April 23, 2021

A far-fetched letter of 25 years ago!

By John Guy LaPlanteIMG_20160517_094900-2

Written by me on Jan. 5, 1991. A quarter of a century ago! Extraordinary in its content. And I had zero memory of it! It surprised me. I believe it will surprise you, too. Here it is.

Jan. 5, 1991     To:Letters (Editor), Sunday Journal Magazine, Providence, R.I. 02992

I’ve just come upon (your) Magazine with the very worthwhile piece. “Schoolmaster Henry Barnard” (Dec. 31) on the beginnings of universal public education in Rhode Island more than a century ago.

I couldn’t help musing that in another century there may well be a parallel article—on the beginnings of universal health care.

The setting, it now seems, will be Massachusetts rather than Rhode Island. And at that time health care for everyone will seem as natural and undeniable as education for everyone is today.

And I signed it and gave my Worcester, MA address.

Imagine that. I quote myself, “… I couldn’t help musing that in another century (we may see) the beginnings of universal health care.

And here we are in a new century, in A.D. 2016. And universal health care is a hot subject. How about that?

I was thunderstruck when I uncovered the letter. I had no memory of it. I came upon it while going through a lot of my scribblings over the years in preparation for another book I’ll be publishing.

A bit more background: The Sunday Journal Magazine was a section of the Providence (RI) Journal-Bulletin, a fine paper then and now.

I had written a number of articles for the Journal as a free-lancer, so I was known to them. Plus I had deep Rhode Island roots. I was born and grew up in Rhode Island right next door to Providence, had done graduate work at Brown University, and I visited often.

Since then, of course, Obamacare was born. It was a compromise, yes, not care for one and all, but only because only such a compromise would get enough votes.

I mentioned it was likely to debut first in Massachusetts, a very blue state. And nine years later, that’s where Mitt Romney, then the governor, presided over the first big universal care law in the country.

And right now, as we so well know, presidential hopeful Bernie Sander is rallying millions of supporters by making universal health care a key part of his fight for the presidency. And who, by the way, is also pushing for universal free higher education (pioneer educator Henry Barnard must be applauding wildly!).

And the more centrist Hillary Clinton has been forced to move farther and farther left by the enormous pressure from Bernie. She’s now telling us maybe people in their ‘50s, say, might “buy in” to Medicare!

Progress advances slowly, sometimes discouragingly so. It gets nudged forward, and nudged and nudged. I am confident that a few more nudges and universal health care—already a fact in numerous advanced countries, and so long overdue for us—will become the law of our land.

Your children will see it, and so will my grandchildren.

~ ~ ~ ~

 

 

Gosh, what wacky statuettes!

By John Guy LaPlante

Who created them? Take a look at the pictures. A picture is worth a thousand words. That saying has never been so apt. Yes, who?

These were just stones spread out. Then I spotted these strange creations. Figurines, it seemed to me. No cement holding the stones together. No glue. Just gravity. What skill it took!Are they statuettes? Figurines?  Just meaningless piled-up stones? I think they’re more than that.  What is amazing is how precariously—how impossibly, it would seem—one stone is  balanced atop another.

Just think: how many stones do you think toppled before the artist, the creator, whoever, got two of them to stay up? Then three? Then four? Yes, there’s one each of those for a total of four. No glue. Just gravity. Plus  enormous patience and skill.

I was amazed when I spotted them. I’m still in Morro Bay,  CA, where I  have been sojourning.

Right away I thought of Easter Island. That mysterious island right off the coast of Chile has hundreds of such statues.  But these are tiny compared to those colossal wonders. And these were created in a single session, I believe, not over years and years.  Yesterday, I suspect, or the day before, not eons ago. But these are fascinating and striking, too.

By the way, I’ve never been to Easter Island. I know about those prehistoric wonders only through the pages of the IMG_20160509_113431good old National Geographic. And I know zilch about these little ones except that they seem to defy the force of gravity.

Those on Easter Island had large, strange heads and they had some powerful symbolic meaning for the islanders.  I doubt these were created to tell us  something. Just for the fun of it, I’ll bet, or to prove to the maker that he had the talent to do the job, or maybe as a contest between him and a friend. Your guess is as good as mine.

I’m sure they weren’t created in the middle of the night. Some people must have seen them being put together. Gosh, how I wish I had been there to see that.

I spotted the statuettes, or figurines, or whatever you would call them,  as I was on my way home on my trike from Cypress Plaza.  I had just bought a few things.IMG_20160509_112533The statuettes were on a small triangle at the corner of the plaza and Quintana Avenue.

As you see, that triangle is covered with nice stones. The builder of the plaza must have thought that the stones would be cheaper to take care of than mowing grass regularly. There’s a drought here. That must have been in his mind, too.

I was lucky to spot them. They didn’t stand out against all those stones.  I saw one, made of  just two stones. I marveled how beautifully one perched atop the other. Then another, with three stones. Then one with four. Wow!

I had so many questions. Was this the work of one person? Two? Male? Female?  Youngsters, I’d bet, but maybe not. How did IMG_20160509_224441they get the idea? Did they have a drink or two just before?

How long did it take to find the perfect second stone for the first? Each one became more ambitious. A tougher challenge.  How many tries for the fourth one, with four stones?   How long to build all four? They were done in one session, I would think. Was it done on a whim? And the motive? Why? Why?

Maybe you feel I’m making too much of this.  Well, maybe. As you see, I was fascinated.

Afterward,  I pedaled on. I had bought things at Albertson’s Supermarket that had to be put in the fridge. But I kept thinking of the figurines.

Just a block from home, I made a U-turn and pedaled back.  The sun had nearly gone down. Studied the figurines again, and from different angles. Marveled even more. And took the pictures, using my ever-ready smart phone. Given the poor light, they came out better than I thought they would.

Could that talented person…persons…be descended from those far-off Easter Islanders of long, long ago? Isn’t that an interesting thought?

Well, I took another look the next day. As I feared, bad luck. Only one figurine was still standing. The smallest. Did gravity bring them down? Did a strong gust of wind do it? Did some jerk pitch stones at them? Will whoever created them come back and try again?

If anything develops, I’ll let you know.

~ ~ ~ ~

 

 

 

As of today I have lived xxxxx days. Wow

By John Guy LaPlante

I intend those xxxxx’s in that headline.  I ask you to figure the exact number that should replace those xxxxx’s. I’ll give you clues in a minute.

First, a fair warning. I started to write 1,500 words in this post. Hah!

I am beaming and rightfully--all thanks to Monique and David's popping in with a wonderful birthday breakfast for my 77th this morning.

I am beaming and rightfully–all thanks to Monique and David’s popping in with a wonderful birthday breakfast for my 87th this morning.

The total has shocked me. It’s 6,019 words! I felt you should know.

Yes, I have been around a long time. Nobody is more surprised than I. When I was six, our family doctor told my mother–with me standing wide-eyed by her side—that I would never reach the age of 30. Yes, I was sickly. I heard him make that colossal pronouncement.  Gosh, have I fooled him!

Today is April 26—an important date to me because I am turning 87 today. And I was born in 1929. I will leave it to you math whizzes to figure how many days I have been alive. I am mentioning the answer in the final paragraph of this post.

But please don’t go and peek. Read right down to the bottom, please. If you find your math was right, let me know and I’ll send you my personal congratulations. You would deserve that. I know nobody will cheat, of course.

So today I am starting my 88th year. Yes, that’s a strange way of thinking about it. But in some cultures, a child is called one year old the minute it is born.  I know I should say “he” or “she” or “they” and not “it,” but the first is clumsy and the second is ungrammatical. And “it” is for inanimate things. I know that. But it’s my best choice. It shows how imperfect English is. Anyway, I understand how those people can argue this point of crediting a child with one year at birth.

I have now lived longer than anybody else in my family—my siblings, my parents, my aunts and uncles, my grandparents. The one exception is my dear Aunt Bernadette, who lived to 94. Thinking more about all this, I recognize I have lived longer than most people in the world. Wow!

Now listen to this. There were 76 in my graduating class (’47) at Assumption Prep in Worcester. I have only one classmate still alive and kicking—Cam Thibault of Nashua, N.H. He is now Rev. Camillus Thibault, a priest in the religious order that founded the school. He lives at Assumption, and I visit him when I get back to Worcester, and we’re still very close.

Half of us went on to Assumption College, which was on the same campus. Cam had taken a year off to enter the Assumptionists’ novitiate program and so was a year behind when he returned.  There were 33 at our commencement (‘51).  And to the best of my knowledge, which is pretty good, I am the only one still breathing.

Another word about Cam. Early on, I discovered he and I were both born on April 26, 1929. I asked him at what time and he told me in the afternoon, he thought. Well, I told him I had been born in the early morning–my mother had told me– which made me the older, and I have been lording it over him as his senior ever since, and not to forget that, please.

So if the world had been designed logically, it would seem that I should die before him. Doesn’t that make sense? But darn little about life and living makes sense, so that may not happen.

Now I must ‘fess up. I fibbed when I told Cam that I was born earlier than he. I have no idea at what time I popped out.   (Cam, please, please forgive me!)  I suppose somebody way up high will hold me accountable for this great moral lapse. But thank goodness, I no longer believe in Hell and Purgatory. (I may be sorry someday.)

One of my themes today is nothing remains the same. Consider Assumption. The Prep School folded around 1970. The College is flourishing and is ranked as one of the best liberal colleges in the Northeast. Its enrollment is in the thousands and students get fine preparation for all kinds of careers.

But it is the same in name only. It is still Catholic and the president of its board is still an Assumptionist priest. But I believe there are only two or three such teaching at the college now.

The school was started for kids of French Canadian descent. That’s all long gone. It’s open to anybody. It was once strictly male. It went coed in 1972, I believe.

Half the instruction through all eight years was in French (incredible, don’t you think?). Now a tiny minority take French. And the school now has a flourishing graduate program.  And oh, the college is now on a completely different campus with buildings that were unimaginable in my day. Talk about changes! Hey, it could be argued Assumption should take a new name!

Now about me finally. Few people have changed as much as I have. I have changed in a dozen ways, yes, dramatic, I’d say. From the career that I planned on to the work that I did for my livelihood.  Where I live and have lived. What my interests have become. Who became my life-long companion, or so I thought. My philosophy of life. My political views. Even my name.

About that: I was born Jean-Guy LaPlante. That was my byline on my stories in my early newspaper days. Some readers didn’t understand it.  I changed it to John Guy for what I thought were sound reasons. But that was a mistake and I regret it. On my gravestone–I am not sure I want one–I would like my French name, then aka John Guy LaPlante.  Yes, despite the fact few people visit a grave after the first year.

The one thing in all that which has not changed is my interest in the French/Quebecois culture and language in which I was born. I prize that.

Oh, kids went to Assumption to become a priest, a doctor, a lawyer, a teacher, or a failure. I didn’t become one of those first four so now you see what I became.

To be serious, I started in the college as a pre-med but dropped out after my sophomore year.  I was in that only because my mother wanted me to be a doctor. I chose to go into journalism. Crazy, eh?  I believe I was the first Assumption grad to opt for that.

Now consider this. My Maman—my mom—gave birth to six children. (She also had a couple of misses.) I was the first born. Two died in early infancy, Rose Marie and Andrê.  Lucie, who followed me, and I are the only two still living. The two who followed her were Louise, who died at 33, and Michael—16 years younger than I and by the same father and mother—died at 55.

It seems to me that whoever way, way up there is planning and organizing all these events isn’t using all his smarts. Don’t you agree?

Anyway, what is amazing is that I am now the one at the very top of the tree. And by any common standards I have lived a very fine life. Not perfect. I have failed. I have sinned. I have made mistakes.  Of course. Because I am human just like you. But I’ve never done anything criminal, or anything to soil my reputation, though that’s a matter of opinion, I suppose. And I do have big regrets. One is that I have done okay, but not as well as I thought I would.

I have numerous things I am proud of. One I have never mentioned, and I suspect never will.  It is that I overcame a grave physical problem in my childhood that I thought, and my family thought, would curse my life.  Overcame it myself, through my efforts. Enough said.

Most people, you know, live a straight and narrow life. Well, that is my view. Most live their life where or close to where they were born, even today. Often they follow in dad’s footsteps in type of work and many habits. Die in the same religion, and even the same branch of it, in which they got launched. The same political party.  Live with the same spouse all the way, though that is changing sharply. And live in the same gender still.

And oh, keep the same name, except for the gals when they wed. I consider their giving up their family name in favor of a wedding ring tragic, by that way. Women in numerous cultures maintain their birth name.

Now consider me. I was born in Rhode Island. Lived most of my adult years—my career years—in Massachusetts. Moved to Connecticut in “retirement.”

I must mention I’ve never truly retired in the sense of giving up my work. I am still a writer and will remain one till my last breath, it seems. And now I live half-time in California, and before long, full-time. It seems the sensible thing to do.

In college I spent two years in the pre-medical program because my mother wanted to be a doctor. Then through a fluke I got interested in journalism (I had become editor of our modest little college paper) and began thinking of making journalism my career.  Which I did after three years of grad work in economics and political science and journalism at Brown University and Boston University.

And I did journalism for some 18 years, most of that on the Worcester Telegram & Gazette. For 3 or 4 years during that span I was an evening teacher at Assumption College and Quinsigamond Community College.

Then I jumped to Assumption College full-time from the T&G as director of public relations, moving up to director of public affairs. Four years later, I resigned to start my own business, John Guy LaPlante Associates, offering services in those areas that I had learned at Assumption and writing services as well.

I started the business cold.  In time developed a small staff and over the years worked for a dozen hospitals, on and off, several educational institutions, a large fraternal insurance society, a large insurance agency, and an interesting mix of others.  After 16 years, approaching retirement, I sold that business.

During all that, I started a sideline business in income real estate. All because of a book, “How to Make a Million Dollars in Real Estate in Your Spare Time.” I liked the idea of a million and I could manage a bit of spare time.

Well, in time, I owned 27 units—apartments and condos. I also took on several construction projects—quite ambitious–converting a couple of buildings into condos, for instance, which required an architect’s participation and considerable funds. I had zero experience in that.

