Autobiography — My Life in Vehicles

Another installment — Chevy van of uncertain vintage


Heisted photo depicting 1970s cheese – and a van similar to the one I drove for Harold Supply on Cleveland’s West Side.

I pulled into the parking lot behind the bar. Everywhere I looked there were unmarked police cars – occupied by unmarked policemen. Dicks. Feds perhaps. But I repeat myself.

It was the last delivery of the day. I loaded the two-wheeled dolly with cartons – beer glasses, bar napkins, candles in colored oval jars bound in white plastic mesh, that sort of shit.

I wrestled the dolly through the back door and into the kitchen. The cook motioned for me to leave the cartons by the storeroom door.

I went into the bar to collect. One of Harold Supply’s C.O.D. customers. A lot of them were.

“What are all those unmarked cop cars doing out back?,” I asked the barkeep.

He made a beeline for the kitchen. Next thing I know, the cook ran past me lugging a cardboard box crammed with papers and bolted out the front door.





Growing up (weird) in Cleveland

carouselAs a young child, I observed some scary things from the windows of our second-floor apartment on Keiper Court. On more than one occasion, I watched a neighbor lady tie chickens to a tree in her yard and cut off their heads with a meat clever.

At night, I could see the illuminated water tower on a factory in the distance. At first, I didn’t know what it was. I thought it was a merry-go-round in the sky.

I lived in fear of being condemned to ride on it — unable to get off without plunging to certain death.

Homeless on the Range

Never thought I’d see the day when homelessness affected my canoe camping. It has.

Last October, I came upon a more-less permanent campsite on the Walhonding River near Coshocton. I planned to camp on an island south of town where I have camped before. It’s what I call an occasional island, accessible from the mainland except when the water levels are high. As I stepped out of my canoe, I noticed fresh footprints in the mud. I climbed up the bank and saw a tent.


The bare ground indicates that this camp had been in use for a long time. No fire? Probably means the occupant(s) did not want to attract attention.

“Occupied,” I said to myself, and pressed on.

A few weeks ago, during a canoe trip from Coshocton to Zanesville, I stopped at the island again. No footprints this time. But, when I climbed the bank for a look-see, I found an abandoned squatter’s camp. It was the same tent I’d seen the previous year.

I pressed on to find another campsite.

Wish I could say that this was an isolated incident. I’ve been seeing more and more of this sort of thing along the rivers.


The same tent I saw in October 2016 and again in September 2017.

Look Through Any Window

Photos from my window series

Windows are the eyes of a structure — revealing secrets of those who dwell there. Or those who dwelt there.

Windows might not reveal anything outright, they certainly fuel the imagination. It’s always been that way for me.

Naturally, when I got into photography, windows became a tantalizing subject.


While out shooting along Clear Fork of the Mohican River in February 2017, this window near Gatton Rocks caught my eye.

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Two years ago, I was staying with friends at Shaw’s Hotel in Lancaster, Ohio. I got up early in the morning, grabbed my camera and headed out into the street. Very few people were stirring, yet these two ambitious souls were hard at work.


I once interviewed a woman who went to this one-room schoolhouse in Green Township, Ashland County, Ohio. When taking this shot in November 2016, I thought about her and all the other schoolchildren who surely looked longingly out that window — especially on nice spring days.


One of my happy places, Shuswap on Lake Nipissing in Ontario, Canada. The main boathouse has been remodeled, but I always loved this old one. Taken in August 2016.


While out on my morning rounds, looking for things to shoot, I came across this old cabin in, I believe, Knox County, Ohio. April 2017.



In October 2016, I visited the Loudonville (Ohio) Street Fair early in the morning. That’s the best time to go to fairs as far as I’m concerned. I came across this little sourpuss in an upstairs window on Main Street.


I’ve gone by this Holmes County farmhouse many times and always been intrigued. One morning in August 2016 I stopped to take a photo. I love the faded look — consistent with the mood here.


This Perrysville, Ohio, window speaks volumes — of a town that’s seen better days. On a positive note, good things are happening there and things are looking up. July 2017.


I’m not particularly keen on digitally manipulated photos, but this one called for it. Butler, Ohio, October 2015.


Facades. Downtown Mansfield, Ohio, October 2012.


