Herb Alpert & Lani Hall…Enduring Greatness

I was in bed for a week with horrible flu in the summer of 1966 when I first heard Herb Alpert on an AM radio at my bedside.  It was “The Work Song” by Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass.  It had a lively beat to it, with the sound of stakes being driven into the ground throughout.  A lifelong passion for such a great talent began.

I still enjoy listening to it and hundreds of other tunes by the TJB.

The following fall, my mother brought home Herb’s “What Now My Love” album by the Tijuana Brass and placed it on the phonograph.  I liked it immediately.  I just couldn’t get enough of the Brass.  I wanted all of their albums.  For Christmas, I got the “South of the Border” album and couldn’t get enough of it either.  I played it until you could hear Side 2 on Side 1.  For my birthday in 1967 I got Herb Alpert’s “Going Places” and played that thing into extinction. 

There were so many others from the TJB in the years to follow. 

A half-century later, I retreat to my garage, work on a 1967 Mustang restoration (my high school car) and listen to the Brass from a library of TJB CDs.  My garage is a nice quiet escape from the troubled world in which we live today.  Oh sure—the 1960s had more than its share of troubles—the Vietnam War, three assassinations, and a lot of social unrest.  The world was changing fast. 

I suppose the home garage, a turntable, and Big Band music were a nice escape in those days.  However, Big Band came of a world war and tremendous losses in the wake of the Great Depression. Big Band was upbeat, optimistic, and lively. It helped us forget our troubles if only for a short while.  Not much changes as human life evolves.  Always something to worry about—and escape from. 

Music is a nice escape.  It feeds our souls.

Herb Alpert comes from humble beginnings in the Boyle Heights region of East Los Angeles.  His folks were of the Jewish Faith—immigrants from what is present-day Ukraine and neighboring Romania.  That Herb Alpert became a musician was no accident.  He was born into a family of talented musicians. It was in his blood.  His father was an accomplished mandolin player. His mother taught violin. His older brother was a successful drummer. 

Alpert took trumpet lessons at age eight and cut his teeth playing at dances in his teens. Inspired by his own success as a musician, he experimented with a recording device and learned the ropes of recording music.  Overdubbing—the process of overlaying sound in a recording—was pioneered by Alpert.  When you listened to his work, you were under the impression he was accompanied by another trumpetist.  That was actually Alpert accompanying himself via overdubbing—a recording or recordings over a recording—which is very apparent in so many of his works.  The harmony was unmistakable.

Upon graduation from Fairfax High School in Los Angeles in 1953, Alpert enlisted in the U.S. Army and further refined his craft in military band performances. When he got out of the Army, Alpert considered an acting career, which didn’t last long. He understood what he did best and became focused.  He continued his agenda for being a great musician.

When Herb was attending USC in the 1950s, he played in USC’s Trojan Marching Band.  After college in 1957, he joined forces with Rob Weerts, who was a songwriter for Keen Records. These guys cowrote several hits, some of which became Top 20 hits, including “Baby Talk” by Jan and Dean and “Wonderful World” by Sam Cooke. 

By 1960, Alpert was well on his way as an established musician.  His recording career began, ironically, as a vocalist for RCA Records under the name of Dore Alpert. By 1962, Herb and his newly established business partner, Jerry Moss, formed Carnival Records with “Tell It to the Birds” being their first release on the “Alpert & Moss” record label.  After Carnival Records released its second big single “Love Is Back In Style” by Charlie Robinson, Carnival Records became A&M Records (Alpert & Moss) and a legacy of great recording talent began in earnest. 

During a visit to Tijuana in the early 1960s, Alpert observed a Mariachi band at a bullfight. The raw emotions of that bullfight and its music inspired him to further investigate the feelings invoked during that cultural experience. He saw promise in combining Latin music with American jazz and an amazing phenomenon was born.  From that moment in time came “The Tijuana Brass” and his first album, “The Lonely Bull” in 1962.  He captured the very essence of a bullfight and put it to music along with the sounds and nuances of a bullfight.  The Lonely Bull became a Top 10 hit in 1962 and the Tijuana Brass was well on its way to being a phenomenal success.

