Alligators 'n Roadkill

Alligators 'n Roadkill
On The Road


Wednesday, February 21, 2018

For The Record

I've been reminiscing lately about not just old songs, but old recordings.  I have to say old because I am now in my seventies, and the music of my youth is certainly considered to be just that.  My earliest recollections having to do with music would be listening to radio, and hearing songs performed live by artists like Bing Crosby, or Doris Day, and other musicians of that era.  It wasn't until the late 50's that I can recall hearing the incursion of Rock and Roll, via records played on the radio, in what became the Top Forty broadcasts of various local radio stations.  By the time I was in Junior High (1959-60), we were listening to "our" music on stations mostly out of Seattle, like KJR and KOL.  I do recall hearing some limited rock and roll on KTNT (I think it was), in Tacoma.  As for listening to records, I do remember we had a copy of Rockin' Robin Roberts' version of "Louie Louie" (Etiquette Label, which was the Wailers' own label, and they were the band on that record, with him as their lead singer) that I just about wore out.

                                                "KJR, Seattle, Channel 95"

                                                  KOL, 1300 on the AM dial
I got into amassing a serious record collection when I was a Junior in High School.  I had started buying 45's (two sided vinyl recordings whose name had to do with the speed at which they were played, 45 revolutions per minute), and then moved on to trading them with friends.  This would have been back in the very early 1960's, when 45's sold for 98 cents, and LPs (Long Playing record albums, played at 33⅓ rpm) sold for about $3.98 (2.98?).  I can still visualize so many different record labels every time I hear certain oldies played.  That was how I remember so many records - by their label, as much as by the artist.  Some singles were especially prized, so we often found ourselves offering one important one for three or four - or more - others, not so important.
            Of course the major record labels were RCA Victor ("His Master's Voice" featured in their ubiquitous logo), Columbia, Capitol, Decca, Atlantic, and a few others.

                A Later RCA 45, from Neil Sedaka, a Wunderkind of the late 50's

                         This RCA Victor logo was featured on many of those records

I think the most common record player for kids like me was the one made by RCA, that only played 45's, and allowed us to stack several records on the spindle, and then played them in sequence.  

                 The ubiquitous 45 player owned by most teens of the 50's into the 60's

          Just a representative few of the many labels found on records of the day.

            Within each of these major labels, there were many variations on some logo's use on different recordings.  Different colors were sometimes used on different recordings on the same label, and I think labels often used variations in color and design for different markets, especially overseas.  And, of course, there were many other record labels, beyond the ones I have mentioned, but I think most were affiliated with one of the bigger names in order to gain wider distribution.  That might explain why some major recording artists seemed to go from one label to another, especially early in their careers.  As for labels, Motown was not really known yet, but Berry Gordy had begun Tamla Records in 1959, and some early Motown artists were being released on Gordy Records.
            While the bright and varied labels may have had some small part in the records we sought, the real reason was indeed - and always - the music.  We were very much aware of and listening to a lot of stuff you no longer hear these days.  The Brothers Four, The Kingston Trio, The LimelitersThe Chad Mitchell Trio, Peter, Paul, and Mary, and The New Christy Minstrels were some very big names for a time.  Of course, by this time Bob Dylan was certainly writing songs that were quickly covered by other artists, and Joan Baez was also recording, writing and singing some as well.
            My early record players were purchased at a Goodwill Store that was located, I believe, right about the corner of South Yakima and South 25th Street, in Tacoma.  I would buy very old radio/record player combinations, with beautiful wooden cabinets for only a couple of bucks.  I remember buying more than one because usually some part or another would not work properly.  The record changers would fail, or the turntable wouldn't move at all.  I would also buy more than one just to get more speakers to hang in the basement.  Eventually, however, I had a system working, and I strung wires all over that basement so that my sound was extended.
            I graduated from Stadium High School on June 1, 1964, and we moved from Tacoma to Enumclaw, Washington, the very next day.  For those who don't know what the world was like in those days, you should be aware that a new high school graduate had absolutely no value anywhere in the scheme of things, beyond ready cannon fodder for the war machine that existed at that time (yes, we were just ramping up in Vietnam).  I was pretty ignorant of the world, admittedly, and had no clue about what my real options might have been.  I knew that I could not attend college, mostly because I did not know how to even look into such a thing.  (I was largely ignored by our so-called high school counselors because I had neither the grades or the social economic position to make me obvious college material.  I was not aware that others like me were going to Canada to avoid the pending Draft (it certainly never occurred to me that anyone would evade it).  I was convinced that my only option was to seek employment, but there I quickly learned that I was not at all employable.  On the one hand was the old catchall of "You have no experience!", and on the other was, "I can't risk hiring you because you'll be snatched up in the Draft any day now."
            Finally, after looking for work all of that summer of 1964, I was able to land a place in a program that was just getting started under the "Manpower Development and Training Act of 1964," which was designed to train mostly young people to work in areas where there might be a need.  I later learned that the National Job Corps grew out of this, but that's another story.  The program that I entered that fall involved training at Rainier State School in nearby Buckley, Washington, as a Ward Attendant.  I guess that would be something akin to a Nurse Assistant today.  At any rate, I did complete this training through the winter of 1964, into the spring of 1965, only to learn that there were no jobs available.  I think one person out of the group with which I trained was actually offered a job.
            (One other memory stands out for me, from my time in Enumclaw.  I remember purchasing a double record set featuring Peter, Paul, and Mary, on the Columbia Record Label.  This was titled "In Concert," and was recorded at various locations, mostly in California.  

