Friday, January 2, 2009

What's your perception?

By Lonnie Cruse

Most of us have learned to trust our senses, sight, hearing, smell, etc. Trust what we sense going on around us. Things like that. But now and then our senses or perceptions can be fooled. Take what happened to me recently.

We had friends visiting right before Christmas. While we were showing them the fantastic murals painted on the flood wall in downtown Paducah, Kentucky, we happened to stop near the River Heritage Museum. The museum, located right behind the flood wall on the Ohio River, had closed for the day, so we continued admiring the flood wall murals, promising to visit the museum the next morning, before our friends headed out of town.

I'd not been to the museum before, but my hubby had taken our grandsons there one afternoon when he was babysitting alone because I had to be elsewhere. Entering the museum, we were greeted by a friendly lady at the desk. She gave us tips on what to look for and we started the tour. The first area visitors pass through contains fantastic models of many paddle wheel boats that no longer exist but were a major source of travel a hundred years ago. Personally, I love the old paddle wheel boats, particularly the still-going-strong Delta Queen, complete with calliope which can be heard for miles when she rolls into Paducah to dock from time to time.

We saw an antique diver's outfit, complete with lead shoes to hold the wearer down on the bottom of the river. Scary looking, must have been even scarier to wear.

The next area contained pictures of various former river captains who commanded various tow boats as they maneuvered up and down the Ohio River. Included was a picture of the first female river captain and her life story. As someone who's always wanted to see the river from a tow boat, that really captured my imagination.

Next we stepped into a different room where the lights dimmed, thunder rolled and "rain" began to pour out of the ceiling-painted like sky-onto a model of the Ohio River as it passes between Western Kentucky and Southern Illinois. The water imitated how the river and land handle heavy rain storms and run-off while a narrator explained.

Beyond that room we saw other water-driven exhibits and exhibits about the various fish and other inhabitants of the river. And there is a lovely movie theater area with a film about travel on the river, how important it was to trade in the past and how important it still is. River barges can still move far more tonage than trains or trucks, and do it much cheaper.

This museum is located in the oldest building in Paducah. Upstairs is an area with antique furniture, set aside for meetings and/or special occasions. I was immediately drawn to the windows which are above the flood wall, thus affording a wonderful view of the river and river traffic. It once served as a hotel. Imagine staying there!

We finally circled around to the simulation room and here enters my perception problem. In the simulation room, there are four large, long "windows" in front of which sits the same kind of equipment that one would use to operate a tow boat, a coast guard cutter, and/or a speed boat. Unfortunately for the two men in our party, the speed boat wasn't operating. They tackled the cutter and had it dashing up and down the river in quick time.

To get us started the museum receptionist/guide demonstrated how to operate the tow boat on the simulator. As soon as she got the tow boat moving I found myself swaying to and fro (port to starboard for you other boat lovers) in order to keep my balance because the room was swaying with the current. Or was it? I asked. She assured me it wasn't. I didn't believe her, so I moved to the wall and leaned against it, planting my feet firmly, so I could prove it was swaying. It wasn't.

She explained that the movement of the simulated boat in the simulated water tricked visitors' brains into thinking the room was swaying when it wasn't. I'da bet the farm the room moved. I'da lost. Which got me thinking. Thinking about simulators, IMAXs, Knottsberry Farm and other such foolers of our senses.

I've already told you what the simulator did to me, making me look like an idiot in front of our friends, swaying back and forth to keep my balance when the room wasn't actually moving (and no, I didn't ask if they felt it, I was too busy acting like I hadn't really done that.) And then there are the IMAX theaters where you feel like you are really flying the plane down into the Grand Canyon, so you grip the chair arms and try not to be air sick. And best of all there is that little bitty house inside Knottsberry Farm (California) where water actually runs uphill and people stand sideways on walls, stuff like that. Or do they? Sigh.

Oh, and before I forget, if you ever have a chance to pilot a tow boat either simulated or for real, be advised that response time is very slow. So, you turn the wheel, the boat continues straight, nothing happens, you turn more, still nothing happens, you turn again, and suddenly the boat begins to REALLY turn. In a circle. Not good on a busy river with a tow boat pushing anywhere from three to nine fully loaded barges, and there's that pesky couple of bridges with traffic on them, right smack in your way. So you quickly spin the wheel back, but how far do you turn it back before you realize you've over-corrected. So you over-correct again . . . and . . . sigh.

How are your perceptions in cases like this? Think they can't be fooled? Even when you know something in front of you isn't real? How about meeting me at the River Heritage Museum in Paducah, Kentucky? I'll make sure you get some quality time in the simulator. Better bring some camping gear. If you love the river like I do, you won't want to leave.


Bill McCleery said...

I hope to finally come to Metropolis and Paducah with my wife and daughters this spring. I guess we'll just visit during a regular weekend instead of during the big Metropolis Superman celebration -- though that would be something to see. But we'll be sure to visit this museum in Paducah!

Mary Moss said...

Paducah sounds similar to Richmond, VA! Much of our history includes the James River. We don't have a museum that, though we do have a couple that are pretty interesting:-)

Lonnie Cruse said...

Hi Bill, yes, be sure to see the museum. It's right behind the flood wall between Ky Ave. and Broadway.

Hi Mary, your area sounds beautiful!

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