Culture, Thank You

Spare The Rod

Fifth grade: Our town’s future mayors, teachers, nurses and milkmen.

Recently I was encouraged to retrieve my old class pictures from Delhi Public School, the grade school where we got our first taste of reality.

You see, on Facebook, there is the group site opportunity to tag your old home town, and to ping all those folks from long ago. The operative phrase is, “…do you remember when?”

Pulling out the 1957-58 5th grade class picture stirred up a tsunami of remembers, not the least of which was the lady who was our teacher that year. Call her Pearl.

A feisty woman, she ruled the class with an iron hand, attached to a wrestler’s arm, driven by the righteous morality of a battalion of angels and archangels which were in immortal combat for the possession of our souls. For a 9-year-old, the stakes were not so much salvation, as merely ducking her swing with her hickory stick.

Pearl’s encourager of choice. She avoided the knuckles in deference to the Nuns’ territorial imperative.

Pearl was a motivating force that kept us in our seats, eyes in our books, when not furtively glancing about like dogs listening for the sound of a rolled up news paper.

A classmate just wrote me, “She tried to put the fear of God into all of us, but I had much more fear of Pearl, than I did of all the gods put together. She was a holy terror with the pointer and the strap.”

Indeed for the smallest infraction, Pearl would swoop down the aisle, stick raised into a ballplayer’s grand slam swing, and bring it down smartly across an arm or a back. She had a knack for avoiding the knuckles, probably deferring to the nuns’ specialty at St Francis School across town.

But she had her good humor too. Daily we would submit our workbooks to her for marking, and next day, she would stand at the front of the class, and lob them, frisbee-style across 7 columns of school desks to our waiting hands. Those were light moments, in contrast to the darker ones.

Listening to a strapping session glued us to our chairs.

Of course, the most feared instrument was the strap. She never threatened with it, but on the one occasion that she committed to use it, we were transfixed in our seats as she marched “Ben & Jerry”, not their real names, out of the class and into the hallway. Out there, out of sight, under the supervision of the principal, she administered numerous swings of scholarly rectitude down on the calloused hands of the two boys.

For us, inside the class room, it was like seeing the lights dim for a moment when the voltage was turned on.

Then moments later, Ben and Jerry returned. Ben was sniffling a bit, but not crying. Jerry, who was the older by 3 years, was white in the face, but stern and disgusted. From that day on he was my hero. He embodied true moxie, a guy’s guy, even if he was a chronic trouble maker. I admired his guts.  I bet he’d gotten worse at home.

Pearl’s Plan B. Long, slender, but no match for hickory. The rubber tip shot like a bullet across the room.

For me, pushing 60 pounds soaking wet, I was constantly in fear of Pearl’s stick. One day, after she had wound up a little too tight, she broke her cudgel over a boy’s back. After the shock of it wore off, we nervously stifled a laugh while she picked up the broken weapon. “Hurray! No more stick!”

Wrong. Pearl reached into her closet, and extracted a new pointer. A little more slender, but 36 inches long, with a black rubber tip for pointing.

Within a day, the pointer was out in the air, flailing some poor sap for his writing, or arithmetic. After that, the rubber tip popped off, and shot across the room like a bullet.

Laughable pointers for cartoon teaching. We should have party hats, too.

The kid is wheezing, staring bug-eyed at his work book waiting for the next flogging. Behind him, not missing the opportunity, the smallest, most obsequious guy in the room, smart, but not canny, stutters out helpfully, “Mrs. Pearl, ah aha,ah,ah, your rubber tip f-f-fflew off your your pointer.” We all groaned.

Pearl would not be impressed with today’s teaching aids.  Pointers, for one.  The wooden stick is pretty much gone, though you can pick up little one-footers with cartoon fingers on the ends, much like tiny back scratchers.  Pearl may have gravitated to the new laser pointers.  Good up to a hundred feet, she could cauterize the retinas of any truant in a nano second.

The Logitech R800: green laser, accurate up to 100 feet.