Making my morning rounds in Holmes County, August 2016, found the stone foundation of a barn along a remote township road.


June 2011, Church window in Ashland, Ohio. Taken while I was working as a reporter for the Ashland Times-Gazette. My caption? Yum!


Shot last year through a cracked window of a restored one-room schoolhouse. Mohican Wilderness, Glenmont, Ohio.

High-resolution prints of these — and all my photos — are available through my photo blog and Facebook page.







You can take the boy out of the West Side, but you can’t take the West Side out of the boy

There are reunions and there are reunions


West Side Market – my old stomping grounds.

Returned to Cleveland yesterday for a reunion with friends, which included a quick visit to the West Side Market.

For me, it was kind of like coming full circle. When I met these folks 36 years ago, I was an under-educated working class kid. I was driving trucks for a living, with little hope or regard for the future. Such was the fate for most the people I grew up with on the West Side. You graduated from high school, got a job and slogged through life, resigned to living and dying in that world.

When I met them, all that changed. (I was backing a truck up to a dock in Lorain, Ohio, when I first met two members of the group. They later introduced me to their circle of friends, who were connected by virtue of living in Shaker Heights, an East Side suburb.) Though much younger than I, they were well-educated and worldly. The things they talked about and their passion for living inspired me to go to college.

Eventually — very eventually — I was able to parlay raw writing talent, temper it with education and discipline and write for a living. Meager as it was.

I confess that the discipline was a battle. I pissed away years, way too many years, drinking, partying and generally fucking off. But eventually it happened.

The evolution came full circle during the 17 years I spent writing for the Ashland Times-Gazette, a small-town daily in North Central Ohio. There I learned that the world didn’t revolve around me. I learned that my job as a journalist wasn’t about Irv Oslin, it was about honestly and fairly chronicling the lives of the people of Ashland County — regardless of how I felt about their politics or way of life.

I came to know them and appreciate them for who they were.

That brought me around to Buddhist philosophy — losing the self. It brought me back, really, because I’ve always had a strong undercurrent of compassion, a desire to do for others.

I was reminded of this when I drove to the West Side Market yesterday to be reunited with the people who, so long ago, took the boy out of the West Side

I saw a middle-aged black woman getting into a car parked on Lorain Avenue and pulled up behind, waiting for her to vacate the spot. She got out, rooted around in the trunk, then closed it and walked around the car and opened the rear passenger-side door. It occurred to me that, had I been impatient and self-centered, I would have been annoyed at the delay.

The woman retrieved an umbrella from the back seat. It was sprinkling and chilly, so I figured she wanted to have it handy for when she reached her destination. Not so. She walked up to an old white man in wheel chair. He was waiting for a bus. She gave him the umbrella, got back into her car and drove off.



Reunited – Later in the day at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Can’t thank these people enough.












Algonquin it ain’t – Charles Mill Lake canoe trip, part 3

You are NOT alone

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One of two bald eagles that watched me break camp.

There was no one else around at my Muskrat Bay campsite, but I was not alone. Lucy kept me company all evening and, when I crawled out of my tent in the morning, she was still there.

Lucy was a Canada goose. She appeared to have been injured and unable to fly. She swam around in front of my campsite, constantly positioning herself so she could keep an eye on me. It was sad to see goose couples come and go. Lucy watched them helplessly, perhaps longing for a life she’ll never have.

She wasn’t the only company I had. As I prepared breakfast and ate it, an osprey looked on from a tree across the bay. It flew off as I broke camp and, moments later, a bald eagle landed near where the osprey had been and stayed there until I slid my loaded canoe into the lake and paddled off. It was joined by a second eagle.

I began a day of exploring the lake north of the SR 430 bridge. Along the way, I saw a mallard, an egret and a plastic goose. I also rousted thousands of cormorants, which have become something of a plague on Charles Mill Lake.

There are suitable Islands for camping and a site — complete with a picnic table — on a peninsula at the southeast entrance to Big Turtle Bay. The downside is they’re situated between US 30 and SR 430 and the sound of traffic never stops.

I spent the rest of the morning and early afternoon paddling along the shoreline on the northern end of the lake. Because of the highways, Eagle Point campground, a boat ramp and houses, it’s less appealing than the southern part of Charles Mill Lake.

