Writer, Reporter, Broadcaster
& Voice Over Artist

“Every man who’s ever had a beer with me will tell you the same thing — I drink Rainier, always have, always will.”

I always have a book or magazine tucked under my arm whenever I go outside the house (my iPhone and assorted news apps have pretty much replaced the daily paper I used to carry) and my home is a wall-to-wall library –but my collection is almost exclusively non-fiction.

Likewise, ever since NBC cancelled Law & Order (the original, Sam Watterson/Fred Thompson version) I have been investing less and less time on series-TV.  The television is still on all the time it seems, but it’s usually the news, and regardless of what is on during the evening, I rarely pay that much attention to it.  In recent years there have been too many TV plot lines left hanging in midair when the network cancels the show, and I’ve grown tired of getting involved in a story arc that eventually goes nowhere.

So, a few weeks back I saw a promo for a new Western series (actually a story set in current times, but in the Rocky Mountain West, so the best of both worlds) on A&E called “Longmire.”  The hero, Walt Longmire, is sheriff of a fictional county in northern Wyoming — if you are not familiar with the character from the series of mystery novels by Craig Johnson, think of a modern-day Matt Dillon with a lot more complicated back story (come to think of it, except for some obvious history that he must have had with Miss Kitty, there was no back story whatsoever to the U.S. Marshall of Dodge City, Kansas.)

I was half-watching the first episode of Longmire until a scene where the Sheriff is drinking a can of Rainier Beer.  I was pleased to see the directors were really into regional authenticity.  But a couple of scenes later,  Longmire rolls his SUV and beer cans go flying out everywhere.  One of his deputies wonders out loud if Longmire was drinking, and he explains the presence of the empty beer cans by tersely replying, “Every man who’s ever had a beer with me will tell you the same thing — I drink Rainier, always have, always will. Those beer cans, they weren’t Rainier, none of them. I picked ‘em up because I hate looking at litter. Everyone knows that, too.”

At this point, I’m hooked.  Of course, everyone who’s ever had a beer with me knows me knows I’ll take a Rainier over anything else — if I can get it.  Since the brewery was closed down in Seattle, the stuff has been brewed here in So Cal where the 210 and 605 freeways meet (the label now says “Rainier Brewing Co., Irwindale, California”) but it’s rarely available around here, and even in the Northwest, you have to know where to find it.   I think I’m down to my last longneck purchased in Sandpoint, Idaho right now. (For more on Rainier and other Western beers, see my posts, “Local Brew” and “Charles McCabe and the Green Death.”)

So on my next trip to Barnes and Noble I bought my first novel in a long time that wasn’t assigned reading — actually, I bought all 7 of Craig Johnson’s Longmire books that are out in paperback.  (The eighth in the series, “As the Crow Flies” just came out in May as a hardback — I’ll probably bite the bullet and buy it once I’ve polished off the last of the paperbacks and the e-book short story “Divorce Horse.”)  As with all characters that have both a print and filmed persona, Sheriff Longmire  has a lot more depth in print and a much more involved personal history.  But as I’ve gotten into the print versions, beyond the Rainier Beer I keep finding more and more ways where Walt and I seem to cross paths.

The TV version pays passing reference now and then to Philadelphia, with Longmire’s deputy being a former Philly policewoman and the third of the Longmire books, “Kindness Goes Unpunished” takes place in Philly as well.  (The author graduated from Temple.) My daughter went to college in Philadelphia; over that course of time, I became pretty familiar with the place.

A good portion of the fourth book, “Another Man’s Moccasins” takes place in Orange County, California, where I am writing this right now.

It’s yet to be mentioned on A&E, but in print, Longmire went to USC in the late 60’s, as did I.

And to make it spookier, a couple of episodes feature as a guest star, the actor A. Martinez — I went to high school with him.

I’ve wanted to go to Wyoming one of these days (yes, I know the series is actually filmed around Santa Fe, New Mexico) but maybe I should see how Season 2 and the next few books turn out first!

