When Bowling Alleys were Community Gathering Places

I am quite sure I’ve addressed this subject before, and I just can’t help bringing it up again.  Bowling alleys…and the thrill of old school bowling establishments with telescores, cigarette smoke, and the bittersweet aroma of beer and lane conditioner.  There are fewer of them around these days and what few there are left aren’t what bowling alleys used to be.  You’d walk through the door and pick up that aroma I just spoke of.  If that smell didn’t draw you to the control counter—the sweet essence of burgers on the grille would lead you right to the snack bar for a pump primer. 

Bowling Alley snack bars did the best burgers. 

The time proven practice of bowling was something of a weekly pastime for a lot of people prior to the advent of the automatic pinsetter in the early 1950s.  There just wasn’t much else to do, especially on a rainy day. Pin boys were a necessary evil.  Someone had to recover pins and return the balls.  Someone also had to risk life and limb—getting beaned by a stray ball, beat up by an angry disgruntled bowler, heat stroke, and hordes of other hazards facing human pinsetters. 

The automatic pinsetter put a lot of pin boys out of work at the cusp of the 1950s.  However, it helped the bowling industry grow to unimaginable proportions in the years to follow.  Many of those pin boys learned how to service and repair the machines that replaced them, which was when foe became friend. 

Post-War America was an incredible time to be alive.  Modern bowling centers—thousands of them—popped up from coast to coast and around the world.  Seems my dad, who was an avid league bowler, was there for every grand opening.  Bowling was so popular in Japan that Brunswick contracted with local industry to build its A-2 pinsetters for the Asian market.  And, when Asia’s passion for bowling began to dry up, bowling centers went under and many of those Japanese pinsetters wound up shipped around the world to countries where interest in bowling was rising. 

What I love most in my bowling memories was the cozy nature of the dusty, smoky old centers I frequented in my youth.  I grew up in suburban Washington-Baltimore where bowling could be found everywhere.  Not only were there bowling centers, seems every suburban community had several bowling centers—one near you.  You couldn’t find an available lane anywhere on a Friday or Saturday night because every house was full and there was a waiting list.  If you could get a lane all the rental shoes and house balls were already spoken for. 

God help you if you landed at a house full of leagues, which consumed most of the lanes for hours on end.  What’s more, you couldn’t get an open lane next to a league.  League bowlers were on the order of golfers.  Their concentration could not be disturbed or there would be hell to pay.

So – what happened to America’s bowling mania?  A changing culture perhaps. Social Media, a collective sociological short attention span, the ever-increasing passion for electronic video games, work-a-holism, and a huge array of alternative entertainment venues.  What made bowling so appealing in its day was less distraction and people actually sat down and chatted with one another between frames and games.  Bowling centers were such a terrific form of entertainment that people would come to the house without bowling in mind—but instead to visit.  Face time, without a personal computer or cell phone.

My 13-year-old son spends most of his time on his laptop or cell phone visiting with his buddies.  When I suggest he go visit with them in person, he looks at me like I have three eyes.  However, it’s more about how I keep two eyes on what he’s doing.  He’d rather chat with them via electronic medium instead of eyeball time in person.

It’s the darnedest thing I’ve ever seen.  For such a connected society, we’re decidedly disconnected.  When I am texting someone and they ask me to call them, I am thinking, “What?!”  That’s how far reaching it is.  I am a baby boomer who would rather text than chat on the phone when I always enjoyed talking on the phone.

I also have a significant hearing loss. 

I have sweet memories of a Saturday morning youth bowling league in Odenton, Maryland when Bowl America up on the hill above Route 175 was buzzing with activity.  There were leagues around the clock seven days a week.  Leagues were what kept bowling centers profitable and open.  Over the past three decades, interest in bowling has faded into oblivion.  People aren’t committed to something as regimented as a bowling league.  They’d rather sit at home and watch HBO or mindlessly play a video game.  Our world has surely changed.          

Mourning Those Who’ve Passed

Never have we been more reminded of the circle of Life than we are now.  And, never more than in the past two years have we been reminded of how short Life can become.  The COVID-19 pandemic has had a greater effect on us than anything else in our lifetime. We’ve experienced horrific losses and sociological change as a result of COVID.

Two years later, we’re still feeling its effects. 

We’ve been extraordinarily blessed with good economic times and have had a good handle on disease control since the end of World War II. A century ago, we weren’t so lucky.  The Spanish Flu of 1918 took roughly 40 million lives worldwide.  These staggering numbers came to be so great that doctors describe the Spanish Flu as the “greatest medical holocaust in history.”  I’d bet the great plagues of Europe generations earlier took even greater numbers of human lives. 

