Google maps had my last walk at 29 miles, from downtown York to the Gettysburg Hotel, 1 Lincoln Square in Gettysburg, Route 30 all the way. The only decision I had to make was where to eat, and the walk was so rural that it was likely to be slim pickings anyway.
Out of idle curiosity, I looked up the distance from Gettysburg to Latrobe, a route that Arnold Palmer and Neil Oxman had traveled many times, and Dwight and Mamie Eisenhower at least once. The answer was 137 miles, all of it on 30. In other words, another five or six days, walking. That wasn’t going to happen, not for me, not on this trip. (I could cite a hundred reasons, including a total lack of desire, but I’ll cite here only one more: my day job required me to be in Augusta.) The name Arnold Palmer shows up all over Latrobe, as the name Lincoln does in Gettysburg. The Latrobe airport is named for Arnold. The SpringHill Suites—owned by Arnold and a short walk to the Winnie Palmer Nature Preserve—is on Arnold Palmer Drive. The field house at Latrobe High is named for Arnold, and there’s an Arnold Palmer Pavilion at the hospital in Latrobe. Arnold has said it a million times, although not with these words: Latrobe is the center of his universe, and had been for all of his 86 years. Arnold has his townhouse in Orlando and a casita in the California desert, but Latrobe is home. Lincoln, by the way, in the whole of his 56 years, spent one night in Gettysburg. Many places claim him, but he claimed, in the main, Springfield, Illinois.
I waited for the Yorkeville hotel restaurant to open at seven, but when the morning staff failed to show I moved on—moveon.org—and found breakfast elsewhere. York was still, beautiful and cold at sunrise. Leaving town, I crossed a short handsome bridge over Codorus Creek, walled on both sides, aged industrial buildings right on its banks, round trees showing not a hint of spring between them. The city’s old Western National Bank, a grand and columned temple of wealth, was now its YMCA. In another time, the WNB officers were members of the local country club—the Country Club of York—about three miles away. In 1926, the club’s elders commissioned Donald Ross, already a celebrated architect, to build the current course. A private club with a Donald Ross course—now that was a stamp of Roaring Twenties affluence. (On a clubhouse wall, there’s a 1963 photo of Arnold with members. High living.) The Yorketown Hotel, in all her 11-story Renaissance splendor, was built at the same time. It was only 60 or years earlier that York had been under Confederate occupation but by the 1920s that must have seemed like ancient history. Prosperity promotes amnesia like nobody’s business.
The 1920s upper-class golf craze in America was rooted, at least in part, by a desire to outdo the British at their own game. Golf is an excellent place to practice class superiority (and pretentiousness). I’m certain that’s part of Trump’s draw to it. It pains me to admit this, but the game has raised my own status, too. (I cite as proof the cocktail parties I attend where men with summer homes ask me what Bubba Watson is really like, and I pretend to know.) Arnold’s enduring popularity, and endearing charm, is ultimately rooted in one basic fact. He never forgot that he was a working-class kid from another small, western Pennsylvania town, one among many, along the Lincoln Highway. Arnold took. Of course he took. We all take. But he gave, too, without complaint. He gave happily.
In various places in golf—in Augusta and Bay Hill in particular but not in Latrobe—they speak of Arnold as a great American. It’s a bit much. What he is, to me, is an iconic and original native son. He’s the kind of person only America—with our vast capacity for opportunity—could produce. The reason he never got tired of giving TV interviews or signing autographs in his ever-perfect penmanship or attending banquet dinners is because he knew that he could never give golf what the game had given him, but he was going to die trying. Also, his people fed his ego, which he managed to keep in check. This may be more than you can stand from your sportswriter/Route 30 tour guide but if you’ll indulge me: I don't believe Arnold Palmer could ever utter the words make America great again. His view would be this: America is great—my life proves it!
