Monday, November 16, 2009

"This Is It!"

So I went to see the Michael Jackson movie "This is It!". I had prepared myself for a schmaltzy memorial with a lot of family and personal history containing bits and pieces of music videos, and a few 'behind the scenes' glimpses. It wasn't like that at all. The film was a documentary of the preparations for Michael Jackson's comeback show that he called 'This Is It!'. "This Is It!" because, as far as he was concerned, that show was going to be it for him. After a world tour he figured to have enough money to pay off the money he owed and retire to a quiet lifestyle out of the public eye. Or, at least, as far out of the public eye as Michael Jackson would be able to get.

I didn't grow up with Michael Jackson, I'm more of a Beach Boys, 'Louie Louie', and Supremes/Temptations guy. Michael hit the video world about the time that my children were growing up, so he filled our television with hit video after hit video as fast as MTV could post them. Putting aside his proclivity for crotch grabbing, Michael was an amazing talent. His songwriting, singing, and performance skills were light years above his contemporaries. What I didn't realize was the true depth of his ability. Like most people I just assumed that behind the scenes were musical directors, choreographers, and a myriad of other coaches saying, "Michael sing this", "Michael do these steps", "Michael make these movements." It seemed reasonable that there were lighting consultants, special effects managers, audio experts, and a flock of other specialists who expanded a basic idea into a super-show. During the movie I learned that it was not that way.

Michael Jackson had morphed from a music star into a freak show, hounded day and night by a starving media who used any opportunity to expose his bizarre and yes, possibly criminal behavior. His Maker can be the judge of that. The media dragged his life in color photos into the sleazy tabloids so that the more curious among us could get their regular dose of strangeness. And the band played on...for years.

Your most humble and obedient servant, in his younger years, was guilty of being a musician, comic, dancer and, on a few especially forgettable occasions, singer. Those misspent but intensely enjoyable years taught me many hard truths that performers go to great lengths to disguise. Basically, that performing in public is a LOT of hard work, and the effort that goes into presenting even the simplest of shows would surprise and amaze the average audience member. Any show requires planning, skill, knowledge and perspiration before the talent can be showcased. The greater the 'wow factor' of the show, the more intense the requirement for precise organization and professional skills.

The Michael Jackson movie followed the development of "This Is It!" from the auditions of the singers and dancers through the assembly of the show and the endless rehearsals. More than just 'singin' & dancin'', the show was filled with hydraulics, pyrotechnics, computer-generated effects, specialized lighting, make-up, costumes, and mechanical systems. As it opened up, I found myself mentally wondering, "Who dreams up this stuff?". It wasn't long before I learned that Michael Jackson had dreamed up that stuff.

Yes, it amazed me too. The thought that a strange character who walked around wearing a mask and sheltering beneath an umbrella actually had the ability to create a Disney scale stage show was difficult for me to swallow. But that is how it was. The music was his and he knew exactly how he wanted it to sound. He knew what key, what volume, and what tempo he wanted. He knew every move the dancers were to make and when they should make it. He dictated when the stages, the lifts, and the rope hoists were to activate. He specified the special effects and supervised their timing. He called the lights and knew when anything was out of place. And, as if that wasn't enough, he sang every note and danced every energetic number with a 50 year old body and voice that had been away from it for many years. The much younger chorus dancers and back-up singers would stand in awe of this legendary man as he worked his magic tirelessly for hour after hour. They were inspired by his presence and stood open-mouthed and applauding as he finished each number. If you haven't guessed by now, they weren't the only ones in awe of Michael Jackson's abilities, I plead guilty also.

I always considered the 'Jackson Five' to be a 'kid band' who had no business out there competing with those of us adults who were struggling to keep the dream alive with four nights a week on stage at the Holiday Inn. Kid bands were cute and all, but they just didn't have the 'gravitas' of us 'true professionals'.

Even when Michael exploded into the music world with 'Thriller', I was still sure that he was just the front man for a giant organization who simply plugged him into position and told him what to do. How amazingly wrong I was. In reality he was a monster talent, a giant showman with capabilities that average people could never fathom. What an immense loss of talent this world has suffered.

"This Is It!" had completed production and was scheduled for dress rehearsals and the grand opening in London. It was a little over two weeks from the opening when Michael Jackson suddenly died. Months of rehearsals, millions of dollars, and the dreams of dozens of performers evaporated, the victim of a handful of mixed prescription drugs. And the world was robbed of what might have been one of the greatest stage shows of all time. Michael Jackson's wondrous legacy vaporized in an instant leaving behind the scarred images of "Wacko Jacko". His death is far more of a loss than most people will ever know. RIP "MJ".

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Number 45

It has been a wonderful weekend. This was class reunion weekend for your most humble and obedient servant; number 45. Years ago I couldn't conceive of even living to be 45, let alone having been out of high school for 45 years.


Friday night was the first get-together at a rented chalet in Oglebay Park near Wheeling, WV, and just walking from the car to the front door was an unnerving experience. Will I recognize everybody? Hell, will I recognize anybody? I was about to be face-to-face with 18 people, only two of whom I had seen in the past 45 years. Opening the door to the well-appointed chalet, I observed people who stood talking comfortably in several small groups. It was a good thing that I knew names because I recognized few faces. There was a predominance of white hair...when there was hair, a lot of extra pounds, lots of wrinkles, and some significant facial hair. The smiles were still there and they were still a friendly bunch although the liquor may have improved that aspect. It really didn't take long until, drink in hand, I joined them with greetings, a few old and fat jokes, and a lot of catch up stories. A lot happens in 45 years.


Our school had been small and all-male, with just 42 in this graduating class. There had been the usual groupings of jocks, nerds, over-achievers, under-achievers, and a few non-descripts. We had no 'goths', anti-socials, or psychotic weirdos as most larger schools seem to have. Those had largely been filtered out by the process of natural selection combined with strict academic requirements. It's hard to become a head-banging heavy metal freakazoid when you have a monster physics test at the end of the week. So those who remained were stable and accomplishment-oriented individuals with goals in mind and the intention to become contributors to society. And after spending an evening catching up, it appears they had indeed succeeded at both accomplishment and contribution.


In this small group, most had letters either before or after their names. Letters like MD, PhD, LLD, PE, CMDR, COL, ESQ, and some that I honestly didn't understand but I knew represented professional accomplishment and recognition. Pretty impressive for a bunch of nerdy geeks who couldn't field a winning football team. They brought with them their wives, most of 35 to 40 years or more. Mature, attractive women with winning smiles, tremendous social skills, most with advanced education, and an unshakable committment to their husbands and families. Not one blond bimbo or trophy wife among them. The evening became enjoyable very quickly.


