mean it’s not lurking someplace.
Sonoran Desert, home of the saguaro cactus. That was pretty cool but there wasn’t much of it. Apparently saguaro cacti don’t reproduce as readily as big box stores and fast food restaurants.
Lots of people my age (as in old) complain about their parents (at least they have parents) and the nightmare of dealing with their stuff. By stuff, I mean their belongings, not their emotional baggage, though people complain about that too. I hear people complaining about dealing with their parents’ belongings again and again.
Martha’s mother isn’t exactly a minimalist; but wow, she’s leads a stuff-free existence. No, the condo wasn’t a Miesian glass box furnished solely with a couple of Barcelona chairs. Instead, it almost looked like a model home waiting for the stager to come by with attractive family photos and a tchotchke or two in order to lure an unsuspecting buyer into making an offer. It occurred to me that M’s mother wouldn’t have to downsize too much to chuck it all to run off to live in a commune or ashram or Amish settlement or wherever the whacky living arrangement of the moment is.
There was no enormous stack of newspapers that documented particularly newsworthy moments, no pickup truck load of Tupperware, only 1/3 of which has matching lids, no collection of VHS tapes of performers who only seem to show up during PBS pledge drives. There were no garden hoses, lawnmowers that hadn’t been started since the Reagan presidency, or a large box of trophies earned for exhibiting prized pigeons. My grandmother actually had large box of trophies that her second husband won for his pigeons. I didn’t even know that people exhibited pigeons. Crazy.
Once we got the lay of the land and had a good idea of how many packing boxes and so on to buy at Walmart, we headed into historic downtown Prescott for some, as they say in Westerns, grub.
After an evening taping boxes together and carefully packing tchotchkes, we hit the sack early.
By early afternoon we had the minivan filled with as they say in decorating mags, a "curated" collection of stuff: tchotchkes, art, some furniture, and so on. We were ready to bid a reluctant farewell to Prescott.
I fired up the GPS and we headed to our next stop, Henderson, Nevada.
Arizona Monsoon. I’m not the brightest bulb on the string; I only watch the Weather Channel during big storms and even then only when the weather jocks are easy on the eyes. I thought a monsoon was something they had in Southeast Asia. Wrong. It rained like hell. And then it would stop. And then rain like hell again. It was easy to understand how unsuspecting yahoos could be immortalized in Weather Channel b-roll infamy when their cars floated down a dry wash that had turned into a serious river.
Fortunately, the bad weather cleared up before we got to Henderson where my friends Tracy and Rick were hosting us for the night. We enjoyed a dip in their pool and a delicious dinner with lots of laughs.
Martha’s books on her shelves. Tracy washed a shirt for me. No surprise there, Tracy always washes a shirt of mine when I visit.
After a delish homemade breakfast—except for the muffins which we all agreed had many hockey puck like qualities—we were out the door. After refueling the van, we were ready to head off to California.
Alien Fresh Jerky. Yes, jerky as in beef jerky. Baby boomers may remember that Beef Jerky was going to be Jethro Bodine’s stage name when he thought about becoming a movie star in an episode of The Beverly Hillbillies. In terms of choiceness, Alien Fresh Jerky is right up there with the Clampett family.
As we approached the exit for Baker, California, I said to Martha. “Let’s stop at Alien Fresh Jerky. What’s not to like?!” I’m not sure that Martha agreed with my assessment of “what’s not to like” but she was more than amenable to stopping.
The Greek Tycoon starring Anthony Quinn as “Theo Tomasis” (wink) and Jaqueline Bisset as “Liz Cassidy” (wink again). There was a disclaimer on the poster that said: "The characters in this film are fictitious and any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental". Whoa Nelly! I thought that movie was about Aristotle Onassis and Jacqueline Kennedy!
So, we reluctantly bid farewell to Baker and once again pointed the tchotchke-laden minivan towards the highway.
The next place of note was Barstow. It looked pretty bad from the freeway, even if it’s immortalized in the lyrics of Route 66. So we took a pass on stopping to check out the local attractions. What's more, I believe in saving something for the next trip...which to Barstow might be never. We left the freeway at Barstow and headed onto CA 58 north.
Though we skipped Barstow, we never considered passing the little town of Boron. Did you think I could pass up the 20-Mule Team Museum and Visitors’ Center? I drove up to the town’s main intersection and thought to myself, “I bet this place has a meth lab.”
We were the only visitors at the place, which was in an old house that looked as if it had once been part of the Green Acres set. If I had to guess, I would say that we were the only two visitors in a long time. A LONG time. The exhibits were old, really old. And tired, really tired.
While the 20 Mule Team Museum and Visitors Centre was bad, it wasn’t nearly as bad as the Saxon Aerospace Museum right next door. It’s not hard to spot, there was a Vietnam era F-4 Phantom parked in what passed for a front yard. A large, scary woman with bad teeth was sitting on the front porch of the museum. She welcomed me and told me that admission was free.
|This is an actual museum display.|
And so without staying to linger over an iced drink or buy some locally made meth in downtown Boron, Martha and I got back in the minivan started on our way again.
Borax Visitors Center. We could see a great industrial complex in the distance. Of course we stopped. I’m glad we did; it was a highlight of our trip.
