September 19, 2021

My long and lovely life on two wheels, and most recently, on three

By John Guy LaPlante

I am now 92 going on 93. So this long story of mine goes way, way back, believe me.

I learned to ride a bike when I was 10. Which means I’ve been pedaling ever since I was in short pants.

My parents were immigrants from Québec, so French-speaking, of course. The trip down by train had taken only 16 hours. They were happy to have arrived in Rhode Island.

But there are so many differences. English! That was the biggest. But also differences in this and that and that. Not easy.

And hoping it would not turn out to be just a wild and sad pipedream.

For my folks it had been a smart move. Life had become much better in the town of Pawtucket.

I was their first-born. I was christened Jean-Guy. When I grew up and went off on my own, I legally changed it to the English equivalent, which is John Guy, as many of you know from past writings of mine.

They didn’t like my doing that, which was understandable. Sometimes now I think that changing my name like that was a blunder on my part.

Anyway, before long I had two sisters and a little brother. They all learned to pedal, too.

Pa had never learned to ride a bike. Neither had Ma. They had never had the opportunity up there. Never gotten to own a bike.

Well, they gave me a two-wheeler. Not one they had bought cheap. You know, second hand. No, no.

A beauty. From a store that sold bikes.

All high quality. Regular size. Balloon tires. Single speed. You braked by back-pedaling.

I was 10 years old in 1939. This Boy’s Bike is from the 1939 Schwinn Catalog.

All bikes were like that back then.

I was the first of us to learn to ride a bike.

But know what? This little kid was scared to get on and try.

Pa and Ma were awfully disappointed in that. They themselves didn’t know how to pedal a bike.

It’s my Auntie Bernadette–my Mom’s younger sister–who taught me how. She was good at making things happen.

She had asked fellow workers at the textile mill where she worked. And they had told her how to go about it.

She explained it all to Pa and Ma. No problem, she assured them. And that’s what she told me. No problem.

“Ten minutes, Jean-Guy, and you’ll be riding your new bicycle. Just10 minutes!”

“No! No! Auntie! I don’t want to!”

She chuckled.

“Get on, Jean-Guy! Just, just get on!”

What to do? Well, I got on.

Then holding me tightly, and running along at my side, and finally deciding we were going fast enough, she let go. And I kept rolling right along. All by myself. No problem.

And instinctively I learned how to slow down and stop and get off without falling.

Whoopee!

So, using me as an example, it became a lot easier for my little sisters and kid brother to learn.

That was many, many, many years ago.

Well, in a few months, I will be 93.

In all these years I have been riding a bike. Have never stopped.

Wherever I’ve lived, in several states, and in fact in a few other countries. Even after I learned how to drive a car. And I’m still pedaling.

But for some 15 years, it has not been on two wheels, but on three. I no longer pedal a bike. I pedal a trike.

There has been a downside to this. I used to be able to put my bike on my car and just take off. Not possible with a trike. Too bulky.

But some months ago I gaveup my auto license. No more driving for me. I felt at my age it was the smart and prudent thing to do.

I gave my car to my grandson Thomas who needed it.

Nice thing about that is not having to look for a parking space the way I used to.

But I’m still pedaling. I certainly don’t need a license to do that!

Over the years I have lived in many states. Especially Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and for some years in Southern California. And close to 10 years now I have been living in Morro Bay on California’s Central Coast. Just a few minutes from my loving daughter Monique and son-in-law David.

Years ago I taught her to ride a bike, also her brothers Arthur and Mark, and before that even their mother Pauline.

And oh, I’m also the one who also taught all of them how to drive.

But now I no longer bike. I know that sounds strange.

Now I trike. Yes, I have a tricycle. Three wheels instead of just two. This is far more stable for an old man.

Most of you haven’t seen me in a long while. You’d be surprised. These days I walk with two canes, one in each hand. Yes, sir.

It’s nothing to be proud of, I assure you.

And in all my waking hours, the truth is I wear a little electronic gadget that dangles on my chest. I pay a monthly fee to use it.

Why? Well, If I happened to fall, it would send a message to a central office that would get me help. I mean 24/7!

Of course, my trike is far more stable than a bike. And certainly far more practical.

By the way I believe mine is the only trike in Morro Bay. That’s one reason I get so many stares as I pedal along.

These days it’s my son-in-law David who takes me shopping for groceries and such.

But I use my trike for smaller purchases, such as from our big Albertsons supermarket nearby.

Recently one of its managers surprised me. Told me it was perfectly okay to pedal my trike up and down all the aisles. No problem. That was very nice of him.

Until then, I used to ride my trike into the store’s lobby, park it there, then get off and push one of its shopping carts up and down the various aisles to pick up the items I needed.

No more. How about that?!

I do get a lot of stares but most people understand.

I said that my trike is far more practical than a bike.

It has a big basket in the back. Can carry smaller purchases from neighborhood shops. Also books from the public library or back to the library.

Of course I use it to go to our nearby bank and post office and senior center, drugstore and other places.

