World traveler Clown Tom Bolton
Adventure stories & photos
Tom’s travels to Eastern North America, USA & Canada
As of April 2013 my travels in North America have been split into 2 pages: east and west. Included here are New York, Quebec, Florida, Atlanta, New Orleans, Dayton, Ohio and Texas. So the vague definition of west would be west of Texas. Much of the content is fairly old giving more a historical perspective rather than a modern description of places.
New Orleans, Louisiana
I had been to New Orleans as a kid. During my first year at University I returned there with a group of fellow students during spring break 1979 where I made the following photos. We rented a big motor home, which even had a small bathtub, which we filled with ice and a couple of kegs of beer. My friends were big partiers and to relieve the crowdedness I stayed with a cousin of mine who was living there. It was Mardi Gras time but due to some kind of strike the parades through the city were cancelled. This didn’t stop everyone from partying non-stop.
Street jugglers who got me started
I was always intrigued by the European architecture of the French Quarter and especially by the street performers there. After finishing University, I spent about 4 months in the French Quarter struggling to make enough to eat but paying my dues to learn to be a street performer. I also saw the dark side of the city. There was a place that served a free hot lunch but of course the clients there were all hardcore homeless, often alcoholic and/or psychologically disturbed.
Here are the first jugglers I ever saw, the guys who inspired me to start juggling, working Jackson Square near the Cathedral which was the main place for big shows. They were both basically beginners but to make such a comedy juggling show seemed the ultimate in cool to me. The dark haired juggler, Waldo later became a well know performer. The blond, Eric Haver, was still performing on the streets a couple of years ago in relative obscurity. Coincidently, I didn’t run across their paths again until over 20 years later. Eric showed up on the streets of Stuttgart and just a month later Waldo was performing with his partner Woodhead at the variety theater.
Street musician guitarist
This photo shows is Dr. Harmonica another well-known performer in the international street scene. He later relocated to Holland and used to play much of every summer in Oslo, Norway where I often ran into him. Many of the top performers in Europe in the early 1980’s were Americans who like me went to Europe to explore the situation and decided to stay.
Tap dancing street kids
The scourges of street performers in New Orleans, other than the out of control drunks, were the black kids who come to the French Quarter to tap dance. I’m not racist but these kids would jump in front of people on the street and tap around in front of them with their hat in their hand so one had to give them something to get by. If they had put together a show, I would have had no problem sharing a pitch with them but most of them couldn’t really dance at all and had old tap shoes so big they would be falling off of their feet.
Sometimes they would come to Jackson Square and either set right up next to you during a show or actually jump inside your circle while you were performing. Seemed they lack confidence to get a crowd on their own and I’m not sure if they expected to get tips for what they did or to encourage them to go elsewhere. I don’t remember exactly but I think this kid was actually pulling off a little show on his own.
Artists on Jackson Square
There were many artists that worked on Jackson Square using the fence around the inner gardens to display their pictures. They had to get licenses and pay for particular places while the performers just took whatever space was available without regulations or fees. And if one did a really big show then the crowds would make it hard to get through and people would be bumping into the artists.
Thus the artist were not so happy to see performers there although I think they realized that the prospect of seeing street shows also drew a lot of tourists to the square. Like in many tourist locations there were the quick portrait or caricature artists but also some accomplished painters doing deluxe portraits, landscapes or scenes of the French Quarter.
Artist & performers sometimes in conflict
One of the artists gave me a lot of crap because he didn’t like my show. There were not often enough people to perform for and a line up to play so I rarely got more than 1 show per day yet this guy said it ruined his mood to see me. Other performers who had been there longer said the guy was always in a bad mood since he rarely did good business and regularly took it out on the performers.
I tried not to take it personal but it was difficult as a beginner struggling with bad weather, small audiences, drunks etc. And then when I would finally get a good show in, to hear that guy get bitchy. The attitude of the audiences was also strange. If one did a slightly off-color joke then some people would act shocked and complain. Yet many of these were the same types to be found crawling in the gutters, shit-faced drunk after visiting the transvestite strip shows on Bourbon Street in the evening.
Jackson Square away from Cathedral
The other 2 sides of Jackson Square that were also closed off to cars were a bit narrower than in front of the cathedral. One rarely made shows here without risking stress from the shop owners who didn’t want the entrances to their stores blocked. This is a picture showing the side of the square looking towards the Cafe du Monde. One side of Jackson Square was bordered by Decatur Street which was a main thoroughfare and this was the spot the horse drawn carriages for the tourists waited.
