Posted by: philipfontana | August 4, 2016

Dewey Beach, DE

 

“Doing Dewey”

Year #19

Dewey Beach, Delaware

by

Phil & Geri Fontana

1 SizeBalcony

         The “Balcony” at the #207 Sunspot condo…For wife Geri & me the view is equaled by the time spent on the balcony reading, people watching, spotting dolphin, cigar smoking (me!), & in happy hours!

 

 

     Excuse us for living two weeks a year on the beach in Dewey Beach, Delaware. We’ve been doing so now for 19 years in a condo, “Sunspot,” on McKinley Street. We started for the first 13 years in an efficiency-room timeshare hotel, the Surf Club, right next door. We were slow to catch on, making the switch to the Sunspot condos. The trade-off was giving up the Surf Club pool and gaining the amenities of a condo and considerably lower rates at Sunspot.

The question we are asked most often is why the beach in Delaware and not our own New Jersey with 120 miles of fine shoreline that served us well growing up in the 1950’s and 1960’s? Our standard answer is, “Exactly! We loved the New Jersey shore when we were kids! And we’ve found it again in Delaware!” – – Less people, less traffic (Well there was less traffic! That’s getting worse!), less expensive, plenty of space on the beach, more freedom re regulations from using floatation devices to surf-fishing (mornings, evenings, or even day-time with sufficient feet from swimmers). We discovered the shore points of Delaware in the late 1990’s, picking up a brochure at a rest-stop while transporting our oldest son back to the University of Delaware.

Dewey Beach quickly became our favorite spot for what is “vacation” to us; pure and simple quiet and rest, “R & R”! We like to distinguish our relaxing vacations as opposed to other trips we fully enjoy from sightseeing (especially Europe) to fishing in upstate New York. I am sure most of you have your favorite place or places you like to return to. And we see the photos and hear all about so many wonderful places. But we happened to get to know “Dewey” and Dewey Beach became our favorite place to vacation, rest, and find 2 weeks of peace each year on the beach.

2 SizeCapeMayNJ

      Cape May is our destination on the way to the Cape May-Lewes Ferry. It’s only 167 miles down the Garden State Parkway from our home in Montville, NJ. If we head out early or book a later ferry reservation, we can steal an hour or two in scenic Cape May, as can be seen with these colorful B&Bs along the ocean front, a worthy destination in its own right!

2 SizeFerry

     The Cape May-Lewes Ferry turns our modest vacation trip into a little adventure each year. The Cape May-Lewes Ferry Authority is an independent, non-profit operation run by New Jersey & Delaware. Pictured here is one of the three ferry boats in operation, down from a fleet that numbered five. The ferry ride is about an hour & twenty minutes. It eliminates about 80 miles of driving down the New Jersey Turnpike, over the Delaware Memorial Bridge, & south to the Delaware shore. We just drive the 167 miles to Cape May, catch the ferry to Lewes, Delaware, & meander maybe 3 miles down the main drag, Rt. 1, to Dewey. Just know the ferry reservation roundtrip for two is $108. – – Drive more miles or “pays your money”! – – “Different strokes for …”

2 SizeLewes,DE

     Coming off the Ferry in Delaware brings you to the quaint town of Lewes. We like to call it a tiny touch of Nantucket. Founded by the Dutch in 1631, Lewes built a replica of the City Hall in Horn, the Netherlands. Lewes has a little of everything; shops & antiques, historic buildings, a modest number of restaurants, hotels, B&Bs, fishing party boats. Pictured here are two 1600’s sailing ships at the dock on Lewes Inlet.

3 SizeMap      

     This is a good map of Delaware for our purposes, but for the absence of a few labels. The white area is labelled New Jersey. On the southern end you can see the Cape May Peninsula jutting out. That’s where the Cape May-Lewes Ferry runs across Delaware Bay to Lewes on the yellow map. From Delaware to Virginia that stretch of land is known as the Delmarva Peninsula; Delaware, Maryland, & Virginia. Rt. 1 is the main road connecting the shore points going south; starting with Lewes, then Rehoboth with its very popular boardwalk, Dewey Beach, the upscale Bethany with many gated communities, Fenwick Island with high-rise condominiums, & finally Ocean City, Maryland, that looks like Atlantic City size hotels 10 times over in number without the casinos! Ocean City is the end of the line from where you take a bridge continuing through Maryland & beyond into Virginia.

4 SizeDeweySign

     Upon entering the town of Dewey Beach, you are greeted by this sign, “Dewey Beach, A Way of Life.” One assumes the motto is a holdover from days gone by as a community of hippies “doing their thing” in the 1960’s at the beach. Today the mood it conveys is one of a laid back place, unassuming, giving you space to “do your thing.” Dewey Beach is only .3 sq. miles with 341 permanent residents. But in season, Dewey has a juxtaposed reputation for attracting young party goers in their upper 20’s & 30’s as well as being a popular family resort. Its beaches are a nice size, varying over the years with sand reclamation due to storm erosion. – -Plenty hotels, cottage rentals, condominiums, a modest number of restaurants, & no shortage of bars & clubs. – – More about that later as we go along here. Off season, Dewey quiets down to the modest little place it is.

5 SizeAerialSurfSunspt

     Here’s a great partial aerial view of Dewey Beach. It gives you a good feel for the place. The foreground is the ocean, naturally, with the bay at the top of the photo. The water quality & the beaches of the Delaware shore have achieved award winning status over the years with the best in the nation. The center left condominium pictured on the beach is NOT ours! But our Sunspot is the condo immediately to its left!  And, to the left of Sunspot, you can see a mural outlined in pink! That’s the Surf Club, the place that started it all for us.

6 SizeMainDrag

      This is the main drag, Rt. 1, passing right through the heart of Dewey Beach, north-south. A mid-day photo shows you there is not much going on in Dewey unless you’re on the beach!

7 SizeLittleStr

     “The Little Store” is a very important place since this is the only store with the basic necessities in Dewey Beach; food staples, newspapers, & a little of everything. One must drive down Rt. 1 to Rehoboth where there are 4-5 supermarkets. Fortunately, our condo is just down the block from The Little Store.

8 SizeSharkey's

      “Sharkey’s”!!! – – Also down the block from us! – – Across from The Little Store! Everyone in Dewey knows & goes to Sharkey’s! It’s an “expanded food stand,” limited counter & table seating. Sharkey’s means coffee & breakfast & hamburgers & a little more. Are their restaurants in Dewey Beach with the same & more? Yes, but there’s Sharkey’s!

9 SizeReadStr

     A typical side street? There is nothing typical in Dewey! Every street is uniquely its own. This one is Read Street, on which the Surf Club is located, facing the ocean. It’s the street next to us on McKinley.

10 SizeSrfClbSunspt

         Here’s a nice shot of the two places we’ve stayed at over these 19 summer seasons. On the left in pink is the Surf Club where we stayed for 13 years. It’s unique in that it is a “time-share hotel.” You can name your date of arrival & departure. Owners “buy into” one, two or three weeks per month or full ownership. All units are one expanded room efficiencies that sleep four with a kitchen wall. Amenities include pool, sauna, & Jacuzzi. On the right in blue is the condominium, Sunspot, where we have stayed for the last 6 years. It took us too long to realize how much better a condo unit is at Sunspot compared to a room at the Surf Club. There are one & two bedroom condos (& a penthouse) that sleep four to six people, with full kitchen & living/dining room combo, & that balcony. Bookings are Saturday to Saturday like most places. But the rates at Sunspot are considerably more reasonable than the Surf Club.

11 SizeLifegrd

         Pictured is the McKinley Street lifeguard station, on duty 10:00 to 5:00. And the uncrowded beach scene is typical.

12 SizeGeriRd

        Here is how Geri spends most of her beach time for two weeks at Dewey. – – Reading!

 13 SizePhilRd

     Here is how Phil spends most of his beach time for two weeks at Dewey. – – Reading! – – Oh, maybe a “bikini check” break too!

14 SizeToast

     Happy Hours are held on days we cook something special together. Get used to my obnoxious Hawaiian shirt that is as old as it looks! I only wear it while we are at Dewey & only indoors! – – very special!

15 SizeCooking

     The nights we cook together with Happy Hours are the most special part of our stays at Dewey Beach. And here is the piece de resistance; cooking Zupa di Clams! Zupa is clams in their shells, a red sauce with sausage slices & spices. It can be served with pasta or just Italian bread!  (For the recipe, go to the right margin here, click on “Friday Night/Recipe Posts” & then click “4thPastaPost”)

16 SizeZupaNght

     Each year we take an “iconic” photo like this one on “Zupa Night.” It’s the high-point of our stay & it’s held usually on the third day or so of our trip. – – One Rule: Eat all the clams, red sauce, & Italian bread you want! Another Zupa meal is reprised over our two week stay!

17 SizeBeachMovie

      Once a week Dewey Beach has a family children’s movie night on the beach!

18 SizeBonFire

      And once a week Dewey Beach has a family oriented bon fire night on the beach!

19 SizeRehobothBdwk

     Just to the north of Dewey Beach, a mile plus, is the town of Rehoboth. No trip is complete unless you spend an evening on the boardwalk at Rehoboth with rides, games of chance, food, & shops. Rehoboth has a considerable choice of hotels & many restaurants.

20 SizeCapeHenlopenStPrk

     Cape Henlopen State Park is a great facility near Lewes & the Ferry. There you will find campsites, hiking trails, & an unusually long fishing pier (where we’ve spent many hours fishing over the years).

21 SizeDESeashoreStPrk

     South of Dewey Beach is Delaware Seashore State Park, a spot not to be overlooked. It offers a bucolic drive-on beach for surf-fishing, Indian River Inlet for more fishing, private charter boats & party boats for fishing (we’ve done them all over the years), & an RV campground.

22 SizeTheStarboard

     The Starboard, above, is one of five clubs in Dewey with live bands, dancing with wall-to-wall bodies, & plenty of drinking (& it ain’t soda!). It’s the 20 & 30-something set that frequents Dewey Beach. And on Friday & Saturday nights the main drag is filled with young people crawling their way to a favorite place. Oh, there are other bars too along the way between “clubs,” Movie star Kevin Bacon & his brother, Delaware boys, reprise their old band once a summer at one club, “Bottle & Cork.”

23 SizeNorthbeach

     Northbeach is one of those clubs also with picturesque dining on the bay beach in Dewey. Their specialty is lobster dinners & their famous rum drink, the Dewey Devil! – – A very good drink! There is no shortage of restaurants along Rt. 1 & a plethora in the heart of Rehoboth.

23 SizePhillipsCrbHs         

    There are six restaurants we frequent in the area, in Dewey Beach, north to Rehoboth, & south to Ocean City, Maryland. But the one we never fail to go to each summer is Phillips Crab House, almost an hour drive south, in Ocean City, Maryland. It’s really a landmark with great seafood for 60 years & counting since 1956! 

24 SizeInteriorPhillips

     Phillips features a formal dining room & a seafood buffet. Pictured above is the colorful, fun, & fabulous seafood buffet. Despite all the bad impressions people have of buffets, this one is GOOD! It features EVERYTHING under the sun from oysters to prime rib to pasta & much, much more, plus desserts, all at a reasonable price.   

25 SizeSouthHighEnd

     On the southern end of Dewey Beach are gated streets of “high-end” summer homes. Here are just a few of them as seen from the beach. As you continue to walk the beach south, you come to the beginning of Delaware Seashore State Park.

26 SizeNorthDeweytoRehoboth

     This photo gives you a good idea of what Dewey is like in terms of the typical number of people on the beach. The taller pink building, center left, with the white blank wall, is the Surf Club. And in the distance, facing north, is Rehoboth beach, an ambitious hike. – – We know!

 

     Excuse us for living out our favorite little summer place with you! Dewey Beach has been good to us both in rest and fun over the years. We wanted to tell you about “A Way of Life” named Dewey Beach, Delaware!

Comments: Please!

Sources: 19 years in Dewey Beach

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted by: philipfontana | May 18, 2016

Repair & Replace, Part 3

Repair & Replace, Part 3

No, Sell!

by

Philip Fontana

1 HouseSiding

     Our 1885 Dutch Colonial as it looks today after two major changes over the years; 1981 enclosing the side porch, that had 5 beautiful columns, behind the large sugar maple tree, & 1992 covering the old cedar shake shingles with vinyl siding.