In short, it’s a nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to stay there.

In Camp Harbor on the west side of the lake, I came upon what I hope wasn’t a familiar sight — a scuttled dredge. Years ago, while working as a reporter for the Ashland Times-Gazette, I wrote an article about the naming of a new dredge. It was dubbed “Sedimental Journey.” Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District had purchased the dredge. The plan was to dredge the channel under the SR 430 bridge, which separates the northern and southern parts of the lake, then take it to other MWCD lakes.

I can’t imagine it would have been scuttled without being used more.The average depth of Charles Mill Lake is only five feet. That’s down three feet from the original depth. The bottom of the lake is covered with a gooey layer of silt, the byproduct of irresponsible farming, logging and construction practices. I’d like to think that this was another dredge, one replaced by Sedimental Journey.

Ironically, as I explored the lake for three days in April, 50,000 gallons of drilling clay had been dumped in a wetland upstream — a byproduct of the Rover pipeline project. It might not reach the lake, but the harm to wildlife and the wetland is disheartening just the same.

Here are a few photos from the final day of my three-day canoe trip:


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Lucy, my constant companion.


A mallard duck doing some morning yoga, north of the SR 430 bridge.

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An egret looks for fish in the shallows along the eastern shoreline.

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A plastic goose lurks in a tree trunk near Sites Lake, a residential area on the north end of Charles Mill.


A scuttled dredge in Camp Harbor. Note the disintegrated oil boom around it.

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The cab of the dredge. I was concerned that the interior of the hull reeked of oil.

Click on the link below for a map of the lake:

Charles Mill Lake Map annotated


Previous posts on this trip:

Part One

Part Two











Algonquin it ain’t – Charles Mill Lake canoe trip, part two


While paddling around Bushman Bay, waiting for my friends to arrive at the lake, this tree called out to me.

Sitting around the campfire after a day of exploring the western part of Charles Mill Lake, I thought about the traffic on nearby SR 603. Like a lot of rural state routes, traffic dies down at night. It was far enough away and masked by trees and the sound of water going through the dam that I could barely hear the occasional truck going by.

I thought about how many times — thousands — I had gone up and down that road to and from work. About 13, 14 years. Tires over the bridge now; I’m retired.

On the second day of my trip, my friends Kevin and Theresa joined me for a day paddle.

We spent several hours exploring the east side of the lake, from Charles Mill Dam north to the main campground. Part of the mission was to explore islands, looking for other potential campsites.

I’d always thought Harbor Island at the southern end of the lake looked promising. Like Mud Lake — mentioned in the previous post — it was not. It, too, is choked with multiflora rose and too close to civilization. There are several houses nearby.

From previous experience, I knew Applegate Island was suitable for camping. Kevin Theresa and I found Barb Island to be good also. It’s small, but isolated enough that I wouldn’t hesitate to camp there. Except during duck hunting season. Duck hunters have staked claims on most the islands and other spots along the shoreline, posting their names and phone numbers. It’s a good lake to stay off of during waterfowl season.

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Theresa and Kevin check out turkey vultures that were checking us out in Muskrat Bay.

We were particularly impressed with Muskrat Bay. Isolated and shallow, it was teeming with wildlife including great blue heron and belted kingfishers. As we headed out of the bay, I told Theresa that the islands there had camping potential. Those words proved to be prophetic.

After we parted company, I headed north. I planned to paddle upriver on Black Fork of the Mohican River and, perhaps, camp on one of the islands.

However, it had rained a lot the previous week, leaving the islands muddy. I found a few suitable spots, but they were too close to SR 603, which follows the river pretty much from US 42 to SR 30.

So, I grabbed a six-pack of Molson XXX from Molly’s Cheese House and headed back downstream to the lake. (Another story for another day.) I paddled back to Muskrat Bay and found another perfect campsite on one of the islands.

Here are a few more photos from day two of the trip.

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Great blue heron in Muskrat Bay. Notice how shallow the water is.

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Waning full moon over Muskrat Bay

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Turn on yer Bud Lite — I “repurposed” a discarded beer bottle found on the island and made this swell candle holder.


Click on the link below for a pdf map of the lake.

Charles Mill Lake Map annotated

Next – Breakfast with friends in Muskrat Bay and dredging up memories.