Granny White Pike

Street names have always been a curious thing to me. Having worked in several different professional roles where street names are pretty important (police officer, real estate developer, private investigator, county planner, board member for an emergency communications district), I could fill a bushel basket with all of the strange intricacies that are considered and the enormous gravity that is commonly placed on the street name selection process along with a surprising list of corollary weights and outcomes associated with casually naming a new road.

For the most recent 11 years, I’ve been a County Planner, so I write and enforce policy and standards for lot and road development as well as providing comprehensive land use studies and recommendations for future growth. So pretty much everyday, I’m witness to and have a stake in the perpetual development and redevelopment of the county where I call home.

Even though I spend my down-time thinking and frolicking about much simpler ideas and activities, trying my best to explore this nasty habit of mine – writing interesting tidbits about seemingly uninteresting things – my professional life occasionally weaves and lattices its way onto my private/personal writing slate. Even my hobbies creep into this thing with street names.

One such hobby of mine is that I collect old maps. I love to cross reference old street names with new one’s. It gives me a broader perspective on how an area developed and evolved over time.

Apparently, my writer persona is just not as cool as the me in real life…

The most difficult thing for me as a writer of nonsense, is to keep from sounding too professional, technical, and boring. If I’m ever going to lure my wife to read more than the first couple of paragraphs of anything I write, I’m definitely going to have to find some stylistic method in which to arouse the same amusing thoughts about street signs as a typical reader would feel about someone passing gas in a car. Apparently, my writer persona is just not as cool as the me in real life…

But, alas, I’m a technical and serious kinda guy, concealing a goofball in my gut. You know what that means; I’m not really overweight, I just have a dual personality that needs to eat too. I’m working on it; you get what you get – steer your way back onto the subject Chris.

Back in the day, we didn’t place much of an emphasis on street names. There were only a dozen or so anyway, no real way to mess that up. We just named our streets after prominent citizens or important topographical features like River Street, Mill Street, Church Street, or Washington Avenue.

I’m sure there’s some popular historic figure out there with the not-so-common last name of “Main”, but alas, I haven’t found the guy yet. I know he’s out there ready to be discovered, I’m confident of it.

Today, its more common to name new streets after our dogs and grandchildren. Another popular thing to do is to find people who weren’t famous when a street was first named, but who are famous now, and rename our old streets.

There’s hope for Kim Kardashian yet. The boring way to do it is, of course, to just let our engineers name them from pre-approved lists of street names that don’t sound similar nor repeat existing street names with different suffixes (e.g., Kardashian Ave., Kardashian St., Kardashian Blvd.).

Why is all this stuff about street names so important you ask? Well, when you’re 75 years old and living in your brand-new assisted living apartment on James Avenue, tight-fistedly clutching your hokey plastic life-alert device strung from your neck, and have reason to push the button and repeat those celebrated words, “I’ve fallen, and I can’t get up!”, you’re going to pray to your maker that there’s not another assisted living facility on a road called James Street on the opposite side of town.

Lots of your own accumulated bad karma from 40 years of dedicated service as a meter reader just may guarantee that the 911 operator, Candy; we’ll call her, who’s taking your call, erroneously sends the ambulance intended for you to the other assisted living instead. Because Candy lives just down the road a piece from the other assisted living facility and mistakenly assumes you are there instead of here. That would suck; but weirder things have happened. And that’s why communities take that sort of thing so seriously.

Growing up in Nashville and having the name “White” as my surname, meant every time my parents drove through the intersection of Granny White Pike and Harding Place, meant I’d be in the back seat of the car wondering to myself, “Who was this Granny White; is she my Granny White? And, if she’s not my Granny, what made this particular Granny White so famous as to have a street named after her? Eventually, I did ask my grandfather (Frank White), about this mysterious Granny of mine.

You know, grandfather’s are famous for telling tall tales. I could write an entire blog about my Papaw White and some of his hilarious stories. He was quite the character for sure. Mammaw White (Blanche) – my own Granny White, was his equal in every way – only much shorter and without the chewing tobacco in her mouth.

My grandfather, however, was a certified, genuine, expert on THE Granny White. Once he knew he had my undivided attention, he carefully removed the stinky cheap cigar from his mouth, blew out a bellowing stench of white smoke, then put on a quasi conspiratorial expression before commencing to tell an intriguing story about Granny White’s famous boarding house, the best in the land.

Papaw told me, in his own metered style, that Granny White, as she came to be known, was a poor widow and most definitely an ancestor or ours, who came to Tennessee in its early years, scant of supplies or anything else with the obvious exception of freedom. He said she had fallen victim to countless native “Indian” attacks at the fort in Nashville, the result of which took her husband and one of her poor children from her.

He told me her husband had been a Revolutionary War hero and was given many acres of land in Tennessee by George Washington himself, in payment for his gallant service in the War of Independence. The poor widow used her inheritance, sold part of the land, and decided to build a fine boarding house on the remainder. The funny part of his story, and there always was a funny part, Papaw explained to me how the widow ended up marrying an old Indian Chief nicknamed “Chief She-She”.

Papaw repeated his story to me as if I were carrying down an important piece of family history. My grandfather continued; Cherokee Chief She-She, without good command of the English language, was accustomed to sitting on the elaborate front porch of her boarding house, smoking a corn cob pipe, and would always reply “She, She” to any arriving guests, accentuated by his pointing toward the front door of the house. This apparently, as if to say to the guest(s), “I don’t know shit, Granny is just inside that door, go right on in.”

Great stuff, right? But, as an amateur genealogist and the Technical and Serious guy I told you about earlier in the blog, I eventually had little choice but to try and trek down a more historically accurate version of my grandfather’s colorful summary. And, as in any story handed down from a family member that comes from a generation people without computers, instant access to the library of congress, or DNA analysis, some of what you have heard about a great many things relating to your family may be complete bullshit and some may bear a ring of truth. Example: this very same grandfather used to tell me that I was named after Captain John White of Mayflower fame.

I actually knew that wasn’t true when he said it because of two reasons: First, my first name is Jon, not John, and second because my mother told me she loved the spelling of the name Jon because it looked exotic and maybe even French (Jean). So, since it was my fancy-bourgeoisie mother who actually named me, and since she’d so exquisitely explained her rationale in choosing my name, I think she will have to stand as the expert witness on the subject. So, it wasn’t like I hadn’t become accustomed to getting a heaping of bullshit with my corn flakes. But as a child, you just learn to accept the stories for what they are – indelible memories and experiences worthy of honorable mention in a grandson’s blog, 40 years down the road.

Anyway, as I started to do my research on Granny White, it seemed to me as though fact and fiction have become so thoroughly mixed in her story that we may always have some doubt as to our ability to determine who she really was and what actual circumstances surrounded her moving to middle Tennessee. But, she was definitely real, and there are not only records of her success, recorded deeds and a will, but there were also stories told and articles written about her from notable people.

Aside from those stories and records, it seems the whole story of Granny White and the pike that bears her name has never been fully recorded. But in 1934-35, the General Francis Nash chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution in Nashville, commissioned its historian, Mrs. Edythe Rucker Whitley, to “collect any available information that could be found, including anecdotal stories, for eventual publication”. When the project was completed, the chapter distributed typewritten copies of Reminiscences of Granny White Pike and Its Neighbors, a work from Mrs. Whitely which contains the most detailed information on the Pike, now available in the Tennessee Library of Archives.

Fortunately for us and my little blog, the DAR was able to assemble a great deal of information about Granny White, but the report’s principal area of concentration was centered on the history of the road itself along with the people who lived along it in the 1930’s. About the only information on the legend of Granny White herself is to be found in newspaper clippings from the Nashville Tennessean and Banner.

A more popular and more often repeated story, was that Granny White was a poor widow who left her home in North Carolina with two small, orphaned, grandchildren (aged eight and ten), and an old slave named Zachery came to the settlement at Fort Nashboro to start a new life for herself and the children. Her later success was indicated by her eventual acquisition of land, horses, and cattle. In addition, she became hostess of an extremely fine tavern.

This version of the story appears to have taken much of its color from the circumstances surrounding its origin. Senator Thomas Hart Benton of Missouri, by way of Tennessee, presented it in one of his speeches to the United States Senate, and thus the account went into the Congressional Record. The Senator appears to have added considerable gloss to his story in an effort to win support for legislation advocating provisions of land for settlers in new parts of the country – the first Wild West if you will. So, the story told isn’t fully reliable.

To illustrate how these settlers could make successful lives for themselves in the wild western frontier, Benton dramatically related the story of the sixty-year-old woman who left her North Carolina home with two small boys for the Cumberland settlement, a distance of six or seven hundred miles. This trip was made necessary, he said, because local courts and religious authorities refused to grant Mrs. White possession of her grandchildren because she lacked the means to support them.

The Benton story was repeated as follows:

When Granny White arrived in the Cumberland settlement after some time in East Tennessee where she earned a living by selling her own baked goods, a kind Irishman, Thomas McCrory, sold her some land at a nominal price. He granted her an indefinite period of time in which to pay. The property consisted of faces of two adjoining hills. Because the hills were so steep, so the story goes, Granny White had to support her pumpkins with stakes to keep them from rolling down the hillside and bursting.

Thomas Hart Benton

A search of land records in the State Archives office reveals several inaccuracies in Senator Benton’s account, as well as my own papaw White’s story. Granny White ( or, more properly, Mrs. Lucinda White) arrived in Middle Tennessee sometime before 1803 near the state’s 8th birthday. Her first home was located in what is now Williamson County. She lived there with several children, not grandchildren.

It is true, however, that she later purchased land in Nashville, but from Wolsey Warrington not Thomas McCrory. The deed transaction was recorded on January 2, 1803, was listed as fifty acres and for a purchase price of three hundred dollars. The property was located on an old spring and beside an old buffalo trail known at that time as the Middle Franklin Turnpike.

There are yet other slight distortions from the Benton story. North Carolina records suggest that Lucy or Lucinda may have been the wife of a Revolutionary soldier, Zachariah White. Such a man was listed as a local militia soldier of the Pasquotank County, North Carolina, regiment in 1755. It seems that sometime between 1760 and 1766, White married Lucy, most likely the daughter of William Wilson of Chowan County, North Carolina. Aside from being a militia volunteer, Zachariah was a pioneer schoolteacher.

A soldier named Zachariah White was listed as being killed during an attack by Chickamauga Indians when they attacked the French Lick establishment in the Battle of the Bluff, in the defense of what is now Davidson County (Nashville) during the Revolutionary War, and for that loss his family was given a certain 640 acres of land in the county. If “Granny” White was Zechariah’s widow, she owned land in what was then Davidson County when she left North Carolina and was perhaps not wandering aimlessly as Senator Benton had suggested. Williamson County was formed out of Davidson County in 1799, land grants would have been awarded in 1784.

Military land grants were awarded to persons for military service in the Revolutionary War, the amount of acreage determined by rank. Pre-emption land grants were awarded to various qualifying families and heirs of deceased soldiers who died in battle, during, or after the war. The State of Tennessee was a part of North Carolina until 1796. Davidson County, including much of northern middle Tennessee, was originally carved off as a military reservation intended to be divvied up as a part of the Act.

From these North Carolina records,

“Monday, 10 May 1784, the following persons satisfied the requirements of pre-emption and had made the necessary petitions: (Long list of names to follow). And the committee are further of opinion that the heirs or devisees of Zachariah White (and others), who were killed in the settlement and defense of the said County of Davidson, receive grants for the same number of acres in the same manner, and on the same terms and conditions as the former.”

What stood out in that original record is that Zachariah White was the very first soldier mentioned by name from the pre-emption Act intended to award land to fallen soldiers. Why? It certainly had nothing to do with alphabetical order. He was awarded 640 acres, which was the amount given to all soldiers holding the rank of Private. NCO’s were said to be awarded 1,000 acres, Captain’s 3,840 acres, Major’s 4,800, and so on with General’s being given 12,000 acres.

Despite the purchase of a book of surveys for military land grants to Tennessee, I cannot find the actual survey for Zachariah despite his name mentioned in the first 10 pages of the book as having been granted the 640 acres. I did, however, find a survey plat for a Benjamin White, which could have been his son, but I can’t verify the record. If so, the grant would have been along the Harpeth River near the present day Leapers Fork – in what is Williamson County today.

When Zachariah was killed, Lucy was thirty eight years old, a widow, and penniless. Lucy White, no doubt, struggled to raise two orphaned grandchildren by herself. And for the next eighteen years, she endured a life of virtual poverty in North Carolina. She may have inherited land in Nashville, but getting to it might prove to be a daunting task for someone without the means to pay for a trip. Although short in stature, Lucy was long on willpower. She is said to have possessed a larger-than-life personality, was an accomplished cook, and combined a gentle nature with a terrific wit.

Records, however, show few connections between Lucy and Zachariah White except the practice, common among eighteenth-century families, to continue family names with their children. In the will of Mrs. Lucinda White, recorded on August 24, 1816, certain bequests are left to her sons John and Benjamin. There are earlier records which link Zachariah White also to two sons, John and Benjamin. These facts caused Mrs. Whitley in her research for the DAR to conclude, “Now we have proof that John was a son of Lucy, and that John was an heir of Zachariah and John was a brother of Benjamin; therefore, if John was Lucy’s son, brother of Benjamin and etc. then Lucy’s husband was Zachariah White.”

In 1800, dirt poor, and with nothing to lose and the promise of land in Nashville, the sixty year old white haired grandmother, along with Uncle Zachary (an old slave) loaded up the children, Willis and Thomas, into an ox cart and began an eight hundred mile journey over the Appalachian Mountains toward the Cumberland Territory. It was recorded that twice along the way, Lucy stopped to setup bakery stands to make ends meet, selling bread and ginger cakes. Each time, packing up and moving on when she’d made enough money to continue.

It gradually occurred to her that with all of the wagons headed westward, there just might be a long-term opportunity in all this. Finally, after three years of traveling, Lucy arrived in Nashville, Tennessee. In a time when women were taught to “keep silent,” Lucinda White would manage to operate a flourishing business where I’m confident she did lots and lots of talking. She built her famous house near the bottom of one of her two hills where a road passed southward from Nashville. Lucy, it is said, quickly established gardens and orchards.

With the proceeds, she obtained bed linens and fabricated other textiles by hand using her old spinning wheel. She decided that her home would be an excellent location for an inn. With the help of her sons, she built a fine house with lots of extra space for passers-by. The tavern was opened in about 1812 and soon became, according to historian John Trotwood Moore, the most noted inn, and and essential stagecoach stop, between Louisville and New Orleans. If Granny White had kept a guest book and if it were still available, Mr. Moore wrote,

“We would perhaps be able to read the names of many extremely well-known people who stopped to enjoy her hospitality and good food. Just a few of the noted people known to have stayed there were Sam Houston, John Bell, Edmund Dillahunty, James K. Polk, Andrew Jackson, and Thomas Hart Benton. “

John Trotwood Moore
The only known surviving photograph of Granny White’s Inn. (Tennessee State Archives)

One famous anecdotal story concern’s one such notable guest who decided to ruffle Granny White’s composure by putting a frog in one of her butter-milk crocks. He informed several members of his traveling party of what he had done, and they watched all evening long to see what would happen when the servers and their hostess discovered the unwelcome guest. As the evening grew longer after the guests had enjoyed their fine supper, they realized that bedtime was nearing, and no one had heard any excitement concerning the frog. The notably mischievous guest could restrain himself no longer and went to investigate. Finding the crock empty, he asked Granny White what happened to the buttermilk. He was somewhat taken aback when she told him it had all been served him that evening.

