Hell of a Guy
We didn't lose the game; we just ran out of time. - Vince Lombardi

Monday, October 26, 2009

A Gray Day in Chicago


Thirty-first floor of the Hyatt Hotel near The Navy Pier in Chicago, and I am looking out the window in my room at a myriad of tall and some not so tall buildings, the taller stretching high enough to touch the gray clouds streaming across the Illinois sky.  I cannot help but wonder why anyone wants to live in this brick and mortar jungle? 

There is an apartment building across the street and it is at least fifty stories tall.  Through some of the windows where the drapes are drawn I can see toys scattered on the floor beyond them.  Yesterday as I was looking out at the rain and the fog (that has been here since last Tuesday) I noticed a child looking out an apartment’s window at me.  It mad me sad for him, and I couldn’t help to think it has to be a crappy place for a kid to grow up.  Don’t know about you, but I have no desire to ever have to live on the thirtieth floor of any building anywhere for more than a few days.  I might add I have even less desire to ever live in a metropolitan area even a tenth as large as Chicago.

“Farm living is the place for me.”  When I leave my home heading out of town, I hate to see my mountains disappear in my rear-view mirror as I head eastward toward Dulles Airport or BWI, and it sure doesn’t take very long for me to get homesick for them.  Once you live in the placid quietude offered by country life, and having grown up in a large metro area and knowing how utterly hectic it can be, there just isn’t a desire to go back to that chaos unless you have totally lost your mind.

I suppose there are many people who call Chicago home that will tell me living here is “the life.”  I also suppose quite a few of them would think me crazy as hell not to want to live here in their “paradise” of concrete, exhaust fumes and wall to wall people.  I truly suppose 100% of them are wrong.

And that is all I have to say about that…

Saturday, October 17, 2009



I hit the send button and off it went as e-mail to my very good friend Dale who lives in New Mexico. Dale is also a blogger (www. lets-take-a-ride.blogspot.com), and like me, wishes he were better at it, for writing well is an art, you see, and there are those who do very well and many who, like me, just write.  Dale is a brilliant man, a thinker, a philosopher, well read and a damn neat guy, and he writes better than I do, but like me, wishes to improve it.

I began a journal in 1992 and have recorded in it, more or less, ever since.  At first is was daily, and then as time went by journaling became less important than living.  Entries were made weekly, sometimes, but more often bi-weekly, even monthly.  The last several years my journal entries have consisted of my blog entries about 99 to 1.  The “1” generally consist of some stupid shit my children have done, or possibly, though very seldom, some good shit my children have done.

My writings include a couple of novels started, a few short stories, some poetry and a number of outlines of what I thought to be good story lines.  One of my early works (that sounds so cool) has four completed chapters in a first draft.  I thought “Charleston City Lights” would be the great American love story, but, alas, as with a lot of things I started in my life, I quit…but one day!!!

I am going to attach the story I sent to Dale for you to enjoy, if you wish.  The story line is beautiful and has great meaning.  The presentation is exquisitely done and makes Dale and me envious of that talent the writer possesses.

This is a wonderful piece by Michael Gartner, editor of newspapers large and small and past president of NBC News. In 1997, he won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing. It is well worth reading, and a few good chuckles are guaranteed.


My father never drove a car. Well, that’s not quite right. I should say I never saw him drive a car. He quit driving in 1927, when he was 25 years old, and the last car he drove was a 1926 Whippet.

“In those days”, he told me when he was in his 90s, “to drive a car you had to do things with your hands, and do things with your feet, and look every which way, and I decided you could walk through life and enjoy it or drive through life and miss it.”

At which point my mother, a sometimes salt Irish woman, chimed in: “Oh, bull——!’ she said. “He hit a horse.”

“Well,” my father said, “there was that, too.”

So my brother and I grew up in a household without a car. The neighbors all had cars—the Kollingses next door had a green 1941 Dodge, the Van Laninghams across the street a gray 1936 Plymouth, the Hopsons two doors down a black 1941 Ford—but we had none.

My father, a newspaperman in Des Moines, would take the streetcar to work and, often as not, walk the 3 miles home. If he took the streetcar home, my mother and brother and I would walk the three blocks to the streetcar stop, meet him and walk home together.

My brother, David, was born in 1935, and I was born in 1938, and sometimes, at dinner, we’d ask how come all the neighbors had cars but we had none. “No one in the family drives”, my mother would explain, and that was that.

But, sometimes, my father would say,  “But as soon as one of you boys turns 16, we’ll get one.” It was as if he wasn’t sure which one of us would turn 16 first.

