A to Z April Challenge

During the month of April I will be doing a different spin on my memoir posts. It starts with a song. Each song will be followed by a brief essay that is evoked or inspired by that song. You might want to click on the YouTube link to hear the song as you read the piece I've written. Or you can listen to the song lyrics first and then read. Whichever way you choose, I mostly hope you'll read and leave a comment with your thoughts about my post. Thank you for visiting and please follow the blog if you are not doing so already.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Zebulon, North Carolina

The Juggling Jacksons
         My dad used to do a lot of things that embarrassed me.   This was rarely his intent, but there were things he sometimes did that made me uncomfortable.  It was like I would want to hide and act like I didn't know him.  One such instance takes my memory back to Zebulon, North Carolina.

          This was in the late 1960s.   I was still in high school at the time and working in my family's juggling act whenever we had bookings.  Since we had moved to East Tennessee and there weren't enough booking agents to keep us working regularly in the area, my father had started his own agency and began booking numerous dates at corporate banquets and parties.  One such occasion was a company function in Zebulon.

           We had an entire self contained show in which my father would do some stand-up comedy and solo juggling after which my sister would do a magic dance act.  For the grand finale we would perform our seven person juggling act which included an extended comedy segment at the end.  Our show was a crowd-pleaser that audiences seemed to enjoy a great deal.

            Something else that I should mention here is that my father was a very devout Christian.  He often studied the Bible and could cite Biblical facts and verses with ease.  I think that perhaps somewhere in his aspirations was a desire to be an evangelist or to at least write books based on his study of the Bible.

            My father also loved show business and especially juggling and comedy.  On stage his exuberance poured out to the delight of the audience.  Even I thought he was funny and I never tired of watching his comedy juggling act or listening to the same jokes.  But in Zebulon he did something unexpected that I had never seen him do in a show before.

             At the beginning of his act on that night he began to make a biblical reference to Zebulon and began talking about the Bible and Jesus.  I cringed and wanted to go where no one could see me.  I wished I wasn't there.  Now I don't recall exactly what he said, I only know he said something that wasn't a usual part of the act.

            As it turned out, nobody seemed upset and at the end of the show the audience seemed very satisfied.  In retrospect I wish I had listened closely to whatever it was he had said.  And now I smile thinking about this. I feel proud that my father was willing to get up there and speak his convictions without shame or any care about what anyone thought.

            My father was like that.  When I was younger I was often afraid of what people would think.  My father seemed fearless.  And he filled our lives with fun.  In Zebulon he made another memory among the many memories of people I have known, things I have done, and places I have been.


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Saturday, April 28, 2012

Yuma, Arizona

Downtown Yuma, Arizona (2)Downtown Yuma, Arizona (2) (Photo credit: Ken Lund)

            The day we played Lake Havasu City, Arizona it was hot--one of the hottest days I'd ever experienced. But it was a dry heat as they say.  I don't care what they say, 120 degrees in mid-afternoon is more than I can comfortably deal with when I have to be out in it.

             It was was mid-August and the Magical Land of Oz tour of the World of Fantasy Players was making it's downward swoop of the western states before hitting a few dates in New Mexico and then a month of shows in Texas.  We would be heading to Yuma after our evening show at the Lake Havasu City high school.  In these climes I tried to schedule our travel time at night when it was a bit cooler.

            We killed time in the afternoon checking out the London Bridge.  The bridge had been moved stone by stone from London and reassembled here in Lake Havasu.  We looked at it but it was so hot that was about all we cared to do.  Instead we went to Hussong's Mexican restaurant to eat a leisurely lunch.  The main thing we cared about was the air-conditioning.

           Thankfully the Performing Arts Center at the high school was air-conditioned.  It's a modern facility with an easy load in and a high tech stage and auditorium.   We were there ready to go when they opened the stage door at 3 PM so we could get our equipment unloaded and retreat into the coolness of the auditorium.

            After the show, when darkness had set in, it was cooler than it had been, but still in the low 90s.  The show truck was undoubtedly uncomfortable to ride in, but my van was air-conditioned so that the 150 mile drive to Yuma was not too bad.  Not being a freeway it was a somewhat slow drive on parts of route 95, but the last stretch ran through desolate desert and was unencumbered by traffic.  We arrived in Yuma around 1 AM.   The temperature had cooled down to somewhere in the eighties.

            The next day in Yuma it was hot.  Not as hot as it had been the day before, but it still got up to about 113 degrees Fahrenheit.  When we went out the city was mostly quiet.  I guess people stayed in the air conditioning and came out only when they had to.  I thought about those stories of people cooking eggs on sidewalks.  I wondered if anyone ever ate those eggs.

             Yuma doesn't seem like a place I'd want to live.  Especially in the summertime.  I don't like extreme heat and I have no craving for sidewalk cuisine.   There's nothing calling out to me in Yuma.

            Yet every winter thousands of people descend upon the city in their travel trailers and motor homes.  Snowbirds they're called.  They come from Canada and states up North.  They fill up the vast treeless encampments that were empty stretches of concrete pads baking in the sun when I saw them.  It's not my kind of life but I guess those people like it.

             Passing through Yuma on my way to someplace else like Phoenix or San Diego is okay.  A short stop in Yuma might even be okay.  But I have no desire to be in Yuma under a searing sun, perhaps cooking an egg on a concrete trailer pad where some snowbird will be parking his motor home come December.  That's not something I want to do.

