12MC Coming to New Zealand and Australia

A funny thing happened on the way to Oklahoma City, where I hoped to spend our summer 2018 holiday chasing new counties. The family overruled me. My wife pointed out that our older son will be on his own soon. He’ll be off to college in a couple of years. Opportunities for family vacations will fade as he navigates class schedules, internships, and frankly things that he will rather do without us. We won’t be empty nesters for awhile although I guess my wife felt the tug of time and wanted to take one more big vacation with the whole family. She asked him where he wanted to go, and apparently he misheard me when I whispered Oklahoma because he said Australia. Actually he said, "Really? Oklahoma? When I can go anywhere in the world?" Then he rolled his eyes.

I’ve been to Australia so I wanted to go somewhere new. I did manage to wrangle a concession out of the transaction. Could we stop in New Zealand too since we’d be all the way out there already? The family agreed so sometime in June / July we’ll spend a week in New Zealand and a week in Australia. That falls right in the middle of southern hemispheric winter. Unfortunately, schedules pushed us that way so we didn’t have much choice. I know the deal and I’ll dress appropriately. I won’t be one of those American tourists hopping off the plane in shorts and a T-shirt expecting beach weather.

Now I need your advice. Several 12MC readers live in those countries and others of you have undoubtedly traveled there. I’ll outline the basic plan and maybe readers can offer some suggestions.

New Zealand

Hobbiton. Photo by othree on Flickr (cc)

The New Zealand portion of our journey will focus on Auckland with various day-trips on the North Island. I suspect we’ll take a ferry to at least one of the nearby islands in the Hauraki Gulf (map). We’ll probably have to stop at the Hobbiton Movie Set because every New Zealand visit now requires a Lord of the Rings encounter. I think it’s a law. Geothermal activity at Rotorua also remains high on the potential list as does Waitomo Caves.

Don’t worry about my driving on the opposite side of the road, either. I’ve done that many times before and I can adjust quickly, even shifting gears left-handed. I survived Ireland with the world’s narrowest winding roads so this won’t intimidate me.


Hunter Valley Wine Region
Hunter Valley Wine Region. Photo by Lock the Gate Alliance on Flickr (cc)

Our stop in Australia will feel like returning to an old friend. Was our previous visit really twenty years ago? I doesn’t seem like it. Last time we focused on Sydney and Brisbane. This time I think we’ll stick primarily with Sidney and then head up the coast towards Newcastle and the Hunter Valley. Longtime readers will understand the reason. Booze. The watershed of the Hunter River offers one of the oldest and best known wine growing regions in Australia. Lots of craft breweries have located there in the last few years too. The kids can go whale watching or whatever. I’m planning to enjoy some wineries.

Of course, I can’t ignore Sydney and we’ll spend some time there too. We’ll probably do a lot of the same tourist stuff we did last time although it will all be new for the kids. Nobody will believe we’ve been there if we don’t come back with selfies at the Sydney Opera House and the Harbour Bridge, as examples. What I’d really like to see, however, are those interesting places enjoyed by locals that tourists rarely see. Are there also geo-oddities that most locals might not even know about? You know, stuff worthy of 12MC attention?


That’s it. The details remain a bit fuzzy although the outline continues to brighten. My wife decided to put off renovating the kitchen for another year so we can do this thing. She’s serious. Nothing stops her. It’s going to happen.

Suggestions are kindly encouraged. I can leave the comments open only for a few days before the spam bots inundate me, so please email me directly if you miss the window. It won’t do much good after June 2018 although anytime before that would work. I’ll be sure to acknowledge anyone who makes a suggestion that I adopt. It will appear in a future article after the trip.

Thanks for helping fill the gaps.

Tom’s Day

I remembered the day well although I couldn’t recall the exact date. It came to be known as "Tom’s Day," within my close circle of friends, a day so perfectly aligned with my interests that it must have occurred through divine intervention. No day will likely improve upon it. Many readers will probably consider it frivolous or even pathetic. How could it really be the best? My wedding and the birth of my children were more important of course. However, for sheer selfishness, nothing beat this single day focused completely on me and only me.