 

 

Excuse us for living, but sometimes there comes a time in every man’s life, every woman’s life, that you have to declare you have had enough! I am referring to our beloved home of 41 years, our 1885 Dutch Colonial in Montville, New Jersey. You can refer back to previous pieces I’ve written on this website about “Old House” and “Repair & Replace,” and “Repair & Replace, Part 2.”  Go to the archived articles here in the right margin, at the bottom! There, click on “Our Old House” to go to these previous stories.

And when wife Geri and I say we have “had enough,” we do so with great regret. We threw our heart and soul into everything, big and small, we’ve done to the old house and yard over the years. – – As if we would never leave here. I like to say, only half in jest, that “the funeral home can pick us up here.” It’s where our three sons were raised and where the family gathers for all the major holidays each year. But now after the past three plus years of “repair & replace,” since January 2013, we say, “No, sell!”

2 HoleForSale

      The repair that put us “over the top” & on track to sell our beloved house! It was the 7 ft. lead drain pipe from the upstairs bathroom sink leaking (only slightly!) through to the living room ceiling below. Our original plumber 40 years ago warned us that this would eventually happen in an old house such as this. – – Quite “a call” on his part!

 

 

“The straw that broke the camel’s back” happened three weeks before this Easter 2016, when we anticipate welcoming the family for Easter dinner. I had asked our first plumbing-heating man some 40 years ago what we could expect to go wrong with the plumbing in an old house such as ours. He replied, “Your upstairs bathroom sink drain pipe. It’s made of lead and goes over the beams under the floor boards. It will warp like a roller-coaster going up and over those beams. Eventually, it will leak.” – – And that’s exactly what happened THREE WEEKS BEFORE EASTER, leaking through the living room ceiling below.

The problem was major in that the sink drain pipe ran 7 ft. under the floor to the sewer pipe. Our “new” plumber, for the past 25 years, said he would have to tear out a 7 ft. by 10 inch hole in the living room ceiling to remove the sink lead drain pipe and replace it with PVC pipe. – – So we agreed on a truce, to wait three weeks until after Easter to do the job.    – – Just don’t use the sink, obviously!

The plan sounded reasonable, but we did not anticipate the stress of waiting to address the repair work. And then after Easter, as is the “working style” of our plumber over the years, despite our once a week telephone call every Monday morning, he did not show up for three more weeks! – – Stress! – – Try additional “Happy Hours” to get through the anticipation. We kept telling ourselves, “We are blessed. This pales in comparison to the tragedies on the nightly news of flooding, tornadoes, destruction, lives lost.” – – Right! – – More Happy Hours!

3 RepairLadder

     Nothing like good craftsmen to complete the job!  The plumber took less than two days to do a yeoman’s task! The sheet-rock spackle man took quite a while due to the nature of the work, in small doses each day to let the spackle dry, stretching into over a week’s time. Had we known it would go so well, we could have had less Happy Hours! – -But oh, the stress release!

 

 

     The “doing” of the job was far less stressful than the six weeks of anticipation. Our plumber took all of two days to complete the job, granted that he’s a hustler when it comes down to doing the work, and should have been a three day job at the least. He even expanded the project while the ceiling was open to install a new shower/tub drain pipe, toilet sewer pipe, and even a new toilet bowl and tile work behind it. Now, the sheet-rock spackle guy and repair work to the ceiling was another story. After the initial sheet-rock patch, the spackling took short visits and many coats over 6-7 days.

And so, we prepare to address the things that need to be done to the house in order to put it up for sale. – – This will take the next year and more at the least. – -Not to leave out sorting through and clearing out 40 years of “stuff”! We thought we would share a few photos of this modest old house from 1885 and its grounds that we have truly loved living in until “repair & replace” set in. It’s been an honor to be the good stewards of the old place.

4 LvgRm

A view of the living room as seen from the stairwell.

5 StepsWllUnt

The other end of the living room.

6 Dng Rm

     The somewhat hexagonal dining room has a built in corner hutch typical of old houses of this vintage.

7 Kitchen

     The kitchen has been a fun place for us over the years, center of many a Happy Hour at the counter, followed by those “Friday Night” dinners in the “breakfast nook” seen to the rear of the kitchen.  (see “Friday Night” in the archives, right, bottom!) – –     Another corner hutch on the left.

8 PorchDesk

     A view of the enclosed porch, completed in 1981, serving as family room, study & library. Check out that stein collection on the right (another photo to come!) & 20 some family scrapbooks on the bottom shelf.

9 PorchPiano

       The other end of the porch with wood burning stove, my beloved upright piano with my collection of college mugs, & over the piano a collection of “these are a few of my favorite things”; from photos of Broadway shows to George M. Cohan, James Cagney, my namesake Grandfather painted in watercolor by my Uncle, the Rutgers Glee Club, Laurel & Hardy, & more!

10 Steins

       And my German beer stein collection in the porch, totaling 111 & counting! It started with one large stein, top left corner, in 1968, purchased in Echternach, Luxembourg, for $7.00, on tour with the Rutgers Glee Club.

11 OriginalHouse

     This is how the 1885 Dutch Colonial looked when we moved in back in 1975. It was built in the traditional farm house style being close to the original dirt road, with the front of the house only 11 ft. from the roadway. Notice the green cedar shakes on the upper level & the dormers. And here you get a good idea of what that beautiful side-porch looked like. While we loved it, the porch floor was constantly dirty from the road & we knew it could easily be made into a family room.

12 HouseSide

     Here’s a great shot to give you an idea of the lot terrain & charm. – -Plenty of pachysandra & ivy, terraced, white gravel patio, driveway wrapping around the right side of the house to the back & garage under the enclosed porch. Below the driveway retaining wall is a large grass yard.

     13 HouseRear

      This photo gives you an idea of the rear view of the house; mudroom/turned breakfast nook at the top of the steps, greenhouse below, door to the basement, flowers in bloom, garage, & retaining wall covered with ivy.

14 HouseYard       

       Here you get the full picture of house, driveway, wall & yard, guarded by that big old black walnut tree!

15 GrassYard    

      Plenty of grass yard for activities especially for family cookouts, from badminton to crochet, bocce ball, & tether-ball. A half mile of wooded terrain is beyond the hedge line for hiking along Crooked Brook.

16 RckGrdnTrl

Enter a caption

        Love this trail & rock garden leading from the patio down to the grass yard. If you look closely, you might make out 2 flights, 5 steps each, of blue stone steps leading from the patio up to the front gate & fence & front door.

17 Forsythia

Enter a caption

       Hard to pick which season photo to show you, but who could resist springtime with the forsythia in bloom! Shortly beyond the forsythia hedge our property ends. Down the embankment, below the forsythia, out of sight, is the old Morris Canal, late 1820’s to 1920’s. You might be able to see a glimmer of water through the hedge. That hill in the woods is a pile of dirt from the digging of the canal. Remnants of the mule trail along the canal bank to pull the barges is left more to your imagination than anything resembling what it looked like from old photos. The canal ran 107 miles from Phillipsburg, N.J., on the Delaware River, east to Jersey City on the Hudson River. It was outmoded by the coming of the railroad.

 

 

     Excuse us for living here for so long! It would be easier to stay than all the work involved in getting the house ready to sell, discarding things, packing and moving. But as the popular verses of Ecclesiastes remind us, “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven,” …A TIME TO SELL!!!

Comments: Please!

Sources: 41 years at 203 Main Road, Montville, New Jersey

Posted by: philipfontana | March 31, 2016

70

70001

The First Baby Boomers Turn 70: 1946-2016

by

Philip Fontana

Dedicated to My Two Classes turning 70

The Class of 1964, Paramus High School, Paramus, New Jersey

A Sammy

Paramus High School mascot, “Sammy the Spartan”

 &

 The Class of 1968, Rutgers College, New Brunswick, New Jersey

B RU Scarlet Kngts

Rutgers University mascot, “The Scarlet Knight”

 

 

     Excuse us for living, but 2.1 million of us Baby Boomers are turning 70 this year! – -The largest 70th Birthday Party in American history! We the Baby Boomers admit right out of the paddock that there are, obviously, people much older! There are over 44.7 million senior citizens 65 and older than we are! We know we did not invent “old age”! But, there are 76.4 million people dubbed the so called “Baby Boomers,” born between 1946 and 1964! And, while there were 3.4 million of us first Baby Boomers born in the year 1946, only 2.1 million of us are still alive and kicking, turning 70 this year in 2016. It seems fitting during this momentous year for so many of us, leading a generation into our dotage, often credited and blamed for influencing and “changing the world,” to take stock and do a little reflecting.

As I started to write about these years, I found myself writing the history of the United States for the last half of the 20th century and into this 21st. – – Wrong approach, Phil! – -Try again! First, I had to narrow the scope of my topic and limit myself to our school years of the 1950’s and 1960’s, our “coming of age” years. Then I had to try to separate what I’ve come to learn and read about our times in contrast to what I recall growing up. What in reality was I aware of during those formative and naive school years as we came into adulthood?

        However, having researched our seventy years, enabled me to paint an overview, the broad impressions attributed to us, the impact of our generation. There is certainly agreement that we as Baby Boomers are associated with rejecting or, at least, redefining traditional values and questioning authority. To what extent has been disputed since the Baby Boomers are also credited with a widespread continuity of the values of our elders. But it is safe to say that while many of us were growing up in traditional ways, the impact of our generation as a whole changed the nation culturally, socially, politically, and economically. Attitudes were being rewritten from dress to music, art, drugs, gays, race, sex, and more, changing just about everything.

C Hippie Fashion

      Hippie fashion of the 1960’s went from the modest to the extreme. Pictured here is a “middle of the road” leaning toward the extreme hippie look. It’s difficult to find a truly representative photo between the original “flower child” look & the cast of “Hair,” the Broadway hit show of the late 1960’s.

 

      Most profound, perhaps, were the causes our generation brought to college campuses in the 1960’s; civil rights, protesting the Vietnam War, and women’s rights. The “hippie” came to epitomize the threatening and scary changes in society to the older generations. Guys were decked out with long hair, maybe a beard, head bandana, tie-dye T-shirt, and worn out jeans. Gals often had long flowing hair, went barefoot, with long dresses sporting flower patterns. These hippies, also referred to as “the flower children” at their origin, were emblematic of those times. (Yes, it started with them wearing and handing out flowers symbolizing “peace and love.”) Yet, we were not all hippies! Most of us were just the average, usual young people growing up into adulthood, going to school, dressed in regular “nerdy” clothing in contrast! While a hippie might be walking down College Ave at Rutgers, New Brunswick, going to a “Teach-In” protesting the Vietnam War with all-night speeches, you, the average college student, were at your desk in your dormitory studying for an upcoming exam. – -With Bob Dylan’s recordings blasting down the hallway from someone’s dorm room! The music revolution went its full course culminating in the Woodstock Music Festival in upstate New York in 1969 that lasted three days! – – Talk about culture shock! – -But that was a whole year after we graduated from college.

D Woodstock

     Woodstock Music Festival, upstate New York on a dairy farm near Bethel, August 15 to August 17, 1969; 400,000 people camped out in all sorts of attire & those without! – – Culture shock of drugs & nudity & “more.” – – Oh, & great music too, both rock & folk with 32 acts!

 

So what do I remember growing up in the late 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s? The irony of the tumult attributed to we the first Baby Boomers was that, in my opinion, we were born into relatively “charmed lives” compared to that of our parents’ generation. We stood on the shoulders of giants, the “Greatest Generation.” Thank you, Tom Brokaw. Our parents came into adulthood during the Great Depression and then went on to win World War II for the nation, the world, themselves and us too! We, the bountiful numbers of post-World War II babies were born into a growing middle class life of prosperity in the white suburbs, thanks, in part, to the GI Bill.

DDTimes Sqr

     The iconic 1945 photo taken in Times Square, New York City, on V-J Day, Victory over Japan Day, August 14, 1945, ending World War II. The photograph by Alfred Eisenstaedt was published in Life magazine with the caption, “In New York’s Times Square a white-clad girl clutches her purse and skirt as an uninhibited sailor plants his lips squarely on hers.” The euphoria of love & marriage resulted in 3.4 million Baby Boomers born the next year, 1946, & 76.4 million in total born between 1946 & 1964!