Does anyone know what made the Spanish Flu so deadly—along with other vicious flu strains that have killed so many in the past century?  In 1918, doctors were only beginning to understand viruses and what made us sick.  In fact, they really didn’t know what was making people so sick in March of 1918.  There was so much yet to be known in terms of disease research.  The 20th Century brought forth great strides in disease research and the introduction of vaccines. 

There have been various flu strains in the century since—some worse than others.  I recall the Hong Kong flu strain of 1968, which affected our household.  It landed my dad in bed, who traditionally never got sick.  In the summer of 1966, I fell ill with the worst flu I’ve ever had with a temperature of 104 .  No idea where it came from nor why I had it. I was down for a week with my face in a barf pan. It was a frightening time for a 10 year-old sick as a dog.

In the summer of 2009, with wildfires burning all over Southern California, I was hit with the flu at a Van Nuys car show and went home with a temperature of 103.9—burning up with a high fever and horrible chills.  The next morning, I was fine as though I had never been sick. I thought, WTH?  A week later, I was drowning in my own fluids.  Turns out I had contracted Swine Flu. At times, I thought I was going to die because my lungs were full of fluid and I could not breathe. It took weeks to recover.

The past two years have been a time of horrific losses for families and communities worldwide.  At its worst, COVID-19 has taken out entire families.  At the least, families have been unable to see their loved ones at the end of their lives. A great many have been maimed with long term health issues from COVID. 

A close friend of mine, a retired airline pilot apparently in great health at 75, was one of the first COVID deaths on April 1, 2020.  His daughter unknowingly brought COVID home from a cruise ship, which infected the entire family.  No one was permitted to see him in his final hours due to the spread risk to everyone.  This is surely a story told time and time again in surviving families. So many have been forced to die alone without family and friends at their side.

In the past two years, I’ve personally witnessed the loss of a number of friends to COVID and the inevitable passing from old age.  With age has always come poor health and accidents from cognitive issues (falls, car crashes, stove left on, etc.). I’ve also lost a number of friends to COVID.  However, most have been lost to age-related issues or what the experts call natural causes. One friend in his eighties lost his balance, fell down a flight of stairs, and was killed from head trauma.

We are endlessly reminded of our advancing age by our own mental and physical health along with the loss of friends and family.  What is happening to us has been happening to generations all throughout history. A time to be born and a time to die.

Most important to remember is – a time to live. Never stop living. Despite painful losses throughout life, it is vital for each of us to remember the importance of living. Fear not dying. Embrace the pulse and each breath – and remember to let those you love know how much you love them.

And, remember something else. Grief doesn’t have an expiration date. Take time out to grieve as your heart dictates. Follow your heart. Grief and tears allow you to set the pain free and find a way to keep on living. Take time out to laugh with a friend and remember the good times you’ve had with those who’ve passed. In due course, it will become easier and your heart will become stronger.    

How Did We Ever Survive?

Ever feel like we’ve gone overboard on safety?  Of course, you can never be too safe.  However, I believe we’ve become ridiculous on the subject—in fact so ridiculous we perceive we are safe in an 80 mph crash.  Air bags and crush zones won’t save you at 80.  A sudden stop at 80 mph is still a sudden stop. The car stops. However, your vital organs do not.

A bicycle helmet probably won’t protect you when you can’t see the distracted Volvo driver about to run into you.  A panic button necklace hanging on your chest isn’t going to save you from a widow maker cardiac.  Stair railing won’t help you when your arms are entangled in a winter coat and you fall on your face. 

Your birth certificate ensures your death certificate.  Sunrise – Sunset…  Your origins—and your journey along the way—still determine your destiny. 

The question remains how did we make it as far as we have?  We grew up with open station wagon tailgate windows, no seat belts, steel dashboards, lawn darts, BB guns, tall sliding boards and slip-sliding wax paper, asphalt and concrete playground surfaces, galvanized steel monkey bars, see-saws and crazy friends, and Howdy Doodie. 

Some of us grew up in homes long on corporal punishment with belts, switches, and 30 minutes with your nose in a corner not to mention the torture of “wait til your father gets home…”  We managed to survive all of that.

When and why did we become so overboard on safety when we managed to survive rough and tumble childhoods when all this safety equipment didn’t exist? Because agencies enlisted with public safety have studied this issue enough to know we needed to be safer.  The answer is also common sense.  There were things we knew not to do because we were told not to do it.

Some of us were stupid enough to do it anyway.  Doing a handstand on a bicycle seat going down a steep hill was something most of us knew not to do.  Doing a backflip too close to the high dive would cause brain damage and we all knew it. 