I’m dreading the inevitable, the day the news shows up on the bottom of a TV screen or an editor calls with it. In part because I can mark Arnold’s life and times alongside my parents’ lives and times. But also because I cannot give Arnold Palmer—nor is it my job to give him—what he has given me.
Once (I apologize to those who have read this before) I was saying good-bye to Arnold in the Latrobe Country Club parking lot. I had my right forearm on the ledge of his open window as Arnold sat behind the wheel of his Cadillac SUV. For good-bye, he placed his right hand in the middle of my forearm. It wasn’t the first time he had done something like that, but it was the last. He was letting me in. He was letting me in as he has let a million others in, in person and through the magic of TV. Arnold—Arnie—didn’t use his fame and charisma to scare people. No. He lifted us right up.
Maybe that’s why presidents were so drawn to him. What president wouldn't want to be associated with a man who made so many people feel just plain good? JFK had the White House photographer Cecil Stoughton film his golf swing with a plan for Kennedy and Arnold to analyze it together, but then came November 22, 1963.
On a happier note, Arnold enjoys telling an amusing story about playing golf with Clinton: After hitting a wild slice, Clinton told Palmer, “I promise you: you’ll never see me go that far right again.” Arnold knew Nixon and Reagan and logged a lot of rounds with Jerry Ford. I never had the chance to ask him about Trump as a presidential candidate, so I can't tell you anything about that. Ike was his main man. The rapport between the golfer and “the general” was obviously real. Arnold said of him, “He was my buddy.”
I was surprised to see that the teacher was Ted Sheftic, a name I knew well. I had never met him, but I had met his son, Mark, who teaches at Merion Golf Club (also off Route 30, as you may remember from Day I). Father and son are both highly regarded teachers and players. In a brief break in the action I introduced myself. I’m sure I looked like a complete nut, as red leotards were part of my Day V cold-and-wind get-up. The girl’s fingers were pink, but she seemed to be there of her own free will. Sheftic and I talked for a minute or two until he said, “I better get back to work.” If that’s not the spirit, I don’t know what is.
God may live in the details but in the main I consider my very existence essentially one stroke of luck: that my parents left Germany when they did. I have seen Our Town performed 15 or more times and take a great deal from it, but this above all: be grateful for what you have, all of it. My job (and its deadlines), Christine (and her to-do list), our kids (and their tuition bills), two good feet, true friends, two parents, a caring brother—how fortunate am I? You have your own list and lists, frustrations on them of course, as do we all. But for most of us, the good scale outweighs the bad. Anyway, you need both. Without life’s annoyances and struggles, what is the pleasure of a day at the beach? (Once, in Kapalua in Hawaii, I complimented a native on the weather. He shrugged. All he knew was blue skies and 82 degrees.) I’ll extend my gratitude list just briefly here. Enough health and stamina to be able to make it past the 100-mile mark. My trusty Subaru, back in the St. Joe’s parking lot. (Unless the towers got it!) Bosses that let me disappear now and again. A job I like and often love.
There in the sun, on the north side of 30—six or seven miles east of Gettysburg—I hunkered low like a sheep in a bunker and attempted to power-nap for maybe 45 minutes but I never really fell asleep. I rose, tied double knots one final time and marched on in to Gettysburg.
In the town square was a statue of Lincoln, top hat in one hand, the other holding the elbow of a bronze tourist reading the Gettysburg Address. Now is always a good time to reread it:
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate—we cannot consecrate—we cannot hallow—hall this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
One more thing, before we call it a night, here at the close of Day V. This is from the desk of Thornton Wilder, from the third act of Our Town—the cemetery scene, if you recall it—in words the playwright gave to his all-seeing Stage Manager:
Over there are some Civil War veterans. Iron flags on their graves . . . New Hampshire boys . . . had a notion that the Union ought to be kept together, though they’d never seen more than fifty miles of it themselves. All they knew was the name, friends—the United States of America. The United States of America. And they went out and died about it.