September 26, 2018

Friends, four things to tell you today.

Yes, just four!

And I’ll make this short and sweet. Impossible, some of you are thinking. It’s 180 degrees contrary to my nature.

 Well, I’ll prove to you right now that I can write short and sweet.

 1.Thank you to those of you who let me know that you got my “I’m blogging again” post. Very nice of you.

 2. Some of you asked whether I’m okay. You were worried about my unusual silence. I am! Your concern made me feel good.

 3. If you haven’t gotten a thank you note from me yet, my apologies, please. So busy here! I’ll do my best to catch up.

 4. This is a further test that the app that I use to deliver my posts to you is truly doing its job. If you get this, just send me three words back, please: “John, got it!” And I’ll know I’m back in business.

 Have I been short and sweet? Oh, come on now! (Chuckle, please!)

 Best!  John

 

I’m finally blogging again. Whoopee!

Yes sir, this makes me a most happy fellow!

What happened is that a freak WordPress snafu put me out of business. Just temporarily, I hoped at first. But then for keeps, I feared.

It was a whopping blow. WordPress is the app I’ve used for many a year to compose and then email my posts to you. You may not know it but WordPress is the most popular blogging app of all, I ‘m told. I’m just one of thousands of scribblers who count on it.

Well, when I noticed the breakdown I sent all of you an email! SOS! SOS! ”Please let me know if you get this SOS!” And I explained my humongous problem. The feedback would help diagnose the problem.

But darn, I got only four responses out of the nearly 500 alerts that I sent out. Oh my oh my!

The truth is that blogging on a variety of topics as I do is all-important to me. It’s being who I am and what I am. It may  sound but it’s a fact. Sure, I’m in my 90th year and getting a wee bit old to be doing this, you may think but I love it and quitting — well, quitting would be hard to accept.

So, how to handle this WordPress headache?

I immediately contacted two longtime friends who are very savvy in just about anything and everything digital. They’ve been wonderful. They would help me again, I was sure. But gosh, they were up tied up with challenges of their own.  I could understand that. No problem.

Of course, I mentioned my plight to my daughter Monique and David, her hubby. ”Dont worry,” David told me right away. ”I’ll call Tom!”

Wonderful! Tom is an old buddy of his. I’ve met Tom and his wife Tulsi several times over the years when they’ve visited Monique and David. Tom is a long-time digital consultant.

They live in Southern California near San Diego. Monique and David have been swapping visits wtth them as long as I remember. I knew I’d be in good hands. I relaxed a bit.

Tom diagnosed the problem from way down there and fixed it. His solution was to use a new app, well to me, called Mail Chimp. Very popular. WordPress would piggyback on Mail Chimp. In fact, Nigel, one of my two savvy tech friends, had mentioned Mail Chimp as a solution.

Tom set it up for me and I’ll be using it in sending this to you.  I’m looking forward to sleeping better tonight, believe me.

So this is my first new post. Hey, I’m back in the saddle again!

So, as inspiration hits me, I’ll craft a new post now and then and send it to you.  Hope you’ll enjoy these fresh ruminations of mine.

Do feel free to forward them to others who you think might also enjoy them. Or send me their contact info and I’ll be delighted to put them on my list.

If you don’t enjoy my posts, or if you’re too busy to read them, let me know and I’ll unsubscribe you. An easy matter. Subscribers is what WordPress calls regular recipients.

If you’re a regular reader, I’d enjoy a comment about them now and then. A bit of personal news from you would be nice, too. This chatting with you and other subscribers brightens my day.  Really does.

Snafus do happen, as we know. I’m praying I’ll be spared another for a long while. You’d feel the same way, right?

* * * * *

WordPress Test

This is just a test suggested by Tom Milliken to check the effectiveness of WordPress teamed up with MailChimp. which is all new to me.

This is an SOS, sort of

By John Guy LaPlante

Yes, my frantic cry for help—Help! Help! Help!

Oh, don’t panic. I’m not lost at sea or running out of gas in an airplane. But truly I am befuddled, frantic, perplexed, greatly frustrated.

Here’s why.

I’ve been a writer for more than 65 years. Newspaper reports. Magazine articles. Essays. Opinion pieces. Lots and lots of output. And for some years now, a blogger – I write not on paper any more but online as the author of blog posts. “Post” is the digitalized word for what I used to write and publish on paper.

A month ago, the big, nasty problem popped up. I would write my post and yes, it would be published.  Meaning it would land as usual in the archive of my posts on my website, www.johnguylaplante.com. But it wouldn’t get emailed to you and my other subscribers, who are many.

What a headache. How come? I don’t know. Nor do a couple of hi-tech friends who have bailed me out of hi-tech breakdowns in the past.

But this morning I was sitting and brooding about it. I’m an old, old guy, as you know, but I don’t want to quit. I enjoy this work, lucky me, and I want to keep at this writing. It’s good for my spirits and my soul.

And I’m encouraged that some of you enjoy what I put out, sure, some pieces more than others, which is understandable. I enjoy the feedback you give me, well, some of you. In fact, this online back and forth is a good part of my social life.

But as I was brooding about it, I thought, Hey! Maybe this crazy problem has worked itself out somehow. Maybe the publishing app is really working again. Maybe I’ve been assuming all along it’s still broken but maybe it isn’t.

You know, strange, wonderful, miraculous things like that are known to happen,

So I’m putting it to the test. This instant. I’m going to send you this very message. Yes, as a post. I’m going through all the necessary steps. And I’m going to send it on to you and all my other subscribers.

All I’m asking you to do is to tell me you got it. Just email me back saying, “I got it, John!”

If I do hear that from you, I’ll know I’m in business again.  Glory be! Hallelujah!

Hope my SOS works!

I’m pressing the magic button right now. This post  should land in your Inbox in minutes.

I know some of you go online only occasionally. No problem. Just let me know asap. I’ll be keeping count.  Very nervously and apprehensively. The more of you, the better. I know you understand. Thank you!

The new Medicare card. Interested? I am.

By John Guy LaPlante

Very much interested.

To start off, I am blogging about it today for a special reason. I’ll get to that in a minute. Patience, please. First it’s important to review some basic facts about Medicare.
Medicare, as you know, has become a birthright for any American turning 65.
Medicare is so important, so essential at least for us older folks, that any change in it is must reading. Like right now.
Close to 6o million of us are receiving a new card. Why?
Until now we have used our social security number. No more. The new cards give each of us a unique new number. It’s all about assuring better privacy and security, we’re told.
I’ve already gotten mine. Most of you reading this are older folks. If you haven’t gotten yours yet, it’s coming.

Do you know the idea of a national social insurance program goes back more than a hundred years?
Back in 1912 President Teddy Roosevelt pushed to get one enacted. For all Americans, not just older ones. It didn’t happen.
More than 20 years went by. In 1945 President Harry S Truman tried hard to get it passed, again for all Americans. He failed.
President John F. Kennedy tried. Failed.
President Lyndon B. Johnson got it finally enacted back in 1965 as a core part of his Great Society roll-out. But just for Americans 65 and older. That’s the best he could manage.

But finally, finally we had a national social security program! What a godsend to people facing retirement and old age!
President Johnson signed it into law in Independence, Missouri, the home town of President Truman. And he presented the first card to President Truman. Very fitting.
It’s important to mention other countries already had such a program, even more ambitious. And numerous countries do today, again some providing far wider coverage.
Ours has been tweaked many times. For some time now it has been made available to people under 65 who have dire health problems. That helps many.
It’s amazing the list of new changes and features that have been introduced. Obamacare is a dramatic one we’re all familiar with, and is severely threatened right now, as we know.

Finally, friends, here’s my special reason for blogging about it today. It’s the remarkable new language translation service being offered to those of us whose English isn’t up to par.
There are many of us in that fix. We can be assisted in 13 other languages by government translators. And the service is free. I was so struck by this offer that I read it twice. Fantastic, I thought. Wonderful!
Medicare is run by our US Department of Health and Human Services.
Here are the precise words of its offer to us:
“If you, or someone you are helping, has questions about Medicare, you have the right to get help and information in your language at no cost. To talk to an interpreter, call 1 800 MEDICARE (1 – 800 – 633 – 42227).”
Wow!
Then it went on to say that very same thing in each of those 13 languages.
They are listed alphabetically. Here they are:
Armenian, Chinese – Traditional, French, German, Haitian Creole, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Tagalog, and Vietnamese.

Tagalog — that’s one I’m not familiar with. Turns out it’s the language of the Philippines.

So why do I consider this offer fantastic?
First, again we are told it’s our right. I didn’t know that. Did you? I don’t think that’s covered in our Constitution. But I do like the idea.
And second, without saying so explicitly, the agency is telling us that we have enough people entitled to a Medicare card who speak those languages that it’s smart to provide it.
And of course the reason they’re entitled is they came to our shores from a country using one of those languages, or their ancestors did. I applaud that. Imagine the headache of many without this help.
Yet I would find it more interesting to see those languages also listed by their popularity – how many of our people use each of those 13.
Which would be number one? Which number two? Which number three? Well, I’m guessing. But my hunches are so wild I’m not telling. What do you think?
And surely there are many folks using languages beyond those 13. I’d enjoy seeing those, too. How fascinating it would be to see how incredibly and amazingly diverse we are.
And what a wake-up reminder that would be — that each and every one of us, with the sole exception of Native Americans, is an immigrant, or a descendant of immigrants. In this, I truly believe no other country in the world can match us.
And think of the $$$ it’s costing to provide this new service — the many expert translators and whatever else is involved.

