December 5, 2022

You may know about August, 1619. You may not.

By John Guy LaPlante

I did not.

We all know about October 12, 1492, don’t we….  About July 4, 1776. On and on. More recently, December 7, 1941. And who can ever forget 9 / 11 in New York City?

But 1619? Well, in August the ship White Lion arrived from far-off Africa and made landfall in Virginia, one of our colonial territories at that time.

And the White Lion left off some 20 captive black men and women. Did that in exchange for supplies and goodies to take back to Africa.

That day in1619 can be considered the real birthday of America.

Why? Because that modest financial but historically significant sale of some 20 black people ignited social changes. These great changes magnified and intensified for some 250 years, marking our very way of life as Americans.

It led to the Civil War which nearly split our country into independent, self-governing halves. The changes continued, affecting us in many ways, some bad.

Our black people have been afflicted severely. Here is just one example. It has been calculated that presently the average white family now has a net worth of $171,000. But the average black family has a net worth of a mere $17,600. Shocking, don’t you think?

And we’re so familiar with so many other differentials. Lower levels of education for blacks. Low ceilings for opportunity. More unemployment. Higher rates of broken homes and out-of-wedlock pregnancies. Inferior housing.

The list continues. Higher crime rates and far more imprisonments. More people on food stamps. More on welfare. More homelessness. Poorer medical care. Shorter life spans. And so forth.

Yes, there is progress. But it has been s-l-o-w.

No wonder that the institutionalizing of slavery four centuries ago has been called “our original sin.” And how.

Yet interestingly, way back at that time there did exist a system that was more rational and more decent for poor newcomers to our shores.  Men, not women. White men, not blacks.  It was the system of indentured servitude. Here’s how it worked.

Hoping for a better life in America but too poor to buy a ticket across, they would sign a contract.

They would work for 4 to 7 years here for basically just room and board and clothing and that would pay for their long journey across the Atlantic and getting set up.

They did so in the hope that finally they could then get started on their own. And depending on their talent, their energy, and plain good luck they could also prosper in this new land.

But this is not what happened to those first black men and women in Virginia. No, no, no.

They were sold. Whoever bought them was a white man. Would always be a white man.

They would live wherever he put them. Would do whatever work he demanded. Would do that from morning till night, day in and day out if he so desired. Would eat whatever he fed them and wear whatever he gave them.

Not for just 4 to 7 years. For their whole life. Until they died.

They were chattel property, to be valued by their owner just like his horse or mule or tools and implements or anything else he owned.

He could mortgage his slaves. He could flog them for any reason. Brand them. He could sell them off to another white man. He could kill them if he judged them impossibly lazy or hopelessly ill. Or to punish them and intimidate other slaves. Lynchings became the final solution for behaviors considered offensive.

He could get sexual with them. He could rape them. No problem.

Well, know what? Studies have shown that the average black person today is 17% “European” / meaning 17% white. That’s how blacks got their “whiteness.”

If two of his slaves became “man and wife,” he could say okay if that profited him.

But if he felt it would work out better for him, he could sell the black man off, and the black woman also, both to the same slave owner or separately to different owners. He could do that arbitrarily, with zero discussion. Back talk was not tolerated.

And think of this. When a slave child was born, the child did not belong to its father and mother. Yes, they would raise the child but from birth the child became the property of the slave owner. It was a built-in guarantee of prosperity. The more babies, the richer the owner!

And consider this. Slaves were prohibited from learning to read or write. No way would they be allowed to become uppity.

Sure, some owners were nicer than others. But even with the nicest, a slave was a slave. Period.

One result of all this is that the words “slave” and “black” became synonymous. Automatically blacks were considered slaves.

Slaves became all-important to the development and prosperity of the South. They labored primarily in agriculture, notably in Georgia (cotton) and Mississippi (sugar).

Slavery was the granite foundation of the culture and the economy.

Slavery was considered such a good idea that it spread throughout the colonies. In New England and the Mid-Atlantic colonies, where agriculture was of minor importance, they were locked into working in the low-pay and long-hours jobs of the various industries that were rapidly developing.

Thanks to slavery, some of the wealthiest men in the colonies were men in the Northeast.

Think of this. Back in1860, slaves were estimated to be worth 3.5 billion dollars in the dollars of that time. That was more than the total dollar value of manufacturing and railroading combined, the two biggest industries up there..

Yes, our great and brilliant Founder Thomas Jefferson wrote “all men are created equal.” But he meant white men. But equal in what ways? How?

I don’t see much equality among us. You may say, well, equal in the right to vote. For white men but that’s been iffy since the start. It took many decades for women to get suffrage.

Jefferson owned slaves. They built his mansion, made his plantation the very successful business it was. But he was typical of slave owners. He cavorted with at least one of his slaves, and fathered at least one child with her.

It is commonly believed that years later President Abraham Lincoln started the Civil War to free the slaves. Wrong! He did it to keep the South from seceding.

He thought that slavery was an abomination, a necessary evil that had to be put up with.

In fact, just a few years earlier, he had seriously proposed as the perfect solution that slaves be sent back where they had come from. That was totally impractical, of course.

By the way, there were some 4.5 million people in the United States and 3.9 million were slaves. Sounds incredible, doesn’t it?

Finally Lincoln decided that slavery was just too evil to keep on the books. He drafted his great Emancipation Proclamation and got it passed, freeing the slaves and ending slavery officially.

And that is how he became the president that we honor today as one of our very greatest.

But true emancipation, meaning treating the blacks as equal to the whites, has still not been realized, with a long way yet to go.

So why am I writing about this? It was not on my blogs-to-do list. Blame the New York Times.

At the public library, I was reading the Sunday Times of August 18th. It included a 100-page magazine entitled “The 1619 Project.”

I dipped into it, began jumping around in it, and thought, “Wow, this is interesting!”

I was allowed to check it out and take it home, have found it full of fascinating revelations. And here I am blogging about it.

It is chock-full with more than a score of articles and essays and photos on every phase of this convoluted subject.

The Times has said it considers The 1619 Project so important that it is going to be publishing more about it during this anniversary year.

It is the impressive work of what seems to a hundred historians, scholars, journalists, and photographers, all of them black, I believe.

And it’s another tangible example of what I believe makes the New York Times our finest American newspaper and surely one of the world’s most important.

If my humble efforts today have interested you, I urge you to look up “The 1619 Project.”

But I must tell you about a follow-up by The Wall Street Journal. I stumbled on it in the Journal’s “Review” section of September 21-22.

Obviously it was inspired by the Times’ special report. Smart move by the Journal!

What interested me especially were two fine, major articles on two aspects not yet covered by the Times. Along with powerful photos and illustrations.

