Tuesday, June 30, 2009

David Brinkley: A Memoir and other stuff

Stuff: This is my second of three books reviews for Maggie’s Summer Southern Reading Challenge. I’ve just started reading A Confederacy of Dunces, which I hope to have reviewed sometime after I get back from the West—probably early August. As for world news, my prayers are with the people in Honduras. Normally, I wouldn’t have a horse in that race, but when I was last down there, I stayed down from street from the guy who is now President (or maybe that should be exiled president). I never got a chance to meet him, but I did get to meet his rather frisky dog. Next week, I’ll be following Horace Greeley’s advice and heading West… I’ll be away for nearly 3 weeks.

David Brinkley, David Brinkley: A Memoir (New York: Alfred Knopf, 1995), 273 pages plus a 13 page insert of photos.

A friend lent me this book over a year ago and since David Brinkley is a Southerner (like me), I decided I needed to read it and return it before dry rot sets in. Not only are we both Southerners, Brinkley and I in the same town, just forty years apart. I became aware of the large world around me through reading the Star News and watching Brinkley and Huntley on our local NBC affiliate. Reading Brinkley’s memoirs, I found many places where our lives intersected and highlighted a few in this review.

Brinkley started his news career with the Star News while a student at New Hanover High School. (His school was known to those of us at the other school as “New Hang-over). At the time, the Wilmington Star news was much smaller than when I was living there in the late 60s and 70s. Yet Brinkley got to work with a handful of great newsmen including Sam Ragan. Ragan later owned and edited The Pilot, a weekly paper in Moore County, and was also the Poet Laureate of North Carolina. I have several of his books of poetry on my shelves including a signed copy of Journey into Morning that I cherish. As a high school intern, Brinkley was assigned a story about a woman who claimed to have a Mexican agave plant that bloomed every century and was getting ready to bloom. The scene around the woman’s house became a circus as people poured in to see such a sign and the Fire Department strung up lights for people to see it at night. In preparation for the story, Brinkley did a little research. Looking the plant up in the dictionary, he learned it was erroneously believed to bloom every 100 years. He called Will Rehder, Wilmington’s long time florist (although Will may have been gone by the time I came along, it was from his shop that I ordered an orchid corsage for my Senior Prom date). Rehder told Brinkley he didn’t know a “damn thing” about the plant. Thinking his first story was going to be a washout, Brinkley went anyway and reported on the circus, filling the story with folksy quotes of the bystanders, one of whom was complaining about how much tax money was being wasted on the event. The cactus didn’t bloom, but his article was reprinted in the Los Angeles Times and Brinkley had himself a career.

Interestingly, at the end of this book, Brinkley returns to the topic of wasteful government spending. Not only did he complain about taxes, but concludes his memoirs by advocating a flat tax. I found this interesting and a bit out of place in a memoir. Perhaps my shock shows I had brought into the rhetoric about him being a liberal broadcaster. In truth, throughout the book he presents himself as a fiscal conservative.

Brinkley grew up spending his summers on Wrightsville Beach and enjoying his time at the Lumina, a landmark that was torn down when I was in Junior High. I remember being there as a kid. You could shower off the salt underneath the pavilion and there were pool tables where, for a quarter, you could shoot a game. In my first year of blogging, I wrote a poem about this lost landmark. Another local spot he recalls is Uncle Henry’s Oyster Roast. It was located on Masonboro Sound and I rode by the turn-off twice a day when I was in elementary school. I’m not sure when the business closed, but I’m pretty sure it’s no longer there.

As the Second World War approached and the country was instituting the draft, Brinkley decided to wait on college. He joined the army in 1940, with a bunch of “Dry Ponders” (Dry Pond was an area of Wilmington). He didn’t last long and received a medical discharge for a defective kidney. Sadly, most of those he joined up with were part of the 120 Infantry, 13th Division. On July 25, 1944, after having survived D-Day, the unit was wiped out by friendly fire, when a bomber group missed a target and unloaded their bombs on the unit. Of the 250 in the company, 245 died.

