Why write this book? Contents of the book People who made this possible People who influenced the author Dedicated to: About Dan K. Phillips


The Blues Brothers and Howard Hughes

E-mail Dan Kenneth Phillips

1. Preface (Four Corners )

Includes photographs of Four Corners and the background of why Dan wrote this book.

2. The Photographer - (Tucumcari, N.M.)

Dan goes to Tucumcari, New Mexico, to visit the photographer who took Ian Frazier's picture for the the book Great Plains

3. An Outlaw and a Politician - (Las Vegas, N.M.)

He travels to the Teddy Roosevelt Rough Rider Museum to visit the "smartest lady in the world."

4. The Blues Brothers - (Las Vegas, Nevada )

Who would have guessed that riding an airplane-dressed as Shumu the whale-, would take him to the mysterious rhealm of multi-millionaire Howard Hughes.

5. Mysterious Adventures With Mark Twain - (Reno. Nevada )

Read some weird stories of a bunch of "wild consultants" who spend a week in Nevada exploring!

6. The Poet - (San Francisco, CA. )

This story describes his first visit to San Francisco to celebrate a wedding anniversary. He discovers the "ghost" of Jack Kerouac and hits several other literary high spots while here.

7. The Distant Listener - (Cape Cod, MA. )

Visiting Cape Cod,he discovers Henry Beston and Gugliemo Marconi. This leads to a history lesson on the beginning of radio listening and a unique baker (Ollie Ross) known to have picked up every radio station in the world. Was Ollie Ross for real?

8. Hermit of the Essex Coast - ((Jekyll Island, Georgia )

Jekyll Island is a special place for Dan. Study the billionaires who inhabited this island every winter. Listen to their stories of richness and pettiness.

9. A Writer and A Preacher - (Savannah, Georgia )

Did you know that the sign indicating where Flannery O'Connor was born is really a lie? And did you know John Wesley once fell in love here and caused a major disturbance because of this love affair. If you have read The Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, you need to read The Writer and the Preacher to capture even more weird tales of Savannah.

10. Patti's - The Best Restaurant in the World (Grand Rivers, KY.)

This is Dan's favorite eating place in all the world. Read this story and discover how a pot-bellied pig named Calvin Swine became the symbol of great American cooking.

E-mail Dan Kenneth Phillips

As a sometimes educational consultant, I am on occasion invited to distant locations to provide -- with a team of several others -- educational opportunities for a unique clientele of individuals desirous of our particular educational speciality. It was on such a trip that I spent a week in Las Vegas and other places in Nevada.

I flew from Tennessee to Nevada on Southwest Airlines. The flight attendants wore tennis shoes with red, white, and blue dots on them; white T-shirts with a large flight patch guarding their hearts; and tacky, brown shorts. The orange juice they passed to customers contained a small napkin that read, "FLY SOUTHWEST JUST SAY WHEN."

Before the plane took off, the crew did a rap-dance -- reminiscence of Indians on the warpath -- and they sang a loud, boisterous song, describing the proper way to wear seat belts. I sub-consciously found myself tightening mine after the song.

Glancing around, I noticed that several people were nervously working crossword puzzles. I remembered a phrase from F. Scott Fitzgerald written during the 1920s: "Just before the (stock market) crash, everyone spent their time working crossword puzzles." It was a nervous thought from the my past.

"Its time to rap some more baby," said the male flight attendant as he continued preparing us for take-off. "Today's your lucky day. You are riding the 737 Shumu." Then, he quickly passed out coffee, along with a napkin that read on one side, "Fly Shamu," and on the other side, "Southwest: Official Airline, Sea World of Texas and California." A few moments later we received a beautiful bumper sticker that read, "I flew Shamu! 2nd Anniversary."

A quick look to my left convinced me I was ready for La La Land. The plane was painted like a black killer whale with large black splotches around the ears, edited with irregular white elements surrounding the wings.

I once read that Robert Crandall, chairman of American Airlines, asked Herb Kelleher, president of Southwest Airlines, what he planned to do with the whale droppings from the Shamu. "I'm going to turn it into chocolate mousse and spoon-feed it to Yankees from Rhode Island," he responded. A few days later, Crandall found a tub of chocolate mousse and a Shamu spoon waiting in his office.

Kelleher is known as the clown prince of the airline industry. He is the chief goof ball and has been compared favorably to John Belushi, Norm Peterson, and Huck Finn.

Another strange thing I noted about this airplane was that the overhead luggage bins were covered with pictures of penguins. Somehow, the whole company seemed to be disarrayed: flight attendants in bermuda shorts; a plane painted like a whale; and penguins everywhere. In my mind, I could picture their public relations personnel wearing a button that said, "Save the Whales," and a hat with a penguin perched on it. One of his employees summed it up best: "It's a blast to work here."

