A “Friendly’s” Reminder — tales of breakfast and mourning

The Friendly’s Restaurant in Ashland closed its doors this week. Another victim of a stagnant economy in a stagnant town. I’m recycling a feature I wrote when one of the regulars died five years ago. It’s from my Web site, which probably will also close for lack of traffic and interest on my part. It’s cheaper and easier – and probably just as effective – to maintain a blog.

The Life & Times-Gazette of Irv Oslin

The stories behind the stories that I write for the Ashland Times-Gazette

Richard Photo courtesy family estate
Richard Baumgardner

Resurrecting Richard

Click here to read the article.

I learned about Richard Baumgardner’s death sometime in December. I stopped for breakfast at the Friendly’s Restaurant on Claremont Avenue and noticed he wasn’t sitting at his table by the window.

One of the waitresses told me that he had died of pneumonia a few weeks earlier.

I wanted to write some sort of tribute, even if the paper wouldn’t print it. At least I could post it on my Web site, or maybe pitch it to Common Ties, a blog site that specializes in that type of personal story.

I told the waitresses what I wanted to do, wrote my cell phone number on several business cards and asked them to pass them out to any of the regulars who might be interested in talking about Richard.

I had hoped to get a few of them together – along with the waitresses – and do a group interview one morning.

A few months went by and one of the regulars, Kevin Kern, finally called me. We arranged to meet over breakfast and talk about Richard. Another regular, Jeff Marshall, was already there. After the waitresses saw what was going on, one of them called Richard’s longtime friend, Greg Dravenstott.

With the exception of Dravenstott, none of us knew much about Richard. It was like putting together a jigsaw puzzle, with pieces that didn’t necessarily fit. But we did the best we could.

At one point, Kern made a poignant remark. Like many of us, he didn’t find out about Richard until sometime after he died.

“I missed the funeral, so this is sort of like a funeral to me,” he said.

Somebody, maybe it was Marshall, mentioned that Richard liked to look at photos of mountains on the walls of the restaurant because they reminded him of someplace he once lived – someplace out west, but he couldn’t say where.

According to Dravenstott, it was Centralia, Washington.

I later learned from Richard’s Aunt Ruby Fox that he had stayed out there in the summer when he was a teenager.

Richard had lived with Fox and her husband from the time he was 12 until he was 18.

It wasn’t until weeks after that morning in the restaurant that I learned about Richard’s aunt. I had been trying to contact a relative, someone who could tell me a little more about him.

By then I needed some sort of peg to make the story fresh and newsworthy. Even then, I wasn’t sure that my editor, Ted Daniels, would want it. It almost seemed too offbeat. I was reluctant to pitch the story, but he liked the idea.

I happened to be in the restaurant the week before they auctioned off Richard’s belongings. One of the waitresses, I think it was Sherry Flickinger, told me about the auction. I had my peg.

It was on a Saturday and I had been working for two solid weeks, but I had to go. I knew it would be a sad thing to witness. (It reminded me of something that happened last year. I forced myself to stay at the scene of a fatal crash to watch them cut the victim out of the wreckage. I have no desire to see stuff like that, but I felt a need to experience and witness the range of emotions. I went home that night and sent my daughter an e-mail describing what I saw and felt.)

I also hoped to contact family members at the auction. I was able to talk with Joe Mason, an attorney who handled the family’s affairs and, I would later find out, helped them from time to time.

He managed to salvage a fairly recent photo of Richard from a box of items at the auction so I could use it in the newspaper.

I called Richard’s Aunt Ruby after I left the auction. She’s 90 years old and lives at Belmont Tower. She was touched to learn that the people at the restaurant thought so highly of Richard. Her voice broke as she said, “I’m so glad they liked him, cause I loved him too.”

I think she was crying as I said goodbye and hung up the phone.

I spent most the day Sunday writing the story.

I later heard from Richard’s cousin, Bea Walker, who handled his finances and, ultimately, his funeral arrangements.

She was able add a few more pieces to the puzzle. I won’t go into it, but I guess none of it surprised me. He had a rough life. And he harbored some bitterness. But that was part of him he chose not wear on his sleeve.

Walker told me she arranged to have a simple graveside service for him. A woman from Mason’s office sang and Walker said a few words.

We had a funeral for him too — over coffee and breakfast.

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Do not feed or annoy the bears — or chipmunks

Algonquin Canoe Trip Journal — Part Six

We didn’t have bears at our campsites, but there were plenty of chipmunks and red squirrels. Nuisance chipmunks and red squirrels. They were everywhere, lurking in the shadows, emerging from time to time to beg for handouts.

Juvenile snowshoe hare at our campsite — hiding his nuts from the red squirrels

They will gnaw holes in your tent or pack, so you can’t keep food, toothpaste, shampoo or anything with a scent in there. That means you have to put toiletries in the food box and hoist it up on the bear rope every night.

On the first day at Algonquin, I hurled stones at a few red squirrels. Ken warned me that, if I killed one, I’d have to eat it. So I hurled insults at them instead. Which had the same effect as throwing stones at them. Nothing.

