March 7, 2021

My Transportation Evolution

By John Guy LaPlante

Part A.  I am driving on three wheels now!

I am as excited as an 18-year-old who just got his driver’s license and can’t wait to get into the driver’s seat.

I told you that because I will turn 92 in just a few weeks, I am giving up driving. I’m so afraid that in my old age I might have a terrible accident and hurt somebody.

I planned to sell my car. It’s a beauty. A 10-year-old Hyundai Sonata with barely 70,000 miles on it.

Then I found out from my son Arthur that his son Thomas, my grandson, needs a car.

Then I changed my mind about selling. I decided that I’d give it to Tom.

Big problem. Arthur and Tom live in Florida. That’s some 3,000 miles from here. How to get my Hyundai there?

Well, they are checking out the possibilities. When there’s a problem, usually there’s a solution. We’ll see.

Oh, I learned to ride a bike when I was 10 years old. And I have been pedaling ever since.

Those of you who have been following my scribblings over the years know how all-important good advice has been to me in one way or another.

Long ago somebody suggested to me it would be smart to take a bike with me on long road trips. And I did that.

Especially in my numerous north and south and east and west solo travels as I cruised the country in my tiny RVs. First in my Volkswagen Microbus. Then in my second VW Microbus. Then in my Dodge Supervan. All second-hand by the way. But good solid cars.

And yes, I always took a bike with me. So practical. In fact, so essential.

I could give you many examples. But I will give you just two.

I was in Philadelphia. Such a historic city. And such a huge tourist attraction to this very day. Especially in the centuries-old downtown.

I was so enthusiastic about being there. I wanted to see this, and that, and that.

Sure, there were plenty of parking spaces on the street. Drivers kept circling and hoping to find an empty one. All the spots were metered, of course.

You would have to circle around from street to street to finally find an empty one. Then put in all the coins.

But the meters limited you to just ninety minutes of parking. Far too little to visit a museum or historic building.

Well, I got an idea. I would skip downtown for now. I would drive to a quiet neighborhood a mile or two from downtown. Nice and quiet. Plenty of places to park free. No meters.

Then I would unload my bike and pedal downtown to whatever museum or historic building I wanted to get and see.

Then secure my bike to a street pole or something else with my chain and lock. And take as much time as I needed to enjoy whatever I was visiting. How about that?!

Then I would pedal to whatever I wanted to see next and do the very same thing.

And finally, very content with myself, I would pedal my bike back to my car.

That became a standard operating procedure for me in city after city.

Here is my second example. So different.

I was on a long, quiet country road in Texas.

Not paying much attention to my instrument panel. And I ran out of gas!

I remembered that I had just passed a gas station a mile or two back. What to do?

I had an empty gas can on board. I unloaded my bike, locked my car, and with my gas can pedaled back to that station and explained to the owner. No problem, he told me.

I bought just enough gas to get my car back to his station. Poured it down into my gas tank. Returned to the station. Tanked up, and continued on my way. That station owner was such a good guy. Lucky me.

I told you way up on top of this article that I would be driving on a newfangled tricycle now. And I am.

Well, here is the background about all that.

I was still riding bicycles back then. Yes, two-wheelers.

One day I took a bad spill. No bones broken but I thought it was time to give up biking. And I sold my bike.

I am not sure how, but I heard of a company in New York City that sold bicycles of all kinds. It was called Worksman Cycles. Bicycles, sure. But also tricycles. Not little kids’ tricycles. Adult tricycles. I did not know such existed.

I was living in wonderful Deep River, Connecticut back then.

I bought a model called the PortoTrike. Porto meaning portable.

It had three forward speeds and a double braking system. How about that?!

 And in the back, a big wide basket in which you could carry a lot. Groceries, for instance. Perfect for me. I liked it a lot. Found it indispensable.

Way back then I had started spending six months a year in Deep River and six months a year in Morro Bay.

I was getting quite old–even I thought so–and I was invited by my daughter Monique and her husband David to come live in Morro Bay with them. That was so, so nice of them.

One day while exploring Morro Bay and discovering what a very nice small city it is, I came upon a mobile home park very close to downtown. So convenient to everything. All the mobile homes were in tip-top shape. You had to be at least 55 years old to live there. Each one had a reserved parking space for one car. Each one had a small yard with a garden of flowers and plants. So tidy.

I got to meet some of the owners. Very nice people. I was greatly impressed.

I had never thought of living in a mobile home. I believe I had a certain prejudice. I just didn’t know better.

So I bought mobile home Number 19.

And after these many years of living in many places, Number 19 became my new home sweet home.

So for a while I continued to live six months a year back in Connecticut and six months a year in Morro Bay.

Then I sold everything back in Connecticut, including my very nice condo and even my red Worksman PortoTrike and started living in Morro Bay full-time.

I have never regretted that.

And within a few weeks in Morro Bay, I bought a second PortoTrike, a blue one. And I have been pedaling it every afternoon for 2 hours or so, 7 days a week.

Truth is, I now walk with two canes. Yes, two! That tells you I ain’t a kid anymore.

For one thing, pedaling my trike is the only real exercise I get.

For another, it’s key to my social life. I head to the Public Library. To our fine Senior Center. To Albertsons Supermarket and our RiteAide Pharmacy. To our Post Office. To McDonald’s for my afternoon cup of coffee. On and on.

And here and there I run into people I know, and this has been a wonderful way to keep up with people.

Covid-19 has limited things a whole lot for me, as it has for you. But it has limited very little of this wonderful physical activity of mine.

So all that has been Part A of my story.

Part B.  Goodbye Hyundai Sonata. Sob!

Teaching me a thing or two.

Now here is Part B. First, I will no longer have my wonderful Hyundai Sonata to drive. Sob!

My loving daughter Monique and her hubby David have been wonderful in picking me up and driving me here and there as needed. Or just to give me a pleasant drive.

But they are busy. No problem.

Now comes the good part!

From Worksman Cycles back in New York City, I found out they have introduced a line of electronic — that is, battery-assisted trikes.

As we know, battery-assisted bikes have become quite the thing. And Worksman has become a leader In that.

Fortunately I have kept in touch with Al Venditti, the chief engineer. He assisted me when I bought my two PortoTrikes. And he has assisted me when I have had to buy a replacement part of one kind or another.

And he receives the blogs I post.

Well, I phoned him and explained what I was up to. And expressed my interest in one of their battery-assisted trikes.

“John, you will love it!” he told me. “This is designed for people like you. Do you want me to take your order for one right now?”

Before I had a chance to answer, he said something that really, really excited me.

“But first, John, here’s a suggestion I think you should seriously consider. You should buy one of our conversion kits. With that you can convert your present PortoTrike into a battery-operated one.”

“I had no idea that that was possible. Did I hear you right?”

“Yes, sir! You will save several hundred dollars plus the cost of shipping you a new battery-assisted one from our factory 3,000 miles west to you in California.”

“How big a job will it be to convert my trike? Is it a handyman job?”

“Truth is, it has to be a fairly skilled handyman. With a good stock of small hand tools. And very important, somebody who knows how to follow printed instructions.”

I thought for a minute. “Well, I want one, Al. Write me up for one right now. Give me a minute and I’ll have my credit card info for you.”

And I gave him the info he needed.

“Oh, how fast can I get the conversion kit?”

“Not for at least a week or two. There’s quite a demand.”

Our business all done, I was excited.

One of my first thoughts was how nice it was of Al to tell me about the kit. He could easily have sold me a whole new one for many dollars more.

I could not wait for it to arrive. There’s a great demand. And when it did, I got a friend of mine — a neighbor named Will who is very mechanically talented to upgrade my PortoTrike. Will did a first-class job assembling it, as I knew he would. And then road-testing it for me.

And what he charged was a bargain.

Finally the day came for me to try my new e-trike. I was excited. But scared also.

I was accustomed to pedaling, shifting, braking, all that. Scared because this thing had a lot of power and it wouldn’t take much for me to lose control.

I decided to start with simple pedaling. Yes, just pedaling.

Still this would be different because my new front wheel, with the electronic technology built into the hub, was much heavier than the old one.

I decided to pedal it to McDonald’s for my afternoon cup of coffee, just 10 minutes away.

And I got started. The pedaling was easier than I had thought. It was easy to apply the brake.

And easy to downshift to an easier gear if I had to.

My coffee finished, I started again. This time I decided to spend 20 minutes just going all around the big shopping complex. It has an Albertsons Supermarket and a big RiteAide drugstore, which sells far more than just pharmaceuticals. So it has a very large parking lot.

I began pedaling up and down the various lanes, up and down, up and down, up and down, up and down.

No problems. I felt relaxed now. I decided on a tougher trial.

Adjoining this one is a larger plaza. It is downhill from this one. I would pedal there. It has a variety of small businesses. One that I enjoy is Dollar Tree.

So pedaling there was a cinch. I secured the wheels so it wouldn’t roll away from me.

I put on my Covid-19 mask of course. Lucky me, I found a four-wheel basket, entered the store and began picking up this and that and that. As always, I bought more than I intended. A big plastic bag full of stuff.

Paid the cashier and back outside, placed the bag into the basket behind my seat. It added a lot of weight.

Now my route home would be uphill. The first third of the route home would be very demanding. Then it would ease a bit.

I’ve always had to put my trike in its lowest gear and pedal and pedal a third of the way home, then slip into second gear and pedal and pedal, and for the final 10 minutes, the third gear right to my front door.

Now I decided to turn on the motor for the first time. Hoped I wouldn’t mess up.

With the motor going, it was possible to downshift into gear five, which is the easiest one available.

No need for me to pedal. I just rested my feet on the idled pedals. And up I went! So amazing!

I parked my trike and lugged my purchases inside.

I was elated. All doubts were gone. I had made a smart decision in getting the ebike conversion kit.

I went to bed happy. And I had a special test for my trike lined up for the next morning. The ultimate test.

But I woke up to a day gray and cold with showers threatening. Shucks!

The next day was nicer but could have been better. Cold. But it was good enough to attempt my big test.

Anyone familiar with Morro Bay is aware that from my starting point at home it’s all downhill to our harbor to what is simply called The Rock.

It is huge. It has been there for eons. It is what is left of a giant volcano. Long dead, thank goodness.

It is a landmark for seafarers. Has been since the Spanish explorers sailed up here and recorded the Rock on their primitive maps.

It’s a favorite destination for lots of tourists. They’ve heard about it. They want to see it.

And of course, just beyond the Rock is the great big Pacific Ocean, thousands of miles of open water to Asia.

There would be very little pedaling needed to get down to the harbor. It would be easy.

But I had to make sure that I could work the brake.

I wanted to make sure that the trike wasn’t run away from me and maybe crash into something. I braked several times to check it.

Well, I made it down to the Embarcadero with no problem. The Embarcadero is the main road that parallels the shoreline of the harbor.

It is lined with restaurants of all kinds and tourist shops of all kinds. Usually heavy pedestrian and auto traffic.

And nearby motels and hotels and inns.

But these days far less traffic than usual because of covid-19.

But as I said this was not a perfect day, so traffic was light. Perfect for my test.

Making a right turn on the Embarcadero and pedaling, just pedaling, I made it all the way to the end of it. right to the foot of the Rock.

Would not turn on the motor.

Pedaling a trike is a lot more challenging than pedaling a bike.

It’s a lot slower. It requires much more energy.

And the bike is always upright.

All paved roads have a crown. The crown is always highest at the center and then slopes down to the left and to the right.

With three wheels, a trike always slopes to match the curvature. If the curvature is serious, you get the feeling you might tip over. That would be very bad.

This ride was the longest I’ve ever made on a tricycle. I was getting tired.

I was tempted to turn on the motor. But I decided not to. That would spoil my bragging when I got home and talked to Monique and David and my friends.

And I pedaled on right to the very end of the road, right to the Rock.

Ordinarily in my car, I would have parked and enjoyed the sights of the people lounging by the harbor and the boats going back and forth. And of the many seagulls doing their amazing thing. I love seagulls. And of the cute otters bobbing up and down.

But it was cold out. I wanted to get home.

Very cautiously I turned on the motor. And right away the motor did all the work, even at its lowest speed.

Instructions said I should wear a helmet. Smart advice. I decided I would buy a helmet, but wear it only when I had the motor going.

And I was worried about what was happening behind me. Were there cars trying to pass me? Maybe some bicyclists?

I decided definitely I would also buy a rearview mirror.

Yes, now I wanted to get home.

But I had a specific route in mind.

When I first got my original PortoTrike in Morro Bay, I decided on a good trial ride.

No problem at all getting down to the Embarcadero. Easy.

The route home would be uphill nearly all the way.

There are several streets home, yes, all uphill of course, but all just about parallel to one another.

I had decided that Pacific Street — a perfect name! — was the easiest to get up.

I had scanned it carefully. Should I try the left side of the street going up or the right side? Auto traffic was very light. I decided on the left side.

It rose quite severely for 200 yards or so, then eased gently as it went on up.

Well, I pedaled very, very hard putting every ounce of muscle into it. And I got up to about 20 yards from the crest and had to come to a halt. Could not go even another foot.

I had planned to boast about my ascent. And you know, for a moment I was tempted to fib and say that I did make it to the top. Then my conscience ruled that out.

Well, today I had the throttle set to speed 2. Yes, the second of the 5 available.

And up I went! It was so easy! So amazing! A triumph!

Definitely I would brag about this.

Al Venditti back at Worksman had told me. “John, you’ll love your electric conversion!”

How right Al had been!

Definitely this would make me feel a lot better about giving up driving after these many years.

I hated the idea of having to ask Monique or David to drive me around Morro Bay to do this or that.

My ePortoTrike would solve that problem very nicely.

I also decided I’d make sure that Al got to read this. He’d be tickled.

Getting these blogs out to you is trickier than you may think.

Dear Readers,

It is not always easy to be sure my friends and family are notified about a new blog post. It is trickier than you may think. It involves using an app called MailChimp. Very popular. But sometimes this Chimp plays tricks.

Some of you may get my blog. Some of you may not.

What to do?

I have an expert helping me. A dear friend. Sheila. She has been helping me for many years.

She is suggesting that I get all three of these blogs out to you. In a single blog. So here they are.

Feel free to forward them to any friends who may enjoy them.

And what would please me greatly would be to get a comment from you about blogs that you like or do not like. I am thick-skinned. But I would be delighted to hear back from you!

It’s a sad, sad writer who gets a feeling that he has very few readers out there.

Recent Blogs you may have missed:

I have decided to quit driving! Painful decision. Very!
January 14, 2021 – By John Guy LaPlante
It’s one of the most difficult I have ever made in my many years. How would you feel if you had to give up driving your car after years and years? And you? And you? And you? I’ll bet you’d find it as difficult as I have. Some might even call it a traumatic … [Read More…]

My Christmas 5,000 miles away. Alone. And in far-off and very cold Ukraine.
December 20, 2020 – By John Guy LaPlante
Not easy. In fact, I suffered through not one, but two Christmases like that as a Peace Corps Volunteer there. Notice that I capitalized Volunteer? Peace Corps always capitalizes “Volunteer.” And it’s never the Peace Corps. It’s always just Peace Corps. Some of you are … [Read More…]

I have voted for nine presidents
November 30, 2020 – By John Guy LaPlante
There was just too, too much at stake this time! By John Guy LaPlante  I have voted in many presidential elections over the years. Every afternoon I hop on my trike and pedal around. No motor! To the supermarket, McDonald’s, the post office, the drugstore, and so on. It’s the only … [Read More…]

I have decided to quit driving! Painful decision. Very!

By John Guy LaPlante

It’s one of the most difficult I have ever made in my many years.

How would you feel if you had to give up driving your car after years and years? And you? And you? And you?

I’ll bet you’d find it as difficult as I have.

Some might even call it a traumatic change.

Finally I just had to face it head-on. Be decisive. Get it done.

The fact is I will be turning 92 in April, and that would be the start of my 93rd year on this earth.

I’ve still been driving but maybe only 500 miles a year. If that.