            I wonder if you can cook bacon on those trailer pads?



           

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Friday, April 27, 2012

teXas

Texas state welcome sign, along Interstate 30,...Texas state welcome sign, along Interstate 30, entering from Arkansas. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

        There are a number of places in Mexico and China that begin with the letter X, but I can't write about them not having been there.  And I can't say for sure if I've ever been to Xenia, Ohio so it would be hardly fair to write about that town.   So I'm pressed to come up with a place in the United States where I've been that begins with an X.

          Often the letter X is used to represent a center of things--"you are here" or "X marks the spot".  Then I think about that massive state of Texas.   The X is in the middle of the name, but in a way Texas seems like the center of the United States.  Oh, it's not the geographical center of the U.S. or even North America.  And it's not the population center, although oddly enough in 2010 and 2011 that distinction went to Texas county in Missouri.

          No, it just seems like Texas is smack dab in the middle of it all and when you're traveling the U.S., for much of the time you are there somewhere in Texas.  A good many travelers going from one region of the United States to another will at some time pass through at least part of Texas.  If you're traveling via I-10 or I-20 you'll spend a lot of time in Texas.  If you cross the country on I-40 you'll still pass through Texas, but not as long.

          I've heard some say that they found driving through Texas boring.  Not me.  To me there is something fascinating about the vastness of the state.   Miles of empty space punctuated by quiet little towns in the middle of nowhere that conjure images of lone cowboys and The Last Picture Show.   If you've seen that movie then that's what a lot of those towns look like.

           That's not to say there isn't some major urban life in Texas.  Of the ten biggest cities in the United States three of them are in Texas.  The only state that matches that is California and that may change since, according to statistics, a lot of people from California have been leaving that state with many of them going to, yeah you guessed it, Texas.

          Texas has just about everything.  There are beaches and mountains, deserts and swamp lands, and city sprawl and farm land.  It's a diverse state geographically as well as culturally.  The weather tends to be temperate most of the time, but it can get cold and snowy in the winter and blistering hot in the summer.

           The largest state border with Mexico is that of Texas.  Much of that border is fairly desolate though there are some large urban areas on the Mexican side.  Texas also borders long stretches of four different U.S. states.    The Texas highway system has enough roads to circle the Earth more than three times.  Some people who have traversed Texas may have felt like they had circled the Earth.

           In my days of touring with the Ken Griffin Magic Show and the World of Fantasy Players we spent a lot of time in Texas.  There were a lot of towns to play and some good money to be made.  We had some good times in that state.  I always looked forward to going there.

          If someone were to tell me that I was going to have to settle down and live in Texas for the rest of my life, I guess I wouldn't be terribly upset.  Some places in Texas might be more disconcerting than others, but as long as I  had all the necessities of modern life I guess I could deal with it.

         I would prefer to just be able to pass through Texas now and then on my way from one place to another.  Or maybe just drive around Texas for a long time.   Texas is a good place to drive around.  When God made Texas, I think he probably made it for roads, cars, and driving.  Driving a long, long way.





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Thursday, April 26, 2012

Winslow, Arizona

Standin'On The Corner Park Winslow, AZStandin'On The Corner Park Winslow, AZ (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
        The first year my wife and I drove from Los Angeles to the East Coast, I prepared a soundtrack for the trip.  She'd never made the cross-country trip in an Easterly direction and like me, she enjoys road trips.  Since the drive was going to be a long one, I wanted to have some music to entertain us.

         She and I don't listen to music together all that often and I wanted to introduce her to some of my favorite music from years gone by.  Originally from Ecuador, she'd never heard of much of the music that I like.

          Before leaving home, I filled a CD holder with the recordings arranged thematically to where we'd be along the way.  Following I-40 in Arizona we'd be passing through Kingman, Flagstaff, and Winslow.

          I couldn't resist.  I had the "Best of the Eagles" set to play as we neared Winslow.  Then as we exited to take the loop through town we listened to:

"Standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona"

          "Take It Easy" is a wonderful song written by Jackson Browne, but made famous by The Eagles.  I'd heard and sang that Winslow line so many times that driving though town with that song playing seemed like something that had to be done since we were so close to the town.   There's some sort of souvenir tourist spot in the center of town called "The Corner in Winslow Arizona".   I slowed down, but didn't stop.   We had to make it to Albuquerque by that night and that was still a good ways off.




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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Vancouver, British Columbia

View on Vancouver on October 1, 2005View on Vancouver on October 1, 2005 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

          When I was traveling with the World of Fantasy Players theater group, we had some good tour planners and agents who usually seemed to manage to book us on a steady schedule while allowing for some time off in some nice places to be.  I don't know if it was intentional or serendipitous, but it was fine by me and the young people I had touring with me.

            In the summer of 1986 we were doing our annual tour up the Okanagan Valley of British Columbia.  This is a beautiful region of lakes surrounded by scenic mountains and popular with tourists.  Our tour of this region always culminated with the city of Prince George which was several hundred miles north.

             This particular year our agent managed to book us in the scenic town of Squamish about 40 miles north of Vancouver, BC.  The trip from Prince George to Squamish was a hair-raising adventure which I won't go in length to tell here other than it involved what I believed to be a short cut that led us through many miles of mountains on gravel roads in a steady downpour.  Thankfully we arrived in Squamish without mishap and in rather good time.

