Tuesday, December 16, 2014

De Pere Journal  R.I.P.

An old friend died this year--a very aged old friend. The De Pere Journal's last edition rolled off the press back in February, ending a 143-year run as the community newspaper for the Wisconsin city near Green Bay.

Traditionally, current and some former employees hold a wake when a newspaper folds, as many papers have in the past few years. The mourners gather to guzzle a lot of  liquid refreshment and tell tales of their adventures large and small in and out of the newsroom.

But traditions change with the times. Now when an old friend dies, we are more likely to participate in a "celebration of life" than a wake.  Because I wasn't aware of the paper's death until a few days ago, I missed any opportunity for old-style mourning. So I'll shed a few tears in my martini and say my farewell here with a celebration, including a bit of history and a retelling of one of my favorite holiday stories.

The newspaper started in 1871 as the De Pere News. After several consolidations and name changes, it was the De Pere Journal-Democrat in 1957 when Paul and Marie Creviere hired me as city editor. They interviewed me in Madison shortly before I graduated from the University of Wisconsin with a degree in journalism.

Paul was the general manager of Journal Publishing. Marie carried the title of managing editor of the newspaper. She had been serving as editor in all areas. When I arrived, she continued to handle society news and correspondence from several reporters who gathered news in small rural communities near De Pere. I wrote general news and sports stories, did most of the photography, and wrote a personal column and all editorials.

Paul and Marie were Republicans, as I was at the time. Paul's dad, John A. Creviere, was a dedicated Democrat. Thus the newspaper was the Journal-Democrat while John was in control. After he died, Paul and Marie waited a respectful several years and then dropped the "Democrat" from the title.

Some records show John as editor from 1944 to 1964, but when I signed on the elder Creviere was the publisher, but did almost no writing or editing. At age 75, he still came to work in the office six days a week (regular office hours included Saturday mornings).  Every Thursday morning, John and I and Vivian Dahnke, John's daughter who was a linotype operator, started our day at about 6 a.m.  I phoned the police and sheriff departments to gather any overnight news. Vivian set type for whatever I produced. John donned a printer's apron, inserted the new type, and locked up the page forms to be ready for the press run not later than 8 a.m.

That operation may have been unique among weekly newspapers. We did it because we were attempting the impossible task of competing with a daily paper, the Green Bay Press-Gazette. De Pere is only about five miles from Green Bay, so almost all our readers also were Press-Gazette subscribers. The Press-Gazette maintained a full-time correspondent in De Pere, who obviously could "scoop" us with important local stories. For the more routine items, the Press-Gazette ran a De Pere special section on Thursdays. The Press-Gazette was an afternoon paper.

We tried our best to beat the competing daily one time a week. Paul, Marie, and I worked late Wednesday nights to get as much news processed as we could. Then John, I, and Vivian did our early Thursday stint so we could publish as a morning paper, available several hours before the Press-Gazette came out. It was tough going. We were defeated most of the time. But we did score firsts with some minor stories, and beat the Press-Gazette once with a major story during my time.

Our big scoop was due to good fortune, not reporting enterprise. Three convicts had escaped from the prison between Green Bay and De Pere.  They were at large for several days and caused a lot of serious concerns because of reports they were seen in a residential area. The Press-Gazette ran a story about the situation every day.

I made my routine visit to the De Pere police department on a Wednesday afternoon. While I was checking the blotter, the officer on duty was listening to the radio. "Hey, I've got a good story for you," he said. "They just caught those escaped prisoners."

I got the address, and headed for the scene.  Luckily, our camera was in my car from a previous job. When I arrived, a crowd had gathered in front of a home. The three cons were handcuffed to posts on the porch, and the Brown County sheriff  was standing beside them. I raised the camera as high as I could to improvise a shot over the spectators just before the detainees were taken away.

Our film processor, Gus Aschert, provided emergency service and worked a little darkroom magic to bring out the best in my "thin" negative. Paul Creviere and I drove 17 miles with a print to Seymour, where the publisher of that community's weekly paper made photo engravings for us. He stayed late to process our print, and we drove back to De Pere in the dark to remake our front page.

We came out bright and early on Thursday morning with a big headline and the photo announcing the capture of the desperados. Somehow, the Press-Gazette reporters missed the story. The P-G came out in the afternoon with a routine article saying the convicts remained at large!

Press-Gazette reporter Jerry Van Ryzen started his career as a Journal-Democrat editor and remained a friend of the Crevieres. He dropped into our office on Friday afternoon sporting a big grin. "We had a staff meeting this morning," he said. "The managing editor threw a copy of your paper on the table and yelled 'Scooped by a god-damn weekly!'"

The main headline of the last issue of the De Pere Journal on Feb. 27, 2014 read, "That's All We Wrote." During my tenure, my weekly column was titled "The Last Word," and at Paul Creviere's suggestion it ran as the final item on the last page of each edition. I'll make my last words in celebration of the Journal's life a story that has appeared on this blog in holiday seasons past.

                                                         ** * * * * * * * *

Ho, Ho, Ho. . . .No, No, No

It has been hard to escape Santa since merchants succeeded in advancing the holiday season to start right around Thanksgiving time. You now can visit a Santa just about everywhere serious shopping is happening, rent one for the kids’ party, or be one after you buy an outfit complete with beard for $39.95.

Santas weren’t nearly so ubiquitous in 1957, but they did make plenty of appearances and I was among those on duty. No chimneys were involved in my appearance. It was a bigger deal than that. I arrived on Broadway Avenue in De Pere, Wisconsin, in a giant motorized sleigh pulled by plastic reindeer, courtesy of the  Chamber of Commerce.

In a discussion of how we at the  De Pere Journal-Democrat were going to participate in Santa’s annual visit, a burning question was who would play the rotund one since publisher John Creviere was getting a bit old for the job. As the youngest, chubbiest, and most naive person around, I was volunteered.

This Santa looks authentic, but for the real photo of a youthful Geezer charming kids in 1957 you now must visit the newspaper archives of the  De Pere Historical Society or the Wisconsin State Historical Society where the Journal-Democrat rests.

The elder Creviere’s lengthy resume included work with amateur acting groups. He had a professional makeup kit and knew how to use it. He made 21-year-old me into a truly authentic-looking Claus, complete with rosy cheeks and a beard the little ones couldn’t pull off.

The children of De Pere certainly believed I was the real thing. Santa and a couple of helpers handed out 2,000 popcorn balls during the event. It was a very long day.

A photo, taken by Paul Creviere, of one handout to a cute little tyke appeared on the front page of our paper that week. That was pretty easy to pull off, since John owned the printing press, Paul was the general manager, and I was the editor.