The Department of Motor Vehicles has considered me a safe driver. I have evidence of that. A year ago they renewed my handicap permit for two years. They would not have done that if they had considered me unsafe.

It is definitely not because I’ve wanted to quit. I love to drive. Always have.

But I know that my reflexes have been slipping. How awful it would be if I got into a bad accident that was absolutely my fault. Maybe even killed somebody!

Quitting is just the right thing to do. The smart thing.

My family was not telling me to quit. And there was no pressure, ever.

But if I mentioned that I was going to San Luis Obispo, the big city 15 miles away, my daughter Monique or son-in-law David would quickly say, “Oh, I’ll stop by and pick you up!”

So I knew they would be absolutely delighted if I never drove again.

And so would my sons Arthur and Mark and their families, who live thousands of miles away, but who keep tuned in about me in chats with Monique and David.

In a way to me this is ironic.

After all, I am the one who taught Arthur, Monique, and Mark to drive, as I did their mother, Pauline, who was my wife-to-be back then.

I have been driving since the age of 19. So I have had years and years of experience.

It’s my Pa who taught me. He told me time and again that it was important to obey the law! To drive safely! Never to drink and drive! To be careful!

Well, in the hundreds of thousands of miles I have driven, I have had only one bad accident. Totally my fault.

I was 78 years old, as I remember it. I was driving alone on a four-lane highway in Rhode island, my home state.

I had been on the road a couple of hours. It was about 4 p.m. on an early fall day. I still had a hundred miles or so to go. Well, I dozed off and hit the left rear corner of a parked car.

There was nobody in it, thank God.

My safety bag inflated and smacked me in the face, breaking my glasses. That’s the worst thing that happened.

Within a few minutes a state police car pulled up, I opened my window and before the officer had a chance to say a word, told him, “I dozed off!”

He accepted that. Maybe he thought I had been drinking. If so, he didn’t give a hint of it.

The damage to the other car was minimal, everything considered. I’m sure he spotted that right away.

He asked to see my driver’s license and auto registration and so forth. And released me to go. He was letting me off easily.

“Thank you, officer. Thank you very, very much.”

And the most amazing thing about that is that I never lost my driver’s license for even a day.

A tow-truck showed up, attached a cable to my car and cranked it up onto its back deck and delivered it to a garage near my home.

My auto insurance covered most of that.

A Good Neighbor who had stopped to check out the accident kindly gave me a ride to the nearest town. I was dazed, as you can imagine. Left me off at the railroad station. Lucky me, I was able to ride the train to a station about 6 miles from my home.

I went to bed still dazed, thankful for being alive but greatly worried about what might happen next.

My insurance premium went up for a while and that was about it.

Yes, I’m the one who had taught my wife Pauline to drive. She was my girlfriend back then. I had a nice Terraplane two-door coupe.

I’m sure that’s a brand you never heard of. I loved it.

It was 11 years old. I had bought it for $100 a year earlier at the end of my senior year in college.

It had a stick shift and it was quite a trick to learn to shift from one gear to the other smoothly.

Anyway, years went by and Pauline and I had two kids.

Mark had not come along yet.

I had become a reporter at the Worcester, Massachusetts Telegram & Gazette, a very large newspaper. In a few years, I had become a staff writer on the paper’s own Sunday magazine, called Feature Parade.

Pauline and I had become interested in family camping, which was beginning to boom back then. I began writing a Sunday column on the side about that. It was called “Camps and Camping.” I wrote hundreds of them.

One day I got the idea of taking a short leave of absence from my job. And using a home-made tent trailer. Tent trailers were the latest thing in family camping back then.

we’d take a family trip clear across the United States to California and back. And I’d write articles about all that which would get published in the T&G.

And we did that. Arthur was just two and a half years old and Monique was just one and a half years old. Imagine that!

That was long, long before the construction of our interstate highways. All those miles were on slow roads.

I had made arrangements to interview interesting people across the country. When we showed up for one, I would go in to chat with my interviewee while Pauline sat with the kids in the car.

When we got to our next campground, Pauline would put the kids to bed. I would take out my little portable typewriter and write my story and the next day would mail it back to Worcester.

A few things went wrong. But nothing serious.

I did all the driving — 8,000 miles or so!

A few years later, I heard about family camping through Europe, mind you.

Well, leaving our kids in the care of her wonderful Mom, Pauline and I and my father and mother hopped on a plane to England. Rented a “caravan,” which is what they call a small RV, took a ferry across the English Channel to France, and then drove south to its Mediterranean coast. Then we turned north and rode up into Belgium and then back down into France.

We stayed in beautiful campgrounds throughout the trip. Even in Paris.

The French loved family camping as much as we did.

Then we crossed the Channel again and drove back to England to return the little caravan. And then flew home to the good old USA.

I had done all the driving.

I wrote a series of articles about that for the T&G, and then for another major newspaper, the Providence Sunday Journal in Rhode Island.

As I said, I’m the one who had showed Pauline and our three kids how to drive.

I used my car in my work back then. I drove a lot, We had gotten a car for Pauline, who had become a public school teacher.

I was driving a lot, going here and there to interview people and writing feature stories. Pieces stories.

Drove thousands of miles year in and year out.

Pauline and I split up, sad to say, and a few years later I retired.

Then satisfying a sense of curiosity and adventure that had long been bubbling in me, bought a used Volkswagen minibus camper and began long solo trips.

The little van was a nice sunny yellow, so I dubbed it “Dandelion” and began crisscrossing the country.

I had agreed to write a series of reports about my itinerant journeying for my old newspaper in Worcester. the Sunday Telegram. And I set off on the road by myself.

I began running into interesting people and places and experiences. And I’d write them up.

It became a series, and the Telegram dubbed it “Travels with Dandelion.” All through our 48 states.

I was having a good time. Readers enjoyed my reports and I was getting paid to do it.

Home again, I took a break for a few months and then took to the road again.

This time through the U.S. along different routes, and even into Mexico and Canada.

And oh, I just remembered this. I did have another bad moment. I was driving alone as always, this time through the long, dull, endless stretches of western Texas.

And one afternoon, around 4:00 p.m., I dozed off again and ran right off the two-lane highway onto a field and finally came to a stop in a field. Wow!

No collision, thank God. No damage to anything. No police officer.

You can be sure it made me much more careful about driving long distances into late afternoon.

Later I began broadening my travels, now voyaging a lot by air, even to other countries.

Again I was writing feature stories that got published in newspapers large and small. And that culminated in my first book, “Around the World at 75. Alone, Dammit!”

And then a second book, “Around Asia in 80 Days. Oops, 83!”

That was nice for a special reason. I brought my sister Lucie, a few years younger, for half the trip.

She had told me from the start she would have to come home early.

Anyway years went by. Traveling and writing is what I did.

I had to quit driving during the time I served in Peace Corps in Ukraine. Peace Corps would not allow that. Most roads there were not up to our standards.

But I continued writing, publishing my 540-page book, “27 Months in the Peace Corps. My story, Unvarnished.”

Peace Corps was very good, but nothing is perfect.

When I returned home, again l resumed my life of driving and writing and publishing.

And when I made the big, big decision to move from Connecticut to California to be close to Monique and David, again I drove across the country solo in a big Dodge station wagon, which was an iteration of my VW “Dandelion.”

Right now I own a ’92 Hyundai Sonata. It has only 77,000 miles on it. I hate the idea of giving it up. But I feel good being realistic rather than stupid. I’ve come up with what I think is a neat idea. I am going to give it to my granddaughter Élise. So there’s a chance I will ride in it again.

I will no longer be driving, but as most of you suspect, I will happily continue writing.

I do not think there is much of a chance of my hurting or killing somebody doing that.

One more thing I should tell you.

I learned how to ride a bike when I was 10 years old and I became a bicycle rider for years and years. In fact, on nearly all my solo auto trips up down and around the country I nearly always brought a bicycle with me. One day I took a spill from my bike. No broken bones, but that put an instant end to my biking.

Some years ago I discovered tricycling. Yes, pedaling a three-wheel cycle, a wonderful three-gear Worksman PortoTrike.

If that interests you, Google “Worksman PortoTrike.” I believe you’ll find it interesting.

I bought one in Connecticut and put many miles on it. And bought another when I got settled in California.

Trikes are much more stable than bikes.

One of the wonderful things that I found out about living here in Morro Bay on the Central Coast is that there is no ice, no snow ever. In fact, there are palm trees in my neighborhood.

I go off pedaling my trike every afternoon seven days a week. I skip only if it’s raining.

Nowadays it’s the only exercise that I get. Folks around here know me as “the old gent with the trike.”

I live alone now. Very few visitors other than family.

In getting out and pedaling, I run into folks I know here and there and that has become a key part of my social life.

But! Yes, I can pedal around parts of my neighborhood, which is reasonably level.

And I can go downhill to the Embarcadero, which fronts the Pacific Ocean. But I can’t get back up. Too steep!

But I have just ordered a battery-assisted Worksman PedoTrike. It’s a big addition to their line of cycles.

Battery-assisted cycles are quite brand-new.

With that I’ll be able to get up any hill in town.

That will do wonders in helping me to preserve my sense of self-sufficiency and independence, which are so important in anybody’s old age.

I intend to continue writing, well, until my mind begins to cloud over. Which I hope will not be for a while.

So do wish me good luck, please!

And I do hope that you, and you, and you will be able to adjust when you finally accept that your driving days are over.

* * * *

when finally you have to decide to give up driving.

It ain’t easy.

* * *

My Christmas 5,000 miles away. Alone. And in far-off and very cold Ukraine.

By John Guy LaPlante

Not easy. In fact, I suffered through not one, but two Christmases like that as a Peace Corps Volunteer there.

Notice that I capitalized Volunteer? Peace Corps always capitalizes “Volunteer.” And it’s never the Peace Corps. It’s always just Peace Corps.

Some of you are familiar with that 27-month adventure in my life. Some are not.

So please excuse me if I re-cap for newcomers to my blog post. They may not be familiar with Peace Corps.

Well, it’s a federal government program based in Washington, D.C. It was established by our President John F. Kennedy. He was very proud of it.

It sends Volunteers to other countries in the world to help out. Many, many countries. And the Volunteers go for 27 months.

What’s interesting is that Peace Corps doesn’t decide by itself where to send its Volunteers.

 Some countries around the world become aware of what good things Peace Corps does in countries already participating. Would like to become eligible, too. And then petition Washington to see if it’s possible for it to send Volunteers to their country.

The services that Peace Corps provides vary from country to country. Mostly they are educational. Volunteers teach. In the classroom or hands on.

It may be agriculture, or public health, or community development, or home economics, or whatever else might be helpful to people there.

When I first heard Peace Corps’ standard hitch was 27 months, I thought that was a strange number

27! Why not 24? Or 30?

Well, a simple answer. Volunteers train for three months when they arrive in that foreign country.

Yes, they are trainees. They go to classes six days a week. They study primarily its language, but also its history, culture, and economic, political, and other realities of that country. Such as its type of government, general working conditions, leading religions, and so on.

 The training is intensive. At the end they get tested. Of course they expected to pass the test. The great majority do. All this is climaxed with a memorable ceremony in an elegant building.

In Ukraine, it was in Kiev, the beautiful capital. In the morning. Dignitaries on the rostrum, Ukrainian and Peace Corps. A band played. Speeches. Finally we were all asked to stand. Took an oath to serve well. And that’s when we became Volunteers.

And right then and there we each got an envelope with our assignment. Maybe in a big city 400 miles away. Or maybe in a small town 90 miles away in another direction.

 Off we went, some by train, some by bus. And that’s where we would spend the next two years.

Ukraine is the second largest country in Europe. It has many millions of people. We were just 350 Volunteers total.

I was in a very large city, Chernihiv, population 200,000. I was the only Volunteer there. So most of the people that I got to meet had no idea of what a Peace Corps Volunteer is.

And that was true also for all the other Volunteers.

The official language is Ukrainian. But nearly everybody in the greater Chernihiv area spoke Russian. So I had to study Russian.

Like Volunteers in other countries, all of us in Ukraine received the same amount of money every month. Yes, regardless of our age or the kind of work we did.

It was pegged in some strange way to what Ukrainians in similar jobs to ours would get paid.

Oh, right from its start Peace Corps was a young adult’s thing. For twenty-two year olds. Twenty-five year olds. Young men and young women.

But some 15 years ago, some Peace Corps official made a suggestion that really got attention.

“Older men and women! They have life experience! Wisdom! They may be yearning for an adventure! And may want to give back!”

Peace Corps gave the suggestion much attention. Did research. Decided that was a great idea. Began recruiting older men and women along with younger ones. But the older ones were always a small minority.

I heard about that. So Interesting! Thought about it for several months without saying a word to anybody. Then applied. I was 76.

But I had grave doubts. Right at home I had many responsibilities. And I worried a lot about my family’s reaction. The reaction of my friends. Would they pooh-pooh it and gang up against me? It was a big concern.

Yes, 27 months was the normal hitch. That’s a long time away from home. Was I up to it? And it seemed such a strange hitch. Why not 24? Or 30?

Well, I found out that for the first three months you’re a Trainee in the country you’re posted to. Not a Volunteer. You go to classes six days a week. Learn about its geography. its history. Its culture. Its main religions. The kind of government it has. And so on.

And most of all, you study its language intensively. Many hours. Then you get tested. If you pass, happy day!

Oh, I must mention that at the end of their 27 months, they attend another very beautiful ceremony, then go to the airport and fly home.

Peace Corps then was serving in more than 75 countries. Not France, or Switzerland, or Italy and such. They didn’t need Volunteers

All more “exotic” countries. I had a good idea where I’d be sent.

I speak French. It was my first language, picked up from my parents who were immigrants.

Started to learn English when I went out to play with the neighboring kids. And all up through elementary school and high school and college I went to schools where much of the teaching was in French.

Yes, here in the U.S. So I speak and write French quite well. Yes, even now in my old age.

I knew that serving in France was out of the question.

But I was confident Peace Corps would send me to a country where France had had a big role and where French would still be useful.

For instance, maybe Haiti, Morocco. Vietnam. Even Equatorial Africa, though I prayed Peace Corps wouldn’t do that!

Yes, some older people in those countries still use French.

My thinking was all wrong.

Peace Corps decided to send me to Ukraine in Eastern Europe. It’s a former republic of the USSR – the United Soviet Socialist Republics, which consisted of Russia and 14 others.

I was shocked when I got a letter saying it would be Ukraine. I thought of saying “No, thanks.” Thought about it a couple of weeks. Then replied, “Okay!

Much, much later I found out that I was sent to Ukraine because it had far better medical services essential for older Volunteers.

A big planeload of us flew off to Ukraine. Some 65 to 70 of us in all. That’s when I discovered 11 or so of us were “older Volunteers.”

But now Ukraine was struggling to make it on its own as a democracy with a capitalism-based economy.

Ukrainian is its official language. But I’d be working in a section where people spoke Russian. So I had to study Russian. Awfully hard for me. Every evening I would study, study, study. In the morning I couldn’t remember the words. Awful!

I got tested by Peace Corps, as all prospective Volunteers did. I was very nervous, very anxious. Well, I flunked.

I was terribly afraid Peace Corps might send me home, which they had the right to do. But they kept me, saying “John, you have been trying so, so hard!”

Which was so true.

Well, I had a very successful 24 months as a university-level teacher of English. But why English?

The fact is that a great many university students all over the world are eager to learn English – American English, not British English.

Knowing English in their own country, Ukraine, India, Peru, wherever they live guarantees a high, impressive, well-paying job.

But many young adults in those countries see the USA as THE country in the world. Some dream of emigrating to the U.S.

So that’s what I did. Taught them English, yes. But also lots of important stuff about our country.

But all Volunteers are also expected to find and work at an important something or other of their own choosing.

It turned out that I worked at several big projects besides my teaching.

I established an English Club at the very big Public Library. It met every Sunday afternoon at 2 p.m. it was free to anybody interested, regardless of age. I had 20-year-olds and 50-year-olds, men and women.

I presided. Every Sunday I spoke about certain aspects of being American. Our geography. Our educational system. How to get a visa to enter the USA–that got everybody’s attention! Freedom of the press. Medical Care. And so on,

People were free to ask questions.

