BUSH & THE BEACH BOYS

Bush

During the Memorial events for President H.W. Bush, the TV picture always had a banner running across the screen proclaiming him to have been a President and a Patriot. Both titles are embedded in history below his name.

But the themes of the eulogies were memories of the man. His kindness, his warmth, his friendship. The following is a story of these attributes of this man told to me by a friend and union brother, Steve.

At this time, Steve was the head rigger for the Beach Boys. He was responsible to see that the sound and lights were hung safely in the best positions possible in the venues, and for setting up the portable stage for outdoor events.

In the early 80’s, the Beach Boys played the July 4th concerts on the National Mall in Washington D.C. A few days prior to one of those concerts, the band was invited to give a mini-concert for the Bushs and some friends at the Naval Observatory House where the Vice President lived in D.C..

Steve drove the rental truck with a small set up to the front of the house. He went to the front door knowing full well that it would be opened by a butler telling him to go around the back to unload. He was surprised when Vice President Bush, himself opened the door, introduced himself to Steve and the other hands, as if that was needed, and told Steve to bring the equipment through the front door. Closer to the ballroom, he explained.

When the crew went into the ballroom, Bush introduced them to the house electrician Steve had requested. Best the house electrician do the electrical hook-up. The last thing Steve wanted was to have an electrical outage in the V.P.’s residence.

Then Barbara came into the room and once again George made the introductions. Barbara told the men that there was a buffet with a chef standing by down the hall for whenever they wanted a meal or just a snack.

‘Catering, Honey,’ her husband teased. ‘Catering is show business talk for food. And there’s also a full bar and a bartender in that room too, guys.’

‘Thanks, Mrs Bush,’ Steve said, ‘But we have to setup first. The band will be wanting to do sound check in a couple hours.’

When they did go into the catering room for a meal, the first thing the chef asked was how do you want your steak? And the bartender looked a little disappointed when the hands that drank just wanted beer. Sure beat what the rock promoters considered catering.

Steve said it was less like working a gig and more like being invited to a friend’s house. Everybody was so friendly, especially the Vice President. Even the Secret Service men in their customary dark suits, had occasional smiles as they handed out the stickpins with the head painted the color of the day. These ID’s had to be pinned where they could be seen.

 

Vice President Bush was in the ballroom almost all the time. He watched the crew setting up everything and had a million questions. ‘If I learn how to be a roadie, will you hire me?’ he kidded. ‘You know, this being a Vice President really stinks. Worse job I ever had.’

‘You’re hired,’ Steve said. ‘How’s your golf game? We play a lot to golf on our days off.’

‘My kind of men,’ the Vice President said. And naturally the talk turned to golf.

Steve asked if Mr. Bush had ever played Willie Nelson’s golf course outside Austin. When the Vice President said no, Steve proceeded to tell him about it. ‘Only course where it is all rough. Strict rules: Like no more than 12 to a foursome. No bikinis or see through dresses – unless they’re worn by women. Drinking and smoking is not allowed – unless it is shared.

‘Next time I go to Austin, I will have to play that course,’ George said. ‘I’ll tell Willie that I am a friend of the Beach Boys crew. I miss my Texas. This job wouldn’t be half bad if I could do it down in Texas.’

When the Beach Boys arrived they were greeted by the Vice President and Barbara and where showed the room where they could tune their instruments. And also told about the catering and the bar.

“Now where’s Dennis? George asked. ‘They told me I could always tell who Dennis was because he always wore a Texas hat.’

‘Sick. Something he ate didn’t agree with him,’ was the excuse that was given. Dennis Wilson had a grave alcohol problem and the band didn’t want him to embarrass himself in front of the Vice President. Dennis died a few years later. He was was drunk and went scuba diving alone.

‘Oh! Oh! Guys, I got something to tell you. I got talking with your crew about golf. They said they got Monday off so I gave my country club a ring. All you have to do is tell them you’re the Beach Boys and crew and you can play a round on me. They said they would work in you in throughout the day. And the nineteenth hole is on me.’

It was evident that as the actual concert approached, Vice President Bush was feeling mellow. He met each guest, about 50 all toll, encouraging each on to ‘have a drink’. When the concert started he sat in the front row tapping his feet to the music and mouthing the words of the songs he knew or thought he knew.

After about six songs he stood up and went up to the band. ‘In honor of my wonderful wife, Barbara,’ he said pointing to her in the chair next to the one he just got out of, ‘Play my favorite of the Beach Boys. BARBARA ANN.’

Almost as if on cue, Mike Love, and Al Jardine quickly joined Carl Wilson at the front mic.

‘Bah, Bah, Bah, Bah Barbara Ann. Bah, Bah, Bah, Bah Barbara Ann.’

By now, Vice President George Bush had got to the mic and grabbed the mic off the stand.

‘Bah, Bah, Bah, Bah Barbara Ann,’ he sang, drowning out the startled entertainers. His voice left a lot to be desired but not his energy. The only words he knew where the chorus which he kept repeating over and over until one of the singers started a verse. Then George stopped. Only to jump right in with the chorus when the verse ended.

It was probably the longest rendition of the song ever. The audience and the band and the crew were all smiles. The only one in the room that wasn’t smiling was Barbara Bush, who sat still with her hands folded on her lap. At last George stopped singing to his lovely wife; not because he thought he reached the end of the song, but rather because he was out of breath and wanted a drink. As he sat down Barbara slapped his knee and shook her head.

The concert went on and when it ended they played BARBARA ANN as their encore. They signaled to have the Vice President join them and the audience applauded. George Bush got up, went to the mic, and sang his favorite line several times.

‘You know, gentlemen,’ he said, ‘That is the best song you ever wrote. On behalf of myself, Barbara, and all our guests, I want to thank you all for a great time.’

The Boys, the band, and the crew applauded their thanks. Nobody told him that they didn’t write BARBARA ANN. It was a do-wop song by the Regents.

The next Monday the band and crew played golf courtesy of Vice President George Bush.

In April of 83 the Beach Boys were forbidden to play July 4th on the National Mall. The least popular member of the Reagan Cabinet, James Watt, Interior Secretary, declared that rock and roll bands were not welcome anymore on the Mall because of the element they attracted. Drunken rowdies and smokers of illegal substances. He wanted somebody more patriotic like Wayne Newton, who was a big Republican donor.

Vice President George Bush led the outrage against Watt’s decree, declaring, ‘These men are my friends!’ First Lady Nancy Reagan declared herself to be a mega-fan of the Beach Boys. Mike Love argued on behalf of the band by saying they played a lot of patriotic songs…like SURFING U.S.A.. Watt lost.

There was an attempt made to get the Beach Boys back to play the Mall but it was too late. The publicity made the band the hottest item in the country and they were booked at Atlantic City on the 4th to the largest crowd in the history of the event. And the Beach Boys began to be called America’s Band.

