Wednesday, August 8, 2012

California Research Adventure: Days 7-10

Day 7:

Travel day. Woke up in Colfax, California, in Gold Country. It had rained that night — the first rain I had experienced in all of California for a week. And Colfax needed it. Even after the rain the ground remained as dry and dusty as before. But since my tent was soaked, it meant I couldn't pack it up just yet, so I laid the various parts of it out in the trunk and back seat of my rental car to dry, packed everything else up in my backpack, and hit the road around 7:30 AM.

My route? From Colfax to Pasadena, all in one day.

The drive to San Francisco Bay was easy. I arrived in Emery (Emeryville; near Oakland) at 10 AM, and before returning my rental car, I decided to grab a wonderful breakfast at the Emery Bay Cafe.

I returned the rental car at 11 AM and then, while I should have taken the Alameda County trans-Bay bus to San Francisco, I worried about potentially missing my connecting bus southward, so I grabbed a taxi to San Fran...for a whopping $35! (Nearly the cost of my long-distance bus to Los Angeles.) be fair, my thoughtful driver also gave me a free Snapple Fruit Punch beverage to enjoy on the long bus journey ahead of me.

I was pleased with the new San Francisco Greyhound station. Last time I was in this city — in 2008 — Greyhound was using some sort of temporary location as their terminal. The new one is clean and efficient, although it offers far too few seats for customers.

When I boarded my L.A.-bound bus, I found that there were no free seats (and by that I mean "two free seats next to each other, so that I wouldn't have to sit next to anyone") except way in the back. So I settled down right across from the lavatory. [Why did I do this?? Why...??]

Having sworn off Greyhound years ago, I was surprised to discover the upgrades they have made in recent years: free wi-fi, leather seats. Not bad. I'm usually not an apologist for free-market capitalism, but here is one area where I think it is sorely needed: long-distance transportation. Imagine if we had multiple passenger train services in this country, for example, and government only regulated use of the rails — much like how the government manages airspace but otherwise allows competition in the airline industry —, wouldn't the competition in trains help improve speed and service all around? Same with buses. With competition from Megabus and other companies, Greyhound has been forced to make changes that, for much of the first decade of the 21st century as I can attest from my multiple cross-country journeys, they were simply unwilling to previously make. Anyway, to appease my anti-capitalist friends, I should also say that the real problem with Greyhound is that they have for too long monopolized the market, gobbling up all their competitors. Free-market is fine, but there has got to be some fair competition. So I think government needs to do some trust-busting up in here!

Anyway, back to my trip. In San Jose we picked up more passengers, including one who sat next to me, so I lost my extra wiggle room. I varied my time: reading, trying to use the bus's wi-fi (with little success), largely staring out the window at the scenery, which got incredibly monotonous once we entered the Central Valley on I-5. Only after we passed Bakersfield, many hours later, did we see any bumps in the land. But the Central Valley is pretty impressive, I have to admit. I'd bet that if anyone from Iowa or anywhere else in the so-called "heartland" of the United States came out here, and just drove on I-5 this whole stretch, they'd realize that California, and not the middle of the country, is where most of our food comes from. Indeed, I almost found the scenery sickeningly monotonous — to think that so much acreage has been converted completely to the monoculture of just a handful of crops (although they are yummy crops: vegetables, fruits and nuts). Whenever I drink almond milk (which I love), and whenever we eat salads (which my wife loves), this place is what we're eating. Since the place seemed so sickening to me as we drove through it, I feel just that much more motivated to buy local foods from our New York City area farmers.

It was dark when we arrived in the bowl (or multiple bowls) of the greater Los Angeles area. And it was well after 9PM — after over eight hours of bus-riding, and over twelve hours of total travel that day — that I disembarked in North Hollywood and was met by my historian friend, a doctoral candidate at UC-Riverside.

We got some Mexican food. We drank horchata (I love horchata...and it is one of the things I love most about Southern California). And then I checked into the Saga Motor Hotel in Pasadena...

A tile mural at the Saga Motor Hotel. Pasadena. 

Day 8:

Woke at 6:30AM, and the sun was already blaring. The Saga is great. After staying at the YMCA, and then camping for three nights, finally — on Day 8 — I acquired the first private bathroom of my trip, which I've got to say, was a welcome change of pace. I took a long shower for the first time in four days. It felt good to clean myself up. They provided an iron and ironing board in my room, and I fluffed up a few shirts and pants that had been scrunched in my camping backpack for way too long.

The Saga offers a free continental breakfast. I had coffee and an English muffin, and by 8 AM I was ready to start researching! My friend picked me up in his truck, with a bicycle in the back for my later use, and we made the journey (a very short one) from Pasadena to San Marino, to the Huntington Library.

The Huntington Library. San Marino.

People had warned me that the Huntington could be a strange place. That the library follows some rather antiquated rules of engagement, and that you should definitely not veer from those unwritten rules. To conduct research at the Huntington, you must become a "reader," which I did, but I was only able to do so with a letter of introduction from my dissertation advisor attesting that I had passed my examinations and was officially A.B.D. ("all but dissertation") in my program. Admittedly, that's not a very high bar to cross, in my opinion, to become a "reader," but I guess we might (and should) wonder about who that potentially leaves out.

Then there is the reading room. Collections cannot be paged in advance (unlike the Bancroft Library in Berkeley, where, as I described in an earlier post, all my collections were waiting and ready for me the moment I arrived), but must be paged in person. The paging takes a while, maybe thirty to forty-five minutes per request. Readers are not notified when their material has arrived; instead you have to somewhat awkwardly check-in with the reading room staff and see if your materials are there or not. I, unfortunately, spent most of my first day at the Huntington acting pretty awkwardly. 

I'm not sure what I did wrong, or whether I was just perceiving that I was doing everything wrong, but the entire morning of my first day passed with only one of three collections I requested ever arriving. The one that did arrive was on microfilm, and my eyes despise reading microfilm for any significant period of time — as a colleague at Stony Brook has adeptly put it, reading microfilm tends to give one the nauseating feeling of being "seasick." So I vacillated between my seasickness and awkwardness, asking for my materials only to learn that, due to my novice errors, they still weren't ready.

And then, at 11:45 AM, a loud bell was rung, and readers began closing laptops, returning archival materials, and exiting the room en masse. What is going on?? I thought. Turns out, like "Pavlov's dogs," as one reader put it to me, scholars at the Huntington have become conditioned to salivate whenever they hear this bell. (Maybe this is why the Library asks everyone to turn their cellphone ringers off before entering the reading room?) Lunch time. That's what it means. Of course I, like the subjects in another famous psychological experiment that proved that people will do whatever they are told to, also closed my laptop, returned my collections, and exited the building, only to follow this crowd of readers wherever they may go. I knew not where we walked — at first it seemed as if we were all going for a mandatory 11:45 AM stroll through the gardens — but no, we ended up at a wonderful little cafe on the Huntington campus, with delicious food actually, and very reasonable prices (readers get a 40% discount!). I immediately understood why the conditioning experiment with the bell had worked — that is, why readers salivate when they hear that bell — and it's because lunch here is good. And it's not only good food, but a good period of rest and a good venue for social interaction, which is especially important for a group of people not known for their social prowess. (Yes, I mean academics.)

A beautiful scene on the path to lunch. The Huntington Library. San Marino.

After lunch, at 1 PM, readers return to their researches (or, as I've found, some wander into gardens or galleries and put off their real work; or perhaps they are just peripatetic thinkers). 

I was much more successful in the afternoon than in the morning. All my material finally arrived and I got crackin', reading the correspondence of a U.S. Navy midshipman who traveled all across the Pacific, including to Hawaiʻi, in the 1840s. Really interesting stuff.

At 4:45 PM, the bell rings again. Unfortunately, conditioned readers couldn't help but salivate, although there would be no communal lunch this time. Instead, people packed up and left the institution, into their vehicles and other modes of transportation (like the bicycle I was about to ride), and headed elsewhere, maybe home, maybe to a bar. Who knows?

I got on my friend's bicycle and began the journey back to Saga. 

Entrance to the Saga Motor Hotel. Pasadena.

Evenings here are pretty dull. Pasadena City College is across the street, but it is summertime and the students are nowhere to be found. The shops along Colorado Boulevard are eerily quiet, and the dinner options for a reader-in-residence around here are pretty slim. I grabbed some Chinese food. Not bad. Sleep came pretty quickly after that.

Day 9:

Same routine as yesterday. Got up. Had breakfast at the hotel. Today I rode my new bike into the Huntington. It was really a delightful ride, although the scenery along the way — of upper-class suburban residences — was not particularly appealing. I began research at the Huntington Library right at 8:30 AM when they opened. Everything was ready for me this time around, and I also felt braver and more confident. I was going to carpe diem, I said to myself, and I am not going to let any strange or unusual rules or customs of this place slow me down. When 11:45 AM came around, I salivated just like everyone else and was one of the first in line at the cafe to get my lunch. At 1 PM I went right back to work on my research.

