Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Truck Driving School


“There is more credit and satisfaction in being a first-rate truck driver than a tenth-rate executive,” B.C. Forbes

I’d go much further than the Forbes magazine founder and claim that an able truck driver is more valuable than a good executive.
Women truck drivers in 1942; below, Anne Balay flanked by Gwynne Gerta (l) and Riva Lehrer
On July 12, commenting on a photo posted by Gwynne Gertz, Anne Balay wrote: “Did you ever wonder what two weeks of truck school does to somebody? It's written right there on ma face! Happy but f--king exhausted.”

A week ago a friend tagged Anne challenging her to name three positive things that occurred to her each day.  Here is her initial post:

1. I'm eating mulberries on my granola that I picked in my own front yard, and they are YUMMY!!!
2. I saw 3 deer as I walked the dog this morning, and they froze in the early morning light.
3. I'm in the first batch of trucker school drivers this morning, so I'll soon enjoy the combined odor of chewing tobacco and diesel fumes, as I double-clutch down the highway, riding curves high and watching my tandems. I love learning a new skill.”

After four weeks Anne finished truck driving school and posted: Wow -- it took Facebook approximately 15 seconds to discover that I'M A TRUCKER, so truck companies should track me down. Maybe the academics and English majors out there can appreciate how it feels to be desirable to employers?!?!?!  But, it's too late - I sold my soul to Roehl Transport Inc.”  IUN’s loss is Roehl’s gain. 

Anne’s dad wrote: “My heart goes out to you. You have been forced out of your chosen profession, but are putting the best possible face on its replacement. You've got grit and a positive attitude.  Can't wait to see you up in the cab, backing a monster into the dock for unloading. Who would have imagined that, watching you walk down the nave at Rockefeller Chapel to have them confer your PhD? In which role do you feel more useful?  I'll bet you will get to see cities whose undersides you have only imagined so far. Bought you engineer boots yet?”

Evidently two of Anne’s instructors were, in her words, “patient, smart, effective, and generous.”  A third alienated the novice drivers but brought them closer together.  Anne concluded: I've learned volumes about teaching, and about life. Oh, and how to drive a big huge truck.”  She passed the straight back, offset, and parallel parking test on the first try.

Next month Anne will attend the United Steelworkers Constitution Convention in Las Vegas at the MGM Grand Marquee Ballroom, where delegates will debate an anti-discrimination resolution to protect LGBTs.  Last Friday she was on Lakeshore Public Television with Jan Gentry and Pete Trinidad discussing the burgeoning support for such a resolution due in large part to her book “Steel Closets.”

Last week MSNBC fired Palestinian-born contributor Rula Jebreal for complaining that the network’s coverage of Israel’s assault on the Gaza Strip was unbalanced.  She told AlterNet’s Max Blumenthal: I couldn’t stay silent after seeing the amount of airtime given to Israeli politicians versus Palestinians. They say we are balanced but their idea of balance is 90 percent Israeli guests and 10 percent Palestinians. This kind of media is what leads to the failing policies that we see in Gaza.”

Governor Mike Pence wants to rid Indiana of the 245 children from Central America seeking asylum in our country that the Department of Health and Human Services released to sponsors.  Shame on him.  Nobody works harder than Hispanics, and they need our sympathy, not criticisms based on political expediency.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Wheatland


“I go where I please
Down the road
A man I know
Might not be me.”
    “Fault Lines,” Tom Petty
 Wheatland, home of President James Buchanan


On the day before our trip east we had brunch with 14 Bayers and Mike Applehans (Ken’s son) at Round the Clock in Chesterton.  Mike was an IUN Math adjunct for several years and got rave reviews.  The department chair encouraged him to apply for a full-time lectureship; after another got the job, he learned that a decision had already been made and they just needed his candidacy in order to comply with regulations.  IUN really blew it, not for the first time.  Now he teaches at IVY Tech for a pittance and has to scramble just to survive financially.  A truly caring chip off the old block, Mike is upset tutoring service is no longer available to his students. He sent some to IUN, but now my university checks IDs.
 Kirsten Bayer selfie with Jimbo


Monday we drove as far as western Pennsylvania, stopping at a Holiday Inn that offered free chicken noodle soup plus pretzels, ice cream bars, popcorn, and 25-cent drinks during Happy Hour, just what we needed.  I swam laps (or rather widths) the first of six days in a row.  Tuesday we exited Route 80 at Lewisburg, and I toured the Bucknell campus (“The Friendly 300” acres) for the first time since I graduated 50 years ago.  Driving around, nothing looked familiar, but once I spotted the library and took off on foot old buildings fell into place, including my freshman dorm, Delta Upsilon, and Coleman Hall, where I had most of my classes.

