Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Letter from our Far-flung Correspondent

Growing up in Michigan was a treat of sorts.  Mixed treat.  It was a time that education was more than valued but bordering on priceless and had a string of Universities stretching all over the state that gave us all a choice and a potential to pursue what we wanted or thought we needed.  A lot of the petty political struggles were over-ridden by the national calamity that was Vietnam and the draft coupled with the civil rights issues that sat pretty much on top of everything.  It wasn't conceivable that the black population had a rough go of it until we got educated about the problem and presented with a solution.

We thought of our state as some sort of complete entity; water in nearly every direction, small towns and metros, airports and logging streams.  I was pretty lucky to have a father who traveled all over the state and was far away from headquarters that no outing was complete without golf clubs or fly rods in the trunk. Mother was the reader in the family.  My dad was the explorer.

We headed north one morning in the fall so that we could fish in the morning some and perhaps get a round of golf in later or the next morning.  We had fished the Two Hearted River, of Hemingway fame, and my mother was a particular fan of his writing.  In her endless collections, she had a series of his short stories, vignettes actually, that had a lot of writing about Hemingway in Michigan so she made a special point of reading one called "The Battle" before this particular trip.  It was to an oddly name town called Kalkaska, which is close to the Chippewa word for "burned over area". There are other theories but we liked that one as it seemed to fit the logging history of the area as well as the town itself having had a history of burning down on several occasions.
We went out to find a good fishing hole on the Rapid River which gave my mom an "aha!" moment as the short story cited above was supposedly written by Hemingway while he was fishing at a dammed up pond called Rugg Pond, just north of Hanson Road.  We were looking for the historical marker (which we found) stating that Hemingway fished here so we had to as well.

I can't imagine that I or we caught anything at all but that wasn't the point of the excursion. It was to just go and do something interesting and take advantage of what is around you (us).  I don't remember Rugg Pond one bit. Kalkaska is just a blip in my memory - a boom town of sorts as there was a local oil field discovery so it caught my dad's eye.  I do remember that there was a railroad that crossed the state from where we lived up toward Traverse City and ran smack through town.  It was for freight of course - but probably had passenger service when Hemingway visited and most of his stories featured a railroad story within the story, which was part of the opening of The Battle.

So why this on this fine Sunday morning as there are a thousand topics that are, well, topical. Romney is getting beat like a rented mule and the beater isn't much of a prize either.  The world and the nation are in the petty squabbles and big wars, riots and ignorance mode, where black is white and white is some shade of grey.  Human vignettes are replaced by movements and wholesale struggles and I think that is the key to my remembrance of all this.

There is a certain grounding that a trip to nowhere special to find a monument (historical marker) on a fairly out of the way pond, with a family that was as desperate as night and day in interests.  My dad found the sign for my mom.  My mom read the book so she could tell the story. I got to see a railroad station (train tracks are a passion) that actually ran through our backyard at the far end of the line.  That was education of being human and sharing - something in powerfully short supply nowadays. 

We might get some perspective on things by learning broadly and not being confined by intolerances small and large.  We can still think about the big stuff but we can also find a way to put it aside for a few, gaze at a marker, cast a fly into so still water and think of Nick and getting thrown off a train and finding yourself there.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Penny wise and pound foolish

When we invite friends to our home and ask them to come over about dinner time, sure as shootin' they pretty much expect to have something to eat.  When our village invites people to drop in, likewise, folks who make the trip should be able to find food.

We were in the IGA today when two women swore off visiting our village "ever again" because, kids in tow, they visited our Maritime Festival and expected to find a hot dog stand or something where kids under six could get something to eat that 1. kids like and 2. wasn't a sit down lunch.  They found neither.  They blamed the "Greenport Restaurant Association" (whatever that is) for not permitting food vendors.  Having seen the the kerfuffle about outside food vendors at the Tall Ships, it was pretty evident what was afoot here and we shouldn't like it one bit.

It is, in the end, about turf and protecting businesses. We can understand the motivation and the necessity to make the most of the last major weekend event of the year.  We can't, however, buy into the math involved.

Village restaurants hold only so many people and at price points that are pretty steep for casual visitors. The Tall Ships were broken down to what a reasonable family of day-trippers would expect to spend overall and food and snacks for mom and dad and two little ones was thought to be in the $25-40 range give or take. For folks who want to sit down and order off the menu, of course the estimated price would increase. Well and good.  The issue then goes down to the nut of it; how many folks can the "restaurant association" feed?