                                         Two Disc Vinyl That I Once Owned.

I bought it at a very special place that was likely called Incorporated Sales, but the name changed to Jayhawks around 1965.  That store, in that little town, had everything you could ask for, at very fair prices.  I believe that Walmart finally forced them out of business, and that's a shame.  Oh, well.  Back to training and job hunting):
            This was just as well, as we then moved all the way across the mountains to Moses Lake, Washington, from which location my father traveled to the small town of Othello for work as a bookkeeper.  I did manage to get hired on there for that summer, driving a forklift in a frozen food processing plant.  I worked through the end of the pea harvest, into the beginning of the corn harvest, until my position was taken over by the boss' nephew, and I was relegated to sweeping up whatever fell off the processing line.  I abruptly quit, and moved to Seattle, where I moved in with my oldest brother and his wife.

            Throughout this time I continued to purchase records, and gradually, my collection had increased until I had amassed over three hundred 45's and over one hundred LP's.  When I got my Draft Notice in October of 1965, unfortunately I decided to leave all of my records with a girl I had known for some time, and I never saw her, or the records, again.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

"Car, Car"

As you read this, and look at the pretty pictures, I wish I could share with you a song, plus monologue from an old LP I once owned.  I still have the music, only it is now digital, of course.  The LP was "Peter, Paul, and Mary - In Concert," and it was recorded way back in 1964, in several locations, and very much live.  The track that I would like you to hear is called "Car, Car," and it begins with Mary Travers voice dominating, as they ask you to "Take me for a ride in your car, car.  Take me for a ride..."  Very quickly, this leads to various plays on words, and segues nicely into a Peter Yarrow monologue.  Here's a link to an audio version:

Sometimes, I wonder how we have gone from having so many different American car manufacturers back in the 50's, to so few today.  I have trouble reconciling something that was preached to my generation, with the reality of what it has come to mean.  We were taught that competition was the lifeblood of American business, and of just about every other aspect of American life.  And, competition was indeed fierce between manufacturers of automobiles.  The first big year of production following WWII was 1947, when there were some 19 brands of car to choose from.

                          This is my personal all time favorite car, a 1949 Mercury

                                                         1953 Packard
         1958 Studebaker Golden Hawk, one of the most beautiful cars of the 1950's

     The 1958 Chevrolet Impala; the only year of that decade when Ford outsold Chevy

Today, of the American brand names, there are only the GM line (Cadillac, Chevrolet, Buick, and GMC trucks), Ford (Ford cars, Lincoln, and Ford trucks), and Chrysler (Chrysler, Jeep, Dodge, and Dodge trucks) (which really isn't Chrysler any more, since it is owned by Fiat, an Italian company).  We could also mention Tesla, which is the first new name in a long, long time.  Also, to be fair, I might mention that GM used to mean Pontiac, Oldsmobile, and, for a few brief years, even Saturn.  And, Ford also manufactured Mercury, more models of Lincolns, and even Edsel.  And, of course, back in the day, Chrysler also made Desoto and Plymouth cars.

