Category Archives: Autobiographical

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

Tick Tock

“There’s no tick tock on your electric clock,
But still your life runs down.”
from “Halfway to Heaven”
— composed and sung by Harry Chapin

Prologue

I don’t exactly read a lot of biographies.  I do stumble across interesting life stories from time to time, and often feel compelled to dig deeper – when time permits. Occasionally, I’ll get the book.  More often I turn to the internet.

The Internet has made such research endeavors extraordinarily easy, especially for one who grew up seeking information with only one option: going the library and fumbling through frayed catalog cards and struggling with the Dewey Decimal system.

A recurrent observation from curious reading and research is that so many people have achieved impressively at young ages.

Ron Chernow’s excellent biography on Alexander Hamilton attests to this on nearly every one of the 800+ pages. As a teen he was clearly a genius, running a merchant’s trade company and its shipping contracts in the West Indies. This despite being a fatherless bastard. Among many other achievements, by age 24 he had served in the Revolutionary War as Washington’s aide-de-camp and led an assault on the British at the decisive Battle of Yorktown.  He was

Book Cover: Chernow’s biography on Hamilton

a successful lawyer and serving in the Continental Congress.  And that’s really just the beginning.  For the full story in just under three hours, watch the rap-musical, Hamilton, based directly from Chernow’s work.  It’s an expensive ducat, but if you can also get it on video (Disney-plus has it). I strongly recommend subtitles.

Isaac Newton was 22 years old when the plague hit England, 1665-66.  His school, Trinity College, in Cambridge closed to control the contagion. So, he retreated home to the small hamlet of Woolsthorpe. There he whiled his time musing about sundry things, like gravity, light, many aspects of mathematics, like how to compute Pi to many digits quickly. He came up with a fundamentally sound theories for the first two, and, in order to prove one, he invented Calculus (although much of this work was not published until later). He expanded upon the binomial theorem, to the most generalized form possible, which he then used to speed up the calculation of Pi’s digits by many, many orders of magnitude. After about a year later the plague abated in Cambridge… and so, when Newton got the news, he sallied back to his masters studies at Trinity, some 60 miles north of London, where he made no further breakthroughs.

 

The Comet

My dad was born and raised in Chicago; I was born there. Although we moved to near Milwaukee when I was but an innocent lad of 6 years old, we remained loyal to “Da Bears

50s and 60s style rabbit ears, with aluminum foil

” and the Cubs for decades, despite all my new friends’ allegiance to the Braves (who dumped Milwaukee for Atlanta), later the Brewers, and of course, the Pack.

I remember trying to watch televised games from Chicago, some 90 miles away.  We’d string wire through the trees in the back yard, or sometimes I’d stand beside the TV, holding the rabbit-ear antennae just right, usually with aluminum foil wrapped around them in odd shapes (most called it “tin foil”).

“Got it! Don’t move Joe!”

Usually we failed, or the blurry images were barely visible through the “snow”; then we’d give up and listen to a Chicago radio station – that would be WGN, at 720 kHz on AM. As a historic Clear Channel, and at 50 kilowatts, a good reception was a high likelihood.

Gale Sayers, looks like rookie or sophomore pic

In 1965 a rookie arrived on the scene for our beloved Bears: Gale Sayers. An exciting running back, fast, shifty and elusive, who could also return kicks.  Raised in Omaha, Nebraska, he attended and played football for Kansas University.  There he was a two time All-American, carrying the nickname “Kansas Comet.” Of course, as a youngster I didn’t know any of that; I learned that years later by reading his autobiography.

But I did know he was very, very exciting… and annoying to Packers’ fans. I was into my teens before I stopped drawing his number, 40, on my shirts to wear during pick-up football games.

During a game against San Francisco, in his rookie season of 1965, my dad and I followed probably the most remarkable game a rookie ever had, or ever will have. Sayers scored six touchdowns, 4 by rushing, 1 on a pass (80 yards), and another on a punt return (85 yards).  It was a late season game, so Sayers’ skills were now well-known, and the 49ers had redesigned their defense and kick coverage specifically to stop Sayers. To no avail. [video highlights here]

We were of course aware the mighty Packers were playing an important game across the country, in Baltimore, that same day. Their most glamorous player, Paul Hornung, had been struggling for quite some time with injuries; most notably a neck injury that caused a pinched nerve, accompanied by numbness and “stingers” running down his arms.  He was having a mediocre season and had been forced to sit out a few games.  That he was playing at all is testament to his toughness and the stupidity of American Football.

That day Paul Hornung scored five touchdowns, a Packer single-game record that still stands. The next few days all my excited Milwaukee friends wanted to tell me all about those five touchdowns.  In a voice that probably failed to conceal my satisfaction, despite its soft tone (I had a bad stammer, and it was not cool to be a Bears fan in Wisconsin, even way back then) I replied: you know, Sayers scored six.

In 1965, Sayers set the NFL single season record of 22 touchdowns, coincidently at age 22.  It’s been surpassed eleven times now, but he did that in only 14 games. The rest, except OJ Simpson in 1975, had the benefit of 16 game seasons.  (Last year, ridiculously, and inviting further brain damage to players, they expanded to 17 games).