But, sure enough, my brother turned 16 before I did, so in 1951 my parents bought a used 1950 Chevrolet from a friend who ran the parts department at a Chevy dealership downtown.

It was a four-door, white model, stick shift, fender skirts, loaded with everything, and, since my parents didn’t drive, it more or less became my brother’s car.

Having a car but not being able to drive didn’t bother my father, but it didn’t make sense to my mother.

So, in 1952, when she was 43 years old, she asked a friend to teach her to drive. She learned in a nearby cemetery, the place where I learned to drive the following year and where, a generation later, I took my two sons to practice driving. The cemetery probably was my father’s idea. “Who can your mother hurt in the cemetery?” I remember him saying more than once.

For the next 45 years or so , until she was 90, my mother was the driver in the family. Neither she nor my father had any sense of direction, but he loaded up on maps—though they seldom left the city limits—and appointed himself navigator. It seemed to work.

Still, they both continued to walk a lot. My mother was a devout Catholic, and my father an equally devout agnostic, an arrangement that didn’t seem to bother either of them through their 75 years of marriage.

(Yes, 75 years, and they were deeply in love the entire time.)

He retired when he was 70, and nearly every morning for the next 20 years or so, he would walk with her the mile to St. Augustin’s Church. She would walk down and sit in the front pew, and he would wait in the back until he saw which of the parish’s two priests was on duty that morning. If it was the pastor, my father then would go out and take a 2-mile walk, meeting my mother at the end of the service and walking her home.

If it was the assistant pastor, he’d take just a 1-mile walk and then head back to the church. He called the priests ‘Father Fast’ and ‘Father Slow’.

After he retired, my father almost always accompanied my mother whenever she drove anywhere, even if he had no reason to go along. If she were going to the beauty parlor, he’d sit in the car and read, or go take a stroll or, if it was summer, have her keep the engine running so he could listen to the Cubs game on the radio. In the evening, then, when I’d stop by, he’d explain: “The Cubs lost again. The millionaire on second base made a bad throw to the millionaire on first base, so the multimillionaire on third base scored.”

If she were going to the grocery store, he would go along to carry the bags out—and to make sure she loaded up on ice cream. As I said, he was always the navigator, and once, when he was 95 and she was 88 and still driving, he said to me, “Do you want to know the secret of a long life?”

“I guess so”, I said, knowing it probably would be something bizarre.

“No left turns”, he said.

“What?” I asked.

“No left turns”, he repeated. “Several years ago, your mother and I read an article that said most accidents that old people are in happen when they turn left in front of oncoming traffic. As you get older, your eyesight worsens, and you can lose your depth perception, it said. So your mother and I decided never again to make a left turn.”

“What?” I said again.

“No left turns”, he said. “Think about it. Three rights are the same as a left, and that’s a lot safer. So we always make three rights.”

“You’re kidding!” I said, and I turned to my mother for support.

“No”, she said, “your father is right. We make three rights. It works.” But then she added, “Except when your father loses count.”

I was driving at the time, and I almost drove off the road as I started laughing.

“Loses count?” I asked.

“Yes”, my father admitted, “that sometimes happens. But it’s not a problem. You just make seven rights, and you’re okay again.”

I couldn’t resist. “Do you ever go for 11?” I asked.

“No!” he said. “If we miss it at seven, we just come home and call it a bad day. Besides, nothing in life is so important it can’t be put off another day or another week.”

My mother was never in an accident, but one evening she handed me her car keys and said she had decided to quit driving. That was in 1999, when she was 90.

She lived four more years, until 2003. My father died the next year, at 102.

They both died in the bungalow they had moved into in 1937 and bought a few years later for $3,000. (Sixty years later, my brother and I paid $8,000 to have a shower put in the tiny bathroom—the house had never had one. My father would have died then and there if he knew the shower cost nearly three times what he paid for the house.)

He continued to walk daily—he had me get him a treadmill when he was 101 because he was afraid he’d fall on the icy sidewalks but wanted to keep exercising—and he was of sound mind and sound body until the moment he died.

One September afternoon in 2004, he and my son went with me when I had to give a talk in a neighboring town, and it was clear to all three of us that he was wearing out, though we had the usual wide-ranging conversation about politics and newspapers and things in the news.

A few weeks earlier, he had told my son, “You know, Mike, the first hundred years are a lot easier than the second hundred.” At one point in our drive that Saturday, he said, “You know, I’m probably not going to live much longer.”

“You’re probably right”, I said.

“Why would you say that?” He countered, somewhat irritated.

“Because you’re 102 years old”, I said.

“Yes”, he said, “you’re right.”

He stayed in bed all the next day.