 

“Those were good times,” we like to say, remembering growing up in the 1950’s, our elementary school years. Prior to that our first years in the late 1940’s with President Truman weren’t even a memory with the outbreak of war in a place called “Korea” in 1950. We were just finishing kindergarten in 1952 when we chanted, “We like Ike,” like the older kids, and didn’t even know who “Ike” was! “Ike” turned out to be the first President we remember, President Eisenhower. Little did I know that my youngest uncle I welcomed home from the Korean War was thanks to President Eisenhower bringing an end to hostilities with an Armistice Agreement in 1953. – – But not before 36,568 American soldiers gave their lives and another 103,284 more were wounded.

So we continued, seemingly uninterrupted, to live the “good life” that we remember so well growing up. Our youth was all about elementary school and play and Little League and picnics, barbecues, and vacations. We knew nothing about a “Cold War.” But we did hear about something called “Sputnik” in 1957 that turned out to be the first satellite put into space by the Soviet Union, launching the “Space Race.” Who knew? But all of a sudden there was lots of talk about science and math being more important. Who knew? And then there were those drills to guard against nuclear attacks. Who knew? If hiding under our desks and sitting on the floor along the hallway walls were not safe enough, we knew we were all “dead ducks”! And we certainly knew about something called “Television” coming of age in the early 50’s with the slapstick and comedy variety shows and children’s programs.

E Hide Under Desks

       This was the best deterrent the schools, at least in the New York-metropolitan area, could devise to protect us from nuclear fallout should there be a nuclear attack upon the USA by the Soviet Union in the late 1950’s; hiding under our desks! In New Jersey, where I grew up, our schools had us drill both under desks & also sitting on the floor along the walls in the hallways.

 

     But the important developments of the 50’s did not make enough of an impression on little young me to remember; whether it was the momentous 1954 Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision declaring “separate but equal” schools unconstitutional, to the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement with “sit-ins” in the South and the Montgomery Bus Boycott. But I do recall the violence on TV and President Eisenhower sending in the federal troops to integrate the schools in Little Rock, Arkansas. The beginning of the Interstate Highway System and Act of 1956? – -Not a clue at the time. Maybe I remember vaguely Fidel Castro coming to power with a coup in Cuba against Batista. And as kids, while we paid no attention to Senator Joe McCarthy’s hearings to hunt down Communists in the USA, we sure could sing along with Elvis Presley, “You Ain’t Nothin’ But A Hound Dog”!

Then came those tumultuous 60’s that Generation X-ers and Millennials hear so much about. There was a presidential election going on in 1960 between Vice President Richard M. Nixon, Republican, and Democratic Senator John F. Kennedy from the state of Massachusetts. That did catch our attention with 60-66+ million Americans tuning in their TVs to watch the first presidential debates in history, the highest viewership even on today’s standards. There were four debates in all, one in September and three in October. (Total US population in 1960; 180 million) We witnessed the closest election in American history with Kennedy winning over Nixon by a slim 120,000 votes despite Kennedy’s “questionable” returns from Illinois and Texas.

F Kennedy-Nixon Debtaes

        The four Kennedy-Nixon debates held in September & October 1960 were the first presidential debates in history. And they were televised with a record 66+ million viewers at the highest & never dropping lower than 60 million! The U.S. population at the time was only 180 million people.  Pictured in the above debate, the first I believe in September, John Kennedy on the left, moderator Howard K. Smith center, & Richard Nixon right.

 

 

By the November election those high school years of 1960-1964 we’ve come to idolize were well on their way. They were filled with “rah-rah” sports with “letter sweaters” and school activities. These were heady times. We were caught up with the idealism of our newly elected President, John F. Kennedy, and identified with the “vigor” that came to characterize his charisma. Our high school years took on an inadvertent mystique that mirrored  JFK in a spirit of civic participation in high school activities as if we were fulfilling JFK’s admonition in his inaugural address, “And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you – – ask what you can do for your country.” Oh, we remember something about the young President screwing up the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba against Fidel Castro early on in his administration. But his Peace Corps impressed us and captured our imagination. And it was not every day that the President of the United States said, “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”

How much awareness/attention each of us had and gave to the momentous events of these high school years varied, I am sure, with each person’s experiences. We did not comprehend the gravity of the Berlin Wall raised in East Germany at that time in 1961. But the Presidential address on TV about Soviet missiles in Cuba, coupled with TV coverage of our U.S. Ambassador, Adlai Stevenson, showing the exact location of the missiles using photographs, indelibly marked our awareness of what came to be known as the Cuban Missile Crisis. And no, we did not know we were sitting on the edge of nuclear annihilation when Kennedy ordered the blockade of Soviet ships off Cuba.  And yet, in those years, we sure listened intently to the radio broadcast live over the school public address system of Alan Shepard’s brief 15 minute flight as the first American in space, 1961.  And then there was John Glenn’s historic flight in 1962 as the first American to orbit the earth! But we did not comprehend at the time the gravity of the situation and how challenged our young President was by the Civil Rights Movement to pass some sort of civil rights legislation.  It started with the “Freedom Rides” into the South. Then came the violence with the Birmingham, Alabama, march. But the peaceful “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom” in 1963 got the attention of the President and ours as well! We knew this was serious from the TV news footage of the Mall in Washington, D.C., with hundreds of thousands of peaceful protesters listening to Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. deliver his stirring speech that has come down to us as his “I Have A Dream” speech. – – The beginning of the Women’s Rights Movement? The game changer we were too young to appreciate came in 1960 with the Food and Drug Administration approval of the birth control pill. Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique? – – Didn’t register with us yet!

G MLK DC

     There were 250,000 people that participated in the peaceful “March on Washington for Jobs & Freedom” in 1963 on the Mall. It was there that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his address that would become famous as his, “I Have A Dream” speech.

Then came the most devastating blow of our lifetime up to then, coming early-on in our senior year of high school, shattering our young innocence. – – November 22, 1963. It was the day our idealism was shaken to the core when President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas. It felt to us as if our world came crashing to a halt, a feeling from which the first Baby Boomers, to some extent, have never recovered. – – How about two days later watching JFK’s assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, shot to death on live TV while exiting the jail to be transported to another jail! These were not fairy tales we were living through. We moved on through that senior year with various tributes to our late President, a clothing drive for the poor in the Appalachia area about which JFK taught us, and visiting his makeshift grave-site and placing a wreath during our senior trip to Washington, D.C., the March of 1964. – – While we sang Beatles’ songs on the bus at the top of our lungs…. “I want to hold your hand”!!!

H JFK DC

      One of my own photos of JFK’s makeshift grave-site at Arlington National Cemetery taken during our March 1964 senior trip to Washington, D.C. As student council president, I placed a wreath on President Kennedy’s grave, assisted by a soldier, on behalf of our Class of ’64. I vividly remember my knees shaking.

 

I’ll never forget that summer of ’64, after high school and before going off to college. That was the summer the Republicans nominated arch-conservative Barry Goldwater, Senator from Arizona, for president. The Republican National Convention was held at the Cow Palace, Daly City, California. The Democratic National Convention was conveniently located for us in New Jersey at Atlantic City’s Convention Hall on the famous Boardwalk. Three of us guys wrangled tickets to attend one of the evening sessions of the Convention. We even got to meet Robert F. Kennedy who in person with his golden tan looked more like a movie star celebrity than a politician. The Democrats dutifully nominated the President, Lyndon Baines Johnson, LBJ for short. But the aura of Robert Kennedy, his presence, his speech at the Convention was beyond words.

I RFK

     I took this photo of Robert F. Kennedy, photo left, as he entered a modest memorial pavilion dedicated to the memory of President John F. Kennedy. It was right on the Boardwalk in Atlantic City, New Jersey, at the 1964 Democratic Convention.  We wisely ran ahead of the cumbersome TV camera, in those days, & ahead of the hysterically adoring RFK crowd, & went into the JFK pavilion. RFK entered the pavilion & they locked the doors behind him. So there we were locked in the JFK pavilion with Robert Kennedy & the few of us & able to snap this hurried photo.

 

While not everyone in those days went off to college, already the majority of us did. And it was those college years for we the first of the Baby Boomers, 1964 to 1968, that have become synonymous with upheaval. And yet again, the typical student experience of these years was as a by-stander of these monumental events as we plodded through our classes, our course of study, towards graduation in 1968.

As I review the major events of the ‘60’s, what I see is the simultaneous collision of events from the Civil Rights Movement, the Vietnam War and protests, and the Women’s Rights Movement. And again, what caught our attention varied from person to person, depending on where you lived, at home or in a college dormitory or fraternity house, and access to TV news coverage and newspapers, periodicals.

What would have major importance, devastating to some, for male Baby Boomers was watching President Johnson on TV call for the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, summer of ’64, providing the opening for the buildup of troops in Vietnam. But surely, we thought, this thing called “Vietnam” would be long over before we graduated! Well, we were wrong about that. By sophomore year of college all males with draft deferments had to take a test and score high enough to maintain those deferments. Everyone passed, but this was the Johnson administration’s answer to the criticism that the non-college minorities were fighting the war while we got “a pass.” We remember the largest buildup in the number of U.S. troops in Vietnam came as a result of the 1968 Tet Offensive by North Vietnam into South Vietnam. And who could forget President Johnson announcing, as we huddled in front of TVs on campus, in March 1968 that he would not seek re-election as a result of Senator Eugene McCarthy’s primary challenge, starting in New Hampshire with 42% of the vote, followed by that of Robert F. Kennedy. We were keenly aware of the tragedy of President Johnson’s downfall as a result of his commitment to ground troops in Vietnam in contrast to the successes of his Great Society programs from Medicare, Medicaid, Food Stamps, Head Start, and virtually, dozens of anti-poverty programs. And yes, these accomplishments were drowned out by anti-Vietnam protests on campus and the takeover of our college president’s office.

J NYC Protest

      As President Lyndon Johnson’s war efforts escalated in Vietnam with increased numbers of troops in the late 1960’s, so did the demonstrations by anti-Vietnam War protesters. This photo is New York City, 1968. Many anti-Vietnam protests were not as peaceful as this one as the war dragged on, pitting protestors against police & National Guard troops. The Vietnam War finally ended through a negotiated gradual U.S. withdrawal of troops in 1973 under the next President, Richard Nixon. The toll was tragic with 58,300 American soldiers making the ultimate sacrifice & another 153,303 left wounded.

 

Over these years we witnessed President Johnson’s fulfillment of President Kennedy’s civil rights efforts with the Civil Rights Act of 1964. And we watched the violence of the Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, marches culminating in the Voting Rights Act of 1965. But the memory burned greatest into our consciousness was the race riots that resulted in the cities burning in 1967 as that National Guard troops moved in to try to restore order.

K Detroit

     Detroit, 1967, pictured above, was just one example of the cities that burned in 1967 as a result of racial unrest & race riots in over 100 U.S. cities across the nation.

 

I saved the Women’s Rights Movement for last because of the subtleties of the causes that would be decades long struggles. As a social movement there was a wide range of issues from reproductive rights to family, the workplace, inequalities, domestic violence, rape, and more. The Equal Rights Amendment was long in coming, not until 1972, and was rejected in the end. As for our Baby Boomer experience on the campuses in all male colleges, the women’s movement manifested itself with the introduction of “female guests” being signed “in and out” of dorms for set hours on weekends!

R19025.indd

      A good choice of photo to represent all the Women’s Rights Movement during the 1960’s which encompassed many issues from reproductive rights, to workplace inequality, rape, violence, & more.

 

      Finally, it was as if our tumultuous experiences growing into adulthood saved more of our worst experience (the assassination of John F. Kennedy) for last. As we were about to graduate from college in 1968, in April Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated and in June Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated. The Chicago Democratic National Convention that summer mirrored the national unrest with violence outside the Convention and even on the Convention floor. The Convention nominated President Johnson’s Vice President, Hubert Humphrey, to run as the Democratic candidate. The albatross of Vietnam that he inherited from President Johnson hung around Humphrey’s neck. The Republican National Convention meeting in Miami nominated the resurrected former Vice President Richard M. Nixon to face-off with Humphrey in the upcoming election. And with that tragic scenario of events by the summer of 1968, we the first of the Baby Boomers, born in 1946, were off to our careers if we were lucky enough to find jobs, or off to graduate school, or drafted and off to Vietnam.

