Friday, November 15, 2013

Looking for The President

Before your time is wasted…no, not that President.  In 1988, 25-years ago, Cincinnati hosted its first “Tall Stacks” celebration to commemorate the city’s bicentennial.  It was a memorable and historic event that the city attempted to duplicate a few other times but none had the aura and energy of that first Tall Stacks.  One of the reasons Tall Stacks ’88 was my favorite was the selection of steamboats that visited the Queen City and specifically, in my book, was a chance to tour The President.  When Cincinnati’s beloved Coney Island excursion boat, the Island Queen, exploded in 1947, it was long before I was born.  And yet, growing up, I heard many stories and saw many photographs of the Island Queen and fell in love with the long lost boat (In 2007, I produced a one-hour radio documentary about the Island Queen, but I digress….)   So imagine my amazement in 1988 as I toured The President at Tall Stacks and learned that the boat was the twin sister of the Island Queen!   Both huge vessels were built, side-by-side, in 1924 as overnight packet boats to run freight and passengers between Cincinnati and Louisville.   The original name of The President was the Cincinnati.  But the stock-market crash wiped out the company and the Cincinnati was sold to St. Louis’s legendary Streckfus Lines in 1929 and in 1932 was reconfigured and rechristened The President, the largest excursion boat on the Mississippi.  Featuring a huge dance floor, a ride on The President was every bit as romantic and thrilling as a Cincinnatian’s ride on the Island Queen.  The boat plied the waters around St. Louis until 1941 when it was moved to New Orleans.  It came back to St. Louis in 1978 when its huge side paddlewheels were removed and replaced by diesel engines and discretely hidden propellers.  The boat was otherwise intact when it returned to Cincinnati for its 1988 visit.

However, the ensuing years were not as kind to The President.  Caught up in the sweeping race to add riverboat gambling, The President was converted to a floating casino and sent to Davenport, Iowa.  But greedy gamblers soon outgrew the boat there and The President, by this time a bit worn for the worse, was moved to satisfy gamblers in Mississippi, then to Memphis.  In 1999, she was officially retired and towed back north, where, neglected, she slowly rusted away.  In 2007, a businessman conceived an idea to cut up The President into large pieces and transport the boat overland by truck   But steamboat fans know that such an idea is not so simple because of stresses and bends in the hull and that’s it’s nearly impossible to re-weld such a complicated steel steamboat puzzle.  For a couple of years, while the owner attempted to raise funds, the boat “chunks” sat in a field alongside busy I-70 in the middle of cornfields.  In fact, if you “google” the boat, you come away with the impression that the pieces are still there, patiently awaiting a welder’s torch.
to St. Elmo, Illinois, where, according to the plan, the boat would be reassembled and turned into a hotel—either on a lake or on land.

But that is not the case!  On our way home from vacation this summer, I convinced my sufferingly patient yet reluctant family to humor me and make a side trip in search of The President.  Using GPS map coordinates, we found the field easily but there wasn’t a hint or a scrap of steamboat to be found.  After we got home, I decided to call the St. Elmo City Hall and a very nice lady told me the town became tired of waiting for the owner to reassemble the boat and so it’s unsightly pieces were hauled away a year or two earlier.  “You might try Effingham (the neighboring town), but I think it’s all gone,” she concluded.  So I hope I’m wrong, but it appears this once fascinating steamboat has been relegated to the lost slate of maritime history.  Sigh.

Monday, October 21, 2013

WLW and Mt Jacor

Today is one of the most historic days in Cincinnati broadcast history.  Okay, maybe not….but I’ve managed to keep your attention for one sentence longer.   It was on this date, 25 years ago, that “Mt. Jacor” went on the air and I was the first regular announcer to broadcast from that legendary (or “notorious”?) facility. Honest injun.

After working a year, part-time, at Warm98 in 1987, my wonderful boss, Tracy West, was "dismissed" and I started to look for someplace new.  My fulltime job was at WVXU, but I wanted to keep a weekend presence on commercial radio.  On October 10, 1988, I was hired by Kathy Lehr as a weekend, overnight, news anchor using the name “Mike Morgan.”  Those first few weeks’ newscasts originated from the dingy, dated WLW studios in a building on Fourth Street downtown but I was well aware that new studios in Mt. Adams would soon be ready. 

It was an interesting job.  The downtown studios were dark, decorated in mid-‘70s furniture and yellowed with nicotine stains.  The studios were separated by glass windows and the news booth was cramp.  Studio B, for talk shows, had curtains and they were often drawn shut for the nights Bill Cunningham had “The Fun Girls” on and my imagination reeled as “Sudden Sam” ran the board in the control room. 

Meanwhile, a mile or two to the east, 1111 St. Gregory, in Mt Adams (dubbed “Mt. Jacor” in tribute to the new station owners) was bright, beautiful and state-of-the-art.  The news staff was taken up there several times before we moved so we could become acquainted with the palatial newsroom, with its clever individual production “stations.”   My engineer friend, Jay Crawford, was working up there on weekends assembling the new studios for WEBN, which would go on the air a few months after WLW—so I had someone to talk with.  Finally, the big date arrived and I just happened to be the one on duty that night.  On Friday, October 21, I was instructed to write two newscasts for the 11 p.m. hour and presented one downtown at 11:30 before hopping in the car and heading up the hill.  I never set foot in the Fourth Street building again.