What saved most of us was survival instinct—and that age old fear of pain and physical harm.  A lot it, too, comes from what our parents taught us growing up.  Don’t touch the hot stove.  Don’t run with scissors.  Hand me the knife with the handle toward me.  Don’t touch the prongs when plugging in a lamp.  Refrain from putting aluminum foil in the microwave.  Keep your bike off the slippery ice.  Don’t hang outside the car window.  Look both ways before crossing the street. 

All common sense issues. 

Some of us have born in common sense while others of us had to be taught.  I still believe in Darwin. Despite our rough and tumble pasts, there were friends who didn’t survive while others wound up in wheelchairs and special care facilities. I recall being a passenger with a crazy friend at the wheel who put the pedal to the metal going down a twisty winding hill at a high rate of speed. I felt panicked, wondering if we were going to die because he almost lost control. We managed to reach the bottom in one piece and got home safely. None of us was wearing a seat belt and our transportation was a 1968 Chevy Impala.

I often wonder of others who went through the same horror who didn’t survive. A friend of mine was killed in front of his home at a high rate of speed with a drunk buddy at the wheel in a Chevy Nova. They struck a parked car and he was crushed to death upon impact. It was a shocker for all of us and a reminder to drive safely.

I believe we are survivors because we’ve chosen the path of caution and safety. Common sense thinking has kept most of us out of harm’s way. Raising a glass to those of you who’ve survived.

Take heart in where you are today. You are a survivor.

  

Giving (Domestic) Peace A Chance

As I awaken on a clear Sunday morning, I am troubled by the decaying state of our Nation. I’ve always been a news hound, having grown up in our Nation’s Capital, always following political news and events to determine where we’ve been headed.

I cannot tell you this morning where we are headed.

What I do understand with perfect clarity is – we are in deep trouble.

For the first time in my life spanning nearly 66 years, I cannot watch the news anymore. For the first time in my memory, I am afraid for the future of the United States. Not just at the government level, but across the masses….the very soul of our Nation.

I am more afraid now than I was the morning of 9/11/01.

That morning, we were unified.

This morning…we are not.

Our great divide is troubling. We’ve lost our sense of grace – the art of treating one another with mutual respect and dignity. We’re an angry society with utter contempt for one another – even when people are nice to us. You see it in the stores and on the road. Meanness like I’ve never seen before.

The United States is in a free fall.

It is up to each of us to arrest the fall.

Reach out to a neighbor. Shake an opposing viewpoint’s hand. Find a grain of knowledge and useful information in a differing opinion. Perhaps the opposing opinion might be right. Maybe they’re more knowledgeable about the subject than you are.

We’re so stuck in Left versus Right that we cannot see our way clear to compromise. I think of soulful words from Bette Midler’s “From A Distance” hit from 1991. I will recite it for you.

“From a distance,

You look like my friend

Even though we are at war.

From a distance,

I just cannot comprehend

What all this fighting’s for…”

What is all this fighting for? Because you don’t agree with someone on the Left or on the Right? Because you don’t agree with a vaxer or anti-vaxer – or a masker versus an anti-masker? Perhaps it is centered on your perception of someone of a different skin color or culture than you are. Religion is always a hot button issue. There always seems to be condemnation of someone who doesn’t share your beliefs instead of learning how to cohabitate peacefully.

Be at peace with a differing viewpoint.

Whatever happened to “variety is the spice of life” or “marching to the beat of a different drummer…” Where is it written we all must act and think the same? America has always been about variety – not oppression or persecution though we haven’t always lived up to either. We’re not marching to this beat as we’re supposed to. Instead – we attack one another and argue to the point of utter exhaustion.

I will say it again. United we stand and Divided we will surely fall. We are in a free fall Gang. If we don’t find a means to getting along and learn how to live with our differences – we die.

Our forefathers didn’t achieve perfection with The Constitution. It was a blueprint. A start… A work in progress. At the time it was written and drafted, women and blacks didn’t have the freedom to vote. So much for “All Men are created equal…” We’ve come a long way since and still have a long way to go. We have to continue to perfect this important piece of paper.

I’d like to see us begin today by paying close attention to what we are doing to each other. Kindness and dignity must be practiced in baby steps one person at a time. I like learning from someone with whom I disagree – gleaning valuable knowledge from a differing opinion. Feels good. We should all try that.

When It Just Doesn’t Work Out…

At this time in life we’re inclined to do a lot of reflecting.  Our successes.  Our failures.  Our regrets…  Disappointing business ventures.  Relationships that ended badly.  Families torn apart.   

