May 10, 2021

I never dreamed I’d live and work in so many places. Part 3

I never dreamed I’d live and work in so many places. Part 3

By John Guy LaPlante

Two weeks later I started working as the editor of the little Thomaston Express, circulation 1,650 or so.

From the May 27, 1954 paper.

A one-year subscription cost $4.50 in advance. Six months, $2.25 in advance. A single copy, 10 cents.

I planned to spend one or two years at the Express. I started on the 1st of July and left just before Thanksgiving, quitting over a dispute with the publisher.

I will call him Dominic Grimaldi. He spent most of his time selling ads and doing PR for the paper at the Town Hall and the Thomaston Businessmen’s Association.

No way would the Express win any prizes as a great small-town newspaper. It was a so-so weekly like countless others across the country.

The first thing I needed was a room. I had no car. There was no bus. It had to be within walking distance.

Dom told me about Mrs. Riley’s. She was a widow. She would take in one or two boarders.

I introduced myself. She had a bedroom for me. She would provide linens and towels. The charge would be $11 per week. And for $1.50 she would serve me breakfast 7 days a week. I said okay and put $12.50 in her hand.

She was a nice lady. She served me a good breakfast.

I lived at her place from my first to my last day in Thomaston.

The first thing Dom did was introduce me to his workers at the Express.

It was in a gray, shingled single-story building that at one time had been an auto garage, I think.

It was one block back from the very impressive Town Hall and the great big Thomaston factory building one block away.

Thomaston was named for the great Seth Thomas, clockmaker. Now it accommodated different little shops and businesses.

In its day, Seth Thomas Clocks was the biggest manufacturer of clocks in the United States.

The workday at the Express started at 8:00 a.m. and ended at 5:00 p.m.

The first worker I met was Arnold, about 50. A nice guy. He was the Linotype operator. Highly skilled. He set the type for everything that went into the paper, meaning stories and ads.

Then Gus, about 60. He put on a leather apron when he came to work in the morning and took it off when he went home at day’s end.

He was the compositor. Most of the time he had a dead cigar in his mouth.

He would gather everything that Arnold had typeset and fill every page with it. Big stories with big headlines. Lesser stories with small headlines. Any photos that had to be included, with their captions. Obituaries if there were some. Big ads and small ads.

He would lock all these in very tightly in heavy steel printer’s chases.

And then turn them over to Max, 45 or so. He was the printer. All business.

When Dominic introduced me, Max just nodded and kept on working.

The paper was a 16-page tabloid.

Max would print the less important pages first, and the most important ones last to accommodate any late-breaking news.

He printed the pages on a big flat-bed press. Four pages at a time per side. Then the set of two pages would float over a long pipe perforated on one side with small holes. Each hole had a jet of gas burning. The flame would dry the ink.

If one set of two pages went over too slowly, it would catch fire.

Max kept an old broom handy.

When that happened he would say “Goddam!” and beat out the fire with his broom. Then clean up the mess and start anew.

I saw that happen more than once.

Then the pages would be folded in a way that made them pages 1 through 16.

Oh, I also met Tony. He was Dom’s much younger brother. I liked him. He was fun. Liked to joke. He would go pick up an ad. Sweep the floor. Help bundle the papers at the end of the press run, tie them into bundles, and deliver a big bagful to the Post Office and to stores big and small around town.

On the first Monday morning, Dominic introduced me to key people at the Town Hall.

The all-important first selectman (mayor, so to speak), then the all-important town clerk, and then the all-important police chief.

We printed on Thursdays. On Wednesday afternoon I went to all these people to gather any news.

Then I would begin writing all this up, then deciding where I’d put them in the paper with their headlines and photos and captions.

It was a lot of work.

Anyway, after all those introductions that morning, Dominic took me to the White Fence Inn for lunch. Right there in Thomaston. Deluxe. One of the best-known restaurants for miles around.

White Fence Inn, Thomaston, CT

He seemed to know a lot of the customers. He introduced me to a few. He talked seriously with some, joked with others. Would have a waiter seat us at one of the most prominent tables, and hand each of us a very elaborate menu.

I did not know what some of the dishes were. Oh, well. We had lunch and chatted. Then he picked up the tab. I got to find out that he ate there often.

He would invite me to lunch there every 2 or 3 weeks. Always picked up the tab. I got to know some of the regulars.

After that first lunch, he drove me around town. Showed me the Catholic Church and the Episcopal Church. The big supermarket.

The biggest employer was the famous national Plume and Atwood Manufacturing Company. It made a variety of items out of brass, big and small. Its huge rolling mill was in Thomaston.

In the various neighborhoods, the Express would have a correspondent, invariably an older woman, who would type up items of things happening in her neighborhood and send it in.

Oh, getting back to Dom, I did not know what my salary would be. He told me $60 a week. Far less than I expected. He saw me frown.

I told him that I would do a first-class job. Guaranteed that.

Dom said if I did a first-class job, he would give me a raise.

“A good one?” I asked.

He smiled. “Of course!” And patted me on the shoulder.

I went right to work.

I made many changes.

Once in a while I needed a photograph. There was a portrait photographer in town.

He did wedding pictures and graduation pictures and such.

His name was Milo Puwalchek. We had a deal.

If I needed a photo of some kind, he would take it.

And for that he would get a credit line, “Photo by Milo.” That helped build up his studio business.

He became my best friend in Thomaston.

Heading back to my list of improvements, I removed all ads from the first page. Wrote a strong editorial for Page 2 every week, sometimes two. Started a weekly column called “EXPRESSions by JG” — two or three-paragraph tidbits about town. It had a high readership.

And I came up with a feature story every week.

In fact, I came up with a standard format for the Express that repeated every week. Big stories on page one. Editorials on page 2. Obits on page 4.

Sports on page 6. And so on.

Readers got to see that this was a professional operation.

I was very proud of what I had been accomplishing.

I felt Professor Hill would be tickled that he had recommended me.

As Thanksgiving was approaching, one afternoon before quitting time I went to Dominic and asked him about the raise he had promised me.

I expected a raise of at least 50 percent.

He smiled. “Yes, John. You have done a good job. I’m really pleased that Professor Hill recommended you and I hired you.”

“Thank you, Dom. I’m happy to hear that. But tell me. How much will I be getting?”

“Of course, John. $10 a month. Effective at the end of next month. You deserve that, John.”

Only 10 lousy dollars! I couldn’t believe it. I wondered if I had heard right. He smiled again and nodded.

I was angry. He could see that. Told him right off that I would leave in two weeks, just before Thanksgiving.

I was thinking, hoping he might make me a counter offer. He did not.

Wait until my sweetheart Pauline hears about this! No way could we even think of getting married.

I finished up. Cleaned out my desk. Said goodbye to Mrs. Riley and the gang at the paper and took off.

I felt Dominic had been very dumb in letting me leave.

After my first 2 months at the Express, Pa and Ma had driven to Thomaston to see how I was doing. They were very pleased.

Now I’d have to go home and tell them the bad news. Brown University had been bad news to them. Now the Express was bad news.

Anyway, back home with Pa and Ma in Pawtucket, I would be able to go visit Pauline once or twice a week. She lived in Putnam, Connecticut, a 45- minute drive.

Pa and Ma had bought me a nice car. Every Saturday afternoon I’d head to Putnam for the evening. 45-minute drive.

Pauline was no longer bringing up the matter of a wedding date.

But then I heard of a weekly newspaper for sale in Woonsocket, Rhode Island.

I began checking that out.

Woonsocket was a bit smaller than Pawtucket. It had a good daily newspaper, the Woonsocket Call.

It also had a weekly newspaper that was a mishmash of junk. For sale cheap.

I talked to Pa about that and explained how I would change it into a picture / feature weekly. I felt it would be a big success. He had grave doubts. Was far from enthusiastic. But I talked him into it.

He had a first cousin, Hervé Théroux, an immigrant like Pa who had become very successful. He was the owner of the largest general insurance office in the city. Had many important contacts.

Pa would arrange a meeting of the three of us in Mr. Theroux’s office. It happened. I made my pitch.

I would change the paper completely. I would not fill it with news stories. No way could I compete with the Call in covering the news.

I would fill the weekly paper with feature stories, which always get high readership. I was good at feature writing. And high readership would attract high local advertising. I felt it was a win-win.

Pa and Mr. Théroux looked at one another. Silence.

Then Pa spoke. “Well, Hervé, what do you think? Be honest now.”

Silence.