And suddenly strangely – well, not so strangely — I thought of the Statue of Liberty. You know, that big, famous, impressive, iconic statue on the tiny Island at the entrance to New York Harbor. A gift of the people of France to us.
The statue everybody on any ship coming in can get to see. Which some air passengers also can if they’re lucky enough to be sitting on the right side of the plane.
But what all those people don’t see are the famous words being proclaimed by the Lady as she holds up the torch of Hope, Freedom, and Liberty as high as she can.
The words are preserved on a small engraving on its base. Unfortunately only tourists who visit the statue get to see them. Many visit the statue as a sort of pilgrimage.  I’ve never made it there.
The words are part of a poem penned by Emma Lazarus at that time.

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me:
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

Fancy language. We’re not used to reading words like that any more. But its meaning is clear. It describes the people being welcomed back then. As we know, many, many seeking to get in today fit that definition.

Well, immigrant ship after immigrant ship over many years has passed right by the statue before unloading the newcomers at Ellis Island — which was the “golden door” for so many thousands of them.
But most of them have arrived through other points all around the country, and still are. On the north and the east and the south and the west. Many by air. Many by train, bus, car. Many by walking in. Many sneaking in, as we know. And more are coming, or trying, every day. At grave risk, even death.
So they never get to see the Statue of Liberty. Many have never even heard of it. Still they come driven by a dream of Freedom, Liberty, and Prosperity. In simple words, for a better life for themselves and their children. Cost what it will.

So no wonder I thought of the Trump White House. How could I not?! How our wild and compulsively tweeting windbag president is campaigning loud and relentlessly to slam shut the golden door. Haranguing to lock out so many that he deems unfit. Even by putting up walls. Even by kicking those who succeed back out.
Well, he grew up in New York City. Of course he is familiar with the Statue of Liberty. For sure he has visited it. I doubt he is familiar with that poem. But certainly he knows what the statue symbolizes.
Now he is feverishly pounding away to blot out, rub out that core belief — the one that has made our country the biggest and most mighty and important and admired democracy in the whole world. No wonder so many want in.

And what exactly has made ours the most mighty and important and admired democracy in the world? It’s by inviting people of diverse races and languages and cultures and religions to take shelter here. And settle here. And pitch in any way they can. And prosper here.
That isn’t malarkey. It’s a fact proclaimed by historian after historian.
How many other countries have offered such a dynamic and successful come-on-in invitation?
Darn few.

Why do you ignore this, Mr. Trump?
You yourself are a descendant of immigrants! Your grandfather was born in Germany! Your Mom was born in Scotland! Your first wife was an immigrant! Your second wife was from immigrants! Your third wife is an immigrant!
Come on! What you’re preaching is un-American!

Excuse me, friends, for getting so excited. Couldn’t help myself.

Please do give all this some thought the next time you use your new Medicare card.
And do think of Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Harry S Truman and Lyndon B. Johnson and Barack Obama. They labored and fought hard to give us the national medical health program that is now our right. And our godsend, as limited as it is.

Roosevelt was a Republican, but a Progressive Republican. The three others were straight-out Democrats, of course. Trump is a Republican, but embarrassingly so to many in that party.

Yet, God Bless America!

* * * *

As always, I welcome your comments. Feel free to forward this to anyone who might be interested.

 

 

Curious about our new Medicare card? I am. Very much.

By John Guy LaPlante

To start off, I am blogging about it today for a special reason. I’ll get to that in a minute. Patience, please. First it’s important to review some basic facts about Medicare.
Medicare, as you know, has become a birthright for any American turning 65.
Medicare is so important, so essential at least for us older folks, that any change in it is must reading. Like right now.
Close to 6o million of us are receiving a new card. Why?
Until now we have used our social security number. No more. The new cards give each of us a unique new number. It’s all about assuring better privacy and security, we’re told.
I’ve already gotten mine. Most of you reading this are older folks. If you haven’t gotten yours yet, it’s coming.

Do you know the idea of a national social insurance program goes back more than a hundred years?
Back in 1912 President Teddy Roosevelt pushed to get one enacted. For all Americans, not just older ones. It didn’t happen.
More than 20 years went by. In 1945 President Harry S Truman tried hard to get it passed, again for all Americans. He failed.
President John F. Kennedy tried. Failed.
President Lyndon B. Johnson got it finally enacted back in 1965 as a core part of his Great Society roll-out. But just for Americans 65 and older. That’s the best he could manage.

But finally, finally we had a national social security program! What a godsend to people facing retirement and old age!
President Johnson signed it into law in Independence, Missouri, the home town of President Truman. And he presented the first card to President Truman. Very fitting.
It’s important to mention other countries already had such a program, even more ambitious. And numerous countries do today, again some providing far wider coverage.
Ours has been tweaked many times. For some time now it has been made available to people under 65 who have dire health problems. That helps many.
It’s amazing the list of new changes and features that have been introduced. Obamacare is a dramatic one we’re all familiar with, and is severely threatened right now, as we know.

Finally, friends, here’s my special reason for blogging about it today. It’s the remarkable new language translation service being offered to those of us whose English isn’t up to par.
There are many of us in that fix. We can be assisted in 13 other languages by government translators. And the service is free. I was so struck by this offer that I read it twice. Fantastic, I thought. Wonderful!
Medicare is run by our US Department of Health and Human Services.
Here are the precise words of its offer to us:
“If you, or someone you are helping, has questions about Medicare, you have the right to get help and information in your language at no cost. To talk to an interpreter, call 1 800 MEDICARE (1 – 800 – 633 – 42227).”
Wow!
Then it went on to say that very same thing in each of those 13 languages.
They are listed alphabetically. Here they are:
Armenian, Chinese – Traditional, French, German, Haitian Creole, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Tagalog, and Vietnamese.

Tagalog — that’s one I’m not familiar with. Turns out it’s the language of the Philippines.

So why do I consider this offer fantastic?
First, again we are told it’s our right. I didn’t know that. Did you? I don’t think that’s covered in our Constitution. But I do like the idea.
And second, without saying so explicitly, the agency is telling us that we have enough people entitled to a Medicare card who speak those languages that it’s smart to provide it.
And of course the reason they’re entitled is they came to our shores from a country using one of those languages, or their ancestors did. I applaud that. Imagine the headache of many without this help.
Yet I would find it more interesting to see those languages also listed by their popularity – how many of our people use each of those 13.
Which would be number one? Which number two? Which number three? Well, I’m guessing. But my hunches are so wild I’m not telling. What do you think?
And surely there are many folks using languages beyond those 13. I’d enjoy seeing those, too. How fascinating it would be to see how incredibly and amazingly diverse we are.
And what a wake-up reminder that would be — that each and every one of us, with the sole exception of Native Americans, is an immigrant, or a descendant of immigrants. In this, I truly believe no other country in the world can match us.
And think of the $$$ it’s costing to provide this new service — the many expert translators and whatever else is involved.

And suddenly strangely – well, not so strangely — I thought of the Statue of Liberty. You know, that big, famous, impressive, iconic statue on the tiny Island at the entrance to New York Harbor. A gift of the people of France to us.
The statue everybody on any ship coming in can get to see. Which some air passengers also can if they’re lucky enough to be sitting on the right side of the plane.
But what all those people don’t see are the famous words being proclaimed by the Lady as she holds up the torch of Hope, Freedom, and Liberty as high as she can.
The words are preserved on a small engraving on its base. Unfortunately only tourists who visit the statue get to see them. Many visit the statue as a sort of pilgrimage.  I’ve never made it there.
The words are part of a poem penned by Emma Lazarus at that time.

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me:
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

Fancy language. We’re not used to reading words like that any more. But its meaning is clear. It describes the people being welcomed back then. As we know, many, many seeking to get in today fit that definition.

Well, immigrant ship after immigrant ship over many years has passed right by the statue before unloading the newcomers at Ellis Island — which was the “golden door” for so many thousands of them.
But most of them have arrived through other points all around the country, and still are. On the north and the east and the south and the west. Many by air. Many by train, bus, car. Many by walking in. Many sneaking in, as we know. And more are coming, or trying, every day. At grave risk, even death.
So they never get to see the Statue of Liberty. Many have never even heard of it. Still they come driven by a dream of Freedom, Liberty, and Prosperity. In simple words, for a better life for themselves and their children. Cost what it will.