Herb Alpert is credited for bringing along great musical talent—such as The Carpenters at the cusp of the 1970s.  When you hear Karen Carpenter’s soulful voice from the 1970s, you hear a chorus of Karen Carpenters in the background.  That was Alpert-inspired overdubbing. It added a strong element of awe to what you heard. There was so much overwhelming emotion in what you heard. 

The Tijuana Brass’ success during our youth can never be overstated. It has touched every portion of the population from the very young to the elderly. You heard it in commercials and even in The Brady Bunch.  Alpert’s efforts a lifetime ago continue to live in garages, family rooms, and motor vehicles everywhere.  Alpert never stopped growing as a musician, cultivator of great talent, and philanthropist.  

In the late 1970s, Alpert went solo and continued to perform, cutting albums and performing around the globe.  Who can forget “Rise” in 1979 and dozens of other efforts in the years since? He never faded from public view. 

Alpert’s contributions to music and society have never stopped at just being a fabulous horn blower. He founded The Herb Alpert Foundation, the Alpert Awards in the Arts with The California Institute of the Arts. Alpert and his wife, singer Lani Hall, donated $30 million to University of California, Los Angeles in 2007 to fund the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music as part of the UCLA School of the Arts and Architecture.  Their contributions collectively are so many and varied and virtually impossible to cover here. Suffice it to say they’ve left their mark on the world.

At age 87, he and Lani, continue to do concerts around the country in small intimate venues where audiences can be close and connect with them.  When they perform together and you are seated in front of them, it is nothing short of a mind-bending experience because you are in the company of greatness.

True greatness endures.   

Memories Of an Extraordinary Friend

It was a warm sticky summer afternoon in 1974.  I was 18.  I was at a party with friends when I spied this pretty lady in the kitchen.  She had creamy skin and beautiful blue eyes.  She had long brown hair.  She was doing what she did best—cooking and preparing in the kitchen.  I just had to know who she was.  We were introduced and a really sweet relationship ensued.  We became engaged.  We traveled together.  Discovered so much together.  As high school sweetheart relationships generally go, we ultimately went our separate ways—yet we remained fabulous friends in the decades to follow.  We just didn’t have enough in common to go on as a couple. 

Her name was Robin.

Robin in 1975

Robin A. Kramer was as good as they come.  A heart of gold and a sweet gentle demeanor.  She was that way all of her life with everyone she knew.  Ironically, Robin never had it easy yet remained positive and optimistic through it all. She went through an abusive marriage that didn’t go well.  She always pulled her own weight.  She earned her living as a checker on her feet for most of her adult life.  She bought her own home not far from where she worked and managed to make ends meet. She learned to tough it out on her own and never asked anyone for anything.

Robin and I stayed in close touch for years following our courtship.  We followed each other through life’s many ups and downs.  Sometimes, she’d cry.  Other times, it was me who was in tears.  We held each other’s hands through a lot of tough moments.  During a call in the early 1990s, Robin told me about a nice man she’d met and was falling for.  She loved his huge heart and sense of humor.  Terry had been through a lot in his life and needed a safe harbor. 

Robin was a perfect fit. 

A part of me felt a twinge of jealousy.  I was at a very dark place in life at that time fondly remembering Robin and me in more youthful times.  I thought to myself—lucky guy—and he was.  Robin and Terry spent a lifetime searching for one another.  They were crazy about each other.  They loved sports and spent their time rooting for the Orioles, the Nationals, and the Redskins.  Being a Redskin fan could not have been easy either.

Terry was a butcher and Robin was a checker for the same grocery store chain in the National Capital area.  They both worked very hard for decades doing what is traditionally very hard work. They worked long hours on their feet for not much money. They’d come home exhausted.  When it was time to retire, they migrated to Hagerstown up in Northern Maryland and settled in for some peace and quiet.  They both had surely earned it.  They enjoyed a lovely home on a quiet street backed up against the rich Maryland woodlands. 

They treasured one another’s company for 24 years.

Robin and Terry both struggled with serious health issues.  Terry had a genetic heart defect.  Robin fell ill to a virus that attacked her heart and required surgery.  She suffered from Muscular Dystrophy, which presented huge physical challenges for her.  She underwent heart surgery to repair damage done by the virus, which improved her health for a long time. They expected her to live five years. She lived over a decade.   Terry continued to put off his heart valve surgery like a lot of us might have. The idea of heart surgery frightened him.

