Saturday, July 17, 2010

Too many things to do, too little time to do them

The trip odometer read 1940 miles as the Halls raced the Amtrak train running along side them on Interstate 55. The crop dusters flew overhead and the wind generators waved back at them. "We've seen armadillos, herons, turtles and even a bear on this trip. There was that ranch outside of Bethalto I thought had horses and it turned out they were buffalo!" exclaimed Mrs. Hall. The road from St. Louis back to Chicago, while occasionally surprizing, was generally long and repetitive; but as always, Mr. Hall had a few sidetrips planned ahead. Turning eastward for a detour, he set a heading to Rantoul and Chanute AFB.
The Octave Chanute Aerospace Museum was a delightful diversion in the middle of all those cornfields. The Halls arrived early enough to play with the simulators and read all the old magazine articles on display, and still have time to walk through the 'boneyard' behind the hanger. Working the static displays out back were several oldtimers who had actually flown missions with the old birds, and their stories and experiences made the visit that much more engaging. Had they walked through by themselves they might never have noticed things like the way the periscopes worked or the drawers of vacuum tubes that pulled out from the navigator's desk (Vacuum tubes, unlike other circuitry, are unaffected by electro-magnetic pulses, one of the inherent dangers of the atomic age.)
So lost in enjoyment of the museum were the Halls that it was late in the afternoon when they realized they still had quite a ways to go. Firing up the rental and slipping back onto the interstate, they rolled along at record time until they finally landed in Batavia, IL. "Why are we stopping here?" asked Mr. Hall.
"Because," smiled Mrs. H. "this is home to one of my favorite science centers. Welcome to Fermilab!" Rising above a reflecting pool and formal gardens, Fermilab is the US Department of Energy National Laboratory, specializing in high-energy particle physics. Second only in size to CERN, the Large Hadron Collider in France, not only do they do ground breaking work in high energy particle acceleration, but they also host a number of public lecture and entertainment events, including the increasingly popular Tornado Seminar, emceed by WGN weather god, Tom Skilling. Mrs. Hall used to attend the tornado seminars years ago, when the only crowd that attended was mostly just a bunch of down vest and flannel shirt camcorder cowboys and meteorology students. After strolling about the grounds, reading all the informational displays and posing with the particle accelerator, they decided it was time to move on.
"I saw you whispering words of encouragement to the little atoms in the accelerator; did you enjoy your visit to Fermilab?" asked Mrs. Hall. "What's not to like?" he replied. "The atoms all race 'round and 'round in a circle, faster and faster, then a bunch of them all smash up together at the finish line. It's just like being at the Speedway!"

The following morning, Mrs. Hall rose and looked outside the hotel window. The rental was waiting, purring by the hotel canopy, all washed and filled to the brim with petrol. "Com'n and hurry up- the doors open at 9:30 and I want to spend the whole day there!" Grabbing a to-go breakfast from the lobby, she slid into the car as it was pulling out.
In 1994, while the children were all in school and Mrs. Hall was still a homemaker, she can remember the news shows breaking in to show the United Boeing 727 landing at old Meigs Field in downtown Chicago, and then later, watching them live as traffic was stopped along Lake Shore Drive so the 727 could be towed across and moved to its final resting spot at the Museum of Science and Industry in Hyde Park, IL. Having piloted them before, the permanent installation of that aircraft was the first and primary destination of the day for Mr. Hall, and after that, if there was any time left, then maybe they would look at something Mrs. Hall liked. After poking around in the plane for some time, leaning into the cockpit display and reminiscing, Mr. Hall looked around for Mrs. Hall. He was just about to become concerned when he looked into one of the classrooms, and perched high on one of the lab stools sat Mrs. H. pulling on some rubber gloves. "I'm just in time for the dissection lab!" she chirped. "What are we mutilating today?" asked Mr. Hall, breathing in the familiar formaldehyde fumes. "A cow eyeball! Be sure and take lots of pictures!" came the reply.
Exhilarated from her stint as scientist, they continued the rest of the day, wandering through the fabulous exhibits and generally behaving much like the other children in the museum. They walked through the manmade tornado, jumped at the crackle of the first live demonstration of a Tesla coil they had ever seen and ate at the cafeteria. (Mr. Hall bought a fanciful dessert for Mrs. Hall, and despite her protestations over his diet, it was unfortunately the only fish she got him to consume over the course of the entire trip.)
Their little brains exhausted from taking in so much knowledge, it was time to retire to their hotel and refresh themselves for another day. Next episode: Bean there, watched that. Stay tuned!

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