Happy Thanksgiving

I hope that this Thanksgiving finds you wherever you wish to be. Around a table with friends and family eating a good meal, quietly enjoying a day to yourself, volunteering with the less fortunate. No matter how you spend the day however, I hope that you are thankful. Thankful to have the sun upon your face. Thankful to have food upon your table. Thankful to have people who love you and whom you love.

The following link is a brief video history of Thanksgiving here in the U.S. From its possible origins at Plymouth Rock to its declaration as a U.S. holiday by Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War. It is the creation of the staff at the History channel, but I thought it was worth a little publicity.

Have a great Thanksgiving everyone. Eat well, laugh, and take a few minutes to reflect on everything you have. Despite highs and lows in our lives, we are lucky indeed.

A video history of Thanksgiving in the United States

This is not a political statement…

…no, we’ve had and will have enough of those in the past few days, weeks, and months and in the days, weeks, and months to come.

This is not a political statement…this is a statement on American politics.

The American political process is a deeply flawed and broken system.  It needs to be fixed and it needs to be fixed sooner rather than later.  In speaking with people throughout this recent political campaign, regardless of which way they voted in the end, Republican, Democrat, or third party, the common theme I heard was that people were embarrassed with our nation and this system. They were frustrated with the candidates put forth, and they felt that they were voting for the “lesser of two evils” rather than a candidate that they truly believed in.

I sum up my personal thoughts on politics and politicians as this:   I believe that our nation’s leaders should be people we hold in high regard, people who would and should act as role models for our children and the rest of us in society.  Unfortunately, I view most politicians as reverse-role models. I point them out to my children as a symbol of how NOT to conduct yourself.  The pettiness, the nastiness, the unethical and immoral behavior; these are not the traits that I have striven to instill in my children and it is embarrassing that these are the traits that our politicians display on an ongoing basis, and in front of the American people and the world. They are no different than the classic sleazy used-car salesmen. They will say whatever needs to be said to get elected, then wash their hands and walk away while we drive off in our clunker.

So how do we fix this system, and can it be fixed?

The second part of that question is the easiest part to answer: Yes, it can be fixed. Of course, it can be fixed.  By involvement, by speaking out, by voting not against a candidate, but instead, for a candidate that you believe in. By knowing that there is no “wasted vote” when you vote your conscience, contrary to what many would have you believe. Twenty hours ago, a CNN headline read: How Gary Johnson and Jill Stein helped elect Donald Trump.”  This is a profoundly foolish statement. It implies that voters who voted their conscience “wasted their vote.” I would argue that their vote was LESS wasted than that of someone who chose to simply vote against “the lesser of the two evils.”

The first part of the questions, however – how do we fix this system – is not as easy to answer. Here I will present my thoughts. I hope that others will see some logic in some of these and perhaps add to them, and that a firestorm demanding changes that benefit us – the people – be ignited.

The Two-Party System and the Debates

democraticlogoIn this nation, we have created a belief that we operate on a two-party system. This is in fact false. The Democrats and the Republicans are by far the largest U.S. parties, but not the only ones. There is the Libertarian Party, the Green Party, the U.S. Taxpayers Party, the Worker’s Party, and on and on.  The Democrats and Republicans would like you to believe otherwise, though.republican-elephant

We need to reform this attitude with our system on who can and can’t be a part of the Presidential debates.  This year, only Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton took the stage for the debates. This is due to an arbitrary decision that a candidate must be polling at 15% to be invited.  This is wrong.  If a candidate achieves the right to be placed on the ballot in all 50 states, they should automatically be included in the Presidential debates. I, for one, would have really liked to have seen and heard more from Governor Gary Johnson of the Libertarian Party. I am sure many would have liked to have heard more from Jill Stein. We have forgotten that third parties have a following and a right to be heard. We have libertarian_party-svgforgotten that once upon a time it wasn’t the Democrats and the Republicans but the Federalists and the Whigs. Other parties rose however, and now they have a voice, and that should be no different for third parties today.

The Debates

This is a section all in its own, but a short one.  The debates need to become just that – debates. Not two (or more based on my previous idea) sour-faced individuals spouting rhetoric and innuendo: DEBATES. Asked a question; answer the question. Answer with what THEY will do, not their opinion of what their opponent WON’T do.  We are not interested in opinions; we want your plan. Moderators need to take greater control of the debate. When a candidate gets off topic, or makes the famous green_party_of_the_united_states_earthflower_official_logostatement “before I answer the question I want to go back…,” the moderator needs to firmly cut them off and tell them “No, answer the question posed.”  When the candidate, as they always do, continues on, the moderator needs to have the authority to shut off the candidates’ microphone.  I have grown tired of debates that are rhetoric-filled “pissing” matches where I learn nothing substantive about the candidates’ positions. This needs to be corrected.

Election Funding

As with the debates, any recognized party that meets the criteria for placement on the 50 states ballots should receive equal federal funding to the other parties. The ability of the ustaxtwo major parties to outspend the third parties keeps additional thoughts and voices from being heard a time when we most need to hear them.

Additionally, Political Action Committees (PACs) need to be abolished.  NO ONE in America should be able to “buy” or financially influence any candidate or party. The era of political favoritism needs to come to an end.

Election Day News Coverage

So, this one will peak a bit of controversy due to the constitutional right to “Freedom of the Press,” but I think we need to place a moratorium on election day news coverage.  No exit polls, no state-by-state electoral college updates, no analysis from newscasters who really aren’t qualified to give analysis so what we really get is their opinion. Just for the 24-hours of election day. It influences many voters to act in opposition to what they may really be believing is the right course of action. It effects the stock market. It causes to much unnecessary disruption to the operational and election well-being of the nation.

The Nastiness that has become Politics

This is probably the biggest area that needs to be reformed. How do we make it explicitly clear to political candidates that we DO NOT want to hear the relentless negativity and nastiness that campaigning has become?  I find myself embarrassed for our nation and the candidates during the election season. I fail to understand supposedly intelligent, successful, educated individuals acting more childish than 5-year-olds on a playground fighting over a toy.