The first is headed, “The Long History of American Reparations.”

It’s the growing belief that today’s blacks should be compensated for the suffering inflicted on their ancestors which sadly has devolved on them. Very controversial. Many strongly argued angles.

The second covers a subject totally new to me. Incredible. Shockingly so.

It’s entitled, “When the Slave Traders Were Africans.” Meaning blacks enslaving blacks and getting them shipped off to America for sale to whites. Would you believe?!

But among some African tribes, that was considered smart and legit.

You can also look that up along with “The 1619 Project” at your library.

Despite these slow but steadily compounding gains over the years, there is reason to rejoice and be hopeful.

More and more blacks are rising to positions of eminence and success in every segment of our life and culture, across the very width and breadth of them, right up to the Obama White House.

Symbolic of this progress has been the opening at the Smithsonian in Washington of our National Museum of African American History, an outstanding museum, from everything I’ve read.

It was built under the direction of Lonnie G. Bunch III, its founding director, a black man, of course, an eminent scholar in his own right. In fact, he is now the director of all the Smithsonian museums.

And what an important matter of pride and encouragement is this progress to the younger blacks moving up. Indeed, to all blacks. The road up is getting easier.

Now a personal note.

It’s surprising how little direct exposure I have had to blacks over the years. I mean person to person.

How come? I’ve given this a lot of thought.

I have traveled to all 50 states. I have been to many of them many times. But consider where I have lived in our country for chunks of years. Rhode Island. Massachusetts. Connecticut.  Newport Beach, California. Now here in Morro Bay on the Central Coast of California.

And in all those places, in sections with a very light population of blacks.

Here in Morro Bay, a city of more than 10,000, I am not aware of a single black person. Mind you, there is no sign, real or suggested, that says, “Stay out!”

True of those other locales where I lived.

I am confident that any black or black family moving in here would be accepted. The big barrier, I believe, is the cost of housing. Personal prosperity is the solution to that. Blacks are doing better. Blacks will move in. Blacks will do okay here.

On the other hand I have gotten to know blacks in my travels abroad. Got to be friends with them. In Cairo, Egypt, and Nairobi, Africa, and Durban and Johannesburg in South Africa (the land of “apartheid”), and in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil.  And one outstanding experience in my Peace Corps service in Ukraine. Wonderful experiences for me.

I would gladly welcome the same opportunity here. Or anywhere. It’s part of being a real American.

~  ~ ~ ~ ~

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

By John Guy LaPlante

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yet, God Bless America!

* * * *

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



Oh, for a Fourth like those of yesteryear!

By John Guy Laplante

With 3 photos.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~ ~ ~ ~

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








Hey, why don’t they ask me my name?!

By John Guy LaPlante

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

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

How times are a-changing!

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

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

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

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

I told her.

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

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

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

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

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

I told him the month, date, and year.

Then, “What’s your social?“

I told him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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



I just finished my toughest test ever!

By John Guy LaPlante

With 2 photos

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I continued. I was doing fine again.

But after my ninth, ”Error!” What?!

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

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

The whole test had taken just 15 minutes or so.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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







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

By John Guy LaPlante

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

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

Interesting, don’t you think?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~ ~ ~ ~

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








A big PS for you about my WP post

By John Guy LaPlante

I’m delighted with your comments about my recent geographic musings of a few days ago. I see that you found them interesting.  What writer wouldn’t be tickled to hear that?

If you recall, I mused that eons ago our continents might have been a single huge land mass. I got this thought as I looked at North America, South America, Europe, Africa and Australia on my wall map. Mere speculation on my part.

Well, in came an email from Judith Bourke from way up in Ontario. I always marvel that one of my posts might wind up in the inbox of someone in another country. Well, hers was doubly interesting because Judy is a cousin-in-law of mine. We haven’t seen one another in decades. Yet we’ve been in touch. Oh, how wonderful is email!

She told me that as a young woman she read something about “plate tectonics.” And it intrigued her.

Have you heard of plate tectonics? It’s a scientific stab at explaining that as a real happening.  It posits that the earth is made up of plates and slowly but steadily huge forces lever them apart. And our continents are now the result. Interested? Look it up on Wikipedia.

Thank you, Judy.

What I found remarkable is that a young person would become interested in this ultra hi-tech subject to the point of recalling it now, decades later. As I think back, this was not considered a woman’s subject back then, methinks.

Another pertinent comment came in from long-time friend Jon Person in New London, Conn. He writes: “I strongly suggest checking out Buckminster Fuller’s Dymaxion Map. It is the only world map with no distortion in the land masses, a little in the ocean views.”

Fuller patented that way back in 1946. And what an amazing, incredible map that was! Check that out, too.

Thank you, Jon.

As always, a  lengthy and fascinating comment came in from Mark Lander, my close friend in Connecticut – well, close emotionally now that I’m in California—saying he was familiar with plate tectonics – said that places back there have geologic evidence that shows a relationship with someplace in Europe.

Mark is so interested in so many things and is such a gifted writer that more than once I’ve urged him to launch a blog of his own. I’d be proud to be his first subscriber.

Hear that, Mark?

If I’ve overlooked one or two of you, I apologize. I do appreciate your input.

Well, two days ago I mentioned all this at dinner with my daughter Monique and her hubby David. He immediately handed me the latest copy of National Geographic. Opened it to Page 30:  headlined Future Earth. “The continents are in constant motion. Tectonic plates crash together and break apart…..” And concludes: “In about 250 million years a new supercontinent, Pangaea Maxima, will form.”

This is not speculation. It’s presented as scientific fact. Wonderful illustrations show how this has happened and will continue to happen. Also amazing is that National Geographic had this in its latest issue and that David had the article fresh in mind. You agree?

Thank you, David.

Anyway, I’m also writing this because of more things that I’ve observed in looking at a more detailed world map than the one on my wall. Here they are, in the order that I thought of them and jotted them down.

So many of them are so interesting and lead to so much wondering and speculating.