Eventually we reflected upon those in our class who had died. Graduating from school at the height of the Vietnam War had pushed many of our number into military service, but we were fortunate that all returned. Some had even chosen to make the military a career. We had since lost only three to natural causes. The 'gorilla in the living room' was the unspoken question of how many more of us might be gone before our next reunion.


It is hard to see change in yourself, but it is easy to see it in others. Especially in a 'time warp' situation when that 17 year old buddy (chasing chicks, racing cars, and trying to get away with drinking beer) is 45 years later a renown heart surgeon...or was the commander of a guided missile cruiser...or the CEO of a world-wide corporation. We sat surrounded by luxury, a group of accomplished, respected, and apparently successful individuals who had gone their own ways and, by and large, had accomplished their goals. Yet there was no snobbery or 'competition of egos' in this group. The old cliques and social stratifications had completely broken down and a spirit of genuine camaraderie developed. By the end of the evening I couldn't help wishing that the whole bunch of old, fat, (largely) bald guys could live in a village somewhere so we could spend evenings such as we had just enjoyed on a regular basis instead of at 45 year intervals.


The next day we went on to attend school-sponsored alumni functions where speakers talked of lofty future plans while honoring us and sliding donation forms under our noses. My high school buddies and I have now become the Fathers and Grandfathers who keep the wheels of education well greased with the proceeds of our success. I guess that was inevitable. I remember being a student and watching fast-talking guides showing groups of old coots around campus and snickering at the whole drama. I don't snicker any more now that I am among that bunch of coots. Now I look at those shiny young faces and wish that we coots could trade places with them, even if it was for a short time. To once again be able to run fast and love quickly. To re-experience the newness and excitement of life through the freshness of youth. To face drama and turmoil with the knowledge that life stretches out before us like a new highway to the horizon. But that would not be fair. We had our time and now that time is past. But for one fleeting weekend that ended entirely too soon, a group of men whose highways stretch much further behind them than they do ahead, looked into faces of age and saw faces of youth.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Danny Died On Monday




The panicky telephone call came about eleven PM on Monday. On the other end the woman's voice was erratic, tear choked, and hysterical.

"Can you come over? Oh God, I think he's gone!"

Throwing on clothes over pajamas, I rushed to the house next door to find Danny's wife Irma shaking, crying, and hysterical. Danny lay on the couch, eyes closed, ashen grey and not breathing. CPR had no apparent effect but was continued for the few minutes until the medics arrived to take over. After that, all that could be done was to comfort Irma and assist in making telephone calls. Within the hour a doctor at the local hospital pronounced Danny dead of apparent heart failure. A family's world fell apart.

Danny was a great neighbor. He wasn't a close friend, but he was a great neighbor. My requests to borrow tools or for help with some project were always met cheerfully. Sometimes even when I didn't ask, he would offer. I would hear a mower in the backyard and go to the window to see Danny go by on his tractor. There were no property lines, it was all just grass to Danny. He was that kind of guy.

From the covered patio of his corner house the sound of loud voices and raucous laughter frequently echoed through the neighborhood. Danny seemed to host an odd conglomeration of co-workers from the local university, neighbors, relatives, and some who were probably just 'show-ups'. The beer flowed freely as did the laughter. Eventually the locals designated him as 'The Mayor', holding court on any warm afternoon, and adding spirit to the neighborhood.

Danny only knew how to be Danny, so you could take him or leave him, suit yourself. There were no pretexts, attitudes, or attempts to impress, just a genuine hard-working man with a receding hairline, a growing belly, a gap-toothed smile, and an infectuous laugh. His language was coarse and his jokes raunchy, but that was a part of him, so if you didn't care for it, well, your feet ain't set in cement.


Danny was fifty-eight years old and leaves behind a shattered wife, three grown daughters and a son who have all lost their peculiar anchor, and several grandchildren who are trying to make sense of it all. The funeral will be crowded, and a lot of tears will be shed. The funeral procession will be long and there will be trouble finding room for all of the cars at the small country cemetery.


'The Mayor' is gone and that loss will take a while to settle over the neighborhood. There will be an unusual quiet on the corner and a lot of people will notice the difference without really understanding why. Anheuser-Busch will have to lay off half of the second shift and not understand why. Goodbye 'Mr. Mayor', we miss you already.

Monday, September 21, 2009

A Forest of Souls

I had occasion to visit my poor, neglected blog and realized that it has been three months since I made a post. Other writers seem to post something to their blogs on a regular basis, even if it is just a promo for a book. My blog is more about my thoughts and impressions of life and I only write a piece when I've been inspired by some more or less monumental thought. Thoughts of the monumental variety and even those of conventional scale seem to have largely escaped me these past three months. I guess that there are just times when not a lot happens in your life and this would seem to have been one of those times. The other thing is that I have been on a virtual blog tour with Dorothy Thompson of Pump Up Your Book Promotions and I have been doing interviews and blog posts on other peoples' blogs. Dorothy Thompson is a complete and total sweetheart and a dream to work with. She has her own personal blog as the "Boomer Chick" and it is greatly entertaining.

As a part of that tour I had written a piece about one of the places I had visited while doing research for Magnificent Man. The Saguaro National Park is outside of Tucson, Arizona and is the desert equivalent of a national forest. There is a scene in Magnificent Man where Coyote takes Cassandra to visit the souls. It is his belief that the souls of the departed dwell within the tens of thousands of tall saguaro cacti. The place is hot, dry, dusty, and dangerous, but it is hard not to become caught up in Coyote's belief. I call this post, "A Forest of Souls".







***

I started to write a romance novel that took place in the contemporary American southwest. The idea was there, the plot was forming, and the story was cruising along quite nicely until I hit a wall. My characters were in the stark and beautiful desert country of Arizona, but the problem was that I had never been there. Big problem. The day I had selected to fly to Tucson began as a disaster when the air traffic control computer at Dallas-Fort Worth Airport picked THAT day to crash. So now my ten A.M. flight became eleven-thirty and eventually left around two-fifteen. Oh well, welcome to modern travel. What I was not prepared for was my five P.M. flight to Tucson from Dallas-Fort Worth finally being cobbled together out of used plane parts at nine-thirty P.M. All told, a rather dubious start to an otherwise wonderful trip. The car rental desk in Tucson had graciously stayed open to make sure I actually had a car for my research trip, so somewhere around eleven P.M. I was speeding off into the still warm night.