The fame of Granny White was to outlive her by many generations. Her life as an innkeeper was not long-lived, however, for she died in 1816 at the ripe old age of 73. From a hardscrabble beginning, Lucy White had achieved a her destiny and lived a life more notable than any woman of the era. Why the leaders and shepherds of the modern feminist movement haven’t recognized Granny White with a monument escapes all reason, for she was certainly a commercial force with which to be reckoned at at time when women were socially handcuffed.

Granny White is buried in a small cemetery on what was her land on Granny White Pike about six miles from Nashville. Near her grave are the graves of three others – one of a child, the other two of adults. It is possible that the child’s grave belongs to Thomas, one of the grandsons mentioned in the traditional story. Lucy White did have one child who died after reaching maturity, and she left some orphaned children.

One of the adult graves may be that of Lucy’s daughter Kesiah who was mentioned in the will, but who apparently never married. The other adult grave remains a mystery.

The will of Granny White provides some interesting reading, if for nothing else its thoroughness. She left the following provisions: to son John $15; to son Benjamin $15; to daughter Kesiah $15; to grandson Willis White – a slave boy named Lewis, four cows, five one-year-old calves, one sorrel horse, six hogs, two sheep, one bureau, two boxes, three beds, a bedstead and bed furniture, three pots, one chest, one skillet and lid, one skillet and frying pan, one pot rack, three tables, “all my pork that is salted for this present year,” four trays, one set of knives and forks, one set of cups and saucers, six pewter plates, six earthen ones, one pewter dish, one and one half dozen spoons, one pair of dog irons, one looking glass, all household and kitchen furniture, all corn, one fodder stack, ten gallons of whiskey, twenty gallons of vinegar, one tub of “laird,” all poultry, and “all my wearing appearrel (sic).”

Ironically, $15 dollars in 1816 would be the equivalent of $290 dollars today in 2021. Not all that much money. It makes one wonder what she may have thought about John, Benjie, and Kesiah? Willis pretty much got everything she owned, including her “wearing appearrel”. I hate to assign my 21st Century views to a 19th Century custom, but doesn’t this sound as if Lucinda was protecting Willis from what she viewed might be a difficult life ahead? I don’t know, but this is why I’m often spellbound by digging deep in historical records. It sometimes sheds light on how people were experiencing the same sorts of things we deal with today.

The family of Zechariah and Lucinda White apparently were: (1) Joshua, who died in Davidson County in 1817 – there is no positive connection between him and Granny White, but names of children listed in his will (Wilson, Dempsey, Jacob, Jabez, etc.) tally with those of Lucy’s family in North Carolina;  (2) a son, possibly named Robert;  (3) Wilson, said to have died unmarried and to have been buried in Franklin in a plot with Benjamin; (4) John, named in the will;  (5) Kesiah, named in the will; and (6) Benjamin, named in the will, who was born on June 23, 1771, in North Carolina. There may have been other children, but no proof has been found.

Aside from the high probability that my paternal ancestors may have been related to Zachariah, I’m very confident my family did not directly derive from this particular Granny White. My paternal roots do come from North Carolina during the colonial period and from the same general vicinity as did Zachariah. At most, we’re distant cousins. That will be yet another tidbit of information I will have to dig for at a later date.

In the years that followed this courageous woman’s ordeal, efforts have obviously been made to maintain the memory of Granny White. She was officially honored when the Granny White Turnpike Company was incorporated on January 25, 1850. And even though there’s no real effort in modern times to celebrate her now, she was clearly a prominent person of her day – a rare figure of strength for women of that era.

In the 1930’s, the Everett Beasley family acquired rights to her land and decided to set aside the area around the site of the old inn. Of course, the original structure had long ago fallen down, but the Beasley’s found a log structure similar to it. They made arrangements for the house, purchased in North Carolina, to be moved to Nashville and reassembled on the site of Granny White’s inn. For a number of years, the Beasley’s maintained the building and allowed it to be used for various meetings. Eventually it became unsafe, and the property was closed to the public. Now, of course, nothing remains of the original inn and the entire area has been sold and resold, carved up, divided, and developed. All that remains is the tiny little cemetery.

What about my grandfathers account of Chief She-She. Was he real, made up, or some other person that existed in a different place that my grandfather mistakenly attached to Granny White. I decided at first that She-She was just an invented person of interest during a burst of creativity to make his story sound more interesting?

It makes sense that my grandfather would have become acquainted (somewhat) with her story at that time. My father was born in 1935, so my grandfather would have been a curious 40 year old adult living near the area when this renewed interest and efforts were made by the Beasley family to memorialize the site of the Inn.

But alas, I discovered yet another mixed couple running an Inn about 40 miles further down the Natchez Trace around the same time as Granny White was in business. Only, this Native American was called She-Boss and the Inn nicknamed the SheBoss Place. Prior to the Indian Removal Act of 1830, the Chickasaw’s had signed a treaty stating white settlers could operate businesses along the Natchez Trace so long as an Indian was the proprietor. A widow is said to have operated an inn there with her Indian second husband who spoke little English. He was not a chief. According to legend when travelers approached with questions about accommodations, he would only point to his wife and say, “she boss.”

It seems the stories my grandfather learned as a young man, stayed with him quite a long time, but were perhaps mixed up a little or attached to other stories along his adventurous 81 year path of life. He wasn’t such a creative type after all. I think I will continue to use the Chief She-She story, it’s just too good to forget. Out with She-Boss, in with She-She.

As one of Nashville’s pioneers, Granny White’s two-hundred year old story is one of ingenuity, perseverance, and entrepreneurial spirit. I’m delighted I took this path to get to know her and my grandfather just a little bit better. I hope you enjoyed the journey as much as I did. Perhaps Granny White is largely a legend in the history of Nashville, but those of us who believe in southern hospitality, good food, and good humor, will never be convinced.

Best Lil’ Ho House in Nashville

It was none other than the esteemed Thomas Jefferson, a founding father and Secretary of State (at the time), whom first directed that the United States should conduct a decennial census. His rationale need not be questioned, but for the conspiracy theorist friends of mine, it was, well, uhm, it was for reasons I can’t really disclose. Just kidding; I think we all know why.

That very first census happened in 1790 and we’ve conducted a census in every year ending in a zero digit since that date. Our most recent census, the second one we’ve conducted in the 21st century, marks 230 years of this kind of detailed record keeping. Now you know who started the whole thing.

As a person who’s been utterly transfixed in genealogy research for at least a couple decades now, I’ve often used old census records to either discover new distant relatives or establish birth years or even learn about occupations, birth states, and the countries or origin for a great many of my very distant relatives. For the most part, pretty much any census record you’ll find, of the same year, will look similar and hold the same types of information.

Although considerable care has been used from location to location and from decade to decade to promise some level of uniformity in the collection of these records, the vast number of people involved in the task has made complete consistency all but impossible. That said, sometimes you get lucky and find the good stuff; you know, the things you’d never expect to discover.

So fortunate for us were those rare individuals who took their census taker roles more serious, and undertook the collection of information no modern millennial would ever dream of going the extra mile to collect. Because of those wonderful mavericks and mustangs, we get to know some not-so-common knowledge about some pretty interesting ancestors. In rare instances, some census takers took it upon themselves to ask a few more questions than they were instructed to ask.

Some early census-takers, for example, took it upon themselves to completely alphabetize their local census. In at least one case, that of Wilkes County, North Carolina in 1820, the alphabetizing was done by first name! On other occasions certain record takers had recorded not only the state in which an individual was born but also the county. With such peculiarities and inconsistency in various censuses, the practices of individual census marshals have, on occasion, given us some incredible insights. Or, perhaps better said – highlights and unusual observations, which would have otherwise been denied to us had strict uniformity in census-taking been required.

Most interesting to me, a Nashville native, are the highlights recorded by Nashville census-takers in 1860, and a prime example of what I’ve been attempting to describe. In 1860, the city of Nashville was right-smack-dab in the opening crosshairs for what would soon become known to southerners as the War of Northern Aggression. War not yet begun, nor the city yet occupied by union soldiers, Nashville was brimming with its gentrified grey-uniformed military men, strategically positioning themselves for the inevitable, who had peculiar needs that couldn’t be properly dealt with while they were away from their more genteel homes. Those “needs” evolved into a thriving practice of the oldest profession indeed. Nashville, it seems, became a hotbed (pun intended) for prostitution.

Although I cannot imagine that the instructions given to census-takers that year, or as in previous years, ever referred to prostitutes at all. The Nashville marshals, for some strange reason no longer discernable, took it upon themselves in 1860 to count and catalog every soiled-dove and lady-of-the-evening it could possibly label, accuse, or identify.

Thus, the 1860 Nashville census included data gathered on the extent of prostitution in this city. In fact, venereal disease became such an issue in Nashville that in 1863 the city began issuing professional licenses for prostitutes and their respective bordello’s in order to help keep the soldiers – and ladies – healthy. Such a careful count of these ladies does not appear to have been made before nor since, nor does my research reveal any similar practices to have ever been attempted in other cities.

Little historical attention has been devoted to the world’s oldest profession. Almost nothing, aside from the obvious, is known of its operations, nor of the circumstances under which it flourished. My mind circles back to an Italian getaway where Emily and I visited the ancient ruined city of Pompeii.

There in Italy too, early houses of prostitution have actually been identified an excavated. Caricatures of erect penis’ carved into the basalt stones that line the ancient stone roadways, just as hard as in historical times, were and still are ever-erect and pointed directly toward the doorways of these historical ho-houses. It’s quite a humorous thing to actually witness but these archeologically important graffities tell us emphatically that it really is the oldest profession as these ancient houses of ill repute were already two thousand years old when they were covered with volcanic ash in 79 AD.

On the streets of Pompeii

It is, of course, impossible to know exactly how many prostitutes there were in my beloved Nashville in 1860, or at any other time for that matter. But, this otherwise beclouded chapter of Nashville’s past has in some ways been exposed by these census-takers/quasi-journalists whose unorthodox methods have managed to entertain the rest of us over 150 years later.

There were no doubt many ladies who, in describing their work activities to the “Gladys Kravitz” type census-takers, resorted to such euphemisms as “Seamstress,” “Tippling House Operator,” “Bagnio Keeper,” etc., or who just left the designation blank. It is also impossible to define some of these terms too specifically. There were undoubtedly then, as now, ladies of easy virtue whose income from legitimate sources was supplemented by funds received in return for services rendered, for favors bestowed, or in some other sense as a quid pro quo.

Nonetheless and despite all those shy types, there were still quite a few – I’ll say “professionals,” who were not at all reluctant to call themselves exactly what they really were – which totaled 207 out of the 13,762 free Nashville residents who reported in the 1860 census. Virtually all of them were white, although nine of them were listed as mulatto. Nearly half were illiterate; eighty-seven listed themselves as totally illiterate, and eight others arrogantly said that they could read but could not write. Twenty reported that they’d been widowed.

These otherwise virtuous women of Nashville ranged in age from fifteen to fifty-nine, although the majority were in their teens and twenties. Three were fifteen, 9 were sixteen, 15 were seventeen, 14 were eighteen, 12 were nineteen, and 10 were twenty. The mean age for these girls, however, was twenty-three, and most of which were home grown.

One hundred thirteen were Tennessee born. Kentucky and Alabama were tied for the dubious honor of second place, each furnishing 12 girls to the Nashville trade. In lesser numbers were women who hailed from Indiana, Massachusetts, Georgia, Virginia, Missouri, North & South Carolina, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Foreign born ladies were also represented; one woman hailed from Canada, and three came from Ireland where the potato famine was very recent history. Who ever said Canadians haven’t accomplished much doesn’t know their history.

Emaline Cameron was among the thousands of refugees who poured into Nashville during the civil war. Born in Smithville, 50 miles to the East, the strains of war must have caused her to cross through dangerous territory to Nashville from an imploded marriage back home.

Her husband Toy Hayes divorced her on the grounds that he was not the father of their eldest child. She admitted as much in court: working as a chambermaid in the Smithville Hotel, which was run by her parents, a hotel border inconveniently left the 15 year old Emaline pregnant. Her parents swiftly married her off to the naïve Toy Hayes before she began to show signs of her ill-fated condition.

Emaline was not only one of those statistics of those uncertain times in Nashville, she was also one of the first such women to get a professional license for the much vilified vocation when licenses became mandatory in 1863. Pretty Lula Suares, born in Pennsylvania, may have been of Spanish ancestry, and Jinnie Tante may have been French, but the other 205 had such names as Richardson, Scott, Johnson, Fox, Armstrong, Graves, Thomas, Harris, Patterson, Walker, Wilson, Webb, and Martin. The Browns were by far the most prolific, furnishing eight girls to the immodest trade.

In some cases it is very tempting to assume relationships such as Sarah Morgan, age 38, with whom worked Rachel Morgan, 21, Mary Morgan, 18, and Nancy Morgan, 16, all in the same household. Given names run the full gamut of nineteenth-century respectability, and there were Anns, Nellys, Mollys, Pollys, Sarahs, Sallys, Alices, Rachels, Harriets, and Carolines. There were ten Elizas, thirteen Marthas, fourteen Nancys, seventeen Elizabeths, and twenty-nine Marys.

Some of Nashville’s brothel’s reflected significant affluence, while others showed signs of abject poverty. The largest house was operated by Rebecca and Eliza Higgins at 101-103 North Front Street. Rebecca owned real property valued at $24,000 and personal property amounting to some $1,500, which were very large sums in those days. Twenty-eight people lived in the house, of whom seventeen were prostitutes, one was a carpenter, one was a brick mason, six were children in school, two were pre-school age, and one was twenty-two year old black guy named Tom Trimble.

Eleven prostitutes worked at Mag Seat’s place, address unknown. Mag was a twenty-five year old Tennessean who seemed to be able to keep a more youthfully staffed workshop than some of her other Nashville competitors. Six of her eleven girls were in their teens, and the oldest was twenty-four. At 72 North Front Street was Martha Reeder’s house, where ten ladies of the night and two pre-school children lived. This thirty-one year old Tennessee-born madam reported owning personal property totalling $15,000.

Large houses, however, were the exception rather than the rule. Most of the houses were either one-woman cribs, or at most, two or three-woman operations. Nineteen of the sixty-nine houses in the city were operated by one woman, twenty-five had two women, and twelve had three women working in them. The smallest houses appear to have been the most pathetic – often sheltering one prostitute, widowed, in her late twenties or early thirties, with two or three children under ten years of age. Its times such as these most certainly were, where I could almost pick any house and write a story of tragedy and hardship that would depict with fair accuracy many situations in Nashville during that contemptuous time period in American history.

Another useful tool used in genealogy research are the old city directories. Old census records don’t often list addresses but you can determine many of them, as is occasionally done here, by researching those city directories. Twenty-four of Nashville’s sixty-nine houses of ill repute may thus be located upon an old city map, and they constitute a very definite sector of the city.

Eighteen were located in a quarter only two blocks wide and four blocks long, being the first block north and the first block south of Spring (now Church) Street, on Front, Market, College, and Cherry (now First, Second, Third, and Fourth Avenues) Streets. The location was no doubt excellent for the river trade of the day, of which there was a great deal and it is said that the four by two block red light district enjoyed a famed nickname of “Smokey Row.” Five of the houses, including those of the Higgins sisters, were practically adjacent to the upper steamboat landing on Front Street. Other houses were clustered in the same general vicinity.

The profile, therefore, of the average Nashville prostitute in 1860 would show that she was a white, Tennessee-born, twenty-three year old. There’s a very good chance that she was illiterate, and that she worked in a house with two or three colleagues.

