The Reluctant Luddite – Or Just Another Twit(terer)

blogphotoI was the guy whose dream was to appear before a college journalism class, take off his shoe, pummel a telephone into smithereens and walk away without saying a word.

Yet, in the twilight of my career, I find myself embracing technology. (Not a full-frontal boob hug, mind you, but a polite reserved embrace.)

A few weeks ago, I began exploring the vast universe of Twitter. Not as a social networking site, but for research and professional networking. As a cops and courts reporter, I can see the value of monitoring government officials and other miscreants on Twitter. Or connecting with other journalists to compare notes and “share information.” Formerly known as plagiarism.

Twitter is a treasure trove of information. But I’m afraid I’ll be like the guy who finds a rare coin in the street and, in the course of admiring it, gets run over by a bus.

To add insult to injury, the competition would probably scoop us and run a photo of my legs sticking out from under the bus wheels on page one.

That said, last week reinforced my commitment to “shoe leather journalism.” 

With an impending winter storm, I made it a point to hunt down and shadow our county Emergency Management Agency director. This proved to be a perfect combination of old and the new reporting techniques. Being there, I got information straight from the horse’s mouth, and I was able to get it posted in our online edition in real time.

Better yet, my visit to the EMA office during a potential crisis situation served as a dry run. Our EMA guy, Mark Rafeld, showed me around and explained how things would work in a more dire situation.

On the day of the storm, I also made it a point to drive to the city garage and visit with Jerry Mack, who is in charge of snow removal and a million other things. I also stopped by the fire station to talk with the EMS guys, who were swamped with calls that day.

Nothing like a face-to-face to give you a better feel for what’s really going on out there. And an iPad Mini with WiFi to post it instantly.

I hate to admit it but it appears that journalists can have the best of both worlds. As long as they keep one foot firmly planted in the real world. Even if that means — if only mentally — taking off a shoe every now and then and beating the nearest telephone to bits.


A Ghost in the Snow

betterwaterfall Hiking at Malabar Farm on the first day of winter yesterday, the obvious metaphor struck me — venturing beyond middle age. (Unless I live to be 120, in which case I’ll have to rethink all of this.)

Experiencing the year’s first real snowfall, the woods in the distance blurred through a veil of snowflakes, the abrupt sound of crunching ice underfoot.

Stark and sluggish, yet somehow comforting. 

A few fleeting thoughts on my first summers here in Mohican Country 30 years ago — drifting downstream, laid back on my canoe, long hair dangling in the water, sun on my face and bare chest, the laughter of my friends echoing through the valley.

ceilingcave2Many of them have died, in one way or another. The Oz they knew died along with them.

The man behind the curtain survived.

Skywriting — Florida Trip Journal

Stalking the Snowbirds Epilogue

This post was written and posted on the flight back to Ohio

Mom and Dad at Hellas, a Greek restaurant and bakery in Tarpon Springs

Mom and Dad at Hellas, a Greek restaurant and bakery in Tarpon Springs

Mission accomplished. Parents totally surprised and, after five days in Florida, no sniffles. (Unlike two previous trips, when I came down with bad colds.)

En route to Akron-Canton Airport from Tampa International.

Note to myself: Always reserve a seat on the plane when possible. Otherwise you get stuck in the last seat. In the corner.

I love looking out the window at things below, but the only view I have now is of bobbing noggins on a sea of blue vinyl seat backs. Fortunately, I have the whole back row to myself. This will come in handy if I feel like napping. Not much chance of that on a two-hour flight.

Nothing worse than spoiling parents. Toward the end of my stay, they started dropping hints. Things like:

• “Hey can’t you stay longer? We need a few things fixed around here … like the next election.”

• “You haven’t used up all your vacation days, have you?”

• “You can always get a job with a newspaper down here … or maybe picking oranges.”

Or …

• “If we give you an allowance, your own room and the use of Mom’s Crown Vic, will you consider moving back in?”

Wait, things are looking up. The stewardesses have started serving coffee and pretzels — started in the front row. They should make it back here by the time we’re over Columbus.

I think I’ll take that nap now. The coffee and pretzels should be here about the time we reach Ohio.

Drive-by shootings and poaching in Florida


A Florida sandhill crane, according to my Facebook friends

A Florida sandhill crane, according to my Facebook friends

I felt obligated to check out the flora and fauna of Florida while I was down here. But my exploration was limited to walks around trailer parks and drive-by shootings of wildlife from Mom’s Crown Vic.

Got some good shots of Florida sandhill cranes and an underexposed photo of the passenger-side door panel and Dad’s right knee.

The wildlife here is easy to photograph. Critters in Florida don’t spook easily — probably because the older folks down here don’t chase or annoy them like young people do elsewhere.