Why so many to choose from in years past, when our population was so much smaller, and now, so few, when there are so many more people?!  I know the answer, and it is not the result of the years of competition so much as it is plain and simple greed.  Companies and corporations are never satisfied with simply making a profit, keeping up with maintenance and normal growth.  Now, after all these years of "competition,"  the mind set has become all about Growth and more and more and more profit.

I do have trouble understanding why greed has taken over so many people.  I simply do not recall such an atmosphere surrounding American business when I was growing up in the 1950's and 60's.  One of the most hated figures in the world was mean Mr. Potter, from the classic, "It's A Wonderful Life," from 1946.  Why?  Because he was depicted as greedy, mean, and terminally Scrooge-like.  So, how did we get from that, to the despicable, greedy, heartless, and ignorant thing currently in the White House?!  OK.  OK.  I'm getting a bit off topic (not to mention political) here.  Sorry.

I do not know if it was just the greed that has led us to where we are today, but something else I cannot explain, is that all the new cars today look alike.  I grew up looking forward each year to the new models, as they came out in the fall.  Somehow, I came to believe that competition was driving that re-design from year to year.  And, more important, each brand name had its own distinct look.  Sometimes, sound, as well.  We could tell at a glance what kind of car we were seeing come down the road, and often we could tell the difference between a Ford V8 and a Chevy.

Granted, the car market today is dominated by foreign names (Toyota, Nissan, Kia, Hyundai, Mercedes Benz, Audi, Volkswagen, and others), and maybe that has to do with competition, but consider this.  All of those really great names of the past that were driven out of business, for whatever reasons, had to have left a void that these foreign brands have filled.  And, now that the void has been filled, maybe nobody in the industry feels any need to turn out uniquely designed automobiles.

Personally, I feel that the current manufacturers have no interest in new designs, or even in making their cars look good.  I think today it is all about technology, and that is why there are no automobile mechanics any more.  These days, when your car breaks down, you need a technician who can diagnose, and then repair your car.  And, of course, the problems today are not minor, since the technology used requires that entire systems of the vehicle now need to be replaced, even when the problem is a tiny part within a given system.

I just do not know.  Personally, I still love the cars of long ago, and maybe that has as much to do with getting old, as it has to do with anything else.

A look at brands then:

1947 Car brands and sales ranking, with top sales on top, descending:


In the years that followed the Second World War, mostly through the 1950's, these brands were introduced:

Henry J
Excalibur (1965-1983)
Avanti II  (1965-1984 also 87-89)
AMC (1970 - 1987)
Shelby - 1969

And, today, they are all gone, as well.

Friday, February 2, 2018

"That's all anybody calls me."