The next season Sayers led the league in rushing.  Then disaster.  He suffered repeated knee injuries, the first while playing against, ironically, the same San Francisco 49ers against whom he set the touchdown record.  He gamely came back after each knee injury and surgery (remember, this is way before arthroscopic surgery … the rehab was just brutal) and an ankle injury as well.  He still showed flashes of brilliance, but he’d never be the same Gale Sayers, again.

Comets light up our skies and provide us with something to marvel at, but they come and go quickly.  The same with Gale Sayers, the Kansas Comet.  He retired at age 28, leaving fans with great memories that spanned just a few years.

So phenomenal were those few years, that Sayers was named to 4 Pro Bowl games (the NFL All-Star game), twice earning Game MVP [link].  Remarkable: he only played four full seasons.  In a fifth partial season, he was limited to only 9 games after two more knee injures — he still rushed for 856 yards with an astounding average of 6.2 yards per carry. He was inducted into the NFL Football Hall of Fame at the age of just 34 years old, the youngest ever to be so honored.

Sayers used his injury down time to get additional education, as well as get rehab after surgery. After retirement he first moved into sports management, picking up duties as Athletic Director at Kansas University — completing a master’s degree while at that job — and then AD over at Southern Illinois University.  Thereafter, he started his own very successful computer company, which he then ran until retirement.

Brian Piccolo — gone too soon

We can’t talk about Sayers without at least briefly mentioning Brian Piccolo, and the friendship they shared.  Piccolo and Sayers came up together, both finishing their college football careers in 1964.  Piccolo, playing for Wake Forest led the NCAA in rushing that year; he actually out nudged Sayers in the Heisman Trophy voting.  (10th and 11th).

A tough hard running back, Piccolo was not as speedy or flashy as Sayers.  He went undrafted.  Signing a free agent deal with the Bears, Piccolo eventually worked his way up from the Practice Squad to regular roster player, often teamed up alongside Sayers in the backfield.

Coach George Halas decided it was a good idea to have teammates who played similar positions room together when the team traveled.  A budding friendship now bloomed: the black Gale Sayers roomed with the lily-white Brian Piccolo.  The first such pairing in NFL history.  They even had sequential numbers: Sayers #40, Piccolo #41.

As anyone who’s seen the gut-wrenching movie “Brian’s Song” knows, Piccolo soon contracted a rare form of cancer and passed away, aged only 26.

Final link: Sayers and Hornung. Probably not coincidentally, except perhaps the timing, these stars passed away recently, in the autumn of 2020.  Both struggled mightily with cognitive decline, then dementia, in their later years.  Although no investigations were performed, it’s highly likely each suffered from CTE – chronic traumatic encephalopathy – the worst curse of American football.

 

Sweet Georgian: Bobby

I also enjoy the sport of golf.  Not playing so much as just hitting balls in a contemplative state. It’s relaxing and wonderfully distracting.  The exercise and fresh air one gets from playing are healthy, and so are the companionships that develop.

Bobby Jones, born in 1902 in Atlanta, was blessed in many ways: coordinated, intelligent, self-driven and well-reared in a well-off family.  But as a youth he had severe health problems. For example, he was unable to eat solid food until age 5, which probably stunted his growth in these important years.

Doctors prescribed golf to young Bobby.  He lived across the street from a golf course (now the famous East Lake) which provided plenty of opportunity to play and learn.  He took well to the game, and by age 14 was playing – and doing well – in national tournaments.

While playing golf competitively at the highest levels, Jones attended nearby Georgia Tech, earning a degree in Mechanical Engineering.  Then, he went off to Harvard University, earning another degree, this in English Literature. [during his most competitive golf years, Jones would relax in the clubhouse before matches by reading Milton, Shakespeare or Chaucer].  Then, back home to Atlanta-based Emory University to study law.  Jones never fully completed his law studies at Emory, as he passed the Georgia Bar exam after his third semester, aged only 25.  He immediately began practicing law.

Along the way, he married his high school sweetheart and fathered three children.

One can only marvel that through all this Bobby Jones compiled one of the most extraordinary golf careers in all of history, and certainly by far the greatest of any amateur golfer.

At age 21, Jones won the US Open. Over the next 7 years he’d win another 12 major tournaments, culminating with the Grand Slam – all four majors – in 1930.

After the Grand Slam (also called “The Impregnable Quadrilateral” at the time) Jones promptly retired, without warning — shocking the sports world.  Like Sayers, he was only 28 years old.  He had proved what he needed to.  He reached heights golfers and fans today still marvel at.

Robert “Bobby” Tyre Jones — in his prime

Was he the greatest, the so-called GOAT? It’s so hard to compare eras.  For example, Jones accomplished all this with hickory shafted clubs and golf balls that couldn’t be trusted to behave the same from one to another – even from the same box!  Greens weren’t smooth.  He did all this while studying Engineering, Literature and then Law – and then practicing Law and raising a family.