Grade 5 was the year that we studied grammar in earnest.  “Using Our Language” was the name of the text.  It was a dreary book that drilled us on adjectives and adverbs, prepositions and conjunctions, compound sentences and subordinate clauses that modified God-knows-what.  Every day Pearl assigned us homework from the text with 10 problem sentences identified as A. through J.

I will die with the memory that the tenth letter of the alphabet is a J.

J for me however, was a bridge too far.  I hated the homework, didn’t understand it, and invariably, would grind to a halt around F.  For days I had submitted my homework book, and every day, Pearl would frisbee the book back to me.  No words were spoken, no warnings or admonishments.

In a moment of thought, checking the cotton batten.

I knew that my days were numbered.  I cringed in fear of that pointer, or worse yet, the strap.  I wouldn’t be the brave kid like Ben & Jerry.  I would be a miserable little suck, I knew it.  So, I practiced.  At night I would strap my hand with my belt.  Didn’t really put my heart into it, but I tried.  Heck, it hurt!  Every morning, I carefully padded my arms with cotton batten, held in place with rubber bands.  If she came at me, they would cushion the blow, I hoped.

And like time, tide and taxes, that day did come.

“Philip!  Come here!”

She sat at her desk at the back of the room, like the eagle’s nest, where she could stare at the backs of the bobbing heads and noggins of the town’s future mayors, teachers, nurses and milkmen.  I scurried up to the side of her desk.

“Yes?”  She had my workbook open, staring at a scrawl of jumbled thoughts, terminating around E or F .

“Look at this, Philip!  What do you see?  Here!  Right here!”  I came in closer to the desk, and stared at her lacquered fingernail, pointing like a sharpened dagger at a smudge in the lined book.  “Look at it !!  What do you see?  Look closer!”

I knew this was it, and for an electric moment, I thought about those protective cotton battens on my arms, and how I was going down.  I bent in closer to look at her finger.   It is angrily pulsing pink and white from pressing the page.

I am bent almost double from the waist, squinting at the page whose blue lines are shimmering before me, and then– “WHACK-WHACK-WHACK!”

She got me, right across the butt.  Like a new sergeant, I went back to my desk with three fresh stripes.

I laugh at the time now, but it was a major event back then.  In fact, not only do I laugh, but honestly, I am thankful.  I never submitted a shoddy workbook again.  I accepted A through J.  What’s more, I went after the entire alphabet after that, upper and lower case.

Thankfully, she did teach me to read, and to write.

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Culture, direct mail, Media, Science, Thank You, USPS

You Are Still On My List

A written card, delivered by mail. Old fashioned, and meaningful.

This morning, CBS Sunday Morning with Jane Pauly featured the story of a father in Valdosta, Georgia who has sent over 20,000 post cards to his kids since 1995. The kids have saved every one, and their bookshelves are packed with volumes of fatherly words to his children.

As a devout postal fan, I was intrigued and pleased that there was a fellow writer who still believed in sending cards and letters.  Indeed a while back I wrote about the beauty of the written thank you note.

It drove me to look at the latest USPS Revenues Pieces and Weights report that measures the postal pulse of the nation. What I found was both disturbing, and a little puzzling.

Direct mail surrendered some market share to the web.

We know that mail volumes have conceded their dominance to email and online transactions. Even direct mail, which is a vibrant, robust medium has also given up share to the web.

But what was revealing about our culture are the declining totals of personal mail for the last three months, from October to December, 2017.

Simply put, we stopped writing.

Year over year, the Q4 volume of “single” letters slipped 5.9%. A blip? No, because single letters had dropped 5.1% the previous Q4 as well.  A single letter is typically a bill payment, a business letter, or a personal letter.  Or perhaps a greeting card.

The Greeting Card Association reports 7 billion cards are produced every year.

Percentages don’t really tell the story though. This past quarter, the single letter volume dropped 313,044,000 pieces.

To put that into terms we understand, I remind you that every Q4 we celebrate Halloween, Remembrance or Veterans Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and approximately 75,000,000 birthdays.

