Tuesday, November 16, 2021

The Nevada Lineman

Returning home to Washington from Arizona on highway 93, Katie and I had an experience where an everyday worker came to the rescue, and became the “hero” of our story. We were on our way to Boise, Idaho after spending the night in an RV park in Ely, Nevada. Highway 93 is a long desolate highway. You have to make sure your gas tank is filled before starting out, because there are stretches of over a hundred miles with no gas station in sight. In 2001 I traveled this highway on a motorcycle, and had not calculated my gas correctly. I coasted on empty into a farmer’s driveway and begged him for enough gas to get me to Las Vegas. He was reluctant, but finally sold me some at an inflated price.

This time we had plenty of gas in the RV to cross Great Basin country. Each basin we entered was greater than the last, big open, expansive areas with mountains off in the distance on all sides. There were few cars or trucks on the highway, but about four hours into our trip, I noticed a small brightly colored car approaching in my rear-view mirror. Quickly it grew bigger and bigger and then blew by us, doing well over the speed limit. It was a new, orange, Audi TT. I wished it would have been going slower, not because of any danger factor, but because I wanted to look at the car. It looked really cool.

I had plenty of time to admire the car just a few minutes later. As we came over a rise, the TT was stopped, dead in the road and a Nevada Sheriff’s car was right in front of it, parked sideways, blocking both lanes. We slowed down and stopped behind the TT. The Sheriff must have just gotten there. There seemed to be no reason why he was stopping traffic. We waited, not knowing what was going on for quite a while. Finally, the deputy got out of his car. I sarcastically commented to Katie that he probably had to finish his coffee and donut first.

He was heavy-set and moved like a giant sloth. Opening the trunk of his squad car, he took out a bright lime green work safety vest and put it on. Then he took two stacks of orange cones out and began placing them on the highway around his vehicle. Bubba, as we referred to him, was straight out of casting for a Smokey and the Bandit movie. He never looked over at us, even though we were just one small car away from him.

Cars and trucks began to stack up behind us and on the other side, coming toward us. Still wondering what was going on, we suddenly saw the top of a telephone pole across the road burst into flames. It continued to burn, until the cross piece that held the wires toppled over and fell to the ground next to the pole. The wires it was holding were attached to a pole on our side of the road. So, when the cross piece fell, the wires lay strewn across the highway. If Bubba hadn’t arrived, we would have driven by unknowingly and without consequence. But somebody behind us or in front of us, would have plowed, right into the live wires. I don’t understand how Bubba knew to arrive when he did. He never acted like he was in a hurry or gave any indication of what was going on. The cones he placed around his car, were in the exact right place after the wires fell.

At least now we knew why we were stopped. A couple of fire trucks and another Sheriffs’ car showed up. All of the first responders got out of their vehicles and gathered in groups to talk. Nobody did anything concerning the still burning telephone pole, or the wires lying across the highway.

We waited for over an hour. Long lines of cars and trucks now waited along with us. Then the cavalry arrived or I should say, one utility truck. We watched as it drove along the line of cars and then went off the road and over to the telephone pole on our side of the highway, not the one that was on fire. Only one worker emerged from the vehicle. He put on a harness and pulled out some tools from the truck. Katie and I were elated. We had just driven over 4 hours and had been waiting an hour, while the firemen in full fire-fighting gear chatted with the deputies. The utility worker didn’t chat with anyone. He just methodically did what needed to be done.

We were happy to be waiting in our RV as opposed to a car. We had a place to pee and plenty of snacks and drinks in the frig and cupboards. As we watched the utility worker do his job, I plugged in my I-pod. I had just the right song to play for the occasion, Wichita Lineman.  I had three different versions. The most popular by Glen Campbell, a cover by James Taylor and a version by Jimmy Webb, who wrote the song. I chose Glen’s. What a great song.

We were traveling with our friends Nick and Suzanne. They were in their own RV ahead of us and probably getting close to Boise by now. They are dedicated Birders and have taught us to always have binoculars handy. You never know when an interesting bird might show up. So, I was watching Nevada lineman, through our binoculars. He climbed into his cherry picker and maneuvered it up close to the wires. He put some sort of clip on each wire, I assume to stop the electric flow. I noticed that he was a young handsome guy with jet black hair and beard. I mentioned this to Katie and she grabbed the binoculars and I had a tough time getting them back.