I was still twelve years old, when we suddenly moved from the small south central town of Goldendale, Washington, to Tacoma.  I did not know it at the time, but this was actually a return trip for me, since Tacoma is where I was born.  We had moved around a lot in my short life, as I recall that we had lived in about ten different houses by that point.  First, when I was born, the family lived in Tacoma, then we moved out southeast, to an area called Elk Plain, then a little cabin on a place called Rocky Ridge, then a couple of places in Eatonville, where I started school in the First Grade, about 1951.  We then moved to a Dairy farm near Elma, Washington, then across the mountains to the Prosser area.  We moved from Prosser to a wheat farm down near the Columbia River (Roosevelt, Washington), then, from about 1955 until June of 1959, we lived in Goldendale.
               In the Spring of 1959, I finished the Seventh Grade, and acted as an usher at my brother, Dennis' Eighth Grade graduation.  My oldest brother, Mike, graduated from High School, right about the same time.  Immediately after his graduation ceremony, the entire family was rushed onto a Greyhound Bus bound for Tacoma.  I never knew why, but I'm sure it had to do with my father having worn out his welcome in that town, just as he'd done before, and he would do again.
               At any rate, I recall waking up the next morning in a tiny upstairs bedroom at my grandfather's, a place unknown to me up to that time.  My grandfather's home was located at the corner of South 25th and Wilkerson, at the top of the long hill leading south, down to Center Street.  East on 25th Street, some 20 odd short blocks, down to Yakima Avenue, was the place that kept my brother, Dennis, and I occupied that first summer in Tacoma.
               Located at 711 South 25th Street was the Tacoma Boys Club, open to all boys for a nominal membership fee (maybe a quarter?).  The Boys Club had an indoor swimming pool, way down in the basement, a gymnasium on the main floor, a small game room, with at least one pool table, a little front desk, separated from the main entry way by a glass partition, and a library upstairs, on the top floor.  The Director's office, with his secretary's desk, took up a large area on the main floor, down the short entry hall, on the right. 
               The club was reflective of a very strong Director, whose name was E. S. "Osty" Ostberg.  His personality dominated just about every aspect of what went on there, and wherever the Boys Club touched the lives of boys.  Osty lived upstairs on the top floor, with his dog, Butch, a Boxer that went everywhere with him.  I have searched the internet for any information about him, but only managed to find two mentions of him online.  One, from the University of Puget Sound's archives, was simply a photograph from 1952, some seven years before I even met the man.  That had to do with a group of local civic leaders who were gathered at a table (photo op*) while planning the annual Career Conference that was  sponsored by the Associated Women Students.

               The only other mention I can find of Osty is from the Ames, Iowa, Daily Tribune, in February of 1973.  That article indicates that he retired from the Tacoma Boys Club in 1968, when he reached mandatory retirement age.  As best I can determine, he held that position from sometime in the 1940's, until he retired at 65, in 1968.  He did not take well to retired life, so asked the National Boys Club to find him something to do.  He then moved to Ames, Iowa, where he ran another Boys Club, even after losing a leg at some point.**
               Osty drove a big Mercury Station Wagon (1957), and in my recollection was usually wearing a loose pair of slacks, as he bustled around the club, or the grounds of the Summer Camp.  He was a true godsend to many young lads in that time and place.  We only knew him as Osty (but I have to say that - in my mind - I always spelled it as Ostie).  He must have seen something in the two of us (my brother and I), because that first summer he offered us the chance to spend a week at the Boys Club's summer camp on Lake Tanwax, up near Kapowsin.  We spent a good part of our summer in and around that Boys Club, and we both ended up working there part time, after school, for a couple years after our arrival in Tacoma.
               I can still picture Ostie now, with his rolling gait, rushing out of his office, in a hurry to get from one thing, to another.  I don't recall him wearing suits or ties, but rather, slacks, with perhaps a dress shirt.  His voice was kind of like Wilford Brimley's, without the down home accent, and with a lot more energy.  His secretary, whose name I have long forgotten, was sort of a cross between Mrs. Grundy (from the old "Archie" comics) and Eleanor Roosevelt.  Not skinny, like Mrs. Grundy, but with that kind of hair, always up in a bun, and sort of dowdy.  She was very efficient, and very nice, but I think she scared a lot of the kids.
               I recall working at my first Boys Club job, down in the basement, behind a cage, handing out heavy metal baskets to members to put their clothes in while they were in the pool.  The process involved me giving them a basket, and then, they'd get a pin, or a token with which to later reclaim their basket.  I had to run the gym shorts/swim trunks we also issued to members through a commercial size dryer, periodically.  I also learned about how important it was to maintain the pool's Ph balance, and the lifeguard taught me how to do the daily checks of that chemical balance.
                              Later on, I worked upstairs at the front desk, where I issued passes to the gym, checked out the balls for the pool table, and learned to replace the tips on the cue sticks.  I also signed up new members, and basically did whatever Ostie and his secretary taught me to do.
               We moved out of my grandfather's sometime during the first summer, so that by the time school started, I knew I'd be going to Jason Lee Junior High School, and we now lived a good distance from the Boys Club.  Since this distance was around two miles, on city streets, at some point, Ostie gave me a bike.  I think this was partly the result of me snooping around the place until I knew a lot of secrets, and that there was a lot of old stuff just laying around on the grounds of the Boys Club.  I likely mentioned to Ostie that I had found this old bike, and he gave it to me so that I wouldn't have to walk so far to and from work.  I took it home, cleaned it up, and put it into use for my commute.  This was a deluxe old Schwinn, with a spring over the front wheel.  I recall that I simply removed the front fender, because the original was so bent out of shape, bought inner tubes for the tires, and also removed the metal decoration that went in the middle of things.  That old thing served me very well for a few years until someone stole it.
               I'm sorry that I never bothered to go back at any time in my life to say thanks to Ostie, and I'm sorry to think that perhaps he never knew what an important influence he had on my life.  I am also a bit sad that he never seemed to receive the recognition that he surely deserved from the community at large.  I hope that he did at least end his days happily, and I hate the thought that he may well have ended it alone, since he had no family that we ever knew of.  Sometimes we need to stop and think about the Ostie's of this world, and maybe that's a part of what is missing from today's America - an appreciation for those who came before us, who set good examples for us, and who set us on our paths to adult life.



