Tangor's Journey Beyond the Fairest Lone Star
An itch scratchin' odyssey
May 12-26, 1998
For a number of years I have been interested in discovering if there was any truth in the public fear, as aroused by hyper-active media looking for any kind of sensational stories to boost sagging audience ratings, of whether travelling across the country to meet strangers one has met via Internet email contacts was a sure and certain danger.
The only way to find out was to make such a trip.
I am an ERBnut, a fanzie(tm) (fan in a frenzy), a dyed-in-the-wool admirer of the works of American author Edgar Rice Burroughs (1875-1950) who is best known for his books of Tarzan of the Apes. The pursuit of my interest in this author led me to create an email discussion group called EDGAR RICE BURROUGHS LISTSERVER (ERBList) during the summer of June, 1996. ERBList has had several homes during the years since it began as a simple multiple recipient email group. For six months (January 1997 to June 1997) it was located at Steven Armstrong's original www.tarzan.com. Later it moved to www.beginners.net, personal computer friends of Tangor, and now it is located at CompSys Solutions, Tangor's computer sales and training company (since closed, 2003). Yeah, I know that sounds like a commercial plug--ignore it.
My Internet persona "Tangor" is a direct result of the voluminous traffic found at ERBList. Tangor is a character from a 1940 work by Burroughs entitled Beyond The Farthest Star. The persona is duly registered at the ERB Persona Directory.
ERBList has attracted a wide variety of subscribers from all walks of life. Ages range from 11 to 93 and occupations run the gamut of students to professors, engineers, house persons, technogeeks, lawyers, government employees (military and civil), publishers, television, movie folks, and even a Hugo award winning author as well as authors less awarded but no less interesting.
My hobby has been a lot of fun and over the years I've made what I consider to be lasting friendships with many of the list members. So, when I decided to test the dangers of meeting folks you only know via email, I wanted my axe-murderer to be a college professor (I never went to college, so just wanted to meet one).
Of course there had to be other reasons for shutting down my business for a two week vacation:
- The wife and I had never been on a vacation TOGETHER in 22 years of marriage.
- I had made a computer sale to a list member and decided to deliver and install it personally.
- I wanted to indulge a life-long (well nearly) fantasy of visiting the Edgar Rice Burroughs Collection at the University of Louisville.
Reasons in hand, I also needed to mooch accommodations to keep the costs down. Jim Thompson, Puffessor (sic) at Austin Peay State University, Clarksville, Tennessee met my criteria. He was a college professor, I knew him only by email, he had ordered a computer from me, and knew the curator of the ERB Collection, and was willing to let strangers enter his house. All that was left to accomplish was to actually make the trip!
Months of planning were involved--mostly threats of "I'm coming to see ya!"--and before we knew it, the day was at hand.
The semi-new Toyota Corolla was packed with suitcases, a computer, a guitar, cooler, munchies, maps and us. We departed Bellaire, Texas well after dawn and headed north into the Big Thicket on US 59. We were fortunate to be departing before the worst of the smoke from the Guatemala and Mexican fires hit the Texas coast.
After a pit stop and tank of gas, we lunched under gigantic slash pines just south of Texarkana. Soon we cross the border into Arkansas, which has highway signs proclaiming it the home of that feller in Washington. Interstate 35 was in passable repair, prompting good travel time and just a few hours later we were beyond Hope... Hope, Arkansas, that is. There is very little to be seen of Little Rock on the bypass and, nearing dark, we pulled into Brinkley for an overnight.
Leaving early next morning (the desk clerk gave us a wake up at 5:30am even though we didn't leave one) we breakfasted in Georgetown, Tennessee at a perennial favorite: IHOP.
Since we had made good time, and since Mrs. Tangor had never been in this part of the USA before, I let her talk me into taking a detour to see Loretta Lynn's tourist trap. She had a great time perusing the geegaws at the gift shops, we saw some pleasant country, and took a few photos. I was, wrongly, arrested and thrown in the hoosgow. Faithful as always, Mrs. Tangor waited for the judge to right the wrong and release me so that we might continue our trip.