I did my best to answer them properly. Some questions were difficult to answer. How blacks are treated in our country. Why is healthcare free — it is for many Ukrainians.

The city had a complex system of public transportation. Trolley cars, which were free for old people. Conventional buses, which charged, but were faster. And twelve-passenger vans, still more expensive, but more comfortable.

Oh, sure, government officials and rich people drove cars. Everybody else walked or used public transport

I said the system was complex. if you used the same type of public transportation every day to get to work and back home, no problem.

But if you wanted to go see somebody in another part of the city, big problem. You might have to use different kinds of public transportation to get there and back.

I decided to create a map that would show the best combination of public transportation to use. That became a huge project. It involved my getting to know the city, working with officials of the various systems, and dealing with the City Council and even the mayor. But finally I got it done.

It exists to this day and of course many improvements have been made.

We senior volunteers, age 50 and over, numbering only 35 or so — some starting their hitch and others finishing it — were spread out all over the country. And had a special association.

It was created to interact with Peace Corps management in Ukraine, to discuss and resolve any issues that came up affecting all of us.

The president of it was finally flying home, his hitch over. I ran for president and was elected.

Well, we had three four-day get-togethers somewhere in the country every year. Our reunions included formal business meetings and wonderful social events.

Each meeting was held in a different part of the country. So I got to visit all major areas of the country — while most Volunteers spent their entire 24 months in the city or small town where they lived and worked.

In fact, I turned 80 in Peace Corps and was incredibly surprised to be congratulated by Peace Corps / Washington, D. C. as the oldest of some 7,500 in nearly 80 countries globally. That’s an approximation. I don’t remember the exact numbers.

My oh my! Astonished, I asked what had happened to my predecessor, who I heard was an octogenarian.

 “Oh, we had to medically evacuate him.” !!! Enough said.

If all this interests you, I invite you to read my book. “27 Months in the Peace Corps; My Story, Unvarnished.”

It’s a big book. 543 pages.

Peace Corps was a good experience. But I wrote “Unvarnished” as part of the title because nothing is perfect, right?

 I wrote that book as a tutorial for anyone interested in serving in the Peace Corps and learning what it’s really, really like. The good and the not so good.

And of course I was sure many others would enjoy reading it as a very unique once-in-a-lifetime adventure.

 For my first three months, I lived with a family chosen by Peace Corps, trained by Peace Corps, and paid by Peace Corps. As did all my fellow Trainees.

As sworn-in Volunteers, most move into an apartment on their own.

I chose to live with a second family, and then a third. I paid the final two families for my room and board. My thinking was simple.

The families were different. But no husband / father. Divorce is so common. In one, the woman had two sons, grown up and married and on their own. The woman worked as purchasing agent in a small company.

In the other, the woman had a daughter who had a good office job teaching in public school, and a son who was a senior in public high school.

I felt living with three different families would provide me with three different windows to look out on what life in Ukraine is really like. I was right about that.

I also felt that as an old man, it would be smart for me to be living with somebody who could help me if something bad befell me.

Oh, we’d be paid by Peace Corps. It was about $300 a month, in hryvnias. The hryvnia is the Ukrainian “dollar.”

That amount was about what a Ukrainian would earn doing the same kind of work. In my case, as a university-level teacher. Truth is, I found it hard to scrape by on that.

But this is about my Christmas over there. No, my two Christmases, as I said.

Lots of snow and lots of ice. Much more than my home state of Connecticut back then, where snow and ice are the norm.

But in Chernihiv they didn’t do a good job of clearing it. The ice! I was so afraid I’d slip and break a hip or something.

I expected Christmas to come on December 25. After all, Ukraine is a Christian country. But December 25 was just another workday. Their Christmas is on January 6.

As it approached, my thoughts kept drifting more and more back to the USA.

And my family and friends back home were thinking of me. For sure. I began receiving Christmas letters and cards and gifts from them. Each one I got brightened my day.

We had been keeping in touch with emails. But receiving real mail, mail with stamps on it, emphasized to me how old-fashioned this slow mail really was.

 An email arrived in minutes, of course. But an ordinary letter would take 10 to 15 days to get to me. My folks back home did not realize that.

And because it was the Christmas rush back home, the mail was taking longer — parcels even 4 to 6 weeks. I was getting letters and parcels. How very fortunate I was. Yes, December 25 was just another ordinary working day in Ukraine, with stores open and everybody going to their job or whatever.

But it was the winter school vacation time, so as a teacher I had days off.

Christmas turned out freezing cold and gray and windy with 13 inches of fresh snow on the ground.

And I was homesick. To change my mood I headed to the huge and wonderful municipal Korolonka Library. More than 100 years old! It was closed.

I had forgotten. This was a Tuesday. On certain Tuesdays it closed for thorough cleaning.

Of course I had been planning to call them on Christmas. It just could not come fast enough. That would be the big highlight for me.

It dawned clear and cold but sunny. Right after breakfast I took a trolley to the Post Office. But not for stamps. In Ukraine the Post Office ran the telephone system. I would make my calls there.

I made sure to keep the time difference in mind. Seven hours between my time and Connecticut time, and 10 hours for California.

The Post Office had a big telephone calling room. Along one wall, ten telephone booths like our telephone booths of years ago.

I joined the queue of callers. Finally I got to one of the operators at the long counter.

My Russian was just not up to a conversation. So I simply handed her three 100 hryvnia bills — approximately $60 — and said “Cay Shay Ahh” — that’s Russian for “USA.”

She wrote 6 on a slip of paper for me and I went to Booth 6 and began making my calls.

I called milady Annabelle in California. A wonderful chat with her. Then my three kids.

First, Arthur, my oldest, in Florida. The phone rang and rang. Then finally Arthur picked up. He was delighted!

His wife Marita was by his side. So good to hear the latest about them and my three grandkids.

Next my daughter Monique and her hubby David in California. What a surprise for them. They were delighted, too.

They both picked up phones, as they always do, which was great.

They, too, were wonderful about keeping my morale up. Many emails . Many letters and packages.

Then I did reach my son Mark and his wife Stacie in Georgia. Wonderful! But darn, my two little grandkids were already in bed.

Then I called my sister Lucie in Connecticut. No luck. That was a downer.

All in all, good chats. Loving. Upbeat. I had only good news for them and ditto they for me.

What was amusing is that they had all said the same thing. “Dad, your voice is coming in so clear! It’s like you’re just next door!”

Finished, pleased, delighted, I walked back to the cashier. She checked my time on the phone, then gave me half my money back. About $25.

If I had known that, I would have talked a lot longer.

I was so happy. I walked back into the frigid cold but I was so pleased I didn’t mind it as much.

Now of course I must tell you about the Ukrainians’ Christmas. As I said, it’s on January 6th, a major holiday, like our Christmas.

But one thing about it intrigued me. Ukrainians as citizens of what had been part of the Soviet Union practiced atheism. No God!

Or pretended to. What happened is that religion went underground.

People told me that even in Soviet days in some villages the people managed to keep their ancient churches open and to worship in them. Their religion never got crushed.

People in the cities also tried to preserve their religious tradition, but had to veil it and carry on as non-believers.

For most people, it was dangerous to admit being a believer. The best way to success — to a decent life — was through membership in the Communist Party, which, by the way, was open only to a select few.

The Communists had to believe and support the Communist Manifesto. Had to be followers of Marx and Lenin. Had to tow the line. Had to reject religious faith and profess atheism. Some did so sincerely. Others put on a show.

Yet I met one a few who said matter-of-factly, “We had to go along. It was the only way.”

I did get to meet atheists. Nice people. In fact, one was a fellow teacher at school.

 She told me, “John, I don’t believe in God. Or a God. My family does not believe. It is that simple.”

Yet as their Christmas approached, I saw a great excitement in the people. Even my friend the atheist was caught up in the excitement. She smiled. “It is our culture!”

 At that time I was living with the second of the three families I boarded with. Ira and her son teen-age son, Slava.

They were devout. They went all out on Christmas, and they involved me in every part of it, from breakfast to dinner, all very festive and special. Even insisted on taking me to their Orthodox Church for its Christmas service.

A great, old, magnificent church, many people, several priests, all heavily bearded, even the youngest one, in gorgeous vestments. Great solemnity. Fine organist, enthusiastic choir. Impressive in so many ways. Memorable. I felt all these believers were true believers.

In one way I was glad they had a separate Christmas. It emphasized this was a uniquely different culture, worth experiencing.

Yes, I spent a second Christmas in Ukraine. It was much easier. I was more accustomed to everything.

I went back to the Post Office to make my calls. Still many letters and cards and gifts. But there was a big difference.

At home, living with my third family by this time, I had the blessing of a great and marvelous technical breakthrough. Skype!

It’s my friend Sheila in Boston who told me about it. She’s a tech expert. And how!

Sheila is still helping me. Yes, she is! She has a key role in my getting these blogs of mine posted.

Familiar with Skype? It’s a computer app, so to speak.

I had an Internet-connected computer. So did most of my contacts back home.

Through Skype, I could see them and talk with them! And it was free! How wonderful! Yes, I’ve used a lot of exclamation points here! All well-deserved.

Again I paid attention to the time differences.

I did go to the Post Office to call those not on Skype. And that was worthwhile and wonderful.

But imagine seeing and speaking with someone with little attention to the passing minutes!

Skype! It made life much easier for many Volunteers, and available any hour, any day of the week.

If you have relatives or friends in other countries and you want to contact them, consider Skype. In most cases it is free.

I also had computer problems. My son Mark was a great resource

Peace Corps isn’t easy. Typically, I’ve found, a quarter of all Volunteers return home early.

Well, I served the whole hitch. It was worth the effort. It taught me much. I made many friends. It made me feel proud.

And I recommend it to promising young people, and of course I speak about it to older folks I feel might be receptive.

For younger people, Peace Corps service sets them up for positions of responsibility and leadership. In my opinion, it’s worth as much as a master’s degree, say.

It’s surprising how many returning Volunteers do go on to graduate school, even right on to a doctorate.

And it’s surprising how many former Volunteers use their experience to launch careers in government service and international affairs.

Well, twelve years have passed since I served. And I’m pleased to say I am still in touch with some former students and half a dozen men and women I was privileged to meet and associate with. How about that?!

And I read everything I can about Ukraine in the news, and there’s a lot, and too much of it is not good.

Now Christmas is coming up soon. And I’m here back home in Morro Bay on California’s central coast.

My loving daughter Monique and her hubby David live just 7 or 8 minutes away by car. Which is fabulous for a very old man who lives alone and might need help at any hour or any day.

Oh, unlike Ukraine, no snow, no ice here, ever. There are palm trees in my neighborhood. Flowers in my yard. The Pacific is just a mile away. Some people are at the beach or in the harbor boating and surfing. It’s a different world.

I’m definitely in the Christmas spirit. And doing my very best to keep my chin up, despite the terrible Trump shenanigans still going on in the White House.

Plus the horror and devastation of the huge, huge covid-19 pandemic, making so many ill and taking the lives of so many.

Putting so many out of work, forcing so many to go hungry, terrified they might lose their apartment or home, making it impossible to maintain their various insurance policies or keep up with routine bills.

And making it difficult for young people from grade school on through university to continue their education, and so many other awful consequences.

 But there is very good news. President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris are about to be sworn in, and planning and getting ready to put into effect some sensible, much-needed programs.

As some of you know, I met and chatted briefly with Vice President Biden in Ukraine when he flew there to carry on negotiations for President Obama.

And we have been praying and hoping that an effective serum would be developed, tested, and approved within a few months.

But now we have the fantastic news that not one, but three serums have been developed, and great quantities are already on their way here to help our people and to numerous other countries around the world. Months earlier than expected.

Slowly but steadily life will go back to normal for us. Hallelujah!

That said, how sad and tragic that so many millions of people around the world have lost their lives to it and so many other people have had their lives upturned by it.

I do wish you and yours a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

With many more to come, I most sincerely hope.

Oh, If one of you is interested in learning more about Peace Corps, or knows someone who might be, please email me at

It will be my pleasure to be helpful.

Within a few months I will be 92 years old. I will have had 91 Christmases. My two in Ukraine were certainly among my most memorable.

An important PS. As the coronavirus grew worse, Peace Corps made a huge decision. Decided to recall all Volunteers from every country in the world where they were serving, yes, even China. Imagine what devastating news that was to them to have them come home with their hitch only partly finished!

I have voted for nine presidents

There was just too, too much at stake this time!

By John Guy LaPlante 

I have voted in many presidential elections over the years.

Every afternoon I hop on my trike and pedal around. No motor! To the supermarket, McDonald’s, the post office, the drugstore, and so on. It’s the only physical exercise I get now. For the last two months, I’ve been doing as much campaigning as possible, as you see.

This last time around I just couldn’t wait to cast my ballot on November 3rd.

I was convinced it was essential for the well-being of our country to torpedo and sink mad-man Trump’s presidential aspirations / ambitions / neuroses once and for all.

At my age of 91 going on 92, in just a few weeks, the odds were that this presidential election would be my last.

I knew that my single vote would be a drop in the bucket of millions of votes. But it was the best I could do, and I would feel better about it.

I vote Democrat.

I was pleased to vote for Joe Biden for President. Nobody’s perfect. But I believe Joe Biden is a fine man. Intelligent. Thoroughly seasoned. A straight shooter.

And I took a liking to Kamala Harris as vice president. She was an especially significant choice.

Joe Biden elected at age 77, and now 78, is considered quite old. He may run in ’24 but maybe not.

Kamala Harris could be the Democratic candidate then.

Her career achievements are impressive.

Just imagine that she, the daughter of an Indian mother and a Jamaican father, may be our first woman president! That would be historic.

I learned long ago by experience that women are as talented, capable, and reliable as men.

I would vote for her just as a matter of principle. It’s long overdue.

And imagine what huge encouragement that would give to women everywhere. Especially women of color. Even men of color.

Well, Joe and Kamala were running on a platform quite aligned with my priorities. In fact, I would have been happier if their positions were a bit further left on some matters, as pushed by Bernie Sanders.

And the Republicans’ Donald Trump, so avidly running for four more years, who is not a fine man, anything but, was doing things from the very beginning that I thought were terrible. Deplorable.

“We’ll build the Wall! Problem solved!”

“We’ll send them right back home where they came from!”

“We won’t let those ugly, greedy Chinese get away with it!”

“Hey, I’m on good terms with Chairman Kim Jong-un in North Korea!”

“That so-called Covid-19 expert Doctor Fauci is an idiot!”

On and on and on. And since the beginning of Covid-19, Trump has played down the threat, has failed to provide the essential sensible leadership that any President should, has rejected help from top experts.

Won’t even wear a mask, which is a basic preventive! Crazy!

Worst of all, he’s an out-and-out embarrassment as President, as we have seen time and again. And a scoundrel going way, way back.

Yes, in the White House, and as solidly documented for many years in his many business affairs.

And as we know, a super scoundrel in what he has done to women since he started to wear long pants. Awful! Should have gone to prison for that.

And it has common knowledge he ran for President because of the fantastic PR that competing for that fantastic and most prestigious job would give him nationally and internationally.

In fact, he did not expect to win. Really didn’t. Was astonished when he did.

With the aid of the Russians, as we eventually found out.

And now that he has failed in his bid for another four years, he rants and rages. The mere thought of losing drives him nuts. Failure is a dagger to his heart.

When he finally leaves the White House, he should go straight to the finest psychiatrist money can pay for.

“They stole the election! Yeah, the Dems stole it! They’re criminals! My lawyers will take care of them!”

He has been demanding voter recounts in state after state after state. Has launched one lawsuit after another. Has been rebuffed in one state after another. Has been told by experts that if there was cheating, it was trivial.

But he presses on, a single-minded madman.

In recent days the good news has been that numerous well-known top Republicans, in office and out of office, have been telling him it’s high time to quit. That what he has been doing has been entirely anti-American.

That his continuing to press on is ruining the good image of what Republicans stand for.