So no wonder I thought of the Trump White House. How could I not?! How our wild and compulsively tweeting windbag president is campaigning loud and relentlessly to slam shut the golden door. Haranguing to lock out so many that he deems unfit. Even by putting up walls. Even by kicking those who succeed back out.
Well, he grew up in New York City. Of course he is familiar with the Statue of Liberty. For sure he has visited it. I doubt he is familiar with that poem. But certainly he knows what the statue symbolizes.
Now he is feverishly pounding away to blot out, rub out that core belief — the one that has made our country the biggest and most mighty and important and admired democracy in the whole world. No wonder so many want in.

And what exactly has made ours the most mighty and important and admired democracy in the world? It’s by inviting people of diverse races and languages and cultures and religions to take shelter here. And settle here. And pitch in any way they can. And prosper here.
That isn’t malarkey. It’s a fact proclaimed by historian after historian.
How many other countries have offered such a dynamic and successful come-on-in invitation?
Darn few.

Why do you ignore this, Mr. Trump?
You yourself are a descendant of immigrants! Your grandfather was born in Germany! Your Mom was born in Scotland! Your first wife was an immigrant! Your second wife was from immigrants! Your third wife is an immigrant!
Come on! What you’re preaching is un-American!

Excuse me, friends, for getting so excited. Couldn’t help myself.

Please do give all this some thought the next time you use your new Medicare card.
And do think of Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Harry S Truman and Lyndon B. Johnson and Barack Obama. They labored and fought hard to give us the national medical health program that is now our right. And our godsend, as limited as it is.

Roosevelt was a Republican, but a Progressive Republican. The three others were straight-out Democrats, of course. Trump is a Republican, but embarrassingly so to many in that party.

Yet, God Bless America!

* * * *

As always, I welcome your comments. Feel free to forward this to anyone who might be interested.

 

 

Oh, for a Fourth like those of yesteryear!

By John Guy Laplante

With 3 photos.

How I remember those terrific Fourths when I was a boy.

They were intended to celebrate our independence from tyrannical England. But in practice, for most people it was just an excuse to have a lot of fun. We called it the Fourth. Just the Fourth.

I’m talking of when I was 8, 10, 12 years old. Pre-World War II. Before 1941 when Congress made it a federal holiday,

My remarkable Aunt Bernie when she was 30. Amazing woman.

meaning a day off for federal employees. What fantastic news that was for them.

Oh, maybe as part of the Fourth the mayor gave a speech in front of City Hall. Maybe there was a parade on Main Street downtown.  I never saw and never heard of that.

I’m recalling what I saw and took an excited part in. That was the Fourth in our Pleasant View neighborhood in the little city of Pawtucket, I was born there and grew up there. Nothing  particularly pleasant about the view

But it turned out that Pawtucket was truly famous in our national history. It’s there where young Englishman Samuel Slater arrived with the idea of building a textile factory on our Blackstone River.

He had worked in such a factory back home. Much bigger. Got the idea of going to America. The English were the leaders in making textiles. Young Slater memorized every part of the machines that he worked on. Found financial support here. Perfectly re-created that machinery. Trained workers. Designed, built, and opened a small mill cleverly powered by the Blackstone. And made history. The first in the U.S.  A big deal. He’s known as The Father of the Industrial Revolution.

I heard of that only years later. His mill on the Blackstone is a must-see museum today.

Back to the Fourth. I’m talking of a time before one state after another outlawed as too dangerous a lot of the firecrackers and such that we took for granted and shot off so enthusiastically and prolifically.

Sure, hands-on fireworks for backyard fun are still sold. Celebrators of my day would have scoffed at them.

Nowadays we mark the Fourth differently. All across the U.S. we take in a community-sponsored 30 or 60-minute evening public show. An exciting spectacle costing thousands of dollars and produced and shot off by professionals whose business that is.

It’s done by cities all over, big and small, free for one and all, wonderfully impressive, vastly popular, and expected and accepted. It is a salute to our Independence, it is said. Well, to some. Then it’s over for another year.

What’s good now is that hospital emergency rooms are no longer filled with people who have blown off a finger. Or worse. And firefighters no longer have to rush off to put out blazes caused by mindless jerks.

I’m talking about the kind of Fourth of July that i saw Fourth after Fourth as a kid. And which my Aunt Bernadette, like

others, made possible and in fact fanned the flames of. She ran a fireworks stand year after year in our neighborhood. In complete innocence. Never with a second thought. To make money

Bernie’s variety store. Very popular with our neighbors. That’s my Grandma subbing for her. Usually my Ma would be the one subbing.

 

Quite a lady, my dear auntie. Unschooled, self-everything. Well-known and esteemed in our littler corner of the world. Amazing in several ways, all good.

Nobody called her Bernadette. She was just Bernie. I called her Bernie. As I think back, Bernadette would have been a better fit.

She was my Maman’s youngest sister. Immigrants from French Canada, come down with their already elderly father and mother — my Memere and Pepere — for the usual dream of a better life in a better land.

We lived all together in a plain and modest house at 48 Amey Street. Much like most of the houses in our neighborhood. Lower middle class, very respectable. Made up of Canucks like us, Irish, Polacks, Syrians, Wops, all humble and hard-working folks. We got along fine. You may find that surprising. But that’s how I remember it.

My father—we called him Pa — was an immigrant like my maman – Ma to us.  He was a self-made businessman. He bought what became our home for solid reasons. One was a special reason. It was located at the corner of Amey and Broadway. Broadway was a big and busy street heading straight downtown. Lots of traffic.

So ours was a strategic corner. And right there stood Mrs.Toone’s Variety Store. A nice little business. She was getting old. She sold Pa the lot with her store and the house 75 feet behind it .The store was on Broadway, the house on Amey.

The house became our home, for all of us, meaning also my grandpa and grandma and Aunt Bernie.

Bernie  was Pa’s special reason. Like so many other immigrant women around us, she was working in a nearby weaving mill 10 hours a day, 6 days a week. Pa felt she could run the little store. She loved the idea and made her new little business a real success. It turned out he was perfectly right.

I’ve included the picture of the store. You see what it was. She handled it 99 percent by yourself. Put in as many hours there as at the factory. But a problem. It didn’t have a bathroom.

So Pa set up a doorbell wire between the store and the house. When Bernie needed the bathroom, she’d tap the button. And Ma would run to the store and sub for her. And Bernie would dash out the back door to the house.

Sometimes Ma would be doing something she couldn’t interrupt. Getting antsy, Bernie would tap the button again. And again. And again. Finally Maman would show up. That sparked hot words more than once.

Her little store thrived. Most of her customers were neighbors. Someone would stop by to buy a little something, but maybe just to get to chat with somebody and Bernie loved to chat.

A couple more memories of her. I have many. Everybody smoked cigarettes back then. They were 14 cents a pack. She had a little tincan with a tight cover. She’d open a pack and tuck the 20 cigarettes in the can. Would sell them for a penny apiece.

A customer would ask for two cigarettes. She’d open the can. He’d park one over his ear and light up the other. So she’d

Her ice cream stand — big success! A former garage. Bernie is in the rear. That big guy is Jake, a neighbor. That little guy is me. Easy to tell I was being paid with ice cream cones.

get six cents more for that pack. She’d re-stock that little can two or three times a day.

Another memory. She always kept a couple of punchboards on the display case by the cash box. Familiar with punchboards? They were a kind of lottery. About a foot square and three quarters of an inch thick.

Every board had a hundred or more drilled holes about the size of a nail. Stuffed in each hole was a little rolled-up paper. Each board came with a nice picture of something or other pasted on it. But you could tell where the holes were.

A customer would buy a chance. A nickel, I think it was. Using a punch that looked a lot like a nail, he’d push out the paper.

Most times he’d get zilch. But maybe win 50 cents. Even a dollar. Sometimes he’d buy two or three or four chances. Often he’d be a regular. Bernie would like it if he won once in a while. That would keep him coming back. Oh, women played the boards, too.

I told you that Bernie was a go-getter. Well, our lot had a two-car garage. Pa used one for his car. Bernie also had a car now. A beautiful brand new black Oldsmobile. It was said she was the first woman in Pawtucket to buy a car in her own name. Imagine that!

But she came up with a better idea for the garage. She talked Pa into letting her convert it into an ice cream stand. Open six months a year from mid-spring to mid- autumn.

So both of them had to park somewhere else now, but that was okay.

It was a beautiful stand. The only one around for a mile or so. She’d buy tubs of plain ice cream mix, then add flavors. She offered a dozen flavors. A lot of work. Busy from morning till night. She did it all with good cheer.

Customers would walk up to the stand, order a cone or a shake or a sundae or banana split.  Hey, a dad might come up with his missus and their two or three kids. Bernie did well. No surprise.

But what I wanted to tell you about was her fireworks stand. That will be more interesting to you now that you know this background stuff about her.

She had three home-made folding tables, each about six feet long. She’d set them up in line along the sidewalk. Load them with a full selection of every Fourth of July fireworks device known to man. Then decorate the whole thing with little American flags and bands of red or white or blue crepe ribbon. She made it look terrific.

Of course somebody had to staff the stand all the time. Not only to serve customers, but to make sure nobody came and pocketed a thing or two. She’d do it. She had helpers. I, a little kid,  pitched in.