  • Again, so, so much water! I hope a comment will come in from one of you explaining why so much, and what has created all this H2O.
  • And so much of the land is above the Equator.
  • And how so much of South America is in North America.
  • Most of the islands of the world are in Asia.
  • Islands are usually the outcroppings of hills and mountains.
  • Our Hawaii is so far from Asia.
  • The rotation of the earth is always easterly. Why?
  • People at the top of the world – in the Arctic – and people at the bottom – in the Antarctic – are not really at the top and bottom.
  • How much closer we, even in California, are to Europe than to Asia.
  • In fact, so surprising that California is as close to Paris as to Tokyo.
  • A quick look at our country shows that our states get bigger as we look from the Atlantic to the Pacific. The big exception is big Maine.
  • We have 37 states in our eastern half and 11 in the western half. How come such a disparity?
  • California has a bigger economy than most of the countries in the world.
  • The biggest states in the eastern half are Maine and Georgia.
  • The other five states in New England would fit into one two other states.
  • Nevada, Arizona, and New Mexico are as big as all of Mexico. And remember, these used to be part of Mexico, as were Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming. Mexico also gave up claims to Texas in that treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, 1848. That’s when the Rio Grande became our mutual border.
  • By comparison to our states, most of the provinces of Canada are humongous.
  • The province of Quebec seems as big as half of the United States. And it dwarfs the other provinces. No wonder many folks in Quebec a few decades ago hoped and cheered it should become a country by itself. That along with its history of being French and Catholic.
  • Geographers have divided the earth into sectors. They said there are 360 degrees around. Their starting point – 0 degree – is in Greenwich, near London. And exactly half way away — 180 degrees – is what they called the International Date Line
  • They also divided the world into time zones. If all were one hour apart, there would be 24. But strangely there are more. If interested, check it out.

The IDL has a striking importance. That’s where in crossing it we instantly change from one day of the week to another, depending on whether we’re going west or east. It runs from top to bottom, a bit jagged, down the Pacific, approximately half way between us and Asia.

  • I was aware of that the first time I was flying to Asia. In fact, to Japan. As we got close to the IDL, I asked a stewardess at what time. “I’ll ask the captain,” she said. She returned and said, “In 42 minutes.” And mentioned the exact time.

When we did cross, all I could see were clouds far below. I thought it was a big deal and jotted it down in my diary.

I believe that was the first time she ever got asked that question. I thought then, and still do, that routinely it should be announced to all the passengers.

Well, that’s it for today, friends. More than enough, you may be thinking.

II you have interesting observations of your own, please share them with me. Who knows … they may have the makings of another postscript.

As you know, “PS” is the way I headlined this up top. A PS is supposed to be short, right?  Hah! I just couldn’t help myself.

~ ~ ~ ~

Again, I welcome your comments, read all of them, appreciate whatever way you happen to be leaning. And am even happier when you send me a little personal update.


How good is your WQ? Yes, your WQ?

I had fun checking my map of the world … discovered so many interesting things!

By John Guy LaPlante

Morro Bay, CA — Not your IQ. No, no. You may think I made a typo. I did not. If you read stuff like this, for sure your IQ is above average.

By WQ I mean your knowledge about Our World. Our Earth. Is it pretty good?

My WQ is far better than I ever thought it would be when I graduated from college, say. In fact, though some people have traveled far more, I’ve amazed myself. Here’s a quick outline.

In the USA, to all 50 states, so that includes Hawaii and Alaska. In Canada from British Columbia and the Yukon all the way east to Nova Scotia.  In Mexico all the way from our border right down to nearly Guatemala and from Mazatlan on the Pacific through Mexico City to Veracruz on the Gulf of Mexico.  

In South America to eight countries, from the biggest, Brazil, to perhaps the smallest, Uruguay.

In western Europe to every country except Iceland, Norway, Sweden, and Denmark. In eastern Europe to Ukraine, Russia, and Belarus. Farther east, to Greece, Turkey, and Lebanon and even the island of Cyprus.

In Africa, to Morocco and Egypt and south to Kenya and all the way down to South Africa where the Atlantic and Indian Oceans touch.

 In Asia to ten countries from Japan, and the biggest, China, right down to Cambodia and tiny Singapore.

In India from top to bottom and east to west.

 I’ve crossed the Equator, of course. That’s interesting because the seasons are the opposite to ours. If it’s summer for us, it’s winter down there, and vice versa.

I’ve been to some parts more than once. To Canada more times than I can count. To France 10 times. To numerous countries more than half a dozen times. To China four times. To India twice. Ditto many other countries. To many of these places, I traveled solo.

I’ve had wonderful adventures. Have seen great natural wonders. Have met people in a fascinating array of cultures. And I’ve had some close calls. Which is to be expected.

As I say, I’ve impressed myself. But some people have traveled much more widely. I see this every time I pick up an international travel magazine. In fact, I’ve missed more countries than I’ve been to.

And I’ve written about all these wanderings. So yes, I know a bit about our world. But I’m no expert. Far from it. There are many more places I’d like to visit but that has become the impossible dream.

So it’s not surprising that I have a map of the world on a wall in my office. That’s a picture of it you saw at the top. I made it as big as possible to give you a decent look at it—I’m going to talk about interesting facts about our world.  You may know them. But I didn’t. I’ll get to that in a minute or two so stick with me.

 I put up that map when I moved in nearly four years ago. It’s big  but I rarely look at it. You know how it is. Yesterday I did take a look.  I wanted to  look at Chile. I just got an email from a friend down there in South America and I wanted to check the parts of that amazing country that I had been to.

Then I kept looking.  I fixated on the map. It’s surprising the surprising and interesting things I discovered. Never noticed them before. It was an eye-opening experience for me.

This is why I’m writing about it. In fact, I took a picture of the map for you. And I’ve made it as big as possible on this page. I suspect you’ll be interested, and I want you to be able to double-check as I write about this discovery of mine or that one. I can improve my WQ and so can you.

As a starter it’s astounding how much of the earth is covered by water.  Salt water, in fact—close to 75 percent of it! And I’ll bet 75 percent or more of us on Earth have never gotten a glimpse of it.

Also astounding is how close we are to Russia.  Take a look at our Alaska, high up in the northwestern corner of the map. Notice that it’s just a hop and a skip from its western tip to eastern Russia.  So close to Alaska that the Russians got there before we did. In fact, in Alaska I have visited an ancient Orthodox Russian church in Eklutna, Alaska.

Oddly more commercial flights from North America and Europe are transpolar flights – across the North Pole. They save time and expense. I say oddly because it seems so unthinkable. In a plane, unless you have a window seat, which wouldn’t help much, you’d never know the difference.

Nowadays it’s feasible to fly around the world – and at its widest diameter – by commercial airline in a week or so! That fact does deserve that exclamation mark. But only someone with a platinum credit card who would delight in boasting about that would attempt it, for sure.

Just imagine what Christopher Columbus or Marco Polo or Ferdinand Magellan or the other ancient adventurers would ever think of that!

To make this topic of mine today more interesting for you, I’m going to proceed in the form of a quiz. I’m going to ask you a question and will ask you to come up with the answer. Then I’ll provide the answer. You may have fun keeping score.

How many oceans do we have? What are their names, and how big are they in descending order? Pause now, my friends, and think……

Answers: 5 oceans. In descending order, the Pacific by a huge margin, then the Atlantic, Indian, Arctic, and Southern. Plus some big seas.