 

EPILOGUE:  Thea Miller Ryan has a a great site, roadtripsforreaders.com that has great info for about places you can visit that  have ties with your favorite books.  She recently visited Buffalo, Wyoming, which is the basis for the fictional town of Durant in Craig’s books.  Take a quick trip to Absaroka County here: www.roadtripsforreaders.com/2012/07/buffalo-wyoming-longmires-town/

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“And the sons of Pullman porters, And the sons of engineers, Ride their father’s magic carpet Made of steel…”

Not one of the 10 or 12 Republicans officially or unofficially running for President supports Amtrak. In fact, when the subject comes up at all, Amtrak is lumped in with various unproductive government programs as a target for elimination on the way to a balanced budget.  In fact, most of the candidates have already pointed to Amtrak as the perfect example of government waste.

Beyond the overall expense (and we will explain later that it is almost infinitesimal) and the fact the government is providing a service that was once done by private companies, Conservatives generally see any sort of mass transit as a Progressive plot to force us out of cars.  So far as I know, the late Paul Weyrich was one of the only well-known Conservatives to support passenger trains — he passed away in 2008 and no one has taken his place as a forceful advocate of public transit from the right side of the political spectrum.  (Weyrich co-founded the Heritage Foundation AND served on Amtrak’s Board of Directors!)   Weyrich saw trains and light rail as traditional, proven technologies that are cost effective.  Adding in the historical aspects of rail travel, and Weyrich saw something that both Conservatives and Progressives ought to embrace.

Most Conservatives in 2011 figure anything Joe Biden likes isn’t for them, and that’s that!

Well, I don’t apologize for being Conservative and not only do I support Amtrak, I would hope to see it get a bigger budget so we can stop fooling around and run some trains!  Here’s why I like Amtrak and why it squares with Conservative thought:

1) It is one of the few government services anyone can actually use.

–Of the thousands of various government programs for this, that and the other, I have never qualified for many, other than free TSA pat downs at the airport, and the public schools that I attended from K to 12.  Along with many other Americans, I have put a lot more into the system with my income, payroll, property, sales, excise and use taxes than I’ve ever taken out.  (So far, anyway — but every year I am getting closer and closer to collecting on that big Social Security jackpot!) But, I can buy a ticket on Amtrak anytime I want — my ability to do so is not means tested in any way.

2) Yes, there is a government subsidy, but in the scheme of things, it’s small potatoes.

–Since Amtrak started up in the Spring of 1971, the Feds have kicked in a grand total of about $35 billion to keep it going — less than a billion a year overall.  Washington spent $40 billion on highways in 2010 alone.  For our 35 billion, we still have over 1600 passenger cars, 480 locomotives, and 20 Acela high-speed train sets, and they run every day (well the Sunset Limited only runs from LA to New Orleans three days a week, but that’s another story.)  Amtrak carried 28 million passengers last year (its best year ever) and, if it were an airline, it would be the eighth largest in the country.

3) It’s true that Amtrak took in 2.5 billion last year, but had expenses of 3.7 billion, with the Federal Government having to make up the difference, but EVERY other form of transportation is supported and subsidized by the government.

–That’s right — there is not a single mode of transportation that runs on its own power.  The Interstate Highway system is 100% paid by the government; airlines utilize government provided airports, the FAA air traffic control system, TSA for airport security, and the Post Office provides lucrative air mail contracts.  Not counting cruise ships, there are very few privately owned passenger shipping outfits out there.  From the Staten Island Ferry to the ferries that connect dozen of points along Puget Sound, its pretty much a government operation.  So, in the great scheme of things, yes, Amtrak is a ward of the state, but no more so than the rest.

Here’s another factor to consider — Amtrak provides a backup to a sometimes vulnerable airline industry.  Not even counting September 11 and the days that every plane was grounded, weather and other factors cause thousands of flights to be cancelled every year.

I don’t ask much from my government.  I can take care of most of my own needs on a day-to-day basis.  But, one person cannot be an army or navy, one person cannot build roads and patrol those roads, one person cannot effectively regulate the banks, explore space or keep our water safe to drink.  Cuts need to be made to be sure, but there are many things we have to work together to accomplish, and government can be an effective way to get the work done.

So, Romney, Bachman, Caine, Paul and Pawlenty, consider that Amtrak isn’t such a bad deal for us.  Maybe we should even have more trains — I like having train 578 as an alternative to a crowded southbound Interstate 5 on a Friday afternoon, and when LAX is fogged in or the Grapevine closed because of snow, there just has to be another way out of town!

