Boomer Twilight

Mostly Humorous Observations of Most Anything, with a Boomer Slant

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Good Morning, Taiwan!

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I really enjoyed the movie Good Morning, Vietnam. Robin Williams was terrific in his role as Adrian Cronauer. He was a Disc Jockey for the American Forces Network and an English Teacher. Appealing to the differing musical tastes of soldiers from all regions of America is a task. Teaching Conversational English as a second language to the Vietnamese, although it was comical in the movie, was a challenge, as well. So that leads me into a period of time where I did basically the same thing; in Taiwan, rather than Vietnam (Pat Sajak was a Disc Jockey in Vietnam, but was given the Wheel of Fortune job over me because Vanna and I had a history).

In 1969 I owned a beautiful 1966 Aqua-colored Chevy Impala convertible with a white top, a 283 engine, and a 327 logo; a fraud perpetrated by the previous owner. After buying it from Bob Peck Chevrolet in Alexandria, I continued the lie. It looked cool and felt like a muscle car, with a nice sized trunk, making it possible to smuggle my girlfriend into the drive-in without paying.

One Saturday evening I went to Fairfax Village in Southeast DC to drink at a bar named The End Zone. At the time we only had to be eighteen to qualify for suds in Washington. My drinking partner was a friend, Ronnie Floyd, who had recently been drafted by the Army, but when he went to Ft. Holabird in Baltimore for his induction, a fellow from the U. S. Marines came in the room and chose him for their team. That’s how it was then. We had no choice.

That night it was snowing, and while preparing to leave the house, I joked with my parents about wrecking my car. Some joke. After celebrating Ronnie’s imminent tour in Vietnam for a few hours, I said goodbye to him and got in my car for the ride to Landover, where my family was living at the time. Of course I shouldn’t have been driving, but in those days no one paid much attention to that sort of thing, so while traveling NE on Alabama Avenue I began to slide in the snow, taking out a police call box. Oopsie Daisy! The upper half of the box landed in the back seat of the car, and the lower half was dragged several hundred feet under the vehicle, destroying all the hardware necessary for it to operate, as I experienced the twirling sleigh ride from hell, stopping at the corner of Alabama and Massachusetts Avenues. After looking around for Angels or pitchforks and realizing life would continue, I found the nearest pay phone (since the call box was useless) and called my parents.

It is just a bit foggy exactly how everything transpired, but I remember my parents showing up, and do not recall any police presence. My father and I pushed what was left of the call box from the middle of the road as he questioned me about my alcohol indulgence. Being a punk 19-year-old, of course I lied. “No dad, I haven’t been drinking,” but my stumbling behavior should have given me away. As a father, he was probably grateful to see me alive, and just a bit ticked about the inebriation, forgiving the lie for the survival. If given the same situation as a parent, I probably would have been as benevolent. But, the car was totalled and my life was soon to change.

The loss of transportation made it difficult to attend classes at Prince George’s Community College. It was my first semester, and hitchhiking to class was unreliable. After missing quite a few sessions, my grades were suffering, so I dropped out. In 1969, dropping out of school meant you went from a 2S draft classification to 1A immediately. Your lottery number was basically null and void. So, my induction was on the horizon.

I didn’t wait. Knowing Ronnie Floyd had been drafted and subsequently transformed into a Marine scared the heck out of me, so I went to DC and hit the Recruiter’s office. I signed up for the Air Force because it was my best chance not to be wallowing in the mud in ‘Nam. After taking their exam I qualified for several positions and agreed to enlist under the first one available, which was in the Administrative category. Whew! I avoided the draft. After Basic Training and Technical School, I was sent to Taiwan. My Radar O’Reilly career was beginning.

From July, 1969 through February, 1973 I was stationed at Tainan Air Base in Taiwan; assigned to the 2128th Communications Squadron. The United States maintained a presence in that country following the 1949 fall of China to the Communist regime (Peoples Republic of China) of Mao Tse-tung. The Kuomintang (Republic of China) led by Chiang Kai-shek escaped to Taiwan, which has never been disputed by either side as a part of China. Because of our staunch anti-Communist stand at the time and the invasion of Korea by Red China, the US elected to protect Taiwan from Mao, and 20 years later, I arrived.

The first thing I noticed after landing on the island was the smell. They had an open sewage system, which was essentially vented, masonry-covered pits along the streets. This kept people from falling in, but allowed the odor to assault all the senses possible. It reeked, but after a short time, I didn’t even notice. Other than the odor, Taiwan was beautiful. Imagine a tropical paradise, where you spend most of the day dodging bicycles, scooters, motorcycles, taxis and pedestrians, in overcrowded conditions, and you have a pretty good idea. Taiwan is bisected by the Tropic of Cancer, so the weather in Tainan is similar to Havana, Cuba (without the Castros). I was delighted to be there.

