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.

Honky tonk nights, selective inbreeding and flirting with death – the perfect canoe trip

Canoe Trip Journal — October 2012

Trees reflected in the river — from my Six Mile Dam campsite.

Trees reflected in the river — from my Six Mile Dam campsite.

COSHOCTON — My cab driver had some sort of heart-related medical crisis the night before. That’s what he told a woman he picked up from the motel where she worked. He had to drop her off at a trailer park in town before he could take me to Mohawk Dam, where I had left my canoe and camping gear.

“My boss keeps calling me every half-hour to make sure I’m all right,” he told her.

Great, I thought. This guy is going to go into full cardiac arrest while driving down U.S. 36, a winding two-lane with nothing but trees and ditches on either side. I’ve envisioned dying on a canoe trip, but not this way. I kind of had my heart set on being eaten by a bear or dismembered by a snapping turtle while skinny dipping.

But the cabby got me back to Mohawk Dam safely.

Bald eagle, just below the dam

Bald eagle, just below the dam

I was getting ready to crawl into my tent, which I pitched atop an old levy, when a pickup truck pulled up to a nearby camper. The radio was blasting and one to the occupants — half-bear, half-man — was bellowing along with it. Some kind of Hiphop/Country song extolling the virtues of selective inbreeding. I kid you not.

I had to make a decision — shoot them all now or put in my earplugs and hope that would be enough to mask the noise. I realized that Plan A was not going to work. The river was too shallow to conceal the bodies.

Suddenly, they spotted me. It was too late.

“Hey, dude, come down and have a beer,” one of the men said.

Plan C. Why not?

There were three men, a woman and a friendly old black Lab. They turned out to be all right. Just middle-aged working folks from around Canton — seasonal campers at the Dam. We sat around the campfire and drank beer for a couple of hours and played fetch with the dog. He might have been old, but he had no lack of energy. Or slobber. I got a little worried when the woman said something about partying till 5 a.m., but they turned in shortly after I did, which was around midnight.

In the morning, I ate breakfast and broke camp. My neighbors slept through it all.

Walhonding Canal lock I discovered on the island

Walhonding Canal lock I discovered on the island

I’d made up my mind that I was going to camp on the island upstream of Six Mile Dam. Thirty-two years of canoeing that river and I’d never set foot on that island. I was glad I did. After pitching camp, I took a nap then set out to explore the island. I found the remains of an old canal lock in the middle of it.

Turned out to be a great campsite. The water rushing over the dam drowned out any sounds coming from Whispering Falls Campground on the downstream side of the dam as well as any traffic sounds from U.S. 36.

I will camp there again.

There was one other thing I wanted to accomplish on this trip — another first. I wanted to get out and take a closer look at an old Stroh’s Beer truck on the west bank of the river near Coshocton. I’ve been fascinated by this since seeing it on my very first canoe trip in 1980. But I’d never made the effort to stop and climb the bank to explore it.

A truck bed that's been calling out to me for 32 years

A truck bed that’s been calling out to me for 32 years

Mission accomplished, I continued downriver to my take-out at Lake Park.

Perfect trip. No rain, no bugs, nearly 80 degrees in the daytime, partying with some fun people — and my cab driver got me to Mohawk Dam in one piece.

Huge sycamore on the island. (Note Droid X in crotch for scale)

Huge sycamore on the island. (Note Droid X in crotch for scale)

Walhonding River waterpark

Walhonding River waterpark