That very first night I immediately experienced what would be one of the downfalls for Mt. Jacor: the parking garage was full and I had to find a place on the street.  The reason quickly became apparent when I entered the WLW studios and found the place full of happy people dressed in elegant dresses, expensive suits and holding cocktails.  I went about my business making final preparations as, by then, midnight was quickly approaching.  With minutes to spare, I entered the polished, new news-booth and waited.  At midnight exactly the switchover occurred.   One of the station bigwigs (I can’t remember if it was the GM at the time or someone from Jacor but definitely NOT a regular on-air person) expressed a few appropriate remarks now lost to the ages (I don’t think the affair was recorded) and then he ended with: “…and now let’s resume regular programming!”  At that point every well-coiffed head and drink-sipping suit turned and stared through the glass and into the news booth, occupied by a quivering, rookie newscaster who, I’m pretty sure, stumbled over the first few words of his news-copy.   After that, the party pretty much ended and the tipsy folks bid farewell and, gradually, departed.   By 12:30 am, 10/22, it was just me, either Dusty Rhodes or “Party with Marty” Thompson, and a few wayward engineers cleaning up. 

And that’s my brush with immortality.   I worked there the better part of a year and, boy, do I have a few stories which I'll save for a later post!  Thank goodness for the blog because it gives goofballs a chance to share memories of which very few care except for the one typing.   

Friday, September 27, 2013

Wanted: A New 54-Year Old Chevy

Collectors of older cars have had this weekend circled in bold red pen for about six months's the weekend of the long anticipated Lambrecht Chevrolet auction.  Here's the background:  The Lambrecht family had a Chevy dealership in Pierce, Nebraska, for over 50-years.  Ray and his wife, Mildred, Lambrecht loved their much so, that if a car or two didn't sell, well, they just kept it.  Every year.  Some of the cars were squeezed into a warehouse in the back of their dealership and others were parked on their nearby farm.  Years passed, the dealership closed and the couple passed away, leaving their family with a huge find.  Of course, everyone knew the Lambrechts had kept some cars but few realized just how many--over 500.  Some of the cars date back to the early 1950s and some are as recent as a 1980 Monza (remember them?)  But most amazing of all, a significant number of those automobiles were never driven...ever!   Over fifty of the cars have less than ten miles on the odometer....some with only one or two miles.  It was like auto archaeologists entering King Tutankhamun's garage.  Now there's no question most of these cars will need a little love--new rubber belts, tires, a good washing.  But imagine hopping into a "new" 1958 Belaire....or a 1959 Impala.  
That's the car that caught my attention.... there are four '59s in the auction with single digits on the odometer.  Mom and dad had a cream colored, '59, two-door Impala--it was the first car I remember and I can still picture, from the dank depths of my memorybanks, the rust colored interior, large chrome speaker grill dividing the back seat, unique steering wheel and dashboard, and the trunk that could haul a B-29.  Although I was only about 5-years old when my parents sold it, I remember running my hands along the big, bold rear fender fins and cats' eye taillights.  Sigh...I won't be in Pierce this weekend and couldn't afford to participate in the auction even if I was there.  But if someone out there lands one of those '59 Chevys and you're passing through Cincinnati, let me know.  I'd love to see it and run my hand along the fins.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Marian McPartland and Me

One glance at the title of this post and the reader might be mislead and so I'll immediately fess up and say this is a story of scotch, ignorance and a major goof.
The events took place in the Spring of 2003.  Licking our collective woulds over a Peabody snub for our audio documentary, Cincinnati Radio: The Nation's Station, 1921-1941, my WVXU boss, Dr. James C. King, treated co-producer Mark Magistrelli and I to a trip to New York City to pick up a New York Medal award.  Not quite as prestigious of an accolade, it was, however, a free trip to the Big Apple, so off we went to the Marriott on Times Square where the awards banquet would be held in the hotel ballroom.  As it turned out, Mark decided to attend another event that night and so Doc and I dutifully trudged off to the event, open bar and all, to receive the award.  Don't get me wrong, it was a very nice event--but neither Doc nor I are great socializers and as the drinks flowed, the silliness of the pomposity of the evening became more and more apparent and small, under-breadth comments were exchanged between us.  Also slightly amused at the proceedings were two quiet, but pleasant, women seated to my left at our table.  We exchanged small talk.  The woman next to me was named Shari and she was a producer at a station in South Carolina.  To her left, she introduced, was an older woman, simply, "Marian."  I said hello and we shook hands.  Shari seemed very nice and joined in a bit on our comic play-by-play commentary.   Eventually, our station's call letters were announced and Doc and I went to the stage to accept a "Best Documentary" award.  Marian, the older woman, gave us her congratulations as we returned to the table.  Shortly thereafter, the announcement of "Best Music Program" was announced.   "Marian McPartland's Piano Jazz!" (you probably know where this is going, by now.)  I slunk into my seat.  "That's....?"  To make matters worse, our station used to carry Piano Jazz years ago, but cancelled it because of a shortage of financial support.  Well, Marian barely sat down again before she said she was tired, bid us adieu, and left us to return to her room.  Shari Hutchinson, her longtime producer, remained and entertained us with delightful stories of working with this great woman and jazz pioneer.  By the end of the evening I felt slightly less of an idiot for not recognizing Ms. McPartland and boldly asked for an autograph, which Shari kindly mailed to us days later.
So that's my Marian McPartland story!  The nice thing about "time" is that it eventually allows us to laugh at the mistakes we make.  In the meantime, rest in peace Marian McPartland--a jazz and radio legend who died last week at the age of 95.  And congratulations to Shari Hutchinson, who, I understand, now manages eight public radio stations in South Carolina.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