Cafe du Monde
On the corner across from Jackson Square was the famous Cafe du Monde. People went here for the cafe’ au lait and beignets which are supposed be a kind of French donut, deep fried and covered with powdered sugar. Don’t think I ever ate anything like it in France but a smaller version is often sold from carts in Germany at festivals and advertised as “real American donuts”.
Steps to Mississippi levee
Just southeast of the Cafe was a series of steps up to the levee on the Mississippi. Back in the 1980’s I never saw any performers use this spot although it was like a small amphitheater. The fountain constricted the performing space and combined with the traffic noise made it too loud. But this was before sound systems and wireless microphones became popular and years later I saw some dance groups pull some big shows here.
Living in the French Quarter
About another block up Decatur Street was a narrow t-shirt and souvenir shop with shelves overflowing up to the roof. Above was a rattrap boarding house with small windowless rooms and a shared toilet and bathroom for the floor where I lived my first couple of months in New Orleans after graduating from University. The guy in the next room was a psychopath that made his living selling bird feed for the pigeons on Jackson Square.
If he found an injured bird he would put it in his room and leave his radio on all night to keep it company. Told to keep the noise down, he freaked out and would threaten to kill you. Many years later, I heard he had gone to prison for assault and then saw with my own eyes that he had been set up with a hotdog stand. The city couldn’t get rid of him but felt it the best way to keep him from drawing pigeons to Jackson Square where they covered everything with droppings.
Fortunately, I moved out and shared a large apartment with 2 English guys during my last month living in New Orleans in 1983. They sold time-shares by day and went out drinking every night. In England they were used to putting it away until last call at like 9 or 10 pm. In New Orleans the bars could stay open 24 hours, so without a “last call” they drank until they dropped. The only problem with our flat was the multitudes of huge cockroaches. They so infested the whole city that one could tell if a local or an out-of-towner had eaten in a restaurant. The locals put the roaches to the side of the plate and ate the rest of the food while others would stop eating as soon as they discovered the first roach.
Park in center of Jackson Square
Looking across from the steps one has an overview of Jackson Square. While I was there in 1983 much of the Square and surrounding spots were blocked off during the month long filming of a remake of Hobson’s Choice. I auditioned and got a part as a “specialty extra”, which meant I was not just part of the crowd but showed off some special skills. The opening scene was supposed to be a fair and they had me stroll across the scene where the camera was panning while juggling 3 clubs. Not that a juggler would usually walk through a crowd while juggling but it was supposed to catch the eye with a little action.
In a latter scene I am rode an old bicycle around in the square. I only got paid 30 dollars a day for a couple of days and we lost many weeks of being able to use the Square to perform but it was better than nothing. I never actually saw the whole film but got to see the scenes where one got a couple seconds glance of me. The biggest star in the production was Richard Thomas who was well known at the time for his TV role as “John boy” Walton. He even once had a short chat with me and complimented little old me on my juggling which I trained in the background waiting for my scenes. My skill level was not high but he went out of his way to be friendly.
Busking away from Jackson Square
Like most of the bigger shows, I stuck to Jackson Square to do shows. In the evenings, Bourbon Street was closed to traffic as were other streets in the French Quarter during Mardi Gras. Musicians often found places to play right in the streets that I would later deem too hectic for my style of show.
French Quarter atmosphere for residents
Although picturesque, the French Quarter was a strange place to live. There were lots of bars and strip joints for the drunken tourists; otherwise most of the Quarter was a gay scene, none of which was my thing. By the Universities there were lots of drunken students to hang with but I had had enough of that during my studies. Most of my social life was hanging around the pitch after attempting shows or going to a laidback cafe that was in an old garage a couple blocks from Jackson Square.
The next time I was in town I looked for it but it was long gone. Not surprising when most of its clients had been street performers, vendors and young foreigners working low paying jobs in the restaurants. Many were Europeans looking to make a little money on their travels. The laws had been that they could get deported for working without a permit but the employers would go unpunished. This gave every incentive for places to hire people illegally for low wages and poor conditions.