As for James Watt, a few weeks later he made what he thought was funny, racist terms about a committee that opposed his Interior agenda. Watt lost his Cabinet position and went to teach in a university out west. Both he and the band give credit for starting the uproar to Vice President Bush declaration that ‘These men are my friends.

And whenever the Boys were in the D.C. area, George Bush made it a point to see they could play a round of golf at his country club.

Like the banners proclaimed ‘President and Patriot’, and as the eulogies said, ‘friend and a wonderful human being’.

R.I.P. George Bush

True and fearless Patriot

Sully the service dog of former U.S. President George H.W. Bush in his final months lays in front of Bush's casket at the funeral home in Houston

His Friend

GUILTY AS CHARGED

This is a reposting I did when Cosby’s hidden secrets burst into public knowledge three years ago. After the verdict of guilty as charged I thought I should bring it back if only to remind myself of how wrong I had been all those years I enjoyed working Cosby.The sad part is why, if these criminal acts were known for decades, why wasn’t Cosby stopped years ago?

Does money, power and celebrity status entitle a person to be above the law?

OH YES, MR. BILL

n-BILL-COSBY-STATUE-large300COSBY STATUE REMOVED FROM DISNEY WORLD

When I thought about starting this blog, I knew I would have to include some anecdotes about working with Bill Cosby, having worked him so many times over the years. I pieced three stories together, one about the first time I worked Cosby, another quite a few years later, and one that slammed the door on me ever communicating with him except what was needed in working his show. But just about the time I was going to post the finished product, Cosby’s protective wall of unique celebrity status and of course his money, began to spring a leak.

The rumor that he had been accused of doping and then raping women that had been around for years, suddenly erupted when a young black comedian, Hannibal Buress, who had a routine about Cosby always putting down young Blacks, ended it one show by screaming out, ‘you rape women’! The accusation went viral. Women came forward in public with stories about how they had been doped and raped by Cosby as far back as 1965, a year before my first story of that post occurred.

I revised my blog post, dropped the last anecdote, and replaced it with information that was coming out about the accusations. That deleted story had taken on a new meaning for me.

Cosby had changed over the years, especially after the senseless murder of his son, Ennis. The fun-loving guy backstage had become a somber man who spent as much time as possible in his dressing room. Respecting his grief, we no longer expected him to joke around with us as before.

It was between the two shows Cosby was performing at Northrop. A young woman came into the stagehands’ room and asked for me. She had Children’s’ Cancer Fund tee shirt and asked if I would take it to Cosby and have him autograph it so it could be auctioned off at the next benefit. She said it had all been set up and Cosby was expecting it.

            Cosby was very good about supporting  good causes. I suggested that she come with me and I would point out his dressing room, and she could go in and ask him herself.

            She jumped back and said, ‘No! I was warned not to go into Mr. Cosby’s dressing room.’ She extended the shirt and marker to me and said, ‘They said you would do. Won’t you?’

            ‘Sure,’ I laughed and took the shirt across stage. At the time I thought that the word ‘warned’ she used seemed a bit hard. Instead of just saying I was told not to, she said she was warned. At the time, I figured somebody was afraid she might commit some kind of gaffe meeting a big time celebrity like Cosby.

            I knocked and Crosby growled, ‘Come in.’

            He was sprawled out on the couch watching a March Madness basketball game on TV. He turned his head, saw who it was, and turned back to the game.

            I spread the shirt out on the table and laid the magic marker beside it. I told Cosby what it was for and he said he knew all about it. I didn’t really think he would sign it right at that moment, but he stood up and went to the table.

            ‘They told me some woman would bring the shirt in to me,’ he said as he signed his name. ‘What, she scared of me? Thinks if I get her in my dressing room, I’ll jump her bones.’

            ‘Oh, no,’ I answered, ‘I think… I was going to say she was just shy, but Cosby threw the shirt at me.

            ‘I don’t care what you think!’ He turned and went back to the couch. ‘Just get out! I want to watch the basketball game.’

            ‘Well, excuuuuuse me,’ I said as left the room, trying to slam the door, but it was rigged to close slowly. And even though I worked him several times after, that was the last time I ever talked to Cosby except when I really had to.

I had attributed his rudeness up to the fact things had to be getting to him. He changed over the years and for good reasons. His son’s death, his lack of a TV show, never really had movie career, his audience was getting old and his preaching about what the young people were doing wrong was not gaining him any new fans, his books were no longer best sellers, and comedy album were things of the past. He was growing old and was completing a very full week of work.

He had already done a benefit, which I worked, at the Convention Center, in midweek. He had done two shows the night before at Mystic Lake Casino, and now two shows at Northrop. He had to be tired.

Over the last few years he worked a lot of benefits, good pay, short hours, probably the hottest attraction in shadow-show business. And he knew how to play it. When he got the gig to do a benefit or an industrial expo, he contacted promoters in the town where he was to play and try to fill out with other shows in other venues. He was an easy show to sell tickets for, and the shows sold out with very little lead time and advertising.

And while I was giving him the benefit of the doubt, I was unaware of his secret reputation as a rapist. But Cosby wasn’t; and when I said the woman refused to go into his dressing room, it must have hit home. At the time I thought he was just referring to the old racist view that blacks all wanted to rape white women.

But as the rumors and accusation hit the public press, I thought back on Cosby’s anger and his words about her afraid he would ‘jump her bones’. And I remembered her using the words ‘warned not to go into his dressing room’. Who warned her, I have no idea, but somebody, maybe the promoter, might have known about the rumors and wanted to insure nothing would happen on his watch.

And this incident also happened around the time of a lawsuit against him on a dope/rape charge. He paid the woman off and it didn’t generate much negative publicity. Another case of a woman trying squeeze money out of a celebrity. After all this was Bill Cosby, not some meth-head playboy.

The first post I wrote about Bill Cosby was titled OH NO, MR. BILL!!! , giving him the slim benefit of the doubt.  Now, we just found out that back in 2005, Cosby admitted in a deposition he bought drugs to use to rape women. The deposition was sealed when there was a monetary payoff made and the woman who brought suit against him was satisfied. A recent lawsuit forced that deposition to become public, and as soon as all the women named as victims who were going to testify in that suit, agree to it the entire deposition will be made public. Just the part that has been revealed already has proven that Cosby, by his own sworn words, to be a liar, a hypocrite, and someone who actually purchased drugs with the intent of using them to rape a woman..

And when all this negative publicity hit, Cosby acted like a complete fool. Many of his upcoming gigs were cancelled, but a few promoters stuck with him, and during these shows Cosby actually tried to joke about the ‘lies’ people were telling about him. He zeroed in on one accuser calling her a liar and now is being sued by her for defamation of character. This conduct caused other women to come forth and volunteer to tell their experiences with dope and rape, and Bill Cosby.

The New Jersey Supreme Court will decide if criminal charges should be brought against him for rape because there is no statute of limitations for rape in New Jersey, where one of the accusers said he raped her.