Her name was something like Mary Brown, and, since the law of supply and demand no doubt controlled her market as it does everyone else’s, the number of her competitors in the city would seem to indicate that business was humping…ughm, maybe brisk is a better word. Her impact upon the community was probably considerable as were her activities deserving of closer examination than historical research has thus far devoted to them or than these brief paragraphs have been able to render for you.

But, by 1862, after the Union Army occupied Nashville in February then moved thousands of troops here, the number of prostitutes exploded, that number believed to be as high as 1500 – more than 10% of the entire population of Nashville. Major General William Rosecrans (Old Rosy), a Roman Catholic from Ohio, had a real problem on his hands.

At least 8.2% of his Union soldiers were infected with either syphilis or gonorrhea and the mercury treatments of the day could sideline a soldier for weeks. These mostly unprincipled Union soldiers from dreadful sounding places like Pittsburg and Chicago were responsible for a sexual plague in Nashville like nothing that had ever been seen anywhere. In fact, there were local shortages of mercury wherever the union army occupied…well, I just made that part up.

At first Rosecrans ordered George Spalding, provost marshal of Nashville, to “without loss of time seize and transport to Louisville all prostitutes found in the city known to be here.” The obedient Spalding did exactly that. Finding them was easy but how he would carry out the order is quite amusing.

Spalding soon met John Newcomb, owner of a brand-spanking-new steamboat christened the Idahoe (can you see the irony?) Much to Newcomb’s dismay, Spalding ordered Newcomb to take the Idahoe on its maiden voyage northward with its soiled maiden passenger list.

All 111 women aboard the Idahoe had three things in common, their profession, they’re unfortunate collective cases of syphilis, and that they were all white. Almost immediately upon their departure, their black counterparts took their places in Nashville’s brothels. The local press delighted in the story. The Nashville Daily Union:

“The sudden expatriation of hundreds of vicious white women will only make room for an equal number of negro strumpets. Unless the aggravated curse of lechery as it exists among the negresses of the town is destroyed by rigid military or civil mandates, or the indiscriminate expulsion of the guilty sex, the ejectment of the white class will turn out to have been productive of the sin it was intended to eradicate…. We dare say no city in the country has been more shamefully abused by the conduct of its unchaste females, white and Negro, than has Nashville for the past fifteen or eighteen months.”

Nashville Daily Union – cir. 1862


It took a week for the Idahoe to reach Louisville, but word of the unusual manifest list had already reached the city’s law enforcement. Newcomb was forbidden from docking there and ordered on to Cincinnati instead. Ohio, too, was uneager to accept Nashville’s prostitutes, and the ship was forced to dock across the river in Kentucky – with all inmates required to stay on board, reported the Cincinnati Gazette:

There does not seem to be much desire on the part of our authorities to welcome such a large addition to the already overflowing numbers engaged in their peculiar profession, and the remonstrances were so urgent against their being permitted to land that that boat has taken over to the Kentucky shore; but the authorities of Newport and Covington have no greater desire for their company, and the consequence is that the poor girls are still kept on board the boat. It is said (on what authority we are unable to discover) that the military order issued in Nashville has been revoked in Washington, and that they will all be returned to Nashville again.

Cincinnati Gazette – cir. 1862

It was reported that by the time the Idahoe made it back to Nashville, the ship’s stateroom had been badly damaged and the beds were badly soiled leading to a request for $1,000 in compensation for damages. It’s not known whether Newcomb ever got his money or not but what we do know is that Spalding’s ultimate solution was to legalize prostitution in Nashville so that licenses could be issued and medical supervision required. Girls paid $5.00 for a license and fifty cents to physicians to sign off on the licenses.

Thus making Nashville, Tennessee the first city in the United States to have legalized prostitution – not Las Vegas. Of course, in 1865 when the war was over and the unprincipled Northern occupiers gone, Nashville quickly left it’s restraints of martial law and did away with legalized prostitution.

While this early experiment in legalized prostitution may not have had lasting social repercussions for Nashville, it is possible that improved medical conditions in the dangerous profession delivered women like Emaline through the hardships of a horrible war. Emaline survived her time in Nashville to ultimately return to Smithville, where she lived out her days in the home of her son and there are generations of her family living today that have no earthly idea how or with whom they came to be born into this crazy world. But you know because of my crazy addiction to genealogical research.

Living Outside Boxes

Everyone knows I love movies. I have been intrigued with and entertained by movies since before I can remember. It is a passion born from mostly my mother who also loved movie going. I’m often quoted by my wife who likes to mimic me by saying that “I even love bad movies because at least they provide an escape from reality for two hours.”

My background in law enforcement draws me to suspense and action movies but my overall nerd-ness loves all things technical too – so you can imagine what my favorite genres may be.  But since I turned 50 and my testosterone levels have plummeted to levels deeper than Raquel Welch did in the 1966 science fiction film “Fantastic Voyage” (look it up Jon), I’ve noticed that the increasingly sensitive side of me is starting to totally dig the chick flicks nowadays.

I have this amazing memory of my mom taking me and my siblings to see a double-feature film at Harding Mall in South Nashville when I was 10 years old. It was “Barbarella” (Jane Fonda) and another movie called “The Groove Tube” which was Chevy Chase’s low budget film debut. I don’t know what my mom was thinking at the time but I think it must have been one of those duh moments because she only let us watch about 15 minutes of the second feature before jerking all of us up by the collars and getting us out of there.

I distinctly remember the film sequence that instigated our hasty exit; a mock public service announcement for venereal disease that covertly used a real penis made-up as a man’s face as its actor-spokesman. Yes, a penis with a mustache was talking to the camera. At ten, I didn’t fully understand all of the 15 minutes of sexual innuendo but I knew we were watching something we weren’t supposed to be watching which is pretty damn cool if you ask me. I still laugh about that all the time because we had brought along my next door neighbor Wayne and I wonder today if he has the same memories I have.

One of my favorite movie scenes of all time is the testing scene in the beginning of the movie “Men in Black”. To refresh your memory, let me sum it up as follows:

Will Smith’s character (who later becomes Agent J) is in a room with other candidates so the MiB can supposedly find the proverbial best of the best candidate for the MiB job opening. The candidates are all men from either military academies or elite law enforcement and are squeezed into tiny egg-shaped chairs that barely contain their bodies.

They are each given an exam booklet which is sealed in fragile paper that tears easily and a pencil. As they all scrunch up in their pods, twisting, wiggling, crossing and uncrossing legs to find comfortable positions for holding the booklet and writing at the same time, Agent J – after breaking his pencil while trying to open the envelope – stops, looks in front of him, and sees a more traditional looking table across the room.

SCREEEEEEECH! The otherwise silent and sterile room is filled with a deafening noise as Agent J drags the heavy metal table across the floor toward his egg chair. The other candidates shoot him some ugly eyes while trying their best to concentrate on the test while Agent J, oblivious to an unwritten decorum, makes himself comfortable to take the test. He repeats this type of abhorrence to all things status quo later when at the firing range.

At the firing range, these same best of the best candidates have no problem at all accurately shooting all the monsters on the targets but Agent J shoots the little girl instead. When Zed (Character played by Rip Torn) asks J “May I ask why you felt little Tiffany deserved to die?”, J responded with something like this: “When I saw little Tiffany, I’m thinking, y’know, eight-year-old white girl, middle of the ghetto, bunch of monsters, this time of the night with quantum physics books? She about to start some shit Zed.”

In that scene, Will Smith thought outside the proverbial box and instead of following what everyone else was doing. He was not afraid to literally make some noise, free himself from tradition or modesty, and do something bold that may help him achieve his goals. The situations he was placed in were structured to the point of absurdity, which is an exaggerated reflection of how complicated we tend to make life in general when we could just as effectively do things more simply. In J’s view, being quiet and conforming to others’ tin-soldier mentality only hindered his ability to accomplish the goal of passing the tests. His ability to think asymmetrically turned out to be his strongest quality.

Now if you are rolling your eyes at the phrase “thinking outside the box,” I completely empathize. The phrase has become trite and jargony and has an honored place on the list of most overused clichés and axiom’s by teachers and professors, which includes but is not limited to (yes, there are others) “seeing the forest for the trees”, “learning to think like a businessman”, or “An ounce of prevention…”, you get the idea.

Personally, I’m more moved by axioms which make you think rather than one’s which tell a commonly known truth such as: “99 percent of lawyers give the rest a bad name”, or “Madness takes its toll – please have exact change.”, or “It was recently discovered that research causes cancer in rats.”. But stripped down to its core, “thinking outside the box” says in four words what I believe to be the key to success in almost any venture as well as general happiness in life.

To me, thinking outside the box means not blindly following conventional wisdom as well as challenging assumptions about yourself, others, and the world around you. It is a shift from conceptual frameworks and paradigms to free-flowing uninhibited thought that challenges all common perspective. It’s not to say that you shouldn’t educate yourself with all that old-school knowledge, it’s just a theory that examines and explores the things unsaid rather than the things said.

We live in such a heavily controlled environment. The restrictions placed upon us do much to stymie our creativity and our ability to think freely. Perspective and perception are also powerful governors of our minds. We often view reality through narrow lenses sculpted, polished and honed by years of experience and education. But is my reality the same is your reality? In some cases yes. To you and I, red IS red and the number 4 IS the number 4. Those are constants nationally and worldwide. But what about the organic and obscure? Are we looking at the same things in the same way and coming up with the same conclusions? I doubt it.

If thinking beyond this proverbial box is so great then why do so many people encourage (or implore) you to color inside the lines, follow the rules, and stay inside the damn box? Well they are either inside the box themselves and not sure how to get out, are afraid to get out, or even worse — they are actually selling the box.

People often disagree with me about these things, citing the importance of their specific life anomalies, and I am often prone to accept the reasons they espouse because I have the heart of a teacher not a preacher. But the reality is that most of these people are simply afraid. An example of this is that in my car, while alone, I believe I’m an accomplished singer…but I’m too afraid to demonstrate just how great I am in public. Is that a fear of performing or fear of revealing how much I suck at singing?

I don’t know; ask Emily, she’s probably heard a few subtle A Cappella moans and some interesting intonations happening on long drives in the car before. Fact of the matter, I will likely never sing to anyone in public – ever. It’s just not something I’m willing to let out of my box, even though me and Michael McDonald sound identical.

Well, except for that time in Germany on a Rhine River cruise with friends Rob and Rachel. Rachel is a huge karaoke fan and begged me to sing a song. I reluctantly agreed after a long tumultuous series of offers to buy various desserts.

When the moment arrived and I drug myself to stand front and center for my performance, I whispered to the DJ to que my chosen song, much to the anticipation of my wife who was paralyzed with dread. Then the song “Tequila” started playing, you know, on and on without any lyrics.

Everyone was so confused; why wasn’t the redneck from Tennessee singing? Then, with one collaborative sigh, the whole ship finally got the joke as I confidently sang out-loud the one and only lyric…”TEQUILA!”.

That “box” for those whom are afraid represents all that is stable and controllable and accepted. I get it. I really do. I could sing one word, but to sing a legit whole song would have taken a level of something-something I just don’t possess. I understand that the box is rigid and sturdy and comfortable. But, it is still a stupid box and I know of no one who can truly spread their wings and fly inside a box.

You can paint the box and decorate it and bedazzle the box with rhinestones or Harley Davidson stickers or whatever it is that you enjoy but at the end of your life, you will move from that one beautifully decorated box to another simpler and more tasteful box. But will you have really lived?

Ask Bruce Jenner what he thinks about living in boxes. For him, his life was always about making the rest of us comfortable. His outer box was covered in rustic leather and had spikes and beer stains and cigar burns all over it. But the inside of his box looked somewhat different I suspect.

I’m not suggesting the “box” is about gender or sexuality at all, but I’m neither saying it is not. I think the box is different for everyone and the same rules apply no matter what is in that enigmatic box. The box can contain a multitude of things that have the effect of holding you back in life or in situations.

It’s just as important to recognize that your box might contain the elements of shyness as it is to recognize that your neighbor’s box is full of Pollyanna. Both qualities can hold you back from achieving goals but for entirely opposite and unexpected reasons only relevant to that one person.

Look, I love plans of attack and guidelines and goals and milestones and all those things you have read about, and yes, in some areas of life there are definite paths that must be followed to reach a specific destination — i.e., you are not going to become a doctor without going to college, taking the exam, going to medical school, passing your boards, doing your residency, etc.

But overall, never underestimate the value of thinking outside the box, figuring out your own way to get from point A to point B, and trusting your instincts along the way. Heck, maybe you don’t even have a point B in mind yet. No problem! Think of your current lack of a point B as already being outside the box. We can be sure that people like Michelangelo, da Vinci, Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg never knew a box existed.

And look, while thinking outside the box can certainly be about sitting down to solve or approach specific problems, it does not have to be. In fact, I like to think of it more as a way of life. Writing down your ideas or making a vision board is never a bad idea but there is something about saying it out loud that makes an idea sound really stupid or really profound. Don’t be afraid to bounce ideas off the chests of friends but don’t be afraid to execute a really strongly held idea just because that trusted friend doesn’t have the same vision as you.

Be forewarned, however; sometimes when you operate outside the box, people look at you funny, make not-so-nice comments about you and your actions, and maybe even tell you that you are crazy for doing what you are doing because, oh, I don’t know, you are not making any money at it; or, people won’t like it; or, you’re making people uncomfortable; or, you will never get anything out of it anyway; or, no one else cares but you; or, you are too old; or, you are too young; or, you are not being serious enough to really achieve anything… so what is the point?

Well that is just the thing and the most beautiful part of living outside the box, even if it’s just from time to time. Sometimes we do not immediately know the point when we venture outside our boxes. What is the point of doing as you feel? I don’t know, perhaps it is just because it makes you feel good, and what is the point not to do it?

Sometimes, thinking outside the box can produce challenges to those around you who’re used to a much less complicated version of yourself.

Sometimes a small spark of interest ends up turning into a passion and perhaps then into a new life or career. Or maybe your life becomes enriched with a lifelong love of a new author, subject, art, or activity. Or maybe you develop amazing new friendships that remain long after that particular dalliance outside the box is over. Or maybe your time out of the box is special just because it was time out of the box, and there really is no point besides that. You’re going to grow as a person regardless of the reason, the activity, or the point.

And besides that, there is nothing more stifling and frustrating than feeling boxed in, and that is because we are not honoring that part of ourselves that wants, that needs so desperately to get out. In 2016, I was feeling like I was in a box. A box of social and political correctness. The box grew more and more confining as the accepted conditions of my career held me back from engaging and being myself.

So, after suffering as much as I could stand, I decided to leap outside that box of political correctness and even beyond my own normal social boundaries and resolve my situation in the only way my life has trained me to do. Was I right to do it or wrong? That is a matter of perception for others but for me there’s no question that I did the right thing?

So what this blog is really saying, I suppose, is that thinking or living outside the box is not about what others think and it’s not about what’s good or comfortable for everyone else. Living outside the box allows you to shed the layers of social acceptance and just be the person you need to be at the moment.

“Every child is an artist, the problem is staying an artist when you grow up.”

Pablo Picasso

Creativity comes from peeling away the things which quintessentially make us adults, and instead, looking at situations and life from pure naiveté. Living and thinking outside the box is just a cliché way of expressing that same thought. When we strip away those latticed layers of conformity, maturity, shame, rationality, power, ego, reciprocity, and emotional clutter, then we can harness those crumbs of ingenuity floating around in a sub-consciousness that is much less chaotic.

I’m stepping outside my box right now. When I express my inner thoughts about life, love, parenthood, or politics, I’m pushing my own self-imposed boundaries of the first 50 years of my life. While I’m nowhere close to inventing an Alfred Hitchcock character like in the movie “Vertigo” nor could I possibly do justice to a character like Russell Crowe played in “A Beautiful Mind”, what I can do is articulate the things that keep my mind busy when put into a square room and asked to administrate black & white procedures all day.