In the early morning, Tainan was serene. Less activity and street breakfast, consisting of heated soy milk and a sort of airy bread stick that was deep fried and probably unhealthy, but “Oh so good.” I’m not sure my etiquette was acceptable, but I dipped the bread stick in the soy milk and enjoyed my “Ugly American-self.” I was on a four-year vacation, and didn’t care what anyone thought.

One of my favorite activities in Taiwan was eating from street vendors (we called them Noodle Stands). As a young, naive kid, I didn’t think there was anything wrong with it and contamination was not a concern. Everything was boiled or deep-fried and just awesome, with just the right sauces and spice. From 1895 to 1945 Taiwan was occupied by the Japanese, influencing the variety of foods. Fried tofu (smelled like feet), squid, snake, various poultry parts, eel, frog, noodles; you name it, I ate it. I’m sure today, based on my recent experience with Giardia, I would be hesitant to indulge, but in those days gorging on strange cuisine was my preference.

Tainan Air base was situated next to Air America (CIA), and our job was basically to keep the Communist Chinese from overtaking the island, and providing support for activities in Vietnam. For me, it was renting a house off base for less than $40 a month and partying with my friends. In the Communications Center we manned an old switchboard, probably left over from the Korean War (thus the Radar reference). Within the “secret” area we operated a General Dynamics computer that was a combination teletype, card reader, magnetic tape reader and printer; very high tech for the time. In the building next door there was the radio station, American Forces Network Taiwan, which was the only station in southern Taiwan to broadcast in English.

After a short time in the country, the local Baptist Church sought volunteers to teach Conversational English at the Chinese Air Force Academy in Gangshan, south of Tainan. I was dating an Elementary School teacher, Tsai-Yun (eventually my first wife and mother of our two wonderful children), who thought it would be a good idea to volunteer. So I did. The Robin Williams Experience began.

The classes were really nothing more than young Air Force Cadets asking me questions about my personal life and America. “Do you have a girlfriend?” “Is everyone rich in America?” “Are all American women blond?” “What do you and your girlfriend do for fun?” “Why do you say you know so much?” It was a good time and we laughed together quite often.

After several months of teaching, they had a graduation party for me. The Chinese like to eat. Their parties consist of many dishes on the table, where everyone partakes, family style. But the officers, particularly the General in charge of the school, liked Johnny Walker Black; however, they did not sip the beverage, they swilled. Every time a drink was poured one of them would shout “Gambei!” and we would all tilt our heads back and shoot the beverage down our gullets. After several “down the hatches” the food and drink was not sitting so well. Eventually it was time to grab the bowl with both hands, on my knees, and rid myself of the evening’s offerings. In the adjacent stall of the men’s room it was obvious someone was experiencing the same ordeal. I exited my area for clean up, and guess who came out of the other stall to do the same? The General. He smiled, then laughed and patted me on the back, while slurring something in Chinese. Apparently I had made a friend. Who would have thought Johnny Walker was such a match maker?

A couple of years, a few typhoons and some earthquakes later, I was looking for something else to do beside answering the switchboard and delivering messages to those showing proper ID at the window of the Communications Center. One of the Disc Jockeys, with whom I had become friendly, came over to our building one day and asked if I was interested in auditioning for a part-time position as a weekend broadcaster. It was volunteer work, but would be a lot of fun. I jumped at the opportunity and as soon as my shift was over, stopped by to meet with the Station Manager. He gave me a script to read, I passed the test, and “poof” I was given the job. My show was Saturday morning at 6:00 AM, in between Wolf Man Jack and Bob Kinglsey (both on tape), and Sunday at 8:00, right after a religious show (yeah, they were probably politically incorrect, but no one complained). From March 1972 through February 1973 I was a small-time star.

The first song I ever played was Doctor My Eyes, by Jackson Brown, and both shows opened with A Beautiful Morning by The Rascals (initially known as the Young Rascals). During every show, a young girl would call and ask to hear Layla by Derek and the Dominoes and I always played it for her, since she was my only groupie (plus she was awake at 6 AM to call, so I awarded her diligence). At the time my personal musical taste was pretty much Hard Rock. One Sunday morning I played six songs in a row, which included Mountain, Grand Funk Railroad, Jethro Tull (Aqualung), The Stooges (which had to be smuggled into the studio because they didn’t have anything commercially acceptable), Dr. John, and Humble Pie. I was having a blast; playing air guitar and banging pencils on the console like a wannabe drummer. Then the phone rang. It was the Station Manager. “You know, Bob, we have people stationed here with varying musical tastes. We are the only English Language station in Southern Taiwan; therefore, our people might want to hear something they like, rather than just what you like. So, could you mix it up somewhat and refrain from playing just the hard stuff at 8:00 in the morning?” That’s all he said, but I got his point, and grabbed some Frank Sinatra, Johnny Cash and Stevie Wonder from the library. My morning became a little more boring for me, but the job was secure.