On Day 9 I was mostly looking at the papers of a certain Dole of Hawaiʻi. Most Americans know the Dole name because of the Dole Pineapple Company, founded by James Dole, a cousin of some of the Doles I'm looking at. Less Americans are familiar with Sanford Dole, who did not make pineapples, but helped overthrow the Hawaiian Kingdom, became President of the Republic of Hawaiʻi that took its place (when the United States at first refused to annex the islands; boy, those were the days), and then, thanking him for the grave injustices he perpetrated against the Hawaiians, the United States awarded him with the first Governorship of Hawaiʻi after U.S. annexation in 1898. Now, all this is to say that both at the Bancroft Library and here at the Huntington, I have been looking at lots of Dole papers, but I am largely not paying much attention to either James or Sanford. There is a whole other cast of Dole characters with various perspectives on late 19th-century Hawaiian topics, and it is in their papers and correspondence that I am conducting some of my most "fruitful" research... (hahaha)

Anyway, Day 9 was Tuesday, and on Tuesdays the Huntington hosts a 3 PM "tea time." I went for the free coffee and cookies and chatted with some readers, and then returned to my researches about twenty minutes later, although I was lightly scolded by a staff member for not taking a "longer break." Other readers seemed to linger at tea time much longer, to chat it up, drink free coffee, tea, and eat snacks. The Huntington Library has scheduled these various "breaks" throughout the days and weeks — sometimes signaled by bells, sometimes not. To the novice reader like myself, it all seems strange and unusual. This is because historians are used to visiting archives where they just go in, look at stuff, and then leave, without talking to anyone. (At least that's how it's done in New York where doing things quickly without looking at or talking to anyone else is basically our culture!) But during my time here I came to appreciate the Huntington's goals. They actually kind of want you to not research. No, really. They want you to explore the gardens, the galleries, to take a full lunch break, to stop working and drink tea and socialize. I believe what they want is to foster a sense of community and a culture of lively intellectual and social exchange. This is a very worthy goal, and I was glad to help contribute to it these three days by taking every opportunity not to do my work. :)

The end of the day came, and I biked back to Saga. I did some work on my conference paper (which I will be presenting on Day 12 of this adventure!) and found a nice Mexican restaurant nearby where I purchased a vegetarian burrito and a "big gulp"-size cup of horchata! Yum!!

Day 10:

Woke up. Had breakfast. Biked to the Huntington. Just a normal day in the life of this reader.

But today was my last day and I was determined to have the full Huntington experience: to not just confine myself to my research, but to wander gardens and galleries. So I spent the morning working with the Dole materials and thinking about Doles upon Doles upon Doles until the bell rang out at 11:45 AM. (Actually, I must admit, I have become so conditioned in these three days that it was just minutes prior to 11:45 AM that I started to salivate. I closed my laptop and was ready to leave even before the bell had rung! This can't be a good development, because soon I will start salivating at 8:30 AM when I get in there in anticipation of a bell that won't ring for another 3.25 hours!! Ah, but thankfully, today was my last day, and we don't have to worry about that for now!)

After lunch was my chance to play hooky, and so I did. I wandered off into the gardens...

In the Rose Garden. The Huntington Library. San Marino. 

In the Rose Garden. The Huntington Library. San Marino. 

From the Rose Garden I wandered through bamboo forests...

A bamboo grove. The Huntington Library. San Marino.

And then, via a route I could never possibly retrace, I ended up in a tropical jungle...

In the Jungle Garden. The Huntington Library. San Marino.

It was a delightful saunter. And it made me think that there actually is something to the idea of peripatetic thinking. Not that I had any "Eureka" moments along my winding path. But, just being outside in the sun and heat, smelling the plants, even physically sensing my breathing in of the oxygen from some of the plants — especially in the humid jungle garden — I was able to clear my head of all the obnoxious and recurrent and trivial things that take up so much space and make understanding history that much harder. No, seriously. I felt lighter and refreshed after this walk. Between the saunter and lunch I was reenergized to do my research.

This place is basically a scholar's playground. There's no other way to describe it. The Huntington offers various long-term fellowships, and many of the readers I met were on some sort of fellowship. They are spending months, some even years, here, in an environment that could not be more conducive to intellectual stimulation and aesthetic satisfaction. Readers can wander the gardens and art galleries for free whenever they want. They can take unlimited numbers of coffee breaks. Indeed, I think that if a reader wanted to spend an entire day just wandering around through gardens and sipping coffees and just thinking, that would be a most productive and satisfying day, not just for the scholar, but for the Huntington, too. I like this place. I would love to come back here and do more research. In fact, in three days I only got through about 10% of the materials I had hoped to peruse. Therefore, I hope some day that I may return to look at the other 90%.

But, alas, this explorer must move on. Tomorrow we journey to the next and last stop of my California Research Adventure: San Diego!

No comments:

Post a Comment