My sister Lisa is an amazing artist. She principally works in the medium of portraiture. But what makes her amazing is not how accurately she can replicate a photograph. What makes her amazing is how she can so intricately produce what she see’s in her head – which could be quite different than how the rest of us see things or people. Lisa can create something entirely original and yet be instantly identifiable as the same thing, only in her own language. I

’m not an artist so I won’t attempt to impress you with a science or vocabulary I know little about, but I think the secret of anyone’s success is an ability to be bravely put forth your product, different as it may be, and own it. It’s your thing, your voice, your identity all mixed up as an ingredient inside your vision of the world around you. Own it.

For myself, I had one little dalliance out of my own box a few years ago and now here I am carving out the next half of my life, only differently and more deliberately. Maybe the lyrics from “Carry on My Wayward Son” will never resonate beyond the confines of my Chevy truck but the lyrics of my life and my thoughts will resonate in words on some digital cloud somewhere forever. Absent that one baby step, you and I wouldn’t have met.

When is the last time you stepped outside of your box?

Power Brokers of Personality

Personality is a curious thing. Where do we get our personalities anyway? Are we merely homogenous mixtures of our parents; does our DNA play a role? Or, are we simply carbon sponges – borrowing influential bits and pieces of identity from everyone and everything around us as we go?

If personality is strictly a family DNA affair, why aren’t we reading about Charles Manson’s parents instead of just crazy ole has-been serial-killer Charlie? If we’re simply selective sponges, how would you explain the occasional similarities between the personalities of parents and children – even when some of the characteristics aren’t necessarily favorable? Personality, no doubt, is a complicated and fascinating subject.

Intelligence, just like personality, is also a quite difficult matter to put your finger on. Some books lean more toward nature (predisposition) and others to that of nurture (learned). It’s a pretty well-settled argument that a person’s intellect is a product of both of these things but to what extent? My parents could have supplied me with the most fantastic, bestest ever DNA on the planet but if those supposed great genes were never nurtured and cultivated with kindness, personality, education and experience, I’d just end up being one of those socially awkward and useless brainiac; a big-brain-no-game type. Certainly not the pinnacle of expressiveness I’ve become, right?

Take myself for instance, I love words. I’ve always loved words. As a child, I would regularly read the dictionary and thesaurus just to learn new words and to see how those words interacted with or held similarities with other words. I have no idea where that interest comes from as no one else in my instant family has the same level of curiosity with words and writing. Not that my siblings aren’t artistic and intelligent in their own right, they certainly are those things.

But my very favorite things in life are words and old maps and perhaps mac-n-cheese. My Achilles heel, however, is numbers. Numbers and mathematical equations have never been friends of mine. My mom is super smart. I’ve been told she has an IQ of 160. But mama is one of those types who loves numbers and formulas and good scotch. She might love words too, I don’t know, but she certainly doesn’t outwardly exhibit signs of being a word lover.

My dad, as far as I know, was neither a fan of numbers or words. He had a love for drawing, maps, fried green tomatoes, cigarettes, and oyster stew. Unfortunately, one of those things killed him at much too young an age. I never really got to know much else about him as I never knew him as an adult. He died during the most selfish period of my life, teen-dom.  

Between the three of us, we’d probably struggle to formulate a decent dinner menu, but there are distinct similarities that have been promulgated within me as a result of my embryotic journey. Some of which, I’m delighted to have gotten for free. Other not so pretty chromosomes, I’d love to set free. Free to a good home, slightly used chromosomes.

My personality more closely resembles that of my mothers’, but I clearly see little parts of my dad peeking back at me in the mirror from time to time. Plus, I do love old maps and fried green tomatoes. The curly hair? Well, that was my grandmothers’ gift or curse, depending on what day it is. All that hot wind just to say that I am definitely not a carbon copy of anyone.

What about siblings you say? I was just about to mention that. Yes, I have three and we’re all very different. I’d love to go into more detail about my family peeps but this here blog is about me, right? So, lets expose them one at a time as they do weird things I might want to write about. Or instead make a pact not to reveal each other’s adolescent misadventures over a glass of our mother’s scotch.  I think I’d prefer what’s behind door number 2.

What about our parental responsibilities in the development of our children’s personalities, work ethic, citizenship, responsibility, honesty, etc.? I mean, I’ve been down the road of parenthood myself and somehow survived. How effective can our lessons really be, and did our influences change the outcome of their personality? I think so. If a good portion of our personality and intelligence comes from nurturing, then of course each experience a child encounters will contribute to the child’s overall world view, as well as the decisions he or she makes when its their turn to make choices.

I don’t believe that anyone can be the parent they truly aspire to be. That is, if you aspire to be great at it. We may come close; you may even achieve a certain level of trust with your child that looms enormously large in their minds. And if that’s the case, good on you, but there’s a big responsibility that comes from having adult children who idolize an imperfect parent. You can rarely live up to those sorts of ideals and eventually their world will come crashing down when they realize you’re just as confused as they are.

We often see identity as an immutable object, a thing that we possess, and a force that we are possessed by. But as we go through life, the roles that we fill – dutiful child, rebellious teen, doting parent – are more than just clothes that we can put on and take off at will, but facets of who we always were, facets that lay hidden only until we need them to surface. I mean, who would have known that I would be expected to love Hockey?

Well, those latent skills still lie latent somewhere deep in my psyche, never having found the right potion to wake them up. But when you suck, just be a good actor. And, much like actors, we may seek out certain parts, but all too often, the parts we end up playing are given to us as much by circumstance as by our own decisions, so that the Introvert is suddenly thrust into the spotlight while the Extravert is left moving scenery backstage.

I’ve learned through the experience of writing this that around 40% of our personality is stemmed from our inherited genes. This according to Dr. David Funder, Psy Prof, U of Cal – Riverside. This leaves lots of room for considerable amounts of influence from environmental factors (i.e., where you live, cultural influences, life experiences and exposures). If you happen to carry a certain gene that affects serotonin, you may have a higher risk of depression and anti-social behavior, but perhaps only if your childhood is marked by severe stress or maltreatment.

It’s kinda crazy to think that even the most level and sane among us may carry a gene or even sets of genes that could have made them bat-shit-crazy; but, because they might have had good parents, the bat-shit-crazy part never surfaced, and the town-hero part was cultivated instead. Somewhere are a bunch of cats rescued from a tree by a fireman all knowing that the same fireman could have just as easily been one of those cat killing types…except that his dad told him he loved him and, of course, those important words fixed everything.

Even identical twins have different personalities. Twins will share 50% of several different personality traits. Fraternal twins will share 30% of several different traits, and non-twin siblings also share around 30%. More interesting to me, however, is that non-biologically related children raised by the same parents share around 7 %, which demonstrates just how powerful influences, home, neighborhood, opportunities, friends, and social status can affect someone’s personality.

Scientists haven’t isolated the genes that might carry markers for all personality traits quite yet. But we do know that genes work together with other genes to influence their expression. It could take several different genetic combinations for a child to develop a certain personality trait. Genes can switch on and off again, due to several different factors – sometimes because of genetic influences. Genes can also affect chemical messengers such as serotonin and dopamine, which both have a profound effect on the brain and can influence personality traits such as anxiety or shyness.

It’s just unimaginable to me that one could ever truly master the science of genetics, especially as it relates to personality and intelligence. As hard as my tiny little brain tries to wrap itself around every kernel and crumb of personality science, life experiences will do a cannon ball in the gene pool and change the genetic recipe all over again. All this uncertainty makes me think I should have picked a less complicated subject to write about, perhaps next time we will talk about cheese.

All I’m thinking right now is, my poor, poor parents. What a complicated game of “Taking a Turn in the Cabbage Patch” these two novices were playing and didn’t even know better. They might have been safer playing Russian Roulette. I mean, let’s get real; these tiny little helpless creatures we’re producing are complicated as hell.

I mean, you pay too little attention to your children or the opposite, become overly protective – not realizing how each path you take can impact the grown-up people our children become in totally different ways. While mothers are the ones who most often get blamed for the insecurities and character flaws of children, it’s actually the fathers who play a bigger role in a child’s personality.

According to the latest research, children are likely to pay more attention to the parent in their lives which they perceive as having the higher interpersonal power or prestige. In a good number of families, not in all cases, the parent who most often fits that bill is the father.

My experience was just the opposite. My father was a hard worker and a supervisor at his mostly blue-collar profession. But my mom, a white-collar professional with accolades, accomplishments, and power, was the one I looked up to most. My mother is incredibly smart but somewhat aloof. She’s not a nurturing sole, she’s a pragmatic and sensible spirit with a high dose of I-don’t-give-a-rats-ass.

My father, however, was from a more modest background, was extremely well-liked and gregarious with his friends while my mother was from a slightly more sophisticated social circle and a bit more urban. My mom worked early in their marriage but like most mothers of the 1960’s, she stopped working when she started having kids.

That went on for quite a while because she was having kids for quite a while. She didn’t work a job again until I was about five years old. When she decided to do so, she hit the ground running and was a rockstar among females in the corporate world, breaking barriers and glass ceilings way before people referred to them as glass ceilings.

I think she got so much attention that it scared my father to death. He really struggled with my mother’s successes in sales so there was some serious pressure from within the marriage for my mom to change professional directions. She eventually left the career she loved and moved into a position in finance. Something she was also great at, but, of course, a job she didn’t really enjoy.

 Even after that move, she was still a rockstar. About a decade before her retirement, she was a corporate controller for a fairly large office furniture company in Nashville. The company she worked for was purchased by a Canadian company and announced it was moving to Quebec. She was asked/invited to move to Quebec in order to secure her position. My mother refused to move with the company, choosing to stay at home in Tennessee. So, instead, the company offered to pay for her to travel from Nashville to Quebec every week.

My mom traveled like that until the day she retired, at least a dozen years or so later. She was clearly an integral and important figure in that large corporate environment. So, while it’s easy to write nice things about a parent or tell folks how smart they are, it’s not always easy to find an example, such as I just did. My mom is a difficult person to get to know. But despite her general aloofness, she has always been a rock star to me.

So contrary to the experts, it was actually my mother whom I perceived as having the higher interpersonal power and prestige – not my father. So, of course, my mother is to blame for all my character flaws…uhm, just kidding mom. Well, maybe some but certainly not all.

Another thing the “experts” say is that simply spending time with your parents can help an individual develop better social skills and higher levels of confidence. You hear that Jon? Let me say it again in case you glossed over the previous sentence. The “experts” say that simply spending time with your parents can help an individual develop better social skills and higher levels of confidence.

This positive effect on our kids is deemed especially strong in studies when time is spent with the father. It sounds like the experts are working for dad, huh? However, it is also said that too much praise and attention is linked to the development of narcissistic personalities. Apparently, we should never tell our children that they are better or more special than other children. It’s far better to simply encourage positive behavior and acknowledge that they’re capable of high achievement – just like so and so.

So, just like most of my blogs, we don’t really learn as much about others as we learn about ourselves. I mean, when you think about it, what can we do to change or affect how other people interact with us? We can’t! So, I think its more important that we take what we learn about life and cultivate a better self with it. In the end, all we have is who we were. But, just maybe my son will want to take advantage of the newest opportunities science has to offer…spending time with dear old dad.

100 Million Miles

The whole world it seems has been impacted by the dreaded COVID-19 pandemic which has left many of us with a good bit less to do; we’re either working from home, laid off or furloughed from our jobs. And Lord knows we have all watched a great deal more television than normal; at least I know Emily and I have. Maybe the world will get lucky and we’ll all become a tad bit better informed as a result.

I guess though, that really would depend on whether we’re spending our television time watching shows like 90 Day Fiancé or the more informative stuff like Discovery Channel. As far as I know, there has been no official announcements or directives from Dr. Fauci as to which programs we’re supposed to be watching…at least not yet anyway. Me being the chameleon I am, I generally watch all sorts of unrelated stuff, but always devouring lots of information TV along the way.

One thing that has been quite noticeable about my life from a safe-distance is that I haven’t written as much lately. You’d think a fella like me who gets off on writing silly stories about nothing would write more often when given the opportunity. I guess, like a lot of people who enjoy writing, I began to wonder why I do it and who really gives a damn. I just wasn’t really all that motivated to just dig in and create.

What I’ve decided, at least for myself, is at the end of the day it really doesn’t matter who gives a damn as long as I do. And its not even like that really; writing is not necessarily something I feel called to do nor do I have an important story I’m itching to tell. There are just times when I get an idea stuck in my head and it amuses me to tinker around with the idea at the expense of your time and available brain cells.

Writing for me is that exploration of thought. It is a silent journey I take alone then later translate into something entertaining or thought provoking for others to share along with me. When people respond or “like” what I’ve decided to share, it somehow makes me feel more centered with the universe. I instinctively know that other people out in the world are thinking about the same things or are at least get what I am saying.

Last week I was watching one of my favorite shows and I heard, yet again, that our sun is almost 94 million miles away from Earth. That translates to about 150 million kilometers for my European readers. How many times do you think I might have saw or heard that same information while in school or in my general life over the last 55 years? I can’t say for sure but I’m confident I’ve come across it several times and never really cared all that much. I mean, what does that have to do with me, really?

But, for some strange reason, the thought of our sun being that far away from Earth really struck a chord with me. I started to think about all the light and heat energy emanating from it and how powerful that energy must be in order for it to have such a strong impact on us, nearly 100 million miles away.

Universally, my mind wandered around to what life would be like if Earth had just landed one million miles different, nearer or farther, than where it this ended. Would Earth have the ability to sustain life as we know it if we lived just a million miles closer or farther away in our solar system?

Something poignant sprang to my mind for the first time. That was: nearly a hundred million miles from here, deep in outer space, is an enormous sphere of hot plasma and fire producing enough light and heat energy to vaporize pretty much everything, yet, by the time all that energy gets to us, it’s perfect… it is just right!

How many of you out there got married before you were mature enough to know how to be a good spouse? I count myself among all of you for sure. It’s an unfortunate statistic but we all want things we’re not ready to have. How many of you had a driver’s license before you were mature enough to be a safe driver? I could go on and on, right?

But when I think about how I got here, to this exact place where I am today and the path I took with all of its crooked roads, potholes, dead ends and roundabouts, it seems quite unlikely that I would have landed right here in this exact place. And when I analyze my wife’s life under the same lens, and formulate all of the things that did happen, didn’t happen, were supposed to happen, etc., and how it all ended up with us together and happy for so long. It kinda blows my mind. It it worthy of a blog; I think so?

I’m not suggesting that either of us are perfect or “just right” for anyone else, I’m just acknowledging what we both know, that we’re just right for each other and probably wouldn’t have been if we’d met each other 10 years prior. Just like if our sun were a million miles closer, we might have crashed and burned.

I won’t pretend to understand or even analyze karma or fait or divine intervention. Maybe they are all the same thing, I don’t know. But there is an order about things in this world that defies our ability to know every answer or formulate every hypothesis. Some things just happen because they are supposed to happen. Consequently, some things are allowed to happen to us because we can’t grow if we’re allowed to self-insulate ourselves from the kinds of pain we must learn to endure if we intend to be happy.

I know this is way too early for a birthday card, so I have made it a blog instead. But I’ve learned the hard way; when inspiration hits you, it is always the right time to say something that needs to be said.

Writing is literally my only superpower. Its easy for me to express myself with the written word but I’m not a naturally expressive person in my daily life. So, in my open life, I’ve learned to say nice things when I think nice things. Otherwise, I never say enough nice things.