I really loved my time in Taiwan, but getting out of the structured military life was a little more important than being a part-time DJ. My full four years would end in May of 1973, but I was entitled to an early out in February, and took it. So, it was back to the States to begin civilian life at the end of February. A truly enjoyable experience had to end and new experiences would begin.

Good Morning, USA!

With Love,

Bake My Fish

If Turkeys Were Pigeons and Pigeons Were Turkeys

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Suppose the Pilgrims decided to have pigeon for dinner instead of turkey; how would we be different? The common pigeon is everywhere, crapping on everything. What if it was a turkey? The load would be greater and statues would deteriorate at a much faster pace. Turkeys are beautiful, pigeons are “Eh.” But, if pigeons were celebrated like turkeys, where would we be?

Our Thanksgiving feast would be much different if pigeon was the main course. We would need more fowl carcasses to feed the family (a 13 pound turkey is equivalent to 16 average pigeons), stuffing would be limited; and what about cranberry sauce? Would the vile condiment be as good with pigeon? I hate it anyway, but those who like it might be put off. There would be more wish bones for the kids, but smaller legs for the fathers. Carving would be quicker for Dad, too.

If turkeys were pigeons and pigeons were turkeys, WWI would have been altered. Pigeons were used to relay messages in the absence of reliable communications systems. Turkeys really don’t fly very far or very well, although they could probably carry a bigger load. Turkeys make a larger target to be shot down by the enemy, so their usefulness as messengers would have been limited.

If turkeys were pigeons, we would “coo” our food rather than “gobble.” Even though a “coo” is a decidedly more pleasant sound than a “gobble,” what would Sergeant York have done during WWI? His method of enticing the Germans to raise their heads for killing was to “gobble” like a turkey. I doubt they would have reacted to the “coo.”

Imagine walking the streets of New York with unlimited turkeys flying overhead. Personally, I would rather be bombed by a few dozen pigeons than half-a-dozen turkeys. The damage from turkeys could be severe. There would be much less room on the sidewalks, and I doubt a flock of turkeys would scatter as quickly and efficiently as a bunch of pigeons. Fortunately, we treat turkeys with much more respect than pigeons due to their historical significance; therefore, turkeys are more easily tolerated. The ability of the turkeys to nest in Sky Scraper crevices would be a much more difficult task for the birds. Pigeons adjust well, due to their smaller size. And what about all the people who raise carrier pigeons on rooftops? They would need more room for turkeys, and there would be a danger of letting the birds loose from the roofs. They could very well fall upon unsuspecting passersby. Old men on fixed incomes, sitting on park benches, would have to spend more to feed turkeys.

Of course, as an American I have savored turkey quite often. Pigeon has not been a meal for me, thus far. Now, you are probably wondering what it might be like. Squab is pigeon. I was caught by surprise, too. Being on the East Coast, we really don’t eat much squab. I don’t recall seeing it on a menu recently. But, it is considered a delicacy. I would have a tough time with a squab leg being deposited on my plate with a message tied to it. Kind of like a fortune cookie. When I pass a pigeon on the street, I don’t think of food. If that pigeon was a turkey, a homeless person could eat for a week. I’m not sure they are eating pigeon, but a turkey would be hard to resist.

Thanksgiving will be here soon. We’ll gorge ourselves on turkey, without any thought of pigeon. Squab will not be on our minds. We will be busy enjoying stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes, pumpkin pie, beer, wine and liquor. I doubt any of us will be considering pigeon. But, if the Pilgrims chose the bird we take for granted and consider more of a pest than a morsel, pigeon would be the featured dish.

Happy Thanksgiving.

With Love,

Bake My Fish

Written by Bake My Fish

November 23, 2008 at 9:44 pm

1968 – Forty Years Ago; 20 Per Eye

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In 1968 I was a skinny, pimple-faced High School Senior. My biggest challenges were refraining from squeezing my zits and soiling my undies in my sleep. Worrying about economics, paying bills, who was in charge of the world, or any of those things took a back seat to fantasizing about my Business teacher, Miss Hopkins, and her Tabu perfume, and selling shoes at Bakers in Iverson Mall. But, the whole country was going crazy; I just didn’t think about it.

It has been argued that 1968 was the year that changed everything. Lyndon Johnson grew frustrated with the war in Vietnam and decided not to seek reelection. He had become President upon the death of John Kennedy, and then won election by beating a lame opponent, Barry Goldwater. But, now he wanted out. The country was being torn apart by opposition to a war that was none of our business. Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy were assassinated. After the death of MLK, the cities erupted in riots. Whole city blocks were burned to the ground.  Richard Nixon was elected to his first term as President, only to resign the office amid scandal five years later.  O. J. Simpson won the Heisman Trophy.