The lineman lowered himself back down, walked across the street, cut the wires and pulled them off the road, one at a time. None of the firemen or deputies helped or even spoke to him. When the last wire was removed, Bubba sauntered back to his car in front of the TT, removed his vest, folded it and placed it in the trunk. He ambled around, picking up each cone, stacked them, and put them back in the trunk. The Nevada lineman was putting his tools away. Just when I was getting ready to play Working Class Hero by John Lennon, Bubba pulled his car to the side of the road and began waving the cars through.

The TT took off like a shot. As we started up, Katie told me to honk the horn to thank the lineman, whose back was toward us. I honked and he turned around and gave us a wave in reply.  He truly was the hero.

It was after dark when we finally pulled into the RV resort in Boise.

Thursday, September 16, 2021

The Birth of Folk Rock


My 17-year-old grandson recently told me he was getting into early 70s music. He sent me his playlist of fifteen songs, which included songs by America, Crosby, Stills & Nash, Joni Mitchell, Paul Simon, the Grateful Dead, and Carole King.  He asked if I could recommend any songs, artists or albums. It was a baby boomer grandfather’s dream question. He had discovered the “Folk/Rock-Singer/Songwriter” era.

Folk/Rock was the background music of the “Hippie” era. Lasting about ten years, from 1965 to 1975, it was formed out of two main musical movements, the Folk Revival music of the late 50s and early 60s, and the British Invasion. In this new evolving genre, song lyrics became more topical and personal. The protest songs of the civil rights movement morphed into anti-Vietnam war songs. Electric guitars of rock & roll joined the acoustic instruments of folk music with a drum backbeat and two or more harmony singers. The musicians dressed in street clothes and didn’t try to be dancers or showmen. Folk/rock was all about the music.

The leading edge of the baby boom generation grew up listening to rock & roll. But in 1959, it almost completely died out. The hard-edged rock & roll of Elvis, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis and Buddy Holly was replaced with cleaned-up pop versions, by the likes of Pat Boone, Fabian, Bobby Rydell, Bobby Vinton Frankie Avalon and many more. In January 1964, when the early boomers were in high school or college, the Beatles released their first US single, “I Want to Hold Your Hand”. In February they appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show and after that, the floodgates opened for the “British Invasion”. The British groups loved American rock & roll and rhythm and blues. They brought the raw energy of early rock & roll back to us, reinterpreted. For the next three years, British rock & roll dominated the American radio airways.

Music historians credit the birth of folk/rock to the Los Angeles group, the Byrds. The group was hailed as the American answer to the British invasion. Roger McGuinn, co-founder of the Byrds, was already an accomplished folk musician by the time he met Gene Clark and David Crosby at the Troubadour in LA and formed the Byrds.

Roger grew up in Chicago. In an interview, he said that when he heard Elvis singing “Heartbreak Hotel” on the radio, he knew what he wanted to do. He got a guitar and practiced diligently. He loved the folk music of the time and in 1957 entered Chicago’s Old Town School of Folk Music. There he learned to play the five-string banjo and continued with the guitar.

As a teenager he played around in the local clubs and his musicianship was so good, that he was asked to be a sideman for the popular folk group, the Limelighters. He was then hired to play behind the Chad Mitchell Trio. You can watch him as a teenager accompanying the Trio on you tube. Bobby Darin wanted to put more folk music into his repertoire and hired Roger to help him. Roger accompanied Darin for a year and a half, until Darin got sick and retired from singing. Darin then hired Roger as a song writer for his TM music in New York’s Brill building. At the same time, Roger also worked as a studio musician and recorded with Judy Collins, Simon & Garfunkel and others.

In 1963, Roger heard the Beatles, who were then popular in England and He began including Beatles’ songs in his solo act and experimented with fusing their rock & roll sound folk songs. He got a call from Doug Weston in LA and was hired to play at his nightclub, the Troubadour. Roger said that his Beatles style folk music was not very popular with the audience. One night Gene Clark was in the audience and loved Roger’s music. Gene asked Roger if he wanted to start a band.