And now Trump is planning to run again in ’24! That is a fact, according to Insiders.

He wants to be known in our history books as a super winner. Being recorded as a huge one-term loser is to be avoided whatever that costs.

I believe that he will run again.

A huge worry for many of us who detest him is that so, so many Americans continue to believe in him, cheer for him, raise money for him.

Yes, multi-millions of our fellow Americans. I repeat, multi-millions of them. It’s surprising how many people turned out to vote.

The total overall vote was the largest in our history. And the votes were so close in so many places.

Why? How come? There are different opinions. For sure this will have historians and political scientists and editorial writers scratching their heads about this and writing about it for a long time.

Now let me get back to myself for a few minutes.

I am a first-generation native American. The first in my family.

Starting right now I will be telling you some very detailed information about my people and their origins and why all of them except two emigrated here.

I am doing this because it will explain how I, and in fact, my whole family, developed our political leanings as Americans.

As did many other French-speaking emigrants like us.

My father, Arthur, “came down” first and alone. More about him in a minute.

My mother, Marguerite, a young woman in her mid-twenties, and most of her whole family “came down” from Thetford Mines, Québec — a small city famous for its asbestos mines. Extremely dangerous work in very deep man-made tunnels.

“Coming down” was the way everybody in our circle thought about it back then.

The first on my mother’s side was my Uncle Emile, the oldest sibling. He came down to Pawtucket, Rhode Island. It was a favorite for many French-Canadians.

He got a job as a short-order cook in a diner. And wrote home that things were pretty good down here.

Two older siblings did not come down. Alfred, who had a good job as the manager of a department store, and Laura, who became a nun.

Now about my father, Arthur.

He came down alone at age 22 or so. He grew up on a farm in a small town called Sutton, just 25 miles north of Vermont.

He did not like farm work.

Sutton had some English-speaking people. In fact, they were the descendants of Tories who had fled up there during the American Revolution because they did not believe in revolting from England.

On the main street in Sutton was an English-speaking woman who ran a general goods store on Main Street. I never learned the details, but he got a job working for her. He learned a bit about selling and picked up some English.

Found out about opportunities below the border. Talked his Pa into lending him $100. That was a lot of cash. Wound up in Springfield, Massachusetts. That was in 1920, I believe.

The only work he could find was butchering in a slaughterhouse. Hated it. In a few months returned to his hometown. Repaid his Pa. Worked for a few months on the farm.

Heard of Hervé, a cousin of his age who had gone down to Pawtucket, Rhode Island and was doing okay selling insurance to French people settling there.

He re-borrowed that $100 from his Pa and headed south. Hervé put him up and helped him get started. This time he stayed. In a few months, he sent $100 back home. He was in Pawtucket for keeps.

Now about my mother’s side.

They came down to settle in Pawtucket around 1923 or so.

It was a train trip of about 400 miles. A two-day trip. But that was as risky and traumatic for them as for emigrants spending many weeks at sea to get here.

The first on my mother’s side to come down after my Uncle Emile was my Aunt Bernadette. A very adventurous gal.

Several families had moved down from Thetford Mines to Pawtucket. The city was famous for its textile mills. They all got jobs in the textile mills. The men and the women. They worked 10 hours a day, 6 days a week. It was hard work, but it was steady, and they got a paycheck every week.

They wrote about that to family and friends back in Thetford Mines and explained everything. The good news spread.

My aunt Bernadette heard about it. She knew of a couple who had been neighbors. They had settled in Pawtucket. She wrote to them and asked how things were.

And they wrote back. Said they had jobs in textile mills. Which was better than their jobs had been back in Thetford Mines. Invited her to come down. She could stay with them for a while. And they would try to get her a job at one of the mills.

It was a two-day trip. She took a train to Barre, Vermont, then a second train to Rhode Island. A very gutsy young woman. All alone. Just a few dollars in her pocket.

Her Pawtucket friends kept their word. Put her up. Got her a job in one of the mills.

In three months or so, she wrote back to her father and mother. Said it was really true. Things were better. “Please come down. We’ll be together down here.”

A huge decision. They were my grandfather Tancrède and my grandmother Eugénie. And they brought my mother, Marguerite, with them.

In fact, she was quite reluctant.

She was the only one who had a decent job up there. She was a clerk in a music store. She loved the work. Also working with her was her childhood girlfriend, Rosanna. The idea of going down did not appeal at all. But she had no choice.

Anyway, as we kids grew up, we heard about Rosanna many times. They were good at writing letters to one another.

Anyway, Bernadette found a nice tenement big enough for all of them. It was on the second floor of a three-decker at18 Coyle Avenue in Pawtucket. She moved in and prepared for them.

They came and settled in.

My grandfather and grandmother were in their upper sixties. Much too old to get a job in the mills.

Bernadette got Marguerite a job with her at the Royal Crown Textile Mill, the biggest in the city.

I was born there at 18 Coyle.

Now a special note about me.

Many of you know me as John Guy LaPlante. But the name that they gave me when I was baptized was Jean-Guy. That was my name until I was nearly 30.

I was a journalist at the Worcester Telegram and Gazette in Worcester, Massachusetts.

I had a byline. I felt that no way could it be Jean-Guy LaPlante. So I used John G. LaPlante. I hated it.

One day I went to a lawyer I heard about right next door to the paper. Told him I wanted him to change my name to John Guy. Legally. No problem, he told me. He prepared a document and made me sign it. Said it would take two weeks. It was much on my mind. In two weeks I got a call from him. “John, I’m happy to tell you that you are now officially John Guy LaPlante.”

And charged me $14. And that is what I have been ever since — John Guy LaPlante.

But sad to say, that did not go well with my father and mother. To them I remained Jean-Guy.

If I could turn back the clock, I would. And I would insist on Jean-Guy LaPlante as my byline at the newspaper.

Readers would have caught on sooner or later. If some did not, well, too bad.

This ends my special note about myself.

Now a comment about this blog. I began it as a personal commentary about the election.

Strangely it has become semi-that, plus a semi-autobiography of myself. I hope you don’t mind.

Now back to my family. My father and mother had met at a church social and had married.

My grandfather and grandmother watched me while my mother and aunt went to work at the mill every day.

I still have memories of all that.

Most of the families around us were French-Canadians like us.

But on the first floor was an English family and on the third floor a Polish one.

Nearby was a Syrian family. And at the end of the street an Irish one. They had a little boy, Tommy. We played together. I learned my first English words from him.

Life in Pawtucket for my family was so, so different from what it would have been like up in Thetford Mines.

Our tenement had a big kitchen with a nice pantry, a big dining room, and a big parlor, and three bedrooms.

My grandfather and grandmother had one bedroom, my Aunt Bernadette had another, and my father and mother had the third.

In time I found out I was born in my father and mother’s bed. That’s the way it was back then.

As I said, my grandfather and grandmother were too old to get jobs at the mill. I thought of them as being very, very old.

They watched me while everybody else went to work.

I still have so many memories some 85 years later.

My grandfather would go off walking here or there every morning. He would try to find something, do something to help out our family in some way.

One noon he came home whistling a little tune.

He had a big bag. From it he took out half a dozen big loaves of bread he had gotten from a bakery a few blocks away.

He took one loaf out and put it on the kitchen table. With a big knife he cut out the big ugly green patches of mole. He did that to all the loaves. They would keep us going for quite a while.

Doing that made him feel very, very good.

One very cold winter day my grandmother said she had an errand for me to do. I was seven, maybe eight.

She had made a big pot of stew for us.

She ladled some of it into a smaller pot, wrapped a towel around it to keep it hot, placed it in a bag, and told me to take it to Madame Bergeron’s a block away.

“She is very sick,” she told me. “She will like this very much.”

Families looked out for one another. That’s the way it was.

Three blocks away was our French Church. Our Lady of Consolation Church was its name, but by its French equivalent. A beautiful red brick church.

It took many, many Mass collections and special collections to get it built. Everyone was very proud of it.

All the services were in French, of course.

After Mass on Sundays, we’d linger on the front steps and chat with neighbors also lingering. It’s surprising how much news we’d pick up that way.

We had three priests. The pastor and one priest had come down, and the other was American-born.

Behind it was the Our Lady of Consolation Grammar School. Four stories high, also of red brick. Very imposing. Taught by French nuns. Half of them, the older ones, had come down.

They taught us catechism, our 3R’s in French and English, and a bit of history and geography.

It was only much later that I realized how beautiful was that name, Our Lady of Consolation, in French as I said.

Things were often very hard. Very difficult. People needed a lot of consolation to keep them going.

Yes, I was their first born. My mother kept her job at the factory for a while and then after a second pregnancy that went wrong became a full-time mom for me.

In time I had three sisters and two brothers.

Here was the line-up: Myself. My sister Rose-Marie. My brother André. My sister Lucie. My sister Louise. My brother Michel.

I remember when little Rose-Marie died after just two months. A bowel obstruction, it was said. I remember her in her little white casket in our parlor at 18 Coyle.

My first little brother, André, died shortly after birth.

My beautiful and talented sister Louise died after what was then experimental open-heart surgery. She was only 32.

Now think of this. Many years later, my second brother, Michel, died one day short of his 57th birthday. A diabetic, he was in the hospital, complications set in, and he had to have his right foot amputated.

Now let me ask you this question. I would love to get an answer that makes sense. Why is it that I, the firstborn, am still alive?

It seems to me that the firstborn should be the first to go. And the second to be born should be the second to go. Right?

I should be first and my sister Lucie, just a few years younger than I, should be second.

Four siblings preceded us

Lucie is doing nicely; I am pleased to tell you.

She lives in West Hartford, Connecticut. She is a happily retired high school teacher of French there. She has one son, Jean-Christophe.

She is a very successful competitive bridge player, participating in tournaments here and there.

She accompanied me more than halfway (by pre-agreement) on my trip to a dozen countries in Asia. She had to return home for an important engagement.

That trip resulted in my book, “Around Asia in 80 Days. Oops 83!”

Now back to my story about growing up.

Well, shortly before all that my father had bought a two-family house. We lived on the first floor and in the front half of the second floor. He rented the second half to an elderly couple who had come down. Sounds strange I know.

Anyway, as part of the purchase deal he got to own a nice little variety store. Yes, thriving. It was on the same house lot, barely 75 feet from the house, right on the corner of Broadway, which was a main avenue.

Pa bought it because he felt it would get Bernadette, his sister-in-law, out of the factory. And knowing her, he was sure she would be a success. He was absolutely right.

Bernadette, who had become Bernie to our neighborhood by then, was a hard worker. And she had a lively, fun-loving personality.

Slowly she attracted more customers, French, Irish, Polish, and so on. Folks loved her.

It was the neighborhood’s variety store, open seven days a week — cigarettes and cigars and pipe tobacco, newspapers and magazines, candy bars, refrigerated soda pop, odds and ends.

And always on the counter two punchboards — five cents a chance — if you know what those were. A real money-maker for her.

She met John McCarthy, an Irish lad, a shoe salesman in the city’s most fashionable clothing store.

He courted her for several years — people joked about it. She was strong-willed. Despite her father and mother’s objections that he was not French, she said yes, and they married.

She spoke broken English and he couldn’t speak a word of French. But love conquers all, or so they say.

And guess what? In time we found out that he had married Bernie despite his parents’ objection that she was a French girl. How about that?!

Anyway, next to our house was a three-decker. It came up for sale and Jack and Bernie got a mortgage and bought it.

She was very good at watching every dime and dollar.

They settled in on the first floor and rented out the second and third floors.

Buying a three-decker could be a very smart investment.

The monthly rent paid by the tenants on the second and third floors would cover the owners’ monthly mortgage payment. Might even help with ordinary living expenses.

By the time the owners retired, the mortgage had been paid off and the continuing rent payments helped to support them in their old age.

When they died, the three-decker became a very nice legacy for the children.

Of course, renting to tenants who failed to pay the rent could be disastrous.

She and Jack never had children. She became my second “mom.” They truly loved me. And I did them.

If I did not like what my mother was serving for supper, I’d run over, walk in without knocking on the door, and sit down at the table and eat with them.

As we children grew up, we all took a great liking to Uncle Jack also. We called them just Bernie and Jack.

I mentioned how good she was at budgeting. Here’s one example

While still single, she had bought a spiffy brand-new Oldsmobile. She was said to be the first woman locally to buy a new car in her own name.

Now think of this. After Thanksgiving and before the snow started, she’d put it in a nearby garage she rented, set it up on blocks, and leave it that way until spring.

When she took it out for a new season, friends would cheer her and give her a thumb’s up.

For a week before the Fourth of July she’d set up a stand and sell fireworks.

She converted a nearby two-car garage into a beautiful ice cream stand. Ran it eight months a year.

I’d work there summers, scooping ice cream for cones and sundaes. I still have a photo of me in my natty white apron and jacket and cap, ready to serve a customer.

My father and mother and she all became citizens. Jack was American-born.

I believe Bernie was the first to become “naturalized.” My father and mother followed.

Bernie often told the story of how after passing the required tests she reported for the swearing-in ceremony. They were all in their Sunday finery.

A woman wearing white gloves and holding a silver tray with tiny American flags on it came and presented a flag to each inductee, man and woman. Tiny flags on little sticks.

A judge was presiding. As men and women placed their right hand on their heart and with their left held up the tiny flags, he solemnly led them in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.

They were told to take the flag home as a souvenir of that grand event.

I had that little flag of Bernie’s for many years. It was important to me. Then I lost it. Now some 80 years later, I have another quite like it. But it has more stars on it than hers did. Our country has gotten bigger.

Now that little flag is on top of one of my bookcases. An important reminder.

My grandparents had passed by then.

I am not sure when my father and mother and Bernie first voted.

It might have been the election of Herbert Hoover in 1929, which was the year I was born.

It took me quite a while to learn what Democrats stood for and what Republicans stood for.

Yes, my father was quite successful in several small businesses. All of them involved selling.

We moved from Coyle Avenue to a beautiful single-family Cape Cod-style house in a nice neighborhood. It even had an outdoor in-ground swimming pool.

He drove a Lincoln. And he bought a house in Florida for winter getaways.

One winter he bought two tickets on a cruise ship and took my mother to the Bahamas for a couple of weeks.

We were given a strong and wholesome upbringing and the opportunity for higher education through college on up — which he and my mother never got.

One thing I am proud to tell you about is how my mother and father learned to read English.

Not easy.

I remember how I had to study Russian when I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ukraine. I was such a poor Russian learner that I thought Peace Corps would send me back home.

My father slowly learned English in his selling enterprises. Every evening after supper, he would sit in his rocking chair and slowly, slowly work his way through the Pawtucket Times, our daily newspaper. Slowly and steadily he learned.

My mother did the same thing.

She loved to read French books.

But one day she discovered the Reader’s Digest. That was brand-new back then. Loved it.

And then the Saturday Evening Post. Loved it. She bought both of them every issue.

In the evening, after putting us to bed, she would curl up with one of her magazines and read and read.

When I was twelve or thirteen, she took me to the Pawtucket Public Library and got me my first public library card. I have never been without a public library card since then.

In recalling all this, I’ve wondered how many countries in the world all this would have been possible. Not that many.

After becoming naturalized, my Aunt Bernie and my father and mother voted Democrat though I am not sure which one was first to vote in a national election.

A few days ago, I was discussing this with my sister Lucie, who as you now know is a few years younger than I am.

She told me that when she was ready to vote for the first time, “Papa told me to vote Democrat and told me why that was important. Democrats try to pass laws and do things that would be helpful to ordinary people.”

And that’s how I feel about it.

Anyway, I am happy to tell you that all of us in the family are Democrats, or so I assume. We live far apart, and I have no recollection of talking politics with my family.

Certainly they recall how their mother and I voted. We were influential parents. I suspect our kids picked up their political leanings from us.

My son Arthur, who is a lawyer, lives in Florida. Their three children live in Florida, Massachusetts, and California. That’s how it is nowadays.

I am certain that my daughter Monique, who also has a law degree, and her husband David, who live here in Morro Bay, California, are Democrats. That’s why I live here, to be close to them.

