Shaking the Family Tree

W-4hen you shake my family tree, a few nuts fall out. Case in point: My great uncle Arza. He worked in a traveling vaudeville-style show in the early 20th century. Here he is, far left, dressed as a clown, complete with doggy. I bet the dog did tricks.


I don’t know much about the photo or the troupe, but this picture must be over 100 years old. Arza died in March, 1977, at the age of 91.

That photo sits on our fireplace mantel, along with this one of him posing with his partner Schlosser (the other guy in clown costume above) with guitar and mandolin. His last name was Killey, but apparently he went by “Kelly” in show business:

File Jul 31, 5 55 50 PM

“Schlosser & Kelly, Musical Team” My great uncle Arza Killey, right. 

(I don’t know about you, but I think the stringed instruments in the two photos are the same ones.)

I wish I could tell you more about Arza’s colorful life, but when I knew him he was quite elderly and being cared for by my much younger grandmother. He never married. He and my Uncle Glen, who also traveled with the show, were members of the Elks, a fraternal organization founded by theatrical types. One time, Glen and Arza “fixed” a dent in their car by welding a piece of sheet metal over it. They were always doing crazy things like that, but that’s about all I know. Every time Arza tried to tell us a story about his life, his sister, my grandmother, would interrupt him with “oh, these kids don’t want to hear your old stories.” But we did. We did.

What Is a Box Girder Bridge, Anyway?

Dumbarton Bridge

The Dumbarton Bridge over the San Francisco Bay is a large box girder bridge.

In The Pickwicks’ Picnic, the family is on the road, heading for a box girder bridge. What’s a box girder bridge, anyway? And why is it so fun to say?

Box girder bridges are very common. You might cross one all the time and not even know it. The name comes from the fact that the girders–the steel and/or concrete parts that support the bridge deck–are shaped like a hollow box.

“A box girder is formed when two web plates are joined by a common flange at both the top and the bottom.” —

Does that clear things up? No? Personally, I feel that any definition of a thing that mentions something called a “flange” is not going to help me to picture it at all. But the point is, box girders are often used in bridge building. When seen in cross-section, they look like this:

Box girder cross sections

Cross sections of box girders

Sam Houston Waterway Bridge

This is a big box girder toll bridge over the Sam Houston waterway in Texas. It is also described, apparently, as a cantilevered concrete trapezoidal haunched hollow box girder bridge.

Got it now? No? Well, don’t worry about it. Anyway, just trust me, box girders are a popular option for constructing bridges, both large and small. The boxes, or cells as they are sometimes called, make the bridge super strong.

Why is it so fun to say? Box girder bridge, box girder bridge. I think it’s because it has a great rhythm to it, like a waltz, one-two-and-three, one-two-and-three. And it also uses alliteration, with the words that start with B. No matter what, you’d have to agree that “box girder bridge” fits better into the words of the book than “cantilevered concrete trapezoidal haunched hollow box girder bridge” (which is a real thing).

Worst. Traffic. Ever.


Mom and Daddy, Pip and Peach

Where in the world is the traffic the worst?
In Brussels the roadways are ready
to burst.
The streets in Seattle are pretty full, too.
How is the traffic in cities near you?

There is (spoiler alert) a HUGE traffic jam in the middle of The Pickwicks’ Picnic, which had me wondering where the worst places for road miseries are across the globe.


Mexico City

The GPS people at TomTom keep track of traffic congestion and maintain a list of the metropolitan areas around the world that suffer the most. My city makes the list at #108. The #1 city might just surprise you though (Hint: It’s not Los
Angeles). Have a look.

The Pickwicks' Picnic

Cover, The Pickwicks’ Picnic, illustrated by Renee Kurilla