Saturday Night Under The Lights!!!

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I must confess…I’ve been a car junkie for most of my life.  I’ve had the good fortune of earning  a living writing about automobiles for most of my life.  My passion for automobiles dates back to childhood in the 1960’s when Detroit brought us style, size and sportiness.  Automobiles were works of art, not jelly beans with beards automakers seem to be pushing today.  They’re just downright ugly.  Back in the day, automotive styling made a statement and you could tell the brands apart by their styling.  You could see the difference between an Oldsmobile and a Chevy.

Must be frustrating to be an automotive stylist today because aerodynamics and fuel economy have become priority over raw sex appeal.  Limits your freedom as a stylist when there used to be so much creative freedom.

My passion for automobiles caught fire when my father handed me an worn out hardware store brand power lawnmower to tinker with when I was 12.  It had a 3.0-horse Briggs & Stratton vertical shaft engine and a 20-inch steel deck.  He took the blade off to ensure I didn’t wind up losing a foot.  My dad had a very modest tool arsenal void of socket wrenches and ratchets, which made it challenging to tear an engine apart.  He was very good at reading novels and watching the ball game.  Bending wrenches was never his forte.

Tools?

What tools?

I bought 3/8-drive sockets to work on the Briggs.  Because I could not afford a ratchet, I used pliers to turn the sockets.  Their handles fit into the 3/8-inch square hole perfectly.  I got a Husky socket set for Christmas and felt like a real mechanic.  I could fix anything!  I still have the Husky ratchet to this day, which made it easier to loosen and tighten bolts back in the day.  It was dreamy for a young teen to have real hand tools.

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I pulled the Champion J-8 spark plug and finned aluminum cylinder head—turned the crank and watched in amazement as the piston and valves took on momentum.  The intake valve came off its seat illustrating how fuel and air entered the combustion chamber.  I continued turning the crank and watched the piston rise to top-dead-center, which is compression/ignition stroke where power is made with the fuel/air light off.  Then—the exhaust valve opened and I got a good look at where spent exhaust gasses went into a door knob-shaped muffler.  I was hooked on internal combustion from the get-go.  The business of “suck-squeeze-bang-blow” was intriguing to me because I could envision the light off above the piston where the fuel/air mixture ignited and became heat energy, mechanical motion, and power.

This was where I learned something about how power is made.

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When it was time to button up that old Briggs and pull the cord, it was exciting to hear it fire and run.  That’s when I began to understand the magic of firing an engine for the first time.  I still feel that way in a dyno room when we fire an engine for the first time.  It is a religious experience.

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I went to the drag races in my adolescence and began to take on a passion for speed.  I’ve also grown rather fond of circle track, road racing, and autocross, which can really challenge your driving skills.  Off-road racing in the dirt and mud never did much for me, however, I admire those with the tenacity who are tough enough to engage in it.

There are those around the world who don’t see much point in the way we race in America.  They don’t get chasing one another in a circle (NASCAR), which keeps Europeans laughing at us because those guys enjoy driving like mad men at high speed through small towns and the twisties just to make sure they can do it and remain alive.  It is the challenge of racing in some of the toughest conditions imaginable because these European crazies also do it in the rain.  That’s real racing.  There’s something about getting sideways on wet pavement and surviving that will make a real driver out of you.

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I remember taking my 1967 Mustang to Capitol Drag Raceway half-way between Washington and Baltimore in the 1970s.  First time I pulled up in the staging lanes, I was advised by track personnel to come back when I had a helmet.  Like I really needed one of those?  It was a letdown, but it was about safety and obeying NHRA rules.

I came back to Capitol the following weekend and cracked a 15-second quarter-mile pass at roughly 100 mph.  Not bad for a worn-out 100,000-mile Ford 289ci V8 engine with Edelbrock intake, Holley carburetor, and badly tweaked (plum tore up…) Mickey Thompson headers with a 3.00:1 axle ratio.

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One Saturday night, I was in the staging lanes at Capitol, did my burnout, and staged.  Yellow lights came tumbling down the Christmas tree and I got the green.  I launched and the darned thing wasn’t near as fast as it was the last time.  I’d blown the clutch and barely made it home.  I drove home with open headers, which was quite interesting considering it was 11 p.m. on a Saturday night when I arrived home.

Back in the day, I was a bracket racer, which actually meant amateur clutch dumper.  I could participate in racing like the professionals.  To rev my engine and dump the clutch made me feel like a real stud at age 17.  Open headers made my Mustang sound like a real racecar and—to be honest—I felt like a bad ass.  I could hear the crowds roar (in my mind) when I left the line.

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My point is—mankind loves speed.  And, if mankind can get out there, make speed, and feel in control, that’s food for the soul.  It feeds our typically fragile egos.  People, male and female, love speed—which draws people to racing venues all over the world.  Drag racing puts fans right there at the track, which provides excitement and some element of danger.  People like that—as long as it’s someone else getting clobbered.

Road and circle track racing are other exciting auto racing pastimes that have long had huge audiences.  Back in the day, stockcar and road racing drew thousands.  In NASCAR, stock cars were actually STOCK cars built for circle track racing.  Enthusiasts could actually relate to the racecars because they were cars enthusiasts drove daily.  What won on Sunday sold on Monday, and the automakers knew this.  They support racing and were active participants in the sport.  Today, stockcar racing isn’t stockcar racing anymore.  Chassis, bodies, and engines are boilerplate and it’s no longer run what you brung.  It is more about driver skill and identical racecars.  Boring, if you ask me.  The real thrill of NASCAR for me went away when it stopped being stock cars.

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Back in the day, audiences rushed to racetracks around the country.  Racing has always been a national pastime—watching racecars at speed.  Of course, the Indianapolis 500 remains the Greatest Spectacle in Racing every Memorial Day Weekend.  The Daytona 500 down south in Florida has always attracted more of a grassroots crowd.  Road racing at places like Riverside, Watkins Glen, Road America, Sebring, Willow Springs, Laguna Seca, and Sears Point have always drawn big crowds.  Automakers were more on board in those days because racing success on Sunday meant car sales on Monday.

Cars have always been an integral part of American life, especially in the years following World War II with suburban sprawl and growth in the number of cars each family had.  With the demand for individual transportation came a steamy passion for automobiles.  As a rule, car buyers always wanted something stylish to be seen in.

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When Ford’s sporty affordable Mustang hit the showrooms in April of 1964, it brought forth a whole new persona to the American automobile—the pony car class.  Camaro and Firebird followed along with Barracuda, Javelin and AMX.  In 1970, the Barracuda caught fire with the ‘Cuda option and a whole lot of power including the 426 Hemi.

Pontiac’s GTO in 1964 was the official launch of the musclecar era—followed by the Olds 4-4-2, Chevelle SS, and even the Buick GS luxury musclecar.  Plymouth and Dodge had hot midsize competitors to compete with all the muscle coming from General Motors, Ford, and AMC.

America received one hell of a reality check in the winter of 1973-74 with the Arab Oil Embargo – and later in 1979.  I can remember sleeping in my car in line at 4 am at a local Mobil station waiting for the station to open at 7 am to get my five gallons of gas.  I had just received my driver’s license and felt very ripped off.

What?

No gas?

All those musclecars everyone wanted in the 1960s no one wanted in the 1970s.  Owners dumped them for pennies on the dollar on the market everywhere they could, not understanding what these cars would be worth in the future.  As the 1980s unfolded, musclecar prices went through the roof as baby boomers rolled into more disposable income.  Like real estate, investors bought up clapped out musclecars, restored and flipped them for whopping sums of money at auction.

