THE WEATHER: This is one of those mid-March times none of us who yearn for springlike weather should be having. I've rarely heard more complaints (including mine, perpetually) about the prolonged winter-like conditions this late in the winter.To not usurp great friend Paul Douglas's domain, and looking at the trends, I think by next week this time we'll be on "the other side" of this colder-than-normal grip for the remainder of the month, then Twins baseball April 1st. Can't wait!
ST, PATRICK'S DAY: I hope you and yours are having a happy one. In my opinion, and the opinion of many, it truly IS a day when everyone's Irish. Although I've had the privilege to visit England and Scotland several times throughout the years, I've never been to either Ireland or Northern Ireland, and they're definitely on my "bucket list". The closest I ever came to knowing more about The Emerald Isle (except for flying over it many times prior to either arriving in England, or leaving when headed back to the U.S.) was having the joy to host two teenage kids from Northern Ireland during the time there were still bombs exploding in Belfast and other parts of that country. A church in the western Minneapolis suburbs asked for volunteers to host the kids. We did, and it was "magic time". It was the summer of 1985. The first teenager to arrive was named Agnes. She was from the town of Carrickmore, which we later learned (from her) was one of the IRA strongholds to manufacture bombs. I later learned Carrickmore was also near Ballymena, the birthplace of actor Liam Neeson. The first time I interviewed him for one of his films, he was happy to know about my hosting the two kids from near his hometown. Agnes's boyfriend, Charlie, was the second of our guests, but for only a few days, prior to their departure back to Northern Ireland. We wanted to show Agnes as much of the U.S. as possible for the short three weeks she was here, thus the day after she arrived here, we drove her to Mt. Rushmore and back for a four-day excursion. Agnes's family was large, and one of her younger sisters was named Mairead, pronounced by Agnes as merry-uhd. Beautiful name, beautiful people. One of the most enchanting things about Agnes was her speech. When she spoke, it was like listening to a musical babbling-brook , with the accent on brook. Could have listened to her forever. The lilt of her pronunciations was better than any accent ever affected for "Finian's Rainbow". I hope she and Charlie are well since these 28 years have passed. One thing of which I wasn't aware: The Irish, Northern or not, are very fond of onions, mostly cooked. That was ONE part of the visit at which we could have balked, but realizing the anxieties they had to face at home, we decided to just use a lot of air freshener after some dinners, and savor those onions. :) I hope you're savoring this great day for the Irish. Erin Go Bragh.
Thanks for reading, thinking and sharing in this blog. Please, if you wish, join me for my SENIOR MOMENT webcasts at www.startribune.com/video, then accessing the Lifestyles link, then A SENIOR MOMENT for more of my geezer memories and thoughts. The subject changes every Monday, as does my choice of bubble gum.
In my opinion, and probably the opinion of the majority, the oft-quoted saying, "The inmates are running the asylum", certainly reflects the TSA's recent decision to re-allow small pocket knives with slightly more than two-inch-long and half-inch-wide blades to be acceptable carry-on items for passengers boarding planes here in the U.S. What were the decision-makers thinking? Are they naieve, stupid, totally clueless, lacking common sense, or all of the preceding?
Airline pilots, flight attendants, air marshals, the CEO of Delta Airlines and much of the traveling public expressed almost immediate disdain, shock and outrage for the incomprehensible announcement by the TSA's Administrator, John Pistole, that we would be "in step" (paraphrased here) with what the remainder of the world does, with the primary focus on detecting explosives. That, to me, is a big "Duh", to say the least.
Mohammad Atta and his 18 fellow murderers didn't use explosives to crash those passenger jets into the World Trade Center towers, as well as Shanksville, Pennsylvania and The Pentagon. They used box-cutters to slit the throats of passengers and crews, as we're all gruesomely aware. A souvenir pocket knife with even a ONE-inch blade a half-inch wide could, with enough force, slice any passenger's or crew member's corratic artery on the side of the neck, causing instant death. Following the TSA's announcement, I'm sure the new batch of murderous monsters have begun practicing that ritual, but hopefully only on one another, every day, ad infinitum.