It’s easy to say today that everyone was just out of their minds back then, but unless you were there you can’t know. I was there, but oblivious, so how can anyone not subjected to it really understand? There are news accounts and historical records, but the atmosphere is not in the records. It was surreal. I remember my mother waking me by yelling upstairs to my attic apartment that Bobby Kennedy had been killed. All that went through my mind was that one day five years before, where the only thing on television was the funeral of John Kennedy. Was I going to miss Mayberry R.F.D.? Seriously though, it was shocking. How could I understand what was happening? My graduation was in just a couple of days, and that was heavy on my mind.

The Tet Offensive had just taken place in January. We watched the television reports, while my parents worried I would be drafted. I worried, too. Everyone was expected to wave a flag and declare love for America, but the young people could not figure out why we were in Souteast Asia. We were being thrown to the dogs for the sake of stopping Communist aggression. Or, so the story went. No one wanted to call it a Civil War.

But, that’s all in the past. We made a mistake and lost a lot of lives as a result. I just didn’t want to be one of them. John Prine wrote a great song, “Your Flag Decal Won’t Get You Into Heaven Anymore.” It was written in 1971, but I always loved the picture it painted. Honestly, I don’t really care what your feeling may be for that period of time, but while I was there, that’s how I felt. When the media was hammering Bill Clinton and George W. Bush for avoiding the draft, I sat back and held my tongue, because I understood. No one really wanted to go.

It’s easy to go to war when you can do it by proxy. Your life is safe if someone else is doing the fighting. Soldiers lose an arm, a leg, an eye, a life, a family, but it’s all OK, if it is them and not us. Politicians wave their arms high and scream “bloody murder,” but it is not them who are suffering. They don’t walk around with a limp, or an eye patch, or scooting around in a wheel chair. Yeah, they send their kids, but they send their kids. Not them. They’re safe. You can label me Liberal or whatever, but the fact of the matter is, war kills. It isn’t good for anyone. Everyone suffers.

As a society, we have to find a way to avoid war. If we are attacked, we have to react. Afghanistan made sense because that was the haven of Al-Qaeda, and they struck first. Iraq was vengeance; getting even for the past. We are there now, and have to tough it out. In the future we have to think a little more about jumping in the fray.

If forty years of history taught us anything, I would be surprised. We never seem to learn. When it comes to economic gains over death, we accept death as a consequence. As long as it’s not our death. Throw a soldier into the heat, and he’ll take it. But, we’re running out of soldiers. In 1968 we had the draft, which meant the soldier had no choice. He had to go. Today, there is no draft, and with what is occurring at the present time, fewer men and women are opting to join. They don’t want to die any more than the politicians who have chosen their fate.

With that being said (ha ha), we need to change the future.

With Love,

Bake My Fish

P.S. Check out the videos for 1968

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Written by Bake My Fish

November 8, 2008 at 9:14 pm

3:10 to Yuma – A Movie Review

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Being born in 1950 has at least one benefit. Many of you reading this think “that’s a long time ago, and what could be good about being that old?” Well, it gave me an appreciation of the western movie.

In 1950 the Wild West had only been tamed for about 35 years. The last stage robbery took place in 1916 and Wyatt Earp died in 1929. Forty years ago from this year, Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King were assassinated, so thirty-five years in perspective doesn’t seem so long ago.

Some of the best TV shows in the 50s and 60s were Westerns. We had Wyatt Earp, Cheyenne, The Rebel, Bonanza, Rifleman, Sugarfoot, Zorro, Rawhide, Gunsmoke, The Texan, Bat Masterson, Maverick, The Lone Ranger, Roy Rogers, Have Gun Will Travel, Big Valley, High Chaparral, Wagon Train, Death Valley Days, The Virginian, Wanted Dead or Alive, etc. I think you get my point; there were a lot of shows devoted to Cowboys. Go to this website for an extensive listing.

In 3:10 to Yuma the cast gets my attention. I have enjoyed monitoring the career of Christian Bale. He was the kid in Steven Spielberg’s Empire of the Sun, and now he’s the newest Batman. If you had the pleasure of seeing his performance in The New World, you will most likely agree he is very good. He’s “movin’ on up” and it’s based on talent. In this movie he is great as Dan Evans, a rancher who is down on his luck. An Oscar for some performance is probably in his future.

Of course, Russell Crowe is terrific as the bad guy, Ben Wade. Mr. Crowe gets a lot of flack from the press for his “bad boy” ways, but his performance in virtually every movie he makes appears Oscar worthy. Throwing telephones at hotel employees is a bit much, but artists are often somewhat crazed (at least he didn’t cut off one of his ears). By the way, he was born in New Zealand, not Australia.