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Classic musclecars took on incredible value for nostalgic reasons.  Baby Boomers wanted to relive their youth via the roar of 425 horsepower and the smell of burning rubber and high-octane gasoline.  Today, it is those who grew up in the 1980s and 1990s who want the cars they grew up with back then—cars us old timers said would never be collectible or worth anything.  People love nostalgia – and that’s what makes things collectible.  We like to amass things that make us feel young.

Times have surely changed since the 1980s and 1990s when it comes to musclecar values. Attitudes are changing and baby boomers are growing older and sliding into poor health.  Muscle classics are hitting the auction blocks for less money depending upon the type.  Rare limited production musclecars like ZL-1 and Z-28 Camaros, Hemicudas, LS-7 Chevelles, Boss Mustangs, the AMX and the like are still fetching large amounts of cash at auction.  Many are being snapped up by buyers overseas and shipped to places like Australia, Europe and Asia.  They like hot American musclecars.

More mainstream collector cars are beginning to lose value because so many were produced.  Supply and demand have always affected value.  They always will.  That said, I foresee a glut of classic cars in the marketplace as time marches on.  What will happen to them in time is anyone’s guess.   The same thing happened to those antique cars our parents grew up with.  Ford Model T’s and A’s used to cop big numbers when they were so popular and collectible.  As The Greatest Generation began to die off, so did values.

As retiring boomers, we have to keep seeking what keeps us young at heart and eager to bounce out of bed each morning.

That said, my feet hurt…

The New Rule Is No Rules!

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Consider society in the good old days versus the here and now.

Such freedom today, I tell you.

Freedom to do what you want when you want.  Staying up all night.  Driving as fast as you want regardless of conditions.  Thumbing your nose at  law enforcement.  Informing the boss you will be in whenever it suits you.  Making a left turn from a right turn lane.  Blowing the red light.  Ignoring a stop sign.  Closing the elevator doors on someone trying to enter because you’re in a hurry.  Parking in a disabled space.  Marching up there to get your diploma without having to attend school and actually earn it.  Stepping over the ropes at Disneyland and walking right up to the front of the line.  Being rewarded for doing absolutely nothing.  Going to the beach and patronizing crowded night spots when there’s a global pandemic, and not wearing a mask or practicing social distancing.

Wow!

How’s this new “no rules” approach to life working for you?

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But hold on…someone just kicked your front door in and wants to rob you at gunpoint.  They’re also demanding your car keys.  Call the cops, right?  Nah—hold on a minute.  The new rule is no rules.  No order.  No police.  No hope.

You are void of options because there are no consequences for the bad guys.

Your freedom.  Your rights…  That’s what it’s all about, right?  No one’s going to deprive you of the freedom to do whatever you want when you want.  So—unless you’re able to beat the crap out of the model citizen who’s broken into your home and trying to harm you, you get to lose your valued possessions and—well—at least you have your freedom.

Free to do what we want.  How dreamy.  However—not free from the consequences.

You weren’t planning on this break-in when you were demanding freedom and being able to do what you want when you want.  It just shook out that way.  Rules were for others.  That works until you become a victim of a decaying society—then, it begins to suck.  Rules—laws that govern society—have always been there to maintain order and ensure your safety.  Without some kind of order, the relative peace and security we enjoy in America goes away.  Then—we’re under anarchy where anything goes including the violation of your safety

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In 1968, when society was unhinged over the Vietnam War, equality issues, and the bloody establishment, Senator and Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey reminded us in a speech that society without order cannot stand.  Young people at the time viewed HHH as a stuffy old establishment politician with old-fashioned views while they were frolicking in the tulips and getting all that free love.  Free love often turned into the responsibility of a baby or perhaps sexually transmitted disease.

There are no free lunches—someone always pays.

Humphrey was right.  A society without order cannot stand.  Look at the mess we’re in now.  Here we are again more than a half century later bemoaning the same issues that were bugging us in 1968.  There were those who wanted unlimited freedom and those who understood why rules exist.  People want the freedom to do whatever they want—and without the consequences.

It has never worked that way and never will.

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Rules have always existed in great societies for the safety and security of citizens.  And—for those who have refused to follow the rules, there have always been those prickly consequences.

The United States is facing the worst pandemic it has seen in over 100 years.  One-hundred years ago, Americans understood and followed disease prevention protocol because it was just good common sense.  One-hundred years later, we’re decidedly spoiled, with politically motivated leadership that’s more concerned with getting votes than it is saving lives.  Human life has been thrown to the four winds.

Agree or don’t, we lack good solid, consistent direction from the top down.  Instead, we’ve gotten a very confusing message on many levels of government on how best to handle a global health emergency.

Government has failed us.

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Most of the rest of the civilized world has understood how best to handle a deadly pandemic and made the sacrifices necessary to manage the deadliest pandemic in a century—but not the United States.  Instead, the new rule has been no rules both on a federal level and in states where COVID has spun completely out of control.  Despite the number of sick and the increasing number of dead from coast-to-coast, denial continues despite raw evidence of just how deadly this pandemic is.

How’s that “no rules” thing working out for you?

When I look at states most affected by COVID, I look at misguided policy on both state and local levels.  States with priorities mired in political agenda have the highest infection rates and deaths.  Such is the price of freedom—getting what you want when you want.  That goes for politicians who put money and politics ahead of human life.

This isn’t all on the carelessness of politicians, by the way.  California has had a very aggressive COVID management program from the get-go when Washington never had a national plan to begin with.  Governor Newsom took charge and managed the COVID emergency, beginning with lockdown orders, beaches, public venues, and businesses ordered closed, mask orders, and strict monitoring.  This policy was very effective and it kept COVID at bay.

When California began lifting stay at home orders, it was like that scene in “Jaws” on the beach where the Mayor Vaughn (actor Murray Hamilton) of Amity Island strongly suggested one of his political cohorts take his family into the water.  The man and his family approached the sea with great caution and slowly ventured into the water.  Hundreds then roared into the water kicking and splashing.  Wasn’t long before a child and a man in a rowboat were killed by the shark.  Think of the shark as Coronavirus and beachgoers as average Americans doing what they want when they want.

It’s the same thing on a metaphoric level.

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States that have lifted restrictions remind me of another scene from “Jaws” in the hospital emergency room where Chief Brody (Roy Scheider) grabbed Mayor Vaughn by the arm, drew the drapes, and said, “You’re the mayor of Shark City, these people think you want the beaches open!”  The mayor didn’t want the beaches closed because it would upset the locals and cost him votes.  Politicians who want to open everything back up, get kids back in school, lift stay at home orders, and get businesses open are doing it at the expense of human life, much as the mayor did—and that’s all it is.  It doesn’t matter what side of the aisle you’re on—this is just wrong.

Apparently common sense remains in short supply.

Managing COVID has never been about taking away our personal freedoms.  Quite the contrary.  Accepting personal responsibility for controlling this disease has always been about living or dying.  The personal decision to follow stay at home orders, wear a mask, exercise social distancing, use a hand sanitizer, and limiting travel is the difference between living and dying.

You get to choose.

Choose wisely—and stay alive.

ADHD…They Used To Call It Daydreaming

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Okay, I admit it.  I always hated school.  I was one of those goofy awkward kids with a vivid imagination.  I stared out the window, played with my ruler, picked my nose, made noises, distracted those genuinely interested in actually getting an education, bit my nails, played with my fingers, looked around to see who was as bored as I was, always pretended I was somewhere else, and irritated my teachers endlessly.