I learned through experience. And through mistakes. But exciting work. The bottom line of all that in dollars was good but not as promising as the book said. All because I got caught in the “condo glut.”

Oh, one of my LaPlante Associates clients was Doctors Hospital in Worcester. I was its consultant for my type of services. David Hillis, its president asked me to come on board as director of marketing as the hospital re-made itself into AdCare Hospital. AdCare became the largest substance abuse hospital in a big chunk of New England.

Not to suggest that was the result of my input. No, no, though my input helped. I put in a couple of years at that, then retired definitively. Well, so it seemed.

That’s how I got to move from Massachusetts to Connecticut. I went to tiny Ivoryton, Conn. (10 miles inland part way between New London and New Haven) for a one-week program for senior citizens at the Episcopal Camp and Conference Center, which was run by the Episcopal Church.

The program was a mix of light academic classes and fun—square-dancing, canoeing and sailing and swimming in its own lake, and socializing with the other seniors. Wonderful.

Through another fluke I became a volunteer in that program, which ran in the summer months. I lived there on its woodsy campus. No salary, just room and board. But all very nice. Then I started in its Elderhostel program, which ran for seven months, April into October.

It was one of the largest Elderhostels in New England.  Again as a volunteer. But, heck, I was retired. It was ideal. After two seasons I was invited back as the Elderhostel director, now for a small salary plus room and board.

I had five months off, and I started traveling solo. Bought a used VW bus and crisscrossed the whole U.S.A., touring right to the Pacific, then around and back and weeks and months of sightseeing, all while  living in the little camper.

Yes all of it solo. Covered thousands of miles. And from the start began writing articles about all that for my old paper, The Worcester T & G’s Sunday edition.

Then in the next two seasons off from Elderhostel, I made two weeks-long tours down into Mexico. Traveled far south to fabled Acapulco on the Pacific, then across the majestic Andes all the way to Valparaiso on Mexico’s eastern coast.  Scary at first. I was so uptight, apprehensive, when I entered Mexico.

Again, solo. Many adventures, including a few tough moments. Visited most of its major cities and countless small towns. Learned street Spanish. Continued to scribble many articles about all that for the Sunday Telegram.

Oh, back in Ivoryton at the Elderhostel I began writing features on the side for the Main Street News. It was a weekly that published only “good” news, so not true journalism.

I wrote mostly personality stories.  Met interesting people, got to know that whole interesting little corner of the world well.  Some 10 years went by in this happy mix of Elderhostel and travel and free-lance writing.

In time, after retiring from the Episcopal Center at age 70, I became a citizen of tiny Deep River nearby. I was charmed by the area, so pretty, so historic. Deep River was famous at one time as the high-tech center of the piano industry. That was when every family hoped to own a piano for the living room—before electricity and radio and all that.

The big four-story red-brick factory that hummed with all that work had become Piano Works Condominiums, and I bought a unit there and eventually a second one. I sold the bigger one a year ago and then moved into the smaller one, which is very nice. I’ll be returning there in a few weeks.

Interestingly, back there I had begun writing for a newfangled online newspaper, Lymeline.com, and then for a new companion one, valleynewsnow.com. Many pieces. Enjoyable work. But that lightened up when I started living for months at a time in California.

Oh, back in Elderhostel at the Episcopal Center, I met Annabelle Williams, a Californian. She had traveled all the way across the U.S. to attend our program. She had a son, Jim, who was an M.D. in a nearby town. This was her first Elderhostel. She told me, “If I don’t like this, I’ll ask Jim to come pick me up.” Well, she liked it.

She came back, and back. We became a couple. And we were a couple for 20 years. We were both elderly. How could we pass as boyfriend and girlfriend? Crazy. I started calling her Milady Annabelle. It’s surprising how many women let me know that they liked that.

Annabelle and I became bi-coastal, living in Deep River and her home town, Newport Beach, CA. We traveled a lot.  In fact, during our Elderhostel days, we started a little sideline business, “Off We Go with John and Annabelle.” She had been a travel agent and was savvy.

We had gotten to know a lot of Elderhostel seniors and we began offering two-week tours to Europe during our off months, with us as their guides and escorts­—prepared to handle any problems and emergencies that came up. A few did pop up and we handled them.

Some people enjoyed our trips so much they signed up for another and another and we made numerous good friends.

We led them to France, Great Britain, Spain and Portugal, Greece, Turkey, Switzerland, Italy, Czechoslovakia, other countries. The big attack on the New York City World Trade Center put an end to our European packages.

People were hesitant about crossing the Atlantic so we booked a tour to the beautiful colonial cities of Mexico. We got only eight takers. People were afraid of diarrhea, getting kidnapped, and so forth. Greatly exaggerated, unrealistic fears. We decided to close shop.

Finally retired again, I settled down in Deep River. Really settled down, joining the Rotary Club and becoming involved, developing ideas that with Rotary’s strong backing, led to significant community projects. One was turning a piece of waste land into what is now small, lovely Keyboard Park, right on Keyboard Pond, with a pretty gazebo as the park’s centerpiece.

Another was purchasing a bronze statue of an elephant that I came upon in an antique shop in wealthy Newport, R.I.  It had big tusks, and its trunk was curled up majestically. The elephant was about the size of a pony.

The club did not have the ready cash.  I purchased it ($5,000 is the sum I recall) and Rotary quickly paid me back. The Town set up the elephant on a perfect granite pedestal (purchased in the same deal) on the lawn in front of our Town Hall.

Why this elephant statue, you’re wondering.

Ivory, from elephants hunted down in Africa, had become an indispensable raw material for the town’s famous piano industry.  The big factory did not make the whole piano: only the “actions” for it, all the moving parts.

These “actions” were sold to many piano manufacturers, who provided the beautiful wooden case for them and put their label on them. The piano keys were made of elephant ivory. There was nothing better.

That’s why that statue in the very heart of town became so important—truly iconic. Tourists stopped to look it over, read the historic marker on it, posed their kids on it. And it gave Deep River children an awareness of that all-important saga in the town’s history. And will do that for decades and decades to come, I assume.

Rotary was a wonderful experience. I retired from it after 10 years. Simple burn-out.

During all those years I was traveling big time. In my long winters off from the Episcopal Center, I traveled around the U.S. Started with a long Greyhound bus trip from New York City to Seattle—three and a half days on it coast to coast. Took another couple of long rides on Greyhound.

Bought a used VW camper and traveled all around the U.S. in it. Even made two long trips into Mexico—deep into Mexico– and from the Pacific across the great Andes to the eastern seaside.  Many adventures, a few scary moments. And all the while I was writing articles to be published back home. Which happened.

For my 75th birthday, I got the idea of a trip around the world.  Annabelle couldn’t come—bad hip. I got a friend to come and we started together toward Asia. After three weeks, he up and quit and flew home. How could I go on alone? Scary! Well, I decided to try. And I completed the whole daunting itinerary. That led to my book, “Around the World in 75 Days. Alone, Dammit!”

It’s too involved to explain, but that led to its publication in China, in Mandarin, the principal language.

That led to a trip around Asia. My sister Lucie came along with the understanding she’d have to quit and return home in a few weeks because of a commitment. We had a grand time together, and then I continued alone.

That led to my book, “Around Asia in 80 Days. Oops, 83.” That was a play on the famous book, fictional though, “Around the World in 80 Days.”

One result of all this was it led me to giving a lot of talks about those adventures, to libraries, clubs, and other groups. Interesting and rewarding, but not really in a dollar sense, and without a doubt it kept me busy and out of trouble.

Then I got the idea of Peace Corps.  Peace Corps had been started by President Kennedy. From the start it was a young person’s thing. One day I read a small news story saying that, in so many words, Peace Corps had smartened up and was searching for older volunteers.  Older men and women have experience, “wisdom,” and often a desire to “give back.”

Well, Peace Corps accepted me after a year of investigating me and putting me through every major medical test known to mankind.  And sent me to Ukraine.  That was a great shock. I expected to be sent to a country where French had been important—Haiti, Vietnam, Morocco, and maybe equatorial Africa (heavens forbid!). Places where my fluency in French would help.

Ukraine was difficult—the weather, the language, the food. I became a university-level teacher of English as a second language and found other important ways of serving. I lived with three Ukrainian families in all that time. I made friends, learned a lot, and completed the whole hitch (it’s surprising how many Volunteers come home early). And that led to my book, “27 Months in the Peace Corps. My story, unvarnished.”

For some 15 years I always had an ambitious trip coming up.  I made a long trip—seven weeks, as I remember it—to India with two Indian friends from there who had settled here in the U.S. I should have written a book about that!

Incidentally I returned there on my own as part of my Around the World trip. Crossed the whole country by myself, from Calcutta to Delhi to Bombay plus side trips north and south. As usual, many good times and a few tough ones.

My Around Asia books talks about travels to 10 to 12 countries over there. Starting with Japan and running on to Vietnam and Cambodia.

I have been to China four times, thanks to my book being published there, good friends there.

I have been to all 50 states, many of them quite frequently.

I have crossed four-fifths of Canada, from British Columbia all the way to New Brunswick, with numerous trips to Quebec, meaning Montreal and Québec, some 20 or 25 times.

I believe that I have been to every country in Western Europe, including Sweden and little Estonia, Latvia and Estonia. And of course France (nine or ten times) and Great Britain and Belgium, and  Poland and Germany Russia and the Czech Republic, and Hungary, and Spain and Italy, and Portugal and Egypt and Morocco , and Lebanon and Cyprus. Even Sicily.

Everywhere I’ve learned something. For instance, about Sicilians, I thought all of them were deep-rooted tomato-sauce southern Italianos. Not so. Sicily juts out into the Mediterranean. Over the years everybody sailing by south, east or west has stopped by. Many settled there. So many Sicilianos descend from wayfarers of many ethnicities, and you can see that by looking at them.

The big exceptions for me in Europe were Norway and Denmark.

That’s quite a list. That said, please remember all that is only a small part of the world. I wish I had covered more.

Over there I turned 80 and got congratulations for being the oldest Volunteer of some 7,800 in about 80 countries in the world. I would much rather have been the youngest.

Peace Corps is a fine organization.  I am proud to have served in it. But nothing is perfect. I tell that whole story, the good and the not so good, to enlighten anyone thinking of joining.

Well, in the course of those many decades and those countless and so varied experiences, I changed a lot. Who wouldn’t?

I had been born a Catholic.  I became an ex-Catholic.  I married Pauline, a beautiful, talented, very nice person, promising and fully expecting to live till death do us part. We had three super children. Pauline was a teacher. In fact, she dedicated all her working years to serving children, and later, little children. She followed a steady and unwavering and commendable course year after year, straight on, like an arrow, right to retirement.

The problem is that I changed. I saw that. She was seeing that. And she accepted all that. Never protested.  Many women would have screamed bloody murder. She went along with all those early career decisions and dramatic changes—in jobs, paychecks, risky decisions, and so on.

And I kept changing.  What it led to is “incompatibility.” That was the root problem.  It was getting wider and wider. It led to many sleepless nights and much worrying and even anguish. Divorce was unthinkable in my family and culture.

I read another book, about divorce. As you know, books have changed my life. I have forgotten its exact title, shame on me. But the theme was that divorce in the long run could be a blessing for both parties, and explained why. It convinced me and I moved out. After 26 years of marriage, I believe our span together was over.

Divorce is rarely not difficult. That’s common knowledge. It was for us. Resentment and bitterness, of course. Pauline is truly devout, in the finest meaning, and that helped her greatly. I didn’t believe in any of that. All while continuing to work hard, I floundered and searched for a new soul mate, and most of that was painful and not rewarding and not nice. Anyway somehow I got through it. Maybe Pauline’s prayers helped.

She has never hooked up with anybody else, by the way.

For many years now, our relationship has been improving. Thank God (for lack of a better expression) and thanks to Pauline’s generous nature, we survived those ugly times and we speak regularly and warmly, and share our pleasure in and thoughts about our children, and esteem one another.

Is there anything about me that hasn’t changed? Well, I am still a proud American. I’ve been a Democrat / independent since voting age, though some 30 years ago I drifted and became a Republican, but for just one four-year cycle. I’m a liberal today and I esteem Bernie Sanders and support some most of his key ideas.

But I’m sure my only choice come voting time will be Hillary, and I’ll vote for her, delighted, however, that Bernie’s pounding pressure has shoved her farther left.

And I do like the idea finally of a woman president, as I did of Barack as a black president. As a result of my involvement in diverse areas, I have developed a high regard of women’s capability in ALL career paths, have found them talented and smart and fully capable of holding their own, and recognize they have special talents in people-service occupations. In that sense, this has been a good time to have lived and witnessed this late-in-coming fulfillment.

And I believe in work. It remains a core belief.  I come from people who were workers and are workers. Hard workers. And I have never stopped, even in so-called retirement. I work five days a week for sure.  I can’t imagine my life without work.  That’s what I’m doing right now.  Working. It looks easy. That can be deceiving.

Another thing I’ve learned is that most people in the world have terrible jobs. It’s shockingly and astoundingly true in so many other countries. Even here in our good old U.S.A., many workers have awful jobs.  Would love to call in sick. Can’t because they have a record of that, fear the boss wouldn’t believe them, can’t afford to lose a day’s pay. One of the blessings that can fall on any person is finding interesting, meaningful work. I’ve had lousy work.  Again, who hasn’t? Overall, I’ve been fortunate.

So, my bottom line is that I believe firmly in the capitalist system. It’s what made our country so prosperous. It’s what makes so many other economies successful. Of course, I abhor the shocking extremes that have been part of it since it dawned and still exist, some believe worse than ever. Few will deny that we need stringent correctives and a sharp re-balancing. Social justice demands it. Not incidentally, Bernie Sanders also champions capitalism. That gets lost to many, unfortunately.

The changes go on for me.  A big one came two years ago, ignited by a family powwow. I was told I should be realistic. Hey, I’ve always been realistic. But realistic in that I am now in true old age and should live closer to one of them. Good friends in Deep River but no family. All three of my children welcomed me.