Wednesday Kyle DeLeon, dad Bob, and 14 month old daughter Serena visited us at the Fort Washington Holiday Inn, whose staff was very friendly.  We had arrived in the early afternoon just as the audiotape of Richard Russo’s “That Old Cape Magic” concluded satisfactorily.  Barely able to walk in March, Serena was now scooting around and charmed us with her smile and antics.  Having had steak sandwiches earlier at Giuseppe’s, I limited myself to a burger at the hotel sports bar.  In Indiana we wouldn’t have been able to take anyone under 21 in such a place.  I ordered Yuengling on draft; the fruits of Pennsylvania’s oldest brewery are unavailable in Indiana.

Thursday Terry and Gayle Jenkins took us to Los Serapes on Horsham Road in Ambler.  The fajitas were delicious and cost just 8 bucks.  Afterwards Terry drove through our old neighborhood.  Fort Washington School recently got torn down, but my old house looked better than last visit although I noticed that the Japanese cherry tree is no more.  Old friend Chris Koch on Elliger Avenue wasn’t home, but a workman promised to give him a note about the gathering of Upper Dublin grads at Giuseppe’s.

At Giuseppe’s bar I learned that rather than ask for Yuengling, one just orders “a lager.”  Fourteen old classmates and three spouses gathered for food, drink, and good cheer, including recently remarried Jimmy Coombs and Pat Zollo, in Florida last March.  Zollo mentioned that junior high teacher Mr. Bekmezian spotted him chairing a town board meeting and, flashing his trademark scowl, quipped that he’d have sooner expected to find him in jail.  When Zollo called him Mr. Beck, he was told, “It’s Bekmezian.”  At school social functions he always came with exotic Miss Polsky, at least 20 years younger and six inches taller than he.  I embellished a couple Mr. Bek anecdotes from when I was center (and Coombs quarterback) on Bek’s hundred-pound football team. 

Bettie Ehrhardt reported that Bruce Allen had died the day before, stunning news since he was in apparent good health.  We cried and laughed, observed a minute of silence, and told stories about one of the truly good guys, friends with everyone who knew him.  Unlike last time, when the three hours flew by, I found time to talk at length with Eleanor Smith Bruno, Donald Stroup, and Wayne Wylie.  This time he didn’t tease me about hugging everyone.  I even kissed Connie Heard and Donald Stroup’s wife, thinking she was Joan Eitelgeorge.

We were delighted with the rooms at Cherry Lane Motor Inn (located in Ronks, PA), costing less than $80 a night.  From previous phone calls, I thought the owned was Amish, but he turned out to be from India.  We had a flat screen TV, air conditioning, and other amenities, plus there was a nice pool outside whose deep end was nine feet, probably because it once had a diving board before lawsuits made them obsolete.  Of the 50 or so relatives gathering for a Lane reunion, cousin Phil and wife Angie, traveling from California in an RV, were the only ones save for cousin Sue that I knew even slightly.  Phil and Dave’s families arrived around nine from Hershey Amusement Park, by which time I was good buddies with twin cousins Rich and Vic, both good Democrats, one a steelworker, the other retired from the coast guard.  Except for our contingent, everyone else was related to my Uncle Tom.  Vic, the family genealogist, told me that my paternal grandfather, who lost his car dealership during the Great Depression, was $100,000 in debt because he was a co-signer for owners who went bankrupt but that he managed to pay off his creditors.  I had assumed Uncle Jim left home then but, born in 1906, he went to California earlier for other reasons.

Saturday we gathered at Wheatland, the preserved estate of fifteenth president James Buchanan, my great-great-great uncle.  Posing for an old-fashioned group portrait, we had to remain motionless for 15 seconds.  Joining us was John Hopkins, whose father Dick died a few years ago and whose uncle Jack strangely disappeared a number of years before that. After pizza groups toured Wheatland (my third time there and now air-conditioned).  Our guide Ryan, a former elementary school teacher, deftly answered the young folks’ many questions.  They were fascinated by the fact that there were no bathrooms, just chamber pots and two five-seat privies outdoors.  I learned about the history of Wheatland, constructed by William Jenkins in 1828 on 233 acres of property called “The Wheatlands.”  Jenkins sold the house to William M. Meredith and Buchanan purchased it in 1848 when James K. Polk’s Secretary of State.  Two nephews, including James Buchanan “Buck” Henry, served as Buchanan’s White House chief of staff.  Indispensable housekeeper Esther “Miss Hetty” Parker had quarters near the master bedroom.  Buchanan died there in 1868, and Harriet sold Wheatland in 1884. 

