The Observer turned out early Saturday to help the history faculty at UALR judge local entries in History Day. High school students make exhibits, documentary films and plays on historical subjects to qualify for state and even national contests.
In The Observer's division, the subjects included William the Conqueror, Gandhi, Confucius, the Wright Brothers, Andy Warhol, Irish revolutionary Michael Collins and Henry Ford (points given for getting his importance in mass production, points off for missing his political outlook).
Walt Disney was popular this year. He WAS influential. His pioneering work in animation lives on. But he was also a values crusader, an able propagandist in wartime and a man whose work contained a moral. Who knew that the Three Pigs cartoon was a parable to uplift Depression-era America? Not The Observer. Until Saturday.
Students dug for more obscure figures, too. Ever heard of John Miller? No, not the Lizard of Izard, the legendary former state representative. This John Miller was a pioneer roller coaster builder, with inventions that made possible the death-defying hair straighteners of today. The underfriction wheel, for example, was the trick to holding cars on the track. Did you know that paying for entertainment is a relatively modern invention? That's another thing we learned from the erudite historian accompanying us on our exhibit rounds. Think about it. The cavemen didn't have many spare coins for rock concerts and Ultimate cage matches.
We were most moved by an exhibit on Lewis Hine, a name unknown to us until Saturday morning, though we instantly realized we were familiar with his work. He was a school teacher turned photographer whose passion became what one source calls “investigative child labor photography.” It was not long ago that America sent children into coal mines, cotton fields and other dangerous workplaces for pennies of pay for dawn-to-dusk toil. In this exhibit, stark black-and-white prints were hung from line with clothes pins, as in a pre-digital camera dark room. The blank faces of haggard children staring out from hellish backdrops will linger with The Observer for a good while.
Even though spring was nowhere to be found this weekend, The Observer still decided to pull the bike out of the basement and go for a spin. It's part of a New Year's resolution to not only exercise more and go out for prolonged rides, but to use our two-wheeler for the work commute and short trips to the grocery store. So instead of heading out to a trail or an old lonely highway, we decided to try our luck on the streets downtown. We need to get used to city streets and weekday traffic can be intimidating.
To learn the rules of the road we turned to Tom Ezell and Brad Joseph, both certified bicycle instructors and members of Bicycle Advocacy of Central Arkansas. Some cyclists go the wrong way down one-way streets, ride on the sidewalks, run stoplights when no one is around — but not Tom and Brad. We stopped at every intersection whether there was anybody there or not, and made hand signals all along the way.
Tom tells us there are two important things to remember if you're going to make the bike your primary mode of transportation. One, be visible. Some motorists don't look for people on bikes. Others think bikers should be on the sidewalk. Not true. Cyclists are supposed to share the road, so making sure others see you is key to not getting run over. Wear bright clothes, don't sequester yourself to the shoulder — take your place in the lane a couple feet to the left of the white line. Drivers will respect your space and won't try to squeeze around you.
Two: Be polite. Let drivers go before you in an intersection if no one else is around. If you get honked at or pushed to the side, don't go into a rage. Wave with all five fingers. Cyclists have a reputation to keep up.
We got to put the last rule into practice as we headed down Main Street toward Community Bakery. An impatient person thought we were in the way and gave us a big rude HONK. We just kept our heads down, peddled to our destination and wondered why somebody was so worked-up and angry on a Saturday morning.
Tom will be teaching a safety class this Friday and Saturday. It costs $50, but it could save your noggin. For more information go to tinyurl.com/arbikeclass.