The USPS counter selection is not encyclopedic, but it is enough to trigger the impulse.

The Greeting Card Association reports that we purchase over 7 billion greeting cards every year.  And it turns out that the USPS delivered 17.5 billion single letters in 2017.   Maybe the remaining 10.5 billion single letters are just business and bill payments.  So, did we stop sending personal letters, or did we stop paying our bills?

The answer again pops up in the USPS reports.  In 2017, Presort First Class letters, aka, bulk business letters dropped over 5%: 787 million fewer bills and statements going out; fewer checks coming back.

It further develops, according to the USPS 2016 Householder Diary that Americans sent 3.6 billion letters “household to household”.

Conclusion: consumers are doing their business online, receiving and paying their bills electronically.

This is a huge relief to me, because it means that we are still writing personal cards and letters…I think.

For certain, the volume will never drop to zero, because of the persistent efforts of a father in Valdosta who still writes his kids every day.

How often do you?

Thanks for sharing!  If you would like to see the USPS reports for yourself, click here!

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direct mail, Government, Marketing, Media, Thank You, USPS

Their Appointed Rounds

The United States Postal Service closed out their fiscal year September 30.  Never mind that the rest of the world goes by the annual calendar; the USPS wanted to beat the Christmas rush.

All in, the giant continues to perform well, within the confines of its quasi-government walls.  I wish the rest of the Federal government departments spent as much time looking after their own performance and expenses as does the USPS.

But from the latest Revenues Pieces And Weights report, here are a few glimmers of surprise and excitement.

  1.  It is a $69.6 billion dollar enterprise.  In the Fortune 500 list, it hovers around #37, bigger than Target, and smaller than Procter & Gamble, both good neighbors.  Like both of these companies, the USPS is an indicator of the USA’s pulse rate, though we will admit that it has slipped a bit.
  2. In 2017, the USPS revenues fell $1.8 billion.  We know why.  The Web, social media, email have all disenfranchised much of the USPS core business: first class mail and standard mail.
  3. First class mail continues to fall, $1.9 billion.  Compared to last year, it delivered 2.5 billion fewer pieces of mail, a drop of 4.1%.  Why? Because we receive our invoices, checks and statements electronically.  We pay electronically too.
  4. Standard Mail, now called Marketing Mail, dropped 2.6 billion pieces, about 3.2%.  Why?  Last year was a mail-infused election year.  It was distinguished by huge volumes of mail, from you know who, despite his predilection for Twitter.
  5. Overall, in its market dominant categories, that is, where it holds monopoly rights, revenues fell just over $4.0 billion.
  6. In the open competitive markets, ie., parcels and packages, revenues were UP over $2.2 billion, a 12.5% increase.  Wow! Who knew?

The Web Taketh, And It Giveth

Here’s what I find impressive about the USPS.  Despite the constant nagging of the digital futurists who want to write the Obit for the post office, it continues to hold its own.  In an environment where Internet media are running rampant, the USPS has found a broad new niche: parcel delivery, a $20 billion business.  If anyone should be worried, it will be the brick and mortar retail stores. Ask Sears.  Ask Toys R Us.  Ask Amazon.

American consumers have taken to the Web in all respects, but at day’s end, they need physical product delivery, and the USPS has risen to serving that need.  After all, they were coming by our house anyway.  Their two main competitors are UPS and Fedex, the latter using the postal carrier to make the “last mile” delivery.

Neither Rain, Nor Snow, Nor Gloom of Night…

Postal carriers are the only American entity which visit 157,000,000 addresses every day.  They delivered, all in, 149 billion items in 2017.  They lifted 24 billion pounds, or 12 million tons, of physical product: mail, checks, magazines, parcels and yes, live bees and plants. The USPS has over 500,000 career employees and another 140,000 part-timers.  While this may seem like a wildly aggressive employer, I put it to you that the postal employee actually delivers, a claim many can’t make for other government institutions.

So hats off to the USPS.  It continues to fight the currents, and with astonishingly little help from its political friends, it far surpasses its governmental cousins.

