Category Archives: Autobiographical

Contains events in the lives of Joe, his family and friends … as described by them.

Lemons to Lemonade Travelogue

Prologue.  My wife and I planned a four-week trip to Italy and Bavaria for early this past autumn.  Unfortunately, we had to cancel the trip at the last moment due to a false-positive covid test.  Trust us, it was a false-positive and we’re fully vaxxed. To say the least, we were disappointed. Making lemonade from lemons during our 10 days of state-of-Colorado-imposed quarantine (unnecessarily) we outlined a ‘round the country driving tour to see and experience things we wouldn’t normally consider, leaving plenty of time for serendipitous discovery and exploration of the country’s lesser known and appreciated towns, highways and byways, as well as see some major cities and sites that were still on our list of places and things to see.  [You can follow along in a photo album here]

4,255 Miles; follow the highlight

Thursday, September 30 – Depart home about 6:30 AM.   Hit Kit Carson, CO to see the town and peruse the KC museum, which was closed.  Very quiet, tiny and old town.

Headed to the Sand Creek Massacre Site.  Lots of county dirt roads en route. Drove through herds of cattle on the roads. You really, really have to want to go there.  Somber.  Walk in brisk late morning air to overlook.  Spoke with Ranger, asked a few questions and moved on.

Then to Ingalls, Kansas.  Stopped in a cute, little and odd museum for a break.  It said Santa Fe Trail Museum, but it’s really just all sorts of local history. Very local.  Dusty old registers and accounting books, mostly for property taxes, going back over 100 years.  Found an old Columbia gramophone.  Learned about the attempted Soule Canal, an effort to irrigate this region with water from the Arkansas River.

Continue To Dodge City, Kansas.  Saw lots of unharvested reddish-orange sorghum along the way. Great folks at the Dodge Visitor info center.  Even gave us wooden nickels.  Nice brewery in the afternoon.  City history walking tour; Dodge City Trail of Fame.  Learned about Bat Masterson, Doc Holliday, and Wyatt Earp.  Yes, even James Arness/Matt Dillon, and many others, including actors in Gunsmoke.

Friday, October 1 – Delightful Boot Hill Museum.  Reconstruction of the old Dodge City.

[Ingalls and Dodge City are both along the Arkansas River and Santa Fe Trail.  Dodge has an Amtrak stop.  Was named for the old Fort Dodge, 5 miles away to get around Army liquor restrictions at the Fort.  Train station has two magnificent and large sun dial clocks for passengers to check time, one central time, one western.  How large?  Over 40 feet across. Each has their own analemma correction chart as well (although these are identical).  Located almost exactly at 100 deg west latitude, which was the time zone boundary at the time, since the railroads instituted time zones in 1883, and also the artificial line between the dry west and the humid center of the country.]

Drive to Wichita.  Where we stayed in a 1971 RV camper (cozy) adjacent and “hardwired” to a building for water, sewer and electric.  Found 2 microbreweries, one with nice beers (Hopping Gnome) but on busy noisy Russel Street.  There we met a delightful young couple.  He’s an aerospace structural engineer and a glider (soaring) enthusiast who built his own trailer.  She’s a teacher. The next (Central Standard Brewing) 2 blocks away with a quiet and enjoyable Biergarten. No chatty nice couples, though.

Saturday, October 2 – Explore Wichita, mostly the Old Town Farm and Art Market.  Dodged a few raindrops at first but it stopped by 11AM.  Learned about Coleman Lanterns, Mr Coleman and the World War II password code response “Coleman” to the query “lantern”.  [Essay on Mr Coleman and his lanterns here].

It was train day! Old steam powered train engine was running.  Right near a brewery.  Third Place Brewing.  Looked at old train stuff in the museum.  Very small and cozy brew tasting room, near the old and restored rail station (no longer a station as before).

Stopped by the Kansas Aviation Museum on the way out of town, right next to the old airport, now McConnell AFB. It has a lot of cool stuff, but I’d say it’s a bit disorganized.  Nice wing on Beech history, even a plaque for Ball.  We saw it all in about 1.5 hours. It’s in the old Airport building, Art Deco from 1929.

Wichita is also on the Arkansas River, which sort of seemed to be our guide on and off for the first several days.

On to Claremore, OK.

Wow, what a great AirBnB. Gene was our host.  He’s an architect who does house designs for both initial builds and remodels; he has really done a great job with this AirBnB. Even has a hottub. His brother, to whom he was very close, passed away while we were there. Sad. He reminded us of Fred Rogers.  Quite possibly the best host we’ve ever had.  Certainly, the nicest and one of the more inexpensive ones too.  Remarkable, since he’s currently the only AirBnB host in Claremore.

Sunday October 3Will Rogers Museum, quite close to Gene’s AirBnB.  Wow, definitely leave time for this one.  Like several hours.  Bring an extra layer, as they have the A/C cranked … they say to keep the humidity down and preserve some Rogers’ artifacts.  Built in 1938 in just 6-1/2 months with private funds (Rogers perished in 1935 in a plane crash in northern Alaska).

Left for Fort Smith, Arkansas early afternoon.  But we took a slight detour to see what it was like to be an Okie from Muskogee.  Well, a rather sad town.  Not much going on.  A bunch of pot shops.  Weird, since the famous Merle Haggard song begins with “We don’t smoke Marijuana in Muskogee.”  Pot is only legal for medical treatment in Oklahoma, so I presume the region has a lot of very sick people who really need their medical Marijuana.

Rejoin and cross the Arkansas River to enter Arkansas at Fort Smith.  The Arkansas River coincides with the OK-ARK state line here, and the quirky bend in the border needs to be investigated.  Nearly all of Arkansas’ state boundaries are straight survey lines (with the exceptions of some little nicks that are partly defined by the Red and St Francis Rivers in the SW and NE corners; and of course the Mississippi River).  How they arranged a kink in the north-south line for the boundary to be right on the river at Fort Smith must be an interesting story.

Walked the grounds of the Old Fort Smith (actual fort), walked along the river, nice amphitheater, and found a brewery, imagine that. Bricktown Brewery.  Right near the old fort.  The amphitheater was setting up for a big concert; presumably per our server it is quite a happening site for concerts.

AirBnB well to SE of town center.  Not the best, but it did ok.

Monday, October 4. Not much more to see, as the Fort Smith History Museum was closed (Monday), so we wandered over to Miss Laura’s Visitors Center, which is actually a well-preserved bordello from back in late 1890s.  It’s right near the river and the railroad tracks.  Our tour was given by the most delightful lady, 91-years old.  She absolutely loves being a tour guide in Ft Smith, even though she kept saying she’s an Okie from just across the river, in the flood plain.

Well off on to backroads again to Mount Nebo State Park, Arkansas. Along the way we stopped in Paris, Arkansas.  They have a small park near the center of town with a very small-scale low-resolution replica of the Eiffel Tower (25 ft tall, vs the original, at 1,000 ft).  So of course, we took selfies there.

Arrived at Mount Nebo, a hidden gem getaway on a mountain that rises abruptly up and out of the Arkansas River basin. We checked into our 1930s vintage cabin, built by the CCC 1933-35.  Very cool.  Watched sunset at Sunset Point at one end of the mountain.  Great views of the valleys below, including, you guessed it, the Arkansas River.

Tuesday, October 5.  Took the Ridge Trail hike around the crest of Mount Nebo.  Scenic.  Got a bit warm by the end.  Glad we had our hiking poles.  Kinda dicey for our old knees in places.  A nice 2.5 or 3 mile hike which we took at a very leisurely pace.

Headed over to sister Beth and bro-in-law Doug’s place along backroads, avoiding interstates.  Hit the edge of Jacksonville, AR, which reminded me of an old college buddy.  I found his number and called.  Left a message.  He texted back. I texted him.  We’ve chatted since.  It’s been well over 40 years, but we have good memories to share.

Had a great time visiting Beth and Doug.  Walked the yard, the garden.  Very pleasant evening.  Doug smoked some brisket.  Mmmmm.

Wednesday, October 6.  A little more visiting with Beth and Doug (Nice they were able to take the days off), and a nice breakfast.

Then off for Memphis.  Over half the way along US-70 (not interstate) but did pick up I-40 in Forrest City.  Crossed the Mississippi, finally leaving the Arkansas River watershed.

After checking into AirBnB on near east end, did the quick driving tour of downtown.  Then a history walk (nice) and also up-and-down Beale Street (over rated) and through historic region on east end of downtown.

Thursday, October 7.  Back into downtown for the National Civil Rights Museum at Lorraine Motel.  Over 5 hours! And 5 stars! Fascinating.  Lots of primary source history.  We took a break in the middle to get some BBQ nearby (Central Que BBQ).  A “must see” (the museum, not the BBQ).

We were told the Bass Pro Pyramid near the river is a “must see” also, so we did it.  Well: wow.  It’s huge.  It’s got everything, even “cabin” hotel rooms.  Pretty impressive place.  Check it out: Big-cypress.com.

Then stopped at a hole-in-the wall (Cozy Corner Restaurant) and took some takeaway BBQ to our room .

Friday, October 8.  Well, we hadn’t seen quite enough of Memphis yet, so back into town in the AM to see some older neighborhoods, like the Cooper-Young neighborhood, and some of the perimeter of Overland Park.  One more spin through downtown and the famous St Jude’s Children’s Hospital area, then on I-40 toward Nashville. An hour or so along the route we cross into  the Tennessee and Cumberland River basins.

About halfway to Nashville we got off I-40 for a detour over to Johnsonville State Historic Park, which has a nice little museum, and was the site of an important Civil War battle (and a skirmish).  It was a post along a major supply line (on the Tennessee River) for the Blue Jackets. Hiked the battleground, lake front (river is now dammed) and hill where fort was located. Departing, we followed the old US-70 through some small towns, including Waverly.  The devastation of the late August 2021 flood there was still evident, as we saw many tons of waste (sofas, carpeting, mattresses, drywall, etc – all damaged beyond repair) piled up along the highway and side roads.  [Deadly Waverly Flood, Aug 2021]

Made it to west side of Nashville around 5:3PM0 to meet old grad-school buddy Bob Beall and his wonderful wife Leslie at a BBQ joint near them.  A bit upscale for BBQ (Honey Fire BBQ), but very nice, and the company was terrific.  So good to see them again.  We had dropped in a few years ago for a visit.  Great to stay in touch with such good people.  Even if they were raised in Louisiana.

To a Days Inn east/southeast of town probably 20-25 minutes from dinner on the west end.

Saturday October 9 – Drive I-24 over the mountain (Mount Eagle). Kind of a pretty drive for an interstate.  Got off to go into South Pittsburg (TN) to visit the Lodge Factory Store (think: cast iron).  No bargains, but a pretty town along the Tennessee River.  I-24 looked a bit clogged, so we took all back roads from there to Chattanooga.

Got to “Chatty” early enough to tour the Chattanooga Choo-Choo station, and take a local bus to the Tennessee River front area, and took a nice walking tour there along the river, and of downtown.  Cool, hip, happening city.  Who knew?  Walked all the way back to car at Choo-choo station.  Stopped at the Big River Grill near downtown for a bite and a couple brews. Stopped by their large Oktoberfest celebration area; ticketed entry, we passed after a couple of pictures. Then up Lookout Mountain (another civil war battle site) to see what we could see (seven different states, presumably), then duck into the cave to see Ruby Falls, which has, at about 130 feet, the supposed tallest underground waterfall in the world.  Very cool, but gosh, that place makes a lot of money.  Tourists lined up all day to see it.

Well, that’s Chatty.  Now about 25 minutes over to Cleveland, TN our AirBnB, hosted by Dan & Nancy.  Nice couple.  He is a regional manager for the bakeries in Panera Bread; she’s a nurse.  Like the nickname for nearby Chattanooga, they were rather chatty, but very pleasantly so.  Eager to share stories and give us tips.  But time to move on.

Sunday, October 10.  Off to Asheville, NC, but no Interstate for us, at least to start.  Followed US 64 & 74, which is generally along the Ocoee River, up in the Appalachian Hills and still part of the Tennessee River system.  We stopped at the Ocoee Whitewater Center to hike a bit along the river and see the site of the 1996 Olympic whitewater events.  I did not know there were so many dams along the Ocoee; I counted 3.  Then along US-23 into Asheville.

After checking in late afternoon, almost in the center of downtown, we wandered over to the closest microbrewery (Hi-Wire) where we met a nice couple a tad younger than us (about 10 yrs), from near Chatty.  Kevin and Tammy.  We hit it off so well, we walked to another nearby micro-brewery (Wicked Weed) with them and hung out a bit.  Then weariness set in and we crashed hard into bed.

Monday, October 11.  Day to hangout in Asheville and not drive.  Started out with a 2.5 hour guided walking history tour of Asheville.  Tour guide Jess (I think).  Good stuff.  Founded 1797 along the French Broad River (part of the upper Tennessee system), and a convenient location approximately halfway between Raleigh and Chatty.  Surrounded by hills.  Spirits tasting at Cultivated Cocktails – local craft distiller.  Quite nice.  Good story behind the Grove Arcade, and why it’s only 3 stories tall.  Then over the Asheville Pinball Museum, a “hands on” museum experience for a couple of hours.    My hands and fingers were more than a bit sore.

After photographing the beautiful St Lawrence Basilica<

/a>, which was sadly closed, we wandered over to Twin Leaf Brewing, as we had what were sort-of free drink tokens.  Well, it was an okay deal, but the beer wasn’t great, but we did enjoy the environment and get to see a different part of town.

Then down to the riverfront to try and watch the sunset from some parks there.  Mostly blocked by mountains.  The parks seem to have recovered well after being inundated and swept over by floods back in August, some muddy soil debris was still evident.

We tried to see the Biltmore House area, but of course could not get anywhere near it.  Seems kind of touristy and bourgeois anyhow.  Drove through Biltmore Village, which is nice and has a different modern and dense feel than the rest of Asheville.  Off to Trader Joe’s for some supplies and a good night’s rest.  Tomorrow is a lot of driving.

Tuesday, October 12.  Jumped on the Blue Ridge Parkway after stopping in the Visitor Center for tips and ideas.  Cruised that scenic roadway for several hours. About 175 miles of the 469 total, or so. Gorgeous, especially in October.  Can’t be in a hurry.  It’s 50mph speed limit, tops, and quite twisty anyhow.  We got off near the Virginia border right after hitting one last overlook and short hike, Fox Hunters Paradise and High Piney Spur.  Some backroads through tiny places like Galax and Woodlawn, VA, then hopped on I-77 to I-81 and cruised into Edelweiss German Restaurant, just outside Staunton, VA, for some good wurst, schnitzel and spätzle.

Hotel, Days Inn, just a few minutes away.  We could’ve taken I-81 but didn’t.

That was a lot of driving.  Saw a lot of beautiful scenery.  Crossed over into the Shenandoah/Potomac River basin.

Wednesday, October 13Staunton, VA. Stopped in for tour of Woodrow Wilson’s birthplace.  It’s called a library, but I didn’t see it that way.  Sort of a WW museum.  Good tour.  Interesting perspective on history.  Hit a coffee shop on the way out of town.

Hit I-81 for a short while (~15 min) then exited and took many state and county roads through the mountains.  Passed through a crook of Maryland, and rested our butts for a while in Oakland, MD, mostly a thrift store there.  I know Audrey bought something, but I can’t remember what. Old train depot has been totally repurposed.  Nail and Beauty salon, accountants, and lawyers.  I wandered by looking for something interesting and a lady asked me sincerely if I wanted a manicure.  I caught her off guard.  Her question caught me off guard. No time for my first mani now.  Some US highways then finally caught I-68, just inside the MD Stateline and 20 or 30 miles from Morgantown, WV – our destination for today.