I’ve found life doesn’t always work out as we had hoped.  We look back and think “if only I had it to do over again…”  Odds are we would probably do it the same way all over again. Regrets are that nagging emotion that gnaws at your soul and eats away at your life.  Guilt and regret rob you of inner peace and tranquility.  A good way to handle regret is to examine what happened, acknowledge your responsibility, and find a path to forgiving yourself – and others. 

Self forgiveness is a tough one because I’ve never been any good at it nor have I been any good at forgiving others. I dwell endlessly. However,  I believe we should learn from our past experiences and apply what we’ve learned to what we do in the future.

Easier said than done…

Much of what we become depends upon how we were raised growing up. If you grew up in a turbulent household, you’re probably on edge most of the time. Your childhood may have included an abusive parent or grandparent – someone who damaged your self worth. It all set the stage for the adult you have become.

We don’t put enough emphasis on child rearing. “Kids are resilient…” is a lot of hogwash. It’s the memories they either treasure or the bitter memories that haunt. Children who grow up in dysfunctional households will likely be dysfunctional as adults. Mentally abused kids tend to grow up to be mentally abusive adults unless they’re firmly committed to never treating their kids as they were treated.

When you’re raising a child, you’re setting the die for what your child will become as an adult. If you instill positive thinking into a child, they will be positive and excel. If you foster doom and gloom, chances are your child will always see life in a negative darkness.

I speak from experience.

It takes an extraordinary person to fly out of the darkness and see life with positivity. Human beings are creatures of habit.  We like what’s familiar—even when it is toxic and unhealthy to our wellbeing.  It isn’t good to remain in a comfortable rut. Even the worst of relationships becomes habit.  Perhaps you’re amid unhealthy, destructive patterns.  You might be emotionally tied to a physically or mentally abusive person.  Maybe you haven’t been able to give up smoking, drug use, nervous nibbling, or sexual addiction.  Whatever the issue, you have to find the means to break free from it and become healthy.

Whatever your struggle, the best place to start is at the beginning. Don’t try to eat an elephant all in one sitting. Take your struggles in small steps. Don’t let the setbacks slow you down. Tenacity is everything to achieving the goal.

Fake it until you make it, then you will get it.

Our Nation in A Free Fall

It is hard to watch the news and not feel afraid these days.  Division.  Political unrest.  COVID 19.  Anger run amok.  The inability to get along.  Civility lost. 

Our United States of America.

We should be ashamed of ourselves.  In the wake of the 2021 holidays, it is challenging to look back and feel good about the past two years. This is not the America in which boomers were raised. 

We’ve long been a nation of people who haven’t always agreed—which is what has made America thrive and grow.  The freedom to disagree and be okay is what we’ve always been about.  Agreeing to disagree with civility. However, we are so divided we’ve tossed anything resembling grace aside.  We’ve lost our ability to be respectful with one another. Seems we’re hell bent to be right—and at all costs.

I think of Washington, D.C. when I make these observations.  Our nation’s leaders have tossed civility aside for sensationalism—appalling comments that get them plenty of media attention.  These elected officials make unspeakable statements just to keep themselves in the spot light.  However, this sends a bad message to the nation and to the world.   

The world is shaking its head.

Think of the example government (grown adults who should know better) is setting for young people.  Young people hear these comments from Capitol Hill and perceive it is okay to be uncivil.  And we have the audacity to complain about young people?  They’ve learned this behavior from unhinged politicians with microphones.          

With all the attention being paid to foreign terror threats, we’re only now beginning to focus real attention something worse—domestic terrorism. It even exists within our military, which is enlisted to protect our nation—not do it harm.

Words that incite can do all kinds of damage.  

The decline of democracy is becoming a more serious matter for free Americans.  Democracy is in great danger and there’s doesn’t seem to be much interest in saving it.  People go about their daily lives giving it little thought. 

Apathy is a dangerous thing.

When I consider the millions of lives laid down in the defense of freedom and democracy in 240 years, it is troubling to me just how careless we’ve become with such a precious commodity.  Freedom has never been free.  People have died defending it so others to follow could breathe free for generations.   

The events of January 6th were shocking—just not shocking enough to enough of us.  Not enough was done to defend and protect our highest level of government.  The last time the United States Capitol was attacked was the War of 1812 when it was bombed by the British.  We sent the Brit’s a powerful message of defiance. 

Where is that message to those who would overthrow us today?

Like many of you, I am very concerned over what’s happening in this country.  Doesn’t matter what side of the aisle you are on.  I’ve never seen a greater divide between the two parties.  I recall a different day when our nation came first.  President Ronald Reagan and House Speaker Tip O’Neill had their differences as did Speaker Newt Gingrich and President Bill Clinton.  They rarely agreed.  However, they understood “compromise” and worked together to put the nation and its people ahead of all else. 