I got sent out in the hallway a lot.

My name is Jim Smart – and I have ADHD…

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It is ironic, I suppose, I’ve become a journalist without any real formal education.  I’ve always emulated great writers hoping some of their greatness would rub off.  It has taken a lot of rubbing.  Because I am textbook Attention Deficit, distractibility has always been both a blessing and a curse.  A blessing when your mind is all over the place like a pinball in a pinball machine—which is where great ideas come from.  A curse when two weeks’ worth of laundry is piled up on top of the washer and the kitchen sink is full of dishes.  Or, perhaps your problem is years of back taxes and the grass is two-feet high.

My report cards always said the same thing, “James would excel if only he’d stop daydreaming in class…”  My grades were always below par.  In fact, they were terrible.    I haven’t the faintest idea how I graduated from high school.  I always found myself in the company of like-minded students of educational hopelessness.  When I was in 7th grade, I came to know a character who has become a lifelong buddy—Ray Hinson of Roanoke, Virginia.  Together, Ray and I were as hopeless as it gets in a classroom.  His mother couldn’t stand me and considered me a bad influence.  She didn’t want me hanging with her son.  What she didn’t understand was, Ray and I were both bad influences.  We were cut from the same genetic cloth—brothers from different mothers.

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Ray and I were inseparable.  We attended a lot of classes together.  Must have been a matter of design by the Prince Georges County School system in Maryland because Ray and I always wound in the same classes.  No matter how determined educators were to separate us, it just didn’t work.  Ray would be behind me and I’d hear him giggling and making flatulent noises.  So, naturally, I had to cultivate ways to let him know I was thinking of him.  A return report…  When the teacher’s back was turned, I’d throw something at him.  I always wound up in the hallway.  I’d get hit in the back of the head with a wad of clay from art class delivered by Ray himself and it was hard to contain my laughter.  I always had to find a creative way to get even with him.

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The lunchroom at Samuel Ogle Junior High School in Bowie, Maryland was always long on great potential for mischief.  A tray full of food and eating utensils was euphoria for Ray, his brother Rick, and me.  Those large soup spoons and chunks of carrots were great weapons of mass destruction.  You could wipe out a whole lunch table with one carrot.  Ray would use the soup spoon as a launch pad.  He calculated how much pressure to apply to the spoon based on the weight of the carrot, then, liftoff!!!  Within seconds the roar of someone getting whacked in the head with a wet carrot 30 feet away.  One time at lunch, I asked Ray why they called it a tossed salad.  His response?  He tossed my salad…all over the lunch table.  Other times, he’d wait until I was drinking my half-pint of milk and chose that moment to make me laugh.  Thank God I wasn’t drinking a soft drink.

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Of course, our vice principal, Mr. Turner, was not amused.  He’d walk up to us and invite us to examine our behavior.  Oh—we did, of course.  Our strategy was always a focus on improvement.  Depends on what your definition of improvement was.  We needed a larger carrot.  We also had Mr. Arthur Lakin, a tall imposing figure who had just come out of the District’s school system over in D.C.  Lakin was a tough ex-marine who tolerated nothing.  He’d pin me up against a locker and ask me if I’d like to be torn apart.  “No Sir…”  It only took once and I wet my pants.

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Back to Ray and me…

Ray was one of the first kids I’d ever known who could pass gas on cue.  He could even burp and flatulate at the same time—and that takes enormous talent.  When we ran out of approaches to annoying other students and faculty members, we retreated to the restrooms to see what we could get into for cheap entertainment.  The objective was to get all toilets and urinals to overflow to see if the floor drain worked, and that took huge amounts of toilet paper, paper towels, and water.  There was always the disappointment of discovering the custodial staff had not yet restocked the restrooms, which were out of paper towels and toilet paper.

I seriously considered trying to flush my math book.

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We’d be walking down the hallway and, Dale Hall, our metal shop teacher, would identify us as the “Gold Dust Goof Offs.”  Mr. Hall drove a cool 1965 Chevelle hardtop.  He was a good friend and a terrific shop teacher  He tolerated us just short of killing us.  Ray and me in shop class – imagine the possibilities for federal disaster assistance.

Of course, there was music class with Mr. Collins, who drove a new 1967 Mustang convertible.  Our presence in his class was never about music, of course.  It was more about making disgusting sounds.  I thought we sounded pretty good.  Physical Education with Mr. Hildreth—which was never about physical education.  Those of us who didn’t dress out (Ray and I never dressed out) were sent to a storage room to strip Hildreth’s antiques for his antique store.  One way or the other in Ken Hildreth’s PE class, you were going to work up a sweat.

When school let out, Ray and I connected and rode home on our bikes.  Ray looked hysterical on a bicycle.  I don’t know what it was, but I always got a fit of the giggles as he roared up my street on this big clunky bicycle.  We’d cut grass together and split the proceeds.  We also fixed lawn mowers.  One time, the muffler fell off a lawnmower and Ray asked me to pick it up.  Mindlessly, I reached into the high wet grass and learned quickly why you never pick up a hot muffler.

So tell me, Ray – did you suggest I do that just to be funny?

The problem with Ray and I was ADHD and a committed appetite for mischief.  We just couldn’t contain ourselves and be responsible citizens.  No one knew what our problem was in those days because no one understood ADHD.  We were prone to mischief in a quest to carry out our distractibility.  I suppose some of it was boredom—nothing to do and looking for something to do.  Ray and I always found something to do.  Our mothers would be wonder where we were and what we were doing.  We could be found at the school plugging up the potties.

In the summer of 1969, Ray and I had both managed to flunk 7th Grade.  Our parents put us in summer school.  We had a terrific summer schoolteacher.  I fail to remember his name; however, he was very good at what he did.  He had an impossible job with us.  He also didn’t know us.  We got into trouble on a regular basis.  And, as impossible as it may seem, we managed to flunk summer school and wound up repeating the 7th Grade—together.  You’d think by now the system would have figured us out and put us in different towns.  By pure luck or the administration’s desire to push us on up the line, we made it to graduation as the Class of 1975.

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Decades since Ray and I hung together was the arrival at birth of our 12 year-old son, Jacob, who was welcomed and adopted into our lives back in 2008.  Through the years, Jake has managed to hone his extraordinary craft of humor and become nearly as dangerous as Ray and I were a lifetime ago.  And, because I refuse to grow up, cutting up with Jacob is second nature.  His gift of humor is beginning to come to life at  nearly the same age Ray and I were back in 1968 in Social Studies class.  Only I don’t expect to be plugging up the school toilets with Jake anytime soon.

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I lost track of Ray for a long time—decades in fact.  We found each other via Facebook.  Ray and I have both had good lives with great families.  I still look at Ray and get a belly laugh.  I just can’t help it.  We started out that way in the 7th Grade back in 1968 and the laughter has never really ended.  Our plan is to return to Samuel Ogle Middle School and plug up the hoppers.  This time, we have to make sure we don’t get caught.

And, Ray—bring toilet paper and paper towels…

When I’m Sixty-Four…

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Do you remember the first time you heard this song by The Beatles?  I was at the cusp of adolescence in the mid-1960s, wondering what life was going to be like when I turned 64.  Sixty-Four was way off in the future and I had little time nor interest to think about growing old.  Fast forward to 2020…  I just turned 64.  Aches and pains.  A fraction of the strength I had at half this age when I was once as strong as a bull moose.

These days, I think about growing old—a lot…

And yes, I really am 64.