It was the only time a photo of me ever graced the front page of a newspaper, and I couldn’t even identify myself in the caption!

Santa was totally pooped after passing out all the goodies and muttering nice things to the multitude of kiddies. When John started removing my greasepaint after handing me a shot of brandy, he asked how I was feeling about the whole thing. I was feeling like I never wanted to play Santa again.

                                                        * * * * * * * * * *

I never again had the opportunity to play Santa, but I really would have done it in a heartbeat just to see the expressions of awe and joy on the little ones’ faces.

Have a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!                                                   

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Hooray! The Smokeout is Winning Out

With violence at home and abroad dominating the news lately, the 38th Great American Smokeout on Nov. 20 passed with little notice. That was too bad, because news on the anti-smoking front is good.

The Smokeout for a time was a date when users were urged to quit for a single day, hoping that would lead them to stay tobacco-free thereafter. Lately, more emphasis is given to helping smokers develop a plan for quitting, drawing on many resources.

It's working. According to the most recent reports from the  U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cigarette smoking is continuing to decrease. For middle grade and high school students, the rate has declined from 28 percent in 2001 to 12.7 percent last year. The rate for adults 18 and older dropped from 23 percent to about 18 percent. Back in 1965, smoking was very popular and acceptable; about 42 percent of adults smoked. I was one of them.

I smoked for 50 years. My daily consumption of cigarettes ran between one and two packs. I also
puffed on cigars sometimes, and tried pipes of various types. I am an addict. If there were places for ex-smokers to meet regularly for support, I would be one of those to rise and state: "My name is Dick Klade. I am a tobaccoholic. I've been clean for 13 years."

How do I know I'm an addict? In 1963, I made a strong attempt to end my cigarette habit. I went completely to pipe smoking, and didn't inhale the fumes. That lasted three years. One evening, after a stressful day at work, I stopped at a drug store on the way home, bought a pack of cigarettes and resumed puffing as though I'd never stopped. I wasn't able to kick the cigarette habit again for 38 years.

Quitting all tobacco use for good was one of the most difficult things I've ever done. Beautiful wife Sandy and I, after consulting our family doctor, formed a detailed plan that included an exercise program. We set a firm stop date. Sandy curtailed her usual activities and provided strong support for the two weeks it took to get beyond my most urgent needs to puff. Progress was complicated by the complete failure of medication intended to help me with stress. It produced a violent reaction, raising a red rash over most of my body.

One of the surprising things about tobacco addiction is how differently it affects different people. One of our closest friends was able to smoke a pack a day for weeks and suddenly stop for days, weeks, or months without apparent effort. One of my golfing buddies said he didn't believe how hard it was for me to quit. He had smoked for 20 years. "When I quit, I just tossed my last pack in the trash and stopped," he said. "What's the big deal?"

Another pal had been clean for 10 years after 25 years of puffing. He said in his dreams he still saw himself smoking a cigarette in every scene he could remember upon waking. Strangely, some of the public service ads on TV encouraging quitting give me a strong urge to resume smoking. While other quitters came to dislike the smell of second-hand smoke, I enjoyed it, and I do to this day.

And I know if a pleasant whiff of smoke led me to light up just one cigarette, I would be right back into a two-pack a day habit. I hope the Smokeout sponsors and others promoting quitting succeed in helping us reach the day when no tobacco products (or e-cigarettes) are around to tempt me or anyone else to do one of the worst things possible to themselves.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thanks, Once Again

Thanks are always worth repeating, so today's post is a rerun of 2011's Thanksgiving message. For reasons unknown, this little item has attracted a very large number of viewers from  outside the United States. Thus, it seems appropriate to again send it out into the electronic world.

                                                          * * * * * * * * * * 

A Great Day, Indeed 

Today is America’s best celebration.  Thanksgiving truly is for everyone.  It is not part of any specific religious tradition; it is for all to enjoy.  For this one day, we can cast aside worries about the future and focus only on the good things that have happened in our past.

I am thankful that I was born in a prosperous nation and have lived a long and generally pleasant life with the freedom to chart my own course. Through good and bad times, many people have supported and guided me. I appreciate all of them, especially Sandy, my beautiful wife.

I am thankful that my family does not want for food, shelter, or love.  Today we will be together. That is the best thing of all.

                                                          * * * * * * * * * *

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Santa Takes Back Seat to Vets

Santa Claus arrived in Kalamazoo on Saturday (much too early to suit me and many others) as thousands attended the annual Holiday Parade. The jolly one got lots of appreciative oohs and aahs as he was escorted by 11 marching bands and a variety of floats, but he was not the star of the show in southwestern Michigan last week.

Santa clearly lost the appreciation contest to the U.S. military. Active G.I.s and veterans were showered with gifts starting the weekend before Veterans Day (Tuesday).  Free meals and discounts on all sorts of goods and services continued in some cases right up until Santa grabbed the next weekend spotlight.

November 11 observances have undergone a transformation during my lifetime. Originally,  "Armistice Day'" marked the end of World War I. It was a day of reflection and a time to honor those who gave their lives or were crippled in the conflict.

When I was a youngster, people observed a moment of silence at 11 a.m., when the treaty ending the war was signed. Everyone was encouraged to make a donation to the American Legion Auxiliary in return for a red "remembrance poppy," a paper creation we wore all day in honor of the dead soldiers buried in France. The Legion ladies used poppy donations to benefit disabled veterans or other vets or their families known to be in need. I remember my Dad encouraging me to drop a nickel or dime in the collection can as he explained the significance of the poppies.

Armistice day was important in my family. Dad, his two brothers, and my Mom's brother all served in WWI. One of my uncles came home from France permanently disabled from effects of a gas attack. Another returned with a Croix de Guerre medal awarded by the French government for bravery.

As fewer World War II vets remain alive, they get lots of love. (Associated Press photo)
All died years ago. There are no veterans of World War I  alive today in the U.S. The old Armistice Day customs, however, continue to some extent. Church bells still ring at 11 a.m. on Nov. 11 in a small town near us. Veteran firing squads still launch volleys marking the time. Although I've not seen a remembrance poppy worn for several years, there may be places where they are available.

Wikipedia tells us that remembrance poppies remain common in other nations, especially the UK, and there the day to honor those who gave their lives in battle is titled Remembrance Day. That seems appropriate because the U.S. played a relatively small role in World War I, where trench warfare produced wholesale slaughter.

The U.S. didn't enter the five-year conflict until almost the final year. Casualties totaled 320,000. That seems like a lot, but consider that British Empire dead and wounded totaled more than 3 million and French casualties topped 6 million. Some 37 million people from all participating countries were killed or wounded in the horrific struggle. The U.S. military casualty total was much higher in World War II--more than a million.