Question. How many continents – big land masses – are there? Name them in descending order. Pause now and think……

Answers: 7. Asia, Africa, North America, South America, Africa, Antarctica, and Oceania (Australia being the biggest chunk of that by far).

Now look at the six biggest countries. Which is the biggest? What are they in descending order? Now pause and think……

Answers: Russia, Canada, USA, Brazil, Australia, with India seventh.

Speaking of our country, look at our southern neighbor, Mexico, which looms so much in our news nowadays.  Yet Mexico is just a little squiggle – it seems we could squeeze four countries like it between our two ocean shores.

On each continent, what is the largest city? Pause now and think……

Answers: In Asia: Tokyo / In North America: Mexico City / In South America: Sao Paulo in Brazil / In Europe: Paris / In Africa: Lagos in Nigeria / In Antarctica: McMurdo Station (just some 1,300 people; one of three scientific stations we have down there) / In Oceania: Melbourne, Australia.

What is startling to me is Europe, and how small it is in comparison to other sections of our earth. Especially given that arguably it has been the most important in the development of civilization, well, as we know it. What is its biggest city?  And how many countries does it have? Pause now and think……

Answers: Not London or Moscow. It’s Paris. 24 countries.

What’s amazing is that it seems all those European counties could be tucked into our United States.

Looking closely at the map, do you see one country that from the point of geography seems an absolute freak?   Pause and look……

Well, to me it’s Chile, which I spoke about a minute ago. Look at it. It’s just a very, very  long sliver squeezed in between giant Brazil and the Pacific. Don’t you agree that in that way it can be called a freak?

Now let’s have fun assembling a geographic jigsaw puzzle, so to speak. First, take a look at the Western Hemisphere, from Canada at the top down through the USA and right down to the bottom of South America.

Now look at the Eastern Hemisphere, from Europe down to the bottom of Africa.  Now imagine placing your left hand on one hemisphere and your right hand on the other. And imagine sliding them across the Atlantic Ocean toward one another and tucking one into the other. No, they would not be a perfect fit, but definitely a pretty good one, don’t you think?

Now take a good look at the Indian Ocean. Notice Africa on the left side, India at the top, and the islands of Indonesia at the right. Next look at big Australia down below at the right. Now imagine sliding Australia up through the Indian Ocean and fitting it in between those three large land masses.  A pretty good fit, right?

I wish I had a geologist / geographer / oceanographer at hand. I’d ask him a question that just popped into my mind.  Is it conceivable that at one time eons ago this is what these sections of the earth were like — one huge, solid hunk of real estate? And some mysterious and enormous force spread those chunks of land apart?

 If you know the answer, please do let me know.

My map is maybe 10 years old. But it’s surprising the changes that have taken place or are.

The Crimea in Ukraine is now part of Russia.

Great Britain wants out of Western Europe.

Scotland keeps talking of saying goodbye to Great Britain. Ditto Catalonia from Spain.

All this said, most of us Americans never get to travel more than a couple of hundred miles from where we were born. Nothing wrong with that. But ….

And keeping in mind that the greater part of our earth is covered with water, it’s remarkable that most of us never get a glimpse of it, whether the Atlantic or Pacific or Gulf of Mexico. Or even our Great Lakes. Nothing wrong with that either. But ….

Well, still looking at that map on my wall, I’ll venture a bold prognostication. I predict that in a century – okay, make that two centuries – Canada, the United States, and Mexico will be a single country. And I’m tempted to say the same about the even more numerous countries of South America. You may think I’m nuts. But that’s okay.

Given the enormous strides in communication and ease of travel and expansion of international commerce, such geographic consolidation makes sense. Don’t you believe geography can trump politics?

Now finally check your WQ. How did you do? I found it fun. If you’ve read down this far, I’ll bet you would, too. I’ll also bet that your IQ is way above average.

~ ~ ~ ~

I look forward to your comments. I read them and love it when you tell me something I didn’t appreciate or realize. Which happens. And I enjoy it even more when you add a few words about yourself.


Do your duty, all of you. Vote …

By John Guy LaPlante

But maybe better, don’t vote. I’m serious.

I’m no longer a Connecticut citizen. I’ve moved to California, as many of you know. I’m registering my car here and applying for a California license and want to vote as a Californian.

Hey, I’ve been voting since I turned of age. Of course I want to continue.

After all, it’s essential to vote. That’s preached to us at every election. It can make a whopping difference. We’ve all seen how a key election can switch fast and decisively. Somebody wins by one or two votes. Somebody loses by one or two. The majority always wins!

That’s our core belief as citizens of our democracy. We the people have the final say. So, let’s make sure and vote!

But know what, I’ve come to realize that may be bad advice. I know that makes me sound awful. But  hear me out.

Democracy as a way of running a country isn’t even 300 years old. How come it’s such a late comer? Well, it was long thought that giving the people the right to vote defied common sense. What?!

Sure. What has made sense since the dawn of man, mind you, is the belief that the strongest and smartest should make the decisions. Joe Average and Betty Ordinary and their likes just weren’t up to the responsibility.

These smartest and strongest began to be called kings or dictators or czars or bishops or archdukes or even the sons of God. And they ruled from the top down. Those below them kowtowed. Or else.

And these at the top were so smart and strong that they believed their successors as leaders should be their sons.

After all, they inherited the same smart and strong genes.  And on it went.

Then some radicals began saying the people should decide. The people should choose their leaders, and for a fixed turn. That was called democracy. What a wild idea. Every person was worthy. Every adult would have one vote. All should speak their piece. And anybody who felt he could be a leader should have the right to run for the job. If most people decided he was good enough, he’d get it.

So now it could be from the bottom up. Crazy?!  This defied centuries of thinking. Such an unnatural idea it was. But it took root. The French Revolution turned the world upside down believing that unnatural idea. Our founders built our USA on that unnatural idea. And our country made history as the first in the world to start out practicing that.

But still some protested. Hey, they said, take a look at all the natural differences among people. Men were different from women with different capacities and different roles. Some were older. More intelligent and savvy. Some were younger. Some not very smart. Some less experienced. Some barely able to run their own life.

Some were brilliant and some were morons. Some hard-working, some lazy. Some were kind and considerate and broad-minded. Others were narrow-minded and vicious, even criminal. On and on.

So exceptions began to be made. Whole classes of people were excluded. Women. People just off the boat from a different country. People who looked different. Blacks. Hispanics. For a while, Japanese, even Japanese born here. People with different religious beliefs.  People under a certain page.  The feeble-minded. People who could not read. Men who refused to take up arms when called upon.  On and on.

And different countries, even different states, set up different rules. After all, that was the smart thing to do.