The Boy Packs Up

Our oldest child is heading off to college this weekend.  In a ritual repeated throughout time immemorial, but new to me, the little bird is leaving the nest.  “The Boy,” as I affectionately call him (‘tho there are three brothers behind him), seems ready to go.  Like a sprinter at the Olympics, he has comfortably settled his shoes on the chock blocks of life and awaits only the sound of the starting pistol.

The Boy is excited, and why shouldn’t he be?  He is standing on top of a mountain and the world--a fat, exciting, ripeforthepickinging world--lies in front of him.  In fact, a few weeks ago, we visited Pike’s Peak on vacation and a photo of him and his brother now rings quite poignant.  In many ways I share in his joy and add a pinch of jealousy…it’s been a few years since I stood on that same vista.

As “dad,” I’ve had several months, nay years, to prepare for this weekend and yet I feel caught totally off-guard.  The other morning, I awoke around 2-am upset because I never took him to Terry’s Turf Club for an award-winning cheeseburger (eating is a favorite hobby for both of us.)  It was on my “list” and I failed. (I won’t even attempt to use the excuse, “I didn’t have time” because that’s an overly-cited, weak, and lame argument.)  Other missed opportunities tumble through the “sprockets” of my “guilt projector”… there are old movies and cartoons I failed to share with him.  I don’t think we played “pickle” enough and I never taught him “Kick the Can.  He’s never joined me on a golf course or a driving range.  We haven’t been to the Air Force Museum in Dayton since he was a little baby.  I never introduced him to “real” pulled pork BBQ.  Mammoth Cave?  Nope.  When he was about five and learning to ride a two-wheeler at my wife’s office, a neighbor took the training wheels off Boy’s bike and witnessed something I only heard about later after I came home from work.  Harry Chapin’s “Cats in the Cradle” played in my head for two weeks after that one.

Before you call the police for “suspected self immolation,” I am not entirely wracked in guilt.  I do not feel short-changed—indeed, knowing friends who have lost children to death or illness—I feel grateful and Blessed for 18-years and all those times we did have together…fun and not-so-fun.  Last spring, Boy and I attended a rock concert together (check that off the list) and just last week we had a nice father/son dinner at a restaurant.  Everyone reading this has either had a child grow up and leave home, or left a “home” him- (or her-) included!  One of the shocking lessons most people experience months and years later is that life, in fact, goes on.  (My big shock came when my dad first re-recorded the “home” answering machine with my name omitted, but I digress…)   The ancient Greeks had a phrase:  “Panta rei” (things change) and Thomas Wolfe told us You Can’t Go Home Again, but I hope The Boy doesn’t stray too far and remembers he can always come home.

Gabe is big and tall and handsome and adult now, so I’ll have to reconsider that nickname, too, I guess.  But not right now…not yet.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Indiana Chicken Dinners