During World War II, Armistice Day began to morph into Veterans Day. Informal observances using the new name started in 1947. In 1954, Congress officially recognized Veterans Day, declaring it a national holiday and a time to honor all veterans.

I was discharged from the Army in 1960, and don't recall any wholesale changes in observances until fairly recently. The old Armistice Day traditions simply continued under a new name. Veterans usually were respected, but not always. Many Vietnam War vets complained about shabby treatment when they came home from the killing fields in Indochina.

If anything, recognition and tangible rewards for veterans declined. My brother-in-law and other Korean War vets pointed out that monuments in city squares omitted them. Supposedly, that was because Korea officially was a "police action," not a war. The nation's biggest veterans' organization, the American Legion, refused membership to thousands of veterans of my era, a practice continuing today. An ungrateful government reduced or eliminated some veterans' benefits for us as well. On Veterans Day, a vet might be thanked for service with a fee doughnut or cup of coffee in a few places, but those were about the only tangible gifts from private people that I remember.

Everything seemed to start changing after the 9/11 attacks. Suddenly, those cups of coffee became free meals.  A huge variety of businesses began to offer 10 percent or more price reductions to veterans. Because some hotels and motels gave room discounts, the proverbial "three hots and a cot" provided to active duty G.I.s could once again be enjoyed by veterans. Offering gifts to vets seemed to take on a snowball effect, and it hasn't stopped yet.

I think this Denny's ad deserves an award for salute creativity.

This year lists of free or cut-rate offerings on Nov. 11, and sometimes throughout the week, were easy to find. It was a "take your pick" situation.

I was right there picking. With our continuing home remodeling project far from completion, it was a great time to get needed items available at leading big box stores for 10 percent off. While on the track of some special items, my son and I were near a Denny's restaurant, so I claimed one of my favorite things--a free "build your own breakfast." In the evening after more discount shopping, beautiful wife Sandy and I visited Applebee's where I enjoyed a free steak dinner.

Just for fun, I added up the total value of my Nov. 11 discounts and freebies. The gifts were worth $111.30. And I didn't even have time to get the free haircut or car wash offered by businesses near my home.

By coincidence, my biggest paycheck in the U.S. Army was $111.00 a month. It usually lasted about two weeks. Maybe payback time finally has arrived? Thanks to all the "thankers" who back up their words of gratitude with material gifts. You, too, deserve a salute.

Monday, November 10, 2014

The Picture of Contentment

Who is she? A satisfied Republican following last week's route of the electoral opposition? A smug Packers fan after last night's gridiron trashing of their arch rivals, da Chicago Bears?

Neither of the above. It's beautiful wife Sandy taking a break during a retreat titled "Your Life Unplugged" at Yarrow Golf and Conference Center. Yarrow is one of Michigan's most scenic and elegant spots, a great place to spend a few days gaining inspiration and developing a feeling of satisfaction.

Son Lee's fiancée, Karen Vogelmann, made most of the arrangements for the retreat. It was a major task, but it paid off . Some 25 ladies loved it, judging from post-meeting comments. The event was so successful that plans immediately went into effect for a repeat next year.

This photo by one of her new-found friends suggests Sandy will return to Yarrow in 2015.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Democrat Voted with Democrats. Duh.

I intended to comment on the proliferation of lies and misrepresentations in television ads leading up to Tuesday's election. However, so many unsupportable statements were advanced  that I simply couldn't muster the energy to do the topic justice.

Although selecting the biggest lie, or biggest liars, would have been a daunting task, picking the dumbest statement is no problem at all.

Early in Michigan's seemingly endless campaign for governor, an ad blared over and over, "Schauer voted with Obama and Democrats 95 percent of the time."

Mark Schauer is a Democrat. Which party might we expect him to vote with? The Libertarians?

Perhaps recognizing that at least a few Michigan voters have an iota of intelligence, someone in the Republican campaign finally realized how stupid this message is. The ad disappeared from the airways. That was perhaps the most positive thing that has happened during the campaign.

But to prove stupidity dies hard, the same message just arrived in my mailbox. Only the pamphlet says the Democrat voted with Democrats 96 percent of the time. Wonder who came up with that added 1 percent? I was thinking about voting for the Republican. Now I wonder.

Friday, October 24, 2014

The Real Great Satan

 Although meddling by the United States, the existence of Israel, and clerics fanning the fires of ancient tribal rivalries are factors in nonstop violence in the Middle East and elsewhere in the Muslim world, they are not the fundamental cause of the chaos. The cause is simply an over-supply of young men in over-populated countries.

Many admirable practices are included in the principles followed by most of the 1.6 billion Muslims, including sharing wealth with the poor, striving to reduce economic inequality, and refraining from violence. A minority of fanatics and those who exploit their zeal continue to give the religion a bad name in other cultures. Islam, generally, is not "the mother lode of bad ideas" as neuroscientist Sam Harris recently labeled it on national television.

But Islam includes one very bad idea. With a few exceptions, all forms of contraception and birth control are forbidden. That is the real "Great Satan."

It's a short step for dissatisfied young men from peaceful protest to violence.

Far too many people compete for scarce resources in lands where Muslims predominate. The great source of wealth in several of them, oil, is not labor intensive in its extraction or processing. In what once were rich farming lands, constant warfare has so disrupted the landscape that jobs in agriculture have declined. Some areas that once exported food now are forced to import it.

Arid lands do not support vast populations anywhere in the world, but in Muslim desert and semi-desert areas excess human reproduction continues despite the lack of suitable environments to sustain more people.

The result of all this in the Middle East, plus a shortage of advanced educational facilities in a world where technical jobs are becoming more important, is an entire region with the highest unemployment rates in the world. A dramatic component of that is in the youngest segment of the population up to the age of 25, where unemployment is estimated to be 40 percent.

What happens when idle young men see no hope for their futures through peaceful endeavors? They become eager to sign up to fight for any leaders who provide a pay check and promise fame and glory.

Until rank and file Muslims in great numbers ignore medieval bans on birth control, as many Roman Catholics now do in Christian cultures, we can expect warfare and devastation in Islamic lands. Peace may be a very long time coming.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Lions Without Mountains

The news was terrible for wildlife when a recent report on the world situation showed numbers down about 40 percent in just the past several decades. Expanding human populations and activities are causing the declines, the study compilers said. But, as in all broad trends, there are exceptions. Mountain lions, missing from the landscape for a century, are returning to the American Midwest.