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     The 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago was terribly marred & maligned by violence both outside the Convention on the streets as well as on the Convention floor itself inside.

 

     Excuse us for living, but we Baby Boomers turning 70 this year, naturally, ask ourselves the question, “Good or bad?” regarding our “growing up years.” All I can say with certainty is that our parents gave us a great start in life, but the ride growing up was a wild one! And now, when I turn 70 this October, what’s important to me is that in my state of New Jersey by law I no longer need to buy a fishing license!!!

Comments: Please! – – So much to add! – – So much left out!

Sources: Don’t even ask!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted by: philipfontana | January 28, 2016

More Vietnam, No.3

More Vietnam, No. 3

Cam Ranh Bay, Vietnam

 

Chick Plummer & The Local 116

by

Philip Fontana

 

 

     Excuse us for living, but I’ve been “itching” to tell this anecdote from Vietnam for a long time. It’s one of my top two favorites because it’s all about “the guys.” It tells about the camaraderie which kept our sanity. And, as is often the case, it tells about that one person who made it all happen, who made the difference for us during a difficult chapter in all our lives.

As background, you might want to see my first two articles on Vietnam. You can find them in the right margin here, way down at the bottom, last, by clicking on “Vietnam.” There I give my apology for relating humorous stories that I experienced in Cam Ranh Bay, South Vietnam, when so many thousands of G.I.s gave their lives or were severely wounded. And there I describe the sandy Headquarters Company area of the 97th Military Police Battalion as if it were a M*A*S*H TV stage set for my Vietnam episodes.

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       These side-by-side photos give a “panoramic view” of our 97 Military Police Battalion Headquarters. The photos are marked with the designated names of buildings to refer to in letters that I sent home. Of importance to this article are the following designations: top right photo, “Bn Offices: S-1, S-2. S-3,” middle left photo, “New S-4,” middle left photo, “HHD Barracks,” left photo center, “981st” & “630th MP Co.” This was the “studio lot” of my Vietnam anecdotes that were more like a M*A*S*H TV series experience for me!

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       Here is a photo of the location of the catalyst for our story, the 97th Military Police Battalion Headquarters Offices. S-4, Supply Administration, is where I worked. S-1, S-2, & S-3 were the main administrative offices from the Commanding Officer to Personnel. You can find all these office locations on the above panoramic photo. This office complex was just a short walk “across the sand” from our Headquarters Company Barracks, marked “HHD Barracks,” where we lived.

BB Size MeBarracks

     And here is where our story takes place, our Headquarters Company Barracks, up the flight of steps, top floor… That’s me in the jeep parked in front of the barracks.

 

 

     Our story begins with an all-American past-time, a pickup basketball game, an innocent activity for a bunch of G.I.s off hours from the grind of the work day. It was during that window of time after “chow” in the mess hall when light was turning to dusk. They were playing under the lights by then according to our protagonist-in-chief in this episode, Specialist Fourth Class Chick Plummer, S-2 Personnel, then & to this very day, from Rochester, New York. Chick describes the scene as a friendly basketball game between members of his Battalion Headquarters Company offices – – S-1, S-2, S-3 on the panoramic photo above – – and personnel from one of the military police companies under our command. It had to be the 981st MP Company or maybe the 630th…if you can make out the small blue print on that panoramic photo. The game was played on the makeshift basketball court in that company area…pretty nice since the MPs were good at “procuring” any necessary materials & supplies. And as such sporting events often go, the game became quite competitive, too competitive, more combative, and broke into what Chick characterized as “an alcohol induced fight.” Who were you going to call in to “break it up,” the MPs?

Fast forward to Battalion Headquarters Company the next morning. Any disciplinary matter of such minor importance was beneath the attention of the Commanding Officer, CO, a full-bird Colonel (just under being a Brigadier General), or even the XO, next in command, a Major. This disciplinary action fell on the plate of our Command Sergeant Major (who shall go nameless out of respect) – – That’s “Command Sergeant Major,” CSM, with an arm patch of three “rockers (V) each, top and bottom, with a star and cluster in the middle. – – A “big deal” in the U.S. Army, unofficially outranking everybody up to and including a Captain. Our CSM was straining to be “still going strong,” more like a crazed old Army “Lifer” as they were called. He served in WWII through the Korean War to the Vietnam War. He had actually “landed” on this very spot of the 97th MP Bn in Cam Ranh Bay in 1965 and established the MP presence there, only to return now in 1970 and harass us with the task of leveling the sand to the way he leveled it in 1965! – – Had to have a few loose screws on that sand thing! You had to keep in mind that our Command Sergeant Major was fueled day and night by good southern bourbon due to his South Carolina roots. In standard Army fashion, the CSM met with his office managing lackey, SGT MacDonald, also from South Carolina, to mete out their agreed upon punishment.

The “culprits” in the melee from our Battalion Offices were determined to be three clerks; Chick Plummer, from S-2 Personnel, Greg Butler, the Commanding Officer’s S-1 clerk and also my bunk-mate, and Dave Barker, whose duty assignment seems to have faded from our collective memory. SGT MacDonald’s task in delving out any punishment for their pugilistic fist-a-cuffs was made all the more difficult by the attitudes of the accused which were unanimously “unrepentant,” to use Chick’s diplomatic word. – – The sentence, (hardly approaching Courts Martial status!): three nights of after-office hours/after dinner painting of the Headquarters Office complex. The drudgery of painting the offices as a punishment was not taken lightly as an extra duty assignment. But that’s where the burden ended. The three-some, led by their fearless leader Chick Plummer, taking charge by the gravity of his persona, approached their sentence with the air of the Three Stooges!!!

And so the hi-jinks began. Over the next three days, what was at first mundane evenings for the paint crew turned into a self-proclaimed labor union of painters, “the Local 116” (the chosen number for the “Local” a mystery to this day). And the joke did not stop there. Chick, the leader of the crew, became “Stew,” short for “Shop Steward.” Greg Butler, as I said, my bunk-mate, was dubbed, “Tuna” (he was a bit “chunky”), and Dave Barker, well, became “Zeke” (trust me, Zeke fit him perfectly).

At first they would return to the barracks each night and joke about their union, the Local 116, and banter their nicknames about. And before we knew it, somewhere along the way, they were “calling to order” faux union meetings of the Local 116. The shop Steward took charge, the Honorable Chick “Stew” Plummer, leading the assemblage of all of three members seated at a table. Stew would formally call the meeting of the Local 116 to order seemingly using the properly adapted “lingo,” and then addressing “the esteemed brotherhood,” and so on with any trumped up matters of business on the agenda. The guys in the barracks crowded ‘round to enjoy the charade.

At some point in one of these early gatherings in the barracks, I brought out contributions of Italian foodstuffs from my care packages from home, from an entire “ball” of “provolone on a string” (more like a rope) to Genoa salami and Progresso’s “caponata” and more. – – Needless-to-say, some drinking of alcoholic beverages – – wine – – was associated with these “union meetings” of the Local 116!!! As a formal order of business, Chick “Stew” Plummer had me nominated as an honorary member of the Local 116 for my “generous contributions to the cause in the form of needed sustenance to the brotherhood.” I was immediately assigned the appropriate nickname of “Ratso” (the Dustin Hoffman character in the 1969 movie, “Midnight Cowboy”). It will come as no surprise that meetings of the Local 116 continued in revelry long after the painting had been completed. – – LONG AFTER!!!

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           One of the first grand photos of a Local 116 “meeting.” That’s me, “Ratso,” on the right, bare-chested, followed by my bunkmate, Greg Butler, “Tuna,” with the gold striped shirt & knife in hand. Center picture is John Imperatore, “Tex,” blue shirt with raised provolone cheese & bottle of wine. Then comes the master-mind of the whole operation, “Stew” himself, Chick Plummer, broad smiling, yellow shirted, wine bottle in hand. And last on the far left is Dave Barker, “Zeke,” bare-chested with raised bottle to his mouth.

D Other Mtgs

           More Local 116 meeting photos & always plenty of food. I recall on more than one occasion frying up “chicken Italian style.” Left photo, that’s “Ratso,” me, on the left & Dave “Zeke” Barker on the right. Right photo, that’s John “Tex” Imperatore on the right in green, high bunk looks like “Zeke” again, center soldier not identified, & left is Greg “Tuna” Butler.

 

 

     Over the months guys would come and go serving their year in Vietnam. For example, I was there from January to December 1970 in S-4 Supply Administration. Chick Plummer served May 1970 to April 1971 in S-2 Personnel. So others joined the ranks of Chick’s Local 116 with nicknames the likes of Brian “Mailman” Marquis, Danny “Turkey” Reagan, John “Maja” Rodgers, Ray “Ears” Flynn, Mark “Tater Chip” Miller, and I am sure others as well. But this is what our Vietnam was about. We were a bunch of guys “pulling together” to get the job done like a family. We had a camaraderie to help us get through this thing they called a “war.” And a person the likes of Chick “Stew” Plummer led us through, what would otherwise have been gloomier times, with his Local 116.

E Size Chick&Kirkeby

         And here’s a great photo of the man, Chick Plummer, of Rochester, New York, on the left in the gold shirt. He is talking to another great guy, Mic Kirkeby, on the right, of Clarksfield, Minnesota. We were having a Headquarters Company barbeque at the beach on the South China Sea.

 

 

     Excuse us for living would like to salute on this 45th anniversary of our Vietnam service together, one hell of a guy, Chick Plummer. – – U.S. Army/Personnel/97th MP Battalion Headquarters/Vietnam, Kodak Liaison/Manufacturing and Marketing, Montessori School/Business Administrator, now retired.

Comments: Please!

 

 

Posted by: philipfontana | November 12, 2015

The Rhine 2015

  The Rhine 2015: Germany & France

 From Amsterdam to Basel

 October 3-October 11

 by

 Phil & Geri

A SizePatty

             Meet Patty van Delft, photo front & center, & her cousin, Sheryldine van Velzen, next to me. Patty is a Dutch poet & novelist. Her cousin Sheryl is a university student in pre-law. Patty & I connected blogging on our websites since 2013. Geri & I planned this luncheon so we could meet for the first time. What worked best with our tight tour schedule was to get-together shortly after we arrived in Amsterdam directly from Schiphol Airport! Patty & Sheryl live in The Hague, about an hour by train from Amsterdam. Patty is well-published with two poetry books in English; My Wings & My Whisperings, available at https://petitemagique.wordpress.com/ under My Poetry Books at the top. Patty is presently completing her third novel in the series, Dragan Duma, youth fantasies, in Dutch, available at http://pattyvandelft.com/ by clicking on each book cover in the right margin. Also on that website you can scroll down many great photos of Patty “in costume” with her books & more! –Lunch at a local restaurant & talk were a very special 3-4 hours!

Map of Avalon Waterways Tour, “The Romantic Rhine”

ClearNewMapRhine

     Excuse us for living, but wife Geri and I have been out again doing just that; i.e., doing some living, traveling through Europe as we dreamed of these forty-some years of marriage. We had done so in our younger years before we met. We     promised one-another that in retirement we would show each other places the other had not seen. On this our fifth trip to     Europe in as many years, we were going down the Rhine River on a river boat cruise. This time we were visiting places both of us had never been to before, but for one or two exceptions.

     The Rhine River was an amazing education. Embarkation was Amsterdam, the Netherlands, accessing the Rhine via the Amsterdam-Rhine Canal, on our way south, against the current, through Germany and France to Basel, Switzerland, for disembarkation. As always on such trips, what struck me first was the history, naturally, and then the architecture and the art.

Roman civilization is truly everywhere throughout western Europe. And the landscape and cities and towns along the Rhine were no exception, from ruins to aqueduct-servicing structures, to sculpture, mosaics, and more. Then, most impressive were structures remaining or rebuilt from the Middle Ages or medieval times from cathedrals to quaint homes and villages/towns/cities. – -And then, of course, the ever-present Renaissance, from the architecture of churches and buildings to the paintings and sculpture.