As a citizen, and a citizen who DOES exercise his right to vote, I am not interested in your opinions of your opponent. I am not interested in your thoughts on your opponent’s platform. I am intelligent enough to make those decision and determinations on my own. I want to know, in fact need to know, your thoughts on your platform. I need to why and how you plan on making changes. I want to know your thoughts on foreign policy, defense, domestic affairs, terrorism. I DO NOT want your opinion on your opponent’s lifestyle decisions, their charitable contributions, that they drive a foreign car, or eat too many hamburgers.  Tell me about you, your team, your policies, and how those policies will improve my life.the-golden-rule-quotes-5

I stated at the beginning of this article that I would never view a politician as being able to be a role model for my children.  That is sad. It is also true.  As children, we are raised to believe in the Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.”  Why does this go out the window in one of the most important times, and on such a public stage, as it does in politics.

Let’s hope that we will see positive change in campaigning by 2018. While I am not hopeful, I can still have hope.

If it rings true…

This past week, I was at a business meeting and on the wall of one of the hallways in the building was a quote attributed to Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States. The quote was:

“I am not bound to win, but I’m bound to be true. I’m not bound to succeed, but I’m bound to live up to what light I have.”

I was quite taken by the quote. We all have our own interpretations of what great quotes mean, and to me this quote meant that I don’t have to win but I must be honest – with

Lincoln 1858

Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865)

others, and with myself; and, I may not always be successful, but if I live up to the talents that life has provided me, then success is more in that detail than the actual outcome of the endeavor.

Since the quote struck a chord with me, I decided that I wanted to blog about it and its meaning to me. As I researched the quote further, however, I discovered that while often attributed to Lincoln, there is in fact no evidence that Abraham Lincoln ever said this.

I was disappointed. Abraham Lincoln is a hero of mine. When I was a boy, I dreamed that one day I would be President of the United States and Lincoln was my role model (I will also tell you that as an adult watching the embarrassing carnival freak show that is U.S. politics I am DAMNED glad that I am not in politics at all).

Then I had this realization. If it rings true…does it matter that it wasn’t a quote by Abraham Lincoln? Does it diminish the value that the statement had to me?  No, it doesn’t.  It doesn’t really matter who said the words. It’s if the words have value: to me, to you, to one, to a million.

I laugh at all of us as human beings sometimes. We come to place our athletes, our politicians, and our celebrities on such pedestals that if they were to say, “I had tomato soup for lunch,” the world would spin on its head at what a deep and astute statement that was. We are a funny lot.  That was proven to me by my initial disappointment that the quote wasn’t Lincoln’s. I don’t know who made this quote originally, but I thank them for their insight and wisdom.

What else do we do in life that mirrors this type of behavior? We all know that celebrities make great pitchmen (and women) in advertising.  They are frequently in the news supporting politicians, or standing up for animal rights, chaining themselves to trees to protect the forest, and on.  Why should this person have any more sway over your opinion than you have over your own opinion? Aren’t we supposed to be free thinkers? We’re not always going to be right and succeed, but as the quote so eloquently asks, have you been true? Have you lived up to your light?  Only you can decide what your “light” is.

Now let’s set my little rant here aside.  Read the quote again.  Do you agree? How do you live this quote in your everyday life? If one hundred people read this quote it is reasonable that there are one hundred varying interpretations, but that they all probably fall along the same line. Take your interpretation and apply it to your life.

As always, thank you for reading my Senseless Ramblings.  For those of you who have followed my posts in the past, I apologize that I have been away for a while. Life gets busy sometimes. I am hopeful that I will be back more frequently again.

Stay true.

Nothing to Fear but Fear Itself

Faced with the growing depths of the Great Depression as he entered office in 1933, President Franklin D. Roosevelt sought to lift the spirit of Americans in his first inaugural address.  His famous statement that we

Franklin-D-Roosevelt

Franklin D. Roosevelt, President of the United States 1933 – 1945

have nothing to fear but fear itself,” has become one of the great and oft-repeated lines of our nation, and it is a line that bears repeating today, not only as we climb from another recession, but as we find ourselves at the forefront of a new war, the war on terrorism.

In the wake of the recent mass shooting in San Bernardino, California, the rhetoric against Muslims has grown immensely.  Presidential candidate Donald Trump has called for a halt to immigration into the United States from those countries that are on our “watch” list.  Many Americans have taken up his cry and are standing behind this man whom I personally find more treacherous than any outside power. I would argue that we are simply allowing ourselves to become victims of our fear, and not of reality, by doing so.

In recent weeks and years, not just since San Bernardino but really going back to 9/11, the amount of hateful vitriol that I have seen people post on places like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter is shocking.  People whom I consider educated, well-reasoned people post and re-post messages of hate and fear. They make odd, unfounded arguments that the Koran is a book of evil and that all followers of it are enemies of Christianity and thus the United States. They are equally shocked that radical Muslims think Christians to be infidels and believe the bible to be an equally evil book.

How can we think we have such an incredible insight and world-view when in reality our eyes are so tightly shut? Hasn’t history shown us that to lump all people together based on their race, gender, national origin, religion, or any other means that differentiates them from another group is a recipe for disaster; a recipe that fosters and creates a “stew” of hate, pain, oppression, and ignorance.

We have to accept people for the individuals that they are. We have to separate the actual human being – the words, the actions, the DNA – from the labels. Are there evil Muslims in the world? Without a doubt.  Are there evil Christians in the world? Again, without a doubt.  In fact, we can list every religion or other factor of human difference here and we can find both immensely evil as well as immensely kind people.

