Chris Wohlwend – LikeTheDew.com http://likethedew.com A journal of progressive Southern culture and politics Mon, 19 Nov 2018 13:02:29 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.8 http://likethedew.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/cropped-DewLogoSquare825-32x32.png Chris Wohlwend – LikeTheDew.com http://likethedew.com 32 32 Remembering the heyday of the Miami Herald http://likethedew.com/2010/07/21/remembering-the-heyday-of-the-miami-herald/ http://likethedew.com/2010/07/21/remembering-the-heyday-of-the-miami-herald/#comments Thu, 22 Jul 2010 04:23:35 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=10399 I worked at The Miami Herald in the mid 1970s, the newspaper that was my introduction to big-time journalism, Miami was my first foray into big-city life. The Herald then was fat with pages and news and ambition.  Besides several metro-Miami editions, there were a half-dozen aimed at different sections of the state, plus two for Latin America that were flown each night to Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires, Caracas.

New York City journalism had recently experienced a major upheaval with many of the dailies closing, sending dozens of staffers heading south for jobs in Florida. Many landed at the Herald ...

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I worked at The Miami Herald in the mid 1970s, the newspaper my introduction to big-time journalism, Miami my first foray into big-city life. The Herald then was fat with pages and news and ambition.  Besides several metro-Miami editions, there were a half-dozen aimed at different sections of the state, plus two for Latin America that were flown each night to Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires, Caracas.

New York City journalism had recently experienced a major upheaval with many of the dailies closing, sending dozens of staffers heading south for jobs in Florida. Many landed at the Herald, adding to what was already a diverse group of wily veterans, including a refugee or two from pre-Castro Havana.

There was Gene Miller, two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize for investigative work. When he was present, his loud and dogged phone interviews dominated the newsroom.

At the other end of the spectrum was demure Edna Buchanan, her appearance belying her skill with grisly stories from the police beat; and Jay Maeder, whose laconic demeanor masked a rapier wit which eventually found fruition in a column.

Jack Dance, a talented and eccentric editorial writer, was a fellow native of southern Appalachia. He was from Middlesboro, Kentucky.

Then there was Ben Hunt, a Brit who had been declared persona non grata in Ian Smith’s Rhodesia for refusing to vote, a requirement for all white residents. He had worked for papers in London, Johannesburg, and Toronto.

Two-time Pulizer Prize winner Gene Miller.

It was an interesting mix, making for an interesting publication.

At that time, South Beach wasn’t exactly seedy, but it was years removed from today’s glitz. The atmosphere was traditional beach-boardwalk. A Coney Island habitué would have felt at home – and many of them did.

The south end of the beach gave way to a greyhound-racing track. Many of its patrons were regulars at a bar/restaurant a half block away. The Turf was dark and smoky, an escape from the sun, sand and surf just across Collins Avenue. It was close enough to the Herald via MacArthur Causeway that it became one of our regular dinner-break spots. Our usual waitress was a Brooklyn escapee with an accent that was thicker than the burgers.

Another favorite, within walking distance of the Herald on Biscayne Boulevard, was the Lobo Lounge, a place that could have been a mainstay of many Brooklyn neighborhoods.

Most often after work, we headed to the North Dade Athletic Club, where the only athletic equipment was a pool table. The hours were the main attraction – as a private club ($5 to join), it stayed open until 3 a.m.

The Herald building was on Biscayne Bay, which meant spectacular views from the east-facing windows. We could watch the seaplanes of Chalk Airlines as they landed on the water. Or the Goodyear blimp, tethered next door to the Chalk facility on Watson Island.  A bit farther south, there were usually several cruise ships tied up at the Port of Miami pier.

I’ll be boarding one of the successors to those ships soon, but not before checking out the old Herald neighborhood. I’m sure my favorite views have changed, my old haunts have disappeared, the tropical funk replaced by sparkle and glamour. Nevertheless, I’m looking forward to seeing Miami again.

Chris Wohlwend tours Miami.

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Egypt http://likethedew.com/2010/07/21/egypt/ http://likethedew.com/2010/07/21/egypt/#comments Thu, 22 Jul 2010 04:12:57 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=10388 Egypt’s corruption rudely presents itself before we officially enter the country at Port Said. The space between the gangplank of our ship and the immigration/customs shed is occupied by about a dozen vendors, tables set with their fake papyrus, guidebooks ("in English"), postcards, tote bags, pseudo carved camels and pyramids and sphinxes. They would not be allowed to accost us before we clear security if they hadn’t reached some kind of "arrangement " with the officials.

The gauntlet continues beyond  security – in fact all the way to the tour bus waiting outside. The vendors are persistent, entreating us with their friendship, wanting to shake our hands. One member of the group has his hat removed by a tote salesman and placed in a bag that is then hung on his arm, all in one fluid motion.

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Egypt’s corruption rudely presents itself before we officially enter the country at Port Said. The space between the gangplank of our ship and the immigration/customs shed is occupied by about a dozen vendors, tables set with their fake papyrus, guidebooks (“in English”), postcards, tote bags, pseudo carved camels and pyramids and sphinxes. They would not be allowed to accost us before we clear security if they hadn’t reached some kind of “arrangement ” with the officials.

The gauntlet continues beyond  security – in fact all the way to the tour bus waiting outside. The vendors are persistent, entreating us with their friendship, wanting to shake our hands. One member of the group has his hat removed by a tote salesman and placed in a bag that is then hung on his arm, all in one fluid motion.

The rampant corruption is one reason that extremist Islam has made inroads in Egypt that have prompted the government to establish a division of Tourism Police, providing armed escorts for all tourist buses that make the 150-mile trip between Port Said and Cairo.

Our Egyptian guide, Hanan, points out the government concern as our three-bus convoy begins winding through Port Said, police cars and motorcycles insuring that our path is clear in spite of rush-hour traffic. The government, she says, provides such services to show the world that Egypt is safe. Hanan, obviously, does not appreciate the irony of her statement.

We soon learn that the bus driver and Hanan, like the vendors, have their own hustles. The driver has cold drinks for sale; Hanan tells us about the cartouche of Pharoanic Egypt and then passes around a catalogue offering cartouches with the name of our choice embossed in Egyptian heiroglyphics.

As Hanan tells us about Egypt’s ancient glory, we watch as the country’s present reality unfolds along the highway.
There are conical pigeon-raising coops, irrigated fields of vegetables being worked by hand, rundown and seemingly abandoned mud-brick buildings, their occupation revealed by clothes fluttering on lines as they dry.

There are donkey carts, roadside stands filled with piles of melons and mangoes and other fruits and vegetables. Donkeys and goats are ever-present; occasionally there are horses; and we even spot a couple of water buffalo.
Mechanized farm equipment is rare – in the entire trip, we see maybe three tractors.

Everything is dust-covered, and everything says poverty.

We run close to the Suez Canel, passing the occasional looming ship, seeing the western edge of the Sinai desert across the waterway. At checkpoints, our escorts change. Sometimes it’s Tourism Police, sometimes it’s regular police, sometimes it’s soldiers. All are armed with automatic rifles. The Tourism Police have distinctive all-white uniforms; the soldiers, three to a vehicle, ride in the back of small pickup trucks, rifles resting on their stocks. Their young age and bored looks don’t engender much confidence.

We pass donkey cart after donkey cart. We pass motorscooters, sometimes with children aboard. One female driver balances an infant between the handlebars. Another driver is accompanied by his veiled wife, riding side-saddle.

As we reach  the industrialized outskirts of Cairo we notice each business is surrounded by a wall, most topped with razor-wire, many with guardtowers attached.

Apartment complexes, vast in size, start to dominate. All seem unfinished, stopping after four or five stories, with rebar sticking from the roofs. Later Hanan tells us that is because the government doesn’t tax buildings until they are finished; the builders never want to call a building finished.

We enter a neighborhood of prosperity, with fancy hotels and mansions, sidestreets paved, a rarity, as we will discover. There is Shepheard’s Hotel, the British-empire landmark, still in business. There is a Four Seasons, dominating one block. There is the American Embassy, secure behind thick, high walls and armed, alert-looking soldiers. At one intersection, an old lady in black, her feet bare, sits begging on the curb as Heliopolis’s BMWs, Mercedes, and Jaguars pass in front of her.

Heliopolis, Hanan tells us, home of President Mubarak.

We continue on into Cairo, headed for the Egyptian Archeological Museum, home of its greatest treasures – and more hustle practitioners.

The museum is crowded with hordes of tourists, each supplied with a “whisperer”  and accompanying headphones. The amplification devices are necessary so each guide is speaking to an individual group. Otherwise each tourist would be overwhelmed by a barrage of languages.

We hit only the highest of high spots: Rameses and King Tut. And then we’re introduced to an archeologist friend of Hanan, who has DVDs for sale. Each contains more than 1,500 photos of the museum’s treasures, and costs only 12 euros. Hanan’s second hustle of the day.

We have our “Nile cruise” lunch, a big circle along the river featuring mediocre food, awful music, and a belly-dance hustle, the dancer working her way through the crowd with her photographer accomplice taking pictures that will later be produced for sale to each subject.

Back on the bus for our next stop, the pyramids and the Sphinx. And the serious gauntlet of camel jockeys, purveyors of everything imaginable, pickpockets and their child accomplices, and, perhaps most telling, a Tourism Policeman on the make.

To escape the camel jockeys, a couple of us climb the rocks off to one side of the pyramids. There, a uniformed policeman beckons us to a spot for what he says is the best picture. Trusting no one at this point, we refuse to hand him our cameras so he can take the photo. Finally he gives up.

Later, one of the students, Dina, tells of letting him take her photo, after which he asked for a “little something” for his trouble. She refused.

We move down the hill to the Sphinx, where we encounter more of the same, though the vendors here are mostly children. Maybe one has to earn his way up the hill to the pyramids. Here, Stephen encounters a child who claims to have picked up a euro belonging to him. But Stephen has already been warned. The ploy is to discover in which pocket the mark keeps his money, making a pickpocket’s job easier.

Zaina, who speaks Arabic, is besieged by another child, this one selling postcards. She begins talking to him in his native language, and he tells her how tired he is. She gives him a $5 bill and tells him it is just for him, that he must not give it to anyone else. His smile is ear-to-ear as he is overwhelmed by the kindness of his “mark.

By now, everyone has had enough of Egypt. But we have one more stop, thanks to Hanan. A nearby papyrus museum has special deals for us. And the cartouche shop, where we can pick up whatever we ordered earlier, is upstairs.

As the buses sit outside, armed tourist police stand on the sidewalk at the front and back. It’s good to know that we are well-protected even as the hustle continues inside the shop.