Ever since I was a tot, my arteries have surged this time of year with the byproducts of the chicken dinners of southeastern Indiana.  As a kid, they provided an excuse for a "Sunday drive."  Since moving into the area 17 years ago with my wife and kids, our knowledge and fondness for the various dinners has only increased (as has my weight.)  Amazingly, and sadly, this summer's chicken dinner schedule may be the last--forever.  Because of church consolidations and mergers announced this year by the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, the best-of-the-best dinners will likely not return next year and that's a terrible shame.
The St. Martin's picnic in Yorkville is the one I've attended the longest because of my relatives who are active in the parish.  I remember going to this one as a kid, when they handed out "fish pond" gifts--blue butcher's paper-wrapped gifts for the boys, pink for girls--from the window of the long-since demolished schoolhouse.  Their chicken dinner was always the best and had the most Cincinnati "draw"...although in recent years it has been diminished somewhat by switching from "family style" to "buffet style" service.  Still, I'd put its chicken among the best.   The next dinner, this Sunday (July 28th), might be the last as the parish will be merged with three others.  However, the parish is appealing the archdiocese's decision.
St. Paul's in New Alsace always follows St. Martin's by two weeks, this summer falling on August 11.  St. Paul's has evolved into my favorite chicken dinner because they still serve family style--that is: big bowls of food are placed on the table and diners can take as much as they want.  The line can be a little long getting into St. Paul's and the gym can be a little hot, but the food is fresh and the chicken very good.  Parking is also pretty good at this one.  St. Paul's is also merging and even though the church was built in 1837 (making it the oldest continuously used church in the area) and was visited by John Hunt Morgan during the Civil War, it is slated to be closed which is terrible news from a historical aspect, too. 
St. Pius, in rural Ripley County, has its festival and dinner on August 18th.  This is the one to go to if you want a traditional, old fashioned church festival.  Located in a very rural area of farmland (and right down the road where we live), this festival, with its traditional games, is like stepping back in time.  The chicken here is sold in whole quarter chunks, so you get a lot.  Rare is the visit when we didn't walk out with a bag of leftover chicken because they give you so much. But the real treasure here is the old fashioned, home-made gravy and mashed potatoes. The best!  Although it, too, dates back to the late 19th Century, St. Pius is slated to close and merge with another parish, even though its parishioners are active and finances are excellent.  
The last of the "big 4" actually comes on October 14th and doesn't feature chicken at all.  St. Mary's of the Rock is located in rural Franklin County between Sunman and Brookville.  Instead of chicken, they have a turkey and stuffing meal that rivals anything your mom might have made for Thanksgiving.  The turkey is good, but the stuffing is the best, the cranberry sauce is real and pies are homemade.  St. Mary's has a historic grotto carved out of the hillside behind the church.  The parish is also slated to close at the end of the year, which is very sad.  Their fall festival, which usually takes place as the leaves are changing colors, is worth a visit just because the drive getting there.
These four festivals have been an important part of our family weekends over the years and I'm so blessed to have been able to share them with my children.  Unfortunately, circumstances might bring an end to all four traditions.  If you've ever heard of the famous Indiana chicken dinners and thought about visiting, this might be your last opportunity.  I'm sure we'll be attending all four and, at the risk of gluttony, I expect to savor the memories, tastes and aromas of these fading community traditions.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Things I Miss About My First Car

Earlier this week, I was at the pump getting gas when a mid-'80s Somethingorother pulled up to the next pump.  The driver came around back and popped back the license plate and started filling up.  Wow....I'm amazed that I had forgotten all the cars I owned that also had the fuel intake hidden behind the license plate.  It was pretty common at one time.  When exactly did they disappear?  Although it was a little tough to use one handed--due to a spring the size of an anaconda--it was a pretty nifty idea and it didn't matter to which side of the pump you pulled up.   It got me to thinking: so what other things about my first car, a 1972 Chevy Impala Convertible, have been made quietly obsolete by automakers?
Well, I still really miss the reliable little high-beam switch on the floorboard.  The "click-click" sound and sensation made high-beam headlights fun and gave the left foot something to do.  Remember playing "gotcha" with cars in the opposite lane?
While my Chev didn't have them, my mom's '71 Plymouth had cozy-wings on the side windows.  Those seemed to make a lot of sense--letting in just enough air without disrupting conversation or the radio.  Not sure why the cozy-wing was ever dropped other than expense, I guess. 
My Chevy did have fender skirts, which gave it an elegant appearance that far exceeded its actual luxury.  They were easy to take on and off, just a discretely hidden lever underneath.  I did not have curb feelers, but considered them one time.  Ask an older person about curb-feelers.
I did have white walled tires, though, and my dad showed me how to make them sparkle using Comet and warm water and a stiff scrub brush.  I remember getting tires in the 1990s, when white-walls were out of "style" and telling the guy to mount them backwards to hide the stripes--I kinda regret that now, since white walls have completely vanished.
Overall, I miss chrome...that Chevy had a lot of chrome and it was a part-time job to keep it waxed and polished.  Today's paint is so much better, I admit, and I haven't waxed a car in years, but back then it was a constant battle with rust, particularly around the fenders, and despite monthly waxings, rust usually won out.  But buff the dried wax off of chrome on a sunny, summer day, revealing your distorted reflection, and it was truly a spiritual experience.
I don't miss the frequency and difficulty in changing headlamps; the constant replacement of master cylinders, starters and generators; floorboards that rusted though to the point where you could see the ground; and terrible sounding radios.  
I DO miss full sized spare tires, the concept of a real 2 or 4-bbl carburetor, scouring junk yards looking for parts and, alas, the days before strict seat-belt laws. 
My old Chevy was probably crushed in a junk yard years ago, sadly, but I'd love to drive her one more time--and pull up to a gas pump to fill 'er up behind the license plate!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Another Milan Miracle