They got it done.

Badly divided, we are getting nowhere.  The two parties continue to impede each other just to be right and to satisfy their personal agendas—not to make our nation a better place.  Washington has been stuck in neutral for decades because it has become party and self first and to hell with the nation.

The message to Americans is – “Let them eat cake…” 

When are we going to become united and work together to defend democracy?

A Day At The Airport

Do you remember a time when we were driving our folks crazy and the solution was to take us to the airport?  Going to the airport was a favorite pastime in the middle of the 20th century.  Going to the airport experienced the same popularity as going to Disneyland or Six Flags, especially if you lived far away from these attractions.  At the time, flying was something of a new phenomenon though the Wright Brothers had taken that maiden aeronautical voyage 50 years earlier. 

As a nation, we were on our way to the Moon. 

Most airports had public observation decks where you could get close to the planes, see people’s faces in the windows, hear an aircraft start up, and get a whiff of hot exhaust fumes to excite the senses.  You were at one with aviation without leaving the ground.  Anytime we went to the airport was exciting to me even if it was to pick up my dad from an overseas trip.  

My aunt took the three of us, my mom, and our cousins out to Baltimore’s Friendship International Airport (Now Baltimore/Washington Thurgood Marshall International Airport or “BWI”) to spend a day on the observation deck watching planes and living the thrill of aviation. Baltimore’s observation deck was smack in the middle of the main terminal above C Pier (now C concourse).

Today – it is long gone.

Friendship International Airport’s C-Pier Observation Deck early in the 1960s.

Prior to the Jet Age at Friendship Airport, there were classic pistonliners—Douglas DC-4s, DC-6s, the more advanced DC-7, the Lockheed Constellation and Super Connie, Convairs and Martins, and the Boeing Stratocruiser.  There were also the older tail dragger DC-3s and Boeing 247s for the shorter runs.  When it was time to fly, those big radial piston engines would fire and sputter with a whole lot of drama, then, begin to act like they could actually get a plane off the ground. 

When jets arrived at the cusp of the 1960s, it was a whole new dimension in flying.  They made a tremendous amount of noise and delivered thick clouds of black smoke. They could be heard for miles around.  While jets became a huge environmental issue not to mention unacceptable noise for airport neighbors, I loved the excitement of jets.  Ironically, I never flew on those classic radial pistonliners.  My first plane ride was on a United Air Lines Boeing 720 to the old Kansas City Municipal Airport to see relatives on the way to Hawaii in 1961. 

There was such an aura of excitement about flying in those days.  The roar of raw low bypass turbofan engines instead of the howling low-octane hairdryers we have today.  Jet travel back in the day was aviation on the edge.  Boeing 707s, Douglas DC-8s, and the Convair 880/990 jets just didn’t have enough power.  There was just not quite enough thrust to get all that china and silverware “pie-in-the-sky” stuff off the ground.  That made a takeoff with maximum fuel load from Baltimore to San Francisco a white-knuckle experience. Well into the takeoff roll, we began to wonder if the darned thing would fly.

Those early jet age Boeing 707 “water wagons” left a trail of black soot in the air long after they were gone.  They were nicknamed “water wagons” due to their water/ethanol injected Pratt & Whitney turbojets, which needed help making thrust.  Water to cool the intake charge.  Ethanol to aid combustion.  If you were in the back of a 707 in those days, the exhaust roar was deafening.  It was unsettling to a first-time flyer.  My mother saw glowing hot embers coming from the jet exhausts and poked my father in the ribs—“What’s wrong with the engines?” She just didn’t understand and hung on tight.    

Where I grew up just outside of Washington, D.C. we had three airports—Friendship at Baltimore, Washington National on the Potomac (I am an old school born and raised Washingtonian, I refuse to call it “Reagan” National) and the new Dulles International Airport out in rural Virginia.  National and Friendship had the best observation decks and viewing locations, which brought planes up close and personal.  It was an exciting time to be alive. 

Washington National Airport’s vast panoramic observation deck put you nose-to-nose with Eastern’s classic Electras, DC-9s and 727s.  They’d push and you’d hear the air starters go to work spinning Pratt & Whitney’s vintage JT8D turbofan engines.  They’d whirl on the starter—ignition on, then fuel, followed by the concussive light-up of a vintage fan jet. For a guy like me, it was thrilling. 