“Well, Arthur, I think Jean-Guy maybe has a good idea. The Call is often a bit dull. Most days I get through it in just 15 or 20 minutes.”

Then just small talk for 10 or 15 minutes.

Then Pa said, “Well, thank you, Hervé. We do appreciate your advice. Really do. Now we’ll go home and think about all this a bit.”

Finally I convinced Pa to buy the paper.

It had no printing facility. The printing of it was farmed out to a newspaper in Providence, which printed it on the side.

Pa would cover the printing bills for six months. By then its new high readership would have increased circulation substantially and the paper could support itself.

This was the headquarters of the fraternal society in Woonsocket,  Rhode Island, which awarded me a scholarship to study at Assumption Prep School and College for 8 years.

And later, when I was the publisher and editor of the Woonsocket Sunday Star, I rented office space on the third floor of this building.

I rented a two-room office for it on the third floor of the home office of the St. John the Baptist Fraternal Society. Which had given me that scholarship to Assumption. They knew me there.

I retained the make-up editor from the old newspaper. His name was Gerome. He was also a good photographer. I hired a secretary, Rita, about 26.

I bought a Justowriter like the one I had learned how to use at the Burroughs office supply store in Boston. Taught Rita how to use it. She learned fast.

What I was desperate for was a good advertising man.

One day a man walked in and introduced himself. I’ll call him Franklin. Had 25 years of experience in newspaper advertising. He would work at zero commission for the first eight issues. Wow!

I renamed the paper “The Sunday Star.”

Dennis, the man who every weekend packed bundles of papers in his small truck and distributed them to various stores and sale spots in the city, would continue to do that at a reasonable price .

Perfect. Off to a great start.

I had heard of a pilot with a small plane at the local airport who would tow advertising banners over the city for an hour or two. His name was Greg.

I met him and worked out a deal. I would write a story about how he had learned to fly and do this banner towing.

A story with pictures illustrating the various steps in getting all this done.

It would be fascinating. Readers would love it.

Gerome, my makeup editor who was also good with a camera, would take the pictures.

Among other things, Greg explained he could tow a banner with 24 letters and spaces.

Meanwhile, Franklin would go out and sell ads for the new paper. He said he loved the new editorial format I had designed for the paper and it should be easy for him to generate substantial ads for our first edition.

Of course I clued in Pauline about all this. Finally we could get married!

Only one thing could go wrong. Bad weather on flight day!

I decided flight day would be on Easter Sunday.

My very first edition of my paper, The Sunday Star, would already have been distributed to stores and other sale spots. People, very curious about this new paper, could buy a copy and read about this fantastic new feature-story newspaper with the big, interesting new ads.

Well, all that happened. Or so I thought.

Easter morning was bright and beautiful.

I arrived early. Found a good spot to observe the sky. Kept looking and looking. Finally found the little plane towing the big banner: SUNDAY STAR REBORN TODAY.

I was so, so proud of having thought up that fantastic stunt and staging it.

Greg kept towing that banner around until he nearly ran out of gas.

But sales of that first issue of the Sunday Star were few.

That’s when I realized a lot of people had never noticed the little plane up there towing the banner. They were in church. Or at home. And for some, Easter meant just that. Some people didn’t have a clue about “reborn today”.

Pa and Ma never got to see it. Cousin Hervé Théroux never got to see it.

Pauline was not able to come and see it.

Anyway, at our office the Justowriter was perfect for what we were doing for this type of work.

Franklin kept coming in with big, bright new ads and I was delighted with all that.

But advertisers were not sending me checks for the bills I was sending out to them every Monday morning.

It was all a fraud.

Franklin would tell an advertiser he would run an ad free. And when the ad started getting results, as he was sure they would, then the advertiser could start paying for the ad.

Franklin had never told me that was the deal he offered advertisers. And they considered it a good gamble.

One day Franklin stopped coming to work. He had skipped town or something. I never saw him again.

Pa had kept on paying the printing bills.

Pauline was aware how desperate the situation was.

She was working in a bank. One day she gave me an envelope with $700 in it. All her savings. She wanted to help. Wonderful of her.

In seven months my Sunday Star was dead.

Pa had made a terrible mistake.

He should never have let me start the Sunday Star.

I was good at feature writing and using the Justowriter, but I was too inexperienced at running a business. That was the sad, unvarnished fact.

I kept living at home with Pa and Ma. Things were very tense there.

Ma just wouldn’t talk about the Sunday Star fiasco. And she worried Pa was developing a mental breakdown. He had lost a pile of money in backing me.

I was very worried about him also. My poor Pa would sit in his rocking chair and brood, brood, brood.

And I wasn’t proud of myself. Anything but. The Thomaston Express had been nothing I wanted to boast about. It had been a huge flop.

I hoped that Professor Evan Hill would never get to hear about it.

I went more than three months unemployed. I was glum and depressed, too. Awful!

Pauline was being patient and understanding. But she wasn’t sparkling. Far from it. And there was no wedding date being set. Or even talked about.

When and how would things get better? Could they?

Well, they did.

Remember my dear Aunt Bernadette? The one who’d lend me her car to get to Brown? Who went out and bought a desk and desk chair for me?

Well, one morning she stopped by and noticed how glum I was.

“Come on, Jean-Guy, ” she said. “It’s a beautiful day. Let’s go for a little ride.” I nodded. Off we went. But it wasn’t just a little ride.

She suggested we go to Worcester, 40 miles away, and see what was happening at Assumption, where I had spent eight years, as you know.

In downtown Worcester, we passed by the big Worcester Telegram and Gazette building. Right across from the big City Hall.

She was excited. “Jean-Guy, go on in. See if you can talk to an editor. Or whoever speaks to people looking for a job. See if you can put in an application!”

And I did that. I spoke to an editor named Frank Crotty. He had me fill out an application. Looked it over.

Said to me, “We have an opening for a county reporter. The starting pay is $50 a week. Would that interest you?”

“Yes, sir!”

I went to work at the Worcester Telegram and Gazette two weeks later.

At that time the T&G was quite a paper. It was included in the list of the 100 largest newspapers in the United States — at the lower end of the list, but still.

Dominic at the Thomaston Express had paid me $60 a month. The T&G would be paying me nearly four times more, just as a county reporter. And I worked for the T&G some 12 years in a variety of jobs.

I started as a county reporter. Quickly became a bureau chief directing several county reporters. Then also began running a second bureau simultaneously.

Directed the news operation in two small cities, Webster and Southbridge.

At that time Pauline and I married, started a family, and even had a very nice home built for us in the small town of Auburn, just a 20 minute ride from The Telegram and Gazette.

Frank Crotty, the editor who had hired me, was fascinated by artists with easels and paint brushes. He would do a great job of interviewing them and writing them up. He would do one every five or six weeks and I’d buy them for our Feature Parade magazine.

Began writing freelance stories for the T&G’s Sunday magazine, “Feature Parade.”

Soon became a staff writer.

The editor was Fred Rushton. We got along well.

We got along well. One week I got an exciting new idea.

Wasn’t sure how he’d react but hoped he’d love it.

I had never been beyond the Hudson River. I was itching to travel all the way to California and back and write about all that.

By then Pauline and I had two little kids. Our son Arthur was nearly 2 and our daughter Monique about 1.

Pauline holding Mark in 1963. He was born after our camping trip.

I had become good with a camera.

I got a folding tent trailer and I had a new car.

I had a two-week vacation coming up. I asked Fred if I could take an extra 6 weeks off at zero pay.

I told him I would love to travel and write features and illustrate them with photos that I would take and send all this back to him to publish.

I suggested a first story.

Just 200 miles away in eastern New York State was a small town called Worcester.

That would be our first stop. I would interview people there, see what the main industry was there, find out how things were going, and take pictures.

I had gotten a small portable typewriter.

I would type up my story and mail it back with the undeveloped roll of film.

We would do this all the way to California.

In Hollywood I knew of an actor who had grown up in the Worcester area, and was becoming well known as a character actor appearing in successful movies and earning a darn good living. I remember his name — Jaques Aubuchon.

I had made arrangements to interview him.

We got there. He was pleased to welcome us. It was a pleasure to interview him.

Then he walked me through the studio where he was one of the actors appearing in a new movie.

I took photos, greatly enjoyed interviewing him, typed up my story, and mailed it all back to Fred in Worcester. He promptly published it.

But during much of that, poor Pauline had to watch our little Arthur and Monique, and be patient about my interview ending soon. She was a darn good sport about that.

Fred was delighted in getting my stories and publishing them. And was good about paying me the going freelance rate.