             But I digress for this story about Vancouver.  Actually there's no big story other than in 1986 the World's Fair was taking place in Vancouver and we conveniently had a few days off.  My wife and I and our young daughter spent one day at the fair as did the tour members.  It was raining--I guess it rains a lot in Vancouver.

            The rain actually may have been an advantage as it kept the crowds down which meant lines to the attractions were not very long.   Susan and I had attended the World's Fair in Knoxville, Tennessee in 1982 and it was a much different story there--big crowds and long lines.   That visit had been the day after we had gotten married.  We wanted to see the World's Fair that was so close to my Tennessee home and we knew that this would be our only chance to visit since we were going to be on the road with the show all year.  One day at the World's Fair--two World's Fairs --was all we got, but at least we got to go.

          I  don't remember if it was then or another time that we went to the Historic Gastown District of Vancouver but I remember being there and eating in a restaurant.  In fact I find it a bit amazing that in those years I went to two World's Fairs, several major cities, a number of national parks, and I couldn't tell you how many other attractions and I don't remember much about a lot of them.  And yet I can recall details of some of the most absurd events, certain show venues, and quiet little podunks that most travelers would never bother to go to.

          The memory can be an odd trickster.  I've been to Vancouver, BC,  It seemed like a nice place, but I can't tell you much about it.   Someday I'd like to go to Vancouver and actually remember it.


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Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Ulvade, Texas

        

         Ulvade, Texas is one of those towns you might see listed on a road sign when you're driving in Texas.  You might even pass through it and maybe even stop for gas, but most people probably wouldn't go to Ulvade for any reason.  



            The first time I passed through this small Texas town was in 1974 when my friend Vernon and I were driving back to Tennessee after visiting Big Bend National Park.  We'd gone to the border town of Ciudad Acuna, Mexico and followed U.S. Hwy 90 through Ulvade in order to pick I-10 in San Antonio.   I remember seeing the mileage signs to Ulvade, but I don't remember the town.

           And so it was over the years.  I'd see the sign telling how far it was to Ulvade and then we'd pass through it.  Once the show I toured with in the 80s actually played Ulvade.  I don't think it was more than once and the one time I can't even remember anything about being there.  I only remember seeing it on our schedule.  It stood out on the schedule because I had seen the name on signs so many times.

            I suppose Ulvade might be an okay place to live.  I couldn't say because I don't remember anything about it.  According to the official website of the town,  "Uvalde is an active and engaging city, and a great place to live! "  I'll take their word for that.

             For me, Ulvade is an okay place to pass through, but I wouldn't want to live there.  But then again that's not a fair thing for me to say since I only remember the name of the town.   I don't remember anything about Ulvade itself.

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Monday, April 23, 2012

Tu-Lane Truck Stop

English: Highway 401 in Kitchener, looking eas...Image via Wikipedia        Not too far outside of Kitchener, Ontario, right off Highway 401, used to sit the Tu-Lane Truck Stop.  Highway 401--sometimes called "The King's Highway"--is the main thoroughfare running across lower Ontario from Detroit to the far Eastern side of the province.  It's a busy highway with a constant stream of traffic including many trucks.

         What first prompted me to stop at the Tu-Lane Truck Stop I don't remember.  It was probably because it was late and I was hungry and the Tu-Lane was open.  It's sometimes said that truckers know the best places to eat and if this is a true indicator, the Tu-Lane must have been good because it was busy with truckers catching a late night meal.

          On my first visit in 1981 I ordered a bowl of chili with toast.  First of all I've always been accustomed to eating chili with saltine crackers and the accompaniment of toast seemed odd to me.   But what I got was just right.  The chili was robust in tomatoey chili powder flavor, but it had a sweetness that balanced any spiciness quite nicely.   I had never tasted a chili with that amount of sweetness and I was pleasantly surprised. The buttered toasted white bread made the perfect companion to the chili.

          Lest my assessment was due to my hunger, I returned the following year to see if the chili had really been as good as I had thought.  This time I went in the afternoon for lunch.  I ordered the chili once again and was not disappointed.  The chili met my expectations and I decided that this was one of the best bowls of chili that I had eaten in any restaurant.

          Throughout the rest of the 1980s I made my yearly pilgrimage to the Tu-Lane Truck Stop.  Fortunately we were in Kitchener every year so I was able to have that chili several times in that decade.  I never tried anything else on the menu--why would I when I needed my fill of a chili that made my mouth water just thinking about it.
 
           An internet search told me that the truck stop is no longer there.  I don't know who else makes chili and toast quite like that.   I've tried.  I can make a good chili, but it never seems to be quite like the chili at Tu-Lane.   I've not even been able to duplicate the way they made the toast, but maybe it was the combination of the toast and the chili that really made the difference.

            In my fantasy road trip of memory, I look for that sign along the highway:  "Tu-Lane Truck Stop".  I pull in and park.   There's a dream bowl of chili with toast waiting for me.



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Saturday, April 21, 2012

Sandusky, Ohio

Official seal of City of SanduskyImage via Wikipedia

          At the end of my first year of college in the summer of 1970, I decided to embark upon a personal odyssey to understand something about my past and how I had gotten to where I was in my life.  Attending the University of Tennessee in Knoxville had been a liberation in some ways, though still living at home discouraged me from being a part of any social scene at.the university.