The one exception is my son Mark, Ph.D., an economist by training who is a professor of finance at the University of Wisconsin in Madison.

He had a problem making up his mind this time around and voted Libertarian. He told me that.

I have five grandchildren, three of voting age. They live far away. I suspect they’re Democrats, but I’m not sure.

Now back to the election.

Yes, I voted on November 3rd.

I couldn’t wait. It was very much on my mind.

Yes, as I told you, I voted for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.

Here in California neither our governor nor senators were up for election.

I voted for all the Democrats I could.

Here in Morro Bay, I did vote for a couple of Republicans. But at this level, party affiliation is much, much less significant.

I had received a mail-in ballot early. Quite a few pages. A formidable document. Many proposals for new laws. What they would provide and how much that would cost. I wasn’t sure.

I had to consult my daughter Monique and David for guidance. They’ve been here a long time and are very savvy.

But I had an extra-special reason to vote for Joe Biden. I had met him in Ukraine.

I have written about this before. Please be understanding if this is second-hand to you.

Kiev, July 2009. I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ukraine. Vice President Biden had flown in to negotiate something for President Obama. Was staying at our Embassy. I had come in to listen to him give a talk at the Hyatt Hotel a block away. I met him there briefly. An unforgettable pleasure!

I was a Volunteer in Peace Corps there. Vice President Joe Biden had been sent to Kiev, the capital, by President Obama to negotiate something with the Ukrainian government.

He was at our Embassy in Kiev.

It had been announced that he was going to give a talk to embassy personnel on a certain day and time.

We were 300 Volunteers in Ukraine spread all over that enormous country. The second largest in all of Europe, second only to Russia.

We were only five or six Volunteers in the large cities we got assigned to. Very few Ukrainians got to know us.

It was impossible for many of our Volunteers to attend. They lived too far away.

I was able to attend only because I was working in Chernihiv, a city only about 50 miles from Kiev.

I was a university-level professor of English. I had gotten to see that ambitious university students in Ukraine, male and female, were eager to learn English. Not British English. American English, the English of the largest and most important democracy in the world.

I also had several other jobs there.

Anyway, there were about 250 in Vice President Biden’s audience. That included 30 or 40 of us Volunteers.

Peace Corps had just announced that l at age 80 I was now the oldest of some 7,000 Volunteers working in 80 countries around the world.

Those were estimates. I don’t remember the exact numbers.

After his talk, Mr. Biden said he would take questions from 10 persons. Only 10.

I put up my hand and got lucky.

He invited me to come down to where he was speaking.

He shook hands, asked me my name and what I was doing there, and I told him I was a Volunteer. Yes, the oldest serving Volunteer in the world.

He asked for details of my work and I explained a bit. He was totally surprised.

He learned a lot about a federal program that it was clear to me he did not know much about, one for which we were spending millions of dollars a year to support.

He congratulated me, gave me a hug, and wished me the best. It lasted just a few minutes.

It turned out to be wonderful PR for Peace Corps.

In the next two days I received souvenir photos from five or six in the audience.

I included a key one in my book “27 months in the Peace Corps, My Story Unvarnished.”

Peace Corps is a great outfit. But nothing is perfect.

I talk about that in my book.

My meeting with Joe Biden had a big impact on me.

He wasn’t “putting on.” He was authentic.

I felt very good about him back then. I feel very good about him today. I am optimistic about his Presidency at this dire time.

I enjoy reading about our American history. I have a couple of history books.

One is conventional. “The Pocket History of the United States” by Allan Nevins and Henry Steele Commager, two prize-winning historians. More than 700 pages with a million facts and figures.

It talks about presidents and senators and governors. Democrats and Republicans and other political parties. Wars and treaties and alliances. And so much more. But published in 1992, so far out-of-date.

But I have a history book that is outstanding.

It’s “A People’s History of The United States” by Howard Zinn

Called by one reviewer: “The only one-volume story of America’s history from the point of view — and in the words of — America’s women, factory workers, African Americans, Native Americans, working poor, and immigrant laborers.”

More than 700 pages. More than 1 million copies sold. Translated into many languages.

With so many copies sold, you may be very familiar with him.

He wrote numerous books.

Howard Zinn died in 2010. An extraordinary person.

One evening recently, I began reading him at 7 p.m. and I was still reading him when I went to bed at 2 a.m.

David, my son-in-law, told me he was very familiar with Zinn. Called him “The greatest!”

Said he had listened to many of Zinn’s lectures on YouTube.

I had no idea his lectures could be listened to that way. I have listened to a couple.

What a wonderful experience to see Howard Zinn live, actually lecturing now,10 years after his passing.

I encourage you to look him up.

I assure you it will not be time wasted.

God Bless America!

Covid-19 in China, per The Week

I am doing something right now that I have never done before. I repeat, never.

I am posting for you an article from a major national magazine, The Week, about the fabulous success that China has had in coping with and essentially eliminating the killing disease among its people.

As we know, China is where the pandemic originated. Then it jumped to us, and as we also know, it has killed so very many of our people, changed our way of life, and disrupted our economy.

Now Covid-19 has become global, affecting people and countries all over the world. And it continues to spread and infect and kill.

Our only hope is an effective, one-time-only, affordable serum.

I am writing this for a special reason. Just recently I posted an account about the pandemic in China as explained to me by a Chinese man named Wu Bin.

He’s a young man. I could be his grandfather.

We met in Nairobi, Kenya.

Wu has been a close friend of mine for close to 20 years. He is a combo engineer and businessman living in Shanghai. I have been to China four times, all trips involving Wu.

He has traveled to many countries in the world, including the USA.

Does that sound familiar to you now?

I subscribe to The Week. It is a national, serious magazine covering anything important or interesting from A to Z.

I received the latest copy today.

The very first page always features what it calls the Editor’s Letter. It always runs 250 words or so. Always a commentary on something very important and always strongly written.

I am publishing it word for word, and in italic to make it stand out for you.  Here I go…

Call it a tale of two systems. In authoritarian China, where the pandemic first emerged, the coronavirus is now a mere inconvenience.

The disease has been almost entirely suppressed through a combination of strict lockdowns, face mask mandates, and mass testing and contact tracing.

As a result, China is going from strength to strength. Experts believe China will be the world’s only major economy to notch positive economic growth this year — the U.S. economy is predicted to shrink by about 4 percent — and for ordinary citizens there, life has largely returned to normal.

During this month’s Golden Week holiday, more than 600 million Chinese hit the road to visit residents and vacation resorts.

Here in the democratic U.S., it’s a different story. 

(Our traditionally big Fourth of July and Labor Day were muted — JGL)

With no national strategy in place to contain the virus, we’re now experiencing our second or possibly third wave of the disease (See Main Stories).

The U.S., (population 328 million), has so far confirmed some 8.5 million Covid-19 cases and over 226,000 deaths — more than any other nation.

China (population 1.4 billion) has recorded about 86,000 infections and 4,700 deaths. In a single day this week, the U.S. logged about 48,000 new cases, compared with 13 in China.

Of course, it was always going to be easier for an Orwellian surveillance state such as China to control its population and limit viral spread than for a society that values rugged individualism.

But as countries such as New Zealand and South Korea have shown, it is possible to push back the virus without resorting to totalitarianism.

It requires national leaders to listen to credible scientists, not berate them as “idiots,” and to sell the public on the idea that the short-term inconvenience of wearing a mask or not drinking inside a bar is worth it for the long-term gain.

Whether any politician can rally this divided nation around such common-sense ideas remains to be seen. But if we continue to fight among ourselves, a united China — not a disunited America –may dominate the 21st century.

            Theunis Bates, Managing Editor

A lot of food for thought, I believe. This is why I am sharing it with you. I suspect you will agree.

I fervently hope the first really big step to resolving this enormous problem and moving forward will be taken November 3.


P.S.  If you are wondering, The Week, which comes out weekly of course, has a circulation of 500,000. So it’s a biggie.

It’s a mix of news, opinion, features, and advice. It also has a large digital edition.

I own no stock in the company and I don’t know anybody who works there.

Post Covid-19 China Per My Chinese Friend

By John Guy LaPlante

In huge Shanghai, Wu Bin and his wife and son getting out of the house for a while and staying away from people and enjoying a bit of healthful fresh air in the hard days of Covid-19. How wonderful it is!

His name is Wu Bin. He lives in Shanghai, truly one of the most beautiful cities in the world.

He is an engineer by profession.

He is widely traveled, has been in many countries of the world, on business, mostly.

His specialty is LED lights. He has told me more than once, “John, if you see LED lights when you’re at Home Depot. Those are my lights.”

I’m much older. Wu could be my son, even my grandson.

I have written about him a number of times, so if you’re one of my regular readers, you may remember reading about him.

I’m writing about him now for a very special reason.

We met in Nairobi, which is the capital of Kenya.

I was there as a stop on my solo trip around the globe, which resulted in my book, “Around the World at 75. Alone, dammit!”

He was single back then, in Nairobi on business and pleasure. We met in a hostel. He spoke English quite well.

Long story. We became friends and have been friends ever since.

I have been to China four times, seeing him being a principal reason. In fact, I went for his wedding.

He published that book of mine in Mandarin, which is the main language in China.

He has visited me in the United States.

He is married and has one child, a son of course.

I say of course because at that time, a man and wife were allowed only one child. Why? Because of a great fear of over-population.

A married couple preferred a son.

If the wife knew she was carrying a girl, that girl would be aborted.

Or if carried to term, would be given up to adoption, often through an agency which made that its business. Often to couples abroad who paid to get a baby.

Countless American couples now have a Chinese daughter. I know of two such couples.

Talking about a law with unforeseen consequences! That law was a classic.

At least one unfortunate consequence today is that many Chinese men cannot marry because there are not enough women to go around. Tragic.

So that law to have just one child is now past tense.

But now, why am I writing this?

We all know that the pandemic Covid-19 originated in China, in a large city called Wuhan.

And how it quickly swept across the seas, to the United States and many countries around the world, with terrifying results.

And how we, in fact many people and countries around the world, are so desperate for a vaccine that will save lives. Keeping our fingers crossed. Praying. Hoping we’ll read about that in the news media today, or tomorrow morning.

And what have been the results in China?

It’s so remarkable. So ironic!

You will see why in just a minute or two.

Wu just wrote to me about Covid-19 as he has experienced it in China.

Here is what he had to say.

“Hello, dear John,

Sorry to reply you till now!

I am just back to Shanghai from another province, Fujian province.

I have some lighting business there.

As you may know now, in China, the COVID-19 pandemic is under proper control now. Finally. Very good news.

There is almost no worry for domestic traveling here. No matter by plane, train, or bus.

Most people still wear face mask when they go outside.

This is not only for COVID-19 but we also do that for flu or normal cold.

The big concern is the outside world.

What I worry about is some countries still have big infection issues without proper measurements: tests, lockdown, medicine, medical staff.

India, Pakistan, Brazil, and some African countries are the worst cases.

I mentioned this because Chinese economy is connected with other countries closely.

For example, we import iron ore from Brazil, shrimp from Ecuador, bananas from Philippines, semiconductor chips from USA and Japan, on and on.

We cannot grow without the supply from other countries.

So, if the other countries still suffer from the pandemic, it will interfere for us in China negatively as well.

The final solution for this pandemic is the vaccine.

As estimated, we can get the vaccine in China by the end of 2020.

I heard there are three Chinese vaccines under development in Phase 3.

The end selling price would be CNY 600 (about USD $92).

Fortunately, all my family and neighbors are safe during the pandemic.

One main reason was the strict lockdown in February, March, and April, which avoided widespread infection in China.

However, many small companies were closed up forever because of the lockdown.

So no cash flow and no business during the first quarter.

Very, very hard for small businesses here.

This I saw in person, not through the propaganda from the official media.

So, how do I get by?

One example. In three days I will fly to a remote city, Quanzhou, where I can get some orders.

The margin will be very low but I am satisfied with it.

In these hard days, any order is encouragement to some extent.

This 2020 is really a tough year for many people.

In our Chinese Lunar calendar, 2020 is the year of the Pig. Not a good sign!

If we can get though 2020 without too much trouble, that means good enough.”

“Hello! Dear John,

Today, I took the 6-hour bullet train to Xiamen for business trip.

At the hotel I checked the email box and found your questions about Covid-19.

How did it originate in China? Where?

I remember that last December there were news reports that in Wuhan City, all of a sudden, there were lots of pneumonia patients found in the local hospitals. The number of such patients was far more than ever before. And were regarded as having viral pneumonia.

But then, the doctors found that it was a new kind, an infectious one resulting from close face-to-face contact.

And it was happening not in Shanghai or Beijing or other very large cities. It was concentrated in Wuhan. Not sure why. Who brought this to Wuhan?

Then the Chinese Lunar New Year (last Jan 25) was coming soon. That’s a big event for our whole country. Many, many people return to their home town or city to celebrate that on the eve of New Year’s Day.

The trains and planes are very full. Very busy.

But just several days before that Chinese New Year, the government found so many cases of that disease in Wuhan City and its related province, Hubei Province that it announced a huge lockdown. Something quite new to us.

There were no trains, buses, planes, taxis to leave the city and the province. A big problem for many people.

Wuhan city and the province were blocked. Everybody had to stay at home.

I have not heard of a lockdown like that in your United States.

The government arranged to deliver the rice, meat, vegetables and so on to the local residents to help them get though it.

The kids stayed at home. And the schools announced they would have lessons via website. No normal classes any more.

And the restaurants, bars, clubs, department stores, so many other businesses, had to be kept closed to keep the infection from spreading.

And many people like doctors, policemen, government officials, and especially Communist Party members, were sent in to make sure the lockdown worked.

In my city Shanghai, during last February and March, there were many check points on streets and at apartment gates to make sure nobody was coming from the Wuhan area.

And everybody had to wear the face mask outside that time. And no groups of people.

That was mandatory in the whole country, even for the top leaders.

In February and March, the pandemic was in the worst phase. I heard from the news and radio that many patients were dying. Very sad and depressive that moment. It felt like the last day of the world was coming.

As for me, I could not move out of Shanghai. I stayed at home every day. For about 22 hours per day. I went out for two hours to see the blue sky.

I think that those two months (February and March) were the most terrible period in my life. And for many, many other people also.

During that, I heard that many small business owners were bankrupted or closed up forever by the pandemic.

The reason was very simple: no cash flow and no clients.

The same thing what’s happening all over our country. A great big pressure on us.

Those eight weeks or so February and March were like a nightmare.

By the end of April, I felt the whole situation was starting to change a little bit for the better.

One obvious sign was that the total of COVID-19 deaths was declining every day.

People began to accept all these as a fact and didn’t worry about it as before.

The doctors utilized all kinds of ways to treat the disease — western drugs, or traditional Chinese medicine, or local folk medicine sometimes.

What I learned from the patients who survived finally is that the body’s immune system must remain very strong.

If the COVID-19 destroys your immune system, you have to recover as soon as possible, by using all possible treatments.

In our Chinese belief, there are two aspects to improve the immune system. One is inside our body, that is by our own good health

Another is from outside, by eating good nutritional foods of many kinds. And keeping our body strong through exercise. And of course having good medicines. 

That is a big theme. It is possible to write a big paper about it, or even a whole book.

But now let me give you one simple example.

When you take a shower before sleep, the cool water falling on your back will activate the immune cells on your back.

Or more simply, in the morning you can use a long stick to scratch your back to stimulate it.

I also remember another important thing happening in Wuhan.

All the experienced respiratory doctors in Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou, and military hospitals were sent to Wuhan when the pandemic started. The response was immediate.

A doctor had only two hours to pack his baggage after getting orders, then take the bus to the nearest airport to take the Air Force plane. 

Meanwhile, the government also fired the mayor and other officials in Wuhan for their poor performance during the crisis.

Those former government officials worried about the poor economics performance after lock-down and could not handle that decisively.

Back to myself and my family, all this has had a very negative impact to us.

The huge lock-down limited our lives in so many ways — work, school, entertainment, social communication. It was the same for people everywhere.