Oh, going way out to California and back and returning we would visit national parks and monuments and I would write a separate series of articles about them, with photos.

Well, it all happened.

And remember, we were camping out every night. Setting up our folding tent trailer, sleeping in it, closing it in the morning, cooking many of our meals outside on a campstove, and hoping we wouldn’t run into bad weather.

We had some scary moments, such as the time we encountered a huge bear in Yellowstone National Park. It came close and sniffed but then turned and ambled away. Wow! What a relief!

We kept running into folks touring like us and camping out like us and I got to see what a popular family sport camping out could be.

So on the side, back at the T&G, for extra money, I began writing a weekly column called Camps and Camping that got published in a different section of the Sunday Telegram.

And I wrote that column for every Sunday for 10 years, without missing a single week.

But one week I had to write it from a hospital bed at St. Vincent Hospital in Worcester because I had come down with something that had to be checked out.

Back at Feature Parade I had resumed working as the principal feature writer.

The fellow pointing with a pencil is me when I was editor of feature Parade Magazine

I did stories all over Massachusetts and beyond. Cape Cod. Newport, Rhode Island. MIT. Wrote up famous people.

But Fred Rushton was not feeling well and he retired early. I was chosen to become the new editor of Feature Parade.

I had been getting my paycheck every Friday for the week’s work.

Now as the new Feature Parade editor and new T&G executive I would get a raise, but I would be paid once a month, in advance.

I wondered about that. Why in advance?

I had a friend who was an executive. I asked him why.

“John, don’t you see? The Montreal World Fair is being held there that year. I spent 10 days up there and wrote numerous stories about that.

Pa was good company. And he enjoyed seeing how I went about it and later reading the feature stories I wrote.

He became quite proud of me.

Poor Ma. She had little interest in my being a writer and editor. She really wanted me to be a doctor. Oh, well.

It seems odd but I left the Telegram and Gazette to do public relations work at my old alma mater, Assumption, and the St. John the Baptist Fraternal Society that had given me a scholarship to attend Assumption.

At Assumption I became the Director of Public Relations. And a year later, I got a big promotion to Director of Public Affairs, which included the all-important fundraising that is essential to any non-profit.

(By the way, you may not be aware of this, but very recently Assumption College legally and officially became Assumption University, with a greater variety of course offerings, majors, and degrees.)

That experience in PR and fundraising at Assumption led to my starting a public relations practice of my own, with my own office and staff. Which turned out to be quite successful.

In time I got to represent a Catholic Prep School, a Catholic assisted living institution, a couple of banks, more than a dozen hospitals, including one that became the leading alcohol and drug recovery hospital with an outpatient program in a radius of more than 100 miles.

It all happened because of my dear Aunt Bernadette, who prodded me to go in and apply at the T&G.

She had no idea that would lead to so many good things.

Bless her!

I never dreamed I’d live and work in so many places. Part 2

By John Guy LaPlante

This piece of mine has become far more detailed and lengthy than I planned.

So for your pleasure and ease, and to give me an important breather, it will be posted in two parts, perhaps even three or four.

A month or so before graduating from Assumption College, a priest asked me what kind of work I would like to get into. Father Victor, I believe his name was.

Journalism, I told him.

“Jean-Guy,” he said, “you should consider taking classes in economics and political science. Those would be helpful for a career in journalism.”

I did complete a one-semester course in economics at the college. It was the first such course the college offered. Taught by an Italian Ph.D., meaning a man from Italy. His English was so bad that he taught the class in French. He gave me an A. He was a good man but I hadn’t really learned much.

What to do? Father Victor suggested I take the Graduate Record Exam. I had never heard of it. My getting a good grade in that could get me into a good university program in the courses that he had suggested.

I scored well on the GRE test.

So on the basis of that I applied to Clark University right there in Worcester, a fine university.

I quickly got accepted. I think because Clark had a good impression of the high quality of students Assumption turned out.

I also applied to Brown University in Providence.

I liked that idea. That was Ivy League, among other things.

But my plans went beyond that.

Yes, I would get my Master’s at Brown.

And then I would enroll at Boston University which had a fine two-semester program leading to a Master’s degree in journalism.

And finally begin my career as a journalist.

Besides, if I did that, for the first time in many years, I could live at home with my parents in Pawtucket. Which was right next door to Providence. I could commute back and forth.

And Gosh! Brown did accept me!

For sure I’d be the first graduate from Assumption to go to Brown.

The dean of the Department of Economics wrote telling me I was in!

He included a booklet explaining what would be expected of me.

For one thing, a Master’s degree from Brown meant four semesters — two full academic years.

A key point was that no grade less than B would be acceptable. A single C would be grounds for dismissal.

That caught my attention but I didn’t lose sleep over it.

What was really exciting was that after so many years away from home, after four years at Sacred Heart Academy and eight years at Assumption, I would be moving in with my parents year-round for a couple of years. Very very nice.

But when the classes at Brown started in September, I got to realize that my living at home would be difficult for my parents and me. And for more than one reason.

I had a bedroom for myself at home. That was very good. But I had to do my studying and daily homework at the kitchen table after supper at night. With Pa in his rocking chair four feet away reading his evening newspaper and sometimes interrupting me to tell me about a big story he was reading.

Photo of my dear Pa.

And with Ma washing the dishes and cleaning up in the pantry.

It wouldn’t always be easy for me to concentrate.

And then I found out commuting to Brown would require two stop-and-go city bus rides to Providence and then a long, hard hike up College Hill to Robinson Hall, home of the university’s Economics Department.

That could take 45 minutes, even longer. Rain, winter ice and snow would make it worse.

The classes were open to graduate students and undergrads, which was fine. But one day I found out that all the graduate students had majored in economics at the college level. And I had had just that single course with the Italian professor.

One other problem. The class in statistical analysis required a knowledge of calculus. I had taken a class in that at Assumption but had missed the first two weeks because I had been ill. And never caught up.

I got A’s and B’s in all the other Brown courses. International trade. The labor movement. One course in political science. The basics of finance. The history of the industrial revolution. Keynesian economics. No problems.

The dreaded course in statistical analysis came at the end of the fourth semester, my last at Brown.

I received a C. I was shocked. It was all I could do not to cry.

I’d have to leave Brown without my Master’s. And I had to announce that to Pa and Ma. I had never flunked anything. They were expecting me to come home and tell them the date of commencement, when I’d receive my Master’s in economics.

This is a photo of my dear mother.

And they had been supporting me at home with room and board and clothes and paying the big Brown bills.

And Pauline! What would she think of this?

I felt very bitter about all that. Very angry. Because if I had been an undergrad at Brown taking those very same courses, my academic record would have been considered quite, quite impressive. Definitely above average.

Besides, the Department — all my professors — knew that I planned to become a journalist. Not an economist.

In fact, Brown had a weekly student newspaper, The Herald. The student staff — all undergrads — met at 7:30 every evening Monday through Friday to put it out. I stayed late one day, walked over, introduced myself as a graduate student and asked if I could help. And they took me on.

It was my job two evenings a week to do the lay-out for the six to eight pages and write some of the headlines.

Also I found out that an editor at the Providence Journal, a very fine paper, was offering a course in reporting two evenings a week at Brown. I signed up for that.

I was spending long days at Brown. And then taking the two buses to get home.

In all this, I did have one very lucky break. Ma’s younger sister Bernadette lived right next door. And she had a car. An Oldsmobile. And Pa had taught me how to drive.

This is my dear Aunt Bernadette who was so helpful to me and so many ways.

In bad weather she would lend me her car.

My Aunt Bernadette was wonderful. One day, without saying a word to Pa, she drove me to a used furniture store and bought me a desk and office chair and had it set up in my bedroom. I had learned to type and now I could type without disturbing Pa and Ma.

Anyway, Pa and Ma could not hide their disappointment in me.They were not used to my flunking anything.

I was hoping that Father Victor back at Assumption College would never find out.

Immediately, with Pa and Ma’s approval, I applied to Boston University for acceptance to its Master’s program in journalism and was quickly accepted.

Boston was 40 miles north of Pawtucket. I would commute to classes by train 5 days a week. Every month Pa would buy me a monthly pass.

It was a 55-minute ride to Back Bay Station, then a quick 12-minute walk to J school.

I did that Monday through Friday.

I was impressed by the J School. Was glad I got accepted. The dean had been the editor of a big newspaper.

Most of the profs were part-timers working regular jobs on the two big Boston dailies.