          I felt detached in many ways--an observer of life. Like I had felt when I was in high school.   The concept of hitchhiking throughout the United States was daunting and yet I didn't give much thought to anything beyond the adventure of the journey.  A transient's life held a certain assurance of staying detached, but it would also force me to be more confrontational when I needed to be.  At nineteen I was an adult and needed to acquire a greater mindset of independence.

          With my well-prepared backpack and brand new Coleman sleeping bag, I met up in the evening of the last day of classes another student who had a car.   The student, whose name I don't recall, was going to Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio where he would be working for the summer at the amusement park.  He had posted for a rider to help him with gas expenses. Since I was going to Cleveland, I took this guy up on the offer since that was the closest ride I could find to my destination.

          Summer weather had come to town.  The warm day had become a warm evening.  It was a good night for driving.  I don't recall what kind of car it was--a late 60s model Datsun maybe.  It was a stick shift and I'd never driven a stick.   He was expecting me to help him drive.  We would be on Interstate 75 most of the way.

            The student drove for the first few hours  until we needed gas.  We were somewhere in Kentucky.  He turned the driving over to me.  It was a bit of a rough start, but once we were moving on the freeway he seemed satisfied that I probably wouldn't have to change gears for awhile and he could sleep for a bit.

            It was the wee hours and I started to get sleepy.  I rolled down my window but after awhile my driving companion indicated he was cold.  He seemed kind of grouchy about it, but I could see he was pretty tired.   I pressed on without the outside air and was fine.

            By daylight we were in Northern Ohio.  It was about 9 AM when we reached Sandusky.  I unloaded myself, my backpack, and my new Coleman sleeping bag by the roadside across from the entrance road to the Cedar Point Amusement Park.  I stood there and watched the student's car disappear up the roadway that led into the park.

             It was sunny and starting to get hot.  There I was at the side of the road on the outskirts of  Sandusky, Ohio.  I stuck out my thumb for the first hitchhiking ride of my odyssey.  I was going to Cleveland.
         





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Friday, April 20, 2012

Richmond, Virginia

View of Downtown Richmond over the falls of th...Image via Wikipedia

        When I was in middle school in Merrillville, Indiana I was called out of class one day to be introduced to a young man my age who had just moved next door to my family.  Having recently moved from San Diego, California, I was new to the school as well and welcomed the chance to have a new friend in this school where I had not made any friends so far.

         Gordon and his family had moved from Norfolk, Virginia.  It was my first direct exposure to a strong Southern accent and I found it somewhat amusing to hear as did some of the other boys in the neighborhood.  A couple of the boys used to taunt Gordon by imitating the call they would sometimes hear coming from his mother as she called out, "Go-din!"

         My new friend's mother was a sweet lady with the demeanor of a Southern aristocrat. His step father was a soft-spoken man who seemed to be at work a lot.  Gordon was the sole offspring still living at home.  He was full of turmoil and could display a mean streak sometimes, but he had become my friend and I tolerated a lot from him.

          One thing that used to irritate me though was how he was always bragging about Virginia and especially Norfolk.  I don't think I'd ever been to Virginia at that time and perhaps I was a bit jealous since I had thought of myself as well-traveled and here was a place I'd never been.  Besides, Gordon's arrogant attitude about Virginia really bugged me.  I developed a resentment about Virginia.

           By the time I was in my mid-20s, after my family had been living in Tennessee for several years, I had traveled throughout Virginia and had softened a bit about the state, but I still retained this ridiculous distaste for the state.  That is until I met Cathy.

            The young lady who would become my first wife was from Richmond, Virginia and we would frequently go there to stay with her family.  I started making friends there and felt very comfortable with the city when we moved there after Cathy became pregnant.

             Richmond actually is a quite attractive city along the James River and conveniently located along the I-95 corridor which extends from New England to Florida.   The city has broad boulevards with stately memorials honoring heroes of the Confederacy.  History is everywhere.  I began to enjoy living in Richmond.

             After our son was born, Cathy and I began traveling with the World of Fantasy Players in 1978.  Whenever we could we'd stay in Richmond.  Virginia had become a part of me and this was the home of my wife and newly born son.   And now, along with East Tennessee,  Richmond was now a place that I too thought of as home.


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Thursday, April 19, 2012

Quesnel, British Columbia

Casbar Motel and Drive-in Quesnel, BC
Delcampe. net
       


          About three quarters of the way between Kamloops and Prince George, British Columbia was a rather peculiar claim in the town of Quesnel.




         "The World's Largest T.V. Screen" was the blaring sign over a retro-looking 1950s era establishment called the Casbar Motel.  The place was not particularly run-down, but it was old looking.  I knew that one day I would have to stay there.

           It was in the summer of 1986 when that day came.  I had decided to make reservations to stay at the Casbar following our show in Prince George.   We would be wrapped up with our show by 9:30 that night so the hour or so drive to Quesnel would not put us there overly late. Staying at the Casbar was doable.

         The gimmick at the Casbar was that there was a drive-in movie theater incorporated with the motel and that was the "T.V." screen.  Each room had a large picture window that faced toward the screen and there were speakers in the rooms over which the film soundtrack was piped.  The biggest problem here was that the motel was a ways  past the last row of cars and the screen itself was rather distant.  The entire set-up gave film viewers a sense of disconnect that was not particularly conducive to enjoying a film.