Tugging my belt tighter, I thought, maybe the whole world is going crazy. It was September of 1990, the month after Saddam Hussiem invaded Kuwait. The world was being held hostage to Iraq's demands. Gas prices skyrocketed, exploding from 99 cents a gallon upward to $1.29 a gallon. When I arrived in Las Vegas, regular unleaded gas was $1.42 a gallon.

A nervousness not experienced since World War II engulfed everyone. A fizzling fear was paralyzing America. The stock market fell 300 points. Signs of a recession were signaled by a rising unemployment rate. People's lives were placed on hold while waiting for the war to begin, and I was riding an airline dressed like a whale to the gambling capital of the world.

At the Las Vegas airport, I rented a mini-van and drove toward the Gold Coast Hotel and Casino on West Flamingo. "You are on the Road to Rome," read a Caesar Palace billboard that loomed above the curved ramp. Leaving the airport, I thought for a minute of gladiators fighting to the finish and Christians being thrown to lions. I could picture my head in a lion's mouth.

Times haven't changed much from ancient days in Rome. There are still gladiators, just the names have been changed: Tyson, Ali, Hearns, Foreman, and Holyfield. And the lions, with hungry mouths stretched open, still rush angrily into king-sized stadiums filled with shouting customers, only now their meat is a plastic form of pleasure -- a VISA card. For some reason, I did not find the Rome analogy comforting.

Passing the Flamingo Casino, the familiar red flume land marked an early memory of this town. A short period after World War II, a mobster named Bugsy Siegel opened The Flamingo. It was the first gaming resort in Las Vegas.

Jimmy Durante, the early television performer who closed his show each week with a wave saying, "Good night, Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are," was the headliner at its opening in December of 1946.

Siegel didn't live to see his dream materialize. Six months later, Siegel's Southern California colleagues terminated his partnership in a hail of gunfire, allegedly for massive cost over-runs.

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The most notable resident of the Desert Inn was Howard Hughes. He rented a wing of the Las Vegas Desert Inn Hotel and stayed there with an entourage of Mormons who met Hughes high moral standards: they didn't drink; carouse; or gamble.

Howard Hughes was a man of giant natural talent, ability, and intelligence. Hughes had four main objectives in life: to be the world's richest man; the world's greatest aviator; the most famous movie producer; and the world's greatest golfer. He succeeded in accomplishing three of his goals: he became the richest man, his movie productions stand as a lasting testimony to his persistence as a producer and director, and some of his aviation records remain unbroken. Only his golf endeavors failed. He did not have enough time to practice.

One of his records is fascinating. He holds the record for flying the largest plane ever to leave the ground, the legendary Spruce Goose. Once, during a trip to Long Beach, California, I spent a considerable amount of time viewing the Spruce Goose. The Goose, made of wood, with a wing span of 319 feet and a tail fin 79 feet high, is the largest plane ever built. Its capacity for 750 persons more than doubles the capacity of the C5A.

A light to this day peers from the cockpit of the Spruce Goose, a flicker that reveals a Howard Hughes mannequin, with familiar mustache and brown fedora hat. It is as if the eerie eccentric is still there, waiting to fly around the world at a moments notice.

The legion of stories that accompany his name often flair with an unbelievable air about them:

    Once, tired of the publicity he was receiving, he grew a beard, assumed the name of Carlos Gomez, acted like a pseudo-Mexican, and wore rumpled suits and tennis shoes into Manhattan's most fashionable night clubs;

    known as "a nocturnal varmint type" for the late hours he kept, he went outside during the early morning hours for milk and crackers and was thrown in jail for being a bum;

    took a job for two months as a co-pilot for American Airlines using the assumed name of Charles Howard;

    never owned an office and always made his business calls from pay telephone booths;

    filled one of his planes with thousands and thousands of tennis balls so it would float if it crash landed in water;

    normally, it took his personal barber five hours to cut his hair; adjusted margins on typewriters of his secretaries and ordered secretaries to wear surgical gloves while typing;

    more than once crash landed new planes on their first flight;

    disappeared for months while recuperating from nervous exhaustion and various unexplainable diseases;

    ran over a dog on his way to his first date with Katherine Hepburn and spent the night at a vet's being sure the dog would live;

    swapped several thousand worthless acres of land in Northern Nevada for 30,000 acres around the small desert town of Las Vegas;

    spent his last years watching the movie Ice Station Zebra hundreds of times;

    and near the end of his life, "looked exactly like Moses," said acquaintances.

Hughes nicknames included: "The Spook of American Capitalism," to "an enormously rich Huckleberry Finn."

And, he always wore a lucky brown Fedora. It was the Fedora that caught my attention. In my reading of travel literature, I have noticed that "the hat" worn by famous persons has enormous appeal and adds a certain suspense quota to the person wearing it.