Thanks for reading! If you would like to take a look at the USPS 10-K for 2017, click here!

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Culture, Government, Politics, Thank You

Small Town Choices

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The bridge in the park at Butler Lake. Early freeze.

You know you live in a small town when people drop by without calling first.

Tuesday morning a smiling lady appeared at our door presenting a mardi gras King Cake. She explained it was thanks for speaking up at our town hall meeting.

A couple days before that we found a handwritten note in our mailbox from a gentleman a couple blocks away wishing for good luck.

This morning another note came the same way, saying thanks.

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148 “lock and leave” homes for those just passing through.

The cause of these overt gestures is the disturbing proposal to plop 148 homes on 15 acres of a 40-acre parcel of recently cleared land at the edge of our pretty little town.

We call it a Village, which is kind of habit in these parts, but it’s a real town, not a little collection of thatched roof cottages with small people running around in leggings and buckled shoes.  Over 20,000 people live here.

Anyway, because of the collective rejection of the idea, we formed a group of residents in the Village to make our case for stopping the development.

I won’t bore you with the politics.

What I do want you to appreciate though is the essential goodwill of the people who live here, and who love our little town.

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Lunch in the park, on a sunny Friday.

We moved here 27 years ago.  It was a corporate move, and we had the benefit of shopping around the far north suburbs of Chicagoland.  Our first obligation was interviewing three school principals, each who presented their school’s achievements.   One school had computers in every room, which was pretty special in 1990.  Carpeted hallways.    Another school was brand new, and shiny.

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School’s out and the midway comes to town.

The third, was older, but in the center of our little town, bordered by a ball field, festooned with flags, and shaded by ancient maples and oaks.  As the vice principal marched me around the classrooms, the students all smiled and helloed.  It was a very warm May morning, and as we marched through the heat of the second floor, I offered, “Guess there’s no air conditioning?”  He bounced back, “Nope.  Isn’t it great?”  Rugged, smiling enthusiasm.

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Canopied streets and open space set the tone.

I have for years thereafter said that moving here was the best decision we ever made.  On the July 4th weekend when the moving trucks pulled away from our new home, two of the neighbors’ kids brought over a plate of cookies to welcome us.

A couple of years ago, after a car demolished half of our house, a lady from blocks away appeared at our door one day with a gift card from Panera’s.  She said, “I just wanted you to have this, and hope that you are okay.”  A complete stranger, but not really, in the greater sense.

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One very dog-friendly town, these two await their family in the Homecoming Parade.

For sure, the schools are great.  Top-tier nationwide, the high school is launch pad for our next generation of leaders.  The junior schools are our pride and joy.

But beyond that, our little town is a hive of busy optimism, set on a picturesque palette of heritage buildings, generous parks, a network of lakes, streams and wetlands, and threaded with neat roads and lanes through open, treed neighborhoods.

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Two young parade watchers celebrate the downtown alley.

In the summer the town square is thronged with picnickers and market vendors.  In the days leading up to Christmas, Santa is taking last minute orders, and come the end of school, there’s a pretty spectacular fairground set up with horrendously noisy and garish rides.  A great venue for kids to escape for a while as summer approaches.

Even though there are 5-lane roads quartering the Village, its geography exudes community: a oneness of safety, children, exceptional schools, careful planning, well-being and promise.

I mentioned the goodwill of the folks who live here.  Many came to the town hall meeting last week and in front of a couple hundred neighbors, gave passionate testimony in defense of their small town.

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The village’s architecture is preserved and treasured.

One lady made a simple statement, but with profound meaning.  Before her, the discussion had recalled the past,  and how developers had walked away from our village to build their shopping mall in a neighboring community.  Another developer took its plans for a millionaire’s subdivision complete with golf course to another neighboring village.

Clutching the mike with both hands, she said, “We chose this village to live in because of its character.   We didn’t lose the shopping mall.  We didn’t lose the golf community.  We simply chose not to develop, and not to have them.  They aren’t what our Village is about.”

