Monday, February 17, 2014

Searching for El Dorado - Part I

Gaily bedight,
A gallant knight,
In sunshine and in shadow,
Had journeyed long,
Singing a song,
In search of Eldorado.

But he grew old-
This knight so bold-
And o'er his heart a shadow
Fell as he found
No spot of ground
That looked like Eldorado.

And, as his strength
Failed him at length,
He met a pilgrim shadow-
"Shadow," said he,
"Where can it be-
This land of Eldorado?"

"Over the Mountains
Of the Moon,
Down the Valley of the Shadow,
Ride, boldly ride,"
The shade replied-
"If you seek for Eldorado!"

Edgar Allen Poe

History is full of poor, unfortunate fools who take incredible risks – and many times perish – in pursuit of treasures and riches that might not even exist.  Yes, this yearning has ruined many people – and yet it is also responsible for every impressive act ever done by a human.  The line between fool and hero is incredibly thin.  Many times the hero must go through several episodes of failure before finding success.  Not that I’m a hero – but I’ve certainly experienced that phenomenon in my own life.  The most crushing failures have sometimes led directly to my greatest successes.

I find myself in exactly one of those situations right now.  In August I started Physician Assistant school at the University of Nebraska Medical Center.  I knew it would be hard.  I didn’t know how hard.  The first semester was 21 credit hours – nine credit Anatomy, six credit Pathology, and five credit Physiology – along with a one credit introduction to Physician Assistant class.  We were in lecture or lab 28 hours per week.  Not even training for an Ironman prepared me for the endurance contest of that first semester.

I also learned, to my dismay, that my community college Anatomy class that I took while still working full-time didn’t adequately prepare me for the nine credit behemoth that I encountered.  To make a long story short – I came up 16 points short in Anatomy.  I passed my other classes – however there were two new policies which ended up leading to me being dismissed from the program.  I’ve been appealing since the beginning of January.  They were letting me take classes while I was appealing.  Two weeks ago though I decided that I wasn’t in the right frame of mind to succeed this semester.  I withdrew – still hoping that I can come back next fall and take Anatomy over again.  I’m still waiting on a decision.  The process was that I needed to first appeal to a committee – which I did – however they upheld the dismissal.  So, now the Dean must decide whether the committee followed the process appropriately.  It sounds like he has some latitude – but it could still go either way.

So, I decided I needed to get out of town.  I needed to clear my head – to stop stressing over something that I didn’t seem to have any control over.  I needed to see friends and commune with nature.  I also needed to go south.  It was freezing in Omaha.  The day before I left it was below zero and -20 with the wind chill.  So I messaged a friend in Austin, TX.  My friend Loren who I have known since I can remember (our moms are friends) was nice enough to let stay with him after I gave him about 36 hours notice.

I left Wednesday afternoon and stopped in Kansas City for the night.


From there I headed Southwest across the vast grasslands of Kansas.


I made it to Oklahoma City around lunch time.  I’ve only been through OKC one other time – when my wife and I were driving back from Santa Fe, NM.  We had visited the memorial to the Edward Murrah Federal Building bombing that killed 168 people.  The memorial is one of the most hauntingly beautiful memorials I’ve ever seen – including the Vietnam Memorial in DC.  The chairs represent each of the 168 people who were killed that day.  There was a day care center in the building – so, many of the victims were children.




Right now you might be wondering why I chose to stop here when this trip was supposed to cheer me up.  I think that being reminded of our own eventual demise isn’t such a bad thing.  No one who went to the Murrah building that day had any idea it would be their last.  If we were immortal our lives would have less value – but the fact that we all die eventually means that we must make the most of our lives.  To do any less would be to throw away a great gift.

From OKC I made my way down to Austin.  Loren lives in a great location – just across the river from downtown.  Here is the view from his apartment complex.

As you can see it wasn’t exactly 70 and sunny.  In fact there was a possibility of freezing rain – which caused the entire city to basically shut down.  I’m not even joking.  Even the museums were closed.

So we headed to one place we knew would be open – a beer garden.  After a few beers we ended up in a great Tex-Mex place.


From there we went to The Continental Club – a music venue that Loren had heard about – but had never gone to.   We walked in to see this band getting on stage.  They didn’t even have to play a note and I knew they would be good.  A keyboardist with a hat that looked like it had been run over by a car and smoking a pipe?!  Nothing but good music can come from such a man.  We were not disappointed.


When I started out my trip I really had no plan.  Part of me thought it would be fun to head over to New Orleans – a city that I’d always wanted to visit but had never been to.  But the more I thought about it the more I realized that I needed to head west – to visit some incredibly beautiful places.  So the next day I started driving west.  Yes, I knew West Texas was a big place – but there is no way to know how big until you drive it.  It can actually be pretty boring too – much of it looks like northern Indiana – very flat.  But there are exceptions.  The photo below is from just outside Santa Anna, TX.


Another incredible place I found was in Brownwood, TX.  I had a feeling this place would be good – and I was so right.  I had what was probably the best BBQ sandwich of my life.


I kept traveling west until I crossed the path of another man who had been searching.  In 1540 Francisco de Coronado set out to discover the seven cities of gold – which he had heard were somewhere in the vicinity of present day New Mexico.  He set out with 400 Europeans dressed in full armor – along with at least 1500 Native Americans, four Franciscan monks, and even some African slaves.


The expedition made it as far north and east as present day Kansas.  Of course – there were no seven cities of gold.  After two years Coronado returned to New Spain (present day Mexico) a ruined man.  Tony Horwitz wrote a great book called “A Voyage Long and Strange” which has more details about this expedition and other stories of Europeans in pre-Mayflower America.

Finally – I reached New Mexico.

To be continued . . .

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