Although his career as golf competitor was over after 1930, Jones’ involvement with golf continued.  Working with the Spalding Company he helped design and promote the first matched steel-shafted clubs.  He founded the Augusta Golf Club, which hosted the tournament he founded, now called The Masters.  He made a series of golf instructional videos – lost for decades – which are now probably the most famous ever, using high speed cameras and special lighting.  Ironic, but it was for these financial and technical ventures that he gave up his golf amateur status; Jones never accepted a dime for any of his golf playing achievements.

In the 1940s Jones was still a vibrant and intellectual man.  But something was wrong.  He was weakening too fast, and in pain.  In 1948 he was diagnosed with a rare condition called Syringomyelia, in which cysts form and grow in the spinal cord, impinging the nerve channels.  It had probably been developing for decades, maybe even since birth.

President Dwight “Ike” David Eisenhower’s painting of Bobby Jones

Jones’ life on earth lasted until 1971.  Those final decades were marked by extreme pain and progressing paralysis.  Starting in the ‘40s he became acquaintances with a man who would become President: Dwight D Eisenhower. Theirs would grow to a great friendship of mutual admiration. “Ike” was like many other world leaders, from Churchill, to Prince Charles, to Franco and even George W Bush — he enjoyed painting .  Ike, also like many of us, really enjoyed golf. He fell in love with Jones’ Augusta Golf Club and Course.  In 1953 Ike presented Jones with a painting of his good friend: a younger and healthier Bobby Jones. [1]

Paderewski of Ragtime [2]

This final tale of Ticks and Tocks is the story that started the germination of this entire essay. I learned about it in a newsletter of the 1904 World’s Fair Society, of which my wife and I are members.

For much material I must give credit to newsletter contributor Jim Wiemers, the society’s Music Collector.

Ragtime music is certainly a historic throwback; its golden era was around the last turn of the century, from the late 1890s to the mid-1910s.  But it’s certainly still enjoyed today.  It’s cheery.  It’s jaunty. Its syncopated rhythms are catchy.  Personally, I’ve enjoyed it since watching the 1973 film “The Sting,” which featured Scott Joplin’s ragtime classic The Entertainer throughout the movie. [Confession: The Entertainer is the only specific Rag tune I can confidently identify].

Rag was not considered respectable music from its beginning, for at least 10-15 years.  No doubt that’s because its roots lie in the African-American communities of that era, most notably in Saint Louis.

In 1904, during the Saint Louis World’s Fair (officially “The Louisiana Purchase Exposition”) leadership of the Fair denigrated the music form and wouldn’t permit it to be played on the main Fair Grounds, although some Rag was played along The Pike, which in many ways was sort of a “side show” to the Fair.

This was a great loss to anyone seeking a combination of contemporary culture and art.  Most unfortunate, since the acclaimed all-time king of Rag and Rag Composition, Scott Joplin, lived in Saint Louis at the time.  You can still visit the house he lived in, on the edge of downtown Saint Louis, just a few miles from Forrest Park, site of the Fair.

Although most of us today are hard-pressed to name Rag stars of that era besides Joplin, there certainly were many.

According to Fair and music historians, at least three contemporary stars of Rag played on the Fair’s Pike: Louis Chauvin, Sam Patterson, and Arthur Marshall.

Marshall played at the Spanish Café, in the Streets of Seville exhibit, for $12/week (he could’ve made $25 over at the Rosebud Bar, but not on the Fairgrounds).  The job lasted less than a month, as his music was too often drowned out by the bands playing at Hagenbeck’s Animal Show (well, the Pike was sort of a collection of sideshows and odd exhibits, displays and experiences). Marshall was replaced by an Iberian Orchestra. [3]  He outlived most the era’s Ragtimers, and was able to provide firsthand testimony on many of the personalities and events to historians decades later.

Sam Patterson and Louis Chauvin played two-piano Rag at the Old St Louis Restaurant and Bar on the Pike  [for a great map of the Pike at the 1904 World’s Fair, go to bottom of this page: click here.  For a great interactive zoomable map of the entire Fair, here]. [4]

Patterson and Chauvin grew up together in Saint Louis, which was rather a Rag hotbed.  They dropped out of school at 15 and 13, respectively, formed a musical touring group, and traveled the country. Later, they returned to Saint Louis, studying and performing – including at the 1904 Fair – before setting off again.

Louis Chauvin — just not any good photos of him on the internet

Patterson held various musical jobs and even joined Joplin in New York City for a while, helping him complete the ragtime opera “Treemonisha” before Joplin’s untimely death in 1917, aged 58.

And then there was the prodigy, Louis Chauvin, often called “Paderewski of Ragtime.”[2]  A true superstar of the original Ragtime era. He was a regular performer at Tom Turpin’s Ruby Bar in Saint Louis, a nexus for Ragtime talent.  [Quick aside: we note that Turpin himself was an early Ragtime leader, not only through his bar as a performance venue, but through his talent: his works include the very first published ragtime piece: Harlem Rag.]

Chauvin played only by ear and could re-create any piece he heard; if it wasn’t Rag, he put his own rag-spin on it.  He could adapt any melody to Rag, including a Sousa march.  Contemporaries pretty much agreed: he was the best.  But none of his creations were ever written down. His only published work was a team effort with Scott Joplin: Heliotrope Bouquet.

Sadly for him and the music world, Chauvin’s lifestyle was terrible for his health.  According to Patterson “He stayed up, drank, and made lots of love … he only seemed to be living when he was at the piano.  It’s authentic that he smoked opium at the last.”  Chauvin passed away at age 27.  Various causes were listed, but modern assessments would largely pin it on neurosyphilis … that’s a long term case of the STD syphilis, resulting in coma and, ultimately, starvation.

 

Epilogue

 

Sayer’s career was over at 28.  Jones also at 28, although his by choice, not injuries.  Piccolo gone at 26.

Louis Chauvin was among the first in the unusually long roster of people who accomplished much, grew famous, and passed away at age 27. What a list!

  • Janis Joplin – ranked 46th on the list of top music performers of all time – OD’d on heroine.
  • Jim Morrison of the Doors, heart attack, likely cause: heroine.
  • Jimi Hendrix of, well, Jimi Hendrix fame, choked to death, probably due to sleeping pill overdose.
  • And clean living is no guarantee either: JP Richardson, The Big Bopper, made it to 28. He went down in a Beech Bonanza, in a foggy snowstorm in a cornfield in Iowa – “the day the music died.”

Tick Tock, tick tock. Our clocks are running, always running, always ticking.

“Art is long, and Time is fleeting,
And our hearts, though stout and brave,
Still, like muffled drums, are beating
Funeral marches to the grave.”

Let’s not be depressed but active. Do what we can while we can.

“Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,
Is our destined end or way;
But to act, that each tomorrow
Find us farther than today.

—-

— scattered verses from “Psalm of Life”
Longfellow

I really wanted this to be upbeat.  A tribute to so many who accomplished so much, and so young.  Alexander Hamilton setting up a new nation’s finances and banking system at age 32.  Just … wow.  Leading a charge at the battle that cinched American independence at 24.  Dead in a duel at 47.

Sorry that it took such a dour turn.  That’s why it took me so long to finish and publish.  Had to find a cheerful way out.

Hey, it’s never too late to do something!  Harland Sanders founded Kentucky Fried Chicken at age 62, after already (1) having made and lost a fortune, (2) bounced around the country losing jobs as varied and crazy as kaleidoscope patterns, and (3) also having survived a genuine shoot out.  [5]

The priest who married us is 103, and still says Sunday Mass, preaching inspirationally as he’s done for 80 years, on love, humanity, brotherhood, peace and acceptance. [6]

Me?  I’ll just keep observing and writing.

Peace

Joe Girard © 2022

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] This famous painting hangs on the wall of the Chairman’s office at Augusta National.  Reprints are available, but good ones are not cheap. Ike presented it to Jones shortly after taking the oath of office, 1953.  He had been working on it for some time, including through the presidential campaign season.

[2] Ignacy Pedrewski, a Pole, was widely regarded as the best pianist in Europe at the time. As his name shows up in Saint Louis, obviously he was world renowned. An animated performer, he largely played classical music from the likes of Bach, Beethoven, & Chopin (of course) to large audiences. Known for reworking pieces to his own style (as did Chauvin), he went on to become Poland’s Prime Minister when it won its Independence as a favorable outcome of WWI.

[3] They All Played Ragtime, by Rudi Bush

[4] At nearly two square miles (1,270 acres) the 1904 LPE Saint Louis Fair was the world’s largest until the 2010 Shanghai Fair, which nudged ahead at 1,292 acres.  Close behind are the Chicago Fair of 1939, at 1,202 acres and the current 2020-22 Dubai World’s Fair, which has been cursed by Covid, at 1,100 acres.

[5] The Harland Sanders Shoot-out story, https://gizmodo.com/no-colonel-sanders-never-killed-a-man-in-a-shootout-1651797965; and in the book, Colonel Sanders and “The American Dream”, by Josh Ozersky.

[6] Father William Treacy.  We watch his masses by Zoom, or on recording when we’re busy.

Biographic sources for Louis Chavin:
[a] https://www.allmusic.com/artist/louis-chauvin-mn0002233120/biography
[b] https://www.stlmag.com/The-Best-St-Louis-Ragtime-Musicians-of-All-Time/

[c] https://aaregistry.org/story/louis-chauvin-pianist-born/
[d] And Jim Wiemer’s column on Chauvin the 1904WF newsletter.

 

Indigo Blue and Time Zones

9:20 AM, January 19, 1883.  The cross-bay ferry from San Francisco to Oakland pushes off. Forty or so passengers, most headed for Los Angeles, are aboard. In Oakland they board the Southern Pacific’s train #19, with the unlikely moniker “Atlantic Express” – a sister run to their more appropriately named “Pacific Express.”

The “All Aboard” call is at 10:00AM. #19 leaves Oakland station, pulled by a Campbell 4-4-0 — the “locomotive that built America.”


What interesting times we live in. Curious to me that as the economic positions between wealthy and not-so-wealthy continue to widen, the clothing choices between them seem to narrow. It’s near impossible to tell Joe-Six-Pack and university students from the managers and CEOs of the “white collar class.” All seem just as likely to sport blue jeans and untucked shirts.  Not so in 1883, when denim jeans were never a sartorial choice for someone with “clean hands.”  Laborers only.  Everyone dressed as befitting their position in a status-conscious society.


Contemporary Style: jeans, shirt tail and wristwatch

Blue Jeans. We know them generically as Levis, although many clothing manufacturers have knock-offs of that classic – hopefully timeless – design.  We owe them to Levi Strauss (born 1829 as Löb Strauß), an Ashkenazi Jew, who emigrated from Bavaria to the United States and found himself in San Francisco in the 1850s.  California had just become a state and there was good money to be made outfitting fortune seekers (gold rush Forty-niners) and new settlers, as the entire region was booty from the recently concluded Mexican-American War.  Well, to serve them, he invented the denim-based Levi Strauss Blue Jean that’s a staple of most wardrobes in America even today, and the envy of many around the world.

Two things about jeans that are of interest.  Why are most blue?  Well, the chemistry goes that young Mr. Strauss chose Indigo Blue dye because it attached very well to the outer threads of denim.  As the jeans got washed, the dye would pull out miniscule fragments of the fabric; thus, the jeans grew progressively softer, and faded, with each washing.

And there’s another link to 1883, and Bavaria for that matter.  That’s the year that Adolf von Baeyer perfected the method of making synthetic Indigo Blue dye, good enough for industrial use.  Until then it was somewhat rare and expensive; some dye could be made in parts of Europe from woad, but usually it came from points far east, like India, or south, like Africa, where it could be made from plants of the Indiofera genus.

More Prussian-German by birth, and one-half Jewish by his mother, von Baeyer spent most of the last half of his life in Bavaria, moving to Munich at age 40 to take the position as head university chemistry professor.  He was made nobility by Bavaria’s crazy King Ludwig II. He was residing there when he was named the winner of the 1905 Nobel Prize for Chemistry, and he died there, in 1917, aged 81. (Coincidently, in 1905, another German Jew published four groundbreaking papers that would lead to a Nobel Prize in Physics: Albert Einstein).

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Historic Tehachapi Railroad Water Tower

2:00 AM, January 20, 1883. In Tehachapi, California it’s a cold and breezy winter night. The train trip for the sleepy passengers on #19 is about 70% complete. #19 has just made the steepest climb of its journey.  This railroad segment is a true engineering marvel: from 400 feet elevation at Bakersfield in the San Joachin Valley, up to 4,000 feet at Tehachapi; a distance of just 35 miles, as the crow flies. #19 eases into the depot and pulls onto a siding.

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Speaking of 1883 and Railroads, that’s how and when we acquired one of the most enduring and useful cultural aspects of day-to-day life – something that we all usually take for granted.  The time zone.

For millennia the very notion of time zones was impractical. Crazy. Noon was either (a) when the sun passed directly over your meridian (determined by knowing true local north), or (b) halfway between sunrise and sunset; with fairly accurate chronometers used to split the daily difference.  In towns across the world, bells rang out “true” local noon, and residents could set their time pieces accordingly – if they had one.

This all changed with the railroad and telegraphic instant communication, which arrived basically together in the US, as many telegraph lines ran right alongside railroad lines – the better to convey weather updates and expected train arrival and departure times at depots.  Delivery of people and product ran on ever tighter schedules.  Until then, several hundred time zones existed in America, as each city had its own based on where the sun was … for them.

But soon this patchwork of time zones became confusing and adverse to coordination. It made little sense for a telegraph to arrive in, say, Toledo at 11:52:40 AM when it was sent from Cleveland at precisely noon. They aren’t even 100 miles apart. The countless tedious time offsets and corrections made computing arrivals, and required departures, too difficult.

Thus, we owe the four North American time zones, the ones we just assume without even a thought to the Railroad Industry of the early 1880s.  [Canada now has two more in the east: Atlantic and Newfoundland – it’s a big country!].

The United States government did not even officially recognize Time Zones until 1918, by an official Act of Congress – which also made Daylight Saving Time official. [Saving Time: let’s not even get started.]

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Faux Relief map shows that the Tehachapi Pass route was best low-grade path from San Joachin Valley to LA

The railroad segment from the San Joachin Valley up and over the Tehachapi Mountains was the final stretch completed ‘twixt San Francisco and Los Angeles. Accomplished in only two years of grueling work by mostly Chinese laborers – 3,000 of them – they followed the direction and design of civil and railroad engineers (Arthur De Wint Foote, William Hood, and James Strobridge) to keep the slope to a manageable 2.2%.  This required moving countless tons of granite in order to build 18 tunnels, 10 bridges and the phenomenal Tehachapi Loop.  [The “Loop” is a National Civil Engineering Landmark, and worthy of a side trip if you have any “geek” in you.] Most of the back breaking labor was done with little more than pickaxes, shovels and horse drawn wagons… and tremendous labor.

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Southern Pacific’s #19, an “Express”, consisted of only seven cars: two sleepers, four coaches and a smoker (even back then they had smoker designated areas).  For most of the trip only one engine was needed.  A second “helper” engine had been added to help #19 get up the hill. 

Once the train comes to a stop at the depot, the conductor steps off, ducks the wind and heads into the depot, to meet the telegrapher and station manager, synch time, sign the register, provide status, get rail line conditions, and pick up any news or orders.  The forward brakeman and engineer move the train off the main line and onto the sidetrack; the brakeman then sets the Westinghouse Airbrakes and detaches the engines from the rest of the train, and each other. Once the engines are clear, the engineer commences re-arranging the engines, so that the “helper” engine can be sent back down the mountain


My steampunk era pocket watch.

At this point one of the things the conductor would have done would be to check his pocket watch and verify that he and the depot station manager and telegrapher had the exact same time. Watches were known to curiously lose time, unknowingly stop for a while, or even inadvertently get reset.  Such mistakes could lead to head-on collisions, if a train was switched to the wrong track, or left its layby, at the wrong time.

Once synched, telegrams with train status and local weather conditions could be sent out confidently with coordinated, verified time.

Depot time setting time verification

The pocket watch is one of those once useful, yet always charming, miscellaneous archaic curios that are mostly lost to the mists of history.  I have a couple that I enjoy sporting once in a while.

Railroad employees used pocket watches designed to specific railroad requirements.  The watches generally had no faceplate, as there was little need to protect them from mud and weather. They had their bow and stem at 12 o’clock.  This is so there was never any confusion about it.  When you pulled the chain, attached to the bow, then “12” was right there, on top where it belongs.

This is in contrast to many other pocket watches of the time, which often did have covers which had to be flipped open (inconvenient for a conductor or small station officer when many train stops were often only “whistle stops” lasting a few minutes).  Many also had the bow and stem at 3 o’clock, much like winding analog wristwatches – now also rather archaic.  This made it a tad more convenient to hold in your hand and wind the spring, or adjust the time.

World War I not only brought death and destruction on an unprecedented historic scale, it also nearly brought about the death of the pocket watch. The synchronization of maneuvers, attacks, and shipments could not be burdened with the awkwardness of fishing a time piece out of your pocket.  The mud of trenches required a cover; imagine trying to get it open with cold, gloved hands.

Until then “wrist watches” were a quaint novelty item for ladies.  Men had big heavy impressive fobs.  Out of necessity the “trench watch” was born; early on in the war, many officers began strapping watches to their wrist. This became more pronounced when America entered the war. The faces were then adorned with much larger numbers, especially the 6 and the 12. (Also came the switch to Arabic numerals instead of Roman, to avoid the confusion of counting I’s and whether they were before or after the V and X). Some were made with sprinkled glowing radium into the clock hands and numerals. Eventually straps were added.  The pocket watch began its long, slow ebb into history’s shadows: it was too inconvenient at the times it was most needed.  And yet, the shadows of pocket watches remain.

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Tehachapi, January 20, 1883.  About 2:05 AM.  A lady (some sources say “pretty young lady”) aboard the #19 intended to disembark at Tehachapi but had no idea of how to safely find a room in such poor weather at that dark hour in an unknown town. The gentlemanly rear brakeman kindly offered to help her. She accepted. He escorted her off the train and into the depot to find proper lodging.

At this point, there are now no train employees on any of the seven cars. Most of the 40 passengers are dozing.


Downey, California is now a suburb of Los Angeles with a very “urban- and industrial-feel.” Rich in history, it is named for a former governor of California, John Downey. If you’re a tech geek, like me, it is the home of North American-Rockwell which also has a rich history: they built P-51s and B-25s for WW2, F-86s for the Korean war, the Apollo command modules for lunar missions and the orbiters for the Space Station.

Downey himself was born and mostly raised in Ireland, and, as such, is one of only a few dozen governors ever born outside the United States. Of course, a large fraction were early governors, who were obviously foreign born, most as British Subjects. California has only had two foreign born governors. I won’t tell you the name of the 2nd, but here are two hints: (1) Hasta la vista, baby; and (2) I’ll be back.


John Gately Downey, 7th Governor of California, 1860-1862

After many migrations, travels and adventures, the gold rush and California’s imminent statehood drew Downey to San Francisco in 1849. Prospecting and serving miners didn’t suit him. He soon moved to Los Angeles where he and a partner started a very profitable drug store business.

As often happens, business success led him to politics. Growing into ever more powerful positions, he was elected Lieutenant-Governor in 1859, taking office in January 1860.  A new Governor was elected too: Will Latham.


Duels? Ridiculous to think that dueling was still a respectable way to settle differences, especially among the educated and politicians at that time, but it was an acceptable (if unlawful) way to defend one’s honor. As it was, one of California’s US Senators had been killed in a duel, September 1859. The brand-new governor (Will Latham) was immediately chosen by the freshly seated legislature to take the Senate seat that had lain vacant for 4 months; Latham resigned the governorship after serving only six days. And, hence, John Downey, by virtue of being the sitting Lieutenant Governor, ascended to the highest state office of California, taking his place in the new and still raw capital city Sacramento. So, both Downey and Mr. Terminator became governor under unusual circumstances.