Discharged, Brinkley quickly rose to the top of the journalistic world. He worked for the United Press in several southern locations and by 1943, when many newsmen were overseas, found himself in Washington, a city from which he’d report on for the next four decades.

Much of the book is about Brinkley’s professional life, especially focusing on his meetings with Presidents and coverage of election campaigns. I never knew when I was watching Brinkley just how far he’d come in the business. He was at the 1952 political conventions, the first to be covered by national television. Back then, the three networks had to share one video feed to the West Coast! By ’68, the first conventions I remember, he was an old hand. He continued to be a stable at conventions even after he’d retired.

Brinkley expressed his dislike of Senator Joseph McCarthy, but during the McCarthy era, he was in a unique position. His sister Mary was a legal secretary working for the McCarthy. At the time, she defended her boss and the two of them had to avoid the subject at family gatherings, but she later admitted that most of McCarthy’s allegations were lies. Another part of the book I found interesting was his insights into the 1964 Republican convention. Brinkley reported on efforts by Hugh Scott of Pennsylvania, Nelson Rockefeller of New York, and George Romney of Michigan to have the convention to adopt an anti-extremist platform (condemning the Communist Party as well as the Klan and the John Birch Society). All such attempts failed by large margins, as did an attempt to show support for the Civil Right’s movement. The rhetoric against journalists were so harsh that when former President Eisenhower spoke and mentioned “sensation-seeking columnists and commentators,” the crowd went wild and stormed toward the reporting booths with angry fists raised. Brinkley said that for the first time he was glad there was glass between him and the crowd. While this went on, Eisenhower stood at the podium, bewildered at the reaction of the crowd. Even though the delegates disliked him as a part of the liberal media, Brinkley spoke fondly of Goldwater, whom the party nominated for President that year.

Brinkley gives insight into many of the Presidents. He tells about Kennedy sending out aides to buy up all the Cuban cigars in the capital the night before he imposed an embargo. He also told about being eating out with his wife one evening and being joined by many of the Kennedy family (President Kennedy wasn’t one of them, but Teddy was there). When the meal was over, he was shocked to find he’d been given the bill for everyone there. Brinkley tells about Lyndon Johnson sending a helicopter out to find where he and his wife were one weekend, to invite them to come to dinner at the White House. Brinkley considered Nixon one of the most intelligent Presidents in recent history, but he also found it odd that he man was never happy, never smiled or cracked a joke.

As a Southerner, Brinkley took a lot of heat for doing an early interview with Martin Luther King and for NBC’s coverage of the racial problems in the South. He tells about how one station, WRAL in Raleigh, NC, hired Jesse Helms to go on right after the evening news in order to counter the “lies” told by Brinkley and Huntley. He was even called “Broker T. Brinkley.” Interestingly, WRAL signal didn’t make it to the Brinkley’s hometown of Wilmington. Growing up, I was spared Helm’s diatribes except when I was staying with grandparents.

In addition to covering politics, the memoir also covers the internal politics at NBC. He tells about a strike of the AFTRA, the union for members of news media. They’d called for a strike and Brinkley’s attorney suggested he not work. He didn’t, but Huntley (who was more of a free-spirited westerner) decided he would cross the picket lines and work. All their show got was mail—from both sides. Many felt that Brinkley was selfish for striking when he was making so much money (in truth, the strike didn’t have any effect on his contract). Union members also felt that Huntley was abandoning them by working during the strike. Not long afterwards, Huntley retired and moved to a ranch in his native Montana. Brinkley later went to ABC, where he ran a weekly news show with George Will, Cokie Roberts and Sam Donaldson.

Brinkley adds many stories in the book that don’t seem to fit, but are funny. One came from Gulf Oil, the sponsor of the news program for years. He told about how Gulf Oil, in the early 60s, sent out undercover inspectors to check on their gas stations. In one station, somewhere in mid-America, the inspector was horrified to find a condom machine in a women’s bathroom. Putting in change, the inspector found it empty. It was bad enough to have the condom machine in the first place. The station owner was confronted and he defended himself saying that he made a $100 a month on that machine and it never had any condoms in it. Such was the era, Brinkley said, that no woman would have admitted to a male gas station attendant that she’d lost her quarters in a condom machine.