It was a huge rush to hear them and they made an incredible amount of noise.  To me, it was a symphony—so moving.  A friend of mine said it was like hearing a baby cry when they’d spool those old Pratts off idle power to get the plane moving.  The raw sound of jet power. Two miles away down the runway at National, you could hear those Pratts clear their throats and begin their roll down the 6,800 foot runway. At times on a hot day with a full load, 727s and DC-9s struggled to get off the ground and passed right over you if you were sitting in the parking lot on Gravelly Point.  

Futuristic Dulles Airport, designed by Architect Eero Saarinen, was state of the art at the time where you had the main terminal—in fact the only terminal—where mobile lounges gathered passengers and hauled them out to the aircraft parked a half mile from the terminal.  Mobile lounges were great idea in theory, and terrible from a standpoint of logistics and maintenance.  In time, planners would find it was easier to add concourses to Dulles and ditch the mobile lounges.

Airports today have lost that romantic demeanor they had 60 years ago.  As high jackings increased in the late 1960s, security was stepped up to screen passengers and well wishers.  In time, observation decks were considered a security risk and a nuance to airport management and the FAA.  Baltimore’s fabulous observation deck was closed in late 1976 when “The New BWI” was announced.  In due course, Washington National and Dulles followed suit.  The best you could hope for was a road or a dirt lot near the airport.  The events of September 11, 2001 made it even tougher to watch planes. You can’t get near an airport without being asked to move on by airport security.

I’ve got to hand it to the British. They’ve never let the threat of terrorism foil their passion for airport viewing. They amass in great numbers at airports all over Britain and watch planes with the same passion they watch trains. Because the Brits have the best intelligence in the world along with security cameras all over the place to watch the action, citizens have the freedom to keep a great pastime going. The same cannot be said here in the United States. We are willing to sacrifice freedom for the illusion of security, which cannot be guaranteed in any society.

I long for the good old days of observation decks, noise, and smoke when the Jet Age was unfolding and the future was ours to have and to hold.  Cool classic videos on YouTube just can’t capture the thrill of airport ramps in the 1960s and 1970s.    

The Captain…Our Mentor and Grandfather

Imagine a children’s program that capitalized on the relationship children shared with their grandparents—and its host and advocate for children—Bob Keeshan.  He instinctively understood the needs of children and launched a children’s morning program on CBS in 1955 dedicated to making children feel safe, entertained, and understood. 

Keeshan was a born mentor and an intuitive grandfather figure.  His programs were solely committed to entertaining kids and finding the humor in everyday experiences from a child’s point of view.  They were also planned and orchestrated around teaching good solid moral values—something so lost in society today. 

Captain Kangaroo was Bob Keeshan and Bob Keeshan was Captain Kangaroo – who played himself for three decades.

I parallel “The Captain” with my own childhood history.  Like most of you, I grew up with Captain Kangaroo every weekday morning before school while consuming a bowl of Kellogg’s Corn Flakes – “The Best To You Each Morning.”  Mornings were also spent with my grandfather, who made us feel safe and loved. 

Few things exceed the love I shared with my grandparents more than a half-century ago—particularly my grandfather, Lt. Paul W. Proctor, who enjoyed a career with the Washington, D.C. Metropolitan Police Department and White House Police for three decades.  He served under several presidents dating back to the 1920s, retiring under Harry S. Truman in 1947 after suffering a heart attack.  He retired to Arlington, Virginia across from Fort Myer where he’d lived out his life with my grandmother until he passed peacefully in 1966.    

My grandfather had a kind, gentle demeanor much like The Captain.  He calmly explained things to my sisters and me in ways we could understand.  He was extraordinarily patient with us even when we were acting up.  He was also no-nonsense.  He never once spanked us.  However, when he glared across a room at you and instructed you how to behave, you did exactly what you were told. He was firm…but long on love. What’s more, the values he taught us live on today in each of us. We’ve never forgotten what our mentor instilled in us.

Keeshan was no nonsense too, especially in his advocacy for children.  Later in life, he voiced great concern over the violence in children’s video games.  Of course, not enough people were listening as witness some of the violent video games I’ve seen lately.  Keeshan once said “Violence is part of life, and there is no getting away from it,” adding, “But there is also gentleness in life, and this is what we have tried to stress on our shows.”  Captain Kangaroo’s Treasure House was a place where children could come and feel safe even if they were living in unspeakable conditions.

We need more Bob Keeshans in our world today—those who look out for kids who set a proper example.  We’ve evolved from being a kind and respectful society to a disgusting appalling social climate where it has become fashionable to be trashy, rude, and insulting.  I ask what’s to be gained by being rude and insulting? 

Time for a long look at ourselves.

Captain Kangaroo taught us common decency despite raining ping pong balls, Bunny Rabbit antics, and the practical on-screen practical jokes that made of us laugh a half century ago.  It was all meant in good fun.  The ability to laugh at one’s self.

