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July 27, 2008

Unsafe at any speed?

In 1961, my twin brother and I were attending a rich-kids Jesuit High School in Kansas City. (Not that we were rich.)

One of my brother’s buddies had been given a bright red Chevy Corvair by his parents.  I got to ride in it on occasion.  dea2b099f76b2d576418ba9dea8982b9.jpg

A rather strange car, I later found out, with an engine in back, along with the spare tire – and a propensity to catch fire and kill passengers – profiled in Ralph Nader’s 1965 book: Unsafe At Any Speed.

Fast forward to about 1971....I was fresh out of the Navy...had a new p.r. job for a Kansas City community college.

c5c5b52f24dc42d377120a1fbd9d177b.jpgAnd my boss told me to pick up Raph Nader at a downtown hotel for an evening campus speech on "Consumer Advocacy."

And rather oblivious to lots of things back then, I picked him up in a borrowed Chevy CORVAIR.

Two friends  --  students in the University of Missouri-Kansas City’s law school --  had successfully begged to ride along in the back seat – so they could meet and soak up a bit of Nader. (Not a word of warning from them.)

I remember pulling up to the downtown hotel entrance....Nader standing outside…waiting  for us.0ef3078c704fdec8da68272ef945d520.jpg

And the  uncomfortable exchange.

  “I can’t ride in that car,” Nader yelled at me. “If the news media sees me, I’m crucified.”

I didn’t tell him he wasn’t Jesus. 

Just it was getting dark; raining, no cabs; no one would see him;  he’d travelled all this way; the campus crowd was waiting; and,  of course, that his speaking fee meant showing up.

So Nader swallowed his corvair foibles….and got in.

I think about Nader and that encounter.... almost every time I take the apartment trash out these days.

Next to the apt. trash dumpster, in Barney’s Brake Service's backyard, is this silent witness:f87145b037f525ebcfc43798778a27a2.jpg

The end of the road for an old Corvair....weeds growing like a hothouse in the back seat – where the law school students were sitting in 1971. 

And the old, rusted Covair with broken windows seems to be  sinking into the mud and  ground ….like a casket  slowly lowered into the grave.

To think Ralph Nader is still making a run for the White House 37 years later.

At least now we all know he's not Jesus. 

July 26, 2008

In The Heat Of The Night


For the past two evenings, PBS’s Travis Smiley has interviewed Sidney Poitier on a late night TV show.

What a wakeup.  What a brain treat.

Poitier continues to consciously defy racial stereotyping.


741c5e9cd3a4255da9c30410dd688930.jpgHe's the first Black man to win the best actor Oscar and, in a 50-year-plus career, has starred in over 40 films, directed nine and written four. He's also a best-selling author of three autobiographies, including Life Beyond Measure.


Poitier came to the U.S. at age 15, from the Bahamas, and began his acting career with the American Negro Theatre. An activist and humanitarian, he has appointments as the Bahamas' ambassador to Japan and UNESCO.


Poitier is now 81.  His hair has thinned and grayed.  But his wonderful smile and hand mannerisms remain.  And his serious, thoughtful stare can still melt butter, or racists as Poitier did in “In The Heat of The Night” 41 years ago.


For a  balanced and revealing perspective on many topics, check out the transcript of the Poitier interviews at: http://www.pbs.org/kcet/tavissmiley/archive/200806/200806...


July 19, 2008

'Thanks for shopping at Meijer's'

'Thanks for shopping at Meijer's'


Today's story in our local newspaper tells the tale of a soon-collared  bank robber,  brought to justice by a bank security camera.


The story reminded me that most crooks probably don’t read the daily Battle Creek Enquirer.  Or at least the daily column that lists crimes and arrests.


If they did, they’d know that crime-doesn’t-pay; at least where there are security cameras.


Perps who hit on K-Mart, Wal-Mart, Meijer’s... get C-A-U-G-H-T. Usually before they're in the parking lot.


These stores have more security cameras than a  Blackjack table in Las Vegas or a bedroom at The Mustang Ranch.


My son and I  were in the old Meijer’s Store  (a regional competitior to Wal-Mart) on W. Columbia  Avenue last Thursday.


Since the place will soon close…replaced by the new Meijer’s under construction  next door…  I was taking a more careful  look at the old store…its  outdated lighting and display fixtures...missing floor tile….the stained, watermarked ceilings…


We got to the front of the store and a long row of cashier stands…..most…as usual … unattended…hardly a cashier in sight….with 30 people and groceries waiting in two lines… like cattle,  a bit frantic to get through  slaughterhouse gates...


So I had lots of time to look around…and up…


From one end of the cavernous store to the other… on the ceiling over EVERY cashier’s station was a  frosted-gray video bulb-security monitor…. (It seems to be looking straight down at your balding head, at you picking your nose…shuffling for change….telling the kids not to whine about candy…)


AND, 20-feet behind every one of these frosted-gray-video-bulb-security monitors was a BIGGER frosted-gray video-bulb-security monitor, presumably watching the first frosted-gray-video-bulb-security monitor watch you.


I turned .... looked back toward the center of the store, again at the ceiling….and there were enough frosted-gray-video-bulb-security monitors sprinkled around  to decorate the White House Christmas Tree.


“Josh, wonder how many people they gotta have to watch all these monitors?," I said to my son and to no one.


“Got to be at least three or four people,” he calmy responded.


I replied, only half joking, "Well,  maybe they can get a couple of 'em down here to sack groceries."


“But don’t pick your nose.

Smile at the camera.

And keep your hands where they can seem um.”