What seemed most sensible was to live close to Monique in Central California.  I had been coming here for two weeks at Christmas time, was familiar with small and attractive and comfortable Morro Bay, and liked the idea of never ice, never snow.  Palm trees here, blooming flowers all year long! And I began doing that part-time while maintaining my base in Deep River.

So, I sold my bigger condo in Deep River (“by owner,” which worked out well), downsized dramatically in my possessions, asked my tenant in my smaller condo to leave, and moved in. Which has worked out fine.

Lucky me. In Morro Bay I found the perfect home for myself, a mobile home in a retirement community of such, with high standards of everything and rigorous rules.  Few for sale. I found a dandy one and bought it. Unimaginable that I would ever do that. Truth is I looked down on mobile homes. Again, blame it on ignorance.

I began living here for four months—the winter months. Of course. I’ve taken to Morro Bay.  I continue to write, now mostly electronically through a blog. Although a print paper, the Bay News, just this week published a full-page article by me.

Most amazingly, I am the host of a regular talk show Saturdays on 97.3 FM here, “The Rock.”  So-called for the huge “rock” at the entrance to our harbor, labeled by some mariners the Gibraltar of our Pacific Coast. My show is called “Gabbing with Old Guy John,” and I am that old guy.

Every week I gab with someone who’s an expert on a topic that’s interesting but also meaningful—that listeners will learn something useful from. I am completing my second season. I was bowled over one day when one listener later called me the Charlie Rose of Morro Bay. A huge exaggeration but I admit I was tickled.

I have given a talk or two here, and I enjoy our Senior Center. Just recently I began leading a discussion on “Writing Your Memories for Your Loved Ones.” I called myself not their teacher, but their coach. But that didn’t work out. I found most of them were coming just to have something to do,  hoping for fun and entertainment, which I like to provide to some extent, and not to do real work.

I have been making friends here, getting more involved, learning to appreciate Morro Bay more and more.

Rather than returning to Deep River this month, I am staying into June. All because of a family reunion planned then. Everyone will me here, my former spouse Pauline, my sister Lucie all the way from Hartford, our son Arthur and his wife Marita from Florida, our son Mark and his wife Stacie from Wisconsin, our five grandchildren. Arthur and Mark got the ball rolling, with Monique and her husband David helping to arrange things at this end. The day after, I’ll fly home with my sister Lucie.

Pauline and I have been most fortunate in our children.  All three are good people, all successful, all have doctorates, all are standing strong on their own two legs, and not one of them has been a problem. And we’ve been most fortunate in our children’s spouses as well. All outstanding in their own right.

I must mention my tricycle (trike).  It has become so important to me. Far more than a toy. I was a bike rider for years and years, quitting after a fall in my early seventies. I discovered the trike here. An old man had one, but with a motor on it. I got a true trike. No motor. Three-speeds, a double braking system. What a difference it has made in my everyday life

I use it every day, to get to the supermarket, the bank, library, all kinds of shops.  Sometimes I use my van only twice a week. Pedaling it is perfect exercise for my legs, my heart, my lungs, every part of me, and the trike is so much fun. I have one just like it back in Deep River.

Some of you old-timers reading this should look into a trike. Email me for details about mine–johnguylaplante@yahoo.com.

Now the big question. How am I doing? I am declining. No doubt about it.  I am losing my life-long stamina. It’s hard for me to walk 200 feet, for instance.  On such, I use a walking stick. That’s why my trike is so important.

  I suffered a total loss of hearing in my right ear four years ago, never to come back. That’s bad. What’s also bad is that it has thrown off my natural balance. I didn’t know this, but our ears are also the gyroscope that controls our balance. Lose one ear and you will have a severe balance problem. I haven’t fallen yet. But I won’t be surprised when it happens.

I have good doctors and they tell me that overall I’m in fine healthy.   Small issues, yes, of course. Part of my good fortune is luck, part the result of my own efforts. I’ve been doing physical exercises for years, and I still do them.

And I’ve become a vegetarian. (Not a vegan.) That’s been a long time in coming. I am a vegetarian for two reasons. I don’t like the idea of killing animals to eat them. And the vegetarian diet is such a nutritionally smart diet.

In this vein, I believe it’s possible to live too long. At a certain point a good, swift, final heart attack can be a blessing.

Now please don’t be shocked. I also believe that at a certain point, when things really become tough and painful, it’s all right to take your own life. We make hundreds of decisions every day of our life. Big ones…what to study in school, whom to marry, where to live, on and on. And trivial ones….what to wear, what book to read, when to call someone. Why can’t we make the most important one of all…when to die?

I’m not sure I’m capable of that. I hope I never have to make that decision.

I have looked forward to this birthday. How that old doctor who gave my Maman that bad news about my not making it to 30 would be astounded!

For my birthday, Monique and her hubby David gave me a wonderful early gift—a chauffeured round-trip to visit Annabelle for five days. Chauffeured by them! That’s a 600-mile round trip. How’s that for a birthday present? An early present because it required planning. We’re leaving tomorrow morning. It’s all so wonderful.

Annabelle still lives in Newport Beach. She is a year younger. I am declining and so is she. We both acknowledge that. As my children have preached to me, it makes sense for me to live here in Morro Bay close to my daughter Monique. And here I am. Lucky me.

 Now how many days have I lived? My careful arithmetic reveals it is 31,408 days. If that’s your answer, let me know with an email to johnguylapante@yahoo.com. And I’ll send you a nice certificate proclaiming you a true math whiz.  Worth showing to your friends!

Here is my calculation from April 26, 1929 to yesterday:

Days through the rest of 1929         247

85 years at 365 days                   31,025

21 leap years                                        21

Days in 2016                                        115

______

TOTAL                                               31,408

~ ~ ~ ~

 

 

Dealing with a foreign call center. Oh, my!

Mind-boggling, I thought when I came across this photo. We operate call centers in several countries --wherever the work can be done most cheaply. Right now The Philippines is considered the call center capital of the world.

Mind-boggling. So  many call takers! We operate call centers in several countries –wherever the work can be done most cheaply. Right now The Philippines is considered the call center capital of the world.

I deal with  call centers often–too often. Overseas but set up by American corporations. I call always for a digital problem driving me nuts—something wrong with my computer, or an app, or my cell phone, or some gizmo. Always hoping they’ll solve it in a jiffy so that I can get right to work.
Of course, other industries use call centers – health care, insurance, travel, financial, hotel chains, household appliances, you name it. Any big company concerned
about “customer service.” Rare that I need one of these, thank goodness.
I find dealing with an overseas call center a mixed blessing. Good because I’ll probably have my problem fixed. Bad because of the hassle of waiting, waiting, waiting for somebody to finally pick up.
I wonder, Where will I be shunted to this time? Mexico? Costa Rica? India? The Philippines? I’ve wound up at all of these. [Read more…]

That crazy Spag’s! How I miss it

 

By John Guy LaPlante    With six photos

Yes, how I miss, as do thousands and thousands of other folks who knew it. Spag’s was one of a kind. Impossible for anyone to replicate it. And what a sad and tragic ending it had. I knew it at its greatest. And just saw it. Closed, Empty. Dead! Just a pitiful ghost of the great and unique and hugely successful store it was.

Spags signature store near the end. No longer Spags. Now Spags 19!
Spag’s grand signature store near the end. But a huge change had taken place. Look at the sign. It was no longer Spag’s. It had become Spag’s 19!

It was in Worcester, Massachusetts. Well, just across Lake Quinsigamond in Shrewsbury at 193 Boston Turnpike.  Maybe you knew Spag’s. So many people all over the U.S.  got to know it. If you were a visitor or tourist and heard about it, for sure you’d go take a look. And you’d  buy and buy. And go home with grand stories to tell about it.

It was a discount store. One-of-a-kind. Quality merchandise at the most reasonable prices imaginable. In fact, a department store. Stocking just about anything and everything you might need for your home plus things for your office or business.

Clothing. Food. Tools. Kitchen stuff. Furniture. Paint. Office supplies. Sporting-goods. Auto accessories. Gift items. Books. Garden stuff–trees, plants, fertilizer. Photo and music stuff. Everything you might want for Christmas or Easter or Thanksgiving.at

It was my Number One go-to store all the time I lived there. I’d bet that it was the favorite store of thousands of folks in that whole metropolitan area. I’d even bet it was the most successful store the Worcester area ever had till then.

It was called Spag’s because that was the nickname of its amazing founder, Antonio Borgatti. He loved spaghetti! Everybody called him Spag–the mayor, the governor, even people who came in with only a dollar or two, or teenagers just looking.

Spag got off to a fast start. Right after graduating from Shrewsbury High, with $34 borrowed from his Mom, , he opened a sidewalk stand. He sold odds and ends.. Right there, where he was destined to become the best known retailer around. [Read more…]

My miles, not all good, riding Greyhound

 

By John Guy LaPlante

A Greyhound bus cruised by me on I-95 here in Connecticut. And what terrific memories that stirred up. I used to ride Greyhounds a lot. And liked it.  Most of the time.

I began a Greyhound rider after I retired. I rode Greyhound all across the country and back, and up and down and crosswise, too. Many trips. Long ones. Short ones. Thousands and thousands of miles. A marvelous experience, by and large.

Who hasn't seen a Greyhound! They're an every day part of our Americana. Millions of us ride them. Yet it's surprising how many millions more don't and never will. Are you one of those?

Who hasn’t seen a Greyhound! They’re an every day part of our American life. Millions of us ride them. Yet it’s surprising how many millions more don’t and never will. Are you one of those? Maybe my experience will change you. I hope so.

But first, something I must tell you, dear readers,  A good chunk of what follows comes word for word from an article of mine that the Christian Science Monitor published way back in 2001. I have beefed it up with some extra thoughts.

I have three children, adults all, and they live in Florida, California, and Washington State (Mark now lives in Wisconsin). I like to go see them, but my frequent mode of travel worries them. It also bothers my friends. They speculate about me, and frown. I live in the Northeast, but I don’t travel those great distances west and south by train or airplane. I take the Greyhound.

Right now I’m on my way to see Mark in Seattle. By Greyhound. (Remember, this was back in 2001.) It’s 6 a.m., before dawn. We’re in Oregon, but I can’t make out the countryside. I love these early hours. The bus is dark, and everybody else is asleep. I feel meditative.

I left home a month ago. I stopped to sightsee in Philadelphia for five days, then eight days in Washington, D.C. – wonderful. Two days in St. Louis, a week in Dallas. Then a long leg – nearly two whole days – to Los Angeles. Finally, five hours up the coast to beautiful San Luis Obispo, Calif., for 10 days with my daughter, Monique.

I don’t get bored on the bus. Honestly, I don’t. I look out the window. There’s lots to see, even on prairies or deserts. I read. I write. I talk with my seatmate, if I have one, though I prefer an empty seat next to me. Or I talk with the driver, if I can.

I like the drivers. They’re helpful, and excellent at what they do. We’ve had three women drivers on this trip. We have one right now. She’s short and tiny, but she handles this big baby easily. I’ve been driving 50 years, but I’ve learned many of driving’s finer points by observing Greyhound drivers. No spurts of speed, no sharp braking, no lane-hopping, no tail-gating. Anticipate! Always anticipate!

In the past four years, I’ve crossed the country four times this way. Last year I made a complete circuit of the United States – some 13,000 miles in 75 days. A nice adventure.

In past years, I drove myself around the country. Now and then I began taking the famous Greyhound message to heart, “Leave the driving to us.”

“Why don’t you fly?” people have asked. I do. In the past 12 months, I’ve flown across the Atlantic six times. And I’ve flown around the world, and in the U.S. innumerable times. The best things I can say is planes are fast, and safe. Period! I won’t mention the bad things. No need. You know them.

“Why not ride trains?” I’ve ridden numerous trains. Once I rode a train for 37 hours straight across a big chunk of India. A few years ago, at the end of a long train trip, I rode the rails into Los Angeles. Know what? For an hour before pulling into the station in L.A., all I saw were the backyards of tenement houses, factories, warehouses, junkyards, and vast railroad yards. Not the prettiest real estate in the City of Angels. That’s typical of rail approaches in most big cities.

I’ve never found a train that could take me high into the mountains, or down into a lovely valley, with many splendid views along the way. A Greyhound can. Trains take the flattest, straightest route possible, interesting or not. Usually not.

But the Greyhound often would take me into small towns and big ones and cities, too, of course, and maybe right up their Main Street. I loved to size up everything through the big windshield and the big windows on both sides. Because the bus is so much higher than cars, I could even see over any SUVs.

In Sacramento, for instance, our bus drove right up the beautiful main drag. The impressive California State Capitol was straight ahead. How exciting.

I have a triple reason to travel by bus. I want to get to my destination comfortably, of course. And I like a bargain, which buses usually are. But I also want to enjoy the trip. Remember the old saying? “To travel hopefully is better than to arrive.” Robert Louis Stevenson said that. Like him, I want to see everything. Cities and towns, farms, ranch lands, forests, rivers, big manufacturing companies.

I’ve taken the bus to many big cities: Baltimore and New Orleans; Phoenix and San Diego; Vancouver, British Columbia; Chicago; and many others. I’ve seen smaller cities like Tulsa, Okla., and Tallahassee, Fla. I’ve seen Annapolis, Md., El Paso, Texas, and Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.

And plenty more. Seal Beach, Calif., and Roseburg, Ore., Butte, Mont., Las Cruces, N.M., and Lubbock, Texas. And Lake Charles, La., and Kalispell, Mont. I could go on with a long list. Practical geography, I call it. It helped me understand our country.

I’ve seen the Ohio, Mississippi, and Colorado Rivers. Bts of the Great Lakes.I’ve crossed the Great Smokies, the Rockies, and the Sierras. I’ve ridden through the Great Plains and the Mojave Desert. I’ve seen the vast lettuce fields outside Yuma, Ariz., and the huge strawberry fields on the central coast of California. I’ve seen huge wind farms, with their countless great turbines – the power-generating technology of tomorrow. And huge reservoirs and dams.

