DODGING DANGER IN PARADISE

It’s a while since I’ve been caught up in a world-wide news event, especially one where I MIGHT HAVE DIED. But there we were, after a five a.m. wake-up call by Kauai’s ubiquitous red roosters, on the first day of our holiday, groggily sipping our coffee in the Saturday morning sunshine. All of a sudden, the island quiet was pierced by an urgent loud buzz on our cellphone. It sounded like an Amber Alert on steroids. “What the heck was that?” I said out loud to other breakfasters gathered on the patio of our inn. No one looked up from their buttered toast. Thinking it was just some sort of glitch, we didn’t investigate further. Then, my companion reported back from the office. The woman behind the front desk had said something about a missile threat, as she busied herself with the office routine. The patio remained an oasis of calm. I glanced at the sky, saw nothing and continued with my coffee. Nobody, it seemed, including ourselves, was going to be bothered about a little thing like nuclear annihilation. After all, we were on holiday.

When I subsequently checked the Globe and Mail website, I discovered that the alert had actually been pretty scary, the nonchalance by our front desk clerk notwithstanding. ‘SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.” Yikes. And the Hawaiian missile alarm was at the top of the Globe’s story list. We’d been part of history, bad coffee and all.

A little later, when we traipsed in to nearby, sleepy Lihue, I asked some of the locals how they’d dealt with the alert. Unlike reports of panic elsewhere, people seemed to have taken it in their laid-back stride.

Our cab driver said she’d been stuck in an unrelated traffic jam. She did what anyone would do facing an incoming ballistic missile. She phoned her supervisor. Her boss told her not to worry. The boss’s husband was in the military, and he’d confirmed it was a false alarm. The volunteer at the local museum said he’d slept through the whole thing. “If it was real, that’s the best way to go.” I agreed.

A genial, bearded Uber driver was the only person I talked to who actually reacted to the alert. He’d been at his Saturday men’s Bible class (I refrained from asking whether he thought the Apocalypse was coming at last…). All their phones went off at once, and everyone rushed outside. He immediately phoned his wife with specific instructions: “Stay inside. Don’t go to that garage sale!”

As we talked, he noted that some of those who hadn’t taken it seriously questioned why anyone would launch a ballistic missile towards Kauai. He pointed out, quite rightly, that the US Navy’s Pacific Missile Range Facility is on the island, right by the wonderfully-named Barking Sands. The PMRF’s latest mission is to track incoming missiles and shoot them down. “So we could have been a target,” he said, cheerfully.

Another fellow I spoke to further up island was rational about it. His community tests its emergency sirens once a month, to ensure their readiness in case of an incoming tsunami or other calamity. He got the alert, poked his head out the door, heard no sirens and went back inside, figuring he was going to see the sun set on another day in paradise, without a mushroom cloud obscuring the view. Plus, as many observed: “Seek shelter? Like, where, dude?” This is Hawaii. According to a local newspaper round-up, one guy took refuge with his son behind a palm tree…

I particularly liked a few other reactions. Who should be a longtime permanent resident of Kauai, but Samantha Geimer, the victim in the Roman Polanski child sex abuse case? On Facebook, noting the blasé indifference around her, she posted: “I guess panicking in Hawaii is making coffee and shrugging our shoulders.” A youngster phoned his mom to tell her a ballistic missile was coming their way. “OK, I’m at the farmers’ market,” she replied. And finally, a tourist from Utah sent a text to her kids, saying: “This could be it. I love you.” They texted back: “Send us a picture.”

And that was that. There were reports of understandable panic elsewhere, but overall, on beautiful Kauai, the response to possible nuclear annihilation seemed to be: keep calm and carry on. It’s probably not real, and if it is real, what can you do?

On reflection, I am little less sanguine about the bizarre incident. First of all, the frightening alert was apparently put out by an employee “during a shift change”. Hey, we’ve all experienced shift changes. Issuing a ballistic missile alert is just one of those things that can happen, right?….But I mean, really??? And then it took an unforgiveable 38 minutes to issue a cell phone correction. (Many got the news much earlier from Congresswoman Tulsi Garbbard, who posted her own “all-clear” message a mere 12 minutes after the alert.) Those twin incompetencies are truly beyond belief, particularly given the two nutbars allegedly in charge of North Korea and the USA, who make anything seem possible. (In the winning way that is coming to characterize society these days, the unfortunate who put out the alert has received “dozens of death threats by fax, phone and social media,” officials said.)

Meanwhile, for us veterans of the Cold War and the Cuban Missile Crisis, this brought back a lot of unwanted memories, from a time when “Duck and Cover” exercises were very real. During crunch day of the Cuban Missile Crisis, we went to school, not knowing if we would be coming back home. It was truly an eerie and frightening feeling. But of course, we still did exactly what many Islanders did on Saturday. We went about our normal routine. If the bomb was coming, so be it.

So for now, ballistic missile dodged. Slap on the sunscreen.