Friday, December 22, 2017

How I became the Roadkill in Boerne, Texas

When I changed the name of this Blog a few years ago, I did not expect to do much more than see the occasional alligators (bits of rubber from truck tires strewn along the highway) and roadkill, as we make our way around Texas.  But, due to a leaking heater hose this past Wednesday (December 13), and the bad luck to choose the wrong automotive repair facility, I became a part of that roadkill.

We left Schertz early that morning, and for the first time, I tried a short cut, using FM3009/Natural Bridge Caverns Road, to TX1863, through the town of Bulverde, up to SH46, and over to Boerne.  Unfortunately, I drove a bit too fast near the Johnson Ranch Elementary School, in Bulverde, and was stopped by a local policeman.  He was super kind, as soon as he realized that steam was pouring out from under the hood of my minivan, and he used his flashlight to help me locate the source of a leak (heater hose), and suggested a couple of places to seek mechanical help.  He also - most kindly - let me off with a warning.

I was not able to find either of the shops he referred me to, and ended up turning into a place on the way out of Boerne, called Two Fat Guys Complete Automotive Service Center.  I knew, going in, that I was at the mercy of this place, and I have to now say that I pretty much allowed these two fat guys - neither of whom I met - to have their way with me.  The young man who provided the counter help to me was named Alex Minozevski, and a Val Minozevski also had something to do with the repairs on my minivan.

Basically, all they did was replace the two heater hoses, that were delivered to them by a Napa Auto Parts outlet.  They charged me $36.00 for their diagnostic, $282.53 for the two hoses, $49.16 for the parts to do a coolant flush, $60.00 labor for that flush, and another $60.00 labor for the replacing of the heater hoses.  Total:  $529.68

Featured prominently on their written estimate is their price guarantee:  "If you find a lower price on any of the services shown above, let us know and we will beat it!  Guaranteed."

Napa Auto Parts, in Boerne, over the phone quoted me $109.00 for the heater hoses.  Their web site offers these same hoses for $89.99:

So, why would you have such a guaranty, and then turn right around and gouge a customer to such a remarkable degree?!  I have called and talked to young Alex a couple of times, late this past week, and he did offer a credit of one hundred dollars, but when I followed up to ask when that would post, he said he could only pass this along to his boss, as he himself is not authorized to post credits.  And, yes, he is the one who posted the charges to my card.

Even the Cadillac dealer to whom I used to take my Caddy rolled the diagnostic cost into the final repair bill, and I think that charging me separate labor costs for the flush and the actual hose replacement is twice what should have been right and proper.

