Thursday, September 22, 2011

Gone with the Winds

The credit card statements are in, the pile of laundry is done, and the Geezer is on a diet. It’s time to assess results of our recent foray to the Lake Michigan shore to celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary. Most of the balance sheet entries are on the plus side.

We brought back six bottles of what promise to be some really great wines. Beautiful wife Sandy made the selections after sampling (I was driving) lots of fine products of Michigan’s oldest winery and some more at a nearby competitor.

We returned with memories of great dining, from an elegant filet mignon dinner across the border in an Indiana supper club to the best offerings of two local hot spots in the quaint little city of New Buffalo.

We now can admire a few new doodads purchased in several shops in New Buffalo and points north of there along the lakeshore. The usual summer tourist crowds had returned home, so shopping was a fun, leisurely experience.

Sandy finished up four nights of our attempts to lose the family fortune at the Four Winds Casino by coming home a $100 winner.

The Four Winds is a luxurious hotel-casino owned by the Pokagon Tribe of Potawatomi Indians. It is a huge establishment carved out of the woods on tribal lands situated about 75 miles east of Chicago. Among other features designed to take financial revenge on anyone who may have wronged the Indians in the past are 3,000 slot machines. If a smaller casino opened last month by the tribe at another location is included, there is nearly one slot per Indian. The tribe has 4,300 members.

I do not at all begrudge the Pokagons or other tribes the riches they are accumulating by taking advantage of a unique legal position in the U.S. and exploiting a widespread human weakness. Anyone with just a dash of common sense knows if you hang around a casino long enough you’ll come home broke, not with extra cash as Sandy did. She quit when she was ahead. Most don’t ever get ahead, much less pocket any winnings.

Well aware of the likely outcome of visiting Four Winds, I packed an old shirt with my other stuff.

Don’t be surprised if you happen to pass through tribal lands near Lake Michigan and see a Pokagon wearing a faded green T-shirt proclaiming: Green Bay Packers, Super Bowl Champions, 1997. The tribe won it fair and square.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

In Grateful Memory

Spc. Chazray C. Clark (U.S. Army), 24, Ecorse, Michigan. Killed by an enemy bomb in Kandahar Province, Afghanistan, September 18, 2011.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Fine Dining

Somehow I missed notices that one of my favorite business associates, Vince Dong, died about two years ago. He was a fine gentleman and editor, serving at the Forest Service’s Pacific Southwest Research Station in Berkeley, CA, for many years.

I sent the news of Dong’s death to several old friends who had encountered him often, as I did, at meetings of station editors. That resulted in some reminiscences, including an account of a dinner at the Dong home overlooking California’s most famous bay. The Dong family had lived in the San Francisco area for many years.

Although Vince was thoroughly American, he was proud of his Chinese heritage. In 2005, he and four other family members joined to contribute $50,000 in honor of their ancestors to help establish the Wing Luke Asian Museum, a branch of the Smithsonian Institution that features history of Chinese and other Asian immigrants.

I tried to take advantage of Vince’s specialized knowledge on one occasion, but it didn’t work out as planned. Dong and I were in a small discussion group at a national meeting in San Francisco when lunch time rolled around. The gathering was in a second-class hotel, so I suggested we go elsewhere for lunch and that, as a local guy, Vince should be the one to pick the restaurant.

I had visions of the finest Chinese fare available in a city known for it. Vince said he didn’t eat out very often, but one place he had enjoyed was nearby.

He took us to an Italian restaurant.

Friday, September 09, 2011

Oh, It Would Be Sad 

The SS Badger may be steaming toward forced retirement.
               Oh, it was sad. Oh, it was sad. It was sad when the great ship went down . . . .

That ship we once sang the sad song about was, of course, the Titanic. Until fairly recently, the Titanic had no relationship to the SS Badger, except both carried a whole lot of passengers. Now the Badger also may be a doomed vessel.

As a little boy, one thing I penciled onto my bucket list was to cross Lake Michigan aboard a car ferry. I’m not sure why. When I got the idea, I had never seen Lake Michigan. My family didn't own a car. I admired the glamorized image of a car ferry on the covers of writing tablets we used in school. That was all the motivation I can recall. It wasn’t much, but I never lost the yen to make the trip.

Six years ago, I finally crossed that one off my list. We had driven from Utah and stopped to see relatives in Wisconsin on our way to visit our son in Michigan. The stars were right to fulfill my little-boy dream. We drove north to Manitowoc, watched as our car was driven onto the Badger, and settled down in deck chairs for a great adventure on a bright, sunny day. The novelty soon wore off.

The 60-mile trip across the lake to Ludington took a full four hours. Although the Badger includes a maritime museum room, shows movies in another area, and has a good galley crew serving up short-order food, I’m sorry to report the trip is dull. Two things constitute the scenery on a trip across Lake Michigan—water and sky. We saw what appeared to be two other vessels in the distance during the whole trip. It was dull, dull, dull.