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The way we think at 14 is considerably different than how we think at 64.  When we are young, we don’t have the experience and wisdom we will have gained by age 64.  The wisdom and experience we have at this age come from a culmination of things we’ve been through over a lifetime.

Kind of like a slow cooker.

It’s like being five and being told “don’t touch the stove, it’s hot…” and knowing the darned thing is HOT at 64.  Sixty-Four is a mixed blessing of wisdom and the depressing nature of growing old.  At 64, you’re a survivor and hopefully have kept your mistakes to a minimum.  With any luck, you are surrounded by people who love and admire you who will always stand by you even if you’re slumped over in a wheelchair.

I’ve always had a soft spot for the elderly—probably because I was raised by and hung out with old people when I was growing up.  I am also sensitive to the vulnerability of the elderly and little children.   I lived in an apartment complex in Arlington, Virginia across from Fort Myer overlooking the Potomac.  In those days, there were plenty of federal retirees who were enjoying the benefits of the Federal Housing Act with a nice place to live.  I had the good fortune of an incredible grandfather, Lt. Paul Proctor, who was retired from The White House Police Force (Secret Service).  He was tough, but also kind and gentle with a little boy who had thousands of questions.

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With great patience, my granddaddy answered my questions and showed me the ropes.  When I had questions, he had answers.  “Granddaddy, what holds water in a toilet bowl?”  He’d respond, “A toilet bowl is like an elbow, like the trap like you see under the sink, only it is made of china…  It holds water…”  He understood the raw curiosity of a little boy and took the time to explain.  My sister and I felt safe with my grandmother and grandfather.  They took care of us during some very tough times.

My grandfather was well read, experienced—and had been through a lot.  He was a man of great faith and suggested we practice the same.  I knew every church in Arlington, Virginia because he made the rounds and knew everyone.  By the time I arrived in 1956, he was 62, old and sick from a heart attack and colon cancer.  He lived another 10 years and died at age 72 on a spring evening in 1966.  He will be forever missed and his positive affect on my sister and me will be forever felt.

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When I think of being 64, I think of the values we were taught growing up.  Simple courtesies lost to the winds through time.  My grandfather was an extraordinary mentor and the quintessential gentleman.  He always reminded us the magic words were “Please” and “Thank You.”  There were no exceptions to this rule.  You just did as he suggested.

Not enough of that today I am afraid.

There were simple telephone courtesies that were extended to my mother who passed them along to us.  My mother was a stickler for telephone courtesy.   “May I please speak to…” and “One moment, please…” were to be practiced anytime we used the telephone.  Anytime I called someone and said, “Is so and so there?”  I was promptly corrected and informed how to ask for someone.  My mother was an operator at the Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone Company, also known as C & P.  She had telephone etiquette down to a science and you had better remember that.

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My mother also practiced the King’s English.  It’s like fingers on a chalkboard whenever I hear people speak—or attempt to speak—today.  Our language is so trashed from what it used to be.  It has become the norm.   Whenever I hear a news anchor end a sentence with a preposition—example, “this is where it’s at…” my mind spins off the rails.  Another one is, “I’m all done now…”  My mother always said, “Cakes are done, people are FINISHED…”  I’ve never forgotten her command of the English language and how important it was.  It formed who I am now.

It also leaves a lasting impression of who you are.

I find myself comparing the way we were brought up in the 20th century the way kids are brought up now—and wonder whatever happened to society.   We’ve lost those simple courtesies my grandfather and my mother practiced.  What’s more, we’ve become decidedly foul-mouthed.  Hearing a news anchor say “shit” on national network news was an eye-opener recently when even “damn” was unheard of at one time.  My grandfather didn’t even care for the word “guy” when we were kids.

I can lament how I’d like to see us return to a different time when people understood the practice of respectful disagreement.  However, society has become so polarized we’ve managed to put aside common decency and regard for one another.  We’re downright nasty with anyone who doesn’t agree with us.   Politicians have become stunningly disrespectful with the American people and with each other.  Corruption is the worst we’ve ever seen from Washington.  Sound bites from Washington resemble a heated confrontation on the Jerry Springer Show or Maury.  People attack one another instead of having a civilized discussion.  But then, it just wouldn’t be entertainment were it not for conflict.  Haven’t we seen enough reality TV?

As my former mother-in-law, Lucile, so often said, “Don’t let them tell you how to act…”

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As I crest 64, I think of that song and its words a lifetime ago.  I suppose a lot of us do.  It gives me food for thought on a hot summer night when I reflect on what my elders taught me long ago.  As my granddaddy so often said, “If you’ve nothing kind to say – say nothing at all…”

 

When I’m Sixty-Four

When I get older losing my hair
Many years from now
Will you still be sending me a Valentine
Birthday greetings bottle of wine

If I’d been out till quarter to three
Would you lock the door
Will you still need me, will you still feed me
When I’m sixty-four

You’ll be older too
And if you say the word
I could stay with you

I could be handy, mending a fuse
When your lights have gone
You can knit a sweater by the fireside
Sunday mornings go for a ride
Doing the garden, digging the weeds
Who could ask for more

Will you still need me, will you still feed me
When I’m sixty-four

Every summer we can rent a cottage
In the Isle of Wight, if it’s not too dear
We shall scrimp and save…

Every summer we can rent a cottage
In the Isle of Wight, if it’s not too dear
We shall scrimp and save
Grandchildren on your knee
Vera, Chuck and Dave

Send me a postcard, drop me a line
Stating point of view
Indicate precisely what you mean to say
Yours sincerely, wasting away

Give me your answer, fill in a form
Mine for evermore
Will you still need me, will you still feed me
When I’m sixty-four

Paul McCartney

Healthy Relationships Depend Upon Our Expectations

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When you’ve been around for as long as most of us have, you’ve learned a thing or two from life’s long journey.  I hope by now you’ve landed in a good spot as you cruise into retirement and are surrounded by good people.

I can tell you I am surrounded by a great family and friends who’ve been by my side through the good times and bad.  They’ve stayed.  They’ve been supportive.  They’ve always found a way to lend a hand.  I will admit to you I’ve gained and certainly learned more from my failures than I have my successes.  Pain teaches.  Pain leaves a lasting indelible impression that hopefully keeps us from making the same mistakes again.  With dumb luck and common sense, we glean something positive from adversity.

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Human interaction is a tricky thing.  There are people with whom we have great chemistry and there are those we wish we’d never met.  I’ve had both.  I bet you have too.  This brings me to the point of this Boomer Journey.

What keeps us searching for elements in people that are not there?  What keeps us chasing unhealthy relationships?  What do you do when you reach out to a friend and you’re met with the sound of crickets?  I think, by nature, we want what we cannot have.  You know this is true.  Relationships go off the rails with our expectations of others.  This applies to acquaintances, friends, our children, a significant other, neighbors, our parents, cousins, siblings, coworkers, a cruising buddy, business partner, the mailman, your plumber, the gardener, your boss, and just about anyone else you can think of.

The list becomes endless because relationships we develop over a lifetime are infinite totaling hundreds and sometimes thousands depending upon how well traveled you’ve been.  I will tell you what I’ve learned from a lifetime of both rock solid and badly broken relationships.  True friends and family are those who have stuck with me through thick and thin—friends I’ve known a lifetime and even those I’ve known a relatively short time.

They’ve stayed.

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Great friends are those you never have to chase.  They call.  They show up.  They reach out without having to be reminded.  Just when you’re beginning to give up on life, they call to remind you of how much you are needed.  Marvin McAfee, 87, a wise old curmudgeon and dear friend, said to me, “If you have to chase anyone, to remind them to remember you, what for?”  Marvin had been around long enough to know what mattered and—what didn’t.  He understood true friendship is free choice.  Be in a relationship because you want to be there—not because you feel like you have to.