Clark also had a background in folk music. After high school in Kansas City, he formed several folk bands. He was recruited by the New Christy Minstrels and recorded two albums with the popular folk group. After hearing the Beatles, Clark quit the folk scene and moved to LA.

Clark and McGuinn formed a duo and sang Beatles covers and Beatle-esque folk songs as well as some of their own compositions. David Crosby introduced himself to the duo after hearing them perform at the Troubadour and began singing with them, putting on a third part harmony. The trio became “The Jet Set” and through Crosby’s connections hired a manager named Jim Dickson.

They added Michael Clarke to their group as a drummer. According to Wikipedia, Clarke didn’t have much skill playing drums, but he had a haircut like Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones and looked good. Chris Hillman was the last member to be added to the group as a bass player. Hillman had a background in Bluegrass music as a Mandolin player. The group bought instruments just like the ones the Beatles used, including Rogers’ 12 string electric Rickenbacker guitar like the one George Harrison played. This gave the music that electric “jangly sound”. They changed their name to the British sounding “Beefeaters” and put out a single on Elektra records, “Please Let Me Love You”. It’s a pretty bad song in my opinion, but you can hear the Byrds’ signature sound taking shape

 Roger wanted to fuse the jangly rock sound with lyrics like Bob Dylan’s. Dickson acquired an acetate disc of the unreleased Dylan song “Mr. Tambourine Man”. Dylan had recorded the demo for his album “Another Side of Bob Dylan”. Ramblin’ Jack Elliot sang harmony on the demo, but sang off key, so the song wasn’t used on the album. At the time, the Byrds were still calling themselves “The Jet Set”. They invited Dylan to hear their version of the song. Dylan loved it and it is conjectured that this influenced Dylan to “go electric”.

With back up harmony and a rock beat, the song launched the Byrds’ career and opened the door for a host of American groups to challenge the popularity of the British groups that dominated the airways.

The Byrds’ “Mr. Tambourine Man” was produced by Terry Melcher (Doris Day’s son), who had also produced songs for the Beach Boys. Terry used the same production style for the song that he used for the Beach Boys’ song “Don’t Worry Baby”. McGuinn wanted his lead vocal to sound like a cross between Dylan and John Lennon. Only three of the Byrds were actually used on the record. Roger sang lead, and David Crosby and Gene Clark sang harmony. Melcher used four members of the “Wrecking Crew” to play the musical instruments, Bill Pitman, Leon Russell, Hal Blaine and Larry Knechtel. They had also played on the Beach Boys’ recording. Chris Hillman and Michael Clark grudgingly did not play on the record.  The Byrds became a regular band at the Troubadour and in a short period of time their musicianship was up to the task of playing on their own recordings. Mr. Tambourine Man was the only song they didn’t actually play on.

In April of 1965 the song shot to number one on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 and on the U.K.’s Singles Chart. It proved to be the template for a new style of music labeled, folk/rock. In addition to the Byrds, the Lovin’ Spoonful, the Turtles, Sonny and Cher and Barry McGuire all had folk/rock hits that year. The Byrds second number one song of that year, “Turn, Turn, Turn” was written by Pete Seeger. Before Pete recorded it, the Limelighters recorded their version in 1962, when Roger, who went by Jim at the time, was playing guitar with them. By the early 70s, folk/rock had become a dominant genre in American music.







Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Standing on the corner in Winslow Arizona

On our southwest road trip, we stopped in Winslow Arizona. I wanted to spend the night in La Posada hotel. I’ve been doing research on the Fred Harvey hotels and restaurants and wanted to experience one first hand. La Posada was built in 1930 and designed by Mary Colter. It was the last Harvey hotel to be built.

When the railroad expanded across the country from East to West in the late 1800s, Fred Harvey opened restaurants and hotels all along the Acheson, Topeka and Santa Fe train routes. They were classy establishments with fine linen, china, silverware, crystal, gourmet food and impeccable service. Fred Harvey died in 1901, but his hospitality business was carried on by his family.