Even if he skates on criminal charges,  the rest of his life will be spent in court fighting lawsuits. This pressure would be hell for anyone, let alone somebody in his late 70’s. And I can’t imagine him getting much support and sympathy from his wife of 50 years as the accusations and lawsuits pile down on him.

While this type of conduct that of a rich celebrity resorting to drugs and raping a multitude of women, surprises the majority of us, it recently was proven that it happens as in the case of Darren Sharper. Sharper, rich, handsome, intelligent, and articulate, a former NFL star and a current TV commentator, pleaded guilty in four different states to drugging women and then raping them. He is currently serving time for his actions.

Some women raped by Sharper admitted they would have been afraid to even mention it if it hadn’t been for the women coming foreword in the Cosby affair. And, I imagine the women in the Cosby affairs stand a better chance of being believed because of the confession of Sharper that proves these things do happen, even if the celebrity in question is ‘America’s favorite father’.

Cosby is 80. If he actually serves any time it will be a ‘life sentence’ at his age. And after this verdict many of the other accusers are in the wings waiting. 

Cosby was a real pioneer in breaking the barriers for Blacks in television. Now he is a ground breaker in criminal justice for the rich and famous sexual creeps.

KGB & THE CELLIST

cellist

The KGB caused fear in the people they ‘guarded’ on tour in foreign countries. Not so with the great cellist, Mstislav Rostropovich. He laughed at the agents that were sent with him on his tours. He defied his ‘jailers’ and the power of the Kremlin with a wicked sense of humor. I was so fortunate not only to hear him perform, but also to see that wicked sense of humor.

Born into a long time classical music family, he was taught piano by his mother at the age of four, began his study of the cello by his father at the age of ten. At sixteen, two years after he gave his first solo performance, he was admitted to the Moscow Conservatory and five years later became a professor of the cello at the Conservatory. He won first place in three International Music Awards before he was 23 and at the age of 23 was awarded the Stalin Prize, the highest civilian honor in Russia.

Not only a great favorite of audiences, Rostropovich was in great demand among composers. He premiered over 100 cello pieces written especially for him by such composers as Dimitri Shostakovich, who was one of his teachers at the Conservatory and a life long friend. Others included Sergei Prokofiev, Leonard Bernstein, and Benjamin Britten.

From his early years Rostropovich was an outspoken critic of the lack of freedom in the USSR. When Shostakovich was dismissed as a teacher at the Conservatory for writing a piece condemning the lack of breaking out of the strict classical tradition, Rostropovich, only 21 at the time, quit the Conservatory. He believed in the concept of artists without borders and championed the cause of civil rights for everyone.

In spite of his ideals, he was permitted to tour, first in Western Europe, and then America. He toured accompanied by two KGB ‘translators’. His wife, a prominent soprano in Moscow opera, and their two daughters had to stay behind in Russia and were also under the ‘protection’ of the KGB during these tours.

One of the orchestras that had him as a guest soloists was the Minnesota Orchestra under the baton of the Polish born conductor and composer, Stanislaw Skrowaczewski.

The Orchestra’s home at that time was Northrop Auditorium at University of Minnesota. I did not work for the Orchestra directly; but I was the stage manager for Northrop, and as a result I was present for the week of rehearsals leading up to Rostropovich’s guesting with the Orchestra.

The first rehearsal started with Rostropovich coming on stage to the standing applause of the Orchestra members. He acknowledged their tribute with his ever present smile and a quip about not being able to follow his entrance. Then he and Skrowaczewski talking to each other in Polish. In addition to being a world class cellist, he was also a respected conductor, and there was no secret about who was really conducting when Rostropovich was involved in the pieces where he soloed. Rather than show up Skrowaczewski, he made his suggestions in Polish. Although there were times when he stopped the rehearsal to make a change himself.

Rostropovich sat down and just before the oboe sounded to have the concert master begin the tuning, he raised his cello bow and called a halt to the start of the rehearsal.

He explained that he was neglecting his manners and he wanted to introduce the two men, one standing stage right, the other stage left. ‘These are my two translators,’ he said. ‘You will see a lot of them this week. They never are too far from me in case I don’t know a word in English. That lump under their suit coats, is their translation books. I think.’

He motioned for the big man standing in the wing stage right to come on stage. ‘This is Bear,’ he said. ‘I forget his real name, but I call him Bear, the symbol of Mother Russia. Suits him, don’t you agree.’

He got no argument from anyone. The man was huge. He had dark black hair and a shadow of a black beard. He lumbered on stage and stood next to Rostropovich.

The problem with having the Bear for a translator is he only knows a few words in English. Show them Bear, your extent of the English language.’

It was evident the man didn’t have the slightest idea of what Rostropovich was saying in English. Rostropovich said something to him in Russian. And then waved a hand to the big man and ordered him to speak his favorite word in Russian.

‘Vodka!’ the man bellowed out.

Now in English.’

‘More vodka,’ Bear said. He had a big smile on his face.

Rostropovich smiled and told the man he was proud of him. Then he said something to him in Russian.

‘Nyet! Nyet!’ the Bear said shaking his head.

English! Speak in English!’

‘No? No?’

Rostropovich laughed. ‘Yes, it is no.’ Then he spoke to the orchestra. ‘The word for please is seldom used anymore. Now the key word is Siberia.’ He spoke softly to the Bear but he said the word Siberia loudly.

The ‘translator’ opened the left side of his suit coat and revealed a large shoulder holster with a very large gun in it.

Rostropovich said he must have been wrong about the bulge being a translation book. ‘In the Soviet Union, a translator is spelled KGB, I guess.’

He thanked the Bear and motioned him back to his position. Then he turned to the man standing in the wing on stage left.

‘Now this man, who looks like he is a direct descendant of Genghis Khan, I call him, Sir. Everyone calls him Sir. Even the Bear calls him Sir.

‘When I was assigned my two companions and my wife and daughers were given their group of protectors, I was shown a film of the Bear lifting weights. And a film of Sir doing his thing. He did a lot of grunting and weird noises. And he did a lot of chop motions with his hand and kicks with his feet. He destroyed numerous wood pieces and cement blocks. Bear was impressive but Sir was scary.

‘It was explained to me that these two were experts at finding the way back home to Russia. If I would get lost, say here in Minneapolis, these two would be able to find me and help me back to Russia.’

Having finished his introductions he suggested to the Maestro that the rehearsal should start. Even though it was just a rehearsal, both he and the Orchestra were in prime form. When he was doing a solo, he captivated the attention of the Orchestra. They sat taking in every note, instead of looking bored and even some leaving the stage when they were not in use.

After the break, Rostropovich once again spoke to the Orchestra. ‘I have had to promise to the Ministry of Arts that I would make sure you all knew about this cello that I am fortunate to play. Now you might look at it and listen to it’s sweet tones and think that it is the work of an old Italian Master like Stradivarius, perhaps a 1711 Duport Strad; but I can assure you, this is not the case. It was built by a Russian Master just a few years ago. It seems as though the Soviet Union has broken the secret of the old Italians and now make instruments that rival theirs.