Arbeit

The gate at the Auschwitz Concentration Camp – WWII

The consequences of painting any single group with a wide brush is that we paint over the detail and create a blank, flat expanse.  Perhaps we need to ask a holocaust survivor, or any one of the millions who did not survive, if they deserved their imprisonment and loss solely for being Jewish.  What about all the Japanese-Americans who found themselves in internment camps during World War II solely based on their ancestors national origin?

japanese-internment-camps

Japanese Internment Camp, USA – WWII

Many will argue that today’s situation is not the same.  I argue that it is.  We are allowing fear to rule us. We need to let our common sense guide us. We need to use that fear to come together for good, not to push us apart.  Another great president, Abraham Lincoln, made the famous statement that “a house divided against itself cannot stand.” That was in 1858, three years before he became president and the onset of the American Civil War. Almost 160 years later, we still need to learn this. If we drive our fellow American’s apart, based on what happens elsewhere in the world, it is ultimately our “house” that crumbles.

Lincoln 1858

Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States 1861-1865

America has always been the great melting pot of our world.  We are a nation born of “rabble,” of those who felt they weren’t accepted in their homelands. On that premise we have built a great, strong nation; a nation that endures its hardships. We should not seek to turn others away, but embrace them, show them what it means to be American, and why we fight so hard for what we have. We need to create allies in the faces of our enemies.  Subjecting certain populaces to scorn and fear does not accomplish this task.

We need to unite. Unite as Americans. That means unite as one cohesive group: not a group of whites, blacks, Asians, Hispanics, Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Taoists, etc., but as a human wall who hold shared values and will not allow fear to tear that wall down.coexist

Ghoulies and Ghosties and Long-leggedy Beasties and Things that go Bump in the Night

When I decided to sit down and write, I had no topic in mind. What I decided to do was to venture out to www.pixabay.com, a site that has license free pictures that can  be utilized on blogs and websites (hint, hint).  I wanted to peruse the pictures until one “spoke” to me. One that evoked a feeling or an emotion that made my mind click and whir and say to itself, “there is something there, dig for it.”  I looked over dozens, maybe even a hundred photos. This is the one that grabbed me.

When witches go riding, and black cats are seen, the moon laughs and whispers, ‘tis near Halloween. ~Author Unknown

When witches go riding,
and black cats are seen,
the moon laughs and whispers,
‘tis near Halloween.
~Author Unknown

Two weeks ago, my blog post discussed my love for the Fall, or Autumn.  One of the things that I love about Autumn is Halloween.

Halloween is a child’s holiday, but it is for the child that still lives in all of us; for this holiday defies age. The children in their costumes evoke our own memories of being those children, of the experience of walking house-to-house on a dark, cool night, ringing doorbells and crying out, “Trick or Treat!” Of being rewarded, and the pleasure of dumping the haul on the family room floor after returning home. The memories I have to share here are my memories – memories from my childhood, and memories of Halloween with my children. The are my nostalgia. I miss these times with my kids in particular, but the memories of the joy will last me forever.

My earliest memories from my hometown of Orange, California are of being dressed as a tiger. I did the tiger thing for a couple of years and after Halloween the costume became my pajamas.  A few years later it was a cowboy: hat, chaps, and silver six shooters (loaded with a full roll of caps). My dad would take my younger brother and me out around our block. We would stop at every house, knock or ring and yell the magical, candy-producing chant. It always seemed so late when we got home. In reality, it was probably 7:30pm.

As I got older the thrill became twofold.  First was the actual making of the costume. No more store bought costumes. In the back of my parents closet was an old dresser full of “dress-up” clothes. These were the makings of great Halloween goblins.  My favorite was to go as a hobo. Old ripped jeans and a too large flannel shirt were topped off with a crumpled plastic pork-pie hat and a huge rubber cigar.  45 seconds with a charcoal briquette and my 10- or 11-year-old self had a respectable 5 o’clock shadow. Also, we had reached an age, in what was the more accepting 1970’s, that my dad no longer tagged along. We were ghouls on the loose.

Once properly adorned, and with the dark almost completely settled in (for my northern climes friends, it gets dark in SoCal much earlier than in Michigan) we set off with a goal: to reach the fire station on Shaffer St. This was the second part of the

Orange, CA Fire Station #3

Orange, CA Fire Station #3

thrill. Why?  Because they always gave out full-sized sugar daddy bars! It was several blocks of walking (or seemed like it anyway) but you got to hit up every house getting there, and as many as you wanted on the way back until either A) you were too tired; B) your candy bag was full or weighed too much; or, C) any combination of the above.

As a child you view Halloween from the child’s perspective – the costumes, the candy, the mischief.  Then I became a parent.

I have three children and each has given me the joy of seeing Halloween through their eyes. Costumes as unique to each child as they are unique to other kids. Vampire, pirate, executioner, dalmation, princess, clown, an elf, and on and on.

Pixie, kobold, elf, and sprite, All are on their rounds tonight; In the wan moon’s silver ray, Thrives their helter-skelter play. ~Joel Benton

When they were little, like my father before me, I escorted them around the neighborhood, taking them to doors, reminding them to say “Thank you.”  When they reached the point where dad providing escort was “no longer cool” (and dad deemed them old enough) they were off in large groups of friends. I am sure their memories will be much like mine, and very different too. Perhaps the basis for their own story one day.

October and Halloween hold other cherished memories for me , also. Memories that I have no doubt are shared by my wife and kids through the lenses of their perception; but all good.

Hocus-Pocus

The Sanderson sisters have come back from colonial-era Salem and have plans for the towns’ children

Our family loves the movie Hocus Pocus.  I haven’t seen it now in a few years, but when the kids were younger, we loved to watch it together every year, particularly the girls.

Jack overlooking Halloweentown in A Nightmare Before Christmas

Jack overlooking Halloweentown in A Nightmare Before Christmas

]For my son it was A Nightmare Before ChristmasThe Jack Skellington mug in my office at work attests to my love of that movie also. I have always been especially taken with the musical score.