At day’s end, everything had to be put away for the night. Then put back in the morning. Not easy.

At the same time she had to keep the variety store going. And the ice cream stand.

As the Fourth approached, business got better, especially in early evening. The final two days would be hectic.

You would start hearing the firecrackers going off and seeing the rockets taking off on the eve of the Fourth. People just couldn’t wait. Especially younger ones.

As I think back, it seems that it was a male thing. For teenagers and young men and older men who went wild for a day. For the women it was mostly a spectator sport. Oh, of course there were tomboys.

As the Fourth dawned, you would begin hearing a few firecrackers. But things would be mostly quiet till late afternoon. Then the tempo would quicken.

Come dark, wow! Firecrackers would be going off near and far and quicker and quicker. More and more flares and rockets would be brightening the night sky.

During all this, Bernie and her gang had to staff the stand. Eager-beavers would be coming back to buy more fun.

Some would get carried away. One example. Trolley tracks ran down Broadway. A guy would come along with a gallon of gasoline and pour it down one of the tracks. Then would drop in a lighted match. Shhhh!!! It would take just 10 seconds for that wild flame to race down to the last drop of gas.

Back then every neighborhood had a cop walking a beat. He’d work overtime over the Fourth. He’d make sure to make his presence seen. Often he’d look the other way. But if some jerk seemed to be getting carried away, he’d step in.

Finally the Fourth would be over. We’d take the stand down. Pack up all the leftovers. Enjoy a nice relief. Bernie stored away fresh ideas for the next Fourth.

She did all this season after season. The variety store, the ice cream stand, the fireworks stand. In rush times she grumbled a bit but who wouldn’t?

Oh, you may be interested. She married old, in her late 30’s. Handsome Irishman John Dana McCarthy had been wooing her for a decade. Eventually she said yes.

They bought and lived in the house next to ours on Amey Street.

John was known as Jack to everybody. Bernie called him Jack.  I always, always called him Jack. We all did. The only time he got called John was in his obituary.

Jack couldn’t even say “bonjour” in French. And her English was, well, I’ll just say it was street English. He was a shoe salesman for 50 years. In World War II saw long and violent action as an infantryman when we invaded France. Then went right back to selling shoes. A good man though he played the horses too much. Who’s perfect?  They got along. He also was wonderfully good to me.

They never had children. We were their children. Me, my younger sisters Lucie and Louise, and my younger brother Michael, Louise and Michael died years ago. I, the oldest by years, am still here. So strange.

One more detail. If I did not like what Ma would be serving for supper, I would just walk next door and stride in and sit down at their table with them. Without even knocking on the door. Always sure I would be welcome.

Another. At age 10, I was sent off to a boarding school. A good school. In our culture it was a desirable thing for parents to do that if they could afford it. I came home for holidays and summer vacation.

It was a 35-minute ride away. Sunday afternoon Pa and Ma would come see me for an hour. Ma would bring me my fresh laundry. Bernie would always send along three comic books and a few candy bars. Every Sunday. But I was told to be sure to read the comics gently. She’d expect on Monday to put the previous week’s  comic books back on the magazine rack in her store.

On some Sundays she and Jack would make the trip to give Ma and Pa a break .Also because they wanted to give me a hug and take me out for an ice cream cone.

She helped me in a thousand ways. Right to the end.

I would do little things for her. At Christmas she had a list of friends she’d want to send cards to. Most were non-French folks. Many lived far off. She’d want to put the cards in the mail with more than just “Merry Christmas, Bernie” on them.

One evening we’d sit at her dinner table, she and I. She’d have a stack of cards and her address list. I’d have my pen in hand. She’d tell me what she wanted to say on each card. And I’d do my best to get it down right, to sound like her. A relief for her. A big pleasure for me.

She laughed a lot, joked a lot, routinely made friends of her customers, died at 96. And had a core of old friends at her funeral. Jack died just a few months short of 100.

For years he smoked one cigar a day. After supper, he’d walk to Gendron’s Drug Store and buy his cigar, always a Philly. Would chat with Mr. Gendron a minute or two. Then light up his cigar for his evening stroll around the neighborhood.

One Father’s Day I gave him a box of 50 Phillies. He didn’t want 50. He wanted to go to Mr. Gendron’s every evening for his one Philly. And his chat.  I hope he enjoys lighting up one Philly every evening in Heaven.

A memory. He always, always kept his World War II Army dress uniform. Right int0 his very old age. He was a patient at the Rhode Island State Veterans Hospital. A good place. He made sure his uniform, perfectly clean and pressed in its plastic bag, was hanging in a corner of his closet in his room. He wanted to be buried in it. When he died, we went looking for it. Gone! Somebody had stolen it.

He and Bernie are buried side by side in Notre Dame Cemetery in Pawtucket. Like him, She prepared for that in her own unique way. After extensive research for a funeral monument, she found the perfect one. A magnificent, polished sphere of ebony granite (I think), bigger than a basketball or volleyball, resting on an interesting cube of gray granite. with their names, dates, and a few carefully considered words. It pains me that I don’t remember them. It’s the only such in the cemetery. Maybe the only one in Rhode Island.

No wonder she comes alive for me again come every Fourth.  Also come Thanksgiving and Christmas and New Year’s and Easter. And at so many odd moments. Lucky me.

So do Maman and Papa, and Jack, and so many other fine people now gone. God bless them all!

Enjoy the Fourth! Wherever you are, take in that big, wonderful fireworks spectacle of amazing rockets bursting open in incredible patterns. Maybe you’ll be watching it on TV. It will be terrific, I’m positive. But to me those fantastic shows always seem to be more about enjoying great, free public entertainment than celebrating how good it is for us to be Americans.

You’ll be missing a lot of what has become part of our quirky folklore. But still you’ll  have a better opportunity than we did to appreciate what the Fourth is supposed to be about. Which we should all be keeping in mind in these strange trying times.

~ ~ ~ ~

I look forward to your comments. I read them all. Love to get a few personal words from you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hey, why don’t they ask me my name?!

By John Guy LaPlante

I’m worried about their not asking.  I’m talking about business dealings. Have reason to be. They’re asking less and less.

In such dealings, I’d like to be called Mr. LaPlante.  Even better, Mr. LaPlante, sir. That isn’t asking much.  That used to be the common custom. Right?

How times are a-changing!

Consider this recent incident I had — “insult” is a better word.

I was in line at a chain drugstore to pick up a prescription. Finally my turn came up.

I was about to tell the clerk my name. But she didn’t give me the chance.

Hardly looking at me, she said right off, “What is your address?”

I told her.

“Yep, it’s here.” And she dashed off, retrieved my prescription, and handed it to me. I paid and left.

She never got around to asking me my name. Hard to believe. It turned out all she needed to identify me was my address.

On my way home I was thinking about that. It rankled.

A few days later I was at a big-box store to pick up an item I had bought online.

The clerk was a young fellow. He had his fingers on his computer keyboard.  He glanced at me.  I was about to tell him my name. But right away he asked, “When were you born?”

I told him the month, date, and year.

Then, “What’s your social?“

I told him.

“I’ll get your package. Back in a minute.”  He dashed off and came back with it.

Two customers were standing in line behind me. He didn’t want to keep them waiting. I quickly paid and left.

“Damn!” I thought as I walked off. I felt really offended. Why in the world didn’t he ask me, “What’s your name?”

Well, he didn’t need to. When I was born and what my social security number is did the trick. Still!

What the heck has happened to good old-fashioned politeness? More  important, weren’t we given names exactly so that we could quickly be known, remembered,  and identified?

But my sad story isn’t over.  I was at the State Department of Motor Vehicles office to get my very first California driver’s license. I told you about that in a recent post. This time I had a different reason. As usual, crowded and busy.  Finally I got to a clerk. A young woman.

She asked my name and I told her. I liked that.  and gave her other basic info she wanted.  She typed all that into her computer. Then she handed me an electronic gizmo. And told me, “Press your thumb on it. Hard!” I pressed my right thumb hard against it. “Good!” she said.

Well, as you may know from that post, I had to go back to the DMV. This time I faced a different clerk.

Right off she asked, “Been here before?” I nodded and right away she handed me one of those gizmos and said, “Press hard!” I pressed hard. She was looking at her computer. “I found you,” she said. All my data, she meant.

So, absolutely no need to ask me what’s my name. Or my address. Or my social.

That thumb print of mine brought up everything she needed to move me along in getting my license.

I marveled at the technology, of course. And what it portends. My thumb print will identify me if ever I have to go back to the DMV. Which I hope will be never. Or maybe even in any office of the State of California for any purpose! Maybe forevermore!

I’ve been fingerprinted. Sure. All 10 fingers. To get a passport. And when I applied to serve in Peace Corps. And maybe my fingerprints made into the FBI’s national fingerprint bank – you know, in case I ever get picked up for something bad and they want to run a background check on me.

But now just a single thumbprint may do it all. Amazing.