By the time, you crest the age of 60, it is good to inventory the relationships you have and ascertain their value.  Are they healthy or are they toxic?  Are you struggling with a friendship and why?  A great relationship works like a well-oiled machine and fits like a Brooks Brothers suit.  It works well even if you don’t agree on everything.  You find peace with each other and look forward to the times you spend together.  Under the best of circumstances, you can’t get enough of one another.

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Toxic relationships, on the other hand, are long on struggle.  They make us apprehensive and on edge, wondering what’s next.  They’ve become an unhealthy habit.  You feed off one another and not in a healthy way.  They’ve learned how to push your buttons and you’ve learned how to push theirs.

Is this the way you’d like to spend the rest of your life?

Has a friendship become toxic?

Or—was it always?

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As we continue this journey together, it is time to pause, reflect, and continue looking ahead—with less attention paid to regrets and uncomfortable memories.  It is time for you to get focused and begin working on new memories and healthy relationships.  One of the best ways to feel better about life is giving back.  Volunteer work where you’re helping those less fortunate is a good way to feel better about yourself.  Veterans, the elderly (shut-ins), young people in need of a great mentor, the poor and destitute, the homeless, battered and abused animals—you name the cause.  The list of ways you can help others (and yourself) is endless, even if it’s helping a neighbor who could use a good friend.  Reach out and ask how you can help.  There are many organizations and individuals who could use your help and your heart.

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The best way to open the door to the rest of your life is to open it and examine the possibilities.  If volunteer work or a second career isn’t your bag, consider something you’ve always wanted to do but never had the time or money to do.  Book that trip to Europe or Australia.  Consider driving across North America.  Canada and Mexico are right next door depend upon where you live.  Put a fresh coat of paint on your house or apartment.  Load up the CD player with the music you grew up with.  No matter how old you are, it will make you feel young.

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The best way to look at this time in your life is for the opportunity it presents.  You are, with any luck, retired or perhaps dependent on a part-time job.  This is the time to spread your wings and fly.  Imagine yourself on an aircraft carrier at the end of a catapult.  Then, mentally launch with a fresh mind and new dreams.

 

Good Cops, Bad Cops and Why We Need The Police

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Remember when you were a snot-nosed kid and knew if you misbehaved someone in the neighborhood would tell your parents?  I grew up in a suburban neighborhood like that.  Our neighborhood became my first lesson in obeying the rules of society.  One chilly night in the 1960’s when I was about 12, a buddy of mine and I were banging on the side of a neighbor’s house just for fun—then—ran and hid in the darkness of my back yard.  We weren’t smart enough to know when to stop, of course.  Nope—we just kept doing it—laughing hysterically in the chilly autumn darkness.

My neighbor would come outside looking for us and we were well hidden.

Giggling—we came out from hiding and my neighbor was waiting for us.  He stopped us in our tracks.  We were scolded for our misdeed and told never to do it again.  “Off the hook,” I naively thought.  Not a chance.  The next day, my neighbor knocked on our front door and wanted to speak to my father.  That was the one-two punch from my neighbor, who had relocated from New York to Maryland and knew all the tricks—including getting my ol’ man involved.  He wanted justice served—and it was.  My posterior became scorched earth—which was plenty of incentive never to do it again.

The ol’ man was never big on warnings.  I got clobbered and it was a very effective discipline tool.  When I was too old for a spanking, I was grounded and forbidden to go anywhere—for the rest of my life.  Once I was of legal driving age, he took the car keys whenever I didn’t obey the rules.  There were consequences for bad behavior, and my sisters and I knew it.  No Twinkie defense or claiming I was having a rough day.  My father always knew how to make a rough day rougher.

No second chances.

When we were growing up, there was none of this “three strikes and you’re out” stuff.  If you acted up, you got spanked and were confined to quarters.  This approach to child rearing spawned more responsible law-abiding citizens and safer communities.  We were raised to understand stepping out of line meant consequences.  My folks didn’t want me to be a problem for society later—and it worked.

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So, tell me—when did right become wrong and wrong become right?  When did we reverse polarity and behaving like a jerk became the norm?  And—when did we become armed with all kinds of lame ass excuses for bad behavior?  When did the police go from being the good guys to being abandoned by society?

When we were growing up, we were instructed to obey the law.  This was especially important when we received our driver’s licenses.  If we got a ticket, car keys got taken and we were instructed to walk—to school and everywhere else.  It was a fate worse than death having to tell your friends you were grounded.  It was easier to say, “My car broke down…” rather than tell your buddies you were under house arrest.

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What changed between then and now?  Have baby boomers been guilty of not teaching our kids the same values we were taught?  Have we been too busy working excessive hours, building careers, and buying vacation homes?  This will naturally offend some of you because you know it is true.  It hits a little too close to home.  Did you spend enough time with your kids?  I can tell you I personally haven’t committed enough time to my kids, and they have suffered as a result.  Kids need parents and they’ve needed us.  That said, what happened between The Greatest Generation and us?

If the Greatest Generation was guilty of anything, it was wanting us to live in a better world than they did.  They wanted us to have more and made it easier for us.  They didn’t want us to struggle like they did growing up in the Great Depression.  They wanted us to live in a more stable world than they did.  What’s more—they succeeded in giving us just that—the peace of a good night’s sleep.

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When we were growing up, there was normally a stay-at-home parent waiting for us when we came home from school—someone to offer us a snack and get us busy with homework right after Popeye and Three Stooges Show.  Where I grew up in Washington, D.C. we had Captain Tugg (Lee Reynolds), Fantail, and Bill Gormly at WTTG Metromedia 5 as good role models.  “Don’t do this at home, Kids…” they told us.  We also had Captain Kangaroo in the mornings to show us how it was done with his grandfatherly kindness.  There were “Leave It to Beaver” and “Dennis The Menace” reruns in syndication with good moral messages.  We learned from Beaver’s lesson, got on with our lives, and played outside until the streetlights came on.

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When did society begin to break down and why are we in the mess we’re in?  As children, we were always instructed to obey and respect Officer Mike.  Officer Mike was our friend and we were instructed to respect him and what he represented.  We were also told to respect the law and do as instructed by a law enforcement officer.  Hands on the steering wheel at 10 and 2 and wait for instructions.  No confusion.  Nothing to really understand.  Just do as you are told.  “License and registration, please…”

Can anyone explain to me how doing as instructed by law enforcement became, “I don’t have to do what you order me to do—I know my Constitutional rights!”  You kidding me?  You’re going to tell a police officer how it is and what you will and won’t do?  Someone who puts their life on the line everyday to ensure your safety who would take a bullet for you.  Then—when you’re faced with a home invasion robbery at 2 a.m. and you expect them to rush in and save you?

Sorry friends—can’t have it both ways.  Respect for the law and law enforcement is something to be practiced 24/7 with no time off.  Law enforcement, despite bad cops, has earned our respect because it has maintained law and order for centuries.  Too many officers are dying today because society has gone off the rails and the streets have become dangerous.  Yet, there are those who suggest we defund the police and disband police departments.  It just doesn’t work that way regardless of which side of the fence you’re on.  We need the police—and they need our support.