Another great Halloween movie memory is The Halloween Tree. Written and narrated by Ray Bradbury this animated film from the Cartoon Network tells unique stories of Halloween from the perspectives of different times and cultures throughout the world. It is done in such an enjoyable and charming way that it’s not until the movie ends that you realize that you just might have gotten a little education, too. Like Hocus Pocus, I would say that The Halloween Tree is one of those films that families refer to as “cozy” and can watch over and over again.

Witch & MoonNow remember this picture? Yes, it spurred me to write about Halloween, but it still says more to me, and I think that is why I chose it.  Often when I see a photo, I “feel” things from the picture. Black and white pictures in particular pull this sensation from me,

While still Autumn related, looking at this picture  makes me think of walks I used to take as a teenager, late at night, around the home we lived in out in the country.  I could take the dogs with me and let them off their leashes and listen to them as they ran through the undergrowth. It evokes for me the end of the growing season and the Harvest Moon.  I smell leaves burning and feel crisp air on my face. I see children bobbing for apples, and I hear the breeze rustling the red and gold dying leaves. I imagine the frost that will soon start to greet me in the morning.pumpkin-201077_1280

Pictures all tell a story, and sometimes our story is not the same as that of the photographer. But the beauty of art is that it is for any interpretation we want to give it.

All the best.

The Cemetery

“Did you ever think when the hearse went by,

perhaps you’ll be the next to die;

they’ll wrap you up in a cold white sheet,

and bury you down six feet deep.”

                                                                                                  –The Hearse Song

When I was a child, my aunt taught me The Hearse Song, or at least a version of it.  To me it was never presented as a song; it was a poem and it was just meant to be a creepy little funny saying. And it really was; as a child I loved to say it, and in the creepiest little Count Dracula voice I could muster. What it did however, was created in me the opposite effect of what it probably has done to others.  I fell in love with cemeteries.

Cemeteries do not frighten me. I do not fear them, I do not think they are creepy, and I actually find them very peaceful.  Unlike many people’s perceptions however, I also don’t equate cemeteries with death. Cemeteries are history. Cemeteries are stories waiting to be told. Each stone is a lasting monument to a real human being. A person, flesh and blood, sweat and tears, like you and I.

cemetery-980056_1280Look at the marker in the picture. I intentionally found it through a random online search.  I don’t know where it is located. I don’t know if the cemetery is small, large, or even perhaps just a family cemetery.  Here is what I do know:  It marks the final resting place of Lucy Blanchard. Lucy served as a nurse in the U.S. Army during the Civil War.  She was already in her early 40’s when the war started, and she lived to an impressive (especially given the late 19th and early 20th centuries) age of 90.

Lucy was a very real human being.  She was somebodies child who probably swam in creeks or swimming holes and played hide-n-seek with friends and siblings when she was young. Maybe she grew up on a farm. Maybe not. I don’t know if Lucy was ever married nor had children. I would like to believe she did. Married or not, she undoubtedly knew how to love and received love from those around her. She probably had her fair share of suitors, and might even have had a few detractors.  Was her hair blonde, red, brown, black? I don’t know. Color of her eyes? I don’t know.  That I don’t know doesn’t make her less real. It doesn’t mean that she doesn’t hold a place in the history of our world.

Can I infer anything about Lucy.  I think so.  Lucy was a caring woman. She didn’t have to act as a nurse during the Civil War. Women weren’t drafted; but she did. Knowing Lucy was a Civil War nurse, we also know that she witnessed countless horrors: Minie balls fired from muskets created horrible wounds, cannon and mortar fire tore limbs away. She must have witnessed field amputations and surgery where there simply wasn’t sufficient, if any, anesthetic. I am sure she watched brave, young men who fought for their country waste away and die of infection from their wounds and of rampant disease. Lucy saw things that we simply cannot imagine.

I love history. I am fascinated by it and I am moved to know that I might trod the same ground or touch the same walls and door handles that people touched 100 years ago. It’s all very innocuous, just another day in passing, and yet we cross paths with the past all the time. I want to know more about the people – not the famous people, but the everyday worker, father, mother, brother, and so on and so forth. History tells the stories of the famous, but it’s the non-famous, the average person, who really makes the history, who really tells the story.

I wish when I knelt at a grave I could talk to the inhabitant. Not in a creepy way. I’m not looking for a Stephen King experience. One clean pair of underwear a day suffices just fine.  I just want to ask them about their life. What did they do? Where did they live? How did they celebrate their holidays? Were they married? Have kids? Where were they from? What made them laugh?  I could spend hours asking and listening. People fascinate me (living ones too). I want to know their stories. I would love to write their stories. I believe the saddest thing is when you visit a cemetery and you see the graves of the forgotten. I wish I could help them be remembered.

I call my blog the “Senseless Ramblings Blog.” If you made it this far, then you have truly experienced one of my senseless ramblings. It is what it is and I hope you enjoyed it.

I dedicate this piece to little Romona Keaggy; she’s another story for another day.

My "rose" in New Mexico

Forever a child – forever special in my heart

All the best!

When Hell Freezes Over, I’ll Play Hockey There Too

Hockey is more than just a game.

It’s a passion, a dedication.

It draws you in and never lets go.

Hockey is love, hockey is life.

Hockey lives in our hearts.”

On June 19, 1980, a Northwest Orient flight departed Los Angeles International Airport on a non-stop flight to Detroit Metropolitan Airport in Romulus, Michigan. Upon landing, the jetway was pushed up to the plane, the door opened, and the passengers disembarked. I was one of those passengers. I was two months shy of my 15th birthday. My life had changed.

Born and raised in Orange, California, I was a pretty typical middle-class kid in Orange County. I played little league and soccer, I was

The Plaza in Orange, California: my hometown. This park is in the center of intersection of Chapman and Glassell Streets and is the heart of downtown Orange.

