Elvis, more on the TSA, and the Texas School Book Depository

It has been quite a summer of travel. I returned yesterday from my latest adventure — a one-day trip to Chicago to view some artwork that has been gifted to the college. The work is comprised of abstract shapes of steel, the largest of which is 17 feet tall. Very cool. One piece is made of steel from a bridge that was destroyed by a tornado — not your typical art media. The donor is a Chicago-based retired emergency room doctor who grew up and went to school in Nebraska. My visit with him was a good deal of fun. The stories behind  the works were interesting, and well-told by a guy with a good sense of humor and a real love of art.

August 16 is the anniversary of the death of Elvis Presley (1977). I know this date because I moved to Memphis for my first post-PhD job on the one-year anniversary of his death. There was also a firefighters’ strike that summer. Ever try to buy a can of gas during a firefighters’ strike? In Memphis? Well… don’t. Many buildings mysteriously went up in flames during that strike. It took years for Memphis to recover from that damage.

I saw Elvis, again,  three weeks ago on a flight from Chicago to Tampa. Now, usually when I see Elvis, (and I have seen him a lot), he has black hair slicked back into a pompadour that he perfected at Humes High School in Memphis. My wife Janet’s father went to Humes with Elvis, so I only have three degrees of separation from the King. But anyway, the dude on this flight looked different. He had a white jumpsuit (normal) and a much younger sidekick  carrying his makeup bag. They sat in first class, but I could see them from my seat. He was wearing a 1970s-style white afro wig, making this 5’7” guy look about 6 feet tall. The reactions he got as he and his one-man entourage moved about were fascinating. It was too much for the passengers who started out with me in Omaha flying through to Tampa. You don’t see that kind of thing out on the farm. During the flight and for several hours afterward I thought about searching around in Tampa or St. Petersburg to see if I could find out where he was performing. Then I realized that even if I knew, I wouldn’t go.

Bad Elvises

In addition to Disco Elvis, I also have a TSA story to tell. While going through security for my flight home to Omaha from Tampa, I lost the stylus to my iPad.

This is not the worst thing that can happen during travel, but I felt deeply saddened by its departure. So, I went up to a TSA supervisor and told her my story: I thought I’d left it in the tray on which my iPad traveled through screening. She was very nice and referred me to another person, an older guy about my age. He was pleasant as well. He asked me to describe the stylus, when my flight left, and the gate number of my flight. I walked to the gate and sat down, mourning the loss of my favorite and only iPad sty


About 45 minutes passed, and I was finally feeling better, sitting comfortably in my plastic chair and reading a very interesting biography of George Washington. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw the male TSA agent to whom I had spoken. He was returning my lost stylus and was most happy to have found it! Please forgive me if I have been harsh in describing TSA actions in earlier posts. However, I am still entertained when I think of the lists of things you cannot carry onto a plane.

One of my trips this summer was to the Dallas area, more specifically to Denton and Sanger, two smaller towns north of what is now known as the Dallas and Ft. Worth metroplex. I lived in and around Dallas some years ago, but I have never stopped at the old Texas School Book Depository, which is now a museum. For those of you who don’t know the building’s significance, it is the place from which Lee Harvey Oswald shot and killed President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963. I was visiting with my dad and learned that he, too, had never seen it. So, we took the train from Denton, got on the Dallas passenger rail system in Farmers Branch, and went  to the museum.

The museum is concentrated on the sixth floor of the building — the location of the sniper’s nest. It was a sobering visit, but one that I recommend to all, especially this year, which marks the 50th anniversary of this horrific national tragedy. I was 14 years old, and a ninth grader at Stillwater Junior High School in Oklahoma the day the assassination took place. I had just returned from having lunch with a group of friends when the story broke that President Kennedy had been shot. A few minutes later, we learned he was dead. A pall drifted over the school, making it impossible for the teachers to do anything the rest of the day before we were dismissed. We were numb, and not comfortably so. As the remaining surreal events of the weekend unfolded, we all seemed to be in a trance, families glued to the television waiting for the next bit of information from Walter Cronkite. We were rocked again as we saw the images of Lee Harvey Oswald being shot and killed by Jack Ruby. The museum has many items and videos that start from the few days before the president’s trip to Dallas and end with the findings of the many commissions and groups that have looked at the evidence related to the assassination. I will write more about this visit another time.

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