I’ve been told that red squirrels will bite the testicles of rival squirrels. I don’t know whether they do the same thing to other species, but I wasn’t taking any chances. I slept on my stomach.

Strange Canadian customs — the right to arm bears and other things you should know

Algonquin Canoe Trip Journal — Part Five

Ken, in an earlier unsuccessful attempt to dislodge a snagged bear rope

After 32 years of canoeing rivers in Ohio and camping pretty much where I wanted, Algonquin was a bit of a culture shock.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, there are designated campsites. You have to pre-register with the Ministry of Keeping An Eye On You and you’re obligated to be on whatever lake you say you’re going to be on that night. Beyond that, you have to fight it out for the best campsites. There’s a lot of strategy involved, such as getting up early enough in the morning and heading to the next campsite so you beat everyone else there. Or getting up late at night, sneaking into someone else’s campsite and setting their canoes adrift. Make sure they don’t have dogs with them.

It’s a good idea to take a dog along if your camping in Algonquin, especially if the dog belongs to a neighbor and you don’t particularly like it. You see, there are bears in Algonquin. And, since this is Canada, you’re not allowed to take a gun. A bear is more likely to go after a dog that doesn’t have the sense not to bark at it.

On rivers in Ohio you can leave your cooler out at night and your non-refrigerated food if it’s in a reasonably secure container.

Not so in Algonquin. You have to rig up a bear rope, which is slung over a tree to dangle food containers high enough off the ground that bears can’t reach them. Of course, bear ropes are prone to snagging and people have been known to starve to death out there because they can’t get at their own food.

But Ken and Steve are experienced bear rope riggers and we didn’t have any problems. In fact, Ken managed to retrieve someone else’s snagged bear rope at our Penn Lake campsite. I’m not sure how he did it because I was in my tent napping at the time. Steve said he fell out of the tree three times. I heard one thud but must have slept through the other two.

They call them boom boxes for some reason

Moving on to an indelicate subject, in Algonquin, they have something called boom boxes. They don’t have speakers the size of your head or knobs. They’re just wooden boxes with lids and, if you were to lift the lid, there’s a toilet seat.

The long and short of it is everyone goes at the same spot in a shallow hole all summer long.

When canoe camping back home, I take a trowel and a roll of toilet paper and trudge off into the woods. At Algonquin, I took a trowel and a roll of toilet paper and trudged off into the woods.

I’m probably in violation of some Canadian law, If so, I’m not sure what the statute of limitations is. Or whether this confession would hold up in Canadian courts.

Let’s see them back it up with circumstantial evidence.

More later.

Our bear rope. Once your food is up for the night, there’s no more snacking

Moose fetish — get your mind out of the gutter, it’s not what you think

Algonquin Canoe Trip Journal — Part 4

Ken’s improvised moose skull

After a long portage and a short paddle, we arrived at our campsite on Clydegale Lake.

Ken found a bunch of moose bones in the underbrush, so he set out to build himself a moose.

The skull was missing so he improvised, making one out of spare bones.

There wasn’t much left of the spine or leg bones, so he substituted with part of a tree limb that was sort of shaped like a moose. It was kind of small, so it ended up looking more like a gazelle chasing its tail.

Moose body

The scapula bones were intact, but Ken got sidetracked and made them into a couple of puppets to keep him company while he worked on the rest of the moose. He named his puppets Clyde and Gale. He never explained why.

The moose started to take shape by the second day. But Ken got discouraged when a real moose happened by our campsite and gave his creation negative reviews. Which the moose expressed by doing crude impressions of it by arcing his body grotesquely while belching the first four bars of the Canadian national anthem.

The real moose

Ken gave up on the moose, making a bench and primitive necklace instead.

And he still had Clyde and Gail to keep him company.

More later.

Ken with his Clyde and Gale puppets. That’s Ken in the middle.

Everything you wanted to know about moose poop – and more

Algonquin Canoe Trip Journal — Part 3

A strange Canadian ritual, leaving grills behind. In America, we have a word for that. Littering.

After a good night’s sleep, we ate a hearty breakfast of freeze-dried eggs, freeze-dried toast and freeze-dried coffee. Ken suggested that, next time, maybe I should rehydrate the stuff before cooking it.

We headed out for Clydegale Lake, paddling the length of Penn Lake, so named because it shaped like a pen. Not to be confused with the term “peninsula,” which — as I explained to Steve — is named after a part of the male anatomy.

He did not know that. Which is the only thing he didn’t know. The man’s a walking encyclopedia on the wonders of nature, the cosmos and moose scat. For instance, he told me that loons have five distinct calls: The wail to communicate with other loons across the lake; the tremolo to alert others of danger; the yodel for mating or establishing territory; the hoot, which is sort of an all-clear; and the moo, which is reserved for when they are flying over cows.

The beauty of Algonquin is that each lake is higher and more remote than the next. Someone with a lot of ambition could get far enough into the chains of lakes to lose all signs of civilization, such as the 30 grills people had left at our Penn Lake campsite.

Also, as you progress into the various lakes, there are fewer designated campsites.