I believe I’ve seen something else. Something more important: I’ve seen what the United States is today, and what it is becoming – a smorgasbord of races, nationalities, religions, and lifestyles whose diversity is richer than ever, and assuredly becoming even more so. For sure we’re the most multi-everything nation the world has ever seen.

It’s been good to see all this through my own eyes, rather than through television, newspapers, or the movies. I’ve been able to reflect upon it, to feel current about what’s happening.

In a small way, I see this incredible mix right here on this bus. After all, who rides the bus? Minorities: African-Americans, Latinos, Native Americans. People without much money: college kids, young soldiers and sailors and Marines, single mothers with children, grandpas and grandmas.

And who hasn’t seen a movie or read a book that tells of somebody just released from the penitentiary who was given a bus ticket to get home? Maybe there’s somebody like that on this bus. No idea.

I’ve had countless pleasant encounters. One time I had an old Mexican field worker sitting to me. Still in his bib overalls. Our language problem was a big one. Come noon he opened a brown paper bag and offered me part of his lunch. I said no. He absolutely insisted I have a piece of his grinder. I took a piece. I’ve experienced that kind of goodness time and again.

But for sure Greyhound customers are not representative of all the up and down social dimensions of our people. No argument about that. But it’s good to get a view of some of our less privileged folks we’d never get to see up close otherwise.

Sometimes on these trips my white skin has put me among the minority on the bus. This was a shock at first. I became comfortable with it.

And Greyhound’s service isn’t perfect. Some seats are better than others. For food breaks, often we stop at a greasy spoon. And it’s always a shock to pull into a terminal at 2 or 3 a.m. and we’re all drowsing and suddenly the driver snaps on all the lights and barks, “Hey, folks! Service time! Everybody off! We have to fuel up and clean up this baby.. You can get back on in 45 minutes.” Try that at 3 a.m.!

Bus travel has an image problem – it’s not cool. I admit it. Some of the terminals are terrible. Their sandwich shops can be awful. No way to reserve a special seat on the bus. I had a suitcase  stolen in the Greyhound depot in Washington, D.C. Another time I lost a suitcase–an attendant put it on the wrong bus–but Greyhound tracked it down and got it back to me. It took three weeks.

Yet, all this said, I have great respect for Greyhound. It deserves that.

Another thing, very important: I’m no longer fearful – automatically, instinctively fearful – of others just because they look different. Or because they’re strangers. Most of us live isolated lives, in neighborhoods among many just like us. For me, bus travel has been a grass-roots lesson in tolerance. Isn’t that a good thing?

It may also interest you that I have also ridden Greyhounds in Canada and Mexico. Know what?  In Canada, long-route Greyhounds often tow a box trailer. With the same Greyhound markings on its side. For freight, I was told. A sort of UPS, it seems. Never see that here.

In Mexico the major bus company has a Spanish name, and it’s not their word for Greyhound. But that company is a Greyhound affiliate. Part of the Greyhound family. I know, too, that there are Greyhound buses on the road in South Africa (I saw them), and in Australia

Truth be known, many of our regional bus companies in the U.S., with names of their own, are also Greyhound affiliates. You would never think that. So, Greyhound is much, much larger than you may think.

I have also ridden buses in Europe. Many times. Many destinations. Many countries. Not Greyhounds. The big company over there – and it is very big, in fact, it is international, blanketing Europe, is Eurolines. Excellent. Before long I decided Eurolines did a better was better than Greyhound, as good as it is.

The big exception is in Great Britain, where the big company is National Express. I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s also part of the Greyhound family. Or of Eurolines.

Greyhound serves millions of riders. Yet it’s surprising how many folks would never think of taking a Greyhound. Unfortunate. But Know what? After a big airline accident, with front-page headlines about many dead and injured, lots and lots of people flock to Greyhound. But that’s just temporary. Back to the planes they soon return.

For my first big trip by Greyhound, I boarded a bus in Manhattan and rode it all the way to San Francisco–3,000 miles. The price was $129, I believe. Quite a bargain. That was back in 1990, I think. That was for a three and a half day ride from the Atlantic to the Pacific. On and on we rode, hour after hour, with just a half hour or an hour stop now and then for toilets and meals.

Greyhounds do have a toilet at the back, with stainless steel everything, and it’s clean. Usually. But the swerving and braking make it difficult. So it gets used only in desperation. But that toilet was an enormously important innovation. For both passengers and drivers. No longer did drivers have to put up with passengers pleading, please, please, for an emergency stop.

That first long ride of mine reminded me of the fabled Pony Express 150 years ago or so. Each rider– they were all very young fellows– would gallop along on his horse with a bag of mail for eight hours or so. A new rider would be waiting for him with a fresh mount. He’d grab the bag and speed on for the next eight-hour leg. Finally, California!

The big difference now is you don’t switch buses. It’s the same bus all the way. But as in those olden days, a fresh driver comes aboard for the next shift. Of course, the drivers are men and women now. All proud professionals. Those old jokes about woman drivers no longer apply.

On that long trip, I soon found out not everybody was crossing the country like me. Most folks were just making short hops, from one city or town to another. We wound up just half a dozen of us going the whole way.

But I used Greyhound for short hops, too. Here’s an example. I would be flying to California every late December for Christmas and New Year’s with my daughter and son-in-law in Morro Bay. I would land in Los Angeles, and then hop a Greyhound for the six-hour ride up to San Luis Obispo. Just 12 miles from Morro Bay. Monique and David would be waiting for me. Two weeks later they’d put be back on the Greyhound going south.

To be honest I had some rough moments on Greyhound. I remember in Oregon when we were crossing a mountain one stormy winter night. Awful night. All traffic got stuck half way up. Nothing going up. Nothing coming down. The driver kept the bus running so that we had heat.

We sat there in the bus and fidgeted for close to three hours. A lot of grumbling, of course. Some passengers kept bothering the driver, asking when? When? If anybody had a right to complain, it was that poor guy. Imagine if his family was expecting him home by a certain time. But he stayed pleasant.

A big, good-natured black fellow, every half hour he would put on his hat and jacket, pull up his collar and button up tight, and trudge up to a state trooper on the job up there for info. He’d come back and tell us, “It won’t be long! Won’t be long!”

Hah! By now the line to the toilet at the back was long. In fact, I was in it. Finally we got started again. Traffic had backed up a couple of miles in both directions, we found out.

Another time I missed a bus! We were up in the state of Washington. I was on my way to Seattle to see my son Mark. He was finishing his Ph.D. at the University of Washington. We made a 15-minute stop in a small town for a toilet and smoking break. I don’t smoke. I went to the john. A busy place.

I had been sitting right behind the driver, with the seat next to me empty. I had made friends with two ladies sitting across the aisle. I left my stuff on the seat when I got off the bus. When I returned to get on the bus, it was pulling out! I couldn’t believe it.

The drivers are supposed to take a passenger count at each stop. How come he hadn’t noticed I hadn’t come back? Also, how come the two ladies hadn’t noticed and alerted him? What to do?

Frantically I ran to the clerk at the Greyhound counter inside. “Sorry, sorry,” he told me. “But the bus will be making another stop 42 miles up the road.  It will be a meal stop. 50 minutes. You’ve got time. You can get back on up there.”

But how to do that? Long story. Finally I called a taxi. The driver was an old woman. She had her grandson riding with her. “You’ll have to hurry, hurry!” I told her.  She pursed her lips. “Sorry, sir. I can’t break the speed limit!”

It was nearly 10 p.m. Very dark out. Well, she got me there. What a relief to see the parked Greyhound. I was in time! Inside the restaurant I found the bus driver alone at a table. He was finishing a piece of pie. He saw me coming. “I know! I know!” he said.  “I’m sorry, buddy!”

On the bus, my stuff was still on the seat where I had left it. The two old ladies saw me but had no comment to make. I managed to keep my mouth shut.

One awful incident changed Greyhound drastically. I don’t remember the date. Just a routine trip. A male passenger got up, walked up and attacked the driver, who lost control. The bus ran off the highway. Don’t ask me how many dead and injured. I don’t remember.

But within a couple of months, every Greyhound had a protective cage newly installed around the driver’s seat on its hundreds of buses. Furthermore, the two front seats on the right side, the best on the bus, were no longer available to passengers. Drivers started keeping their jackets and luggage on them. To keep us off them!

That was bad news for me. I used to show up early to get one of those seats. I loved the clear view ahead. And I enjoyed chatting with the drivers, and it was a rare one who didn’t enjoy it, too. I got to learn so much about their way of life.

By the way, as some of you old-time readers of mine know, I was also doing a lot of solo travel around the country in my wonderful little VW camper. That was a completely different kind of travel, of course, with wonders and problems of a different kind.

Take my word for it. I enjoyed Greyhound. Well, most of the time. But riding through the night on a darkened Greyhound is no fun. It’s hell. Can’t wait for dawn to break. The only fun is telling about it later. As I’m doing with you right now.

Hey! If you’re ripe for a new little adventure, try a Greyhound trip yourself. Not for a thousand miles. Start with a hundred miles or so, staying at least overnight, then back home. A small test trip. You might surprise yourself and like it

~ ~ ~ ~

 

 

 

 

 

I’m now also a radio host! Would you believe?

 

Readers, please note: This report is belated!  Returning home to Deep River, CT, and settling in has been long and exhausting! Sorry. And because of technical difficulties, I can’t include for you  photos of three of my mentors in this new adventure of mine. I mention two of them below. They are Hal Abrams and Dr. Bob Swain. The third is Joel McMickell. He was a great help also.

Joel is the early morning disk jockey with his wonderful show, “Mornin’ Cuppa Joel.” He’s on 16 hours a week.  He is also the station’s program director. In his working years, he was an executive in a local supermarket chain. Thank you, Joel!

By John Guy LaPlante

With 2 photos

Morro Bay, CA — Yes, think of my astonishment. After 60 years as a writer, I’ve suddenly been dunked into FM radio.

Every Saturday afternoon at 1, I’ve been airing my “Gabbing with Old Guy John“ show–my own concoction.

The station is 97.3 FM, The Rock, as it calls itself. It’s new—just celebrated its first birthday. It’s non-profit and

Here I am on the air, doing my best to make my “gabbing” interesting and meaningful.  I’ve been “the kid” on the station’s talent roster.

Here I am on the air, doing my best to make my “gabbing” interesting and meaningful. I’ve been “the kid” on the station’s talent roster.

non-commercial and all-out community-oriented.

The studio is right In the Chamber of Commerce building, and that tells you a lot. But it’s not run by the Chamber.

And most unusual of all, everyone on The Rock is a volunteer. Yes, unpaid. From the top down.

Oh, it calls itself The Rock because there’s a huge old dead volcano right at the entrance of the harbor. You can see it miles out. For sure the station’s founders considered that symbolic.

But listening to The Rock, you’d think everybody is a seasoned and polished pro. Well, except me, of course. For sure I’m a novice but getting better, I hope.

The station is fighting a big challenge on the financial front of course. Remember, as non-commercial, it has no paid ads and there are many expenses involved. It depends on donations and grants. But it’s making it!

I’m told that in the industry it’s creating a buzz–some small, progress-minded communities like Morro Bay see The Rock as a smart thing to launch for themselves.

What’s my show about? Simple. It’s an interview show. Every week I have a guest sit down across from me. I select each one with care. In fact, I have a preliminary warm up session.

They have to be able to say more than just Yes or No or Maybe. And I pick guests that I’m sure knows a lot about a subject that has substance and will be interesting. I make it a lively encounter.

I may have a tough question that I feel I must ask in order to do a good job. I tell them the question. Then they won’t be shocked when I pop it. And they can have an answer ready for it. I feel that’s being fair.

I’m still a novice but I haven’t goofed seriously, lucky me. I was plenty uptight the first few times. But calmer now. And I do get light feedback—very few listeners of any station ever phone in gushing with thanks. But what I get to hear does keep me encouraged.

Believe me, there’s much more to being a “talent” on The Rock than just chewing the fat with my guest and producing a good show.

You have to learn to control “the board.” Dials, buttons, switches. No radio engineer any more. The new technology

Leslie Rae is one of my colleagues.  She deejays “The Seventh Wave a lively mix of pop music five hours a week. She also hosts “The Community Calendar.” She was a teacher for 27 years—grades 5 through 8.   Like everyone else at The Rock, she is a volunteer, doing it for the fun of it and as a creative way to give back.

Leslie Rae is one of my colleagues. She deejays “The Seventh Wave ,”a lively mix of pop music five hours a week. She also hosts “The Community Calendar.” She was a teacher for 27 years—grades 5 through 8.
Like everyone else at The Rock, she is a volunteer, doing it for the fun of it and to give back.

eliminated that, I’m told.

I’ve learned so much. For instance, I never realized how hard disk jockeys work as their music plays. They have a lot to do…selecting, playing, and preparing their patter, making public service announcements, keeping a log. It was eye-opening.

How did this crazy thing ever happen to me?

I was a guest twice on Chiropractor Dr. Bob Swain’s show. He calls it “Keeping Healthy.” A good show.

The first time was on how I became a vegetarian. And why. In advance I told Dr. Bob to make sure to ask me about the down side. Definitely there is one. And he followed through. I was pleased and so was he.

The second time was about my service in Peace Corps in Ukraine when I was hitting age 80 over there. How Peace Corps in its training and guidelines and supervision made sure we stayed healthy in body and mind. Some of that has stuck with me and I did my best to pass it on to our listeners.

Later Hal Abrams, the founder and president of the station and a long-time on-the-air talent himself, said to me, “John, you were pretty good. Why don’t you host your own show?”
“No, Hal,” I told him. “Very nice of you to ask me!” But I thought it over. I enjoy a challenge. And I like learning something new. So I told him, ”Yes. I’ll do it.”

Thank God I’ve had good mentoring by other talents at The Rock. At times with one standing by and ready in case I flubbed!

It would have been good if on dead time I could have sat at the controls and practiced. But there is no dead time. It’s on the air 24/7. So I’ve had to watch and memorize and hope for the best.