Dull or not, the SS Badger has been crossing the lake with few interruptions since 1953. It is the last of 14 car ferries to be based in Ludington. Service from that port began in 1897, mostly to carry railroad cars between Michigan and Wisconsin. The Badger was built to carry railroad cars. It is both big and tough. With a reinforced hull for ice-breaking, she originally crossed the lake all year long. The need to move railroad cars ended in the 1980s, and in 1992 the ship was refitted to exclusively carry autos and passengers. It no longer sailed in winter. Nevertheless, it still makes 490 port calls per year.

The Badger is the last large coal-burning steamship in the United States. That’s the problem. Its boilers consume huge amounts of coal, and disposing of the coal ash waste in Lake Michigan waters caught the attention of environmental groups and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency several years ago. EPA demanded a change to keep the pollutants out of the lake, and Badger owners face a deadline at the end of next year to find a way to dispose of the waste on land or substitute some other power-generating system. If they don’t, the ship’s sailing days will be over.

In somewhat of a reversal of the usual pattern when Great Lakes water quality is at issue, citizens groups are forming to petition EPA to lift the order against the historic ship, or at least extend the deadline. The main group is titled S.O.S. for Save Our Ship. It seems appropriate.

The Geezer is torn. I fully endorse measures to protect or improve water quality in the Great Lakes and elsewhere. But I also love history, and, after all, that steamship is part of a colorful heritage of lake navigation. Both Michigan and Wisconsin have declared the ship to be among their historic treasures.

Despite my good feelings toward the old Badger, we figuratively jumped ship after my one voyage. Since we moved to Michigan, beautiful wife Sandy has made three trips across the lake to visit her Wisconsin relatives. I put her aboard the Lake Express in Muskegon for those journeys. She arrives in Milwaukee in two and one-half hours, not four, although that trip also is 60 miles.

The Express is a twin-hulled catamaran powered by four Detroit Diesel engines. She holds 42 vehicles, far fewer than the Badger, but the Express has plenty of room for passengers and can travel at 40 m.p.h. When I asked Sandy how the first trip went she said, “Dull, but at least it wasn’t dull for four hours.”

While waiting for Sandy in Muskegon after her latest lake journey, I struck up a conversation with a fully mature adult who was waiting to make the trip to Wisconsin. He said, “You know, when I was a college kid I had a chance to work one summer on the SS Badger out of Ludington. I took a different job. Wouldn’t that have been something to remember if I’d have joined the crew when I had the chance?”

Maybe. He could have become a part of history, but he might have spent a pretty dull summer earning the honor.

Friday, September 02, 2011


Sandy and I decided this morning to establish a long-term relationship. We figured the trial period has been sufficiently lengthy and quite satisfactory. Today is our 50th wedding anniversary.

Tonight we are invited to dine out with son Lee and his fiancĂ© Karen. Next week we will celebrate the start of the next 50 with an auto trip to enjoy the wonders of the Lake Michigan shore. There just happens to be a glitzy casino right where we are headed. We’re not worried. We started with no money; we can restart the same way.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Why Not a Little Fun?

I attended a church service recently where comments were encouraged regarding death and an afterlife. At the conclusion, a participant said approaching the concepts with a bit of humor was a human characteristic, at least for some.

Consider, we often hear the phrase, “He (or she) laughed in the face of death.” We associate that with a courageous person, a strong person, a person with good values. We seldom, if ever, apply it to the “bad guys.”

I think that when we humans are faced with something we fear, we often tend to respond with humor. Many comedians made good parts of their livings exploiting that position. One of the more famous utterances was by Mark Twain. When Twain (Samuel Clemens) was traveling in Europe, a newspaper made a glaring error. Clemens picked up a copy and read his obituary on page one. His response: “Rumors of my death are greatly exaggerated.”

Comedic comments on death and the hereafter, more numerous although less famous than Clements’ remark, have been a big part of Woody Allen’s works. On the Internet, you can find dozens of jokes on the subjects written and delivered by Allen. Three (paraphrased) that tickle me are:

“I’m not worried about death; I just don’t want to be there when it happens.”

“Dying is one of those things best done while lying down.”

“I don’t think there is an afterlife, but just in case, I’m bringing a change of underwear.”

A couple of years ago the laugh was on me. A strange disease, which my doctor was unable to diagnose, hit me hard. I spent several days in bed going through alternating periods of chills and fever, comatose much of the time. Fortunately, the ailment left nearly as suddenly as it appeared, and it never has returned. But I was very ill while it lasted.

One night, I came out of a deep sleep in a groggy state. I saw a bright, white, light emanating from a space behind a door. “Here I go,” I thought. “The good news is that it’s not a red light in there.”

I woke up a little more and discovered that my wife had failed to turn off the light in our walk-in closet.