I took classes in reporting, newswriting, feature writing, and magazine writing. And newspaper law.

In magazine writing, the teacher explained what that was all about. Then told us to go out and find something that we could write a magazine article about. I did that and was able to sell it. It was about photography and how I had used it to make pin money.

And I sent it off to a magazine called “Profitable Hobbies” and got paid $14 for it! I was really learning. I still have a copy of that magazine.

One of our teachers was an editorial writer at the Boston Globe. In fact, he had won a Pulitzer for his editorial writing.

The country was having difficulty with severe inflation at that time. He took one lecture to give us a detailed outline of that great economic problem. There were 28 of us in his class, mostly men but a few women.

At the end of his lecture, he told us for the next class to write an editorial about the inflation problem and what should be done to resolve it.

And then to turn our editorials in for his evaluation.

Two classes later, he came in, looked at all of us, and said, “Would Mister LaPlante please stand.”

He hadn’t gotten around to learning our names. I stood up.

And he said, “I am pleased to tell you, sir, that you wrote a fine editorial. I have given you an A-plus. Congratulations!”

My classmates applauded, which was very nice of them.

He did not know about my two years of economics at Brown. Nor did my classmates.

But it was because of what I had learned at Brown that I could turn in such an editorial.

It was terrific to return home and tell Pa and Ma how well I was doing at BU.

Oh, just a block away from the J School — that’s what we called it, J standing for Journalism–was a big Burroughs Office Supplies store.

I had walked in one day to look around and had come upon a marvelous new kind of typewriter. It was called a Justowriter. Or had a name quite similar to that.

Back then all newspaper type was set on big, in fact massive, Linotype Machines using molten lead.

It took a man, always a man, to serve a long apprenticeship to learn to use a Linotype. Operators were among the highest paid in printing.

Now with a Justowriter, a man or woman could do the job.

The Justowriter was a very fancy typewriter. Yes, typewriter. No molten lead. It required two typings of anything. You would type a line of a certain length on a sheet of paper. Then tab over and retype it. And “spacers” would automatically drop in between the words to stretch the line to make every line perfectly flush right.

Just the way a Linotype machine would do it. A Justowriter was hundreds of dollars cheaper. And an operator would not need a long, expensive apprenticeship.

That Burroughs Office Store was smart. Gave free lessons. People would see what a good job a Justowriter did and would buy one.

Twice a week after classes I would stop by for an hour’s lesson. I became pretty good at it.

In a trade magazine I had read of two weekly newspapers using this newfangled machine to produce their newspapers.

Two years later with Pa’s help I had a weekly newspaper and was able to buy one of those machines and use it to put out my paper.

But at the store I had to keep my eye on my watch. I had to quit practicing on that machine in time to catch the next train home to Pawtucket.

At the J School I was also able to meet a teacher who had a profound influence on me. His name was Evan Hill.

He had worked at several papers, large and very small, before starting to teach full time at our school.

He took a liking to me. He told me that he had a friend who was the owner / publisher of a small weekly paper in the town of Thomaston in Connecticut. It was called the Thomaston Express.

Thomaston Connecticut Town Hall and Opera House

I used to check here every week. First Selectman, Town Clerk, Police Chief, and other possible breaking news.

Professor Hill told me that he would recommend me to his friend. And he was sure I would get the job — if I said yes to that.

I said Yes!

Commencement from the Boston University J School was a very happy event. Pa and Ma were there. My girlfriend Pauline planned to attend but on the final day could not find a way to get to Boston.

I never dreamed I’d live in so many places. Part 1

By John Guy LaPlante

Part 1.

This piece of mine has become far more detailed and lengthy than I planned. So for your pleasure and ease, and to give me an important breather, it will be posted in two parts, perhaps even three.

A few days ago I wrote a piece about how many places in the United States and other countries that I have traveled to by Greyhound Bus and other big bus and coach companies.

I had penciled out a list of places where I have lived.

You will admit it is a logical start.

So now I begin:

I was born in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. On the second floor of a three-tenement house at 18 Coyle Avenue.

Yes, that’s where I took my first breaths and where I lived till the age of 10.

Then my Pa and Ma sent me off to a boarding school for boys in Sharon, Massachusetts. It was called Sacred Heart Academy. About a 40-minute drive from where we lived.

Off to Boarding School!

I was very homesick. When Pa and Ma came to visit me on the first Sunday afternoon after my first week there, I cried and cried and cried. Pa looked at me very sternly.

And he said to me in French, “Jean-Guy, if you do not stop crying right now, we will not come to see you next Sunday!!”

You bet I managed to stop right then and there.

Ma kissed me on both cheeks and hugged me.

Well, bit by bit I got used to it. But I never understood why I could not live at home like other kids and go to our parish school like other kids.

At the Academy our teachers were all Catholic “Brothers.” Really good teachers.

They had taken lifetime vows. They taught all the subjects and were responsible for everything that we did 24 hours a day.

One of my favorite moments came in English class every Friday morning when we had a spelling bee. I was pretty good and loved it.

There was just one priest there. He was an old, old man, retired.

I’ll tell you more about him in a minute.

All us boys slept in a big dormitory. At 9:30 p.m. it was lights out.

At 7:00 a.m. sharp a Brother would come in and ring, ring, ring a big handbell.

We’d rub our eyes and slick back our hair and dress for another new day.

And slowly get out of bed to started.

Now about that old priest. He was a nice old priest. He would be waiting for us in Chapel. Chapel was number one for us seven days a week.

He would celebrate Mass for us and give us Holy Communion and tell us to be good boys and study and work hard.

That was his only task until late in the day. He’d disappear until then.

Right after Chapel we did 30 minutes of studying in Study Hall. The room was well named.

We each had our own little desk and chair there. We had been assigned lessons and we got to it.

Then breakfast in the dining room. We were six to the table and we remained the same six week after week.

We all ate the very same thing and it would remain the same Monday through Saturday. Oatmeal, a toast or two with butter and jelly, and a cup of tea with milk. I liked the food. We all did.

Same thing at dinner and supper.

On Sundays we’d get an extra treat at breakfast. Maybe a banana. Maybe a frosted donut.

Dinner and supper were also extra good. More variety, as I remember it.

We had classes Monday through Friday. Three classes until dinner time. Then three classes after dinner. That ended our school day.

Then fun time — two hours of recreation and sports outside in good weather. If not so good, fun and games in our big Recreation Room.

A brother would clap his hands and we would form a long double line there.

One day a different Brother would come in with a crate of apples, walk between us from the start of the line to the end of the line, and let each of us take one apple. Just one.

The next day he would come in with a big pan of homemade donuts and let us take one donut. Just one.

That we’d go back to our desks in Study Hall for 40 minutes more to begin our homework.

Then suppertime.

The Brother Director would preside. At the end of supper he would stand, get our attention, and tell student Robert, or students Richard and Roy to go to his office door in the Recreation Room, face the wall, and wait for him.

Oh! Oh! We all knew that was bad news. They had done something bad and now they would have to be punished.

We now had one hour of free time. Outside if the sun had not set yet or the weather was okay. In the Recreation Room otherwise.

We could all see the guilty boy or boys facing the wall and waiting for the Brother Director.

Ten minutes before our free time was up, he would arrive, unlock his office door, go inside and ask one of the boys to go in with him. Then close the door.

We all knew what was going to happen next.

He would sternly lecture the boy, take a big leather strap off its hook on the wall, tell the boy to open his right hand, give him a big whack on the hand. It hurt bad.

If the offense had been extra bad, one whack on each hand. The boy would leave the office crying.

The next boy would be called in. Same scenario.

I do not think a punished boy had to be punished again.

We all knew what had taken place. Just the shame of it was punishment enough.

It never happened to me. It never happened to most boys.

Finally one hour of study time back in Study Hall. Then off to bed

In Study Hall on Friday evenings, that gentle old priest took over. He taught us “catechism” and told us about Adam and Eve, and also Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.

He would tell us about sin, and that there were minor sins and very serious sins.

Then he would take us to Chapel. And he’d officiate at weekly Confession.

We stood in line, one by one entering the confessional box, and confess our sins, and then he would ask us to promise not to do those sins again.

And he’d give us a “penance.” Usually to recite one or two or three “Holy Rosaries” on our individual rosary beads, depending on how grievous our sins had been.

But as we stood in line to go in and confess, I really couldn’t think of any sins. I hadn’t stolen an extra apple or donut before we started Study Hall, and I couldn’t think of any big lies that I had said. Or anything else really naughty.

That ended Weekly Confession.