So began my journey of research and discovery in the Arizona desert. During the following weeks I travelled to many places and frequently stood out as an obvious light-skinned stranger among people with deeply tanned skin and facial features and clothing that greatly differed from mine. Some spoke our language with a heavy accent, while others struggled to understand my words. The people were different, their way of life was different, and the land was very different from anything I had ever experienced. I remembered the old John Wayne and Randolph Scott western movies that had been filmed in some of the places that I visited, but it was all just so...different. It was hot, even in November, and dusty, and dry. The heat shimmered like water and the wind flowed slowly as if to conserve its energy. The flat land stretched for miles before crashing head long into the steep rock buttes and mountains. There were many places and people, not in the least glamorous, but deeply imbued with history and culture. It was impressive just to be in their presence.

Among the many places that I found striking was the Saguaro National Park outside of Tucson. It is a very modest place by national park standards; just a welcome center and a lot of desert. You don't have to pay, you simply turn off of an asphalt road onto a dirt road and drive slowly to avoid choking yourself in dust. On the day I was there, very few other vehicles came along allowing me the luxury of pulling off at leisure to become absorbed in the place. Here in the east we are very accustomed to forests of trees. Great stands of pine or hardwood trees that shade the forest floor. Everywhere in this park were cacti. Much of the low growth was a variety of spiky and spiny nastiness shaped like barrels, gangly whips, Mickey Mouse ears, fuzzy coral, and some that just defy description. I was very satisfied to get no closer than I was to any of it, and was most sincerely glad to have no reason to attempt to go through it. But dominating the land for acres, if not square miles, were the famous saguaro cactus (pronounced locally as su-WAR-o). These are the tall cacti that are the state symbol of Arizona. They grow slowly and can live for as much as two hundred years. After 75 to 100 years they can start to grow the iconic arms for which they are known. There I was among tens of thousands of the saguaro in a strange forest-like setting.

In Magnificent Man, Coyote, the hero, takes Cassandra to the saguaro land and tells her the story of the souls. He explains that each tall cactus represents the soul of a departed desert native. He becomes emotional while looking out at the immense number of saguaro and picturing within each the soul of one departed. The warriors, the women, the children, all still together in this desolate and hostile place, but finally at peace. A forest of souls.






Friday, June 19, 2009

I made a video!


video


WOW! This is really exciting! I made a video and it has Michael Jackson moonwalking, Madonna being slutty, Peter Gabriel as Sledgehammer, and Natalie Cole singing with her dead Father!


Well, not really. The reality is that it's just another book trailer, like hundreds of others out there, and the only exciting thing about it is that I did it myself. When you're as computer-illiterate as I am, just getting the damned thing to start up on any given day is an accomplishment. When you don't know a 'gigabyte' from a cheeseburger, the idea of creating an official U-Tube style video is more than a couple feet off of the radar screen. I found a program called "Windows Movie Maker" on my machine; apparently it's a standard part of Windows XP. I had never noticed it before, but then there are a dozen other programs just like it that I never noticed either. When I opened it, I found that, if you actually follow the instructions, it's a really nifty little program that is NOT all that hard to use, and you don't have to be a seventeen year-old C++code writer from New Dehli to actually get some results. It took the biggest part of a day to manipulate pictures and text into a timeline, and then to adjust them so that there is enough time for a reader to actually read the text before the picture changes.


I spent hours looking for sound effects to match screen actions and finally selected and downloaded just the right ones. What I didn't know was that, without more sophisticated softwear (and a more sophisticated user), I couldn't blend music with sound effects to get that 'REALLY COMPLETE' feeling. In the end, I had to lose the sound effects and go only with the music, which is not bad. The only annoying feature of the resulting 'movie' is that the ending screen remains blue instead of going to black as the program was CLEARLY instructed to do. Oh well, it still came out kinda' cool.


Magnificent Man is a story that takes place in the American southwest against a backdrop of extraordinary scenery and Native American and Mexican peoples. I wanted to share as much of that feeling as I could with anyone who cares to watch my 'Cecil B. De-Mini' epic. Comments are appreciated, even the ones that say, "It really sucks." For now, I'll just sit back quietly and wait for the reviews in Variety, and start drafting my acceptance speech. "I want to thank the members of the Academy, and my parents, and all the little people who made all of this possible." Ciao Baby!

Monday, June 15, 2009

A PLACE THAT FEW HAVE SEEN




For a large part of my working life, I was in places where, if God decided to kill me, my death would be considered a routine hazard of the job. Where I grew up there were many trains, and all I ever saw them carry was coal. If it were not for books and Lionel trains brochures, I would never have known that trains moved anything but coal. The Fathers of most of the children I went to school with worked in the coal mines and a few of those Fathers went to work one day and did not come home. Anyone in my part of the world who has been near a river has almost certainly seen powerful towboats churning the water as they pushed numerous barges piled high with coal. Where I grew up, the roads were slowly pounded into dust by the seemingly never-ending parade of large coal trucks. Coal is America’s real energy source and I was in the heart of coal country.

Comparatively few people have ever actually seen where that coal comes from, and I suppose that even fewer care. Geologically speaking, the coal was created when prehistoric swamps, filled with all manner of organic matter, were covered over by layers of sediments, and pushed down further and further as the land around them rose up. The final result of the tremendous pressure and ions of time was the conversion of black slimy swamp ooze into thousands of square miles of a hard, black, and shiny mineral that releases tremendous heat when burned. It is so valuable that men kill each other over its ownership and its recovery.

Most coal beds or ‘seams’ as they are more accurately called, lay very flat and are of relatively uniform thickness. The most famous seam of all, the Pittsburgh coal seam, is nine feet thick and, in general, ideal for mining. Imagine walking up to a remote and relatively steep hillside, and scraping away the earth and soft, weathered rock to expose a layer of shiny black coal higher than your arm extended over your head. So high that, after removal, you can walk upright and comfortably into the void. Now create eight openings into the coal seam, each sixteen feet wide by nine feet high, and space those openings about one hundred feet apart. Support each opening with a reinforced concrete arch. Then, continue to mine each opening back to a depth of about one hundred feet, being careful to support the roof of each tunnel using wooden posts and timber beams, or a system of six-foot to twelve-foot long steel bolts connected to expansion anchors set into drilled holes in the solid rock above the coal. Now, turn and start a tunnel at a right angle to the original tunnel, and do not stop mining until you have connected all eight of the tunnels together resulting in square blocks of coal roughly one hundred feet square. Now you have a coal mine.