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Perhaps, you don’t see a need for the police.  Okay…  Well, consider this.  What would happen if you were in trouble and there were no police to come?  Imagine if we didn’t have the police.  What then?  Good cops have always taken the rap for bad cops.  There are far more good cops than there are bad.  Yet—bad cops get all the attention and society and the media tend to feed on it.  Somewhere in our minds, we treasure the idea of doing what we want when we want.  It’s secret fantasy with a lot of us.  It’s like when the parents were away when we were kids.  That worked until something went terribly wrong and you were in trouble when the parents got home.

We don’t honor good cops enough—the ones who go above and beyond the call of duty to serve and protect us.  When I think of committed peace officers, I think of Sergeant Steve Owen, who was a 29-year veteran of the Los Angeles County Sheriffs Department.  He served the people of Los Angeles County for most of his adult life and was very committed to public safety. Owen was answering a burglary call in the Los Angeles suburb of Lancaster on the high desert when he was met with gunfire and killed execution style by a California prison parolee with a long criminal history.

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Sergeant Steve Owen is but one example of a great law enforcement professional and humanitarian who was gunned down in the line of duty who served us for three decades.  This is how dangerous the streets have become for law enforcement.  To survive, a cop cannot always wait for the right moment to fire a weapon or tackle a suspect.  Wait and you get maimed or killed.  This is split-second life or death decision.  How many of you could do it?  I don’t know about you, but I couldn’t think that fast.

I also don’t sport that much self-control either.  I’d answer a child abuse call or a domestic violence situation and I’m not sure I could contain myself.  That would make me a lousy cop wouldn’t it?  It takes an extraordinary soul to be a good cop.  Sergeant Steve Owen was one such person.  He did it very well and for a long time when he was robbed of his life on what seemed a routine burglary call.

I will never support police brutality and the maiming and killing of citizens in the heat of anger and rage.  What happened to George Floyd in Minneapolis should never have happened to anyone.  Floyd’s history aside, nothing justified the actions of Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin, who knelt on Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes while the man begged for his life and died.

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Change in law enforcement must come from within via extensive screening, discipline for officers who are chronic abusers, and better pay and benefits for officers and their families.  It is becoming harder and harder to recruit good people because it has become more dangerous out there and there’s little incentive to step up.

Back when we were kids, the streets were dangerous for law enforcement, but not like they are today.  There has never been a more dangerous time to be a cop.  Not only has it become more dangerous for the police, they are lacking support from the public, government, and the media.  It is time to adjust our thinking.  They need our support as much as we need them every day.  Law enforcement must become a priority and taken seriously.  Otherwise, imagine a world without the police.

Let Us Count Our Blessings…

 

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I hate to be such a pest…however, it’s time for a reminder.

While you’re sipping your morning coffee and bellyaching about having to wear a mask or having to stay at home or not being able to take that cruise or long-awaited vacation – or because Costco is out of toilet paper – consider the bigger sacrifices made to ensure we get to breathe free. Consider how much Americans had to do without during WWII and the Great Depression – and consider for moment how fortunate we are today.  We’re not dealing with extensive shortages, paper and rubber drives, gas rationing, or blackouts.

We have it damned good.

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No one really wants to be reminded of it – but, times have been way tougher and for far longer than we’ve had to endure this year. We’ve had a few months of inconvenience, hardships, and what I consider small disappointments considering what previous generations have been through. WWII hit overnight. Men – largely – were whisked off to war in two theaters a world apart. All we had was the mail to keep in touch if it came at all.

Telephone?  Forget it…

We did without our loved ones for four long years. Many never came home. They were laid to rest in foreign lands – or there wasn’t enough left of them to honor and bury. Thousands came home permanently damaged physically and mentally – for life. They wept for what they lost in battle. They grieved their losses in ways none of us can fathom. A whole bunch of them built the America we have today. If you bump into someone in their latter years wearing a hat honoring their unit – give thanks and be grateful for the sacrifices they made for all of us.

If you are suddenly unemployed, I feel your pain. My prayers are always with each of you in hopes your lives improve and you can get back on the rails. I have been through layoffs and I have had my share of financial hardship in a lifetime. I find it is best to pause and count my blessings because I have many.

Bask in the glow of your blessings. Thank God for the people who love and need you. It is good to be needed – even when you’d like to escape to the closet and scream. Take an accounting of how fortunate we are as free Americans.

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Stop all this political infighting and remember – we are AMERICANS. We are free due to the incredible sacrifices The Greatest Generation – and millions of our ancestors made to make a better world for us. Close your eyes. Say a prayer. And, remember those who are out there all over the place working hard to keep our world a safer place.

Cops, Firefighters, Men & Women in the armed forces, and healthcare professionals working grueling hours around the clock without time off – just for us. For humanity…

Don’t let the headlines sour you on law enforcement. There are way more good cops than bad ones. Every time a police officer dies or is maimed for life in the line of duty, a piece of us dies.

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And one more thing – why are the races battling one another? We’re born to this world as we are in all our colors and beliefs. Let us not forget those who’ve paved the way toward less racism and equality. God bless all of them. In America – we’re all supposed to be created equal. Let us stop dwelling on the wrongs of our ancestors and – instead – focus on what has been done right.  They left us the greatest element of all – freedom.

Gang – the Post War years have been the best in our Nation’s history. We just have to keep working at what we’re supposed to be as our founding fathers envisioned. Their vision wasn’t perfect and we remain a work in progress. We’re known around the world for our never ending self examination. Let us remain the safe haven we’ve always been for those who come from troubled lands yearning to breathe free.

Let’s keep pressing toward the mark…

And Now…The Snooze?

Ever find yourself wishing for a time when there wasn’t the information overload we’re experiencing today?  To be honest with you, I am in news burnout.  Heard and watched all I can stand.  Everywhere you turn, you’re being inundated with excessive amounts of information from CNN, MSNBC, Fox, the networks and Madison Avenue.

Madison Avenue and the pharmaceutical companies are always trying to sell you something.  They smell baby boomer health issues and the almighty dollar.  They inspire a lot of paranoia in a few of us.  Erectile Dysfunction (ED) is a big one.  No man will ever admit he has that problem.  Other men have it.  Poor souls…

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I don’t know about you, but when did we become so addicted to the news with this huge thirst for information, dirt, and juicy gossip?  And—when did the news become a source of entertainment instead of just the news?

Man, do we love dirt—as long as it’s someone else’s.  We’re a society of nosy busy bodies.

Best I can remember, the news became entertainment and an addiction the morning of September 11, 2001 when most of us were affixed to the screen—frightened beyond anything in memory short of the Kennedy assassination or the Shuttle Challenger in 1986.  Ground Zero, The Pentagon, and Shanksville, Pennsylvania became utter fascination for the masses who’d never seen anything like it in this lifetime.  Something we hope never to see again.  The world was imploding right around our ears.  A disaster movie, with people running in the streets, became real that morning.  We’ve never been the same either.  Our short-lived unity in the aftermath of 9/11 has turned into hate and division in an environment void of real leadership.

Perhaps our passion for the news arrived when President Clinton was caught with his pants down with an intern and we became educated about the finer points of DNA and that unfortunate and embarrassing spot on the dress.  Or was it Anthony Weiner and those educational online images he shared with the masses?

So many scandals, so little time…  I must get back to my garden.

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If you were born between 1946 and 1964 and identify as a baby boomer, you remember classic television with a cathode ray tube in a big cabinet.  You’d switch it on and it would take the better part of 45 seconds to a minute to warm up and deliver a picture.  If your eyes were closed, you could hear the picture appear with the crackle of electronic stimulation. And—when you turned it off, a little white dot would appear mid-screen and gradually disappear.  You’d turn out the lights, then, turn the TV off and watch the elusive dot slip away into darkness.  I always wondered where it went.