Mountain lions (cougars) are secretive animals seldom seen by humans even in western areas where numbers can be high. Eastern cougars once were native to Wisconsin and Michigan, but they  were eliminated by uncontrolled hunting and trapping and forest devastation by the early 1900s.

A camera set up to photograph trail users filmed this cougar near Merrill, Wisconsin. Other cougar sightings have been confirmed in the state in recent years. (photo: Wisconsin DNR)

Since 1910, numerous farmers, hikers, and hunters have reported sighting cougars in both states. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources so far has been unable to find physical evidence to confirm a sighting. Not so in Wisconsin. There, on July 30, a trail camera photographed a cougar on private property about 20 miles from my hometown. It was the third confirmed sighting this year, and there were several in previous years.

According to the Wisconsin DNR, the animals known to be roaming the state's north woods probably are western cougars, somewhat different from the type that originally inhabited the area. Wildlife biologists think the newcomers journeyed from the large populations in the Black Hills of South Dakota. They probably were lured by excess numbers of deer, a favorite cougar prey, in northern Wisconsin. Only the presence of males has been confirmed so far, so it is unknown if permanent populations are being established.

If you live in Wisconsin or Michigan, don't start panicking about the possibility of being confronted by a cougar. In the unlikely event you encounter one,  DNR advice is to face it squarely, open your coat or jacket to make yourself appear bigger, make noise, and throw sticks or stones at it. Chances are high the cougar will run. It probably won't run all the way back to South Dakota, though.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Please, Let Us Stand Prosperity

Yesterday, I filled up the family car for $2.95 per gallon, the first time gasoline has dropped below $3.00 around here since November 2010. Today, I noticed the futures price of petroleum in the New York Stock Exchange had fallen to $85.00 per gallon; it has not been that low for a long, long time.

The futures price is of interest because it tends to confirm the opinion of some experts that prices at the pump in the U.S. will stay relatively low or continue to fall in the near future. Why have we arrived in this happy position?

1. Federal rules requiring auto producers to build machines that get more miles per gallon are paying off. The builders complied by designing vehicles in all categories that are more fuel efficient. And the American public is buying more small cars and more electric and hybrid vehicles in all sizes.

2. Fracking and improvements in more conventional extraction methods have combined to glut the American market with gas and crude oil. No matter what economic theories you subscribe to, that tends to keep prices down. But fracking needs firm controls to prevent environmental disasters, and we would be wise not to change policies to encourage more use of the technique.

3. For a variety of reasons, Americans generally have been driving fewer miles in recent years, which contributes to the favorable supply situation.

Low oil and gas prices reverberate positively through our economy. Consumers have more cash to buy goods of all kinds. That demand then can be met through lower manufacturing and transportation costs. That kind of demand also creates jobs in many sectors. It is the sort of prosperity we should embrace.

But some people are just too greedy to allow us to stand prosperity. Those are the guys who control the big oil companies.

We have been protected to some extent from their avarice for 40 years. In 1973, several Arab nations put an embargo on oil exports, sending prices soaring world-wide and creating shortages in the U.S. Our government responded in several ways, one of which was a ban (with some exceptions) on exporting crude oil produced here.

The idea was to break our dependence on foreign crude oil and stabilize the domestic market for refined products. It has been a long haul, but success seems imminent. It should be pointed out that the ban does not include export of gas, which can be liquefied and shipped overseas, or products from oil refineries.

Surprise: the American Petroleum Institute is leading a lobbying campaign asking the Administration to circumvent the ban by introducing more exceptions and the Congress to revoke it entirely with legislation. Some refineries that profit from the ban are mounting  a counter campaign.

Genius is not necessary to know that no matter how technology advances oil and gas are nonrenewable resources. We eventually will run out of them. We are working to replace oil and gas with solar and wind power, but the conversion will take a long time. It makes no sense not to conserve our nonrenewable resources as much as possible.

Please, Mr. President and Members of Congress, let us stand prosperity. Resist the petroleum lobby, and act in the national interest. Keep the ban on crude oil exports in place, and delete some exceptions from it as well. 

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Shhh! I'm with the Secret Service

The Secret Service, after 150 years of exemplary work, is much in the news of late for several poor performances. Reading about the gaffes and the resulting resignation of the service's director, reminded me of an encounter with one of the agents.

The Director of the Intermountain Research Station, where I was working for the U.S. Forest Service, decided to check out the latest management fad being promoted throughout the federal establishment. He sent me, our biometrician, and an administrative services specialist to Washington, DC for a one-week training session with orders to report back with recommendations.

It turned out to be a pretty high-level gathering. Among our group of about 40 trainees was the Postmaster General and a two-star Marine Corps general. We met daily just down the street from the Russian Embassy.

Forest Service lodging reimbursements didn't cover the cost of  rooms in fancy places, so our trio stayed in a modest hotel and we had to walk a fair distance every morning to the meeting place. We made the trek early, because free coffee and donuts were available for about a half-hour before the training sessions started.

Keach would have been believable as a Secret Service agent.
One fellow trainee was present every day when we arrived. Often he was the only one there, so we chatted with him and became acquainted. The man bore a startling resemblance to actor Stacey Keach. We learned that he had been a lieutenant commander in the U.S. Navy before his present employment. There was no doubt about his current work. Where our workshop name tags said U.S.Forest Service, his said Secret Service!

Obviously, our new friend was there guarding somebody, but in numerous conversations he never told us who it was. The cold war hadn't thawed at that time, and we mentioned our proximity to the Russians and wondered if he wasn't concerned about identifying himself so openly.

The agent said, "Oh, they know who all of us are. And we know who all the KGB guys are."

 Apparently, some things aren't so secret in secret service work. 

Friday, September 19, 2014

NFL Off-Field Violence

News reports and comments by many who fancy themselves qualified to advance an opinion have painted the National Football League as a haven for thugs and criminals. I started crunching some numbers seeking to learn whether that image is deserved.

The first thing I learned is that a whole lot of people, from  media pundits to social scholars, have been busy recording and  playing with NFL crime statistics for a long time. There was no need for me to do much original work.  A simple computer search for "NFL arrest records" produced all sorts of numbers and analyses. Following are what I believe to be the more significant items:

*Precisely 687 NFL players have been arrested (not convicted, mind you) since January 1, 2000, most for assaults. The annual number has been declining since 2006, an indication that the league has made some progress in efforts to improve its image, primarily through educational programs for players.

*Including all players under contract, about 1,800 are available each year to be arrested. Considering the typical pro football career lasts a bit less than three years and doing the math with the 13-year arrest total, I get an arrest rate slightly higher than 1 percent.