Saying and expressing the type of kindness my loved ones deserve to know hasn’t always been something I’m great at doing. I’m analyzing my weaknesses by writing about them and doing my best to let others really know who I am by making an effort to do better.

If you have things you really want to say, I encourage you to do the same thing. The people who count on you, psychologically, will be able to let things go and move forward when they have confidence in your support and understand who you really are and just how much you really love them.

This journey of life never ends, no matter how short yours may end up. Think about it. I often think about what my great grandfathers were like. I have sat in a restaurant in Wales, eating fish & chips, that was once my 12th great grandfathers’ home. Thousands of ancestors grace the pages of my family tree. These people, long since dead, are still part of my life and their energy will continue to radiate in my own story if I allow their voices to be heard; but its my choice isn’t it?

If we’re going to live forever, we may as well be known for saying kind things. It’s a very long road to travel but seemingly shorter and shorter with every year that passes. I’m comforted to know that no matter how far away you go, no matter how lost you seem to be, there’s a very good chance you will end up in exactly the right place.

That is precisely what happened to me. I started off so far away from where I am today. I’ve been happy, sad, emotionally drained and on top of the world. I have failed and succeeded; I’ve contemplated life elsewhere; and, I’ve overstayed my welcome when I should have moved on. But through every experience and around every curve, I have managed to survive long enough to land right here in this exact place.

Likewise, the energy from the sun is immense; it’s far too untamed and powerful to experience close up. While it is almost hundred million miles away, it only takes 8 seconds to get from there to here. The gap between the lives Emily and I lived were, it seemed, impossibly distant and likely incompatible. But here we are, a hundred million miles traveled, scarred, bruised, broken, duct-taped and put back together.

And yet, finally…just like the sun’s energy, everything is just right.

Should We Be Here? Humanity’s Obituary.

One of my many interests in life is the field of genealogy. I’ve been delving into the woodpiles of my family story for over three decades now and I’m still just as excited about the journey as I was when it all first began. I find it incredibly fascinating that modern technology has given us the tools to collate vast amounts of historical and ancestral data that we’re now able to trace our direct ancestors back hundreds or even thousands of years with relative ease. On top of all that and with the addition of DNA analysis, we can find distant cousins in obscure places across the globe, then assemble individual family records to sort of reverse engineer parts of our family trees otherwise impossible to unravel.

My favorite of all our vacations has thus far been our trip to Wales. During that trip, we were fortunate on one day to have our lunch in a 16th century pub named the “Old Swan Inn” in a tiny southern Welsh village called Llantwit Major. The significance; that pub once was the ancestral home of my 12th Great Grandfather Sir Robert Ragland (b. 1510 d. 1565). Just the ability to know that is super cool; but actually visiting and dining there among the same broken plaster walls, hand-hewn beams and squeaky wooden floors that my distant ancestors also experienced cannot be adequately described.

There were, of course, lots of other interesting and genealogically important places we visited on that trip, but I don’t want to bore you with the history of my maternal ancestry. I just wanted to share the one part of it that I think supports the overall gist of this story and get you thinking about the possibilities that lie ahead of you should you begin pursuing your own family story.

Not all the things I think about in my quiet moments are appropriate for every audience but there are a few thoughts I often have that I don’t mind sharing. One is this idea of how incredibly miraculous it is that any of us are actually here today. When you really sit back and delve into the odds, its unfathomable that we could be here by mistake. When I talk of odds, I mean the obstacles our forefathers and mothers endured to be able to pass on their DNA to us. You and I are the children of the sturdiest, smartest, luckiest, healthiest, strongest, fastest, surefooted’est group of men and women ever born. If they weren’t all these things, we surely would not be here today.

I guess, what brought about all these ideas is my insatiable appetite for history. I love to read. Lately, I’ve gotten interested in the history and evolution of Celtic and proto-Celtic peoples as they spread themselves through early Belgium (Gaul) and Germany (Germania), through the beginnings of a country we now call France (Frankia), then onto the island of Britain (Britannia) and across and up into Wales (Cambria), Scotland (Alba) and Ireland (Hibernia). That is, of course, not the only way humans made it to the islands and areas well-known today for their Celtic inhabitants; just their most prolific path.

This journey, as is the case for every tribe of humanity, was and is affected by a plethora of circumstances and decisions that shaped the future of these people. Some of which they had no control over and some of which they did. Either way, hundreds of millions of people gave their lives along the way, learning and evolving and becoming more disease resistant then passing down that new knowledge and those priceless immunities to their children and grandchildren.

That seams easy to say and read doesn’t it…hundreds of millions of people. Unfortunately, it does even for me. If I were not the author of this story, I might myself roll my eyes at someone talking about hundreds of millions of people. But, when I’m done here, I hope that you think twice or three times about the scope of what it really means to be you and be me.

Just think for a minute about the many things our humanity has survived: famines, plagues, natural disasters, religious inquisitions, and wars. Let’s look at plagues for a second.

Plagues: When you add the deaths brought on by Malaria, the Black Death, Measles, Smallpox, the Spanish Flu, the Plague of Justinian, Tuberculosis, the Bubonic Plague, the Antonine Plague and AIDS, you’re talking about nearly 7 Billion deaths. That’s close to the current (2019) population of the entire planet and about 22 times the population of the United States. There were literally villages in the middle ages that were completely wiped out by plagues. The bloodlines of entire families were wiped out in some cases.

If your family happened to have been one of the victims of any of those plagues, you literally would not be here today. There would have been about a 50/50 chance that you wouldn’t. But your family and my family were made of good stuff…the best stuff; so here you are today playing video games and getting your news from blogs, all so very thankful and mindful of the sacrifices made before you that allow you to simultaneously hold the high score in Donkey Kong AND Super Mario Odyssey for 2 years straight.

But seriously, what would our planet look like today had all those deaths not occurred? The human experience is complex. From massive amounts of death and destruction have arisen new antibodies and disease resistance that helped to carry our ancestors, the ones with the strongest immune systems of their day, on to reproduce and evolve further.

War: If we examine the aftermath of war, which by the way is incalculable, and break it down from Ancient Wars (549 BC to 450 AD), Medieval Wars (534 AD to 1487 AD) and Modern Wars (1494 AD to 2018), it is a scary picture indeed. Ancient Wars took about 60,000,000 people from us. That is not including the spouses and children who died from starvation as a result of the death of their soldier husband/father or the death of civilians when villages were pillaged. Medieval Wars took another 90,000,000 people. Modern Wars, however, have taken more than 465,000,000 people out of our gene pool.

By combining just the known casualties of recorded war acts, the numbers are staggering – more than 600 million people. But the reality is that there has always been war, much of it unrecorded. Entire peoples, languages and cultures have been eliminated by war. Remember the song lyrics, “my baby she’s a Chippewa, she’s a one of a kind”? Well, the tongue and cheek humor in those lyrics aren’t so funny if you’re a Chippewa, except, there are no Chippewa left are there?

Religion: Religious persecutions, insurrections and inquisitions have been quite the DNA altering influences as well. More than 10,000,000 documented people have been intentionally and quite gruesomely murdered at the hands of various religious sects, orders, church’s, etc., in the absolute belief that God instructed them to do it.

It’s amazing to me that even an evolved and otherwise healthy human mind can be influenced to believe and to justify the complete intolerance of another’s beliefs and ideals. We see militant religious intolerance to this very day from every nook, cranny and political sphere known. There are some human conditions for which no cure could ever be invented – because perhaps we don’t want really want to be cured.

Famine: Famine is not something to sneeze at in our world history either. Just in China alone, widespread famines have taken the lives of over 80,000,000 Chinese family descendants. Russia too has a long and painful history of famines; the cumulative effect of which numbers close to 21,000,000 people.

Just think for a minute what it would have been like to live in either China or Russia during any of the dozens of separate national famines of those era’s. I remember news reports from my teens showing thousands of Russians standing in bread lines to get rationed food. These are not just historical era problems from a more barbaric past. Famines are also current events.

When the widespread push of Communism was spreading through Western Europe after WWII, the U.S. and its Allies were just as concerned about famine and hunger as they were about totalitarianism. People were dying by the millions. The U.S. alone spent more than 13 Billion dollars on foreign aid to western Europe from 1948 to 1951 in order to save lives.

Ethnic Indians too have lost nearly 60,000,000 people to famine over their recorded history and Africa has lost 20,000,000 just in the 20th century alone. When you look at famine deaths worldwide, it’s not difficult to figure out that we’re pretty darn lucky that our particular ancestors were somehow able to survive to leave us this healthier legacy – the importance of which we may or may not have figured out for ourselves.

Natural Disaster: Along with all the other drama and dysfunction happening before we existed, our poor forefathers also dealt with other issues you may not have thought about. Our planet has endured 5 separate ice ages, thousands of earthquakes, volcano eruptions, banana peel falls, floods, wildfires, hurricanes, tornadoes, asteroid collisions, pterodactyl attacks, mud slides and who knows what all else. I have no way of calculating the total deaths and migrations associated with the ice ages and it would be impossible to account for the historic numbers of people affected by the other events I mentioned.

I think though it would be more than fair to assume that millions and millions of our ancestors have been eliminated from our genetic heritage as a result of natural disasters. If you’ve ever been fortunate to visit the ancient city of Pompeii on the Amalfi Coast in Italy, you’ve probably met what’s left of some of these unfortunate ancestors in person.

So, for those of you who’ve not been keeping up with the score, we’ve passed the current worldwide population (7 Billion) by over 8 hundred million people. This unfortunate fraternity of humanity, I’ll call the Friends Without Benefits Club, are an anomaly for sure. Many of them never had the chance to pass on their DNA, but we know they made enormous contributions to our survival that will never be fully appreciated as we mostly have no names, books, statues or poems from which to memorialize them.

These were not just heroes of their villages and cultures who sacrificed themselves as soldiers in order to keep their family’s DNA safe. These folks were also the guinea pigs of early humanity who donated their existence to a science that was not yet knowable.

When you are at your lowest moments and you question why you are here or whether anyone would care if your gone, think about all the good karma that saw to it your existence was even possible. Even my dog has a reason to be here. None of us are accidental. None of us are incidental.

And when you begin to feel the pains of intolerance to anyone for anything. Step back a second and remember how radical intolerance begins. It begins with justified intolerance. Sometimes a justified intolerance for people who have a justified intolerance toward you and your ideals. Said differently, they may think you’re just as weird as you think they are.

Try instead to cultivate the grace within you and recognize that everything in this world has its own time, and perhaps…just perhaps, there is a very good reason things are the way they are. Time is temporary. Be patient and tolerant and it will soon all change.

This Little Piggy Went “Wa Wa Wa” All The Way Home

This is 2019; we still don’t have jet packs and I still can’t find an answer as to why I was born without pinky toe nails. When I was a child, I accepted my mom’s perfectly sound explanation, “You’re the youngest of four Chris; I just ran out of those things by the time you were born.” Now being middle aged, I’m beginning to struggle with my mom’s explanation. I’m also pissed off that the National Institute of Health has yet to fund any ground-breaking research into the matter.

Clearly, I am not the only person on the planet that is afflicted with the absence of a proper claw for my nethermost nubins. In fact, just last week Emily asked the lady who does our pedicures if it was a common thing. Her reply gave me some shaky confidence, “Oh yes, verwee verwee common, many good customers have foot like you.” But then she turned to a Vietnamese co-worker and said something that sounded kinda like…, “Nguoi dan ong nay coi giay va khac.” Which I later learned could be interpreted loosely as, “This man take off shoe and is real different.”

No one seems to know! Even Wikipedia is silent on the matter. The closest thing I can find on the internet is a podiatrist in Iowa saying that some people don’t have toe nails on certain toes…duh! This doesn’t help me.

I feel like a freak show every time I strip my shoes off in public. My pinky toes are shaped perfect, they just don’t wear any underwear. It’s embarrassing. I don’t even get a discount for my pedicures which is actually insane to me.

I should, at minimum, get one of those blue handicapped thingee’s that you hang on your car’s rear-view mirror because walking a long distance from a parking space gives one way too much time to think about the lack of appropriately formed appendages.


“You’re the youngest of four; I just ran out of those things by the time you were born.”

But now, thanks to ground-breaking scientific studies, we know with certainty how long it takes the average mammal to pee – 21 seconds, give or take 13 seconds. The world was also recently informed of a much anticipated scientific study to determine where on the body a bee sting hurts the most. The nostril, the upper lip and the penis shaft. That’s good news for the ladies out there and a good trade-off for the burden of childbirth. Lastly, we now know without any doubt, thanks to recent scientific studies, that a chicken walks funny when you attach a weighted stick to its ass. I don’t know about you, but I really needed to know these things.

I’m still waiting on one of these chicken-stick scientists to have a child who’s lacking a little bit, you know, down there, and summon the courage to beg the question…why no toe nail? Perhaps if the birth rate of no-nailers could be shown to increase or decrease during years of climate change, we may get the answers we all need.

I’ve decided to make up a kind of Big Lebowski-esque kidnapping story and tell everyone that I sacrificed my baby toe nails to save the planet. Then maybe I can begin to look people square in the face again. “You want a toe nail? I can get you a toe nail, believe me; I’ll get you two!”

RhineFahrt’n Is My Super Power

What exactly is a RhineFahrt anyway? Well, Rhine refers to the name of a river in Europe and the German word/conjunction Fahrt is used in that language predominantly to refer to travel or traveling. If you’ve ever driven the autobahn then you’ve surely noticed the signage at the exit ramps – Ausfahrt. Emily and I recently visited Europe once again for a Rhine River cruise and my juvenile mind couldn’t resist but to pay more attention to the silly-looking signage than to the abundance of castles littering the picturesque landscapes along the river.

Despite all of the translation incompatibilities, it’s still lots of fun to make up humorous new phrases using the most vulnerable German words. This one was lowing-hanging-fruit as they say, and it’s healthy to keep people snickering just a lil’ bit. I can’t help it; new languages always bring out the 9th grader in me.

I have to throw out a few kudos to Gate One Travel who arranged and guided us to safely fahrt along the Rhine from Amsterdam to Boppar then by coach to Lucerne. I’m always surprised and delighted to trust them with our travel itinerary as their attention to detail, accommodations, and problem solving efforts have repeatedly convinced me that they’re absolutely the best deal in international travel.

We had a rather surprising event on our trip this year. Mother Nature and her annoying friend Murphy called upon us and suddenly our wet fahrt up the Rhine suddenly turned to shit. The Rhine had record low water levels due to a summer drought and we were eventually forced to abandon our comfortable river barge in exchange for a series of motor coach rides and hotel stays. Thankfully, we were at least able to fahrt more than half-way up river before holding our noses and abandoning our comfortable ship.

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I must say, however, that although this wasn’t necessarily the vacation we were hoping for, Gate One Travel did an amazing job of catering to our every whim and desire. They worked very hard to help turn a bad situation into a positive experience. Now, if we could only talk them into booking future vacations without Chinese guests, life while abroad would be especially nice.

“There are only two things I hate in this world: People who are intolerant of other people’s cultures and the Dutch.” – GoldMember

Don’t get me wrong, I’m no bigoted, belittling, bastard traveler.  It’s just that my experiences with foreign travel and the accompaniment of Chinese tourists has made me realize the Chinese people have no real sense of personal space – at least not like the typical rural residing American. It could be likely due to many of them living in extremely densely populated cities. Pushing and shoving their way through crowds and jockeying to always be first in line. It could be that their seemingly general disregard for group decorum may be a sort of Nuevo-Confucianism – it gets the job done in a very efficient way. Heck, what do I know – I’m just a dumb redneck.