The Plaza in Orange, California: my hometown. This park is in the center of the intersection of Chapman and Glassell Streets and is the heart of downtown Orange.

a cub scout, and I ran track for the Peralta Junior High School Patriots. We lived in a nice family-oriented neighborhood where there were lots of kids the same age. We rode our bikes all over our neighborhood and the neighborhoods that surrounded us. We went to

the beaches at Newport Beach and Corona del Mar, and sometimes my older sister took us to Seal Beach. In junior high I joined the ski club and we would go skiing in the mountains every other weekend or so.

The one thing that simply was not on the radar of this California kid: hockey. I had never been on ice skates; we had roller skates and skateboards. I had heard there was an ice rink at the Brea Mall, but I had never been there. Los Angeles had the Kings, but this was pre-Gretzky and to most of us “natives” they were a joke. They played a cold-weather sport in a warm-weather state. For myself and most of my friends it was not our thing. Also, they simply were not good. Who needed a losing hockey team? We had the L.A. Dodgers who regularly battled their way to the playoffs and the World Series. Nolan Ryan pitched for the Angels and Reggie Jackson left the Yankees to come hit home runs for us. We had the Rams. We had the Raiders and the Lakers. Saturday afternoons at our house consisted of college and professional football, baseball, and of course my dad’s beloved bowling. I still can vividly remember “Tips with Earl Anthony.”

Downtown Ann Arbor, Michigan looking east up Liberty Street toward State Street by the U-M campus.

Downtown Ann Arbor, Michigan looking east up Liberty Street toward State Street by the U-M campus.

On that June evening in 1980, the first pages of a new chapter in my life began to be written. My dad had accepted a new position with a company in Ann Arbor. While my parents were originally from Michigan, myself and my immediately older and younger brothers, the only three in my family actually born in California, were taken away from the only home we had ever known and found ourselves in this “foreign” land.

That summary of my youthful California may not seem to have anything to do with my love of hockey. In fact, it really only serves to highlight one thing: hockey was not my thing. What it shows is that my life was one thing in California, and would become something else in the Great Lake State.

Human beings are nothing if not adaptable. In the case of a 15-year-old relocated 2,500 miles from home, you adapt or you live in misery. In reality, for a teenager, it is actually a waffling back and forth between the two.  I was intrigued by my new state and where I lived in it. We lived in a country neighborhood that had dirt roads. We didn’t have dirt roads in Orange County, unless you counted

Dexter, Michigan. My

Dexter, Michigan. My “second” hometown.

the fire breaks that crisscrossed that hills around town. My high school, in the small town of Dexter, 4 miles west of Ann Arbor, offered agricultural classes as electives. Really? Bizarre. I took Livestock Production I and II, as well as a class in Forestry. I don’t think you would have found those offerings at Villa Park High. In Orange, our house, at the end of a cul-de-sac, had shopping centers on two sides. In Michigan we lived on a golf course and in the evening it was a great place to walk the dogs and explore. I still think that is the best use of a golf course!

At the same time, I missed my home in California. It was the only home I had ever known. I missed my friends, whom I had been in school with since the start. I missed being able to walk to the corner store, and hang out around commercial construction sites and climb walls and fences. I missed being able to ride my bike everywhere. Riding a bike on a dirt country road was a damned tough proposition and not one that I liked at all. But I believe that anyone who finds themselves in a new place, regardless of their age, can’t help but be fascinated by what there is to see that is so fundamentally different from where they came from. Whether visiting or a new resident, we want to see, explore, and absorb all that is new, unique, and different to us. Not only do things often look different, but culturally they are different. Thus it was with hockey. The sport that meant so little to Californians had a lot more significance to the residents of a state that spends 5 months of the year under a blanket of snow and ice.

Yost Arena, home of the University of Michigan Wolverine hockey team, and quite likely the most elegant college hockey venue in use today.

Yost Arena, home of the University of Michigan Wolverine hockey team, and quite likely the most elegant college hockey venue in use today.

In the first Winter after we moved to Michigan, my dad bought tickets for he, myself, and my brother to attend what would be my first-ever hockey game: the University of Michigan Wolverines versus the Huskies of Michigan Technological University (which happens to be dear ole dads alma mater). My dad, being from Michigan, had grown up with hockey. Life and culture in California just didn’t provide the right opportunity to make the introduction to his kids. He was more of a football guy anyway.

The game was played in Yost Ice Arena, a classic old hockey “barn.” Built in 1926, Yost is a beautiful, commanding brick building on State Street in Ann Arbor and is, in my opinion, still the most incredible college hockey venue there is. I am actually a Michigan State University Spartan fan, but Munn Arena at MSU doesn’t hold a candle to Yost.

Munn Arena at Michigan State University.

Munn Arena at Michigan State University.

U-M has spent a lot of money in renovations of Yost over the years and I hope that they forever appreciate the history and atmosphere of this arena. When I close my eyes and imagine hockey, I see Yost.

Though time warped and tarnished, my memory of this first game is still the cornerstone in the wall of my love affair with hockey. Prior to that night I had never in my life seen first hand anyone skate like that. I had seen Olympic figure skating on TV. I have a vague recollection of the “Miracle on Ice” win in 1980, but I had never truly watched hockey, and what I saw was fast, hard-driving, fast stopping, incredible skating and action. I remember being completely in awe by the players’ ability to control a puck with a stick and to weave their way through the other players to attempt, and in some cases succeed, at scoring. I remember the feel of the air when the players first came out to warm up, their skates stirring up the cool air off the ice and how it wafted over you. Not cold per se, but just a refreshing, awakening cool kiss on the face. To reference back to the opening quote: hockey drew me in and it has never let me go.  Michigan Tech won that night. I have no idea the score. It was a big win. Not the game. The effect on me.

Yost Interior

Inside Yost Ice Arena. Note the classic lines of the old school arena architecture.