Pygmy gator - till someone tells me otherwise

Pygmy gator – till someone tells me otherwise

I got my best shots by poaching my nephew Raymond’s wildlife photos from Dad’s computer.

I haven’t spent much time in Florida, much less read about it. So, I have no idea what half of the stuff was that I photographed.

I figured the best way to research it is to post a photo on Facebook and ask my Facebook friends what the hell it is. So far, I’ve been able to identify two species of bird, a reptile and a long-lost classmate.

Franklin's gull? Laughing gull? Pigeon in drag? Your call.

Franklin’s gull? Laughing gull? Pigeon in drag? Your call.

We’ve Been to Hellas and Back


Mom and Dad waiting for the return of the prodigal son. Again.

Mom and Dad waiting for the return of the prodigal son. Again.

Drove the parents to Tarpon Springs today to have lunch at Hellas, a Greek bakery and restaurant.
Garmon’s siren-song-in-a-box misled me into U-turn after U-turn until I eventually corkscrewed my way from Dade City to Tarpon Springs. I could tell we were getting closer to Hella’s because the streets kept getting narrower and the shops and restaurants quainter.
The wharf behind the shops were lined with sponge boats, some displaying their “daily harvest,” neatly bundled into nets.
In the early part of the 20th Century, Greek immigrants — with their knowledge of deep water harvesting — made Tarpon Springs the sponge capital of the world. But the local sponge industry died with a red algae tide the mid 1940s. That and the introduction of synthetic sponges.
Since then, immigrants of a different stripe have sparked a resurgence in Tarpon Spring’s sponge industry, which now sponges off of tourists.
We were lucky enough to come on a day when it wasn’t crowded. We were able to park in a lot across the street and our reservations at Hellas proved unnecessary. The food was excellent, the service mediocre and the urinal in the men’s room was made by Mansfield Plumbing Products of Perrysville, Ohio.
It was oddly comforting to have that little touch of home.
We enjoyed our lunch and mom bought desert from the bakery.
We made sure to give our waiter a good tip. We told him they were hiring at Mansfield Plumbing Products.

Snappy answers to not-so-stupid questions

The Yolk’s on Me
Remember Mad Magazine’s “Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions”?
It was a regular feature — later milked for about a half-dozen paperback books — in which a number of witty retorts were listed for stupid questions. It was written and illustrated by Al Jaffee.
Snappy Answers was always fun to read and it was even more fun to come up with a few zingers of your own.
A real life stupid question scenario presented itself to me when I was a young teenager visiting a sick relative at St. John’s Hospital on Cleveland’s West Side. I was in an elevator with a few friends. The car on the second floor, the doors opened and a woman looked at us and asked, “Does this elevator go up?”
“No, lady,” I replied. “It goes sideways.”
She was too embarrased to get in and people inside the car were still chortling when the doors closed.
In retrospect, that might not have been such a stupid question. I was at the Tampa International Airport Monday and asked a TSA agent for directions to the car rental offfices. He told me to take the elevator to the first floor and I’d find the rental offices opposite baggage claim.
So, I waited for what I thought was an elevator to take me down to the first level. I got in and noticed it was extraordinarily wide — so wide, in fact, that it needed two sets of doors. The doors closed and, sure enough, the “elevator” did go sideways.
It turned out to be an automated people mover to shuttle passengers from the airline gates to the main concourse.
Looks like the lady at St. John’s Hospital got the last laugh.

Stalking the snowbirds

Florida — Will the third time be the charm?

This pretty much sums up my first trip to Florida.

This scene from the movie “Midnight Cowboy” pretty much sums up my first trip to Florida.

I’m not all that keen on Florida. Twice I’ve gone there and twice I’ve gotten bad colds. In fact, the first time I went there, I was on a hitchhiking trip with my friend Willard Morrison. That was back in 1970. We had gone to Mardi Gras, which proved to be a bust. Another story for another time. Then we decided to check out Miami.

We caught a ride in New Orleans from a sailor who lived in Pensacola. It was late when we arrived there and he generously offered to put us up for the night. His wife was livid.

A few nights earlier, we spent the night in a men’s shelter in New Orleans listening to drunks snoring and farting all night. Not nearly as bad as listening to our host’s wife bitching into the wee hours of the morning. And she didn’t even offer to make us breakfast.

Willard and I eventually made it to Miami, where we couldn’t find any beach accessible to the public. But we walked the beaches anyway, trespassing on hotel property. We got bitten by sand fleas and I caught a cold. We took a Greyhound bus back to Cleveland.

The second time I went to Florida was in the early 1990s. Drove down with my then wife and my young daughter. We stayed with my parents in Old Town. I immediately came down with a nasty cold and was bedridden the whole time.

So, why go there again?

I’m flying down to drop in on my parents. Unannounced. It will be worth it just to see the looks on their faces.
I just hope they’re dressed when I get there.