While I was there, new laws mandating punishments for hiring illegals were being implemented and such employment was suddenly scarce. On rainy days I would nurse one coffee all afternoon there while reading, chatting with people and sometimes attempting to play chess. One memory of the garage cafe (not sure it even had a name) was hanging out there and overhearing talk of a big storm that was supposed to hit the city, resulting in many businesses putting sand bags in front of their doors. I was thinking a lot of rain could do some damage but never even thought of the possibility of the kind of damage Hurricane Katrina later did.
Key West, Florida USA
Over the Christmas holidays in 1979, me and some of my fellow students at University of Dayton again rented a motor-home and made a road trip to Key West via Daytona Beach and Miami. There it became apparent that the eccentrics in America keep moving until they get to the far corners of the country. But I really enjoyed the laid back atmosphere. A big attraction was to watch the sunset at Mallory dock, which was also the main street-performing scene.
I had also been to Key West once as a kid and although I stopped through at least 4 or 5 times over the years, I’ve never actually done a show there. There always seemed to be about 15 acts trying to do shows in a space big enough for 3 or 4 acts, all in a short time before the light disappears.
One of the biggest crowd drawers was Magical Mystical Michael who used what I later learned to be simple tricks but with good audience participation. He was real hippy-skippy back then, which looks so funny since I googled him in 2013 and on his videos and photos he is clean cut wearing a tuxedo but I guess that’s what it takes when one goes from doing the street to having paid gigs.
These jugglers Bounce and Cyrus were known as Loco-motion. Finally I got to see a real professional level comedy juggling show! At the time they were also working with another performer called Flip the clown and did a lot of acrobatics. They built up the crowd by acting like they were annoyed by this clown and his big shoes on their mats, which turned into a slapstick brawl. Nothing draws a crowd faster than a good fight other than maybe a car wreck.
Mallory Square juggler
Here was another juggler working the pitch who was pretty good and the first guy I had seen performing 3 balls in one hand patterns. I had the name Bertie or Birdie in memory as one of the performing crowd and thus assumed this is Birdie Maclaine but am rather doubtful since photos of him some years later are all clean shaven with less hair – maybe some of the old Key West crowd can make a positive identification.
Will Soto & Don Hill drumming
The white guy on the drum is Will Soto. He later got into juggling and rope walking and established himself as a real institution in Key West. The black drummer Don Hill was a musician based in Key West for some years.
As good as the performances at Mallory Dock might have been, the big attraction was always the sunset!
Beaches & bars main attractions
As a tourist destination, Key West is full of bars. One of the most famous is Sloppy Joe’s whose biggest claim to fame seems to be that Ernest Hemingway hung out there. The main beach was not really amazing but after a hard winter hitting the books it was great to be out in the sun and actually be able to swim.
Fort Lauderdale, Florida
On our way back to Dayton from Key West, we stopped in Fort Lauderdale where we drove the motor-home right down on the beach to hang out for the afternoon. We didn’t get stuck in the sand but somewhere around Tennessee, the engine totally over heated and we had to rent a couple of cars to get home.
Everglades & return to Key West
This photo is from Dec. ’95. My future wife Traudel, her son Florian and I made a trip to the States visiting Washington DC, New York City, Ohio and Florida. We did the clichés including visiting an alligator farm and boat tour of the everglades. Actually, we saw much more animals including lots of big alligators close up in the wild by parking our car on a road, which runs through the everglades. It was of course a calculated risk to be walking around in such a place but the animals seemed docile basking in the sun. But I can only think that some people these days would think it cool to pull some prank like trying to pull a gator’s tail. In Key West we saw among other performers, Will Soto from the above photos.
New York City, New York
These next 3 photos were from our 1995 trip. I had a sister living near Washington who we visited and we made a day trip to New York City. I had spent 4 months living in Brooklyn in 1983 before I went off to Europe. I only intended to stay a month but kept waiting to get my passport. When I finally booked a cheap charter flight, I got bumped off at the last minute and they sent my luggage off to Paris. After endless stress and a week without so much as a toothbrush in addition to the cloths on my back, my things came back – minus all of my juggling and magic equipment. In those days such juggling equipment was not available in Europe. I finally replaced my equipment and caught a plane to Amsterdam instead.
Manhattan Public Library, New York City
Here are Traudel and Florian by the Manhattan Public Library. I flew through NY from Europe again around the late 1980’s and small world, on my flight ran into another street performer I knew “Shoehorn” who played a saxophone while tap dancing. Traudel and I were in NY City again in 2001 for my brother Michael’s wedding in Philadelphia. After the wedding, Michael and Maggie were also headed to see friends in NY for a few days.