         The rooms themselves were furnished in an incongruous mash-up of what had originally been there since who knows when and what had been scrounged up from wherever such things are found.  I felt as though I were in a musty small town museum display of "this is what things were like in the 1950s".    I won't say the place was filthy, but the oldness of everything reflected years of previous guests who had stayed in that place. Since I had stayed in worse places I was not particularly taken aback by the situation.

       One of the films showing that night was Romancing the Stone with Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner.  We kind of watched it, but with the screen so far away and it being so late it was kind of difficult to really get into the film.  One of the problems with going to the drive-in theater that far north in late July is that it doesn't get dark until after 10 PM.  A drive-in movie runs very late.  After a long day of driving over 300 miles to Prince George and then back to Quesnel we were tired.

       At least I got to stay at the Casbar.  The prospect of "the world's largest T.V. screen was too curious to pass up.  It's not a place that I'd ever go again to watch a movie, but on the other hand I doubt whether the Casbar is there anymore.

   
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Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Pittsburgh, PennsylvaniaPittsburgh, Pennsylvania (Photo credit: Dougtone)

     
         When my family moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1958 I was entering the second grade.  We moved into a newer duplex home at the bottom of a hill in the Penn Hills suburb.  The school I attended was at the top of that hill and there was a Free Methodist Church practically in our back yard.  I spent a lot of time at that church and this was when I began to read my Bible and think a lot about God.

         With this new move came new things.  My parents had lived in a number of places after I was born and each move seemed like a step up.  The move to Pittsburgh brought the first purchases of new furniture for our young family.  Along with the furniture came luxuries like a better television, a hi-fi record player that played LP records, and an 8 mm movie camera.

         Many of my Pittsburgh memories come from the 8 mm movie films that we viewed for many years afterward.  My actual memories are as fragmented as those films.  The memories come in disconnected snippets--visits to Kennywood Park, sled riding on the hillside behind our house, going early morning bird-watching with the pastor's wife on Saturdays, playing baseball in the backyard, and watching my parents juggle.   My parents spent a lot of time practicing their juggling act if they weren't actually out performing.

         One evening I recall hearing my mother wailing in distress.  She informed my sister and I through her tearful sobs that my father had been hit by a car.   My little man insides seemed to drop, leaving me in a depth of sadness.  Now that my father was dead what would we do.  He had been the one who worked and provided for us.  I was afraid of the uncertainty that lay ahead.

          But my father hadn't died.   He'd been taken to a hospital, but he was soon released with not much more than a big bruise on his hip.  With the heightened drama of reactions my mother often had to events, things sometimes seemed much worse than they were.  And the mind of a child can step the fantasy up a notch.

         I seem to recall hearing about a bus accident in downtown Pittsburgh while we were living there.  I thought I read in the newspaper about how the bus crashed into a department store display window.  After the accident bloodied bodies were draped upon the furniture that was in the window displays.  There was death and carnage all over the sidewalk.  Many people had died and many more were injured.

         Well, that's what I remembered.  Actually I doubt that I was reading the newspaper when I was in the second grade.   There might have been a bus accident, but I probably blew it way out of proportion.  I suppose I take after my mother in that respect.

           I sometimes wonder which of my childhood memories are real and which were fabricated by a child with a vivid imagination.

           Do you have childhood memories that you're not sure if they are real or not?   At what age are your earliest memories?



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Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Orillia, Ontario

                                       

      Touring with the World of Fantasy Players often was a thing of habit.  There would usually be new cast members from year to year, but the tour was essentially the same.   I liked it that way.  Playing the same towns at about the same time of year made scheduling easier for me.

        One of the routines that became established was the jump from North Bay, Ontario to Orillia which was about two and a half hours south.  We were always there in late March or early April so winter conditions still prevailed.

        After the North Bay show we'd be on the road by about 9:30 that night.  Before leaving town I'd hit the drive-through at the McDonald's and pick up a quarter pounder with cheese, fries, and a large coke.  It seemed like I developed a taste for that meal as a part of the routine.

        With our meals to go, we'd hit the road for the journey south.  There wasn't much traffic at that time of night so travel was easy.  On a few occasions we had to deal with snow, with near blizzard conditions at least once. This was not a deterrence.  After all we were road warriors, troupers who like the post office were not deterred by weather of any kind.  Bad weather might slow us down, but it never stopped us.

       In Orillia we'd head to the Highwayman Inn where I'd made our reservations.  It would be around midnight and freezing cold.  This would be our home for the next two nights.  I'd arrange for a room that had sliding door access since my wife and I had one young child at the time which required taking a lot of stuff into the room.

        The rooms at the Highwayman smelled of pizza, paint, and chlorine.  The motel had a large indoor pool and a steamy vapor permeated the interior of the place.  When we'd go to the restaurant for breakfast we'd cross a footbridge the spanned the swimming pool.  The pool room was like a sauna there was so much steam, but it was a refreshing respite from the cold outside air.

       We'd have time the next day to go downtown.  Orillia is a small town overlooking Lake Simcoe, the fourth largest lake in Ontario.  At that time of year the town is quiet and seemed almost empty when we were there.  Summer brings vacationers who come to enjoy the lake recreation.  Typically we might do laundry or go to some local stores.  And then of course we'd go to restaurants and eat.  Life on the road consists of eating in restaurants much of the time.

        Orillia is the home of folk/rock singer Gordon Lightfoot who had a string of hits in the 1970s.  Also from Orillia is blogger Ron Easton whose blog is Dads Unlimited.