Harvey employed thousands of young women from all parts of the country, and many from Europe, to serve in his establishments. They were called “Harvey Girls.” In the development of our nation, Fred Harvey is credited with bringing lots of eligible women out West, where men drastically out-numbered women. Working in a Harvey hotel or restaurant was a great opportunity for a young woman at a time when women had few options for employment, travel and adventure. The western cowboys, shop keepers, buffalo hunters, gamblers, ranchers, farmers, miners and even some bandits were enchanted by these well-trained, sophisticated women.

Harvey girls had to sign a contract to remain single and on the job for at least six months. If they lasted that long, they were given a vacation and free travel on the Santa Fe railroad to anywhere of their choosing. They lived in dormitories with an eleven o’clock curfew. On Friday nights the hotel/restaurants sponsored a town social, and this was the only time the young women were allowed to wear street clothes in the hotels. It was also the only time the local men had a chance to get acquainted with them. Very few women were employed for more than a year or two. There was too great a need for women out West at the time.

We booked a room in the historic hotel. The inside of the hotel was as beautiful as the exterior. They took great care in keeping things in period. Many famous people stayed there over the years, Einstein, Truman, Jane Russell, Spencer Tracy, Sinatra, Roosevelt and Errol Flynn to name a few. Each room had a picture and biography of the celebrity who slept there.

At the restaurant we ate dishes from the original Harvey House menu like their corn and black bean soup. The waitress instructed me as to how to eat it. “First take a bite of the corn side, then the bean side, and after that you can eat them together.”  I followed her guidance and it was delicious. 

On the morning we left Winslow, I thought it would be cool to get my picture taken “standing on the corner”, like in the Eagles song, “Take it Easy”. I didn’t have to look
very hard to find a corner to stand on, because there is a sign on a corner in the middle of town that reads “Standin' on the Corner” and there was a bevy of couples, all in their sixties and beyond, taking each other’s pictures standing next to the sign. The town of Winslow has created a major tourist attraction out of the first hit single by the Eagles. There is even an annual "Standing on the Corner" festival.

Originally the song was written, but not completed, by Jackson Browne for his first album. Glen Frey heard it, liked it and encouraged Jackson to finish it. Glen wanted to record the song with his band, but months went by without progress. Finally, Glen asked Jackson if he could finish the song for him. Jackson agreed and the rest is rock & roll history. It is the first cut on the Eagles first album and was their first hit single in May 1972. Jackson recorded it also as his first cut on his second album “For Everyman”.

The morning was cold and overcast and I had to wait my turn to get my picture taken. Next to the sign is a statue of a young man with a guitar, his shoulder worn smooth and shiny from all the tourists putting their arms around him. He does not resemble Jackson Browne, but another statue not far away, of a long-haired hippy dude, does sort of look like Glen Frey. Murals on the building behind depict the reflection in a hotel window of a young woman driving by in a flatbed Ford and in an upstairs window, a young man and woman are in an embrace. There is even a real flatbed Ford pick-up strategically parked on the street in front. They went all out to replicate the second verse of this early seventies’ song.  

The woman running the gift shop across the street told me that in the warmer weather there are people from all over the country and around the world taking pictures and buying mementoes. She said it’s a big deal for tourism and the Winslow economy. One line out of a song, who’d of thought, but then again, baby boomers like myself are nuts about our music.
Katie and I poked around the gift shop for a while and then continued on our journey,

Monday, November 25, 2019

One Impactful Issue of Life Magazine

     When I returned home from Vietnam, I still had a year and several months to serve in the Army before being released from active duty. Most of the guys who served with me at Fort Hood, Texas were also Vietnam veterans.  We worked with each other every day and on week-ends, we ate and drank together, but rarely did we mention our Vietnam experience. We were ready to leave that experience behind and move forward into our bright future. Our emotions were bottled up inside. We didn’t realize how changed we were, and how hard it was going to be to fit back in to American society.

          In the summer of 1969, I took a couple of weeks leave and drove from Fort Hood to Louisville, Ky. where my parents were living. My family was from St. Louis, but while I was in Vietnam, they moved to Louisville, where my dad had accepted a job. I didn’t know the area and had no friends there. Most of my time was spent hanging out in their condo, watching tv.