In my opinion (this is my review) the standout actor in 3:10 to Yuma is Ben Foster. You may have seen him in Boston Public as Max Warner or in the awesome HBO series Six Feet Under as Russell Corwin. In this movie he plays a really creepy, but slick killer, Charlie Prince, and he wears it so well.

Those of you who are familiar with Easy Rider know Peter Fonda, who is in this, too. He’s the son of Henry Fonda and brother of Jane, and even though he has a long career in films, most of which I have enjoyed, I think his greatest accomplishment is the fathering of Bridget. During the 90s she was the “It Girl” in my mind, and her greatest performances for me were in Point of No Return and Singles.

What I liked most about 3:10 to Yuma is the respect Russell Crowe shows for Christian Bale. Russell sees a father trying to impress his son, and willing to take on a job that can only lead to unfortunate circumstances. Bale is part of a group bringing Crowe to the town of Contention on behalf of the railroad he has been robbing, to be transported on the 3:10 train to Yuma for his trial. Bale is paid $200 to risk his life. All along the trail, Crowe’s gang, led by Ben Foster is creating havoc for the group, but Bale is committed to the task, regardless.

If you haven’t seen the movie, I won’t spoil it for you by revealing what happens. This was my second viewing, and I won’t hesitate to watch it again. If you like westerns, lots of action and very good acting, check it out. Our library has it on the shelf for free. Yours might, too.

“Saddle up, Pardner.”

With Love,

Bake My Fish

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Written by Bake My Fish

October 12, 2008 at 12:40 am

O Phineas, Phineas, Wherefore Art Thou Phineas?

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I’m probably going to Hell, be struck by lightning, or meet a horrible end for this post, but the subject is too freakish for me to avoid. I just can’t help myself.

It would have been interesting to know Phineas Taylor Barnum. Probably every birthday party he gave for his kids included clowns, dwarf piñatas, lots of celebration, and just a damned good time. He was involved in a few nefarious activities, including running numbers, hoaxes and displaying odd humans, referred to as “Freaks, ” and he was considered by many people of his time to be a scoundrel. If you’ve ever attended the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus, you are guilty of being an enabler. Phineas started it, and you bought tickets. I took my kids when they were young, but they spent the whole show counting the number of times the elephants pooped. We didn’t have a chance to see Freaks.

Some of you may be thinking you are “Holier than Thou” and that you look the other way when you see an unusually-figured person (mimes don’t count), but don’t kid yourself and don’t kid me. We all like to see strange things. We pretend not to notice, but the corner of our eye gets stretched as far as possible and at any opportunity, we peek. When was the last time you were stuck in traffic, and the only reason for the delay was rubber-necking? I know you looked. Don’t be ashamed. It’s acceptable to gaze. That’s how Barnum grew rich. He was the first Millionaire Showman. And if it makes you feel any better, the people who were displaying their oddities and/or deformities referred to themselves as “Freaks.” So, you’re off the hook for the curiosity or use of the word.

When I was a kid, my favorite school field trip was to the Medical Museum where we saw fetuses in jars, photos of disfigurements, skeletons, and the Elephantiasis leg (there was a rumor about John Dillinger’s wee wee, but I never saw it). Little did I know at the time that Elephantiasis is caused by a parasitic worm (again with the parasites, Bake) and it demonstrates how vulnerable we are to nature’s invasive activities that cause unwarranted agony.

I recently became aware of the Treeman of Indonesia, aka Dede. This story has been circulating for some time, but it just caught my attention about a month ago (maybe I’ve been “living in a tree or under a log”). Wow! This guy is messed up. And from a human papillomavirus (HPV). He grows these wood-like warts all over his body. His hands and feet resemble tree branches and he has a morbid fear of termites, beavers, woodpeckers and squirrels. The sad thing is his wife left him and he was fired from his job. I assume he was sacked because he couldn’t use his hands or feet and it was impossible to perform any normal task (I suppose they don’t have ADA protection in Indonesia). His wife was probably worried about splinters. Yet, he likes to smoke cigarettes. If I were him, no open flames would get anywhere near me.

There is a fellow in Indonesia, Hani Suwanto (their P. T. Barnum), who along with his assistant, Boy, display Dede and several other people with physical deformities known as the Sadaluk Clan. The Clan includes Dede, Bubble Man and Nose Man as featured performers. Hani thinks of himself more as Walt Disney, with a goal of 100 of these people under one roof. In his mind he is providing a social service for the “performers” who have no other opportunity for income. Before you feel aghast at the exploitation, be aware Dede is OK with it. It’s the only way he can make a living. The Welfare System in Indonesia is not quite as generous as here, so Dede has to work somehow to feed himself and his children, and the circus is the only willing employer. If Barnum was alive today, Dede would be his featured act and he would probably have Huang Chuancai open the show for him.