Even today that  kind of thinking  seems to make sense. How can an 18-year-old have the wisdom of a 48-year-old?  How can a woman spending her days at home taking care of the kids and doing the laundry and cooking the meals make big decisions with the smarts of the man of the house. After all he was the one leaving every morning to compete with other men and earn enough to support his family and make a good future for them?

How can a person who knows only a few words of English be allowed to vote? How can a drop-out from the sixth grade be as savvy as a university graduate and have an equal vote? How can a simple Joe Blow toe the mark with someone who can start a business, run a factory, manage a bank, practice medicine or law, publish a newspaper,  fly an airliner, become an officer in our armed services, teach economics or computer science, author books, invent important things?

How could the votes of all these people of varying ability have the same value?  One person, one vote.  So crazy!

This bothered many.  What to do?  Well, one thing was to educate everybody.  A great idea!  And so we built schools and made going to school compulsory.  At first, just grade school. Well, then to the age of 14, or maybe 16. Then through high school. And we even taught them civics—how to be a good citizen, how to do the right thing.

And we built public colleges and universities. And we gave those who completed this schooling a piece of paper certifying they had completed it—a diploma, a degree. And this way, gradually and steadily, we’d develop more good citizens capable of making smart decisions affecting all of us.

Of course, people who ran for elections wanted to do their best to get elected. Did so honorably. But some did bad things. Falsified – stole – votes.  Paid others to cast their votes for them. Browbeat people to make them vote the right way.  Not nice. Often illegal. But the important thing was to get everybody to vote.

Somehow we felt all this would work out. The end results would be satisfactory. It would be the will of the people. Overall our country would be blessed with progress. We’d elect good leaders and we’d pass good laws.

Nonsense. Some voters cast their ballot with only the faintest idea whether to vote for or against. They will vote for someone or something on a mere hunch. On the basis of a few soundbites or headlines or billboards.  Suggestions from neighbors. They may decide on how a candidate has voted on one or two issues but ignore his performance on dozens of other issues.

May decide on the basis of how the candidate speaks or looks.  Or on the 140-character tweets he sends out helter skelter. Maybe because he did them a favor or gave their baby a peck on the cheek or sent them a New Year’s calendar or a computer-generated birthday card.

Remember here “he” also means “she.”  But aren’t these things that I’ve described part of the way democracy works?

Yet somehow our country lurches along. Being an enlightened and responsible voter is a formidable challenge. It sounds impossible. Certainly it is difficult. But it’s what each of us should attempt.

Now look at me. I am going to be a citizen of California with all the rights and privileges and responsibilities thereof. I want to be a good citizen. Cast wise votes.

But know what? There is so much about California that I do not know.  California is so huge.  Should be three or four different states — there are such humongous differences between various sections. Has an economy bigger than 90 percent of all the countries in the world. Has to deal with an ongoing cornucopia of problems. Faces enormous challenges on many fronts.

Yet my vote as an octogenarian will be worth just as much as that of an octogenarian who was born here and lived here all his life!

And what do I know about all these California problems and challenges? Enough to cast a sensible vote? Well, maybe for whoever is going to run for governor.  And U.S. Senator. That’s about it. It would be foolish to believe or act otherwise.

How about here in Morro Bay, my new home town? There is so much that I do not know. I barely know the names of the mayor and the city manager and the police chief. The fire chief? Sorry. Those in the City Council? They are mere names in the newspapers.

How about our big issues?  I know what they are.  Well, I think I do. Broaden our economy beyond tourism and beyond attracting retirees to move here. Developing a better public water supply. More affordable housing. Providing better inducements to keep young people living here. Deciding what to do about the homeless among us —  this is a nice place to be homeless so we have quite a few.

Oh, I read about these problems.  Hear about them. But they are complicated.  Controversial. Involve lots of $$$. Will have an impact for years to come.  On our people and taxes and progress.

Yes, I am going to have the right to vote. But should I vote?  On some of these issues, definitely not. I would be hard put to stand up and explain in plain English how I’d justify my vote.

What I hope is that all who do vote have studied these issues in depth. And know more about the candidates than I do. And if they’re running as Democrats, Republicans, and Independents. And are voting with solid conviction. I said Independents. Hey, do we have any nowadays?

So as you see, I’m at a loss. What to do?  Well, what my conscience tells me to do is, sit it out, John. Don’t vote on some of these issues. Or some of these candidates. Voting for them would be just as smart as flipping a coin for heads or tail. Not smart. Dumb.

Yet somebody could point a finger at me. Lecture me. “Hey, John, you’re not doing your duty!”

Oh, well….

But that’s what it might be my duty to do. Not vote. And that’s my decision.

P.S.  Here are a couple of quotes that I found interesting.

“Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others that have already been tried.” – Unknown

“Democracy is rife with imperfections. It works only because most of the time the imperfections cancel themselves out. Though far too often they don’t.” – Unknown

What do you think?!

~ ~ ~ ~

As always I look forward to your comments. I read them all. Good or not so good. I do so because you’re writing them out of conviction, of course. These days. hearing from you is the one and only reward I get for scribbling these posts.



Fun facts about my new home state of CA

By John Guy LaPlante

Morro Bay, California – Folks I get to meet here often get very curious about where I hail from. For sure I’m not a born and bred native. A minute listening to me tells them that. My “accent” tips them off, would you believe?!

I put “accent” in quotes because I’m positive I don’t have one. They’re the ones who have an accent! In all my travels over the years, I’ve noticed that wherever I find myself, the locals have an accent. Never, never  me! I’ll bet that if you travel, you’ve experienced the same darn thing.

When they ask, I give them my standard spiel. “Well, I’m from the lower half of New England. Born in Rhode Island. My working years in Massachusetts. And my Social Security years largely in Connecticut.”

Lots of them know zilch about those three fine states. So I add a zinger. “But know what? If you shifted those three states here to California, they’d be just a couple of counties. Yes, for sure!”

Their eyes really open wide when they hear that.

That happened again just last evening. It made me wonder, am I right about that? But in 10 minutes today Google gave me all the data I needed to check it out. In fact, Google gave me the square miles of each state. But also its population, well, as of 2016. Very interesting compared to California … especially after finding out California has 58 counties.

For your information, Morro Bay is in San Luis Obispo County. Now do take a look at Google’s numbers.

STATE                  SQUARE MILES         POPULATION

California                     163,696                  39,250,000

SLO County, CA            3,616                       281,401


Rhode Island                 1,212                    1,056,000

Massachusetts             10,565                   6,812,000

Connecticut                    5,432                    3,576,000

TOTALS                          17,209                  11,444,000

Yes, California has 58 counties. Of course, some are bigger than others. But their average size is roughly 2,700 square miles.  Some have so many people they’re elbow to elbow. Others are practically empty.