I enjoyed the book, perhaps more so because I cherished the first chapter and its insight into Wilmington in the 30s. However, I did find it a bit confusing. Brinkley jumps around a lot. It’s almost like you’re talking to him and he remembers something that he forgot to say and jumps back (or ahead) in time. I found it refreshing how “blessed” he felt his life had been. This quote sums it up:
With all of this, I am blessed beyond anything that in my days in Wilmington, North Carolina, I could every have expected or even imagined. Credit it all to luck, modest talent and chancing to be in the right place at the right time to start modestly in a new and promising industry, television, and to grow with it as it grew to its overwhelming presence today. (255)

Saturday, June 27, 2009

The Pine River and the Death of Superstars

A surreal thing happened. I got off the river yesterday. As we were shuttling vehicles and driving, I kept trying to find a good radio station, but all the stations in the Northwoods were playing Michael Jackson. I thought I was in a time warp, back in the 80s. I was on a river when Elvis died. The same is now true with Michael’s death. Like Elvis, I liked some of Jackson’s music, but the guy drove me nuts. Early in my blogging experiences, I wrote a parody about him. I “interviewed” the “Umbrella Man,” the guy who was always seen holding an umbrella for Jackson as he was shuttled in and out of the courthouse. (Warning, the Umbrella Man parody may be seen by some as a bit racy--such a warning will probably increase the number of you who read it). I’m sure the Umbrella Man is now among the unemployed. Jackson's "Thriller" album will live on as a classic.

I’m a little miffed that Michael’s death usurped Farrah Fawcett’s death. What guy growing up in the 70s didn’t have a crush on her or one of her beautiful sidekicks on Charlie Angels? Speaking of deaths, Ed McMahon also died. Along with him died another dream, the "Prize Patrol" in the Publishers Clearance House Van driven by McMahon, pulling in my driveway. Sage could have cashed the check and spent the rest of his life hiking for a living. Of course, Ed only moonlighted with Publisher's Clearance House. His real legacy will be as Johnny Carson's front-man on "The Tonight Show." My prayers for the Jackson, Fawcett and McMahon family in their grief.

At the risk of making too much fun of the dead and being seen as insensitive or worse, I should change topics and tell you that we had a great trip on the Pine River. Three dads managed to camp with six kids without experiencing or participating in a homicide. The weather was nice, the river beautiful, I caught a few trout and a fun time was had by all.

I am going to be gone a lot over the next two months. If I disappear for a few days or few weeks, don’t worry, I’ll be back.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Cape Fear (A Southern Reading Challenge) along with some Breaking News

BREAKING NEWS: From what I've heard about Gov. Mark Sanford of South Carolina, we probably wouldn't agree on a lot of things. But when I found myself reading a news report that he'd gone missing and was somewhere along the Appalachian Trail, I can't help but to think that I'd like the guy! He almost sounds like a character out of a Carl Hiassen's article. Click here to read the rest of the story... On a sad note, I should at least mention that passing of Kodachrome. What use to be a favorite film (when I first moved to the desert, I feel in love with Kodachrome 25) is no more. Of course, I haven't shot a roll of film in three years. Times change...

This is my first book for this year’s Summer Southern Reading Challenge (It replaces a book that I was planning on reading about a Texas river). The Cape Fear was published in Rivers of America series, a collection of 50 some books that looked at the history and geography of various streams across the nation. From what I can tell, there was only one edition published. I got a copy via interlibrary loan. Ever since finishing my dissertation almost a decade ago now, I’ve been reading all I can on the Cape Fear region in the hopes of one day writing a book that draws on my own history and that of my Scottish ancestors to the river upon which they settled and near which I was born. This book is a valuable addition in my study. The photo below looks across the Cape Fear River, toward Wilmington. It's a copy from a slide and I shot the photo in the late 70s.