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Has anybody else noticed?  Barack Obama is on his way to becoming this generation’s Orson Welles.  Here’s what I’m getting at:  Orson Welles was truly the “Boy Wonder” of his time — he was still in his twenties when he scared half of the nation half to death with his radio version of “War of the Worlds.”  And he wasn’t much older when he wrote, directed and starred in “Citizen Kane.”

On Halloween Night, 1938, Orson Welles directed an episode of his weekly CBS radio program, “The Mercury Theatre of the Air” — an adaptation of the H.G. Welles’ tale, “War of the Worlds.”  Presented as a typical 1930’s big band remote that is interrupted “for this news bulletin” (breaking news had not yet been invented) and soon becomes a full news program, the broadcast scared most of the Eastern Seaboard; Welles was dragged before a Congressional hearing several weeks later to explain himself.  At 24, Orson Welles had made his mark and the elite of both coasts were proclaiming him a genius.

By the next year, Welles was in Hollywood with a contract in hand from RKO Pictures to direct.  Every major studio had recruited Welles, so he was ultimately able to set his own terms: complete artistic control and an almost unlimited budget (not unlike the Federal budget.)  The result was “Citizen Kane.”  At the time, the movie wasn’t chosen as the best picture of the year, but today ranks number one on most lists as the best motion pictures ever made!  For his first movie, Welles was nominated for best actor as well as best director and took home an Oscar for co-writing the screenplay.

So, at that point — 1941 — Welles was at the top of his game.  After Kane, he didn’t fade away — he remained a fixture in Hollywood as a producer, director and actor, (and magician) but no other Welles’ project ever measured up to “Citizen Kane” in its artistry or to “War of the Worlds” in its immediate impact. (To be sure, Kane was followed in short measure by “The Magnificent Ambersons” and much later by “A Touch of Evil,” but these films never recovered their costs at the box office and didn’t quite live up to Welles’ first works.) He never won another Oscar for any of his subsequent movies (he did receive a “Lifetime Achievement” award in 1971.)  In fact, many of Welles’ later projects were never finished, usually due to financing problems and creative roadblocks.

Is Obama another Orson Welles? Yes and no. But the similarities are there, nevertheless. Even the birther issue crosses both of their life paths.  Obama was supposedly born in Hawaii, but he and his campaign have always kept the issue murky instead of providing full disclosure.  Welles was born in Kenosha, Wisconsin — or was he?  There always was something eerie about the man — if there are indeed aliens from other planets living among us to study humanity, Welles might have been one of them!  (I met Welles once; he had a commanding, yet spooky presence, and that’s an understatement.)

One major point of departure: Welles was awarded a Motion Picture Academy “Lifetime Achievement Award” AFTER an ACTUAL lifetime of achievement. Obama received the Nobel Peace Prize for what, exactly?  Showing up? After remarkably short apprenticeships, both Welles and Obama found they had achieved their personal best.  ” It my be too early to say, but at this point, Obama’s election night speech at Soldiers Field in Chicago is starting to look like his personal remake of “Citizen Kane.”  And it’s all downhill from Xanadu.

…Rosebud…

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So, in my recent apartment search, I have encountered some pretty damning yet hilarious responses when it comes to phoning and visiting apartment buildings.
I’m still not sure how much of the following was hard-sell and how much was just plain stupidity…

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21 Mar 2011, by

Side orders…

A thank you to the folks at the North Coast Brewing Co. of Fort Bragg, California for linking this site’s story, “The Local Brew” on their Facebook page.  North Coast has the rights to the venerable “Acme” brand for beer and ale (and you thought that Looney Toons owned Acme Beer!)  www.northcoastbrewing.com

Coincidently enough, my father grew up in Fort Bragg — both he and my grandfather worked for the old Union Lumber Company, and I think granddad also worked for the California Western Railroad out of Fort Bragg as well.

The Union Lumber Company mill and the company store are long gone, and the California Western (better known as The Skunk Train) hangs in there as a big tourist draw for the town.  The line used to run sightseeing trains in the day and hauled freight at night out to its connection with the Northwestern Pacific Railroad at Willits, but the NWP is shut down and there isn’t much lumber to ship out of Fort Bragg these days anyway.  Ride the Skunk Train while you can — one of these winters the Noyo River will most likely flood out the tracks and that will probably be that.  www.skunktrain.com

Thanks also to everyone who liked the reprint of Charles McCabe’s S.F. Chronicle article on “The Green Death.”  I knew I had kept a copy of that article somewhere in one of my boxes of left over college stuff.  I didn’t live in San Francisco, so wish I could remember why I had a copy of the Chronicle from April 1970 in the first place!