The station streams, meaning sends out its broadcasts in a way that listeners can listen on a computer or smart phone or other digital device. Even thousands of miles away. Truly incredible.

So some friends have listened to me even back in my home state of Connecticut. And given me feedback. Which I’ve asked for and welcomed, by the way.

“John,” one friend told me, “your guest comes in louder than you do.”

So now, I make sure I turn the volume on my mic higher than on my guest’s.

“John,” another told me, “you repeat yourself quite a bit.”

I thought about that. “Sure,” I told her, “but I do that for emphasis.” Which is true. However, I’ve been careful to watch myself.

Then on another Saturday I got a phone call from him. “John, today everything was just fine. The show was interesting, and nothing got flubbed!”

Hallelujah!

One friend even taped my show and let me listen to it. I saw for myself how I could do better.

But very soon I’ll hang up my headphones and head back to Connecticut. (Truth is, I’m in Connecticut as I finish this. In small Deep River, my hometown for many years now.) But I’m not quitting The Rock. I’ll be on the mic again when I get back in November.

I’ve done a dozen shows. I chose all the topics and all the guests. I’m pleased with the variety in both categories.

By the way, I’ve no thought of giving up my writing. I like to think I’m a writer for keeps.

So here were my guests:

–Dave Schwartz, owner of The Bike Shop here: the incredible changes in bicycles and bicycling over the years.

— Dr. Bob Swain, who broke me in, as I’ve explained. He did a good job fielding my questions. What chiropractic’s basic beliefs are. How you become a chiropractor—have to put in four tough years earning your doctorate with ongoing training afterward. On and on.

— Forrest Ratchford, who was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Romania, fell in love with a young dentist there and married he. Which Peace Corps frowns upon and discourages—“Act in haste and repent at leisure.“ Brought her home to the U.S., and the nearly three years of training she had to go through here to meet our requirements. We gabbed about this on Valentine’s Day. So appropriate.

–Harry Farmer, a disk jockey of many years on commercial stations before he started on our station as a volunteer like the rest of us.

But my real interest was that he is an astrologer. Yes an astrologer, not an astronomer. Astronomy is a pure science. Astrology is not that. I mentioned that to him. He explained that “astrology is a science and an art.” It was fun delving into that.

— Jack McCurdy, a Pulitzer Prize journalist way back at the Los Angeles Times for investigative reporting – now retired after a whole career in journalism in a variety of venues.

Interestingly, he is a neighbor of mine in Morro Bay and was a long-time associate of my daughter Monique and her hubby David in a small group of community activists—it took years but they  finally toppled the huge power plant that was devastating the salt water environment here. It’s now closed.

— Jackie Kinsey, the librarian of the Morro Bay Library. We chatted just before the re-opening of the library after a big and fine renovation. Of course the fervent library lover that I am just had to gab with her about how and why libraries are evolving, and the pro and con of that.

— Senior Chief Colin Wadley, commander of the long-time, 28–member Coast Guard Motor Lifeboat Station at the entrance to Morro Bay’s harbor. What those Guardsmen do there. They have greatly amplified responsibilities now.

— Myself. Yes, me. A guest had to cancel at the last minute. What to do? ”The show must go on!” It happened to be the 10th anniversary of my solo trip around the world (“Around the World at 75. Alone, Dammit!” I recapped the trip. Both the wonderful moments and the hard moments.

— Hal Abrams. I’ve told you about him already. Our founder and president. I wanted our listeners to have a better idea of the enormous effort it took to launch The Rock and put it on the road to success.

By the way, I posted a profile of him for you a couple of weeks ago.

— Jack Mitchell, a retired public school principal who mentors and inspires adults to get the career-opening GED certificate or a belated high school diploma

— Taylor Newton, a young scientist turned social worker: what his non-profit, the Guerilla Gardening Club, is all about—its chief purpose being to rescue young street-wise adults and setting them up for a better future.

You may recall that I profiled him in a post recently.

— Crystal Nevosh, executive director of Achievement House, which has seven thrift shops in our area. How its main work is helping men and women who are handicapped in various ways, by employing them in its shops, and everything it takes to make that noble work happen.

As I look at the list, I see how one-sided it is. Not deliberately, for sure. But next season definitely I’ll have more women on.

I look forward to more “gabbing” on The Rock. I’ll let you know when I get started. Maybe you’ll stream one or two of my shows. Remember, I want all the feedback that might make me better.

Gosh! I just got great news. Someone is planning to open an FM station in Deep River or next-door Chester. Maybe I can get to gab at that station, too. How about that!

~ ~ ~

The astounding double life of Hal Abrams

By John Guy LaPlante

with 3 photos

Morro Bay, CA—Hal is tall and slim and fifty-ish, with hair down to his shoulders and still jet black. One look and you might think him a rock guitar player. He aspired to that long ago but that’s long past.

His love of music has not diminished, but his passion now- – and for the last 30 years– has been radio broadcasting.

Partners in everything--Hal and his wife Judy broadcasting together on 97.3 FM Morro Bay, The Rock.

Partners in everything–Hal and his wife Judy broadcasting together on 97.3 FM Morro Bay, The Rock.

In fact, for some 20 years, he has been the producer of the country’s most popular pet animal show. Its name is Animal Radio, and it reaches 350,000 fans every week all over the country. In more than 130 AF and FM stations from here in California all the way to Connecticut. It’s a terrific show, even if you don’t own a dog or a cat or a parrot or snake or a few fish.

That’s how I got to meet him, as its producer. He and his wife, Judy—who is executive producer of Animal Radio, and rightly so because of her talent and hard work—are neighbors of my daughter Monique and son-in-law David here. And through them I met Hal and Judy. They all live on a hill overlooking the harbor and the Pacific.

How Hal and Judy manage to churn out Animal Radio week after week and year after year for the last 14 years—program 800 is coming up very soon!—is a challenge and a half. Well, certainly to me after enjoying a few of their programs. [Read more…]

China: Glimpses of life in my neighborhood

By John Guy LaPlante  /  with  photos

     Sorry for the  delay in getting this to  you. Blame my big computer / Internet problems here.

    I write this in Fangcun, which is a small section of huge Guangzhou, population 16 million. No way can I see that whole immense city. But what I see here in my backyard, so to speak, gives me a good idea of what life is like in much of Guangzhou, even China, I believe. And I see lots of interesting things.

1

But first, this above is my home here. It’s the HI Riverside Youth Hostel. Hostelling International is truly international. I’ve stayed at numerous HI hostels in country after country because of their high standards and quality. Youth Hostel is a misnomer. That’s how HI started. Today its hostels welcome “youths” of all ages, even a rare octogenarian like me. What’s important in hostelling is a youthful spirit, I like to think.

Few youths here in this season. They are all in college. Many Chinese and foreign guests. This morning I met Alexandrine, a lady from France, doing some kind of study here. Yesterday Albert, about 45, from England. He told me he has been in 52 countries. Hasn’t lived in England for years—much too expensive. Told me it’s easy for him to find work here.

Anyway, I have the very nicest room, a big private with excellent bathroom, a huge bed, a couch and comfy chairs, nice lamps, even a desk. It’s all quite luxurious by hostel standards, for $45 a night—very high for a hostel.

My room is on the second floor (out of sight in this photo) but like the one just to the left of the vertical sign. I love my balcony. I look down on the boulevard, then a pretty park, and right behind it, the big, broad Pearl River, with ships going up and down. All the street activity right below is totally fascinating.

It’s an easy and interesting walk to the ferries that criss-cross the river, to the Metro, and to the busy downtown area. I’ve hit it lucky here.

~ ~ ~

2

This mural is at the ferry dock nearby. This mural fronts a store there. It’s a panorama of the Pearl River with Guangzhou sprawling behind it—in fact, on both shores of it.

The minute I saw it, I thought, “This is wonderful! Everybody will see what a big and modern and dynamic city Guangzhou really is!”

I find it as impressive as many of our big cities in the U.S.

I knew nothing about Guangzhou just a few weeks ago. Now I can have you appreciate it a little bit, too.

~ ~ ~

3

It’s warm here, sometimes hot, even now. This is the southwestern corner of China. Similar to Miami and San Diego, say. There is a busy, busy, busy street life. Hundreds of tiny shops sell everything imaginable, and the sidewalks are crowded with all kinds of tiny businesses that set up just for the day, then return for the next day and the next.

This is a cosmetician doing her thing, one of many offering the same service. Why is she wearing a mask? Not sure. I know many Chinese are germ conscious.

~ ~ ~

4

This bicycle parking lot tells the story. Automobiles are becoming much more popular, but millions ride bikes the way we drive cars.

The bicycles make sense. They cost little, last for years, don’t require gas and oil, are easy to pedal in this flat area, can be comfortably ridden 12 months a year, and are good exercise. True, some riders move up to bikes with tiny motors, and others to motor scooters and motorcycles. In that way, they’re just like us Americans.

By the way, this is a secured bike lot—there are thieves here, too.

I rode a bike for years. If I were a bit younger, I’d be riding a bike here for sure.

~ ~ ~

5

I’m on the ferry heading up the Pearl River, and having a grand time, as you can tell. That spectacular skyline behind me is Guangzhou’s left bank. The right bank is just as dramatic. And the skyline gets more spectacular as we move ahead. It’s a long parade of office buildings, hotels, government buildings, apartment houses.

Both shores are lined by splendid esplanades. People can walk, relax, get fresh air, enjoy looking at the river traffic.

I’ve taken this ride every day, in late afternoon. So enjoyable. It’s five stops…about 45 minutes…to the university, which is the end of the line for this ferry. A huge and impressive campus, by the way.

There, a 30-minute wait, and another 45 minutes back. Two yuan each way—about 35 cents. Camil took this photo. He’s my friend the Canadian photojournalist who is here for a long time, he keeps telling me. Because he likes it so much.

~ ~ ~

6

Camil and I with two brand-new friends, both students at the University of Traditional Chinese Medicine. The two of us were having lunch outdoors at a nice little restaurant on an island across from our hostel. They came along, and with great big, irresistible smiles.

“Hello!” they said. “Where are you from?” Well, we asked them to join us at our table and the four of us talked and talked for an hour and a half.

That’s a common ploy for Chinese students, by the way—to butter up to American tourists. The kids study English—make that American English, please—watch American movies, dream of getting to the U.S.A, and are dying to practice their English and make American friends.

It was Saturday, so no school. These two wonderful gals traveled an hour and a half by Metro to reach this island, which is famous for attracting tourists. So smart kids and in more than one way.

Sorry, as much as I’d like to remember their names, I can’t. But they all take on American names. It’s a popular thing. So I’ll call them Robin, in front, and Sara, in rear. They were endearing. And wonderfully spirited.

I asked them why they wanted to become doctors. Sara told me, “I want to help old people. I love old people. Love them, love them, love them!. That is my dream!” Of course, both of us were aware she was talking to a very, very old man.

Camil was chatting with Robin mostly. I found Sara so sweet and I had a grand time. I asked her tons of questions.

She talked about serious things. “Very difficult to get higher education,” she told me. “Costs much money. My family is very poor. But they do everything they can to help me.”

One of her comments surprised me. “You two,” she said, pointing to Camil and me, “have been so kind to us. Most tourists say to us, ‘Go away! Go away!’ Or they will not look at us. All we want to do is be nice Chinese students and be friendly.”

That made Camil and me feel pretty good. She’ll be a wonderful doctor, I’m sure.

~ ~ ~

7

China has a population of 1 billion, 300 million people, and it’s growing. What do do about that? Severe restrictions on family size, for one thing, but relaxing now. And mass housing like this. Small apartments, but adequate, and with good plumbing and heat.

Notice the laundry drying. That says something. Notice all the plants. It reminds me greatly of Ukraine. Thousands of buildings like this. True of the whole Soviet world.

After the huge destruction of World War II, millions of people needed good, cheap housing fast, and such buildings were the solution.

During my hitch in Peace Corps, I lived with two families in buildings like this. And I found little to complain about. No elevators in buildings up to five floors, by the way. Walk up and walk down, with groceries, baby carriage, bicycle, whatever. Not surprising that I lost weight.

No obesity here that I’ve observed. For an American, that’s a startling contrast to our situation back home. On the other hand, so many of them seem to be chain smokers—despite a huge tax on cigarettes. Camil smokes a lot and he is the one who told me about the tax.

~ ~ ~

 8

Early one morning I looked out my window and was surprised to see a huge 18-wheel truck piled high with bags of something or other. Four men were unloading it. By hand, mind you. It was all one man could do to toss one off the truck, and for another to pick it up.

One man would load nine of them—exactly nine—on a two-wheel hand truck, and haul it away. Each man would do the same thing. Deliver the load somewhere nearby, then come back for another. I thought it would take them most of the day to unload the truck. They got it done in an hour and a half!

I found out the bags contained some kind of vegetation. It was all going to some kind of chemical factory in the neighborhood.

Back in the U.S. one man with a fork-lift truck would have done the job. There’s still an awful lot of old-fashioned manual labor going on here. With China having such a huge pool of labor, I guess it’s cheaper to use people rather than machines.

When these men got through, they looked fit and ready to unload another big truck. But that one truckload was it for the day.

~ ~ ~

Got to tell you it’s one fascinating sight after another here. No time for boredom! I hope to send you more “glimpses” shortly.

 

 

 

 

My long, hard trip to China…what you should expect

By John Guy LaPlante  

            Here’s what I faced for this big new  journey across the Pacific, the biggest ocean.

            I would be starting from Morro Bay, where my daughter Monique and her hubby David live and which is 200 miles north of Los Angeles, my take-off point. And flying more than 5,000 miles to Shanghai. Then taking a second flight to the big city of Guangzhou. It’s 700 miles farther, in the southeast of China, not far from Hong Kong.

            Next I had to find flight and arrival days—and times!– that would be convenient for me and Monique and David, who would be starting me off, and for my friends Wu and Camil in Shanghai and Guangzhou.

            And of course, affordable. And as easy on my tired old body as modern travel can make it.

            And to plan the reverse when I returned home a month later, with the same constraints and considerations to keep in mind, of course.