The debate on whether the 148 dwellings will materialize will continue.  They are described as low maintenance, “lock and leave” buildings for the travel and retirement set.

In the mean time, we’ll still be here, and the front door is open.

 

Thanks for reading!  I hope you will share this with your friends who also treasure the small town.

 

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Culture, Thank You, Thanks

Really, thanks!

matt-writing

A time of civility…

What is it about people today that writing to say “thanks” is too much work?  It seems the least one can do in return for a gift, a dinner, a night out, a sales order, or a visit.   Here is the story of one thank you worth noting.

My frustration is really a hat tip and compliment to NBC’s Today Show host Matt Lauer. You may have seen his visit to the blooming Shinola factory in Detroit.

There, dedicated folks are building a little industry in journals, greeting cards, thank you notes, day planners and personal calendars.

Mr. Lauer’s interest in Shinola is twofold. First he is supporting entrepreneurial growth in one of the toughest and long abandoned districts of Detroit.

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Detroit Edison Academy students

The streets are bordered by broken homes and derelict factory buildings. Homeless denizens still occupy the corners of doorways.

Despite that, there is The Detroit Edison Academy, an elementary school nearby where uniformed children are taking on the challenges of learning and self reliance with optimism.

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Matt Lauer cheers on the D-E kids.

Lauer’s gift to the school are the profits derived from Shinola’s sale of his personalized product line.

All part of the comeback process for urban Detroit.

Lauer’s other pursuit is the rebirth of the hand written note.

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Technician building the Shinola watch

“Everything today is digital. I like to live in an analog world, which takes one back to a time of civility when people took out a piece of paper and a pen to say “thank you.”

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Matt and the Today Show crew viewing his personal line of Shinola journals. Profits go to Detroit Edison Academy.

Shinola’s Detroit product line extends beyond leather and linen covered booklets to precision watches. The combination of the two products appeals to an array of sophisticated and enlightened consumers.

The production lines are the breeding ground for devoted, and motivated workers clad in smocks and dust free head covers.

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The D-E students present Matt with their hand written cards of thanks.

Lauer is hooked on the booklets and journals. Clutching one he testifies, “There is the joy of hanging onto something that doesn’t ring, beep, or send you a tone.”

Detroit Edison Academy looks like an oasis in the middle of an urban desert. Its hallways are clean and bright, and teeming with good looking, tidy kids on their way to a better future.

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“Let’s never forget the personal touch! Thanks for helping,”

They cheer Matt later for his support, and in a presentation, thank him with a bounty of hand written cards.

Lauer is overcome. “Thank you. This means so much to me. I am one of those believers who still write someone a little note… when was the last time you went to a mail box and found a letter that was addressed to you? Isn’t it a special feeling?

 

Thanks for sharing!  You can watch this really cool video of Matt’s visit here.

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Culture, Entertainment, Music, Thank You

America’s Time Warp – 2

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The marquee at The Packard Music Hall


How We Came To See America

Forty-six years after their first concert, we finally saw America, that classic rock band that formed the soundtrack for many of us in the 70s.

Had it not been for the accidental bump into Bill Worrell, their genius lead guitar, we may have still missed an unforgettable concert, just this week, in historic Warren Ohio.

After meeting Worrell, we followed America’s tour schedule and targeted the closest drive to see them. We bought two seats at the Packard Music Hall for June 15 in Warren, Ohio, an hour outside of Cleveland.   This venue was a small, old, yellow brick auditorium which seemed an unlikely spot for a famous group to appear.  But with some reassurance from the folks at our hotel, we headed into town.

W.D. Packard, builder of the Packard automobile provided for a music hall in his estate.   That building didn’t materialize for some years, but eventually, in 1955 it opened, and became the home of the W.D. Packard Concert Band.   The hall since then has attained renown for its regular hosting of concerts for all tastes.  It is the go-to place for music in Trumbull County.  You would liken it to a small Ryman Auditorium.

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70s– life is good and easy.

Our image of America consists of three young faces with lots of hair.  But neat.  Their album covers telegraph thoughtful rock melody, with some leather and tie-dye.  We weren’t sure what to expect, but given that they graduated from high school in 1969, a quick look in our mirror would set the tone.