The ride back to our ship is quiet; we lose our driver and Hanan as they get off near Port Said after passing around an envelope for tips. There is one last run through the vendor gauntlet, and then we’re safely on-board, everyone glad to see Egypt fading away in the rear-view mirror as we sail back to Cyprus.

Follow Chris Wohlwend’s European tour on his blog.

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Athens http://likethedew.com/2010/07/20/athens/ http://likethedew.com/2010/07/20/athens/#respond Wed, 21 Jul 2010 01:51:41 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=10387 The journey to Athens begins by rail, four or five cars headed northeast out of Patras toward Corinth. To the right are hillsides covered by vineyards or grayish-leaved olive trees with citrus interspersed, deep green leaves speckled with bright orange or yellow fruit. To the left are steep drops to the Ionian Sea, the occasional sienna-tiled house perched on a cliffside. Soon, the spectacular Rion-Antirion Bridge looms ahead, spanning the Gulf of Corinth to the mountains of Sterea Erada.

But the great Grecian transformation for the 2004 Olympic Games is still under way, and the tracks end in a jumble of construction material midway to Corinth. We transfer to a bus, with seats that are more comfortable and air conditioning that is more effective.

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Greece - on train from Patras to Athens

The journey to Athens begins by rail, four or five cars headed northeast out of Patras toward Corinth. To the right are hillsides covered by vineyards or grayish-leaved olive trees with citrus interspersed, deep green leaves speckled with bright orange or yellow fruit. To the left are steep drops to the Ionian Sea, the occasional sienna-tiled house perched on a cliffside. Soon, the spectacular Rion-Antirion Bridge looms ahead, spanning the Gulf of Corinth to the mountains of Sterea Erada.

But the great Grecian transformation for the 2004 Olympic Games is still under way, and the tracks end in a jumble of construction material midway to Corinth. We transfer to a bus, with seats that are more comfortable and air conditioning that is more effective.

Our bus ride ends after about an hour when we are discharged at a new rail station. There is no train, and the rail personnel disappear into their own quarters, leaving the rest of us to mill around on the platform. Two fellow passengers quickly distinguish themselves.

The first is a middle-aged man who takes exception to something a male teen has said or done and begins yelling at him. There is pushing and shoving. A passenger informs the railroad officials, who come out of their office and watch, apparently interested. But they do nothing. Finally, the man disappears, still yelling.

A few minutes later another teen, at the other end of the platform, becomes belligerent toward the woman with whom he is sharing a bench. He finally stalks off. Later, on the train, he will again create a scene, this time with his girlfriend. He is a brawl looking for a place to happen, and everyone tries to ignore him.

On the outskirts of Athens, a middle-aged man and a student-aged girl sit down across from me. The man, speaking passable English, proceeds in academic terms to regale the student with his views on mobile-phone use. The Greek woman sitting next to me, who is carrying on a conversation via her mobile phone, has apparently reminded him of a pet communications peeve.

He doesn’t approve of cell-phone use. The talker can’t understand his English and is too engaged in her conversation to pay any attention: Communication about a communication theory in the face of communication reality.

Finally, Athens station, surprisingly small. A short taxi ride and I am at the Cecil Hotel, one of those old European stops with a small entry way almost hidden between street-level shops. The elevator is an ancient cage model, suitable for a role in a 1930s Hitchcock movie.

But the room is clean and comfortable, and the Cecil perfectly located for my purposes, only a couple of blocks from the bustling Monastiraki square and, in the other direction, Omonia. The Agora is within walking distance, as are a major flea market, the city’s main fresh-food market, and Psiri, site of restaurants, nightclubs, and, I will discover, some of the more unsavory aspects of big-metropolis life.

After I tour the neighborhood (and lay in a supply of the excellent chocolates sold at Anassa), I make arrangements to join a bus tour that will culminate with the National Archeological Museum and the Acropolis. Neither disappoints.

The hill, despite the onslaught of tourists, the babble of guides explaining in a myriad of languages, the restoration work off to one side, dwarfs everything I’ve seen so far on this trip – even the hundreds of Harley-Davidsons at Patras. Simple, classic lines over chromed excess.

The entry walkway to the museum features glass flooring revealing the active archeological digs below. Inside, it’s masterpiece after masterpiece. But one area stands out because it is empty – the space reserved for the return of the Elgin Marbles from London’s British Museum, source of friction between the two countries for decades.

The next evening I find a concert at Monastiraki Square, a six-piece brass band, its middle-aged members in black pants and white shirts, a horn case set out for donations. A crowd gathers, and an unexpected vocalist joins in – a large white mixed-breed dog sings along with the saxophone player. He’s a hit.

A Romani woman circulates through the crowd with her hand out, implying that she is collecting for the band members. The tuba player confronts her and a loud argument ensues. The show obviously over, audience members disperse after dropping a few euros into the horn case. And the vocalist wanders over to the edge of the square and stretches out in his usual spot, saving his voice for the next show.

The next day I discover a great taverna on tiny Iroon Square. After a great lunch (fresh fish with a sauce full of sweet peppers and tomatoes), I wander into Psiri, past homeless men sleeping on the porches of abandoned buildings. Just beyond a small church, I glance down at movement between two parked cars and see a junkie crouched on the curb, shooting up.

The Ancient Agora
The Ancient Agora

Early the next morning I go through Monastiraki, take a  quick tour of Hadrian’s Library, meet Hadrian’s three cats and his tortoise, and climb the hill toward an entrance to the Agora, onetime hangout of Socrates, Aristotle, Demosthenes, Paul and other ancient thinkers.

Along the way, on a quiet side street, is the office of the Melina Mercouri Foundation, the late actor’s organization to promote European arts and culture.

The Agora is quiet, a true park of several acres stretching down the northeastern side of the Acropolis and home to another museum of splendid antiquities, Among the ancient Greek ruins is a pacific 11th-century Orthodox church tucked among old trees. But the gem of the park is the Hephaesteion, a temple from 400 BC, and one of the best-preserved edifices in Greece.

Atop a hill, it rises from surrounding greenery, a refuge in the chaotic world that is modern Athens. In fact, only a mile or so away, demonstrations have been taking place against Greece’s government and the austerity measures being implemented to help solve the country’s economic woes. Perhaps an ancient philosopher or two could help.

The few euros I’m spending aren’t going to make much difference, and it’s time to head for another country whose roots are in Mycenaean culture, Cyprus. But before my entries about the island of Aphrodite, I’ll report on a one-day detour to Cairo.

Follow Chris Wohlwend’s European tour on his blog.

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Run to Olympia http://likethedew.com/2010/07/20/run-to-olympia/ http://likethedew.com/2010/07/20/run-to-olympia/#comments Tue, 20 Jul 2010 16:41:56 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=10386 I don’t plan to spend much time in Patras – basically I want to get to the station and catch the train for Olympia, about 100 miles south. Olympia was the site of the ancient Olympics, described in the travel literature as an idyllic glade surrounding the ruins of the games’ facilities.

It’s also well off the beaten track. From Patras, the rail route is to Pyrgos, a center of the farming community that comprises this part of the Pelopennese. There’s a train change at Pyrgos for the short trip inland to the site where Olympic athletes competed  every four years for more than 1,100 years.

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Olympia, Greece. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

I don’t plan to spend much time in Patras – basically I want to get to the station and catch the train for Olympia, about 100 miles south. Olympia was the site of the ancient Olympics, described in the travel literature as an idyllic glade surrounding the ruins of the games’ facilities.

It’s also well off the beaten track. From Patras, the rail route is to Pyrgos, a center of the farming community that comprises this part of the Pelopennese. There’s a train change at Pyrgos for the short trip inland to the site where Olympic athletes competed  every four years for more than 1,100 years.

As I make my way to the Patras station, a few hundred yards from the ferry dock, I notice that my Harley friends have been joined by scores of their buddies. There are motorcycles everywhere. Then I find that the last train to Olympia – there are three daily – departed  at about 11:30 a.m. It’s now about 3 p.m. Next train is tomorrow at 6 a.m., with the second at 9.

I walk out of the station, pulling and carrying my luggage as I dodge Harleys and  cross the street. Luckily, there is a vacancy at the first hotel I walk into, the Astir, a large, well-kept edifice that looks to have been built in the 1930s.

Tomorrow, Saturday, will be the day for my Olympic run. Later, exploring, I discover that Patras is hosting a Europe-wide Harley-Davidson rally. The riders number in the thousands and they dominate the city. Greek kids are mesmerized by the big bikes, some of the more adventuresome clamboring aboard for photos. I don’t see any get caught by bike owners, most of whom I’m sure would not be amused.

The next day, I make the 9 a.m. train for Olympia. There are three cars. We ramble out of Patras, through a trackside slum that seems to be occupied mostly by black Africans. Next is an intensely cultivated agriculture area. There are expanses of olive trees, with citrus trees interspersed, fields of tomatoes and melons and cucumbers, and, of course, vineyards. The towns are small and clustered around tiny train stations. The only roads are dirt.

Finally, we reach Pyrgos and I get off for the short hop to Olympia. This time, there are only two cars. Besides a couple of Greeks who apparently have gone into Pyrgos for supplies, the only other passengers are a Dutch couple.

The train stops wherever  the Pelopennese want to get on or off, whether there is a station or not. The driver seems to know his passengers and where they want to disembark. He stops at one dirt road to pick up a woman and her child, then lets them off at the next dirt road, maybe a quarter mile away. No one ever asks her for a ticket.

At another crossing, he stops to trade jokes with two acquaintances, and then continues. This train is truly a local.

Finally, Olympia. By this point the Dutch  couple are my only fellow passengers. The town is tourist-oriented, but still quiet and quaint, only four or five blocks long, with residences arrayed around a hill overlooking it.

The ruins and accompanying museum are a short walk away, occupying space between two streams. The musem contains several true masterpieces, in a country where such relics are commonly unearthed. And yet it is uncrowded, though several busloads of tourists are present. I will appreciate my time here later when I’ve been hurried and harried through Athens museums.

Outside are the remains of the gymnasium, the stadium, the baths, and the temple of Zeus (original home of the one of the 7 Wonders of the Ancient World, the sculptor Phidias’ statue of the god), as well as a dozen or so other buildings. One was Phidias’s workshop. There, archeologists unearthed a cup that is inscribed, “I belong to Phidias.”

An Olympian thunderstorm cuts short my visit and I return to the museum, taking shelter in its garden.

Time is short, and I return to the train station, where I’m soon joined by my Dutch friends. The two-car train returns to Pyrgos in the post-storm sunshine and I’m faced with two hours before the train back to Patras. During the wait, I realize that no matter how exotic the locale might seem, Saturday afternoon in small towns is the same everywhere. The quiet is broken only by songbirds and church bells as everyone rests up for Saturday night.