Arriving at Clarksville mid-afternoon, Mrs. Tangor and I enjoyed Dunbar Cave Park, near the Thompson home, until 5:30. Had we known Dunbar Cave was the scene of two particularly gruesome murders in the past year we might not have enjoyed the river view, the coolness of the cave entrance (which had been built up by Roy Acuff some years before as a potential night club, but never completed) or the walking paths. The afternoon was quite pleasant, though hot. We snacked at a picnic table, stretched from our long drive, and at 5:30 we drove over to Jim and Linda's humble abode.
Linda was at home and, this gracious lady immediately made us feel quite welcome. I could say that the adjacent photo is their house, which would indicate what poorly paid professors and college professionals can afford, but it is a photo of Jim and Linda on the porch of one of the buildings on the Home Station working farm, a point of interest we visited together during our visit.
Jim arrived home after slaving away over grading student finals and at last the electronic pals and ERB obsess ives met. I'm taller. He's smarter.
That evening, after dinner, the two listmeisters (Jim operates Edgar Rice Burroughs Chain of Friendship List (ERBCOF-L) another ERB related listserver) carried out a plan that had been sometime in the making. It involved setting music to filk poetry, hours of embarrassment and rebuke from the wives--sorta--and plenty of laughter. That endeavour may be available at some future point, but do not expect it on the Top 10!
The following day I installed computers, Jim and Linda finished up with school and graduations, and over the next few days we embarked on visiting points of interest such as Fort Donaldson, The Land Between The Lakes, Nashville, Franklin and sightseeing in general. Here Tangor is seen walking a dead Tennessee catfish for a fellow who needed to run to his car to get a pack of cigarettes. It's hard to tell which story is funnier, the dead catfish and his owner, or Tangor getting suckered into hanging onto that net. Email email@example.com if you want more info...
During one of our outings, Tangor revealed his ultra secret weapon for managing his active Edgar Rice Burroughs listserver for topic and content. The Other Jim (as Thompson is known among ERBnutz) was very impressed. (Photo taken at Fort Donaldson)
The computer installed, the college semester done, the two couples were free to embark upon Stage Two. One of the reasons for our vacation was to see and do new things and Mammoth Cave was something to see and do. It nearly did poor Tangor in who is, if you haven't noticed, well beyond the weight guidelines recently released by our federal government. We took the Historic Tour through Mammoth Cave, relishing the 55 degree temperature, the darkness and the rather impressive sights. Our guide Dave was very entertaining and his pal Johnny caught up all the stragglers.
Visions of Nu of the Niocene (ERB's The Eternal Lover) and other Burroughs troglodytes populated the underground wonderland. Mrs. Tangor took a number of pictures though, unfortunately, few turned out well. While Tangor is tubby he had no trouble negotiating Fat Man's Misery, a twisting spiral of tunnel with a leg path barely 18 inches wide. Two and a half miles later, and a descent of some 340 feet, the intrepid couples regained the surface and temporarily parted company. Jim and Linda drove on to Louisville and Tangor and Mrs. embarked upon Stage Three.
The next objective for Tangor was to finally meet Dennis Wilcutt, affectionately known as Predator Seven on the ERB lists. Dennis is a lawyer, Reservist, and brother to an astronaut. He's also a collector of ERB and comix art. His wife Nancy and son Keith were very cordial to the visitors from Texas. Dennis and I sat up half the night discussing his western novel, which Tangor is editing. By golly it's a good 'un and I hope it sees print very soon. I was given the fifty cent tour of Wilcutt's very extensive collection of comix art, which included Tom Yeates originals from the Dark Horse Tarzan series as well as page after page of full color Sunday editions of Prince Valiant, John Carter of Mars and others.
The next day Tangor, Mrs. Tangor, and Predator piled into the dusty Toyota and drove to Louisville for Stage Four--the ultimate reason for taking the trip.