Entered Morgantown, which was much hillier than I expected, although it is the home to the Mountaineers, the nickname of UWVa.  Went right to the Don Knotts statue (it’s his hometown) and snapped some photos.

Then off to check out the heart of downtown and the Monongahela River waterfront.  (As a sign we’re about to head west again, the Monongahela feeds the Ohio River). First hit Morgantown Brewery, and we split a tasty burger.  About 1 block off the river.  Nice place, with a back deck and slight view of river.  Trivia night.  I couldn’t get a team together, so we went out to walk the river front.  Met some really nice people chatting, one of whom was a city cop.  That’s his beat, just cruising the river.  Nice walkways, and amphitheater.  Seemed like a pretty “high end” college town. Returned to the brewery to checkout Trivia Night.  Stayed for a few questions.  Two pretty difficult questions that I knew the answers to.  Shared them with neighboring table, kind of hoping to get invited to join in.  [e.g., in what bodies of water are each of these four islands: Isle Royale, Goat, Mackinac and Corsica?  In what movie is the line “You may call me: Oh Captain, my captain” said?]

Time to get some sleep.  La Quinta in, on the edge of town.  More driving tomorrow.

Thursday, October 14.  Turning seriously back west now, as Morgantown was our farthest east (also northeast). Cruising I-79 north into PA for a bit, picking up I-70 west then into Ohio.  I-77 north until we stop in Canton to see the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Not as impressive as I’d hoped, but still pretty good and a bucket list item.  Audrey passed it up to have some personal time with coffee.

We took OH-8 north, and just on the north side of Akron we found a park that the Cuyahoga River flows through and has cut a pretty deep and impressive gorge.  Who knew?  Took a nice hike there, I think it’s called Gorge Park in the town of Cuyahoga Falls.  Somewhere near Canton we’ve crossed a divide, as the Cuyahoga feeds Lake Erie, not the Ohio River.

From there to our AirBnB on the outskirts of Cleveland … which is pretty sprawling when combined with all the little urban and suburban satellite communities.  We stayed in Warrensville Heights.  There is a light commuter rail station nearby.  We found that, but parking was very minimal, and the rail seemed to be very lightly used.  Covid?  We did find a brewery in that entertainment district, which was fairly hopping.  Locals suggested Lyft or Uber over light rail.  Hmmm.  Sad.

Friday, October 15.  Well, that was our worst AirBnB experience so far, mostly because the bed was way too soft and noisy.  Audrey got hardly a wink of sleep and Joe was restless.  She ended up counting sheep on a sofa outside our bedroom.  Sigh.  So, we dumped our second night there and booked a room in the high-end Drury Plaza Inn downtown.  Drove there, they let us check in very early and we were off to explore Cleveland.  Very, very nice room.  Complimentary happy hour with meals and breakfast, too.

We took a jagged crooked walk around downtown and ended up at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, right on Lake Erie.  Very impressive.  Overwhelming. Everything was terrific.  The building, the displays, the presentations, the videos, everything.  We spent 5 hours there.  Then a bit more walking back to hotel by a different twisty route, which included going by the Browns football stadium (currently called First Energy) and a statue of Otto Graham.

Back to hotel for happy hour and dinner, which included bbq pulled pork. Mmmmm.

Friday, October 16.  OK, time to start heading seriously west.  But first one more cool thing to see, the West Side Cleveland City Market.  Built in 1912 but starting out as a market exchange in the 1850s, it is the longest continually city-run market in the region.  Cool building, very high arched ceilings.  We bought some sausages and bread for road snacks.  West Side and Ohio City seem to offer additional fun that we missed in downtown, so it’s on our “to do list” if and when we return.

On to Fort Wayne, IN.  Wanting to take more backroads, we stayed on I-71 south (southwest-ish) a tad longer to get us into some real rural country.  OH-95 to Mount Gilead, then US-231 up to and around Upper Sandusky, finally catching US 30 (AKA Lincoln Highway in many parts) and going almost directly west to Fort Wayne to meet up with an old work buddy for a beer in the old downtown.  It’s actually quite nice. Fort Wayne.  Who knew?  Many historic beautiful buildings, some to the 1880s and ‘90s, including the magnificent Allen County courthouse.

Ft Wayne is at the confluence of the St Joseph and St Mary Rivers, forming the Maumee River, so we’re still in the Lake Erie watershed.

Highway IN-14 almost straight west to near the Illinois Stateline, then a zig and a zag and you’re in Kankakee, Illinois.  It was getting pretty dark, so we went straight to our room, which was in Bourbonais, just north of Kankakee.

Sunday, October 17Kankakee and surrounds ended up being great.  Locals call it “K3.” We stumbled across a fall festival and trunk-or-treat related family event held downtown where the Farmers Market is held on Saturdays.  (This was a Sunday).  Saw a unicorn (ok, goofy) which kids loved, and a real good imitation of Dr Brown’s DeLoran-based time machine from Back to the Future, complete with Mr Fusion and dog named Einstein.  There are two Frank Lloyd Wright Houses side-by-side, next to the Kankakee River.  One is a museum, which was closed on Sunday, so we walked around and took some pictures. They have a nice train station, which appears to be some sort of museum as well (closed) and was surprised to find they also have Amtrak service.

Somewhere in Indiana we crossed a slight divide, as the Kankakee River feeds the Illinois and then the Mississippi River.  We’re heading west for sure now.

Departing, took city roads to IL-102 up to Kankakee River State Park for a nice 3 mile hike through forest along the river. Leaf color season, and some interesting puff-ball mushrooms.  Audrey picked up some black walnuts and chestnuts to bring home.  Continued along 102 to Wilmington, IL when we were forced to get out when we found out it is along old Route 66, they have an antique store, a brewery (Route 66 Old School Brewing) and a local dam controversy.

Took a different IL highway from there, meandered to I-55, then to I-80, and started really cruising west.  Across the Mississippi and into Iowa, near Davenport. Left I-80 near Iowa City; north on I-380 about half hour to Cedar Rapids.  Check in to nice hotel, not in city center, in mall area.

Went into town in the old Czech village area and found Lion Bridge Brewing.  Nice place.  Learned a bit of local Czech history and about the Bridge of Lions, spanning the Cedar River.  Good homework for tomorrow’s activity.

Monday, October 18Cedar Rapids and the Czech and Slovak Museum and Library.  Wa-a-ay more interesting than we expected.  Took about 2 to 2.5 hours.  Lots of Iron Curtain era stuff.  Also, cultural costumes, famous people and emigrations, mostly to US, over the past 150 or so years.

Quite a Czech and Bohemian village area, adjoining each side of the Cedar River, just south of downtown.  We cruised that area, stopping to take pictures of Wenceslas Church.  And more pics of Bridge of Lions.  Then through downtown.  Nice quiet, clean town we’d like to maybe visit Cedar Rapids again.

Then west again, to Boone, Iowa.  Saw some history and engineering.  Birthplace of Mamie Dowd Eisenhower and side-by-side Old and New Kate Shelley High Bridges over the Des Moines River.  Then over to the very tiny town of Moingona, to see the old train depot – which supposedly houses the Kate Shelley Museum, closed due to Covid – to which young Kate ran to save the Midnight Express (JG essay topic, 2020).

Both the Cedar and Des Moines Rivers flow generally north-to-south where we were, in Boone and Cedar Rapids, feeding the Mississippi.

Doubling back east a bit to Ames, Iowa much of it along the old Lincoln Highway (which has been replaced in many places by a parallel, slicker and safer US-30).  Checked into a B&B called Iowa House, which is in a former Frat House that has been lovingly remodeled and cared for.

Toured around the Iowa State campus.  It is mostly quite beautiful.  Took some pics, which were right at dusk, so they turned out pretty nice.

Tried to find a brewery, but they were all closed!  In a college town!  Geepers, Mondays.  Went to Boulder Tap House, where the beer was just OK, but we split a burger, again, one of our rare meals out.  Nice college kids wait staff that we got to know a bit.

Back to B&B.  Met some really nice co-guests, including a cool chatty grammy (Sally) and her daughter-in-law visiting grandson/son at ISU for a couple of days.

Maps are tricky, as globes don’t properly show up on flat maps.  Turns out Boone and Ames were our farthest north on the entire trip.  (I had thought it was Cleveland, OH).  Anyhow, time to really head west, a bit south and home.  A long day of driving ahead.

Tuesday, October 19.  Up and out after a very nice B&B breakfast.  Back south on I-380, then I-80 west. We did stop in downtown Lincoln, NE for about an hour.  It was originally planned as our last overnight stop, but we had to squeeze a day out of our schedule for a couple reasons.  Lincoln seems really worth re-visiting.  Lady at the Visitor Center had loads of good info and was pretty persuasive.  And it’s even a stop on Amtrak, direct from Denver.  The old train station, as in Cedar Rapids, has been nicely re-purposed.  Could be a future train-based trip.

Just out of Lincoln there was apparently a terrible crash resulting in fires.  I-80 had been closed for hours.  We took a detour way off I-80, up to US-34.  It’s all part of the adventure.  Added about 1.5 hours to our trip home, the traffic on all the detour roads was turtle paced.  Got a feel for towns like Utica and Waco, NE. Interesting to see such small and rather out of the way (even if they are on US-34) Ag and Rail towns not decaying, like much else we’ve seen in out-of-the-way America, barely stayin’ alive.  No reason to re-visit though.  Finally, back on I-80 near York, NE , following the Platte River upstream on-off for a few hours, turning South West-ish onto I-76, and then back to good old Broomfield, Colorado, arriving so late I don’t even remember; but had time to unload the car and do language lessons before midnight.

Museums/Historical Sites visited (quite a few others were closed)
Sand Creek Massacre
Boot Hill (Dodge City)
Kansas Aviation Museum
Will Rogers Museum
Old Fort Smith
Miss Laura’s Visitors Center
Mount Nebo park and historic CCC camp
Civil Rights Museum at Lorraine Motel
Johnsonville State Historical Park (TN)
Chattanooga Choo-Choo Rail Station
Lookout Mountain
Ruby Falls (Cave)
Pinball Museum (Asheville)
Blue Ridge Parkway
Woodrow Wilson Library and Birthplace
Pro Football Hall of Fame
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
Czech and Slovak Heritage Museum & Library

Joe Girard © 2021

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Coleman!

In military terminology, a countersign is a word, phrase or signal that must be given to allow passage beyond anyone at a secure post, such as a sentry.  Usually, it is agreed upon a priori.  For example, in Normandy, on the beaches and on the cliffs, on D-Day, June, 1944, the password response to “flash” was “thunder.”  Sometimes it was more fluid, even impromptu, especially if a leak was suspected.  So, it was often based on contemporary culture:
          (approacher) Pass please.
          (sentry) Yankees Centerfielder.
          (approacher) DiMaggio.
          (sentry) Come through. [1]

Well, my REI winter holiday shopping catalog just arrived, packed with other assorted postal bombardments we are prone to receiving in our mailboxes in this current pre-Christmas season. 

REI.  That brings back more than a few autobiographical memories, and I suppose that’s as good a reason as any to trigger the dance of my fingers across my keyboard to tap out an essay that’s been brewing since the first days of the ‘round the country road trip we took in October.

Vintage REI logo. I couldn’t find one from either the very early days, or a good modern one.

REI (Recreational Equipment, Inc) is a retailer of high-end sporting and outdoor adventure equipment. It’s organized as a cooperative.  It originated in Seattle and has since spread to 138 stores around the country.

I became aware of REI when I first moved to Seattle, in 1980, fresh out of grad school – and fresh out of money.  I mean broke.  I literally had zero dollars and zero cents.  Just a Chevron credit card and – for some reason, maybe since I had just earned an engineering graduate degree – an American Express Card.  On my cross-country trip from Nashville to Seattle I stopped in Denver for a few days; my dad loaned me $200 cash so I could put down a deposit on an apartment. As I was about to pull away he asked if I had any money.  None.  None?  He handed me the cash.  We hugged.  He cried.  It was the first time I ever saw him cry. And that was it.  (I spent part of it to get into Yellowstone National Park on the way to the Great Pacific Northwest).

There is a rush you get after being completely broke, thinking Hamburger Helper and Chunky Soup on toast are great meals, and then cashing fat paychecks for a few months.  [Also, after those few months, a collection agency found me, as a result of my “disappearance” after leaving Nashville.  I was able to resolve that with my newfound wealth]. [2]

One of the places where I splashed cash was REI, in downtown Seattle, taking up much of an entire city block at 11th and Pine.  At the time it might have still been the only REI store in the entire country, even though it was founded in 1938. I think that was still the original location. I soon bought a membership in the Co-op and have maintained it all these years – that’s why I still get catalogs.  And rebates.

Old REI patch. I guess people stitched these onto their backpacks and jackets. Vintage.

All the equipment was (and is) top notch.  I finally had money for needed (or wanted) equipment. Winter was approaching, so at first for skiing.  Poles, skis, boots, parkas, gloves, goggles, ski pants, scarves.  Then shoes for running (New Balance) and boots for hiking the Cascade Mountains (Raichle).

In spring as “better” weather approached, I bought some summer gear, including high-end golf shoes (Foot Joy), baseball shoes, and a camping lantern, made by Coleman.  [“Better” is definitely a relative term in the Pacific Northwest.  Let’s just say it rained less and the sun came out a couple hours a day]

Although I didn’t get the golf and baseball shoes at REI, I did get the Coleman Lantern there.  What a brilliant device.   Not just brilliantly bright, but simply brilliant.

________________________________________________________________

William Coffin Coleman (he usually went by “WC”) was born May 21, 1870 in Chatham, NY.  Chatham is about halfway between the Massachusetts state line and the Hudson River.  That’s about 6 miles east of Kinderhook, NY, home of the US’s 8th President, Martin Van Buren, who often went by “Old Kinderhook”, or “OK” for short.  Soon after, in 1871, while WC was still a suckling infant, the family moved to the far southeast corner of Kansas to homestead, getting their own land to work into a home and to farm.  The long arduous journey was made partly by train, and partly by covered wagon.

The brutally violent and bloody wars in the plains between Native Americans and the US Army were still underway.  It took some gumption and bravery to undertake the long transfer of residence.

Details on Coleman’s life before fame are a bit skimpy, sketchy and inconsistent.  Here’s what I found and have decided upon.

Apparently, Coleman had at least two brothers, as there is reference to them helping with some funding some decades later.  Unfortunately, the Colemans’ father passed away when young William was only 11.  He helped his mother run the farm and found odd work, mostly as a salesman of small merchandise.  He continued selling things – both travelling and in stores – and was able to eventually get a job for a while as a schoolteacher after completing a degree in nearby Emporia, at the Kansas State Teacher’s College (now Emporia State University).

He was also Superintendent of Schools in the Blue Rapids (KS) school district for a while. Then, it seems, he changed the direction of his professional intentions and attended Law School at the University of Kansas.  Always short on money, yet always a good salesman, Coleman sold typewriters as a traveling salesman to pay the bills and tuition.  As money got tighter, he was soon doing more traveling and selling than he was studying law.

Much of the following is Coleman Company lore, but I’m sure there is much truth in it.

One fateful evening in the mid-1890s, while on a typewriter selling tour, Coleman found himself in the hard-scrabble, dusty, dirty, pavement-free coal mining town of Brockton, Alabama.  There, in a drug or department store window, he saw a lantern shining brightly.  He’d never seen anything like it.

It burned gasoline, fed to its combustion under pressure.  He immediately changed from selling typewriters to selling lanterns for the Irby-Gilliland Company, maker of the lanterns, out of Memphis, TN. But first he had to buy the rights to sell the lantern, from the Irby family; the only region he could afford that was near home was in Oklahoma. I can’t find the value, but guessing around $500.