On the trip to Patras, we pass groups of families and neighbors gathered in back yards alongside the dirt roads and the train tracks, tables and chairs pulled out in yards, games of backgammon and cards contested  by adults, soccer balls being kicked by children.

Later, back in the middle of the bikers at Patras, I enjoy dinner at a taverna on the pedestrian walkway that dominates the downtown area, watching the motorcyclists as they posture and puff on cigars. A Harley club from Athens has taken over a nearby group of tables. It is dominated by two older men with much-younger female companions, females who have the appearance of being expensive to maintain, much like their chrome chargers.

The next day, as the bikes stream out and as the city cleans up from its busy and noisy weekend, I head to the train station, Athens-bound.

Follow Chris Wohlwend’s European tour on his blog.

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Italy & the Adriatic http://likethedew.com/2010/07/01/italy-the-adriatic/ http://likethedew.com/2010/07/01/italy-the-adriatic/#respond Thu, 01 Jul 2010 05:22:09 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=10163 The Milano train station at  6 a.m. is quiet, and my train for Bari, a primary port on the Adriatic Sea, doesn’t leave until 7:35. So I find a spot to sit. Unfortunately, the only place I can find is Smokers’ Corner, so I periodically have to put up with tobacco, the Indians’ Revenge.

As rush hour approaches, the station starts to get busy and I move to where I can see the schedule to find out the platform where I’ll board. I notice a black man, carrying a large bag, as he keeps traipsing around a circle of his own making. Then he puts down his bag, next to a light pole, and goes back to his circling. By now there are a lot of commuters coming and going.

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The Milano train station at  6 a.m. is quiet, and my train for Bari, a primary port on the Adriatic Sea, doesn’t leave until 7:35. So I find a spot to sit. Unfortunately, the only place I can find is Smokers’ Corner, so I periodically have to put up with tobacco, the Indians’ Revenge.

As rush hour approaches, the station starts to get busy and I move to where I can see the schedule to find out the platform where I’ll board. I notice a black man, carrying a large bag, as he keeps traipsing around a circle of his own making. Then he puts down his bag, next to a light pole, and goes back to his circling. By now there are a lot of commuters coming and going.

Suddenly the black man starts hollering as he walks, his comments in a dialect that only he understands. The other schedule watchers start watching him as well. A passing policeman, typical of Italian officialdom, studiously ignores him.

Finally, my train shows up on the schedule and I make my way to Platform 12. I’m in seat 54, car 2. I find car 2, but its seat numbers stop at 32. So I plop down in the nearest empty seat and stow my bags overhead.

As we pull out, four train officials claim the spots across the aisle and another passenger, also unable to find his reserved seat, questions them. They wave him off – “Don’t  bother us with your problem.” So I stay put since the car is not crowded and plenty of seats are available.

But as we get closer to Bologna, the train gains more commuters at each stop. I have to move twice as passengers claim my seat. At least I’m able to stay in the vicinity of my bags so I don’t have to pull them down and then put them somewhere else.

East of Bologna the crowd thins as we speed through vineyards toward the Adriatic. At Ancona, we turn south and head down the coast. The towns are beach escapes, some with sleek new resort hotels, others with older, funkier facilities. Blue sky, blue sea, palms swaying in the breeze – interesting ride, until all the towns start to blur together.

I’m scheduled to catch a ferry at Bari, an overnighter for Patras, Greece, with stops in Corfu and Igoumenitsa, at 10 p.m. The train is scheduled to arrive at Bari at 3:35 p.m. We make it at about 6, during a downpour. I’m beginning to understand the contention that Mussolini was popular in Italy solely because he made the trains run on time. And I’m glad I’ve got until 10 p.m.

At the port, I don’t have to worry with Italian officialdom – there isn’t any. Nor signs. But there are a large number of wet motorcyclists, apparently together and heading for Patras, too. With the help of the ferry folks, I find my way to customs and the ship. Pulling my bag, dodging puddles and tractor-trailer trucks pulling up into the boat, I make it aboard and am shown my room.

The facilities are nice, much better than I expected for a ferry. But, I soon discover, the smokers have the run of the ship, and most of the bikers are smokers. The bikers, male and female, are Harley-Davidson riders, sporting gear with home club information on the back. They are from Poland, Sweden, Slovakia, Germany, Denmark.

In the dining room cafeteria line, I opt for pastitsia, the Greek pasta casserole, and a salad. The servings are huge. Not paying attention to signage, I sit down in a section marked “Welcome Truckers” and soon find myself in conversation with a German driver from Hanover on his way to Kalamata, Greece, with a load of furniture. Our neighbors are two Dutch drivers and five guys from Romania. All have massive plates of fries that they cover with massive amounts of mayonnaise. The bikers display similar culinary tastes.

The German speaks fair English, and translates for the other guys, all of whom speak some German. I ask why they drive through Italy and take the ferry across instead of traveling through the Balkans. The answer is quick – it’s less expensive because they don’t have to stop every 100 kilometers and pay a bribe, which they tell me is the norm through the Balkans.

When the others return to their fries and mayo, the German confides that he only does this about once a month, that he’s old enough to retire. Then, with a wink, he adds, “I have reasons not to stay at home.”

After the German takes his bottle of wine and retires, and the bikers get heavily into their cigarettes and Carlsbergs, I return to my stateroom and hit the sack, sleeping through Corfu and Igoumenitsa and only waking as we maneuver into port at Patras the next morning. Three days and three countries, by train and by boat.

Follow Chris Wohlwend’s European tour on his blog.

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At sea http://likethedew.com/2010/06/25/at-sea/ http://likethedew.com/2010/06/25/at-sea/#respond Fri, 25 Jun 2010 22:55:40 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=10084 The last time I was on board a boat out of Miami, it was a 12-foot Sunfish, property of a fellow Miami Herald employee named Dave Finley. It was my first adventure on a sailboat, and it ended with the Sunfish on its side in the Atlantic off Key Biscayne and Finley and I thrashing around trying to right it as a Coast Guard Albatross circled overhead. We finally got it upright, clambered aboard, and returned to the safety of Biscayne Bay.

The Jewel of the Seas is a bit more of a boat – a cruise ship of the Royal Caribbean line, a gleaming, massive party vessel with a full casino, a theater, several restaurants and bars, two swimming pools, a library, resident acts ranging from magic to musical, and, not to be discounted, two ping-pong tables.

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The last time I was on board a boat out of Miami, it was a 12-foot Sunfish, property of a fellow Miami Herald employee named Dave Finley. It was my first adventure on a sailboat, and it ended with the Sunfish on its side in the Atlantic off Key Biscayne and Finley and I thrashing around trying to right it as a Coast Guard Albatross circled overhead. We finally got it upright, clambered aboard, and returned to the safety of Biscayne Bay.

The Jewel of the Seas is a bit more of a boat – a cruise ship of the Royal Caribbean line, a gleaming, massive party vessel with a full casino, a theater, several restaurants and bars, two swimming pools, a library, resident acts ranging from magic to musical, and, not to be discounted, two ping-pong tables.

The passengers, headed for Harwich, England, with stops in Bermuda, Lisbon, and Bruges, numbered about 3,000. Judging from their destination-tagged T-shirts and tote bags, they were a well-traveled bunch: All the expected  Caribbean locations, plus the Falklands, Cape Horn, K2 Pakistan, the Black Sea. When a destination is featured on a T-shirt, it’s no longer remote no matter how far away it may seem.

The British seemed to be in the majority, many headed home after South Florida vacations. Out of Miami, weather hot and humid, the outdoor pool was popular, tanners catching the rays. The poolside tableau – several decades younger – could have starred in an R. Crumb fantasy.

The first few days, before we headed north into cooler weather, the pool was the center  of activity, with line-dance lessons, bean-bag toss, a putting contest, and the World Male Belly-Flop Championship. The last garnered much attention when a female, helped by libations from the Pool Bar, insisted on entering, fully clothed. She competed, but lost out to a big-bellied Scotsman.

My dining tablemates – Peggy, Sandy, and Rosary – were all cruise veterans and, natives of the New Orleans area, not easily fooled when it comes to eats. Even as we critiqued what Royal Caribbean was serving up, we were talking about the best of the Crescent City. I learned to always insist on unwashed oysters (saltier and tastier); that in real Italian households, tomato sauce is called “red  gravy;” and that the best bread pudding is found at the Red Maple in Gretna.

On Mother’s Day, we hit Bermuda, though many were disappointed because downtown Hamilton and its shopping was closed, it being Sunday.

After eight hours ashore, it was back at sea – five days until Lisbon. As we were farther north, it was generally too chilly for poolside activity, though the solarium pool was still available for the serious water sportsmen. So the two ping-pong tables, wind-protected in the verandah, started drawing crowds. When I would be taking my morning tea at 7:30, I could watch ping-pong. There were even formal-wear games. (Several evenings were designated for formal wear – I did not participate, but was startled one night by a huge Scotsman in tux and kilt, a sight not soon forgotten.)

One of the appeals of a cruise is that it can be an escape. You are among folks that you never have to see again; you can participate in belly-flop competitions in anonymity; you can spend hours in the casino without anyone (except your banker) knowing about it; you can take the stage on amateur night and pretend you’re on American Idol.

And, like the man in the kilt, dress however you want.

One Brit, bald and in his 50s, favored an all-red outfit. His sleeveless shirt, mid-calf pants (they used to be called pedal-pushers), and matching Keds wouldn’t be acceptable in any London office, even on casual Friday.

Finally, Lisbon loomed. I signed up for a shore excursion, to a national park and fishing village south of the city. There was a stop at the Fonseca winery, where I discovered that one of their products is an old undergraduate favorite, Lancers. On the tour, Most-Obnoxious title went to a couple who insisted on loudly arguing with each other in the middle of our guide’s commentary.

The coastal scenery was spectacular, wildflowers in bloom, blue sea below. The tortuous cliffside roads made me think I would be included in one of those short States-side news stories: 56 die when bus plunges down Portuguese mountainside. Fortunately, our driver was experienced, his bus in top shape.

Back on board, next stop Bruges. I hadn’t been there, but I have spent a lot of time in Brussels and am way too familiar with Belgian chocolate, so I was looking forward to laying in a supply to get me across Europe.

And I wanted to see the Michelangelo sculpture housed in the Church of Our Lady. The sculpture, Madonna at Bruges, is reason enough to visit Belgium. Because it’s in a church and not a museum, there was no crowd; I could spend as much time as I wanted admiring the work of a master.