Malcolm Ross, The Cape Fear (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1965), 340 pages, maps

The Cape Fear is the main river system in North Carolina. It’s the only major river that flows out of the state and into the ocean. A number of rivers in the state, like the Yankin, Catawba, Lumbee and Waccamaw flow southeastwardly into South Carolina where they enter the ocean at Charleston or Georgetown. Others, like the Roanoke and Neuse, flow out behind barrier islands that have served to keep them from developing communities linked to the ocean. Unfortunately, geography played a bad hand on North Carolina and its development. The Cape Fear drops it sediment some forty miles into the ocean, creating the treacherous Frying Pan Shoals, causing ships wanting to enter the Cape Fear the necessity of sailing around their thumb to get into the river. Before the railroad, in an era when rivers were the main means of transportation, North Carolina saw most of its produce and goods bound from foreign markets leave the state and exit through Charleston or Norfolk.

Ross spends much time describing the attempts and settling the Cape Fear and then the activities around the river during the Regulator’s Struggle in the 1760s, the Revolutionary War in the 1770s and early 1780s, and the Civil War. North Carolina has always had its share of tax hating people. The Regulators were backcountry farmers who struck out against the Sheriffs who were taxing for the British. All though their struggle has been seen as a precursor to the Revolution, not all of the Regulators fought on the American side as many of them saw the problem as corrupt local officials instead of British policies. The beginning and the end of the Revolutionary War saw action along the Cape Fear. It was the hope of the British at the beginning of the war to raise a large army of Highland Scots to fight for the King. Such an army was raised, although not as large as was hoped, but after a few minute battle at Widow Moore’s Creek (now known as Moore’s Creek), the British and their allies were defeated. In the later years of the war, the Cape Fear witnessed Cornwallis wrath (he burned Brunswick, an early settlement on the river). His march to Yorktown took him through the headwaters of the river. In the Civil War, the river became known as the lifeline of the Confederacy as it was the last Southern port to fall into Federal hands. The two largest naval bombardments of the war occurred at Fort Fisher in December and January 1865. In the first battle, the Federals failed to take the fort. They were successful in the second.

On glaring omission is the discussion of the Cape Fear in the World Wars. Both wars saw shipyards active in Wilmington and in the first two years of the Second World War, German U-boats were very active off the Cape Fear, taking advantage of Frying Pan Shoals which forced ships out into the ocean instead of allowing them to run close to the land where airplanes could spot the submarines.

Ross does a good job of explaining the challenges of the upper sections of the river. Like all rivers, the fall line limited navigation. Unlike many other eastern rivers, attempts to provide water routes on the Cape Fear, via locks and dams through the rapids, proved too difficult. Later, dams were built upstream to power textile mills. Interestingly, Ross doesn’t spend much time discussing the difficulties along the lower Cape Fear. As ships became larger and drew more water, the numerous techniques have been attempted to deepen the channel and keep it from silting up. One of the first attempts was to close a second inlet just south of Fort Fisher. This shallow inlet, which was a favorite of blockade runners in the Civil War, was closed in the late 19th century and the river deepened to allow larger ships to enter the harbor at Wilmington.

The main strength of this book is Ross’ stories. Ross fills each chapter with antidotal stories about the river and its challenges. He is nostalgic. Writing in the mid-60s, at a time when the river was hopelessly polluted, he laments what has been lost. When we first moved to Wilmington in 1966, the river was so polluted that you wouldn’t want to put your hands in it. Today, thanks to sewage treatment facilities and stronger controls on industrial discharge, life has returned to the river and its waters are much cleaner.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Saturday Check-In

The tradition of all past generations weighs like a nightmare upon the brain of the living…
-Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte

It’s been nice to have a week where I haven’t felt like I was under the gun! I’ve mostly taken it easy. My brother and sister-in-law came back up on Wednesday and spent the night. It was good to have time to talk one-on-one with him. I also got to catch up on what’s happening with our mother and we talked a bit about the future. We scouted out a trout stream and visited a sculpture garden in which I took the photos. The one above is of a sculpture (I think it is titled “History”). It reminded me of a quote from Marx. And no, to dispel any rumors, I’m not a communist! But I have read Marx. The week ended with fireworks as waves of thunderstorms rolled over the land. I watched with fascination as the night sky turned an eerie white, the constant flashes of lightning defying the darkness. And rain, we’ve got rain and folks along the rivers are worried. But today the sun is to shine and it is to be in the 80s and I will make the most of it and will no longer worry about why I can't center one section of text in blogger (my quote) and align the left margin for the rest of my text! Have a great weekend and don't sweat the small stuff.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Summer Camp Memories: The Last Week

During the five years I worked for the Boy Scout program, I spent three summers in scout camps. In this story I tell about my last week of directing at scout camp. A few years later, when I was in graduate school, I ran a small camp in Idaho for two summers. But that camp was a breeze and had about as many campers as this camp had staff. This all took place in the summer of ’84. Photos are copies of slides.