Receiving a 10 gallon hat from a friend was a life changing experience for Max Perkins; the editor credited with discovering F. Scott Fitzgerald, Thomas Wolfe, and Ernest Hemingway. "There seemed to be a fortunous air surrounding the hat," he wrote to the sender of the hat. "I happened to be walking in it (the hat) with a portrait painter and he begged me to let him paint me in it, and that never happened before I got this hat." Later, he bought a size seven soft gray-felt fedora and was rarely seen without it, whether indoors or out.

In A. Scott Berg's book on Perkins he wrote: "His habit of hat-wearing became Perkin's most famous eccentricity and the subject of much speculation. Why the hat? people kept wondering. The answer seems to be that he found it useful as well as ornamental. It gave the impression to unexpected office visitors that he was leaving his office, and this kept them from button-holing him into idle conversation. The hat also thrust his ears forward, which helped his hearing." (Author's note: Howard Hughes, too, was also afflicted with hearing difficulties.)

Miss Wyckoff, a personal acquaintance of Perkins, suggested that Perkins wore his hat to keep customers in the Scribners bookstore from mistaking him for a clerk as he made his afternoon promenade. Perkins himself revealed something of his attitude on the matter in a column he wrote for the Plainfield newspaper. The slouch hat, he apotheosized, was "the hat of independence and individuality, the American hat."

Calvin Trillan, in his book Travels With Alice, has his picture -- along with his wife Alice -- on the back page of his book. He is wearing a hat, but it seems staged. The hat looks almost new. There is a warped look about his face, as if the hat was the idea of his editor. Alice, on the other hand, seems about to chuckle, as if seeing her husband in this condition brings a hint of hilarity in her life. I would almost bet that Trillan's editor is a hat person, an admirer of the late Max Perkins.

Jonathan Raban's books always picture him with a hat of enormous magnitude. His hats are large warped-floppy disks, used as protective covering to prevent the sun from frying his brain on his many unusual journeyings. He wears the hat well. It belongs to his head and is, with a degree of certainty, one of the reasons his writings have appeal to other travelers. I have looked futilely for a hat like Rabans for years without results.

My favorite hat adventure I found in Richard Holmes book Footsteps. In the first episode he is tracing the steps of one of Robert Louis Stevenson's travel journeys in The Cevennes, when he feels the need to describe his hat. A hat story of the highest magnitude I might add.

"I also wore a hat, a brown battered felt object, somewhat like an old fedora, with a wide brim, a curious leather band round the crown which gave it a backwoods character. I have had many hats since, but except for a certain cap from Dublin none of them ever quite achieved such talismanic properties and powers. This hat, Le Brun, had several magical virtues. One was deflecting lightning. Another was helping me see in the dark. A third was giving me the most vivid dreams about Stevenson whenever I slept with it tipped over my nose.

But most important of all, perhaps, was Le Brun's power to make other people laugh. It is a vital point. A stranger with a bag, when he appears at your door, perhaps at dusk; or knocks at your cafe window before the bread and milk have been delivered; and when he clumsily enquires about his friend "who came here a hundred years ago, with a donkey," often causes hysterical laughter when greeted by young ladies seeing it for the first time."

Let it be noted that during a visit to Long Beach, California, in the ninth decade of the twentieth century, in a small souvenir shop near the Spruce Goose, that one -Dan Kenneth Phillips - purchased a small, 100 per-cent wool, gray fedora, size 7, made in the USA by the Golden Gate Hat Company in Los Angeles. The hat came from the International Collection Established in 1923, and the inside band has this impressive statement, "Replica of a Howard Hughes Fedora." The cost was $36 dollars.

The others in my party were impressed and snapped my picture standing by the original Herbie the Love Bug in the car museum attached to the Goose. As to those who question whether there has been "a fortunous air" surrounding my life since I bought the hat, I can attest to no such manifestations. I would add that there have been some changes in my life. I have grown a beard, bought a dog, and discovered I can type faster with surgical gloves on. I often dream of going to the North Pole for a vacation, and I recently bought several hundred shares of stock in a mink farm in Southern Arizona and a thousand acres of land in Siberia. As for changes in my life, I have noted none.

E-mail Dan Kenneth Phillips

To Chapter 4: Nevada With Mark Twain ( Nevada )

A Pilgrimage to the Abbey of Gethsemani How To Develop A Spiritual Journal Process of Spiritual Growth Sitemap Spiritual Direction Workshops Merton Retreats More Thoughts with Merton in Solitude

Dan K. Phillips, writer of this story, is the author of the internet travel book FOUR CORNERS - A LITERARY EXCURSION ACROSS AMERICA and is the editor of the monthly travel e-zine The Web Surfer Travel Journal. He also writes extensively on the works of the monk and poet, Thomas Merton. Please check all of these sites. THANKS!

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