So, my wife, my son, my parents had to stay at home for three long months. They did the best to stay optimistic all that time.

As for myself, I could see that our family income was going down and down every week.

So, I cut all the unnecessary expenses for the home and used some of my savings.

As for my business, I contacted clients in the remote areas like Fujian province and Ganshu province and offered them much lower prices for the lighting products that we sell.

Meanwhile, I asked my clients to pay by a 6-month letter of credit. Not right after getting our products.

The clients pay us 6 months later. They have more time to sell the products before they have to pay. It is a very good way to do business. To get the orders, we have to make things easier for the clients.

I want to make two points.

First, this has been a sort of Black Swan Event. We have had to handle it by every possible way we could think of.

Secondly, this is an issue for short-term pain or long-term pain.The lock-down, short-term, was painful for everybody, But long term? It is far from over.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a huge disaster for millions of people all over the world.

It happened to us Chinese people first. Our strict lockdown was effective. We seem to be over the worst of it.

We still wear masks. And we still maintain what you call “social distancing.”

It is far from over for Americans people, European people, Indian people, so many people all over the world.

I have hated it all. Just like you who are reading this now. And like millions of people who worry they might become sick and may die from covid-19.

But it’s useless to just hate it.

We need a solution. A tested, effective vaccine that people everywhere can afford and which will be available very, very soon. That is the permanent solution.

I believe we can get the vaccine in China by the end of 2020.

I heard there are three Chinese vaccines under development.

The end selling price would be CNY 600 (about US $92).

That would be wonderful!

I wish you all the best for you and your family, John

— Wu

Two Horrific, Monstrous Plagues

By John Guy LaPlante

The Spanish Flu of 1918 & The Covid-19 Pandemic of Today

How alike? / How different?

Dear Readers,

This is a first for me. I am posting you an article of special meaning to all of us. It highlights facts about the world’s very first pandemic, which was the devastating Spanish flu of 1918. Exactly a century ago.

And how that compares with and contrasts to the cataclysmic Covid-19 pandemic that we are living through today.

Why is this a first for me?

This is the very first time that I put together a blog for you that I have not authored. How come?

I did not just up and decide to research this and put it together for you.

It was accidental. I have been a reader of the Saturday Evening Post Magazine for years.

I have saved some copies. One was the issue of September / October 2018. Yes, published exactly two years ago.

I happened to thumb through it and spotted its article about the Spanish flu.

It was written by Laura Spinney, a science journalist and author.

She did a great job. Much of what you are now reading here was her work. She deserves the credit.

I admit that I tweaked it a little bit, mostly to shorten it, and have added a few other things that I thought were important.

Here is how she started her article: “One hundred years ago, in 1918, the world experienced the greatest tidal wave of death, possibly in the whole of human history.”

A bit further: “The first wave of the Spanish flu struck in the spring of that year. But there was nothing Spanish about it. It’s just that Spain was the one that tracked its progress.”

The disease claimed between 50,000,000 and 100,000,000 lives, according to current estimates, or between 2.5 and 5% of the global population.

It was a true “pandemic,” sweeping through a whole country or several countries.

As opposed to “epidemic,” which affects a category of people within a limited geographic area.

Now who, less than two years ago, would have any thought, any idea, any crystal ball that right now we’d be suffering through the worst pandemic the world has ever experienced, with no end in sight?!

I decided that it would be interesting, in fact, important, to see how the two events

were similar in some ways and yet different.

And what you are reading now is the result. Consider it a modest public service, so to speak.

The first wave of the Spanish flu struck in the spring of 1918.

But it was flu, and flu, as we know, is transmitted by human breath – by coughs and sneezes.

The flu is highly contagious and spreads most easily when people are packed together in high densities – and this why it is sometimes referred to as a “crowd” disease.

That first wave of the Spanish flu back in 1918 was relatively mild, not much worse than seasonal flu, but one of the second and most deadly phases of the pandemic erupted in the autumn of 1918.

People could hardly believe that it was the same disease. An alarmingly high proportion of patients died – 25 times as many as in previous flu pandemics.

Initially, victims reported the classic symptoms of flu — fever, sore throat, headache — but soon they were turning blue in the face, having difficulty breathing, even bleeding from their nose and mouth. If blue turned to black, they were unlikely to recover.

Their congested lungs were simply too full of fluid to process air, and death usually followed within hours or days.

The second wave receded toward the end of the year, but there was a third and final wave — intermediate in virulence between the other two — and early 1919.

Flu is caused by a virus but “virus” was a novel concept in1918. And most of the world’s doctors assumed they were dealing with a bacterial disease.

This meant that they were almost completely helpless against the Spanish flu.

They had no flu vaccine, no antiviral drugs, not even any antibiotics, which might have benefited against the secondary bacterial infections — in the form of pneumonia — that killed most of its victims.

Public health measures, such as the closing of public meeting places, could be effective, but even when they were imposed, it often happened too late, because influenza was not a reportable disease in 1918.

This meant the doctors were not obliged to report cases to the authorities, which in turn meant that those authorities failed to see the pandemic coming.

Yes, I repeat the disease claimed between 50 and 100 million lives, according to current estimates, or between 2.5 and 5% of the global population.

To put those numbers in perspective, World War I killed about 18 million people. World War II about 60 million.

The rates of sickness and death varied dramatically across the globe, for a host of complex reasons that epidemiologists have been studying ever since.

In general, the less well-off suffered worse — though not for the reasons eugenecists proposed — but the elites were by no means spared.

The lesson health authorities took away from the catastrophe was that it was no longer reasonable to blame individuals for catching infectious diseases, nor to treat them in isolation.

The 1920s saw many governments embrace the concept of socialized medicine – healthcare for all, delivered free at the point of delivery.

Surprise! Russia wss the first to put in place a centralized public health care system, which it funded via a state-run insurance scheme, and others in Western Europe followed suit.

The U.S. took a different route, preferring employer-based insurance schemes, but it also took measures to consolidate health care in the post-flu years.

In 1924, the Soviet government laid out specifications for the physician of the future, who would have “the ability to study the occupational and social conditions which give rise to illness and not only to cure the illness but to suggest ways to prevent it.”

This vision was gradually adopted across the world: the new medicine would be not only biological and experimental but also sociological.

Public health started to look more like it does today.

The cornerstone of public health is epidemiology — the study of patterns, causes, and effects and disease — and this now received full recognition as part of a scientific specialty.

Epidemiology requires data, and the gathering of health data became more systematic.

By 1925, for example, all U.S.states were participating in a national disease-reporting system, and the early warning apparatus that had been so lamentably lacking in 1918 began taking shape.

And yes, later, reflecting authorities’ new interest in the populations’ baseline health, U.S. citizens were subjected to the first national health survey.

Many countries created or revamped health ministries in the 1920s.

This was a direct result of the pandemic, during which public health leaders had been either left out of cabinet meetings entirely or reduced to pleading for funds and powers that did not yet exist.

But there was also recognition of the need to coordinate public health at the international level since clearly, contagious diseases didn’t respect borders.

The year 1919 saw the opening, in Vienna, of an international bureau for fighting epidemics — a forerunner of today’s World Health Organization.

WHO head into existence and 1946, eugenics had been disgraced, and the new organization’s constitution enjoyed a thoroughly egalitarian approach to wealth.

It stated that “the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health is one of the fundamental rights of every human being without distinction of race, religion, political belief, economic or social condition.”

That philosophy would not eliminate the threat of flu pandemics — WHO has known three in its lifetime, and will surely know more — but it would transform the way human beings confronted them.

And it was born of an understanding that pandemics are a social, not an individual problem.

In that same issue, The Saturday Evening Post ran a companion article by the eminent science writer Dr. Paul de Kruif.

He wrote about “his experience with the greatest pestilence of our time and the devastation left in its wake.

“The 1918 flu pandemic came out of nowhere and spread like wildfire, burning its way through the whole world except Antarctica.

“Unlike previous flu outbreaks, this young one targeted young adults, killing so many so quickly that hospitals ran out of beds, morgues ran out of space, and cities ran out of coffins.”

What he went on to write was a graphic report of how brutally and unsparingly that pandemic terrified and decimated people with total indiscrimination. Very hard to imagine.

And In that same issue, The Saturday Evening Post’s executive editor Patrick Perry conducted a question and answer interview with a scientist who has become known to millions of us in our COVID-19 pandemic.

He happens to be our nation’s top expert on infectious diseases, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Our pandemic has made him famous. As a scientist. And a badly needed foil to President Trump.

That interview resulted in a detailed examination of viruses — what they are, how they work, how many there are, and what can be done about them. All explained in plain English.

Remember, this was about the flu pandemic of 1918, plus others in 1957, 1968, and 2009.

Yes, all about viruses, and the best way to fight them is to develop specific vaccines. And of course, this is why millions of us now get flu shots every year.

But aren’t there non-vaccine strategies that are effective?

 Dr. Fauci has a number of them:

— Wash your hands often and thoroughly.
— Avoid crowded places.
— Stay away from people when you’re sick.
— Keep your school children at home if they’re sick.
— Cover your mouth If you’re coughing and sneezing.

These have been preached to us so strongly that most people with smarts accept them and practice them routinely.

There are always imbeciles around.

There are two that he did not mention which he now says are critical in this pandemic of COVID-19:

— Maintain social distancing.
— And wear a mask to protect others.

I myself have two more urgent suggestions:

1. Dump Trump in the upcoming election!
2. And pray we’ll have an effective vaccine soon!

I’m sure many of you would go along with me.

Now to get personal. I am especially vulnerable to COVID-19. I am in my ’90s. And less than a year ago I was diagnosed with double pneumonia.

A month ago I was tested and found negative. Still, I could become positive tomorrow.

It is absolutely mind-boggling how Covid-19 has decimated us.

I checked the latest statistics a couple of hours ago. I have rounded them off.

Here in the U.S., we have had 6,726,000 cases and 198,000 deaths.

And think of the countless ways this has affected our lifestyle. Putting people out of work. Making it impossible for them to pay the mortgage or the rent or the car payment.

Unable to afford a dentist or a lawyer or an auto mechanic. Keeping students out of grade school up through university, plus teachers and professors.

How many people are not affected by a hardship of some kind?

And here is the big, grim bottom line.

Globally we have racked up 30,407,000 cases and 952,000 deaths.

Globally is the correct word. The list of countries hit is long. And getting longer.

It’s been a nightmare. Usually, people wake up from a nightmare. There’s no waking up from this one.

But how glad I am that I saved that wonderful Saturday Day Evening Post magazine of September / October 1918!

I’ve enjoyed plunging into all this.

Al Southwick is still writing his column at age 100

I’m a big fan. I enjoy his columns so much that I save them.

Al Southwick is still writing his column at age 100

By John Guy LaPlante

I was re-reading one of Albert B. Southwick’s older newspaper columns.

It was entitled “40 pounds for an Indian scalp.”

It was about a harsh and authentic bit of American history. As usual, a very fine column. I loved it.

His column is published every Thursday in the Worcester, Massachusetts Telegram and Gazette.

I read his column every chance I get. And look forward to the next one.

I used to live in Worcester. Now I live three thousand miles west, in California.

It’s thanks to Roger Trahan, an academic colleague at Assumption College years ago, that I get to read his columns. Roger emails them to me in batches of six or eight.

Al Southwick was in his very late 90s when he wrote that particular column.

I have dozens and dozens of them from Roger. I enjoy them so much that I save them.

Here are just a few examples:

“My ancestors owned a slave.”
“Dodge City folklore and fact.”
“Should women serve in combat?”
“The scary honey bee die-off.”
“Title IX vs. LGBTQ.”
“How to get rid of a president.”
“Flying blind and landing safely has become routine.”
“How the Census has changed.”

I want you to know that yes, Al Southwick just turned 100 a few weeks ago and is still producing that column every week.

Has announced in print he has no intention of quitting. “It helps keep me young.”

The photo at the left shows Al Southwick as a young sailor in World War II about to start flight training. He says he felt lucky to make it back home alive.

The photo at the right, taken a few years ago, shows him contemplating his next weekly column, I presume.

I buy that. In old age, regular hard mental exercise is all-important.

He then added, “I’ll keep writing it as long as the paper keeps paying me for it.”

He was being forthright. It made me smile. All these many years, writing has been his livelihood.

By the way, writing it every week isn’t just a matter of typing for an hour or two. Heck, no. Each is the result of much digging, much research, much reflection.

I know. I’ve written many myself.

And then I had another thought. I know men, and women too, who can’t wait until they can finally, finally begin collecting Social Security. Some as early as age 62. And are so blissfully happy that their working days are over once and for all.

That isn’t Al Southwick!

I’ve known him for many decades. Personally.

I’ll tell you about that in a few minutes.

First, a bit of bio. Albert B. Southwick was born on his family’s ancestral farm in Leicester, a suburb of Worcester. Went to all eight years of qrade school in a one-room schoolhouse with one teacher. Graduated high school and Clark University there.

Clark was the only school his parents could afford.

For the first two years he walked the five miles to Clark and back in good weather and bad. Finally he managed to get wheels.

Graduating, he joined the Navy and passed the tough tests for flight training, Learned to fly the B-24, a heavy bomber, and then the PBY4Y-2 Privateer.

He served in the Pacific Theater till the end of the war against Japan.

He saw heavy service and felt lucky to return alive.

Back home, he met and wed Shirley Marie Johnson. They were married 51 years, till her death.

She had served in the Navy. They both went back to college on the GI Bill. She for a master’s in social work and he in U.S. history.

He went to Brown University in Providence to get a Ph.D. in history. But he quit to become a civilian historian for the U.S. Seventh Army in Germany. He and Shirley lived there for two years.

Back in the U.S, he landed a job as a reporter for the Providence Journal. In 1952 he jumped to the Worcester Evening Gazette as an editorial writer. That ended his days as a reporter.

Before long, the Gazette joined the morning Telegram to become the Worcester Telegram & Gazette.

He became part of the team of editorial writers serving both papers and then in 1968 the chief editorial writer.

He retired in 1986 after 34 years at the T&G.

But while busy as chief editorial writer, he had begun freelancing articles for newspapers, magazines, and periodicals.

He has written editorials for the Saturday Evening Post magazine and editorial essays for the New York Times, the Boston Globe, and other papers and periodicals.

He has written at least 20 books.

At last count, he had four children, three grandchildren, two step-grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren.

He has been active for years in Worceter’s intellectual, cultural, and civic life.

Now here’s how I came into the picture.

After working briefly on a couple of weekly newspapers, I landed a job as a correspondent for the T&G in Athol. It’s a small city on the far western edge of Worcester County.

The bureau chief was Steve Preston, a veteran newspaperman. He was my boss. A good guy.

I did general reporting, covering this and that. Accidents. High school games. The high school graduation. Once the annual meeting of the trustees of the local hospital. And so on.

And now this you must know. The Worcester Sunday Telegram had its very own magazine, the Feature Parade.

It wasn’t just a magazine that the T&G bought 100,000 copies of every week with its name printed on the cover.

I believe that was the circulation of the Sunday Telegram back then.

Not at all. Feature Parade had its own editor and assistant editor and graphic artist and photographer plus two full-time feature writers.

It included ads, of course.

I greatly enjoyed reading the features that it published.

It was printed every Friday evening on the newspaper’s huge presses in the basement, for inclusion in the Sunday Telegram.

And on Page 2 every other Sunday, Feature Parade published a column called “Down on the Farm.”

I read every one. Delightful.

The writer was a fellow named Albert B. Southwick.

He wrote them for several years.

I figured he was an old, old man reminiscing about wonderful seasonal happenings down on the farm.

Bringing in the hay. Milking the cows. Splitting firewood. Insulating the old house for winter. Looking forward to big pumpkins. Stretching pennies. Getting through shorter days.

Anyway, back in Athol, I happened to meet an old gentleman who was a gifted artist in a medium totally unfamiliar to me.

I had never seen “paintings” of the kind he created. And I haven’t seen any since.

Gorgeous “paintings” they were. About 12 inches wide and 18 inches high.

Please notice my quotation marks

Because he had no brushes. Used zero paint. They were not paintings as we know such.