        The last time I visited Orillia was in 1991.  That was my last tour with the World of Fantasy Players.  Orillia has probably changed a great deal since I was there last, but I'm sure most places have.


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Monday, April 16, 2012

Natchitoches, Louisiana

Carriage, Natchitoches, LouisianaCarriage, Natchitoches, Louisiana (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

       
         When I married my present wife I wanted to show her the United States.  Betty had come to the U.S. from Ecuador about ten years prior to when we met and had not yet seen much of the country that I love and that she had grown to love.  What better way to see the country than with road trips?

         By 2007 we had crisscrossed the country a few times.  Most typically we would travel during the Christmas holidays so we could go visit my family in Tennessee or Arizona with a few side trips thrown in the schedule.  Then in 2007 after Betty had recently purchased a new Nissan Maxima we decided to take a truly epic road trip for the holiday.

        We took five days to drive to Washington, D.C., making a few stops along the way to visit sites and a couple of my family members.  We then went to Maryville, Tennessee to stay a few days with my mother and visit with my kids and siblings.

         On the return trip back to Los Angeles we planned to stop in Houston to meet up with Betty's daughter and her fiance.   Since my daughters wanted to get back to New Jersey for New Years and they had left a couple days before hand, I decided to leave as well and take a couple of leisurely days to make it to Houston for New Year's Day.

          I made the decision to spend New Year's Eve in Natchitoches, Louisiana.   I think I'd been there many  years before, but I didn't remember much about it.  One thing I did know was that they were supposed to have a pretty amazing Christmas light display there.

         We weren't disappointed.  The town has a quaint look not unlike New Orleans except without the sleaze factor and the big city busyness.  We got into town early and spent time in the afternoon strolling about and looking through the shops.  Then as evening neared we went to  have dinner at a restaurant along the river.

          After dinner, darkness had set in and the main street had taken a more festive atmosphere.  The crowds--at least crowded in a small town sense--had begun hitting the main street and the walk along the river.  The decorative lights along the street were shining Christmas cheer as horse-drawn carriages ambled up and down the brick street carrying tourists.

           The real attraction however was the river walk that paralleled the main street.  Vendors were selling kettle corn, Louisiana link sandwiches, hot cider and other goodies from stands that created a carnival-like effect.  Christmas music played over loudspeakers to set the Yuletide mood.

           Across the river and on the bridges were colorful displays of lights as boats likewise decorated with lights cruised up and down the river.  There was a chill in the air that suggested winter, but not cold enough to be uncomfortable to us since we were wearing coats.  This was a happy place.  Not big city gaudy, but simple small town Christmas charm.  We could have imagined ourselves to have been in a Thomas Kinkade painting.

           Perhaps there may have been fireworks at midnight to usher in the New Year, but we didn't stay to find out.  It had been a busy day driving down the Natchez Trace and visiting the historic Natchez, Mississippi river district.  We were planning an early start the next morning.   We went back to our motel room to watch the ball drop in Times Square.  We were asleep before midnight arrived in Natchitoches.



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Saturday, April 14, 2012

Maryville, Tennessee

Blount County Court HouseBlount County Court House (Photo credit: jimmywayne)

       
          When my parents took our family to East Tennessee in the summer of 1966 it seemed like a vacation, but I guess we knew it was going to be a relocation.  This would be my sixth move in fifteen years.  I guess I was ready to move again, but to the small town of Maryville?

          My parents and my two brothers and two sisters were living that summer in a 17 foot travel trailer parked in the Tarbett Road Mobile Home Park.  The trailer park was primarily for more permanent dwellers, but they had a few smaller slabs that were reserved for tourists or itinerants like ourselves.  Our small trailer made for cozy confinement.  We had often stayed in the trailer when we worked at fairs and circuses so we were accustomed to it.  Besides it all seemed like a summer adventure to us.

          Having most recently come from the Chicagoland area, Maryville seemed like a real hick town to us.  People talked differently than we had been accustomed to--a countrified twang that sometimes made us laugh.  Soon I discovered that there were some really fine people there.  I started making a number of friends in the trailer park neighborhood.  When the decision to move to this town was announced by my parents, I had no problem whatsoever.  I was looking forward to a new adventure in a new place.

          I ended up graduating from high school in Maryville and living at my parents' house while I attended the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, a  short distance away.  The East Tennessee area was a great place to live.  Only 15 miles from the entrance to the Great Smokey Mountains, my friends and I would be camping, hiking, or doing something in the mountains whenever we had the free time which seemed often.

         In 1975 I went off on my own working in touring shows.  Whenever I was able to I'd go back to stay with my parents and enjoy time with my friends.  Sometimes I'd bring some of the show people to stay in Maryville if we were touring in the area.  I always felt proud to bring them to my hometown.  Yes, that's the way I eventually came to think of Maryville--my hometown.  And even though I haven't lived there in over twenty years, I still think of Maryville as my hometown.




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Friday, April 13, 2012

Lafayette, Louisiana

Cypress LakeCypress Lake (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

     
           The auditorium at the university where we always were booked to perform in Lafayette, Louisiana sat next to a large swamp exhibit that contained flora and fauna of the region.  Notably I recall there being banana trees that I don't think are native to the region, but they seemed to flourish there beside the swamp.  There were also alligators that may or may not have been real.