They subscribed to Life magazine and the new issue came while I was there. On the cover was a giant picture of the face of a Vietnam soldier. Next to the Life logo the title read, “The Faces of the American Dead in Vietnam, One Week’s Toll.”

          Inside were 242 faces, all soldiers who had died in that one-week period of the war. I examined every face. Each one deserved my full attention. Part way through, I had to set the magazine aside. My blocked emotions finally erupted like a volcano. I finished reverently examining each face and when my parents came home from work, I was emotionally spent and exhausted. My mom asked me how my day went, I said, “Fine.”

          How could they understand what I was going through, I didn’t understand it myself. 

From the June 27, 1969, issue of LIFE:

The faces shown on the next pages are the faces of American men killed—in the words of the official announcement of their deaths—"in connection with the conflict in Vietnam." The names, 242 of them, were released on May 28 through June 3 [1969], a span of no special significance except that it includes Memorial Day. The numbers of the dead are average for any seven-day period during this stage of the war.

It is not the intention of this article to speak for the dead. We cannot tell with any precision what they thought of the political currents which drew them across the world. From the letters of some, it is possible to tell they felt strongly that they should be in Vietnam, that they had great sympathy for the Vietnamese people and were appalled at their enormous suffering. Some had voluntarily extended their tours of combat duty; some were desperate to come home. Their families provided most of these photographs, and many expressed their own feelings that their sons and husbands died in a necessary cause. Yet in a time when the numbers of Americans killed in this war—36,000—though far less than the Vietnamese losses, have exceeded the dead in the Korean War, when the nation continues week after week to be numbed by a three-digit statistic which is translated to direct anguish in hundreds of homes all over the country, we must pause to look into the faces. More than we must know how many, we must know who. The faces of one week's dead, unknown but to families and friends, are suddenly recognized by all in this gallery of young American eyes.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

VetsAid Concert 2018

On Veterans’ Day, Katie and I attended the “VetsAid, The Concert for our Veterans" with Joe Walsh and friends. It was at the Tacoma Dome and Joe’s friends were Don Henley, James Taylor, Chris Stapleton, HIAM and Ringo. 

We haven’t attended many concerts since we’ve gotten older. Generally speaking, they are too loud and too uncomfortable for too long. This one was no exception. We showed up at 4:00 pm for the 6:00 concert and at 11:30 pm, way past bed-time, were sitting in our car in a very slow-moving line of cars trying to get out of the Tacoma Dome parking lot.

We attempted to smuggle in some cheese and crackers, but the security person found the crackers, and unceremoniously had Katie toss them into a large trash can, containing all sorts of other goodies. She did not find our stash of cheese, however. We hadn’t eaten since lunch, so we were left to buy the stadium food.  I supplemented our bag of cheese with a tiny five dollar bag of pretzels and a twelve dollar can of beer. I don’t think the Tacoma Dome people have checked recently to see what the price of food is out on the open market. 

Our seats were on the side and upper level. The Tacoma Dome had just installed new seating. The unmercifully hard bench seats were thankfully gone, replaced by fairly comfortable seats with backs. We had only attended one other concert at the Dome in the nineties, a benefit for the police and firemen.  The two acts were The Lovin' Spoonful, without John Sebastian, and America, without one of them. America was extremely good. The guy who was missing was not missed much, but The Lovin' Spoonful was not the same without John Sebastian.

The VetsAid concert began with Daniel Daymon  and the Puget Sound based Gospel Choir singing a rousing rendition of the National Anthem.
The opening act was HIAM, three sisters from the San Fernando Valley in LA. They were extremely energetic, playing rock/pop that at times verged on heavy metal and incorporating a variety of unusual sounds. They opened their set with Taiko-like drumming. The syncopated beats filled the Dome. I had never heard of them and I don’t think I’ll rush out and buy any of their music, but I was impressed by their musicianship, harmonies and versatility. For three slight young women, they sure made a hell of a lot of noise. Katie and I came prepared with ear plugs, which I should have kept in for the whole concert, but I took them out for James Taylor and forgot to put them back in for Joe Walsh, big mistake. My ears are still ringing.