Driving down Mahoning Street in Warren, we sense an event about to take off.  Warren is a grand old city, but it has endured some devastating challenges with the collapse of the Ohio steel industry.    Our earlier drive across West Market Street coming into town is heartbreaking and disturbing.  Urban decay in full bloom.

But here, on Mahoning, the cars–all new, all shiny, SUVs and hobby convertibles– signify that money has arrived.   The parking security wave us in like ground control, and we are placed within bumper distance of a classic 80s Corvette.  The crowds are moving to the doors, and after scanning our online tickets, we are admitted to the front room.

Our Crowd Packs In

The Packard only seats 2,500 fans.  So this event will be close, and if not intimate, still friendly, unlike the massive takes at the United Center in Chicago.

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Some happy fans, these sisters and cousins are here to hear their band.

Around us, pony tails, tees, shorts, and sandals abound.  And those are the men.   Beside them are women outfitted in jewelry, dresses, capris and well made up.  This crowd is the picture of the Boomer: under 50, over 70, need not apply.  They are a happy, satisfied bunch who are eagerly looking for a reminder of just how good and innocent those raucous 60s and 70s really were, compared to now.

The Lights Go Down.

The host of the Packard appears and welcomes us all.  He thanks us for being in this hallowed hall, and introduces Brennin Hunt, who opens for America.

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Brennin Hunt, from Oklahoma by way of Nashville

Hunt, aka, Brennin is a smart guitarist/writer who finds a melody and picks it over repeatedly until it is glued into your head.   He has a vocal range that hits Vince Gill highs, and with whom he has co-written songs.

“I have some CDs out front, and I’ll be there to sign ’em for ya.  I’m a nobody so I have time to talk with you too.  Thanks!”

He has fronted for America for only a couple of weeks, but he is the perfect appetizer.  His music is calculated to attract and articulated with a free range across his Martin D-28.   Lots of passion in his tenor voice, he delivers a strong melody.   His best, and most phenomenal delivery is a cover of Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean.   He was brave enough to take on this iconic piece, and he serves it beautifully, acoustic guitar booming out the hypnotic bass line.  Quincy Jones would applaud.

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Brennan and Billy The Kid Worrell render New Kid In Town

Closing his act, Brennin invites our personal hero, Bill Worrell to the stage.  It turns out that Worrell, aka “Billy The Kid” also played guitar for a tribute concert tour  for The Eagles.   To acknowledge that, Brennin and Worrell duet on New Kid In Town.   Worrell’s smiling addition is effortless, and before the crowd can reseat themselves, America romps onto the stage.

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A 70s light show entertains. Easy to set up and take down for the next show in Detroit, tomorrow night.

Dewey Bunnell sports wire frames tucked in beneath neatly combed back silver hair.   He may be seasoned, but he is in good shape, and with a confident, upright pose launches into Tin Man.  He is playing a beautiful black, mother of pearl inlay Taylor acoustic.

To his side, Gerry Beckley is likewise be-spectacled, and strums his six string, tucked under his arm.  Behind them, Worrell plays a third acoustic.  To his right, Ryland Steen, a mere youngster is on drums, and to his right, Rich Campbell nimbly fingers a five string Spector bass.

I mention the band’s gear because the electrified acoustics give a full body of sound.  You think you are listening to an orchestra, but it’s just five guys and a powerful amp.

Just then, I asked myself, why do guys like this keep at it?  This is work, big time.

The crowd is on its feet.   We have been waiting for this sound since 1976.  For a moment, tonight it’s all music and light.

With hardly a pause, the group turns over “You Can Do Magic”, “Don’t Cross The River”, and “Daisy Jane” .   We are enraptured, and a spotlight on the audience would show a sea of pasty, wrinkled faces with wide grins singing back at the band.

The guys perform their hits flawlessly like shooting bottles off a fence rail, one after another.  They introduce Billy The Kid, and he takes off on an instrumental break, one of many in the show.