So there you have it. The chain drug store knows me by my date of birth. The big-box store knows me by my address and my social. The California DMV by my thumb. Maybe the whole state of California has me down by my thumb print. Maybe the FBI, too. Even the IRS.  Even other government departments. Who knows? It’s not so far-fetched.

But all that said and done, still they could ask, “What’s your name, sir?”  Or, “Ma’m?” How nice that would be. Ten seconds is all it would take. Then their other questions. Maybe even use the thumb gizmo. Easy.  Then get down to business. I’d feel a lot better when my bit of business was done.

Of course, you’re in the same boat in such dealings. I’m sure you’d consider it a nice touch, too.

****

As always, I look forward to your comments. I read them all, and love it when you give me a different take on what I’ve sent you

 

 

This great gadget could save my life.

By John Guy LaPlante

The one that I wear on my chest. As you see in the photo, it’s just a small, silvery steel box hanging on a black cord.

No religious significance. No political significance. Nothing like that. So what the heck can it be? I know people wonder.

I wear it all day long. Hope I never have to push that little button for real.

They are too polite to ask.

 I would love to be asked. My mystery gadget is so important to me, and so potentially important to you, that I would love to explain. In fact, to a lot of people. This is why I’m blogging about it. 

Just recently I was speaking to Brady Lock at our Senior Center. ”Brady, ”I said, ”Possible for me to speak about this thing at our upcoming dinner meeting?”

“Sure, John. Some of our seniors could really use one of those things.”

He’s right.  So what is it?

It’s an emergency medical alert. A Great Call Lively. The Lively is marketed by Great Call, which also markets a popular flip phone called the Jitterbug. Designed for seniors. Easy to use  Inexpensive. Good, but not good enough for me. 

The Lively is a leading medical alert. There are dozens of makes. You’ve probably seen their ads.

From my research I think the Lively is the best. I want to assure you that I have no financial interest in the company. I’m speaking about it objectively.

Now and then, when I see somebody I know who I think can use a Lively, I talk about it. I even give a demonstration, which is always quite dramatic.

First I explain why I have a Lively, and why I wear it every day from the minute I get up to the minute I go to bed.

Of course I have to get up during the night to go to the bathroom. I make sure to take it with me. Just in case.

Why? Well, I am very old. I live alone. My body balance is deteriorating. I walk with a walking stick. I might fall. Might not be able to get up. Might need help desperately.  Maybe during the day. Or at night. 

 What to do? I would press that button in the center of the Lively. And in a few seconds a voice would come on. Might be a man. Might be a woman. Would tell me their name and then ask, “Are you reporting an emergency?”

And I would say, ”No. I am not. I am just showing a friend what the Lively is all about. How it works.”

And he or she would say, ”Fine! Wonderful! We appreciate that. Thank you.”

But if it were a genuine emergency, they would ask what’s wrong and if I could, I would explain, and they would spring into action. Help would be assured. I will explain how they would help in just a minute.

But if I were in a bad fix and could not explain, still they would snap to it. Here’s how.

When I signed up for the Lively, they asked me for a lot of info. My name, address, phone number, email address, age, medical problems, the name of my primary care doctor, other data. And most important, the names and contact information of the people they would need to alert in an emergency.

In my case, my loving daughter Monique and her hubby David, who live just 15 minutes away. Both know they are my emergency contacts. They insisted on being recorded as such.

Great Call calls all that my “profile.” Very important.

If I had a stroke, say, and could not explain what was wrong, then they would contact Monique or David or do whatever else they deemed appropriate.

But maybe it had not happened to me at home. Maybe outside somewhere. Say I was driving my car, was 40 miles from home, felt dizzy, and pulled over and pressed the silver button. The responder would come on and take whatever steps would work best.

If I could not explain where I was, or just mumbled, my Lively has GPS — global positioning technology — which could locate quite accurately where I was, and help would be dispatched.

Of course, the Lively works only where cellular service is available and that is in populated areas. If I were on a dirt road deep in a canyon between mountains in New Mexico, maybe not.

I could use it in many ways. If I messed up my meds. Or wanted to talk to my doctor asap. Misplaced my smart phone and wanted to contact Monique.  You name it. The responder would try to help.

Great Call says it’s waterproof. You could wear it in the shower. I haven’t tried that. I keep it within reach.

Oh, one more important detail. The Lively comes with a small electric charger. I keep it on my bedside table. Charge my Lively every night.

So how much does this service cost? You are dying to know, I’m sure. They have a few plans, one basic one, some with bells and whistles. In my case, less than the senior cup of coffee I buy at McDonald’s every afternoon.

To me, truly Great Call Lively is a smart life insurance plan. It could really save my life. And wonderful for Monique and David also. They worry less.

Sure, I’ve pushed that silver button a number of times but never for an emergency. Just to make sure it’s working properly, or to give a demo.

As I said, there are numerous other brands. They all advertise. You may have seen their ads. I’m sure they all do the job. But as in so many things —  TV’s, washing machines, cell phones, cars, mattresses —  some are better than others.

If you are interested for yourself or somebody else, just contact Great Call at greatcall.com or call +1-866-300-0041.

I like my Lively. Have confidence in the company. Have no intention to switch. Hope that I never have to push that button for real.

I look forward to speaking about all this at the Senior Center. I plan to actually push the button and call Great Call. Yes, folks always find that dramatic.

Maybe that will save the life of one of them someday.

*****

I look forward to your comments. Read them all. Enjoy it even more when you include a bit of news about yourself. Have a great day.

 

 

I read the fine print, strange me

By John Guy LaPlante

It seems a lot of people don’t. Do you? Well, I do. Get a lot of it. Enjoy it.

What do I mean by the fine print? The small, small words printed on so many things that we buy. Prepared foods.

Of course it had fine print and I found it.

Medications. Publications. Products.  Name it and it probably has fine print.

Now you may be wondering, why do they make it so small?

Good question. I’m speculating. Maybe they don’t want us to read it. Maybe a law compels them to print whatever it says. Maybe for our protection and safety. Maybe for their protection. Maybe for whatever reason.

But whatever the fine print says, often, as I said, I learn something. I am so darn curious. It seems strange maybe, but often I do have fun reading it.

Let me give you an example.

I just bought a package of razor blades at Dollar Tree. As you know, everything they sell is $1. Seems so crazy. I don’t know of any other retailer that does that. Do you? Dollar Tree was born doing that some 30 years ago. When they had only one store.

Now there are 14,835 Dollar Trees in the USA and Canada. And 176,000 employees. By selling just $1 stuff, they will rake in more than $22 billion this year. They are a Fortune 150 company. Imagine that!

Well, I found they offered six different kinds of razor blades. Some for men and some for women. Some with two blades per razor, some with four, some with six. Other features also. Of course, some packages contained more razors than others.

I believe Dollar Tree sells good stuff. No junk. It’s a basic policy for them. If you don’t like it, bring it back for a refund.

Our Dollar Tree in Morro Bay is small, as most are, but it does big business.

And they honor that guarantee. No wonder their stores are so popular.

I selected a package that said, “Ten Count / Unites.” Unites is the French word for saying the same thing as “count.” Must mention there was an acute accent on the “e” in Unites, but sorry, on my computer I don’t know how to insert an acute accent.

So yes, 10 razor blades—just 10 cents apiece. I use one once, then chuck it. Hey, sometimes I get to use one twice. Whoopee!

The brand was called Assured. The plastic bag was attractive. There was a “window” in it so you could actually see the working end of a razor. They were made of blue plastic. I noticed the women’s model was pink plastic.

The heading on the package said Twin / Double. Double because in French that means “twin.”

In smaller type, it said “Lubricating Strip.” You know, it makes the razor glide over your skin.

Then “Stainless Steel Blades.”

What’s this with the French? Why French? Simple. Remember, Dollar Tree has stores in Canada. Many French-speaking people up there. In fact, Canada has two official languages, French and English. That’s why Dollar Tree uses French and English on all its packaging. It has to.

Now for the fine print. After all, that’s why I’m writing this. I found 12 lines of it. The print was smaller even than the small print newspapers routinely use.

First, the name of the importer of these razor blades, Greenbrier International Inc. and its offices, one in Chesapeake, Washington, and the other in Barnaby, British Columbia. So truly it’s an international company.

The bottom line: They would be sold in the U.S. and Canada. 

The next fine print was the most interesting of all. Those tiny twin blades were made in South Korea! But the razors were assembled and packaged in Mexico!

From that I jumped to the conclusion that if packaged in Mexico, then the plastic bags are manufactured in Mexico.  But maybe not.  Maybe from the U.S. or China or Timbuktu!

I also wondered, why aren’t these razors also sold in Mexico?  After all, there are millions of Mexicans and they’re right next door to us. Maybe they are sold down there.  Mexico’s only language is Spanish, so I would think all the words on the package would be in Spanish.

Getting back to Greenbrier International, maybe it also imports a lot of other merchandise for Dollar Tree.  After all, Dollar Tree stocks its stores with hundreds of items. Many from China, as we know.  Some from Bangladesh and India and many other countries. I’ve read that Dollar Tree buyers scour the world for items that it can sell for just $1.