Here’s the remarkable way he went about it. He had a supply of woods, native and exotic, in various hues.

Already he had created a beautiful frame 2 inches wide glued to a thin board 12 inches wide by 18 inches high.

On that board he had penciled in a beautiful scene of a large bobolink flying above a field of ferns and flowers.

And now with a scalpel, I believe, he meticulously cut bits and pieces in different shapes and sizes from those fine woods to build up his “painting.”

He did that by gluing them together in that frame. Then he finished by very gently sanding the surface and applying a lustrous coating of some kind.

What he had created was a masterpiece, yes, a masterpiece.

Each took many, many hours. Each was unique.

I thought he and his remarkable “paintings” would be a wonderful story for Feature Parade Magazine. So I wrote it up.

And I knew the magazine liked photos to illustrate its stories.

I was a good photographer from my time on those two weekly newspapers. I had learned to use a Speed Graphic. It was the standard camera on newspapers everywhere back then.

Steve Preston had a Speed Graphic. He used it as needed in his own reporting.

I asked him if he would let me use it to take pictures of my new artist friend at his work.

He said sure, but I’d have to split whatever Feature Parade paid me for the photos. That was a very good deal. I sent in my story and the photos.

Whoopee! Feature Parade paid me $20 for the story and $12 for two photos. I promptly gave Steve $6.

More good news. Soon I got promoted to chief of another bureau in great big Worcester County. A much larger bureau with several reporters. Darn good for my age.

I supervised the news and covered major stories. Had a camera. But on the side I continued to submit articles and photos to Feature Parade.

Frederick Rushton, the editor, snapped them up.

One day I got a call. One of his feature writers had quit. Would I be interested?

Yes, sir!

It was the perfect job for me. I wrote many feature stories. I loved being a feature writer.

And in a while I was promoted to assistant editor of Feature Parade. And when Fred Rushton retired, to editor.

Sadly I do not remember that artist’s name. He had lettered in “Bobolink” in the bottom right corner. But not his name.

I had put in a few hours on that article. He had put in countless hours on his masterpiece.

He was so pleased with my story that he gave me that painting!

It hangs in a special corner of my living room. I consider it priceless.

Why did I spend so much time telling you about him and his unique works of art?

Because it led to my fabulous writing job on Feature Parade and eventually becoming its editor. Which I had never aspired to.

Also to my family camping column, and the other freelance articles that I wrote for the


And of course, my getting to meet Albert B. Southwick.

Al Southwick wasn’t the old farmer that I suspected from his Down on the Farm columns. He was just a few years older than I was.

My office was on the second floor of the T&G building. And his was on the fourth. I’d see him on the elevator. We’d say hello. Chat for a minute.

And two other further important events in my life.

For one thing, I too had become a freelance weekly columnist for the Telegram.

Here’s how. I was married. My wife Pauline and I had two children, Arthur and Monique. And a few years later, Mark.

We had become interested in family camping, which was quite new. And becoming very popular.

I had talked Francis P. Murphy, managing editor of the Telegram, into my writing a weekly column on family camping for $20 per, on my own time.

It was published not in Feature Parade, but in another section of the Sunday Telegram.

So I was working extra the way Al was.

I wrote it for 10 years without missing a Sunday.

One time, while hospitalized, I wrote it from my hospital bed.

And one year I took my annual two-week vacation plus a month off without pay from the magazine. And with Pauline and our first two little kids went on a camping trip across the United States and back.

In a homemade tent trailer that a friend had helped me build. Long, long before the interstate highways.

I wrote a great big four-page spread of that adventure — that’s what it turned out to be — with photos of course for Feature Parade. And got paid for it.

Plus a dozen columns about national parks we had visited. All included photos I had taken.

They ran every Sunday in the separate Travel Section of the paper.

Like all big Sunday newspapers even now, the paper also published a section called “House and Home.”

Every week on its cover, it featured a local home that was both interesting and lovely. Nick Zook was the section’s editor. He had me do one, with photos of course. On my own time. He was pleased with it. He had me do a string of them.

I liked the extra money. And I learned a lot. The day came when Pauline and I bought a house lot in a nearby town and I had a house built that incorporated features that I had written up as part of those house and home articles.

Another year, Pauline and I and my father and mother flew to London, rented an RV, crossed the English Channel, toured France and four other countries.

Home again, I wrote a series about that with photos for the T&G, then sold the series to the big Providence (Rhode island) Sunday Journal.

And got paid for all those columns.

In all, I spent some l5 years at the main office of the Telegram and Gazette at 20 Franklin Street, just across from Worcester City Hall.

By the way,I believe I was the only writer Feature Parade ever had who had not served time as a working reporter in the city room of the Telegram.

So like Al Southwick, I had been doing considerable freelancing on the side.

Life is strange. I left Worcester. Moved out of state. Many changes, mostly good but some not so good.

Now, as I said, I live in Morro Bay, California, close to my daughter Monique and son-in-law David.

A few times decades ago I revisited Worcester to see how it was doing and to say hello to old friends.

Several times I stopped by to visit and chat with Al.

He was still living in the home he and Shirley had built on a corner of what had been the old family farmstead in Leicester. And I got to meet his second wife, Betty McGrath.

It has been his home ever since.

That’s where he has been creating his column for many years.

Oh, one more thing I must mention. He has said he makes it a point to not be controversial.

Well, I know of one column that upset a number of people.

He wrote a column about the settling of French Canada back in the 1600’s.

The title of it was, “How Louis XIV populated Canada.”

Characteristically, it is a long and richly detailed and persuasive piece. A good job as always.

He used as his research source the writings of Francis Parkman, the famous American 19th century historian of Canada and New England.

The French colonists were a mere few hundred. Mostly men. Few women. Some took up with squaws.

The Iroquois from what is now upper New York State were the arch enemy. They came, attacked, and killed.

King Louis XIV sent 800 troops to repel the Iroquois. They did that.

Then he recalled them to France for a new war that had started.

But he fully understood Quebec needed more “habitants.” He encouraged soldiers to settle there. Enticed them with a piece of land and a few cattle and hogs and fowls and other necessities and a bit of money.

There were very few women. He wanted the population of settlers to multiply. He sent over a number of ships with women. Young women.

They were snapped up by the men. The gals were so few they had a big advantage. It wasn’t the man interviewing the young women. It was just the opposite.

The big question the gals always asked was, “Do you have a house?”

Word spread that they were so-called “street women.” Prostitutes.

This part of Al’s column offended some readers. Worcester has a large population of descendants of immigrants from Quebec. I am one of them.

Al explained that he got his facts from Francis Parkman.

I checked this out years ago per expert Quebecois historians.

Way back then, church records of marriages and births and deaths were excellent.

As a result, I know that my great, great, great, great original Quebec ancestor was a soldier who accepted the king’s deal.

I know his family name, Beaudillac. I know where he came from in France. I know the name of the woman who became his wife.

I’m not sure exactly why, but many of the former soldiers who settled in Quebec took on new names. Very common names. Perhaps to emphasize their new start in this new land.

My ancestor Beaudillac became Monsieur Laplante.

It’s a common name. Like Johnson or Cohen here, you might say.

Somewhere I have notes tucked away about all that.

Of course, some readers of Al’s column who are descendants of immigrants from Quebec have been mighty indignant.

They have complained that this part of Quebec history is untrue. That the story of the “street women” is a malicious fabrication.

I took offense.

One of the letter writers was Leslie Choquette, professor of history and director of the French Institute at Assumption College.

The Institute is a specialized library and research center focusing on everything Quebecois in New England, indeed the United States.

Her letter was lengthy and detailed. She explained how this falsehood came to be. Citing one Louis-Armand Lom d’Arce (1666-1716), a nobleman who came to Canada as a 17-year-old soldier and served there for ten years before returning home.

He studied every aspect of the new colony, published three books, became as famous as Francis Parkman.

Professor Choquette said that he was known to love poking fun at Quebec’s dominant clerical establishment, and he did so with his malignant account of the “King’s girls,” as they were called.

The true historical fact, she said, is that most of the girls were orphans, many from the Paris General Hospital, a workhouse for the poor.

I know Professor Choquette. Have had discussions with her. She is a Ph.D. in history from Harvard.

By the way, she speaks and writes French as well as she does English. I can hold my own at that.

Some time ago she told me she was a great admirer of Albert B. Southwick for his columns. Just as I am.

She identifies herself as a proud descendant of a “King’s girl.” As I am.

My take on this? I believe the great majority were good girls. Some were prostitutes. I don’t believe they wanted to be prostitutes. They had to be prostitutes. There was no other way to get by. That was their reality.

I accept that. I do not find that so terrible.

Now back to Abert B. Southwick for a few minutes.

He has passed his long and nearly entire professional life with the Telegram and Gazette, as a salaried employee or a very active free-lance columnist, in fact a weekly one for years.

He has seen vast changes.

Back in his early days the Telegram was the morning paper and the Gazette the evening paper. The Telegram published seven days a week and The Gazette six days.

Both were in the same building, printed on the same presses, had the same editor-in-chief and the same editorial writers. But separate news staffs directed by managing editors always delighted to scoop the opposite paper.

You may not know much about Worcester. It is an impressive city. Lots of heavy industry. Numerous colleges and universities, including the University of Massachusetts Medical School. With a resulting cluster of hi-tech and hi-science companies close to the med school.

Still, many are surprised to hear it is the largest city in New England second only to Boston.

Al was working at the T&G made the list of the 100 biggest newspapers in the country. That was a big day.

He started when all of these big papers “were it” in delivering the news. There was no other reliable source.

Radio stations had just begun getting into the news business. And some years later, TV news got started.

He even saw the day when the T&G started its own radio station, WTAG, on the fourth floor of its own building.

When he started, the T&G was locally owned. He was working there when it was bought by a newspaper chain. Then bought by another chain.

He saw publishers and other executives coming in from other cities and other states to run the papers.

He saw the T&G move from its proud four-story building right across the street from City Hall to a mere suite of offices in a large office building.

With the printing and distribution done from an industrial park.

He saw the two papers change from morning and evening newspapers to just a morning one. With considerably smaller editorial, news, and advertising staffs.

Then came the day when because of killer competition from other media companies, many newspapers called it quits.

But the T&G is hanging in there.

Yes, he retired from the T&G decades ago. But as I’ve said, he’s never retired from writing.

His freelancing has included both his ongoing weekly column for the T&G and articles and essays for other publications, including some of the finest in the country.

Methinks he has worked far longer as a freelancer of occasional articles for the T&G and then as a weekly columnist year in and year out than he did as a salaried employee.

I will bet that Al Southwick is the longest writing journalist in the United States.

I find that his writings to this day continue to be topically and historically important locally and nationally. And compelling and interesting.

He has never won a Pulitzer though he has won other prizes and honors.

But I believe he deserves a Pulitzer for what I think would be a new category — a well-deserved one — career-long enthusiasm and superb professional skills.

As you now know, I was a journalist at the T&G for just 15 years, but which I thought was quite a stretch back then.

By the way, we did not call ourselves journalists back then. We called ourselves newspapermen, and proudly.

I was a rare one. I had a master’s in journalism from Boston University. Yes, way back then. I quickly found out I was the only academically trained journalist at the T&G. It’s common nowadays.

All the others had learned on the job, and most of them could certainly hold their own. Including Albert Southwick.

It’s so wonderful that he’s in his 101st year and still writing. It’s inspirational.

It will be a sad, sad day indeed when my friend Roger Trahan of Worcester runs out of columns by him to forward to me.

Let’s hope it won’t be for a while.

I knew so, so little about icebreakers

By John Guy LaPlante

Like you probably.

I learned about them in bits and pieces from my dear friend Mark in Connecticut.

If he sounds familiar to you, it’s because I wrote about him quite recently.

Yes, he is the Mark who, in his late seventies, reached his goal of pedaling his bicycle 100,000 miles!

Now back to icebreakers. The more he told me about them, the more I became fascinated.

What is an icebreaker, by the way? I’m sure most of you know. But maybe not.

It’s a ship designed and built to break through ice to make it possible for cargo ships to make it to their final destination — from X to Y, so to speak.

Invariably they are government vessels. Many countries in icy latitudes have them.

We have icebreakers because of our interests in the Arctic and the Antarctic and even in the Great Lakes. Yes, our Great Lakes.

Ours are operated by our Coast Guard.

Now some background.

Mark and I have been friends for a long time. I am very familiar with his son Karl. His one and only. 

Very impressive fellow. Graduate of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy. Numerous assignments on Coast Guard icebreakers. When he retired after 20 years of service, he was the executive officer — the second-in-command — of an Icebreaker operating in the Arctic.

Karl would fill in his dad about what he was doing on the ship and how the work was proceeding.

Mark would delight in hearing all that. 

I would inquire about Karl, and Mark would bring me up-to-date. I found Karl’s experiences very interesting.

Because of his son’s involvement, Mark became fascinated with icebreakers and icebreaking.

He does not do things half-heartedly. He began doing research. Became very savvy, as you will see.

Recently he sent me a long essay about all that. Not for publication. Simply because he felt I would enjoy it as good reading. He was right.

I became interested in publishing it. I felt that many people would be interested, mostly men of course. But women also. So many things are opening up for women.

Hey, women are serving on our submarines on underwater cruises thousands of miles long. 

I’m not sure that’s a good idea, but I have no say in the matter.

For sure women serve on Coast Guard vessels. That doesn’t bother me.

Many cadets at the Coast Guard Academy in New London, Conn., are women. They graduate as junior officers and work their way up.

Oh, by the way. When I post a blog, one of the first respondents is Mark. I always look forward to his comments.

He always writes back at length. Firm opinions. Lots of detail. What he writes is always worth reading. It always adds to the topic. He is a fine writer.

And with his piece about icebreakers, he has come through for me. As expected, it  is fascinating.

I am delighted to post it for you.

He is my guest writer. My very first! 

I look forward to your comments. Of course, I will pass them on to him. I’m sure he’ll like that.

Here it is. 

A brief history of American icebreakers

By Mark (guest writer)

During and just after WWII, the United States ordered seven icebreakers, all built to a common design. They were named for the four winds plus Staten Island, Burton Island and Edisto.

They were very capable, able to break up to 20 feet of ice by backing and ramming. Three of these ships went to the Soviet Union on loan and were later returned. The other four were divided between the U.S. Navy and the U.S.Coast Guard. 

By 1966, all seven had been turned over to the Coast Guard. 

Also during the war, a similar ship was built for use on the Great Lakes, the Mackinaw

Mackinaw was longer and wider but drew less water due to the depths of the lakes. The ship was too wide to fit through the pre-’59 Welland Canal, connecting Lake Ontario and Lake Erie, so it never left the lakes.

You can see the Mackinaw design drawings at The Library of Congress:

A couple of the other ships were sent to the lakes on occasion.       

The group of seven icebreakers lasted into the ’70s with two of them making it to the late ’80s. 

Mackinaw served longer than any of the others, being decommissioned in 2006 after over 60 years of service.

It became a museum while the others were scrapped.

A few years after the war, Canada ordered an icebreaker to the same design, the Labrador. 

All of the U.S. icebreakers worked hard during their lives with all of them eventually being used in Antarctic waters to open up shipping channels to resupply U.S. research bases there. (Operation Deep Freeze).

In 1955 an additional icebreaker joined the fleet, the Glacier. Loosely based on the same design, it served for over 30 years before being retired. 

After 25 years in reserve, custody, but not ownership, of Glacier was given to The Glacier Society, a Connecticut-based group.

They hoped to restore the ship to service as either a high-latitudes hospital ship or a research vessel. 

Sadly, things did not work out and it too was scrapped.

As the original seven wore out, plans were drawn up for a new series of icebreakers. Two, Polar Star and Polar Sea, were eventually built in the mid-’70s.

Their primary function was to open up the channel into the McMurdo Research Station in Antarctica, at which they took turns. 

Their secondary function was Arctic research. 

These activities continued until around 2010 when ice conditions in Antarctica were so severe that both ships had to be deployed. This threw off the maintenance and future deployment schedules for both of them. 