*Some number crunchers, probably more skilled than the geezer, say the arrest rate for assaults in the NFL is two percent. Assuming that to be close to the actual rate, it is less than half the national rate (based on FBI statistics). It also is far less than the National Basketball Association rate (5.1 percent). Basketball supposedly is a "non-contact sport." That's a laugher. However, the NFL rate is slightly below the 2.1 percent rate for major league baseball; baseball actually is basically a non-contact sport, and thus we might mistakenly think players are less violent types than the gridiron heroes.

*Considering the analyses that appear most legitimate and trying to mix in some common sense, it seems fair to conclude that criminal activity by NFL players is well below that for comparable groups in the general population--young males, including a large number of blacks.
Far more good guys than bad.
Obviously, media attention magnifies the NFL situation. We are not treated to national television reports whenever a factory worker or shoe salesman hits his wife or "whoops" his kids. Nevertheless,  it is true that professional athletes in America long have been held up as role models for our youth. Therefore it seems proper that they should be held to a higher standard of conduct. They are employees of their team owners, and in many U.S. states employers concerned with the firm's image are legally able to fire employees for any conduct they consider detrimental, except in situations where a union agreement exists.

The NFL players have a strong union, and agreements are in place covering all the teams. Therefore, it is not possible for owners acting individually or through the league office to summarily fire a player for misbehaving. I believe the NFL owners in concert with the union should move quickly to establish clear policy pertaining to domestic violence. Much of the problem in pro football is the helter-skelter nature of the discipline. Badly needed is a well-defined action plan that is easily understood and applied without a whole lot of exceptions.

After some poor moves, what the Minnesota Vikings finally did in the case of star player Adrian Peterson, who admitted to doing violence to his four-year-old son after being arrested, should serve as a model. Suspend the player with pay from all team participation until the criminal justice system has run its course. If the player is found not guilty, reinstate him. If he is found guilty, suspend him for a year without pay added to any jail time he serves, which should be a sufficient penalty, but one that gives the player some opportunity to resurrect his career.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Outsmarted by a Phone

About eight years ago as a daylight savings time change approached,  a fellow Forest Service retiree told me of his tactic to remove any doubts about which way to reset his clocks. He bought two cheapo watches--one set on standard time, the other on daylight savings time. He merely switched them on change days and used his wristwatch as a guide to reset all other timing devices in his household.

I already owned a cheap wristwatch. I found a duplicate at Walmart on sale for $5.00 (sometimes that place is worth visiting). Ever since, I have kept one on standby in a dresser drawer until it was
So they're two minutes off. Who cares now that they're obsolete?
restored to service when we gained or lost an hour moving from standard to daylight time, or vice versa.

The switcheroo worked equally well moving between eastern time at our Michigan home and central time in often-visited Wisconsin. My son and I took that trip this summer. I decided to brag a little and made a show of trading watches as we were about half way across Lake Michigan on a ferry.  Lee said, "Oh, but time changes aren't any problem."

"How so?" I asked.

"My smart phone automatically makes the adjustment. I just tap the time ap."

Time and technology once again have marched on. One of my favorite schemes has been rendered obsolete.  Anybody want to buy two watches used only about half a year each throughout their lifetimes?

Thursday, September 04, 2014

It's That Time Again

'Tis the season when footballs and banners of avid team followers fill the air.

Some who pass our home wonder why my Packers flag flies only intermittently. That's because ancient family tradition dictates the flag is unfurled only after a victory. The first game of the season is tonight. At dawn's early light tomorrow my flag may, or may not, be there.

At the moment, a very few leaves in our Lake Doster area have begun to turn color. Mom Nature is more consistent than the Packers--all the  leaves will change and fall to the ground in a few weeks. You can depend on it.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Absence Makes the Heart . . .

The geezer never has been much of a fan of poetry, and a few attempts to write in that format have ended in dismal failure. Over the past year of so, however, I've been delighted almost daily by the creations of Marc Leavitt, who posts his work at www.marcleavitt.blogspot.com

Marc occasionally puts together a lengthy work. I enjoy those, but prefer his briefer offerings. He has a gift for conveying a big message in a little poem.

My beautiful wife Sandy has been away for several weeks visiting friends and relatives in Wisconsin. These trips have been an annual event for a long time. Lake Michigan waters permitting, she'll be back in our Michigan home in two days, just in time to celebrate our 53rd wedding anniversary. 

Inspired by Mr. Leavitt and the impending occasion and despite my numerous previous failures, I've decided to go for it. I hereby publish my first (and perhaps only) poem:

            Your trip was barely under way
            When life here ceased to be OK
            How many times must I learn
            When you are gone
            I soon yearn for your return

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

"Don't Do Stupid" Ain't Stupid

The usual chorus of President Obama detractors got a boost from an unusual source recently. Fellow Democratic Party leader and presidential candidate in waiting, Hillary Rodham Clinton, attacked Mr. Obama's foreign policy on the grounds it is a non-policy.

The president's policy earlier got a strange name. Staffers leaked the news that inner circles have taken to defining it as, "Don't do stupid shit." For the more sensitive masses, the policy is being redefined as, "Don't do stupid stuff."

Ms. Clinton said "Don't do stupid" is not an organizing principle, and great nations need organizing principles worthy of their leadership role. I beg to differ. Ms. Clinton, in my opinion, did an acceptable job as secretary of state, but she got this one wrong.
If you win, please don't do stupid stuff, Ms. Clinton (Wikipedia)

It's about time a U.S. president decided to set aside lofty rhetoric smacking of egotistical American "exceptionalism" and adopted a realistic foreign policy standard. Remember how we fought  to "Make the world safe for democracy" and not may years later to establish the "Four Freedoms" on the planet? How are those types of policy statements working for us lately?  

We could make "Don't do stupid" prettier, of course. Something like, "Carefully analyze every foreign conflict and intervene only when it is clearly in our national interest" says the same thing, and obviously states what President Obama tries to do, but certainly there's nothing catchy about it. In this case, I like the negative "don't do" better than the positive "do." For one thing, it's more fun.

Mr. Obama, with Ms. Clinton as a top foreign policy advisor, has made some boo boos, as all presidents have. A recent one was prematurely declaring, "It's time for Assad to go." He forgot that Goldilocks could be leading Syria and it would have little effect on American interests. He also forgot that displacing strong dictators in the Muslim world often creates chaos. Is that part of the world more tranquil now than it was when Saddam ruled Iraq with an iron fist? Hardly. How's the serenity index looking in Libya nowadays?

We did what was in our interest in Syria. With Russian cooperation and good work by our more usual allies Assad's weapons of mass destruction--lethal poison gases--a true threat to the world and thus us, have been destroyed. We finally did what was in our interest in Iraq--we got out. We're back now in a limited way, a far cry from the days when we invaded the place with massive force over a pretext. 