And every afternoon I head to McDonald’s for a cup of coffee.

So on my trike I am a familiar sight to a lot of people. Most don’t know my name or anything about me. They know me just as the “old guy with the trike.”

And oh, my big news. You’ve heard about electric bikes, I’ll bet. Not motorcycles. Electric BIKES!

This is big news. I should have told you earlier. I apologize.

Well, I was able to buy a kit that cleverly converts my pedal trike into an electric trike.

Everyone knows me as the “old guy with the trike.”

And in a few seconds, by the push of a button or two, I can convert it from a power-driven tricycle to a foot-powered trike. Wow!

This is what I do of course at Albertson’s.

There was a time when I moved here that I could pedal my bike down the hills to the “Embarcadero,” which is what our bayfront is called.

But I couldn’t pedal back up. The hills to get home were too steep. I would have been inviting a heart attack.

We have many hills in Morro Bay. No problem.

There is no need to but I’ll bet that my motor-driven trike could get up to the top of just about any one of them.

Well, all this has been about bikes and trikes. If you’ve read this far, you’ll probably be interested in what I’m going to write about now.

It’s about a bicycle thing that I have seen nowhere else. I repeat, nowhere else.

It’s our Morro Bay Bike Park. I don’t know all the little details but it’s something the City is very proud of.

It seems to be a co-op thing between the City and a number of bicycling enthusiasts.

It was built on a hillside of some six to eight acres about a mile or so from where I live.

The Bike Park is an arrangement of dirt ramps and bounds and twists and jumps.
Visit the Morro Bay Bike Park on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/MorroBayBikePark/

It’s having been built on a hillside was all-important. You’ll understand in a minute.

The Bike Park is an arrangement of dirt ramps and bounds and twists and jumps.

I understand that it was designed by a professional who has planned a number of such bike parks in communities here and there across the country.

This is the only one I have ever seen. Here’s how it works.

If you are driving with your son or daughter and their bike, which is usually the case, you drive to the top of a small hill. There’s a parking area up there.

No charge to park up there or to use the bike in the park. From there you can look down on the whole park.

You take your son or daughter and their bike to the top of the course. It’s about a hundred feet below where you have parked.

And down they go. Down to every ramp and bound and twist and jump. One after another. It’s amazing how fast, and how exciting it is to get from the top to the bottom.

Most riders want to do it several times. So they have to walk their bike back up to the shop to do it again.

Going downhill from beginning to end gives them the extra momentum, the extra speed to make the ride right down to the bottom so much more exciting.

I’ve found it great fun to watch them.

I’ve seen dads and moms eagerly snapping pictures of their kids as they fly down from one thrill to the other.

Oh, sure, some of the riders are young adults.

But I don’t think I’ve ever seen a dad trying the course by himself. He gives the shove-off and that’s it.

Of course, now and then some ramps and bounds and twists and jumps need some fixing, and it’s the dads and bigger kids who are depended upon to come and do the fixing.

Everyone pitches in.
Visit the Morro Bay Bike Park on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/MorroBayBikePark/

On school days very few get to use it. Or when the weather is so-so.

On a nice busy Saturday afternoon, you might see only 20 or 25 people up there.

Now a little P.S. for you

Coping with serious old age is not easy. Take my word for it.

There’s no great trick to doing it.

I think what makes it possible is the ability to cope, adjust, cope, adjust, and to just keep doing that one / two.

I’m trying to do that. And I take pleasure in managing to do it.

There is far worse than becoming deaf. Far, far worse, believe me.

By John Guy LaPlante

Being born deaf, for instance.

In my last post, I told you about becoming partly deaf as I was becoming older.

I entitled it, “Oh, the woes of becoming deaf!”

And I talked about how awful it must be to be born deaf. That happens to some people.

And that made me think of a little girl who was afflicted much, much more seriously than that.

She was born not only deaf but blind.

She lost her hearing, her sight, and even the power of speech.

Can you imagine that?!

Her name was Helen Keller. She was born in Tuscumbia, Alabama.

A beautiful photo from Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Helen_Keller

Her parents were a solid, highly regarded couple. Later Helen had two siblings who were totally normal. How ironic!

Little Helen was born normal but was bowled over by this tragedy when she was less than two years old. After an illness of some kind. Maybe scarlet fever. Maybe rubella.

And it’s entirely possible that she could have lived with that long tragedy for the rest of her long life. She died in 1968 at age 87.

She did have one great blessing. It was the good fortune of having a young woman named Ann Sullivan constantly at her side. In time she became known as Annie Sullivan.

Annie became totally devoted to Helen 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, week in and week out, till the end of her own life.

And so Helen became a highly educated, well-adjusted, widely admired, influential, famous lady who wrote books, traveled the world, met presidents, scientists, kings, famous people of many kinds.

She became famous to people not only in our country but around the world.

Hers was a tragedy so extreme that when she was a little child nobody could do anything to alleviate it or do anything at all to make her life even a wee bit better.

Surely some well-intentioned parents would have wished this little girl dead for her very own sake. Sounds awful, but true.