After a few preliminaries, our visit started with a well-produced video from Rio Tinto, the facility’s owner about borax and the borax business. Borates have lots of uses. They are used in agriculture, ceramics, detergents, glass, insulation, specialty applications, textile fiberglass, and wood protection, among other uses. Most importantly, Martha used borax in her diaper pail. This is not a recent usage, since her kids are almost out of college, but it remains an important moment in the history of borates.
Industry on Parade, the mini documentaries from the 1950s with the anti-Commie message. My brother and I used to watch on TV before Saturday morning cartoons. I understand that Donald Trump learned everything there is to know about manufacturing from watching Industry on Parade.
Death Valley Days, sponsored by Twenty Mule Team Borax.
When I got home, I looked up borax on the internet, and on YouTube, which as conspiracy theorists know, is the truest part of the Internet.
According to 20 Mule Team Laundry detergent, it controls "teen odors". Yay!
Many people are saying borax is an aphrodisiac for men and women. Double Yay!
Borax “improves attention, both short and long term memory, perception, hand-eye coordination, and manual dexterity.” Sold!
I should by the whole damned mine!
As fun as it would have been, we couldn’t hang out in Boron all day. We had tchotchkes etc. to deliver. It was time to head back to the main road.
It's a Mad, Mad, Mad World. Shortly after we left the place, the car thermometer registered 106. Since it was a dry heat, it felt as if it were only 105.
Like manna from heaven (something that eluded the Donner Party) an exit appeared, as if on cue, and we were soon filling up the minivan.
With a gas in our tank we pushed on, and soon enough the freeway went from two lanes to four lanes and then some as we neared the Bay Area. We passed lot of wind farms as we drove through the coastal mountains. It was as windy as hell; whoever decided to put those wind farms there knew what they were doing. The temperature dropped like a rock and I wondered if I should have brought a sweater along.
I think we arrived at our motel in San Rafael at 7:30 or 8:00. It was 40 degrees cooler than it was earlier that afternoon in Buttonwood. It was not a dry heat. Yes, I should have brought a sweater.
After a drive of about 600 miles that day, Martha and I weren’t up for a Lochte-esque night on the town, so after a light dinner w Martha’s family and a convenience store beer, we turned in.
Theresa and Johnny’s Comfort Food as soon as it opened at 8:00 the next day. The décor was plenty funky, and of course, the servers had enough visible tattoos to make me shake my head (trust me, it doesn’t take many). The tasty apricot jam more than made up for the watery mess substituting for Heinz ketchup in Prescott two days earlier.
We had some time to kill before going to Martha’s mother’s to unload the van so we walked around downtown San Rafael for a bit. The Museum of International Propaganda (yes, that’s a real place) wasn’t open yet, so we drove over to the Frank Lloyd Wright designed Marin County Civic Center for some bona-fide architectural tourism.
First Church of Christ, Scientist across the bay in Berkeley. It’s a real jaw-dropper, and I have the slightest personal connection—my grandmother—the one stuck with the box of pigeon show trophies—worshiped there a long time ago.
Perhaps there isn’t much demand to see the building, or perhaps, the congregation isn’t up to tourism, but it didn’t seem to have regular weekday hours. M. had looked and looked online for visitor info as I steered the minivan up The Five. The First Church of Christ Scientist's presence in the cloud leaves something to be desired; perhaps some tech and tourism savvy Christian Scientist will read this and address the problem. Though we weren’t entirely sure, it seemed as if the building is only open to the public on Sundays. Drat. I guess I have to save that for my next trip.
When we’d had our fill of Wright, we picked up M’s sister and went over to their mother’s new apartment to unload the minivan. I hung pictures while they unpacked boxes. It didn’t take long for the place to look more like a real home and less like a model home. Martha’s mother thanked me over and over for the help. My guess is that she was astonished that I didn't break anything. Hell, I'm sort of astonished that I didn't break anything!
Museum of International Propaganda. Yes, that’s really what it’s called. Two Marin locals, Tom and Lilka Areton, have rented some retail space and are sharing their collection of posters, paintings, and sculptures produced by some favorite totalitarian regimes. It’s a trip.
|The People's Army and Workers Shall Free Kimchi from Western Imperialists!|
Not long after I finished with the museum it was time to return the rental car. Martha was staying on in California for a few more days and didn’t need a minivan. I got to enjoy some freeway traffic on my way to the rental agency in Oakland. I’m from a small town and if I have to sit through a light or two on my way someplace, I think it’s the end of the world. I’m not sure if I could ever acclimate to commuting to work at a snail’s pace, six lanes deep. The good news was that I learned on that very slow freeway that a GPS could tell you to bear right while bearing left. Who knew? I lead such a sheltered existence.
|Nothing like a Google search to find the just the right photo!|
The restaurant was great, and it turned out that one of two guys at the table right next to ours was a Wahoo. We recognized each other's secret decoder rings. (It happens.) And of course they knew one of my classmates from UVa and showed a cell phone photo of him and his new-ish husband. What were the chances of that?
Then again, what were the chances that I could succeed in helping my friend Martha transport her mother’s tchotchkes and so on 1,000 miles across state lines without a hitch? Donner party, eat your heart out. (Oh duh! That's pretty much what they did!)