The topic came up in conversation from time-to-time, even as recently as a few weeks ago. None of us could remember the exact date. Was it a dream? I had to confirm its existence. Tom’s Day, I finally deduced, fell on September 16, 1995.

All events happened within a small, easily walkable area in and around the National Mall in Washington, DC. Even the weather reflected a comfortable perfection, a reasonable 71° Fahrenheit (22° C).

Frisbee Dog World Championship

Launch by Todd Jones on Flickr (cc)

Tom’s Day began at the Friskies Canine Frisbee Disc World Finals on the grounds of the Washington Monument, on its western side. I’d been a big fan of Frisbee dogs for awhile. They used to perform at halftime shows at my old alma mater once a year during football season. The football team lost a lot of games and the halftime shows usually sucked. Sometimes the fortunate appearance of Frisbee dogs spelled the difference between an awful afternoon and a somewhat tolerable one.

The Friday edition of the Washington Post on the eve of my perfect day mentioned an intriguing weekend highlight: "See 14 canine athletes compete in Frisbee-catching events during the World Finals of the Friskies Canine Frisbee Disk Championships, from 10:30 to 2 Saturday on the grounds of the Washington Monument." That was all I needed for motivation. Soarin’ Sam would win the championship for the third year in a row. I don’t recall if I stayed to the end; another even more momentous event beckoned.

Here I have to thank my wife the research librarian for digging into online newspaper archives to find that reference for me. I never would have found it on my own.


One of my favorite bands of that era, Fugazi, performed a free show on the southeast lawn of the Washington Monument. They played at the Sylvan Theater, an outdoor amphitheater set into a little knoll down by Independence Avenue. Only a few hundred feet separated Frisbee dogs from Fugazi although few realized it because sloping topography shielded one from the other. Anyone who ever heard of Fugazi understood this was a big deal, an easy opportunity to see one of DC’s most famous and influential punk bands in person with minimal effort. I’d seen them before and I would see them later although never again in the literal shadow of the Washington Monument.

This event served as the key to learning the actual date of Tom’s Day. Fugazi played at the Sylvan Theater only twice, and the other date didn’t fit. That led to the newspaper archive where I found the Frisbee dogs that confirmed the confluence.

I was going to illustrate this section with some generic photo of the band. However, someone actually took a video of the actual show I attended and posted it on YouTube. The camera shook and the sound quality didn’t amount to much although it was definitely the same show. Unfortunately, I stood towards the back of the audience and the camera didn’t capture my presence. I did check though.

Mid-Atlantic Beer and Food Festival

The crowds of Oktober
The crowds of Oktober. Photo by Scott Heath on Flickr (cc)

The show concluded and next came the Mid-Atlantic Beer and Food Festival. That same Washington Post listing I mentioned earlier also recommended the beer festival: "Sample 40 beers and enjoy live music at the Mid-Atlantic Beer and Food Festival, from noon to 6 Saturday and Sunday at 11th and H streets, NW." The location surprised me a little. My fading memory placed it closer to the National Mall. Still, the distance couldn’t have been too terrible because I know we covered it on foot.

The address made perfect sense in retrospect. It fell right alongside DC’s first brewpub, Capitol City Brewing. The business still exists although brewing takes place at a different facility now. I seemed to remember that the festival stretched for a couple of blocks although I hit a research roadblock trying to confirm it. Precious little information about a defunct festival held more than twenty years ago remained online. Finally I did uncover a mention in an old article from Washington City Paper once I learned the actual name of the festival from that Washington Post reference. The festival occupied H St., between 11th and 13th Streets, NW. Funny, my memory played another trick on me here too. I though the festival stretched north-south when actually it stretched east-west.

The same brewpub still holds an Oktoberfest at its Shirlington/Arlington location across the river although no vestige of the old Mid-Atlantic Beer and Food Festival remained. I’d heard at the time that shutting down two streets in downtown DC for a weekend proved to be too much of a hassle.