Alright, I’ve gotten my cheap laughs and perhaps freaked you out just a bit with the pictures displayed here. Click on some of the links (especially Freaks) and feed your amazement. But, the purpose is not really for amusement. I’m fascinated by how unforgiving nature can be. The more we mess around with it the nastier it can get.

The next time you see an abnormal human, think about the suffering they must be experiencing and how fortunate you are to be spared the misery. Working in a circus might pay the bills, but I’m sure it’s not the occupation they had in mind.

With Love,

Bake My Fish

Who’s on the Marlow, the Marlow?

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In August of 1973 I began attending Prince George’s Community College, while living in Imperial Gardens Apartments in Suitland, MD. After being discharged from the Air Force in February, I had been through an attempt to sell pots and pans and one season of driving a Good Humor truck. Now it was time to start working on an education. After several months of growing my hair and beard, my Hippie Wannabe look was beginning to take form. You may recall in my Good Humor post I mentioned how several of the Ice Cream Men drove a taxi in the off season. I was glad they directed me to this particular occupation. Since I was also attending summer classes, there would be no further Ice Cream Man duties. Hacking was my immediate future until graduation.

Cab driving proved to be rather lucrative. The Government paid me $388 a month on the G. I. Bill to be a full-time student, and I rented a cab on the weekends from the Bluebird/Yellow/Suburban Cab Company in Marlow Heights, netting between $150 – $200. Working on New Year’s Eve was usually worth an additional $100 – $150 for the night. I was averaging over $1,000 a month, tax free (please don’t tell Uncle Sam), which was a tidy sum back then. It was enough to support my wife and two tots (aged 1 and almost 3), and allowed for the occasional bottle of Boone’s Farm, Bali Hai, Ripple, or a six pack of Black Label. Whenever school was closed for a holiday or snow emergency, I rented a hack and spent the day driving, and studying on the cab stand during slow periods. It was the ultimate temporary profession.

Most of you probably have in your mind the stereotype of the taxi drivers in most cities, who can’t speak English, or feign misunderstanding to drive you out of the way, and run up the meter. In 1973, the drivers were primarily American who spoke and understood English. But, in defense of today’s cabbies, we weren’t getting constantly mugged and ripped off by passengers, as seems to be so prevalent now. Sure, there was the occasional robbery and the passenger who jumped out without paying, but not to the extent it is today. Those most desperate for work tend to gravitate toward the danger and hassle, because no one else will do it. Cut the drivers a break when criticizing their lack of language skills, if you don’t mind. You’re lucky they are there when you need the ride.

“Who’s on the Marlow, the Marlow?” That’s the call from the dispatcher over the two-way radio putting out a job in the Marlow Heights section. How it worked was the first cab in line sitting on the Marlow Heights stand, located in front of the Giant Food/Steak in a Sack in the Marlow Heights Shopping Center, was given the job. Why the phrase was uttered twice, I’ll never know. Maybe it was to be sure we heard him. If there was no cab on the stand, the dispatcher called “Marlow 1st,” and any driver who was empty in section could bid on the job. The one closest to the fare would get it. “Marlow 2nd” was the next call if no one was empty in section. In this case, the taxi had to be in Marlow, dropping someone off or out of section empty. The closest to the location of the passenger won. Then if it went to “Marlow, Marlow,” which was the final call, and the first driver to bid got the fare.

Recently I met with some folks who grew up in Marlow Heights. The website in the highlighted link is run by Chuck Fraley. He organizes get-togethers of people who were youngsters in the area during the 60s and 70s. I discovered Chuck’s site while doing research for my Blog, and I’m glad I did. The group met at the Steak in a Sack for a terrific meal that brought back memories of the many sandwiches (basically a steak and cheese in a pita) I ate during my tenure as a cabbie from 1973 – 1976. Chuck was all “retroed-out” in his Banlon shirt, Macs and Chucks with the colored shoe laces. He really works to “Keep the Memories Alive!”

We had several taxi stands in the area. There was the one at the Prince George’s Motel, called “The PG,” which was across the street from Iverson Mall, where I sold shoes at Baker’s in 1967. We had a stand in Suitland at the Scot’s gas station (I forget what it was called). In Temple Hills we were on a dirt lot at the corner of Brinkley and Temple Hills Road, called (now stick with me on this), “The Dirt.” Those clever guys. Then there was the stand outside Andrews Air Force Base at the Ramada Inn called (sing in unison), “The Ramada.” By far the busiest stand was The Marlow. After moving to Greenbelt in 1975, I worked out of the Hyattsville office, and my favorite stand was at the Little Tavern on Route 1, right outside the University of Maryland campus (I was a Maryland student at this point). The reason I liked that location so much was not just because of the great little burgers, but its name. It was called “The Ritz.” Someone had a sense of humor in naming that one.