Though it is impossible to believe today, Keeshan was just 28 when he launched Captain Kangaroo.  It was those big deep pockets like a Kangaroo pouch that inspired the name Captain Kangaroo.  As time passed, Keeshan’s advancing age made it easier to play the part.  He was such a convincing character that people, especially children, believed he really was Captain Kangaroo living in the Treasure House.

In his biography, “Good Morning Captain,” he said his youngest daughter, Maeve, visited the set and sat in the Captain’s lap. When “The Captain” returned to the set void of his on-screen costume, Maeve said, “Daddy – Daddy, you just missed Captain Kangaroo!” 

That’s how good he was at portraying his role.

This holiday season and a dream I recently awakened from recently inspired me to recognize Bob Keeshan in Boomer Journey.  The valuable things he taught us so long ago need to find renewed purpose for children on the morning screen.  I firmly believe children haven’t changed much since 1955.  What they’re being taught has. 

I think as time went on dwindling advertising dollars overcame The Captain’s purpose on CBS, which whittled this show down to 30 minutes, then – canceled it in 1984.  CBS had lost morning market share to the other networks and needed a quick fix.  Baby Boomers had come of age and Captain Kangaroo lost its core audience. 

Yet, children needed a continuing mentor like Bob Keeshan. 

Captain Kangaroo aired on CBS for 29 years spanning 1955-84.  It swiftly became an institution for children and adults alike and for three decades.  When CBS canceled The Captain in 1984, PBS quickly picked it up and ran it until 1994.  As long as I live, I will never forget the Captain Kangaroo theme known as “Puffin Billy” written in 1934 by written by Edward G. White and recorded by the Melodi Light Orchestra.  It had a soft gentle lighthearted feel that still rings in our heads 60 years later. So do the memories of our own Bob Keeshan—Captain Kangaroo—who will forever live on in our hearts.

Good Morning, Captain… 

I Still Believe in Santa Claus

Whenever I step outside, get a whiff of woodsmoke, and feel the crisp frosty air, I warmly remember Christmas growing up in the 1960s.  I miss the aroma of a big fat Scottish Pine Christmas tree and the rush of coming down the stairs to a living room with all sorts of goodies—the rush of Christmas Morning.

Baby Boomers remember the magic of a mid-century Christmas.   

I never gave up the dream—the fantasy of Santa Claus.  I still believe…  “Miracle On 34th Street” is a good example of why we must never stop believing in Santa Claus.  Santa Claus is fantasy and folklore.  He doesn’t physically exist.  However, he continues to exist in our hearts and in our minds.  The Department of Defense still believes.  Even NORAD deep in Cheyenne Mountain tracks Santa’s journey across the globe while also watching over our hemisphere for the bad guys. 

Christmas euphoria began to wane when adults started telling us there was no Santa Claus.  “Now, Honey, you do know there’s not really a Santa Claus…” my mother told me around age 9.  I was naïve.  I believed in Santa Claus.  Her words were unsettling, especially months after telling me Santa came through the apartment door. 

I loved the fantasy of Santa Claus—out there in the night under the stars braving the elements making sure we all got our presents— “And to all…a good night!!!” with a smile.

Who else does that but Santa Claus?

It is the goodness in the Santa Claus fantasy why we should continue to embrace and believe. It’s important for each of us to follow as a matter of practice.  Santa Claus is about giving without expecting anything in return.  That just isn’t human now is it?  All that hard work around the world without so much as a thank you. Each and every year, he just keeps coming. 

WTH? 

Santa Claus understands the true spirit of giving and has for centuries.  It is about paying it forward and feeling good about one’s self.  What about that?  I’ve never felt completely right receiving but have always enjoyed giving.  Makes the heart feel good to hand someone a gift or do something nice for someone that makes their life better.  The joy in their eyes.  A simple thank you or a hug—acknowledgement—for the good you’ve done for someone else.

In order to prove this out, do something nice for someone without them knowing it came from you.  That’s the real beauty of paying it forward.  Paying it forward is simple gestures of kindness without anyone really knowing where the kindness came from.  I was at breakfast with my sister years back when a homeless man came in and sat down across the aisle from us.  We decided to pay for the man’s breakfast—without him knowing where it came from.  That was true paying it forward.  It felt good to set him up with a warm meal to get him through the day.

We both recognized our blessings and concluded it was time to give back.  It was time to share our good fortune with another soul in need.