            I got started, and as always, online on my computer. My preference was American Airlines, and my reasoning was entirely financial. I have a Visa AAdvantage card—have had it for years. For every dollar I spend with the card, I get one AAdvantage point.  Collect enough points and you can get a “free” AA flight—maybe just a few miles away, maybe all around the world.

            After laborious research, I found my best possible deal on AA, both going and returning. It would cost me 70,000 points, and I had that many points. How about that? But remember, I had to put $70,000 dollars on my card to be entitled to that.

            But it wouldn’t be first-class, or even business class. It would be economy, at the back of the plane. But as I’ve heard my friend Sulekh Jain say—he has done a lot of flying, “John, the back of the plane gets there just as fast as the front!”

            Yes, that’s true. Nevertheless, there are attractive differences between those two classes and the one I chose. Flying up front may cost more than twice as much, but it’s surprising how many folks feel that’s the smart choice.

            Of course, I asked the AA gal, “How much would that round-trip in economy cost me in dollars?”

            “About $1,600,” she told me.  “Depending on day and time and other factors.”

            Also I learned something else.  AAdvantage seats are not available on any flight. just select flights. Finding the right deal can be painstaking.

            Anyway, that’s the ticket I bought. To save time, here I’ll go into just the outward-going details of my journey and not the returning-home ones.

            My flight times going were ideal:  departure at 2:30 p.m. from LAX (the L.A. airport), and of course I’d have to check in at least 90 minutes earlier; and arrival in Shanghai at 7:25 p.m. their time, which wouldn’t be bad for Wu, who is a working man.

            At first I thought of getting an immediate onward flight to Guangzhou.  AA doesn’t fly directly to that big city of 16 million. But I decided against rushing to my next plane for that final leg. For one thing, my flight across the Pacific might get delayed. And I might be too exhausted to walk onto that next flight.

            So, I arranged a separate flight, again after much researching, on Southwest China Airlines. My left-over AA points, and I had just a few, wouldn’t work for that. I had to pay cash for that round trip, again on economy. It was $249.

            On departure day, my daughter Monique woke me at 4:30. David was dressed and ready. We sat down to one of their usual wonderful breakfasts, and David got me settled in his car at 6:15, just as planned.

            With me I had a big suitcase, on wheels, thank goodness. Plus my substantial carry-on bag. Plus my laptop. Plus my essential walking stick. Plus a bag of food.    You see, I had noticed that my AA flight of 14 hours would serve “one meal.”  Yes, just one. Gosh, AA was being awfully skimpy! Monique made sure I wouldn’t go hungry. That big bag included a jar of peanut butter. I consider peanut butter the world’s best survival food for traveling.

            Long ago, I rode a Greyhound bus from New York City to Seattle. That’s a three and a half day ride. The same bus goes all the way.  The drivers change every seven hours or so—which is so reminiscent of the Pony Express riders of yore.

            The Greyhound ticket cost me $89. And I made it all the way to Seattle with a jar of peanut butter, a box of saltine apples, and a big bag of apples.  Plus coffee at every stop. Yes, true!

            That made quite a story for me to write up when I finally staggered off the bus in Seattle.

            I was visiting my son Mark there. He was getting his Ph.D. at the University of Washington.

            This time I’d be riding a bus with wings! That’s what the airliners are, of course, buses.

            David drove me south to Santa Maria. He had arranged a round-trip ride for me on a van shuttle service from there to LAX.  The round-trip fare was $168, I believe.

            It was about 60 miles to Santa Maria. David got me there in 63 minutes–right to the airport, which was the shuttle’s starting point.

            We were the first to arrive.  I was glad to get there early.  For one thing, I wanted to try the bathroom one more time. Getting to a bathroom was a  big consideration throughout this trip. I think it would be for any old man. On my outbound flight soon coming up, I even managed to book an aisle seat way, way back, just a dozen feet from the toilet! On the aisle to make it easier for fellow passengers.

            David gave me a hug and on I went. I was lucky—I got the front seat in the van, right next to Dan, the driver. He had eight of us on board.  It was three and a half hours to LAX.  Dan was a talker, as I am, and that was very good.

            An easy ride at first…traffic was light…but as we got closer…all seven lanes (one way, I mean) were jammed. But Dan knew some short cuts. At certain points, when the traffic seemed impossible, he diverted to secondary roads that were easier. I made notes of every one. He got us to LAX 15 minutes early, right to my terminal entrance, one of many, and off-loaded my luggage for me!

            Getting to Lax always brings back a precious memory of my first visit there in 1960. It was the end of a 4,000 mile camping trip with my wife Pauline and two little kids, Arthur and Monique, who were toddlers. Mark hadn’t come along yet.

            I was a writer for the Worcester Sunday Telegram and had organized this trip, writing articles all along the way and mailing them back to the paper for publication.

            I was at Los Angeles International to write about its director, who had jumped to this big job from our much smaller airport, where he had  been the top man. I can’t recall his name. I believe it started with Mc.  I suppose I’m lucky to remember that much.

            He greeted me warmly, introduced me and showed me around and answered all my questions.  Also I snapped some pictures.

            Meanwhile, Pauline sat and waited in our station wagon, coping our two darlings, of course.  That was a camping trip in a home-made tent trailer (built by me with a friend’s help). We camped out every night of that 11,000 mile ride.

            I typed my article that night and the next morning mailed it back with my roll of exposed film. It got published in due time.

            LA International was much smaller then, but still one of our most important airports. There was no security to go through back then!

            You know what getting through security at an airport is like nowdays, so I’ll skip that. I’ll mention just two things.

       I was told I had one bag too many—the bag with my  food. But I looked so doleful at that news that the counter gal told me, “Go ahead. Take it aboard.” I was so grateful I blew her a kiss. She did smile…a very little smile.

            But! My precious peanut butter got confiscated.  It had never been opened.  Still it was considered a security hazard! Crazy, I think.

            I  had more than a three-hour wait.  I planned to open my computer and get some work done. After much searching, I found a quiet corner and an all-important electric outlet. I didn’t want to drain down my battery.

            But I couldn’t get online, try as I might.  I even got an AA agent to help me, but he failed, too. “It’s just one of those days,” he told me.  One of many disappointments on this trip.

            Right away my walking stick tot an agent’s eye.  She said, “A wheelchair, sir?” 

            “Yes, please!” And I got a ride right down that long, long councourse to my gate. I had checked my bag but I had all my other stuff piled high on me.

            At boarding time, I expected early-boarding as a handiccapped senior. If early-boarding got announced, I never heard it. I was part of the big rushing crowd.

            On board, with all my things banging on every seat, I made it all the way down the narrow aisle right to my seat. But my seat was not an aisle seat, as promised. It was an inside seat in a long row. Darn!

            I spotted an attendant and complained. Quickly she sized up my problem.

            She said, “I’ll try to find you one!” It was a heavily booked flight, but she did find one.  Just 10 rows from the toilets and the galley section! She sat me down next to a young man. There were just two seats and we became seat companions for that entire long journey.

           The first thing I did was adjust my watch to Chinese time, which was eight hours ahead. That would ease my jet lag problem once arrived. Then I said hello to my seatmate.

            His name was Steve Yu. He was 17, a high school junior from near San Diego. He was Chinese, but born in the U.S., so traveling to China on an American passport with a Chinese visa that he had to purchase. as I did. He had an extraordinarily interesting story to tell me about himself, and I’ll share it in a minute.

            First, I must tell you about my Chinese visa. I had to get a new one. I’ve had to get one before, of course, so I remembered what a headache that was—having to go to the Chinese consulate in L.A., waiting endlessly in line, answering all the questions, then having to return four days later to pick up my passport with the visa pasted in it.

            I decided to splurge on a visa service that would go through all that hassle for me.  The visa itself would cost me $149 (if I remember correctly) and the service another $49.  I filled out the paper application meticulously. 

         There were six things I had to be sure to provide. One was to include my passport. Then copies of its first page, plus a copy of my original visa. Plus a new passport photo. Plus copies of my itinerary and hotel reservation. Without all those, no visa. I did all that.

            I felt lucky. The visa service specialized in China visas. Had offices in our major Amrican cities.

            But another of its demands was to ship my application with all the other things to its L.A. office by Fedex overnight. The charge was $27. I did that.

            The next day I got an email back from the service. I had forgotten to include the passport itself. What a dope! I had to send it pronto, again by Fedex overnight for $27.

            Then they sent me another email. The consulate had rejected my photo because it had a slightly yellow background.  (It was taken in front of a yellow pastel wall!) But the picture of me was painfully sharp—you could see my every wrinkle and every missing hair. That seemed to be what was essential. No.  The background had to be pure white.

            I had one taken at a nearby Walmart for $7.35 after a quick online search. CVS and the others were all charging $11 or $12.

            FedEx again. No! This time I rebelled. There was a U.S. Post Office close by. I sent off my photo not for $27, but for less than $7.

             (Remember these things if you’re planning to go abroad and you like to watch your pennies.)

            By the way, a lot of people get confused by passport and visa. What’s the difference?

        The passport establishes you as a citizen of a country. That small booklet is essential to get back into your own country!  If you  lose your  passport abroad, you are in deep trouble.

            The visa is your permission to get into a foreign country. It’s the price to get in to see the movie, so to speak. Visa prices vary. Some countries do not require one.  All this, and much more, is all explained in my Around The World book, by the way.

            My visa story doesn’t end there. The visa service contacted me again. I was a Connecticut resident. I couldn’t apply at the L.A. Chinese consulate!  It had to be to the New York City one—it had jurisdiction for Connecticut.  They would rush my application to New York. They would ding me another $27 for that Fedex service for that.

            You can imagine my surprise. After all, I had obtained my previous visas in L.A. and, yes, as a resident of Connecticut.

            I sent them an email: “My application clearly stated I live in Deep River, CT.  You are the experts. You should have recognized that!”

            They quickly apologized, begged my forgiveness, and ate the $27 charge.  And I calmed down.

            Still I fretted. The service assured me I’d get my visa on April 1.  I was taking off April 3. That seemed awfully tight. 

            And someone had to be home all day to greet the Fedex man on that day.  Not easy, but I arranged that, thanks to Monique and David.

            But the Fedex man never arrived. He showed up with it the next day, April 2. Whew! All is well that ends well, Confucius said (I believe). Sometimes the toll it takes is awfully high.

            Now back to Steve Yu. He was flying to Shanghai for a quick, all-expenses paid visit to New York University’s new Shanghai branch (some 500 students at present).

            Quite a few American colleges and universities are opening branches overseas. It seems to be the latest thing. It widens their market for applicants, increases their profit stream (pardon me…that’s the wrong expression…their revenue stream…but we all know what that really means) and it’s prestigious. Plus fantastic PR. They wanted Steve because he was such a hot prospect.

 He’d be met at Pudong by an NYU rep, shown around, wined and dined, and hopefully signed up. In four days he’d fly home, committed to NYU.

   Incidentally Steve had received other such irresistible come-and-see-us offers from other schools, and was saying yes.

            He attributed his success to two things.  “My Mom and Dad. They do everything possible for my little brother and me. They want the best for us every day.  They are immigrants. It’s been hard for them over here.  My father is a sushi chef. Yes, Japanese sushi!” He chuckled.  “Which I love, by the way. He works very, very hard for us. And the other thing has been AVID at school.”

            AVID, what’s that? I had never heard of it. I was amazed by what he told me.

       AVID stands for Advancement Via Individual Retirement. It is a college-readiness program which has had fantastic results in improving the academic and life performance of underserved students.

            It was started in San Diego by a teacher named Mary Catherine Swanson. It has had astonishing results over the years—by measurable standards, mind you. Now retired, she spent years making it grow. AVID now exists in thousands of high schools in nearly every state.

            It’s more than a how-to program. It’s a philosophy, a way of thinking. Students are kept to high standards, are given guidance, feedback, and encouragement. If you’re interested, looked it up on Google.

            “AVID has been fantastic for me,” Steve told me.  “I have a terrific mentor. I will never be able to thank him enough.”

            “Well, Steve, what do you want to major in?”

            “I don’t know. I can’t make up my mind. I have many things that interest me.  For a while, I intend to take general courses that will help me for anything I do in life.”

            A wise answer, I thought. I’ve met kids who plunge into anthropology or oceanography, say, as a major because of a movie or article they have come upon. Not really understanding what they’re getting into. Two years after graduating, they’re a clerk in a bank, say, working in a supermarket. Sad, I think.

            Anyway, he was my seat companion all those many hours.  Kept trying to help me this way and that—fastening my seat belt, maneuvering the monitor in front of me, reaching up for my luggage.

            By the way, we were served meals. Yes, meals, plural. Yes, full meals, plus snacks. I had declared a vegetarian meal, please. That got ignored. One meal was a sandwich with ham and cheese. Still frozen, by the way. You’d break a tooth biting into it. I waited for mine to thaw, ripped off the ham and handed it to Steve, who gobbled it down in five seconds, and satisfied myself with the rest.

   I estimated half of us on board were Asian. The big meal of the flight was served with fork and knife and spoon and chopsticks. Take your pick. Steve used his chopsticks.

   Just about everybody had the movie channel on. Steve was watching something else. By coincidence, so was I. It was our route as we pr0gressed from Los Angeles to Shanghai. I had it on for the entire trip. I had brought things to read and every now and then I’d glance at that tiny little plane moving across the monitor map. Fascinating!

            He was excited when we approached the International Date Line on the Pacific. He watched as the tiny plane got closer and closer to the IDL. Gave me a thumb’s up when we crossed it. I’m sure there were very few of us aboard interested in that.

            I quickly put my usual strategies to good use. There, imprisoned in my seat, now and then I’d move as many of my muscles as I could. My neck, my arms, my legs, my feet. It all helps.

            And as often as I dared, I got up and made it back the few paces to the toilet area and the galley. Even if I didn’t need the toilet. I would stand in a corner, out of the way, and do more gentle exercises. So important. And engage people in talk. Enjoyed several notable encounters.