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America’s classic logo sustains and endures, like the band.

Meanwhile, the back stage screen flashes an encyclopedia of America images.  From album covers to Peyote Indian meetings to Viet Nam gunboats and helicopters.

What is enchanting about this 70s light show, is that it is a 70s light show.  No fireworks.   No pedestals or trapeze work.  No swinging microphone stands and no dance groups.

In all, America played 20 of their tunes.  They were all good, and fresh.

You might expect that like other vintage groups, a back up team of vocalists would deliver the high notes.

Instead, Gerry Beckley hits them, if like climbing out on a drooping limb at the top of a tall tree, he was careful, and plucked the peach he was after, every time.  A fearless display of singing.

The group soaked up several standing ovations, and only then did they turn over “Ventura Highway”.  Beckley fingered that one on his Taylor acoustic and made it look devilishly simple.

In a quiet moment, Bunnell smiles and thanks us for listening, and remarks that they have been performing over 100 concerts a year, for 46 years.

“People ask why?  Well, as long as you keep coming, we’ll keep playing.”

Asked and answered.

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In front of a U.S. gunboat we get “Sandman”.

The band unloads a solid “Sandman”, heavily enhanced by Bill Worrell against a grey tone backdrop of Huey helicopters in flight over Viet Nam.  They goose us up with “Sister Golden Hair”  and then leave the stage.

We cheered them back, and then, like Christmas, they unleashed “A Horse With No Name” which made the evening complete.

Watching this enduring 70s band do its best stuff with cheerful ease awakened some dormant yearnings and memories.   School.  College.  First love.  First job.   Money and independence.

It made me imagine the high times on West Market Street in Warren, when the steel industry was in its heyday, and wealth and the plans for future wealth were effervescent in everyone’s imaginations.   Those days are long gone here, but as the town continues to remake itself, and this music plays on at Packard Hall, they will come back.

That is the joy of America.

 

Thanks for reading!  Here’s some websites you might value:

America Concert Tour Dates

Brennin Hunt

Bill Worrell

Warren Ohio

Warren Photo Tour

 

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Culture, Entertainment, Music, Thank You

America’s Time Warp – 1

How We Nearly Missed A Classic Rock Band, Again

I_need_you_-_AmericaAt the time we first were raising kids we managed to survive without a television, stereo, or car radio.  Only occasionally did we hear those magnetic tunes of America by Dewey Bunnell, Gerry Beckley and Dan Peek.   In the background, George Martin produced.

Years later, the kids now have kids of their own, and we have lots of sound equipment.  And a collection of America’s Greatest Hits which are an irreplaceable soundtrack of the 70s, and still captivating today for their lyrics and melodies.

On a flight back from LAX last spring we sat beside a polite young gentleman who stared at his laptop, ears plugged in, for most of the trip.   Coming into O’Hare, we all powered down, and said hello.  A casual, perfunctory conversation followed:

“So, what do you do?” I asked.

“I’m a musician.”

“Really?  In a band?”

“Unhunh.  I play in a classic rock band called America. My name’s Bill Worrell.”

“Oh, cool. Well, nice to meetcha.  We’re Phil and Jane. Safe trip home.”

The plane landed and we all scrambled for our bags, got onto our feet and into the aisle to get off the plane.  The guy walked out ahead of us and disappeared into the crowds at Terminal 3.

“Do you know who that is??” my wife asked, incredulous.

“Uh, Bill somebody.  Nice guy.”

“You twit!!  He’s with America.  You know, the band.  Ventura Highway?  Horse With No Name?  Tin Man?  Sister Golden Hair?  Daisy Jane???”  By now she is dragging her bag ahead of me straining to spot Bill Worrell in the crowd.

We never found him, but the enormity of my density hung over my head the entire ride home in the car.

bill warrell

A Steve Gaglio Photography image of our seat mate, Bill Worrell.

I felt badly.  On the one hand, this kid is looking for fame and recognition, and I crush him with indifference.  On the other hand, he sees me as a wizened old goof probably humming Dion tunes.