I spoke to Valerie at their main location on Monday morning, 12/18, and found her to be just as mealy mouthed as Alex, who I suspect is her son.  She says that their guarantee is only for services, and is only honored if one has the time and the means to physically obtain written estimates from their local competition, and has nothing to do with their price gouging for parts.  She tried to justify their 300% markup on my heater hoses, but I am not buying that (Oh, wait!  I did so buy it!), and claimed that she has already issued me a credit via my credit card, but so far nothing shows up at my bank.  Ultimately, that credit of $112 did come through, reducing my total hit by that much.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

I Got Your Knee

I find it peculiar that something that began as a silent protest against injustice, and, if you will, hypocrisy, idiocy, and a few other well-chosen words, turned into an argument as silly as what we now seem to have.  As I understand it, Colin Kaepernick, a pretty decent quarterback, decided to simply remain seated during the National Anthem played before an NFL game.  Sort of like Rosa Parks did all those years ago.

At first, nobody paid much attention to what he was doing.  But, gradually, they did, and his act of sitting became a bit more.  As he tried to explain what he was doing, which I believe was simply seeking a way to call attention to oppression, by this simple act of protest, the arguments have grown.

One obvious outcome is that he is out of work.  And, what began as a simple protest has somehow become all about patriotism, disrespect for the Flag, and a whole lot of things that he did not say or do, and does not say or do.  Frankly, the whole thing has got me to wondering about something even more basic than his protest.

By the way, before I get to that, let me say that I totally understand what he is saying, and I not only agree with his right to say it in whatever manner he chooses, but I hope that maybe, just maybe, this could lead to some public acknowledgment of what we, as a nation, still need to do to live in real and actual equality.

Granted, also, this has been pushed off the stage a bit by the tragedy in Las Vegas, but in my opinion, Kaepernick's point is driven even deeper to home by the insanity that transpired in Las Vegas.  We, the majority, have remained silent for far too long about far too many things!

We need real equality, and we need it now!  We need real gun control, and we need it now.  The time for talk about these issues should be long gone.  It is way past the time to finally take action.  Get the money out of politics, and ban the NRA and all lobbying!  Don't pass more laws, because there are too many on the books that are not being enforced as it is.  Enforce those laws which are essential by restoring the Equal Rights Act, and strictly adhering to it!  For me, simple gun control is not enough, and I see complete and total confiscation as the only solution.

I should not have to repeat facts like the single common factor in our mass killings is guns.  Or, that other nations which banned guns a long time ago, have no mass killings.  That every excuse that has been presented to date has been weak, lame, and sadly off the mark.  But, there you go.

I know that many folks still want to strictly interpret the Second Amendment, but only that part that they believe supports their precious *right* to bear arms.  They always ignore that part about a "well regulated militia."  And, their position ignores the precious *right* that the rest of us have to simply live, and to remain alive!  I submit that the Second Amendment was written by people who did not have access to even so much as a revolver, let alone automatic, or semiautomatic weapons.  Therefore, it is sadly out of date, and needs to be rewritten so that it applies to today's world.

I have really gotten off the subject here, haven't I?  OK, back to my point.  It is this.  Here's a suggestion to solve this whole sit, stand, kneel, anthem, flag, protest thing.  How about eliminating the playing of the national anthem before sporting events?  I mean, what is the point?  It's not like the event that is about to transpire is going to do much to further our national interests, or even put us on the international stage, now is it?

So, here's the quick solution to part of this controversy.  No more national anthem.  Let the military seek another way to recruit cannon fodder for the rich man's wars.  Save the taxpayers some money, in the process, too!