            Best of all was with Amie, the attendant who got me my aisle seat. (I’ve felt it wise to change her name.) Just a tiny thing. Was certainly a beauty when she started her 27 years with AA. Being young and beautiful was a requirement back then for a stewardess, as we know. Not so much now, thanks to the feminists. That word “stewardess” has been chucked.

            She told me there were 14 cabin attendants, including 3 Chinese, who also made the PA announcements to the Chinese passengers. And 4 on the flight deck.

            All bid for their flight schedules. This flight was a highly desired itinerary, and she qualified for it most of the time because of her seniority. This was her favorite flight—for its destination, its relative comfort, and reasonable departure times at both ends.

            If she missed this one, she liked the London schedule. “But one reason I like this better is that the Europeans are more demanding of us!”

            On this flight, each attendant would have a two-hour break. There was a cabin with bunks just for them. Same thing with the cockpit crew, “but in first class!”

            On average, she made this trip three times a month and that was it.  Fly to China, go to the nice hotel provided for the crew, rest the next day, then fly home.

            “What do you do in Shanghai?”

            “Shopping with my friends in the crew. We don’t really need anything. But it’s a nice social thing.”

            “Has anything bad ever happened to you on a flight?”

            “No, never. No terrorist thing. Sometimes there’s a death on board. A natural death, I mean. A heart attack or something like that. But not for me. Not yet.” And she knocked on the cabin wall for good luck.

            “What attracted you to the job?”

            “The chance to travel! I was just a kid. We were all kids. All gals, of course. And I thought, ‘What! I can get to do all this travel, and get paid, too!’”

            She offered something else. “I’ve been with American since the start. The airline has had some bad times,  and is going through a merger right now, as you know. But it’s been terrific most of these years. We have the highest pay schedule of any airline! All thanks to our union, of course!”

            Slowly, slowly, we made our way across, one hour after another. I followed our route via the small screen right in front of me, on the back of the seat ahead of me.

            To my eye, we were hugging the land all the way. First, by our Pacific Coast up to Vancouver, then just off the shoreline of Alaska all the way to the end of the Aleutians, then down toward South Korea, and then finally China, and finally Shanghai! As I saw it, we never flew way out across the Pacific.

            Steve and I speculated about that.  Maybe what we were seeing on our screens was deceptive because we were looking at a map in 2D, and the world is really in 3D….

            He offered, “Maybe we’re staying close to land in case of an engine problem or something.  Easier to find an airport!”

            It’s plausible. But I don’t think so.

       At one point we were high in the Arctic! And the outside temperature was shockingly cold, by the way, though I don’t remember exactly. Most of the time were were cruising at 550 miles per hour seven miles up. Amazing, don’t you think? Most of the time, I felt as steady in my seat as in my favorite chair in my living room.

            Finally, finally we were only 15 miles from Pudong Airport in Shanghai. Just minutes from landing. The final announcements were made. The attendants made sure we were buckled in, and our trays and seats up. There was a tenseness in the plane. Your eyes closed, you’d never know there were hundreds of us aboard. Yes, it was that silent.

            We landed. Passengers jammed the aisles, of course, fighting to download their luggage from the overhead bins and get out. Steve and I waited and were the last ones out.

            He helped me get my luggage down.  Helped me carry much of it up that long, narrow aisle to the front. All he had was a backpack and a laptop.

            He insisted on keeping me company all the long way down the the luggage area. Retrieved my big red suitcase for me from the carousel. Kept by my side all the way to Customs and Immigration, and through that hassle.

            Only then did he say goodbye. “Good luck, John! Got to go! Somebody from NYU is waiting for me!”

            I was sad to see him go. He’s another kid that I’ve met that I wish I could buy stock in.

            Now to make it short and sweet. I would be flying on to Guangzhou tomorrow afternoon—less than a three-hour flight. Camil would be there to meet me at the end.

            Now I was so tired I could barely stand. I had not slept a wink for more than 30 hours. I needed ahotel. I saw one right there in the airport. Cheapest room, $149. I decided no.

            By chance, a sharp-eyed hotel salesman approached me. Showed me flyers of this hotel and that one nearby. “All very cheap prices!” he told me. “All very clean! All with free shuttle service back and forth!”

            I chose one. It was a 15-minute ride.  Amazing how beautiful Shanghai was! Its fine highway. Gorgeous buildings. The many bright colored lights. The Chinese love all that.

            The hotel was a small one, Blue Goose in English, I believe.  I signed the register: $45 for one night. Big room with private bathroom. A huge bed. Nice furniture. Big TV. And yes, impeccably clean.

            But I had so many problems getting the lights on, and the heat on, plus a few other problems, that I had to trudge back to the office for help. An attendant–a very old man who didn’t know a word of English–came back with me and got everything going for me.

            I didn’t even know how to say “Thank you.” But I showed it in another way.

            The rest of the trip went as planned. Easy by comparison. And here I am!

            As Confucius also said, “Nothing is perfect.” That’s true here, of course, as it is everywhere.  But I find China so impressive so many ways.

            The last century was our century, America’s century.  We became big and powerful and supreme.  Well, according to my figuring, we have 86 more years in this century. I believe this will be China’s century.

            Buy a broad Chinese mutual fund of common stocks.  I’ve owned one for a few years. It’s been doing fine.

            And finally I can say “Seechay!” That’s “Thank you” in Mandarin. I hope I’m spelling it right! And saying it right!

            Yes, a long and hard day. But paltry considering what our forebears went through years ago in getting to distant places like China, and for folks there to make it to our shores.

       Think of Marco Polo!     Oh, I got to Guangzhou still with tht big bag of food, just a few items eaten.

~ ~ ~

Well, what do you know…I’m back in China!

By John Guy LaPlante

         I’m as surprised as you are. This is my fourth time over. At my age I never thought there would be a fourth time.

         Speaking of age, I’m going to turn 85 during my month over here. But this is the right place to be old.  The Chinese venerate old people.  They tumble over one another to be of service to us. It’s just the opposite of the attitude in too many other countries.

         I love being venerated. I step onto a crowded subway car—bingo, somebody jumps up to offer me a seat.

         I’m in China to visit two friends. Camil in the huge and gorgeous city of Guangzhou. And then Wu Bin in famous and bustling Shanghai. Two weeks more  or less with each.

         I’ll fly back to California May 2 for a reunion with Monique and David, my favorite daughter and favorite son-in-law, in Morro Bay on the central coast.

         (That’s a little joke that I enjoy—I have only one of each! But I am awfully fond of them. Just as I am of my two sons and daughters-in-law.)

         And in mid-May I’ll be home finally in Deep River, CT.  After months away!  God willing, as we say.

         What the heck am I doing here on the other side of  the Pacific? A good question.

         Camil invited me.  He is a Canadian…a Quebecois, so French-speaking.

         I met him at a hostel in Trois-Rivieres up there. Total strangers, we shared a room.  That’s the way it can be in hostels. I love hostels–I could write long and enthusiastically about them.   He had an IPad. He’d lounge in his bunk and give it his rapt attention.

         Curious me, I asked him what movie he was watching.

         “Non! Non! I was a photojournalist here for two big newspapers. My whole career!”

         Yes, we spoke in French. Not a problem for me. In fact, I love having a go in my mother tongue. I consider it all-important to keep it alive in me.

         He continued, “I have thousands of my photos on here.  I just retired. I like to look at them now and then. So many memories!”

         Of course, I mentioned I was a journalist, too—but a word journalist, not photo–with years on a big paper. Often I teamed up with a photojournalist for assignments. So we had “beaucoup” to talk about.

         Then, he surprised me. “I’m going to take a trip around the world.  In stages. Over six or seven years, most likely. And you bet I’ll be taking these along with me!” He indicated his IPad and his camera nearby. “I’ll be putting them to good use.”

         So of course, I mentioned to him I had traveled around the world. Also alone.  In one big swoop of six months—36,000 miles, across the Equator, on some 20 airlines, plus bus, train, and boat. But at 75, not at his age. And had written a book about it. So we talked and talked and talked.  Became friends.

         Then we each went our way–I home to Connecticut, and he to Vancouver to visit one of his sons  before hopping over the Pacific to China, his first destination.

         Well, you don’t really hop over it. It’s a 14-hour flight.

         By the way, going westerly around the world was a tip I gave him. Rather than easterly.

          “Oh?” he said, much interested.

          “Yes, traveling with the sun will be much easier on you. You would find going around the world against the sun awfully difficult. You shouldn’t do it that way.”

         Well, he loves China! And the Chinese!  Has been here for many months. I wouldn’t be surprised if he stayed here a very long time.

         Oh, he’s made side trips to Cambodia and Vietnam and Hong Kong. Always with his camera. Once a photojournalist, always a photojournalist, I guess. He’s passionate about that.

         But he always  returns to China. And he has thousands and thousands of photos to document what he’s seen already.

         He emailed me that he was going to have a big exhibition of some 25 of his four-star photos—an exhibition six weeks long–at the Four Seasons Hotel in Guangzhou. It’s one of China’s top hotels. Just as Guangzhou is one of its top cities.

         And at the show’s  debut,  he would introduce his new book–“Life in China,” yes, by Camil LeSieur–as seen through his artist’s eye. I’ve seen some of his photos and he really is an artist deep down.

         This will be the Chinese edition, with the text in Mandarin, the big language in China. But in this section of southwest China, the big language is Cantonese. In fact, Guangzhou at one time was called Canton. The Mandarin / Cantonese situation is much like the English/Spanish reality in our country.  It makes sense for him to do it Mandarin.

         But there will be an English edition of the book, too, and a French edition.

         He asked me to write  the preface. Also some texts. Quite an honor. I’ve gotten most of that done. He wrote the many photo captions in French, of course.  He asked me to put them into English, which I’ve done, but with some still to do. 

         Translating is a tricky challenge. I wanted to give him not only a very faithful translation, but one that would catch his style and persona as well. And it’s my English version that is being used for translation into Mandarin. So my English version has to be excellent.

         But why me doing the translating? Well, there are many Chinese translators who translate from English but relatively few who do it from French.

         I do plan to keep you abreast of all this as it develops.

         By the way, getting to Guangzhou here wasn’t easy. In fact, it was close to being more than I could handle. I’ll tell you all about that in an upcoming blog.

         From here, I’ll be flying back to Shanghai, where I arrived.          Wu Bin, my other dear friend over here, lives in Shanghai and planned to greet me at huge Pudong Airport there. But everything on that flight over the ocean got so tangled that that became impossible.

         But he was there to greet me on two of my three previous visits to China, and what a delight that was.

         I met Wu some 10 years ago in Nairobi, of all places. That is the huge and bustling and in some ways very modern capital of Kenya, with skyscrapers, mind you. (It also has huge slums, by the way.)

         As with Camil, we met in a hostel.  He was young—young enough to be my grandson—but we hit if off. For one thing, he was eager to practice his English, and I was eager to meet another Wu. 

         In college, one of my pals was a Chinese youth  named Wu.  Yes, from China. Unfortunately, that young friend and I lost track over the years, and we were very close. I hoped my new friend Wu might be related to my young friend Wu (who would now be as old as I, of course). But in China, the name is as common as Smith or Cohen in ours, so to speak.

     But my friendship with my new friend Wu didn’t dry up once back from Nairobi. That often happens even among friends with strong common interests. It thrived, thanks to the Internet and email.

         Wu was a tourist in Nairobi, like me. He had brought over a stock of very advanced pocket cameras, all digital and all Chinese, of course. And he was peddling them around to camera shops. They were amazed by what he had to offer them. He made numerous sales. And that helped him to finance that expensive vacation of his. I was so impressed.

         No surprise to me today that Wu is the marketing director of a high-tech digital company here,  making a range of products. He often flies abroad to bring back orders. Not long ago he was in Germany. Just before I arrived here, he had just returned from Istanbul. I’m positive someday he will be the president.  I wish I could buy stock in him.

          Well, when I completed my world trip and wrote and published my book about that incredible feat–well, to me it was– I got an email from him. He had been receiving frequent blogs from me as I traveled around the globe.

         “John, your book should be published in China,” he told me.

         “What?! In China! Why in China?”

         “Things are getting much better for us here.  Now we can take vacations abroad.  We’re like you Americans—we love to travel, too! And there’s another reason. Nobody in China will believe that a 75-year-old man can travel around the world, and all alone.”

        And what he said next took my breath away. “I will buy the rights to your book.  And I will get it published in China!”

         And that did happen! It was a marvelous, incredible event in my life.

         Remember, please, that he could have bought one copy from amazon.com, say. Had had it translated and published. And I never would have known a thing about that. But he’s above such shenanigans. He truly paid me for the right.

         I came over for the book’s publication. It was a snazzy event in a fine hotel with lots of publicity. My sister Lucie came along for me, so a very proud moment. I also came over when he got married, and milady Annabelle was with me then. That was a spectacular event, too.

         I have gotten to know his father and mother and other relatives, and a number of his friends.  All very wonderful experiences.

         Of course, this time I alerted him that I was coming to see Camil in Guangzhou.

         Immediately he emailed back. “John, please come to see me. Come for two weeks if possible. I will be at Pudong International Airport to meet you.  I will be holding a big sign, ‘Welcome, John Guy LaPlante!’”

         I was thrilled.  Hey, who wouldn’t be? Remember, I thought that trip to China five years so was my last time to China!

         By the way, I was in Peace Corps in Ukraine then, but Peace Corps gave me permission, and  I flew to Shanghai all the way from Kiev, the capital,  and easterly, not westerly, across Asia to do it. But I made it.

         What was very interesting was that I invited Annabelle to attend the wedding also. She lived in Los Angeles. And she flew west across the Pacific to Pudong. So, I went around in one direction, and she in the opposite direction! And we met there at that vast airport only70 minutes apart. And Wu was there to pick us up!

         So you can understand how I am looking forward to seeing Wu in Shanghai and sharing a bit of his life again.

         I’ll be telling you all about that, too.

         Oh, I got up in the dark to write this.  Now the sun is up very bright and promising now. This is still winter, but it’s as warm and pleasant here as in southern California or Florida.

         So, it’s time for me to shut down my computer and enjoy Guangzhou. And there is so much to enjoy here. I’ve got to make the most of it.