Last Saturday, the town of Milan, Indiana, officially dedicated the Milan '54 Hoosiers Museum...a museum celebrating Milan High School's amazing 1954 Indiana State Championship as well as Hoosiers, the 1986 movie upon which that championship was loosely based.   The day was perfect...rain and clouds departed just in time for the parade featuring a couple dozen vintage automobiles....many convertibles with celebrities riding on top of the back seat.  The parade was similar to a parade back in 1954 when those cars were new and the teen aged players were celebrated as they returned to town following their big win.  Some of those players, including game-winning shot-maker Bobby Plump, returned for the museum dedication and ribbon cutting.  Some of the movie actors and producers were also on hand.  Did I mention that tiny Milan only had 161 students back in 1954?  It was an incredible victory in an era when all Indiana schools competed in the same tournament, no matter the school size. 
For Milan, the '54 Museum is a nice tribute to the "most important event in town history."  It's too bad every small town in rural American can't have such a thrill.  It's great to have something to be proud proud, the old railroad water tower still bears the fading "Milan 1954" lettering.   As a neighbor of sorts (I live about six miles away), I couldn't be more happy for the town.  Admittedly, most of our family traffic takes us north, through the town of Sunman, and so I don't get to Milan too often.  Thus I felt a bit like an outsider during Saturday's big event.   However, I still feel a sense of pride and joy, despite having no connection to the Championship other than a framed certificate signed by some of the players and a piece of the Milan's "old" gym floor.
I think my happiness centers around one woman:  Roselyn McKittrick.  When we first moved to the area from Cincinnati in 1995, I happened into Roselyn's now-defunct antique store.  She immediately engaged her new customer in conversation.   What a delight! In one corner of the store, she had recreated the locker room of the Milan championship team, complete with signed basketballs, letter-jackets and photographs.  She told me then that it was her personal tribute to the team that brought fame to her adopted home town (she arrived a few years after the championship) and that she hoped to someday have a permanent museum.  Over the years, she would bend my year regarding any progress for the plans and, obviously, it takes many, many people from all over to pull off something like this.  But for Roselyn, it's a personal victory and I couldn't be more happy for her.  As someone who is trying to build a museum and organization myself, I appreciate the hard work and dogged determination behind such an accomplishment.  Dreams can come true and it fills my heart with optimism when "the little guy" pulls off a big victory like this museum--kind of like Milan itself!
In one room of the museum, a video of the original championship game runs in perpetual performance.  There were about a dozen people jammed into the room Saturday, including myself, and after a young Bobby Plump once again stroked a jump shot over an outstretched defender for the game-winner, someone in the group blurted out, "they won again!"  Everyone laughed and yet it was poignant...some things like the 1954 Milan championship and this small town museum are still kinda hard to believe.  Congratulations, Milan!

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The Office--One Last Time

This isn't the first time I've written about my favorite show, The Office, but it will probably be the last since fans are on the doorstep of the penultimate episode.  The series finale is scheduled for May 16.
It's hard to say goodbye to a long running television friend.  I remember some of the emotions when Everybody Loves Raymond (my previous favorite) signed off...and Seinfeld...and Home Improvement.  And Mary Tyler Moore and MASH.  And the Waltons.  Usually I have only one favorite at a time and they've all seemed to overlap perfectly--because Raymond ended when it did, I can honestly say I watched EVERY episode of the Office.  I'm not sure what might be next for me or if there will even be another"favorite."  Thanks to technology, my watching habit has changed so much...although I haven't missed a single episode of the Office, I haven't actually watched a single episode on TV in four years!  How?  Hulu--one of the great cyber creations (particularly since NBC comes in so poorly at our house out in the country thanks to the stupid digital conversion, but I digress....)   When I started watching the Office in 2004, I was still recording shows on a VHS, believe it or not.
As far as the show itself is concerned, I have mixed emotions.  There's no doubt it is time for it to come to an end.  I've hypothesized before about how good sitcoms have a lifespan of 8 or 9 seasons maximum.  All of the above titles, plus my all-time favorite Andy Griffith, ran out of gas by season 9.  When Steve Carell departed the Office after season 5, it was the beginning of the end and most fans knew it.  The subsequent story lines and new characters were occasionally good and occasionally cringe-worthy.  Every so often, the writers would slap a hit but just as often, they'd swing and miss.  Every show (except the age defying Simpsons, perhaps) must eventually arrive at the point where the creative juices simply stop flowing.  For the Office, the show is ending at just the right time.
Still, there's a part of me that is sad, too.  There were some really interesting and rich background characters like Creed, Meredith and Stanley that should have gotten more stage time.  Meanwhile, the show was a nice diversion and dwelt on some quirks we've all experienced in our own workplace but I can think of a few they missed.  Many in the cast have gone from "obscure" to "movie star," which is satisfying.  I hope their careers continue to bring them fulfillment.
I am looking forward to the next two episodes and then we will all say goodbye and move on.  Storylines will be tidied up and, I'm sure, tears will be shed.  I've heard maybe even Carell will make a cameo.  Television has changed so much since Mary, Ted, Lou, Murray and the gang huddled in a circle and sang "It's a Long Way to Tipperary" as they exited the WJM newsroom for the final time.  I only hope the Office exits with the same class.  Meanwhile, I must decide if there's something else out there worthy of the title "favorite show."  Or maybe I've graduated beyond that, too.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

The Apple (and not the computer)

It wouldn’t be an issue if I actually liked them, but I’m not keen on apples.  Nevertheless, about a year ago, I decided to try and eat an apple every afternoon for a snack instead of candy or chips or whatever.  This has forced an overall reevaluation of the apple.  No, I’m still not thrilled with them, but it has proven to be a much smarter way to stave off the afternoon hunger pains.  My question now, though, is which variety of apple is least odious.  After a year’s analysis of some seven or eight varieties, this is what I’ve decided.