Then to bed. Lights out at 9:30 p.m. No problem at all in getting a good night’s sleep.

In our dormitory we each had a child’s single bed with sheets and blankets and pillow. With a small chest of drawers next to it. For a change or two of clothing, our jammies, toothbrush and toothpaste and comb and so on.

Every Friday evening before bedtime, we stood in line for showers.There were four shower stalls side by side.

One Brother directed the operation — we each got six minutes under the shower and out!

My first time I was so nervous I barely showered. Just got my head wet. Wanted to be sure I did not run into 7 or 8 minutes. I did not want to be scolded. We each had a trunk in the trunk room. We kept our fresh clean clothes there.

On Sunday afternoon when Pa and Ma showed up for an hour or so, she would spend 20 minutes arranging my fresh clothes nice and neat in my trunk for the week.

The Brothers got to notice that. When Pa and Ma arrived, one Brother would always come forward and give them a report about what a good boy I was and how well I was doing.

Very soon I got to notice that some of my schoolmates did not get to see their parents as often as I did. I felt bad for them.

Anyhow, their parents would pay extra to have the Brothers arrange to have the laundry taken care of.

One thing Pa and Ma liked about Sacred Heart Academy was that all the kids were French kids. We learned to read, spell, and write in English and also in French.

All the Brothers were of French descent.

The program there started in the 5th grade and that’s why I was sent there at that time.

I was there for the 5th, the 6th, the 7th, and the 8th grades, when I graduated at age 14. The top kid in my class, as Pa and Ma loved to tell everybody.

What they never seemed to mention was that there were only 22 of us in that 8th grade.

Oh, during those four years I came home in June for 12 weeks of normal family life.

By then I had two little sisters at home. Lucky girls. They were never sent to a Catholic Academy the way I was. There were such academies for girls.

Anyway, I couldn’t wait to come home for the summer and I hated to think of September and going back to the Brothers.

But every July, Pa and Ma would send me back to the Brothers for summer camp. I loved that.

The Academy was within walking distance of a beautiful lake. Every afternoon a Brother would take us there and let us splash around. One Brother taught me how to swim.

And there were woods nearby. We could go in there and play Hide and Seek.

And we could play horseshoes on a kids’ court.

Oh, one Christmas I got a two-wheel bike.

For my final two years at the Academy, the Brothers, with Pa’s gentle insistence, let me keep my bike there. I could ride it on the Academy grounds but never, never off the grounds. There were about a dozen of us there who had bikes.

As I said, I started at the Academy in the 5th grade. There was no first, second, third, or fourth-year instruction at the Academy.

For those years, I went to school at our church’s grammar school.

Our Lady of Consolation was our parish church. That’s where I was baptized as a baby.

It was created to serve French-speaking people like Pa and Ma. All the people were like Pa and Ma.

The pastor and his two assistant priests were French- speaking people like Pa and Ma.

And I went to school at Our Lady of Consolation Parish School.

It was operated by nuns and I liked the nuns. All parish children went to school there until they graduated at the end of the eighth grade. People thought highly of the school and the nuns.

My sisters Lucie and Louise went to school there for 8 years and did very well.

I thought they were so fortunate. You know, to be able to live at home and to have friends at the Parish School and be able to maintain them in some cases for many, many years.

After Sacred Heart Academy, I never got to see any of my Academy friends again.

It’s always been a mystery of sorts why I was sent to the Academy.

Certainly the Parish School cost far, far less than the Academy.

I think one reason is that because I was the first born, I was “spoiled” and that had to be taken care of.

The Brothers’ Academy had a fine reputation. I would be “unspoiled” there.

By then, my father had become a businessman. He had started a little store selling floor covering and carpets and window shades and such.

Then a much bigger store, right on Main Street, on two floors with three clerks to assist him, selling everything you needed in your tenement or house, from stove and ice box to kitchen and dining room and bedroom and parlor furniture and all the incidentals.

He drove a very nice car, a Buick, bought brand-new, mind you.

Now and then I have thought of Our Lady of Consolation and why it was called that.

I think I have the simple answer. I believe that many immigrants at times needed a spoonful of consolation. A heaping spoonful.

As I look back on all that, I really appreciate the emphasis they put on my learning both English and French.

It’s because of that that today I can still speak, read, and write French. Yes, I truly can. And I thank them for that.

That emphasis continued all through my college years.

Unfortunately, Pa and Ma would be depressed to hear what has happened to my religious life.

They were very devout, Pa even more so than Ma. Which is unusual in itself, I think.

They would be very saddened to know that when I became a thinking adult and they had passed on, he a dozen years before she, that bit by bit I gave up my religious beliefs, eventually all of them.

I did wonder once or twice what enormous penance that old priest at the Academy would give me if I went and confessed THAT to him now.

But gosh, I’ve spent so much time on being sent off to the Academy that I’ll have to speed things up about the many places that became my home here and there over these many years.

Well, I’ll start telling you that right now.

From the Academy. I went directly to Assumption in Worcester, Massachusetts.

That was about an hour’s drive from Pawtucket.

I called it Assumption because it was really an eight-year program.

It all took place in a great big red-brick building on the very top of a big hill.

It was operated not by an order of religious “brothers” but by an order of priests who were all members of The Augustinians of the Assumption, founded and inspired by the life and thinking of the Venerable Emmanuel d’Alzon founded the Assumptionists.

Most of them came from France to start the school and teach the sons of French Canadians in New England.

I say an eighth-year program because it consisted of a four-year prep school concluding with a diploma, and a four-year college program concluding with a bachelor’s degree.

I was very fortunate in going there and so were my parents. Because I won a competitive scholarship that paid 80 percent of all expenses for those eight years at Assumption. Room and board and the whole academic program.

This was all made possible by a Franco-American fraternal society called the Union St. John the Baptist.

It sold life insurance policies to its members. It had some 40,000 of them throughout New England. And with profits from that life insurance business, carried on Good Works. Yes, a most important one was the scholarships at Assumption plus a variety of other services for members.

Here’s how the scholarship program worked.

On a three-day weekend in June every year, the Society invited the sons of members to meet at Assumption and take a weekend competitive exam at Assumption.

The boys would be driven to Worcester by their parents. Others, if that wasn’t possible, would be driven there by volunteer members of the churches that their parents attended.

They would arrive on Thursday evening. Take exams on Friday morning on certain subjects. In other subjects on Friday afternoon. And still other subjects on Saturday morning. And after lunch some boys would begin returning home. The boys with the best scores would be given a scholarship. Different New England states would be allocated a different number of scholarships depending on how many members the Society had in those states.

Maine might have 2. New Hampshire 8. Vermont 7. Massachusetts 6. Connecticut 5. Rhode Island 1.

I don’t remember the exact numbers. I may be way off. But as you can see it was a very big and expensive deal for the Society.

Some 400 boys showed up the weekend competitive exam.

My family lived in Rhode Island. Pa drove me to Assumption for the exam.

I won the scholarship for Rhode Island. But another boy from Rhode Island that I did not know tied me.

What to do? The Society decided that that year they would award two scholarships. Problem solved.

I enjoyed Assumption from start to finish.

In the Prep School I made the National Honor Society. I was elected class vice president, I think it was. I graduated with honors.

See if you can find me in my 1944 Freshman class at Assumption.

My parents hoped and prayed that I would become a medical doctor.

In college I began taking the required programs to qualify for admission to a medical school.

But the college had a school newspaper. Only six pages. It came out once a semester. And I wrote for it. In fact, I became its editor.

I had happened upon a book about journalism and how honest journalism is important in a democracy.

One weekend when I went home to be with my parents, I told them that I was dropping out of the Pre-Med program and hoped to become a journalist.

They took it very, very badly. Pa pleaded with me to reconsider. Ma was very close to tears.

Honestly I believe that was the most offensive thing that I ever did to my father and mother.

Anyway, there was an oratorical contest to choose the student speaker for Commencement. And for the speaker at the Graduates’ Banquet always held on the eve of Commencement.

I graduated magna cum laude.

From the 1947 Senior yearbook at Assumption.

Anyway, two or three months earlier I had attended a junior year prom at a small college for women much like Assumption. It was called Annhurst College. It was an hour’s drive from Assumption.

My student buddy John had a girlfriend there, Jeannine. And she had a friend named Pauline.

I would be Pauline’s date.

Though I had never attended a dance in my life. So of course did not know how to dance.

Pauline knew very little about me. Only what Jeannine had told her.

Pauline was very pretty. She had a lively personality. I liked her.