Which raises an interesting point. Yes, the company was started some 30 years ago. From its very start, as I’ve mentioned, every item was just $1.  In 30 years there’s been a lot of inflation. How has the company coped?

Several ways. In some cases, they’ve found manufacturers in cheaper countries. In many cases, by selling fewer items—razor blades, let’s say—per package, or ounces per bottle or container.

In some cases, by dropping some items from their inventory. For instance, I’ve noticed they now sell far fewer kinds of tools than years ago. In fact, the tool department is smaller.

Now about Greenbrier International. Maybe it’s an affiliate of Dollar Tree, or a division of it. Or maybe Greenbrier is a company unto itself and also imports stuff for other retailers, maybe even giants like Walmart and Amazon.

Another interesting question to me is, how many packages of razor blades does it sell per year? Is it a million? Could be. That would mean taking in$1,000,000! So how many men and women shave with Dollar Tree razors regularly? I’ll bet Dollar Tree knows.

So, the next question is, how many pennies of profit will Dollar Tree make on each package of razors? Will it be the same amount on my package of 10 as on the package of six? Four? Two? Maybe yes, maybe no.

How much will Greenbrier make? How much will the South Korean manufacturer of the steel blades?  The Mexican company doing the assembling and packaging?  How much will the companies transporting all those raw materials to Mexico and then the finished razors to the U.S. and Mexico? And finally getting them to those thousands of stores?

One other thought. Dollar Tree is very savvy. Very sophisticated. I wouldn’t be surprised if it stocks some items with zero profit. Zilch. Maybe even at a loss — as “loss leaders,” so called. Because Dollar Tree believes the terrific PR of it—convincing us it indeed sells real bargains — is all-important. It’s our believing that which makes its stores so popular.

Here in my little Morro Bay, Calif., I believe that Dollar Tree is the most popular store in town after our three food supermarkets. I have no solid data but I’ll bet I’m right. Maybe even more popular than one or two of our food supermarkets.

Dollar Tree in many ways is remarkable. By the variety of the products it offers, by the huge restocking that it does routinely to maximize sales  for Mothers’ Day, The Fourth of July, the Graduation Season, Thanksgiving, Halloween, Christmas, New Year’s, and so on. Other retailers do that, sure, but not so intensely.

Oh, this may surprise you. Dollar Tree also sells online. Yes, to individuals, groups, anybody who wants to buy in larger quantities. For instance, a school teacher for her classroom.  Maybe you love their nugget pretzels but your store often runs out. Well, stock up online.

As you can see, Dollar Tree’s story is an incredibly interesting one. To me, a fascinating one.

Now the final question. As inflation continues, as it’s expected to, how long can Dollar Tree maintain that crucial $1 strategy? The day will come when Dollar Tree will have to re-brand itself. To Double Dollar Tree or something like that. Or surely it will go out of business. That would be bad news for fans aplenty.

That’s happened to other famous chain stores. Montgomery Ward died. It seems Sears—for a long time famous as Sears Roebuck–is dying now. Same story with A & P supermarkets. And numerous other popular brands.

Now about reading fine print once again. If you, too, read it, great! If not, maybe you’ll give it a closer look now.

To me Dollar Tree’s story is all part of the great saga — the great success — of capitalism and free enterprise. How it serves both sellers and buyers. Both sides. Which is one of the things that make us so fortunate to be living in the good old USA.

And notice, please, I didn’t write that in fine print. I put it in bold. It deserves to be put in bold.

~ ~ ~ ~

As always, I look forward to your comments. I read them all. Enjoy them, whatever you say. Especially when you also tell me a little about yourself.

 

 

 

 

I just finished my toughest test ever!

By John Guy LaPlante

With 2 photos

Morro Bay, CA – It was California’s written driving test.  Pass it and I would continue to drive. Fail it and I would be grounded. Imagine! Well, I did pass it but by just a hair.

In fact, this was a retake. I flunked it the first time.  So humiliating! What anxiety that created!

The tutorial. Notice how it’s dog-eared. That says a lot.

Now consider the following. With 20 years of formal education behind me – kindergarten through graduate school – I’ve never, never passed a test with less distinction.

I knew sure some people taking it had just a GED – you know, a general equivalency diploma because they never graduated from high school — and  were passing it on their first try. Yes, embarrassing!

As most of you know, I now live here in California. California says I must now have my Hyundai Sonata with Connecticut plates registered in California. Well, I did that.  I also must have a California driver’s license, this though my Connecticut license was good till 2023. No ifs, and, or buts.

Registering my car here turned out to be a snap.  I had to buy California insurance coverage. That was a must. I got several quotes. An AAA policy turned out to be the best deal.  And through AAA I could also arrange to register my car at their local office instead of  at a CA Department of Motor Vehicles office.  That cut through what I was sure would be much red tape.

Unseasoned drivers here must pass a behind-the-wheel test with a CA DMV examiner aboard. But as a licensed driver, I would be spared that. All I had to do was pass the written test. No problem. Or so I thought.

After all, I have been driving for more than 70 years. I just did a quick calculation and have figured I’ve driven more than a million miles.  Maybe two! Have lost track of my many cars. I have crisscrossed the USA time and again. Have driven through five provinces of Canada. Some 15,000 miles through Mexico. In half a dozen countries in Europe.

I taught my wife-to-be to drive. Also my three children. I’m proud of their skill.

In all those years behind the wheel, I’ve had a few accidents. Of course. Remember, some of that mileage was through snowy and ice-slick winters. A lot on tough roads and in tricky situations. But never an injury to myself or another. And never have I been arrested. Nobody manages that without a lot of good luck. Still, I do have hefty bragging rights.

Not that I took the challenge of the written test lightly. The tutorial for it covers 114 pages. I went through the tutorial page by page. Made notes of tricky items. Plus the DMV offers a number of online practice tests.  I took every one.

Then off I went for my appointment to the local office in San Luis Obispo, the county seat 15 miles south. And brought all the requested paperwork. It included my birth certificate, proof of my residence here, my current driver’s license and a few additional docs just in case. And my credit card in my wallet.

It was my first visit to a CA DMV office. It’s a whole building. The parking lot was full. I have a handicap placard. But all

Every possible situation gets explained. The wording of  some questions is a problem.

the handicap spaces were occupied. The only space I finally found seemed 75 yards away. That’s a challenging walk for me now, even with my walking stick.

I made it inside. It was jammed. More than a hundred customers, I estimated.  Long lines. Nearly every seat in the waiting area was taken. This will take forever!

Not so. I was lucky. Thanks to my obvious old age, I got red-carpet treatment. All senior citizens get it, it seems. Well, decrepit ones. I was directed to a special desk just for us.

A pleasant young woman got me through all the formalities. Took a thumb print of me – not the finger-printing of all 10 fingers that I went through when applying for my Peace Corps service—on an electronic gizmo. Just my right thumb. And in a minute she had my whole file up on her computer. She scrutinized all the documents I had brought. No problem. That was a relief.

She made me take a vision test. I had my glasses on. I passed it. My license would say I must wear glasses

She asked if I wanted to be registered as an organ donor. I said yes. My license would show that also.

What I was applying for was a Class C license. That’s the usual license for most drivers. There’s also a Commercial License and a Motorcycle License and several others.

Now for the test. An assistant ushered me to a computer and showed me how I could warm up on it with a few sample questions.

There would be 36 questions. I had to get 30 right. Every question would have three possible answers. All based on info in the tutorial. No nasty trick questions. Only one of the three would be correct. If I answered one wrong, the computer would announce “Error!”

I was uptight. Definitely, absolutely I wanted to continue driving.  Giving it up was unthinkable. But I felt I was ready for the test. I started it in earnest.

I got questions one, two, three, and four right.  This will be a snap. After my fifth question, “Error!” What?! I thought I had answered it right.

I continued. I was doing fine again.

But after my ninth, ”Error!” What?!

I began reading every question twice, three times. In all my schooling I had graduated from every phase with honors. I wanted to “graduate” from this with honors.

Well, on I went.  Then ”Error!”  And another.  My confidence soured. I wound up with seven! Awful.

The whole test had taken just 15 minutes or so.

But not all was lost. The computer reset again. I found out I could take the test again. Right now.

I started again. Proceeded with the greatest care. I’m embarrassed to tell you so, but I failed this one also. I was shocked. Appalled.

At the desk I was told, no problem.  “Just come back and take it again.” I drove home in a very dark mood.  I decided I’d do the re-take in three weeks.  I had other important things to do.  And I wanted to ace the test the next time.

So of course I went through that tutorial with a fine tooth comb. And the online sample tests also.

But suppose I fail again!  That thought kept coming up. Suppose I fail again!

Even in bed at night. Sppose I fail again!  What will I do then?

I consoled myself. It won’t be the end of the world. Heck, no!

After all, I still had my completely valid Connecticut license.

My daughter Monique and her hubby David at times took me along on their shopping trips. They’d be glad to expand that, I was sure.

I could keep my car and find somebody to drive me, for pay.