There was also success on the chocolate front – I picked up a kilo (I would have gotten more but I knew it would melt before I got to Greece), and headed back to the ship. Our next stop was Harwich, then a short train ride to London, a taxi trip across the city to St. Pancras Station for the EuroStar, the luxurious “Chunnel” train that connects London and Paris in less than two hours.

Another taxi-ride, this time across Paris, Gare de Nord to Gare de Bercy, and an overnight train to Milano. As I’ve done in the past, I woke up in the middle of the night and peered out the window at the quiet Brig train station at the Simplon Pass before continuing on into Italy. A few hours later, I was awakened by the conductor announcing Milano.

Follow Chris Wohlwend’s European tour on his blog.

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Return to Miami http://likethedew.com/2010/06/25/return-to-miami/ http://likethedew.com/2010/06/25/return-to-miami/#comments Fri, 25 Jun 2010 05:22:49 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=10068 In South Georgia, on Interstate 75 for Florida and Miami, billboards dominate the terrain, touting pecans, peaches, and peanuts. Closer to Tifton, just beyond the sign boosting the "historic"  downtown, spa advertisements take over – there is Lucky Spa, No. 1 Spa, Tokyo Spa (Truckers Welcome). South Georgia is, it appears, about more than fruit and nuts.

Across the state line, roadside scenery quickly changes. North Florida apparently has stricter rules when it comes to billboards ... Ocala  comes and goes as a fierce thunderstorm hits, then it’s the tollway heading east, horse culture giving way to Mouse culture as Orlando looms ... The next morning, I head east for Interstate 95, making contact in Palm Beach County at rush hour. Just before 8 a.m. two guys in a convertible speed around me, top down, golf clubs filling up the back seat. This is the Florida I remember.

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In South Georgia, on Interstate 75 for Florida and Miami, billboards dominate the terrain, touting pecans, peaches, and peanuts. Closer to Tifton, just beyond the sign boosting the “historic”  downtown, spa advertisements take over – there is Lucky Spa, No. 1 Spa, Tokyo Spa (Truckers Welcome). South Georgia is, it appears, about more than fruit and nuts.

Across the state line, roadside scenery quickly changes. North Florida apparently has stricter rules when it comes to billboards. They are there, but not in such numbers. Real estate, a classic Florida sell, is available, at least until horse country starts. Then the interstate cuts through expensive terrain, home to thoroughbred horses and their moneyed owners. Billboards aren’t as welcome.

Ocala  comes and goes as a fierce thunderstorm hits, then it’s the tollway heading east, horse culture giving way to Mouse culture as Orlando looms. I skirt Disney country to the south, leaving its tourist attractions to those more enamored  of rodents and their fascist creators than I am. Back into desolate agriculture country, finally leaving the turnpike for a room in Okeechobee.

The next morning, I head east for Interstate 95, making contact in Palm Beach County at rush hour. Just before 8 a.m. two guys in a convertible speed around me, top down, golf clubs filling up the back seat. This is the Florida I remember.

On the outskirts of Miami, I get off I-95 in favor of Biscayne Boulevard. Little River, where I briefly lived before leaving Miami, is now a Caribbean enclave, a Little Haiti with its bright colors, street-front food vendors and storefronts blaring reggae – or on one occasion, Aretha Franklin. But the seeming prosperity is only evident for a couple of blocks; empty buildings and caved-in roofs speak to a desperate poverty only a few steps off the main drag.

Right onto 36th Street (not easy as Biscayne is torn up with a construction project), to see what remains of the North Dade Athletic Club. There’s the building, sadly boarded up and graffiti-splattered. Not surprising, as the joint’s heyday was 30 years ago.

On to downtown, where new high rises crowd Biscayne Bay. The Herald is still where it was when I worked there – but part of the building is rented to a school. Across the McArthur Causeway to South Beach. No dogtrack, no Turf Bar, just sleek, airy hipster hangouts instead. But the pedestrian traffic seems to be the same mix, enough weathered retirees to offset the weathered  beach habituees that have called it home for decades.

And just south of the causeway, tied up at the Port of Miami, is my ship, the Jewel of the Seas. Time to ditch the car and board the boat.

As the ship slips through Governor’s Cut, South Beach to the left, Miami is spectacular in the rear-view mirror, like most cities beautiful from a distance, not so much from street level. Miami is a tropical metropolis, sunny funkiness edging toward  heat-induced rot.

Follow Chris Wohlwend’s European tour on his blog.

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Of Preachers and Popes http://likethedew.com/2010/04/12/of-preachers-and-popes/ http://likethedew.com/2010/04/12/of-preachers-and-popes/#comments Mon, 12 Apr 2010 21:28:20 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=8840
 Church reunion, early 1960s
Church reunion, early 1960s. The author is one of the 10-year-old boys with a crewcut.

The voice, despite being at shout volume, seemed to be disembodied, but the message was clear: If we all didn’t change our ways, we were going to Hell.

I was sitting in my car, waiting for the light to change at a busy downtown Knoxville interchange, three lanes each direction. Finally, I spotted the source of the sermon. The driver of a truck was shouting his message to everyone waiting on the red – preaching to the air.

Raised a Southern Baptist, I have heard my share of sermons, from the raised-stage pulpits of large, rigidly structured edifices and from the worn wooden floors of tiny, no-pulpit store-fronts. But this was the first I had seen delivered from the driver’s seat of a truck with its motor running. This was a man of God of singular determination – definitely qualified for my list of notable preachers.

Up until my late teens, I was a regular attendee of morning and evening services as well as Sunday School and Training Union. And the annual Vacation Bible Schools and week-long revivals. Occasionally there were dinners on the grounds, too, with fried chicken and potato salad and deviled eggs in infinite variety.

We were active in a popular Knoxville congregation.

While I was enthusiastic about the dinners, I was a reluctant attendee of the regular services and the revivals. My father was a deacon, my mother a choir member, and my siblings and I had no choice but to be in church when they were. Decisions to skip the service in favor of the soda counter at the nearby Greenlee’s Drug Store were made risky by Mom’s position in the choir. She scanned the pews to see that we were not only present, but upright and awake.

And staying awake could be a problem. The church was large enough – more than 1,000 members – that ritual took precedence over spirit, at least on Sunday mornings. Longtime members had sat through hundreds of sermons, delivered by dozens of preachers. Many were prone to dozing. There was one lanky member, habitué of the rear of the auditorium, who was well-known to me and my friends. He would nod off, his head would drift backward and his Adam’s apple would bob with his breathing. We found the sight amusing, a diversion that kept us awake.

Another diversion, usually occurring only at evening services, involved Aunt Jenny, an older choir member who would be moved to dance from her seat in the loft down to the front of the altar, choir robe swirling. We didn’t know whether to laugh or run.

Reluctant though I was about the sermonizing, I didn’t mind Vacation Bible School. My dad, a machinist who worked the second shift and was available in the mornings, would be called on for VBS, usually put in charge of crafts for the boys. And I would be drafted to help, loading pieces of plywood into the station wagon, along with the saws and files that would be used to cut them into animal shapes. They would then be decorated with colored popcorn. Sometimes, the end product would actually resemble a chicken or a rabbit – or something nightmarishly in-between. Afterward, I would wield a broom as we cleaned up the scattered popcorn.

By the time I was 12 or 13, plywood animals didn’t hold much interest for my age group. Crafts hour degenerated into popcorn battles, saws and files becoming dangerous weapons.

As I became more of a hindrance than a help, Dad enlisted another deacon. Boomer, as I’ll call him here, was an automobile mechanic, and he had an idea. He brought in several boxes of old carburetors, screwdrivers, wrenches, and a can of kerosene and shop rags for cleaning. He showed us how to disassemble the carbs, how to clean all the parts with kerosene, and how to put them back together. We worked on single-barrels, then two-barrels, and, finally, at week’s end, four-barrels. There were a lot of greasy fingers and oil-stained clothes, but no more popcorn battles.

But as I grew older and bought my own car, with its own carburetor, I moved away from active church participation, eventually working a part-time job downtown. It was then that I started taking note of street preachers. Knoxville had its share, most of them active on Saturdays on Market Square. Their breathy buildups and sing-song deliveries were fascinating, at least as a lunchtime diversion. Too, there was the young guy who was adept at leaping into the air at particular points during his sermons, jumping just as he slapped his Bible against his hand, his timing precise.

After I graduated college and changed jobs, moving from city to city, other Bible thumpers caught my attention. In downtown Dallas, there were dueling preachers who worked a particularly busy street corner. One would sermonize for a while, the other looking on in disgust. When the first ran out of steam, the second would start, his competitor watching with a disdainful look.

Atlanta featured several of note. There was a woman, part of a group that wore white robes, who would smoothly segue from preaching to singing, her “sisters” joining in on the chorus. But downtown Atlanta’s best as spectacle was an African-American man who worked Woodruff Park at lunchtime. He carried a guitar slung over his shoulder, though I never saw him play it. What made him interesting was his “shadow.” At some point, a young white man had decided to follow him closely and mimic his movements, making fun of him. The shadow became enough of a problem that a third person joined in: an Atlanta policeman who made sure the shadow didn’t get too close.

Though I found street preachers intriguing, I had long ago decided I didn’t want middlemen between me and my maker, epiphany coming when I was high-school age and still attending the church of my childhood. The educational minister was a slick, charismatic character with a wife and five children. His spouse, who sat next to my mother in the choir, was the butt of his jokes when he made his reports to the congregation on Sunday mornings. And, I overheard my mother tell her friends, she would whisper funny asides in response, using language not suited for church.

But one afternoon as Mom and her friends gossiped, I overheard a different tale about the minister. It seems that he was having an affair with a church member, also married. I didn’t hear much detail – one of Mom’s friends noticed that I was in the room and I was quickly sent outside.

The next Sunday, the educational minister and his wife were not present at either service. The word quickly spread that he had resigned and that he and his family were leaving Knoxville. Over the next couple of weeks I picked up bits and pieces of the story, but I was too involved in my own high school shenanigans to pay much attention.

The years passed, the neighborhood changed, and the church merged with another congregation. I was living in Kansas City at the time. Mom and Dad were active in the new church for a while, until the fundamentalists started taking over the Southern Baptist Convention. My parents were both strong believers in formal education, and the mail-order degrees held by the new faction appalled them.

Eventually the new church called a new preacher, a fundamentalist whose education was, as far as my mother was concerned, seriously lacking. She soon was at loggerheads with him and he fired her from the Sunday School class she was teaching, even sending a young minister-in-training to suggest that she not tell anyone why she was no longer teaching. She told him that if she was asked by any of the women in the class, she wouldn’t lie. Eventually, she and my dad quit attending.

My parents knew everyone in that area of Knoxville, and my mother, never shy, wielded considerable influence. The new preacher – she had taken to calling him Pope John – decided he needed her back in attendance. He began regular visitations at their house.