Traudel and I stayed with performers friends who turned out to live literally around the corner, less than 100 meters from my brother’s friends. My friends Clarke and Sylvia had also worked with a theater group, which my brother Michael had occasionally worked with in New Orleans where he did his doctorate in Biology and the occasional street juggling show. And Clarke’s brother ended up living in Dayton, Ohio where my parents still live. It’s a small, small world sometimes!
Street food in New York
A street food cart in Manhattan. Just a typical scene but such carts are much more typical of the third world than the USA. It was also interesting for Traudel as a German to see people selling soft pretzels and sausages like back home.
Canada: Niagara Falls
I had also seen Niagara Falls as a kid. In the summer of ’80 I decided to hitchhike through upstate New York, Niagara Falls, Toronto and parts of Quebec. The falls were pretty much as I remembered them. Mesmerizing to watch so much water thundering down. I would go on to see a lot of waterfalls around the world but the only one that out shines Niagara is the Iguazu Falls in Brazil. But I learned the hard way that the force of the falls spray so much mist into the air that it is like a constant drizzle nearby. If one wants to crash overnight in their sleeping bag in the bushes they need to get a good distance away or get very wet.
In Toronto I tried some of my very first street juggling shows. Or rather, I had no show but put out my hat and tried to get a little money for my limited juggling. I don’t remember if I got any donations at all but there was a young couple selling things that invited me to their place for a meal and a place to sleep for the night. Otherwise, I mostly sleep outside in my sleeping bag on that trip. I don’t remember much about the couple except that the woman was very pregnant. It was one of my early experiences that even if I didn’t make lots of money, the good karma produced by doing something entertaining could attract good will and charity.
Quebec City; Quebec
I really liked Quebec, which gave me the feel of being in Europe. I got to see a couple of jugglers performing there but I don’t remember their names and haven’t any photos. From Quebec I hitched to Montreal. I got a ride from an off duty policeman and his family. Near Montreal they let me out on a very busy multiple lane highway. There was no way anybody was going to stop for me there. Then a car on the other side of the highway pulled over and proceeded to burn up. A fire truck and police came. When the police saw me, they came and hassled me for hitching on the highway and were annoyed that I didn’t speak any French. About 6 month later I got a fine from them in the mail, which I never paid. What a rebel!
Old town of Quebec City
The old town of Quebec City is overlooked by the massive Chateau Frontenac, just a part of which is seen here in the background. It is now a luxury hotel with great views available on the walkways around it and down to the old city below.
European architecture in Quebec
Another example of old French architecture; the old post office and in front a monument to the first Catholic bishop to New France – Bishop Montmorency de Laval. I’m not sure how extensive the Quebec old city fortifications were but this is one of the remaining gates; Port Saint-Louis.
Hometown beginnings in Dayton, Ohio
Here I am in the historical Oregon District in Dayton, Ohio. By the last year of my university studies I was working here most Friday and Saturday evenings. There were a lot of bars, antique shops and porno places here, so a fitting place to start my performing career. I was not good but then I was the only serious juggler and only street-performer in town.
At my graduation ceremony in 1982, I wore a black beret rather than the traditional silly headwear and had hidden 3 juggling clubs under my robes. After I was given my diploma, awarded the prize for outstanding student in finance no less, I handed it to the student behind me and proceeded to juggle down the aisle. I don’t know who was being awarded his diploma at that moment but he must have felt popular as the biggest applause of the evening broke out.
Super hero destined to go places
If one goes even further back, the seeds of my future might be seen to have been planted at an earlier age. Here I am at 5 dressed up for Halloween. Superman destined to save the world! Yet this is a paradox in ways since I was shy as a child and certainly not the extroverted theatrical type.
Background of diversity
Some people show surprise that someone from Dayton, Ohio would go out and see the world since as I like to put it, “it’s a place to come from, not to go to” but I see it differently. Living in a place like New York or San Francisco might offer one enough cultural inspiration that they feel content to stay put. Dayton was an experience anyway; not really a small town but a good example of an “all American city” as it was once chosen; meaning, its most outstanding feature is to be boring and without any outstanding features.