‘And if you believe that, I break the secret that the Ministry of Agriculture will soon introduce their latest achievement, a flying pig.’ He waved to his two companions and assured them in Russian that he fulfilled his promise to the Ministry of Arts.’

Strad or Russian- made, there wasn’t anyone in the theater that didn’t believe Rostropovich could have rigged a broom handle and strings to a cigar box and still played beautiful music.

The rehearsals that week went by swiftly. My crew and I spent a lot of time in the wings watching and listening, both to the music and to the words of Rostropovich. The concerts, one in Minneapolis and one in St. Paul, were received with rave reviews both by the audiences and the critics, many of whom came from cities that was not on Rostropovich’s tour.

While on this tour, Rostropovich continued to fight for his ‘artists without borders’ and the inhumanity of the U.S.S.R.. One of his most vocal fights was to release Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn from his imprisonment in gulags for committing the Soviet sin of criticizing the inhumanity of Stalin. Imprisoned in 1945, Solzhenitsyn was a teacher and historian, and the latest in the line of great Russian novelists. After his sentence ended in 1953, he was sent into exile in Kazakhstan. Basically still a political prisoner. It was during this imprisonment and exile that he began to write his works.

In 1960, he sent the manuscript of his novel, A DAY IN THE LIFE OF IVAN DENISOVICH, to a publisher. The book impressed the publisher; but also frightened him because it was so anti-Stalin. The publisher brought it to the government. Surprisingly, he was told to publish it. Premier Khrushchev thought it would be a good tool to erase the stain of Stalinism that was hindering Russia both at home and in the world. It became a best seller in Russia, although it was largely unknown in the West. It was even used as a schoolbook along with several Solzhenitsyn short stories.

But when Khrushchev was removed as premier, the stranglehold on the arts resumed, and Solzhenitsyn became a non-person in the Russia. In 1965, the KGB seized all of his writings and warned him to stop writing.. He managed to have his manuscript for what would be his most famous work, THE GULAG ARCHIPELAGO, smuggled into Estonia. However, by now, he had become recognized in the West as a great novelist.

He also developed a severe form of cancer, which he wrote about in his novel, THE CANCER WARD. His cancer went into remission and he lived to the age of 89 when he died of a heart attack.

Led by the very vocal Rostropovich, the cries of releasing Solzhenitsyn from exile were heard not only in Russia but around the world. It worked.

Solzhenitsyn was released from exile in 1970. Rostropovich had just come home from the tour which had included Minneapolis. Being the kind of person that backed up his demands, Rostropovich brought Solzhenitsyn into his own home. This fact was did not go unnoticed by the Soviet government and the KGB. Both artists were subject to close scrutiny and harassment by the KGB.

Both Rostropovich and his wife were forbidden to leave Russia and their musical engagements were cut back to almost nothing.

To make matters worse, in 1970, Solzhenitsyn was awarded the Noble Prize for Literature, making him a household name around the world. He refused to go to Stockholm to receive the award however. He felt that if he left Russia, he would never be permitted to return. The idea of having a special ceremony in Moscow to present him the award was turned down the Swedish government who felt it might harm Soviet-Swedish relationships.

(In 1970, the Guthrie Theater, where I was now working, gained exclusive rights to the one play, (?) by Solzhenitsyn, ARTICLE 58/A PLAY. They premiered it at the end of the season and brought in a guest director, Michael Langham, who would come back the next season as the Artistic Director. The play ran in stock for almost a month to full houses. It was reviewed by critics from all over the world. It was long, sad, and had probably the largest cast ever for a Guthrie production. It was also a work of art. To my knowledge I don’t think it was ever done by any theater since then.)

In 1971, the KGB tried to assassinate Solzhenitsyn using a favorite weapon, ricin. The attempt failed. In 1974, he was exiled and sent to West Germany. From there he went to Switzerland and finally to the U.S., where he spent 17 years. In 1994 he returned to Russia.

Unlike the non-person, Solzhenitsyn, Rostropovich was a considered a Russian treasure. They touted him as the greatest cellist of all time. To disgrace him as they did Solzhenitsyn was not feasible. And they could not get him to back off on his artists without borders talk and his criticism of the lack of freedom in the Soviet Republic.

Add to this, Rostropovich was more and more setting the cello aside for the baton of a conductor. He felt that with the new movement in classical music, the movement espoused by Shostakovich way back in his Moscow Conservatory days, he was one to interpret it to orchestras and audiences around the world. The government loved him as a great cellist; but as a conductor, he was just one of many.

Rostropovich was ‘allowed’ to leave Russia with his wife and children in 1974. He was not allowed to come back as a cellist or conductor anywhere in the Soviet Union. He came to America where he became Musical Director and chief conductor of the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington D.C.. Unlike Solzhenitsyn, who never accepted living in the West with it’s ‘TV pop culture’, Rostropovich embraced life in the West.

He conducted orchestras all around the free world. His fame as a great musician increased and the smile that he was famous for never left his face; nor did his love of his fellow man.

In 1989 when the Berlin Wall was taken down, he went to Berlin and gave an impromptu cello concert along side the Wall. In 1990 he had his Russian citizenship restored. In 1991, when he saw footage of tanks outside of Moscow ready to move in during a political crisis, he got off a plane and talked himself into being allowed to join Boris Yeltsen in an effort to prevent the tanks from moving on the city. Two years later he conducted the Russian National Orchestra in Red Square during the constitutional crisis.

He lived a full life right up to his death in Moscow from intestinal cancer just prior to his 80th birthday. His death was mourned around the world. His list of achievements and awards go on and on. He will be remember as one of the greatest cellists, a great conductor, and a great humanitarian.

And for those of us who were fortunate to have met him, he will be remembered as a brave man with a wonderful sense of humor. A man who laughed in the face of the KGB.

BIG VAUDEVILLE (BOB)

hOPE IN VAUDEBILLE

Bob Hope walked down the steps of the Winnebago and asked us a question, and cracked us up.

In a previous post, BIG VAUDEVILLE (RED), I said that it had been my privilege to have worked two of the top stars of vaudeville. Red Skeleton was one. Bob Hope was the other. The steps they took to become household words in entertainment are quite similar. As far as my working them, I only worked them once, and I never threw a chair at Mr. Hope like I did at Mr. Skeleton.

Leslie, (Bob), Hope was born in a town just outside London, England. When he was four, his parents immigrated to Cleveland, Ohio. His father was a stone mason. His mother, a cleaner, had been a light opera singer and dancer in England, and gave young Hope a foundation in song and dance, which he used at the age of twelve to raise money by entertaining people on the city buses.