Thursday, August 17, 2017

The South Ain't Gonna

I grew up in the 1950's in the state of Washington. We lived all over the state, mostly in rural and small town settings. My father worked in lumber mills, on dairy farms, and wheat ranches. We never stayed in one place very long because he was an alcoholic, who just could not keep a job. I did not see a black person until I was about 13 years old. I knew very little about the rest of the world, other than what was taught in the various schools that I attended. I was aware that there had been a Civil War in the U. S., and that the primary issue there had to do with slavery, and that the pro-slave folks (if you will) had lost that war. I was also aware that we had very recently fought and defeated Nazis and evil little yellow men all over the world, and it was thanks to people like John Wayne that we had wrested most of the U. S. A. away from Native Americans.
The thing is, I knew as a child that the south had lost, Nazis were bad, and there was nothing inherently wrong with anyone whose skin differed from mine, including those little yellow men. I was even ignorant of any Biblical mention of slavery because we did not attend any church.
I was not aware of all the homage paid to "the fine traditions of the Old South," or the "Glory" of that Old South. I do remember reading about Stonewall Jackson and various Southern Generals and leaders. But, I also recall reading about Lincoln and Grant and Sherman. We did not have Confederate monuments, or any monuments dedicated to that Civil War, because our state wasn't much settled at the time of those events. We were very much more aware of The Spanish American War, and Teddy Roosevelt, and WWI, and of course, WWII.
Big days in our calendar were - believe it or not - May Day (as in, the rites of Spring and flowers; nothing to do with labor), Memorial Day, Arbor Day, and of course the 4th of July, Thanksgiving and Christmas. I still remember my mother referring to Armistice Day, and seeing my father always buy a poppy for that occasion. Of course, that turned into Veterans Day during the 50's, because frankly, the farther in time we got from that First World War, the fewer people still lived who were even alive during that time. My point in mentioning these days is that none of them included Confederate Hero's Day, or Jeff Davis' birthday, or any such celebration of either the Civil War or the Confederacy.
I do recall that there was obviously an effort to glorify those events all across the country, though, because of movies and television. The very term, 'rebel,' was used as a euphemism for hero, in many movies, up to and including the short lived "The Rebel," starring Nick Adams, in 1959. Rebels were seen most often as lone good guys going up against many bad guys. The good guy theme was common in movies and TV dramas that portrayed rebels as those who came west in the years following the Civil War (because their beautiful homes had been destroyed by evil northerners), and it was they (former Confederate soldiers) who were often the ones who famously settled the American West.
So, I suppose I was aware of attempts to glorify certain aspects of the old south, but only in that limited area dramatized by Hollywood.
I guess what I want to say here is that I have never quite grasped this entire "The South Will Rise Again" philosophy, or seen the need to try to bring to life a world that never really existed. The idiots who want to parade the flags of that lost cause have some kind of wildly distorted idea of what that old South really was. They somehow believe that a restoration of the miserable Confederacy would guarantee them a better life. It's like somehow they would miraculously be moved out of their falling down trailers, and into mansions, each and every one. Of course, the reality is that, as long as they feel that they can look down on someone else, anyone else, they feel better about themselves. And, let's face it. If you live in a trailer, surrounded by falling down appliances and vehicles, and overgrown weeds, a slave's life has to look worse than your own.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Viva Mexico?

Saturday evening, as guests of some long time friends who live in Cd. Juarez, we ventured out from our home, and across the border, to Cd. Juarez.  This was our first time to go across the border for strictly social reasons since our return to El Paso in 2012.  For what it is worth, that is something we used to do two or three times a month, but for many reasons just don't do anymore.
               We went to a place called "Viva Mexico," Viva México Restaurant, a restaurant that is located very close to the Free Bridge, also known as the Cordoba Bridge, in what used to be a small shopping center.  They feature a pageant of sorts, much like El Paso's "Viva El Paso."  They offer a full menu and following adequate time to eat, they put on a spectacular show that features folklorico dancing, singing, charros on horseback, some very talented lasso work, and even a Juan Gabriel wannabe.
               They advertise that the show on a Saturday begins at 9:30 PM, and they recommend that you allow two hours before the show to give you time to eat.  We were a bit late for our reservation, so we did not get good seating.  We were stuck up on a tiny second floor balcony, overlooking the entire restaurant and stage, along with a large group of about eight people, and two different groupings of four (the groupings of four consisted of two separate parties, as one ate and left part way through the show).
This was a view of the floor and stage.  The raised area is the stage, and the flat area surrounding it is sand, for the horses.  This was taken from our table up on the second floor balcony.