Over and again you hear about and see the results of the devastation and rebuilding from World War II. Actually, what survived unscathed was a small percentage in relation to the great destruction of the Allied invasion and victory over the Axis Powers. And when you are in the Alsace region of France, on the border between France and Germany in Strasbourg, and learn of that terra switching from French territory to German territory five times in the course of wars during modern history, you come away with a more profound appreciation and understanding. It is no wonder that Strasbourg, France, was chosen as today’s seat of the Council of Europe and the European Parliament.

Finally, the Rhine River is vibrant with activity as the doorway to Europe. Tourism is a major portion of this vibrant economy. But to see is to comprehend why Germany is the economic powerhouse of Europe. The banks of the Rhine thrive with natural resources, industrial plants, and energy production. And the river itself is a thoroughfare of cargo ships, seemingly paced as if on purpose not to disturb the aesthetic pleasure of the sightseers!

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           It’s not a trip to Amsterdam without a photo of the Palace & Townhall on the Square called “The Dam” (that means “The Square”). And we have been here before in 2011. (I will admit to 22 days in Amsterdam over my lifetime, second only to days spent in Vietnam!)

D SizeShip

           As we did in 2011 when we toured the Netherlands & Belgium, we were on another Avalon Waterways ship; this time the “Felicity.” The ship carries approximately 138-140 people, very fine cabins, all meals on-board in a well-appointed dining room with fine cuisine, unlimited wine & beer, & impeccable service, luxurious lounge & bar, top deck with chairs & hot tub, & the best expresso-cappuccino machine in the world located in the lounge at the stern.

DD SizeCrew

        And as with our first Avalon experience, this second time around on an Avalon cruise the crew of the Felicity was top notch once again! The excellent & efficient service starts at the top. Pictured left to right are Nico, Cruise Director, Mathias, Captain, & Dirk, Hotel Manager. We got to know Nico & Dirk well. Nico is Dutch & the other two are German, characters all! – -Many laughs!

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        In Cologne, Germany, it’s all about the Cathedral (& the local brew, Kolsch)! That’s the Cathedral with its two spires to our right. – -Gothic architecture, begun in 1248 & completed in 1880, largest Gothic cathedral in Germany & in all of northern Europe. Ninety percent of Cologne was destroyed during World War II, but the Allies spared the Cathedral. Cologne has 12 churches in all & is home to the original & famous cologne No. 4711!

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        Geri & I stand at the foot of the grand statue of Kaiser Wilhelm I, 18th-19th centuries, in Koblenz. The statue marks the confluence of the Rhine & Moselle Rivers. Therefore, in Roman times Koblenz was a significant & strategic location. It was a center of trade in the Middle Ages. The Old City of Koblenz was destroyed in World War II.

The Romantic Rhine:

   The dramatic Rhine Gorge is the most beautiful stretch of the river from Koblenz to Rudesheim; castles, fortresses, 400 ft. cliffs, sloped vineyards, towns, half-timbered houses & hotels, churches, industrial barges, & cruise ships.

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Marksburg Fortress, medieval

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St. Goar, largest fortress

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               A beautiful town along the Rhine, name unknown to us. Notice the German flag flying high!

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                                              Another “show-stopper” of a castle, name unknown to us.

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           Rudesheim Schloss Restaurant & their ceremonial preparation & serving of a very special coffee; with their very own brandy from their vineyard, plus sugar, lit aflame, doused out with coffee, whipped cream, & chocolate powder.

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        We had the most fun of all our European trips at the Rudesheim Schloss Restaurant for dinner! – -Great German food, wine not beer (Rudesheim being the quintessential Rhine Valley wine town), band, dancing, & singing, games both drinking & musical & just silly fun with patrons attempting to play instruments while leading everyone parading behind them between tables through the dining rooms! – – A great time! The wine helped!

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          Siegfried’s Mechanical Musical Instrument Museum in Rudesheim was a personal treat! There we saw & heard self-playing calliopes & musical contraptions dating from the 1920’s & 1800’s, all the way back to 1790! (See next photo). Geri loved the building’s beautiful exterior & façade.

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        Listening inside the museum to these calliopes, & other mechanical instruments, player pianos, musical boxes, & old record players, I had to contain myself not to breakout pretending to conduct the “Seybold-Akkordeon-Jazz Orchestrion”! (Instrument #19 in the photo) We wisely purchased two CDs in the gift shop which featured 21 of these instruments. Some of them are pictured here from the CD program notes.

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         Mainz is synonymous with Johannes Guttenberg, his printing press of 1455, & the first printed Bible. As we stand next to this “modern” printing press at the Guttenberg Museum, you can see a small model of Guttenberg’s printing press, left center. A life-size model of the Guttenberg printing press is in the museum’s main hall (photos not permitted).

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          Picturesque Heidelberg along the River Neckar & Old Bridge below, taken from the ruined Castle or Schloss. The University of Heidelbreg & its students make this a lively place to be. Heidelberg served as headquarters for American troops from 1945 to as recent as 2014!

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        The imposing ruins of Heidelberg Castle or The Schloss tower magnificently atop the city streets. It stands among the most important Renaissance structures north of the Alps.

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        Permit but one “selfie” of Heidelberg beer! Geri tried the Bananenweizen & I had a Kirsch Weizen! We both had been to Heidelberg “in days of old,” 40 some years ago! Cheers to Heidelberg!!!

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         La Petite France district of picturesque (again!) Strasbourg, France, with its half-timbered houses, quaint shops, bistros, & waterfront canals. – -Situated on the border of France & Germany on the River Ill.

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The Klipfel Winery in the Alsace countryside in Barr, France.

 

 

Cuckoo Clocks & Steins!

     Breisach, Germany, is the gateway into Germany’s magnificent Black Forest region. It is a truly gorgeous countryside of mountains & valleys lush with farm fields nestled below vast trees. At the “House of Black Forest” shop you are greeted by the old master clock-maker himself.

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        Geri was fascinated by the house-size cuckoo clock, next to the shop, that really worked & cuckooed with life-size, moving figurines.

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          Geri had no trouble making her selection & purchase of a fine cuckoo clock to carry, not mail home!

 

 

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         And I HAD TO PURCHASE a stein to add to my German beer stein collection of 106 steins back home! But this #107 was the FIRST brand new stein not purchased in an antique shop in the USA! – -I carried the stein home too!

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          Our last stop was Colmar, France, before disembarkation in Basel. Yes, “picturesque plus” with half-timbered houses! Colmar is famous as the hometown of Frederic Bartholdi, sculptor of the Statue of Liberty gifted by France to America! The town is aplenty with Bartholdi statues in the public area.

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The Farewell Gala Dinner on-board the Felicity…time to say goodbye.

 

 

        Excuse us for living, but this was the greatest!

Comments: Please, after the Itinerary below!

Itinerary

Romantic Rhine – From Amsterdam to Basel 2015

Day 1 (Oct 04, 2015): Arrive in Amsterdam, Holland (Embarkation).
Welcome to Amsterdam! Holland’s sophisticated, modern capital has a rich and fascinating history. This delightful 700-year-old city with its elegant and classic architecture, cafés, and restaurants has a distinct ambiance. The streets, squares, and canals—not to mention the bike paths throughout the city—make for a vibrant atmosphere, and with over 60 museums, Amsterdam has the highest museum density in the world. Perhaps you would like to take an optional excursion to Zaanse Schans with its traditional houses and Dutch craft workshops. This afternoon, board your river cruise vessel and meet your crew at an evening welcome reception.(D)

Day 2 (Oct 05, 2015): Amsterdam.
There is no better way to see Amsterdam than by CANAL BOAT, cruising through the elegant grachten lined with stately homes dating back to Amsterdam’s “Golden Age.” There’s free time in the city this afternoon—you might like to join an optional biking tour (weather permitting). Later, bid tot ziens (farewell) to Holland and set sail for Germany. (B,L,D)

Day 3 (Oct 06, 2015): Cologne, Germany.
Today, enjoy a peaceful morning of cruising before reaching Cologne in the afternoon. One of Germany’s largest cities and capital of the Rhineland, Cologne straddles both sides of the Rhine, and is known for its soaring, twin-steepled gothic cathedral. Choose between an included GUIDED CITY WALK or JEWISH HERITAGE WALK. The Old Town abounds with cafés, shops, and taverns. Be sure to try a Kölsch pale lager, locally brewed in Cologne for over a hundred years! (B,L,D)

Day 4 (Oct 07, 2015): Koblenz–Rhine Gorge–Rüdesheim.
Situated at the confluence of the Rhine and Moselle Rivers, 2,000-year-old Koblenz is the cultural and business center of the Middle Rhine region. Here, join a Local Guide for a WALKING TOUR of the city that reveals an eventful past through its castles, fortress walls, towers, squares, and monuments. The dramatic RHINE GORGE is the most beautiful stretch of river. Here, ancient castles stand sentry on lofty cliffs rising 400 feet above the waters. Cruise past the legendary rock of the Lorelei, where echoes of enchanted siren song lured unwitting sailors to their doom. In Rüdesheim, the quintessential Rhine Valley wine town, visit SIEGFRIED’S MECHANICAL MUSICAL INSTRUMENT MUSEUM, where you’ll see and hear a large collection of self-playing calliopes and music boxes from the 18th to the early 20th centuries. Enjoy a SPECIAL TREAT before returning to your ship for dinner. (B,L,D)

Day 5 (Oct 08, 2015): Mainz. Excursion to Heidelberg
. Strategically located at the confluence of the Rhine and Main Rivers is Mainz, with “civilized” origins dating back to around 38 BC. Today, this is Germany’s largest and most important wine market. Join your Local Guide for a GUIDED WALK through the Altstadt (Old Town) with its many intriguing shops and the whimsical Fastnachtsbrunnen (Carnival Fountain) on the Schillerplatz, a tribute to the jesters at the city’s annual Carnival celebration. Gutenberg, father of modern printing, was born here, and you’ll visit the captivating GUTENBERG MUSEUM. After lunch, travel to Heidelberg, home to the oldest university in Germany. With a Local Guide, visit the imposing ruins of HEIDELBERG CASTLE, towering magnificently over the city and among the most important Renaissance structures north of the Alps. You’ll also see the famed GREAT VAT, the “World’s Largest Wine Barrel.” At nearly 23 feet high and 28 feet wide, the cask holds over 58,000 gallons of wine and has a dance floor built on top of it! (B,L,D)

Day 6 (Oct 09, 2015): Strasbourg, France.
Situated on the border of France and Germany, Strasbourg blends the cultures of both countries in a delightful way. As capital of the Alsace region and seat of the Council of Europe and European Parliament, it is without a doubt an important city that manages to retain its historic charm. On your GUIDED SIGHTSEEING TOUR, visit the monumental red-sandstone GOTHIC CATHEDRAL with its ancient murals, stained-glass windows, and fascinating astronomical clock, as well as the magical LA PETITE FRANCE district, home to half-timber houses, quaint shops, inviting bistros, and a waterfront promenade. Also spend time exploring Place Kléber, a large historic square in the heart of the city, and Place Gutenberg in the heart of medieval Strasbourg, which features a statue of the inventor of the printing press. An optional excursion into the Alsace wine country is available today. After dinner tonight, enjoy an onboard WOODCARVING demonstration. (B,L,D)

Day 7 (Oct 10, 2015): Breisach, Germany. Excursion to the Black Forest.
Located at the foot of Kaiserstuhl Mountain on the French-German border, Breisach is the gateway to Germany’s BLACK FOREST region, an area of unrivaled natural beauty with its forests of thick pine trees. The area got its name because the forests are so dense that local residents described them as black. Surely the most well-known products from this region are Black Forest ham, Black Forest cherry cake, and cuckoo clocks. You may opt for a visit to the workshop of a local woodcarver who produces clocks and other carvings, or to the open-air Museum of Vogtsbauernhof to see how life was lived in this area centuries ago. (B,L,D)

Day 8 (Oct 11, 2015): Basel, Switzerland (Disembarkation).
Your vacation ends with breakfast this morning. (B)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

Posted by: philipfontana | September 19, 2015

Repair & Replace, Part 2

Repair & Replace, Part 2

That Stage of Life That Continues……

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                 Our 1885 Dutch Colonial where we have lived for 40 years. Note for reference later in this article that air conditioner to the right of the big old sugar maple tree, between the two windows on the side of the first floor. Read on!


 

     Excuse us for living, but when I wrote “Repair & Replace,” mid-year 2014, I had a feeling I might be back for Part 2!