Drew Carey, host of "The Price is Right," introduced Chris Stapleton.The concert advertising said there would be surprise guests, but Drew was the only one not listed on the playbill. Between acts Drew introduced veterans and veteran family members who have benefitted from the veteran programs.

I had only heard one of Chris’s songs before, “Tennessee Whiskey”, which is actually a cover of a David Allen Coe song. Unbeknownst to me, Chris is a popular country artist and has written over 170 songs with six number one hits on the country music charts. He's won multiple Grammys and Academy of Country Music awards. From our vantage point, way up in the nose-bleed section, he looked like a cross between Leon Russell and Charlie Daniels. But after looking at him on my computer, the resemblance stopped at the facade of long hair, beard and cowboy hat. He is actually better looking than either of the other two guys. Like Waylon's, his music was driven by a strong back beat, but his voice and singing style was a cross between Sam Cooke and John Fogerty. His songs were soulful but country at the same time.

                There was a long intermission, which gave us time to stretch our legs and stand in extremely long bathroom lines. Most of the audience were baby boomers like ourselves, so the lines moved much slower than they used to.

Finally it was time for the acts I was most excited to see, James Taylor, Don Henley, Joe Walsh and Ringo. JT sat in a chair for his first three songs,  “Carolina in my Mind”, “Native Son” about a returned Vietnam veteran friend and “Sweet Baby James” which he introduced by saying, “for those of  you who are not sleeping already.” He then played “Fire and Rain”. The song is like 40 years old, yet he sang it with all of the tenderness and nuance the song deserves. How does he do it after all these years? He invited Joe Walsh out to help him with his last number “Steam Roller Blues.” There is no musician who has played as big a part in my life for as long as James, so I was happy to see him doing well and still able to do what he loves and what we love him for. At 70 years old, he’s still got it.

Don Henley opened with “The End of the Innocence” from his solo days. Having Joe Walsh there meant he could pull off some of the Eagles songs like “Life in the Fast Lane”. Henley went back behind the drum kit for “Hotel California”.  When the crowd heard the opening guitar licks everybody cheered.  Joe and another excellent guitar player taking Bob Felder’s part, nailed the harmony guitar solos. Henley also performed the 1985 "Tears for Fears" song “Everybody Wants to Rule the World,” odd choice, but well done. He ended his set with a moving version of “Desperado”. The Eagles' songs were bitter sweet for me because of the fairly recent, January 2016, death of Glen Frey.
Joe Walsh still plays like a focused maniac. Like the others he played some of his greatest hits,“Rocky Mountain Way” and “Life’s Been Good”, which like JT’s “Fire and Rain” is the song the audience expects at every live event.

Ringo came out for the finale number, "With a Little Help From My Friends" with all the musicians and the audience backing him up. The old Beatles song never sounded more appropriate.

All the performers thanked us veterans for our service and told us it was an honor for them to play for us. I was moved, reminding me of my feelings about the Bob Hope Christmas show in Vietnam.  People who have not been in a war cannot really know what it’s like, but for those of us who have, we deeply appreciate their gratitude and attempts to understand. Joe’s VetsAid concerts have raised over 22 million dollars for veteran programs. It was a great concert despite my ringing ears, the over priced junk food and insufferably long amount of time. Thank you to Joe and friends.


Wednesday, January 25, 2017

The Savoy Theatre

In 1958 my dad drove me and my friend Paul to the Savoy Theatre in downtown Ferguson. We were both ten, and this was the first time our parents let us attend a movie without adult supervision. Dad let us off in front, making sure we knew when and where he would pick us up. The movie was “The Blob” and according to friends, it is was “really good” and “really scary”.
 It was the first show of the evening and a long line of kids stood waiting outside to buy tickets.  Paul and I went to the end of the line. Most of the other kids towered over us. Some girls standing next to us talked with each other excitedly and Paul and I noticed they smelled like perfume. Some of the boys up ahead looked dangerous, with hair greased back, short sleeves rolled up, shirt fronts partly unbuttoned and collars flipped up in the back. They were smoking cigarettes, talking loudly and pushing each other around.