First of all, the hands-down winner in my year-long apple survey is that Honeycrisps are, by leaps and bounds, the most enjoyable variety.  For flavor, tang, crispness and size, The Honeycrisp is a great apple.  Unfortunately, they are not only more expensive than the other varieties—they are waaaay more expensive!  I ate my first Honeycrisp around October, so naturally I figured they were created for fall-like, caramel dipping, water bobbing, treat making activities.  At $2.99 a pound (and because they are so large, each apple is almost a pound), they quickly became a very expensive snack.   But maybe the price was seasonal, I reasoned?  Nope.  After a few dips to $2.49 in December, the price has stayed rather steady at nearly three bucks.   However, like some strange drug, I am addicted and no other variety satisfies anymore.  Looking over my unofficial notes, last spring I discovered Sonya’s and thought they were pretty good (and affordable) at the time but my first Sonya’s this year have an odd aftertaste, aren’t very sweet and are a bit mealy.  I haven’t seen any Jonagolds yet.  For some reason, they marked high on my list last summer but were only sold for about a month.  Also getting reasonable marks were Jazz apples, but my comments were not overwhelming praiseworthy.  Oddly enough, I think I only bought Granny Smiths one time and found them too tart…maybe I’ll try them again.

Despite their name, Red and Golden Delicious apples are anything but. Yeck.  Braeburns and Galas also ranked very low. There was one called Envy that I tried but, once again, you can’t judge an apple by its name. Of course, there are "eating" apples and "baking" apples, so some of the previously mentioned varieties may have their own fans.

For my individual preferences, I insist the apples spend a few hours in a refrigerator.  For awhile, I only ate them cut up with a sharp pairing knife, but I've since become lazy.  I think, I prefer red to yellow/green apples.  I’d like to see McIntosh apples in my grocery store, but I can’t say I’ve been able to try them in the last year. 

Unfortunately, Honeycrisps have spoiled me but I simply cannot afford them…plus it looks like their season is coming to an end.  If you have a suggestion, feel free to contact me.  Remember, my requirements are simple: Sweet, crunchy, firm, affordable and good cold.  Maybe I can track down that John Chapman fellow…or that “Eve” lady…..


Monday, March 4, 2013

Standing in the Beer Line

It was a Krogers on a Friday evening.  All the checkout lanes were packed except for one near the middle with a perky young girl at the register—perhaps 16-years old—and an equally strapping young lad happily bagging on the end of the conveyor.  I looked at my armful of goodies—some apples, a newspaper, a card, and a six-pack of Black and Tan Ale.  I knew what was coming next and sighed…oh well, it was the shortest line, I guess I can wait..

To my great surprise, however, the young girl didn’t call for assistance from an “older” co-worker and the young lad placed the bottled brew in a plastic bag and handed it over to me.  Hmm…Something different here?  In the past when I purchased beer at the grocery and the checkout person was underage, she/he had to call over someone older to slide it past the laser UPC code reader.  I recall being impossibly frustrated that this employee wasn’t permitted to drag the beer six inches to the left.   Indeed, they weren't allowed to even "touch" it.  It was as if the beer contained a radioactive isotopes or something…or maybe they didn’t trust an employee who was so thirsty that, as I fumbled head turned through my wallet for my loyalty card, he/she would swipe a few gulps from one of the bottles.  I remember even offering to slide it past the scanner for them; “Oh, no sir!  That would be against the rules,” they’d say. No, things had changed and maybe a healthy heaping of common sense finally won out.   In a restaurant, Ohio law says 16-year old waitresses can carry unopened alcohol on a tray to a table and 17-year old's can carry open liquors.  No radiation there.  So what was up in the grocery?  Anyway, the dumb rule is apparently gone and good riddance.

I rather lucked out in my own personal beer consuming past.  Although Ohio raised the age limit for beer to 18 when I was a junior in high school, they did continue to make an exception for 3.2 percent beer.  I didn’t drink a lot but on the rare occasion when I did, it usually manifested itself through the one-time very popular Hudy DeLight brand.  When the Feds decided to use extortion by linking their determination to unify the age at 21 in exchange for 10% of a state's highway funds, the states caved and the drinking age was raised to 21 in 1987…happily, over a year after I came of age, so again I lucked out.   Personally, I still don’t have a problem with age 18 for beer (even though I’m a dad)…My college friends and I shared in a few $2.50 pitchers at Groesbeck Tavern (ironically, its now a police station, but I digress....)  It really was no big deal to us back then.  Anyway, I’m sure there’s no political thirst for supporting a lower age for beer, so 21 it shall remain.  As for Krogers?  Maybe the next step will be to improve the “self check” lines, which come to a screeching (“an assistant has been notified to assist you”) halt whenever you try to sneak alcohol past the commonsenseless computer.