             Unfortunately, although the building is in good repair, their idea of air conditioning is totally inadequate, especially up on that second floor.  This location is actually old, as we remember there being a super market and other businesses here way back in the late 60's, early 70's.  At any rate, at some point in time this part of the original structure was completely remodeled to accommodate the restaurant, and the interior is very picturesque, with the feel of a village somewhere in Mexico.
               The menu is varied, and the food was good.  We had the carne asada a la tampiqueña, and what we got was what I know as fajita, or skirt steak.  The meat was tender and cooked just right, although it did lack seasoning, believe it or not.  On the plate was a delicious cheezy chile sauce, to go with the meat, some refried beans, with grated cheese, one rolled tortilla with a delicious molé sauce, and another that was like an enchilada.  The pricing for the food was reasonable, by the way.
                About an hour before the show was to begin, some Mariachis came out and worked the floor.  Unfortunately, either my hearing aids were just not working well, or the acoustics were very poor.  Because all I could hear was occasional trumpet blasts, and the murmur of singing voices.  I could recognize some of their songs, but it always took some time.  When it was time for the show, there was no mistake, as the lights all went out, and a voice began booming out to let us know what was happening.
                Again, I left my hearing aids in place, and tried different settings, but ultimately gave up, and took them out, as it seemed to make no difference what I did, the audio was just too loud, and that all by itself was distracting.  There was a young man who sang some Mariachi songs (in costume) and a young lady as well.  But, the show began with a very heavy, very loud drum beat, and primitive dances, evidently to represent the Aztecs and some other indigenous folk dances.  The music continued at too high a volume, for my comfort, unfortunately.
              There were a number of dances of different folklorico styles, with music from different parts of Mexico.  there were at least six young ladies, and as many young men, and they did look to be very professional.  Unfortunately, for me, there were too many obscure dances, and it quickly became boring for me.  Interspersed with the dancing a Charro would come out riding a beautiful horse.  The horses danced to the music, and there were at least four of them at one time or another.
              The best part of the show, towards the end, was when some three or four young men began to do Charro rope tricks, with lassos of different colors, including some that glowed in the black light that was then applied.  Some appeared singly, then pairs, then one on horseback, who even stood on his horse, while jumping in and out of the loops he was making.  When they all performed together, it was very well choreographed, and well rehearsed.  These guys alone were worth the show.  And, the most beautiful horse of the evening came out during their performance.  You can see this magnificent black beauty in the video on their web site.
              I do have some serious advice for the singers, for the announcer, and for whoever does their sound engineering.  The volume is too high!  Singers, including the lame Juan Gabriel wannabe:  look at what a consummate professional, like Juan Gabriel, does with the microphone!  Real Mariachi singers usually do not need a microphone at all to be heard over the instruments, and a professional will tend to move the microphone farther away from their mouth when hitting those high or those extra loud notes.  Unfortunately, these people all appeared to be hungry to the point that they wanted to 'eat' their microphone!  Coupled with an already too loud system, and we heard (OK, I heard) way too much sound distortion.  Not good.
              As for the singers' abilities, let me say this.  The male was not bad, except for his tendency to hold his microphone too close.  The female may be good, but she threw in some notes that did not fit her songs, and went into almost operatic riffs that were - in my opinion - totally inappropriate.  And, of course, she also tried to eat her microphone.
              That leaves us with the Juan Gabriel imitator.  This guy kind of had the slightly corpulent look of Juan Gabriel in his forties, and wore a decent suit.  He may have a good voice, but mostly what he did was shout and screech.  He seemed to throw out bits and pieces of vaguely recognizable Juan Gabriel songs, but I don't think he sang a single one, from start to finish.  Worse, he tended to play up the gayness of the famous singer, instead of showing the tremendous talents of Juan Gabriel for composing and singing and performing.
              We saw the original, real deal, more than once, and I, for one, was a big fan and I was always impressed with the show put on by him.  Yes, he did, as he aged, bring out his own gayness, but he didn't really flaunt it, or turn it into something low class. This impersonator, however, seemed to think that was the important part of the legacy that is Juan Gabriel's.  He even went so far as to seek out an obvious gringo young man to come up on stage with him, so he could not only ridicule the young man, but push the gay Juan Gabriel all the way.
              Ultimately, I would recommend a visit to this place for the food, with the proviso that you not put your expectations too high as to the show.  As I said, this is a very professional production that is spoiled by a poorly regulated sound system and entertainers who lack knowledge of how to use a microphone.