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February 2021

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When defining the Underground
You might list some statistics,
You might mention 249 miles of track,
or 1.1 billion who ride,
You might ride up the 426 escalators,
and then back down again,
You might stay on one Tube train,
traveling 114 thousand miles one year,
Might even mention the lifts,
totaling 164 in all,
or that there are 270 stations served,
260 stations managed,
and 19,000 who help you manage
When defining London’s Underground,
it seems a traveler’s anthem has been
a moan, and a groan,
and maybe that’s where they are
At the oft’ signal failure,
it’s true
Being packed like sardines at the peak of the day,
but when defining London’s Underground,
don’t forget to mention nearly 2.7 million journeys
each, and every day.

The trains whiz by, and oftentimes screech,
they jump, they jolt on many miles of track,
but all 4,134 get you to the spot
where you wish to be
And, yes,

Waterloo is busiest in the a.m.
when 57 thou’ hop on, and go,
though nearly 82 million
use it each year making it the liveliest of the lot.
Though the Circle Line is said to be torture
going slowly round, and round,
The network goes under only 40%
while the rest is on top of the ground,
And, 29 stations placed south of the Thames,
really not very many at all
Regent’s Park,
Hyde Park Corner,
Bank, then Piccadilly
have no buildings to mark their spot.
The District Line serves sixty stations
Piccadilly fifty-two,
While the Northern and Central
stop at fifty-one and forty-nine, respectively.

50 steps will take you up Chancery Lane
for a short journey up the escalator,
While a whopping 318 await at Angel
for the longest western European glide.
The first was at Earls Court in 1911,
when a one-legged man took the first step.
Bumper Harris taught us to stand right,
and let the movers go on the left.
400 plus escalators to ride each, and every week
will take you ‘round the world,
and that is no small fete
Up, down, moving around is what you see all day,
Four flat moving conveyors make the walk ever so slight,
but only Bank and Waterloo let you take this flight.

The temps are 10C warmer well down below,
though buskers may jam to their music
making you hum through the tunnels
long after passing away.

The Underground name came to be in 1908,
yet “Mind the Gap,” could not be heard
till the year of ’68.
You know the famous “roundel,”
more than a hundred years old,
and Henry Beck’s famous map is still in use today.

Love it, hate it, or be indifferent all the same,
a nuisance, a god-send –
whatever it means to you,
the Underground is cracking
it’s the way London made it be.

Turning off of Chispa Road’s crisp smooth pavement deep in the heart of West Texas, I veer onto what seems to be an unassuming stretch of dirt road.  “Take a left at the fork in the road about ten miles in,” Fred had told me.  “Unlock and pass through the gate then drive right into the ranch.”  Driving right into an unexpected driving adventure is just what lie ahead of me.

The thirty thousand acre Coal Mine Ranch is a privately owned investment and playground for a group of businessmen who have called the ranch their sanctuary for more than twenty years.  On the rear side of the Sierra Vieja Mountain Range, a world away from the flat grassy desert plains of Highway 90 and thirty miles of rough dirt road winding through steep arroyos from the end of the pavement on Chispa Road, is the Coal Mine Ranch. 

Less than midway, with the pavement far behind me, the only sound I hear is the gravel and rock being churned by my 4×4’s wheels and hitting the underside of the vehicle.  Clank, pop, clackity clack, in an erratic yet rhythmic cadence. 

Lightning fast jackrabbits race by every so often; otherwise, there is no sign of life save for the desert brush,  blooming yuccas along the way and a petrified rattlesnake or two.  I reach for my mobile phone only to see there is no signal.  Immediately, thoughts of the 4×4 breaking down, a flat tire, or more dramatically, a sudden ailment race through my head.   Who would find me?

No one would find me and I had convinced myself of this.  “Keep on going,” I told myself after the first 60° dive into an arroyo and a serious rev of the engine in a low grinding gear to carry me up and out at the other side.  And forward I traveled through several more arroyos with bright clear blue skies above and a piping hot West Texas sun glaring down upon me until I reached a tunnel, twenty feet high and fifty yards deep, blasted from solid rock more than a hundred years ago. 