Estimates run about 3500 plates in a day. That may be light or heavy but no one really knows. If 5,000 folks show up, the restaurants can probably handle the demand.  If 10,000 show up, they can't.  It is simple math. In the later event, we invited 10 for dinner with only 6 seats at the table.

Is there some way to figure it out so that the "restaurant association" gets the lion's share of business AND visitors of all economic brackets, age groups, and time to spend, can find a menu to suit them?  Yes. Of course there is.  But what happened was  that it became and all or nothing proposition. 

One of the first rules of business is that the customer us always right. The customer creates the demand.  In reverse, the village as a host said, "we determine what the demand will be" and it is as backward a statement as can be.  It slights the customer. It hurts non-food businesses by "pissing-off" visitors about the village in general and returning in particular. It causes grand mothers to wag their tongues in an IGA.

It is penny wise and VERY pound foolish.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Town Crier

Well the Maritime Festival weekend is here. No rain. The bluest sky on the planet and a nice NW breeze.

We wondered on downtown last evening to see the fireworks that never fired.  It was a pleasant wait until someone circulated through the crowd announcing that "due to government regulations" there would be no show.  Not to cast a pall (and it is pall not pale) over the evening, soothed a bit later by some expensive frozen yogurt, there were a lot of parents with kids in tow out there to see the lights and the things that go boom in the night. Some pretty long faces let me tell you.

Cast a pall is a good phrase for this. Pall of course coming from "pallor", something of a visual mask or something that obscures by, for instance, smoke or fog; diminishes the clear image.  We wondered what the government regulation was that cast this pall, we are wondering this morning about communication.  In this time of instant contact, e-mail blasts, IM on countless cells, Twitter, well you name it, we live in a village that has none.  We, the residents do. But it appears we are on the end of a broken line that starts with the "government regulations" and ends with a good soul wandering through the crowd announcing in a nice, clear voice that there were no fireworks.

Perhaps the role of "town crier" should be revisited and that a clearly visible kiosk would be apropos - and not the pink tinged monolith in front of a firehouse that goes off line at night.  It would be charming actually. "Eight o'clock and all is well and there will be no fireworks tonight due to government regulations".  We can hear it now.

Armed with the news, we could find out what government regulations required cancelling this event.  We could address the issue of who didn't do what that caused the government regulations to spring into effect. Perhaps we could find the government regulator who stood there at 8pm and said "no. not tonight. no how. no way".

Anyway, the pall was caste by the crier in waiting and we don't know what happened except that it didn't.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Do'ers of the Public Good

We live in a curious era with so many folks wanting the spotlight, that 15 minutes of fame and glory, that they nearly run over each other in a fight for the light switch.  Particularly dismaying is when someone wrests control and still others are not satisfied until the one in the limelight is not only replaced but reduced.  That is a pretty sad state of affairs and we as a nation and as a community suffer badly from these nare-do-wells.
On the other hand, there are silent heroes. Well perhaps heroes is a bad choice of words as everyone seems to be labeled as such for actions great and small.  In thinking about it, we prefer "do'ers of the public good". That doesn't mean so much being involved in governmental projects as much as it applies to making the community a little bit better through acts great and small.

We had a talk with Dave Berson the other day.  He runs that electric ship, the Glory, out of docks near Preston.  Not really a talk but a watch and listen as he took a small group of kids and parents out for a tour of the local waters.  We've known him by and by and he has a reputation for having  a certain congenial  rough edge about him that comes from years on the water and being in charge.  Not a hostile edge, but one that comes from nonsense, matter of fact demeanor. He was great with the kids. Absolutely great and they were as easy with him as wind in a sail.

We talked about this later in the day with a friend who we know from the library and more of this "great with kids" thing came out.  Seems David and the Glory are knee deep in helping kids understand that his boat isn't "electric by accident" and that it is "green" by design. It is responsible as our friend put it. You could run it in your swimming pool and still swim in clean water. That "Green" issue extends to a certain joy and deep respect for the local ecology and that is what is actually being passed on to kids all over town. He teaches that but not as if he were from the DEC but like someone who understands it and respects it.

As we are a water village it is refreshing to find someone who contributes a lot of time and effort in passing on this knowledge and care, this concern and the joy of discovery.  That he does it for kids puts him in the select company of other do'ers of the public good; scout leaders, church youth directors, coaches - simply all manner of folks who take what they do best and apply it for the benefit of others.  It and they are the glue that holds things together and they don't receive the notice they should but then again the are not those grabbing for the spotlight.