His entreaties only angered her. Finally, she told him that if she came to church it would be to call for his ouster. Under Southern Baptist Convention rules, any church member can call for a vote about a preacher at any service; if there is a second, the vote must be held then and there. Her threat was sufficient, and Pope John didn’t come around anymore.

Years later, at my father’s funeral, I spoke with many of his old friends from the old church, the shade-tree mechanics he talked cars with, fellow machinists, the neighbors he helped when their vehicles wouldn’t start. But I didn’t see Boomer.

Later, talking about the crowd with my brother and sister, I mentioned his absence.  My sister looked over at me. I guess you didn’t hear, she said: He committed suicide years ago.

My look of surprise led her to explain. Boomer had had a drinking problem, a problem that became worse with the discovery that his wife was involved with the church’s educational minister.

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Rod and I Go to the Game http://likethedew.com/2009/08/14/rod-and-i-go-to-the-game/ http://likethedew.com/2009/08/14/rod-and-i-go-to-the-game/#comments Fri, 14 Aug 2009 22:08:37 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=5258 Marie’s Olde Towne Tavern, despite the gentrified spellings, is an unremarkable joint on the north edge of downtown Knoxville, with the clientele one would expect from its location only a block from the Greyhound bus station.

But Marie’s does sport one thing that no other bar in town does. On the wall there is a framed, autographed photo of former University of Tennessee football player Rod Harkleroad. And on this October Saturday Rod insisted that I experience it. “I gave them an exclusive, so it’s the only bar in town where you can see it,” he said.

The year was 2002 and I was accompanying Rod on his ritualistic game-day circuit.

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RodMarie’s Olde Towne Tavern, despite the gentrified spellings, is an unremarkable joint on the north edge of downtown Knoxville, with the clientele one would expect from its location only a block from the Greyhound bus station.

But Marie’s does sport one thing that no other bar in town does. On the wall there is a framed, autographed photo of former University of Tennessee football player Rod Harkleroad. And on this October Saturday Rod insisted that I experience it. “I gave them an exclusive, so it’s the only bar in town where you can see it,” he said.

The year was 2002 and I was accompanying Rod on his ritualistic game-day circuit.

I had known Rod since grammar school – he and I had knocked helmets for a couple of years when we were about 12 or 13. Because we were the two biggest guys of our group, we always did the choosing when teams were picked. When we became semi-organized, with regular Friday-afternoon games, he quarterbacked the Stompers, while I led the Bruisers. We played in the side yard of Danny Meador’s house, our only equipment being the ball and, for some, helmets. We imagined we were the talk of Burlington, the working-class east Knoxville neighborhood where we lived.

Rod had gone on to play high school football, had made all-state as a senior and had received a scholarship to the University of Tennessee. He didn’t play much – on the depth chart, he was behind Bob Johnson, now enshrined in the College Football Hall of Fame. But Rod was active in the Vols’ Lettermen’s Club and kept up with his old teammates.

I was trying to find a different perspective for a story on UT football and had decided that hanging out with the old players prior to a game could work. Rod liked the idea and agreed to get me inside the Lettermen’s Club before a game.

We decided on the Arkansas contest because its 8 p.m. kickoff would give us plenty of hanging-out time. And that’s why we were at the Olde Towne at 1 p.m. Marie’s was our third stop of the day. Rod, after a successful career coaching high school football, was now in the food-service business, and he had pre-game meetings with a couple of clients, providing food for their tailgate parties.

First, we made a delivery of yard-long sandwiches from Steamboat, a sub shop owned by another high school pal, Donnie Anderson. The delivery was to Jefferson County, northeast of Knoxville. Then, after we had crossed back into Knox County, we stopped at a liquor store.

“I’m going to let you drive,” Rod said. I took the keys to his van and he mixed Jack Daniels and Sprite in a plastic cup. “I’ve got to meet another client at 3 at Riverside Tavern, so we’ve got time to stop by Marie’s.”

After my eyes adjusted to the lack of light in the bar, I found Rod’s picture. He was in full uniform except for his helmet, looking fierce in a dropback blocking stance.  “Nice, huh?” Rod said. “Enough to make me a regular here.”

After we finished our brews and fended off a half dozen entreaties from a beer-begging crone, we left Marie’s. “Swamp Rat’s on the air by now,” Rod said. “And Mrs. Parker needs to call in.”

Swamp Rat was Dewey Warren, who played quarterback for UT when Rod was on the team. He now was host of a call-in sports talk radio show. And Mrs. Parker? That was Rod, using his best soft, refined, feminine voice. We got in the van, Rod got out his cellphone, and soon had Dewey on the line.

“Mr. Warren?” he said. “This is Mrs. Parker and I was just calling to discuss the finer points of the game.”

The Swamp Rat was a legend among the Big Orange faithful, and Mrs. Parker had become a star of his show, especially on game days. Today, Mrs. Parker wanted to talk about quarterback Casey Clausen.

“I am reminded of breakfast time when I was a child,” she said. “We had to be quick if we wanted an extra biscuit. That young Mr. Clausen’s holding the ball too long and that’s why the young men on the other side break through and he gets his rear side blistered. He just needs to be quicker in order to get the last biscuit.”

Mr. Warren agreed, thanked Mrs. Parker and turned to another caller.

Mrs. Parker was bang-on in voice and manner, she did not take the game too seriously, and she possessed a propensity for double-entendre that was subtle enough to slip right by Mr. Warren and his producers. The voice disguise was perfect. “You know,” Rod said to me after he hung up, “Dewey didn’t figure out that I was Mrs. Parker until the third or fourth time she was on the show.”

0724neyland2_t300I was now pulling into the parking lot of the Riverside Tavern, a popular spot within walking distance of Neyland Stadium. The Riverside, though it too was a “tavern,” had nothing else in common with Marie’s. The gameday crowd consisted of the more successful Big Orange boosters. True, some might be as drunk as the old woman we had left at Marie’s. And they might be overly friendly, but they were more likely to want to buy a stranger a drink that to try to cadge one.

Rod swapped opinions on the game with his client, and then charmed a tableful of Arkansas fans with a “soooie pig.”

We then set out on foot for the serious tailgaters, it now being only four hours to kickoff. It was too early, Rod said, for much action at the Lettermen’s Club.

There were a couple more client stops and a brief visit with a local politician at his set-up before we made our way to Danny Meador’s spot. Danny, my old Bruiser teammate, was now president of a heavy-equipment firm and ran the company tailgate at UT games.

Rod and I regularly joined Danny and his company crowd, so we were expected. Another of Rod’s UT teammates, Paul Naumoff, would sometimes show up, and they would regale us with football stories. Paul, an all-star linebacker, had spent a decade heading up the defensive unit of the Detroit Lions before returning to Knoxville. During their college days, he and Rod had roomed together.

One of Paul’s favorite stories involved another linebacker, a player who partied with the same abandon that earned him All-American honors on the field. Among the other players, he was also known for his insistence when in search of drinking partners.

“That’s the reason I roomed with Rod,” Paul would say. “When he showed up at 3 a.m. drunk and rowdy, Rod would start preaching and praying for his soul. After a couple of those sessions, he left us alone.”

“But Paul,” Rod would add, “I prayed for your soul, too.”

Several drinks and stories later, Rod and I headed for the Lettermen’s Club – there was barbecue and it was close to 6 p.m. and I was hungry. Inside, I found what I was looking for – though it was not what I expected. Instead of insights into the TV games or the upcoming UT action, mostly what I heard were complaints about “these young guys not knowing how to play the game” or “not being tough enough to win the head-to-head battles.” They groused, I took notes, and Rod visited with former teammates.

Finally, it was 15 minutes until kickoff, the Lettermen’s Club was emptying, and the noise from the nearby stadium was drowning out normal conversation. We set out for our upper-deck seats.

About half-way up the entry ramp, I realized how tired I was. I was gamedayed out. I looked at Rod, who had been going longer that I had and who had drank a pint or so of bourbon to boot. He, too, looked tired.

“Do you really want to sit through three hours of football?” I asked him.

Feigning surprise, he looked at me askance. “You mean you don’t want to listen to my insights before each play? And what about all the folks around my seat – they expect me there to tell them what’s going to happen.”

I had joined Rod at games before, and what he said was true. As soon as the opponent’s defense was set Rod would call the play, and 75 percent of the time he was correct. Then he would regale us with derogatory comments about missed blocks and coverage. A game with Rod was always fun.

Once, I asked Rod why he had quit coaching. At his last job, at a rural school north of Knoxville, he explained, after a night game he had to lock himself in his office and call the sheriff’s department because a father angry at his son’s lack of playing time was waiting outside.

“I decided there had to be a better way to make a living,” he said. “Besides, this way I can just tell everyone how it should be done without having to worry about winning or losing.” So he stayed involved in football, and was especially active with the Lettermen’s Club, helping out when any of his old teammates needed assistance.

But tonight, he was as tired as I was. We did a 360 on the ramp, Star Spangled Banner blaring in the stadium. We heard the roar of the kickoff as we made our way back to the van, and listened to the first few minutes of the game on the radio as I drove back to where my car was parked. Rod assured me that he would sleep in the van until the next morning (his habit after such episodes), and I went home. The next day, I read about UT’s victory. Casey Clausen threw a touchdown pass to Jason Witten in the game’s sixth overtime. The game ended at midnight.

A few months later, Rod was diagnosed with advanced cancer. But that did not stop him from helping an old teammate. Steve Delong, a two-time All-American who had a career in the NFL, had fallen down a flight of stairs. The resultant back injury left him wheelchair-bound. He was in a nursing home, and Rod was a regular visitor, frequently accompanied by other former teammates, including Elliott Gammage.

“Every week, we’d go see him,” Gammage recalled recently. “Steve was angry about his circumstances, but what Rod meant to Steve was unbelievable. Here Rod was dying of cancer, but he had time to visit Steve every week. Rod Harkleroad demonstrated the kind of courage that I pray I’ll have when I’m near the end.”

A couple of weeks before Rod’s death, Danny Meador and I visited him at home. In pain, he was in a lounge chair, his reactions slowed by painkillers. His wife Brenda, a nurse, was at work. A woman we didn’t know met us at the door.

“I’m Rod’s first wife,” she said. “Second,” Rod corrected her.

“We couldn’t live together,” she said with a smile. “But we’re still friends.”

He turned to us. “It’s tough when you’re dying, fellas,” he said. “They even bring in your ex-wives.” We all laughed, finding comfort in knowing that he hadn’t lost his sense of humor.