Truth its, these days I did all my routine “driving” on my trike. I lived close to downtown. Used my trike every day – pedaling to the library, the post office, the supermarket, the coffee shop, on and on. Pedaling was great exercise. In fact, the only real exercise I got now.  And great fun. Sometimes I’d go a whole week without starting my car!

Some folks saw me so often on it that they knew me just as “that old, old guy with the three-wheel bike.”

And a friend came up with a terrific suggestion. “John, use Uber” I’m sure you’re familiar with that—the taxi service provided by ordinary men and women using their own cars. You summon one with an app on your computer or cell phone.

He said to me, “Think about it, John! You could sell your car and pocket the money you get for it. Cancel your insurance. Give up the registration. No more annual tax. No more gasoline to buy. No more routine maintenance expenses.  No more car washes.  No more worrying about being stopped by a cop. Or having an accident. Hey, think of all the money you’ll save!”

A brilliant idea, I thought.  Kept it in mind. Finally decided I wanted to keep on driving. A driver’s license spells independence. Freedom. And I felt my honor was at stake.  All I have to do is pass that damn test!

I got back to work on that tutorial and the sample tests.

One of the problems, I was convinced,  was that the testing has little relevance to everyday driving.  Many drivers – most, I dare say –go on and drive with little knowledge of and little respect for the fine points made by California DMV.

Examples:

Do we really have to know that anyone over 21 found with an alcohol level of more than 0.08 percent is in big trouble?  And under 21 with a level of more than 0.01 ditto? Of course not. All we have to know is that a suspicious police officer can insist we take a sobriety test. And if we fail it, trouble indeed!

The whole point being that it’s risky to drive and drink, and much smarter not to drink.

Do we really have to know that the only vehicle that must stop at a railroad crossing is a truck carrying hazardous materials?  All others must slow down, look left and right, and never attempt to cross if they see something on the tracks or just beyond it preventing complete passing.

That if we abandon an animal on a highway we can be fined up to $100? Even also be sent to jail for up to one year? No. All we have to know is that doing that is illegal and we will be be fined severely.

Do we really have to know that we must pass a bicyclist in a bicycle lane by at least 36 inches, and not the other margins mentioned as a possible answer. No. Just that we make sure to pass safely.

That the most dangerous time to use our brakes is not during a routine rain, but when a rain just starts? No. What’s important is that we must slow down and use extra caution.

I studied hard. Returned for the re-take. Felt I knew the material cold.

Surprise, the clerk asked me if I wanted to take the paper test or the computer test. I had thought every test was on the computer. “Which is easier?” I asked. “Paper,” she said.  “I’ll do paper,” I told her.

She sat me down at a table and handed me the test.  Same format. A question and then three choices. Check the proper one.  But no “Error!” warning now.  I was confident of my answers except in three  questions. I re-read them.  Still I was unsure. Just because of their working. They were ambiguous. Whoever  composed them never got an A in logic or sentence structure.

Bottom line: I got four wrong, so I passed! But I was disgruntled. I went to a clerk and insisted on seeing my mistakes. Upon examining them I concluded I could make a righteous complaint that three of my answers were valid.

So I did ask to speak to a supervisor about those questions but was told , “Impossible, sir! You have to get in touch with Sacramento.” Sacramento, as you know, is the state capital. She gave me a form to fill out and mail. I took it home.

Maybe I will. I have sound objections. I would like to argue my answers were correct. But maybe I won’t. It probably wouldn’t change a thing.

Finally I asked to take my graded test home.  I already I knew I would blog about this experience.  I could include the exact wording of those troublesome questions and my answers for you to decide for yourself.

“Sorry, not allowed,” she told me.  Of course! Because I could have made a bundle selling them to people worried about passing the test!

And oh, before I was handed my new license, I was asked for my Connecticut license, yes, with still four full years left on it. The clerk punched three holes in it.

Remember how I thought I could continue driving with that license if I had failed the California test? Not so. That would have been illegal. Well, I’m saving it as a souvenir.

Then a nice surprise. I had my credit card out to pay for my retake. “No, no,” she said. “You paid the last time.” I smiled – my only smile during the entire miserable experience.

I was joyous on my ride home.  Joyous – that’s the right word. But my “errors” rankled.

And extremely careful now how I drove. The experience did teach me the importance of safe driving. I’m serious. I drove more carefully now. Strove to drive exactly as specified in the tutorial.

The fact is, I did not have a right to drive. I had a permit to drive! I had forgotten that.

At the same time I was amused by how many drivers on the road with me were routinely and blissfully ignoring the legalities they had to know to get their license.  Scandalous!

DMV officials must go nuts observing this when they are out driving routinely.

Yes, I lost a lot of sleep over that test.  But given my age it is sure I’ll never face another. Ever. A nice thought. Comforting. But not so nice in another way.

……..

As always, I look forward to your comments. Thank you in advance.

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Have you had narrow escapes, close calls?” Me?

By John Guy LaPlante

Morro Bay, CA – Yes, I have.  Several. Scary close calls.

This came up when I spotted a poster on a bulletin board.  Glance at the photo.

Interesting, don’t you think?

That outfit called The Reboot was announcing its upcoming meeting. A strange name, The Reboot,  but that wasn’t explained. The Reboot is all about what it calls ““Storytelling Re-Imagined.”

The Reboot has been around for a year but this was the first I heard of it.

Its storytelling theme changes every month. For May it would be “Razor’s Edge. True stories  would be told,  without notes, of narrow escapes, close calls, flirting with disaster, taunting fate, and laughing in the face of danger!”

Anybody wanting to tell a story could send in an email saying so.

Well, definitely I’ve had narrow escapes and close calls. But I never laughed in the face of them. No, sir. Too scared!

I was fascinated. The Reboot is a club, well sort of. The storytellers – all amateurs– stand up and tell stories. Applause is all they get for it. Admission is free.  You can go once or every month.

It meets every third Friday of the month at the Top Dog Coffee Bar on Main Street from7 to 9 p.m. A friend told me they get a full house every time. “John, better get there at quarter of!

Hey, maybe the Top Dog hosts it for the PR value of it and the business it generates.

I read the poster one more time. I can do that!  I decided on the spot. I shot off an email saying to count me in.  But it turned out I was one volunteer too many. They had already filled their slate.  Well, I’ll blog about my close calls!  And here I am.

I thought and thought and settled on two close calls for you. The first I’ll tell you about is “Gwalior.” That’s the city in India where it befell me. The second is “La Carretera del Diablo,” which is deep down in an offbeat corner of Mexico.  That’s Spanish for “The Devil’s Highway.”

Gwallior is little known to us Americans but famous to Indians for its huge and historic and important fort. Lots there to look at and think about and learn from.

This was some 30 years ago. I was on my first trip to India. Two dear Indian friends here in the U.S., Sulekh and Ravi Jain, were going back for a visit. Sulekh was a PhD engineer.  How we became friends is a wonderful story but for another day. I’m pleased to say our friendship is still very much alive.

Anyway, now and then Sulekh would say, “John, one day Ravi and I will l take you to India!”  Ravi is his wife. I thought that was just well-intentioned hot air.

But one day off I flew to India with them. A whole month, as I remember it. We toured far and wide. A spectacular adventure.  At one point Sulekh and Ravi were going to be tied up for a couple of days. Sulekh suggested I take the train to Gwallior. “Fantastic!”  he said.

He arranged to have a young relative accompany me. He’d me my guide and helper. Nice fellow. I don’t recall his name. I’ll call him Suraj.

It was a train ride of four hours or so. Suraj got me to the station in good time.  It was jammed with Indians, men in turbans and women in saris. In that great throng I spotted a lone white man. About 30, tall, in dungarees and sneakers, a huge backpack on the floor by his feet. An American, I’ll bet. I walked right over.

“Hi,” I said. “I’m John. From Massachusetts. Taking the train to Gwallior with my friend here.”

Yes, he was an American. He told me he was taking the same train. Had just finished a full hitch in Peace Corps and was going home the s-l-o-w way. Loved foreign travel. Solo. I marveled at that. I had no idea that one day I too would serve in Peace Corps…and would find out that most Volunteers have a genetic streak to adventure-travel. Just as he was.

The train pulled in.  Many cars.  In one way trains in India are like trains in Europe. A long corridor runs down one side of each car. Not down the center. The cars at the front are first class — they have cabins for four…well, six skinny Indians. The cars at the rear are second class.  Just row after row of wood benches, Suraj told me.

We all got aboard. Suraj and I had a cabin. My new friend headed toward the rear.

Two big toots and we started. There would be several stops. We had the cabin to ourselves. I sat by the window, facing forward. Any others in the cabin would have been traveling backward. Suraj sat by my side. I spent every minute looking out the window. So interesting.

Oh, Ravi, bless her heart, had warned me never to drink faucet water.  Always boiled water, always!  Told me  to buy hot tea from vendors. That way it would be safe. She had given me a bottle full. No longer hot, of course. I took a sip now and then.