~ ~ ~

After all these years, I meet my first “denturologist”

My final fitting.  Dr. Linden tries my new partial on me. Proud lab technician Lori looks on. Receptionist Jessica captured the moment.

My final fitting. Dr. Linden tries my new partial on me. Proud lab technician Lori looks on. Receptionist Jessica captured the moment.

Orange, CA–Over the years I’ve been treated by a whole assortment of specialists. Far more than I’ve been able to keep track of–medical doctors, dentists, chiropractors, osteopaths, physical therapists, nurses.

Now I’ve met one who has a unique specialty.  He’s a family dentist who specializes in dental prostheses. Makes just dentures, full and partial. I call him a “denturologist”–it’s a word I just made up.

A bit of background. I’ve had a heck of a lot of dentistry over the years.  With this dentist and that one and then another.

For fillings. Extractions. Root canals. Crowns. Implants. And dentures, but just partials, thank God.

I’d be shocked to see how much $$$ I’ve paid out in total. But it’s been money well spent for the most part.

Oh, I’ve been paying for dental insurance of late, too. That’s been very nice.  But it’s far from free.

Most of this work got done in the United States.  But I’ve also sat through hours of dentistry in Mexico (Tijuana and Guadalajara), Ukraine (Kiev), and the Philippines (Manila).

Ninety-five percent of all of it has been quite satisfactory, including the work outside the U.S., which may surprise you.

True, I’ve had a couple of excruciating experiences, but that was long ago, when you knew going to the dentist was going to turn very painful.  Pain was a part of it.

I have lived to see astonishing improvements. The wonderful ultra-high-speed drill. Much finer needles. Fluoridation of the public water supply, which some consider controversial, but I think is worth the risk, if there is any.

Also faster and better anesthetics. Simpler X-rays, and much safer, too–and now digital imaging. And most dramatic of all, dental implants. I’ve had three, all at the same time. And how good they are.

And one more great improvement. It’s the better training for dentists. Not only to help patients with their teeth, but to get them through the experience with less tension and anxiety. That’s so important.

Speaking of this, I went to a dentist for a long time who had studied hypnosis and used it, but without tipping off his patients. I knew because we were close friends. I believe it works.

You know, when I was a boy, there was only one kind of M.D.—the general practitioner who visited his patients at home with just his  black doctor’s bag.

It didn’t seem to contain much more than a stethoscope, an arm cuff for blood pressure readings, a thermometer, a few instruments,  and some bandages and ointments and a few dark brown bottles with a few potions he favored. But his care and, most of all, bedside manner, were considered excellent.

Now, if you’re like me, you go to a general practitioner, sure, and undoubtedly he uses the latest hi-tech this and that. But you don’t stop there. You go to a specialist. And there’s such a variety–dermatologists, oncologists, cardiologists, urologists, opthomologists, on and on.…..  All possible, I think, largely because of the arrival of Medicare and private medical insurance and .

Same thing with dentists. We have periodontists, endodontists, orthodontists, and still others.

So dentistry, like medicine, has gotten infinitely better.

The result of all this? There are several, but two big ones.

One: we now keep our teeth much longer and better. It’s not uncommon to live into retirement with all your teeth. That hasn’t been my experience. Far from it.

Which baffles me. I’ve been meticulous in caring for my teeth. For decades I’ve made regular visits to the dentist, including for preventive cleanings. In addition to all the care to this tooth and that one. So why have I been beset with so many problems?! Doesn’t seem fair.

By the way, I remember when I was young, some people, especially women, were eager to have all their teeth extracted and get full dentures. Usually right after their first experience with a dentist.

Getting them all pulled would save them pain and money in the months and years ahead, they would eat better, their smile would be prettier, and losing their teeth was inevitable anyway.

Result Two: we now live in a time when pain in the dental chair is largely past-tense. What a feat! How wonderful!  Pain now is a rare occurrence.

The biggest pain now is paying the bill, even if you have dental insurance.

And now, after all these years, I’ve had a totally new experience. It’s been discovering Dr. Frederick Linden, the denture dentist. Here’s how that happened.

In January I had to have my upper right molar extracted.  It was a key tooth and a great loss. An expensive one, too.  More that one dentist got to work on it over the years. In time, I paid for a root canal for it plus a crown. Then a second crown. So, hundreds of dollars.

As you know, when some people lose a molar, or any tooth, they sometimes say, “Well, I ‘ll just get along without it.” Of course, often doing that might spoil your smile, or make it harder to chew, but it won’t be a tragedy. A lot of people get along with half their teeth gone.

Believe me, that never came into my mind.

I liked the dentist who did the extraction. It was my first time with him. That happened because my molar went bad just when I was leaving Connecticut for California just before Christmas. My big concern was finding a good dentist fast.

I didn’t know any dentists here. A friend recommended him and I felt lucky to come under his care.  When he got finished, I felt he had done a fine job.

I said to him, “Well, doctor, what do you think I should do now?”

He looked at my whole mouth again, and much more carefully. Took more X-rays, including a panoramic one. For you uninformed, the camera circles your whole noggin, and the dentist gets a view of your entire mouth. Quite remarkable. Finally he pronounced himself.

“Already you have an upper partial. It replaces four teeth. You’ve had it a long time. That dentist did a fine job but it’s getting old. And now you need something to replace that molar that I pulled.” He paused a bit.

Then, “What I think would work best for you would be a new partial. It would replace the four missing teeth your present partial covers, but swing behind the six teeth to the left of it, and provide a molar for the one that’s now gone.”

My gosh! That isn’t what I had expected to hear.  I digested his words, then said, “How long would that take?”

“First, we have to let that hole heal–you know, where that molar was. We should allow several weeks for that. It will be a problem if we skip that. And then three weeks or so after that for your new partial.”

“Well, doctor, how much would that cost?”

“I’ll make an analysis of the best way to go. Then my secretary will call you. She’ll do that in two days, if that’s okay. Then you can decide.”

I waited impatiently to get the word from her. I really wanted to get the job done.  I knew the price would be higher now. All prices are higher now, right?  As you see, I’m good at rationalizing.

Then she called.  Explained everything. Then said,
“The price will be $2,600.” Then, as a sort of consolation, “But that should cover everything.”

I whistled when I heard that, well, to myself.  I felt the price was high. And one thing nagged me.  She used the word “should.” I would have liked it better if she had said “would.”

Yet, I had a big thing in my favor.  As I said, I did have dental insurance.  A good plan.  I called its 800 number and was told 45 percent would be covered.  Very nice.  That said, I must tell you that the annual premium is also something to whistle about.

A big complication has been that I’m not just in one place here in Southern California.  I’m on the go–two days here, three days there, one day over there.  Which has been wonderful.  But I kept saying to myself, “I’ve got to do something!  Just can’t put this off!”

Now I must tell you I have loved my three implants.   And that’s because they work so well in every way. I feel they are my own, very sound teeth! All done, by the way, by the same dental implant surgeon, over a period that took more than four months.

So now I considered another one.  My old implant surgeon was no longer around.  I spotted a big newspaper ad that offered one implant with a crown on it for $1,499.  Very tempting.

I went and saw that implant dentist.  He examined me and said, “You have bone loss in your jaw where you lost that molar.  You’ll need a bone graft.  That will cost $300 and will delay my doing the implant. Got to make sure it takes!”

Imagine that–a bone graft. Talk about big improvements in dentistry! Cadaver bone, by the way. Did you know that?

True, the price of implants is coming down. But the process is still long and unpleasant. That implant dentist   will disagree, I’m sure, but that’s my opinion. I’d have to stick around a long time to get it all done.

And, once done, I would still have that old partial denture that should be replaced, I had been told. So, I said no about the implant.

Besides, there was something about that dentist than I didn’t like. It bothered me that he had an M.B.A. as well as his dental degree.

Then, in that same newspaper, I spotted a new ad.  Not a great big one.  A tiny one—really a fancy classified. Here is what it said, to the best of my memory.

“Need a denture? Come to us. We specialize in dentures, full and partial. That’s all we do. Excellent dentures that are affordable! We have our own in-office lab for more control and faster service. General dentists do 2 or 3 dentures a month. We do 25 or 30. We know dentures! We also do relines and repairs, often while you wait”‘ Plus his address and phone number.

I liked it.  Clipped it out and put it in my wallet.  And forgot about it.

Two weeks later, but in a different newspaper, I read the same ad. I did some checking online and liked what I found out about Dr. Frederick Linden.

He has been a dentist  42 years. He grew up in cold and windy Chicago. He got his dentist degree at the University of Indiana, which I checked and saw was excellent.  Joined the Navy and served as the staff dentist at the Navy hospital in Long Beach, California.  I learned all this from his website.

After his service, he was a staff dentist at two hospitals for four years, then opened his own family practice. You know, doing everything for men, women, and children. But what he enjoyed most was making dentures.

“They are a great solution for many patients. And I really enjoy working with my hands! Designing and making fine dentures can be very challenging.”

He got a wild idea–to open a denture practice.  Yes, just dentures, full and partial.  That was a big novelty in itself back then, and still is.

Most general dentists do dentures.  Which means that they make the necessary impressions and design the denture.  And then job out the work of making it to a dental lab. Then they try it on the patient and make any adjustments necessary.

Dr. Linden took his concept a big step further.  He decided to have the lab in his own office—integrate it!  That would give him closer supervision, speed up the process a lot, shave costs, and allow him to drop the price.

I questioned him a lot. He told me that new concept of his has worked out beautifully.  It’s been his specialty for 15 years, and he doesn’t know of any other dentist doing it anywhere close.

He has designed and made dentures for thousands of patients.

I made an appointment.  His office was an hour away. I found it is a small storefront in a shopping center. His big sign says, “Affordable Dentures”. Who wouldn’t feel good about that?

It’s in a Target shopping center, with ample  free parking. I parked right in front of his door.

His office set-up is simplicity itself.  He works with only his receptionist-secretary, Jessica, and his technician, Lisa.

His office seems to have been designed by Henry Ford himself. It’s so simple and efficient. Reception area. Bathroom. His treatment room And somewhere in the back, his office and lab, which are off limits to patients.

Finished with the paperwork for me, Jessica seated me in his dental chair, which was more of a lounge chair.  No drill.  No X-ray camera.  No rinse and spit basin.  No big, powerful overhead light.

He walked in. A hefty man, age 68 he told me. Dressed in an open-necked shirt and chinos, but carefully pressed. Pleasant, but businesslike and given to few words.  He did answer all my questions, and nicely, even though he wasn’t aware I’d be writing this.

He has a long counter nearby with a few instruments and supplies.  The first meeting took thirty minutes.

He scrutinized my mouth, examined my present partial, told me that my gums are okay as are my other teeth, and saw no big problem.

“I can design a metal partial like the one you have now.  Or a plastic partial that would be more flexible.  The same price–$1,100.  That would take three visits. We’d be done in two weeks. It would include adjustments after that if necessary. Most patients don’t require any.”

I thanked him and said I’d think it over. What he had done had taken 25 minutes.

Quickly I decided to go ahead. Jessica had checked. My insurer, Altus Dental Insurance, would pay half, less a $50 deductible. To proceed, I’d pay half of the balance now. I handed her my Visa credit card.  I’d pay the balance at the end.

I was in his chair in 10 minutes. He went right to work—doing much of that at the counter two steps from my chair.

He mixed some gunk and used it, with my partial out, to make an impression of my upper gum. It was obvious he knew what he was doing.

Firmly but so carefully, he removed the fresh impression from my mouth and studied it. “Excellent!” he said. I was out in 30 minutes.

Returned a week later. He had the partial finished and showed it to me. “But these are not the final teeth,” he told me. “They will require adjustments. That’s what I’m going to determine today. Then we’ll go ahead for the final piece.”

My old denture had two clasps, one at each end. This one had three. “It will do a better job. You’ll be happy! But I must check one thing—how much the clasp in the middle will show.”

He snapped it into place on me. I liked the way it really snapped in. Click! He spent a full two minutes studying it in place, trying to move it a little bit this way and that way. Then handed me a mirror.

“Take a look, please.” I did. I liked what I saw. The teeth matched my natural teeth. But I wanted to be sure. “Will this be the final color of them?”

“Yes, they are an excellent match. Now smile, please. A big smile! I want to see how much that center clasp will show.”

I smiled wide. He asked me to smile a second time, really wide. He told me, “It does show but just a little bit. If you want just two clasps, I can remove the center one. But it won’t function quite as well. What do you think?”

I told him I wanted all three. If somebody noticed, well, I felt they’d be nice and wouldn’t let on.

I did have a chance to chat with him as he worked. I found him open and friendly. At the end I told him I planned to write about my experience. That pleased him. It would please any dentist, I think. If he felt he had done a good job.

I had been with him a few minutes short of half an hour. Quickly I was back in my van. Jessica did her job the way he did his. She was efficient and friendly. No dawdling.

In a week I returned for my final visit. It all went smoothly and swiftly. I made my second and final payment. Jessica seated me in Dr. Linden’s chair. A few pleasantries and then he went to work.

It felt strange in my mouth, which was expected. It was bigger, and there were more contact points between my upper and lower teeth. And my upper lip rubbed against that center clasp.

“You’ll get used to it very fast. Before long, it will feel as comfortable as you’re old one.”

To myself I thought, it’s like breaking in a new pair of shoes. Which is a good comparison.

Only one minute adjustment had to be made–he had to file down one of the teeth a hair.

“How long would might it be if a sore spot developed?” I asked him. “I was thinking to start the drive up to my daughter Monique’s up North this afternoon. Would that be okay?”

“Very few patients need a further adjustment. But it’s possible.”

“Well, then, I’ll stay over till tomorrow. Just in case.”

“That’s an excellent idea.”

I was on my way in a jiffy.

The next day, everything seemed fine. No pain. No bad fit of my uppers and lowers at any point. My new partial felt different because it was bigger and had that third clasp. I was sure I’d get used to it fast.

That’s been the case. I’m eating and chewing just fine.

There should be more such “denturologists”! But just as efficient and cost-conscious.

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