He entered amateur dance contests while in his teens; and, after a short career as a boxer and other assorted jobs, he decided to try professional show business. His career lasted eighty years, and garnered over 1,500 awards from US President, the U.S. Military, Hollywood, numerous Social organizations, honorary college degrees, awards from Foreign governments, a knighthood from Queen Elizabeth, and another from the Vatican.

He began with a partner in a song and dance act. Tragedy hit when the partner ate a bad piece of coconut pie and died. It was suggested to Leslie that he change his first name, go it alone, and stress comedy. He developed a routine of one-liners in which he usually was the brunt of the joke. He spent the early years on stage and in vaudeville where he became a top name after many of the established stars left to work in films. He tried to get into the movies but failed the screen test. This blow to his ego made him work harder in vaudeville and in Broadway productions.

The year 1934 was an important one in his road to fame. He landed his radio show which lasted into the 50’s. He realized that he needed more than just a quick wit and delivery to make it go. He hired a talented group of gag writers and paid them out of his own salary. Unlike Red Skeleton, who created and portrayed the characters that populated his show, Hope hired characters like Jerry Colonna and Barbara Jo Allen to work off of. He also surrounded himself with guests like Judy Garland, Frank Sinatra, and his close friend, Bing Crosby. As the Golden Age of Radio waned, he switched to the new form of entertainment, television. His weekly shows were hits and he augmented them with his popular Christmas Specials.

The carefully thought out, business-like approach that he used to insure his radio show would be a hit, became a Hope trademark in all his career moves both in his entertainment moves and his financial investments, which were often done in partnership with Bing Crosby. When Bob Hope died he was considered one of the wealthiest men in Hollywood.

His work in film started also in 1934. He made six comedy shorts that bombed. Walter Winchell, an important newspaper columnist wrote about one of them, ‘When they catch John Dillinger, they are going to make him sit through it – twice’.

Hope’s big break came about when Jack Benny turned down a role in the film THE BIG BROADCAST OF 1938 and it was offered to Bob. It came with a contract with Paramount so he moved to Hollywood. His work in the movie gave the studio faith in his being able to handle bigger roles.

This was his first time working with Dorothy Lamour who later would become an important part of six of the successful ROAD pictures. In another bit of irony, Bing Crosby, his co-star in the ROAD series, got his start in THE BIG BROADCAST OF 1932.

The movie also gave him his theme song, THANKS FOR THE MEMORIES, a duet he sang with Shirley Ross. The melody was used as his walk-on music and also to close out his his shows. The melody remained the same but the lyrics were often changed by his writers to suit the situation.

He stuck to a tried and true formula in the films that followed. The self-effacing humor that marked his stand-up routine was expanded in his film roles, and he usually played a likeable coward. Two of the songs he introduced in the movies, THANKS FOR THE MEMORIES and BUTTONS AND BOWS went on to win Academy Awards for Best Song; and while he had a pleasant voice, he realized it’s limitations and never tried to compete with the ‘singers’ like Crosby and Sinatra. Both Crosby and Sinatra started out in movies doing light comedy, but both eventually attacked heavy dramatic roles and won Academy Awards in acting. Not so with Bob Hope. He stuck with his standard comedic roles.

The film work he did in the 40’s was his best. The first six ROAD pictures cemented his standing as a legit movie star. He made 54 feature films in his career, but not much of his later work matched his early works in the 40’s.

His fame in Hollywood came as much from his 19 times as host of the Academy Awards as from his films. His main shtick was the fact he had never been nominated for an acting Oscar. It worked and was funny – for a while, but it grew old and became the object of biting jokes by other comedians. The Academy did award him 4 Honorary Oscars, and the important Humanitarian Oscar.

When WWII broke out in 1939, Hope was on the liner, the Queen Mary. He volunteered to entertain the passengers to keep their minds off the bad news. His first USO show took place six months before Pearl Harbor. There were 57 USO tours he headlined to entertain the troops, a few in peacetime, but most in our wars from WWII through the Persian Gulf War of 90. In all, 50 years of entertaining our military personnel.

His hard work during WWII, both for the morale of the troops and the War Effort at home, did not go unnoticed or unappreciated by America. Our taking part in the U.N. ‘conflict’ in Korea was not as popular in America, and Bob Hope’s tours dropped in popularity at home; but certainly not among our military troops fighting and freezing in Korea. And then came Viet Nam!

There was a strong anti-war sentiment when we first entered this war, and it grew greater every week we were there. The criticism extended from the politicians that were responsible for bringing us, and worse, keeping us in this civil war in the jungle, to the troops that were doing what their country demanded of them.

The USO shows had lost their appeal back home. Hope’s USO tours were paid for by the government, but also by by his sponsors and his TV network, NBC, which aired them later as Specials. Facts that were not lost on Bob Hope’s growing critics. It became harder and harder to convince entertainers to go with him. By the time of the Persian Gulf War, he had to enlist his wife, Dolores, and granddaughter to accompany him.

His marriage to Dolores was one of the longest in the history of Hollywood. It began in 1934 and lasted until his death in 2003, albeit it had several shapely road bumps over the years. The Hopes had four children, all adopted, and several grandchildren. Bob died in his 100th year. Dolores lived to be 102. They lived in the same house for almost all their married years. I wonder if anyone has tested that house’s drinking water.

He could always keep his material up to date in everything he did; but because he used the same old schtick to bring it to his audiences, his popularity as an entertainer was not bringing in new fans. The young had no ‘memories’ to thank him for, and using a golf club as a trademark prop didn’t exactly excite them. The comedians that were taking over did it by using language and subjects that were offensive to the older generations of both audience and performers. Bob Hope was old hat.

When I worked Bob Hope, he worked mostly benefits, conventions, and in this particular case, a birthday party. And of course, played a lot of golf.

One of the local billionaires was turning 80 and was going to turn over the reins of his privately owned empire to a person to be announced at the party. His two daughters put together a real gala. They rented the St. Paul Civic Center for a week, put the matter in the hands of Paul Ridgeway, who was just coming off planning and supervising a Super Bowl festivity and the visit of the Pope John II to Denver.

Paul, one of my favorite people to work for, had about 20 local stagehands working about 16 hours a day, for 5 days preparing for this birthday party. And he hired Bob Hope to attend.

We were fine tuning everything for the event to start in a couple hours, when a Winnebago ‘dressing room’ pulled in backstage. The driver came down the steps and then held Bob Hope’ arm to help him down.

His appearance was a surprise to us stagehands, as it would be to the party goers, except for the family. Shadow Show Business. Celebrities come into town for a private function. Do their bit without the press or the general public aware that they are in town. In! Out! Pick up a nice paycheck. Over the years, I worked many in this Shadow Show Business, from oldies like Chubby Checkers to current big timers like Elton John. And of course, Bob Hope.

Hope, like Red Skeleton, had a reputation in the business for being a friend to stagehands and the other workers that made the business go. That day was no different.