My father worked at the VA hospital there for some years and living on the VA grounds put us on the west side of town, which was all black. I started school as the only white kid in my class in the mid-60’s during the civil rights movement.
As riots broke out the National Guard occupied the federally run VA grounds and we were warned not to go by the fence since there was a risk of getting shot. Later we lived in a better neighborhood but it was still in the city and there were tensions as blacks moved in and integrated the area. I was in Catholic schools by then but Dayton was famous for being one of the cities that had forced busing implemented. Poor blacks got sent to the east side and poor whites from the east side were sent west. And most of the whites with money moved to the southern suburbs where they had their own school districts and eroded the tax base of the inner city.
Tough childhood strengthened survival skills
Most of the local Jewish community had been based in our neighborhood but many of them were the first to run to the suburbs. Despite this, our family had good relationships to black and Jewish neighbors and I even worked for a while at an orthodox synagogue that needed a trustworthy non-Jew to do custodial and garden work during times they were religiously forbidden to do so.
All of these factors gave me personal insights to aspects of sociology, economics and racial and religious relationships. I had enough bad experiences during my childhood that I can understand others’ racial fears but what I strongly reject is prejudices and ignorance. I got my ass kicked some times for being white but can no more condemn one for being black than I can think that all whites are bad because some nuts belong to the KKK.
During my travels I am often aware that as an outsider I may be targeted for robbery or aggression. Even a backpacker will usually have a good amount of cash compared to a desperately poor local. And peoples resentment that that American or Western governments or companies might have adversely affected their country or community might be well founded. The challenge is to relate to the people as individuals and hopefully have them see me as such, rather than as a representative of Western capitalism.
I have a brother, sister and cousin all of whom have lived over 20 years in Texas. I have visited Houston, San Antonio, Ft. Worth, Dallas, Corpus Christi and Austin in connection with seeing these relatives but I didn’t usually do a lot of site seeing and rarely took pictures of the places. In the end of Feb./beginning of March 2014 I was in Texas again and stopped in Houston to see my cousin Tom. I was at first going to help him out for a day working on the house he is renovating, or to be more exact, completely rebuilding.
Houston Rodeo & Livestock Show
But then it got mentioned that the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo was happening and I took the opportunity to see it. My cousin’s wife Beth is from west Texas and grew up with this culture that is completely foreign to me as well as my cousin. I don’t know that it is my taste any more than it is his (he hates it) but without being snarky I thought it would be interesting to experience a real slice of Americana or to be more exact – Texacana or Texascana or sumptin’ like that – whatever, these were real rootin tootin cowboys!
There are professional rodeos that have a circuit through the USA and Canada – and Houston is the biggest of them all. One pays to go into the Livestock Show which has an outdoor fairgrounds and a large hall with indoor displays and shows. We had a couple of hours to stroll through these before they opened the gates to the adjacent stadium where the rodeo is held followed by a concert with a country music star.
Entrance for the Livestock Show alone are cheap but with good seats for the rodeo included can be pricy but there were ones up in the high bleachers for only 18 dollars and I got treated anyway; thanks Beth. There were of course many games of skill where one should knock things over with a thrown ball or shoot a basket etc. What impressed me was the size of the stuffed animal prizes. Similar games in Germany usually award small prizes and only with an outstanding accomplishment such big prizes. But this is Texas, where everything has to be big, so going for small stuff doesn’t seem to be a goal, make it more likely, charge more and only give big prizes.
American & Texan food
There are many stands with overpriced food and drink. I managed to find an acceptable burrito without meat, which was lucky since the offerings are mostly meat and fried everything, not just potatoes or onion rings but other veggies and desserts like Twinkies and ice cream. Fried pickle chips anyone? Of course REAL Americans love their hotdogs and the southern version – corndogs. Instead of being put in a bun, the hotdogs are rolled in a cornmeal batter and fried and of course they have to be jumbo sized!
Moscow circus funhouse
This was an interesting funhouse with the theme Moscow circus. I’m not sure how much the average American knows about the level of training at either the fabled Moscow Circus School or what feelings they have towards a former communist adversary, especially in light of recent events in Crimea and the Ukraine. But maybe it is a barrel of laughs for conservatives to see gays and liberals being beaten by Putin supporters.