Soon we'll be out of Afghanistan, leaving the kids to fight it out in their sandbox as they always have. In a strange turn of events, Assad may become part of a new coalition including the U.S. to help stabilize the Middle East. Things might actually work out well for a change now that the horrifically bad guys have come out of their closets and staked out some territory where the good people can shoot and bomb the crap out of them.

"Don't do stupid stuff" has saved a lot of American lives, and quite a bit of cash we can use to better advantage elsewhere. The policy isn't a return to isolationism. It's simply a venture into reality.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Golf for the Footloose

Our Lake Doster Golf Course has come up with a new ploy to increase play. Every Sunday afternoon, half the layout is available for a different kind of game. Players need only bring a soccer ball and their feet. They kick their ball around the course much as normal golfers move their small ball around with clubs.

We've lived in homes adjacent to fairways for 35 years, a long time to observe golfers in action. A few of them should be great Footgolf players. They've had lots of practice kicking their ball into an improved position when they thought no one was watching.

Beautiful wife Sandy for several years got special chuckles observing an older man who played the course by himself very early in the morning. He would look around to ensure he was alone, and then drop a ball down the inside of his pants leg into a good spot for his next shot. If it wasn't just right, he improved the lie with a foot nudge or two.

Of course, Footgolf hadn't been invented when the old duffer entertained Sandy by practicing cheating. He would have to wear extremely baggy trousers to be able to drop a soccer ball down one leg. But he might be a champion foot nudger.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Old Beer Drinkers Just Fade . . .

Being able to "hold your beer" in Wisconsin, land of many breweries, when I was a teenager was a badge of honor. That meant you could down quite a few lagers, the only beer readily available in most places, and act as though you were cold sober.

"Quite a few" was a bunch when an eight-ounce glass from the tap cost a dime. A dollar financed a fairly long night out at a beer bar. The legal drinking age was 18 back then, but it wasn't difficult to find bar owners who weren't at all concerned about winking at a fake draft card altered to prove a 15- or 16-year-old was really 18 or 19. Sometimes, they just took your word for it. Pete Zemlis served me my first beer at his Half Moon Lodge near Tomahawk, Wisconsin, when I was 14.

Practice may well make perfect in the beer guzzling world. By the time my real 18th birthday came around, I could walk a straight line after downing seven or eight short (eight ounce) beers. Later, I held my own at several bars during Mexican vacations at a level that would have made Jimmy Buffett proud.

I took to drinking dark ales, which had much more robust taste than the pale lagers. Ales also had slightly higher alcohol contents. I could no longer drain as many glasses without major consequences, but I still liked to think I was pretty good at "holding my ale."

Along with other things that faded with advanced age, my beer and ale capacity declined considerably. I retreated from dark ales back to light lagers. Even then, two beers became my limit. Perhaps that was good, because now I get full well before I get loaded.
Three Two Hearteds are two too many for me!
Nevertheless, there is room for adventure at any age. I began to take notice of "Two Hearted Ale," an India Pale Ale produced by Bell Brewery, a local brewer in our area. A newspaper article pointed out that the Beer Advocate Society gave Two Hearted a 95 rating, which translates to "world class." Another rating agency called it "outstanding." Yet another group concerned with such things announced Two Hearted Ale was the best beer in the world. After seeing that claim, I just had to try the stuff.

About then, the brewer announced that Two Hearted was being made available in cans for the first time. I found a four-pack, just enough for a trial drink or two, at the local supermarket. My son was coming over for a meal, and I thought two cans for him and two for me would be just right.

Each can held 16 ounces, four more than the usual amount. The ale tasted great, but I  barely made it through one can. A check of the label showed Two Hearted had an alcohol content of 7 percent. No wonder all those raters gave it such outrageously high marks; they probably quaffed one small glass and experienced what happens late at night to many tavern patrons when all the girls suddenly are beautiful.

Incidentally, the ale is named after the Two Hearted River in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. That probably is of little or no significance, but it's the kind of thing one might ponder after downing a couple.

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Sign Writers Wanted?

If only one stone is loose, wouldn't it make more sense to pick it up rather than putting up a sign?

This sort of thing, however, does point out a possible opportunity.With a continuing tight job market for English majors and journalists, the  unemployed might do well to check with organizations such as the Michigan Department of Transportation. They might consider upgrading their writing staffs. 

Friday, August 01, 2014

Progress in Packerland

Jumbotrons hadn't been invented when I first saw the Packers' stadium in 1957.

By luck of the draw, in 1957 I occupied a seat high in the stands on the 40-yard line at Lambeau Field (it was known as New City Stadium then) when the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears played the first game in what television announcers now are fond of calling "that historic stadium."

I was working at my first full-time job as city editor of the De Pere Journal-Democrat. Although as a weekly newspaper, we were the smallest of the media in the Green Bay area and didn't attempt to cover professional sports, the Packers sent us two season tickets. We drew straws to see who would get to use the comps for which games. I drew the long straw for the opener. I returned for a tour last week.

Professional football in Green Bay was not prospering in the 1950s. After 37 years in the National Football League, six of them championship seasons, the franchise was in trouble. The team was on a losing streak that started in the late 40s. In 1950, a stock sale was needed to raise $118,000, basically to keep meeting operating expenses. City Stadium, which the Packers shared with East High School, had become completely inadequate as a pro football venue. The Packers compensated by playing half their home schedule, three games, in Milwaukee where they could seat more paying spectators. NFL club owners threatened to force a move of the franchise to Milwaukee unless a new stadium was built in the club's home city.

Green Bay residents in 1956 voted to finance a new stadium. The city bought farmland in the nearby Village of Ashwaubenon as a site. New City Stadium was built in less than a year. It was the first modern stadium designed exclusively for professional football. Many other NFL teams at the time played in stadiums built for baseball, and some strange configurations and seats with poor views resulted when 100-yard playing fields were laid out over the diamonds and outfields.

The new Green Bay structure was renamed Lambeau Field in 1965 shortly after the death of E. L. "Curly" Lambeau, the team's cofounder and long-time coach. When I first saw it in 1957, there wasn't a bad seat in the place. It was a perfectly symmetrical oval, although one end zone was open and the other had only a few rows of seats. No one had to peer around posts or watch the game from a nook or cranny with their view partially obscured.  The Packers' home field was a great place to watch football, and it still is. Initially, the stadium seated 32,150. People were amazed that a city of 50,000 would support a sports structure that big.
Our tour group traveled way up to view the big picture.