           As was the norm when we'd come to a facility where we were going to perform, we didn't usually have too much time for exploring our surroundings.  We'd take note of where we were and then busy ourselves with setting up the show.

           This auditorium in Lafayette was a beauty.  It was state of the art with good lighting and a large stage.  Since that part of Louisiana was still under the economic spell of the oil boom there was money to be made for a touring show.  Our promotions reaped in a lot of cash and the show attendance was usually very good which meant lucrative souvenir sales.

             Southern Louisiana was not only a place I looked forward to because of the money to be made, but it was fun with good food and rollicking Cajun music.  I always preferred Lafayette to New Orleans as the latter had too much of a sleaze factor for my taste.

Fried Alligator at Prejean'sFried Alligator at Prejean's (Photo credit: pointnshoot)              During my Christmas vacation trip back East in 2010, my wife and I stopped over in Lafayette long enough for lunch at Prejean's, a popular local restaurant that is frequented by tourists.  The food was as good as I recalled, but I still craved the boudin--a type of rice and meat filled sausage that I used to find in little out of the way grocery markets.

              Next time I'm passing through Lafayette and don't have time for a leisurely sit-down meal, I'm going to find some of that spicy boudin and see if it's as good as I remember.


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Thursday, April 12, 2012

Kamloops, British Columbia

Kamloops, BCKamloops, BC (Photo credit: RobertCiavarro)

         When the tour coordinator for the World of Fantasy Players informed me that one of our promoters was in jail in Kamloops, British Columbia I was a bit taken aback, but not overly surprised either.  As manager of the road company it seemed like there was always something new for me to deal with.  Getting Jim Fletcher out of the slammer was just another adventure of life on the road.

         Jim Fletcher was a nice enough guy, but I could tell he'd been around a bit and didn't always play according to the rules.   After all he was a promoter and was expected to bend the truth sometimes and even circumvent appropriate legal channels.  His biggest mistake was going to work in Canada without the proper papers.  I always obtained the paperwork for the tour members--a bit of a hassle, but not that big of a deal.

          I don't know if Jim had something to hide, like an arrest record--it wouldn't have surprised me--but it could have been that he just didn't want to deal with the time involved in getting the work papers or maybe the authorities wouldn't have passed him because the job should have been done by a Canadian promoter.  Whatever the case was, Jim was now behind bars and since I was the closest one there it was up to me to help get him out.

        We had an extra day or two that we weren't working so we headed up to Kamloops, where our next show would be anyway.  I didn't expect how much the terrain would look like the Western United States. With the cactus on the hillsides it looked like we could have been in Arizona.  There were other things that gave the area a decidedly Western aura, including rodeos.

          After arriving in town I went down to the hoosegow--a Western term for jail--to visit with poor ol' Jim.  He looked kind of dejected sitting in his cell with his jail garb, but it probably wasn't so much being there as it was not being able to have access to alcohol.   Like many a promoter, Jim liked his booze.

          I had the money that was necessary to spring him and soon he was a free man.  But he still had to go to face the music in court.  I don't recall much of the process, but it all went pretty quickly.  Soon we were before a magistrate bedecked in red robes and a white wig like you'd see in the movies.  I guess that's the way it is in Canada and the theatricality of the whole thing caught me off guard.

           In the end, the court took most of the money Jim had made while there in Kamloops  and the judge sternly told him to skedaddle his way out of town and get out of the country.  I don't think Jim ever went back to try to work in Canada again, but that was fine.  Jim was one heck of a good promoter and always had plenty of work in the states.

          We went on to perform our show in Kamloops.  As was usually the case, the Canadian audience loved our show.  But that was the last time we performed in Kamloops.

         
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Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Joplin, Missouri

English: Fred and Red's diner in Joplin, Misso...Image via Wikipedia

         Sometime in the late 1960s I read a story in Life magazine that made mention of "Red's Chili Parlor" in Joplin, Missouri as having some chili that was not to be missed if in any way possible.   I wrote it down in my notebook of "things planned for my future".

          I had every intent of visiting "Red's" during the summer of 1970 when I was making a hitchhiking grand tour of the United States that never quite made it as far as Joplin.   I kept the notebook with the notation about Red's for when the day came to finally make it to Joplin.

             That day came in 1979, when I was touring with the "Cinderella" tour by the World of Fantasy Players.   We were in Joplin early with a few hours to spend before going to set up the show.  A group of us set out to find Red's and try that legendary chili.

             You know--I don't really remember much about the chili.  It was good as I recall, but I must not have been blown away by it.  Now I know the place was actually called "Fred and Red's" but Red's is easier to remember.  Maybe one day I'll have to go back and give the chili another try.  Apparently the place is still in business.


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Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Illinois

Photograph of Abraham Lincoln's home in Spring...Photograph of Abraham Lincoln's home in Springfield, Illinois (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

         I had known of the existence of Illinois since second grade.  At least that's when Illinois as a specific geographical location became evident to me. We drove through it when we were moving from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to San Diego, California.  We stopped in Springfield and visited Abraham Lincoln's house and that was what I knew about Illinois at that time.

         Five years later we made another move--this time to Northwestern Indiana.  Once again we passed through Illinois.  Over the next few years my family would occasionally go perform our juggling act at various Illinois county fairs, but still the state somehow didn't register with me.  Illinois was a place that you either passed through or if you were there you didn't really notice that you were there.  To me at the time Illinois seemed like one big nondescript cornfield.