Back when SF had two big papers, the Chronicle and the Examiner, Hearst’s Examiner was the better paper from a technical sense — rarely a typo — but the somewhat quirky Chron with some sections printed on green newsprint and some on pink, was usually the more iconoclastic and more interesting read.  Hearst no longer owns The Examiner, but they now own the Chron instead.  The Examiner shrunk down to a tabloid, but it’s an interesting paper — editorially conservative, smack dab in the middle of the People’s Republic of the Bay Area!  sfexaminer.com sfgate.com (Chronicle’s website.)

Beer fans — don’t forget, March 28th is the 175th birthday of Capt. Fredrick Pabst!

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Charles McCabe (1915-1983) was a columnist (that’s the prehistoric term  for blogger) featured in the San Francisco Chronicle.  His column, “The Fearless Spectator” ran twice a week, beginning in the 1950’s.  McCabe’s acerbic commentary covered a wide range of subjects, much of it stemming from his research, often done at one of his favorite San Francisco “watering holes.”

In those days, the Chronicle was noted for pithy headlines, sloppy proofreading and its very readable columnists, including McCabe, Herb Caen, Lucius Beebe, Art Hoppe and Stanton Delaplane.

“The Green Death” of which McCabe speaks fondly in the following piece, is a brew called Rainier Ale that was once quite popular on the West Coast.  When this column was written, some 40 years ago, Rainier was still being made by the venerable Rainier Brewing Company in Seattle and bottles and cans of the stuff could readily be found in liquor stores and on tap, especially in workingmen’s taverns in the Bay Area.  It’s still around, but the Seattle brewery closed and its brands eventually were acquired by Pabst Blue Ribbon which currently contracts with MillerCoors to make the stuff at its Irwindale, California brewery — really a beer factory, if you’ve ever driven past it on the 210 Freeway!  Sadly, it can only be found in a few stores here and there and now only in 16 ounce cans and 40 ounce bottles.  I watched it being made at the Seattle brewery one day and a brewery employee confessed it wasn’t really a true “ale” (defined as a top fermented brew) but rather their regular lager (bottom fermented beer) with the malted barley toasted a little darker and the alcoholic content revved up a bit.  The brew has a slightly greenish tint to it, but the term “Green Death” most likely derives from its traditional green bottle and label.

McCabe also refers to the only other brew he felt was fit to drink, “steam beer.”  He used the generic lower case, but undoubtledy was talking about Anchor Steam Beer, a robust and distinctive beer still brewed in San Francisco.  Although it has been brewed since the 1880’s, some beer experts have described Anchor as the “first of the micro breweries,” but that’s another story…

From “The Fearless Spectator,” first page, second section of the San Francisco Chronicle, April 2, 1970:  “Beer, Breakfast of Champions”…

Since St. Patrick’s Day I have been on something of a health kick.

I figured St. Pat’s feast day was a good time to go on the wagon, since it pleased my well developed sense of the perverse.  Also, it was my oldest son’s 20th birthday.  Another good reason, if you come to think of it.

More than banning the sauce, I am for a limited period measuring protein on postal scales, and learning the joys of raw cucumbers and breadsticks (one), all that sort of humiliation jazz one must submit one’s self to get that thin, etiolated look that the ladies like in us here male over achievers.

Naturally, this brings changes.  The world of Phillip sober has neither the shape or the form of Philip drunk, or even the slightly potted.

This is a discovery made by those of us who roister in each world from time to time.  People, you discover under the influence of sobriety, are rather awful.  Things, and their doing, which seem beneath contempt to the barstool mystic, develop their attractions.

It is with some sorrow I report that, this trip around, people who don’t drink at all seem rather less awful to me than before.  The elect who polish off a bottle a day, and practice being St. Simeon Stylites, seem less filled with that fine careless rapture I remember from a previous incarnation, I view all this, however, as premature senility.  It will rub away when I am a consumer again, between a fifth of single malt scotch and a pretty girl.

In my present Christian trance, the only thing I really miss is beer for breakfast.