Monday, February 18, 2013

The Who in Louisville

Pardon me while a gush a bit.  When I found out last fall that the rock band The Who would be touring this winter AND would be playing my favorite album, Quadrophenia, from top to bottom, I ordered, for the first time in my life, tickets to a concert online.  Louisville was the closest venue to home and there was a date on a Saturday just a few days after my birthday.  Even the ticket price wasn't too bad and so I bought two in the middle section with no clue who I'd ask to go with me.  The concert was was screaming at me from my bucket-list and I was going to see it come youknowwhat.
Now let's go back to the spring of 1980; my freshman year in high school.  I had come of musical age during grade school and the disco era.  My favorite DJ was Mark Sebastian at Q102, who every afternoon told us listeners that he wanted to see us "totally, and I mean totally, N-A-K-E-D."  We laughed and were loyal until "the Q" abandoned us guys for bubblegum pop and Top-40, and so we all migrated to WEBN.  I pleaded with mom to let me install an FM converter in our 1971 Plymouth. I spent $75 I saved from cutting grass to by a Fisher stereo (with 8-track) for my room, carefully placing the speakers to maximize the sound.  In freshman religion class, we were all told to bring in our favorite songs.  I didn't really have one, but the other classmate narrowed it to three: Freebird, Stairway to Heaven and Baba O'Riley.  That latter song was different...rough and gentle, bold and introspective.  I was searching for a new direction and The Who fell into my lap--unfortunately, just a few months after their Cincinnati concert tragedy and a year after Keith Moon died.  Timing hasn't always been my greatest thing (I "discovered" Stevie Ray, alas, only after buying his post-mortem Sky is Crying CD).
Throughout high school I gobbled up what I could find--Who albums, bootleg discs, books--I even joined a "fan club" (my first and only one.)  Then, during my senior year, the band decided to have a "final tour."  I had neither the financial means nor the parental consent to travel to their closest stop (Lexington, KY), so I convinced a friend with cable TV to invite my then-girlfriend and I to watch the final show, December 17, 1982 in Toronto, on pay-per-view (my tab) at his house and recorded the audio on my cassette deck.  And that was it.  The band broke up and I moved on to other bands, finding out that my musical tastes were actually much wider than I would have guessed.  In 1990s, there was a rash of "reunion tours" and The Who made appearances in fits and starts with small tours in '02 and '04.   In December '06, they came as close as Columbus but I just couldn't justify the trip.   I regretted it momentarily but age provides perspective.  Fortunately I got a second chance.
Roger Daltrey will be 69-years-old next month--Pete Townshend will be 68 in May.  I took a little ribbing from friends after their Super Bowl appearance a few years ago but didn't care.   In terms of this tour, any arrow even close to the target would satisfy's not about the music anymore...its about my youth and "the Q" and "making out" at my friend's house and freshman religion class and an ocean of other memories triggered instantaneously by the first few notes of a song tacked by iron spikes to the walls of the caverns of my innermost memories.  I felt a little sick to my stomach last week in the days before the upcoming show (for one, no one wanted to go with me and I thank my 17-year-old son for humoring his "old man"), not because I didn't think the show would live up to any musical expectations but instead because it would not fulfill up to some impossible personal mid-life vacuum.
However, I am happy to report, the concert was not just satisfactory--it was incredible.  The lighting, the video backdrop, the performances, the sound, the mixing of the present with wistful nostalgia.   Roger unbuttoned his shirt and swung his mic, Pete's windmill guitar swung almost exactly the way I saw it watching hours of Who concert videos and movies from the '60s and '70s.  It was better than I had hoped given our collective aging.   Zach Starkey and Simon Townshend were great added touches and the way they incorporated original Moon and John Entwistle video into the show (you just had to have seen it) gave me chills.  Even the parking, the venue (YUM Center) and my traveling me, a perfect night.  I can't describe here what it meant. 
Suffice it to gush, I had a great time.  I still have plenty of things on "the list" to do yet (helicopter anyone?), but this was one of those times where reality did exceed nervous expectations.

Friday, January 25, 2013

All Star Game

This week, the Cincinnati Reds were awarded the 2015 Major League All Star Game and I immediately remembered when Willie McGee spit a piece of sandwich in my face.  Let me explain...
There are plenty of sporting events--Bengal's Freezer Bowl, Tom Browning's perfecto, 4192--where people claim to have been there but were actually not.  However, I did get to attend the 1988 All Star Game at Riverfront as working media.  I had been at WVXU full time for less than a year when it was time to submit credentials for the '88 Summer Classic.  Neal, our sports guy, of course nabbed the main credential but after NPR decided not to send anyone, Neal was able to grab a second one, arguing that he couldn't cover both locker rooms.  I still thank him today.
The event was like nothing I had ever experienced...we got to go on the field during batting practice and watch the players warm up.  We got a bag full of "gifts" to take home.  There were fireworks and ushers dressed in tuxedos.  And although many national media-types snickered at owner Marge Schott simple boxed lunches, nothing ever tasted better to me in my life.  Since there were so many media, we couldn't all fit in the press box, so Neal and I sat in the stands, but that was okay with me.  The only disappointment was the dearth of Reds players in the game and the fact that the National League lost 2-1 (the only time the NL has lost in a Cincy All Star Game.)  After the last out, the work began as we had to fulfill our commitment and file stories for NPR and 'VXU.  Since the AL were the victors, Neal went to that clubhouse to get sound and I went to the get the loser's reactions in the NL locker room.  But I was still a "rookie" and wasn't too familiar with the tricks of getting cogent comments on tape.  So I wandered the clubhouse looking for people to interview and, because of the loss, not too many were eager to talk to this skinny "kid."  However, there was a small crowd of guys around then St. Louis Cardinal outfielder Willie McGee, so I eased my way into the pack.  I don't recall why there was such an interest in McGee, by the way, because, although he played, I don't think he had much to do with the outcome but...well, he was talking and "sound" was "sound."  So I held out the mic and turned on the cassette deck and squatted in front.  McGee was eating a baloney sandwich as he talked and something must've excited him because a big lump of Wonder bread hit me square in the forehead before I could move.  I don't think it was intentional. No one said a word or reacted and, thinking it was just one of the hazards of sports reporting, I just continued recording.  No I didn't save the sandwich lump.   Maybe I should have because, speaking of memorabilia, most of the nicer "bling"--the commemorative pin, the press pass--were stolen when our house was burglarized several years later. 
It's doubtful I'll get to go to the next All Star Game because our little station doesn't have a news or sports department.  But I think it's terrific news for the city and surrounding area--even if Willie McGee won't be there.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Avast Ye Pirate!