The next year, my dad bought season hockey tickets to U-M. For that first season our seats were near center ice and I grew to love the game more. I could not skate and continued to be amazed how players even stayed on their feet, let alone scored. In the second year of our season tickets however, our seats moved. This would prove to have another big effect on how I enjoy the game.  Our seats were moved to the end, home ice. We sat behind the net that U-M had to defend twice in the three periods of play. Now sitting at the 50-yard line of a football game may be the best location to view that game, but in my opinion end ice or the creases are the best places to watch hockey. Why? You can see the most ice, and with a hockey rink being 200 feet long you can still see the action at the other end. When you sit center ice, because of the boards, you lose almost 200 feet of playing surface on your side of the arena. Keeping in mind that the puck is played at ice level, and that a lot of play happens along the boards, I want to see maximum ice. And, as just an aside: in most professional arenas, on one side of the ice you have the player box obstructing your view and on the other side the penalty box obstructs the view. To this day, my preferred seating is in the end or in the crease even with the goal line.

Joe Louis Arena

Joe Louis Arena, Detroit, Michigan: home of the Red Wings

After high school it was off to college. Life moved on. Life gets in the way. I didn’t get to hockey games like before, but I did have a new experience that continued the ascent. I went with a group of friends one night down to Detroit and Joe Louis Arena and watched the Detroit Red Wings play for the first time. The Joe felt like a huge place to watch a game compared to Yost. We sat up toward the top of the upper bowl. The atmosphere was electric. They served beer to you in your seat. The game was amazing. The hook sunk deeper.

College ended. The “real world” arrived. I went to work. I met and married the most amazing woman (she’s still hanging with me after almost 25 years). We started a family. We were poor. When you’re a young man with a young family and you make $21,000/year, you don’t have money for things like hockey games. Hell, we didn’t even go to movies. Rent….food…diapers…gas….repeat.  Then as life got better and I continued upward in my career path, we relocated to Albuquerque, New Mexico in 1995. Hockey fell away. New Mexico actually had a team, the IHL’s New Mexico Scorpions. They played at Tingley Coliseum, and nothing in Albuquerque is too far, but I never got there.  Life marched on.

In 1999, we returned to Michigan. While we loved New Mexico, it was far from home and family, and now with three children, we wanted to be near family. By time we returned to Michigan, my oldest, Nicholas, was 7. At the age of 7, one can appreciate the play of the game, kids start playing a lot younger than that. An hour away from our home, the city of Grand Rapids was home to the IHL’s Grand Rapids Griffins. I decided to take Nicholas to a game.  We had a blast. It was like time had never passed for me. I was right back in the game and Nicholas enjoyed the game too.

Grand Rapids Griffins: primary affiliate of the Detroit Red Wings

Grand Rapids Griffins: primary affiliate of the Detroit Red Wings

But alas…remember how life gets in the way? When you have to drive an hour to see a game and when you work in law enforcement where you work many nights, weekends, and holidays, you have to plan to go to a game or it won’t happen. It didn’t happen. Oh, we thought about it. We talked about it. It just never happened. It was always, “oh we don’t have the time this weekend,” or “we need to put it in the budget,” etc.

As the 2007-08 hockey season ended, and with the Detroit Red Wings the 2008 Western Conference champs, I decided that I was done with not planning for and going to games. I realized that if I could plan my year’s worth of games in advance, then I could work my schedule around them and I wouldn’t forget.  That is how I became a Grand Rapids Griffins (now in the AHL and the Red Wings primary affiliate) season ticket holder. I buy a limited package, not the full season. I could never get that amount of time off of work, and with the cost of gas I would be a pauper driving the 154-mile round trip 40+ times a year. But 10 or 11 games?  That I can do; and I do.  Being able to regularly watch hockey again has been great. It is something that I look forward to each and every year. I anxiously await the arrival of each game, and chomp at the bit during the off-season. I have enjoyed being able to share the experience with my wife, my son, and my two daughters.  I have enjoyed taking friends and extended family members to games. I love the game and when I am able to share it, it is in a way an extension of that love to those I take.

Van Andel Arena, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Home of the Grand Rapids Griffins

Van Andel Arena, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Home of the Grand Rapids Griffins

I don’t limit myself to professional hockey, though. I love all hockey. When asked by a cousin a couple of years ago if I wanted to see her son play a game that was going to be near my home, I went. For family. For the game. I am proud of these kids who take the chance to play such a great sport. To put themselves out there in the quest to perhaps make their own dream come true. Once, while going to the local rink to skate, I found open skate cancelled due to a youth hockey tournament. I stayed and watched. It was great. With my older daughter in college, I finally managed just last week to get over and attend a college game with her. I will forever cherish any moment with any of my kids and hockey has been a great way to engage and enjoy their presence in my life. I hope that the memories of our games together last them a lifetime. They will me.

I even decided to learn to play the game. In 2013, at the age of 48, I joined a skills league. I could, and can, barely skate. Learning to skate backward was an ordeal for me. That’s not the point. I love the game and was determined that I would at least try to learn to play. I did. I loved it. Due to a problem with my hip and back, I have had to back off, but will I try again when I feel better? I might.

To me, hockey is more than all of this though. It is representative of many things. It is sensory: I love the feel of the cool air coming off the ice; the sound of skate scraping, the sight of shaved ice flying. It is seasonal: it represents the life that exists in winter, which to so many seems bleak; it is Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years. It is something that I can only fumble with words to describe, and yet never really do it justice.  It’s like a huge bear hug. It grips me and squeezes the breath out of me, and yet I never want it to end.

“To play the game is good,

to win the game is better,

But to love the game is best of all.”

Oh how I love the game.

The Rise of Detroit

Forty-five plus years ago, Detroit began its rapid decline into becoming a real-life Gotham City. With the riots of the late 60’s, middle and upper-class Detroiters began to flee the city for the suburbs. As the suburbs grew and the city’s population declined, businesses also moved to the suburbs to be closer to their target audiences. Coleman Young assumed control of Detroit as its mayor in the 70’s and embarked on a long reign that pillaged the city coffers and bred corruption at all levels. Then in the late-70’s and early-80’s the auto industry struggled. As imported vehicles more aggressively marketed for the American consumer and the country faced recession, sales of American-built automobiles dropped, assembly lines slowed, workers lost their jobs. Entire blocks of the city’s residential neighborhoods became empty, abandoned, or badly run down.