I think a strong reminder of why the TSA's decision is so blatantly wrong would be for that body's decision-makers to mandatorily (and daily) view videos of the two planes crashing into the twin towers that demonic September morning in 2001. They should again watch innocent people who went to work that morning, expecting to return to their homes that evening, jumping to their deaths because there was nowhere else to go. They should hear the final screams of the flight attendant in the second plane that crashed into the towers, screaming "Oh my God! Oh, my God!", followed by literal dead silence. They should then watch the ensuing carnage below, taking the lives of those firefighters, first-responders and police on the ground and in the bottom floors of the buildings before and after the unimaginable sight of the collapsing towers. There's so much more that could be viewed to firmly implant in their brains that ANY sharp object allowed to be in the hands of the deranged could make it happen all over again.
In my opinion, if the TSA doesn't rescind this egregious decision, this coming April 25th will be a day of rejoicing (and victory) for those salivating to make the horrors happen all over again. For them, a day to rejoice and an open invitation to perpetrate their evil once again. For sane and innocent airline passengers and crews, that date will be one of the darker days in this relatively young century. I hope the word "sane" will prevail for the TSA, with Mr. Pistole announcing a reversal of the decision.
Thanks for reading my geezer thoughts. I hope you'll also join me for my SENIOR MOMENT webcasts at www.startribune.com/video, then click on the Lifestyles link.
This morning, on ABC-TV's THIS WEEK WITH GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, during a regular segment honoring those who sacrifice and serve our country in the military, only one name was listed. His name was Jonathan D. Davis, aged 34, from Kayenta, Arizona, a Staff Sergeant, serving in the U.S. Army in Afghanistan, killed in Afghanistan this past week.
Sadly, there have been so many casualties there, serving in the longest war in which we've ever participated, but seeing from where Staff Sergeant Davis was, triggered fond personal memories of his hometown. Those memories, and this blog, are respectfully dedicated to him and his family.
Having lived in Las Vegas for five years prior to moving to Minnesota in 1970, it was always a joy to frequently visit one of my favorite "thinking places", located approximately five to six hours drive east of Las Vegas, on weekends. That place is known as "The Mittens", situated on the Arizona-Utah border, and part of one of the world's most visually-numbing and awe-inspiring landscapes, known as Monument Valley. Only an occasional sight of a Navajo shepherd and flock suggests any semblance of civilization. At one time, there was no trading post nor building of any sort into which one could drive and park a vehicle to just "look", but in recent years that has changed, and there is a vantage point, paved, with a small building, from which one can gaze northward across the border into the Utah side of the valley and see those "Mittens". Film director John Ford used Monument Valley (with permission of the Navajo, whose land it is) to film several of his epic "westerns" with John Wayne. ("The Mittens" are two monoliths that look like mittens, side-by-side, jutting upward from an equally spectacular surrounding desert landscape.)