When I revisited the place with our son Lee last week, more than a half century after opening day, many expansions and major renovations had altered Lambeau Field. The most recent, a huge $295 million project, was getting a few finishing touches. The good features of the original structure were intact, but a whole lot of improvements were in place. The seating capacity had been increased to 80,978, second highest of the 31 NFL stadiums (two New York teams share a stadium). Some people are amazed that a city whose population now is 104,868 supports a sports structure that big.

Packers fan support is legendary. Every game since 1960 at Lambeau Field has been sold out. At the moment, more than 105,000 are on the waiting list to buy a season ticket (yes, that is several hundred more than Green Bay's population). Only about 100 season tickets are not renewed each year. So if you got on the waiting list right now, you could expect your chance to buy a ticket to arrive in about 955 years. One might think the Packers would be eager to cash in on that kind of demand, but they keep the faith with their fans. Ticket prices are average for the NFL, 17th in the 32-team league.

One of the good things present last week that wasn't there in 1957 was our tour guide, Dave Devenport.  Dave and I attended the same high school in northern Wisconsin. We were teammates on the school baseball team, and also played together one summer as teenage boys with and against men in our county baseball league. That's all our athletic backgrounds have in common.
Old teammates reunite. Dave is the good-looking one.
Dave was a star performer in baseball, basketball, and football, the only sports our school offered. He earned multiple MVP, Captain, and All-Conference honors. Dave played football and baseball at the University of Wisconsin--Stevens Point before transferring to the UW flagship campus at Madison to join the Badgers' football program. Unfortunately, a knee injury prematurely ended his athletic career. 

Dave is a member of the Athletic Hall of Fame in our hometown. The only way I'll get into a hall of fame is to buy a ticket! I fully intend to do that next year at Lambeau Field (see photo at the end of this post).

Our tour guide added to his football knowledge in years of observing the Packers scene. He worked his way up in a 35-year career at the Green Bay Press-Gazette, as a reporter, state and city editor, sportswriter, and finally news editor. Along the way, Dave served as a NFL statistician for the Packers for 23 years.  He comes fully equipped with a lot of interesting Packers stories and reliable numbers. Our tour with Dave and his genial partner guide, Grant Turner, was entertaining and informative. It should have been; Dave has been guiding tours at Lambeau for 15 years and Grant has been at it 18 years.

A tour starts at Lambeau every half-hour from 10:15 a.m. to 4 p.m. most days throughout the year. We paid $37 total for a senior and adult ticket. A day later, Lee and I paid nearly three times that for a far less interesting and much lower quality tour at Taliesin, the estate of famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright.

Our 16-member group assembled in the new Lambeau Atrium at 10:15. Dave started us off with some get-acquainted questions, working our information into statistics about tours and observations as to why the Atrium and we were there.

Dave said Lambeau has hosted a million tour visitors since 2003 when the present tour program began. They came from every state in the U.S. and 122 other countries. Many, but not all, had some interest in American football, but they weren't necessarily Packers fans. Our group included men and women from six states, and one born in France. Fans of the Dallas Cowboys, Pittsburgh Steelers, and Detroit Lions were present.

Lee and I each own one share of Green Bay Packers stock. So did three others in our group. "Where else can you take a tour with owners?" Dave asked.
We rested in a Skybox; Dave kept on working.

About 300,000 people are shareholders in the non-profit corporation. The Packers are the only major professional sports team in the U.S. owned by its fans. The shareholders get no dividends and can't gain by selling their holdings; profits are plowed back into the physical facilities and personnel compensation.

Unlike the other franchises, the Packers have no billionaire owner. Their shareholder rules prohibit any individual from gaining control.  "That's why this Atrium is here and why we sold you a tour ticket today--we need the money." Dave said. "There's no way we could compete with big spenders running teams in big cities with just the income from television revenue and ticket sales for eight home games a year."

The Packers have done a good job developing things at Lambeau to create a diversified attraction. The Atrium, attached to a corner of the stadium, is open to the public 365 days a year. The giant structure includes the Packers Hall of Fame, the 21,500 square foot Pro Shop, a first-class restaurant (Curly's Pub), and a main floor patterned after a football field that can be used to host conventions and large business meetings or other gatherings. Those who want to get married at Lambeau Field, as 40 couples did last year, can arrange a reception for a few hundred of their close acquaintances. The first day Lee and I visited the Atrium it was set up for a dinner group of several hundred. The next day, the tables were gone and the floor open for other activities.

We visited the Pro Shop before our tour. It recently reopened after a remodeling that doubled its size. It looks like a large department store, with merchandise for sale ranging from the famous cheeseheads in several sizes to a portable picnic table complete with Packers logos. Some high-end apparel is available without Packers identification for visitors who may favor other teams.
We couldn't resist a Pro Shop selfie with a "cheesy" No. 12.
The Lambeau Field area was quiet during our stay in a motel within easy walking distance--the annual stockholders meeting, always attended by thousands, was two days away and the opening of training camp nearly a week ahead. Yet, the Pro Shop was crowded with visitors snapping up goods. That kind of activity helped the Packers take in $136.4 million in local revenue last year, ninth best in the NFL. That's remarkable for an organization in a small market that has not sold its stadium name for millions of advertising dollars and holds average ticket prices down.

Massive changes in the stadium and areas nearby have contributed to the Packers rosy financial picture. The relatively small, compact oval surrounded by farm fields I visited in 1957 is no more. An Associated Press writer this week said of Lambeau Field and environs, "the franchise has bought up land, razed nearby houses, and expanded its stadium more than 20 stories into the sky as part of what can only be described as massive physical growth."

The skyward expansion refers to a development in the south end zone that added 7,000 seats in four levels and rises 232 feet into the air (about the height of a 21-story office building). Complete with a huge "G" on the roof, Lambeau Field can be seen from miles away. From a new observation terrace at the roofline, our tour group could see major structures in Green Bay and locate De Pere and other suburban areas. De Pere is about 5 miles away.

"Skyboxes" provide outstanding views of the field and good financial returns for the Packers. Each holds 16 or 20 people. Our group visited one of the larger ones and took a sit-down break while guide Dave held forth with a stunning panorama of the field for background. If a skybox was available in one of the best locations for a prime regular season game, an unlikely situation, our group could lease it for around $14,000 (food and drink extra).
E.L."Curly" Lambeau and R.J."Dick" Klade point to Curly's Pub.

For something really plush, and also probably not available, it's sometimes possible to lease one of 168 luxury suites for the season for a mere $85,000. Most of those are taken by corporations, but about a fourth are leased by individuals, a few of whom are Packers players. Luxury suites have their own bars and kitchens, and the owners can play host in them every day during their lease period if they choose.