Things were running smoothly. All my staff had reported back on time and most of the troops were already checked in. A little after four that afternoon, I headed over to the dining hall to check on dinner. At six, they’d be serving nearly 500 scouts, leaders and staff. Sunday night was always a good meal: baked chicken, whipped mashed potatoes, vegetables, yeast rolls and dessert. I could smell the foot as I walked down toward the dining hall. I went around back, to come into the kitchen entrance, passing by the dumpster. I never saw it; but something bumped into right eyebrow and immediately I felt the sting. I slapped my forehead, killing a wasp. They say bad things come in threes. I should have gone out right then and found a rock to hide under and wait out the Apocalypse.

Up until my encounter with a wasp, it had been a great summer at Camp Bud Schiele. The camp, in only its second year of operation, looked like a country club. The rolling grassy hills surrounded a lake that offered swimming, canoeing and sailing, fishing and waterskiing. I had a terrific staff, some sixty strong. The first seven weeks had gone off without a hitch. After this week, we’d store away tents and gear and in another week I’d be in Damascus, Virginia, ready for a two week hike along the Appalachian Trail. The cooks assured me that dinner would be on time. I got a piece of ice to put on my bite and headed back to the camp office. By the time of our staff meeting that night, my right eye had swollen shut and there sat my staff, every one of them looking at me with their right eye shut. I wish I could say it was out of sympathy, but I know mockery when I see it.

After Sunday, things slipped back into a regular routine and by mid-week, the swelling was down and I’d forgotten about the wasp. The council camp had a tradition going back generations where the camp staff produced a pageant for campers and their staff on Wednesday night. It was convenient to do this middle of the week; visiting parents always recharged the campers’ wallets which helped our trading post make a good profit. The pageant itself was quite a feat, as the staff dressed up as Native Americans and told some legendary story about natives in Western North Carolina. No one seemed to be bothered that the staff dressed like Plain’s Indians, right off of a Hollywood movie set. As camp director, I’d spent the evening greeting parents and talking up the scouting program.
A few minutes before the program was to start for the final time that week, my business manager ran up to me and said there was someone in the office wanting to see me. I walked over and met the man who ran a small country store and gas station a few miles away. He wasn’t too happy. He showed me a check written by one of my staff members. The check had been written on a closed account. The staff member, who had been in uniform, had told the man the check belonged to his mother and she had given it to him, pre-signed, so he could get gas and some snacks. He accepted it (he did, however, put the guy’s name and driver’s license number on it), and as country stores often do, he counter-signed the check over to the bread delivery man. The only problem was, the check didn’t belong to the guy’s mom, but to another woman, the sister of a friend. When the check was denied for payment, the bread company had charged the store an extra fine. The store owner had called the woman whose checks they were and learned that he’d written quite a few checks across a three country area and there were a half-dozen warrants out for the guy’s arrest.

Todd had just gotten out of the Marine Corp that Spring. He came with good references and an honorable discharge. Being in his early 20s made him more desirable as there are a number of positions in camp that require someone over 21. Todd was the assistant on the rifle range and also served as our provisional scoutmaster, working with those scouts who came to camp without a troop. Up to this point, I’d been pleased with his work. Unlike a lot of my staff, he always had clean uniforms, which I later learned was because he’d brought four sets of them with a check “that his mother had given him so he could buy uniforms.” As it turned out, even his uniforms were stolen, having been purchased through forgery. Although I didn’t particular want a sheriff cruiser to come into camp with their lights flashing to arrest a staff member, I also felt I needed to get Todd out of camp. Although I didn’t think he’d do anything, I felt it was a liability to have a staff member working with kids with that many felony warrants out on. I asked the local sheriff if they could wait till ten that evening. Because he had so much land to oversee, our camp ranger had been deputized. The two of us would detain Todd in my office and by ten, all the parents would be gone and the scouts would be back in their campsite and we could hand Todd over to the local sheriff.