Continue the process just described for thirty five years and, lo and behold, you have a network of tunnels that stretches for eight or ten miles and has honeycombed hundreds of thousands of acres while producing millions upon millions of tons of coal. For an operation this large, there will be multiple concrete-lined air shafts, eight to ten feet in diameter, and dug from the surface to the coal seam, a distance typically of six hundred to eight hundred feet. Huge mechanical fans, six to eight feet in diameter, are installed on some of the air shafts. These fans, by law, must run continuously to remove dust and toxic and explosive gases from the mine. There will also be an elaborate system of narrow gauge railroad tracks with an electrical trolley wire, similar to the old street cars. This is used to transport men and supplies into the mine and sometimes to bring the coal out. More commonly a system of conveyor belts runs continuously from the outside to the active mining area in order to transport out the mined coal. Finally, there is a network of high to medium voltage electrical cables and transformers to power everything; miles of telephone and signal wires; and, large pumps and discharge pipes to remove accumulated water. Welcome to my world; a place seen by a relative few, but whose existence contributes to the lives and economic benefit of innumerable people in some way or other.

From the first time I rode down the shaking and rattling elevator in my brand new coveralls and sporting my new miner’s cap, I knew that this was a special place. There were sights, sounds, and smells that were not duplicated anywhere on the surface. I was entranced by the steady swoosh of the conveyor belts and the click-clack of the large locomotives pulling their trains of supply cars. The smells of ‘sulfur air’, wintergreen snuff, and hot grease permeated the air. However, it was the darkness, the complete darkness broken only by the glow of a cap-mounted electric light that kept me attuned to the potentially hostile environment in which I found myself. The loss of that meager beam would render me helpless and completely blind.

In later years my accumulated certifications qualified me to make the mandated safety checks of old unused areas located miles from the active work areas and far distant from another human being. Most times I was closer to people who lived on the surface, six hundred feet above me and unknowing of my existence, than I was to another worker inside the tunnels. I don’t believe that many people have ever experience true solitude. Not just quiet house solitude or even, marooned on a deserted island solitude, but actual and complete sensory deprivation. While underground and alone, I could sit and shut off my light to experience the absolutely most complete silence and darkness that anyone can ever experience. Imagine being buried alive but knowing that you can get out. That unusual environment results in an extraordinary psychological situation in which your brain has no visual or auditory input, and it does not know how to react. Your mind screams, “Relax, this is only temporary”, but the brain does not listen. It goes into a kind of panic mode with fascinating results. Soon, in the complete darkness, clear but dim soft gray images begin to appear of what your mind thinks that you should see. Very faint, meaningless sounds soon start at a level where your mind is confused as to whether you actually hear the sounds or not. It is impossible to tell. The images are as clear but ghostly, as if they were projected in black and white onto a gray screen. I have on occasion stood up and walked, reaching out to touch the image of a post or a wooden cribbing. I could not see my hand, even though it was extended, but it was startling when my mind was expecting me to touch a solid object and yet none was there.

Imagine, as a writer, having regular access to a place such as this. Imagine the degree of freedom unleashed within your creative processes when your mind is unencumbered by the distractions of sight, sound, and movement. For me, it was a resurrection of the largely suppressed creative centers of my mind resulting in a flood of ideas and thoughts and the beginning of a writing career. Looking back, I probably should have bought a piece of that giant old mine before it closed and rented it out, by the hour, to writers and artists seeking to refresh their minds. Old Amish saying…”Too soon old, too late smart.”

Friday, June 5, 2009

"Magnificent Man" is here



I believe that most people who read or write blogs are readers and writers themselves. For those who are not writers, the process of writing a book is not as simple as it may appear. Everything must start with an idea for a story. The idea must be solid and believable. Then are required characters who are capable of carrying out the idea while putting forth personalities with whom readers can identify. The reward for the characters is that they get to live exciting, bigger than life roles, although some authors will require the demise of a villian, crime victim, or innocent by-stander to generate passion in a story line. I'll bet those characters weren't happy about that. Even after the story is written and "the end" is typed, the work is but half done. Then comes the proofreading where those misspelled words and grammatical errors are extracted or corrected. Where the overused words and passive voice are replaced. Where countless hours of work are poked and probed, ripped and redone, realigned and reorganized. Then it all goes to an editor who will open up the story like a wild surgeon with a scalpel, changing, removing, rewording, deleting, and savagely tearing the story to bits while the author grits his/her teeth and hangs on the edge of insanity. After significant amounts of alcohol, medication, or some combination of the two, the author again sits to read his creation and is surprised to find a leaner, clearer, and generally much improved story than the one he/she submitted. Oh the magic of editing.

I have a LOT of words out there. The numerous erotic books I have written have made for delightfully oversexed characters in a variety of enviable situations. They were fun to write and I hope that readers enjoyed reading them. I had originally started out just to write some pseduo-pornographic meaningless stories about large breasted women and well-hung men, but somehow those quickly faded into stories with believeable and likeable characters who have extraordinary encounters during their otherwise ordinary lives. We, the more ordinary but still zestful, can envy them their pleasures.


As much as I enjoyed experimenting with the lives of trailer park people, I developed a longing to write something more acceptable...more 'mainstream'. I have always had soft spot for nobility. Not 'nobility' as in snobby royalty, but rather real nobility of a sort that is lacking today. I looked back to Cervantes and his Don Quixote de La Mancha for a model. A tired old knight, well past his prime and his time, yet still carrying within him an unfaltering spirit of faith, nobility, chivalry, and honesty. There was my hero! There was my man to stand above the crowd clinging to the values that he held unquestionable while surrounded by laughing and taunting jackals. But how do I get such a hero into today's world and where can I put him so that he won't be torn to pieces or worn down by the mass of lessers. It was solving those questions that was the keystone of my "Magnificent Man". Once those were established, the story fell into place like the last pieces of a puzzle. Then I had only to introduce a suitable heroine; a woman who had faced hardship and who had the strength to continue fighting even when the odds were against her. But she had also to be a woman capable of recognizing and respecting the special nature and anachronistic ways of a truly noble man. The meeting of these two personalities was predestined to develop into a deep and inescapable love for each other. But yet another snag! Once the loving bond is made, where do these two bonded lovers live? Do they live in her modern world, where he's considered a 'defective', a laughing stock? Or do they live in his harsh, unforgiving world where one misstep could mean death? THAT became the toughest knot of all to unravel. But in the end, it was unravelled.