The line in the lobby for snacks was long too, but we had plenty of time before the movie started. We bought candy, soda and shared a popcorn. I don’t remember what kind of candy Paul got, but I bought a big chunk of fudge, not the best choice for this particular movie. By the time we made it to our seats, the theater was nearly full and filled with the sounds of talking and laughter. A theater custodian patrolled up and down the aisles. As soon as he disappeared through the curtains and into the lobby, the air was filled with flying popcorn and crumpled candy wrappers. The concrete floor under our feet was sticky from spilled soda and under the arms of the seats were petrified wads of chewing gum.

The movie opens with a young couple necking in a convertible. It was Steve McQueen’s first movie role and he received $3,000 for his performance. The girl was Anita Corsaut, who would several years later play Helen Crump, Opie’s teacher and Andy’s girlfriend on the Andy Griffith Show. The couple notices a meteor cross the night sky and crash to earth. They take off in Steve’s powder blue 1952 Plymouth, to try to find it. But an old man, who lives in a cabin nearby, finds it first. The old man pokes the small meteor with a stick and it opens to reveal a small, round, reddish blob. He then pokes the blob and lifts it up to examine it. It now looks yellowish and oozy like a big disgusting glob of snot. When it jumps from the stick onto the old man’s hand, a collective gasp ripples across the theater. The old man tries to shake it off, but can’t. He stumbles out onto the highway and Steve and Miss Crump nearly run him over.

I watched parts of the movie on "you-tube" in order to write this blog-post, and compared to today’s horror films, it’s terrible. It’s poorly written, the actors definitely would not win any awards and most importantly, to today’s kids, it would not be the least bit scary. In the 50s “cheap teen movies” were made for the drive-in movie market. “The Blob” was released as a double feature along with “I Married a Monster from Outer Space”. But in 1958, the entire audience of kids, even the “cool” rowdy kids, were transfixed by the suspense, many hiding their eyes and scrunching down in their seats.

Paul and I voraciously ate the popcorn, drank the soda and I was working on my big hunk of fudge right when the blob oozed through the ventilation grates and into the on screen movie theater. I had to leave my seat, run up the aisle and out the exit to upchuck by the side of the theater. But I didn’t want to miss any of the action, so I ran back in and continued watching.

          No one could figure out how to stop the blob until a fire broke out and some of the fire extinguisher fluid accidentally sprayed it. When it recoiled, our hero, Steve, remembered it recoiling earlier from an open freezer door and put two and two together. Steve's teenage friends and the cops grabbed all the fire extinguishers they could find and were able to temporarily freeze it. In its frozen state, the blob was airlifted by an Air Force heavy lift cargo plane to the Arctic and sent parachuting down onto the ice. In the final dialogue of the movie, Policeman Dave says something like, “the blob is not dead, but at least it has been stopped.” To which Steve replies, "Yeah, as long as the Arctic stays cold." And if you’ve been listening to the news lately you’d know that the Arctic ice is melting at an unparalleled rate. Paul and I survived our first unsupervised outing at the Savoy. On the way out we noticed Hercules was coming next week. We could hardly wait.

The last film I remember seeing at the Savoy was “A Thousand Clowns” with Jason Robards.  It was the summer after I graduated from McCluer High School and my last date with Marley before entering the Army.

The Savoy Theatre opened on Christmas day 1936. In 1966 it was purchased by the Wehrenberg chain of theatres. The inside was completely gutted and remodeled to become the Crown Theatre and ran  newly released films. In 1993 the Crown closed and the building became the Savoy Banquet Center. 


Sunday, January 8, 2017

My Childhood Slides

I’ve begun the laborious task of transferring all of my family’s slides to digital photos. The slides start in the mid-fifties and go into the early sixties. My dad took a lot of pictures, three shoe boxes full. In the nineties, after both of my parents had died, I went through the slides, throwing many away and putting the rest in little plastic boxes with labels on the top. Besides the family slides, we also have boxes of photographs out in the garage that need to be scanned sometime in the future.