And to her surprise and mine, she was elected Prom Queen.

Well, within three days I was madly in love with Pauline.

She attended my graduation at Assumption. She was so sweet and so beautiful. And Pa and Ma were greatly impressed by her. They also really liked her.

Guess what? Four years later we were married.

But that did not conclude my relationship with Assumption. Far from that, as you will see.

Or with the Franco-American Fraternal Society called the Union St. John the Baptist. As you will also see.

Be on the lookout for Part 2 – coming soon.

Greyhound Bus is still in business, Folks!

By John Guy LaPlante

I thought Greyhound was as dead as Tyrannosaurus Rex. I haven’t seen a Greyhound in years.

It used to stop in San Luis Obispo. That’s the nice small city 15 miles away from where I now live in California. But Greyhound gave up stopping in SLO here eight or nine years ago.

This may be news to you but I have traveled Greyhound many times. Mostly from Connecticut where I used to live back then. Short trips of a few hundred miles. Some of thousands of miles.

They do have some fine equipment and excellent drivers.

By and large, I am an admirer of Greyhound.

Some of their buses are state of the art. Panorama windows. Air conditioning. Generous seats, some which recline, well, a bit. And a clean toilet with a wash basin aboard — always a last resort for me, however. Or any passenger.

Usually a coffee machine. Plus teas. Movies with personal earphones. Sometimes a stewardess.

In these days of covid-19, it’s impressive to see the modifications they have made to make bus travel as good and as safe as possible.

If you’re wondering, I do not own a single share of stock in Greyhound. I’m being as objective as possible.

One thing I like a lot is that when you enter a city, often you ride right down the main streets seeing the fronts of everything. Another is you get on the bus right at the curb and get off at the curb, not a huge hike away as you have to do usually for the trains — maybe carrying your luggage five, six, or seven cars down the track to get to the passenger car that you are booked to be on.

On any Greyhound or other long-distance bus, your luggage will go into the big bins that buses have underneath. And often your driver will put it into a bin for you.

I have taken short trips of 200 or 300 miles. But also long, multi-day transcontinental trips.

Nearly always to visit one or another of my kids. Or to come home.

I had a valid driver’s license back then. I drove a lot. No more. About to turn 92, I have given up driving. I believe it’s too risky, for me and for others on the highways. A tough decision but I believe the right one.

Back when I was a frequent Greyhound rider, I did it mostly to save time and money.

Once I rode Greyhound from New York City all the way to Los Angeles. More than 3,000 miles. Another time from New York City to Seattle. That was also more than 3,000.

Another time from Seattle north to Vancouver, Canada, then clear east to Montreal, Quebec. That must have been more than 4,000.

Then a short 350-mile ride south home to Connecticut.

And of course, on many of these Greyhound rides, especially the long ones, I rode them back home again. A wonderful trip.

Oh, on all those long trips across the USA, the same bus went the whole, long way across. But a new driver took over every 7 or 8 hours.

Sometimes it was a man. Sometimes a woman. They were expert drivers and they took pride in their work. Always courteous. And as helpful as possible to passengers.

But why am I writing about this today?

It’s because for the last few months or so, I have been receiving emails from Greyhound which advertise trips, long and short.

How much a ticket for any trip would cost. What steps Greyhound is taking to protect passengers during these big-worry days of the pandemic. Strange.

The second or third time I got an email like that, I asked myself, why am I getting these emails?

Yes, me, a very old man. For sure, riding Greyhound is all past-tense for me.

Here’s what I think Greyhound’s been up to.

They had looked up old records and noticed that I had been a darn good customer. They still had my email address. I had never changed it. Bingo! They began offering me trips.

Unfortunately, they had no way of knowing I could no longer be a Greyhound customer.

Anyway, all this brought back to me many memories of my numerous Greyhound trips. Adventures is what they really were.

Here is one example. My Greyhound ride of a couple of hundred miles in South Africa. That was an interesting part of my trip around the world alone.

And another solo adventure was my long, long bus trip vacation I took through some 10 countries in western Europe. That was on Eurolines. It was perfectly named. It went all over.

This company lived up to its name. I’m the only male in the photo. I considered the bus luxurious.

It offered service in 14 European countries and in fact operated all the way east to the Ural Mountains, which is where Europe ends and Asia begins.

I never went that far.

I had dozens of wonderful experiences and not a single bad one.

Please note that all this was some years ago. I’m sure a lot of things are different now.

As some of you know, I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ukraine for a full hitch, which was 27 months back then — 3 months of training, 24 months of work.

Well, all Volunteers were given two days of vacation time for every month of work.

Nearing the end of my hitch, I still had 18 days of vacation time coming to me.

What to do?

I decided to take a bus trip through some countries adjoining Ukraine.

This was after the European Union was created, which suddenly gave permission to a citizen in any country to visit any other countries in the EU without stopping at borders or having to buy a visa for each country. That was really a big, big deal.

I’ll be telling you some of the countries I visited over there.

All alone.

In my numerous bus trips in the USA, Canada, and even across Mexico, I did have some unusual experiences.

More than once I’ve been asked to give a talk about some of these trips. Excuse me, adventures.

I’ll bet you’d like to hear about a couple and I’ll be glad to oblige. So I’ll start right now.

One winter, I went on a long ride up into the state of Washington.

I was on my way to visit my son Mark. He was a graduate student at the University of Washington in Seattle and he was completing his Ph.D. up there. Back then I was living in Massachusetts. There were 3,000 miles between us. A nice visit would be good therapy for both of us.

Our Greyhound bus was making its way through rugged mountain country. It had been snowing hard. In fact, we were part of a mile-long line of cars, trucks, and buses stuck for hours. Yes, way up there on a two-lane mountain road.

Our driver kept the bus running. That way he could keep the heat going for us in the bus.

Every half hour or so, he’d put on a thick overcoat and fur hat and walk up a hundred yards or so to talk to the police officer who was directing the traffic.

Then he’d come back to the bus and even before taking off his hat and coat, he would say “Good news, folks. I’ve just been told we’ll be on our way in just an hour or so.”

Well, he took three walks up there to speak to that police officer. Then come back and tell us it wouldn’t be very long now. Finally, he came back, and without his usual report to us, he shifted the bus into gear and we started moving forward, slowly but steadily. Wow! My oh my!

We all gave him three great big cheers!

This is the Greyhound that later got stuck in the snow on the mountain road. If you can’t see the driver, that’s because he’s taking the picture.  Me? I’m the oldest in the group. Hint: the light blue sweater.

On that trip, he must have put in for a lot of overtime pay. He deserved it.

Here’s another true story for you.

I was riding solo on a Greyhound trip toward Burlington, Vermont. And I had been lucky.

I was sitting directly behind the driver, which meant that I had a clear view of what was coming up ahead. That always made the trip more interesting for me. Plus I had the aisle seat next to me for myself. I liked that. I didn’t feel crowded, which was nice. And it was a convenient spot for my picnic lunch at noontime and the magazine I had been reading.

Directly across the aisle from me were two ladies, sitting side by side. Traveling together, for sure.

At a small town, Stowe I think it was, we stopped at a small Greyhound terminal to pee and stretch our legs. It took me a little longer than usual to get that done.

When I came back out to the sidewalk, I was shocked to see our bus driving away! What?!

Hey, at every such stop, the bus driver is supposed to keep a head count. How many got off, then how many got back on. The numbers are supposed to match.

This guy had not done that.

And obviously those two ladies had seen that I hadn’t gotten back on. And that my magazine and picnic lunch were right there across the aisle from them on my empty seat. Why hadn’t they warned the driver that I was not on the bus?!

They didn’t know this but my suitcase was in the bin at the bottom of the bus!

I was in a bad, bad fix.

I noticed that right across the street was a Domino’s Pizza Shop. Domino’s delivers, right? I ran over and asked the manager if one of his drivers could give me a ride to catch up with the bus.

“Too busy, sir. Too busy!”

What to do? What to do? I ran back into the terminal and was lucky to find the terminal manager busy doing something right there at the front counter.

I was agitated. I tried to explain as calmly as I could the jam I was in.

He threw up his hands. “Sorry, sir,” he told me. “Not much that I can do for you. I do have a suggestion for you. Call a taxi. That bus is gonna go straight up the highway. It’ll stop in about 45 minutes for a meal break. It’ll be there half an hour. Maybe longer. I’ll bet you could catch it.

“Want me to call a taxi for you?”

It didn’t take me 10 seconds to decide.

“Yes, yes! Please do!”