About half way, we made a scheduled stop. I spotted a lot of young men outside demonstrating. Wow! They were focusing on our train. Why, I had no idea. Suraj had no idea.  Lots of angry yelling, big scrawled placards, clenched fists. Awful. Scary. We were safe inside.  But some kept coming close. Very close. I saw two approach right below our window. They were trying to crawl under our car. I saw one pull out a wire he had yanked free. The other did the same thing.

Things quieted.  The demonstrators had backed off. Still the train didn’t move. Many minutes went by. Thinking of the ripped out wire, I wondered if other demonstrators had done the same thing. Have they disabled the train? Suraj said he’d go out to the platform to try to find out what this was all about. My bottle was empty now. He would buy me a refill.

I sat alone.  I was worried. How long will we be stuck here?  A long time went by. No Suraj.  Things had quieted a lot. I decided to get off, too. I wanted to check on my Peace Corps friend. Is he okay?  A lot of the demonstrators were still around. They had congregated on the platform side. No yelling now. No chanting. They stared at me, an obvious foreigner. Were muttering.  I was nervous but walked on to the end of the train. No sign of my friend. Saw a big log had been placed across the tracks! Couldn’t spot my friend.

Now 15 or 20 of them appeared and surrounded me. Were yelling something. Angry words. They glowered at me.  The leader, hefty, frowning, came right up. Stuck his face within a foot of my nose. Was yelling something. Shook a fist. His buddies were yelling something. Were making fists. Will one of these guys hit me?  Drive a knife into my side?

Suddenly an older man made his way through them. Waved them back. Spoke angrily to them. They stepped back. He took me by the arm and walked me back to my car. They followed me with their eyes.   I stepped aboard and returned to my cabin. I was so grateful to my Good Samaritan.

But no Suraj! Where the hell is he?!  I sat and waited. It was supposed to be a 10-minute stop. More than an hour had gone by.

Suddenly tumult at the back of the car. It seemed one or two of the demonstrators had gotten aboard.  I didn’t dare look out the door. Were banging on the doors as they came forward. Every door, it seemed. Are they looking for me? The white man? I bolted the door.

They were coming closer. Yelling.  Banging on every door.  They came closer. One banged on mine. I didn’t make a sound. Hate to say so but I was huddled in a corner, my arms coiled around myself. Terrified. He tried my lock. It held. He moved on.  They were still yelling and banging. Then quiet. Seemed they had gotten off. Thank God!

Finally Suraj popped in and handed me my bottle of tea. I yelled at him. “Where have you been?!” He said he had had problems. Was worried about me. Took his seat. I calmed down. Time went by.

Suddenly, with not a toot, the train started. A miracle! I thought of the youth ripping out the wire. I thought others might have been doing the same thing. Thought of the big log across the track. But what about the Peace Corps Volunteer? I never found out.

We had another stop before Gwallior. No demonstrators at this spot. But I was still worried. I told Suraj we were getting off and taking the next train back. He protested. I insisted. We had to wait a long time for a returning train. Got on. No problem. Demonstrators all gone. We made it back safe and sound.

So, I never got to see Gwallior.  A big disappointment. Later Sulekh told me the agitators were demonstrating because state universities were shutting them out. India is made up of rigid social classes. They were in a lower class. Were fed up. This demonstration was state-wide. Never found out if they got any satisfaction.

Well, that was back then. Things have improved. I did go back to India some years later on my around-the-world trip.  No Sulekh and Ravi with me this time. I crossed the whole country from Kolkata (formerly called Calcutta) to Mumbai (formerly Bombay). Nearly all of it by train.

Through Delhi the capital again, of course. Went north all the way to ancient Varanasi on the great and sacred Ganges River. No problem. Not a single close call. A great trip.

Hey, maybe my close call on my first trip would have been too long to tell about at The Reboot.

Close call No. 2 — “La Carretera del Diablo”

The Devil’s Highway. Have you heard of it?  Well, l traveled it. If you drove it, you’d recall it, too. It’s a narrow, scary, dangerous road across craggy mountains from Durango to close to Mazatlan on the Pacific. No wonder it’s known as the Devil’s Highway.

This was some 10 years later. I was on my second big solo tour through Mexico. On this one and the previous one I rolled up 15,000 miles down there during two consecutive winters. Winters are mild down there.

Again I was driving my wonderful VW microbus. Sightseeing. Meeting Mexicans well to do and poor and chatting with them in my pitiful pidgin Espagnol. Snapping pictures. And sending back reports to a paper in Connecticut, which was my home sweet home then.

The VW was my wonderful little home on wheels. I’d make and eat my meals in it. Well, most of them. Write up my day’s doings and details in my journal on the same little fold-down table I ate on. Sleep in it.  Quite comfy. Perfect for me.

I was pushing along on the narrow, cliff-hugging blacktopped highway between those two cities.  Alone on the road much of the time.

Now and then I’d pass through a town. Then the highway would become its  main street. That was blacktop, too. All the side streets seemed to be dirt.

In the evening I’d see the lights go on in the humble houses.  Just plain bare bulbs most of the time. This was not touristy Mexico. Anything but.

I’d strike up a little chat whenever I ran into a likely person and they would be as interested in me and my strange wanderings as I was in them.  My Spanish was awful but nobody complained. I thrived on it.

I came into a bigger town with a Pemex gas station. All gas stations were Pemex stations. The government ran them. No competition.  (Just recently private enterprise has been allowed.)  I checked my gas gauge. Was all set. Pushed on. Left all houses behind and found myself on the same two-lane carretera, going uphill now on the narrow, winding road.

The sun was getting low. By one bad curve I spotted four small white crosses. Four persons had been killed in a vehicle accident here. I was familiar with such crosses. They are common on highways in Catholic countries.

Just beyond the crosses, on the same side, I saw a black slope coming down toward the highway. Black because it was solidified lava from long ago. That’s perfect for tonight. I drove in a hundred feet or so – drove up I should say. Turned off the engine, cooked my supper, scribbled in my diary, and readied my bunk.

Then I walked down to look at those crosses. Two men’s names and two women’s. Same date on all four.  Two vehicles must have collided. How awful!  Returned to my VW. It was dark now. Slipped into my sleeping bag and called it a day.

In 30 or 40 minutes I heard a vehicle pull in! I looked out. Its headlights focused on me. And I saw a bright flashlight walking up toward me. And whoever it was had  a revolver pointed at me.  My God! A bandito?! A hard rap on the driver door. What to do?!  I was in my shorts . I scrambled up and sat in the driver’s seat. I had locked the door, of course. Opened the window, but just a hair. Tried to mask my fear.

“Policia! Abierte la ventana!”   I opened it a bit more.

A big guy. Forty or so. Big black mustache. I saw his uniform. Not a bandit. What’s this all about?!

He asked for my driver’s license. “Uno momento!” I said. I had to go back to my pants and pull out my wallet.  I showed him my driver’s license and registration. He focused his flashlight on them. Asked what I was doing here. Put his gun away. I told him I was heading to Mazatlan. Was spending the night here.

On the floor by my seat I had a three-ring binder. It had copies of travel articles I had published. I showed it to him. Pointed to my byline on several. It was the same as the name on my license and registration. He flipped through it. He understood.

“Muy pelligroso, Senor!” He told me.  I understood that — Very dangerous! He explained. Yes, there were bandits around. Thieves. Hungry, grasping fellows who might see me as easy prey. I had to get out of here. “Immediamente!” Right now!

No, I could not continue west. Curves. Cliffs. Too dangerous at night. I had to go back to the town I had just passed.  “Go to the Pemex station. Stay there for the night. You will be safe.”  He looked at his watch.  “But hurry! They will lock up in 50 minutes.”

I thanked him. Felt like giving him a hug. Rushed and dressed. Pulled out. He had started his cruiser. Was waiting for me to leave. Making sure.

I drove as fast as I could down that twisty road. Got to the Pemex.  I explained to an attendant. The only one. He nodded. Told me where to park. Said he was about to put up and lock the chain for the night. No cars could enter. People, yes, but no cars. I’d be chained in too, of course. Said he would then go home. The chain would be taken down at 6 a.m.

I drove as far back in the station’s lot as I could. Didn’t want to attract anybody! Finally went to sleep. I was still worried. Will some bandito walk in and come check me out? Two banditos?  Sleep overtook me. I woke up at dawn. The chain was still up. The attendant showed up. Same guy.

I didn’t need much gas but I tanked up to show my appreciation. And I put a couple of dollars – real American dollars – in his hand. You should have seen his grin! Heard his ”Gracias, Senor, Gracias!”

I started up the long, twisty highway again. Passed those four tragic crosses. Glanced up at my brief campsite and drove on. Silently thanked that officer who had somehow spotted me and checked me out. Warned me. And told me what to do. A very good guy.

Hey, if he hadn’t done that, maybe I too would have wound up with a white cross of my own down there on La Carretera del Diablo!

Well, I didn’t get the chance to talk about this close call either at The Reboot. Maybe the audience would have enjoyed hearing me. I hope you have.

~ ~ ~ ~

Again I look forward to your comments. Do you have a close call of your own to tell me about? I’d like to hear it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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