Still Radio

I sat down at my computer early one morning when this came in that twilight between sleep and wakefulness. It has been polished a little in the days since.

I wrote my first story for a radio newscast in the fall of 1962 and I voiced my first newscast at 11:55 p.m. in January or February of 1963. I had been taught by, among others, a professor who is in the Missouri Broadcasters Association Hall of Fame, Dr. Edward C. Lambert, the founder of the broadcast journalism sequence at the University of Missouri. My first station manager is in the Hall of Fame, Mahlon Aldridge, of KFRU in Columbia. I was introduced for the newscast by an announcer who is a member of the Hall of Fame, Ray Rouse. Sometimes at my first station I filled in on sportscasts for Larry Zimmer, whose long career as announcer for the Colorado Buffalos and Denver Broncos football games put him in the Colorado equivalent of the MBA Hall.

For eleven years I was a voice in Columbia, then Jefferson City and for more than forty years I have been a voice throughout a state and at times a voice in other parts of the nation and the world, the supervisor and then an employee of another member of the Hall of Fame, Clyde Lear.  Even today, retired from the daily pressure cooker of a radio newsroom, I remain a participant in the medium, a contributing editor to The Missourinet. The two stations where I learned that radio would be my life are now just two formats in a building in Columbia. One of those stations used to operate in Jefferson City but is now just another property in a mega-radio conglomerate.

I have one of the great old upright radios in the library in my basement.  I turned it on once many years ago just after I got it and have not turned it on since because what comes out of it today does not go with that radio. I despair sometimes for the medium and I fear for our nation when the federal body regulating broadcasting continues to move to kill the diversity of voices in our communities in television as well as in radio.

There once was magic in the boxes that can pull ghosts out of the sky (as the play “Voice of the Prairie” puts it) and there still is, but in too few places.  Let us hope for a re-birth, somehow, of that magic.

 

I am Radio

I am the voice in the morning

In cities large and small,

In the country, high and low,

Telling you to dress for hot or cold, wet or dry.

I am the voice that is the neighbor you cannot see,

The friend you never meet,

Telling you important things:

Where the traffic is,

Where the detours are,

What the city council did,

What the school board intends,

When the civic club peanut sale is.

What the hot lunch is at school

Or the senior center.

I am the one you take to the basement

when the tornado sirens blow,

the trusted,

always present voice,

the voice of danger and of safety.

I am radio.

I am the one that tells you

What the high school team did last night,

What the major league team did;

The NFL, NHL, the NBA did.

I tell you the about the world—

What’s happening inside the beltway,

In space over our heads,

Across the Atlantic,

Along the Pacific Rim,

The Mediterranean coast,

In the sands of deserts

the damps of the tropical forests,

and your own back yard.

I am radio,

the image-maker

The words and the sounds

That let you see in your own mind

places and events—

the green of a diamond

and the white of its base paths,

The soaring arc of the ball headed for the crowd,

The hardwood floor,

the net that snaps as the ball goes through,

The chilly grass marked by yard lines,

the sounds of struggle and impact

and movement left to right on the dial.

I am the sound of sharpened metal on ice,

The crack of the puck off the stick.

As well as the rattle of gunfire in a besieged city,

Grief and joy,

The maraschino cherry

landing on a mountain of whipped cream

floating in a Lake Michigan filled with hot chocolate.

I am radio.

I am direction.

I am “Down the stretch they come!”

The market is up.

The politician who reaches across the aisle.

I am mathematics.

“40, 30, 20, 10, Touchdown!”

I am drama.

“Yesssss!” and “He SCORES!!!”

I am “Suspense,”

And “Inner Sanctum”

And warnings of war.

I am the voice of democracy and decency,

The voices of your town

Preaching the message

Sharing recipes,

Selling things on the trading post

Expressing opinions.

I am your voice.

I am radio

I am the past.

The Harding-Cox election returns,

Vincent Lopez

The A&P Gypsies

The velvet voice of Vaughn DeLeath

Paul Whiteman

Amos & Andy,

Lum ‘n’ Abner,

Fibber and Molly.

I am Charlie, the ventriloquist’s friend.

I am horror.

“Oh, the Humanity!”

Or “Now is a good time to switch off the radio,

for I propose to tell you of Buchenwald.”

“President Kennedy is dead.”

And I am hope:

“The only thing we have to fear,

is fear itself.”

“I have a dream.”

“That’s one small step for a man,

one giant leap for mankind.”

I was born of a desire to bring

The city to the country.

I remain the voice of the farmer,

The teller of market prices,

The forecaster of crops.

I am the Dow Jones numbers,

The reporter of prosperity

And collapse,

Of city crime

And rural struggle.

I am radio.

I am imagination.

Lake Woebegone, Minnesota,

where it’s always a quiet week.

Pine Ridge, Arkansas,

where the Jot ‘em Down Store was the place to be.

Grinder’s Switch,

where there was a lady greeter who said,

“How-DEEE!”