Pirate radio stations are certainly not new.  These are radio transmitters operating without permission by the FCC and their origins can be traced to the very earliest days of broadcasting.  In fact, before computers became the youth distraction they are today, it wasn’t uncommon for young, tech-savvy lads to buy an inexpensive transmitter kit, goose the output a bit with a decent antenna dangling out their bedroom window, and actually transmit radio broadcasts for several blocks—until the neighbors complained.   The FCC’s mandatory $10,000 fine effectively reduced the hobby, but I’m sure it’s still done and many have gotten away with it for years.

They key, of course, is scale and a recent story in the Hollywood (Florida) Sun Sentinel newspaper provides an example of how NOT to pirate.  It seems someone rigged up an FM transmitter to broadcast Caribbean music on 104.7MHz.  Unfortunately, he didn’t realize that the frequency and the way his antenna was constructed allowed for something called “harmonics”…that is, the signal showing up elsewhere on the electromagnetic spectrum.  The bottom line:  the associated frequency just happened to be the same one used by Lexus, Ford, Mercedes, BMW, Toyota and other car manufacturers for keyless entry systems.  For several weeks, car owners couldn’t figure out why their cars would suddenly and inexplicable lock and unlock at random times.  Car dealers and repair shops were stumped too.  Anyway, it’s all better now that the culprit has been found and the transmitter shut down.  Oh, and the fine?  $10,000, of course!

Friday, January 4, 2013

Velva Sheen Days

On weekends, or when I return from work at night, one of my favorite forms of around-the-house attire is a set of comfortable sweats.  Sweat pants, a sweat shirt....ratty, over sized, cotton or acrylic--it really doesn't matter.  Fashion is not my concern and comfort is king with me when I am able to lounge around the house.
Over the recent holidays, I spent a lot of time in sweats.  Beer in hand, football on TV and dog at my side, comfy sweats rounded out the picture.  Unfortunately, I had to send off a 20-plus year old set of sweat pants to garbage-land when the drawstring broke.   And then it hit has been so long since I actually purchased sweats, I wasn't exactly sure where to find a replacement!  Oh sure, I could go the the "brand name" stores and find what I wanted for a hefty price but, and here's the rub, I am used to finding my around-the-house wardrobe C-H-E-A-P.
The root of this habit can be traced back to my childhood where much of my clothing came from the Velva Sheen outlet store on Glenmore Avenue, below the K-of-C Hall, in Cheviot.  Velva Sheen, if you are unaware, was a Cincinnati-based purveyor of printed T-shirts, sweats and other garb.  Whenever they goofed up, the product ended up at the outlet store in Cheviot, where clothing was sold at a fraction of its normal cost.  Not to make fun of my thrifty mom, but it made great play clothing even though the regular mis-spellings messed with my school work when it came to the spelling of "Xaveir", "Stanfrod" and "Cincinatti."   Sometimes it wasn't the spelling that sent the clothing article to outlet banishment, sometimes it was a stray thread, or a silk-screen that was too light, or arms that were too long or too short.  Whatever the flaw, a good deal is a good deal and Velva Sheen was one of my first learned words (by the way, you could tell an outlet sale item because they'd clip a "V" out of the tag so you couldn't return it!)
Inspired by these fond memories, I wondered whatever happened to Velva Sheen, so I did a little investigating and found out that the company was founded in 1936 by a guy named Oscar Schroeder and really developed and expanded by brothers Bob and William Reilly.  They eventually grew into a national company and a pioneer in securing licensing agreements from major companies for popular characters, images and slogans.  The brothers sold the company in in 1994 to Brazos, who went out of business by 1999.  Curiously, the label and name were resurrected by a California company in 2009 and apparently exists today in a line of retro clothing.   Good for them.
I'm still pretty tight with a buck and found a local clothier who carries second run sweats, so I'm good for another 20-years.   But I kinda miss Velva Sheen and the days when I proudly wore T-shirts proclaiming my devoting to the "Univresity of West Verginai."