But now it is done! "Magnificent Man" hit the stands today and the world has access to the defining effort of my pathetic writing career. Now it will be judged by readers and writer/readers to the tough established standards of erotic romance. Most romance and erotica is written and read by women. There is a shared point of view among women that I will simply never, by virtue of gender, be able to share. I yawn at castles and ballrooms, find no attraction to men in kilts, and pirates and vampires escape me. But I do adore women. I enjoy the sight, the smell, the sound, and yes the feel of a woman. There is a magic in the attraction between men and women and THAT is the true basis for romance. Whether male or female, that is the commonality. I long for the days of elegance in courtship. When a suitor had to prove himself worthy of the attentions of a lady or be left behind. Today the focus seems to be upon the capture or surrender when the real excitement and the genuine pleasure is in the pursuit. A taste of that, Dear Reader, you will find in "Magnificent Man". I am a believer in the Quixotic, in nobility, chivalry, honesty, and faith. And those characteristics I hope will always stand out in my romantic works.

"Magnificent Man" is now available through Melange Books at http://www.melange-books.com/authors/randalllang/randalllang.html/
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Tuesday, May 26, 2009

“I’m a ro-o-o-o-o-o-oad runner Honey!”


With those words Bo Diddley launched a rock and roll song that became an anthem for a youthful generation of muscle car owners who would later become hapless commuters. During many of my many, many years of work, I was a “roadrunner”; one of those nameless, faceless drivers who twice each day choke the roads with tons of stalled metal. For those of you who don’t know, a “roadrunner” is defined as ground dwelling cuckoo bird, native to the desert southwestern U.S., and famous for its ability to run at 15 to 18 miles per hour. What is not commonly known is that this scrawny rascal eats poisonous snakes, spiders, scorpions and just about anything else that it can catch. It can be a seriously mean little dude if it wants to be. Therefore, the term “roadrunner” aptly describes both the practice and the attitude of the average long distance commuter, stuck in a vehicle and in traffic for multiple hours each day.

Humans are an adaptive species and so it is with human “roadrunners”. Being in the same place at the same time as countless others, unwritten rules of the road develop for those with IQ’s higher than chimpanzees. Thus, just as NASCAR drivers drive at 160 miles per hour just a few feet apart, so goes morning commute at a steady 60 until all reach the point of gridlock. A driver who wishes to survive the experience had better develop a sense about who to trust and who not to trust. In my experience, trust is developed from predictability. The regulars who get into their correct lanes and fall into line are trustworthy while the maniac in the black ‘Beemer’ screaming into the cell phone and failing to notice stopped traffic ahead is a danger to all. The guy who slows to let the truck into line is trustworthy while the kid in the annoying ‘rice burner’ who just went from lane one to lane three and back again to gain two car lengths is an accident looking for a victim. Even if you’re not a ‘regular’, I’m sure that you get the picture. Having freed myself from that daily insanity, I had mercifully forgotten about my fellow “roadrunners”, who know the rules and our arch nemeses, ‘the clueless’. That was until Memorial Day.

It was a coincidence that I was travelling on Monday, Memorial Day afternoon. They were all familiar roads, but suddenly the predictable had become some sort of twisted video game with me feeling like a target. Strange things were going on and it reminded me of an episode of “The Twilight Zone”. Traffic on the rural Interstate highway was reduced to 55 miles per hour and both lanes were backing up. Up ahead, one of those strange looking foreign minivans was in the passing lane beside a double tractor-trailer as the truck struggled up a long hill. The driver of the van seemed completely oblivious to the line of cars behind his rolling roadblock. Miles later when the truck had slowed enough to lose his sidecar, irritated drivers began to speed up and pass the unyielding van on the right. Because traffic was heavy, passing on the right often resulted in a near collision with a slow moving car in the right lane. I purposely hung back to observe and avoid the chaos until I could safely pass on the right. It was no surprise to me to see a New Jersey license plate on the van.

I escaped for just a short distance before again being blocked by another side-by-side combination. This time it was two more foreign cars; a station wagon from Virginia and a sub-compact from Maryland. Both cars tootled along at a gut-busting 58, their drivers apparently blind to the rapidly building lines behind them. Many years on the road had also educated me that people who drive “the world’s safest car” had probably been required to do so by law enforcement in the interest of public safety. At this point, I thought about my friend Jayha from North Carolina and her BIG Ford truck. I could practically hear her screaming out the window, “Y’all best get your li’l battery-powered, tin can, sorry pieces of shyt outta’ my way ‘for I lock up this big som-bitch and roll OVER your asses!” She’d do it too. Not just scream at them, I mean she’d DO it! You gotta’ love that southern spirit.

The normally routine one hour trip stretched into an hour and a half nightmare that mixed people who had never really learned how to drive, and people who should never have been allowed to drive, with people who had a lot of miles to cover and just wanted to get on with it. Many years ago I used to fantasize that I had a secret button on the knob of the four-speed shift of my muscle car. One push of that button would instantly vaporize the slow-moving Volkswagen beetle at the head of the line of traffic on my side of that double yellow line. I would have paid a lot of money to have that button on Monday, and I’ll bet others would have flung tens and twenties at me as they passed each smoking hole in the pavement.

After arriving home, I began to reflect upon the experience. I wondered who those strange people were and why they couldn’t grasp basic concepts such as “keep right except to pass”. Then it dawned on me that these people weren’t “roadrunners”. Holiday weekends bring to the roads hoards of people who simply don’t ordinarily drive on rural highways. They either take public transportation, live in the city where they pull from their streets onto a twelve-lane parking lot that travels at 15 miles an hour, or they just rarely drive at all. That would certainly explain driving slowly in the passing lane and not being aware of horns and lights behind them. When you spend hours travelling slowly among clueless people, I guess that you just become…clueless. There is certain logic to it. Deep down, I still believe that there is a secret training school in New Jersey where they select pathetically power-hungry people and teach them how get in their desperately underpowered little boxes and gather on the Interstate highways during busy traffic times. After training, these people receive the title of ‘DSC’, which stands for Designated Speed Controller, and launch themselves onto the roads on a self-proclaimed righteous mission to congest America’s highways. The good news is that they are once again buried deeply back into their own little worlds and probably feel smug for having exerted their authority. The roads are again property of the “roadrunners”. At least until the smart “roadrunners” go into hiding on July 3.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Tale of the Thirsty Thief

I don’t know if any of you, Dear Readers, have had the misfortune to experience a break-in of your home. My guess would be that entirely too many of you have, and that is a sad commentary on our society. My home on ‘Da’ I-Lan’ was once owned by a high-volume drug dealer who is now a permanent guest of the federal government, and that alone is fodder for a future story. As you might imagine, that gentleman was greatly concerned with security, and he took a number of measures to keep both law enforcement and competitors out of his home. Those included surrounding the rear yard with a six-foot high chain link fence; a double-bolted wrought iron storm door outside of a double walled steel front door; a steel rear door; alarms on all first floor windows; and, a central alarm system with pressure switches and motion detectors that probably still appears in the sales brochures of the installing company. The only thing missing were the attack dogs and the large German guards with Uzis. Ironically, all of this was of little use in the end since, when federal agents came to discuss his unlicensed pharmaceuticals, they cut the padlock on the gate to the back yard and let themselves into the house via the rear door using a special key called a “door buster.”