The blight that is stereotypical of most peoples impressions of Detroit.

The blight that is stereotypical of most peoples impressions of Detroit.

Crime increased. Many abandoned homes burned in the infamous “Devil’s night” fires of the late-80’s and early-90’s. The population of this once great city dropped, first below one million, then below 900,000, and then below 800,000. With each population decline, there was a loss of government funding; funding needed to support the city infrastructure. Roads became pot-holed, sidewalks crumbled, empty lots became overgrown, and abandoned houses were left to crumble where they stood. Finally, Detroit filed for bankruptcy; the first major metropolitan city to do so. That case is still working its way through the courts.

Through it all, however, a determined core group of visionary businesspeople and residents fought to bring Detroit back. When the rest of us (myself included) thought that Detroit was deeply into a spiral that it would never break free of, this group held within their hearts three key tenets of motivation:  belief that Detroit could change; commitment to being an active part of that change; and hope that others would witness their efforts, see the benefit, and join the movement.

I was in Detroit this weekend. Those visionaries have much to be proud of. People with names like Karmanos, Ilitch, Gilbert, Hantz, Stroh, Ford…and the list goes on. They had a vision and they persevered over long years. They had ties to the community and refused to see it die. They trod bleak paths and swam difficult waters, but without a doubt Detroit is once again on the rise. Quite literally, a phoenix rising from the ashes.

One of the greatest names behind the resurgence of Detroit is Ilitch; Mike Ilitch to be precise. The founder and patriarch of the Little Caesar’s Pizza empire, Ilitch began his return to Detroit by bringing his company headquarters downtown. Purchasing and lavishly renovating the Fox Theatre on Detroit’s Woodward Avenue, Ilitch launched a campaign to revitalize Detroit that continues to surge today.

Detroit may have the famous moniker “the Motor City,” but Detroit is a sports town, and much of its fingernail grip on the edge of the pit of despair and a large part of its climb out has been its sports. Who owns Detroit’s two most-storied sports franchises? The Ilitch Family.

Comerica Park: Home of the Detroit Tigers

Comerica Park: Home of the Detroit Tigers

To look at the story of the Detroit Tigers is to read the names of baseball history. Names like Ty Cobb, Al Kaline, Hank Greenberg, and Denny McClain. Detroit is proud of their Tigers and proud of that history, and in the late-90’s Ilitch constructed Comerica Park, a shrine to that past and a temple to the Tigers’ future.   Built on Woodward, directly across the street from the Fox Theatre and the Little Caesar’s headquarters, Comerica Park became yet another foundation upon which Detroit would grow. Check out the Tigers at: http://www.detroit.tigers.mlb.com.

The Detroit Red Wings, is the second jewel in the Ilitch sports crown. One of the original six NHL hockey teams, the Red Wings currently hold court at Joe Louis Arena on Detroit’s river front. With an equally-storied past that includes the likes of Gordie Howe, Ted Lindsay, Terry Sawchuk, and Steve Yzerman, the Red Wings, too, will soon have a new home in what is being called District Detroit. The District Detroit will include a 20,000 seat hockey arena, and encompass 45 blocks of

The District Detroit: the latest sports and entertainment project.

The District Detroit: the latest sports and entertainment project.

entertainment and residential space. Also on Woodward Avenue, just across I-375 from Comerica Park, District Detroit will provide a continuous, walkable area tying the downtown sports and entertainment districts together. For more information on District Detroit: http://www.districtdetroit.com/  More on the Red Wings here: http://www.redwings.nhl.com.

Just down Woodward Avenue from District Detroit, Comerica Park, and the Fox Theater lies Ford Field, home of the Detroit Lions. Opened in 2002, Ford Field brought the Lions back to Detroit from Pontiac, Michigan where they had played in

Ford Field: Home of the Detroit Lions

Ford Field: Home of the Detroit Lions

the Silverdome for several years. With 65,000 seats for football (and expandable to just over 80,000 for other events), this state of the art arena was home to Super Bowl XL in 2006. With the Lions owned by the Ford family – yes, the automotive Ford’s – Ford Motor Corporation purchased the naming rights for the stadium, tying the team and the stadium back to the automotive legacy of the city.

http://www.detroitlions.com

On the water front in downtown Detroit stands a large building constructed of five glass towers. With the center tower clocking in at over 80-stories tall, it is the most visible building on the Detroit skyline. Built in the 1970’s, the Renaissance Center was supposed to be just that: the beginning of Detroit’s renaissance. It was not. The

The Renaissance Center

The Renaissance Center

city’s decline and struggles continued well beyond the construction of the “RenCen” as it is known. Fast forward 30+ years. The RenCen is now the home of General Motors headquarters. The center tower boasts a Marriott Hotel and the 82nd floor is a restaurant and lounge that slowly moves, so that if you spend an hour there, you will have an opportunity to view the 360 degree panorama that encompasses Detroit, and Windsor, Ontario, Canada across the Detroit River. The lower level of the building is home to shops and a food court. You can also walk around and view all the current GM car models that are spaced throughout the lower floor.

General Motors (and others) has also committed to renovating and cleaning up the Detroit water front. A beautiful river walk has been constructed. Along its length you will pass art, murals, natural areas, picnic areas, a carousel, and a marina. It passes through William Milliken State Park and continues on to Belle Isle. While walking, jogging, or biking the path one can watch pleasure boaters as well as great lakes freighters sail that waters of the Detroit River, either headed up to Lake Huron, or down to Lake Erie.

Downbound lakes freighter seen from Detroit river walk

Downbound lakes freighter seen from Detroit river walk

Carousel on Detroit River Walk

Carousel on Detroit River Walk

Three casino’s have made Detroit their home: the MGM Grand, the Greektown Casino, and the Motor City Casino. With their entertainment venues and their hotels, they, like the sports team and river walk, are giving people reasons to again come back to Detroit. People who will find that they just might love the city, and people whose money spent in the city continues to help the climb upward.