So my guestimate that my three states back east would be just a couple of counties here, well, a couple of the bigger counties, is correct.  In fact, Little Rhody, my birth state, could tuck into San Luis Obispo County here with the extra two thirds of the county totally empty. Yet, if that happened, the county would have nearly four times as many people.  Amazing!

All of which made me look a sharp look at a map of our 48 states between the Atlantic and Pacific.  It’s striking how as you move west, the states get bigger and bigger, and in many cases, smaller in population. With California the dramatic exception!

Which made me think of that famous old saying, “Go west, young man!” And to be gender polite now,  I insist on saying, “You, too, young woman!” I’ll bet you’d like it here.  I do though I still get homesick a bit. But I’m far from being young anymore. And, of course, homesickness is like seasickness. You get over it.

But don’t too many of you pack up and come. That would skew my statistics!

~ ~ ~ ~







Two old men sound off about old, old age

By John Guy LaPlante

I’m one of them, and I just sent an op-ed to the New York Times about my thinking on getting very, very old.

My doing that was precipitated by an article in the New York Times that was written by Robert W. Goldfarb, a

A small corner of the Times op-ed page. It also includes think pieces by its regular columnists.

retired management consultant. Its title was “Going on 18, but not naïve.” It ran January 1. But I had a dramatically different opinion than Mr. Goldfarb about what’s it’s like to get very old. And I ain’t naïve, either.

First, I drafted a letter (not the op-ed yet) to the Times about it. The Times recommends that a letter run from 150 to 200 words. I had much more to say than that! My letter stretched to 980 words. And mind you, I had made it as lean as I could.

Submitting it was pure futility on my part. I realized that. Every day the Times is brimful with news and opinion articles that cry for discussion. Some readers nod in approval, others shake their heads.

So I decided to send it to the op-ed editor. Op-eds run longer. Op-eds are opinion articles.  Not mere letters. Additionally, the Times pays a fee. That would be nice.

Op-ed, a strange name!  Well, as you may know, the Times always publishes its editorials on a left-hand page. Op-eds are called op-eds because they run on the right-hand page across from the editorial page.  That’s what it’s called, the op-ed page. The Times started the practice. In fact, that’s the way big papers across the country do it.

I said I knew I was wasting my time. Here’s why. Typically the Times publishes only two or three op-eds a day for one-shot writers.  They need room on the page for its regular columnists. And every day dozens of readers submit an op-ed. So dozens of writers get disappointed.

The op-ed editor acknowledges every submission with a standard  email. In part the email says—and I translate it bluntly for you—if you don’t get an approval from us in three days, consider it dead. Three days passed. Well, I was so disappointed I broke down sobbing. (Just kidding.)

Yes, I disagreed with Mr. Goldfarb. And I’m about to tell you why. I mentioned his article up top and I bold-faced it for you. You may want to get his view on it. Just look it up via Google or Bing. That would be a good starting point for you. But not essential.

Here’s what I said in my op-ed to the Times:

Mr. Goldfarb wrote because he’s 88. Well, I’m 88, too. I enjoyed Mr. Goldfarb’s take on that and his good humor.

But I’ve had a different experience and a different life strategy. I offer it in the hope it may inspire thoughtful readers who see old age looming and want to make their old age as good as possible.

Here are smart moves that I rejoice I made for a good old age, which I’m now enjoying. .

FIRST: I retired, well, in the sense that I started collecting Social Security. But never retired in the sense of quitting work. No, no. I started as a journalist, went on to other things as well, but have always been a writer. Articles, news releases, essays, non-fiction books. I’m still a writer.

But these days as a blogger, giving my take on a variety of topics, never sure what I’ll focus on next. But it will be on a topic that interests me personally. This blog post is an example.

Curious about the topics, by the way? See You’ll see the surprising variety.

So, it’s a big mistake to quit working! Get into a line of work that you hope you’ll be passionate about till you can’t do it anymore!

TWO: Like Mr. Goldfarb, I seek adventure. He’s content with a smidgeon. My word, not his.  I’ve wanted more than a smidgeon. Read on and you’ll see I’ve had one adventure after another.

What’s an adventure? Here’s how I define it.  It’s an undertaking new and challenging that runs a think-about-it-twice risk of failure, but is worth the  risk. Most people are averse to that. They go into something that’s sure and safe and do it till they hit 65. Work in the Post Office. Or in a bank. Or teach school. Most careers are like that. Which is okay. No criticism from me. But that’s not been what I’ve sought.

For one thing, I changed my career path several times and ventured far afield from newspaper reporter and editor on a metro paper. I spread my wings:  college teacher… college administrator… hospital marketing director… businessman.

Yes, I started a couple of businesses cold. One in public relations and print media. The other in residential real estate. Made them successful. At one time I managed both simultaneously.

I’ve experienced failure. Of course. In business. And marriage. Made that a stepping stone.

Was wed for 26 years. Live alone now, contentedly. Divorce is painful. Yet now my ex and I are friends, which I think is unusual.  (By the way, our three children have doctorates. And they’re nice people.)

As a senior newly retired, I spread my wings farther. Soon became the director of one of the largest Elderhostel programs in the Northeast. Spent more than a decade at that.

And I began sating my travel yearnings big-time.

With a partner who had worked as a travel agent, I escorted groups of seniors on eight European tours across a dozen countries and one to Mexico. The romantic cities like Guadalajara and Mazatlan. Not mega-touristy Cancun or Acapulco.

Mostly solo, I’ve toured all 50 states, several numerous times, most often on slow roads. Much of that in a VW Westfalia—the fabled little camper. Have cruised alone across Canada from Vancouver to New Brunswick. Up to Quebec time and again. Soloed in my Westfalia thousands of miles through Mexico. Did it twice, more than 12,000 miles.

Have toured all European countries except the four at the very top. Some several times. Have been to France 10 times–did a house swap there.

At 75, traveled around the world alone for my 75th birthday.  That led to a book. Followed that with a tour of eight countries in Asia, the second half of it alone. My sister Lucie was with me on the first half. That led to a book. At 78, I joined Peace Corps and completed a full hitch (Ukraine, university-level teacher)–was notified by Peace Corps / Washington that at 80 I was the oldest Volunteer in the world. That led to a book.

These travels were all big adventures.

By the way, for years I’ve been writing articles beyond number about these travels.

Talk about change! Southern New England—Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Connecticut–was home for me right into my 80’s.  I’ve now relocated close to my loving daughter in Morro Bay, a small town on California’s central  coast. For keeps. Sure, a nice bonus is no snow, no ice here, no torrid temps, palm trees, the Pacific just a mile away.

This has been an ongoing adventure. There’s been a price. I  get moments of homesickness.  And I miss friends.