When we were growing up a half-century ago, the news wasn’t around the clock like it is today.  It aired in the evening and only when there was real breaking news—not this meaningless teaser tabloid stuff we have today.  That was when the networks interrupted “Flipper” or “Lassie” with a Special Report.  CBS had a voiceover we were all familiar with—Harry Kramer.  He announced “The Edge of Night…” followed by the menacing sound of a piano.  And—when there was trouble, you’d hear him say, “This is a CBS News Special Report…” followed by Walter Cronkite or Dan Rather.  When they said “Special Report” or “Breaking News” you knew they meant it.

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When did “Breaking News…” and “Special Report…” become the media’s way of crying wolf?  And, what about that, Wolf?  It’s to a point where I don’t take Breaking News and Special Report seriously anymore.  Who would?  Sometimes it’s just the news.  Lester Holt and Wolf Blitzer come on the air every evening with the words “Breaking News…” and no one takes them seriously.  I hit the remote and move to HGTV or TVLand.

Yesterday’s news had a strong element of integrity.  It had better be accurate or heads would roll in the newsroom.  And—it had better be real news.  I remember the Reagan assassination attempt in 1981.  The late Frank Reynolds was anchoring that afternoon.  Reynolds was handed misinformation indicating President Reagan had died.  He quickly learned he’d been handed bad information.  It had to be one of the worst moments in his career.  He hit the ceiling on the air and thundered (I am paraphrasing), “Let’s get this right!”  I also recall his euphoria with the first Space Shuttle launch—Columbia—that same year.  He was thrilled at the speed of the Space Shuttle compared with the Saturn V Apollo launches in the 1960s.

He was as giddy as a child.

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Who can forget the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo launches with CBS News Anchor, the late Walter Cronkite, who got us excited about space and who yielded the excitement of a kid when the Eagle set down on the Moon and Astronaut Neil Armstrong announced “The Eagle Has Landed…”  It was a wonder Chronkite didn’t wet his pants.  We’d done it.  We achieved President John F. Kennedy’s vision for America.  He inspired us to go to the moon and safely return to the Earth.  And, Chronkite took us by the hand to the moon.  He clearly enjoyed educating all of us on the finer points of getting to the moon right down to how astronauts took a bathroom break in space.  The one and only time they wanted and needed gravity.

We’ve learned in recent times the news isn’t news anymore.  It is gossip and it is opinion.  Always a panel of pundits standing by to render opinion instead of a news anchor sharing the news.  Does anyone remember when the news went from being the news to being biased reporting and gossip much as it is today?  The news is more about the opinion of the anchor or reporter than it is news.

No thanks—I think I will pass…

Fairness and What Will Never Be…

Do you remember the times friends cheated playing board games or skipped a base in the Great Neighborhood Kickball Challenge?  Perhaps a buddy of yours got a new bicycle—a 10-speed English Racer with all the trimmings and a generator light—and you were stuck with a low-buck one-speed coaster brake special.  The nerve of it all.  Heck, I’d run home and whine on my mother’s knee about whatever wasn’t fair that day.

She said, “Honey, life’s not fair and never will be…”

Did you ever grow worn out hearing this drivel again and again from your elders?  Seemed so pointless.  Parents just didn’t understand and were never going to.  But maybe you didn’t understand quite yet…  Your folks surely did.  They grew up in The Great Depression and went through a world war.  Our whining, pissing and moaning was laughable to them because we surely had it better than they did.  We had it good.  When we were kids growing up in the fifties and sixties, we didn’t understand Mom was right—and so was your father in case that didn’t work and you decided on Option B.

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Life isn’t fair.  The only fair things in life are birth and death.  Even these elements leave me in doubt about what’s fair.  Some of us experience traumatic births with a lot of complications, all of which we would never remember.  Death really isn’t fair either.  Some of us die in horrible head-on collisions, in a fire, on the wrong end of a gun, a plane crash, or falling off the roof of a house.  Others of us will go peacefully in our sleep with no memory of that massive heart attack or stroke.  Now that isn’t fair – especially if you died being hit by a car.

Confound it those tiresome things our parent used to tell us.  Some of us had very supportive parents who stood by us through a lot of foolish ideas and failures.  Others of us were parented by doom, “Honey, don’t you try that…” and “I don’t know what you’re ever going to do…”  Good grief!!!  Why even get out of bed!!!

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I was raised by loving parents and grandparents, however, endless doom and gloom.  My mother and grandmother were fine people.  They loved me to death.  However, they were just afraid of everything.  Couldn’t even go outside and watch a good storm because you’d be struck by lightning.  “Get in this house, you’re going to get killed!!!”  My mother was always big on “You’ll catch your death of cold!!!” and “You’re going to break your neck!!!”  Anything I wanted to do led to their overprotectiveness and “Jamie, don’t you try that…”  However, I had to go out there and try it, whatever it was, and learn it worked or it didn’t.  I always took pleasure in trying something that wound up a smashing success, then, doing the best I could to rub their noses in it.  When they didn’t respond or I got a “That’s nice, honey…” I had beaten them at their own game.

I thought I could teach the teacher.

What I failed to acknowledge was, my elders had something I didn’t—experience.  They knew, more or less, what worked and what didn’t.  My dwelling on what was fair and unfair was pointless and they knew it.  They’d been to the University of Hard Knox and I barely understood which side of the bed to get out of.

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In 2020, we’re finding how unfair life can be.  COVID 19 is a good example.  I’ve had long-time married friends who lived in the thriving community of Escondido, California just north of San Diego.  When COVID 19 began to unfold in March of this year, they both caught this disease and became very sick and in the hospital.  They were the only people in Escondido at that time who had it.  Bob died in three days—a shock for all of us who knew him.  He’d been a successful airline captain and automotive historian.  He was a perfectionist.  His wife, Joyce, a lovely lady who survived COVID.  This is one of the best examples I can think of fair versus unfair.  Bob and Joyce had everything going for them.  They lived the good life and were very responsible people.  COVID plucked a very healthy man from the planet in days.  Years earlier, their son was killed in a motorcycle accident.  Let’s talk about unfair.

Moore, Oklahoma has been devastated by EF-5 tornadoes repeatedly since 1999.  A neighborhood flattened and eliminated by insane winds—yet one home remains standing amid the rubble untouched.  Fair?  How did one family dodge disaster when everyone around them lost everything?  This could never be viewed as fair.

An MD-80 airliner crashed on takeoff in bad weather and the result of pilot error.  Some 148 on board were killed along with two on the ground.  One little girl survived.  Fair?  How did she manage to escape when so many others died?  In truth, it just wasn’t her time.  She was meant to go on somehow.

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Take the humble slot machine for example.  Dozens of people visit that machine and walk away empty handed.  One disheveled schmuck walks up, inserts his debit card, pulls the lever and walks away with $50,000.  Would you consider that fair or fate?  Las Vegas is the best example I can think of when it comes to fair versus unfair.  One person loses to the house, which always has the advantage, while the next guy strikes it big and walks away with a down payment on a new Lincoln.

Such is life and the game of fair.

Perhaps you could write this off to dumb luck or fate.  Depends on how you look at life.  Some days, you get the elevator while others you get the shaft.  Wish I’d thought of that saying first.  Now that’s not fair.

My mom would agree…

 

  • Jim Smart

The Greatest Generation – And Us…

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I’ve been watching this COVID 19 pandemic with utter fascination—and frustration.  COVID 19 has proven to a large degree what we’re made of here in the United States in 2020.  Baby Boomers and generations born since have never really had to want for anything.  We really have nothing to feel blue about—yet we whine endlessly about inconvenience and what we don’t have.  We always want a little more.