General Motors is not the only company to have brought their headquarters back to Detroit.  In 2003, Peter Karmanos, CEO and Founder of Compuware relocated his corporate headquarters downtown. Seven years later in 2010, Dan Gilbert brought his company, QuickenLoans, to Detroit also. Gilbert and QuickenLoans alone have committed over $1 Billion to improving Detroit, as a place to do business, a place to entertain, and a place to live.

Others are making differences in their own ways.  After years of decline, decay, and crime, Detroit now boasts over 45,000 vacant and abandoned buildings and lots. The vast majority of these are old residences. The neighborhoods where these homes stand are blighted. Even though people continue to live on many of the homes, they often live next to abandoned buildings, burned out building, and weedy, overgrown lots. These provide havens for those who would commit crimes and for drug use.  Enter John Hantz, President & CEO of The Hantz Group, a financial planning firm with multiple officers throughout Michigan. Hantz and many of his top executives choose to make Detroit their home. Everyday, they drive past these blighted areas, and from this an idea was born. To purchase vacant lots from the city, tear down abandoned homes if they existed on the lots, and plant trees. This would return vacant land to the tax rolls. It would clean up blight. It would beautify, and it would instill pride in neighborhoods again.

In Spring, 2014, with over 1,000 volunteers, Hantz Woodlands planted over 15,000 hardwood trees on Detroit’s east side.  http://www.hantzfarmsdetroit.com/

These examples are only a very few of the dozens of examples being set in Detroit each and every day. Members of the community working toward the purpose of rebuilding the community. They are succeeding. For the naysayers, such as I was until more recently, shame on us. Detroit is resilient and Detroit will overcome. They are proving it every single day.

Happy Labor Day!

September 1, 2014. Labor Day.  It’s hard to believe that it could already be September. With all the rain and cool weather of the past several months it feels like Summer has practically passed us by. Except for mowing the lawn…that has faithfully returned as often as twice a week, thanks to all the natural water and cool days and nights.

Labor Day was the first nationally recognized holiday specifically for the American worker. Harkening back to a time of 12 – 16 hours days, often times 7 days a week in frequently brutal workplaces – factories, mines, steel mills, stock yards – Labor day became the “working man’s” holiday. That rare occasion to have a work free day, enjoy time with family, and relax.  According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s page on Labor Day,

“Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.”

So, what has happened to the labor movement in America as we have progressed through the 20th Century and into the 21st? Is the labor movement still as strong as it once was? Is there still a need for organized labor representation – Unions?

Well these are just my ramblings, but then again, this is my blog. As someone who spent half of their career in the private, non-union sector, and the other half as a union member, I think I do have some knowledge on which I can base my musings.

Without any doubt whatsoever, the organized labor movement has lost steam and thus power,  in the U.S.

Union’s were borne of the need to protect the American worker. As noted before, the hours were long, the conditions deplorable, the pay abysmal, and there were no protections for worker’s health and safety, or for their families if they became disabled or killed on the job. Unions stepped in and through organizing workers into groups, allowed the worker to have a stronger voice in demanding

labday1

An illustration of the first Labor Day parade, held on Sept. 5, 1882, in New York City. The holiday was organized by the Central Labor Union to exhibit “the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations” of the community, and to host a festival for the workers and their families.

better pay and benefits. The threat of having their entire workforce strike and halt production made many large companies find true benefit in valuing their workers more.

The effects of organized labor’s efforts have spilled over into other non-organized area’s also. Workers in most fields in the U.S. today  – unions  and non-union – enjoy benefits that were derived directly by the working class demanding better pay, benefits, and treatment. These actions led directly to the creation of the great “middle class.”

So why have Unions lost so much of their power and influence?  Because of what I would simply call Entitlement. Unions and their members have gone from being thankful for what they fought so hard for and rightly earned, to believing they are entitled to it. They believe that they no longer have to work to maintain those benefits, that they should simply be granted for life. Unfortunately, business doesn’t work that way, and truth be told, the world has a short memory.

As example, the American auto industry suffered greatly, and to some extent still does, because Japan (and now Korea) turned out cheaper cars that were higher quality than the Big 3. Why? They used cheaper labor and demanded higher quality. Meanwhile in the U.S., we had workers on assembly lines turning out a lower quality product while earning more money per year than teachers, firefighters, police officers, and many, many office workers. Adding insult to injury, American’s were expected to pay tens of thousands of dollars for an inferior product based on the marketing concept of “American-made.” In fact, consumers were made to feel un-American if they didn’t buy American when, in fact, they simply wanted a higher quality car. It pleases me, that today, we are reassuming control of that market again based on quality and not cajoling.

There are still many facets of the union mindset at play today that must be overcome. Horrible employees who companies find next to impossible to fire because they made it past their first year on the job and now benefit from unreasonable and extraordinary protections. Quality workers within the union itself, who suffer as lower quality and less productive employees invoke their “seniority” status for better shifts, opportunities, and work-free holidays – an entitlement based not on work quality but simply time on-the-job.

Well, as Bob Dylan sang, “The times they are a changin…”  Union’s went from garnering much needed benefits for workers to being the purveyor of sloth, laziness, and poor quality. Union’s now suffer as American businesses and politician’s work to pass “right-to-work” laws all over the nation. Laws that say that just because a job once required an employee to join the union, that is no longer a must. The employee is now able to state, “No. I am not paying unions dues while my rights are eroded. I will simply go it on my own.” In time, this too will backfire, and there will be a rise of a new labor movement. Until that happens however, continue to expect quality in many products to lack, while costs go up and we continue to see imports from overseas eat away American market share.

For more information of Labor Day, check out the U.S. Department of Labor’s site at:  http://www.dol.gov/laborday/history.htm