[I refer you to the archived articles in the bottom, right margin here. Click on “Our Old House.” There you will find that article, “Repair & Replace,” plus the original article from 2013, “Old House.”]

But once again, I must ask you to excuse my complaining if even in good humor. All one has to do is tune in to the nightly TV news to witness the disasters nationally and world-wide, natural and otherwise. And we won’t let ourselves forget the thousands of homes from storm Sandy still not rebuilt. Indeed, we count our blessings and know that our troubles pale in comparison.

Increasingly foremost in our consciousness is the fact that the “punishments” that our old house brings our way are largely self-inflicted in that we remain living here by choice! – -Visions of a nice condo! – -Nightmares of the divesting of 40 years of “stuff” and packing and moving! In the meantime, we battle on.

So, how have things been since May of 2014 when I last reported? We will put aside the tractor trailer accident of November 8, 2014. – -That doesn’t count, right? We live on Rt. 202 in Montville, New Jersey, with the front of the old house eleven feet from the roadway. The damages to field-stone walls, metal fence, and mailbox, etc., totaled $2,640. As I started saying, putting aside “the tractor trailer accident,” things have been better!

Shortly after writing that last 2014 article, we returned from two weeks on the beach in Dewey Beach, Delaware, in July, to find a stain in the living room ceiling. “Geri, come look at this! This is serious….next to where I fixed the stain last year from the upstairs toilet leak and the wax ring I had to replace. This time we’re in big trouble.”

“John the Plumber” came the same day on his way home! – -That’s a blessing right there, i.e., a same day service call! There I sat with John in the upstairs bathroom discussing the stain downstairs on the living room ceiling. “It’s here,” said John. “It’s the drain pipe between the bathtub/shower and the sewer pipe under the toilet.” “So we have to cut the floor boards,” I said. “No,” said John. “The way to do this is through the living room ceiling.” “When can we schedule that?” I responded with timidity. “Right now,” said John.

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           That’s me doing the finishing touches to the living room ceiling after “the leak.” I should have taken “before & after” photos. There was metal lathing hanging down from the 6 in. x 8 in. hole the plumber cut into the ceiling.

 

 

     And so it was done. – -A 6 inch by 8 inch hole in the living room ceiling cut through the old plaster and metal lathing, with one side of the metal lathing still attached and hanging down. John the Plumber made his “fix” in short order. He returned the next day to check that all was well before I closed up the hole. Having the choice of calling a carpenter or handyman, I decided to repair the hole myself, my way, rather than be subjected to someone else’s “fix,” perhaps cutting out a piece of the ceiling and putting up a piece of plasterboard. I wired up the metal lathing in place. Seven layers later of ready-mix cement, spackle, and texture paint, and the job was done…but for the painting.

In the spirit of “things are better,” off we went on the merry way of our appointed rounds in life. – -Back to Dewey Beach, Delaware, again, year # 18 there, July 2015. No sooner did we return home and settle in and trouble again! The in-wall air conditioner of 34 years gave up its ghost. When we enclosed the old porch in 1981, the contractor and I made a big mistake. We put a window A/C in the wall! – -No sleeve! – -No brains! Over the years I realized the mistake and knew someday I would pay the price. – -My someday had come!

To my surprise, I discovered that there is such a thing as a window/wall air conditioner. The issue was “size.” Wall A/Cs are 26 inches wide. (With vinyl siding added in 1992, tearing out the wall was not an option for me!) But the new window/wall A/C was 20 inches by 14 inches, closer to my old A/C size of 23 inches by 16 inches. And P.C. Richards had a model in stock, a Friedrich. The problem was that P.C. Richards would not install anything with a space to fill-in around it of more than 1/2 inch all around. – -“Screwed!”

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         Take a look again at that air conditioner in that first photo of the old house above. Here I am in this photo with a 23 in. x 16 in. hole in the wall after removing a 34 year old Gibson air conditioner. “Demolition” took me two days, totaling 12 hours! That’s ivy on the big old sugar maple tree out the wall opening. You can barely see the top tips of the ladder legs leaning on the tree. I had to stand on the rungs of the ladder backwards facing the A/C.

 

 

     So it was “demolition derby” for me for two days! To give you an idea of what it was like, a crowbar and hacksaw were my main tools! And still the old A/C, now reduced to its shell, would not budge. I discovered the contractor 34 years ago had caulked the sides of the A/C to the wood frame!

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       Here is Geri, wife and carpenter’s assistant. If you look closely you can see the new metal sleeve we installed ourselves. And a closer look will reveal the wood frame we added around the sleeve reducing the enclosure down to 20 inches by 14 inches. Geri worked with me every step of the way in order to get the measurements and sawing right the first time!!! I could not have done the job without her! Again, had we called a carpenter, he would have completed the job his way and, perhaps, not to our liking. – -Carpentry work; 2 days, totaling 12 hours again.

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         Here we are closing in on the A/C project. We slid the main unit into the sleeve, pushed the “on” button, only to hear a loud whining sound from the fan. We turned it off after a minute very dejected, to say the least. Two days later, two Friedrich authorized repairmen came out and made a small adjustment to the “fan blow wheel” & we were in business!


 

     Now we were up and running, but for the 3 1/2 inch trim project around the new A/C. Not being carpenters and having to do some mitering with the saw and painting, of course, two days, 12 hours later (again! 36 hours in total!), WE WERE DONE!!!

Excuse us for living, but we like the way the new air conditioner and trim fits in with the woodwork and look of the old house. Take a look! What do you think” – -Until “Repair & Replace, Part 3” or the moving van!

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             Comments: Please!

 

Posted by: philipfontana | July 29, 2015

D. McCullough, Bk #10

Captivated

by

David McCullough:

The Wright Brothers

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         “One of our Nation’s most distinguished & honored historians, David McCullough has taken his own place in American history…The United States honors David McCullough for his lifelong efforts to document the people, places, & events that have shaped America.” – – From The Presidential Medal of Freedom Citation, December 2006

 

 

 

     “Excuse Us For Living” has twice before taken on David McCullough’s nine books:

[To see those posts, click in the right margin here, at the bottom, “Book Reviews,” where you can click, “D. McCullough,” twice for Bks #1-5 & #6-9.]

And so, it is more than fitting, more like “a must,” that the author’s tenth book, The Wright Brothers, published this spring 2015, be addressed. More than reviews of each book, I’ve tried to convey the experience of reading David McCullough’s works. The best word I can choose to describe that experience is “captivating.” At this writing, The Wright Brothers has been the # 1 Best Seller for 10 weeks and going on the New York Times Best Sellers list.

With his first three books, I found myself aggravated either by his choice of subject or by the length and detail of his tomes. But by his fourth book, I learned that this master storyteller of America’s history knew best, knew what stories to tell and how to tell them. Apparently I was not alone. David McCullough twice received the Pulitzer Prize, twice the National Book Award, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

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         Pictured on the cover of the book, the first successful flight of a flying machine with a motor. It was a winter day, December 17, 1903. The place was Kitty Hawk, on a remote island in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. They called their machine “the Flyer.” Orville is pictured “belly down” at the controls as Wilbur looks on to the right. The distance flown was 120 feet. The total time airborne was all of 12 seconds!

 

 

     In The Wright Brothers, David McCullough’s words read more like a novel than a history book. He tells a charming story about an amazing family obsession to build a flying machine. Orville and Wilbur, assisted by sister Katharine, were three of five children of an itinerant Bishop, Milton Wright, of the United Brethren Church, a Protestant denomination. The family household was an unusual mix of conservative rectitude and liberal, well-read thinking. Home was Dayton, Ohio, which curiously, at the turn of the century (1900), was number one, relative to population, for inventions/patents in the U.S. Patent Office. Thus, Dayton could boast of its large number of factories and mills and their long list of products. Orville and Wilbur’s contribution to Dayton was first a print shop and newspaper followed by a bicycle shop. It was from there that the brothers built and went out to experiment with what became their flying machine. In the shop they were assisted by Charlie Taylor who held down the fort during their numerous absences out flying. And it was Charlie who single-handedly built and improved upon the motor for their flying machine.

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         Wilbur Wright, on the left, & Orville Wright, on the right, 1909, seated side by side on the back porch steps of the Wright family home at 7 Hawthorn Street, a small side street on the west end of Dayton, Ohio. Wilbur was 42 here & Orville 38. Wilbur, lost in his serious looking, genius thoughts, is dressed in his usual plain dark suit & high-laced shoes. Orville, the mechanic of the two, is in a lighter-toned, better tailored suit, with snappy argyle socks, & wing tip shoes.

 

 

 

     The story of Wilbur and Orville Wright is one of hard work and determination, knowing that was the only road to the development of a successful flying machine and that only then would recognition be theirs. The author details their competition, mainly in this country and in France. There would be triumphs with each new record set and failures with disastrous crashes, none so serious to bodily harm, with one big exception, and always rebuilding a new and better Flyer. Of major consequence was a letter from Wilbur in 1899 to The Smithsonian Institution requesting any papers the Smithsonian had published on the subject of aeronautics. Not only did the Smithsonian provide a list of books but a generous amount of pamphlets on aviation which launched the brothers’ study in earnest. Another leap forward came from their 1901 wooden box experiments in a wind tunnel, 6 feet by 16 inches square, in an upstairs room in the bicycle shop. Here they came up with the proper wing surface for “lift” and “drag.”

The pursuit of their dream began in 1900 at Kitty Hawk, a small settlement of 50 houses or so, on a remote island in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. They were drawn there through no small sacrifice getting out to the island all the way from Dayton, Ohio. They gradually built crude, makeshift accommodations. Kitty Hawk was the suggestion of an eminent engineer, Octave Chanute, no stranger to those working on development of the airplane. Not only was he a builder of bridges and railroads but prominent in the field of building gliders. At Kitty Hawk, said Chanute, they would find the conditions they sought; consistent winds to carry the craft and soft, sand hills on which to land. They would stay as much as 10 weeks at a time and would do so five trips over nine years from 1900 to 1908. Of their most renowned trips at Kitty Hawk was the most significant in 1903 with “Flyer I,” the first flying machine with a motor, as opposed to gliders, a “miraculous” distance all of 120 feet and in a “grand” 12 seconds! And finally in 1908 at Kitty Hawk, now confident to invite the press, the Wright brothers invited reporters who were stunned to witness two flights of 1000 and 2000 feet! And so the first news photograph of a flight was taken as proof of Wilbur & Orville’s feat!

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         The Wright Brothers confer beside their 1904 airplane at their cow-pasture testing ground, Huffman Prairie, outside Dayton. That’s Orville, left, & Wilbur, right.

 

 

 

     The reader will be surprised that Kitty Hawk was far from the entire saga of the Wright Brothers. There is far more to tell and David McCullough does not disappoint, despite the brevity of the book. He takes the reader through a series of locations, airplanes Flyer II and III, flight demonstrations into the hundreds, records set and broken, mishaps, rebuilding flyers. – -From Huffman Prairie outside Dayton, Ohio, to France, Berlin, Rome, to Fort Meyers, Virginia, outside Washington, D.C. – -Some long sojourns of many months. – -Spectators by the thousands eventually! – -Dinners and honors bestowed! – -Negotiations for contracts. – -A serious crash that almost kills Orville, but to fly again! And then that return home to Dayton, with a two day homecoming celebration the likes of which defy description except by David McCullough!

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       October 4, 1909, Wilbur beats Glenn Curtiss to be the first to fly from Governor’s Island, New York City, up the Hudson River and circle the Statue of Liberty and back. The occasion was the 300th Anniversary of Henry Hudson’s exploration & the 100th Anniversary of Fulton’s steamboat. Over one million people watched along with almost 1600 vessels including the Lusitania! Wilbur had to hug the New Jersey shoreline due to the winds off the New York skyscrapers causing a drop in elevation.

 

 

 

And there is more, much more, far too much to relate here. Their 1903 patent application is finally granted in 1906. Orville and Wilbur do get a contract with the War Department in 1909. They are embroiled in litigation with Glenn Curtiss, a competing flyer, over violation of the Wright patent. Orville returns to Europe later in 1909 to compete with Curtiss for flying records in Berlin. Curtiss wins for speed. Orville gets a new world record of 1 hour 35 minutes for a flight with a passenger. Wilbur makes the first air flight in New York City, 1909, up the Hudson River from Governor’s Island to the Statue of Liberty and back. But the most telling event occurs on Wednesday, May 25, 1910, Huffman Prairie field. Orville and Wilbur fly together for the very first time! Air flight is now predictably safe enough to risk both brothers not being killed in order to continue their experimental flights.