I made arrangement for my program director to take over the staff meeting we always held on Wednesday night and asked him to keep the staff together until I came back to talk to them. With Tony, the camp ranger by my side, I asked Todd to come with me to my office. It was a long walk through the night. Once inside, I told him what was up. Todd was a big guy, probably 6’3” with broad shoulders, about the size of Tony and I put together. I was afraid of what he might do, and was surprised when he sat down in a chair and cried. Tony offered him a cigarette and I decided it was best that I not insist they not smoke in my office. He took one (I’d never seen him smoke) and with tears in his eyes asked what was going to happen to him. I told him didn’t know, but I knew there were a number of warrants out for his arrest and that forgery was serious business.

The deputy arrived right at ten and arrested Todd. I felt sorry for him, as he was handcuffed and read his rights. I told him we’d pack up his stuff and keep it safe and then went over to the dining hall where the staff was sitting around waiting. They knew something was up and were visibly shaken, for Todd had been a likable guy. The next day, Tony and I went through Todd’s stuff, inventorying it all and boxing it up and storing it in his car. A few days later, his parents came down and picked up his car and drove it home.
I’d had enough excitement for one summer. But the week wasn’t over. On Friday, as I was trying to finish up paperwork in my office, the mother of a camper who’d been at the camp a few weeks earlier came by. Like the store owner, she too wasn’t happy. She dropped an X-rated photograph on my desk, one that had come from her son’s camera. I could have gone all summer without seeing that. Her son swore to her that he had no idea where the picture came from, but looking at it, I knew right away. It was taken on the waterfront and one particular staff member who had a very unique bathing suit was the subject. I also figured out fairly quickly what had happened.

On the waterfront (sounds like a good title for a movie), there was a place where campers could ‘check” valuables, things that couldn’t get wet, like wallets and cameras. I sent for the waterfront director and for the staff member in question. The waterfront director suggested who he thought would have taken the photo (the guy who was in charge of checking in and out personal items). I had him bring the other guy up as I confronted the one young man with the bright red stripped baggies which clung to his knees in the photo. Showing him the photo, he confessed. So did the photographer. Although I knew it was just a childish prank, the Scouts have strict rules on such behavior and I found myself having the privilege of firing two more staff members. Like Todd, these were both well-liked and hard workers. The rest of the staff was mad at my decision, especially since it there was only one more day of camp left. At least one model in the photographer must not have been too mad with me, for the next year when he graduated from college, he called to ask me to be one of his references.

It had been such a nice summer. I had enjoyed everything the camp had to offer: swimming, water skiing, sailing, canoeing, and fishing. But after that last week, I was never so glad to go home.
For another story about Sage's adventures during the summer of '84, click here.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

An Evening on Carter Lake

The dog and I took the canoe out on Carter Lake yesterday evening. This time of year, it isn’t completely dark till around ten, so even though I left the office at 7:30 PM (don’t feel too bad, I went in at eleven and took a two hour lunch), we still had plenty of time to enjoy the evening. I took a fly rod and spent some time tormenting bluegills, granting the few I caught a pardon, but mostly we paddled and watched the swans. One pair were mourning and gave off an awful cry after a snapping turtle pulled one of their cygnets under water. Trisket was interested what was going on and seemed to want to go check it out, but thankfully thought better of it. He may be superdog, but he can’t walk on water. As we were paddling back in, the male swan had moved out into deeper water, away from his family. After cleaning himself off, he stood up with his head straight in the air and his wings spread (they’re big birds!) and gave out a cry. I wish I could have had a photo of that, but the light was way too low by then.
In addition to the bluegills, swans and turtles, we saw many redwing blackbirds in the cattails around the edges and several pairs of ducks. In the backwaters of the lake, we could hear a dozen or more types of birds singing. Playing bass in nature’s symphony were some bullfrogs. It was a wonderful way to relax and wind-down. I love watching the light change on the lake and how it's reflected in the water. I didn’t take too many photos as the cloud cover reduced the amount of light available and my dog isn’t too keen on me having my camera out (look at the way he’s only partly looking at me). When not in use, I keep the camera in a waterproof box and it’s also insured, otherwise I wouldn’t be foolish enough to have it out on the lake with the dog in the boat.