 

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MICKLE MARKETPLACE

Okay, I know BC Place is beset by debt, but is that any excuse to pick on us poor popcorn munchers? Our hard-earned $5.50 now fetches far fewer kernels at a BC Lions’ game than the same princely sum garners at nearby Rogers Arena, when the Canucks take the ice. It’s bad enough having that annoying, sideline loudmouth scream “MAKE SOME NOISE!” about every two minutes, without being short-changed on popcorn. The clearcut evidence is before you, my lord. Rogers popcorn on the left, BC Place on the right. Same price. Snackers of the world, unite. Bag ’em, Danno!

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“I SEE FROM THE PAPERS…”

Even a city as boisterous, colourful and marvellous as San Francisco, where I just was, is not immune from the forces ravaging daily newspapers. When one thinks of the classic circulation tussles of the past between the storied Examiner and Chronicle, it’s enough to make one bleed a sorrowful tube of printer’s ink to see them now.

ImageThe San Francisco Examiner, one-time employer of Ambrose Bierce and Jack London and lynchpin of William Randolph Hearst’s ‘yellow journalism’ empire, is now a free, incredibly-shrinking tab that on Monday could muster no more than 20 pages.

The Chronicle, where the legendary Herb Caen held sway for nearly 60 years, has had the largest circulation drop of any major paper in the United States over the last few years.

Still, as I do in any city I’m in, I read the local papers. You feel part of the community, rather than a mere tourist. You also notice events outside the guidebook.

During one SF visit in 1989, I spied a reference to a memorial service for a longtime activist and union organizer, Jack Olsen. I decided to go. Lucky me. His partner turned out to be none other than well-known feminist author, Tillie Olsen, who spoke movingly of their life together. Another speaker was Spanish Civil War vet Bill Bailey, one of those old leftists who talk about their political past at the beginning of Warren Beatty’s movie, Reds.

This time, thumbing through the papers brought me to a revival of Sam Shepard’s Pulitzer Prize winning play, Buried Child, at the same, intimate Magic Theatre where it received its world premiere in 1978. The production, though harrowing, was terrific.

So, my advice to anyone on a trip: read the newspaper. You just never know. Here are some other things I found out.

1. Headline: “Motorist stabbed in Tenderloin”. Ouch! A terrible place to be stabbed.

2. I missed the America’s Cup by a day, but not the public fallout as to whether putting up millions to host the jib joust was a good idea for the city. Local politician John Avalos was one of those wary about a repeat. “We were promised a regatta of 15 boats, but ended up with three billionaires in a tub.”

3. Even more than Vancouver, San Francisco is becoming a city of the rich, where money talks. Long-time tenants, many of them seniors, are being evicted from their rent-controlled apartments, so developers can renovate and turn their buildings into expensive co-op units. Real estate prices, meanwhile, are zooming into the stratosphere. The Chronicle’s “what you can buy” feature covered condos in “the $1.38 million range”. Non-controlled rents for new, one bedroom apartments are averaging close to $4,000 a month. Here’s a great column on the problem by Carl Nolte, who says the influx of high-tech companies is partially to blame.

http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/nativeson/article/Tech-has-made-S-F-homeowners-millionaires-4853476.php

4. Oakland, across the bay, is now the robbery capital of the United States. Police say criminals have cottoned on to the fact they can make more money robbing people than selling drugs. Unclear if this is progress.

5. As a connoisseur of fine names, I enjoyed those of winning America’s Cup skipper Jimmy Spithill, and Mark Baldassare, head of a public policy institute. There was also news about Sum Ting Wong, Wi Tu Lo, Ho Lee Fuk and Bang Ding Ow, the infamous false names attributed by a local TV station to four pilots on board the Asiana aircraft that crashed at SF Airport last year. After lengthy negotiations, fired producer Roland De Wolk got a nice severance package, his lawyer reported. Shirley Knot…

6. Forget it, Mitt, it’s San Francisco. So of course the Mormon-owned Marriott Hotel chain, with Mr. Romney on its board of directors, was a corporate sponsor of Sunday’s Folsom Street Fair celebrating sexually-explicit kinkiness involving bondage, leather, and, yes, even nudity. Event organizers had promised “more eye candy than you can shake your cock at, public play stations, and mobs of leather-clad kink lovers, fetish gear and toys”, spread out over 13 blocks of adult entertainment. “Anyone who’s interested in people, and watching people – it doesn’t get any better than that,” explained Marriott sales and marketing director Frank Manchen.

7. Too many tour buses are annoying residents of the famous row of painted Victorian houses seen in a zillion posters and postcards. One posted a sign saying: “Get off your big fat tour bus and experience San Francisco”.  Now the sign, itself, is a tourist attraction. “We used to wake up listening to birds,” sighed resident Christi Every. “Ever since the increase in tour buses, we wake up to exhaust.”