I must correct myself, Ale for breakfast.  What is sold as beer in California is without exception, something the Elizabethans would have reserved for a traitor.  The stuff sold here is imitation beer, mostly made of rice instead of malt and hops.

Moreover, the imitation is bad.  In the interests of fair labeling and that new science, consumerism, everything called beer in this state should be called Ersatz, in type not less than a half-inch in height.

In my normal state, when not gripped in a passion for self improvement, I seldom eat breakfast.  I drink it.  And what I drink is a tipple universally known in the less respectable premises of ‘Frisco as The Green Death.

As a connoisseur of this brew — which, with steam beer, is the only thing around entitled to be called beer, and permitted in the throat of an honest man — I, of course, drink it chamber — at room temperature.  What’s good for Mouton-Rothschild is good enough for The Green Death.

I usually take my first brew of the morning over the Chron’s accounting of the grandiose and pointless cruelty of mankind the day before, at an Italian cultural center on Green Street.  This place is known to some of its regulars as The Valley of the Green Death, on account nearly all of the customers are like connoisseurs.

The jukebox, which runs incessant and loud (like Niagara) ranges from Puccini to Johnny Cash.  The word paranoid is often heard.  Guys set off firecrackers.  Dames fall on the floor.  Longshoremen discuss the symbolism in old Charlie Chan movies.  Life.

Since becoming a new man, and munching all those apples, I sometimes drop in for a black coffee; but things are not the same.  Even The Chronicle isn’t so crazy.  The young cats, instead of seeming glorious drinkers who work on the docks to support their habit now seem like longshoremen who drink.

Sure, it’s all sad, and nearly the whole bloody litany of life is.  But if it were paddy’s Day, I assure you I would do it all over again.  I’m glad I’m on the wagon.  Glad, glad, glad — I tell you.  You never know how well off you were until you try something else.

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You could not have missed the stories about “political rhetoric” in the days and weeks following the January shooting rampage in Tucson, Arizona — EVERY media outlet ran with that topic. However, it’s doubtful that you have heard this story…

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Ronald Reagan was a better than average President, well compared to all four of those who came after him, a FANTASTIC president.  That being said, I am growing weary of Rush, Sean, et al using Reagan as the baseline used to measure contemporary conservative politicos…

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“This ‘telephone’ has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us.” — 1876, Western Union internal memo.

There are just a handful of American companies still around after 150 years or so, especially those operating under their original name — Wells Fargo Bank, du Pont, and the Union Pacific Railroad make up a big chunk of the list.
Western Union solders on as one of these outfits, even though today’s company is pretty much just a seller of money orders. If you know them at all, it’s probably as the people you went to in order to wire that “good faith payment” to the last surviving relative of the late Nigerian Minister of Finance. (And are you still checking with Western Union every day to see if your payment has arrived?)
But once upon a time, Western Union was the first big-time coast-to-coast commercial enterprise in the country. They strung the first transcontinental telegraph line in 1861! That’s eight years before the overland railroad was joined together at Promontory, Utah.
But even though the Western Union brand is still out there, today they should be a bigger communications company than AT&T, Comcast and Direct TV put together. But instead its glory days are long past, and it clings to a niche business.
Western Union was so entrenched in telegraphy that when Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone came upon the scene, the company just couldn’t wrap itself around the new and more versatile invention. Western Union dabbled in telephones but in the end decided to stick to its tried and true technology.
One of the stops — one of my brief stops — in my corporate career was the Fluor Corporation. If you live in the OC, you will probably remember when Fluor had the big space-age complex on Jamboree in Irvine. Fluor fizzled out in the 1980’s and eventually moved its HQ to Texas. But Fluor, along with Western Union had another opportunity to be huge — and here’s where the paths of Fluor and the telegraph company cross.
Western Union, Fluor, and a third firm, Johnson Radio (at the time, the biggest maker of 2-way radios) were working on a joint venture project — Fluor would build infrastructure needed, Johnson Radio would develop the electronics and Western Union would run the system.
What was it? A nationwide cell phone system — years ahead of the companies that eventually developed that industry, and it would have been one big national system, not the somewhat fragmented networks we wound up with — coverage holes and all.
But just like they did with the telephone, Western Union got cold feet — married to their wires, they just couldn’t go wireless.
Maybe the same guy who wrote the memo in 1876 was still around!

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