That night, I suggested to my son and daughter that we sit up with him through the night. He appreciated it, he said, though at one point, apparently seeing us look gloomy, he said, “I would like to make an announcement. No one in this room is dead yet.”

An hour or so later, he spoke his last words:

“I want you to know”, he said, clearly and lucidly, “that I am in no pain. I am very comfortable. And I have had as happy a life as anyone on this earth could ever have.”

A short time later, he died.

I miss him a lot, and I think about him a lot. I’ve wondered now and then how it was that my family and I were so lucky that he lived so long.

I can’t figure out if it was because he walked through life…......., or…..., because he quit taking left turns.

Life is too short to wake up with regrets. So love the people who treat you right. Forget about the ones who don’t. Believe everything happens for a reason. If you get a chance, take it. If it changes your life, let it. Nobody said life would be easy, they just promised it would most likely be worth it.
And that is all I have to say about that…

Friday, October 09, 2009

Change in the Plan


I finished up early in Wisconsin, much earlier than expected, so I caught an earlier flight and am heading home over Lake “Big” – I should know off-hand which Great Lake borders Wisconsin, but I don’t, or perhaps I do and don’t care.  The lake is very blue and very hopefully far more below me than it looks.  Flying to Baltimore from Milwaukee takes a mere eighty-nine minutes.

Tempus fugit…I was reading in the Air Tran magazine a little bit ago about ghost towns in Colorado.  One, Caribou, was an “arduous two-day mule ride” from Denver back in the 1850’s, and today it is but a 50-minute drive.  Miraculous!  These days we think nothing of boarding a plane on the east coast and five hours later landing in Los Angeles or San Diego.

Just think of the advances mankind has made in machines and technology over the past fifty years, provided you have any concept of what was going on fifty years ago.  It is truly mind boggling.  These days, computers are nearly outdated before they ever hit the market, and it is that way with most electronics.  Computer science is advancing every day at an incredible rate.  Soon, “Beam me up, Scotty” may be as common a cell phone call.  Hell, you may even be able to beam yourself through your cell phone some day?  Who knows what is in store for us, especially kids under five.  I am envious of the little guys for what they will see, and scared for them as to what they might see.

I think back to when I was a kid.  Sixty years ago most commercial planes had prop engines, not jet engines.  Yet when jet aircraft came on the scene, seemingly within a few years the prop planes were relegated to short flights to smaller cities like Utica, New York.  Cars had AM radios, though my mom and dad never had one in a car – they didn’t view a radio in the car as much use.  The first car I remember was a 1946 Plymouth, and Dad had to wind down his window to make turn signals with his left arm and hand hanging out of it.  TVs had round screens and three channels that showed programs in glorious black and white only five to six hours a day.  We didn’t have a steam iron or an electric dryer.  The washer had a hand-cranked ringer. 

Time has certainly changed a lot of things in a lot of ways.  Makes one wonder where we are going, and leaves some of us wondering what we will miss out on in another fifty years?  I do know down life’s road, Lord willing, I will have a whole more to take for granted.

And that is all I have to say about that…

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

1st Class Upgrade


Another day, another airplane, or so it seems – this time it is Air Tran 827 heading to Milwaukee, blue sky dotted with…blah, blah, blah!  You know the routine by now; however, this time there is a twist to standard litany. I treated myself to a well deserved First Class upgrade. 

It has been so long since I last did this for myself that I really have no memory of it.  For most flights I go United (an airline I would rather not even fool with) or Southwest (you know, the one without assigned seating or a first class section), and most of my trips are not much more than an hour to ninety minutes of flight time.  This one is smacking up on two hours, and since I will be on a plane a number of times over the next two months, I decided I would spend the $49.00 and treat myself to the wider seat and better snacks (real potato chips, saltier pretzels).  Is it worth it?  No!  The wider seat is a nice feature, but I am so used to squeezing in a seat barely wide enough for a small toddler, this one seems as if I am swimming in it.  As for the snacks, well, there was a wide selection of chips, pretzels and cookies, and I suppose the selection provided is worth something.  After all, satisfaction in this life in nothing more than possibilities and choices, right?

There are twelve seats in the first class section and only half of them are being used.  The main cabin is completely full with people who are way too smart to spend $49.00 to sit up here next an idiot who would pay $49.00 for a bag of chips and an opportunity to have something to drink prior to liftoff.  I suppose I am lucky in one respect.  The main cabin customers don’t get to use the forward lavatory.  Ha, Ha, Ha!  I get to take a $49.00 pee pee.  What a lucky guy I am.  And here I was beginning to think I wasted $49.00.

And that is all I have to say about that… 

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