At Tehachapi Depot the land is not quite level; imperceptibly tipping ever-so-gently downhill back down the hill. This night, coincidently, a strong east wind was blowing downhill as well. [The area is well-known for its winds: currently about 5,000 electricity generating wind turbines are in the area].

The wheels creaked a bit. A few moments later, they creaked a bit more.


Downey had little stomach for more government office after completing the two-year term he had inherited from Latham. He shook the Sacramento dust off his sandals and skedaddled back to LA. There he resumed his business success, expanding into banking, with investments in development of the LA basin and railroads. He was a big investor and promoter in getting the Southern Pacific to build a line from the Bay to Los Angeles.

Downey bought and developed land that would become the community, town, and later city, of Downey. He was quite the local hero when the Southern Pacific began rolling through, in 1874.

Downey’s business ventures often required him to travel to San Francisco, or Sacramento. Whenever possible, his wife Maria would travel with him. Except, she feared trains. She would insist on taking a ship up the coast.

One January, a few years later, business called Downey to San Francisco on short notice. He and Maria preferred to travel together, but there would not be enough time to do the necessary meet-and-greet, then get back to Los Angeles for responsibilities there.

She pleaded with him to take a ship and postpone meetings to make a slower journey possible. He insisted the train would be safe, as well as much faster. Finally, she acquiesced. They took John’s beloved Southern Pacific train.


The wheels were no longer at rest. There was no engine attached. There were no railroad employees aboard. Those wheels … ever so slowly … by the faintest of increments … began rolling. Very gradually and bit by tiny bit. Once freed of static friction and in motion their rotation accelerated. And so did the speed of the cars.


With one brakeman and the engineer shuffling engines, the conductor still fulfilling his duties in the depot, the final brakeman – his assistance to the young lady complete – now stepped outside. A large gust of wind blew out his lantern. This distracted him for a few moments. His pupils wide, he looked out to the faintly lit sidetrack, and – to his horror(!) – the seven cars were gone, vanished into the darkness of the fateful winter night.

The train picked up more and more speed. Two former railroad employees – one was awake from the beginning, standing outside on the smoking car deck – went from car to car attempting to set the hand brakes. This is a difficult task – requiring strength, knowledge and skill – and now especially difficult: they were under extreme pressure as the cars accelerated down the hill, ever more rapidly covering the distance in the gloomy California night: one mile, two miles, three miles. The little engine-less train now truly became an “Express”; her speed went up to 10 miles per hour, 20 mph, 30 mph, 40 … 50… now swaying wildly on every bend, large or small. Getting from car to car was nigh impossible. Utter chaos bloomed; calamity loomed.

Eventually the two retirees got the brakes set on two of the seven cars. It was not enough. Some 3–½ miles from Tehachapi depot, at 70 miles per hour, five cars detached from the other two, and derailed on a curve. As the rail line was following minimum grade, the centripetal momentum carried them some 75-feet down a steep embankment, toward Tehachapi Creek.


It was winter. The cars had heating — coal of course — and plenty of oil for the lamps. The cars erupted in fire. Bodies were cast about everywhere, willy-nilly. The panic, the horror must have been unimaginable.

Accounts vary, but most sources say there were 21 deaths and 12 serious injuries. Some say 15 deaths, others 17. Some bodies may not have been found, and some may have been so torn asunder that a body count may have been too difficult and gruesome. Many of the passengers were Chinese and, considering the era, may not have been listed on the manifest.

Most deaths occurred, gratefully, during or very shortly after the derailment, as the cars pitched and rolled down the hill and caught fire. Most died from the fire, others from dismembering injuries. One of the injured died several painful days later.

Among the immediate dead was Maria Jesus Guirado Downey, daughter of Mexican aristocrats and wife of the former governor. Her premonitions were correct.


Governor Downey never really recovered from this very woeful event. Now we would surely say he suffered from severe PTSD and required psychological treatment and counseling. But they didn’t know to do that back then. Or how. He counseled and treated himself: with alcohol. Until then he was energetic and vibrant; afterward his health waned. Although he remarried in 1888, his 2nd wife also preceded him, passing in 1892; Downey himself followed shortly thereafter in 1894, aged 66.


The root cause of the runaway train at Tehachapi has never been absolutely confirmed. The Westinghouse triple valve Air Brake was theoretically failsafe. They can only fail if the angle-cocks, connecting to the pressurized locomotive air chamber, are somehow closed. This would leave some pressure in the car-to-car pneumatic lines, allowing the brakes in each car to fully or partly disengage. Without pneumatic pressure the brakes were absolutely locked.

Westinghouse’s genius and revolutionary design had been in use for over 10 years, although various railroads adopted it at different times. It contributed immeasurably to the safety of railroads. Conditions at Tehachapi that night could have led to a bit of an issue with the pneumatics, but this would be extremely rare. It’s such an elegant and impeccable design that railroads essentially use it today, virtually unchanged from Westinghouse’s final design.