When I bought the house, it had been flooded twice within a six months period (well it IS an island after all) and the alarm system operating box in the basement had been submerged and ruined. Since I had no plans for a home-based business similar to the previous owner, I saw no reason to spend a LOT of money to restore the system and pay the monthly monitoring fee.

The heavy steel rear door had been patched up enough to be useable, but that enormous dent and the sections of splintered door frame were a bit of an embarrassment since guests would assume that the law had been there for me. After a while, even the "angry husband" story became trite. I am a fan of handcuffs, but they really lose their appeal when pinched between your back and the rear seat of the police car. When I couldn’t stand it any more, I replaced the battered steel monster with a more civilized exterior door containing a nice glass window that featured operating blinds between the panes. I never got around to putting in the deadbolt lock, a procrastination that I would come to regret.

Comfortable with the remaining security measures I had left in place, I had been away for several days on a mission of corruption and abomination of some sort. I arrived home on a Friday night to find the lights blazing throughout the house. That sight immediately set off a sinking feeling in my gut. As I reached the back porch, I saw that the window in the rear door had been pried out and the door was open. Somewhere between panic and rage at this point, I crunched through the shattered glass to the phone and called police. Looking around the kitchen, I could see no damage other than the rear door. In the dining room, the doors on a small antique smoking stand had been opened and some personal mementos pulled out and dropped, but a glass display cabinet and the antique glasswear it held appeared intact. Gratefully, the hammer that I had left just across the room also lay untouched. An adjacent closet had been opened but its contents left undisturbed. In the living room, a window was left wide open, as was the front door, although the storm door was still closed and locked. Apparently my burglars couldn’t figure out the elaborate double bolt system that my predecessor had installed. A second window had been approached and unlocked but apparently couldn’t be opened.

Upstairs a few personal items had been taken out and thrown about, but the computer and peripherals were there. The rooms had been explored but everything appeared to be largely as it had been, including a few dollars in cash poorly hidden in a top drawer. Then I discovered it! Yes ladies and gentlemen, in the bathroom I found an indication of the presence of Philistines within my house. I found that the commode had been flushed! I make it a habit to shut off the water before I leave, but the commode tank remains full and is good for one additional flush. And THAT flush... (Pause for dramatic effect) had been used. Is nothing sacred? What kind of a savage breaks into a man’s home and uses the commode without asking? Well, at least they flushed. Imagine their surprise when there was no water to wash up. Snicker, snicker, revenge is sweet!

With a sense of guarded relief beginning to flow through me, I returned downstairs and noticed that the door to the basement was open and the light left on. With a year of restoration and remodeling work behind me, the basement still held hundreds if not thousands of dollars worth of power and hand tools. A trip down the rickety stairs revealed the tools to be right where they had been left; conspicuously laying in the center of the floor or thereabouts. The feeling of relief was beginning to set in rather seriously at this point.

The police were delayed in getting to my house; something about a homicide or some other trivial matter. When they arrived, we walked through. When we returned to the kitchen, a bell went off in my head. IT’S MISSING! DAMNED BANDITS!...THUGS!...VARLETS! A complete six-pack of Code Red Mountain Dew was missing from its place on the floor beside the refrigerator. I pulled open the refrigerator door to finally discover the true scene of the crime! Absent were four wine coolers, a bottle of Sangria, and a bottle of sparkling grape juice. They cleaned me out! What if I have guests this evening? What’s a host to do? I felt as if I should demand fingerprinting of the entire house. As I passionately explained my crisis to the police, they were surprisingly unsympathetic. Then I thought better and my panic subsided. If people pop in, we can always go out.

So instead of a leisurely weekend dedicated to debauchery and abomination as is customary, the time was dedicated to clean up, a trip to the lumber yard, painting, and replacing the damaged door with a similar door sporting a new double deadbolt lock. While I can’t imagine why, the police detectives never did call back or show up to investigate my crime scene. Again something about that homicide. Where ARE police priorities these days? By golly I’ll bet that William Petersen and Marg Helgenberger would have showed up if we were in Las Vegas! And me without a wine to serve.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Who the hell is 'Moondog'?

My Island is a nice place to live. It takes a while to get used to the steady ebb and flow of traffic headed for the racetrack, hotel, and casino at the end of ‘Da I-Lan’, but after a while you begin to identify the cars and their destinations. For instance, the Buicks and Cadillacs are gray hairs headed to the slot machines. The brightly painted ‘rice-burners’, with their annoying ‘angry wasp’ exhausts, and the beat-up pickup trucks are headed to the poker tables. The Escalades and the Acura SUV’s with the blacked-out windows and oversized wheels are headed to the table games. The high-priced pickups and Suburbans will likely end up at the greyhound track. There is nothing carved in stone about this system, but experience tells me that it’s close. Being an area where families live, including teenagers, we also get those REALLY annoying teen-aged white boys in painted-up used cars with rap music playing on stereo systems designed for stadiums. The speakers are so badly bottomed-out that there really is no music, just a piercing, penetrating buzz that is so loud it vibrates my windows and hurts my ears inside of a closed building and forty feet away. Some day there are going to be lots of deaf young white men who finally turn their hats around and look in the mirror.

It’s starting to warm now and people are coming out of their houses. As I mentioned in an earlier piece, ‘Da I-lan’ has a lot of huge old houses that have been broken up into apartments, Those apartments are attractive to young people just starting out and working at entry level jobs. As a result, the warm weather brings out a flow of people on bicycles, couples holding hands, old people walking to the store, families and young women pushing strollers followed by toddlers whose little feet are flying just to keep up. I like seeing the families with the young father right there with his wife and their offspring. They are a family unit; the building block of our nation. I also see the young women, sometimes in pairs or groups, as they push their strollers along the street. Their animated conversations are often filled with anger and words that I’m still shocked to hear from a woman’s mouth. Where are the fathers of those children? Somewhere there is a male whose DNA matches that of their child. Are they supporting these women? And their children? If not, why not? Why are these women and their parents not screaming from the rooftops of the injustice of a ‘father-less child’. Maybe this all just goes back to a traffic accident many years ago that left me growing up without a father.