I’ve continued to challenge myself in new ways here in Morro Bay. Did two seasons as a talk-show host on our local FM station, Did a stint on the board of directors of our senior center, have taught mini courses and given talks, have a talk coming up at our public library on why not volunteer in Peace Corps?

So yes, I do have a powerful adventure gene.  Starting businesses as a married man with kids is an adventure. Joining Peace Corps when you know 20 percent of the Volunteers quit and come home early is an adventure. Self-publishing books is an adventure. Investing in the stock market for years as I’ve done is an an adventure. Along with years and years of smaller adventures.

A core belief of mine is: If you’re not making your life an adventure, you’re short-changing yourself. Adventure is a terrific tonic.

THREE: I’ve watched my dollars and cents but without suffering unduly. My motto has not been I want the best. It’s been I want what will be good enough. I consider thrift (not parsimony!) an index of IQ. Having savings lets anybody sleep better. Indebtedness is an awful headache. Shake off indebtedness as soon as you can!

FOUR: I’ve become more vigilant about my health. I grew up a fatty, finally got that under control. Slowly but steadily became a vegetarian. That’s smart health-wise and most satisfying ethics-wise.

I’ve been doing morning limbering exercises for years. Used to walk, walk, walk. Always active in many ways. For 10 years I lived on a fourth floor. Never used the elevator. Always took the stairs.

As a little kid I loved the trike my mom and dad gave me one Christmas. Grew up to a bike and was an active bike rider into my 70’s. A spill ended that.

Now I pedal a trike again. It’s such good exercise. And so much fun.  So practical to get around and do errands and shop—it has two cargo baskets, front and rear. I ride it every day. I’ve been kidded I’m regressing! (Chuckle!)

I still drive, hope to continue driving but I don’t feel it as essential as it was for so long.

Sure, I’m failing. Walk with a walking stick. Like a nap every afternoon. Now stone deaf in my right ear, use a hearing aid in the other. Take 7 pills every morning, but only one is a prescription. I live, cook, keep house alone. Have just had four teeth pulled.  I’ve had a succession of ills. I got dizzy once and fell. Nothing broken. Now I wear an electronic gizmo to summon help.  Just getting over a urinary tract infection.

Yet my primary care doctor told me on my latest visit he sees no need to see me till April. Which is when I hit 89 and enter my 90th. Some oldsters run in to see him every two weeks. Yes, I’ve been lucky about this. However, some of that luck is the result of my own efforts.

Yes indeed, doing whatever it takes to remain healthy is a smart priority.

Bottom line: I feel good. I still cope every day. I’m optimistic. I’m enjoying life.

But yes sir, nobody is more aware than I am that my demise isn’t far off.

That said, I have no ambition to reach my 100th if I’m in bad shape. It’s possible to live too long. The end can be so awful. And so hard on loved ones. I’ve seen that. God forbid!  At a certain point, an instantaneous and decisive heart attack would be wonderful.

The above is what I sent to the op-ed editor at the Times though I’ve given considerably more detail here. And I added a final thought in my op-ed. “Sorry there’s none of Mr. Goldfarb’s good humor in this op-ed of mine. But my intent is to give your younger readers intent on a fine old age something worth chewing on. My strategy has worked.”

Though I may sound that way, please do not think I am boasting. I am not.

My motive is the same in sending this to you: perhaps this will help you and yours.

~ ~ ~

Remember, dear readers, I warmly welcome your letters. I read them all. If you disagree with something I write, no cussing please. Write while it’s fresh in your mind. Just email to Write now.




My Weirdest New Year’s Day Ever

o   Property Transfers in Old Lyme 2017Property Transfers in Lyme 2013

Yes, Durban is huge. And the beaches so long and beautiful. No idea which is the one I went to. But such a throng heading to it! And how I stood out among them! — Photo from Google.

 By John Guy LaPlante

Scary, in fact. I lived through that New Year’s 13 years ago. And I’ve never experienced anything like it since. It was a unique experience.

By the way, this account was published back then. I am posting it now because I think you’ll find it interesting and may learn something about prejudice from it.

All my life, like you probably, I have celebrated New Year’s Day in winter—most often in a cold, icy, snowy winter. Not in a short-sleeves Florida or Arizona or southern California winter.

Winter arrives on Dec. 21, of course, and New Year’s Day 11 days later, on January 1. My saying this seems silly, but I say it for a reason.

Yes, seeing  the New Year arrive has often meant stepping outside into freezing cold and then suffering in my frigid car tlil the engine begins blowing in hot air.

For many decades this was too often the way I experienced New Year’s Day.

With just one big exception.That was when I traveled around the world alone for five months.  Four and a half months of it by myself—147 days, 20 countries, 36,750 miles by plane, train, and short legs by bus. And for only $83 per day, with everything included, right down to every snack and phone call and all the visas required. Visas can be expensive. That trip was my present to myself for my imminent 75th birthday.

It was a grand adventure. More than that, an odyssey. It led to my book, “Around the World at 75. Alone, Dammit!” It’s a book still selling, and in fact, one that got to be published also in China in Chinese—well, Mandarin, which is the principal language.

I crossed the Equator, a big deal for me. When you do that, the seasons are just the opposite from ours. If we’re in spring, down there it’s autumn, and if summer, winter. Then I crossed it again to return north, and same experience.

Well, as New Year’s Day approached, I arrived in Durban, South Africa. That’s nearly as far south in Africa as you can go, and I had come a long way, all the way from Cairo in Egypt on the  Mediterranean.

I arrived in Durban on Dec. 28, just seven days after the start of winter and three days before the new year dawned. But it was summer there, with long daylight, short nights, shirtsleeve temperatures, even bathing suit temperatures. How remarkable. How wonderful.

Durban is a big city. An impressive city. And I was there to enjoy it. I was staying in a nice hostel right downtown, the Banana Backpackers. I repeat. Not hotel. Hostel. I was using hostels because they were cheaper (hotels for five months can get expensive) and I got an experience more true to my purpose.

Don’t ask me why that name, Banana Backpackers. I never found out. And I was making friends. And I was making the most of the city, taking in everything I could—its bustling downtown, its historic and tourist attractions, its museums. It’s all in my book.

New Year’s Day was a great celebration there, too. It’s a big day all over the world. I read everything I could in the big Durban daily about activities coming up. English is the official language. There would be all the usual merry-making. I was looking forward to it. Planned to enjoy it as much as I could.

New Year’s Day rose, bright and sunny and warm and beautiful. But none of my senses told me that this was New Year’s Day. This was so dramatically different. But my brain did.