I made things up by contacting him on his website and blaming my doziness to jet lag.  He immediately responded, and graciously gave me a pass with a chuckle.  I wrote back adding that anyone who could play the opening riff to Ventura Highway was a hero in my books.

Ever since then we have tracked America, and a few months ago booked tickets to see them last weekend at the Packard Music Hall in Warren, Ohio.  It’s a 450-mile drive but we have the time.

A Wrong Turn, And A Crisis

Warren is southeast of Cleveland.  We approach this historic city from I-8o and a solid line on the map entices us to skip the beltway outside the city to our hotel, and instead, drive through town on West Market Street.

Center of the World

Great expectations, questionable today.

Just off the interstate, our first introduction is to the hamlet, Center of the World.   It is distinguished by a few small roadside stores and the shell of a burnt out, collapsed garage.  We drive on.

Getting closer to Warren on West Market street we drive past closed shops, discount stores, pawn shops and unkempt properties.  We see a couple walking toward the Superpawn Shop, him with bareback in shorts, festooned in tattoos.  She shuffles by his side in tee and flip flops.

Our trip to downtown continues dismally.  The ruin continues with no cease.

“How could they book a gig here?”

“An aggressive agent, I guess.  Wow. What an eye opener.”

Deflated by the west side, we head up to Packard Music Hall to check out the venue, look for safe parking and quick getaways if we need them.

Warren City Hall

Warren’s City Hall, a beautiful building decked out in petunias.

Along the way we see the greatness of Warren.  Founded in 1798, this city has some of the most stunning architecture in its public buildings we have ever seen.  Along the wealthy streets there are some enormous, and beautifully built antebellum homes.  Flowers are everywhere.

The music hall is small.  Which means a cozy concert, and that’s good.  But beyond it is a park with groups of people milling about, not so much picnicking, but lazing about, because there is nothing else to do on a Wednesday afternoon.  The view among the ancient oaks and green lawns is strangely unsettling.

We drive back through the city center amid vacant store and office buildings, out along East Market Street where the real estate improves.

Trumbull_County_Courthouse_2

Trumbull County Court House in downtown Warren is majestic.

But it doesn’t improve enough to lift a feeling of dread about going downtown at night to see America.

By the time we reach our posh hotel in the suburbs we have decided to go home.  I inform the front desk folks, and with that, we elect to have a lunch in the mall, and start the 450-mile return trip, extremely disappointed.

The Turning Point

We sit at the bar of an Outback Steakhouse.  Bar sitting is great when you are splitting a meal.  It also gives license to speak with neighbors.

Lynn is running the bar.  I opened:

“Hi Lynn.   We just got into town, but I made a huge mistake driving in on West Market.  It’s pretty scary.  What happened?”

She paused before answering, maybe wondering if I was worth explaining to.

“Well, we used to have about six steel mills in the area.  They all went out of business in the 80s and it’s been a struggle for many.  All the people and business who supported the economy went away. Welcome to another country.”

With that I started to synchronize the news of Ohio’s past with my sheltered life in Illinois. But concerns persisted.

IMG_0863

Our first look at the concert hall.

“We’re going to the Packard Music Hall to see America.  It looks kinda rundown.  Are we crazy?”

“Oh no.  You’re perfectly safe there.  It’ll be a good show.  The east side is quite different than the west side.”

With that, a lady came up to us from behind.

“Are you going to see America tonight?”

She wore a black and white summer dress.  Bracelets on her tanned arms telegraphed upscale success.  Her 20s-something daughter hung back at their dining table.

“We are going.   It will be great.  You’ll love it.  We are having dinner at Leo’s first, and then drive in.  The Packard is perfect, and the place will be packed.  You’ll feel right at home.”

Her name was Diane, and she unloaded a ton of dining advice, hotels, and sights to see.  Had I asked, she may have admitted to being a real estate sales rep.  Regardless, she was good.

With that, we decided to rebook our hotel room.

More tomorrow, and I tell you how this trek to see America ended up.

 

 

 

 

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