Hey, guys,’ he hollered to us, ‘Got a question. Do any of you know the name of this old fart that I am suppose to be best of friends with?’ He cracked us up and then continued to entertain us.

They tell me you have been working day and night for almost a week to put this thing together. When I heard this, I figured I had better make sure the check cleared the bank. Wouldn’t be the first time I got stiffed on a gig. But you stagehands know all about that kind of stuff, don’t you?

This hoopla’s got a bigger budget than the ROAD pictures Crosby and I use to do. At least that’s what Crosby always told me, “just a small budget, Bob, didn’t have much left over to pay the actors a lot. I always got enough from each picture to splurge and get a new set of golf clubs. And Crosby would come and pick me up to go golfing after each picture, and he was always driving a brand new car. You don’t think…Naw, not Bing.

This morning the two daughters, a blond and a brunette, and the blond’s husband came up to my room for a Q & A session on what kind of thing I was going to do for their father, you know, my ‘old best friend’.

I said I would lay out some golf jokes. Everybody likes golf jokes. The son-in-law agreed. His wife smiled. The other sister, the brunette, said her dad doesn’t golf. Well, then how about some political jokes. Again the son-in-law agreed. His wife smiled. And the brunette said her dad didn’t like politics or politicians. I can do some movie jokes, I told them. Always goes over big at the Oscars. The son-in-law agreed. The blond smiled. And the brunette said she can’t remember her dad ever going to a movie much less watch the Oscars.’

Hope threw up his hands. ‘What does this guy do for a hobby?, he asked us.

Makes money,’ one of the hands hollered. We all laughed, including Bob.

Well,’ so the son-in-law said, ‘Just do what you want and when everybody laughs, so will Dad. He won’t get the jokes but he’s too nice a guy not to go along with the others.”

So I agreed, and then I said maybe for a throw in I’ll sing a couple old songs. He must like old songs. And the brunette pipes up and says, “If we wanted singing, we would have met Sinatra’s price”. So much for thinking I was their first choice.’

I was sitting backstage with a headset on so I didn’t hear any of Bob’s routine, but the audience must have enjoyed it by all the laughter and applause during it.

After the big announcement that the son-in-law would be the new head of the empire, the band began to play and the audience danced and took advantage of the many open bars. Bob Hope came through the curtains. We were trying to get ahead of the long Out, that couldn’t really start until the party goers left, by quietly tearing down what we could back stage.

Before Bob got in the limo, which had replaced the Winnebago, he thanked us and shook our hands.’I admire you guys,’ he said, ‘ You do an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay. Not like me, getting paid for doing some old, old jokes and lying about being a good friend to the birthday boy. But heck, that’s Show Business.’

When he got into the limo, he rolled down the window and said to those of us close by, ‘It was no big surprise to anyone that my newest old best friend made the son-in-law his successor. He’s too old- school to trust his company to a woman, even if she is his daughter. But I will lay you odds that in less than a year, that nice son-in-law quits and the brunette takes over.’

Hope was right. He could read people just like he could read the FINANCIAL TIMES. The son-in-law wanted out and the brunette took over; and it wasn’t a surprise to anyone, except maybe her father, that she did so good and even enlarged the empire. And over the years she hired us stagehands for all her big public functions; and each time I saw her, I thought back on the time, I got to work Bob Hope. And when I think back I hear a song in my head, a song which countless of our military hear whenever they think back on having seen Bob Hope:

THANKS FOR THE MEMORIES

BOB HOPE

MARCEAU / HAMILTON BOOED

After the first performance of his sold- out week at the Minneapolis Pantages, the great mime, Marcel Marceau stepped to the apron of the stage, and breaking out of his character, Bip the Clown, SPOKE.

And the Audience BOOED!

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hamilton

Shortly after the election VP-To-Be Pence attended a performance of the hit musical HAMILTON on Broadway, and as he walked down the aisle to his seat, the audience booed! The ­­audience, not the cast, booed.

I can’t believe Pence attended a hip hop/rap musical/opera, based on the life of an immigrant bastard, whose mother was reported to have been part Black, for his own entertainment. More of an ego trip, a test of his newly granted status to be able to jump in line ahead of others.

Mr. Pence was a good choice to ride shotgun on Mr. Trump’s Hatemobile. He has a record of attacking Human Rights and the laws that protect them, first as a right wing radio talk show host, and later in his political career. Unlike Trump’s Twitter approach, Pence uses the evangelical-tunnel-vision-Tea Party-judgmental method. Thump the Bible, or what you think should be in the Bible, to support your stance against fellow human, and be sure to avoid any reference to the second part of what Christ said was the most important commandment: To love your neighbor as yourself.

As Pence was walking out after curtain call, Brandon Dixon, who played Aaron Burr, stepped foreword from the cast and spoke to Pence, who turned and listened. The words were courteous, well thought out, short and to the point. It was a thank you for attending, followed by an expression of fear that the new regime will not defend the planet, the children, their parents and uphold the inalienable rights of every American. The closing was, ‘We thank you for sharing this wonderful American story, told by a diverse group of men and women of different colors, creeds, and orientation.’

Pence was silent about the affair but not the Head Hater, Mr. Trump. Trump got on Twitter, declaring Pence was harassed by the cast of HAMILTON. He demanded an apology from the cast and producers of the show, which Trump said he heard was very overrated. Trump also said the theater should be a ‘safe’ place.

To say the theater should be a ‘safe’ place is proof he knows about as much about theater as he does about Human Rights and the Constitution. From the time of the ancients Greeks the theater has been a place to shake up the audience and their hard fast ideals, whether the performance is tragedy, comedy, or a musical.

Nothing is more topical in our current atmosphere of hate than the play that premiered in London during the worse persecution of English Jews. The popular actor, director, theater owner and playwright, William Shakespeare, risked his career, his theater, his life, alone with the specter of causing riots with his new ‘comic’ offering, The Merchant of Venice. Going along with the hatred of Jews, he created a villain, Shylock, in the stereotypical role as a Jewish money lender. And then addresses the hatred and prejudice against the Jews  by giving Shylock one of the most poignant speech in literature against prejudice and hatred. ‘If you prick us, do we not bleed?’.

            As Mr. Dixon argued against an apology, he pointed out, ‘Art is meant to bring people together; it’s meant to raise conscientiousness.’

To say that it was not the time or place to issue such a statement goes against the history of theater. To step forward and speak to the audience directly, to break the 4th wall, is a time honored tradition. No playwright was more adept at it than Shakespeare, in the play itself, like Hamlet’s many monologues: at the end of the play, like Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream which starts: ‘If we shadows have offended…’  While the type of breaking the 4th wall as Mr. Dixon did, is not that common in America, it is quite common in other countries.

Personally I have seen this speaking directly to the audience used many times.

From the serious: On 9/11, we were setting up for a run of RIVERDANCE. Prior to the performance that evening, the multi national cast assembled in full on the stage. A spokesman spoke of the sorrow and offered condolences and prayers. At the end of the curtain call a dancer stepped forward and requested the audience join the cast in silent prayer.