Most people these days are moaning and groaning about the price of gasoline; how it’s cutting into their budgets, and causing them to forego the extra Starbucks coffee or chocolate bar, just to keep their heads above water. Try having no gas when you are driving for a living. On October 17, 1973, just a couple of months after I started hacking, the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries decided to get even with the Western world for their support of Israel. Their plan to use oil as a weapon, by making it difficult to obtain, was secretly negotiated in August, in preparation of Egypt and Syria’s united assault of Israel. Both countries launched their attack on October 6th (Yom Kippur), and it was the beginning of the fourth Arab-Israeli war.

Fine and dandy for them, but my family had to eat and the Oil Embargo was not a welcome addition to my lifestyle. Sitting in line waiting for gas, and running out of gas while waiting, was not a particular thrill. It was irritating. In one instance, I was lucky enough to get a big fare going to Glen Burnie. The good news was I got a lot of cash for the trip. The bad news was I ended up hitchhiking, holding an empty Clorox container (it was in the trunk in case of an emergency), to get to a station and wait in line, so I could fill up the jug and get back to my taxi, with just enough gas to find another line that I could join and eventually fill up the car. Hitching a ride with long hair and a beard (two more months of growth), wearing jeans, Chuck Taylor’s, and my old Air Force fatigue jacket, isn’t a particularly appealing look to passers by. The addition of the Clorox bottle to my ensemble gave some people the impression I was a bum. My Hippie Wannabe look was transformed into Hobo Chique. It was a killer look, and I don’t mean in the sense of hot and sexy, I mean killer in the sense of homicidal. Fortunately a real Hippie stopped in his VW bus and drove me around to get the bottle filled and back to my cab. Kindred Spirits. “Peace, Brother. Groovy.”

One result of the Oil Embargo was the proliferation of self-service islands at gas stations. Although the first self-service station was opened in 1947 by George Urich, they didn’t really catch on. In fact many states banned them due to concerns about the elimination of jobs, and distrust of the inexperienced motorist spraying the ground (and possibly other customers) with petrol or driving away and ripping a hose off the pump. After the crisis that occurred in ’73, and the subsequent spike in gas prices that resulted, stations began offering the choice of full-service at one price and self-service at a lower cost. Still, many states didn’t allow self-service stations, but as we all know, today they are prevalent everywhere except New Jersey and Oregon. Additionally, the many incarnations of forced increased mileage legislation grew out of the Embargo.

Aside from the gas crisis, I enjoyed driving a cab, usually working the night shift because there were fewer drivers to compete with, and fewer old ladies with eight bags of groceries to be lugged to their sixth floor apartment, who only took the cab a few blocks, which meant a low fare, small tip, a lot of time spent, and losing my place in line at the stand. If I did work during the day, I avoided The Marlow, opting to drive around on the edge of several sections at once so I could “stretch my hood” when a job came out. If there was no cab on the stand of a particular section and it went to 1st call, I would make up a location in that section, hoping no other cab could see me. Any time a driver got caught fibbing he was cut off the air for an hour. If I was lucky enough there was no other cab closer to the job, I would get it, which meant I had to hurry, so as not to be discovered. A long delay in picking up a passenger, when I was supposedly nearby, was a dead giveaway. But, we could always use the excuse we had a bathroom emergency on the way.

Marlow Heights is fairly close to Andrews Air Force Base. Andrews is where Air Force One, the plane used by the President, is housed. There was always a “Press” plane as part of the entourage whenever the President went on trips. Although there were several reporters privileged enough to accompany the President on Air Force One, most of them flew on the Press plane. And, many of them ordered taxi service to get them into Washington and Northern Virginia once their plane landed. Our dispatcher would give us notification that several cabs would be needed in the Andrews section, so those who wanted the fares would go and sit on The Ramada at the appropriate time in anticipation of a pretty decent trip. The passengers were usually interesting, talkative (after drinking on the plane) and tipped well. I had the pleasure of carrying Connie Chung, Pierre Salinger and Garry Trudeau on separate occasions.

But, the best part of driving a hack was practicing my “Chicken Call.” There was a driver whose last name was Abel. I forget his first name because they always just called him Abel. He was a full-time cabbie who worked during the morning hours to make enough money to go to the racetrack in the afternoon and bet on the horses. There were several guys who drove to bet. Then after the races were over, if they lost they’d come back out on the street and work several hours, or if they won they wold take the rest of the day off. Abel was kind of a cut-up and the dispatchers liked him. My task was to cackle like a chicken over the radio, and I am very good. What was so much fun about the “Chicken Call” was the dispatcher always blamed Abel. My original intention was just to cluck for fun, but when they started yelling at Abel, it became a pretty good game. Sometimes I would continue on until the dispatcher was irritated to the point of threatening to cut Abel off the air. And Abel wasn’t even working. We had different dispatchers at different times, and they always blamed Abel. I got a real chuckle out of it, and it beat studying while sitting on a stand.