We had a friend who ran a youth music program once upon a time and his orchestras played their heads off and loved it.  After concerts when parents would come up to him and say all those glories words of praise he was brusque - almost angry - in pointing out it "was the kids"..it was always the kids and for the kids.  Dave seemed like that when we saw him.  We wrote a while back about an Eagle Scout and his leader; they/he was like that too.  So was the nice person at the library who took a minute to explain how good his programs were and how much good they did. 

Do'ers of the Public Good.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Do'ers and Watchers

During our summer doldrums, we tend to get a bit complacent.  Not that we don't deserve a few minutes off from life as we know it, but because its either too darn hot or the air has zapped out all our energy.  Garages need cleaning out for fall, that overgrown garden needs attention, all those things that make us head for the hammock.

There are two calendars it would seem. One that is the big master calendar over which we have no control whatsoever. It is the sun and moon, the rotation of the earth, daylight and midnight...all those biggies. There is also the one we keep in the frig door.  The one that his chock full of appointments, meetings, and shopping lists. We own that one. We only occupy the former.

We tend to get ruled by the big calendar and neglect our own.  Things get pushed off or we "let" someone else do it.  We nestle into our hammock, book in hand, and someone else does the real work that surrounds our little calendar.  Our village is a case in point.

We think that the Village is there to be our servant; someone totally misunderstanding the phrase "public servants".  They are folks who dedicate time, often albeit compensated at a pittance, to the Village.  In return for this dedication to Village affairs, they make decisions on our behalf. We either go along with them or vote them out. All too often, we rest in our hammocks and simply bite them in the neck for not doing our bidding.  Unfortunately we do this biting from our comfortable place.

Think about how you do something around the house, mow the lawn or trim the hedge, cook dinner or clean a window.  Instead of helping, or saying good job, encouraging the partner, you simple crow at them for not doing it "your way".  Everyone has heard "..well, if you did it my way, you'd...." and just want to throttle other person.  And rightfully so.

There are ways to be constructive and then there are ways to be a pain in the neck from the hammock.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

The NRA and here we go again

For those of you who don't know, the 2nd Amendment went through a number of drafts before the rather twisted amendment was agreed upon. Somehow the right wing in our country has perverted the evolution of the amendment/amending sequence to an individual's right to own guns, buy guys, keep guns, strap guns to their hips and go see the President of the United States and recently visit a movie theater.

If are living in Colorado there is a time in your not too distant future when you will go shopping on  a Friday night and you will be treated to the spectacle of 18 year olds packing concealed and loaded handguns with NO NEED for any registration. Perhaps if there were a data base, some loony couldn't acquire 5 guns and some TNT.  They can't drink but by God they can shoot. A couple years ago The NYTimes of course ran a hand wringing editorial about it which will do no good because those who worship at the shrine of the misunderstood 2nd amendment don't read the Times and if they hear about it poo-poo it as being too liberal and therefore not to be believed.

We've been treated to any number of pundits pointing out that if a few folks in the theater were "packing" weapons they could have fired back in some sort of perverse Lone Ranger style - nothing like a gun fight in a crowded theater.  This argument is without merit as there is no reliable data past NRA opinion that having a gun protects you from someone nuts who just want to shoot and kill.  I can see the home breakin in the middle of the night but I can't and won't concede the let's take a gun to the theater mentality. Nor should you.

For your reading pleasure, here are the three drafts to the 2nd Amendment that were written prior to the final. After reading them, let me know if you don't think this entire debate is entirely off track.

I. The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed; a well armed and well regulated militia being the best security of a free country but no person religiously scrupulous of bearing arms shall be compelled to render military service in person

II. A well regulated militia, composed of the body of the people, being the best security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed; but no person religiously scrupulous shall be compelled to bear arms.

III. A well regulated militia, composed of the body of the people, being the best security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed; but no one religiously scrupulous of bearing arms shall be compelled to render military service in person.

There you go gun-rights honchos. Now explain that away when you apply your strict construction theories.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Dust Bowl

We took a little break from the writing desk for no other reason that it was too darn hot. Dry too. You read it here first.

We ran across this picture the other day. It is from Life Magazine in the 30s and some of us with too much time actually found the place on Google maps - street view. But then again, Oklahoma or parts thereof, look pretty much the same for miles on end so who is to know if we got it right or not.

We are longing for some rain and this afternoon holds promise. That rain that makes things "mud lucious and puddle-wonderful" as e.e.cummings once wrote (at least we think so but are too hot and lazy to go look it up). But right now we have dust. Not Oklahoma in the 30s dust, but it seems that way.