At Rod’s memorial service, dozens of former UT footballers showed up. Tales were told and there was a lot of laughter. One former teammate, Mike Price, repeated a favorite story, one that all the players knew. Rod, Mike, and Art Galiffa, a quarterback on the team during the mid-‘60s, were quail hunting one fall.

“We were taking a break, headed back to the trucks,” Price said. “Art and I had gotten in front of the others when one of the dogs went on point behind us. I hear a gun go off and next thing I know I’m on the ground and blood’s going everywhere. They start trying to find where I’ve been shot, undoing my coveralls. Rod’s hysterical. We can’t find where the blood’s coming from. Finally I look at my hand and see that a pellet has gone through my thumb.

“Rod finally calms down and we head back to the truck to get a Band-Aid. Rod put his arm around my shoulder. ‘You know, Mike’ he said, ‘If I had to shoot anyone, I’m glad it was you’.”

‘Why?’ I wanted to know. ‘Why not Galiffa – I mean, he’s a cocky quarterback’.”

“Because,” Rod answered, “You’re such a nice guy.”

Several days after Rod’s death, several of his old teammates managed to fulfill one of his last wishes. They slipped into Neyland Stadium and surreptitiously scattered his ashes around Shields-Watkins Field.

“It’s good to know,” said Price, “that Rod’s there to tell the coaches when they’re messing up.”

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Breadlines, Labor Strikes, a March by the Unemployed http://likethedew.com/2009/08/10/breadlines-labor-strikes-a-march-by-the-unemployed/ http://likethedew.com/2009/08/10/breadlines-labor-strikes-a-march-by-the-unemployed/#comments Mon, 10 Aug 2009 23:59:01 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=5138

Nobody_Knows_YouToday’s economic hard times have brought memories and references to the Depression of the 1930s – the Great Depression that saw almost 30 percent of America’s population without any income, that saw breadlines stretching for blocks, that saw runs on banks and the failure of financial institutions throughout the country.

A new multi-media package from Shanachie underlines the parallels. “The Panic Is On: The Great American Depression as Seen by the Common Man” contains a CD of period songs, a booklet of excerpts of letters and observations from victims, and, most telling, a DVD of newsreel and movie footage from the time.

Included in the music are renditions that were airwave hits – “Brother Can You Spare a Dime” by Charlie Palloy and his Orchestra, “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out” by Bessie Smith, “Cheer Up! Smile! Nertz!” by Eddie Cantor. But there are also more obscure songs, tunes that maybe didn’t get the airplay at the time that they deserved.

6804While the choices by white artists tend to be optimistic, like Art Kassel’s “OK, America,” black singers and writers don’t see much in the way of positive change coming. Besides the Bessie Smith classic, there are moving tunes by Barbecue Bob (“Bad Times Blues”), Charlie Jordan (“Starvation Blues”) and Sonny Boy Williamson (“Welfare Store Blues”).

The DVD includes a smattering of hopeful footage – it starts with Jimmy Durante exhorting a group of businessmen to hire the unemployed. But it is weighted toward actual footage of the devastating stock-market crash of 1929 and its effects. There are breadlines, labor strikes, a march by the unemployed, bank runs, a dance marathon and its aura of desperation.

Besides Durante, other stars of the time are featured, including the Boswell Sisters, Fanny Brice, Roy Acuff, Woodie Guthrie, and Fred Allen. They perform songs, cheerlead optimistically, and narrate films depicting work projects.

Allen, popular radio comedian, is the voice of  “The Jazz Age,” a clear-eyed look at Wall Street behavior during the 1920s that was produced and written by Henry Salomon. In the excerpt featured here, Allen catches the boom mentality of capitalism as the market continues – like in recent years – its upward rise: “Nothing can arrest the upward movement!” and then adds the cautionary note born of the knowledge of the coming fall: “The market’s not only discounting the future, it’s discounting the hereafter.”

But the most telling testimony comes from the common people. An excerpt from a letter: “My father lost his job and we moved into a double-garage … we had a coal stove, and we had to each take turns, the three of us kids, to warm our legs.” Or this, written to Eleanor Roosevelt: “Starvation and ejection are staring me in the face.”

Or, in the video, the halting, embarrassed answers given by a taciturn man in the breadline run by Mr. Zero, a wealthy industrialist who gave up his business to help those in need with a mission in the Bowery of New York City.

The selections made by the project’s producers, Joe Lauro, Sherwin Dunner, and Richard Nevins, effectively emphasize capitalism’s boom-and-bust nature. But also evident is the fact that the devastation of the Great Depression has not been repeated this time around. And much of the credit has to go to the financial safeguards instituted in the 1930s by the administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt to correct system weakness.

Government-guaranteed insurance against bank failure, Social Security, the implementation of public-work projects – all have been instrumental in preventing another Great Depression. And all are in place in spite of the machinations of the free-market ideologues, the same nay-sayers who are now complaining about government intervention, the same capitalists who were arguing only a couple of years ago for the privatization of Social Security. Hopefully, the lesson will again marginalize those arguments.


Shanachie: http://www.shanachie.com/

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Pocketing the Coin http://likethedew.com/2009/07/08/pocketing-the-coin/ http://likethedew.com/2009/07/08/pocketing-the-coin/#comments Thu, 09 Jul 2009 00:06:38 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=4252

billiards-main_FullIn the early 1930s, a year or so after he dropped out of high school, Eddie Taylor caught the bus in Knoxville and headed to Morristown, about 40 miles north. He had an appointment with Herman Roddy Jr. and he had about $40 in his pocket, money he had won over several months in pool games.

“This was the Depression,” he told me years later, “and we were playing games for a dime or 15 cents.”

He was successful in Morristown, beating Roddy. “He had broke me twice before,” he said, “but this time I got him. And I knew then that I could do all right on the road.”

So Eddie Taylor, who had been playing since his father took him into pool rooms when he was a child, became a pro, hitchhiking around the South, playing pool for money, often big money. He was 15 years old.

It was a world of smoky back rooms, spittoons and illegal gambling, a world where many of the players hid behind colorful nicknames – the Tuscaloosa Squirrel, Wimpy, New York Fats. Taylor picked up his own years later, when he became known as the Knoxville Bear. He was tagged with the moniker after a series of games in Hot Springs, Arkansas. His opponent, after losing his bankroll, said Taylor was as hard to handle as a Smoky Mountain bear.

By then Taylor was known in pool halls from coast to coast, bringing enough fame to Knoxville to warrant an “official” visit to the University of Tennessee campus in the mid 1960s. He was invited to the decidedly sterile student billiards room – not exactly a back-room pool hall, but nevertheless the site of several well-maintained tables and second home to a score or so students who found it easy to cut a math class for a few games of eight-ball or rotation.

EdTaylorI was in the crowd when the Knoxville Bear made his appearance. In dress pants, white shirt and tie, he looked more like a professor than a pool hustler. But there was nothing absent-minded about his demeanor as he made seemingly impossible trick shots and then sank bank shot after bank shot, turning his head before each so that he was shooting “blind.” The crowd of wide-eyed would-be pool hustlers left shaking their heads and vowing more practice, classes be damned.

My reaction, at least for a while, was to start frequenting the more dicey pool rooms downtown – Comer’s and McDonald’s, places where the denizens were known as Flop, or Butterball, or Lefty. There were no exhibitions there – the players were paid not with a check from the university, but with cash from their opponent at the end of each game.

Once, friends and I joined the two dozen or so spectators at a two-day match where more than $30,000 changed hands. The game was nine-ball, $500 on the five and $500 on the nine. The winners were a player from Johnston City, Illinois, and his backer. The losers – one the first day, the other the second day – were a couple of Knoxville’s best players, including a pool-room owner from the north side of town, and their backers. The Bear was not present – he was out on the road, probably playing big-bucks games of his specialty, banks, in another city.

When the downtown McDonald’s, a mainstay of Knoxville’s pool rooms, closed in 1971, I wrote a story for The Knoxville Journal about its history. The second-generation owner, J.D. McDonald, told me about hanging out with the Bear, about hosting some of his matches in the 1950s.

As the years passed, and I realized that I did not have the patience or the “eye” required to become a good pool player, I would occasionally read or hear something about the Bear. Pool was beginning to become “legit” with big-money tournaments in Las Vegas and other cities, and the Knoxville Bear and other veteran road hustlers such as Luther “Wimpy “Lassiter and Irving “Deacon” Crane were usually among the finalists.

In 2003, I met up with J.D. again. He and his son were running a room in south Knoxville and selling and installing pool tables. He told me that the Knoxville Bear was living in Shreveport, Louisiana. And he gave me his telephone number.

By then Taylor was retired. He had seen his game go from clandestine matches in rooms that doubled as bookie joints to glitzy tournaments carried on national television. He had seen women players become TV stars, a long way from the days when they weren’t allowed in pool rooms at all.

Maybe the game had become more legitimate than it had been in the days when he made his living at it. But, Taylor said with a chuckle, he had no regrets: “There were times when I was broke and ended up sleeping on a park bench, or in my car when I had one, but I’d do it all over again.”

He talked about traveling with and playing many of the game’s legends – Crane, Lassiter, Jimmy Moore, Willie Mosconi. And he reminisced about his early days, surviving as a boy in a man’s world.

“I dropped out my first year of high school,” he said, “because I couldn’t stay away from pool. I was always slipping out of school and going to a pool room. My mother was always threatening to blow them up, but she finally gave up.”

Taylor’s education came in other ways. “I was playing in rooms in downtown Knoxville when I was about 13 or 14, with men like John R. Cook. He would play me with his overcoat on. Or he’d wear gloves. And he’d win. But in a year’s time I was beatin’ him even.”

It was then that he decided to head up to Morristown for the match with Herman Roddy Jr.

“His dad owned a pool room, and everyone around East Tennessee talked about how good he was. He broke me the first time I played him, then gave me 50 cents for the bus ticket back to Knoxville. I worked on my game for a couple of months, saved my money and went back. Same thing – he broke me again and gave me money for the bus ticket back. But the third time I beat him.”

After that win, Taylor headed out to surrounding towns, picking up pointers from other players, learning the lessons of the road.

“I went down to McMinnville with a guy named Charlie Brooks. Charlie was a lot older than me, sort of like a second father to me.

“Charlie was a bookmaker, did a lot of football parlays. He got hit pretty hard one week and was really in the hole. He told his customers that if they’d give him two or three months he’d pay them off. He was an honorable fellow and they all knew it.

“So he heard about a big poker game in McMinnville and we drove down there. It was summer and it was hot. He found the game and I found a pool room, three tables. The owner was also a bootlegger and was drinking moonshine. There was a huge front window and the sun was coming in and it was blazin’ hot. I wound up beating him pretty good. The wind-up was he gave me a check for $300.