Down from the soapbox! The warm weather also breeds a variety of sights, some of which are enough to make me question my eyes. Close your eyes and imagine, shuffling down a public street, a three hundred pound shirtless man wearing what appear to be pajama bottoms and shower shoes. Yea, I opened my eyes too, just too scary.

Now picture a gaggle of young men, hats backwards, sports tee shirts, absolutely enormous baggy shorts hanging halfway off their butts exposing plaid boxer shorts. They walk along in an odd, bouncing kind of urban strut, each chattering and frantically gesturing with one twisted arm as the other hand clutches the baggy shorts to keep them off the pavement. Outfits like that must go a long way toward reducing crime since it must be impossible to run from the police when your pants fall around your ankles.

Perhaps the ‘King of the Streets’…well, at least on ‘Da I-Lan’…and after dark, is a local celebrity(?)…character(?)…oddball(?)…fill in your own word. He’s been around for years and ALL, believe me ALL of the locals know OF him, even if they have never seen him. I speak of “Moondog”, and he’s DEFINITELY not from an old Patty Duke TV series.

One of my first nights here I was still having trouble sleeping in the new place, especially with unaccustomed street sounds. Somewhere around 1 AM, I climbed from bed and walked to a window, perhaps to close it. There, on the next block was a strange sight. A single light, not bright enough to be a car or motorcycle, turned the corner and came toward me. As it passed beneath a distant streetlight, I could see large flags fluttering behind the light. When my curious apparition reached the next streetlight, I could see a man on a bicycle, battery lantern taped to the handlebars, wearing a construction worker’s helmet and a vest of bright orange with crossed reflective strips. Behind him fluttered full size American and POW-MIA flags, securely taped to the rear axle and seat of the bike. What the hell was that? Later I would learn that I had seen Moondog.

My curiosity piqued, I began to research my new discovery both in the real world and on the Internet. What I found was that, once upon a time, there was a boy named Charles who was ‘slower’ than the other children. As the years went by, he fell well behind the class and was simply left behind. As he was growing up, he got into trouble for some relatively minor infraction and may have been a guest in a juvenile facility for a short time. The records are unclear about that, as they are for many interim years. Although many mysteries persist about Moondog, he is a regular at parades through Wheeling, always marking the end of the festivities. He makes modest and usually anonymous contributions to local charities, shying away from any fanfare and instead choosing simply to make his donation wrapped in a scrawled note that states, “from Moondog”.

In an unusual public appearance, the Wheeling Nailers Hockey Team honored Moondog with his own night at the arena, and with his own bobblehead doll. I was among five thousand people standing and applauding when a painfully shy, graying man in his mid-fifties, dressed in an ill-fitting suit, that had probably been given to him for the occasion, stood fighting his instinct to run. He smiled a tortured smile as he nervously waved to the adoring crowd, all the while clinging to the new orange bicycle given to him by the hockey club. I couldn’t help but wonder what was the motivation for so many people to show such adulation to a man of no particular accomplishments. As I thought about it, I began to realize that their appreciation of Moondog was not for his accomplishments, but rather for the spirit that he represents. A man from humble beginnings, with many limitations, Charles beat the odds and became the best man that he knew how to be. He rides freely (and ever safety-conscious) without handouts. He sets his own course and lives his own life without infringing upon or asking for help from others. He does what he wants because HE wants to do it and BE DAMNED the opinions of others. And finally he holds dear his country, his city, and his neighbors, whether they know that or not. But they DO seem to know, and five thousand of them stood and applauded to tell him so. Roll on ‘Dog’!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Some Serious Spandex

As I have aged, the effects of…well…age, a completely corrupt lifestyle, and the appetite and dietary habits of a sixteen-year old have combined to offer your most humble and obedient servant a couple of choices. Those were specifically: 1) exercise and lose weight, or 2) get fitted for a box and a hole in the ground. After an appropriate amount of consideration, I finally chose number one, beginning a whole new trend in my lifestyle choices. I have ridden a motorcycle for years so anything with two wheels works quite well for me. The downside is that 800 pounds of steel and chrome won’t do me a bit of good unless I powerlift it in multiple cycles each day. The futility of that fell upon me, and, in an unaccustomed flash of intellectual light, the bicycle came to mind.

In reality, I have for several years enjoyed riding a bicycle. The new bicycles are equipped with sophisticated gearing systems that allow the rider to tackle terrain from steep hills to flat roads without having to be a candidate for the Olympics. All over the country, old unused railroad beds are being renovated and surfaced with compacted crushed stone, asphalt, or concrete. Thousands of miles of these ‘rail-trails’ follow streams, skirt hills, and generally wind unobtrusively through areas where steam trains chugged along 150 years ago leaving clouds of black coal smoke. These trails are largely in scenic areas and are a joy to explore. My highly touted town of Wheeling has two very nice trails that I know well.

It’s a hard transition from a sedentary corrupt lifestyle to an active corrupt lifestyle. The bicycle is a heartless taskmaster that requires effort, perspiration, and perseverance; but will, in return, strengthen muscles, improve breathing, and head off yet another open-heart surgery. So with this in mind, recent years have seen his somewhat bloated buttocks morph into slimmer and more muscular although occasionally sore as hell buttocks as thousand of miles pedaled by. Those miles were mostly very pleasurable and as enjoyable as any other hard, physical labor can be. They also introduced me to a breed of person that anyone who regularly engages in physical activity will recognize. Allow me to introduce to you Mr. or Ms. ‘Serious About My Sport’.

We’ve all seen them. They’re the ones who have the absolutely newest equipment, clothing suitable for that sport and that sport alone, and the ability to unerringly bore to tears even the most enthusiastic among us with lengthy tales of their fierce dedication and noble accomplishments. They have ALL of the specific sport magazines; their houses are adorned with memorabilia, trophies, and souvenirs; and they LIVE for their next lesson with this coach or that. SERIOUS! They are SO SERIOUS! No one on this planet has ever built their lives so completely around one undertaking, and they just can’t wait to brighten your otherwise dull life with their story of commitment. Yep, that’s the guy (or gal).