I often think about what it would be like to drive a cab today, but I’m sure it would not be as entertaining as then. I’m not even sure Abel is still alive, but if I were ever to cross his path again, I’d confess to the “Chicken Call,” just to see his expression.

“Who’s on the Coop, the Coop?”

With Love,

Bake My Fish

Who’ll Gimme Five?

with 9 comments

Only a few of you might recognize the guy in the picture. His name was Richard Rose. This past December I found out he died; just about a year after it happened. I felt really bad that I didn’t know it was coming. He was sick for awhile, and I had no idea. Keeping up with friends isn’t that hard. In this case I failed miserably.

On the debut of my job at the University of Maryland Computer Science Center in 1976, Richard Rose was one of the first people I met. I liked him as soon as I shook his hand. His smile was infectious under the mustache; with those eyes that kind of lit up when he grinned. You know what I mean. People just felt really comfortable around him. I was assigned to his shift and we went right to work. Richard didn’t mess around; always moving and helping. He was a great boss, who made you feel like an equal. What most people didn’t know was he had a passion for Auctioneering.

The setup at the Computer Science Center was Richard at the console with several intercoms throughout the building, used by the IBM Card Reader Operators to communicate with him. The whole purpose was for the students, who were learning how to program, to have us run their jobs incessantly; sometimes to the point of boring. Then every once in awhile you could hear coming from the intercom, “Who’ll gimme five? Who’ll gimme five dolla? Who’ll gimme five dolla, five dolla? Gotta five dolla, five dolla. Who’ll gimme ten? Who’ll gimme ten dolla, ten dolla? Gotta ten dolla. Who’ll gimme fifteen? De fifteen, de fifteen? Gotta fifteen. Who’ll gimme twenty?” Richard used different sing-song inflections and would go on and on into the whole rendition you might observe at a tobacco auction (where as a boy, he developed his fascination). The students loved it. We were all cracking up. Richard really was good.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Yeah, Richard goofed around with the rest of us; shooting rubber bands (we used them to wrap the output before giving it to the students) and playing practical jokes, but he was very serious about his job. When Richard died, he was Executive Director of the University of Maryland Academic Telecommunications System (UMATS) and USM Office IT. He was a Big Shot (not a reference to rubber bands).

There was more to Richard Rose than the hard working Computer Guy/Auctioneer. When I ran for the Greenbelt City Council in 1977, he worked the polls for me. His beautiful wife, Carla, was the Executive Assistant to Maryland State Senator Edward T. Conroy, and Richard introduced me to Senator Conroy, who introduced me to Steny Hoyer (who at the time was the 38-year-old President of the Maryland State Senate), Delegate Leo Green and a couple of other local politicos. Even though their implied endorsements were helpful, I lost the election by 128 votes, ending my blip of a political career.

The next couple of years thereafter, Richard helped me with two money-raising Gong Shows (Ed Conroy was one of our Celebrity Judges at the first one). He never balked at lending support to people he liked. Later we had an auction for the American Cancer Society at the Greenbelt Town Center. Of course, the idea of an auction for charity was conceived with Richard’s hobby in mind. When the event took place, he was in his glory; “Who’ll Gimme Fivin'” all over the place. Richard was the show, and what a show he was.

My job at the U of MD ended in 1979, and I moved from Greenbelt in 1980. For a little more than a decade, Richard and I sort of lost track of each other. We talked on the phone a couple of times and I stopped in to see him once, while in College Park on business. That was about the extent of our “keeping up.” Then in 1991, I organized an auction for the American Heart Association of Carroll County. If you have an auction, who do you call? Richard Rose! He jumped at the opportunity.

In downtown Sykesville, Richard occupied the gazebo in the picture and the audience lined the street. “Who’ll gimme five? Who’ll gimme five dolla? Who will give me five dolla, five dolla? Gotta five dolla. Who’ll gimme six? Who’ll gimme six dolla? Who’ll gimme six dolla, six dolla? A six dolla, six dolla? Gotta a six dolla, six dolla. Who’ll gimme seven?” And on it went. Richard was smiling and chattering and the audience loved him.

When the auction was over, we came back to my house for some grilled steaks and conversation about the past. After dinner, Richard went home and being the piece of crap I am, I never saw or talked to him again. On January 5, 2007 he died at age 59.

Don’t let a good friend leave you without having a chance to say goodbye.

With Love,

Bake My Fish

P. S.  Here is an update to this Blog.  Richard was recently honored http://internet2.edu/rose/

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