“Charlie did pretty good, too, ended up paying off his betters. Of course the check from the bootlegger wasn’t any good. I learned not to take a check.

“Charlie taught me a lot. People are always asking me how I got into the pool rooms as a kid. It was because I never acted or dressed like a kid. I had been hanging out with adults since I was 8 or 9, when my dad would take me into the pool rooms. And Charlie Brooks taught me to dress respectable. He always wore a suit and tie and a hat. Kids didn’t dress like that.”

There are many games that can be played on a pool table, and the favorites varied from time to time and region to region. “When I first started out,” Taylor recalled,  “there were a lot of defensive games, where the objective was to play ‘safe,’ games such as one-pocket and check. We played a lot of snooker back then. But that changed and you couldn’t get any action. Then we’d go to one-pocket or check or banks. I’d play check all day for a nickel or dime a game. Maybe win $5 for the whole day. Of course back then, that was a lot of money.”

As Taylor widened the circle of towns where he could get a game, he learned a better way to make money at the table. He learned to hustle.

“A guy in Lexington, Kentucky, showed me how to lose games on purpose,” he said. “How to talk a big game until the money got big, then start really playing. I’d go on about how good I was, how I’d played Ralph Greenfield the week before and they’d all be laughing at me. They knew I meant Ralph Greenleaf, and thought I was too stupid to know his real name. I’d lose and then I’d say, ‘Well, I can’t really play unless we’re playing for big money’.

“It didn’t bother me that I was taking their money – I mean, they were trying to rob me, too.”

So Taylor made his way from town to town, city to city, hustling in pool halls, relaxing at the horse tracks in places like Hot Springs. Then he found his first big-money tournament.

“It was in 1960 in Macon, Georgia. The guys were all telling the promoter that I was good, that I was as well-known around the South as Coca-Cola.

“There were 10 or 12 players, Willie Mosconi, Ralph Greenleaf, Irving Crane, if you can picture that. But they were playing straight pool and I didn’t want that – that wasn’t my game.

“By then, my game was banks, which is what they played around Knoxville and Nashville and Atlanta. So I just watched.”

The next year, George and Paulie Jansco, who owned bars with adjoining pool rooms in Johnston City, in southern Illinois, started a tournament. The first was for the game of one-pocket, but by the third year, there was an all-around title as well, involving one-pocket, nine-ball, and rotation. And that third year, it was covered by ABC-TV’s Wide World of Sports.

“Me and Wimpy Lassiter were in the finals two years in a row,” Taylor said. “He beat me in 1963 and I beat him in 1964. That was my first world championship.

“Not long after that they set up a big tournament in this really nice place in San Francisco. Some of the best were there — Lassiter, Jimmy Moore – there were 10 of ‘em. You had to win a sectional, then a regional to get in. I was out on the road and didn’t have time for that. The wind-up is that I went to the tournament and got a game on the side with a guy from Chicago named Tom Bunch.

“I played him one-handed, $200 a game. One-pocket. Lassiter was in with me [as his backer]. I got it up to where he owed me $800. I asked if he wanted to quit and pay up. He said ‘screw you’ and we went double or nothing. I ended up winning $6,000. And Willie Mosconi won the tournament and only got $2,500.”

By 1967, the Jansco brothers had started the Stardust Open in Las Vegas. There, Taylor picked up his second world championship, as the game continued its move from smoke-filled back rooms to lit-for-television show bars.

In his hometown, Taylor’s exploits were making The Knoxville Journal sports column of Tom Anderson. Taylor remembered a couple of favorite Anderson phrases: ” ‘The Bear was suckering them years ago,’ he’d write. I remember once he wrote about me beating somebody and he said, ‘Taylor pocketed the coin.’ I thought that sounded great.”

Before his age started crimping his game, Taylor and his wife Violet bought a pool room in Tampa, Florida, and ran it for several years, hosting players such as Lassiter, Moore and Rudolph Wanderone, known as New York Fats and, later, as Minnesota Fats.

Then, in 1993, Taylor, who had traveled across the U.S. for decades making his living hustling in pool rooms large and small, was inducted into the Billiard Congress of America’s Hall of Fame in ceremonies in Kansas City. The hall had been established in 1966, and many of the tournament players had been inducted already. The consensus opinion at the ceremony was that it was about time that Taylor made it.

Lou Butera told about playing Taylor in 1962 and the lesson he learned. “He taught me to be humble,” he said. “He beat my brains in.”

“It’s long over-due,” Jim Rempe said. “He was my idol.”

When I talked with Taylor in 2003, he was still wielding a stick, teaching his doctor how to play. He died two years later, age 87.


Black-and-white photo: Taylor at the University Center at UT, circa 1967. Photo by Tom Green.

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Killian’s ’49 Ford http://likethedew.com/2009/06/14/killians-49-ford/ http://likethedew.com/2009/06/14/killians-49-ford/#comments Mon, 15 Jun 2009 01:20:18 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=3410

49_ford_1In my early teens, before I got my driver’s license, I looked up to the older guys at East High School who not only had cars, but had customized them. There was Tommy Mitchell, who had dropped a big V8 into his purple ’37 Chevy. And Moocher Cain, who drove what I saw as the ultimate, a ’51 Mercury, in primer gray, chopped and channeled.

Then, about the time I got my license, my classmate Jim LaMarr got a Henry J, squat, sort of toadlike in appearance, with an anemic powerplant. But the Henry J was actually LaMarr’s, not his parents, and that put him way ahead of the rest of us. We had to “yes sir” and “no ma’am” around the house all week long for a shot at the family station wagon on Saturday night.

LaMarr had big plans for the Henry J – but within weeks he had rolled it. The car was totaled, but LaMarr walked away relatively unscathed. And this was in the 1960s, before seatbelts came into general use.

The wreck and LaMarr’s survival only cemented his reputation at East. He was already known in our circle as a fearless and fast driver. When I would ask my mother if I could use the station wagon, LaMarr’s name usually came up, as in “You’re not going to do something stupid like Jim LaMarr, are you?”

So now, the Henry J in a junkyard, LaMarr was quick to express his admiration when Gary Killian bought a ’49 Ford, black with three-on-the-column. Sure, the front seat was ragged and the front driver’s side sported a snow tire, making handling a bit tricky. But, LaMarr pointed out, the back seat looked like it had never been used and it had a flathead V8 under the hood.

Besides, he said, the ’49 Ford was the best possible car to own in East Tennessee. He said that no matter where you might break down, you were no more than 200 yards from a ’49 Ford up on blocks. That meant that parts would never be a problem.

Not long after he bought the Ford, Killian decided to accompany his parents to Florida for a week’s vacation. He rashly left the keys with LaMarr.

Killian left on a Sunday, and on Sunday night LaMarr was out front of my house in the Ford. He’d already picked up Ralph Neal and David “Goon” Ogle.

“There’s a swingin’ A&W Root Beer down in Madisonville,” LaMarr said by way of explanation. Madisonville was about 50 miles south of Knoxville. I got in.

Our first stop was just outside of town, at the bridge across the Tennessee River. We stopped for a hitchhiker. In the early ‘60s, it was still relatively common, and safe, to thumb rides. Our hitcher was a soldier in uniform, carrying a duffle bag.

“Where you all headed?” he asked as he climbed in the back with Ralph and Goon, settling the duffle between his legs.

“Don’t know,” said Goon.

“Where you headed?” asked LaMarr, turning his head from the front. Even though it was night and pitch dark, LaMarr was wearing mirrored sunglasses, the kind that the comedian Brother Dave Gardner favored. LaMarr patterned himself after Brother Dave, even to the Southern-preacher pompadour.

“Fort Benning,” said the soldier.

“That’s in Georgia,” said Ralph, real matter of fact.

“Well, we might just take you all the way to Fort Benning,” said LaMarr.

“Yeah,” said Goon. “I never been to Georgia.”

“Yeah, maybe we ought to just take you all the way to Fort Benning,” said LaMarr, easing back onto the highway.

The soldier laughed, but he looked uncomfortable.

“It don’t matter to us,” said Goon. “Car’s not ours anyway, so we might as well take you to Georgia.”

The soldier didn’t seem to follow Goon’s logic. Neither did I.

“Awwww, man,” said LaMarr, warming to his new audience. “Georgia would probably be a good place to go. Is there a beach near there?”

No, Benning’s nowhere near a beach, said the soldier.

“If we can drive to Georgia,” said Ralph, “we can drive to the beach.”

“Car’s not ours anyway,” said Goon.

The soldier was looking real uncomfortable, probably seeing himself party to a gang of car thieves, crossing state lines, breaking innumerable laws both civilian and military.

By now we were on the other side of Maryville, and, LaMarr announced, running low on gas. The soldier, seeing the possibility for escape, started to look relieved.

Here commenced our regular argument. Ralph and Goon claimed they had no money. I joined them. Our hitchhiker didn’t say anything.

“Awwww, man,” said LaMarr, “we go through this every time. I’m the one got the car, I’m the one doing the driving. No reasonable person’s going to expect me to pay for the gas, too.”

Finally, Ralph owned up to a dollar – three and a half gallons of regular. LaMarr pulled into the next station, where the soldier grabbed his duffle and jumped out. “Thanks,” he said, “but I’ll see if I can catch a ride with somebody more sure about where they’re going.”

LaMarr was jawing with the gas jockey when a kid looked like he was about 14 walked up. You all going south, he asked Ralph.

“Madisonville, the A&W,” Ralph answered. “Need a ride?”

“Yeh,” said the kid. “I’m going to Etowah.”

“Well,” said Goon, “we can get you as far as Madisonville. Not our car, so it makes no difference to us.”

Kid climbed into the seat vacated by the soldier. LaMarr handed over Ralph’s dollar, and, just for show, threw a little gravel as he gunned it out onto Highway 411.

In less than a mile, our headlights caught a small white cross beside the highway. What was that, Goon asked.

“This road’s known as Bloody 411,” Ralph said, “because of all the people who have been killed pulling out just like we did back there. The Rotary or somebody puts up those white crosses every place somebody gets killed.”

“Just as a reminder to people like us,” LaMarr said with a smirk.

“You ever hang out at the Madisonville A&W,” I asked the kid. “We hear it’s a swinging place.

“Some,” said the kid. “Used to go there before I left Etowah.”

“When did you leave Etowah?” asked Ralph.

“This morning,” said the kid. “Ran away from home after I broke up with my girl.”

“Most people run away from home, they take some clothes and stuff, don’t they?” asked Ralph.

“Yeah, I guess,” said the kid. “That’s one reason I decided to go back once I got to Maryville.”

“Girls make you do some funny things,” said Goon.

“I reckon,” said the kid.

Suddenly, the car started wobbling.

“Awwww, man,” said LaMarr. “What’s the matter now?”