8. In anticipation of next year’s 75th anniversary of the publication of The Grapes of Wrath, Steinbeck’s seminal tale of dust, Depression and the displaced, a group of artists and admirers are re-tracing the Joad family’s journey along what’s left of Route 66, from Sallisaw, Oklahoma to California. Great idea. Their experiences can be followed here: http://www.grapesofwrath75.org

WAXING LYRICAL ABOUT VINYL

With Beatle-mania sweeping the land, I decided to buy my first LP. I took the Greyhound Bus into Toronto from my hometown of Newmarket (aka Micklemarket), and walked over to the legendary Sam the Record Man on Yonge Street, retail beacon for hundreds of thousands of baby-boom, Ontario teen-agers. Not only was Sam’s stacked with three floors of records, they were cheap — $3.99 mono, $4.99 stereo. Of course, I opted for mono.

Instead of joining the huge line-ups of moptop-mad customers on the packed first floor, however, I headed to the placid sanity of the jazz, folk and blues section one floor above. There, a kindly man in a baggy sweater named John Norris held court, dispensing the most knowledgeable music advice in the Image 3country. After a brief discussion with the great man, I plunked down my $3.99 for that treasured first disc. While millions bought the Beatles, I went home with Ain’t Misbehavin’, by Fats Waller, the roly-poly, fun-loving, jazz piano player who died in 1943. I couldn’t have been happier. I must have listened to that record a hundred times. I still know all the lyrics. (Up at Harlem, at a table for two, There were four of us, me, your big feet and you. From your ankles up, you sure are sweet, from there down, there’s just too much feet…) Yes, I was a strange lad.

And so began my love of vinyl — albums with learned liner notes, real covers, sold in record stores, where one could browse happily for hours. Like many, I mourned the death of the LP, replaced by soul-less CDs that seem to go on forever, complete with miniscule, often unreadable liner notes. Now, of course, CDs, too, are dying, replaced by the even less satisfying, instant gratification of iTunes, where everything is available with a click or two, and rarely is anything treasured.

Luckily, my mother never got hold of my LPs the way she did my long-gone baseball card collection (sigh). And I could never bring myself to unload them as so many others did, at yard sales and thrift stores across the land. Hundreds and hundreds of albums still stack living room shelves and fill basement boxes. So, in honour of the small but growing vinyl revival that seems to be going on, most Saturday mornings I treat myself  to “Vinyl Saturday”, dusting off ye olde turntable, worn needle and scratchy discs for a few blasts from my musical past.

Here are a few recent selections….

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BASEBALL NIGHT AT THE NAT

I took myself out to the ball game Tuesday night for a cracker jack of a playoff contest between the hometown Vancouver Canadians and the invading AquaSox (yuck!) from delightful downtown Everett, who lived up to their invader status by starting a pitcher named Zokan.

I realize there are those in the world who are not fans of the grand old game of baseball, but I defy anyone to have sat in the stands at old Nat Bailey Stadium on such a balmy evening, looking down on a lush green paradise of grass, lit up by the lights, and not swoon at the magic of it all.

That’s one of the great benefits of Single A baseball, as she is played in Vancouver. Yes, we are rooting for centerfielder Chazwell Storm Frank and the boys, but our hearts are hardly engaged. The score is secondary to the experience of just being at the ballpark and watching something beautiful unfold that is not all that unchanged – despite everything – from a hundred years ago.

Baseball, at least at the minor league level, is the sport for those who say they don’t like sports. You’re outside, you’re relaxed, you’re sipping a beer. It’s like being at a picnic.

Baseball names are traditionally fun, too. The Vancouver Canadians have the aforementioned Chaz Frank, plus Mitch (Say Hey!) Nay, while Everett featured the great Chantz Mack (no relation to Connie), who prompted a wise guy in the crowd to shout, inevitably: “Not a Chantz, Mack!”

And I got to hear 77-year old poet and crusty baseball nut George Bowering retort to someone disturbed by his running commentary: “This ain’t the opera, you know.”

Plus, the good guys won. All this for the price of a movie. Image

AND SO IT BEGINS…

P1070078This is my blog, and welcome to it.

Nearly 35 years after technology forced me to abandon my beloved Underwood and the joys of noisily pounding keys and changing typewriter ribbons, I have decided to try this blog thing-a-ma-jig. Yes, just as 140-character Twitter pontifications (guilty, my lord) slowly take over the word game, I’m going back in time to those distant days of 2011 or so, when anyone worth his sodium was supposed to have a blog to be relevant.

If I can figure out how to do it, I hope to make Mickleblog a kind of roving forum for that grand old section of long-gone five and dime department stores, sundries and notions. The world needs more sundries and notions, methinks.

So hang on to your hat, if there’s even one of you out there.

The Mickleblog promises a veritable pot-pourri (my, how sophisticated we are, already…) of observations on my so-called life, the daily news comedy, tidbits from the legendary Mickle archives, political soap-boxing, and, of course, this and that.

Oh, and by the way, in case you don’t know me, I am the only journalist in history, I believe, to have worked at all of the following: Penticton Herald, Prince George Citizen, Vernon News, Edmonton Journal, Vancouer Sun, Vancouver Province, CBC-TV, and my final place of hackdom residence, the highly-esteemed Globe and Mail.

As Fats Waller used to say: “I love you all, you know. I love you all.”