Durban is right on the Indian Ocean, just north of where the Indian and Atlantic Oceans merge below Cape town. Durban has great beaches. I had not glimpsed them yet, but I knew they were gorgeous. I intended to get to them today. They were not far, at the end of a broad avenue that nosed right into them. A cinch. I could get to them in just a few blocks.

But imagine my surprise. My stupefaction. Thousands of people were planning to do the same thing. I noticed that the minute I stepped out of Banana Backpackers. People jammed the boulevard, walking in from various directions.

So many. Amazing. The boulevard was closed to vehicles for the day. People were heading south on it in a broad torrent. They crowded the whole width of the street. All going the same way, toward the salt water. Some on bikes but most hoofing it. Carrying all the usual stuff—towels, picnic baskets, folding chairs, parasols, toys. Many with children in hand.

Instantly I saw they were all black! Durban is a typical South African city. It has the usual mix of blacks and whites, but the blacks were there first and predominate. In fact, apartheid had been the law of the land until quite recently. Apartheid mandated the enforced separation of the races, the same as in many places in our U.S.A. when I was young, but even more severely in South Africa, I had read.

I could not see any whites! Of course, white people like nice, warm, sunny beaches, too. Why this river of people was all black, no idea. I speculated. Sure, apartheid had finally been outlawed. But habits die hard. Black people traditionally went to the beach this way. White people took another routet o a different beach. That’s the way it was and the tradition lived on.

No way could I walk with these blacks! I should drop out. That was my first thought. I gulped hard. I was so disappointed. But then I braced up. A main reason for this big and crazy adventure of mine–I knew some people thought it was crazy–was to visit other countries, and the more different the better. I wanted to see what they were really like. I was deliberately staying clear of the heavy tourist areas. I wanted to see the real people in their real everyday life.

So how could I chicken out now?

Uptight I was, but I stepped forward and slipped in among the blacks.  Back home in Connecticut, blacks were quite few. I saw dark eyes studying me but I looked straight ahead and walked on. I was uncomfortable. Nervous. Apprehensive. I admit it and am embarrassed to say so. Though what I was doing was no longer illegal.

I was tempted to drop out and head back to Banana Backpackers. What I was experiencing, of course, was plain, classic culture shock. I never considered myself prejudiced and was proud of that, but I was reacting prejudiced.

My head was battling with my emotions. My head was telling me that 99 percent of these people were good, fine, no-problem people. I knew that this was true of people all over the world. Yellow, brown, red, black, white, mixed. In every country the bad ones—the malicious ones—are a tiny minority. True, too, in our U.S.A.

The only thing these folks had in mind was getting to the beach for a fine New Year’s outing.

My heart made me fearful, insecure, borderline panicky. But I walked on. I was feeling this way because they were so many and they were all black and I wasn’t used to this and there was no other white person around. But on I went.

I wasn’t going to the beach to sun myself or swim. I did like these things back home. I was going because I wanted to see the Indian Ocean and smell the sea air and be part of the fun and observe everything going on and get some exercise and see what a New Year’s Day was like in this country and how folks enjoyed it.

We got to the beach. A great big, broad stretch of sand. The Indian Ocean stretched out ahead, clear to the horizon, with not even a tiny island in sight. A few pleasure boats, yes.

But know what? The Indian Ocean didn’t look a bit different than many other expanses of salt water I have gotten to see. The only reason I knew that this was the Indian Ocean was because my map told me it was, period.

What I noticed was the great numbers of people. Right away I thought of Coney Island. Who isn’t familiar with Coney Island? I’ve never been to Coney Island. But I’ve seen the photos of the packed crowds on the Fourth of July.

For sure this huge turn-out would rival Coney Island in the Guinness Book of World Records. And of course all these people were black. But they were behaving just like white people would.

I became more relaxed. I began walking around. I roamed the beach. I made my way between all these people. Families in tight clusters. Kids frolicking and romping and tossing balls. Couples making out. People reading, snacking, applying suntan lotion, snoozing.

I attracted a lot of looks. Plenty of stares. But not a single person took a step toward me. Maybe my age was a factor. I was an old man, so considered harmless perhaps. Anyway, I relaxed a bit.

Not easy to walk in that loose sand. I made my way down close to the beach and walked along the shore on the packed sand, moist from the outgoing tide. Some people were in the water, swimming, splashing, floating, but quite few. Which is typical at any beach anywhere.

I walked a long way to the left, then a long way back and to the right. All along, people looked me over. Many followed me with their eyes. Most people were too busy.

I had my camera and I began sneaking pictures. I learned long ago it was not smart at times to face whoever I wanted to photograph and snap a picture.

I had developed a different way. I would spot someone I wanted to focus on. Then I would turn 90 degrees and face in this new direction. While looking in this direction, slowly I would turn my camera back 90 degrees. Very stealthily. Yes, all while gazing straight ahead. And click the shutter. Sometimes I missed the shot. But often I got the good candid shot I hoped for. Rarely did anybody catch on.

Now I got bolder. I even walked up to some people. Made sure I smiled. And asked if I could take their picture. Nobody said no.

It was all pleasant. I was happy to be part of this. But this was a film camera. And of course my roll of film got used up.

In all this, I did not come upon another white person. With apartheid dead, I was surprised some whites had not begin coming to this beach.  Then I thought, would there be blacks at the white beach now? I didn’t get to find out.

I quit long before the others did. I was happy I had not caved in to my apprehensions and had had what turned out to be a pleasant experience, in fact memorable.

Back at the hostel, I found practically nobody around. That evening I ran into a couple of people and mentioned my visit down to the black beach and what I experienced there. Well, a wee bit of it. . But they were foreign tourists, too. Whites like me. They were interested. But they had few comments to make.

Later I had another thought. It was about black people in the U.S.A.  Black men and women of all ages born there and grown up there. Like me. Just as much an American citizen as I. And I thought of the many times when for sure they must find themselves alone among whites. Must feel as awkward and isolated and apprehensive as I felt on this New Year’s Day. Probably a common experience for them in my neck of Connecticut, where blacks are still a small minority, although the situation is changing a bit. I suppose they get used to it, adapt to it, and develop a certain comfort. Just as I did in South Africa.

I felt these disturbing emotions just for a few hours on just one day. Some of our blacks back home must feel it frequently, in fact day in and day out, all their lives.  How awful.

That New Year’s Day in Durban made me more understanding. More sympathetic. I learned a powerful lesson. And the lesson has stuck. We’re all much alike. Little reason to be nervous among strangers. 

I haven’t had a weird one since then. Hope I never will.

I’d like to include some of the photos I took that day but they’re not at hand. Sorry.

Happy New Year to you, one and all, wherever you are!

~ ~ ~

Please leave a comment. Your comments are my only payback. I read them all, good and not so good. Just email it to me at I’d appreciate that! 


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