In bicycling I’ve labeled that character as the ‘spandexer’. Those of you non-cyclists probably have not seen this creature, but he or she can be found anywhere bicycles are ridden. Comes to mind a trip along the Great Allegheny Passage, a 110-mile rail-trail between Pittsburgh, PA and Cumberland, MD. After a seventeen-mile uphill grind from Connellsville, PA to Ohiopyle, the home of the famous Frank Lloyd Wright house, Fallingwater, I stood puffing like a steam engine and sweating like a pig in my old jean shorts and wet tee shirt. Suddenly there they were, pushing their way through the crowd of unworthy. My eyes beheld a cluster of four ‘serious spandexers’, two male and two female. Their bicycles were the most expensive model of the most expensive brand, two male and two female, all glowingly spotless and equipped with fenders, front and rear; lights, front and rear; basket, tire pump, water bottle, road bars, mirrors, speedometer, air temperature and humidity monitor, heart monitor, tool kit, and an agglomeration of options whose earthy use escaped me entirely. The only thing missing were the chauffeurs’ seats. Each of the serious was wrapped head to foot in spandex, an elastic and body molding fabric, carefully color coordinated to match his/her bicycle, with spiffy color splashes that seemed to dash about their bodies. On each head was a carefully designed helmet, color coded exactly to match the bicycle, tapered to a teardrop shape, and ending gracefully in a point almost a foot after the head ended. A small mirror the size of a thumb hung suspended on a flexible rod from the edge of each helmet. My heart raced at the sight before me. As they neared, one of the males slid off his especially notched and tinted racing glasses to show the masses that he too had eyes just as they did. Then, as if coordinated by an unseen director, each rider dismounted from his or her colorful steed and, although obviously disdained by having to pass so near the unwashed, walked their bicycles to a secure area where they could be guarded by paid staff. The click of their color coordinated cleated shoes against the asphalt echoed back from the wall of the old train station as they disappeared into an area obviously off limits to sweaty plebeians such as me. I remember thinking that they had probably ridden nearly a mile, and it was good that they had stopped before perspiration occurred. It must be rough on the aging butler to have to run along side and mop each brow. Although I was comforted by the realization that they were safe and comfortable now, I just couldn’t escape that nagging fear that the champagne may have become too warm during their arduous journey.

There are younger and apparently less affluent, but nonetheless serious versions of the serious. As we wide-tire, blue-jeaned, unhelmeted riff-raff trundle along the trails, we had just bloody well yield to the cry, “Passing on your left!” lest consequences be felt. They usually travel in groups, but occasionally one will venture out alone to reassert their unquestioned authority over the trails.

I have learned to keep a keen eye in my common little rear-view mirror for the approach of a serious. I have personally heard persons who failed to yield in a timely manner called, “dumb ass”, a scalding rebuke intended to scar the psyche of a less committed, and ultimately causing them to reflect upon the purposelessness of their attempts at bicycling. Some of the weak simply pull to the side of the trail, lay down their bicycles, and walk away never to return. It’s a frightening sight to see.

I carry within me a dream that some day I too may dress myself in panty hose painted to look like a candy bar wrapper, put my head into a plastic serving bowl lined with sponges, and wear yellow Velcro golf shoes as I speed down the trail asserting my superiority over those slugs who should still have training wheels. Some day…but not this week.

So Here I Am

“You should have a blog.”
“A blog? What the hell is a blog?”
“It’s a place where you write stuff.”
“But I’m a writer, I already write stuff, and I have a website.”
“You still need a blog.”
“Oh…OK”

That conversation never happened. Well, it sorta did, but only in my head. In looking around I saw that other writers have blogs, so apparently I should have one also. So I went to a website and got a blog. Having a blog is a bit like going to a pet store and buying a boa constrictor; once you have one, what the hell do you do with it? I explored around and looked at other peoples’ blogs and found out what they were doing. Basically it’s a kind of journal where you post your thoughts and ideas, and other people come to read them. Oh…ok. I guess that’s all right. Years ago a television or radio commentator, and I’ve forgotten his name unless it was Andy Rooney, used to do a commentary he called “Things I think I think”. This blog will probably be something like that.

I live on an island. Really. An island surrounded by water and connected to the mainland by bridges. When you tell people that, they automatically get an image of palm trees, sandy beaches, and natives in colorful clothing. Not this island. It’s not Greenland either where people live on a chunk of ice and rock and eat caribou meat. My island is about halfway between those scenarios. In the eastern United States, the state of West Virginia has a northern panhandle, a tapered sliver of land between Pennsylvania and Ohio. The western side of that sliver is bounded by the Ohio River, a large, very commercialized river that is formed by the joining of the Monongahela and Allegheny Rivers at Pittsburgh, PA, and flows southwest to eventually join the Mississippi River. The city of Wheeling, WV sits pressed tightly between the river and a range of hills. The river is probably a half-mile wide at that point, and Wheeling Island, a large, football-shaped island, sits in the river close to the Ohio border. And you thought geography was dull.

The Island, or "Da’ I-lan" as it’s known locally, is a lovely place actually. On one end is the iconic Wheeling Island Casino, Racetrack, and Gaming Center. This complex has effectively put Wheeling on the map and is its best-known feature. Also there are Wheeling Stadium and Godfather’s Gentlemen’s Club, which are much less well known, and one of these allows aging perverts to oogle naked and perky twenty year olds without being subject to arrest. The streets are wide and tree lined, and there are many beautiful houses, some that date back to pre-Civil War. There are elegant Victorians, some American four-squares, and a collection of eclectic styles and sizes. The whole bloody island is a designated historic area, and there is a certain appropriateness that I live there. Like many older areas, a high percentage of the older houses have been broken up into multiple apartments or have fallen into disrepair. This is sad but unavoidable as repair and operating costs begin to exceed the value of the properties. Enter into this mix your most humble and obedient servant who was looking for an escape from the cultural and fun wasteland that is southwestern Pennsylvania, and a match made in heaven was consummated.

Wheeling is an old American city. Its rich history goes back to the late 1700’s and the end of the Indian Wars. Its location on the Ohio River and the construction of the National Road (US 40) provided access to raw materials and markets spawning industrial development. With the addition of railroads in the 1800’s, Wheeling became a thriving industrial center and grew like a mushroom. In the 1900’s, the glass, nail, steel, tobacco, china, and commodities businesses gradually fell like dominos and the boom times were over.

But Wheeling wouldn’t die. Like a fighter who gets up again and again, Wheeling remains a vibrant and active town that is the envy of cities twice its size. It has a thriving cultural center focused around the riverfront amphitheater called Heritage Port. The Wesbanco Center hosts minor league hockey and arena football teams between concerts, expositions, tournaments, and a myriad of other uses. Live Vaudeville theater is still presented on weekends and the famous Capitol Theater is being restored as a performance venue. More than twenty miles of paved bike trails follow the river and an old railroad bed, and are used by bikers, hikers, and skaters. The restaurants…don’t get me started. Wonderful restaurants and dance clubs where people my age (and that would be old) dance along side the kids. Shopping, movie theaters, magnificent parks, and I didn’t even get to the Casino. You might guess that I like this area, but even more so, I am captured by the life and spirit that is here. More later.