One unlikely cause that is still found on the internet is that the train was the victim of a failed train robbery. Why anyone would release the brakes, wake zero passengers, and make off with exactly zero dollars and zero valuables in the middle of a cold, windy wintery night is an obvious question that demolishes this theory. Southern Pacific was partial to this unlikely possibility, as it relieved them of any responsibility.

In my humble opinion, the brakeman, in his haste due to miserable weather and tight schedule, probably failed to properly set (bleed) the pneumatic valves. In those pre-union and labor movement times, railroad staff worked notoriously long hours, and sometimes this led to mistakes and oversights. The brakes were not properly set.

In short order, the conductor and brakemen were arrested. They were soon released. No charges were ever pressed and no official cause has ever been given.


The Tehachapi Loop, satellite view, where long trains cross over themselves

As in 1883, the rail line connecting San Francisco to Los Angeles, through Tehachapi, is still probably the most heavily used mountain rail line in the world. Built by the Southern Pacific, with financial and political backing of former California governor John Downey, it’s now owned by BNSF (which is owned by Warren Buffet’s Berkshire-Hathaway). An average of nearly 40 trains each day make the trip, including the engineering marvel “Tehachapi Loop”, considered one of the wonders of the railroad world.  The line stopped carrying passengers in 1971.

Oh, and that second little thing of interest about blue jeans? You thought I forgot, didn’t you? You know that tiny little pocket on the right side of your jeans, just above the regular sized pocket? Yeah, that little thing. The pocket you thought was useless?

Every time you put on a pair of jeans you carry a little sewn-in token of these times from long ago. That little pocket is an anachronistic throw-back to an earlier era.

That’s for your pocket watch.

This me, sporting a Steam Punk pocket watch in my style 541 Levis

So that’s my little ramble. Running Time and Runaway Trains, Watches and Weather, Irish immigrants and Governors, German Inventors and Chinese Laborers, blue jeans and indigo blue.
Probably a Country song in there somewhere.

“Oh, where would we be without immigrants, chasing their dreams in America?
It’s here that they have more significance, celebrating Christmas or Hannukah.”

Nope. Never gonna make it as a country song writer. Good place to stop.

Peace,
Joe Girard © 2022

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

Sources/Bibliography.  Oh my gosh.  So many, I lost count.  Several dozen.  Maybe more.  If you’re feeling doubtful or skeptical, just use your favorite search engine(s).  More than a few details have conflicting factoids and background stories; in these instances, I used my judgment, selecting the items that seemed most credible, and that had the most internet material.

Final note: as an “Express”, a town like Tehachapi would not normally be a stop.  However, its position near the pass necessitated a stop to disengage the helper engine and send it back down the mountain.  Additional water and fuel would likely have been needed after the slow torturous trip up to the pass.

Acknowledgement to my wife, Audrey, who assisted in edits and made several useful formatting suggestions.

Der Brief

News to some of you: I spend a little time almost every day studying German. Even though my surname is French, I find German more interesting. For one thing, they pronounce pretty much all of the letters in all words, seldom resorting to dropping consonants and blowing snot bubbles. [1]  For another, my parents were each ½ German, thus making me ½ German.  Finally, my wife and I enjoy traveling there occasionally, and I must admit – my German skills there are rarely very useful.  I can read signs. Sometimes in small villages it helps when no one can (or wants to) speak English.

As you might guess, Buchladen is Bookstore.

On some study days I will read short stories for variety, instead of the regular vocabulary and grammar lessons. Those can be a real grind.

Following is a very short story I read recently during a study session (my translation to English is good enough).  Most stories are enjoyable, but I especially liked this one.  It’s called “Der Brief”(The Letter).

Here goes.  Translated by me.

_________________________________________________________________

Sari and Lilli are standing in front of a bookstore.

Immensee, famous 19th century German novella

Sari says: Let’s go in! I love old books!

Lilli: And that’s why we are friends.

They go into the bookstore. Sari takes a book and opens it up.

Sari: Lilli!! There’s an old letter in this book!

Lilli: What kind of letter?

Sari: A man named Joseph is writing to his good friend, Doris. He needs some advice.

Der Brief

Lilli: Why? What kind of advice?

Sari: He says that he loves two women, Marianna, and Ruth. Marianna is highly intelligent. But Ruth is very funny. He doesn’t know which one he should marry!

Lilli: I hope he stayed single.  [Lilli is often the Debbie Downer in the lessons and stories]

Sari: Now I really need to know what his friend Doris had to say.

Just then, the woman who owns the bookstore comes over to them.

Owner: Oh! That is a terrific book! … It belonged to my husband. … He died last year.

Sari: Oh, I am so sorry!

Lilli (spark in her voice now): Was your husband’s name Joseph?

Owner (a little surprised): Yes!

Sari (excitedly): And what’s your name?  Marianna … or Ruth?

The woman smiles, a fresh gleam in her eyes.

My name is Doris.

Well, hope you liked it at least half as much as I did.

Until next time …

_____________________________________________________________

[1] In some spoken instances they do drop final parts a word. E.g. Einen often becomes Ein because, quite frankly, who really cares if you get the gender and grammatical case correct?

Joe Girard (c) 2022 — story snagged from Duolingo.

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

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

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

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

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

[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.