Have a wonderful Tuesday, folks.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Thoughts on the first day of the week

This week looks wonderful. I only have a few meetings on my calendar, my toe is healing, and I think I’ll be able to finish some stories that are percolating in my mind. As I said a month of so ago, I was entering a very busy time and it looks like that may soon be over or at least ease up. We are finalizing bids with the project I’m involved with, but everything looks good and it is well under budget. Hopefully I’ll catch up with everyone else’s blog this week.

The photo is of a needle point that my Grandma did back in the 30s. She used a flour sack for the cloth (you can see the imprint on the back of the picture). All my life this picture hung over my grandparent’s bed. When my grandmother moved into an assisted living home last November, she told me to take the picture. It was too big for my luggage, so I had left it at my parent’s home to pick up when I drove down, but my dad got it to me earlier, sending it up with my brother. The idea of using something like a flour sack for embroidery is foreign today (The idea of embroidery was foreign to me even yesterday). I’ve hung the picture over the quilt rack that has the quilt she did which has embroidered flowers of each state in the Union (in case you’re wondering, there’s only 48 states in that quilt). Someday I will lay out the quilt and photograph it for your pleasure.

My brother, sister-in-law and niece were here today. His daughter just graduated from college with a degree in biomedical engineering and has taken a position in a firm about 40 miles from here. They were helping her move and trying to tell her about our arctic winters in an attempt to entice her to move back closer to the Carolina coast. I don’t think they’re going to be successfully. It was good to see him. It'll also be good to have another relative in the state and I’m proud to have one of my own kin trying to stem to exodus from Michigan!

I hope everyone has a wonderful week.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Minor League Ball

This is mostly a photo post as I don't have time to do much writing. I did take off long enough this weekend to go to a minor league ball game. For Single A, the Fifth-Third Ballpark is nice. And if if you don't mind being in the outfield, you can bring your own seats or a blanket and enjoy watching the game on grass. For those not from these parts, Fifth-third is the name of a bank... Lots of us wonder if we should trust our money to folks who can't do fractions.

It wasn't a great game, despite a respectable crowd. The home team, the West Michigan Whitecaps got creamed by the cross state rivals, the Great Lakes Loons (from Midland). The fireworks were suppose to start after dark, but with 16 runs, the Loons got a head start.That's the moon, nearly full, behind the stadium.
The second set of fireworks started right after the ninth. I should have brought a better tripod with me, but I hate lugging one of those big ones around and this small mini-tripod doesn't give me the sharpness that I like.
But for $5 (price to sit on the grass), another couple bucks for a hot dog and $7.50 for a decent beer (but that's a large plastic glass!), and a fireworks show, you can't beat it.
Today was a long day, but a good day! Tomorrow is to be another long day and hopefully just as good! Take care.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Gerlach, Nevada (before Burning Man)

I’ve not been able to keep up with everyone’s blog and I’m afraid this will continue through the next ten days or so. The next week and a half are going to be very busy with a number of things happening and some important meetings that require a lot of preparation. So send prayers and well wishes my way! I knew six weeks ago that through mid-June, my work life would be hectic and it has been. I haven’t been able to write nearly as much as I’d like. I haven’t even finished the first of my Summer Southern Reading Challenge books. But I did do this memory piece about a road trip I took in 1989 when I lived in Nevada. The two photos of Pyramid Lake were taken in October 1988, the train shots were all taken in Gerlach. The photos are all copies of slides.

Gerlach and the Black Rock Desert have lost a lot of their appeal. In the past decade, thanks to the hedonistic Burning Man Festival, tens of thousands of people head there every Labor Day weekend, probably more people in a few days than use to make it out there in a year or so. In the late 80s, that wasn’t the case.