I guess I’m probably being way too judgmental; Big city folks in every country are probably just like that…uhhh, nope I take that back. My New York and Boston traveling companions are nothing like that. That cements it, it’s just the Chinese.

To the guy like me who has a two-hundred acre back yard – the pushing and posturing just seems plain ole rude. If I happen to make it to a door first, all I’m going to do is to hold it open for a lady or two anyway. Trust me, I’m no threat to you going in the door first. Other than their fahrting style, Chinese people are great in every other way. We’ve met some terrific Chinese people in our travels and on an individual level they’ve been especially great conversationalists and overall decent people; I just think their way of fahrting really stinks.

Now, who fahrted anyway? Oh yea, it was me. And boy did I! Actually, Emily and I were fahrting together but who cares about the semantics of a blog? No one reads blogs anyway and I just lost all 5 of my Chinese subscribers. Now I’m down to my mom, my two sisters, and the 3 Dutch bicyclists who are planning my death after the last blog I wrote.

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Who’s counting anyway? Despite the travel challenges we sometimes face, Emily and I have grown to really love all this tag-team fahrting we’ve been doing lately. To be honest, her profession has made her quite the expert on the subject. No one fahrts quite like my wife and I’m so fortunate to be able to relax and trust that her frequent fahrting will always put us miles ahead. Hmm, maybe that’s why the Chinese don’t like being behind us … haven’t thought of it that way before.

Oh well, our vacation actually began in Amsterdam which was beautiful in its own unique way but quite different than I expected. If you love 17th century architecture and the odor of people smoking weed in public then it’s a must see. The feel of this city is very much enhanced by all the canals and arch bridges in a quasi-Venice sort of way. Don’t be mistaken, however, it’s not Venice. Think about it, they did invent the Dutch Oven here. Other than that, you get really hungry walking around in Amsterdam.

I think what makes the city fun is the overall feeling of acceptable debauchery. The red-light district contributes to that “anything goes” expectation. But in reality, people suck down their mini-bong fumes all about town like it’s the newest bestest oxygen out there. No one ever quite feels like they’re not in some sort of red light district anyway – which is fun in its own way I guess. It’s a bit like a college panty-raid. It ain’t exactly illegal but it makes you feel dirty and excited all at the same time. The biggest difference being, you can’t take the bong home as a souvenir.

I can’t help but to mention, because I’ve seen this time after time, the McDonalds restaurants in Europe are nothing like we know in America. They are actually extremely nice, well-appointed with beautiful Chandelier lighting, super clean restrooms, and warm, friendly, professional employees. I don’t know what they pay McDonalds employees in Europe but it must be pretty good. Sometimes you pay to use the super awesome restrooms and sometimes you just get a code on your receipt and use the code to enter the vault like bathroom door. Either way, when you’re fahrting like crazy, and need a good place to rest your legs, you can never go wrong with a European McDonalds.

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The first leg of the Rhine River from Amsterdam, Holland to Cologne, Germany is quite industrial, flat and featureless. It leaves you ample opportunity to unwind a while to enjoy a good long relaxing fahrt. You’ll need to blow off some steam for Cologne as it is a busy place indeed.

As Emily and I fahrted along the quaint and ancient streets, hand-in-hand, experiencing the quaint old town of Cologne, we noticed several decent antique shops – a passion we both share. Maybe even equal to that of a great fahrt. As with most other European cities which were originally Roman outposts, there are unique sites both old and new to discover around every corner.

Cologne has a fantastic museum in the center of their old town. The story told to us was that Hitler was building a museum there and discovered a fantastic Roman villa about 30 feet below ground during the excavation. He decided to construct the museum entirely around the ancient site. Gee, and here I was thinking Hitler was an asshole.

The museum is located adjacent to the cathedral, a magnificent Gothic styled cathedral having as its architectural triumph, some of the tallest spires of any other Gothic cathedral in the world. The inside of the magnificent building is perhaps not as elaborate as many we’ve visited but it is said to hold the remains of the Three Wise Men inside its sequestered catacombs.

We were not able to access or figure out where the Wise Men may have been located as none of the signage offered an English translation, a rare thing in Europe and also ironic due to having the most famous wise men in the history of our world being cloistered in a place that denies its wisdom to non-German speakers.

Afterward, I noticed that Germany is pretty much like that everywhere. Few English translations anywhere. They have English signage in Slovenia and Croatia and Hungary and Czechia and Slovakia and Montenegro and Austria and Italy and France and Turkey and Ecuador and Spain and Greece and Bosnia and Japan, China, Egypt, and Colombia but not in Germany. This particular fahrt doesn’t pass the smell test.

Enough of my rant; aside from all that stuff, Cologne is amazingly home to what Emily and I would describe as some of the best pizza in the entire world. Forget Naples Italy, visit Cologne. Rob and Rachel would also agree. In fact, the four of us fahrted happily all the way back to the ship afterward – talking about the fantastic German pizza we enjoyed together.

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Leaving  Cologne, we sailed to Koblenz. The Rhine was becoming more scenic after leaving the big city of Cologne so the fahrting was much more intensified.  Koblenz is a small city which was once a very important place. It has both Roman and later royal German ancestry with an amazing Romanesque cathedral. It is also an important wine region of Alsace so if you are a wine connoisseur, Koblenz is a great place to visit for their annual wine festival. It’s also important to mention that the drought was very serious in this region (2018) so the wine produced here (Alsatian Riesling’s) are expected to be fantastic for this year.

Next, we traveled to the village cities of Spay and Boppar, then took a tour of the 12th century castle called Marksburg. It is the only hilltop castle along the Rhine that is completely original, never damaged by war or time. All of the other 40’ish or so hilltop castles along the Rhine have been destroyed and rebuilt over time. The castle is an amazing time-capsule of the medieval life of sovereigns.

Boppar was as far as our ship could travel before being forced to dock. As a result, the travel company decided to book a smaller boat to take us a couple hours further upstream to see another dozen or so hilltop castles along the Rhine – knowing we’d entirely miss them otherwise. Later we dined in the town and slept aboard our ship for the last time then in the morning boarded our new coach – the SMY Zardine Kan, and took a lengthy fahrt to the city of Koblenz, Germany.

The most memorable thing that happened in Boppar was our dinner conversation at a fine Italian restaurant. The tables were topped with fine white linens, the flatware was decent and the ambiance was sophisticated German/Italian with its dozen or so sophisticated patrons conversing quietly among themselves. Suddenly, when our group conversation inadvertently steered in the direction of Adolph Hitler, albeit humorous (to us), Rachel blurted out in an absurdly loud manner, “Did ya’ll know that Hitler is a very common name…blah, blah, blah……” (Rob silenced Rachel just quick enough that it triggered one of those “it would be really rude to laugh out loud right now so I can’t help but to laugh out loud for ten minutes” kind of situation).

The otherwise quiet room turned cold and sterile almost immediately. Then, after a long laugh, we had to gently explain to Rachel that German people don’t really like for people to talk openly about that terribly convincing and manipulative Austrian. It really makes them Fuhrer-ious (sorry).

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On to the city of Darmstadt, Germany and our hotel the Maritim – not the greatest in the world but very good considering they had to find a decent place for 150 guests on extremely short notice. Oh well, what’s to complain about – I’m in Germany touring castles and wineries instead of reviewing subdivision plats and writing zoning ordinances.

We left Darmstadt in the morning enroute to the city of Speyer which is one of the oldest cities in Germany with a Roman military camp established in 10 BC. In 150 AD the town first appears on the world map by Greek geographer Ptolemy as the city of Noviomagus. In the 7th century AD, a Frankish tribe called the Nemetes settled here and named it Spira. The impressive Speyer Cathedral, drenched in history itself, holds the tombs of eight (8) Holy Roman Emperors and German Kings. Leaving Speyer, we fahrted the entire way to Strasbourg, France.

Strasbourg is an absolutely gorgeous city. The combination of French and German culture/language/architecture/cuisine is a very fun thing to experience. We took a long group-fahrt through the old town until reaching the impressive Notre Dame cathedral. She is absolutely fantastic – the most impressive thing inside (to me) being the 16th century astronomical clock – reminiscent of the Prague astronomical clock (Prague Orloj). Also of note, the American monument men (see movie) were able to discover and rescue the original medieval stained glass windows of this cathedral after WWII, returning them back to their original positions. It’s definitely a must-see city along the Rhine.

While there, we enjoyed this typical Alsatian pizza thingee (not really a pizza) called “tarte flambée” or flammekueche in Alsatian. It’s an Alsatian flatbread topped with a layer of cheese (fromage blanc), onions and bacon and maybe some sour crème, baked in a brick oven. It looks like pizza so we were all jonesing for another Cologne type pizza experience and just ordered it like pros. We all ate it, and…liked it for the most part. But, it is definitely an unusual taste for our redneck palates. Oh well.

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We crossed back over into Germany to the beautiful city of Baden-Baden to spend the night at the Radison Blue hotel. Baden-Baden is a quaint but elegant, albeit redundant ( I crack myself up), German village with a very ritzy casino. The name basically translates to Spa-town, named by the Roman’s, but it really must have been a crazy terrific spa town because someone named it twice. I theorized that perhaps the Roman Governor spoke with a stutter and his subordinates were too afraid to correct him. It’s a good story anyway. We were pretty tired so fortunately there was no fahrting in the spa. Just some sushi for dinner and on to bed.

It was at this point of our trip where everyone was beginning to show signs of exhaustion. Two-week trips are great because you’re not turning around and flying home a few days after arrival but it can also be stressful if you load your itinerary up with excursions and side trips like we’re accustomed to do. The theory being, “I’m only here once in my life – maybe, so why not see as much as I can in one trip?”

First by ship, then by bus, we continued on our course by parting whatever waves and breaking glorious wind to take us to lands we’d scarcely, if at all, heard about. And just like that, we were in just such a place, Colmar, France by way of Brisach, Germany. Brisach is a 4000 year old city that is pronounced in English as Brysa. It’s very quaint, only having a couple thousand people. The ancient part of the once walled city sits atop a tall round hill with a large cathedral sitting atop – reminiscent of our visit to the Croatian city of Rovinj.

It was lunch time and we were not going to stop again until 3 PM so it was important that we grabbed some lunch in Brisach. We found a cutsie café on the old town called the Café Conditorei Bachtel and ordered some sandwiches. We discovered that the place is run by people who hate life, hurt babies and horde food. I say this because a few minutes after we sat and ordered sandwiches, Rachel returns red-faced from the inside of the café, mad as a wet hen, claiming the café staff were extremely rude to her. She had to walk it off while we awaited our orders – food that never arrived.

We think the staff were ticked off at Rachel so they stitched us on having lunch that day. Certainly not wanting to be impolite to the French, we left enough money on our table to pay for our full lunch, demonstrating to them a real example of sophistication and class, and just left hungry. The waitress confronted me for leaving, saying “you should have told us you were in a hurry”. My response, 45 minutes after having ordered a sandwich, “if you had ever returned to our table, even once, perhaps I could have.” I think we all just needed a good fahrt, not wanting to make a stink of things – so on we went.

Crossing back into France to the picturesque city of Colmar was a pleasant retreat from the stench of tour-bus fahrting. It is a mostly medieval city with cobblestone streets lined by half-timbered early Renaissance homes and buildings with a Gothic 13th century church. Great shopping was to be had in this place, along with lots of interesting little food vendors and shops. Emily loaded up on her favorite French cooking salt Flour de Sel at the local grocer and I found a hot dog stand. After a quick snack, we loaded up the bus and fahrted all the way to Switzerland.

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Basel, Switzerland is yet another medieval city on the borders of Swizerland, France and Germany. In fact, the International airport there, although extremely poorly rated by its frequent flyers, offers the ability to exit the airport facility in either France or Switzerland. We again stayed at the Radisson Blu hotel, great in every one we’ve stayed in thus far, which was just around the corner from the 12th century Gothic cathedral that dominates the marketplatz and old town.

We didn’t really have an opportunity to spend any real time in Basel as we arrived late and left early the next morning headed for Lucerne, Switzerland. The hotel, however, was terrific. I may add that the fahrting toward Lucerne was extraordinary, in that it was beautiful. As one can imagine, the alpine vista’s and mostly agricultural scenery was quite picturesque.

Lucerne itself is amazing. The crown jewel, my opinion, of this entire flatulent affair. I asked Emily to pull-my-finger just to see if I might be dreaming. The significant old town is mostly intact with 16th century half-timbered homes and buildings and the Chapel Bridge, built in 1333, still spans the Reuss River as it flows from the gorgeous Lucerne Lake.

The Rosengart Art Museum was located across the street from our fantastic hotel, the Astoria Hotel, which boasts the largest private collection of Picasso artwork in the world. Emily and I were stunned by Mrs. Rosengart’s art collection which consisted of dozens of the famous Masters we all know as well as more than 150 pieces from Picasso. Our hotel boasted a Michelin Star Italian restaurant on premises, in which we indulged ourselves quite wonderfully.

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To completely sum up two weeks’ worth of fahrting in one paragraph, I would say that we spent considerably more money on this trip than any other European trip we’d thus far taken yet we enjoyed it less. The places were cool and quaint and charming but by-and-large not worthy of entire days of travel. The Danube River was our favorite river cruise so far and second to the Danube would be the Rhone, both of which were picturesque the entire way and took us to far more interesting cities and villages. Switzerland was the most amazing place we visited on this trip by far.

Overall, France rarely disappoints, when it comes to clean, well-planned and preserved old towns but during this trip France fell short in Brisach with the not-so-nice waitress. Germany, however, disappointed me from a town planner’s point of view. Historic sections of old villages are latticed with patchwork railway infrastructure and hilltop vistas are absolutely littered by gigantic steel windmills that ironically were designed to preserve nature. I guess if one gigantic mass of metal that captures clean, renewable wind-energy is good then 500 more must be great! Maybe we should put a few on the lawn of the Eifel Tower to help us light up all those flashing lights?

Aside from all my juvenile remarks, I love visiting Europe but I’m ready to go back home; all this fahrting is numbing my legs anyway.

Killer Bikes in Amsterdam

As Emily and I continue our life stories, pursuing adventures and widening our perspectives through the blessings of travel, it becomes inevitable that we will occasionally experience the “down-side” of otherwise great experiences. It’s kinda like having a great big bowl of Southern pinto-beans with some good ole chow-chow and some hot buttered cornbread – Newton’s third law (every action has an equal-opposite reaction) will forever be relevant.

When you think of Amsterdam, your mind can’t help but to conjure up certain well-known images. Usually, it’s the canals lined by 17th century row houses or perhaps it’s the colorful tulip fields, big chunky windmills, unruly Vikings with tangled hair, or maybe its of famous artists such as Van Gogh and Rembrandt. Of late, we might be more interested in what they do or smoke in the “red light district”.

What about your first instincts of Amsterdam? Have warm and fuzzy thoughts of millions and millions of bicycles ever been your first instinct? If so, you’re an asshole and you really need to grow the hell up and buy a car. Uhm, just kidding…ok, well, no I’m not.

Do you remember being a kid and laughing your guts out when your best friend wrecked his bicycle in the most insane way? I’m no longer ashamed to admit it because I now know that I’m not the only insensitive bastard out there who laughs out loud at other people’s crashes. The Germans, imagine this, actually invented a special word for the act of deriving pleasure from the misfortune of others – schadenfreude! The gal or guy who invented that word probably spent time vacationing in Amsterdam.

Pretty much everyone in the whole world hates bicyclists. If, however, you’re reading this blog from a distant planet who’s government already sterilized all of your fellow beings who were into bicycle riding a millennia ago, and you cannot comprehend the emotions shared by beings on your sister planet, just imagine on Christmas Day giving your precocious 6 year old son a real police badge, an assault rifle, three loaded magazines, a police car and a full tank of gasoline. The child you once thought you loved would do some pretty awful things right? Well that same child, after leaving prison, now has exactly what it takes to be a great cyclist. Just sayin.

A typical daily conversation in Amsterdam:

Tourist in Amsterdam: “Jesus freakin Christ! This 25 foot wide sidewalk is super nice but these asshole cycling sadists run me down every time I try to walk on it!“

Cyclist in Amsterdam: “Euupid Tseuurist! Stey uun yor tinee 2 feet svidevalk you dum dum, dis red painted zuper highvay is only for uun cyclists!”

Tourist in Amsterdam: “Screw you, Dutch asshole, I’m a f***ing American. We invented oxygen and you’re using way more of it than I’m comfortable with at the moment; plus, the word is actually TOURIST, not TSEUURIST! We probably invented that too.

Cyclist in Amsterdam: CRASH, OWW, OH F**K! “Euupid American, oh vell, more red paints for uun bicycle zuper highvay. Um de hur de hur de hur”.

It all makes complete sense when you factor in the enormous amount of marijuana being smoked in this city. Hell, even if you don’t smoke weed, you can get completely stoned out of your mind just by walking around town…any part of the city, not just the red light district. And if you’re riding a bike at 15 mph, it’s much like a continuous “shotgun”. But, trust me, those evil-doers on two wheels are definitely doing some shady stuff.

No shit, bicycles in Amsterdam are killing people and the world is asleep! Where’s Pol Pot when you really need him? Dutch sources report that in 2017, fatalities from bicycles exceeded those from cars. Yet the Dutch government seems to be doing everything they can to make things worse. They’ve built more than 500 kilometers of bike paths in the city – the most in the world.

What else? The city charges cars 5 Euros per hour to park a car while bikes litter up every bridge, canal bank, tree row, and front porch at no cost. They’re not using fuel so who’s paying for those miles and miles of red colored bicycle super highways – yeup, you guessed it. The car drivers are paying almost $7 bucks a gallon for gas, I’m guessing the sole source of funding for yet more and more miles of those fancy paved red carpets for this entitled group of serial killers on wheels.

Who do they think is gonna keep up those systems when they finally exterminate the last car driver and frighten off the last pedestrian? Seriously, this place literally has these things called “parking flats” which are essentially parking garages for bicycles which can hold between 2500 and 6000 bicycles. Used by commuters who might take the train into the city for work then grab their two-wheeled death machine from the “bike flat” then ride the extra distance to work. Bikes are a big deal in this place.

If you run a traffic signal, by car, in Amsterdam, the ticket cost is $240 euros. That’s a lotta jack. Are there traffic signals for the dreaded bicycles? Nope! How much sense does it make to replace hundreds of thousands of law-abiding car owners with an equal number of outlaw bicycle villains whom, as a group, have no intention to share those fancy red carpets with anyone else and who’re not contributing a single red cent financially to the machine that makes the whole damn thing work?

This place is so crazy over bicycles, they actually created a “bicycle Mayor” specifically to liaise with cycle groups. Yes, they actually have professional “bicycling” groups. The Nazis were looking for something to do after the big war so it seemed a natural fit. They just changed their names to fit in – Hans Hess could instantly become known as Venom Dingersloot and suddenly he can rule the entire world – only this time people are taking him seriously.

The “Mayor of Mayhem”, I’ll call her, decided that Amsterdam needed even more bike lanes and paths and that they should all be covered with roofs so riders outfits don’t get wet while cycling in the rain. Blood is fine; it’s the rain that sucks. Yeup!

Also reported was the fact that cars get 44% of available public parking space while bikes, used for more than 60% of local journeys, get only 11% of the available parking space. Seems horrific doesn’t it? I wonder how much larger in size, percentage wise, a car is over a bicycle? Would it matter?

We’re told that bicycles outnumber people in Amsterdam by 1.2 million. Literally, you stand at the edge of the red bike-lane for 10 minutes waiting for a quick opportunity to cross; the bikes number in the dozens coming from both directions – never stopping, seamlessly never ending, and certainly never slowing down or attempting anything mimicking courteousness.

Last year the city of Amsterdam recovered over 5000 bicycles from just one canal they were dredging. After cleaning them up and reconditioning them, the city of Amsterdam donated them to a 3rd world country. I’m trying hard to find out which country got them so I can avoid it in our future travels.

Amsterdam is often held up by public transport advocates as a modern, progressive city that accommodates cars, trams, canal boats, cyclists and pedestrians with ease but the image is at odds with reality. What is obvious from all this? When you allow one particular public interest group to dominate anything…anything at all, it will feed and grow itself at the expense of every other group. Schadenfreude…I’m really liking this word!

Revolvers vs. Auto-Loaders – What They Didn’t Teach You In Your Concealed Cary Course.

I don’t often write about firearms training, even though its been a big part of my adult life. But, people who know me expect me to do it. I guess this blog started off as a way to keep from being a one-trick pony. I wanted to write about random thoughts, advice, travel, and other things that would surprise most people who do know me well. I also wanted to write about things that wouldn’t bore people who’re brave enough to read my blogs. 

Technical writing is for technical people; people who are searching for knowledge, not entertainment. I’ve written technical articles most of my life, so forgive me if you’ve grown accustomed to my humor and sarcasm and expect a more entertaining read. This is definitely a technical piece of writing – so fair warning here, you may get bored if you’re not interested in the topic. With the proper warnings having thus been made, I hope you enjoy my perspectives on the pro’s and con’s of handgun types….

In every attempt, past or present, to contrast the differences between semi-automatic handguns and revolvers, the inevitable arguments over function superiority arise. Much like the arguments over political affiliations, there are those who will always refuse to acknowledge even the most obvious and objective criticisms, especially when holding tight to long standing beliefs.

In a distinct comparison of two very different types of handguns such as found in this article, it is impossible to paint an accurate picture of each individual pro and/or con that is not void of some important contributing factor such as how the weapon will be used (i.e., target shooting or self-defense), and who will be using them (i.e., experienced or inexperienced shooters). With modern online forums these days, there is even a great deal of subjectivity concerning the issue of experience and inexperience. So, let’s skip the ego-centric BS and just get right to the issue.

My background gives me a unique perspective on the situation due to the fact that I began my law enforcement career during a time where revolvers still dominated as the standard police issue firearm. I became very proficient with the revolver and I still have a lot of love for quality made revolvers to this day. Within the span of my first five years, let’s say around 1988-1989’ish, law enforcement in my area began transitioning to the issuance of the semi-auto handgun in earnest.

I had begun my career with an S&W Model 66, chambered for .38 Special, and had recently graduated to the S&W Model 686 (.357 Magnum) when I got my first department issue autoloader, a Browning Hi-Power chambered for 9mm Luger. Although I attended my Firearms Instructor Training School with an autoloader, it was still early enough in the evolution of police issue firearms that the revolver was still widely issued. Several of my Instructor Development classmates still carried revolvers in 1989.

Within five years of service, my career steered toward the direction of Drug Enforcement so, of course, my weapon choices became somewhat tailored to that profession and suddenly I was being issued two sidearms, a primary and a backup. Over the course of my law enforcement career, I carried the Browning Hi-Power, the Sig Sauer(s) P226 9mm, P228 9mm, P229 .40 cal, P220 .45 ACP, and the P230 .380. I also carried the Glock 19, the S&W Mod(s) 67 .38 Spec., 686 .357 Mag., 629 9mm, 645 .45 ACP, and the Berretta Model 92F.

Not to leave you completely in the dark, I will say that I did experience one weapon malfunction during my career with my 1st Generation Glock 19. This was an incident that was duty related, and one that I’ll admit was mostly caused by human error exacerbated by certain physical characteristics of the 1st Gen. weapon.

The same malfunction would likely not occur with the modern Gen. 4 version of that handgun but it’s a scenario that is difficult to replicate. I say this because the deployment of a weapon in a non-deadly force environment is quite different than when we’re confronted with danger.

Our available motor skills work differently in non-stress training versus high stress/life or death incidents. While it took me several years to be brave enough to carry another Glock, I eventually summoned the courage to do it after my partner Tony and my wife conspired to buy me a birthday Glock and I’m happy they did.

My go-to handgun of choice, still today though, is my Sig Sauer P226 – like an old friend I guess.

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With that out of the way, let’s move on to the evaluation. We will primarily be discussing and evaluating the issues of reliability, maintenance, and accuracy. Although weapon features such as rounds capacity, caliber, and grip size, etc., are all important considerations in the handgun selection process.

That said, I will be assuming here that you, the reader, already understand those more commonly accepted attributes; foregoing those conversations for a later time and leaving room to explore and focus on what I consider to be the real meat and potatoes of handgun type selection.

Within is an illustration of what I consider to be the most important aspects of the individual operational pros and cons of both revolvers and auto-loading handguns. This includes my thoughts on reliability, maintenance, and accuracy, as well as my opinions on the weight I feel each of these features carry into the overall equations of where I hope you will rank them.

The majority of quarrels made between gun enthusiasts for either side of this common disagreement center around the issue of reliability. So it is this issue of reliable function that should be the focus and beginning of this process.

There are some commonly held beliefs that should first be explored. In fact, it is generally taught that revolvers are more reliable and of a much simpler design that semi-autos. Let us closely examine the complete issue of reliability and design-simplicity in order to challenge this conventional wisdom and also to professionally evaluate the level of subjectivity existing in the opinions we hold so confidently. If it’s true, let’s explain why it’s true; if not, let us accurately discern what is true.

Conversely, is it simplicity of use or simplicity of design that are being discussed when speaking about the revolver? These two features are definitely not the same thing and both qualities should be carefully studied.

Reliability – Common Malfunctions

First, let’s look closely at typical and non-typical handgun malfunctions. We can break them down into two distinct types or categories; jams and stoppages:

A jam is a major malfunction that ties the gun up so tight that there is no way that the shooter can swiftly restore the weapon to its functional state.

A stoppage, however, is a minor malfunction that can be quickly and easily cleared by the shooter in seconds, using only his or her hands – restoring the weapon to an operational condition.

Jams are usually caused by breakages, tolerance issues, lack of maintenance and operational limitations. They can also be caused by human error. Stoppages on the other hand are almost always caused by either human error or ammunition malfunctions. Stoppages can sometimes also be caused by worn or poorly maintained equipment.

A jam in a deadly force confrontation would spell disaster. A stoppage might cause the shooter a slight delay but if you train properly and include stoppage drills in your training scenarios, a stoppage could simply be a hiccup in a deadly force encounter that may not affect the outcome whatsoever.

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Common Semi-Auto Malfunctions

The most common problems that occur with auto-loaders are stoppages. The reason for this is actually pretty simple. Auto-loaders require that the shooter do his/her part; becoming part of the machine itself so-to-speak.

Revolvers are quite different in that way and do not require the shooter to do anything other than hold it and pull the trigger. The shooter of a semi-auto, by virtue of having a firm grip, will become part of the machine itself by providing the resistance needed for the weapons recoil spring to do its job. A shooter actually has to hold the semi-auto properly and with a firm grip or the recoil spring will not function as it was engineered to do.

Novice shooters with semi-auto handguns experience far more stoppages than experienced shooters because they rarely understand the mechanical relationship between the semi-automatic handgun and its marksman. One must know that the resistance you provide by having a firm grip is actually engineered into the functional design of the firearm.  As such, stoppages caused by poor grips account for the vast majority of the most common semi-auto handgun malfunctions.

Gripping the semi-auto improperly can result in the slide not moving rearward far enough to pick up the next available round in the magazine. Upon firing a round already chambered, the slide moves rearward and returns to battery, ejecting the spent round (sometimes not fully) but without picking up and loading the next round of ammunition from the magazine.

When this occurs, the handgun is thereby rendered inoperable unless the shooter manually cycles a round from the magazine using his/her hand by pulling or moving the slide all the way rearward and releasing the slide to return to battery loaded. Of course, that’s an easy thing to do if you regularly train by introducing stoppage drills into your training.

Another common stoppage in an auto-loader is a failure of the extractor to fully extract the spent round. Sometimes the spent case returns to the chamber of the barrel and sometimes it will be left sandwiched inside the ejection port between the rear of the port opening and the barrel. In either case, the shooter must firmly and quickly pull the slide rearward then abruptly let go, which allows the spent cartridge to be expelled from the weapon and for a new round to be loaded into the chamber.

Let me add to this common malfunction to include, I often see people loading their semi-auto handguns by gently pulling the slide rearward then gently allowing the slide to spring forward into battery with a live round. This, in rare cases, can sometimes put the handgun into a condition whereby the slide is not fully seated into battery.

If it’s not, nothing will happen when you pull the trigger. The spring tension of that slide is engineered perfectly to return that slide into complete battery so please use all that sophisticated engineering to your advantage. When loading the weapon, pull the slide all the way rearward and just let it go. This is the best way to ensure that the slide returns fully into battery.

Another common problem for semi-autos is when a magazine becomes old and the magazine spring begins to lose its tension. Revolvers, of course, do not have magazines which can be dropped and bent or which stay loaded under tension and unused for months or years at a time.

In this condition, a sprung magazine spring can lack sufficient power to lift the next round into position quickly enough for the slide to pick up the next round and property seat it into the chamber. Either the round stays in the magazine or the tip (bullet end) of the cartridge rotates up from the magazine and the slide drives it forward perpendicular to the barrel throat and feed ramp.

Jams and mechanical problems are very rare with quality-made autoloaders and some makes of auto-loading handguns such as the H&K P7 unequivocally state that their unique blow-back operated semi-auto action can actually continue to function reliably with a broken extractor. That weapon of course carries a very high price tag.

There are, of course, dozens of individual parts, pins, and springs in both revolvers and auto-loaders; some moving and some non-moving. That said, any of those parts have the potential of breaking or becoming dislodged from the weapon due to recoil or abuse. Broken parts are among the rarest of all weapon malfunctions.

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Speaking of extractors, a serious but very rare condition for a semi-auto handgun will be a broken extractor which normally leaves the weapon incapable of extracting a spent cartridge. The weapon may try to load another round into the back of a spent round causing a malfunction which cannot always be repaired simply or without the help of an armorer or gunsmith. Most of the time, it is a simple stoppage, but these can, although rarely, jam up the action.

Extractors are essentially spring loaded hooks which claw around the rim of a chambered round of ammunition upon the slide∣bolt being closed against it (in battery). Then, upon firing and the subsequent rearward movement of the slide∣bolt, pulls the fired case from the chamber rearward until the empty case comes into contact with the ejector which pushes the opposite side of the case while the extractor, still pulling, causes the empty case to be flipped or ejected from the weapon by means of the ejection port on the slide. Extractors have springs which can, over time, lose their tension causing the ejector to lose its reliability.

Another rare cause of weapon malfunction is a broken firing pin. Of course, firing pins do break occasionally in both the revolver and the semi-auto but broken firing pins are exceedingly rare malfunctions for either of these weapon types. Another rare malfunction which is equally common with both handgun types are broken or weakened main springs. The result of which causes the hammer to either not function at all or to strike the firing pin so lightly that the ammunition primer is not ignited.

It is far more common for these springs to be intentionally shortened or filed down by novice gunsmiths, so as to lighten the double-action trigger pull on revolvers and semi-auto’s, and unintentionally render the weapon un-serviceable or unreliable than it is for a main spring to break or loosen on its own.

As I initially stated, auto-loading handguns are commonly touted as being more complex machines than revolvers. Is this true? As we move to examine the common revolver malfunctions, let’s put this one away for now and pick it back up after we more closely examine the revolver.