          The Chicagoland area didn't count.  We were there often, but I didn't think of Illinois when I was there.  Chicago was like its own state--a state without cornfields.  Chicago seemed real while the rest of the state seemed like a place that Chicagoans might dream about when they were asleep.  Then they would awaken, briefly puzzled, before rubbing their eyes and going about the business of living in an urban area.

          It was not until the mid-1970s when I woke up to the fact that Illinois was a real place that was actually interesting.  I had gone to work on the Ken Griffin Magic and Illusion Show.  They had ties to some people in Southern Illinois and the show gravitated toward that region for a while as we started doing promotional work and then performing the stage show.  We became immersed in towns like Mount Vernon, Salem,  Olney, and Effingham.

         There was something peaceful about the towns and down-to-earth about the people.  There were cornfields and farms like I had always seen before, but there were also small businesses, industries, and educational institutions.  Illinois was a real place with heart and value.  Illinois is a nice place to visit and probably not that bad of a place to live.

          When you think of Illinois what is the first thing that comes into your mind?   Do you think of rural areas as boring nondescript sorts of places?




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Monday, April 9, 2012

Hastings, Nebraska

Panoramic View of Hastings, Nebraska. Photogra...Panoramic View of Hastings, Nebraska. Photograph taken in 1909. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

            Another yearly stop for the World of Fantasy Players was Hastings, Nebraska which is about 25 miles south of Grand Island.  This was one of those towns that we would just go into to play the show and then leave. When I managed this troupe of performers of family oriented stage productions, I tried to make it so we could stay in the same motel for more than one night whenever possible.  The proximity of Hastings to the other play date town of Grand Island made a multiple night stay in the latter town an ideal situation.

           Hastings is a quaint little town of twenty-some thousand people.  It's a heartland town surrounded by farm country.   Hastings experienced a boom in the late 1800s with the advent of the railroad.  One of the notable claims to fame of Hastings is that it was the birthplace of Kool-Aid in 1927.

           Since we basically just popped into town to perform our production, we never got to experience much of the town.  I'm not sure we even ever ate there.  For us it was a matter of arrive in town, do the show, and leave.

           Our performance was always at the wonderfully ornate Masonic Temple.  Probably built in the earlier part of the 20th century, the building was impressive with an elegantly decorated interior that had been well maintained.  The stage was a vintage vaudeville era fixture with elaborate backdrops hung in a high fly loft.  There were several scenery changes that depicted palace scenes and Egyptian themed backgrounds with pyramids and date trees.  Despite its age the entire rigging and lighting system was in impeccable working order.

          The "house" or audience seating area was also immaculate with plush theater seats and fancy carved wood-paneled walls.  I would walk around the inside of the theater and admire everything inside the performance hall and in the outside hallways and lobby.  This theater never failed to amaze me and the others in the show.

         The biggest difficulty was the load-in.   The stage loading door was at the top of a steep narrow ramp that was barely wide enough to back our show truck on.  We would manage with careful maneuvering and a precarious climb out of the truck window for the driver.

           Once we were in and had the stage set and props in place, it made for a truly magical performance.  We always had a good crowd in Hastings and they always seemed to be quite appreciative of the show.  The performances in Hastings were a special part of each year's tour.

            Do you have any unique old theaters near where you live?    Is there something that makes your workplace especially memorable?


       
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Saturday, April 7, 2012

Grand Island, Nebraska

Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer, Grand Isl...Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer, Grand Island, Nebraska. Building designed by Edward Durell Stone. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

       
         I'm not sure what it is about Grand Island that fascinates me so much.  It's kind of like right in the center of the country.  The true center of the contiguous states lies about 100 miles south, but Grand Island kind of seems like the center.   Grand Island is about half-way across the state of Nebraska on Interstate 80. If you're crossing the country on I-80 you go right past Grand Island and there's a good chance you might even stop to eat or fill up with gas.  Or you might stay there like we did.

       We weren't just passing through, but we were working there.  When I was with the World of Fantasy Players we played Grand Island every year.  We would also play a few of the surrounding towns and always have at least one day off while we were there so we used Grand Island as a home base.  It was a welcome respite from our typical one-nighter schedule.

       Every year we would visit the Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer.  The museum is a beautiful facility with a fine collection of artifacts and exhibits depicting pioneer life.  There is a recreation of a railroad village and other outdoor exhibits.  When we used to visit they had a steam train that would take visitors around the sizable grounds, but apparently the train is no longer operational which is too bad since that was one of the highlights as far as I was concerned.

        One year we went to the horse races and bet on horses.   I've not had much experience with betting on horses--in fact I believe this is the only time I've done it.   We had a grand time at the horse race in Grand Island.

         As was often the case in our repeat yearly visits to towns, I had certain places where I looked forward to eating.  In Grand Island I always made at least one visit to Runza Burger.  Runza is a regional fast food restaurant where the specialty is a stuffed pastry filled with ground beef, onions, and cabbage.  The bread  was not really like the typical hamburger bun, but the German influenced concoction was so savory that I looked forward to it every year.

          If I could I'd go to Grand Island just for the Runza burgers, but another visit to the Stuhr wouldn't be bad either.  Grand Island sits there in the middle of the United States hoarding Runzas and Americana.   Most Americans probably don't even realize what they're missing.

          Have you ever been to Grand Island?   Am I overstating its appeal?   Have you had a Runza sandwich?




       
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