October 15, 2022

Dateline – Columbus, Georgia

A number of obligations prevented me from getting out of town on my make it up as I go along week away as early as would have liked so I haven’t exactly made it terribly far. As these obligations included dinner with a friend, a fund raiser for the theater with which I have been most frequently affiliated over the last few decades, and a children’s opera in the park, I can’t say it wasn’t a pleasant delay before I was able to toss my bags into my Prius, the great red Hope, and finally start heading southward. The major last minute delay was getting the last of the notes and emails for work finished up. For reasons known only to the laws of firewalls, I can only get those to work properly on my old laptop which is not the one I use for browsing and writing and I didn’t feel like dragging two laptops down south with me. I hit send on the last note around 2:30 this afternoon and was able to leave the condo to the cats (Binx has finally come out of hiding and is doing the cat exploration thing which seems to consist mainly of knocking things over about 3 AM) and get on the road.

I thought about heading to the gulf beaches first, but after looking at hotel prices on Saturday night, I thought better of that and decided instead to head down highway 280 towards Georgia whence I could turn either towards western, central, or eastern Florida. As the miles hummed along, I realized that I would pass through Auburn, home of the university of that name and then it struck me. I’ve lived in Alabama for two dozen years and I’ve never been there so that would need to be the first stop. So a few hours later, I parked near campus, took a walk through some of the quads, saw Jordan-Hare stadium and Toomer’s corner and the other landmarks of which I have heard for years but never actually seen. Working at UAB, which is an urban campus without the rolling grounds and gardens and quadrangles typical of most American universities, you don’t get the usual rhythms of campus life, especially at my end, the medical and health professions end where everything goes hell for leather 365 days a year. This afternoon, in perfect weather, the Auburn campus was full of young people playing frisbee on the lawns, studying under trees, gathered around picnic tables with their lattes, the sort of things I did more than forty years ago when I was a college freshman just starting to discover adult life.

Fall is my favorite time of year. I think it has something to do with having always lived and worked in the educational environment. Fall is the time of new beginnings, the changing of the seasons away from excess heat (and humidity in the south), the colors of the leaves (orange is my favorite color – I have no idea why), and the expectations of the holidays to come. As I was watching those eighteen and nineteen year olds, young adults whose educational lives have been upended and scarred by the pandemic, I drifted back to other falls and other campuses: The Lakeside School in Seattle where I spent my high school years with its maple trees and New England style buildings of red brick, white paint, and the occasional cupola. Stanford University with its sandstone archways and red tile roofs. Washington State University with its views of the rolling wheat fields of the Palouse stretching off in every direction. The University of Washington with Mount Rainier always hovering in the background when the sun was out.

I figured I had to at least get across the state line and into the Eastern time zone prior to stopping so I kept on going and decided to spend the night in Columbus where I am ensconced in my usual Hampton Inn close to Fort Benning. It’s dark so I can’t tell too much about what’s going on out there other than there seem to be a great many pine trees and there seems to be some sort of marsh across the road. Maybe there will be some interesting bird life tomorrow. Today’s bird life consisted of a flock of lazy and somewhat bad tempered Canada Geese at Avondale Park. I had gone to the amphitheater there this morning to see Opera Birmingham’s children’s opera about Little Red Riding Hood. The geese were lounging besides the path leading up to the seating. Fortunately they stayed where they were rather than pestering the toddler patrons for their veggie straws.

Little Red Riding Hood’s Most Unusual Day was highly amusing. Like most good children’s theater, it operated on two levels, one for the children and the other for the adults. For the kids, the story was the familiar one (with some twists) and there was a certain amount of breaking of the fourth wall. For the adults, the music included spot on parodies of such familiar pieces as Largo al Factotum and Offenbach’s Barcarolle from The Tales of Hoffman. Children should be introduced to opera and serious music early. I know as a child I had kids records of a number of classical pieces such as Peter and the Wolf, The Carnival of the Animals, and selections from Gilbert and Sullivan. I attended my first adult opera in fourth grade under the aegis of the Seattle Public Schools. In that period, the early 1970s, Seattle Opera did school matinees in English and all those who wished to pay a small fee for the field trip, were bussed down to the Opera House at the Seattle Center for the performance. As an adult who now performs on stage, I wonder what those singers thought of a house of several thousand fourth and fifth graders (plus long suffering chaperones). As I remember it, we were reasonably well behaved for children and stayed in our seats but boy we were noisy before and after the performance.

The Opera House – as it was in the 60s and 70s

I recall performances of Faust, The Valkyrie, and The Barber of Seville. I think there was a fourth one in there but I’ve forgotten what it was. Did they make me an opera fanatic? No, but it raised my consciousness as to what opera was and kept me from being scared of it so I would catch the occasional broadcast of Live from the Met on PBS or see a performance and have a pretty good idea as to what I was in for and how it worked and what to listen for. It left me primed for being open to learning a great deal more when I met and eventually married a true classical musician in Tommy who had opera in his blood. (He made his debut at age 10 as the shepherd boy in Tosca). And now here I am as the president of Opera Birmingham’s board of directors. Something ten year old me, sitting in the audience of Faust in Seattle back in 1972 could never have conceived of.

I haven’t done much reading of my usual Covid materials and blogs recently as everything seems to be fairly quiet. I don’t know if that’s going to last. Apparently there’s a bunch of new strains beginning to spread. I’ll see what I can put together and try to write about that tomorrow, wherever I end up. Tampa? Orlando? Dexter’s boat?

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