The severe conditions continued, requiring the Coast Guard to send their newest icebreaker, the larger but less capable Healy, as a backup to one of the Polars. Subsequently, Russian and Swedish ships were hired as backup and then the worst happened: 

Both Polars broke down, requiring the foreign ships to take over completely. 

After a couple of years and over 60 million dollars, Polar Star was overhauled and has been doing the Antarctic mission for several years. 

Polar Sea was determined to require too much work so it has been serving as a floating parts source for Polar Star. 

Keep in mind that these ships are now 45 years old. 

The power needed for icebreaking generally is provided by a combination of diesel engines, anywhere from four to ten of them. They are coupled to generators that produce electricity for electric motors turning the propellor shafts (2 or 3). 

Over the years, these engines have produced between 10,000 and 20,000 hp total. 

The Polar class ships also have three gas turbine engines, one per shaft, each of which puts out 25,000 horsepower for when the going gets tough. 

Several Russian icebreakers have been nuclear powered.

With Polar Star now 45 years old and on life support, the Coast Guard has authorized a new heavy icebreaker to be called a Polar Security Cutter, name not yet chosen. 

The Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star breaks ice in McMurdo Sound near Antarctica on Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2018. (U.S. Coast Guard photo/Nick Ameen) – Read Article

This will be the first of several medium and heavy icebreakers to be produced over the next 10-15 years. 

Plans are to keep Polar Star in service until the second new ship is ready.

So, how do icebreakers break ice? There are two ways. 

One, the less stressful, works on up to six feet of ice, depending on the size of the ship. This is simply steady forward progress; nothing spectacular. 

The other method is “back and ram.” As the name suggests, the ship backs up several ship lengths, then builds up forward speed and hits the ice. At this point, the bow rides up on the ice and the weight of the ship plus the shock crushes the ice.  

By this procedure, some larger icebreakers can deal with ice over 20 feet thick. 

Over the years some icebreakers have had heeling tanks in which water can be rapidly pumped between tanks on each side of the ship. 

This allows the ship to rock from side to side in case it gets stuck. 

Modern icebreakers carry helicopters in a dedicated hangar and have scientific lab facilities for research.

Many of the people embarked on an icebreaker are not there to operate the ship but rather to fly and maintain the helicopters or to conduct research on ice and water.

One unique and interesting feature of an icebreaker is a station called “aloft conn.” It’s on the mast, about 100 feet above the water, from which the ship can be conned (steered).

From here, the person at the helm has a great view of the ice ahead and can look for weak spots to ease the progress of the ship. 

For a fine color photo of the Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star in Antarctica and for further reading on the status of the U.S. icebreaking fleet, check out the following article.

My note back to Mark:

Thank you!

I’m sure very few Americans have any idea of this very important work, essential work, that the Coast Guard carries on routinely. 

Your article is wonderful PR for the Coast Guard. 

Who knows, it may interest a young man or young woman to look at the Coast Guard as a wonderful career opportunity. Wouldn’t that be great?!

A story worth telling a second time

By John Guy LaPlante

Here I am with the great article I had totally forgotten about!

I wrote about this couple in 2013.

I’m writing about them again. It’s worth it!

First, my friends, let me explain.

Like you I’m sure, day after day, I keep hearing and reading about Covid-19. The global pandemic dominates the news.

It’s terrifying.

Yes, that, and of course our awful, crazy, imbecilic Trump. “Dump Trump!” say I.

And of course the humongous number of sick and dying among us and the so many killed by it.

Plus the colossal number of people put out of work, unable to pay their mortgage or rent or put food on the table or gas in the car.

And the thousands of businesses large and small that it has KO-ed.

And the students in our schools and universities who may not be able to continue their classes. Their future made uncertain.

In a word the huge social and economic maelstrom that so many of us have been sucked into. On and on.

When and how will it end? Impossible to know.

Well, I was keeping busy at home as a good way not to think about all that.

At one point I needed a certain document and went looking for it in my files.

But before I got to it, I happened upon this article I had published online more than seven years ago. On March 15, 2013.

I have written dozens and dozens of them. I had totally forgotten about this one.

The minute that I spotted the headline and the big photo under it I recalled the whole thing.

I began reading it. So wonderful. So dramatic. So unique really.

The minute I finished it, I decided I would republish it. I felt you too would love it.

It was about a woman, Dorothy DeBolt, born in1903, who had a heart bigger than a watermelon. Obviously a lady in the finest sense of the word. An angel.

And of her husband, who helped her shoulder the enormous, magnificent, lifelong load she had taken upon herself. Truly a gentleman in the finest sense of the word.

What I was reading was Mrs. DeBolt’s obituary.

Every big newspaper prints obituaries in their news columns every day, of course. Because the people involved did such good things or such bad things. They are newsworthy.

This was in the huge Los Angeles Times.

In its huge circulation area, every day dozens and dozens of people die.

You’re an ordinary Joe or Jane, you die, your family wants to do something nice for you, and they buy you an obituary in your local newspaper.

Your family can write anything they want to, and also overlook anything they want to.

The paper will print it word for word. With zero fact-checking.

In fact, it will be handled not by its editorial department but by its advertising department. And it will publish it alongside a number of other ordinary obituaries.

All it wants is assurance that your check will not bounce.

But this obituary had an LATimes byline on it – it was written by an LATimes journalist and underwent usual LATimes editing before being made available to its many, many thousands of readers.

So, it had the full weight of the LÀTimes’ professional competence and integrity going for it.

And it was written and published without charge to the family.

Better still, it was on the front page of the paper’s second section, which features local news. That says something. And it had a big photo and headline, and they were grabbers!

The headline said,

Adoption Advocate Had 20 Children.”

Wow! Twenty! Six biological and fourteen adopted.

And the photo. So powerful.

Dorothy and Bob DeBolt with 6 of the 20 kids they adopted, from different countries and all with terrible lifelong physical afflictions. And please notice, everybody smiling!

It shows Dorothy DeBolt and Bob, her second husband, with six of their children way back in 1978. All six are smiling. Obviously happy. Three of them are on crutches. All six have big problems.

And Bob is quoted as saying, “These were not throw-away kids! Her goal was to allow every child to have a permanent home.”

Her first husband, Ted, had died prematurely. He had gone along enthusiastically with her in starting this remarkable charitable work.

Wouldn’t you be grabbed, too? That obituary was the first thing I read on that page. I followed it to its jump on page 4 and read it right to the bottom. Fascinated all the way.

One paragraph near the end stunned me. I read it and re-read it. Here it is, verbatim.

“Two of their children, T.R.and Twe, died as adults. Along with her husband, Dorothy DeBolt’s’s survivors include her children, Mike, Mimi, Stephanie, Noel, Kim, Marty, Melanie, Do, Ly, Dat, Trang. Phong, Tich, Ann, Reynaldo, Sunee, Karen and Wendy, 27 grandchildren, six great-grandchildren, and her brother, Art Nortier.”

That sounds like an interesting sampling from the United Nations, doesn’t it?

But here is Dorothy’s story in a nutshell.

Dorothy was born in San Francisco in 1923. She was musically talented and attended UC/Berkeley and became a professional pianist. She married Ted Atwood – few details about him are given but a very good guy- and became a full-time housewife and soon, a mother.

Then, remarkably motivated by love and compassion and altruism, they adopted two kids from the Korean war – their father was an American serviceman, their mother Korean. Then more kids. Ted died in 1963. Dorothy adopted two more, for a total of nine.

A few years later she met Bob DeBolt on a blind date. He was a civil engineer, divorced, with one child.

It is said he was flabbergasted when he showed up for the date and saw Dorothy’s unusual family. What man wouldn’t be? The amazing thing is that he asked for a second date. Well, she said she fell in love with Bob immediately. They married in 1970 – and together continued to adopt “unadoptable children.”

Sometimes the family budget was a big worry.

The 20 kids they wound up with were an incredible mix — “paraplegics and others affected by polio, spina bifida, paralysis and blindness… One was born without legs and arms….One was born without legs and arms. One was blind, battered, and abandoned. Some had emotional difficulties.

All the kids — white, black, brown, yellow, whatever, and from this country and that one — were heaped with love and care and true parental emotional support. They were helped in every way possible.

Dorothy and Bob went on to establish an adoption agency for impaired children. It’s called Adopt A Special Kid, or AASK. The first of its kind in the US.

They are credited with 3,500 adoptees in California, and thousands more through affiliated agencies in other states!

The family was featured in a documentary in 1977, “Who are the DeBolts? And where did they get 19 kids?” It won an Academy Award.

Then the DeBolts adopted their 20th child.

It is reported that Dorothy was not strongly religious but she had “Thank you, God!” signs posted around the house.

“God bless Dorothy!” say I.

She died February 24, 2013, at home after ailing for a long time. She was 89.

Bob, too, deserved a wonderful obituary. But who knows, he may still be with us.

Now I believe you see why I felt this was a story I should share again by re-publishing it now.

I hope it has given you a nice big high the way it did me when I came upon it accidentally in that file.

In these bleak, dismal days of Covid-19, we need all the sunshine we can get, don’t we?

I hope you are getting by. Each and every one of you.

P.S. When I published this way back on March 15, 2013, I got very nice replies from several of you. I know your names by heart. And I still get replies from you. Can any writer ask for better than that?

Behold! A brand-new medical school!

By John Guy LaPlante

This is big news and I will tell you why.

It is the Kaiser Permanente Bernard J.Tyson School of Medicine.

It’s in a brand-new 4-story building in Pasadena, CA.

Its first students will be starting classes in just a few weeks.

For sure everybody involved is hoping that the Covid-19 pandemic will not slow things down.

Now here is why this is big news. Bear with me for a minute or two.

We have had medical schools ever since we have been educating doctors.

0ur medical schools date way, way back.

They came into being for the best of reasons. To train and graduate doctors who were truly skilled in their work.

This in accordance of course with what back then the professors thought a good medical education should entail.

It’s a fact that all the medical schools had basically the same curriculum.

So, regardless of what school they graduated from, the doctors being turned out had gone through similar training.

That is true to this day. There is great conformity in our medical education system.

Now here’s a surprise for you. I, yours truly, have personal understanding of this.

I was a pre-medical student in my first two years of college. I was planning to become an M.D.

Yes, sir. This was at Assumption College in Worcester, Mass.

I hadn’t yet started the specialized pre-med studies. But I knew what training I would have to go through to become an M.D.

And I even knew what medical school I would go to — Georgetown University Medical School in Washington, D.C. Assumption had a solid connection with the admissions office at Georgetown.

My roommate Gilbert Bellerose, also in pre-med, went to Georgetown to become a dentist.

Here were the first steps I would take to eventually become a doctor.

In my third and fourth years at Assumption, in addition to ongoing liberal arts classes — literature, history, economics, whatever — I would also study physics, chemistry, general anatomy and such.

I would graduate in June and report to medical school in September.

The first two years of med school would be basic courses that all students would take. The second two years would be brief immersions in various specialties. You know, checking them out — to let us think out whether we wanted to be a primary care doctor, say, or a general surgeon, or an anesthesiologist or obstetrician or cardiologist or psychiatrist or rheumatologist, or other specialist. There are many specialties.

Finally graduation and State licensing. Then getting accepted by a hospital somewhere to begin two years as interns. Our third and fourth years would be training in the specific medical or surgical choice each of us had decided on. An important decision. That’s what we would practice until we retired decades later.

Well, I never started that long technical program.

I found out that I liked other types of courses better –yes, liberal arts, so called. And especially that I liked to write. In fact, I was chosen to be the editor of our small college paper. Which I found exciting. And would you believe, which got me launched in my life’s work. And as you know, I’m still at it.

Anyway, the program that I would have been in at Georgetown Med would have been quite similar to the programs in our other medical schools.

We now have 141 medical schools.

And we have 750,000 practicing MDs.

Additionally, we have 35 osteopathic medical schools.

Why do I mention this? Well, osteopathy has come a long way. We have 50,000 DOs — osteopathic physicians.

Licensing authorities consider graduates of both types of schools equal.

It’s not unusual to have hospitals with both MDs and DOs on the staff.

Now here is the whole point of why I am writing about this for you today.

Remember, I entitled this, “Behold, a brand-new type of medical school!”

And how!

This brand-new medical school has been completely re-thought from A to Z. Numerous major improvements have made it unique.

I read about the school in the recent July 6 – 13 issue of TIME magazine. A full-page ad about it caught my eye.

It had a cute illustration –a young woman doctor letting a cute little tot play with her stethoscope.

And a short headline: “The Future of Healthcare.”

I’m interested in the future of healthcare. That lured me in.

The school has a long name — The Kaiser Permanente Bernard J. Tyson School of Medicine.

The ad takes the rest of the page — which is totally filled with words jammed into long, dense paragraphs — to tell us how its Bernard J. Tyson School of Medicine sees the future of healthcare education in our country.

I had no idea who Bernard J. Tyson was. I was astonished when I finally found out.

I started reading. I was hooked. I read that whole ad right down to its final period.

I liked everything I read. I found it exciting.

Unfortunately there is no way I can explain all that for you here.

But if you are intrigued as I was, I will have a great tip for you at the bottom of this write-up. Be patient.

Now to better understand why this is so newsworthy, you must know one thing. A medical education is very long and very expensive. Many students go into massive debt to get through it.

The consequence? Often when they graduate they are so deep in debt that they don’t consider what they would really like to do as doctors.

They have found out that some specialties pay far more than others. So often they choose a specialty because it’s going to pay them most $$$ right off and get them out of debt fastest.

But the planners of the new school came up with a creative solution. Hard to believe how clever. So simple.

It’s getting started with 40 students in its first class. The incoming classes will get larger for the next few years.

Well, the school will waive all tuition and fees for all students starting in the next five years! All free!

And what’s wonderful, this will make it far easier for them to choose a specialty that they feel they will enjoy for the long haul. Which would have been out of the question otherwise.

To repeat, the ad I was reading had thousands of words. I was fascinated. I thought you, too, would be fascinated.

What to do? That long name of the new school has three components. I decided I’d explain each of the three. That would be more effective.

Kaiser Permanente

Founded in 1945, Kaiser Permanente.

is a huge consortium of for-profit and not-for-profit enterprises. It operates in eight states and the District of Columbia.

In 2018 it had revenues of 80 billion dollars. And a net income of $25 billion dollars, imagine that.

It operates 39 hospitals and 700 medical offices. It employs some 63,000 nurses and 20,000 physicians. Has 305,000 employees. And 12 million members. Could be you are one of them.

In one word Kaiser Permanente is a Colossus.

Bernard J. Tyson School of Medicine.

I told you I was fascinated when I found out about Mr. Tyson.

He died just recently. Was found dead in bed. He was only 60.

He was born in Vallejo, CA, the son of a carpenter / pastor and a homemaker.

He graduated from Golden Gate University in San Francisco with a BA, then an MBA. And got a job in the medical records department of Kaiser Permanente.

And worked his way up to the very top. Including running one of its larger hospitals. Then a group of hospitals.

He put in 30 years.

When he died, he was the chairman and CEO of the whole huge enterprise. The biggest in the world.

What astonished me is that he was a black man. I believe that would astonish anybody.

Imagine the competition he faced working his way up that long, long ladder.

He once said that when he was out and about and seen as just a well-dressed black man — and not as a high corporate executive — more than once he experienced what it was like to be a black man. So sad.

Interested in learning more about this remarkable med school?

Well, here’s the tip I promised you.

Go to Google. Put in the full name of the school –The Kaiser Permanente Bernard J. Tyson School of Medicine.

Check it out. You will find yourself in an amazing tutorial.

You will marvel to see how every aspect of the school will be described for you.

Do it even just for its entertainment value.

Hey, here’s a thought. Maybe you, yes, you, would like to apply to become a student.

They say they’re interested in students with wide-ranging backgrounds.

And maybe you know somebody you think might be open to the idea. Suggest it.

It’s a golden opportunity.

History is being made!

If I were 22 again, I might give it serious thought. Not to become a practicing MD. No, no. To become an MD writer. Sounds interesting.

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