And right away I went outside to the curb to wait. It showed up in 6 or 7 minutes. Seemed an eternity.

Surprise. I expected the driver to be a man. It was a big, hefty woman. About 60. And she had a boy about 12 or 13 in the seat next to her. She never got around to explaining who that kid was.

I told her how about the bad fix I was in.

“Well, sir, I’ll try,” she said. “But I do not speed. Never speed. You’ll have to give me a deposit. $20 will be just about right.”

I found a $20 in my wallet and gave it to her.

And then jumped into the seat behind the boy. Didn’t want to lose a minute.

Well, in those 20 miles or so I don’t think she drove a single mile faster than 50.

I kept my fingers crossed all the way. Just had to catch that bus!

Finally we got to the restaurant. I could see the Greyhound parked there. I relaxed a little.

I asked her how much. She said $16. She gave me four dollars back. I could have tipped her but did not. I’m not a cheapskate. She didn’t deserve a tip.

I just dashed into the restaurant.

I spotted our driver right away. He was sitting alone at a small table. He was eating a piece of pie with ice cream.

He saw me coming. And I knew he knew I was upset.

He threw up his hands even before I had a chance to say a word.

“I’m sorry, sir,” he told me. “I’m very, very sorry.”

He looked at his watch. “So glad you got here in time.” He jumped up. “Time for us to go!”

I didn’t get a chance to cuss him, which I had intended to do.

So, no restaurant meal for me. Well, I had my picnic lunch on that seat. If it was still there! And then I spotted them. The two ladies who were sitting across the aisle.

They saw me also. One threw up her hands. “Sorry!” That’s what she seemed to be saying.

Her companion didn’t say a word. But I could tell she was sorry also.

We all got aboard. I took the same seat. So did the two ladies. My lunch and magazine were still there. I ate my lunch and on we went.

I wondered why they hadn’t mentioned to the driver that I hadn’t made it back to the bus. But I kept mum.

When we got to the Greyhound terminal in Burlington, which was a large one, our driver saw me get off. He must have been thinking I would complain about him. But I didn’t not say a word to him.

I went directly to the manager and told him my story. He was surprised. Just threw up his hands.

Immediately he wrote out a voucher for me for the $16 that I had paid the taxi lady and told me what to do to collect it.

I had planned to growl about our lazy driver who hadn’t kept the passenger count. But I didn’t bother. I was sure that guy would never miss a passenger count again. Everybody makes mistakes.

Now, my readers, back to my main topic.

If what I have told you about Greyhound’s current advertising and promotion program interests you and you would like to know more it, it’s easy — just Google “Greyhound Bus.”

Good luck!

While I’m at it, I’ll tell you something else. Yes, I’ve enjoyed the buses but I want to tell you I’ve also taken some interesting train rides.

I’ve enjoyed riding trains. For one thing, it’s easier to sleep on a moving train going clickety clack down the tracks through the night, although it won’t be a good night’s sleep than on a bus constantly slowing down, speeding up, slowing down, speeding up again, on and on. But there’s a big difference in riding buses and trains.

As a starter, trains invariably cost more.

There’s another big difference.

Train routes have all been designed to be as direct and fast as possible.

So they don’t travel the most interesting and scenic routes. They travel the most level and direct routes. That’s for sure.

Another thing is that on trains the only thing you will get to see well outside will be out the window on the side of the train you happen to be sitting on. So for sure you will miss interesting things on the opposite side.

And entering a city, what you will see is the back of everything–the back of the factories, the back of the warehouses, the back of the houses, often the back of the worst neighborhoods, and then finally always the train yards. All invariably dismal, it seems.

At major railroad stations, these train yards usually cover acres and acres of parallel tracks for parked freight and passenger trains. And the huge sheds where they get refurbished.

So here again is my bottom line — by far I prefer long-distance buses. Yes, sir. But this doesn’t mean there are not mediocre and even bad bus lines.

I know better. I’ve traveled on numerous bus lines.

Please note that all this was some years ago. I’m sure a lot of things are different now.

In Peace Corps I was a university-level teacher of English. I taught English because many university students wanted to learn English. American English.

It seemed many dreamed someday they would get to live and work in the United States.

I believe that’s also true of many students in universities around the world.

I also had several other important responsibilities as a Volunteer. And I really enjoyed the work and took pride in doing it well.

Well, Peace Corps gave every Volunteer two days of vacation per month.

I used a few of those right there where I was living and working.

But I let quite a few of them add up for sightseeing trips I planned very carefully.

For instance, I took eight days of vacation time to travel solo on buses of a very large and good Ukrainian bus company.

I would plan these trips for right before or right after a national Ukrainian holiday which I would have off. That way I could max out my trip.

Then I took a big bus trip outside Ukraine. Traveling all by myself again.

It was quite ambitious. A dozen cities in seven countries in three weeks.

I’d be going to Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. Then back down to Poland again.

Then Germany, the Czech Republic, Hungary, then back home to Ukraine.

I did worry if I’d have enough time to get a decent look at them. And if I still had what it takes.

As you can see, my visits had to be brief. So of course what I’d get to see would be skimpy.

Yes, I’d be going alone. On a tight budget. I was sure it wouldn’t be easy. And not without risk.

If something happened to me, how could I explain to anybody? I didn’t know the languages spoken in those countries. And a few things did go wrong. But bottom line, I had a good time. And I learned a lot about that part of the world. And myself.

Oh, one reason I chose those countries was that they had become part of the European Union. Which formerly required purchasing visas to go from one to the next.

Now visas were no longer needed. Visas cost money and they are such a pain to acquire. No more red tape!

I had thought of including Belarus and Russia. But visas were still required there. Besides, I had been to Russia years before.

Adventure finished, I returned to Ukraine and went back to my work as a Volunteer.

I had my camera with me. If I had tried to take a picture of everything I found interesting, I would have gone broke fast buying the film that I would have needed.

I look back on all that as a fine experience in just about every way.

I learned so much about those countries and those people. And to repeat, yes, about myself.

I just checked something. know what? Already I have written 3,187 words about this. And I could write more. But it’s after midnight and I’m all pooped out. Enough is enough.

What to do?

I have a suggestion. If all this interests you, I believe you would enjoy Chapter 35 in my 535-page book, “27 Months in the Peace Corps. My Story, Unvarnished.”

That chapter is entitled “I get to travel a lot.”

It is 23 pages long. Has much, much more than I have been able to tell you about this evening.

In fact, I believe you would enjoy the book.

But why did I include the words “My Story, Unvarnished” in the title?

Well, I am pleased to tell you Peace Corp was very good. But nothing is perfect, right?

Now I must ask you. Are you aware of the terrible thing that has happened to Peace Corps in these harsh days of the covid-19 Pandemic?

Awful!

Volunteers in some 80 countries around the world had to be hurriedly recalled. Countries like China and Japan and Nigeria and Peru and Bolivia. On and on.

As you may know, I was a very old man when I started in Peace Corps at age 77. And at age 80, Peace Corps officials at headquarters in Washington, D.C., put out a press release that I was now the oldest of some 7,500 Volunteers serving in some 80 countries around the world.

BUT most Volunteers by far are very young — 19, 21, 24 years old. Just getting their careers started.

How awful to have their careers stalled this way. So, so sad. But there was no alternative.

Peace Corps is one of the most admirable and effective and important programs Uncle Sam has.

It seems that with the fantastic new medications being quickly developed by some of the world’s finest pharmaceutical companies, the covid-19 pandemic will run its course and become a thing of the past far sooner than expected.

And all those eager young Volunteers will be assigned back to the original countries they had been posted to.

And then Peace Corps will get back to carrying on the work * * that it has become famous for.

That day would really make it into our history books!

* * * *

We speak on the phone by appointment now.

By John Guy LaPlante

I talk with two long-time friends who live far away from me, in a suburb of Washington, D.C. called Kensington, which is actually in Delaware.

Their names are Nigel and Olwen.

Our latest chat finally happened. It was wonderful. I look forward to the next one.

Oh, most of you know how old I am. Well, I will be 92 very soon. Nigel and Olwen are a full generation younger than I am.

They are Mr. and Mrs. Excuse me, Doctor and Mrs., although Nigel is totally unpretentious about that.

I won’t give you their last name. Privacy may be important to them.

But if you want to play detective, it will be easy for you to find it.

If you know anything about first names, you know that Nigel and Olwen are English names. I mean British English names. Just as you know that Antonio and Maria are Spanish names.