We want our freedom, yet we’re unwilling to do what it takes to keep it.  COVID 19 has been a bit of a shock for a lot of us – a real pain in the posterior – but nothing the likes of what the Great Depression and World War II were like for our parents.  Yet we complain endlessly in what is still the land of plenty.

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Our parents were faced with huge sacrifices beyond anything we’ve seen since World War II.  Goods normally available before the war became unavailable.  Motor fuels were rationed as were other goods like tires, manufactured goods, food, and the rest of it.  If you were out of ration stamps, that was just too bad.  You did without.  During World War II, there were goods you just couldn’t get—period.  Yet, our parents muddled through and found a way to survive.  They got through it.  They didn’t complain.

Consider this.  Our parents were separated for four long years by war, with no real assurance they’d ever see one another again.  Men and sometimes women grabbed their duffel bags, said goodbye, and jumped on trains, planes, and ships.  They went to Europe and they headed to the Pacific.  They sat in fox holes and were turret gunners high over the enemy, wonder if they’d live to see the next day.  Loved ones went to the mailbox and were greeted with atmosphere – wondering if a loved one was dead or alive.

Communications were never immediate.  It took weeks for letters to arrive.  Time passage drove people crazy.  Letters would arrive, only for the family to learn their loved one had been killed in action.  There was that horrible sickening feeling any time a Telegram showed up or there was a knock at the door because it was never good news.

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When the war ended, Americans and our allies healed our wounded and buried our war dead.  Veterans came home and tried to adjust to a new normal.  A good many suffered from combat fatigue or shell shock, known today as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  Many would never know any level of normal again because they had seen so much.  They came home horribly messed up from action.  Some came home to “Dear John…” letters and painful goodbyes—wives and fiances who had moved on.

It may surprise you to know a good many women went off to the Pacific and Europe as well to support the war effort.  They had a very profound effect on the war.  Those who stayed stateside worked in factories on 12-16-hour shifts to support the war effort.  They built bombers, tanks, Jeeps, and untold thousands of other machines to support the war.  There was no rest for the weary.  It was a long four years.

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That leads me to this.  There has never been a better time in America in terms of prosperity for those who’ve managed to remain employed in good paying jobs with benefits.  For those who’ve been laid off and lost good productive jobs with benefits who are now waiting tables who’ve lost their homes, it has been damned hard, with no real end to the misery.  Opportunity isn’t what it was in the mid-20th century when we graduated from high school and college and right into good paying jobs.

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The overall post-World War II economy in America has been pretty good, yet there is room for improvement because we’ve fallen behind.  We are not what we were in the 1960s and ‘70s.  We’re getting paid less these days.  There have been recessions—several of them—since WWII ended.  On average, the economy has managed to maintain and recover time and time again. These days, I’m not so sure.  The economic outlook is dismal despite all the chatter from Washington about a great economy.

We’ve also had our share of military conflicts.  We seem to thrive on them.  Wouldn’t be America without a good war—right?  Keeps industry and the stock market humming.  The Afghan’ and Iraqi conflicts have been the longest in U.S. history.  Seems we’ve forgotten those making the real sacrifices—men and women in uniform out there and their families—making the world safer for us.  They come home from tougher times than any of us can imagine and who notices?

Does anyone care?

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Big military airlifters land at Dover AFB, Delaware bringing home our maimed and war dead— and generally no one seems to notice.  The news media certainly doesn’t unless it happens to be Memorial Day or Veterans Day.  The media is too focused on who’s going to win the November election.  I don’t see news crews ar Dover AFB showing America the debt it owes to our great men and women in uniform.  A jetliner full of passengers taxis up to the gate and passengers are asked to keep their seats while a draped military casket is unloaded from the baggage bay.  For the most part, passengers are respectful.  They understand honoring one of our war dead.

We must never forget.

However, we as a nation have a lot to answer for.  We owe our fighting patriots our best—standing watch 24/7 all around the world for us.  We need to acknowledge the sacrifices made by the very few for the many of us.  And, by the way—let us never forget our men and women in law enforcement, fire fighters, paramedics, doctors and nurses, and disease researchers across the globe working around the clock—all working under grueling conditions to keep hearts beating.  They ask for nothing in return but the respect they have surely earned.

COVID 19 has been something the likes of which we’ve never seen in modern times.  We weren’t around for the Spanish Flu of 1918 that killed millions worldwide.  There are still some here who remember this horrible outbreak a century ago.  There have been epidemics over the decades—difficult bouts with the flu for many of us, some more notorious than others.  I fell ill with Swine Flu in 2009.  I didn’t realize I had it when I was at a car show and my body temperature shot up to 103, and everything I owned ached.  I thought I was going to suffocate when my lungs filled with fluid.  Day by day, my body fought this horrible flu.  I’m still here to talk about it.

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When I was 10 in the summer of 1966, I fell flat with the flu and a high fever of 104 and was down for a solid week.  When I was lying in bed in a hot upstairs wondering if I was going to die, I got my first taste of Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass on a modest AM radio at my bedside.  It kept me company.  Seems like when we were growing up in the 1950s and ‘60s we had the flu every winter, and sometimes in the summer.  Worst case would be catching horrible flu at Christmastime.  Too sick to play with our toys— which was an unimaginable fate for a kid.

I’ve always wondered when a real pandemic like you see in the movies and the news would happen in the United States and how we would respond.  There have been horrible outbreaks—like Ebola, H1N1, SARS, and efforts to halt the spread.  COVID 19 has been the first to really cross our shores with and infect us catastrophically.  At this writing, we’ve lost nearly 130,000 to this virus and it is expected to get higher.

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In our quest to get back to the streets, beaches, restaurants, and the malls we’ve been decidedly careless and certainly foolish—and at the expense of human life.  Since when did lockdown and the mandatory wearing of masks become an infringement on our freedom when, in fact, this is an international health emergency that has affected most of the world? South Korea, as one good example, has managed to keep this virus at bay.  How?  By doing exactly what Koreans were told to do by the experts—not politicians.  They stayed home and they toughed it out.  And, you know what?  It worked and they are better for it.  The spread of Covid 19 was minimal because people behaved responsibly.  They considered the greater good instead of themselves.

Stay At Home orders, the mandatory wearing of masks, and social distancing really haven’t been much of an imposition for most of us considering how good we’ve had it.  Yet, there are those who just don’t get it.  They refuse to wear a mask and do what it takes to protect their health and the health of others.  My belief is do what you want if it affects only you.  When you choose to endanger the lives of others—such as your family and loved ones, then, you’re in for a rude awakening because the consequences are severe.  If you spread disease intentionally, you become responsible for illness and the loss of life in others.

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The Greatest Generation, who endured the Great Depression and fought a world war to keep us free had it much worse than we have.  You don’t hear these patriots complaining about The Great Depression and a world war.  They did what they had to and survived tougher times than we’ve ever seen.  They’ve been our moms and dads, aunts and uncles, our grandparents and our friends.  It is our duty to maintain and protect the abundant world they handed us and focus on making the world a better place.

We owe them.

Let us all think outside of ourselves and focus on the greater good.  Set the proper example by wearing a mask, practicing that 6-foot rule, and try as best you can to stay at home until disease experts get this pandemic under control.  And remember—we’ve been blessed with a world that has never had it better in modern times.  Let us stay the course and ride this thing out.  We can win if we work at this together.

  • Jim Smart