Anyway, for all of the reasons one might imagine, I enjoyed the beer festival immensely. We even bumped into another group of friends completely by accident who didn’t know we’d be there. Tom’s Day broadened its circle.


That evening, returning home on the subway, we stopped at a restaurant for my all-time favorite cuisine — barbecue. That was a perfect way to end my perfect day. I even got to bed nice and early.

My wife and I were still newlyweds at the time although she didn’t attend Tom’s Day. We lived apart briefly until she finished Grad School. She heard all about the day though, and she’s had to listen to stories over-and-over as the years passed. That’s why she gets a pass whenever she wants to take a Girls’ Weekend. It was worth it though.

Everyone should have at least one Tom’s Day in their lifetime.

Before and After

I’ve returned, in a sense. The decompression lasted a little over two months and I’m ready to start posting occasional articles again. However, the old Twelve Mile Circle remains firmly in the past where it belongs. I don’t want to go back in time although I do miss interacting with the wonderful readers of 12MC. New posts will happen sporadically whenever I have something worthwhile to share.

Moving On

I’ve been busy these few weeks, really busy. The Twelve Mile Circle site looks a lot different than the last time anyone dropped by. A new design reflects an interesting realization, that something like sixty percent of visitors arrived here using mobile phones. The old theme couldn’t handle small screens well. I focused on improvements like that with the extra time I didn’t spend writing articles.

A worthy successor also appeared on the scene. I hope everyone got a chance to read Mapping Americana. The author, Aaron O’Neill, followed 12MC for several years and decided to give it a try when I called it quits. Mapping Americana picked up where 12MC left off. I read every article. It’s nice to sit on the receiving end of good geo-oddity content.

The extra time also let me enjoy pursuits that maybe fell farther down on my list during the previous decade. I renewed my love of reading, I ran a half-marathon, I visited several new breweries. The historian in me that often made guest appearances in 12MC came to the forefront. I spent a lot more time on my personal family history, my long-neglected genealogy pursuits, and I made great progress on projects long neglected. A couple of work trips took me out of town and then the holidays kept me busy. Those following my Twitter feed learned much of this already. Surprisingly, I even picked up a handful of new Twitter followers unrelated to 12MC.


I wandered around the neighborhood a lot too, either while running for exercise or during long contemplative walks. Several years ago I walked over to a house where my dad’s cousins once lived. The address had appeared in the 1930 Census. However, Arlington County changed most of its street names later that decade to create an alphanumeric grid. I actually had to go down to the county library’s local history room to cross-reference the address so I could find the house.

The Vacant Lot

I did find it and I sent a few photos to the cousins who hadn’t thought about their old home in years. Some of the cousins stopped by the house a couple of years later and found a vacant lot. It had been bulldozed. Unfortunately that seemed to be a common characteristic in my neighborhood recently. Perfectly functional, architecturally distinct homes seemed to be less desirable than big boxes with modern amenities and sheer square footage. The dirt beneath the old homes became too valuable to justify their continuing existence in they eyes of many people hoping to move there.

Anyway, with more time on my hands I could better discern the rapid replacement of historic homes as I explored my way down different streets. I also spent a bunch of time on Google Street View and I could actually catalog a lot of the changes. Here were a couple of examples found near my home.


This imposing behemoth replaced a simple frame house.

Modern House

I wasn’t even sure how to categorize this other thing. It looked almost like a small office building although it served as a single family residence. Someday many years from now my own home will probably face a similar fate. The economics of this close-in area no longer support older homes of modest proportions. I may shed a little tear when that happens while I pocket a pile of cash that will help fuel my eventual retirement.

More Plans

Future articles will have an actual focus and maybe even make a point. This time, I think, the only real purpose was to let everyone know I was still out here assuming anyone might have wondered. I have some major travel plans over the next several months that should result in a series of articles. I may finish counting all of the counties in one or more states. Also, I want to start coloring in more of the interior of the nation. Finally, I hope to take a trip to a foreign destination this summer although I’m not quite ready to reveal the location.

Stay tuned. It may take a little while longer before I post additional content although the new era of Twelve Mile Circle has begun.