It’s entirely possible, of course, that Nigel and Olwen were born in the United States. Not so. They were born in England and they emigrated here.

I will tell you more about this in a minute.

In fact, I knew Olwen in person long before I got to know Nigel.

That’s because Olwen and I, oh, some 25 years ago, used to write for the same small weekly newspaper in Connecticut.

I was living in the small town of Deep River on one side of the great and beautiful Connecticut River, and she was living on the other side of the Connecticut in the small and beautiful town of Old Lyme, which was within sight of the open Atlantic.

I knew about Nigel but did not get to meet him for years. That’s because he was hundreds of miles to the west.

Back in London, where he was born and grew up, he got a Ph.D. in veterinary medicine and nutrition.

In Terre Haute, Indiana, Groton, Connecticut, and Kalamazoo over a period of time, he had working as a Pfizer biochemist.

Every two weeks or so, he would fly home to spend a few days with Olwen and their four kids in Old Lyme. Then back to the job he’d go.

As always, Olwen was very busy mothering their children plus much, much more.

She was a descendant way back of a publisher of a big newspaper in England and took pride in that. That made her right for running a newspaper, I would say.

And she was awfully good at something quite akin to journalism, which is public relations.

Her principal bread and butter job was to nurture an online, that is to say a digital, newspaper called LymeLine. Its online name was www.lymeline.com. Such digital newspapers were quite novel back then.

She wrote a lot of its contents, got others to write for it, and edited and posted it most days.

I contributed to it. In fact, so often that she labeled me one of her LymeLine columnists. She called my column Senior Moments because even back then I qualified to be a senior.

She’d let me write about anything I wanted to. She paid me a few dollars. it was a good deal for her and a good deal for me.

Oh, this is important. To its readers, LymeLine was free, whether they looked at it every day or every month or so.

You can take a look at it right now if you are interested. It won’t cost you a penny.

Yes, she’s still publishing it after these many years. Yes, from that suburb in the D.C. area. Or from Denver, when they visit one of their kids there. Or England, when she’s visiting there. Or from wherever they happen to be on vacation!

And she could even from my Morro Bay, California home, though she’s never been here.

She has managed to cover the expenses and make a profit by posting digital ads that are paid by local businesses and organizations.

Back in Old Lyme, she also did something else that was quite remarkable. Old Lyme had a small but quite well-known art school. It was called the Lyme Academy College of Fine Arts. It had a fine reputation.

Olwen was appointed Director of Marketing and Public Relations and subsequently became part of the Senior Management team at the College.

And she handled those two jobs, at LymeLine and the College, simultaneously.

As you know by now, Olwen was hard-working, clever, and ambitious. And is still running LymeLine today, although she is now a grandmother.

Well, one day long ago I suggested to her that she start a similar digital newspaper on my side of the Connecticut River to cover my town of Deep River plus several adjoining small towns.

I was active in Deep River Rotary. Every Rotary Club in the world feels that it has to promote its town in good, positive ways. And I had thought of a new way–Olwen’s proposed new digital newspaper.

Deep River did have a regular small-town weekly paper.

But a free digital newspaper! Wow!

Our club met every Tuesday for lunch, and every Tuesday invited a speaker to come and speak to us about something interesting and stimulating.

I suggested we invite Olwen to come and tell us about her new venture. She did, and so well that it resulted in the ValleyNewsNow. Both digital newspapers still exist, and she still produces them from wherever she happens to be.

At the moment it is in a small, suburban, quite affluent community called Kensington, MD, where she and Nigel now reside. It is in the Washington, D.C. suburbs.

As I said, it’s from there that to this very day she produces those two online newspapers week after week.

By the way, you, wherever you are, in a few minutes can reach, read and check out those two digital papers.

So I have gotten to know Olwen quite well. And as time went by I got to know Nigel better and better.

I got to hear interesting things about him How every fall, he would order a couple of cords of good, dense firewood and have it dumped in his yard.

And every fair day he would take 30 or 45 minutes and go out to that woodpile, and bit by bit with his chainsaw and maul would cut the big pieces to the right length and split it and stack it up neatly.

And from Thanksgiving Day through the first day of Spring, they’d have a fire going in their living room fireplace. Letting it practically die out at bedtime and firing it up again in the morning.

Of course, they also had regular, thermostat-controlled heat every day.

One day Olwen invited me over for dinner. It turned out Nigel was the chef. One of his creations was spaghetti squash. Totally new to me. Delicious. I said yes to a second helping. He told me how to prepare it.

I still make it now and then if I happen to see a spaghetti squash in the supermarket.

Oh, he’s also the one who told me about quinoa. Also new to me.

Then he became interested in honey bees. As we know, they are essential to just about every vegetable and fruit that all of us humans eat on a daily basis.

He bought a beehive full of the best kind of honey bees, read up about them, built a brand new hive for them, and with a beekeeper’s tightly netted hat on and his hands protected by gloves and his beekeeper’s smokepot going, would calm the bees and remove their raw honey and process it for friends and others who enjoyed honey.

Another time he became interested in building stone walls. Stone walls, as is well known, hold together through frost and flood for decades with no cement to prevent the walls from collapsing.

New England is covered with miles and miles of such stone walls.

He studied stone walls, was tempted to build a fine one on their property in Old Lyme, and then decided not to because there just were not enough hours in the day.

Oh, he loved to bicycle. They lived near a beautiful small state park. Every morning he’d bike into the park with their dog running alongside.

I was a biking enthusiast also although I never rode with him.

By the way, he still bikes in that D.C. area and Olwen pedals along with him.

Oh, one day I found out Nigel knows a lot about computers. He was showing me his office at home. He had a computer with not just one screen. Two screens! He would use the second screen to look up information he needed for what he was working on in the first screen. Much faster and efficient, he told me.

It turned out he was a computer expert. Here’s one example.

I often wanted to illustrate my posts with a photo or two. And just could not make them the right density, or the right whatever.

I would email them to him, wherever he was. He would make them right, then email them back to me. Problem solved!

It was back then that I found out that Nigel enjoyed doing IRS and state tax returns for people who needed a hand and couldn’t afford to pay for the service.

He’d set up in a public library or some other free space and help people with their returns. Did many.

There came a day back in Deep River, Connecticut, where I was living then, that I got the idea of moving to Morro Bay to be closer to my daughter Monique and son-in-law David. And I did that.

But my beautiful Hyundai Sonata was still back in Deep River. I had been in poor health and couldn’t undertake the drive on my own at that time. I happened to tell Nigel how much it was going to cost to have the car transported to Morro Bay and he just said, “I’ll drive it there for you, if you like!”.

Nigel told me that he would drive it the 3,000 miles or so to Morro Bay. Just he. Not Olwen. She had to take care of all those kids! He would do it for free. He would keep track of the gas and oil he bought and other expenses.

He’d stop at famous national and state parks to stretch his legs and take photos. And would arrive in Morro Bay on the day and date originally specified.

And all that happened.

He met Monique and David. He insisted on staying in a local motel. He got to see my very nice mobile home, a new experience for him. I drove him around to show him some of our attractions. It turned out it was his first time in California.

I enjoyed it all.

On the last day, I settled up with him and drove him to the airport for his flight home.

Oh, one more interesting thing about him.

When he and Olwen decided to leave Old Lyme, it was because they wanted to live closer to one of their adult children where they had settled.

They would sell their beautiful home in Old Lyme.

Nigel had become a very adept handyman–carpentry, plumbing, painting, wallpapering, you name it. He did a lot of that.

They’d get a better price for their house. And that happened.

As they moved around, they bought a house here and a house there. He’d choose a house that needed upgrading. Do all that work. Live in it for a while, then sell it. Then find another and do the same thing. Nigel, mind you, a Ph.D. Pfizer scientist. How about that?

Well, months went by with no contact between us. We were all very busy. I had a serious hospital stay, then several months in an assisted living community.

Then came the Covid-19 pandemic.

I wondered about him and Olwen. One day I put in a call to him. He didn’t pick up.

A day or two later he called back. He apologized. Said they were fine. Had been busy doing taxes again. That would be over soon. Then we would plan a nice long phone conversation.

So we made an appointment. I would call him on Wednesday morning, March 3, at 8:00 a.m. Pacific time, which would be 11:00 a.m. Eastern time for him.

And he told me Olwen would be there with him. They would both pick up. And we’d have a nice long chat, the three of us.

That all happened. It was wonderful. I’m sure we’ll do it again.

I can’t wait.

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 johnguylaplante@yahoo.com.

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.

John

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

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