The closest town, and gateway to Monument Valley, is Kayenta, Arizona, situated 25 miles south of the valley. In 1967, I began making my weekend treks through Kayenta to get to Monument Valley. At that time, it was a very sleepy little town. In subsequent years, with more visits dating into the 1990s, the Navajo had built an excellent Holiday Inn and some very upscale stores. One of the stores was named Basha's Dine (not dime) grocery store and trading post. Once, while in an unusually-strong thunderstorm there, I parked my car in the parking lot and ran into Basha's for shelter. One of my happier memories from that shelter-seeking was purchasing my first boom-box as well as retractable umbrella in that store! Who would ever have thought a site of the U.S. Postal Service's most remote post office location, and a major part of the Navajo Nation's landscape and governmental jurisdiction, would also be the dichotomous site for some very "modern" purchases? I reverently smile when thinking of that stormy afternoon and what it wrought, purchase-wise, for this "city slicker". It also reinforced my lifelong admiration and respect for American Indians. Thanks to the Indian Land Tenure Foundation, based in Little Canada, Minnesota, I was afforded the privilege to express that admiration via my company's production of a documentary, in 2005-2006, about several tribes in Indian Country and the egregious injustices akin thereto via broken promises and treaties. It won a Telly Award and was hosted by my longtime friend, ABC-TV's Sam Donaldson, with John McCain and Tom Daschle my senatorial "stars". Sam owns three ranches in Southeast New Mexico, all immediately adjacent to the Mescalero-Apache reservation there. It was on one of his ranches we taped his "stand-up" narration. Prior to asking if he'd be my narrator/host, and even though we'd known each other long before the documentary production, I had no idea his early life was spent in Indian Country. He was kindly very receptive to being the host/narrator, for which I'll be always appreciative.
I hope the fond remembrances of Kayenta and the wonderful Navajo people there may have struck a responsive enough chord with you to visit there sometime. It's truly a special part of another world ("another world" stated only in the most positive sense), and easily-reached. From Kayenta to Monument Valley and environs, in my opinion, they're places that envelop our senses in only the most reverent and peaceful ways. The late Staff Sergeant Davis was truly blessed to have had Kayenta as his hometown, but his tragic death this past week must surely have cast an especially sad pall on that otherwise beautiful place. Deepest sympathy to his family and friends
Thanks for reading, thinking and sharing in these blog thoughts. Please, if you wish, also "tune in" to my other geezer thoughts via A SENIOR MOMENT at www.startribune.com/video, then linking to Lifestyles.
I've had the honor and privilege to live in the Twin Cities for a non-consecutive (explained below) total of 35 years, almost half my 75-1/2 years, definitely longer than anywhere else in my life. Farther into this tome, I'll explain why this has become more "home" than anywhere else, and also some thoughts about how Minneapolis, especially, could rebound even more than it has, to the vibrancy it enjoyed in the early 1970s.
First, some background: It was 70 years ago today, February 20, 1943 (a Saturday that year), I first performed on the air. It was on KDKA radio in my hometown of Pittsburgh, PA. KDKA was the world's first commercial radio station, and owned at that time by Westinghouse Electric Corporation, which was also headquartered near Pittsburgh in a town named Turtle Creek. I was a singer, at age 5-1/2, on a weekly Saturday morning program named STARLETS ON PARADE. The show consisted of young children singing mostly in a chorus, but occasionally a solo would be part of the mix. I had only a couple solos, for good reason :), but was still glad to be part of that group. To say I was terrified during my first time in front of a microphone would be an understatement, but my Mom told me I'd eventually get over the jitters. It took a while, but I did. (I remember all the words to our theme song, but lest you've already fallen asleep reading this, I'll spare you the extra verbiage!)
Since then. the broadcasting and entertainment business have had me working in (chronologically) Pittsburgh (duh); New York City; Philadelphia; Helena, Missoula, Butte, Anaconda and Kalispell, Montana; Lethbridge, Alberta; Idaho Falls, Idaho; Honolulu, Hawaii; Seattle-Tacoma, Washington; Las Vegas; The Twin Cities; Washington, D.C.; Detroit; Stamford, Connecticut...with Paul Douglas on the Satellite News Channels, ABC-TV's answer, at that time, to CNN; and back to the Twin Cities after an almost ten-year absence. I was fired only twice, i.e., from my first local radio job in Helena, because being a board operator in concert with being an announcer was too complicated for my non-mechanical brain, and once from a local radio station here because they were changing formats. Otherwise, I always quit for greener pastures. The most stupid "quit" was from KSTP-TV (just for more income in D.C.), which leads me to remember the Twin Cities as they were in late November, 1970, when I drove into the Cities from the South on I-35, to begin my work at Channel 5.