Oh, and Coleman, already long absent, finally dropped out of law school.

Originally sales went poorly. Turns out many customers had already experienced unsatisfactory results, despite the lantern’s brilliance, as the fuel delivery clogged with carbon deposits, and could not be easily cleaned.  Word had gotten around.

Coleman was already in for the $500, probably some it a loan from the Irbys and his farming brothers.  Not about to give up, he hit upon some clever ideas here.  First, he began leasing the lanterns for a small sum, instead of selling them.  He absorbed the risk of lantern failure, and replaced them if/when they failed. He could then refurbish and re-lease them.  This changed his product flow nicely.  Now with promising cash flow, his brothers invested further in his lantern sales and leasing business as well.  Second, with some cash available Coleman could afford to start tinkering with the design in his home until it was virtually flawless.

Until then lanterns were largely dull, wasteful and dangerous.  Dull because the light came from the flame.  Wasteful because much of the energy of combustion went to heat, not light.  And dangerous since the flow of fuel (usually kerosene) was either by wicking up, or gravity drip down, and hence the fuel source reservoir could be accessed by flame, especially in the event of a tipping or dropping accident.  Think Mrs O’Leary and the cow in the shed, Chicago, 1871.

WC Coleman: inventor, tinkerer, entrepreneur, marketer and businessman extraordinaire.

The gas lantern – especially with Coleman’s improvements – solved all those problems.  Instead of a wick, Coleman’s lanterns had a “mantle” which glowed, especially when treated with special chemicals (including, at the time, thorium – yikes!).  The gasoline burned just hot enough to get the mantle’s chemical coatings to glow.  And even though it burned pure gasoline it was much safer, since no flame could reach the gasoline reservoir when accidentally tipped over.  In fact, Coleman soon made his lanterns so rugged that they wouldn’t even break when dropped or tipped over (I can attest to all of this.  However, never, never try to get the campfire to burn more brightly by pouring Coleman’s special white gasoline directly onto the fire.  I can attest to this too. 151 rum is much safer).

Replacing the special mantle occasionally was the only maintenance required.

Coleman bought all the rights to the pressure-fed gasoline lantern from the Irby family.  It’s been purported that this might have cost him a further $3,000. This was also achieved by a loan from the Irbys and his brothers — what Coleman often called “the best sale I ever made.” Implementing his improvements, he started a manufacturing facility in Wichita, Kansas, moved his family there, and began selling the soon wildly popular Coleman Lantern.  In a time of scarce electrical lighting, and pale gas or oil lighting, his lanterns were enormously popular.

Pretty much everyone knew of the popular Coleman Lantern.  He soon applied the pressure fed gasoline concept to make conveniently portable cooking stoves as well.

Legend has it that cattlemen in Colorado once saw a lantern burning so brightly, miles away up in the Rocky Mountain Foothills, that they were sure they had discovered a new star.

_____________________________________________________

Green single mantle Coleman Lantern, vintage 1945.

In times of  military engagement, especially when infantry personnel of one army are likely to come in contact with – or even infiltrate the lines of – the personnel of another army, the use of passcodes and countersigns becomes very important.  This happened to great extent in much of World War II.

In the Asian and Pacific theaters, Japanese intelligence kept spies and infiltrators up to date on American expressions and culture.  Still, this posed little problem, as the US quickly learned to use passcodes and contrasigns like “Lolla-Palooza”, and “Lolli Pop”, words full of Ls. Our Asian allies, the Chinese, could usually pronounce the L.  For Japanese the “L” sound was virtually impossible; even when pronounced as “L” it was so awkward that, either way, like R or L, it was a give-away.

On the other hand, it was much more difficult with our European enemy, the Germans.  It’s well known that German infiltrators and imposters in US uniforms could and did cause much confusion with “false intelligence” about where nearby towns, roads and other divisions lay.  This occurred especially during the Battle of the Bulge, December, 1944. Enough Germans spoke near flawless English, able to produce both American and British accents, that it was quite a dilemma.  Many had been educated in America or Britain.  And, they were up-to-date on much of American culture.

[It’s a strong probability that more Americans were conversant to fluent in German than the other way around.  Many GIs were first generation Germans, who grew up speaking German and often stayed in touch with family in Germany until the war.  More than a few of them were Jews who had fled Germany just a few years before.  It’s also a bit ironic that FDR, then president of the US, was quite conversational in German as well, since he traveled there often — yearly it is said — with his wealthy parents as a youth, and even attended school there at least one year].

There were other problems in Europe too. Over-reliance on modern American culture for security sometimes led to costly, if not funny, mistakes.  For example, on Dec 21, 1944, during “the Bulge” US MP’s and sentries were alerted to the possibility of a German disguised as Brigadier General Bruce Clarke.[3] Well, Clarke himself soon approached a checkpoint and was queried as to whether the Chicago Cubs played in the National League or the American League.  Not a baseball fan, and pressed for an answer, Clarke guessed American (incorrectly) and subsequently spent several frustrating hours in detainment.  [The “intelligence” that Clarke, and other officers, were being impersonated might well have been counterintelligence supplied by clever Germans].

One thing the Germans did not know of American culture was the superb performance and popularity of the Coleman Lantern. In fact, these were used throughout the military.  So, it came to be that the perfect and indecipherable security countersign/passcode combination was to respond “Coleman” to the challenge query “Lantern.”

WC Coleman lived long enough to learn of and enjoy this quirk of history.  He was once elected mayor of Wichita, choosing to only serve one term.  He lived until 1957, still engaged in running his company, as an octogenarian.  He’s buried in his adopted hometown of Wichita and has a plaque on the Wichita Walk of Fame, in City Center.

_____________________________________________________________________________________

Although the family lost controlling interest in the company long ago, the Coleman® line of outdoor products is highly respected, even today.  The lanterns remain popular, although the mantles are doped with safer chemicals [Extremely low voltage LEDs threaten to quash them soon].  The stoves are still popular with outdoor enthusiasts.  Coleman has expanded in the camping paraphernalia area to include almost everything outdoor: tents, sleeping bags, jackets, vests, collapsible chairs (some with drink holders, beer-sized), tables, boots, and coolers.  And much more. All of it is high end and highly regarded.  “Coleman” means “quality.” Of course, much of it is available at REI, where everything is high-end, at all 138 locations. Most products are available – naturally, it’s 2021 – on Amazon.  Next day delivery.

Wishing you all a pleasant and happy shopping and holiday season.

Lantern!

Coleman!

Joe Girard © 2021

Thanks for reading. As always, you can add yourself to the notification list for newly published material by clicking here. Or emailing joe@girardmeister.com

[1] DiMaggio left baseball to serve in the military, 1943-45, returning afterward to many All-Star seasons.  But everyone knew he was the Yankee center fielder.  The most popular baseball player in America, at the time, even when he wasn’t playing.

[2] Hamburger Helper by Betty Crocker.  If you had it, it meant you had meat.  HH stretched meat to more meals.  Chunky Soup, by Campbell, was thick soup with chewy hunks of meat and veggies.  Kind of a splurge, but we always got that (and the beef for HH) on sale.

[3] MP is Military Police

Other stuff: The concept of pressurized gasoline lanterns (and stoves) here.  Old Town Coleman: How Pressure Appliances Work Part I Coleman US lanterns 1981 – 2000 – The Terrence Marsh Lantern Gallery (terry-marsh.com)

Interesting unofficial source of some info

Gently, Not

“… Do not go gentle into that good night.
… Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”
– Dylan Thomas

I still have a dear friend since childhood.  We’ve been friends and stayed in touch for nearly six decades now, although he lives over 1,000 miles away.  We’ve visited a few times, but most contact is through a news-blurb he publishes via email nearly daily. It contains the day-to-day comings and goings of his life and thoughts: everything from health, to work, to mundane errands, to weather, to politics, and, of course, his grandchildren. [1]

Sometimes he talks about the daily newspaper: what’s in it?; is it on time?; or is it wrapped in plastic for possible rain?  (precipitation is a big deal in Arizona.)  We share a sense of old-fashioned desire for the tactile experience here: we both like to get an actual newspaper, with ink, holding and folding it with that enjoyable crinkle of the paper as we manipulate the pages.

He recently divulged that his wife also enjoys the hardcopy newspaper, but for different reasons than he.  Whereas he checks weather, sports, local and national news (usually in that order, I have deduced), she goes right to the obituaries, and often limits her perusals to those.

Although they live in fairly good-sized city (now about 60,000, even though the municipality is younger than each of us), they live neither in, nor even near, any major metropolitan area.  Therefore, between the two of them, they know a majority of the long-time residents of the region.  So, it’s a way to get news, I suppose.  Mostly, I think, she doesn’t want to learn weeks or months later that a close acquaintance or long-lost friend has gone “into that good night.”

I’ve confessed before on this site that I like to wander through cemeteries.[3] My digital photo album has pics of the final resting places of people both known and unknown to me. The headstones with carved letters, the family plots, the funerary art: all suggest stories.  The details of those final resting places – withered bouquets, trampled grass, cracked stones with the weathered letters of names and epitaphs, two dates with a dash between them , or a few tiny pebbles perched upon a tombstone – are the outlines of those stories; our imaginations are challenged to fill in the rest.

Another confession. Like my friend’s wife, I also peruse the obituaries, especially on Sundays. The Sunday paper usually has a collection of obits from the previous week.  Here I can check to see how many are younger than I am. Weird?  I suppose. Sometimes I get a catch in my breath when I see a name I know. A full week when every Reaper’s Visit is to harvest someone older than I is a good sign.  Such weeks grow ever fewer. When the deceased are younger, I am often amazed at what full lives they lived and how very accomplished they were – I can’t help but feel a bit small and wasteful of my own time and talents in comparison.  Few have gone gently into that good night.

_______________________________________________________

This morning’s Sunday paper brought some very sad news from Houston, Texas.  “Crowd Surge Kills at least 8 at Houston Music Festival.”  Evidently hundreds, perhaps thousands, pushed up against the stage during a performance by rapper Travis Scott.  Never heard of him until now. All of those who perished were young, aged only 14 to 27.  Many more are in hospital.

This is not a unique occurrence.  Human crowd behavior is bewildering; it’s even a scientific area of study.  It’s almost like we’re grasshoppers: a few of us hanging around is no big deal, interesting and a bit ugly up close, but once we get into huge crowds we change – chemically, hormonally, pheromonally, irrationally – and any behavior, whether destructive or otherwise, becomes acceptable.  Are we like locusts?

Cute grasshopper, not so pretty in real life, especially as part of locust swarm

I am but a poor ignorant grasshopper, yet yearning for wisdom, as in the series Kung Fu.  I simply don’t understand it. Twice I have been caught in such crazed crowd situations.  Even though I am not normally claustrophobic, my instinct both times was to simply get away and go against the throngs. Rather like a rat, squeezing myself out from a collapsed building.

Once was at a Summerfest concert, along Lake Michigan, in the summer of ’73 or ’74. [2] One of the featured acts was the Doobie Brothers, already famous by this time. With anticipation of the big act, the crowd grew in size and rowdiness through each of the warm-up acts. I guess half the audience was stoned.  There were no chairs or benches, just blankets and people on grass.  By the end of the last warm-up group, there was no space left at all.  Thousands of people, shoulder-to-shoulder, most pushing this way and that to get a better view of the stage.  The more pushing there was, the more pushing and yelling ensued.  Most wanted to get closer to the stage. Some yelling was for the Doobs to finally get their butts on stage, some yelling at other attendees for pushing so much.

With the sweet smell of colitis floating through the air my companion and I grew a bit fearful and decided to leave.  At this point our going against the flow was still possible – the space we evacuated was quickly consumed by the grateful pushers.

I learned the next day that a riot occurred shortly after we left.  Concert attendees pushed so hard on the stage that it collapsed.  As I recall there were no fatalities or serious injuries.  I don’t think the Doobies even made it onto the stage, although I wondered later if the roadies could salvage the equipment they were setting up.

The other time was about 15 years ago when I attended the Phoenix Open, a regular PGA Tour® event held annually in early February.  It had been for some time, and is still today, regarded as the loudest, rowdiest, rudest, drunkest and (for many) the most fun of all PGA events, which are usually very quiet and reserved affairs.  [Of course there’s always yelling at any event when a fan favorite is making a run, but that’s after the shot is struck, or the putt is holed].

Rowdy crowd at Phoenix Open

As a result of this reputation, the Phoenix Open is usually the most attended of all PGA events.  The big day is usually Saturday; often around 200,000 in attendance.  If you think golf is a game of manners, politeness, and properly behaved respectful fans who remain quiet during preparation and execution of a golf shot, you’ve not seen or attended the Waste Management Open (ironic name), the current moniker of the Phoenix Open.

Continuous hoots, jeers and cheers are common, especially on the 16th hole.  On the 17th too.  It’s not uncommon for this behavior to spill over to other holes, as ethanol fueled fans seek other views. To be honest, I’d be surprised if many attendees even witness two shots during the day they are there.

On this particular Saturday I was attending “alone”, with about 180,000 strangers, and I just couldn’t take the heat (even though only early February) and obnoxious crowd behavior.  Mid-afternoon I went “against the flow” toward the exit, only to find I was not alone.  Not even close. A vast throng of patrons had also decided to depart early.

In their (lack of) wisdom, the tournament officials set it up so that the main exits from the golf course had to weave through large merchandise tents, like cattle channeled through a feedlot.  In the tents were booths of many sizes and types, selling tournament memorabilia and golf paraphernalia of all sorts.  Most of the thousands of people just wanted to get out; but just enough people stopped at booths to shop that they impeded – in fact stopped – the entire flow of foot-traffic.

We simply stopped moving.  I had no interest in golf hats or visors, shirts, slacks, balls or ball markers.  People pushed upon me. I then pushed against others. It got hotter and hotter in the tent (it’s Phoenix).  Fresh air was non-existent.  After 10 minutes or so people started shouting: hey, let’s get moving.  This was anger.  This was locust swarm behavior.

In a flash of panic-motivated brilliance I hit upon an idea.  I pushed to the edge of the dammed-up motionless river of people and crashed through the barrier of a display booth.  I was then able to dash about 50-75 yards, going from booth to booth, sometimes crashing through the tables and banners that separated the display booths, until I was within a few yards of the exit.

Some people saw my successful tactic and followed.  I’m pretty sure more than one display area was out-of-commission for a while.

Once out  of the tent and at the event exit, I essentially cut-the-line for cell phone retrieval, since everyone else was back on the golf course, stuck in the big tent, or behind me weaving through display booths.  [Back then cell phones were not permitted on the tournament grounds; you checked your phone upon entry and retrieved it when leaving with a unique chit.] I ran to my car.   I’m not sure what happened thereafter.  No deaths, but I wouldn’t be surprised if ambulances showed up. The shouting, screaming, pushing, threats and hyperventilating was scary.  Humans.

I simply don’t understand crowd behavior.  Whether it’s F Joe Biden, Let’s Go Brandon, or crushing people to death at concerts, at soccer matches or during a Hajj, … or putting crass bumper stickers on your car because you just know that everyone in your community thinks the same way you do.  These are things that reasonable sane people wouldn’t normally do.  It’s like our brains flip to Locust-mode when we are in crowds.

Houston and crowd deaths. When people die young like this, they don’t go gently. They’ve not had the opportunity to rage against the dying of their own light.  To tell their story.

Live your life!  Rage now!  Soon enough, the sun sets over the horizon.  Live full, so that, as the Kung Fu teacher said: “Death has had no victory, grasshopper.’

The poet Dylan Thomas himself, whom I quoted to begin this essay and alluded to throughout, managed an impressive life and obituary, despite resting his bones forever, barely aged 39.

Grasshopper’s master teacher, from Kung Fu

As always, my best wishes for you.  And avoid crazed crowds.

Joe Girard © 2021

Thanks for reading. As always, you can add yourself to the notification list for newly published material by clicking here. Or emailing joe@girardmeister.com

[1] I’ve written about Kevin a few times in this blog and other blogs.  A few I can recall are here, here and here.

[2] Summerfest bills itself as the largest Music Festival in the world.  And they might be right, with attendance approaching one million annually. Although the Donauinselfest (Danube Island Festival) in Vienna has drawn greater attendance in recent years.

[3] I’ve written about my fascination with cemeteries here and death here, among other times, which I cannot find right now.  My mom wrote this nice piece.

 

Finally, here is Dylan Thomas’s poem:

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Dylan Thomas, 1914-1953. The years are close together, but his “dash” contained a full life.

Tripping Out: Cross-Country to Canada

Since the world shut down in early 2020, my wife and I have undertaken some road trips of various duration and distance.  Sometimes they were made with specific destinations; but all were with the intent to just to get out of the house and experience a journey.  How American: we answered the call of the open road.  Happens more when cabin fever starts setting in.

There are more than a few good quotes about the journey and the destination. One comes from Harry Chapin: “It’s got to be the going, not the getting there that’s good.  That’s a thought for keeping, if I could.” (From song: “Greyhound”).

Our last big trip actually did have a worthwhile destination: our son and daughter-in-law who live near Toronto. Great to spend time with them, get a few projects done (or at least started), and help them settle into their “new” home; well, at least new to them.

I’m going to muse here a bit about both the journey and the destination.

We took nearly identical routes both ways to/from Ontario.  Yes, it was a shorter than alternate routes (for a drive). I think people are so interested in getting back-and-forth quickly that they easily – too easily – fall into the simple notion that all those fly-over states are boring and just full of nothing.

Simply not true.

Well, we are definitely going back to Omaha.  That’s were the Union Pacific started laying track in 1863, going westward, and finally meeting the Central Pacific at Promontory Point, UT in May, 1869.  East and West were linked by rail! The Transcontinental part was truly complete when the UP bridge across the Missouri River was complete and opened in 1873.

Omaha has an extensive river front, and we were hoping to spend some time enjoying it.  But it was all closed up, as they endeavor to complete a $300 million re-vitalization of the area.  That’s a lot of money and it is mostly private funds.  It’s due to be complete and re-opened in 2022.  The Heartland of America water-themed park will re-open in 2025.

Across the flowing water is Omaha’s river partner city: Council Bluffs, Iowa.  We stopped there for an hour on the way back.  Cute downtown area (it’s several times smaller than Omaha) with a great park. Bayliss Park has a wonderful Veterans memorial, beautiful fountain, plenty of trees, benches and tables. Speaking of which, the Union Pacific Railroad Museum is there in CB; so that’s on another future stop. [We passed through on a Monday, when it was closed].

Moving sculpture at War Memorial, Council Bluffs, Iowa

The downtown areas of both cities are set well back from the river.  One presumes the historical reason is to avoid flooding of the big Missouri, which surely occurs from time-to-time.  There is a pedestrian bridge across the river, connecting the two cities and states: The Bob Kerry Pedestrian Bridge.  Good for views and stretching your legs.

Rock Island, IL was another pull-over place, and I’d like to spend more time there in the future.  It’s historic for sure: that’s where the first bridge across the Mississippi was completed, in 1855, leading directly to greater westward expansion, and Chicago’s leaping to the fore as the great economic and commercial capital of America’s heartland.

Returning, we stopped for a “leg stretch” in Kearney, Nebraska.  That’s the former site of Fort Kearney, built in 1848 as a base of protection, provisions and refuge for western emigrants traversing over the Oregon Trail, Mormon Trail, California Trail (think: gold rush), and Overland Trail… all of which passed through Kearney along the Great Platte River Road.  The short-lived but never forgotten Pony Express also passed through Kearney. There is a wonderful little museum built in an archway that spans across Interstate-80.  Takes about an hour to tour the whole thing; great way to get a “walk about” and learn a lot about America in the mid-19th century.  Even has a bit about the Donner Party.

Kearney Archway Museum

While in Canada, I learned a few more things about differences between “their” culture and “American” culture, at least so far as what we experienced in Ontario.

When at restaurants and bars, they have no “Rest Rooms.”  They have “Wash Rooms.”  Same thing, different name.  I like it: “Wash” seems more appropriate than “Rest.”  Does anyone actually take a nap in there?  I’d like to think that, at a minimum, people actually wash themselves while in there.

They have little quibble when US citizens refer to themselves as “Americans”, or their home country as “America”, even though Canada is certainly part of America (as is Mexico, etc.).  One thing that bugs me about “Americans” is our propensity to refer to any room or facility that has a toilet as a “bathroom.”  Really?  Does anyone really bathe in there?  I do rather prefer the simplicity of the Brits and Aussies, who call it “Loo”, “Public Toilet” or “W.C.” for water closet. (Toilette and WC work in Germany, too).

They seem to have little use for the pesky Phillips head screws.  And they are annoying.  There’s a strong preference for the square tipped screws and driver tips, which are far less likely to engage poorly, and – worse – strip.  They prefer to call these “Robertson” screws and tips.  Very useful.  I’d certainly seen square tips before, but never heard of Robertson.  And, it seems they were invented by a Canadian, named, of course, Robertson.

The Roberson tip

Southern Ontario is fairly low lying, rather flat, and has waterways that are often quite close together.  Such locales are dotted with little land links that separate the waterways, some of which have come to be called “portages.”  The word “portage,” which comes to us through French, shows up quite a bit in US history and geography as well.  One way to tell a Canadian from an “American” is how the word is pronounced.  In Canada the -age is pronounced as in “Massage”.  In the US it rhymes with “Porridge.”

I think I’ve mentioned other pronunciation differences before (e.g. the words: about, produce, product), but portage was new to me.

Canadians, at least Ontarians, are quite relaxed about units of measurement for many things.  They are fine with ounces (as fluid ounces or even pints) in place of liters – say for getting a beer –  but petrol (gasoline) is always in liters. Er, ah, litres. Same with pounds and kilograms, say if one is purchasing produce (“Prah-duce”) or meat.  That’s unofficial.  Officially, purchases in brick-and-mortar stores are made in kilos.

But mention Fahrenheit to anyone born after, oh, about 1975, and you’ll get a blank look.

You: “It was hot today, eh.  At least 90 degrees, eh. “ [Add the “-eh” to a statement when trying to fit in.]

Canadian: “ ——–”

You: “That’s 90 Fahrenheit”

Canadian: “——–”

To me, and in my unhumble opinion, Fahrenheit is a far better unit than Celsius, at least as relates to humans and weather.  I really don’t care what temperature water boils at (nominally 100C, which varies based on elevation/air pressure anyhow). Or where it freezes (0C). What could be simpler than 0 (zero) is really cold, and 100 is really hot??  Tip of the hat to Fahrenheit.  [However, 20 is really a quite comfy temperature as good reference point].

Final thoughts. This might well be biased by my long-term residency in Colorado, typically one of the very leanest and fittest states in the US, on average.  Canadians are every bit as fat – even obese – as we Americans are.  Plenty of waddlers and dunlap syndrome going on.  Guess it’s a common first world problem.

Oh by the way, try to buy your gas (and booze and cigarettes, if either of those are your poisons of choice) in the US before crossing the border.  Taxes on those things are pretty eye-popping “north of the border, in the great white north.”  We were scoffed at and chided a bit by the Border Officer when we claimed only half a case of beer.  “We need to train you better, eh.  <smirk>”.  I would have taken a picture of him and the border crossing, but that is definitely frowned upon. [1]

Be well, and may your travels be safe and interesting.

Bonus section: Sitting is the new smoking.
I’ve long known that sitting for long periods of time is bad for one’s health in so many ways.  And I’ve long thought that I knew everything that could go wrong with knees.  Well, put them together and I have a new super painful knee condition to share.  Those many, many hours of sitting on my butt took a toll.  Yes, I knew it was bad for the hamstrings and glutes.  So, I got out of the car every chance to walk, do jumping jacks (50-100 is the norm), even run 100 yds ,or do step-ups on benches.  But sitting all the way to Ontario, then doing hours of landscape work for several days really did a number on my ITB (Iliotibial band).  That thing tightened up just awful and left me crippled and crying for a while.  Moral: never, ever stop moving.  ITBS (syndrome), is real, is painful, and not to be taken lightly.

Iliotibial Band (ITB) and pain

 

Joe Girard © 2021

Thanks for reading. As always, you can add yourself to the notification list for newly published material by clicking here. Or emailing joe@girardmeister.com

[1] Each adult can bring  the following across the border into Canada: up to one case of beer (24 standard 12 oz cans or bottles), 1.5 liters of wine  (2 standard size bottles) and 40 fluid ounces of hard liquor.  In most of Canada, one is considered adult and of drinking age at 19 years old, except where it is 18, such as Alberta and Quebec. I think you can bring more, but either (1) don’t mention it, i.e. lie, or (2) be prepared to pay some tax on it.  I think they wink and nod at the first, and really don’t want the hassle of the second.  

Enterprise

My wife and I are very blessed and fortunate.  Our enterprises have afforded us the opportunity to travel rather extensively, compared to our compatriots, mostly in the US and North America – and, to a degree most others have not, across much of Europe and even much of Australia: New South Wales, Canberra, Victoria, South Austrailia … and even Western Australia, which even most Ozzies have not seen.. 

Renting a car for most or part of the trip is often part of the overall calculus, including the financial aspect.  Yes, non-automotive transport is often efficient and quaint – whether by buses or various types of train – and we have certainly made use of that opportunity. But there’s nothing like the good ol’ American feel of independence and flexibility you get from a car.  The call of the open road, where you can get to really out-of-the-way places on your own schedule.  And to have travel flexibility and independence.  Pull over to take in a seductive, attractive random hamlet, or a park, or scenic overlook, or ancient castle.


Sky Harbor’s Car Rental “Palace”

One thing that has struck us is the variability in car rental costs.  Particularly at airports.  Prices can be eye-watering.  Especially at airports like Phoenix’s Sky Harbor Airport. Holy cow! The special add-on fees and taxes there are often more than the raw cost of renting the car!! 

This is, I reckon, largely the result of two major factors.  First, there’s the cost to the car rental company for space at, or near, an airport; it’s often quite high.  Airports are usually run by local Port Authorities, Transit Authorities and/or host municipalities.  They charge very high rates for space because … well, because they can.  It’s part of why a sandwich, a coffee or a beer in an airport is so expensive. Companies must pass this cost along. No sense being in business if you cannot make money.  

The second is the almost unavoidable urge to make someone else pay for your own needs.  Need money?  Easy: just charge special fees and taxes to out-of-town visitors.  The same occurs in another hospitality industry: Hotels.  Let’s have “Joe from Colorado” pay for our fill-in-the blank need (roads, water treatment, schools, ramps, lights).


One way to see a lot of the world without a lot of extra fees and surcharges is to join the military.  Especially the US Navy.  Most sailors get to see quite a lot of the world, even if it is often by peering over endless seas. 

My father-in-law was a Navy man during World War II.  Radioman, 3rd class. He indeed got to see much of the world as a young man, from the Mediterranean to the far-flung atolls of the Pacific.  He also got to see and experience Pearl Harbor on the morning of December 7, 1941.  A regret we descendants all have is that we didn’t encourage him to talk more about this.  But he just never seemed to want to be open about it, … and we respected him, keeping a safe distance from the topic, only probing once in a while. He always stayed guarded and reticent on the topic of war experiences. That’s a trait that many of that Greatest Generation Era shared.  So many memories – not just Pearl, but things like seeing the bloodied Marines coming back from Saipan and Tarawa – would lie largely suppressed for decades, until his final years.  Unfortunately, that’s just as his mind began to cloud.  We cherish the few stories and memories we could get from him.


Well then. Join the Navy.  See the world.  Jack C Taylor, of St Louis, Missouri, was just such a fellow. In 1942 he quit his enrollment at Washington University (in neighboring Clayton, abutting St Louis’s western boundary) and got himself into the Navy, where he became a fighter pilot – flying Grumman F6F Hellcat Fighters off the decks of aircraft carriers. 

The Grumman F6F carrier based fighter

Assigned to the USS Essex in 1943, Taylor participated in many confrontations, including dogfights.  Most notably is the famous and crucial battle of Leyte Gulf in late October 1944.  There, his squadron provided daring and critical strafing cover for torpedo bombers, all targeted toward sinking the Japan’s Imperial Super Battleship: the Musashi.

Taylor also flew sorties as the Essex supported attacks and victories at Guam, Wake Island, Peleliu, among others.  Credited with only two confirmed “kills” himself, Taylor is not an Ace.  However, he was wingman on many “kills” – including during the Marianas Turkey Shoot.  So, his military decorations – including two Distinguished Flying Crosses and the Navy Air medal – were well earned.

Shortly after Leyte, the Essex put into port in the Caroline Islands (Ulithi Atoll).  She was simply short on supplies, having been at sea and in battle for four months (heck of a way to “see the world”).

Taylor was moved over to the carrier USS Enterprise.  [Speaking of Pearl Harbor and Infamy: The US Navy was extremely fortunate that the USS Enterprise, along with the two other operational Pacific Fleet carriers – the USS Lexington and the Saratoga – were not in port when the Japanese arrived at dawn that fateful December Sunday morning]. 

Taylor stayed with the Enterprise for most of the rest of the war.  The focus of the fighters’ value changed, as the Japanese turned more and more toward use of the Kamikaze.  The Enterprise itself, in fact, took several Kamikaze hits … can’t shoot them all down.  Along the way the Enterprise supported many coordinated Naval efforts, from Luzon to Iwo Jima.

A genuine decorated war hero, Taylor returned to St Louis and tried to pick up his civilian life. A natural adventurer ( … adventurer? Well, he did land fighter planes on the decks of aircraft carriers as they pitched and rolled upon the open sea) he started his own business from scratch: a delivery company.  Too early for the needs we now see fulfilled by Ubereats, Grubhub and DHL, he then moved over to selling cars, Cadillacs mostly. 

Successful at that, he planted the idea to the car dealer (Lindburg Cadillac) to get into the car leasing business.  That is: leasing really nice cars to business executives.  His employer agreed. In exchange, Taylor took a 50 percent pay cut and dumped $25,000 of his own money to bootstrap the operation. He ran the business out of the dealership, still selling cars on the side. He expanded over a few years to three locations in the Saint Louis area.  The company was called Executive Leasing. 

The quality of cars was good, the clientele loyal, and Taylor ran a tight financial ship.  The company was making money within a few years; Taylor was soon the primary owner and principal.  Customers began pestering him to rent them cars for short periods of time.  This is not something he wanted to do; he had a very simple business model that he was not eager to relinquish (leasing to executives for 2-3 years); it was stable and making profits.  The pestering continued: short-term rentals. After a few years, he relented.  He would add short-term car rentals alongside his long-term lease business.

Taylor and Executive Leasing began the short-term car rentals business in 1963.  Within a year the rental business grew to be much larger than the leasing business.  One reason is that Taylor creatively partnered with auto insurance companies.  When clients needed a rental (because of repairs needed after a crash) Taylor would rent them quality cars at low rates.  His business boomed.  He had outlets not just in St Louis, but now in several other cities.

It grew wildly, mostly by word of mouth and Taylor’s growing network of connections.

It was time to face the truth, something Taylor had denied from the beginning: he was in the car rental business, not the leasing business.  And he had a new improvised business model that was simple and efficient: small rental sites scattered around cities.  And mostly not at airports.

The company couldn’t be called The Executive Leasing Company anymore.  What should the company be called now?  He reached into his past and pulled up the glory of the USS Enterprise.

And that’s how the vast Enterprise Car Rental company got its name.  The overwhelming majority of its sites are off-airport. All across America, over 10,000 of them … tucked into business parks and strip malls and low-cost locations in neighborhoods of medium to large sized cities.

USS Enterprise, leaving Pearl Harbor, August, 1944
(National Museum of Naval Aviation RL Lawson Collection)

Mr. Taylor was very enterprising.  He went coast-to-coast. He expanded into Canada and Europe.  Enterprise acquired National and Alamo car rentals.  It became a huge enterprise, and remains so to this day. It is usually ranked #1 among car rental companies for volume and quality. [Ref here]

We have rented off-airport cars in Canterbury (UK), Freiburg, Landau and Munich (Ger), Wollongong (Aus) and, yes, even in Saint Louis, Missouri (actually Clayton, the original and current hometown of Enterprise Car Rentals).  Most of those are quite convenient, as you can usually take public transport to near the rental site from the airport or train station. If not, Enterprise will usually drop the car off — if you are within 5 miles or so. And pick the car up when you are done!

Since these are not at airports, not only are the surcharges and extra fees quite low to non-existent, but they also usually also have lower drop fees; which is great if you want to end your car rental adventures in a different city than where you start.

Honesty here: Although many of these off-airport experiences were with Enterprise, some were through EuropeCar, which seems to have a similar business model, and the same logo colors: Green and White.  [I know we used EuropeCar in Saint-Lô, Normandy, and Landau (twice).  BTW, The folks at the Enterprise in Canterbury were just lovely; on that trip I dropped the car far away: in Edinburgh.]

Taylor and Enterprise were very generous with their fortune.  By himself, and through the Enterprise Foundation (his company’s charitable arm), he donated several hundred million dollars to philanthropic causes.  Geographically, these recipients and donations were widespread, going into the communities where his neighborhood rental offices were located, often to provide assistance to underserved children.

He also donated very generously in the St Louis area.  He donated millions and millions to the St Louis Philharmonic, to the Missouri Botanical Gardens, and to local youth organizations and colleges. [Including Rankin College, where our dear friend Max Storm taught for almost three decades]

Jack Taylor ended up having a wonderful and successful life by any measure.  His enterprises were successful, and he left us and his family with terrific stories.  We and future generations will have at least two more reasons to remember him. (1) The US Navy has just completed the Jack C Taylor Conference Center, at the US Naval Academy in Annapolis (a truly beautiful campus in a beautiful city).  And (2) the Missouri Botanical Gardens in his hometown of Saint Louis is currently building a new visitor center, to be named for Mr. Taylor.

Jack C Taylor passed on in 2016, aged 94.  Thanks for all you did, sir.

To you readers: Be well. Live and love large.

Joe Girard © 2021

Thanks for reading. As always, you can add yourself to the notification list for newly published material by clicking here. Or emailing joe@girardmeister.com

Miscellaneous additional reading:

How to Save Money on Rental Cars: Rent Away from the Airport |

Moneyhttps://www.enterpriseholdings.com/en/press-archive/2016/07/jack-crawford-taylor-war-hero-business-leader-philanthropist.html

World War Fighter Pilot Jack Taylor Dies: Founded World’s Largest Car Leasing Company | Naval Historical Foundation (navyhistory.org)

Microsoft Word – Taylor Master.doc (navyhistory.org)

Presenting: The Tippi-Review, the Trailer too

The One

“There!  That’s the one!”  A celebrated famous movie director and producer is shouting at his television.  He’s also famously morbidly obese. He’s watching NBC’s Today Show, when up comes a commercial for a diet nourishment drink, one of scores of Ultra-Slim-Fast-type products of the day. 

But he’s never been interested in dieting or health. He is one of the 20th century’s great story tellers and film makers.  He’s been looking for someone.  Someone special. And now he’s captivated by the lithe and pretty blond pitching the diet drink.  She has the beauty, the poise, the elegance, and the charm to play the characters in some films he’s been itching to make.  She’s the one.


You’re never too old to change.

I’ve been biting my fingernails since my earliest memories.  My parents tried every way possible to help me stop. It’s such a disgusting habit in several ways.  If nothing else, it’s atrocious hygiene; and people will – unconsciously or not – often judge your character poorly for it.  And it looks terrible.

Nancy and Sluggo. Famous cartoon characters since 1938

But I couldn’t stop.  As Sluggo said to Nancy when asked about it: “But they’re so convenient.  They’re right at my fingertips!”

I worked for a few decades with a fellow who gnawed his nails constantly. Way worse than even me. Every digit’s nail bitten right down to the quick.  Catch him thinking about work stuff (another aerospace engineer) and his saliva covered fingers were jammed into his mouth. 

“Well”, I could tell myself, “at least I’m not that bad.” 

But, I did even disgust myself.

I tried many times to quit.  Eventually, about 10 years ago, I started making great improvement and finally was able to cut back to almost never.

But a new problem arose.  When nails grow long, they crack and split.  Then what?  Back to biting?   I never replaced nail biting with a proper new habit, which – one would naturally think – would be to regularly trim my nails.  So, even though I’ve mostly quit biting, my nails still look like a mess, as I will nervously pick at the splits and cracks, or maybe trim them with my teeth, or resort to a deep gash with clippers to remove the nick. 


Nails, Nails, everywhere

During the 2007-2009 economic recession, I found myself looking at what was going on in brick-and-mortar businesses.  Who’s closing? Who’s staying open?  What businesses are resilient?  I’ve been doing this ever since.

Typical Salon Sign, for the ubiquitous Nail Salon in most metro areas

One curious thing that I noticed is that our urban and suburban areas are absolutely loaded with Nail Salons.  They are everywhere.  Even now, I can’t help but scan strip malls and shopping centers to find the almost-always-present *NAILS* marquee signs.  Usually in neon.

One reason, I suppose, is that people (mostly ladies) like to have very nice looking nails.  I appreciate that.  It’s a fairly inexpensive splurge (for most) that allows them to feel good about themselves, a bit feminine, and attractive.  Any more reasons?

Go inside a nail salon and … wait!!, I don’t go in those.  Maybe I should. Probably could use a good manicure occasionally (but no fake nails for me). 

Anyhow …. look inside and you’ll very likely observe that the professional manicurists are Asian ladies.  And if they are Asian, they are almost certainly Vietnamese ladies.  [Yes, I’ve peered in the windows, and peeked through the doors to verify this.  I usually don’t get pleasant looks in return.]


Tippi

Nathalie Kay Hedren was born in 1930, in New Ulm, Minnesota, the second child (and daughter) to first generation immigrants.  New Ulm, probably with the closest hospital, is about 10 miles from her first hometown, the tiny hamlet of Lafayette, lying in the fertile south-central breadbasket of Minnesota.  There, in Lafayette, her Swedish father ran a small general store.  She was small and precocious, so her father called her “Tippi”, Swedish for “little girl”, or “sweetheart.” Tippi: The nickname stuck for life.  

When Tippi was four, the family moved to Minneapolis, probably because of the impact of the great recession on her father’s farmer-customers.  Genetically blessed with good looks, naturally blonde hair and bright hazel eyes, Tippi started appearing in local fashion shows and advertisements in the Twin City area when just a lass. When she was 16 her parents sought a gentler climate, as her father’s health was slipping.  Upper Midwest winters will do that. They settled in San Diego, where she finished high school.

She then began studying art, at Pasadena City College, and also developed an interest in modeling.  Soon, her good-looks, grace and aplomb would take her to New York. And on to a very successful decade in modeling. Over those years her face (and lean figure) graced the covers of Life, The Saturday Evening Post, McCall’s, Glamour and other magazines.

A failed marriage and one child later (she is actress Melanie Griffith’s mother), Tippi was back in southern California, making commercials for various brands, including Sego, a meal-replacement drink of only 225 calories.  Thin was “in”, even then.


Tippi Hedren, in opening scenes in “The Birds”

The Find

Alfred Hitchcock’s wife and film-making partner, Imelda Staunton, noticed her first.  A brilliant blond, on a diet drink commercial.  She knew “Hitch” was looking for another blond to cast in a movie he was hoping to make.  And she knew he had an eye for beauties, especially blonds, and putting them in terrifying situations; as in Eva Marie Saint (North by Northwest) and Janet Leigh (Psycho).

Hitchcock profile and silhouette. Used on his two TV series, both called “Alfred Hitchcock Presents”

An interview was set up.  That paved the way to screenings.  Hedren was no actress. But she worked very hard on her lines, which were generally from earlier Hitchcock hits.  She impressed him with her determination; plus she had grace and class. Hitchcock intended to make her a star. He’d be her coach.


Tippi’s career

Hedren starred in the 1963 thriller “The Birds”, generally regarded as a top Hitchcock classic.  Hedren went on to make one more movie with Hitchcock: the not-so-popular “Marnie” (1964, with Sean Connery) which was met with mixed critical reviews. Then they had a falling out (lots there, maybe watch the movie “The Girl”, a Hedren/Hitchcock biopic). [1]

And this reminds you of ….?

She then floated in-and-out of acting the next few decades, mostly spot appearances on several TV series. She appeared with her daughter in an ’80s Hitchcock TV episode. Nothing so significant as “The Birds.”  But she had developed new interests along the way.

The late 1960s found her in Africa for filming. There she became enchanted by exotic cats and she grew concerned about their exploitation and mistreatment. Inspired to act, in the early 1970s, Hedren began what would become a mission for the rest of her life: working with wildlife charities to assist in the rescue and protection of such beautiful animals.  Land was bought north of Los Angeles to establish the Shambala Preserve as a wild feline sanctuary. Later, she established the Roar Foundation to further support this charitable activity.  In fact, she lives at Shambala now, aged 90, with her beloved big cats.


Refugees

For the United States, the Vietnam war ended in 1973, when the treaty known as the Paris Peace Accord was signed in January.  Although the US was out, the war continued.  Treaty or not, North Vietnam bore down on South Vietnam.  The South’s capital, Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City), fell in April, 1975. 

Fearing for the fate of so many who had been loyal to South Vietnam and the US, the US government evacuated over 130,000 refugees and brought them to the United States.  They were put in camps around the country: to be fed, clothed, and trained for employment and integration into the US society and economy.

Hedren was moved to act. She visited the first non-military camp for refugees, Hope Village, near Weimar, CA, along I-80 in the foothills about 40 miles outside Sacramento. This was a humanitarian visit to encourage them and find a way to help.  She came with typists and seamstresses, hoping to find careers the refugee women could connect with. [2]

Now 45, Hedren was still a strikingly beautiful blond.  At 5’-5”, she was tall to them.  Blond and tall: that’s not all they noticed about her.  They noticed her beautiful nails.  They were long, perfectly shaped, … and painted.  They had never seen anything like that.  They all wanted nails like that.  How do you do that? They wanted to become manicurists!

Hedren watches teaching demonstration at Nail School, Camp Hope, 1975

Trying to find employment: why not work with what you love?  Hedren flew her personal manicurist to Camp Hope, to help train them. Then she recruited a local beauty school to work with them. In that first class, they trained a group of about 20 Vietnamese women.  She guaranteed them all jobs, when they graduated, mostly in southern California.  And she flew them to LA too.  And they continued to train more refugees who wanted to become manicurists.  Not pure coincidence that LA county has the highest population and concentration of Vietnamese of any place in the world, outside Vietnam. [Many other refugees from nearby Camp Pendleton eventually settled there, too].

One of the first graduating classes at Camp Hope (Weimar, CA)

And from there the nail phenomenon exploded.  In the US, the nail salon industry grosses over $8 billion in sales annually.  There are about 55,000 nail salons in the US – you can see them in almost any strip mall and shopping center – and about half of them are owned and operated by Asians.  And over 95% of those are Vietnamese. Of these Vietnamese professional manicurists, most are only one or two degrees of separation from Tippi Hendren and her nail salon school for Vietnamese refugees. [3]

Until next time, be well,

Joe Girard © 2021

  • Notes:
  • [1] the veracity of Hedren’s sexual harassment claims against Hitchcock are much disputed, including by actors and stage hands who worked with them on “The Birds” and “Marnie.” I tend to concur with the skeptics. At 5’7″ and 300 pounds, one can hardly imagine that the rotund 61-year old Hitchcock thought he had any romantic chance with the 5’5″ 110-pound 30-year old blond bombshell. But, stranger things have happened (ahem: Harvey Weinstein). Plus, she returned to work with him, briefly, in the ’70s on a TV show.
  • [2] Hope Village is now the home of Weimar Institute, a health oriented college.
  • [3] US Nail Salon sales, staff and salary stats here

Wrote Myself a Letter

“I’m gonna sit right down and write myself a letter …”

Lyrics by Joe Young; recorded by many [1]

January, 2021 is finally here.  It is the time of the new year.  A time for looking backward, and a time for looking forward.  January is the gateway month, named for the Roman god Janus, the guardian god of the city gates, the god of doorways and of arches. Like the namesake month, a symbol of new beginnings.

Janus, the two-faced god. Always depicted with faces looking in opposite directions: in/out, backward/forward. Often, as here, with an older face looking back, and a younger face looking forward

On one hand: Reflection and cogitation. On the other hand: forecasting and planning.  What have we learned from the experiences of the past year – the past decades – that can help us in the new year?  In our future? Can we grow?  To help us make better use of our allotted time on this spinning blue marble?

Have you ever written yourself a letter?  Perhaps not. Perhaps you did, and don’t know it.  It is one of those recommendations that come up on lists of possible New Year’s Resolutions.  Write a letter to your future self.  Tell yourself your plans, hopes, dreams.  Your thoughts, your experiences, even your past. 

Janus: thought #1. What if you could write a letter to your ten-year-old self?  What would you write, and how would you write it, so as help, but not frighten that child?  My message would be simple:  Don’t worry so much; follow your passions; love freely; make healthy choices. 

Janus, thought #2. Well, what if one actually does, or did, write letters to themself?  There are sundry ways this can manifest.  Many of us journal or blog, or something of that sort, such as keeping diaries.  My friend Kevin writes a newsletter to about 100 friends 6 days a week; he has been for many years.  Those of us who do those sorts of things can look back on archived records of what we were thinking years or even decades ago.  Such writings can carry one’s consciousness both forward and backward.

Beyond Janus, thought #3: regarding the writing of letters, notes and cards. This is something wonderful and spiritually uplifting that is largely lost to current and future generations cursed with the ease and ephemerality of electronic communication. ‘Tis a special thing to receive a letter, or a card containing a note, written by hand.  They can contain the essence of your heart, mind and soul.  From the greeting, through the letter, possibly with innuendo, and emotion and news of daily life, to the sign-off.  Such things are still best captured with actual handwritten ink-on-paper in-the-moment reflection.

_________________________________________________________________

At holiday season the delivery of hand-written greetings surges a bit. But, every year it is less and less so.  Three to four decades ago the average household received 30-50 greeting cards during the holiday season – each with a note of friendship, fondness, reflection and even affection.  No more. The average is now 10-15.  Postal delivery of daily actual hand-written person-to-person messages is crashing.   This while the flow of digital communication (via email, text, FB instant message, WhatsApp, etc) proliferates. We who well recall personal communication by pen and paper – the little thrills of receiving a letter from a friend, grandparent or lover – find ourselves a bit amiss and adrift. 

I see no end to the trend.  Soon, by the time of my death perhaps, all greetings will be electronic.

We are Janus, standing at the changing of the guard.  What will we gain in this new era?  And, at what cost? Many interesting and lesson-filled chapters of human history have been reconstructed by the recovery, perusal and research of preserved letters. How would we know of the unlikely decades-long friendship between Jefferson and Adams? The deep affection between Adams and his dear Abigail? The love affair between Bess and Harry? What will people think four or ten generations hence?  That the pen and paper were deemed illegal?

Brief backstory many of you know [much of it is available – yes, sadly, mostly only digitally on my blogs] – I was in a violent car crash, May 1, 2014. I suffered a serious brain injury. 

Even though I safely emerged from many very dark months, the remaining years till now were no great fun either. Through years of recovery (still not quite finished – sigh) I fell into a bit of a deep funk for a while.  In fact, at one point, I sort of panicked. I recall the time and place of the bottom exactly. I cannot apologize enough to those I love and were close to me during those years – especially my wife – for my behavior. My excuse? I feared that details of my life were lost to the fog.  The events, the people, and settings that I could recall and synthesize – were they real? 

All kinds of memories started flooding my brain – as if my brain were trying to re-construct a part of itself.  Was it a historically faithful reconstruction?  Was it fantasy?  What kind of person was I?  Shitty?  Sensitive?  Loving?   Asshole?


My mom died suddenly in 2006. She left my dad alone and more than a bit lost. They were quite a team. He was the organizer: bank accounts, car payments, insurance policies, mortgages, when to paint the house, change the oil. Those things were simply not in her world; she lacked that gift.  But she contributed much more to the party. Despite a life-long struggle with mental illness, she was the connector, the socializer, the sentimentalist, the writer, the family historian, the family emotional bank account manager – and the one who hid large bills with pictures of Alex Hamilton and Andy Jackson all over the house in case the Depression ever returned. 

Mom had a huge heart that bled at every opportunity. As testimony, two items.

(1) Evidently I was a pretty honest kid, at least with money. Back in the day when most transactions were done with cash – credit was not a big deal, long before PayPal and Zelle – I’d often be tasked with riding my bike to the grocery store. [Oldest of six kids]. I’d fetch simple stuff like milk, eggs, can of soup or an onion.  Not so much that I couldn’t get it home on my bike.  When I got home, she not only got the groceries, but I actually gave her the receipt and the change.  All of it.  What a crazy kid was I. Unbeknownst to me … she stuffed all that cash into an envelope for years.  Years! One day, when I was in high school, she just handed it all to me. I must have needed or wanted money for something. A fat envelope full of bills and coins that represented years of honesty and integrity.  That was powerful.

(2) Mom, the sentimentalist, also kept large collections of correspondence – spanning decades – much of it organized, but some of it scattered around “her” parts of the house. Some were mixed in with pictures of presidents on fancy pieces of greenish paper, 2.61 inches wide by 6.14 inches long.

Well, about four years after mom passed dad’s health declined to the point he had to move out, and we had to sell the house.  That’s when we found boxes and boxes of mom’s “stuff” – and over several weeks we eventually found all the money, maybe.  Many items – not the cash – went unclaimed and were donated to various charities – or pitched in to the garbage.  [Can I brag?  My wife organized all of this.] The Big Win, by the way: I got the Manhattan glasses.

Most of mom’s memorabilia were preserved, divided up, and passed off to her six children when we cleaned out the house. Some of us “kids” have sorted through our “inheritance” by now: pictures, letters, cards, etc.  I am ashamed to say: I have not.  Not a whit.  I have not even cracked the lid.  It’s daunting, and – to be honest – I’m a bit afraid.


Thankfully, my youngest sibling has gone through his share of “stuff from mum.”  Several years ago, he came across a small stack of letters that I wrote to my mom and dad when I was in grad school. That would be 1978-80.  The folder was titled “Letters from grad school”. Clever, huh? Well, he kindly passed them back to me a couple of years ago without comment.  Time passed. I have just recently gone over them. What can I say? “Wow” is not enough.

I am now reading letters that I wrote to my parents over 40 years ago. 

Questions: What do they say?  What kind of person was I?  What was going on in my life?

Answers: Well, I was not an asshole.  I communicated a lot, even if it was simple stuff like football scores, weather, classes, and my love life.  I held little back. Of course, I even asked for money and advice once, when I was dealing with medical issues. I signed off “Love You” and “Miss you.”

“Happy” and “Grateful” don’t even begin to explain how I feel. Thank you, thank you sibling #6. Thank you, mum, for saving these scraps and scribblings. And thank you to myself for writing these letters. These are quite literally “Letters to my future self.”  If someone had told me, in 1979, to write a letter to myself to be read in 2020 or ’21, about who I was and how I felt as a young adult, well — I cannot imagine a better approach. 

It’s as if I had sat right down and wrote my (future self) a letter. “Dear Future Joe, you are a pretty good guy.  Here’s proof!”

I have no idea how to end this appropriately. But I’ll take a shot at it.

New Years Resolutions.  1. Go through “My Boxes from Mom.” 14-1/2 years is long enough. If and when I find something meaningful, I will share it with my siblings, as appropriate.  2. Write more letters.  Write them … on paper or card, with pen, and address the envelope by hand.  And cards, too. Draw silly pictures of hearts and setting suns. Criminy, we don’t even have to lick the stamps anymore.

Get real. Messages saved as screenshots, or archived on googledocs or your email server are ethereal. As in: tenuous.  Messages are made more palpably precious when they’re put on paper by ink and loving hand. Such treasures can be squirreled away to be cherished by dear family and descendants. 

There is nothing – nothing!! – like the touch of hand. That is one thing that this period of Covid has taught us.  The touch of a letter that’s handwritten, or the fondling of a letter, card, or note from a love, a mate, a friend, or an ancestor is the next best real thing to actual touch.

Happy New Year

Peace

Joe Girard © 2021

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[1] This has got to be one of the most famous songs in the US in the 20th century, judging by how many very popular singers have recorded it.  Among the many are Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin (probably my favorite version), Bing Crosby, Bill Haley & the Comets and Willie Nelson.  As recently as 2012 Sir Paul McCartney’s album “Kisses on the Bottom” started off with this song on track 1.  [The album’s title is actually a line from the song.] The gist of the song is probably that a guy wishes he’d get more letters from his lady friend. 

Correction: In my November 30, 2020 Essay “Fire Drill” I incorrectly stated that the great Vince Lombardi, in his first move as head coach and general manager of the Green Bay Packers, wasted the very first draft choice in the NFL. That is incorrect. For some reason the 1959 draft was held in early December, in 1958. Lombardi did not sign with the Packers until January, 1959. That, along with a terrible team, was another burden he inherited.

Fire Drill

“… people extending helpful hands to do a kindness to their neighbors, and that’s a good thing.”

Alex Trebek (Nov, 2020)

___________________________________________________

Fire Drills.  Do you remember these as a schoolchild?  Unless the memory is failing, or you were homeschooled, we all do. 

1960s, growing up in Milwaukee, going to a Catholic parochial school — yes, we had fire drills often. I mean … a lot.

Later, in high school and university – even occasionally at places I have worked – there were also fire drills. But never again so frequent – or solemn – as at OLGH elementary.

I’ve asked some old school friends about their memories.  Those who can recall have memories that generally concur with mine. 

  • The teachers (mostly nuns) took on an even more serious demeanor than we were used to.  “Screwing around” was verboten. 
  • Kids who chatted, teased, or lolly-gagged were publicly chastised afterward. 
  • The principal (I do recall Sister Marilyn) timed everything. 
  • Each class was assigned a location to orderly assemble in the parking lots, some distance from the school building.

We were told that this was extremely important; that during an actual fire there might be water coming from the fire sprinklers; and there might be smoke.  Move quickly, but orderly and calmly. Remain calm.

Couple other recollections.  The only things that made it seem “real” were the constant blaring of the fire alarm; that, and the nuns’ extra-stern decorum.  And at least one thing that made the Fire Drills seem very unreal: each room of students always evacuated to the stairs and/or exit nearest their classroom.  What if that exit or stairway was impassable owing to flames or smoke?

I’ve recently wondered about the frequency and urgency of those drills.  Was there a historical spark to trigger all this activity?

There are good reasons for such exercises.

It was 2:24PM when Frankie Grimaldi raised his hand and asked to go to the lavatory.
Permission granted, he slipped out the door of the 5th grade classroom. 
But something was wrong.  He quickly returned. 
“Miss Tristano, I smell smoke.”

November 27, 1958. 

Thanksgiving certainly seemed innocent enough, with little portent. Probably not much different from our 21st century experiences (well, 2020 was a severe exception … we hope). It fell on the 4th Thursday of the month, as it had since FDR deemed it so, back in 1939, to extend the holiday shopping season. FDR’s pen notwithstanding, this year of 1958 it fell nearly as close to December as it possibly can, due to the month’s Saturday start.

Families traveled and assembled to give thanks – to eat and drink, to visit and catch up, and convivially confabulate over current events. In more than a few households they probably spent some time huddled together around a mystical tiny cathode ray tube, embedded within a heavy box which contained many more tubes, and which rastered fluttery black-and-white pictures onto a 12 to 15” screen, sent from magically far away.

In the 1950s TV ownership exploded, from under 10% of households at the start of the decade to over 80% by 1958. And this as the number of households also grew rapidly. Owning a TV was a criterion for hosting Thanksgiving get-togethers in many families.

Many watched the annual Macy’s parade in the morning; perhaps all three hours. Two football games followed.  At mid-day was the annual Thanksgiving Day match-up between the Detroit Lions and the Green Bay Packers, played at Detroit’s Briggs Stadium, broadcast on CBS. That game was a turkey indeed, Detroit winning 24-14, with miscues a-plenty, each team nearing the end of poor seasons.  The Packers clinched the worst record in the NFL that desultory day (ending at a franchise all-time worst 1-10-1, two weeks later).  Later in the afternoon, over on NBC, Texas and Texas A&M concluded their mediocre seasons, Texas winning 24-0.

Well, football.  Papers indeed called the Lions-Packer game a “turkey”: full of muffs, fumbles, drops and off-target passes. One contributing reason might be Detroit’s Briggs Stadium, built in 1912 — long before domed stadiums. It offered scant protection from the weather.

What weather?

Anyone who’s lived in the upper Midwest, especially quite near the Great Lakes, is familiar with this weather pattern.  It begins to “settle in” sometime in November, and lasts – on and off, but mostly on – until the first buds of spring. The skies? Brutally dull. Simply shades of gray, often monochromatic; texture deficient; so thick and dull that it often denies human perception of the sun’s position. Breezes – transporting high humidity air near or below freezing – steadily sap energy.  Then, randomly – suddenly – a potent gust bursts forth, taking away the breath, biting the lungs. Oh, where is that hot toddy? That fireplace? That villa in Florida?

This weather slowly emotionlessly sucks away at man’s vitality … one’s zest.  That is what I recall, growing up in Milwaukee, near Lake Michigan.  And that was the bleary upper mid-west weather when the Lions beat the Packers, November 27th, Thanksgiving Day, 1958. This weather carried the weekend; and so, it seemed, would go on and on.

Yet for most it was a time of joy. There was visiting and eating and drinking and catching up on family: how are the kids?  How is your job?  How do you like the suburbs?  It was an era when large families, abundant jobs and booming suburbs were more common than not. That Sunday, November 30th, was the First Sunday of Advent: the beginning of the Christmas Season.  The holiday season had arrived.  Shoppers were out.  Christmas trees and lights were going up. 


When I was a lad I struggled with, among other things, an awfully bad case of asthma. It often debilitated me and kept me on the sidelines … from my earliest memories until I was nearly 30. The things that set me off worst were allergies, very cold air and physical activity that required hard breathing.  A combination could be a near-death experience. 

One consequence of severe asthma was that I was frequently excused from recess.  Yes, that sounds weird. Repeat: Excused from recess. Back then, in Catholic schools, recess was our Physical Education.  Just try to stop a boy from running and jumping and playing – even when there’s pollen flying around, or when chilly wintery air triggers a lung reaction. The school’s teachers and administrators, so counseled by my parents and doctors, often made me stay inside.

To keep me out of trouble, I got to hang out with and help the janitor a lot.  I was good at mopping up puke, sweeping the cafeteria floor, collecting garbage.  Most garbage was taken to the basement, and then stored near the incinerator.  Every so often I would get to watch the janitor load and fire-up that beast.  It was terrifying.  Its flue pipe rattled.  The door shook. You could watch the intensely colorful, bright dancing flames through a small window. Heat radiated from its metallic surfaces.  And … in a few minutes … several days’ worth of the school’s flammable waste was nothing but a small pile of ashes.  Plus, a sooty, expanding dark cloud, wafting across the city of Milwaukee.

Why in the world did we do that?  It seems most irresponsible to us today.  Nevertheless, schools, hospitals and institutions across America disposed of their trash that way.  Some still do.


Monday, December 1, 1958

About 250 miles west of Detroit – where the Lions played lethargically and the Packers played worse – over in Chicago, along Lake Michigan, the weekend weather had been much the same: dismal.  On Monday, surprisingly, the day broke cheery, rather calm and clear.  In many places the sun even shone through, although still chilly at only 17 degrees. Gloom and breath-sapping breezes would come in a few hours.

Our Lady of the Angels (LOA) elementary school stood over on the west side of America’s second largest city. Operated by the eponymous parish church next door and staffed mostly by nuns from the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary (BVM), it fell under the auspices of the Archdiocese of Chicago.  

OLA parish, founded in 1894, had grown to be perhaps the largest within the Archdiocese, which in turn was one of the largest in America, thanks to Chicago’s growth (it was then at its max population, about 3.6 million), the Baby Boom, familiar Catholic fertility, and waves of Catholic European immigrants. For decades it was the center of worship for mostly families of Irish descent.  But since the war Italian names had become slightly more prevalent – and even some Polish and German family surnames had begun to appear as well – on the rolls of the burgeoning parish and school.

Burgeoning school.  Its K-8 enrollment was 1,600 – with 50 to 60 students in most classrooms.  The north wing was the original building, opened in 1911.  The similar south wing – parallel to the north wing and separated from it by a small courtyard – was the old church, converted to classrooms two decades before. In 1951 the two wings were joined by a slender annex, adding a few more classrooms, bringing the total to 22.  [Actually closer to 30, as Kindergarten and a 1st grade class was held in Joseph and Mary Halls, across and just down the street].

With its booming enrollment, OLA was probably 40-50% over-capacity. Despite that, academic achievement was not neglected; the reputation for Sisterly and Catholic fear-and-guilt driven discipline did not come without basis.

On this day, December 1, 1958, it’s been estimated that up to 400 students had stayed out of school.  Some due to illness, but for most probably in order to extend the long Holiday weekend.

Despite the day’s encouraging meteorological start, things changed around midday; the skies began to cloud a bit, portending that life-sucking winter pattern Midwesterners know too well.  At least it warmed to about 30 degrees … but still chilly and humid enough to make one wish for a scarf and extra layer, especially when the wind suddenly picked up.

Other than that, the day seemed perfectly normal. They said the pledge and their prayers.  They worked on Advent calendars and Christmas decorations.  They got through their lessons. Some kids probably got their knuckles wrapped. All normal. Until around 2:00 PM. 

There are many recollections and memories by survivors and witnesses of that historically tragic afternoon.  Narrative timelines overlap; some of the details recalled are conflicting; an exact sequence of events has never been precisely determined.  However, the overall big picture is the same; and it is a very big, very dark picture.

I choose, for simplicity, to work around the stories of two individuals. The first is Miss Pearl Tristino, age 24, one of the few lay teachers (that is: not a nun) at OLA. She taught 5th grade in Room 206, on the 2nd floor of the annex building, near the south wing. She had grown up near, went to school at, and still lived near OLA.  The other is James Raymond, the school janitor who had five children in the school and, apparently, was something of a handyman for the parish,

Around 2:00 Miss Tristano excused a boy to go to the restroom.  He quickly returned.  At around 2:23 she asked two boys, probably Jimmy Grosso and Wayne Kellner, to take the day’s trash down to the basement; this was customary for every classroom at that time of day, as they were preparing for dismissal at 3PM. It was considered an honor.  Jim and Wayne dumped the trash into a barrel, one of several, in the basement. The school’s trash was usually hauled over to the incinerator by the chief janitor, James Raymond, to be disposed of (burned) on Tuesdays, which would have been the very next day.   

Some historical texts say they returned with reports of smelling smoke.  Others say Miss Tristano soon permitted Frankie Grimaldie to go off to the restroom, at about 2:24.  He quickly returned saying he smelled smoke.

Either way, Pearl was alarmed.  She ducked her head out the door. She smelled it, too.  Definitely smoke.

The school rules at this point were clear.  No one could pull a fire alarm (there were only two in the entire school complex), nor even evacuate the building without the permission of the principal, who was sister superior: Sister Mary St Francis Casey.  Pranksters can always be found in student populations, and LOA was no different; frequent false alarms had driven her to this despairingly costly regulation.

Pearl ran to the classroom next door, #205 (the doors were virtually adjacent), where her friend Dorothy Coughlin taught 6th grade. Together they quickly decided to evacuate their students regardless of regulations should they not be able to quickly find the principal.  Pearl scampered down the hall of the south wing, to the school office, perhaps 20 yards … but it was vacant.  She could not have known that Sister St Francis Casey was serving as a substitute teacher on the 1st floor.  Pearl quickly returned to 205/206.  She and Dorothy evacuated their classes. On the way out, Pearl pulled one of the fire alarms … nothing happened.

Their students safely outside, an adrenaline-charged Peal Tristano hurried back into the building – the smoke now more noticeable .. more putrid. She pulled on the alarm again.  This time it did ring.  Loudly.  There were still well over 1,000 students and teachers in the burning school. However, the alarm was not connected to the Chicago Fire Department alarm system.  They were all still alone.

[The closest “fire box” – a box from which an alarm could be sent directly to the Chicago Fire Department – was two blocks away.  Stunningly these were still sparsely placed, even though fireboxes had been very useful since the first one in America was installed many decades before, in Charleston, in 1881]


The fire had begun in one of the basement trash bins, probably around 2:00PM.  Perhaps it was set by the lad Miss Tristano permitted to use the restroom.  Or, perhaps by one of the few dozen or so kids who took their classroom’s trash to the basement between then and 2:24. There has been no official cause ever found or given. It’s officially just “an accident.”  Several years later, a well-known fire bug and prankster admitted to setting the fire, hoping for a “fire alarm” – he purportedly said – and a chance to get out of school a bit early.  Further questioning revealed gaps and inconsistencies in his story; he divulged the information in a meeting with investigators conducted without permission of his parents (he was still a minor); shortly after he recanted.  And there the investigation died.

The fire smoldered and grew with insidious furtiveness, invisibly gaining strength for 25-30 minutes.  Flames then burst out of the bin, and hungrily sought anything flammable: walls, more trash, wood paneling … and oxygen.  Finally, the fire’s heat ruptured a nearby basement window.  Bolstered with fresh oxygen, carried by the cold, life-sucking December winds, the fire quickly became an inferno.

It raced up the main stairwell – its steps, handles and paneling made entirely of flammable wood:  oil-stained, and wax-polished – and reached the first-floor entry.  There it encountered perhaps the single significant useful fire safety feature of the building – a closed fireproof door.  The fire turned and raced up to the second floor.  No students or teachers on the first floor, which held the classrooms for grades 1 through 4, perished; the door saved them all.  Most barely knew there was a fire until they were outside.

There was no fire door on the second floor. Up there, in the old north wing directly above the old basement, the incinerator and trash bins, virtually everyone was taken by surprise. That is where all 95 deaths occurred: 92 students and 3 nuns.

_________________________________________________________________________________

Near 2:30, James Raymond, he with 5 kids in the school, was returning from a nearby parish property (probably Mary Hall) where had completed some handyman tasks.  He noticed a glow from a basement window. Investigating, he found an out-of-control fire.  He ran over to the rectory (the parish priests’ residence) and told Nora Maloney, the cook and housekeeper of 26 years, that the school was on fire.  Call the Fire Department!!

At first unbelieving, she did as told.  Several minutes later (narratives give varying amounts of time) Fire Engine 85 and Fire Truck 36 pulled up – the first of several dozen fire department vehicles to appear on site – with sirens blaring, ladders and hoses and ready.  It would soon be a five-alarm fire, with 65 different Chicago Fire Department companies responding. Unfortunately, Ms Maloney had given them the address of the Rectory, on Iowa Street, nearly half a block away from the school entrances. Panicked and terrified neighbors had started to gather.  They told the fire fighters that the fire was at the school, around the corner on Avers Avenue. They would have to reposition the vehicles and hoses, costing several precious minutes.

Horrified neighbors and parents

Although 2nd floor teachers on the north wing, now trapped by impenetrable hallway smoke, had closed and sealed their classroom doors, the fire roared right up to a small overhead attic, through which it could spread unfettered.  Then onto the roof.  With fire also creeping along the hallway floors – made of asphalt tiles over wood floors – many classrooms were soon surrounded.

Before the fire brigade’s arrival, many neighbors had already brought their own ladders to the school to help evacuate students and teachers trapped on the second floor.  Unfortunately, the school’s design put these windows about 25 feet off the ground – most ladders simply didn’t reach.  [Why? The basement extended about ½ floor above the ground, and the 2nd floor windows were nearly 4 feet from the floor].  Many students who could clamber to the window ledges simply leapt to the ground.  Fatally in some cases.

His message delivered in the Rectory, Raymond returned to the school ASAP. From classroom to classroom he rambled. Through smoke and heat. He led evacuations (with benefit of knowing where the fire was likely to be worst and knowing the school layout – literally – like the back of his hand). Raymond is credited with personally physically saving at least forty children and one teacher. And countless more with his verbal directions and force of personality.

OLA fire, helicopter view (Chicago Tribune)

The storytelling could go on and on – almost all of it painfully sad. Much of it full of heroism. Some of it poor, unfortunate choices made in the most stressful of circumstances. I’ll leave that to those who are interested.  The internet is full of reports, memories, pictures, building plans, anniversary articles and analyses of the fire.  Just Google something like “Fire, Our Lady of the Angels school, December 1, 1958.”

[Warning: It is powerfully heartrending and gut wrenching to simply to do such a search, and click images.  ]

Students and teachers were taken to hospitals all over Chicago, mostly to St Anne’s Hospital, about one mile away.  St Anne’s was run by the sweet nuns of the Poor Housemaids of Jesus Christ, under the administration of Sister Almunda.  Perhaps some of the same nuns who cared for these poor burned and battered students of LOA were the same who helped welcome the eldest of my two sisters and me into the world; she was delivered there just under a year before, and I – nearly her “Irish Twin” — was born there just 2-¼ years before the fire.

The saddest of all is perhaps the passing of 8th grader, William Edington, Jr.  As if clinging to the ledge of one of LOA’s tall windows, “Billy” survived until August 9th, over 8 months after the fire.  He had undergone dozens of skin grafts; finally the paperboy’s body could take no more. He was the 95th victim.

Aftermath:

Defying credulity, LOA had already conducted six fire drills that school year.  And the school had passed a fire inspection just weeks before, on October 7th.  Passed a fire inspection!  Yes, there were many shortcomings identified – most notably no fire sprinkler system.  Also: flammable stairways, hallways, and ceilings.  Only two fire alarms (and those in a single wing) in a complex accommodating 1,600 souls – and neither of those connected to the Fire Department.  Yet for all these flaws it was “grandfathered” – given waivers on account of the buildings’ ages, with too much cost and difficulty associated to implement all the fire code regulations.

The country had suffered massively deadly school fires before LOA.  Two that were more lethal: the Lakeview School fire, in Collinwood, OH in 1908 that killed 175.  And then the Consolidated School fire, of New London, TX, caused by a gas explosion, when 294 perished in 1938.

Fireman Richard Scheidt carries out the body
of 10 year old John Jajkowski,
(Steve Lasker / Chicago American)

The fire at Our Lady of the Angels – with 95 deaths and scores of serious injuries – was a George Floyd-type of moment.  A Medgar Evers moment.  A Pearl Harbor moment. The country finally got serious about fire safety.  No cost would be spared to protect our children.  Smoke detectors, then something considered new and still evolving, went in.  Buildings were remodeled.  Fire-proof walls and fire-proof doors.  Non-flammable materials.  Smoke detectors.  Heat detectors.  All with upgrades, as technology advanced. Fire extinguishers and fire alarms: all within reach of anyone, not just taller adults. [At LOA the few fire extinguishers were seven feet off the floor; even many teachers could not have gotten to them].

Within a year over 16,000 schools in America underwent major changes to address fire danger.

Fire codes were regularly updated and rigorously enforced.  Grandfathering had to go.  Fire codes and enforcement have increased and improved so much that it is now a misnomer to call a Fire Department a Fire Department. We should call them “The department that responds to all sorts of emergencies, and occasionally even a fire.” Across the country less than 5% of FD calls are for fires.  The vast majority (about 70%) are for health emergencies.  Other emergencies (hazmat, weather cataclysms, possible gas leaks, etc) make up most of the remainder.  Sadly there are still false alarms, although most are not ill-will; just smoke scares and alarms going off.

And frequent fire drills continued, with an increased earnestness.  I started Catholic schooling in 1962.  No doubt the LOA fire and the images were still fresh in the minds of the nuns, parishes, and archdiocese. I recall they were at least once a month, but rather randomly timed.

There have been school fires since. Of course. But none completely out of control.  Very few with body counts; and those are just one, or at most two.  Over the past several decades there has been an average of one death by fire in schools per year in the US.

On the other hand, our schools now have active-shooter drills.  And bomb scares.  <Sigh. > Personally, I think we can do a lot better in protecting our children – in this regard – But I digress and didn’t want to get political.

St Anne’s is no longer a hospital.  It was converted a few decades ago to a charity-run assisted living complex for the elderly.  It’s now called Beth-Anne Life Center. Maybe I can leave this world at the same location I entered it.

OLA’s school was razed and rebuilt – completely fire-proof – within two years.  It was closed a few decades ago, due to declining interest in parochial school education, in the ‘90s.  A few charter schools have tried to make a go of it in the building.  It appears to be mostly vacant now.

The OLA church and building function has changed too.  It now finds itself in one of Chicago’s poorest neighborhoods.  Currently it serves as a faith-based “mission” doing community service and outreach in areas like childcare, after-school ed, food & clothing distribution, senior citizen programs and bible school classes. For some functions it uses parts of the otherwise-abandoned “new” school building.

Treatment of burn victims has improved fantastically since the trauma of LOA and Billy Edington’s suffering.  Development in Stem Cell technology has led to “spray on skin” treatment, which has greatly reduced need for large scale skin grafting for burn victims.


Cheesebox, Rescue
Janitor James Raymond, also alerted to the Cheesebox situation, perhaps by Fr Hunt’s frantic efforts, arrived at Room 207 at about the same time as Fr Hunt.  Like him, his shoes and slacks had been on fire, and floating cinders had burned holes in his shirt.  Raymond was also sporting a serious bloody gash across one wrist from breaking through a window. 
Sr Geralita explained: No keys.  Do you have keys?
Raymond, putting pressure on his bleeding wrist, looked dolefully down at the dozens of keys hanging from his key chain.  “Yes, but which one?”
Outside and all around the fire had burst through onto the roof.  The room was beginning to flash over.
By God’s grace the very 1st key he tried opened the door.  As Sister sheparded kids through the door and onto the escape, Raymond and Hunt swept the smoke-filled room for kids hiding under desks, their noses to the floor for the cleanest air.
There were no fatalities in the Cheesebox.  Assured all students were out, the 3 adults stepped onto the escape just as the room completely flashed over: everything in 207 was on fire or melting.

[Of all days. Sister Geralita never forgave herself for forgetting the backdoor keys to the fire escape that day.]



I sort of feel like 2020 has been a metaphoric fire drill. This virus and all this crap is not going to wipe out our species: not even close. Yes, people have died, suffered, and been dragged through anguish. This too, shall pass. Still, 2020 has been a serious thing:  including the virus and how we respond to it.

So, principal mother superior. How are we doing?  Are we pushing and sniping in the hallways? Shoving or being respectful down the stairways? Are we minding the tasks at hand: taking care of ourselves, those we love, our fellow humans?  Are we yelling boisterously at each other? 

What are we going to change going forward?  Ourselves? I can do better, myself.

Right now, I think we all suck at this fire drill. We suck. We are wasting a possible “Pearl Harbor moment.” Is there a contemporary social metaphor for nuns of the ‘50s and ‘60s wrapping our knuckles and boxing our ears? Because we deserve it.  Each of us can take this opportunity to step back, objectively critique ourselves (not others, please) and move forward with more clarity in our primary individual human roles and responsibilities: that is, with sympathy, compassion, kindness, respect, and patience. 

Along with Alex Trebek, another Canadian-American, I have hope. 

“In spite of what America and the rest of the world is experiencing right now, there are many reasons to be thankful. There are more and more people extending helpful hands to do a kindness to their neighbors, and that’s a good thing. Keep the faith; we’re gonna get through all of this, and we will be a better society because of it. ”

Alex Trebek (Farewell Thanksgiving message, RIP, November, 2020).

The horrible fire of December 1, 1958 helped make us better.  I believe the tempering fire of 2020 will help make us better, too.

Peace

Joe Girard © 2020

Resources/Bibliography:  These are all easily found.  The best is a very well researched and written book called “To Sleep with the Angels”, by David Cowan and John Kuenster

Short general resources:

https://guides.library.illinois.edu/c.php?g=416856&p=2840506

https://www.nfpa.org/News-and-Research/Publications-and-media/NFPA-Journal/2008/July-August-2008/Features/When-the-Angels-Came-Calling

Chicago Weather, Dec 1, 1958  

Maps, classes and students: https://www.olafire.com/Survivors.asp#206

Relative Humidity calc: http://bmcnoldy.rsmas.miami.edu/Humidity.html

Summary: https://www.olafire.com/FireSummary.asp

FAQ: https://www.olafire.com/FAQ.asp

Jim Grosso interview and recollection: https://www.oakpark.com/News/Articles/12-2-2008/Reclaiming-a-charred-childhood/

Roger That

The early 1960s milieu of my youth was certainly different than that of our contemporary turmoil, well over five decades hence. 

For example, some obscure skills regarding road maps were very useful, whether on a cross-country adventure, or just heading out to the next county, or across town. One was being able to find a tiny street somewhere in F-9.  You could not just whip out your mobile phone and ask for directions over that last mile.

Another was to unfold a large detailed map and then re-fold differently so that it could be easily used for navigation; – and then, upon completion, getting it all neatly re-folded again (yes, using the original creases and into the original pattern) without rips or tears so that it could be stored efficiently for multiple future uses. That’s an almost completely lost art.  It required patience, some imagination, and 3-D topological mathematical skills to visualize and execute the folded shapes. 

1960s Road Maps

State maps and city maps often folded differently, and especially so if one was from Texaco, another from Standard Oil, and yet another from Michelin, or from whomever.  If you need a tutorial, find a road map collecting club.  These clubs actually exist.  You can find anything in America. 

I was wondering recently about the children’s cartoon show that we sometimes watched: Roger Ramjet.  I think it was a tangent thought on our nation’s new Space Force (by the way, we’ve effectively had a Space Force since long before President Trump deemed it so). Roger Ramjet was one of countless mindless children’s empty-headed shows that ubiquitously populated the TV Wasteland of the early ‘60s moors (the theme song is right now an earworm in my brain).  The term TV Wasteland was so coined by Newton Minow, the first chairman of the Federal Communications Commission in a famous speech to a Senate subcommittee, in 1961.

The commissioner’s name is part of a humorous twist, from yet another silly brain-dead show for children that jumped into the 1960’s wasteland: Gilligan’s Island. The show’s creator and executive director, Sherwood Schwartz, decided that the name of the tour ship that would survive an ocean storm, and drop seven castaways on an uncharted island, would be named the SS Minnow, in sardonic honor of the Chairman.  

I wondered how Roger Ramjet, both the character and the TV show got their name.  Ramjet was a “hot” word de jour, in those fast-paced technology-war and cold war years.  Simply – I would learn a few years later – a basic sort of turbo charged jet engine, without an actual turbo air-compressing mechanism. 

Our hero: Roger Ramjet

But the name “Roger”, I guessed from early on, was due to Roger’s nature.  Namely military.  Roger was super patriotic, definitely military, painfully loyal and honest, possessed a bizarre superpower, and fought evil. He was also a few cards short of a full deck.  Sort of a US version of RCMP officer Dudley Do-Right (yes, Dudley was from that same TV Wasteland brain dead era).

The military term “Roger”, I (think I) learned from watching popular WW2-themed TV shows like 12 O’clock High and Combat!, which featured radio communications wherein the word “Roger” was used to indicate a message had been received.  R for Roger; R for Received. 

The history and etymology of the word “Roger” in this context is interesting and worthy of an essay in and of itself.  It’s still used today, particularly in aircraft communication.  Variations include Roger Willco (Received, will comply), Roger That, and Roger Dodger.  If its use were to start up from scratch today, it would probably be “Romeo”, as that is the NATO and US Military phonetic alphabet word-based “R.” [US Military phonetic alphabet is a tad different.]

[Since my surname is so often misspelled I am used to giving it as Golf-India-Romeo-Alpha-Romeo-Delta. That gets the job done, and the reply is sometimes: Thank you for your service. To which I must respond: I did not have that honor sir (or ma’am)].

The beginnings of “Roger Dodger” seem apocryphal, but it is a good story, nonetheless. According to legend: a naval pilot was returning from a very successful WW2 mission. Feeling quite jolly and cocky, and upon receiving landing instructions from control, he replied “Roger Dodger.”  Very, very unmilitary.  The reply is simply “Roger.”

Radios of the squadron came alive with the shouting of a senior officer at control who had overheard the wisecrack. Such undisciplined comments are simply not acceptable over military channels.  To which the pilot replied (knowing that his reply was anonymous; it could be from anyone on that frequency): “Roger Dodger, you old codger.”

Another essay foray could be into the use of exclamation points, as in the 1960’s TV show name “Combat!”,  which was my first experience with a formal name or title having an exclamation point; this was decades before Yahoo!, and Yum! type product branding. I was too young and unsophisticated to know of the famous musicals “Oklahoma!” and “Hello Dolly!”  [Soon thereafter would arrive the cookie brand, “Chips Ahoy!”, then came so many it became silly.]

What I recall of Combat! and 12 O’clock High is that they were obviously military oriented … one army air force, the other infantry army.  They were not silly, but very serious. The suffering – both physical and psychological – was real.  Personal struggles. Seeing and dealing with pain, injury, aloneness, death. 

So, how did Roger Ramjet get his name? Did Roger get his name from military roots? No. Like the name “SS Minnow” it was simpler and even less meaningful.  It turns out that the name Roger Ramjet just had a good “ring” to it.  Ramjet was from ramjet, a type of forced-air-breathing jet engine.  And Roger was the name of a reporter (Roger Smith) who joked during an interview with executive producer (Fred Crippen) during the show’s initial creation that the main character’s name should be Roger.  So it was, … and so much for branding back in the day.

“Roger” has made it over to emails and texts – well, at least in mine.  If I reply:  

  • “Roger”, then I received and understood your message.
  • “Roger That”, then I received, understood and I agree.
  • “Roger Dodger”, then I received, understood and I am feeling a bit goofy or lighthearted – or perhaps I think you are being supercilious. But I won’t add “You old codger.”

Peace out

Joe Girard © 2020

Thanks for reading. As always, you can add yourself to the notification list for when there is newly published material by clicking here. Or emailing joe@girardmeister.com

Tony and Farm Boy Records

“It’s work, son,” Father said. “That’s what money is; it’s hard work.”

― Laura Ingalls Wilder, Farmer Boy

Tony Lee was born to a farming family in rolling rural piedmont country, hidden away in North Carolina’s Lincoln County.  He grew up fast, tall, strong and lean, and went on to set a remarkable and little-known Major League Baseball record that will probably never be broken.

There are many a story of country boys making it big in baseball.  I’ll touch on three of the best known.

Mickey Mantle grew up in rural Oklahoma, along old Route 66. Who knows how many records Mickey Mantle would have set if he hadn’t taken to the bottle? Still, he hit 536 home runs in total – this during an era when baseball players, on average, hit homers only about 60 percent as often as today – and yet “The Mick” stands at #18 on the all-time home run list.  More than a few above him took steroids and should thus be disqualified.

Bob Feller grew up a farming country boy in Iowa.  Playing his entire career with the Indians, and coaching for them until his death at 92, he probably had the fastest fastball in the Majors during the 1940s. He led the league in strike outs seven times (twice in the 1930s as a teenager!). Over a stellar career, Feller amassed 266 victories.  He surely would’ve reached the magical 300 milestone had he not served 3-1/2 years in World War 2 in the prime of his career.  Or, if the Indians had had a slightly better team; they compiled mostly mediocre records in those years, but did manage to win the World Series in 1948. For the five full years of his career that sandwiched his military service he averaged 24 wins a season.  Projecting a bit, that would put him around 350 wins for his career. 

And finally, perhaps the most famous to baseball fans, is pitcher Denton True “Cy” Young.  He grew up working his family’s farm in rural Ohio.  His frame took on great strength and his mind a determined, stern discipline. When baseball found him, he could throw the ball so hard he was nicknamed “Cyclone”; or “Cy” for short.  With a career of just over two decades that spanned the turn of the 20th century, Young won an astounding 511 games at the Major League level – a record that will never be broken.  Since 1956 the Award for the Best Pitcher in each league has been named after him.

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In this time of Covid, I’m not following sports much. Heck, until recently there wasn’t much to follow. But even with this rump of a baseball season coming to its tinny crescendo I have been unable to avert my eyes from box scores and standings completely. 

It’s a lifelong habit and I guess I owe it to my dad.  I can remember him taking me to watch a Cubs game at Wrigley Field during the summer of 1961.  Billy Williams hit a home run.  I could barely follow the game – long periods of sun-drenched boredom with brief moments of athletic excitement where the players and ball moved so quickly that I had little idea what was going on.  All I knew before this was dad tossing whiffle balls to me – as I tried to make contact with a plastic bat – and a cheezy glove that he tossed balls into.  Me, thinking I could catch, or hit! Ha. God Bless him. God blessed me with him.

Within a few years he taught me how to track a game.  How to keep score.  Tricks to playing each position (‘ twas clear from early on I’d never be a pitcher) and what to anticipate what could happen on each at-bat, on each pitch.  I guess he thought I had “Mickey Mantle” potential, as he had me swing from both sides.  Eventually I took to swinging only lefty – even though I am right-handed and right-eyed – which was fine with me.  Billy Williams – who won Rookie of the Year in 1961, later won a batting title, and had become my favorite player – swung the same way, lefty, despite also being right-handed.

Back to 2020. So, I’m tracking some baseball stats this odd year-of-covid, like I always do. This, despite the fact that I’m inclined to believe that nothing about this year should even count.  But, I can’t help myself.  Reasons it shouldn’t count?  Doubleheader games are only 7 innings;  extra innings start off with a runner on second;  and the biggest reason is that even the NL is using the Designated Hitter (DH), which means that – except in the most unusual of circumstances – pitchers don’t have to bat.  Guess I’m just a traditionalist.

One thing I noticed through most of this weird 2020 season is that hitting and run production seem down.  Until a few weeks ago batting averages across both leagues were at historic lows.  And pitchers don’t even have to bat! Run production (scoring) was down only slightly, because players are still hitting home runs at nearly historically high rates.

There was a blip for a few weeks recently when scoring and hitting went way up. Teams started putting up double-digit tallies. In one single day (Sept 9) during that stretch the Brewers scored 19 runs in a game. And the Braves scored 29! In one game. During that Braves explosion, Adam Duvall hit three home runs, one of them a grand slam, and knocked in 9 runs.  This statistic, 9 RBIs, tied a Braves franchise record. Plus a grand slam. [RBI is Run Batted in].

And my mind drifted back to 1966……

Baseball recruiting started to get aggressive in the late 1950s.  For example, Tony Lee Cloninger, a lanky farm boy from North Carolina, was signed to a professional contract by the Milwaukee Braves in early 1958.  For that, he received a signing bonus of $100,000.  That was a lot of money. He had not yet graduated from high school.

Milwaukee. I lived just outside that Midwest city from Christmas week 1962 until the summer of 1974.  Even though my first love was the Cubs, I could not help but follow the local Braves, as news of them was always in the newspapers. And of course, my sports-minded friends all followed them.  So, I certainly knew of Tony Cloninger.

In fact, several superstars, future Hall of Famers, played for the Milwaukee Braves back then – Aaron, Matthews, Torre, Spahn – and I remember watching them all play at Milwaukee County Stadium.

Cloninger set several team records.  He recorded the modern-day era for most wins in a season by a Brave – 24 wins in 1965 – which matched the count put up by Johnny Sain in 1948 (when the team was in Boston), and years later by John Smoltz in 1996.  Not even the great Brave and Hall of Famer Warren Spahn ever won so many in a season.

Cloninger also threw one of MLB’s few Immaculate Innings (9 pitches, 3 strikeouts) in 1963, a feat that had only been achieved 13 times before.  (As an indicator of how the game has changed – so many more home runs and more strikeouts – it’s been done 87 times since).

1965 was a strange year for the Milwaukee Braves.  The ownership was trying to move the team to Atlanta.  Fans still loved the Braves, but there definitely were some hard feelings.  The case even went to the courts, as the city tried to keep them.  Despite a good record and performance by stars – not just Cloninger’s 24 wins; three Braves ranked in the league’s top ten for home runs: “Hammerin’ ” Hank Aaron, Eddie Matthew and Mack Jones – attendance dwindled to a dismal 555,000, lowest in the entire major leagues.  I can’t blame the fans for not supporting a team that doesn’t love its home city.

Cloninger was a bit of free-spirit, at least on the pitcher’s mound, I would guess, and his career numbers support that theory.  In his great 1965 year (and the next year too), Cloninger led the league in Wild Pitches and Walks issued. During 3-1/2 seasons in the minors he steadily averaged about 7 walks per nine innings: a horrendous ratio at almost any level, especially as a professional. But he also showed a ton of potential and promise. He was promoted to the major league club, the Milwaukee Braves, in the middle of the ’61 season, just shy of 21 years old. He was probably an early poster-child for the term “effectively-wild.”

1966.  Now the Atlanta Braves were hopeful for their prospects, based on a new location, their promising second half of 1965, and a roster full of stars, including Tony Cloninger as their #1 pitcher.  Unexpectedly, both Tony and the Braves got off to a cool start and were definitely under-performing.  For the July 4th weekend, they traveled to San Francisco, to play the first place Giants – they were also loaded with future Hall of Famers.  Prospects didn’t look good.

On a Sunday afternoon, July 3, Tony Cloninger – a much better than average hitting pitcher – pitched for the Braves.  Back then, we Milwaukee-ites all still followed the Braves rather closely – as there was no professional baseball team in Milwaukee to replace them yet (the Brewers arrived in 1970), and we still knew all the Braves’ players, and most (except me) disliked the rival Cubs in nearby Chicago. But we didn’t get a newspaper delivered on Independence Day, July 4th. What happened on July 3rd?

It was not until July 5th that I read what Tony Cloninger had accomplished.  The details were scarce, since the sports section had to cram two days’ worth of news into a single Tuesday edition, typically a publication day of diminutive size.

I first scanned the July 4th results (for some cruel scheduling reason the Braves had to fly all the way to Houston to play an afternoon game the very next day in the new Astrodome against the lowly Astros) and noted that the they had eked out a win.

Then, …  some numbers from the previous day’s box score literally jumped off the pages.  Holy cow! The Braves beat the first place Giants by a score of 17-3.  Tony Cloninger pitched a complete game for the win, and he hit not one, but two, grand slams.  I could not believe my eyes.  A late game single brought his RBI total to 9 for the game.  These are astonishing batting feats for any player, almost unbelievable!! But for a pitcher?  Typically, the lightest hitting player in any lineup.

Tony Cloninger, mid-1960s

Not sure if it was that day or the next, but I remember the Milwaukee Journal showing a grainy photo of Giants’ great Willie Mays looking up helplessly, as a ball Cloninger had clobbered soared over his head, near the fence in Candlestick’s center field. Gosh, I wish I had started saving newsworthy magazines and newspapers a bit earlier.  I’d love to have that now.

This was the first time in National League history that a player had ever hit two grand slams in one game.  And, I’ll repeat myself: by a pitcher no less.   [It has only happened only twice since, with Fernando Tatis hitting two in the same inning(!), in 1999.  It has been accomplished 10 times in the American League.] This has never been accomplished by a pitcher.  Never.  Before or since.  And it never will be done again, especially with the NL contemplating permanent use of the Designated Hitter – which means pitchers practically never, ever get to bat.

The Braves 1966 season improved thereafter, partly due to changing managers (from Bobby Bragan – loved that name – to Billy Hitchcock).  On the flip side: The Giants’ season sort of collapsed.  And the Dodgers (again, sigh) raced on to the National League pennant, with one of the better pitching  staffs in baseball history, led by Sandy Koufax (who promptly retired, aged only 30, when he was at the top of his game, after the Dodgers surprisingly lost the World Series to Baltimore, swept 4-0, at season’s end).

Tony “the farm boy” Cloninger had been experiencing some shoulder and elbow problems. He was a power pitcher, with a great fastball and nasty slider; both can be very tough on the body. 1966 was still a reasonably good season for him (he finished 14-11) and he was still the Braves #1 pitcher.  But that was the beginning of the end.  Even at age 25 his rugged farm-hardened body could not stand up to the rigors of tossing so many innings.  He pitched for several more years, posting only fair results, at best, and he was traded around a couple times.

With his bonus money and salary, Cloninger had been buying up farmland in his native Lincoln County.  He battled on for a few years, then struggled mightily through the first half of the 1972 season, whereupon he promptly retired mid-season, just before his 32nd birthday. Tony returned to his beloved rural homeland; he began settling in at his farm and its bucolic setting in the North Carolina Piedmont.

Cloninger compiled a career MLB record of 113-97. He once made the league top 10 in strike outs. Good, but not nearly good enough for the Hall of Fame.  He’s also regarded as one of the best hitting pitchers of all time.  Still not good enough to technically be in the Hall of Fame as an individual. But, photographs of him made that day in 1966 are there in the Hall.  As is the bat he borrowed from teammate Denis Menke, the one he used to hit the two grand slams.  They should be: it is a record which will never be broken by any player. Nor will even be tied, by a pitcher.

Cloninger couldn’t stay away from the game forever.  In 1988 he took up an invitation from the New York Yankees to join their coaching staff…starting in the minors and ending up with the major league team. Later he switched over to the player development staff with the Boston Red Sox.  I believe he was still with the BoSox when he passed away, just a couple years ago, in the summer of 2018, aged 77.

Tony, thanks for the memories.  You’re a good old farm boy who did well in the world.

Thanks for reading.  Cheers.

Joe Girard © 2020

Thanks for reading. As always, you can add yourself to the notification list for when there is newly published material by clicking here. Or emailing joe@girardmeister.com