"High-class" could apply to luxury boxes and other refinements, but we think it pretty well sums up everything about Lambeau Field and the Atrium. Lee is a stickler for quality in his stained glass art business. I was surprised by how many times during our visit he marveled at the expert construction and the way a special feeling was created by designs and decorations. I shared his appreciation for the high-quality ambience of the place.

Isn't a walking tour of a facility that covers 2.1 million square feet on many levels a bit taxing? Not at all. Most of the time we traveled by elevator with stops to rest in the Skybox, Champions Lounge, and, finally, the lowest level some 25 feet below ground. We ventured out onto the playing field to learn how grass (don't step on it, Dave cautioned) grows in December with the aid of a sophisticated heating system. It was an awesome feeling to look up at the names of famous players and dates of championships that ring the stadium.

Twenty-two Packers are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. In my newspaper days, I had lengthy conversations with two of them. Of course, they also are in the Packers Hall of Fame with 130 other stars. The Packers hall was closed during our visit as a major remodeling was being completed. I want to know how those two famous guys I met so long ago are portrayed in the hall. Lee and I have a 2015 return trip to Lambeau already in the planning stages to satisfy my curiosity.
We walked out the tunnel where champions have trod.

Well, after all, many of us have visited big stadiums and we can get a lot of information about football teams on the internet. Why should anyone bother going to Lambeau Field and paying for a tour? Because you have to be there to have your small group's "Go, Pack, Go" cheer clearly heard by other tourists far below you on the field. And you must be there to hear Lambeau Field answer you back. You also can't use a computer to match the experience of walking out onto the field through the tunnel so many great pro players have trotted through for a half century, while astute tour managers play recorded roars of a Lambeau crowd to urge you on.

What a coincidence! Names of two of the finest players in NFL history I met years ago are side-by-side high above Lambeau Field turf.  In 2015, Lee Klade and I will return to learn how the Packers Hall of Fame tells their stories.
There's a lot to take in at Lambeau Field that is available nowhere else. And the Packers need your money. Go there, and perhaps you can coax Dave Devenport or another expert tour guide into telling you how "God" told superstar defensive player Reggie White to go to Green Bay when White was a free agent courted by almost every team in the league. "God" was right. It's a good place to go to.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Leaping the Lake to Lambeau

The SS Badger leaving Ludington harbor. (photo from the ship's web page)
Our son Lee and I needed a road trip from our Michigan homes to Wisconsin.

Lee had business to do near Madison with a gallery displaying some of his stained glass art. I had a bucket list item to attend to--a visit to Green Bay to get a look at Lambeau Field after several hundred million dollars in renovations and expansions since I last was there to see a Packers game about 40 years ago. We decided it would be fun to go the old fashioned way, with a 60-mile voyage across Lake Michigan aboard the SS Badger.

A "road trip" on a boat?  Among other SS Badger trivia is the fact that it officially is part of U.S. Highway 10, linking the eastern and western sections of the route. We were amused by the highway sign displayed prominently on the ship, and thought it was a joke--a bit of research proved it wasn't. Another thing sets the Badger apart from other ferries; it is the only vessel registered as a historical site by two states.
We used a photo op to give Lee a souvenir.
The Badger is the last large coal-burning steamship in the United States, where many once sailed the Great Lakes and other waterways. It and a sister ship, the SS Spartan, were built in 1952 in a Wisconsin shipyard and launched the next year.

Of course, University of Wisconsin sports teams are "Badgers," so perhaps the sister ship was named just to even things up in cross-lake traffic. "Spartans" represent Michigan State University in athletics. The SS Spartan was retired from service in 1979 and now rests in the harbor at Ludington, Michigan, near the dock used by the Badger, serving only to supply replacement parts for its sister ship. Michigan comes out on top in daily operations, however. The Badger runs on eastern time; Wisconsin is in the central time zone. Michigan also has the upper hand financially, the state collects the sales tax on all tickets.

The Badger, built with a reinforced hull, originally served as an ice breaker as well as a commercial vessel. It traveled between Wisconsin and Michigan year round. It is a big ship. An important use for many years was transporting railroad cars between the two states. We saw the railroad tracks imbedded in the floor of the hold where now only motor vehicles are carried. The Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad owned the ship for many years.

The need for railroad car transfers gradually declined, and in 1983 railroad interests sold the Badger. It was rebuilt and remodeled for service with an emphasis on carrying autos and passengers. However, it still has commercial uses. A huge tanker truck was driven into the hold shortly after our mid-sized sedan went aboard. A crew member said an important business for the ship is transporting oversized trucks carrying blades for giant windmills that generate electricity in new developments.

The Badger can carry 600 passengers and up to 180 vehicles. Nowadays, it runs from May 16 to Oct. 26. It travels slowly. The 60-mile trip from Ludington to Manitowoc, Wisconsin, takes about 4 hours. But driving between those cities via the northern route that crosses the Mackinac Bridge takes about 8 hours. Taking a southern route through Chicago would keep you on the road about 7 hours, but that trip can be much longer during rush hours.
The Badger can carry big rigs, such as the Budweiser Clydesdales' truck.
Unless one has a fascination for gazing at unbroken stretches of sky and water, a cross-lake journey can be dull. Badger management tries to make up for this with activities similar to those offered on a grander scale by ocean liners. Food and drink is available in a large cafeteria and a smaller lounge that has a well-stocked bar. A museum room has exhibits tracing the ship's history in detail. A few of the 50 to 60 crew members are hired as entertainers. A bingo game was in progress in one large area throughout most of our trip. Children were being entertained with a variety of games.

Ours was Lee's first voyage on the Badger, and my second. We had a ball exploring the old ship and agreed running our road trip over the waves was a good idea.

The conclusion of the trip was to be another lake crossing, which would be a first for both of us. We planned our return to Michigan via the Lake Express, a much newer ferry than the Badger that sails from Milwaukee to Muskegon and beats the older ship's travel time by about an hour and a half. Beautiful wife Sandy has traveled on the Express many times, and highly recommended it.

The phone call came when we were about five miles from the Milwaukee harbor. "We're sorry, but we have high winds and waves on the lake, and passengers wouldn't be comfortable. Our remaining trip today is cancelled."

Oh yes, several of the various descriptions of the SS Badger claim because of its size and design it seldom cancels a trip due to bad weather. We thought about that several times as we sat motionless on Chicago expressways or in countless construction zones in Indiana.

I phoned the Badger office today to check. "Did you folks cancel any of your trips on Wednesday?"

"Oh, no. We made all crossings on schedule."

Apparently, the grand old lady of The Great Lakes still has some good sailing in her and even can outdo a younger upstart sometimes.