As previously mentioned, The Foshay Tower was the tallest building in Minneapolis, and the foundation hole for the IDS Building had just been dug. The first restaurant at which I ate was The Nankin. It was the introduction to the then "real" Minneapolis. The next restaurant meals in that first week were at Murray's (thank goodness it's still here, and I won't get any free meals for mentioning the name here), Charlie's Cafe Exceptionale and The Haberdashery. The latter, situated in the downtown Radisson Hotel, had, in my opinion, the best hamburgers in the universe, not just the world, and the atmosphere, sawdust on the floor and all, was as cosmopolitan and "hip" as any similar eaterie in New York. Same for The Flame Room at The Radisson, when the first-class Golden Strings performed nightly. I think their truly first-class leader, Cliff Brunzell, is still living, and probably still playing that violin with as much panache and flair as he and the others did in those 1970s halcyon days.
In sum, both Minneapolis and St. Paul (cant forget St. Paul's The Blue Horse, Gallivan's and Don, The Beachcomber, the latter in the St. Paul Radisson) were quality cities of a differet nature than they are now, again in my opinion. Both downtowns bustled with excitement and sophisticated fun. In Minneapolis, especially, Hennepin Avenue was thriving. Maybe it was just a period of time when that sort of metropolitan ambience, with "Minnesota nice" more prevalent, simply reflected the decency and popularity of what everyone then described as "the quality of life" here. The Mary Tyler Moore Show's being set here wasn't by accident. These ciities were the epitome of wholesomeness and non-snooty class. Everything was done correctly, and The Cities were the home to giant industries and businesses respected globally. Some of those businesses, of course, still exist, albeit with a few of them under the same umbrella (General Mills/Pillsbury, etc.).
While driving on Hennepin Avenue early this morning, it was good to see the revitalized Shubert Theater, now The Cowles Center, but it was juxtaposed with an almost empty Block "E" and several other buildings or businesses that had "gone under". Obviously, a struggling economy impacts what most people can or can't afford to do, and the fewer the consumers, the sooner the businesses cease to exist. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to come to that conclusion, of course.
Can we ever return to "those thrilling days of yesteryear" (paraphrasing and borrowing a line from "The Lone Ranger"). Stated as an admitted idealist, I somewhat realistically think with the proper backing by those who have the financial wherewithall and foresight to help make it happen, the empty storefronts and sparse office building occupancy can become the antitheses of those bleak descriptions and tangibly demonstrate to those not alive here in the 1970s how truly vibrant these cities can really be once again. Cities champions like former Star Tribune columnist Barbara Flanagan and more recently, heartfelt individual drum-beater for downtown Minneapolis, "L.A. Nik", believed, and believe, these cities, especially the downtowns, have been, and can be again, among the most exemplary for quality city life as any in the world.
Thanks for taking the time to read my geezer thoughts. Because of minor surgery pending, I may not be "on camera" with my STAR TRIBUNE webcast (A SENIOR MOMENT) for two or three weeks after next Monday, but if the scars heal more rapidly, I'll be back with that webcast sooner than later.