“Sounds like a flat tire,” said the kid, glad to change the subject.

We pulled into the next service station. The front passenger-side tire was flat. In the trunk, we found a spare – another snow tire – but no jack. The man running the station, not too friendly, said we couldn’t use his, but three guys hanging around a ’56 Chevy loaned us theirs.

“Where’s your all’s jack,” asked the kid.

“Don’t know,” said Goon. “Not our car.”

“Oh,” said the kid. He didn’t seem too concerned about the car’s ownership.

“There should be a lot less highway hum now we got snow tires on both sides upfront,” said LaMarr. “Make this baby easier to steer, too.”

“A&W’ll be on the left,” said the kid as we neared Madisonville. “I’ll probably be able to find a ride on to Etowah there.”

“Better circle this place a couple of times before we park,” said LaMarr as we pulled into the A&W. “So they’ll know we’re here.”

We found a good spot, under the awning out on the end, and backed in. LaMarr revved the flathead before shutting it down.

The kid saw a friend in an old Plymouth and climbed out. “Much obliged,” he said.

“Yeah,” said LaMarr. “Don’t take any wooden nickels.”

Goon had his head out the window, perusing the menu. “I don’t reckon I’ve ever had a root beer,” he said.

“And I don’t reckon you remember thirty minutes ago when we were buying gas and you said you had no money whatsoever, either, do you?” said LaMarr.

“Oh, yeah,” said Goon. “I don’t have any money.”

LaMarr ordered a root beer and Ralph got a footlong hot dog. I kept my eyes peeled for any swingin’ action.

“All the girls seem to be with some hairyleg,” observed Goon.

“Yeah,” added LaMarr, “ I don’t see much in the way of opportunity.”

“Might help,” said Ralph, “if you’d take off those sunglasses.”

LaMarr ignored him and slowly finished his root beer. Finally, after a last slurp, he put the cup on the tray and flashed the lights for the carhop. “What say we blow this joint,” he said. “Sunday must not be the night in Madisonville.”

The flathead roared into action and LaMarr threw a gravel roostertail a good 10 yards long. We waved to the kid, now talking to some girl, and hit the highway back toward Knoxville.

About a dozen miles down the highway, three-quarters up a long, curving hill, the flathead sputtered to a stop.

“Awwww, man, we’re out of gas again,” said LaMarr. He let the car roll backwards and onto the shoulder. Nothing, not even a light, in either direction. Only thing in sight was a trio of white crosses right where we were stopped. LaMarr got out and tried to wave down the first car that passed. No luck.

Then, headed in the opposite direction, came the fellows who had loaned us the jack.

“What’s the matter?” asked the driver. “Another flat tire?”

“Out of gas,” said LaMarr.

They volunteered to take us back to the service station, and the usual argument over money commenced, with Goon keeping his mouth shut. Finally, I owned up to a dollar and LaMarr pitched in another. Then he climbed into the Chevy and they roared off.

Ten minutes later, after we had watched a few semis speed by, the Chevy returned, the driver executing a righteous four-wheel slide in the middle of the highway. LaMarr climbed out, two-gallon gas can in his hand.

“Much obliged,” he yelled as the Chevy sped off  back toward Madisonville.

LaMarr poured gas into the Ford.

“Better keep some back to prime the carburetor,” said Ralph. “Specially since we’re sitting nose up a hill.”

“Awwww, man,” said LaMarr, “I don’t need you to tell me what to do. I’ve done this a few times.”

“Bet you have,” said Ralph.

With the hood raised, Ralph behind the wheel, me and Goon standing outside watching, LaMarr primed the carburetor. Ralph turned the ignition, but the Ford wouldn’t start.

“Kick it off,” said LaMarr. “Put it into reverse and roll it down the highway backwards and kick it off.”

Ralph slipped it into reverse and rolled back out onto the highway. The hood was still up. The car, Ralph trying to steer it backwards, was weaving side to side. Then, down at the bottom of the hill, coming around the curve, was a semi, building up speed to climb the grade. Instead of trying to kick it off, Ralph started grinding the ignition.

“Pop the clutch, you ignorant sumbitch,” yelled LaMarr.

Finally, the semi’s driver laying on his airhorn, Ralph popped the clutch and the flathead roared to life. Ralph shifted into first and came flying up the highway, weaving side to side because the hood was still up and he couldn’t see where he was going.

We were yelling at him, and then he was coming straight at us, head out the window trying to see. As we scattered through the crosses, the semi, doing at least 70, pulled into the southbound lane and roared around the Ford. Ralph, the car now mostly on the shoulder, stopped.

“Don’t shut it off,” said LaMarr.

Ralph pulled on the handbrake and climbed out. “That was close,” he said.

“I would think,” said LaMarr, closing the hood, “that you would need to wring out your underwear after that ride.”

LaMarr climbed under the wheel and the rest of us took up our positions. We dropped the gas can off at the service station, spending the rest of the $2 on five gallons of regular. There wasn’t much said on the road back. We didn’t see any more hitchhikers. About the time we got close to my house, the flathead started sputtering.

“Awwww, man,” said LaMarr. “Not again.”

He coasted into Love’s Creek Pure Station and the money argument started. I slipped out and walked on home.


Editor’s note: This story is an excerpt from a forthcoming memoir called “Ridge Runners: Encounters in Appalachia.”

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Doc and the Cowboy http://likethedew.com/2009/05/05/doc-and-the-cowboy/ http://likethedew.com/2009/05/05/doc-and-the-cowboy/#comments Tue, 05 May 2009 10:00:17 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=2070

hilb_honAs a college student in the mid-1960s, I supplemented my income, and my education, by working as a reporter for a local newspaper. The combination led to my initial first-hand encounter with abortion, then a shadowy, illegal practice. The place was the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, where I lived off campus in a dilapidated two-story building popular with students.

My introduction to the area’s abortion specialist came through a neighbor, an animal-science major. Though the ridges and valleys of East Tennessee are far removed from the cattle-raising plains of the West, Roy was a true cowboy. A senior in his early 20s, he already was a successful rancher, leasing pasturage in a nearby county for his beef cattle. In his junior year he had sold one-third of a blue-ribbon bull for $10,000, testament to the animal’s breeding potential.

Roy exhibited Hollywood-cowboy traits, too. He was taciturn when sober and rowdy when drunk. And he was known to carry a .38 revolver.

A behest from Roy led to my discovery of the Doc. The Doc was a general practitioner whose office hours were 5 to 9 p.m. three days a week. His office was on the fringe of downtown, less than a mile from our apartments. (In this story, he will be called the Doc; the other names have been changed.)

Roy had come to me in an uncharacteristic panic. He had gotten a girl pregnant and he asked if I knew where she could get an abortion. Roy knew that I had contacts through my job. I worked at The Knoxville Journal, the morning daily.

I asked the Journal’s police reporter, he obtained the Doc’s name from friends at the cop shop and I passed the information along. I didn’t see Roy for a couple of weeks, and I assumed that he and his girlfriend had visited the Doc.

But the Doc’s name came up again a few weeks later when my friend Stanley came to me with the same problem. His girlfriend Julie was pregnant.

Stanley and Julie were involved in a more stable relationship than Roy was. When Julie’s pregnancy had been confirmed, they had decided not to have the baby. Stanley wasn’t mature enough for fatherhood and Julie was well aware of that. Indeed, a couple of months later, Stanley would be making another trip to the Doc’s – with another girlfriend.

450px-pedestrian_border_crossing_sign_tijuana_mexico1In 1967, the options available to those confronted with an unwanted pregnancy were limited. The Pill had been available for a few years, but to most it was still a novelty, controversial. Roe v. Wade was five years away.

Knoxville had a home run by the Florence Crittenton agency, which had been founded in 1896 to provide a discreet place where unwed mothers-to-be could stay during their last three months of pregnancy. But Knoxville girls, at least those with the means, usually opted to spend their pregnancies at Crittenton facilities in Nashville or Memphis, returning after the baby had been adopted. That way the pregnancy could be kept quiet, their absence explained as an extended visit with relatives or, in the case of one of my friends, as a lengthy treatment for a mysterious “infection.” Such visits depended on having the contacts, and on being able to take time away from jobs or school.

Another option was the Mexican abortion – Tijuana was popular. But Mexico is a long way from Knoxville, and Julie could not miss work.

The Doc provided another option. Most cities, even those in the 200,000-population range like Knoxville, had a doctor or two whose specialty was abortion. As I recall, the Doc’s fee was $200.

For Stanley, the trip to the Doc simply meant a month or two of drinking less, catching his executive father in a generous mood with a convincing story, or borrowing the money from friends. Stanley cadged the $200 from a fraternity brother and made an appointment. Immediately after the procedure, Julie, pale and shaken, rested in my apartment; the Doc had no recovery facilities and Stanley lived in the frat house.

Later, through my job, I became friends with an emergency-room nurse. She knew about the Doc. And she knew about the girls without the knowledge or the means to visit him. Occasionally, she would be involved in the treatment of a girl who had attempted an abortion either alone or with help, often of the coat-hanger variety. There had not been any recent deaths in Knoxville from such methods, but she had heard stories from veteran co-workers, stories that I did not want to hear.

wa-c-007But that all came later, after Roy’s situation resulted in a first-hand encounter with a time-tested southern Appalachian solution to unexpected pregnancy. Whatever Roy and his girlfriend had decided, her family had their own ideas, and one night shortly after I had sent Stanley to the Doc, I was awakened by yelling outside my window.

The father of Roy’s girlfriend, flanked by his two sons, was facing the building’s second-floor balcony, where Roy was standing, shirtless, revolver in hand. The girl was behind her dad, at the rear of a mud-spattered car that I took to be the family sedan.

The yelling was mostly from Roy and mostly along the lines of “I’m not the one knocked her up.” The father’s arguments were measured, spoken quietly and determinedly. It was evident that the pistol in Roy’s hand was the reason he and his sons had not bounded up the stairs for a more physical confrontation.

As other lights came on in the building, the girl and her family climbed back into the car and retreated. The next day I asked Roy what all the yelling was about. He didn’t say much – just that he didn’t think he would need the abortionist’s services.

I don’t know whether his girlfriend had the baby or not. There could have been a marriage of convenience to a family friend to provide the child a name, or she could have visited a Crittenton home. Roy wasn’t saying. But he did ask me to help him move his cows to another farm, on the other side of Knoxville about 70 miles from the girl’s home county.

A few months later, Roy graduated and moved back home to Virginia. Eventually, the Doc retired – with Roe v. Wade, his services no longer needed. But if laws return the United States – or at least some of the states – to the days before Roe v. Wade, there will be a demand for a new generation of Docs.

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