Metropolis, Gotham, Summerfield,

Rushville Center, Town Hall Tonight,

and a Dodge City that never was.

My places and my people are what your mind

Shows you they are.

I am heroes—

The Lone Ranger

The Green Hornet

The correspondent under fire

on the front line,

The reporter who will not be intimidated

in the political arena.

I am the villain—

The demagogue and the dictator

The manipulator and the huckster

Selling snake oil

In potions and politics.

Goat glands, Sal Hepatica and Ipana

Healing cloths and Hadacol,

Simple solutions

To complex world problems.

I am radio.

In places I am homogenized,

No longer OF a community,

but just IN a community,

not a station,

but just another format

in a building full of formats.

Some say I lost my soul when

towns became “Markets, “

When stations became only “properties,”

and when the neighbors on the air

talking to us about us

became strangers on the satellite

talking of division and distrust.

When corporate profits

Snuffed out community service

And killed the diversity of voices.

And in too many places, they are correct.

But in some places my heart remains strong,

There, I am still your neighbor,

Still the one who tells you the weather,

Let’s you hear the high school games,

Who tells you of the council, the school board,

The county fair, and the peanut sale.

I have been written off,

Pronounced dead,

Outmoded,

Old-fashioned,

Immaterial,

Uncompetitive,

Low-tech.

But I have not gone away.

I have not died.

I have reinvented,

Reinvigorated,

Restored myself.

Who knows what I am to become?

I remain

The voice in your bedroom,

information in your bathroom,

news at your breakfast table,

a companion in your car.

From midnight to midnight.

I remain.

I am radio.

We’ll get around to it eventually. Maybe.

Let us not cast stones at Jefferson City for being a town that likes to talk about things for a long time before doing them.  This is, after all, a government town where many of its citizens spend their days in cubicles, and those citizens are masters at conducting meetings and talking about things and making reports and then putting the reports on shelves until they have another round of meetings.  You probably have heard of the new task force that studied state transportation needs and financing of them—five years after another task force studied state transportation needs and financing of them?

While doing some research at the State Historical Society the other day, I came across a newspaper article headlined, “Mrs. Jas. Houchin Starts Movement for $50,000.00     Y. M.C.A. in Jefferson City.”   It was October, 1915.

The organization of a Young Men’s Christian Association and the construction of a well-equipped building as its headquarters is the plan which Mrs. James A. Houchin has conceived and will carry out within the next year, probably within the next few months.

She already had put down five-thousand dollars on a lot.  “I believe the building should have a gymnasium and a swimming pool.  It will maintain a library, reading rooms and a basketball court,” she said.  She was impressed with the YMCA in Sedalia which had bedrooms on its third floor to rent to club members.

Mrs. Houchin died in 1924.  Jefferson City finally formed its “Y” in 1970.

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We are still waiting on another idea, though.  The Daily Capital News on June 7, 1923 carried a letter on the front page from local lawyer and legislator A. T. Dumm saying it was time the people of the capital city built a convention hall.  Dumm was the president of the Commercial Club—which later was the Chamber of Commerce—and was a member of the state constitutional convention that had recently met.

Editor Capital News:  Responding to your request for a suggestion for the advancement and betterment of Jefferson City, I beg to suggest, for the consideration of your readers and the community, the idea of a convention hall. 

I think we have reached a point in our growth and population where we might confidently launch such an enterprise and that it is highly desirable if not absolutely necessary must be evident…

Jefferson City, like every other city of its class and consequence, must be prepared to meet the demands and requirements, not only of its own people, but of those who, through business or pleasure, become our guests. 

We pride ourselves on the fact that we are the capital of a great state, but we should have a personality and an individuality of our own and not be dependent upon the state for the means of hospitality and entertainment for our visitors.  Outside of the two great cities, we are fast becoming the convention city of the state, and our importance in this respect will increase with every passing year.

A Convention Hall, centrally located, built and paid for by our own people, for the free use of our people and those who come to the capital, would, in my opinion, result in a great increase of our civic pride and advertise us throughout the state more favorably and extensively than any other single factor except good streets in the city and good roads leading to the city.

His friends called him “Tom,” because of his middle name.  He died in 1930.

It took fifty-five years for Mrs. Houchin’s dream of a YMCA to materialize.  It’s now ninety-four years and still talking since Tom Dumm voiced his hope.

Carol

It’s not one of the Christmas carols or hymns we are likely to hear in our churches during this holiday season, but it’s one we need to hear in a year when brotherhood has taken a beating throughout the world.

There are thousands of paintings and other depictions of Jesus, the most ubiquitous—probably—being those of Warner Sallman, particularly his “Head of Christ,” which has been reproduced a half-billion times, some say.  But Jesus probably didn’t look much like the pretty Aryan Jesus made famous by Sallman. And how he really looked is immaterial anyway.  It’s how we see him.

And that brings to Alfred Burt and his wonderful Christmas carol, “Some See Him…”

Alfred Burt was the son of an Episcopal minister in Michigan who began in 1922 the custom of sending special Christmas cards to parishioners that included the words and music for a new Christmas Carol the Reverend Bates Burt had composed. After Alfred graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in music in 1942, “Dad” Burt suggested he take over the Christmas card custom.  Alfred’s wife, Ann, asked the organist at the Bates’ church to write the lyrics while Alfred wrote the music.

Alfred Burt and Wihla Hudson created fifteen carols before his death because of lung cancer in 1954 at the age of thirty-three.

Their 1951 composition, Some See Him is a favorite in our household and seems appropriate for this year.

Some children see Him lily white,
the baby Jesus born this night.
Some children see Him lily white,
with tresses soft and fair.
Some children see Him bronzed and brown,
The Lord of heav’n to earth come down.
Some children see Him bronzed and brown,
with dark and heavy hair.

Some children see Him almond-eyed,
this Savior whom we kneel beside.
some children see Him almond-eyed,
with skin of yellow hue.
Some children see Him dark as they,
sweet Mary’s Son to whom we pray.
Some children see him dark as they,
and, ah! they love Him, too!

The children in each different place
will see the baby Jesus’ face
like theirs, but bright with heavenly grace,
and filled with holy light.
O lay aside each earthly thing
and with thy heart as offering,
come worship now the infant King.
‘Tis love that’s born tonight!

In a world that sometimes seems pretty short on love and brotherhood, Alfred Burt’s carol seemed to us pretty important—although we aren’t aware of any service where it will be sung.

If you’d like to hear it, we recommend this performance by Santino Fontana and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v83iNif0hEw

And if you are not familiar with the Alfred Burt carols, we invite you to enjoy this first recording of them, in the year after his death, by the Columbia Choir:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RXI6mjujeU8

May we see each other in the spirit of peace this season.

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Notes from the road–November

(Tick line, Kansas)—Trivia question:

What was the tick line?

Nancy and I crossed it a few days ago on our ten-day excursion to and from Colorado, where we spent Thanksgiving helping our son and his family move into a new house.

Kansas had a tick line.

In the years right after the Civil War, there was a shortage of beef in the northern states.  At the same time, Texas had millions of cattle and no significant market for them. But a lot of those cattle were infested with ticks that killed Kansas farmers’ dairy cows, leading the legislature to pass a law basically banning Texas cattle east of Topeka, an area that was filling up with new farmer-settlers.

A nice tourism magazine we picked up in Abilene tells the story of one Joseph G. McCoy, an Illinois fellow who realized Texas’ two-dollar-a head cattle were worth twenty times that much in Chicago and set out to find a place west of the tick line where trains could haul those infested longhorns to Chicago for slaughter, eliminating contact between them and the Kansas dairy cows.

McCoy settled on Abilene, then a place of “about a dozen log cabins and dugouts” where one entrepreneur was trying to solve the community’s prairie dog overpopulation problem by selling pairs of them to tourists for five dollars.  The town fathers sold McCoy 480 acres of land that became the destination point for those desperate Texas cattle-raisers. The cattle drives enabled Abilene to flourish—but it did so at the expense of a Missouri city. The unsigned article in the Abilene Chamber of Commerce magazine is a little condescending on this point:

Herds were transported in 1866 to Sedalia, Missouri along the first cattle trail.  Why Sedalia isn’t genuinely recognized as the first Cowtown of the West is because very few cattle herds actually made it to their destination.  There were a series of hillbillies guarding the Southern border of Missouri to ensure that the Texas Longhorns carrying the deadly tick fever were not going to cross over. Several drovers lost their lives in an attempt to break through the Missouri wall.  The Sedalia trail was also a nightmare even without the coonskin-capped border patrol because the path would send the drovers through the Ozark Mountains, which isn’t exactly the Rockies, but it wasn’t the best to run thousands of cattle.  Beyond the Ozarks, there was always a possibility of Indian raids in which there were still tribes looking around to establish their dominance in the Wild West even though the government had forced many Native Americans out to unwanted lands.

We suggest the MISSOURI Chamber of Commerce, or at least the Sedalia Chamber, might find itself sipping from the cup of umbrage at that characterization.  Coonskin-capped border patrol?  Hillbilly guards?   Hmmmmmphhhhhhh!

About three-thousand cattle were being brought into Missouri from Texas in the pre-Civil War years but the Texas ticks were hurting Missouri cattle, leading to a proposal in the 1855 legislature to ban diseased cattle from Missouri.

Sedalia, however, became a point for Texas cattle, particularly after the railroad reached there in 1860.  And when the KATY railroad built a line from Sedalia to Texas, the city became a major watering stop for the steam-powered trains that hauled cattle to Chicago in the post-Chisholm Trail days.

But when Joseph McCoy set up shop in Abilene, Sedalia’s development as THE western cattle trail head quickly ended.

The Texas cow boys (it was two separate words in those days) drove a couple million head of cattle up the Chisholm Trail from San Antonio to the railroad at Abilene from about 1867-71. By then, those bothersome Kansas farmers who had learned that winter wheat could flourish in Kansas and argued their land had become too valuable to be tromped on by ticky Texas Cattle, had expanded operations and the tick line kept getting moved farther west and other towns, including rip-roaring Dodge City, had become the cow towns of American West fame.  On March 7, 1885, Kansas enacted a strict quarantine banning Texas cattle everywhere except for December, January, and February—the cold weather months when tick-borne diseases were less likely.

By then the cow boys didn’t need to go to Kansas because the railroads had gone to Texas, including the KATY with its links to our own Abilene-maligned Sedalia.

(Concrete, America)—Covered a lot of miles on I-70—a road that makes any state boring except Missouri, where lax billboard standards just make the state look boring AND trashy—on that trip.

Saw a lot of hybrid vehicles on the road with us including a few Teslas and, as frequently happens, wondered about where they go to recharge.

We recalled that one of the diesel cars we owned years ago had a book in the glove compartment listing gas stations with diesel pumps for cars—they were kind of rare in those days—and we wondered if anybody provided a source for electric car owners that listed places where they could plug in.

Turns out there are at least two sources: Ameren.com and solvingev.com.  Might be kind of nice in MODOT had a webpage with the same information.   But the two sources that we looked at a minute ago show there are a LOT of places to plug in, power up, and go on (kind of a modern Timothy Leary phrase).  And the increasing number reflects the changes that are gaining momentum in our transportation system.  Doesn’t solve the pothole problems, though.  That might be a challenge for the legislature: figure out the equivalent of a gas tax on EV battery fill-ups.

A few years ago we suggested to a national motel chain that it might pick up a lot of customers if it had charging stations for overnight guests.  Still a good idea although we have yet to see a motel with a charging station.

(Wakeeny, Kansas)—This. place. is. starting. to. feel. weird.  Regular readers might recall that last summer we stopped at a motel in this town of fewer than 1800 people three counties away from the Kansas/Colorado border and ran into someone who recognized us from the time many years ago when he worked at the Capitol while I was scratching for news there.  This time we stopped and the young lady behind the desk was from Boonville and used to listen to “Across Our Wide Missouri,” the daily historical program we still do on the Missourinet.

I don’t know, after this, how often we want to stop at Wakeeney in the future.  It’s starting to feel a little Twilight Zoneish, like we’ll wake up some morning and be the only people in the town and we won’t be able to get out.

(Mailbox, Mo.)—Stopped at the post office and picked up our mail held for the last ten days.  46 things.  Ten were catalogs although we were surprised that only one was from L. L. Bean, which usually seems to send us a new one every three days, or from the Duluth people who are almost as prolific.  Of the 46 pieces of mail, only four were personal (cards or letters) unless you count the three bills.  Eleven were solicitations, usually reminders that it’s getting late in the year and you better donate to our cause so you can beat the IRS.  Eight were non-catalog ads, including one from Barnes and Noble which seems to have forgotten that it closed its store here months ago (we also get a lot of email solicitations from Sears, which took their store away from us months ago, too).

Less than ten percent of our mail was from people contacting people.

(Stamp Counter, Mo.)—Mailed a letter the other day and stuck one of those “Forever” stamps on it—you know, the one that’s good no matter what this month’s postage rate is. (We include this in the “notes from the road” entry because we drove to the nearest postal facility to mail the letter instead of raising the flag on the mailbox on the curb.)  The idea came to mind that the postal service should change the image on future “Forever” stamps.    It should be a

Snail.

Sport

We have reached the time of year when we face crises galore, when many people become passionate about trivial events, when one’s emotions are strained, where hard feelings are generated and superiority is established, when detailed analysis of events dominates much of the public discussion and arguments—even fisticuffs—are motivated by events that in reality have only passing impact on our daily lives.

It’s World Series time in baseball. College football fans are starting to evaluate the value of life on the basis of bowl eligibility.  Pro football fans bemoan the one misplay that dooms the home team or keeps a Super Bowl dream alive.  Pro basketball and hockey fans already are agonizing over or exulting about the puck or the ball that barely missed the net—or got into it at the last second.   College basketball fans soon will cheer the home team in its quest for the post-season or demonstrate their hate for a traditional rival.  In fact, Missouri has (be still my beating heart!) played Kansas in a basketball game!

This is the time of year when games don’t end when the clock or the innings or the quarters run out.  It’s a time when we forget these are only games that have their most meaning during the time they are played. The world will not be more peaceful and safe because they were played.  Homeless people will still live in boxes or in doorways.  Children will still starve and die in desperate circumstances.

We were reminded of those sentiments recently when we re-discovered one of our favorite sports books that puts all of this in perspective.   It’s Heywood Hale Broun’s Tumultuous Merriment, which came out in 1979, a memoir of the decade he spent as a “color commentator” for CBS Sports.  A better word probably is “essayist.”   He was, in our memory, the sports counterpart to Charles Kuralt, the other CBS correspondent on the road. He was the fellow with the great moustache and the colorful sport coat who always saw sports with more perceptive eyes that did not focus on the final outcome.

If you remember him and/or you have some qualms about the value of sports in general and big-time sport in particular, you might want to search out a copy of this book.

Broun began his book with a definition of “sport” from Samuel Johnson’s eighteen-century dictionary: Play; diversion; games; frolick and tumultuous merriment and then asks, “Who now, save an occasional small child, regards sport as diversion or as tumultuous merriment? How much frolick is there in the Ohio State-Michigan game, the modern Olympics, the Little League championship of a crossroads country town?”

He says it is “somber tosh” to explain play as a way to serve wish-fulfillment, or a way to work off hostility, or a way to burn off excess energy, or something that “builds character, creates a healthy moral climate, builds bonds of fellowship, and gives a chance to earn big money with the pros.”

Coaches, he wrote, dare not admit they are just teaching a diversion.  To avoid being paid like English professors, they must “pose as saviors of youth, muscular alchemists who can take the base metal of bad boys and produce golden lads, saints who can block and shoot baskets.”

“It is to our discredit that we swallow all this stuff,” he wrote.  And he had no patience with those who cited the Duke of Wellington’s contention that the Battle of Waterloo had been won  on the playing fields of Eton.  Better, he argued, to remember what the Duke said as he watched troops whose preparation for war had consisted of playing rugby and cricket: “I don’t know if they frighten Napoleon, but by God, they frighten me!”

Broun charges our games “ruthlessly” root fun out of our games “lest it soften our fiber.”  But he says fun need not disappear as the stakes increase and tension grows.  After all, he says, our games are not open heart surgery—where there is real tension and the stakes are really high.

“We are only grotesque when we apply the standards suitable to the gladiator to our Little League children,” he wrote. “It is unfair to make them the surrogates of our flab-shackled daydreams.”

He did not begrudge the high salaries paid to the professionals by the corporations that own their teams but he finds the talk of money turns the athlete and his agent into dullards and he wonders why he even cares whether they win or lose.   Broun said he could get the same kind of behavior at a sales convention.

“After all, one game is not really more important than another in the cosmic scheme of things,” he wrote. “But it’s wonderful fun to pretend and we all have expended a lot of pretense on the Super Bowls, the World Series, the Triple Crown and football games like Yale-Harvard, Oho State-Michigan, or Texas-Oklahoma.”

Broun notes that “small children, more than their elders, demand a structure of immutable rules in their games” regardless of where the games are played. The rules are made up to fit the circumstances, but the rules must be followed.  And that, he says, is why we are fascinated by games. “They are the only activities of life where the rules are, metaphorically or actually, written on the top of the box.”  Life, on the other hand, is a place where the rules quickly can change for a participant, which is why we find relief to “escape into the small, known, well-defined structure of a game.”

“We agree, for the time we play it at least, to its importance, and everything else is lost in the shadows behind the sidelines,” he wrote.  Cheating only thrusts the participant back into the uncertainty of the real world.  “If winning is overwhelmingly important, and is the only reason for playing, we must break the ‘rule’ if no one is looking, or bend it if someone is.”

Broun discovered a game that he thought represented the purity that “sport” in its truest form should be while covering a story at the D. D. Palmer College of Chiropracty in Davenport, Iowa: Rugby.  Perhaps, he reasoned, the game’s lack of the “war game precision” of football that left spectators unable to have strategic discussions about why a team won or lost, and who was responsible, is why rugby has never caught on here. “What rugby does provide,” he wrote, “is an immense amount of pleasure to its players…The air is always filled with fiercely happy cries as the packed scrum into which the ball is dropped dissolves into a thirty-man whirlpool.

“For all the talk of American coaches about team effort, it is possible in sports like football and baseball to put the blame for a loss on an individual, the man who struck out with the bases loaded, dropped a fly ball in the ninth, couldn’t hold a pass, missed a crucial kick. In true team sports like rugby this finger-pointing is a lot more difficult, which is why I found the players at Palmer, scab-nosed to a man, full of good cheer after bashing about on a cold and muddy day.”

He reminds us:

“The actual importance of the contest is immaterial to both spectators and players once the period of magic has begun.  The level of excitement is subconsciously chosen by those present and after a time exists beyond their control…All of us should play as if life and honor depended on it, and all of us should cheer as if it were Lucifer State versus Angel U. in the arena; but at game’s end all of us should recognize that paradise was neither won nor lost. None of us should emulate those middle-aged men who stare glumly into the bottom of a highball glass when they think of a shot that failed to drop in the last second of some long-ago basketball game…

“Let it not be said, although I’m afraid it will, that young men are preparing for a stern world where mistakes are not forgotten, and that they should have a stern preparation for that world.

Sport is a preparation for more sport and not a businessmen’s ROTC…You can’t tackle economics or block logistics.

“Boys and girls, men and women, can all be distorted by the philosophies that use games to grotesque ends…A coach is not a priest. Games are not life. There is no authority save the Rule, which all players have agreed on, and there is no fun like playing a game for the sake of a game.”

Broun died in 2001.  He was 83.

We’re not sure if his words are any more useful or meaningful in shaping the world of sport and the public’s attitude toward it today than they were in 1979.  Or even whether there is some wisdom in them for the game of politics.

But then again, “There is no authority save the Rule,” and we risk a lot when we decide on or off the playing field that The Rule is expendable.

(Photo credits: paulikreport.com)

Heywood Hale Broun, Tumultuous Merriment, New York, Richard Marek Publishers, 1979

Signs of our times

Two geezers were having lunch the other day at a local restaurant/craft beer emporium and the conversation turned to the Five Man Electrical Band.   Right away, you know these two brilliant conversationalists had to be geezers because they immediately remembered the group’s biggest hit, Signs, which reached number three on the Billboard chart in 1971.

Metrolyrics has this version of the lyrics (which we are using because it cleaned up one line):

And the sign said “Long-haired freaky people need not apply” So I tucked my hair up under my hat and I went in to ask him why He said “You look like a fine upstanding young man, I think you’ll do” So I took off my hat, I said “Imagine that. Huh! Me workin’ for you!” Whoa-oh-oh

Sign, sign, everywhere a sign Blockin’ out the scenery, breakin’ my mind Do this, don’t do that, can’t you read the sign?

And the sign said anybody caught trespassin’ would be shot on sight So I jumped on the fence and-a yelled at the house “Hey! What gives you the right?” “To put up a fence to keep me out or to keep mother nature in” “If God was here he’d tell you to your face, man, you’re some kinda sinner”

Sign, sign, everywhere a sign Blockin’ out the scenery, breakin’ my mind Do this, don’t do that, can’t you read the sign?

Now, hey you, mister, can’t you read? You’ve got to have a shirt and tie to get a seat You can’t even watch, no you can’t eat You ain’t supposed to be here The sign said you got to have a membership card to get inside Ugh

And the sign said, “Everybody welcome. Come in, kneel down and pray” But when they passed around the plate at the end of it all I didn’t have a penny to pay So I got me a pen and a paper and I made up my own little sign I said, “Thank you, Lord, for thinkin’ ’bout me. I’m alive and doin’ fine” Woo

Sign, sign, everywhere a sign Blockin’ out the scenery, breakin’ my mind Do this, don’t do that, can’t you read the sign?

Sign, sign, everywhere a sign

Five Man Electrical Band—uh—disbanded (add that to the list of old jokes such as “Old doctors never die, they just lose their patients,” and other puns about the ends of careers) in 1975, so you know that these two guys still without hearing aids but still WITH most of their teeth, quit being young in every place but their own minds a long time ago.

One geezer hauled out his pocket encyclopedia/camera, a device usually marketed as a telephone but which he seldom uses that way, and showed the other geezer a picture he took of a sign at a tourist junk shop in Limon, Colorado a few days earlier and suggested there are many venues where this sign should be posted:

Both geezers reflect that the sign is highly reminiscent of the four-way test of the civic organization, Rotary International, which is:

Is it TRUTH? Is it FAIR to all concerned? Will it build GOODWILL and BETTER FRIENDSHIPS? Will it be BENEFICIAL to all concerned?

But then, Geezer one did the two-fingery thing on the encyclopedia/camera screen to widen out the image to show two other signs on either side of the “Think” sign.  The expanded image seems to capture the contradictions in our social dialogue, which too often take the shape of individual diaTRIBE.

To save you the trouble of doing your own two-fingery thing to expand the image, we’ll tell you that the sign on the left says, “If you can read this you are in range,” and shows an apparent double-barreled shotgun, and the sign on the right says “The average response time of a 911 call is 23 minutes. The response time of a .357 is 1400 feet per second.”

The other two signs might be true and helpful—somehow. We suspect they are seldom necessary. They aren’t real inspiring except in a pretty anti-social sort of a way.  And forget about kindness.  But in years to come they will provide fodder for sociologists, psychiatrists and other “ists” studying the American mind in the late Twentieth and early Twenty-first Centuries.

Geezer One saw another sign a few days earlier at Dot’s Diner, a sandwich place in Nederland, Colorado—a few miles above Boulder—where the proprietors think the music of the Grateful Dead is appropriate background for a meal.  The sign wasn’t mean or threatening.  It just asked people to respect other diners who were having their sandwich with a Touch of Grey, or their omelet with Sugar Magnolia.

Maybe Geezer One was just feeling mellow during his lunch because he’d just ridden a pig on the 1909 restored carousel that is Nederland’s biggest attraction.  A fellow named Scott Harrison had rescued the carousel from the scrap heap and had spent more than twenty-five years carving all of the creatures for it.  The Carousel of Joy, it’s called.  And you are NOT too old to enjoy riding it and listening to the original Wurlitzer mechanical band organ as you go.

The discussion reminded one of the geezers of the kindly little signs that vanished from our roads about the time the interstate highway system came along.  The last Burma-Shave signs went up in 1963.  You might find a few in museums here and there today.  Some thought they were distractions to drivers and made the two-lane roads they populated less safe.  But now in these days with the pleas for drivers to ignore the distractions of Facebook, or Twitter, or the telephone itself—-at the same time that cars all have video screens in the middle of the dash loaded with all kinds of information—the concerns about Burma-Shave signs seem mild.

Some of the signs, in fact, promoted highway safety.  Frank Rowsome, Jr., put out a little book in 1965 that contained all of those messages, The Verse By the Side of the Road.  It has all of them, including the first ones in 1927. All had the company name at the end of each series and most promoted using the product when you were shaving with a blade.  But some were highway safety messages:

Don’t Lose/Your Head/To Gain a Minute/You Need Your Head/Your Brains Are In It

Or:

Dim Your Lights/Behind A Car/Let Folks See/How Bright You Are.

Then there was:

Thirty Days/Hath September/April/June And The/Speed Offender 

Would signs like those do as much good, or more good, on our highways than the electric signs telling us how many fatalities we’ve had each month, or reminding us to buckle up?   Or maybe they’d make some good light-hearted but meaningful reminders.  And monotony-breaking moments on the crowded, straight-as-a-string interstates.

Perhaps something such as:

Buckle Up/Don’t Be Silly/Don’t Be Under/A Stone With/ ACarved Lilly/MODOT.

If you have some Burma-Shave inspired signs that you think would be useful for MODOT, or that would meet the four-way test for general civil discussion, send them along in the “comments” section below.  If they meet our standards of civility (as we outline on this page) we’ll post them.  And then you can tell your friends YOU are a published poet!  A Roadside Laureate!

(Burma Shave sign image by G. D. Carrington)

Walls, doors, and a big creepy thing: Notes from the road, June edition

We’ve been on the road, observing places and meeting people, poring over old newspapers, talking to groups, reading things.  Stuff like that.  It’s good to get away from the political center of things for a while.

Spoke to a convention of state geologists in Branson the other day.  Never talked before to so many people with rocks in their heads.

For those who think there’s never anything new, we offer this note from the Jefferson City Capital News of September 11, 1910:

“The government is planning to build the longest fence ever constructed in the world.  It will extend from El Paso, Texas to the Pacific coast, more than 1,000 miles and will divide the United States and Mexico.  The fence will be of barbed wire.  Work will begin in a few weeks.”

Speaking of walls, we were looking through a recent edition of Archaeology magazine and its article on Hadrian’s Wall, the wall built by Roman Emperor Guess Who.   Trivia question:  How many miles long was (is) Hadrian’s Wall?

The Great Wall of China is 5,500.3 miles long.  Just saying it is impressive.  But let’s put it another way.  If the Great Wall of China were straightened into one segment and moved to the western city limits of Jefferson City and we started driving on it toward China, we would be able to get 82% of the way there

Hadrian’s wall would stretch from Jefferson City to Lamonte (between JC and Knob Noster).  73 miles.

Here’s a nice place to eat in Cape Girardeau.  But it would not be wise to become too enamored of its fine adult beverages while you are there and wait until your bladder was sending such urgent messages that you don’t have time to read some signs and your mind is no longer agile enough to understand them.

Katy O’Neill’s Public House in historic downtown Cape, is at the bottom of a hill. If you go there and your thinking is not as acute as it was before you began to socialize, make sure you read and comprehend the signs.

(They’ll get bigger if you click on them, at least here)

We do wonder, however, why it’s not still St. Patrick’s Day in both rooms.

—–

We’ve checked out the Crystal Bridges Museum of Art on Bentonville, Arkansas.  We were told that some of the snooty art folks on the east and west coasts have their noses out of joint because Alice Walton, who dreamed up this place, had the nerve to keep so much great art out here in flyover country, and particularly in such a Podunk place as Bentonville.  We were reminded of a comment made by Dr. John Pickard (for whom Pickard Hall is named at the University of Missouri), the chairman of the commission that hired the artists to decorate the capitol.  He complained that lot of eastern artists weren’t big enough to see over the Allegheny Mountains.  This was in the days well before we were flyover country.  But Doc P. and Alice W. had it right.

We recommend a trip to Crystal Bridges which is, itself, a work of art.  And it has a very nice restaurant.  If you are a little jittery about arachnids, you might want to close your eyes and have someone lead you into the museum….

The sculpture is by Louise Bourgeois and it’s called “Maman.”  Linda DeBerry, writing for the Crystal Bridges website, says the thirty-foot-tall spider carrying 26 marble eggs is a tribute to her mother.  After you get over your initial shudder at that thought, understand that, as DeBerry writes Bourgeois claimed “The spider…was not an ominous or frightening figure, but rather a representation of the protection and industry of her own beloved mother, who repaired tapestry for a living and died when the artist was 21.” Bourgeois said, “The spider is a repairer. If you bash into the web of a spider, she doesn’t get mad. She weaves and repairs it.”

Uhhh-huh.

Hold up your hand if you ever thought of YOUR mother this way.

Spider-mom aside, don’t be afraid to go to the Crystal Bridges museum.  It’s spectacular.  You are likely to spend enough time looking at the art and sculpture in the museum’s galleries—and at the Frank Lloyd Wright house that was moved there piece-by-piece that you’ll need lunch or dinner. We thought the food was good.  And before you leave town, fill up the car at a gas station in Bentonville.  It was a buck-98 the day we were there, seventeen cents less than the stations in Jefferson City, where gas prices tend to be suspiciously high most of the time.

Bentonville is an okay place.  Pretty much a company town, as is Jefferson City.

Chatting at the Y the other day about baseball’s desire to shorten the games.  Curtailing visits to the pitcher’s mound.  Requiring pitchers to throw the ball in a certain amount of time.  How about restricting the number of adjustments to batting gloves?  Limiting the amount of time batters can excavate a place for their back foot?

All of that is just playing games with the game. Here’s what would shorten games: Limiting the number of commercials between innings.  And during pitching changes.

Not likely to happen, of course.  The Game, whether it’s baseball or basketball or football—any game that is not continuous, long ago abdicated its right to its own clock when it decided to accept big broadcasting fees.

I think I just nibbled a little bit on the hand that used to feed me.

Didn’t get to see any of the Congressional baseball game on the in-room teevee while we were gone.  Wonder if the Cardinals had any scouts in the audience looking for bullpen help.

Who has left the stadium

No, there’s no question mark.  It’s a statement, not an inquiry.

I became worried as baseball’s spring training neared its end and fairly concerned when opening day arrived.  So, finally, I asked a friend at Downtown Book plus Toy if they had seen it.   Nope.  They handle so many books and magazines they hadn’t missed it. But I sure did.  So they tried to order it for me.

It’s not going to come in.  Maybe it’ll never be back.

And baseball won’t be the same.

One of the signs that winter can’t last forever has been the appearance on the magazine rack of my local book store of the red-covered annual publication with baseball players on the front and the team picture of the World Series winner on the back.  Who’s Who in Baseball, a publication letting readers immerse themselves in the career statistics of just about all the guys who put on major league uniforms each year, has gone away.

The months of February, March, and early April had a big hole in them this year for people who love baseball.  During those last dark days of winter and through those first tantalizing days of early spring, baseball fans could immerse themselves in seeing who was close to a milestone.  Could somebody get to their 600th home run this year?   Or their 300th win as a pitcher?  Is there any pitcher close to 3,000 strikeouts?  In today’s home-run culture, how many guys have 300 or 400 stolen bases?  Who was traded for who in 1999?  What was the last year that aging pitcher had a winning record or a respectable ERA?  Who’s Who in Baseball was the annual hint that better days were coming even if you rooted for a team you knew was probably going to be one of the worst.  Now, apparently, it’s gone.  And at this house, baseball season is a little bit incomplete.

Maybe we should blame the Chicago Cubs.  Who’s Who in Baseball began four years after the Cubs won the World Series in 1908.  Could it be that the possibility of putting a picture of the Cubs on the back cover of the publication was just more than the publishers could bear?  Is publication death preferable to admitting the Cubs won the World Series?

Here’s what happened.

Last spring, about the time the 2016 season was starting, Harris Publications shut down. It’s official farewell statement talked about the struggles the magazine industry has had “in the face of the rapid ascendance of digital media, changing consumer content preferences, magazine wholesaler struggles and consolidation in the supply chain. We have tried mightily to persevere against these forces, but have been unable to overcome these challenges.”

Last July, the assets of Harris Publications, including rights to seventy-four titles, were acquired by Athlon Media Group. That doesn’t mean those titles will survive. A company spokesman didn’t hold out much hope for Who’s Who in Baseball or many of the other Harris titles after the acquisition by putting out this statement:

“We’ll continue to evolve our content from print centric platforms into over-the-top (OTT) media to gain knowledge and strength in visual platforms. Vertical titles, such as Harris Publications, are a perfect venue for this space.”

Yeah, whatever.

Fact is, we can go to the internet and look up all kinds of stats on any player past or present.  But there’s something about browsing through a print version of WWIB as some call it (we think it’s kind of sacrilegious) just to see what catches the eye.  “Browse” shows up on web pages sometimes but it’s just not the same with a tablet or a smartphone.  At least not to this writer’s generation.  But this writer’s generation is kind of like the dinosaurs after the big meteor hit, aren’t we?

The oldest edition in my collection includes a player whose career began in 1942.  It includes people such as Hoyt Wilhelm, Robin Roberts, Warren Spahn, Vic Davalillo, Mike Cuellar, Dick Hall, and Gaylord Perry.  Leafing through those old editions brings these guys back to life, back to a time when they were throwing smoke and spitters and dashing about the base paths and the outfields.  There’s something about looking at their stats when they were our heroes.

But it’s gone now.

February and March are going to seem a little colder from now on.