Common Revolver Malfunctions

Now that we have learned the difference between a jam and stoppage, can you now see the significance in defining them in the way I have done? As I move into the realm of the revolver malfunction I think you will clearly see that most revolver malfunctions tend to be actual jams instead of simple stoppages.

There is a very good reason for this too. Revolvers are more prone to jams due primarily to the fragility and close mechanical tolerances of the revolver mechanisms.

The swing out cylinder of the double-action revolver is, by its very nature, a somewhat fragile and finely fitted instrument; so, the alignment of the revolver’s cylinder, crane, yoke, and ejector rod must be perfect or the action will bind up. A blow to the gun that probably wouldn’t affect an auto-loader, such as accidentally dropping it on a hard surface, could easily spring a revolver’s cylinder in the crane, rendering it completely un-serviceable.

Many police officers have had the occasion to use their side arms as field-expedient night sticks in years past, and revolvers are notorious for being seriously damaged after that kind of treatment. It sounds horrible on paper but when you’re fighting for your life, you do what you gotta do.

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Minute sized grains of gunpowder or brass shavings from spent cartridges in one or more of the chambers; a high primer on an unfired round; or, an over-long cartridge can all create a condition of insufficient headspace that will bind a revolvers cylinder so badly that it will take a few whacks with a rubber mallet just to open the action. One of the most common revolver malfunctions, a shell casing stuck under the extractor star, is a jam that requires tools, time, and a great deal of patience to clear.

When fouling from gunpowder residue begins to accumulate inside the finely fitted revolver mechanism, tolerances swiftly plunge below operational levels. For instance, powder buildup on the front of the cylinder and the forcing cone will cause the two pieces to drag against each other, interfering with cylinder rotation.

Grains of powder in the crane/yoke area can prevent the action from being closed. Fouling in the chambers can prevent rounds from fully chambering which can create a condition of insufficient headspace that will not allow the weapon’s cylinder to rotate.

Have you ever watched an action movie where the hero loads the cylinder of his trusty blue-steel companion then abruptly swings shut the cylinder with a flick of his hairy armed wrist? Most of you probably have if you’re old enough to be interested in the revolver/semi-auto article you’re reading right now.

Well, in so doing, the hero could likely have bent the crane and caused a condition of the cylinder to be “out of timing”. He might even have gotten some lead shavings in his face while firing at the bad guys 12 times with his 6 shot pistol – you know, the one with the silencer.

When we were talking about those pesky parts of the semi-auto that don’t exist in the same way in the revolver such as the extractor, you revolver fans may have had a moment of relaxation. But the revolver has important parts too, also not found on the semi-auto’s.

A revolver’s cylinder-hand is a tiny part which can and sometimes does break or become damaged which would cause the cylinder not to be rotated into proper alignment. A potential nightmare.

Another tiny little unseen part is the cylinder stop which pops up into the cylinder detent as the cylinder rotates into the correct alignment with the forcing cone, stopping its rotation.

Either of these two tiny little parts will render the revolver unsafe to fire and could kill, blind or maim its operator. All of the above conditions either result in a weapon jam, not a stoppage, OR more importantly, create a very dangerous operational condition.

Ammunition Malfunctions

Ammunition malfunctions cannot be predicted, although you can lower the risk of having an ammunition malfunction by just buying quality manufactured defense quality loads instead of buying or making your own reloads. Personally, I reload all my precision rifle ammunition and my plinking handgun ammo but I never reload defense handgun ammo.

Not only do I never shoot reloads through my defense-use handguns, I also never use low-powered target ammunition. I practice with the same ammunition that I carry in my handgun – in order that I don’t inadvertently create a variable that trains my hands and brain to expect one type of movement during recoil, knowing up front that the recoil will be different in a gunfight using more powerful ammunition.

Gun-fighting and training, even advanced defense training, are immensely different things. We can talk more about that in another article but it’s incredibly important to understand that there are certain variables that cannot be artificially produced during any training.

It’s also critical that you train using techniques actually available to you during high-stress, fight-or-flight, SNS activation type scenarios than to load up your brain with impractical drills that look impressive to others but accomplish nothing. The takeaway from this and the previous paragraph is that your not just devoting time on the range just training yourself to shoot a handgun accurately, you’re also subconsciously training your body to support a proper grip and presentation for a machine that will not function properly without you doing so. Eliminate as many variables as possible.

Getting back to ammunition failures, there are three types of ammunition malfunctions. These are misfires (a bad round that does not detonate), hang fires (a round that has a delayed detonation) and squib loads (an under-powered round that has enough power to push the bullet into the barrel but not enough power to push the bullet all the way through and out of the barrel). Neither are desirable in any circumstance or weapon but in the case of the revolver, there is a higher inherent degree of danger to the shooter when any of these malfunctions occur, principally during a gunfight.

Misfires

In training, if you have a misfire it’s no big deal right? I say that because you simply wait it out, count to ten, ensuring that it’s not a hang fire, then either eject the bad round from your semi-auto and continue or continue firing the rest of your cylinder on your revolver, potentially trying to fire the misfired round once again – and sometimes the misfire will detonate on the second attempt. In a gunfight however, a misfire is not little thing.

With your semi-auto, you must quickly rack the slide rearward to manually eject the misfire, let go of the slide to reload the next round and continue. In the gunfight, however, you have no choice but to quickly dispense of the situation which could result in the misfire becoming a hang fire – and an out-of-chamber ammunition detonation resulting. An injury, especially an eye injury, could easily occur in that scenario.

For you revolver fans, the gunfight misfire in your revolver is either far more dangerous or nothing at all. Instead of ejecting the misfire like the semi-auto, you just keep shooting which will rotate the cylinder to the next round. If the misfire becomes a hang fire, it will detonate inside a confined cylinder – exacerbating the explosive power of the detonation, and the projectile (bullet) has nowhere to go. The gun is likely coming apart; you may lose the use of your hand or be blinded or worse. Or, if it truly is a misfire, nothing happens at all and you simply continue shooting. The training misfire is nothing; the gunfight misfire will be governed by luck and karma.

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Squib Loads

In the case of a squib load, the revolver shooter could easily and inadvertently fire a round into the rear of a bullet lodged partway inside the barrel. Of course the shooter of an auto-loader potentially could also fire a live round into the back of a squibbed bullet but there is a strong chance that an under-powered squib load fired from a semi-auto would not have been powerful enough to push the slide of the auto-loader rearward far enough to pick up the next live round from the magazine, thus negating that argument. The determining factor is whether or not we’re talking about training or gun fighting. The revolver guy/gal is far more likely, shooting quickly in the life/death scenario, to drive another round into a squibbed bullet than the semi-auto guy/gal.

The autoloader, in this same squibbed scenario, is in one of the few circumstances where the semi-auto handgun will become useless but not inoperable. If it produces an underpowered detonation, it is highly likely that the semi-auto’s slide will not travel far enough rearward to either properly eject the spend cartridge case or strip a live round from the magazine and reload the weapon. In that case, it produces a stoppage and an unsafe condition.

If miraculously, the slide does eject the spent cartridge and loads a live round, it will neither produce a stoppage nor a jam, it just produces a condition that is dangerous as hell. What makes a squib load a squib load is that the round is typically loaded with too little or ANY gunpowder. This causes the bullet to be fired without the requisite energy for it to travel the full length of the barrel.

Subsequently, the projectile gets lodged inside the barrel, creating a problem for the subsequent round. Rarely too, a squib could be caused by a degraded powder charge or bad or compromised primer that doesn’t produce a proper powder ignition.

Hang Fires

Similarly, a hang fire would render an auto-loader unsafe if he/she were to manually eject the round, believing it to be a misfire, then the round detonate outside of the weapon. As we discussed with the misfire above, the situation with the revolver is far worse because the detonation would occur while that ammunition is still chambered in the cylinder but not aligned with the chamber and barrel. The revolver then becomes a pipe-bomb in your hand. While the hang fire scenario is never a good thing for either weapon type, and both could result in some type of injury, the revolver hang fire consequence could be far worse.

Auto-loaders are susceptible to malfunctions based solely on bad ammunition and any malfunction will stop the gun from functioning. Revolvers, however, will continue to function flawlessly with an ammunition malfunction. The only scenario where you benefit is a revolver with a true misfire. I personally would much prefer that my weapon stop me from doing something stupid when an ammunition malfunction occurs, especially considering that these malfunctions in auto-loaders are predominantly simple stoppages which can easily and quickly be corrected.

All that said, contemporary ammunition malfunctions are becoming a thing of the past unless you are buying and shooting a great deal of reloads, but when you really put some thought into the whole “only as reliable as your ammo” argument that we are prone to employ, one has to ponder whether or not you’re better off with a gun which will flawlessly fail under those circumstances. We can always train ourselves to clear stoppages quickly. It’s difficult to train yourself to react to a serious injury.

Care, Cleaning & Maintenance

What about regular care, cleaning, and maintenance? What are the primary issues of reliability for both handgun types that can be directly attributed to firearm maintenance and regular care? For the record, a person should clean their handguns every time they fire them regardless of whether it is a revolver or an autoloader.

You should also clean them in regularly occurring intervals such as once per quarter to ensure they are not rusting or accumulating dust and/or debris to ensure that the weapon will function properly when it is needed. However, there are some specific issues relating to the revolver and autoloader that I want to share.

Revolvers are particularly sensitive to the accumulation of fouling. Much more sensitive than a typical auto-loader. The revolver, by its design, is like a Swiss watch; it’s a finely tuned and fitted machine with very close machined tolerances. Any amount of drag or resistance in the area of the cylinder and forcing cone will interfere with cylinder rotation.

Additionally, the chambers in the cylinder are prone to fouling as well. When this type of fouling is allowed to accumulate, it becomes difficult to extract spent casings from the cylinder which increases reloading time. This type of fouling can also make it difficult or impossible to fully chamber a live round inside the cylinder chambers which can leave the cartridge case rim slightly protruded. In most cases, the protrusion would leave insufficient head-space for the cylinder to properly rotate. That condition also puts more pressure on the cylinder hand, compromising its ability to rotate the cylinder correctly.

In contrast, an auto-loader can be fired for many more rounds before cleaning than a revolver before excessive fouling interferes with normal functioning. Auto-loaders are a closed system. There are no open gaps between the chamber and forcing cone like on a revolver. Therefore most of the fouling occurs inside the barrel of an auto-loader or out the end of the barrel. On the contrary, revolvers have an air gap where the bullet jumps from the cylinder’s chamber to the barrel’s forcing cone. When a revolver is fired, hot gasses carrying burnt and unburnt powder along with lead particles exit the gun from that air gap and coat the front of the cylinder and forcing cone with residue. That residue builds up over time and will cumulatively contribute to a malfunction sooner or later.

Being involved with a private firing range and a firearms instructor for 30+ years, I often witness and I am guilty myself of firing between eight hundred to a thousand rounds of ammunition through autoloaders without any cleaning and generally experience no problems or malfunctions whatsoever. You would be very lucky to get two-hundred rounds through a revolver without experiencing some type of operational irregularity.

All that said, if you leave a revolver in your car collecting dust and never use it or clean it for a couple years, it is highly likely that you can quickly retrieve it from your glove box and deploy it flawlessly in a defense situation. In comparison, your semi-auto left in the same condition, especially with a fully loaded magazine, has the potential of losing magazine spring tension. The first round will probably be fine but who knows if a second round will chamber.

While the revolver does seem to handle neglect fairly well, it is far less able to survive abuse, which is the primary reason auto-loaders were adopted by most of the world’s armies early in our previous century. In my opinion, the auto-loader is far superior in this category due to its near indestructibility and propensity to keep functioning long after the revolver would be rendered unusable.

Accuracy

In spite of all of this, accuracy tends to be the great equalizer of handguns. Most, but not all, auto-loading handguns have a floating barrel that rocks back and tilts the feed ramp of the barrel downward while in rear battery which helps in feeding and chambering a new live-round. This very small amount of potential movement along with a typically stronger and stiffer trigger pull create a more challenging condition for auto-loading handguns to be fired as accurately as revolvers.

Revolvers have fixed, and in most cases longer, barrels with crisp and light trigger pulls. These features allow revolver’s to possess a higher degree of accuracy over that of most auto-loaders. It also becomes especially important if the weapon is used more for target practice or competition rather than for self-defense.

Another aspect of accuracy can be directly attributed to grip. A proper grip for an auto-loading handgun requires the shooter to actually become part of the machine itself. If the shooter holds or grips the weapon too loosely, the slide will not travel rearward far enough to pick up the next round from the magazine – returning to battery with an empty chamber.

The shooter must provide the resistance required to make that machine operation work properly. That same increased hand pressure, for some, undermines finger dexterity. Fortunately, this is a situation that can be helped through experience and training.

In comparison, the revolver is a machine that only relies on the shooter to make it fire ACCURATELY. Thus, the revolver can be fired with a much more relaxed and less tense grip while the auto-loader will not work unless the shooter uses a firm grip. Some novice shooters have a difficult time learning the difference from a firm grip and a death grip, which can also lead to inaccuracy.

Subsequently, the revolver is a much easier gun to learn and manipulate. Its design renders it a weapon which can be easily deployed and fired by novices. Quite a few women, generally having less hand strength, have a difficult time manipulating the slide of an auto-loader as some models, especially the smaller and more concealable versions, have very tight recoil springs.

Thus, the revolver has gained a reputation of simplicity. Sometimes people misunderstand or misinterpret what that simplicity really means and mistake the weapon as being more design-simplistic than an auto-loader.

Going back to that original question, is the revolver really a more simple machine design? In my opinion no. If you research exploded diagrams and parts lists for most modern revolvers and auto-loaders, what you will find is that revolvers typically have significantly higher numbers of parts than the typical auto-loaders.

And that number includes the magazines which usually have four separate parts each. An example would be a classic Colt 1911 (semi-auto) which has 51 total parts while a Smith & Wesson model 19 (revolver) has 93 total parts. If you compare only the moving parts, the revolvers still exceed the number of moving parts than in a typical auto-loader.

That said, I still believe that though the revolver is a much more complex machine, the learning curve to fire it accurately is shorter for most people. Revolvers are very simplistic to use and fire but they are incredibly complex and fragile machines.

Auto-loaders, however, require more training to fire properly but are in essence very simplistic designs with fewer moving parts. It is from this viewpoint that some are encouraged to believe that the revolver design itself is simpler and that less can go wrong with a revolver. I hope we have put that issue to rest.

Usability

In the beginning of this article I said I would forgo discussions about rounds capacity, caliber, and grip size to move on the “meat and potatoes” and I believe I have. When you forgo a discussion on rounds capacity you also leave out the obvious which is the autoloaders feature of multiple loaded magazines which give the autoloader a distinct advantage in firepower and ease of reloading.

But, those are the most obvious features and frankly get written about incessantly. What I intended to offer in this article were the less known and discussed pros and cons which address the reliability and usability of each pistol type. I hope I have done that.

In closing, both revolver’s and auto-loading handguns have their place in contemporary times. Each have their strengths and weaknesses and each can certainly fit the needs and requirements of most gun enthusiasts.

It is important, however, to know the limits of your weapon of choice. Each system has its inherent deficits and vulnerabilities and each has unique performance characteristics.

Guns that cost more are just like toilet paper that costs more. It does the job better and keeps your hands looking good. If you are rappelling off a 600’ cliff, would you buy a rope on sale at a flea market or would you research the best ropes, made specifically for rappelling, and buy that one instead?

If my life hangs on the rope, you better believe I’m going for the best rope I can buy. Gun selection is about making the same choices and so is ammunition selection. If it is your life or the lives of your family that motivate you to own a firearm, then please choose wisely.

End