Having two experienced guides was a tremendous advantage here. They know how to set up an itinerary so we could get the best campsites. For example, when we returned to Penn Lake for the last two days of the trip, we had to get there early enough in the morning to beat any newcomers working their way into the chain of lakes.

Steve collects evidence at the scene of an attempted murder. What else would you call a 1,970-meter portage?

Our first portage was about 270 meters. The second was about 370. Unfortunately, when it comes to perception, meters don’t work out like kilometers. When you’re driving in Canada and covering, say, 100 kilometers, it seems to go pretty quickly because you’re used to seeing these measurements in miles. But, it’s the opposite with meters. You see the sign at the head of the portage trail that says 376 meters and, automatically, you’re thinking, “Oh, just short of three football fields.”

But no. It’s more like five or maybe 10. Trying to estimate it — to get some sort of perspective — I did the math in my mind, which only works on the right side.  I figured that would be like walking from Mansfield to Akron. While carrying a canoe and backpack. Uphill. Over rocks. While wearing muck boots.

The least the Ontario Ministry of Portages could do is post sherpas at the trailheads.

More later.

Map of Rock, Penn and Clydegale lakes.

Algonquin Canoe Trip Journal — Part Two, Portages

Our Island on Penn Lake (actually it was a peninsula).

Our original — and short-lived — itinerary for the Algonquin Canoe trip had us arriving at Rock Lake after a 570-mile drive from north central Ohio then paddling three lakes. This would have included two portages. Uphill, over rock terrain and hundreds of yards.

That’s what Ken and Steve proposed when we got together in August to plan the trip. When my convulsions subsided, Ken and Steve agreed to a less-ambitious plan. We would arrive at the put-in on Rock Lake and pass out on the dock. When we regained consciousness, we’d paddle across Rock Lake, make the portage to Penn Lake and collapse on the beach of the nearest available island.

Then I’d wake up in the morning and make breakfast.

Apparently there is some unwritten rule that you have to make a portage in two trips. Which means you carry a canoe and gear on one trip and an even bigger load of gear on the next. Which is fine if you have a partner, but I was paddling solo. Besides, in 32 years of canoeing, I’ve never made a portage in less than five trips. No sense killing yourself. (There is a method to my madness here. Usually, on the first trip, you’ll attract the attention of some charitable soul with a pickup truck who will offer to haul your gear for you. In fact, the last guy who did this also gave me a cold beer to take with me.)

I raged against the empire, refusing to make the portage in two trips. I felt guilty that Ken and Steve had to come back and help me. But not that guilty.

In the final stages of the trip, I got with the program and made the portages in two trips. But that was because the food — 2/3 of which I was carrying — had run out and the portages were downhill.

More on that later.

Leaving Penn Lake after the first night. Steve and Ken are about to be accosted by pirates, but managed to thwart them with swords, which they quickly fashioned from their thwarts.

Algonquin Canoe Trip Journal – Part One

Webers, one of the few eateries in Canada that isn’t Tim Hortons.

After years of dropping hints — subtle things, such as legally changing my name to Al Gonquin — Ken Arthur and Steve McKee finally invited me to come along on one of their canoe trips to Algonquin Provincial Park.

We left Ohio before daybreak on Labor Day and made it to the Canadian border by around 8:30 in the morning.

The customs agent tried to trip us up by asking us our professions.

Somewhere in Canada, there is a customs agent who moonlights as a comedy writer trying to flesh out a joke that starts out, “A naturalist, writer and building official walk into a bar …”

In keeping with Ken and Steve’s canoe trip tradition, we stopped for lunch at Webers Charcoal Barbecued Hamburgers on Highway 11 in Orilla, Ontario.

Webers is a Canadian landmark, known for its tasty burgers and old railroad cars, which are used for food storage, dining and restrooms. But not necessarily at the same time.

Founded in 1963, the place became so popular, it created traffic headaches for southbound motorists wanting to turn left into the parking lot. So, after wrangling with the Ministry of Transportation, the owners acquired a section of pedestrian bridge from the old CN Tower in Toronto in 1983 and put it over the highway. That way, southbound motorist could park in the lot across the road and safely cross Highway 11.

It’s the only privately owned bridge spanning an Ontario Highway.

Apparently, one of the original employees Mike “The Key Man” McParland is still flipping burgers there. The call him that because he’s the only one with a set of keys to the place and he’s been there nearly 50 years because, if they fire him, they’re afraid he’ll take the keys with him.

When we arrived at Webers, “American Woman” was blaring over the loudspeakers. At first we were concerned that there was some in-house rule that they could play only Canadian Music. It was hard to imagine enduring a steady diet of The Guess Who, Buffy Sainte-Marie and Gordon Lightfoot no matter how good the burgers were.

However, that turned out not to be the case. They also played numbers by American artists. In fact, according to Webers Website, they offer CDs with collections of rock music from both sides of the border.

By mid-afternoon, we arrived at the Algonquin check-in station. Unlike Ohio, where you can toss a canoe into any river and float for days till you run out of beer, at Algonquin you have to check in so they know who’s out there.

That way, they can keep track of how many canoeists are eaten by bears.

To be continued.