Christmas is surely about the birth of Jesus and the good that He did in his time here.  However, the spirit of giving should cross all religious faiths.  It is healthy to give and to share.  It does the soul a lot of good.  When you’re nestled in the warmth and peace of your home, acknowledge your good blessings and ask what you may do for others. And while you’re at it, thank God for all the goodness you have.  You will be astonished at how it comes back to you. 

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays, Everyone…  

Leisure World…What Happened?

For all the idiosyncrasies of boomer life, and it gets mighty complex, we’ve been a generation of work-a-holics.  Time off?  Forget it.  Too much to do at the office.  Most of us have spent our adult lives with our noses to the grindstone.  Like our parents, we’ve been a hard-working generation of worker bees. 

However, our parents knew when to quit at 5 p.m., come home, watch Walter Cronkite, and tune into Gunsmoke or Perry Mason.  They also understood the value of the weekends and vacations—the priorities of downtime and chores around the house. 

We never got that message let alone put it to practice.

Baby Boomers have been compulsive overachievers—mostly in the interest of amassing material goods along with our own self-worth.  We like to pound our chests and show the world what we’ve accomplished.  We’ve done that via McMansions, vacation homes, boats, and more vehicles than we even need. This has long been a measure of who we believe we are. Yet, how much quality time have we spent with our kids and grandkids?

Career has always been important to me.  I fell into journalism purely by dumb luck and chance.  Because I wanted to be aircraft mechanic with the airlines, I enlisted in the United States Air Force, Military Airlift Command (MAC) to both serve my country and get my FAA certification to work on commercial jetliners. 

When I got out of the USAF, the house was full—with plenty of airline mechanics in house and no room for anyone fresh out of the military. To add insult to injury, there was the PATCO strike when President Reagan fired striking air traffic controllers, which effectively grounded the airlines for a time in 1981.  I believed being an airline mechanic was my destiny.  I’d spent four years in the Air Force preparing for it and pursued it with great tenacity. 

The sound of crickets…  It was not meant to be.

I found while working for a regional airline and later a poultry processing company, bending wrenches on jets and heavy trucks wasn’t what I really wanted to do.  I didn’t like working in the heat and cold in all kinds of weather not to mention the challenges of staying awake on grave shift.  In my spare time, I started writing for automotive magazines because I loved cars. 

My future was about to change.  

I knew I loved automobiles and found I loved writing. It became an obsession.  One chilly January morning, I received a call from a Florida based car magazine I had been freelance writing for.  They wanted to offer me a job.  More shocking yet, they offered me the editor’s chair of their flagship magazine because I was Ford Motor Company historian and knew a lot about the subject. 

What the heck did I know about being an editor let alone writing for a living?  This newly founded publisher was the launch pad for a career spanning 40 years.  The job lasted two years when I was fired for perceiving I knew more than my bosses.  I had a lot to learn about publishing and getting along with people.  Unless your name is on the building, you’re not always going to get your way and must find a way to get along or find yourself on the curb.  Career pursuits took me across the continent to Los Angeles where I’ve been ever since.

If you’re like most boomers, change has long been an integral part of your career.  Mergers, poor fit, difficult bosses, impossible working conditions, undesirable transfers, demotions, and a host of other variables have altered our career directions more than once. 

We’ve been there.  We’ve survived. 

And now, it is time to hang up our spurs and get into a new groove called retirement.  Because I am very passionate about writing and photojournalism, I will probably never retire because I love what I do.  However, I’ve had to—for the good of my family and friends—slow down a bit and come out of my office to join humanity.  Like most of you, I’ve no idea how to slow down and smell the roses because this is something I’ve never done.  While I am parked on the sofa watching Andy Griffith or Dick Van Dyke, my mind is abuzz with things I should be doing.  I’ve no idea how to relax.  Call it conditioning…

Retirement communities were conceived and built for the leisure generations—our parents generation – and ours.  Only that didn’t happen.  Baby Boomers are working longer and aging in place due mostly to better healthcare and terrific medical advances.  As a result, we’re burning more midnight oil than our parents did.  Our parents also knew how to save.  We’ve never been a generation of savers, which has forced a lot of us to continue working. If you have to continue working, work at something you love doing.

COVID 19 has created an abundance of jobs employers are having a tough time filling. Young people have become choosy about what they will and won’t do for a living. This means opportunity for aging boomers. We’re reliable. We show up on time. We work hard. This means job security because employers know they can count on us.  

How to slow down and live more with all this time off?  I don’t have an answer for you.  However, we generally do what we want to do.  If you love what you’re doing for a living, never give it up.  Keep on keeping on and make no apologies.  Working and purpose mean survival whether you’re earning a living, doing volunteer work, or taking care of the grandbabies.  Main thing is to keep going.