Last week, lamenting about words mis-pronounced on television and radio these days, one of them being "route", I also referenced the television series, "Route 66", as well as mentioning one of its stars, George Maharis. (The voice-over announcer pronounced "Route' correctly, sounding like root). The George Maharis reference reminded me of the years George and I knew each other while "making the rounds" to audition for casting directors in New York City. That was from 1953 through 1957. I was 16 in 1953, George was 25. During that time, as well as before and after, even though some of us were lucky enough to have ongoing television or stage acting parts, many of us "hung out" to get casting messages, to hopefully land more parts, at a place called The Hayes Registry, on West 46th Street. Hayes was basically a message-answering service, but also provided couches, chairs and light refreshments for actors, actresses, singers and dancers to "chill out" while waiting for the messages. Obviously, had cell phones existed in those days, Sonny and Annette Hayes (the owners) would not have had much of a business. The monthly fee for their answering service was affordable. (FYI: I was able to make the rounds more freely in my teenage years because I was going to a school in New York...Lodge Professional Childrens' School...tailored to fit the acting schedules of those of us who were acting at the time, K through 12th grade. Some of my classmates were Sal Mineo, Carol Lynley, Betty Lou Keim, Judson Rees, David Winters, Charlie Brill and others. Carol, David, Judson and Charlie are still alive. I referenced Charlie in an earlier blog, and was glad to see one of the commenters remembered and likes Charlie. Charlie, his wife Mitzi and I, keep in touch enough to not lose track of each other. Last time I was with Carol, she commented, "YOU survived Lodge, too?", then chuckled. David was in "West Side Story", both Broadway and the film, and was responsible for my getting a "running part" as one of Wally Cox's character's (Robinson Peepers) students on the NBC-TV series, "Mister Peepers". "Peepers" also starred, of course, Tony Randall, who was like a mentor and father to me from the "Peepers' days until almost the time of his death, and referenced in this space in an earlier blog. Some people still living, and here in the Twin Cities, are well aware of Tony's wonderful kindnesses to me, witnessed and experienced "first hand" in the early part of this "new" century.)
Aside from Maharis and me, other actors named John Cassavetes, Martin Landau and Peter Breck were among those who also waited patiently with us and others for the messages to arrive. In those days, Peter Breck called himself "Buddy" Breck. Peter later became most well-known portraying Nick Barkley on ABC-TV's "The Big Valley", the major star of which was Barbara Stanwyck. Peter's family was the Breck shampoo/hair products family, and Peter once told us all the girls, aptly known as the Breck girls, who were illustrated on Breck shampoo and other of their hair-product boxes, were all members of the Breck family (sisters, cousins, etc.).
Back to George Maharis, and a then-unknown actor named James Dean. One late afternoon in late summer, 1954, after checking for messages, I wandered into a coffee shop a few doors away from The Hayes Registry. I saw George sitting in a booth across from two other people. He invited me to sit down next to him and have some coffee. George introduced me to them. One was named James Dean. The other name I can't remember. Regardless, after I sat down, George began swearing like a drill sergeant, bad-mouthing acting in general, especially upset because he'd been turned down for a lot of parts, but James, across the table, was leaving for Hollywood the next day because he'd been cast in a new Elia Kazan film entitled "East of Eden". ("Eden" was released in April, 1955) George didn't begrudge the part to Dean, but just felt more discouraged because he opined his own attempts to get parts was hopeless. At that time, he literally hated the business and all the rejection involved. Most actors, actresses, singers and dancers, then and now, could and can, relate to those feelings throughout their careers, or quests for careers.
Dean and I spoke only two or three words to each other in brief lapses of George's tirade. Dean was soft-spoken and seemed almost bashful, deifnitely the antithesis of George's personality in those moments. Dean told George he shouldn't give up acting. George was appreciative, but continued his anger at those who rejected George's auditions. I finished my coffee, wished Dean good luck, said my goodbyes and that was that.
Fast-forward to 1960: I was working at KID-TV in Idaho Falls, Idaho (a CBS-TV affiliate, now called KIDK-TV) as an announcer, director, promotion/sales service manager and weatherman/talk show host, when the new CBS-TV schedule was announced on a series of promotional announcements. One of the new shows was to be "Route 66", starring George Maharis and Martin Milner. Even as writing this, I'm smiling, because I remember the smile that hit my face when seeing George had "made it" and hadn't quit the business. I'm also smiling now because George is still alive. I wonder if those coffee shop moments ever entered his mind since then. If fate allows us to reunite, somehow, some way, before we both leave this life, I'll surely ask him. :)
Thanks for taking the time to read more of my geezer reminiscences. If you feel so inclined, please also watch my SENIOR MOMENT webcasts at www.startribune.com/video for similar remembrances and reflections. Best wishes for a good week.