This time around, David McCullough tells his tale in less than three-hundred pages. – – More brevity than many of his other works clocking in at double the pages. He ends his story accounting for Wilbur’s death in 1912 at age 45 of typhoid fever and Orville’s longevity of 67 years, ending with a heart attack in 1948. But David McCullough does not stop there, as if to tell us why he has written this story, adding the last sentence of the book:

“On July 20, 1969, when Neil Armstrong, another American born and raised in southwestern Ohio, stepped onto the moon, he carried with him, in tribute to the Wright brothers, a small swatch of muslin from a wing of their 1903 Flyer.”

Excuse us for living as we wait and pray that David McCullough be blessed with the years to choose another subject and write a book # 11.

     Comments: Please!

Posted by: philipfontana | May 7, 2015

Teacher’s Stories #1

A Teacher’s Stories, No. 1

“The Gong Show”

 

 

     Excuse us for living, but we teachers all have enough stories to cause each of us to say that familiar phrase, “I could write a book.” Such stories run the gambit depending on our assignments and positions as educators. For me it was thirteen years as a teacher and twenty years as an administrator. So the stories are not solely what children said and did – -though those are the most precious – -but also about things I did and school events. My career as an educator spanning those thirty-three years took me to seven school districts, in six different schools, serving “very approximately” 4,000+ children. My envy goes out to my fellow educators who had the luxury to work in one school in one school district their entire career.

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     Ridgedale School on Ridgedale Avenue, Florham Park, NJ, was originally a K-8 school serving this beautiful, affluent town in lower northern New Jersey. Built by the WPA during the Depression in 1933, it has an impressive set-back of generous lawn, preserved by the donor of the land. Florence Vanderbuilt Twombly gave the land that was part of her vast 1200 acre estate, “Florham,” stipulating that the lawn & frontage must remain. The name “Florham” was derived from her name, Florence, & that of her husband, Hamilton, & thus, the town name, “Florham Park,” was derived. As two elementary schools were added, probably in the 1960’s, Ridgedale School became the town’s Middle School as it remains today.

 

 

     Best to start my stories as an educator with the best; Ridgedale School, Florham Park, New Jersey. It was there in this Middle School, grades 6-8, that I taught social studies for eleven years. It was these years that were the most personally and professionally rewarding years of my career. I say this for several reasons. It was here that I received notoriety for an original curriculum program I designed, wrote, and implemented called “Teaching-Learning Units,” or “T.L.U.s” And it was here that I was very active in student activities, the most substantial of which was as student council advisor. As a former high school student council president myself, it was like a dream come true to start and develop a school’s student government from the ground up, starting with writing a constitution with the students and establishing a network of committees that lit up the school with activities! And it was here at Ridgedale and in the Florham Park School District that I cultivated close friendships with no less that nine “buddies” that exist to this very day. – – Now all finally retired, teachers, principals, guidance counselor, and supervisor of buildings and grounds.

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     This photo was taken in January, 1985, just before I left to become a vice principal. – -Me, my classroom for 11 years, Room 13, & a few of my students, doing my “teaching thing” that I loved so dearly, teaching social studies.

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     Pictured here, the only photo I have at an “executive meeting” of the student council officers, 1977-78, with me as advisor. It was at sessions such as this one that meetings of the entire student council, with officers and homeroom representatives, would be planned. – -Very formal meetings of the whole body run according to parliamentary procedure & Robert’s Rules of Order. Yes, long hair was “the order of the day” in the 1970’s!

 


 

     It was sometime in the winter-spring of the 1976-1977 school year, maybe February or March, 1977, during my first few years as student council advisor. I desperately wanted to have the student council sponsor a talent show. I had fond memories going back to my seventh and eighth grade years in the late 1950’s participating in talent shows. Talent shows are a great way to showcase student talent and enjoy plain old-fashion fun in the process! But this was the 1970’s and in an affluent school district. As the advisor running a talent show, I wanted to avoid the competition pit falls with first, second, and third place winners; disappointed children, students participating with hurt feelings and egos, and parents “on my case” for trying to do something admirable.

There was only one answer, “The Gong Show.” That’s what we would put on, a “gong show,” fashioned after the TV show of the late 1970’s where the judges would hammer a huge gong, symphony orchestra size, to signal their disdain for an act. “The Gong Show” ran from 1976 to 1980 on NBC TV and in syndication. Chuck Barris was the producer and host. It was an amateur talent contest that ran the gambit from odd and strange acts to decent and an occasional outstanding talent. The show was best remembered for “its absurdist humor and style.” Participants were rewarded with ridiculous, worthless prizes.

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     The Gong Show’s success was due in equal parts to its hilarity but also to its popular host, Chuck Barris. He had a whimsical, irreverent style & produced this TV show as well.

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       This was the stage set of “The Gong Show” on NBC TV, 1976-1980. The stage portrayed a composite carnival-vaudevillian kind of flavor. Pictured here are all the acts of one particular TV episode.

 

 

 

It was a relatively easy production to put together from my standpoint as advisor. Everything hinged on getting my hands on a real, live gong. We had to have a gong! And so I procured one, borrowing it from the local high school band, with an ironclad promise that I had to have the gong on the specified date! – – All was riding on that gong!

Next, we had to have our own Chuck Barris Master of Ceremonies. For that I asked our very willing and personality-appropriate student teacher and substitute teacher, a nice young man known to us all and about town. On his own motivation, he even came up with a tuxedo for the occasion!

Judges! The Gong Show had three. And so I innocently asked the school principal, the art teacher, and the student council president to serve as judges. I say “innocently” because I did not know that I was sowing the seeds of trouble just by my choice of judges. (More on that coming up!) The principal, a polite and deceivingly proper rascal, used to presiding at his Rotary meetings, a quiet man we all loved, would provide leadership to the judges’ panel. The art teacher was our “talent expert,” having played in a band for years. And the student council president was the kind of young man anyone would be proud to call “son.”

Then “try-outs” and rehearsal! No problem. – -Short and sweet, a “one shot deal.” Students auditioned, a few pointers, and “The Gong Show” was “ready for prime time.” – -No applause meter or judges weighing audience applause. – -No first prize, etc. – -Just a certificate of participation for all acts, from individuals, duets, to groups of students. – -Just one matter of business; which students/acts were willing to be “gonged”? I would list and script the acts for the judges to “gong.” – -Smart? – -No hurt feelings on my watch! (More on this too coming up! There’s a scenario building here!)

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     Presenting, “The Three Sisters”!!! Pictured left to right, the guidance counselor, me wearing the hat, & the special needs teacher. Far left, a partial glimpse of the judges’ table.

 

 

 

Now no student production is any fun without some participation by the faculty! And so, three of us cooked up an “act.” The guidance counselor, the special needs teacher, and I dressed up as women and put together a little dance routine to the recording, “The Stripper,” by David Rose, MGM Records, 1962, #1 on Billboard’s Top 100. The song is best described as evoking “the feel of music used to accompany striptease artists.” (Most everyone has heard this old tune at some point; “Dadada-Dadadada, Dadada-Dadadada-Da, Bmm, Ba-Dmm, Bmm, Ba-Dmm, Dadadada-Dadadadada….”) So how could we not oblige and choreograph a chorus line of three, dancing “elegantly” stage left, stage right, with a “bump and grind” appropriate to the music! What to call ourselves? – -“The Three Sisters”! It just seemed the natural name for our group!

Giving new and true meaning to the phrase, “The stage was set,” show time for “The Gong Show” arrived! Student acts were ready in the wings. The MC looked dashing and had his own little script he devised. We hung a banner, what else, “The Gong Show.” The gong and hammer were in place right next to the judges’ table with a list of acts marked which ones to “gong”! And, “The Three Sisters” were back stage hiding.

Well, so much for organization. The entire production went off not as planned! The judges, led by that devil of a Principal, waited to let each student act perform some, but then gonged every act!!! Then, to everyone’s surprise, out came “The Three Sisters,” bumping and a grinding, “one, two, three kick.” – -“GONG”! We kept right on going! – -“GONG”! We had rehearsed the damn thing and we were darned if we weren’t going to complete our paces. – -“GONG, GONG, GONG”!!! went the judges, asserting their authority. And “The Three Sisters” kept right on going until we finished our dance and our well-rehearsed bow, holding hands high in the air, of course, as we dipped bow after bow!

“The Gong Show” turned out to be a great success! – -No crying in the wings by students who got “gonged.” They all got gonged! Students were laughing in the wings (along with the student body audience and teachers) having fun along with their fellow thespians, “The Three Sisters,” from the faculty.

Oh, speaking of faculty, a famous line and memory of the event came from a few of the older women on the faculty. In response to “The Three Sisters” performance, they said, “How would they like it if we dressed up like men with male appendages?” Two of the three sister had “stuffed themselves” to look like they had “boobs.” – -Imagine, not even adding a positive word.

I said at the outset that Ridgedale School was my most rewarding career experience. Excuse us for living, but for some of us “The Gong Show” with “The Three Sisters” is of the fondest of memories.

Comments: Please!

Sources: wikipedia.org, fdu.edu

 

Posted by: philipfontana | March 19, 2015

Changing America

 “Bill Moyers & Company”

on

Bringing Responsible Change to What Ails America

and

–A Call for a New “Citizens’ Movement”—

 

 

     Excuse us for living, but some of us are old enough to remember Bill Moyers as more than just a distinguished talk show host on PBS TV. Bill Moyers first served in the Kennedy administration as Deputy Director of the Peace Corps, 1962-1963. He then moved on to be Special Assistant to President Johnson, 1963-1967, most notably organizing the Great Society legislation and the “War on Poverty,” plus serving as White House Press Secretary. There was even serious talk and consideration over the years that followed of a Bill Moyers for president campaign that never came to fruition.

Best Moyers & Co

         Bill Moyers distinguished himself as a commentator & interviewer on PBS TV stations over a span of almost 45 years. During those years, he also provided analysis & commentary at both CBS &, for a lesser period, NBC.

But it was Bill Moyers successful journalism career – – 30 some Emmy Awards and 9 Peabodys – – with a number of excellent news programs, documentaries, and interviews on PBS TV that was responsible for his notoriety and prominence. Most notable was “Bill Moyers Journal,” 1971-1981, that many people recall. Following that run came several documentaries in 1986 and 1987 and then an interview series in 1988. During this time, Bill Moyers was working at CBS News, first as editor and chief correspondent, 1976-1980, and then senior news analyst and commentator, 1981-1986. In that latter capacity, he also worked at NBC Nightly News in the mid-1990’s.

One of his most prominent resurrections was in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center. His series of programs, “Now with Bill Moyers,” from January 2002 to 2014, gave his audience great comfort in trying to give those terrible weeks, months and years and all that followed, with the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, some perspective, through commentary and analysis.

Other PBS Moyers programs followed, keeping the franchise going: “Wide Angle,” 2005, “Faith & Reason,” “Moyers on America,” both in 2006, even the return of the title, Bill Moyers Journal,” 2007-2010.

But it was in his most recent series dubbed, “Moyers & Company,” 2012 and ending just this past January 2015 (a sure bet to return under this or another name once more funding is secured), that Bill Moyers entertained a number of guests on the subject of what ails America with the multitude of problems we face. I found these programs exceptionally engaging on a subject dear to my heart and, I am sure, to many other people. There seemed to be a connecting line between the narratives of a number of these guests. They all were about bringing responsible change to an America that did not seem to be working anymore in these troubled times. And three of these guests, more than the others, were the most engaging.

Richard-Wolff

         Professor Richard Wolff as he appeared on “Moyers & Company,” February 22, 2013, called, “Fighting for Economic Justice & Fair Wages.”

“Moyers & Company,” February 22, 2013: Richard Wolff, Professor of Economics for 35 years at the University of Massachusetts and now Visiting Professor at The New School University, New York City; he has written many books on the effects of rampant capitalism including Democracy at Work: A Cure for Capitalism, and Capitalism Hits the Fan: The Global Economic Meltdown & What to Do About It. The thrust of Richard Wolff’s appearance on the program, called, “Fighting for Economic Justice & Fair Wages,” can best be summed up in his own words:

“We have this disparity getting wider and wider between those for whom capitalism continues to deliver the goods by all means, [and] a growing majority in this society facing harder and harder times. And that’s what provokes some of us to begin to say it’s a systemic problem.”