During a visit back to Maryland many years ago, I went to breakfast with Robin and Terry, and we had a nice visit.  Terry’s breathing was labored.  He didn’t look well.  When it was time to say goodbye, Terry and I engaged in a deep embrace—with both of us in tears. It was a very emotional moment. We looked at each other and we both knew—we’d never see one another again. 

Three weeks later, he was gone.

Robin and Terry in front of their Hagerstown, Maryland home.

Terry entered the hospital to have a CT scan of his heart and get his surgery scheduled.  He coded on the table.  Healthcare professionals worked feverishly to save Terry’s life.  It was not to be.  They were not able to revive him.  Robin got the shocking news Terry had passed. 

Because she and Terry were soulmates—the news was devastating.

For the first week, Robin was in utter shock wondering what to do next.  Then—she went off a cliff emotionally.  She’d lost everything – the love of her life, her home, and her dignity. Paralyzed with grief, she couldn’t speak for months.  Psychiatric professionals worked hard to save her life. Thanks to their professionalism, she managed to hang on but was never the same. With medication and grief therapy, she survived as the tough survivor she always was. In time, she recovered – yet she never got over losing Terry.

Losing a soulmate is like that.

Robin’s tough tenacity and commitment to survival enabled her to hang on for five more years. Last fall, she suffered from a bad fall and broke her leg and foot. She never told anyone about it. No one but immediately family knew the trouble she was in. During my last conversation with Robin, she didn’t sound good to me.

Robin passed peacefully in her sleep in early February. She had given up the fight and passed on to take Terry’s hand in eternity.

May they always walk together… 

The Elusive Vacation

When I was growing up, we never took family vacations.  I watched other families leave for summer vacations to Florida and other popular destinations.  If you grew up like I did in suburbia with a stay-at-home mom, family vacations were an economic challenge at best or perhaps you had parents who’d never heard of a vacation.  We simply couldn’t afford a day at the beach let alone a vacation.  The closest we ever came to a “vacation” was a one-day trip to Ocean City, Maryland with friends when I was five—and that was for a long day at the beach and back home that evening.

Not much to report when I wrote an essay on my summer vacation. 

In nearly seven decades, I can honestly say I’ve never taken a vacation.  To be honest with you, I don’t even know how to take a vacation. I’d have to actually relax and take time off – something I’d never do.  I mean—what is that like?  I am a confessed work-a-holic.  Baby boomers are a generation that has never known how to take time off and relax.  We are a generation of relentless overachievers.  I don’t know how to put work down and enjoy a sunset. 

I have a buddy—an automotive magazine editor and editorial director for two magazines—with two previous successful magazine titles to his credit.  He doesn’t know how to put work down either.  I get emails and texts from him at two in the morning to discuss assignments.  Being a work-a-holic is an adrenaline induced way of life.  We just don’t know how to put work down and escape.  It just isn’t in us.

We are the generation that stays late and awakens early.

Sixty years ago, boomers were planning for all kinds of leisure time later on.  Retirement communities like Sun City and Leisure World went up across the country at the cusp of the 1960s.  These planned communities were built—yet because boomers have chosen to delay retirement, many of these communities have evolved into something else entirely. Let others retire…  Planned retirement communities have become a spot for “really old” people.

Vacations are something I like to think about yet never actually do.  I cannot imagine life on a cruise ship for seven days or at a resort.  I mean—what would I do with all that free time?  If I couldn’t write or watch a classic sitcom, I’d be pacing in circles like an anxious dog in the middle of a thunderstorm. I’d be anxious to get home and back to work doing what I love most. 

What do people do while on vacation?

I used to love road trips and I’ve taken my share in a lifetime.  I’ve driven coast-to-coast several times and seen sea to shining sea through a windshield. I’ve even driven from border to border. The only state I haven’t been in is North Dakota. Because the public highways have become decidedly unsafe with motorists who believe traffic laws are for others, there’s little joy in a road trip anymore. I’m tired of young people trying to kill me out there. I prefer to arrive alive.

All this said, I am up for suggestions.  What is your favorite vacation?

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.