For nearly 40 years I have been a fan of the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs. Tarzan, John Carter, Carson Napier, David Innes... the many and varied heroes of this writer's prodigious works have been favored friends and memories. I collected, with my brother James, all the published works in paperback during the 1960's ERB publishing boom. I had read the stories. I knew the characters. But I had never seen the original editions which brought them to the public. I know of few places where one might see first edition versions of these books except at the Edgar Rice Burroughs Memorial Collection at the University of Louisville. More importantly, I know of no guide more dedicated or knowledgeable than George T. McWhorter, the curator of this fine collection. At almost precisely 10:30 am, Eastern, I and my companions entered the inner sanctum.
George is a congenial gentleman, bubbling with enthusiasm, and gracious and outgoing. His excitement for Ed Burroughs has not faded in all his years of collecting which began, if my memory serves, in 1936.
The Ekstrom Library on the University of Louisville campus houses the ERB collection. The ERB museum contains some 70,000 items ranging from giveaway geegaws to a complete collection of ERB autographed Firsts. Book editions in 2 dozen foreign languages, a massive collection of ERB related art, movie posters, audio books, film, the original pulp magazine editions, related research volumes, unpublished manuscripts, screen plays... one could spend MONTHS moving through those stacks and not see it all.
McWhorter's encyclopedic knowledge and entertaining presentation made the visit that much more enjoyable.
Toward the end of our day trip The Other Jim and Tangor performed the above mentioned filk song for Tublat (McWhorter) and not long after, the magical day was done.
Bidding goodbye to Tublat, the intrepid travelers entered their vehicles and commenced a return to the wild interior of Kentucky. The safari was diverted by The Other Jim in a quest for strange and wonderous animals. All his life The Other Jim had wanted a lawn gorilla for his yard, but the wise and beautiful Linda had (rightfully) said NO. However, all were weary from the day long visit at Tublat's Cave of Treasures, so before we knew it, The Other Jim had led us astray. Jim found his lawn gorilla. Unfortunately, it wouldn't fit in the trunk of their car, so he has to be satisfied with a photo of the event. We also took photos of much smaller lawn gorillas and a full size 11 foot tall Tantor (elephant). The Other Jim was appeased and we were allowed to continue our journey. We spent the night at Predator's then embarked for Clarksville the next morning.
There were other things to do, and good fun by all, yet the time was fast approaching that Tangor and wife return to Bellaire. The night before we left Jim Thompson gave me a tour of his book Collection (capital intended). Thompson's interests are wide and varied, from biology and sciences to the most hokey and mundane. His vampire collection is extensive but does not overshadow his Darwinian writers or movie buff items. The Thompson ERB collection is nearly as impressive as that found at McWhorter's museum! I was a little surprised to discover that this long time ERB fan is also a fan of the Alien(s) movie series and has a special closet, kept under lock and key, of every mother alien model, gadget, geegaw or gizmo, as well as multiple copies of the films and books. Who woulda thunk it?
Tearfully, (not really, but sounds good from a literary viewpoint) the Tangors rose early to depart Clarksville. At a stop at the Arkansas/Tennessee border Mrs. Tangor pleaded for one more gift shop stop, wherein we found a most magical gorilla which has since been packed and shipped to The Other Jim as just one more THANKS for being such a great host.
Spending the night in Texarkana (the Texas side), we awoke fairly refreshed and took it easy heading to Livingston and the mother-in-law. Taking a slightly different route back, I shot myself in the foot passing through several little towns that loudly proclaimed their antique shops and gift bazaars. Mrs. Tangor insisted, and as I'm a man who believes in the path of least insistence, we piddled and poked and purchased a few things.
Arriving at Livingston at 3:00, we had a wonderfully prepared and delicious late lunch, gabbed for hours, watched our tourist copy of Mammoth Cave video and retired early.
Saturday. Home. And back to work. Tangor had been aware that his listserver machine had died two days into the vacation (Murphy's Law hard at work). When he had a chance to evaluate the computer, it was discovered that the power supply had joined the Corphals of Manatos (ghosts in a Barsoomian city).
Being a responsible person (and because he's an email junkie always in need of an immediate fix) the system was repaired posthaste. With ERBList mail again flowing, the tires on the weary Toyota cooling, and Mrs. Tangor preparing dinner, Tangor decreed the best vacation he'd ever had was at an end, but the friends he had met and the places that had been visited would provide warm and fuzzy memories for years to come.