“Moyers & Company,” March 22, 2013: Richard Wolff was brought back to respond to viewers questions. In this segment, called, “Curing Capitalism,” he went deeper into economic inequality, inadequate regulation of industry, and “the widening gap between a booming stock market and a population that increasingly lives in poverty.”

Marty Kaplan

         Columnist Mart Kaplan on “Moyers & Company,” July 22, 2013. His message was called, “Weapons of Mass Distraction.”

 

 

“Moyers & Company,” July 22, 2013: Marty Kaplan, award-winning columnist and media scholar, head of the Norman Lear Center at the University of Southern California. Kaplan’s segment was dubbed, “Weapons of Mass Distraction.” And by “distraction,” Marty Kaplan was referring to the lack of outcry in America about the increasing “divide between the very rich and everyone else.” Speaking in outrage was rare he said. He cited people across the globe in places like Greece, Spain, Brazil, and Egypt who angrily demanded from their governments “economic fair play and equality.” He said that here in the United States we have a dysfunctional system in that we do not take collective action against all we see in the news going on that is wrong. “The streets and airwaves remain relatively silent.” He elaborated:

“We have unemployment and hunger and crumbling infrastructure and a tax system out of whack and a corrupt political system – – why are we not taking to the streets? I suspect among your viewers, there are people who are outraged and want to be at the barricades. The problem is that we have been taught to be helpless and jaded rather than to feel that we are empowered to make a difference.”

Marty Kaplan concluded that a number of forces keep these issues and people in the dark, “especially our well-fed appetite for media distraction.”

And while these messages via “Moyers & Company” fueled my furor, kindled by the Occupy Movement, they did not “nail” the problems and provide a roadmap to change. But then came Bill Moyers’ third prominent guest on the subject, bringing responsible change to an ailing America. What he had to say was the most profound in defining the problems, anchored with grass-roots examples, and called for specific action to redress America’s ills.

Bob-Herbert-

         Bob Herbert, New York Times columnist for almost 2 decades, hit the road crossing America to diagnose America’s ills. The result was his new book, Losing Our Way. His appearance on “Moyers & Company,” October 9, 2014, was called, “Restoring an America That Has Lost Its Way.”

 

“Moyers & Company,” October 9, 2014: Bob Herbert, who grew up in Montclair, New Jersey, New York Times opinion columnist for eighteen years, 1993-2011, as champion of the working poor and middle class; a Distinguished Senior Fellow at Demos, a public policy think tank in New York City. In 2011 Herbert hit the road crossing the country to report on Americans left behind by our economy after the Great Recession. The result was Herbert’s new book, Losing Our Way: An Intimate Portrait of a Troubled America, published October 7, 2014. His appearance on Bill Moyers’ program was called, “Restoring an America That Has Lost Its Way.”

Bob Herbert uses the stories of the people he met to tell America’s story of the economic downturn; a woman injured by a bridge collapse while driving home, a man losing his job with a wife with breast cancer, a U.S. Army lieutenant with massive injuries from his service in Afghanistan, and others across the country who “played by the rules only to find that the rules had been changed midstream.” The jobs have disappeared, our infrastructure is falling apart, the cycle is broken of workers spending wages to power the economy, greed prevails among CEOs, and the gap widens between “the very rich and everyone else.” And Bob Herbert cites the all too familiar data marking this divide; the 2013 statistics of the top 1% earning 25% of income and owning 40% of wealth, while the 80% (250 million people) holding just 7% of the wealth. And he blames the alliance of corporations and banks with the federal government to serve their interests and not that of the ordinary working people.

Copy OccupyMov't

     It began as “Occupy Wall Street” in New York City’s Zucotti Park, September 17, 2011. Quickly it spread by October 9 to Occupy protests in over 95 cities & 82 countries,

Bob Herbert calls for a new “Citizens’ Movement” that will fight for the interests of ordinary people to change America’s “cultural and economic landscape.” A Citizens’ Movement must be bigger and broader yet more focused than the Occupy Movement. He likens such a movement to movements in our nation’s past; Civil Rights, Women’s Rights, and Labor. Bob Herbert concludes in his book:

“If our nation is to be changed for the better, ordinary citizens will have to intervene aggressively in their own fate. The tremendous power in the hands of the moneyed interests will not be relinquished voluntarily.”

“Excuse Us For Living” I think just delivered its most important message in its three year existence. I could not myself put together the thoughts and words. Thank you, “Moyers & Company,” for doing it for me.

Comments: Are you “in”? Do we start a “Citizens’ Movement”?

Sources: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bill_Moyers

billmoyers.com/series/moyers – and – company

               Losing Our Way, Bob Herbert, October 7, 2014, Doubleday

 

Posted by: philipfontana | February 5, 2015

Churchill & “The Imitation Game”

The Book: Churchill’s War Lab

The Movie: “The Imitation Game”

The Anniversary: The Passing of Churchill Fifty Years Ago

      Dedicated to my friend & teacher, Graham Bowles, 1940-2014,

who lived through the Battle of Britain & served in the British Royal Navy

Arthur Graham Bowles

Arthur Graham Bowles, 1940-2014

     Excuse us for living, but sometimes in our experiences the stars align and the results can be quite rewarding. And so it was recently for me reading a book, seeing a movie, and discovering an anniversary.

The Book: Late fall 2014 I started reading a book I had picked up a while back in 2012. I found it in, of all places, a book shop on the campus of Cambridge University, England. To say I don’t go there very often would be an understatement of grand proportions! We were on a tour of the UK and Cambridge was on the itinerary one rainy day. The book, Churchill’s War Lab, 2010, by Taylor Downing, looked intriguing. The subtitle, Code-Breakers, Boffins and Innovators: The Mavericks Churchill Led to Victory, really peaked my curiosity.

SmallWarLabCover

         This is the book that started my little adventure. While it is not a definitive book on the life of Winston Churchill, it does make a contribution in explaining Churchill’s War Lab within the context of his life experiences. Churchill’s considerable military career had much to do with his thinking & motivations. And his keen interest in all things military & innovative were responsible for Churchill showing up on or near battle fields during World War II from Africa to France & even Germany. It took the King himself to stop Churchill from showing up on board HMS Belfast, the flagship of the British naval commander, on D-Day itself, June 6, 1944. On June 12 Churchill crossed the Channel in a destroyer to Normandy to witness two British ships’ bombardment of positions about twelve miles inland.

Taylor Downing, the author, is no academic scholar, though his other books focus on historical topics as well. – -No wonder, since he is a renowned British television producer and writer of more the 200 documentaries, including many award-winning historical programs. Therefore, while Churchill’s War Lab is not among the great offerings on the life of Winston Churchill, it is a delightful, straightforward book covering Sir Winston’s life with a dedication to documenting Churchill’s passion for innovation and the science of war. The book’s contribution is as an account of Prime Minister Churchill the war leader. His work and relationships with the military brass of World War II were intense. And it was in those dealings with the military that he promoted the use of maverick scientists and radical scientific ideas to advance the Allies chances for victory.

Churchill’s interest in innovation and warfare went back even prior to World War I when he served as First Lord of the Admiralty. He was a proponent way ahead of his time of naval aviation in addition to promoting a new class of battleships. During World War I he pioneered Naval Intelligence by breaking the German message codes. When the Army rejected the idea of armored vehicles, Churchill used naval funding to develop “land ships” which became better known as “tanks.” But as Prime Minister during World War II, Churchill exercised his greatest influence to bring about innovation: the development and advancement of radar; the development of specialty tanks; introducing bouncing bombs; the construction of two giant harbors, code-named “Mulberry,” thus “Mulberry harbors,” the equivalent of 10 miles of floating roadway built in Britain for D-Day, one for use off Omaha Beach for the Americans and the other off Gold Beach for the British; and the expansion of Bletchley Park, the country-house estate north of London, where the German Enigma codes and machines were broken.

The Movie: It was at the halfway point in the book, Churchill’s War Lab, that my interest peaked with mention of the name, Alan Turing, arriving at Bletchley Park. – -The same Alan Turing, the subject of the new movie, “The Imitation Game,” released in late November 2014. He was the “top-level mathematician and mechanical engineer, he was a fellow of King’s College, Cambridge, and had written a pioneering paper on computable numbers before the war.” The die was cast…I had to see this movie!!! And so I did late December 2014.

SmallImitaionGame

       Benedict Cumberbatch plays Alan Turing in the movie, “The Imitation Game.” Here he is pictured with his machine nicknamed, “Christopher.”

 

“The Imitation Game,” starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing, code breaker-in-chief, and Keira Knightley as Joan Clarke, fellow code breaker and Alan’s emotional partner as he lived a “closeted existence.” The movie is based on the biography, Alan Turing: The Enigma, 1983, by Andrew Hodges. It was Alan Turing who led the effort to crack Germany’s Enigma code and machine. Alan Turing was not only a mathematician and engineer, but a “logician, cryptanalyst, and pioneering computer scientist.”

SizedAlanTuring

         Here is the real Alan Turing, the subject of the film. He is considered the “Father of Theoretical Computer Science & Artificial Intelligence.”

It was there at Bletchley Park that Alan Turing was to develop the means to crack the Nazi Enigma code. At this important juncture both movie and the book I was reading complimented the story telling. Turing was hampered by being vastly understaffed and being dragged down by bureaucratic red tape. Taking advantage of a visit to Bletchley Park by the Prime Minister, Turing and three associates follow-up by writing to Churchill directly over the heads of their superiors appealing for more staff. They requested additional typists and clerks and the “removal of various bottlenecks.” The result, Churchill sent his military chief, General Ismay, the following memo or “minute,” as they were called; “Make sure they have everything they want as extreme priority and report to me that this has been done.” It was stamped with one of Churchill’s famous red “Action This Day” stickers! Within a month the expansion of Bletchley Park had begun, erecting new buildings and recruiting two thousand new staff.

And so Turing’s machine, nicknamed, “Christopher,” was built. The march to determine each day’s German Enigma setting had begun. – -But not without an intriguing difficulty to first overcome! (Spoiler!) Once up and running, Alan Turing realized that they could not report every decoded message, To do so would tip off the Germans that Enigma had been broken and the Germans would remodel it. Thus, Turing and his team were left to “play God” with people’s lives. Likewise, Churchill received the daily reports of these “Wizards” from “Ultra,” the secret headquarters, and determined who would and would not receive benefit of vital strategic information. – -Altogether, a story and a good bit of acting that are the stuff of Academy Awards!

The Anniversary: Some factual information would be nice and helpful at this point. Winston Churchill was British Prime Minister serving twice, from 1940 to 1945 and from 1951 to 1955. He was born way back on November 30, 1874 and died January 24, 1965 at the age of 90.

SmallChurchill

Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill, 1874-1965

 

I hadn’t reflected on this until a history professor friend of mine (the wife of Graham Bowles in the above dedication, Professor Suzanne Geissler Bowles and enthusiast of all things British and Royal!) posted on Facebook this past January 30, 2015, “The Order of Service for the Funeral of The Right Honourable Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill…January 30, 1965.” Following that she added a link to the website of St. Paul’s Cathedral. There on the St. Paul’s website were the reflections of St. Paul’s Collections Manager, Simon Carter, of the funeral events of fifty years ago. Here is a small excerpt of his words: “The plans included provision for an extraordinary procession through London, a ceremony at St. Paul’s Cathedral, dispatch from the Tower of London by river launch, a military fly past, construction cranes lining the Thames [flying flags I presume!], and a train from Waterloo Station to Churchill’s burial place at Bladon in Oxfordshire; arrangements requiring the kind of military precision that would have pleased Churchill himself no-end.”

“Excuse us for living” must admit an enriching experience with book, movie, and ending with the 50th anniversary. –Now I can’t wait for the Academy Awards in a few weeks!

Comments: Please!

Sources: Churchill’s War Lab, 2010, by Taylor Downing

Wikipedia, Winston Churchill, “The Imitation Game”

Facebook, January 30, 2015

 

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