German cultural clichés
A popular motif is always the German one including beer, lederhosen and pretzels, which is all Bavarian but even during festivals in Stuttgart over the last 10 years people are showing up in lederhosen and dindles. It’s always seemed paradoxical to me that foreign perception of Germans is that they have no humor yet they know how to throw a festival. And circus or carnival or fair, clowns are there to scare you and this one has a big mouth.
Sculptures of metal or wood
There were a number of elaborate metal sculptures around the grounds showing motifs of cattle and cowboys; showing it is a year round cultural reference point in Texas. Making statues on the spot was part of one exhibition; carving with a chain saw but this time an eagle. Funny that I have seen the same kind of thing in Germany promoting Still chain saws, not sure if they did an eagle but it is also the German national bird as well. This is probably a spread of USA American culture to Germany rather than the other way around as mechanical bull riding is also often seen at German events.
Kids riding sheep
Mutton bustin’ was pretty wild. Guess it is a first step in the art of rodeo to try to stay clinging to a running sheep. Few kinds made it across the ring without falling off and often getting stepped on. Seemed kind of macho but at least half of the participants were girls. At least they all wore helmets. They also had the clowns like in a real rodeo, not that they would have to distract an attacking animal per se but to help the kids up and give some consolation.
Cowboy stuff: boots, hats & tractors
Inside the big convention hall were stands selling western style cloths like boots, belts, belt-buckles and of course cowboy hats. And nothing like drooling over your dream tractor or pickup truck.
Longhorn cattle, horses & other livestock
There were plenty of livestock; cattle, horses, sheep and pigs that were groomed to the point where they not only brushed them but basically vacuumed them as well to have them clean and their pelts fluffed up. Texas is famous for its longhorn cattle, which yes, have really long horns and on both sexes.
Judging livestock competition
The animals in different categories were paraded in front of a grand stand. Big prize money went not just to the professionals but amateurs could win some awesome scholarships as well. I appreciated to see fine specimens of animals but as someone who doesn’t eat meat, had mixed feelings about the whole setup since the whole focus is raising animals for their meat.
Bull riding souvenir photo
For those not daring enough to ride a real bull, they had a stuffed one that one could pose on – just 12 dollars. This seemed like of the more lucrative money making deal strategies at the event.
Everybody welcome & many volunteers
Back outside we headed over to the stadium where the rodeo is held. On the way I saw this Muslim family all with head gear. Not sure how big the market might be for a cowboy hat-hijab hybrid outside of Houston but this mom is obviously being left out on part of the fun. The proceeds of the Livestock Show and Rodeo are supposed to go for scholarships and there are over 30,000 free helpers in 100 committees which carry a local social significance. The badges these guys have show them to be important members in their respective committees.
Rodeo in the stadium
Going into the Reliant stadium where the actual rodeo is held. Not sure what part of it exactly entails the Plaza but it’s named after the USA’s favorite brand of lousy beer. A program was available for the show and ensuing concert.
Start of the rodeo program
Before starting, the cowboys come out and trotted around on their horses. The official start has a parade of all the participants headed by someone waving an American flag in the lead. Yeah, USA, USA, USA! The big display board really helps one get a close up of the main action when you are in the upper seats. I understand sponsorship for the overall event but they announced a sponsor for the singing of the National Anthem.
Seemed like a sign of things to come as companies and the rich can now buy politicians and rule the government instead of the other way around. And then of course Texans are big on claiming patriotism and waving flags and in the next breath saying they should secede from the Union while waving a confederate flag.
Calf roping and bronco busting
Calf roping was the least controversial event as it seemed to require some finesse, a bit of luck and not such a high risk of injury to man or beast. By this time we had taken our seats in the upper deck which meant using the zoom lens on my camera to its maximum length and not being able to use the flash resulting in pretty fuzzy pictures. To get the broncos and bulls to buck they tie a cord around their testicles and after the riders are thrown, additional cowboys have to chase the animals down to release the cords.
Not as bad as bull fighting, where they kill the animals but hard to justify it as being humane behavior. And I can only guess that testicle tier is pretty much bottom of the totem pole in the rodeo hierarchy. A number of people took pretty bad falls and got trampled. Not to wish anyone harm but what do they expect by twisting an animal’s balls? Some of the participants wore protective helmets but it still looked like a sport where one can duly expect to get injured no matter how skilled.