To the silliest: During a performance of a play by the Stratford Theater at the Guthrie, Bill Hutt, a veteran Canadian actor made his entrance in a scene; but before he spoke his lines, he informed the American audience that the Canadian National Hockey Team had just beaten the Russians.

Trump’s Tweets accomplished what he wanted, keeping his Cesspool of Hate aboiling, giving his Brown Shirts something to rail against.

They called for a boycott against HAMILTON, a record breaking Broadway show with tickets sold out for months and waiting lists for more tickets both in NY and other cities where the touring companies are or will be playing. Frankly, I don’t think many Trump hard core supporters would go to HAMILTON with or without a boycott.

Of course there is a good possibility that the new regime will declare the musical to be VERBOTTEN and shut it down. But even then it will continue to be played around the globe as a symbol of American art and a remembrance of American freedom.

The Brown Shirts also called for a boycott of a small theater which has nothing to do with HAMILTON the musical. It has had the name Hamilton for decades because it is located in – wait for it – Hamilton, Ontario, Canada!

Then there was incident during a performance of the road company in Chicago, where upon hearing the word ‘immigrant’, a drunken Follower went ape. Screaming, swearing, threatening to kill the ‘Democratic assholes’and women and Blacks. threw wine on his own son. His wife was in tears pleading for him to stop. And even as he was being expelled from the theater by three security guards, he kept screaming, ‘We won! Get over it. This is Trump’s America now!’ PS: He is the CEO of a national company.

(That kind of behavior hits close to home for me. My nephew, Rick Dalglish, is Head Props for that touring company of HAMILTON.)

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marcel  

          The Marcel Marceau incident took place at the first performance of his farewell to America run at the Pantages in Minneapolis. And in spite of the boos, this brave man repeated his breaking the fourth wall after every performance.

            It was that terrible time in our history. Using the never proven pretext that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, Bush the Younger was about to loosen the dogs of war against Saddam Hussein. It was a time of bad intel, half truths, and outright lies.

            Unlike the 1st Gulf War, where Bush the Elder had a large coalition of nations and U.N. approval, the only backing Bush the Younger had was Tony Blair of the U.K., who later admitted he had been wrong in his backing of Bush.  Neither Bush nor Blair had approval of the majority of their advisors. And even though the terrorists of 9/11 were Egyptians and Saudis, and had nothing to do with Saddam Hussein, much of the backing for this invasion of Iraq was wanting revenge for 9/11.

            France, who backed the 1st Gulf War, was outspoken in its disapproval of invading Iraq this time. France was hated by the American hawks. A Congressman sensing a chance to pick up future votes, actually submitted a bill to change the term French Fries to Freedom Fries.

            It was in this time of rupture in America and in the Western World, that Marcel Marceau spoke to the audience and was booed. This French Jewish gentle man of peace did not preach, did not take sides. This man who had known the horror of war first hand, simply asked the audience to pray the whole affair could be worked out without violence, without war.

            I doubt if many in the audience feaared they would have to fight in Iraq. Let the kids in the service take the risks. I doubt if many in the audience had ever served in the military, let along fought in a war. Yet these chickenhawks booed Marceau’s request for prayers for a peaceful resolve.

            Marceau was just a teenager when Germany breached the Maginot Line, the ‘Wall’ that France had built to stop any German invasion and took over France.  The Nazis took his father to Auschwitz where he was ‘exterminated’. Marcel and his brother joined the French Resistance.

            (This also strikes home to me. My wife’s birth father, a French Jew, left his Mexican wife and new baby girl, my wife, and to back to his homeland and fight in the Resistance. He was never heard of again.)

            Marcel was personally responsible for smuggling 500 or so children to Switzerland. It was during this time, he got into mime, silent entertainment to keep the children quiet.

            With the Liberation of France he joined the Free French and was a translator for General George Patton.

            He knew the horrors of war.

            I was standing in the wing with a flashlight waiting to help him offstage. I clapped as loud as I could after his prayer for peace, but the boos won out. As I led him off I commented, ‘Dumb, damn, chickenhawk S.O.B.s!’

            He put his arm around my shoulder and said, ‘C’est La Vie, Don. So many fought and died so people can speak their mind, or even boo. This great freedom  is not allowed in a Fascist government . Let us hope it will always be that way in America and France and all over the world. ’

            When Marcel Marceau went to leave the Pantages for the last time, he paused and hugged me. ‘Merci, Don, for joining me in the hope for peace. And, when things happen that you disagree with, just remember, C’est La Vie. That’s Life, mon ami.’ When his farewell tour was over he went back to his home in France where he died a few years later.

            To Mime aficionados Bip the Clown will always be the King of Mime. And we who knew him also as Marcel Marceau, we  are twice blest. We admired his deft artistry of silence and also the deep humanity in his speech. To us he was both an artist and a hero.

–           –           –           –           –           –           –           –           –           –           –           –            –

This was written in the time between Trump was elected by the outdated procedure  of the Electoral College, 

which overruled the fact that he did not win the Popular Vote, 

and the time he took the Oath of Office.       

Sorry, Mr. Trump, if you can’t stand the booing you chose the wrong road to travel down. I suggest you have the First Amendment of our Constitution explained to you. And maybe even go to a performance of HAMILTON. Learn how that immigrant from Nevis and the other Founding Fathers created the foundation that makes America great.

Soon Mr. Trump, barring a successful revolt by the Electorial College voters, you will have to take an oath to protect and obey this Constitution for ‘the diverse group of men and women of different colors, creeds, and orientation’ that make up our great country, America.

Oh! Oh! Little did we know or even imagine!

And now we must do what we can do

Vote!  Wear a mask! Abolish the hate!

C’EST LA VIE

 

 

SOUTHERN SNOW

snow driving

            In Minnesota: ‘Yeah, you bet, heard about the snow com’n. Changed the oil and tuned up the snow blower and snow mobile first week in October, just like always. You betcha!’

            Down South: ‘Snow! Snow! The sky is falling! The sky is falling!’

 

Last week the East Coast and some Southern states got hit with a blizzard. And the 24 hour news stations talked so much about the snow coming and falling and melting that there was little news about anything else.

They darn near missed the Palen endorsement of Trump. It happened the same day her son got arrested for using his girlfriend as a punching bag. Sweet momma Sarah explained that it wasn’t Track’s, (Track???), fault. It was Obama’s. Poor Track did a tour in Iran during the G. W. Bush’s administration, and although never got in any combat, came home with PTSD according to his mother. Later she said she was misunderstood, and then said pretty much the same thing again. A real Alaska Snow Job. At least she didn’t blame Obama for her daughter’s habit of getting pregnant sans marriage certificate.

And they darn missed another important Trump endorsement. One of John Wayne’s daughter, standing in front of a statue of her father in the John Wayne Museum in Somerset, Iowa, stated that if her father was alive, he would certainly endorse Trump.

(If her father was alive he would be 109 years old.) And the cool thing was Trump accepted the endorsement stating that he once met John Wayne in person and always admired Wayne’s legacy. The rest of Wayne’s family disavowed the endorsement. I was only too happy to be rid of the silliness leading up to the Iowa caucuses.

 I did run across a great bit just after the snow fell someplace. There was a reporter standing hip deep in snow talking about the big snowfall. As the camera pulled back, it revealed the dehorn was standing in front of a chain link fence that captured a lot of snow. As he struggled to get out of the drift, the snow gradually became less and less until he was standing snow that was no higher than his ankles.

Snow down south causes problems because people have no experience in what to do when it snows. It frightens them just as it would frighten me to look out and see an alligator in the back yard.

We got a little snow, a couple inches, in Fort Bragg, N.C., one time. It snowed three times when I was in the Army down there. This particular time I had a midmorning dental appointment. I hopped on my motorcycle and drove to the main post. There wasn’t much traffic and when I got on the less traveled streets, there wasn’t any tire tracks. Only one car in the dental lot, the plates were from Wisconsin.

The car belonged to a dentist on Reserve duty for two weeks. No receptionist, no dental techs, no other dentist, just me and angry Captain Angry from Wisconsin. He was mad at the Army, mad at the snow, mad at his hangover. He smiled when he told me the Novocain was locked up and he didn’t have a key.

‘But a little pain won’t bother a bad ass paratrooper, will it?’

Oh, was he wrong? And every time he spotted me clinching my fists, he cheerfully reminded me it was a court martial offense for an enlisted man to hit an officer. A little Southern snow and I was silly enough to drive in it. Should have just used it as an excuse not to keep the appointment. Every time I have the slightest inclination to root for the Green Bay Packers, I think back on Captain Angry’s license plate and that removes the inclination.

Another reason snow is so bad down South is they don’t have the necessary equipment to handle it. We can send out a fleet of public snow plows. Pickups rigged with plows to clear out parking lots and some driveways. Snow blowers waking up the neighbors early in the morning. Snow shovels used to clear steps and the like. People in the south don’t have much in the way of fighting the snow. Heck, down South a snow shovel in the garage is as rare as a liberal in the closet.

Another time a storm in Bragg brought about a good foot of snow, with no place to put it in the main drag in Fayetteville, so they just left it in a long pile in the center of the street. Naturally, some of the boys parked their cars on the mound, it was the weekend and the bars were full, and when it came time to go back to post, they  couldn’t get them off, sunk to the frame. The tow trucks were busy and the city told them to stay away from downtown, and then proceeded to ticket each car for illegal parking, each day it was left on the mound. When the tow trucks came down the hill to get the cars, they towed them to the impound lot. Some expensive parking!

And down South they just never learned how to have fun in the snow. Oh a few snowmen and a few snow angels, but not real fun like skiing and snow boarding, snow mobiling, clearing snow off a frozen lake to skate or ice fish etc..

Some members of 82nd Signal Battalion were going with one of the line companies to Alaska for Winter Training. They were issued white snowsuits and a pair of skis with poles. For several weeks they were getting prepared out in the field behind the barracks, wearing those hot suits and trying to glide along on the grass on their skis. As if gliding the skis on the grass actually prepared them for anything. But there’s the right way, the wrong way, and the Army way.

Then we got a nice snowfall. I told some of the guys, I’d show them how to have fun in the snow and maybe even teach them a little about skiing. That night I ‘requisitioned’ the Old Man’s jeep. I was the Old Man’s clerk. We got some ropes and went out to a Drop Zone where I pulled the men on skis behind the jeep. A good time was had by all. Especially since the two MP’s that caught us, believed us when we told them it was authorized training to prepare for the upcoming Cold Weather Exercise in Alaska.

The worst experience of being caught in a Southern Snowstorm came when I was hitchhiking back to Bragg after a few days in Washington D.C.. Talk about shutting down a major city! It was shortly after noon when the snow hit. Offices emptied and the roads filled with cars filled with bad drivers trying to get home. And none about to pick up a hitchhiker, even if it was a soldier in uniform dressed for the warmth of the South, not a snow storm of the North.

I was alternating my hands, one thumbing for a ride, the other covering my ear until my hands got so cold I had to put them under my arm pits inside my Ike jacket which was getting wet from the heavy flakes. Doing a little dance to keep circulation in my feet.

Finally a car braved the slipping and sliding traffic and pulled to the shoulder. The passenger door opened and I jumped in. I was busy saying thanks and putting my hands in front of the heater when I heard this angelic voice telling me that she was only going as far as Arlington; but at least it was far enough to get me out of the heavy city traffic and I would stand a better chance of getting another ride.

What a sight for sore eyes! Not only because she stopped for me, but also because she was beautiful. A few years older than me. Long black hair. Green eyes. A smile that would melt the snow and warm the heart.

I was trying to get the numbness out of my hands, my ears, and still trying to carry on a normal conversation with her without distracting her as she was driving. It was evident she wasn’t use to driving in that kind of weather. She kept a steady pace until there would be a car poking along ahead. Then she would veer out to pass, slip and slide, head for the ditch. Had to hand it to her, she didn’t panic, managed to get straightened back on the road. I must admit I tightened up a few times.

‘Whoa,’ I said, ‘You just missed the Arlington cutoff.’

Again with that smile. ‘I know,’ she said. ‘Fort Meade is down further. There is a shelter where the soldiers stand, and cars pull in the side road and give them rides. You’ll stand a better chance of getting a ride in a hurry down there.’

I protested. I pointed out the road was bad. The snow was getting heavier. She should just leave me off and get home as quick as possible.

‘No,’ she answered. ‘My husband is in the Army stationed in Korea. From what I hear, they have terrible winters there. Snow. Cold. And I just hope that if he is hitchhiking, and the weather is bad, someone will pick him up.’

Wow! I sure hoped that soldier appreciated the woman he married.

She was right about Fort Meade. I got ride right away. As I got in the car I could see her car heading back to the Arlington cutoff. I said a silent prayer that she would make it home okay. We got out of the Southern snow storm in about fifty miles. My new ride took me almost to Bragg. He talked and I mostly listened, and thought about a very kind lady whose husband was stationed in Korea.

snobama

            Right now it is snowing. They say it might be the biggest so far of the season. About 6” to a foot. Schools will close early. It will be a slow afternoon commute home, but by tomorrow’s morning rush hour the driving will be much better. Our army of snow plows will see to it. Yet there will still be a rash of accidents and cars in the ditch. Not every one up here knows how to drive in a snow storm, especially those driving big SUV’s. They know they can bust through all kinds of snow; but they forget that sometimes they can’t stop on the wet pavement.

Of course, I won’t be one of those fighting the elements. I will be safe and snug in the house. I am retired!

 

And that’s a wrap for today.