I’m not sure all of what drew me to this dot on a map, a hundred and some miles north of Reno. I’m sure most of the appeal was that so few people I knew had been there. Another attraction was the rumor of hot springs. And finally, there was their high school basketball team. I’d seen them play that winter; they were creamed by the Virginia City Muckers. Our high school boys, used to playing in the thin air of 6200 feet, ran these lowlanders to death. Making it worse, the Gerlach team had only seven players. A couple of these guys were so uncoordinated that I felt sorry for them. By the end of the game, they only had five left on the court, their best two players having fouled out. The Muckers second string, guys who normally sat on the bench, got most of the playing time and had no problem running up the score. For some reason I wanted to see where this team was from so in the late spring of 1989, I drove to Reno, picked up a woman I’d been dating and the two of us headed out of Reno, following the Truckee River along I-80 to Wadsworth, and then staying by the river, took Nevada 447 due north.

We headed north toward Nixon and the Pyramid Lake Indian Reservation, stopping along the south end of the lake. It’s a barren looking body of water that is essentially a retention pond. The pristine waters start out as snow in the Sierras, melt into Lake Tahoe, and then flow out of the north end of the lake, cascading down the Sierras, flowing through downtown Reno and through the river district, home of the infamous Mustang Ranch. At Wadsworth, the river turns north and the waters gather in Pyramid Lake where they evaporate in the hot desert sun. The waters, by the point they’ve reached the lake, are full of minerals. Over the millenniums, the rising and falling of the lake level coupled with the minerals that are left behind when evaporation occurs, has created unique formations. Also because of the mineral content, there is little life around the lake. Carolyn and I had met on another trip to this lake, with a mutual friend, back in the fall. We were out searching for a few cottonwoods in bloom. At one point, late in the day when the light was soft and warm, she caught me taking her picture. She smiled and I snapped another. We started seeing each other soon afterwards. Although nostalgic, our stop on the south shore of Pyramid Lake was brief, for we had another 80 miles to go to get to Gerlach.

Although the famed Highway 50 through Central Nevada has been dubbed the Loneliness Road in America, Nevada 447, north of Nixon, is one of a dozen or so blacktopped roads in the state with a much lower traffic count. We saw only one car heading south as we drove north, and when we returned that evening, we saw no cars heading north. There’s not a lot out here. The west side of the road is the reservation; on the east side is Winnemucca Lake, which is dry. Along the way, we see a couple of ranches and a few scattered cows. This is harsh land to raise livestock, taking 40 acres or more to support a cow. As the afternoon progresses, the wind begins blowing and at places it sounds like the car is being sandblasted. Five miles south of Gerlach is the only other town around, Empire. It’s a company owned town at the site of one of the nation’s largest gypsum mines and the main source of employment in the region. Five or so miles north, along the Southern Pacific lines (the Feather River Route) is Gerlach. To the northwest is the Black Rock Desert. We stop and ask about the hot springs and learn they’re not currently open due to construction. A little disappointed, we walk around town and the rail yard and spent some time looking out on the desert.

There’s one main establishment in town, called Bruno’s Country Club. It’s a gas station, casino, restaurant, bar and hotel. I laugh at it being called a Country Club, for there ain’t a blade of grass in sight and if they’d be golf in this part of the country, it’d be a clay court (Gabbs, Nevada, I’m told, has a 9 hole clay court). We head into Bruno’s, enjoyed a home-style meal, nothing fancy, but folks were friendly. After dinner, we took another walk around town. The air was cooler and the wind had died a bit. We then leave, driving through the night, back the way we came. At a couple of places, sand from the afternoon’s wind had nearly covered the highway, but we had no problem making it through. As it gets darker, I noticed the new moon out on the western horizon. Pointing it out to Carolyn, she reminded me that there was also a crescent moon on the horizon on that first trip to Pyramid Lake. The moon sets, the stars burn brightly and my headlights beam ahead through the night. It was late when I drop her off and even later when I make it back up on the Comstock.

For some other road trips I've done out west, check out these links: