Friday, September 9, 2016

Tony and the Tide

Recently we went on vacation to Florida.  Because of college co-op commitments, it may be the final family vacation for incoming freshman and boy #2, Tony, for a few years.  I wrote awhile ago about boy #1, Gabe.  Tony (or Anthony as he sometimes prefers) is cast from a different die than Gabe.  Energetic at home, Tony was at one time, like his father, painfully shy in public.  But high school experiences, leadership speeches and a few added inches were the fertilizer that helped blossom his public persona into a much more self-confident young man. 
It's funny how us dads, as we get older, find ourselves comparing ourselves with our children.  "Wow, I wish I had my son's ability to (fill in the blank.)"  Tony, I confess, is blessed with more smarts, looks, athletic ability and artistic talents than his old man...which gets me back to the Florida vacation.
I remember being his age and staring at that same ocean on that same beach.  I remember thinking about the title of the Beach Boys' album "Endless Summer"---what a contradiction!  Of course summer isn't endless...no more than the span of boyhood, itself.  Vacations, summers, high school exams, boy scout jamborees--all must come to an end.  And then we move on.  And yet, one might stand on a beach, toes dancing in the incoming foamy surf and be suddenly overcome with feelings of permanence and eternity.  That ocean, that beach, probably hasn't altered its course much in millennia.  The tides churn in and out rhythmically and predictably every hour of every day of every year of every century.  Surely, there must be "endlessness" here, true?  By the way, the same can be said for those who ponder a mountain or an old-growth forest, if that's their preference.
So which is it...and what about that 18-year-old standing on the doorstep to independence and a bright, alluring, exciting world extending as far as an ocean horizon?   Well, perhaps there is a sense of permanence when one considers his or her "home."  I remember dipping my "toes" into adulthood cautiously, because I knew that if the sands would shift awkwardly, I always had a place to which I could return home (thanks, mom and dad!).  I feel badly for those who leave home in anger or disgust and never look back.  I hope Tony...er, Anthony...knows that somewhere a lamp is lit for him if he needs it and that the regular, predictable "pulse of the tides" awaits him, day and night, no matter where in the world he chooses to explore.
By the way, Tony took the photograph using his cell phone propped in a flip-flop sunk in the sand, so photo credits go exclusively to him, the talented fellow!

Friday, January 22, 2016

The Crier of the Closings

My local radio morning announcer is a slacker.  There, I said it.  On a frigid, snowy morning this week, he read the names of four schools, played a commercial, and cheerfully invited listeners to check out the station's web-site "for the complete list."   Poff!  Mr. Softee.  
(Ahem) Back in my day, we read the entire list, from "Adams County Ohio Valley" all the way to "Zion Academy."  Twice an hour.  Uphill both ways.
Seriously, though, I used to get a big kick reading school delays.  It was a challenge that required some thought as lists would come in somewhat scrambled and I, in my youthful logic, would organize them by location and by status (closed, one-hour delay, two hour, etc....there was always one school that would go on a 90-minute delay just to screw me up, but I digress...) using a clever system of red, blue and yellow highlighters.  I was quite proud of my school announcements and can only hope there were moms out there who appreciated my diligence and accuracy.
When I was working, all school closing came through a guy named Charlie Springmyer.  I never met Charlie...apparently he was just some guy who decided to be "the" clearing house for all school closing information in Greater Cincinnati.  I hope he got paid...in fact, I often wondered if there was a neighbor kid who tried to bribe him.  Anyway, school superintendents would call Charlie at his home and Charlie would compile a list and fax them (remember faxes?) to all the TV and radio stations.   I think I read once that Charlie had since passed on, but his operation still exists.
Meanwhile, at my old station (WVXU), in the early 1990s, we pioneered the "Snowflake Hotline."  We used carts in those days--a sort of plastic, 8-track-looking device containing a "loop" of audio tape.  Tape lengths could range from 10-seconds to 7 minutes and so it was my job to pick the correct length cart and record the school closing announcements and fill the rest of the tape with music.  Then we would disable the "tertiary" tone on the machine (which would otherwise stop and re-cue the tape at the beginning) and let that rascal roll all morning, until the next update came in.  Listeners could call in to a special hotline and listen to that recording.  It was pretty darned innovative for a small college public radio station (credit goes to our engineer, Jay Crawford) in that day and age and soon the big commercial stations were copying us.  By the end of the 1990s, we acquired a digital recorder (no tape!!!) that could hold an entire 1-minute!!  We thought it was the most amazing invention ever.  It probably recorded one kilobyte by today's computer standards but, back then, it was magical.
I also remember some school districts who seemingly never had school.  Grant County, Owen County, Mason County, Ripley-Union-Lewis, plus a whole range of "MRDDs" and "exempted villages."  They would seemingly shut down in mid-December and remain closed until the first daffodils popped out in April.  I often wondered if some of those districts required two calendar years to collect enough days for one school year.   Again, I digress...
Those were fun days.  Adrenaline flowed freely, mingling with the caffeine inside my arteries as Charlie's latest list came chirping though the fax machine.  And it was a public service, too, knowing there were thousands of little tots hanging onto my every word, waiting for good news or, by my omission, bad news.  And just read only four school names?  I'd never shirk my duty!

Saturday, February 7, 2015

The Booth Gets the Boot

Recently, I heard a radio commercial where the storyline sends the customer "to the phone booth no one ever answers."  While the ad slipped by a few times before I really thought about it, it did eventually raise the question: do kids today even know about phone booths?
Coincidentally, I have noticed that the last remaining phone booth I know about in Cincinnati has been removed.  I'm not claiming it was "the" last one--there could be a few others--but it was the last one I've seen and it sat on Winton Road just north of the Brentwood Bowl until a few months ago.  For years I passed it on my way to work and one day the urge struck me that I needed to take a photograph.  Maybe the snapshot was the jinx because shortly thereafter it had vanished.
Of course the demise of the phone booth is easily explained in today's cellular world and this is less a lament than an observation.  Growing up, I only had cause to use the phone booth on rare occasion, even though mom made sure I tucked a quarter in my wallet "in case I needed to call home."  Mostly phone booths were handy sources of information because of the yellow- and white-pages bolted down securely inside.  Racked with a medieval iron-clasp device that only allowed the heavy books to swivel up and down in limited fashion, the security didn't prevent people from just ripping out the page or pages that they needed.  More than once, in desperate attempts to find an address or number, I left the phone booth grumbling because the exact page I needed was gone. 
I also remember the graffiti in phone booths with phone numbers and, often, accompanying obscenities displayed for all with black "sharpie" permanence.   And the difficultly opening and closing the accordion folding door.  And trying to be heard on the phone during a downpour.  Still, despite the gaps in the side panels and the obviously transparency of the scratched, dirty windows, I always felt safe and secure inside a phone booth.  A little "time out" space from the busy, noisy craziness outside.  A shared fortress from chaos.  Even the name, phone "booth" sounds far more cozy than, say, phone "shack" or phone "
shelter."
Obviously, the cell phone is cheaper, easier and rarely has pages torn from its memory banks.  Meanwhile, the phone booth joined the cassette and the film camera in obsolescence many years ago.  However, I've learned a great life's lesson from the phone booth and I'll share it with you now:  I learned that... (**sorry, if you'd like to continue this blog entry, please deposit another quarter into your computer**)

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Golf, the Radio Perk

As I post this, golf's best male players are on the course at Valhalla, near Louisville, competing in the 96th PGA Championship, the fourth and final "major" of the golf season.  I'd much rather be at Valhalla right now than at my desk at work.
But doggone it, years ago, I sure was blessed.  Working at a rather prestigious public radio station in Cincinnati (as opposed to a teeny one now), it was fairly simple landing media credentials for an event like the PGA Championship.  Even though I was producing mostly news and worked early mornings at the time, no one else on the staff was even remotely interested in golf, so I had the sport to myself.  I covered both of the previous PGA Championships at Valhalla, in 1996 and 2000, as well as a couple of "Memorials" near Columbus thrown in for good measure.  Of course, "covering" a golf tournament 80-miles away in another city on a station not exactly known for its sports is a loosely pondered venture to begin with.  But I dutifully filed my daily 60-second report as if someone cared other than me.  The thrill was all mine, I assure you...hanging with golf's greats on a world-class course.  I had a blast.
As much fun as the PGA was, though, it still couldn't compete with the annual visit of (what Lee Trevino called) the "round bellies" to the Jack Nicklaus Sports Center across from Kings Island for the Kroger Senior Classic each July in the 1990s.  While the PGA is serious golf, the Kroger Seniors were just plain fun.  From the very first tournament in 1990 (won by Jim Dent), I quickly discovered what a blast this week could be.  In those early years, the golfers entered were the ones I grew up watching on TV:  Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Chi Chi, Gary Player, Billy Casper and my childhood-hands-down-all-around-favorite Lee Trevino.  The tournament was low key enough that the players had fun and interacted with the fans.  I immediately found out about the option of securing a shoulder media arm band, which allowed the "working media" inside the ropes.  This allowed an up-close, best-seats-in-the-house view, hole after hole, as long as you followed the rules:  don't talk to the players, don't block the view of the patrons, and don't be a distraction or get in the way.  Probably the greatest day I've ever spent on a course was one of the first years when Nicklaus, Palmer and Trevino were paired together in the opening round and I watched every shot up-close while proudly displaying that glorious arm band. 
And the thrill didn't end on the course, either as the tournament gave the media special wrist bands allowing unfettered access to the "magical" Kroger VIP Tent.  A cross between Disney World and Wolfgang Puck's, the Kroger VIP tent was blue-blood bacchanalia at its best.  Table after table of burgers, ribs, salads, pastas and desserts (even Graeters Ice Cream) plus soft drinks, teas and even beer.  All 100% free!  Free!  Let me tell you, it didn't take long for this middle-class west-sider to truly appreciate the unlimited availability of Free Food at any time the hunger-pangs pinged.  And it was good stuff, too...Krogers used to have this incredible chicken salad with grapes and nuts (that I don't think they offer anymore on their salad bars) that would make Mr. Maisonette turn purple with jealousy.  Just thinking of it two decades later makes my mouth water, but I digress... 
Unfortunately, great things do not last forever.  By the early 2000s, the likes of Nicklaus, Palmer and Trevino were being replaced by Bruce Summerhays and Gil Morgan.  With the dearth of stars came a gradually fading attendance.  For the media, rules changed too...no more arm bands for non-photographers and many of the perks and goodies also were trimmed for expenses.  The end for me came when the tournament was moved to the month of September and shifted to a course in inconvenient Maineville.  I remember the last tournament I covered featured Hale Irwin as its only "name" (read: the only player most of the spectators heard of) and the masses would crane their necks to get a glimpse of the three-time US Open winner who was probably shocked by all of the attention.   Anyway, the final Kroger Senior Classic was held in 2004, ten years ago, and I doubt too many miss it.  Well, I do, sort of.  I miss the memories of chatting with Palmer in the parking lot during a rain delay.  I miss the thrill of conducting a one-on-one interview with "Mr. 59," Al Geiberger.   I miss the naughty humor (and fat cigars) of Simon Hobday as well as Chi Chi Rodriguez "slaying an imaginary bull" with his putter following a long putt.  Of course, I miss Trevino and his hilarious quotes, like, "Pressure???  Pressure is being a dirt-poor caddy in Texas and making a five dollar bet with only one dollar in your pocket!"   Oh, and that chicken salad...I do miss that chicken salad.
    

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Bidding Adieu to The Rock

Today is the last day for a golf course (somewhat) affectionately known as "The Rock."  Hillview Golf Course, perched atop a summit in western Green Township will close forever at sunset tonight.  Soon, 220 houses will spring up like daffodils across the 100-plus acres of bent grass and manicured greens.   While I can't say I regularly played the course, it does occupy a special place in my heart because it was the first "real" gold course I ever set my spiked shoes upon.
When I was about ten years old, I was a little kid who had exactly one club--a child-sized 7-iron with Chi Chi Rodriguez's name on it--and boasted golf experience that was limited to whacking little white whiffle golf balls around the backyard.  That is, until dad took me with him to Hillview the first time.  I wasn't there to play, mind you (too young), but I got to pull dad's "pull-cart" around the course while he played with his friends.  I don't remember if I got standard the caddy fee that day, but my guess is I got a can of pop and the chance to swing my 7-iron once or twice on a "real" course.  Perhaps my love of the game of golf began that day.  
Fast forward to high school, when I was playing and/or caddying nearly every day of the week during the summer and I got to play Hillview myself every so often.  That's when us teens dubbed it "the Rock" because at that time they had no discernible irrigation system and by August the whole hilltop was one dusty, dry, burned out lunar landscape.   We regularly hit drives 600 yards (we estimated) and the ball would send up little blasts of dust as it skated off the tops of hills and into woods.  It was like playing golf on a curved pool table without the felt.  There were some tee boxes where (I'm not making this up) you couldn't insert the wooden tee into the ground--even with a hammer--without snapping it in half.  Oh the stories we had about playing the Rock!
As the years progressed owned Bob Macke and his sons improved the course.  A lot.  They installed irrigation, decent grass, cart paths, entire new holes carves out of wooded, forgotten corners of the property.  In retrospect, it's perhaps what I most admired about that darned place.  Here is a guy (later his sons) who had a big hunk of land and envisioned, planned and carved out their own golf course.  Their very own golf course!!  I remember a beat-up old yellow bulldozer sitting near the barn.  Every year there'd be subtle or major changes.  I currently live on 70-plus acres and I can tell you exactly how I'd lay out my personal golf course if I only had the money, time and courage.  The Macke's got to do that and that must've been a ton of fun for a family of golf nuts.  In fact, I think one of the sons turned professional.  It's sad, but, because of the expenses involved these days, there aren't too many family -owned golf courses anymore.
Time passed, Bob died, the family started running other courses elsewhere and I'm sure a developer "made them an offer they couldn't refuse."  Too bad.  The family was thoughtful enough to open the course for one more month this spring to allow folks to play it a last time before they turned over the keys.  My dad, my son and I did so just last week (and I didn't have to pull the pull-cart!)  We had a blast!
So goodbye Rock, it's been a hoot.  And to you home builders;
good luck digging out basement foundations should the weather turn dry this summer.  You might want to bring along a few extra bulldozer blades!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Appeasing the gods

It's mid-April and I woke up to an inch of snow this morning, which is a bit jarring since it was nearly 80-degrees-F just 36 hours ago.  The latest "Accuweather/No-Wait/Doppler/PowerofFive" forecast tells me that it will be cold again tonight but back near 70-degrees by this weekend, so there's no need to panic.  For most of us, the brief wintry blast is good water-cooler conversation fodder and yet another prank by a particularly puckish "old man" winter.
Still, I can't help but think about those who lived here long before the internet, TV, newspapers and, even, the town crier.  I'm thinking about the ancient peoples...you know, the ones living in sod huts and wearing pelts. 
These were people who were far more in tune with the randomness versus predictability of nature.   Having no TV or internet to distract them, they studied the stars and the movement of the sun, building large earthworks aligned with the equinox, and sitting around the nighttime fire noting every planetary path, shooting star and elusive comet.  When the warm sun came out and temperatures hit 80-degrees, like they did for us last weekend, it was a joyous experience, particularly following a nasty winter (like we had.)  The sun god must be happy.  The sacrifices must have pleased.
And then, overnight, the temperatures plunge and they wake up with snow over their huts!  Uh oh.  There must have been some finger pointing around the commune, "Okay, who hacked off the gods?"  "Harvey, was it you?  Didn't I see you sneak behind the pine tree yesterday to smoke some elderberry leaves?"  
And then, "We need to make it right with the gods again, guys....any suggestions?  Anyone willing to be sacrificed?  Come on, guys, my wife just packed the winter pelts away in the cedar chest so we'd better do something now or we'll never see a warm day again!"
And then, miraculously, two days later, the sun is back out and the temperatures are back in the 70s.  The gods must be pleased again.  Harvey, if he wasn't offered up as sacrifice, was vindicated.
It's natural for any living thing to seek out the predictable.  Our fish, dogs and cat expect to be fed every day at the exact same time.  When our dog, Charlie, barks at the door, he expects someone to open it.  Thunder scares them, I think, because it's random and occasional. Even plants know when to bud, not by the changes in weather as much as the lengthening of daily daylight.
People are the same way, too...we seek out routines that lead to expected outcomes.  Every morning, I follow a precisely repetitious routine, lest I stand in the shower standing there wondering if I already washed my hair.
Unpredictable events can be exciting and provide an occasional thrill, but lets face it: the desire to seek out the predictable is ingrained deep in our DNA.  Today's snow didn't bother me in the least, but that's because I haven't gotten my loincloth and summer leggings out of the cedar chest yet.  Oh, and I also read the National Weather Service forecast.

Friday, January 10, 2014

A Winter and the Clare


The recent exceptionally frigid temperatures in the Midwest reminded me of the infamous winters we had in Greater Cincinnati in 1977 and 1978.  During those winters, I was finally old enough and tall enough to experience the world of driveway shoveling and remember piles of snow far taller than I stood.  I recall sled riding, snowball forts and even tunnels dug through the snow piles.   And I remember the plight of the “Clare E.” 

OK, looking back over recent posts, it appears I have a bit of a keen interest in riverboats—and I do.  Maybe, just maybe, it all started with the “Clare E.”

To be correct, her official name was the Clare E. Beatty and I had never heard of her before January 1978.  But when the Ohio River froze for the second time in two winters, all Cincinnatians learned about a salty, gruff, old riverman named Capt. John Beatty who was kind of the Red Adair of Cincinnati (remember Red?  He was the swashbuckling Texan who went around the world putting out oil well fires.)  When a situation related to the river elevated to a crisis, Capt. Beatty came to the rescue.  Beatty had a fleet of heavy-duty river equipment and could rescue stranded boats, refloat the sunken ones and renovate the historic ones (he was one of the forces that turned the “Mike Fink” into a restaurant.)  The flagship of “Beatty’s Navy” was the Clare E. Beatty, a plucky towboat originally launched in 1940 as the Semet.  Beatty bought her in 1970 and changed the name in honor of his wife.  But I digress…back to 1978…

The Ohio River was in various stages of freezing and huge chunks of bobbing ice had caused several barges to break away from their moorings.  Beatty and Clare went off in chase down the Ohio to round up the barges before they could slam into Markland Dam.  Like a cowboy lassoing steer, the Clare successfully nabbed a few barges before it, too, became entangled in ice.  It soon became apparent the Clare was trapped.  For a couple of days, evening news reports kept viewers updated on the helpless plight of the boat. Nothing could be done and the ice eventually forced the boat to the bottom of the river.  It should be noted that the Clare was lavishly adorned inside with brass and antique furniture and a big oil painting of the real-life Clare Beatty.  I remember one hopeless reporter asking the Captain if he removed the artwork and salvaged the furniture and Beatty snorted, in his gruff way, “you never undress a lady.”  Anyway, Beatty kept his promise, too--later that summer he managed to refloat the Clare and had her cleaned up and fixed.  Hooray!  I remember following the entire story with great admiration.  I wish it had a happy ending.

Recently, I wondered about the Clare and the interesting man behind her.  I remember reading that Capt. Beatty died—indeed, he passed away in 1994—and the following year, his company was up for sale.  In the meantime, however, the employees running it were called to salvage a bunch of half- sunken barges near Maysville.  “Beatty’s Navy” showed up in full force—two WWII Minesweepers, the floating Hercules crane, the Clare—and one by one, the various craft became entangled in the wreck.  Perhaps the absence of the Captain at the helm was too much to overcome. The entourage of vessels would never escape the snare.  Potential new buyers walked away from the sale and the boats were left to deteriorate.  Apparently, plans by the city of Maysville to remove the wrecks were never approved.  As of a few years ago, only the pilothouse of the Clare could barely be seen in the muddy water.  I can only assume the bones still lay beneath the watery blanket.

I’m sure Beatty’s family feels terrible but I’d bet a million bucks, if he were alive, the ol’ Captain wouldn’t let “his lady” meet such an unhappy demise.