At last, after a wild hour and a half adventure drive to what felt like the middle of nowhere, I turn the corner to find the Coal Mine Ranch.  What lie behind me is what some would call extreme terrain with civilization somewhere behind that .  Directly ahead of me was a modern ranch house, a feeling of peace and solitude as well as a fantastic time for introspection. 

The ranch lies on the rear side of the Sierra Vieja mountains, a world away from the flat grassy desert plains of High- way 90.  From the end of the pavement on Chispa Road, thirty miles of rough dirt road winding through steep arroyos lead to the Coal Mine Ranch.  This road features its own tunnel, twenty feet high and fifty yards deep, blasted from solid rock by Chinese migrants.  How did they ever find their way deep into the rugged and unforgiving West Texas landscape

Eighty-five-million-year-old fossils of clams, turtle shells, coral, and snails can be found below the sandstone bluffs where once a river delta said to be six hundred miles wide—bigger than the Amazon— fanned out as it approached the sea. Deeply nestled in West Texas, the ranch is about solitude, introspection, and the crackling of the campfire at night.

The rugged West Texas landscape is most definitely the master of the scenario but the adventure is what one gains internally from the experience.

Called the Queen of the Adriatic, Venice has a setting that no other city in the world can rival. It is a network of rii (streams), canali (canals) calli (streets) and campi (squares). The richness and charm of Venice does not derive solely from the presence of significant works of architecture and art (Bellini, Tiziano, Veronese, Tintoretto, Palladio, Sansovino, and many others) but also from the general layout of the city and its way of life.  “The rules change in Venice,” I’m told by Janys Hyde, long-time Venice resident and friend.  For me, Venice is pure magic.  In some ways the city is like a movie set tho’ it’s not fair to minimize Venice to make believe.

Venice is unique among all great cities of the world in that its streets are full of water.  Made up of 118 islands only two to four feet above sea level, crisscrossed by 117 canals, and connected by some 360 bridges, its main avenue is the curving Grand Canal, its buses are the vaporetti.  There is no other city in the world of this size and sophistication where the automobile is absent.  With no better way to explain, Venice is all about the water.  Janys tells me “when furniture is delivered to your home, it’s done by boat or when an ambulance is called it arrives on the water.  To truly understand and ‘get in touch with Venice’ one must embrace the water.”  Embrace I did, and instantly, feeling a sigh of relief from the usual bells, pollution and whistles of the big city.

The richness, color, light, texture, and history create a scene of overwhelming beauty. Venice is the city of canals, stunning Venetian Gothic palaces, intimate restaurants, and intrigue. Whether slipping along the canals on private water taxis, strolling the labyrinth of meandering alleyways, or sipping a Spritz to the mellifluous sounds of a live orchestra, there are plenty of ways to experience this charming mecca.  Once the economic pulse of Europe, Venice is replete with many cultural and historical activities and treasures. In fact, there are few more memorable things than a cruise along the Grand Canal, disembarking among the cooing pigeons at St. Mark’s Square.  The whole city is an extraordinary architectural masterpiece in which even the smallest building contains works by some of the world’s greatest artists such as Giorgione, Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese and others.  While the glories of the past are evident at every turn, the outlying neighborhoods and islands are still animated by a villager lifestyle which must have been unchanged through the centuries.  The Lagoon of Venice is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

No one seems to be in a hurry and no one seems to be trying to own the sidewalk as they stroll with friends and greeting passers-by.  I love the quiet of Venice.  No motor vehicles nor loud noises,  just the slap slap of the water against Venice’s buildings and people calling out to each other.  The incredible shifting light from dawn to dusk changes the dramatic mood of this Italian jewel and can fill the soul with a sense of pure fulfillment.   I could have loved Venice on my own but Janys and her husband, Claudio graciously opened my eyes to “their Venice” and ensured I made it my own.   Janys sums my Venetian experience best by saying “it is like a never ending story.   Falling in love with Venice is a love affair which is difficult to shake off.   Once you fall, you are lost and there is no way to appropriately tuck Venice neatly into a little box.”  And fallen I have.  There is no doubt in my mind that you, too, will not only be mesmerized but also madly deeply in love before you leave Venice.