Phil was curious about whether Buchanan was gay; rather than deny it two park service guides were noncommittal.  One suggested he might have been asexual; he almost married late in life until relatives talked him out of it, fearful of losing their inheritance.  The last item on the agenda was a 20-minute talk and show-and tell about Buchanan’s niece, First Lady Harriet Lane.

Cousin Sue arranged a sumptuous buffet at a restaurant in Bird in Hand, PA, not far from the town of Intercourse.  On the way we passed Amish folks in horse-drawn buggies, a common sight.  Rick and Colleen’s six kids were quite smitten by Victoria, who had played with them in the pool that afternoon, and they were vying to sit on her lap.  The oldest had orange hair, and the others emulated him.  After dinner great-niece Alyssa Yoshitake, who spent a month at IU School of Music summer camp, played the viola expertly, followed by Becca wowing the crowd with a song.  At the motel nephew Chuck Lane, who performs in Vegas, did clever magic tricks. Next morning kids knocked on the door of Phil’s family, looking for Victoria, and got her to play soccer with them.  I was so proud of my 14 year-old granddaughter tears came to my eyes.
Anthony and Victoria Lane

Sunday Dave left for home early due to meetings the next day.  Phil’s family went zip lining, and we drove with Angie and the kids to Beamer and Kim Pickert’s in Emmitsburg, MD.  Also greeting us were three year-old charmer Nick and my brother-in-law Steve (Papa Doc to Nick).  Later daughter-in-law Beth arrived from Virginia.  Beamer and Kim strive for excellence in everything they do, parenting, cooking, gardening – and they were perfect hosts.  Nick picked cherry tomatoes for us and, taking James by the hand, set off on his own outdoor tour.  Living in the country, Beamer keeps deer away from the garden with a sprinkler system and traps groundhogs, administering the coup de grace with a rifle, a lamentable but necessary practice.   Beamer smoked ribs on the grill, and Kim prepared stuffed potatoes and tomatoes with homemade cheese (later we sampled a four month aged cheddar).  Beamer broke out Fire and Ice beer from Game of Thrones and gave me the empty bottle.  The Pickerts had two cats (one shy, one friendly) and two dogs (ditto).  Steve’s pet Tatter Tots followed him everywhere. Breakfast the next morning featured Kimmy’s bread pudding and blueberry muffins. Our trip ended much too soon.
 Kim, Nick, and Beamer Pickert


With Angie sharing driving duties we made the 12-hour trip home in one day despite frequent bathroom, gas, and food stops.  In the Appalacians of Pennsylvania we passed James Buchanan Birthplace State Park in Cove Gap and a Buchanan state forest.   James took note.  We listened to an Agatha Christie tape and CDs of Wicked and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.”  Becca sang along to “Wicked” and James on  “Joseph.”  While we unpacked the trunk, Toni had water boiling for noodle soup.  I popped a Coors (should have brought home a case of Yuengling, but Pennsylvania only allows sales at hard-to-find beer distributors).  After Angie’s crew left, I put on a Hold Steady CD Robert Blaszkiewicz burned for me and thought about the remarkably successful the nine-day jaunt. 

During the trip I got through two-thirds of Graham Greene’s “The Heart of the Matter” (1948), set in a West African British colony similar to Sierra Leone.  The main character, police chief Scobie is a fatalist and his adversary is much like Pyle in “The Quiet American.”  Greene wrote: “Point me out the happy man and I will point you out either extreme egotism, evil – or else an absolute ignorance.”  Looking skyward on a clear night Scobie wondered, “If one knew the facts, would one have to feel pity even for the planets?  If one reached what they called the heart of the matter?”

Tom Petty’s CD “Hypnotic Eye” went on sale today, and I heard “Fault Lines” on WXRT.  As Petty sings, “I’ve got a few of my own.”  Don’t we all.  Of the 500 emails greeting me at IUN most were junk.  Notable exceptions: an Evite to Fred Chary’s seventy-fifth birthday celebration and a note from Jay Keck entitled “Out of Patriotism.”  He wrote that he was stuck in the 1960s, “just me and my PTSD,” but that he has “my books and my poetry to protect me like a rock, thank you Simon and Garfunkel and [the Chipmunks] Alvin, Theodore and the other Simon.”  In “Vietnam High” Keck asks: “Would we do it again for Uncle Sam?” The final lines:
“Some say yes many won’t go
You undecided shall never know
See ya
PFC Jay Keck.”

On Facebook were photos Brenda Love took of Sam (above) in the Whiting Pierogi Fest parade and that Delia posted of their zip lining adventure.