I bought a slide scanner on line. It was cheap, made in China, but had more stars than the other scanners. One problem is that it cuts the pictures off on the sides. It's like watching a movie made for a newer rectangular screen TV on an old square TV. Sometimes you see two noses talking to each other with the rest of the two persons out of view. Most of the slides are not affected by this because the subject is in the center of the frame. But in a few pictures, where people were sitting around a table or in the living room, I had to decide whether to leave out the person on the right or the person on the left or shift the slide and scan the picture twice.

It was one of those “people sitting around in the living room” pictures that caused me to pause and seriously question this whole project. My Grandmother had two good friends, Elsie and Amanda. Neither of them ever married and they shared an apartment,  we called it a “flat” but I don’t know why.  I never knew the history of either of these women, but as a boy, they both seemed very old, in their old lady print dresses and big clunky black shoes. My Dad referred to them as the “high kickers” which my sister and I thought was funny. They were both very sweet ladies and always nice to us kids.

In the picture, Elsie was sitting on one side of the living room and Amanda on the other. I had to decide which one to cut out or whether to shift the slide and scan two pictures. Then it struck me. Who cares? Who will ever want to look at these pictures? My sister will enjoy looking at them, maybe once. But for some reason, I could not forever cut out either Elsie or Amanda. After all, they were always part of our extended family gatherings.  

Left to right- Grandpa, my sister Karen, Amanda, Mom, Elsie,
cousin Kurt, Uncle Merle, great cousin Marie and Aunt Edie 
On Christmas or Thanksgiving the family gathered at my grandparents house in south St. Louis. These were happy occasions. Grandpa Ben(died in 1959) sat at one end of the table and Grandma(not in the picture, either her or grandpa had to be cut) at the other. This picture shows only some of the family, but for me captures the essence of that fleeting time, which I thought was forever. 

I’ve seen these old slides so many times over the years, I can’t look at them from an objective viewpoint. Dad would set up the screen and projector in the living room, which seemed like a major deal and we sat mesmerized, looking at ourselves on vacation or at family functions. Dad had humorous comments for almost every slide and some of his comments were “off-color”. Mom would then say in a stern voice “Kenneth” and my sister and I would laugh. I even scanned a picture of a robin on our dead front lawn. Mom made such a big deal about what a crappy (my word not hers, she rarely used any bad language) picture it was, insinuating that it costs a lot of money to get slides developed, so don't waste them.

These are a few of my favorites. For me each one still captures some of the security, freedom and hope of my childhood, which seems to have gotten lost somewhere along the way to adulthood.                                                                                                    

View on a snow day from our dinning room window

A big snow in Ferguson meant school was cancelled. In the morning, when I  first opened my eyes to the soft, reflected light of snow filling my room, I knew the day ahead had been transformed into an exciting adventure.
Flying down the street on my Royal Racer sled.

I was given a puppy for Christmas when I was three. I named her Cookie. She slept at the foot of my bed and went everywhere with me when I was a boy. She died when I was in Vietnam.

Me, Paul Brehm, Tom Woodard and Bob Chapman

At Ranch Royale, we camped and rented horses. We were allowed to ride anywhere on the  huge property, unsupervised.

One of my favorite trips, in 1958, was to Hannibal, Mo where we visited the boyhood home of Samuel Clemmons. The books Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn were my childhood favorites.


I had just gotten a new Brownie flash camera for my birthday.

When we toured the cave where Becky and Tom had to hide from Indian Joe, the tour guide turned out the lights. It was dark and scary.

Sometime my sister, Karen, went along on these adventures. 
My mom had a friend from work named Alma who owned a farm house down in the Ozarks. We went there quite a few times. In the winter I explored the woods with Cookie. I always had my BB gun, but never shot at any animals. I was afraid I might hit one.

In the summer I fished in the local stream and we swam in a large lake nearby. Alma was sometimes there when we were and she made big breakfasts--pancakes, bacon and fruit. She also cleaned and cooked the fish I caught.

Our team was sponsored by Barbay's Market,
a local Ferguson grocery store
Baseball was a big part of my life growing up. In the St. Louis area we had the Kourey League. One of the highlights of my boyhood was getting to play at Bush stadium in the Kourey League All Star game.

Perfecting my Stan (the man) Musial stance