Finale chuck wagon races
The last events were the chuck wagon races. We didn’t stay around for the concert especially since I had never heard of the singer although I am sure he is a big country star to headline the evening program. But it was also advantageous to beat the traffic out of the parking lot and I was all rodeoed out.
Atlanta, Georgia USA
I had a 20 hour layover in Atlanta on my way from Houston, Texas in 2014 back to Stuttgart. They would not let me check my luggage through, so I had to pick it up and drag it around with me, preventing me from having the chance to reenter the flight area. There were some comfortable chairs in part of the domestic terminal but one cannot stay the night in the international one even in transit.
Unfortunately, they were cleaning the floors and made everyone get out of the chairs at around 1 am and made a lot of noise with the machines. They didn’t finish until around 3 am and then the chairs got moved back. In the morning, I was told by a couple of airline workers that I could not check my bags in until a couple of hours before my flight but I went over to the international area and got them to take my backpack.
Atlanta Underground, CNN world headquarters
This left me free to take the subway into town for some hours. I got out close to the central mall area known as Underground Atlanta but the elevators down were closed off. It was a Monday morning and not a holiday that I know of, so not sure what the deal was so I just continued on a stroll through the city center along Peach Street, a major thoroughfare.
Off to my left I spotted part of the CNN Complex. I don’t like CNN much but it set the standard (unfortunately low) for 24/7 news reporting and it is in English, so if I am traveling and can’t get something decent like the BBC, CNN is often the default choice.
USA international brands
Another Internationally known name based in Atlanta is Coca Cola. They also have a big complex with a museum but I settled for seeing advertisements for it and seeing one of their iconic trucks on the street. I did not see as many Starbucks as in other cities but the local Hooters and Hard Rock Cafe were just across the street from another. Seemed like one saw another emblem of USA commercial brands on every corner.
Architectural exceptions in USA
There were a couple of nice examples of pre-modern architecture to add a small amount of flair to an otherwise typically boring American city center.
Martin Luther King Jr memorials
To the east of the city center was an area commemorating Martin Luther King Jr. There were a couple of different buildings that included a museum and a center for non-violence. The museum did have some artifacts but mostly videos and photos with text explaining the life and times of MLK.
Civil rights heroes’ mural
Outside of the museum was an extensive mural showing different aspects of MLK’s life and the fight for civil rights for people of color.
Ebenezer Baptist Church
This is the original church building of the Ebenezer Baptist Church where King preached. They have built an additional complex across the street and there are a couple of other nearby churches that are still centers of Christian devotion for this black community.
MLK’s childhood home
There was a block of typical old houses left, which farther down (out of the picture) includes the restored birth place and childhood residence of MLK. One can get a tour ticket for the homestead at the museum; no cost but the number of participants is limited. I had just arrived at the museum as they announced the next tour but I wasn’t in the mood to rush and thus missed my opportunity. I might have seen a few additional things during my visit to the city but not having slept properly limited my ambitions. The style of houses was similar to houses from the late 1900’s in Dayton owned by poor or lower middle class families both black or white.
Fire Station Museum
Other than the churches, one of the biggest, old buildings in the neighborhood was this old fire station that is now a museum without admission fees. Even in this day and age, some conservatives are trying to re-write the history of slavery so it was reassuring to see that such an effort has been made in Atlanta to preserve the story of the civil rights movement and to retain part of a black neighborhood so that people can see the context of the living conditions.
Auburn Street black businesses
Heading back down Auburn Street were a number of run down businesses like a hair dresser and billiards hall that would earlier have been segregated by law. There was even a rib shack; showing how reality can coincide with stereotypes. Is this soul food or just a southern specialty beloved by whites as well as blacks? By this time I was hungry but proceeded back into the center to find a vegetarian option.
Not only were many of the buildings along Auburn street run down but there were a number of down and out looking characters as well. One young guy even made rude gestures and pantomimed putting his fingers down his throat to gag and then ran at me. I managed to send him on his way with a shove but had to wonder what caused his behavior? Maybe just drugged-up craziness but I was relieved that it didn’t escalate since the last thing I wanted was to end up having to deal with police and get delayed and possible miss my flight. After eating, I got the subway back to the airport for my flight to Germany.
So, those were just a few tales from my many travels over the last thirty and something years. I hope you've enjoyed another side of a traveling clown! If you want, write me an email or better yet, book my show or set a link to this website or just state me as the beneficiary of your will!
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