So little Helen never became able to see the sun or hear the outbursts of a mighty thunderstorm, or even say “Thank you!” to someone trying to help her.

Out of overpowering frustration, she would explode in a humongous tantrum time and again.

Everybody understood that. Who so afflicted would not explode like that?!

But miracle of miracles. Slowly, a little bit at a time, little Helen became able to transform those violent panic attacks and slowly develop into a happy person.

Would spend hours and hours spelling out the words of ordinary things into Helen’s palm. Words like cup and comb and milk.

The big moment came when Annie was washing Helen’s hands with water and Helen made the connection between the word water and the actual water. That was the great, great breakthrough!

Yes, it was miraculous.

Helen learned to write, became widely educated, and in fact graduated from college with honors. She began to travel and earn money to support herself.

She became an author whose books found a wide market. She was able to communicate with and impress people in audiences small and very large.

She learned braille and then to type with a braille typewriter, and later with an ordinary typewriter.

Always with Annie’s essential assistance, of course.

Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan in 1888
Photo: Thaxter P. Spencer Family, New England Historic Genealogical Society [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Traveled all over the country and abroad, even to places like India and Japan to meet people of all kinds.

Of course, she could not see or hear any of the people she got to meet. Often she would run a hand over a person’s face to get an idea of what that person looked like.

She would book passage on trains and planes.

She amazed everybody who got to see her. They cheered for her, hugged her, blew kisses to her, prayed for her, remembered her as a heroine in her own right.

She made it a point to meet wounded soldiers and anyone young or old severely afflicted in any way through no fault of their own.

She did not hesitate to express strong opinions and take strong positions.

For instance, that most people everywhere are good people.

And that we should not go to war.

And that there is much, much good to be said about socialism.

She inspired them. Cheered them on.

She lived a long life of personal success and a positive influence on people beyond number.

You can read a lot more here: https://www.biography.com/activist/helen-keller

Yes, she died in 1968, a few months after suffering a stroke.

Ironically, Annie had gone blind in both eyes. Would you believe it?!

They were holding hands when Annie died.

You can get to know Helen in many videos on YouTube.

I was in my forties back then.

I never had the pleasure of seeing her but I became very familiar with her amazing achievements. Who didn’t?

As a young woman, Helen had one piece of amazing good luck that ran on for years and years.

That good luck was meeting and teaming up with Anne Sullivan. Who was also known to many as Annie.

Annie could not claim to come from a higher-up family like Helen’s.

Hers were just ordinary, hard-working Irish stock. Which made her more knowledgeable in the ways of the world, and far more sympathetic to what Helen was going through.

Annie was very smart. Extremely clever. Patient beyond words. Possessed of iron determination.

She was Helen’s teacher, mentor, archangel.

Slowly, one tiny bit after another, she was able to free Helen from the mental prison she seemed locked into for the rest of her days.

Many fine and determined and gifted teachers and trainers would have given up after a few months or a few years. Because what was expected of them was impossible to achieve.

Much of the time the job required she work at Helen’s side from morning till night. All week long, weekdays and holidays.

At Helen’s home in Massachusetts and at her side in all the school and college classes she took, and all the speeches and interviews she gave, and all her meetings with famous people, and whenever she was hospitalized and dealing with doctors and dentists and other specialists and wherever Helen happened to be, at home or in Chicago or Paris or Timbuktu.

Helen was Annie’s only pupil for decades. She served Helen for 49 years, until Annie herself died.

Helen became a movie star in a film about herself. It was called “The Miracle Worker!”

And also the prize-winning play by the same title.

Helen became Miracle Worker Number 1, and Annie Miracle Worker Number 2.

I was so fascinated by Helen Keller’s story that I decided to write about her for you. I was sure you too would be fascinated.

I wanted all the details I could get. So I went to our Morro Bay Public Library. And asked Librarian Nicole what the library might have about Helen, and Nicole went searching.

She reported to me that the library had two books, but they were children’s books. Which surprised me.

Nicole thought I might not be interested in seeing them, for that same reason, being children’s books.

But what the heck! I asked to see them.

I found them both to be fine books. Very interesting. Rich in detail, with a wealth of photos and illustrations.

And I understood why publishers would find books about Helen Keller and Annie Sullivan such good and important reading for children.

Of course, there are adult books about them in the San Luis Obispo County Library system, in which ours is a member library.

The two books Nicole lent me were “Helen Keller, Her Life in Pictures” with text by George Sullivan. A wide assortment of photos. Published by Scholastic Nonfiction, an imprint of Scholastic. 2007

Learn more on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Helen-Keller-Their-Own-Words/dp/0439095557

The other is ” Helen’s Big World: The Life of Helen Keller,” a fine text written by Doreen Rappaport, illustrated by Matt Tavares.” Beautiful paintings, no photos. Published by Disney / Hyperion Books, New York, 2012.

Learn more on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Helens-Big-World-Helen-Keller/dp/078680890X

By coincidence, both books have an extra-large format, being eleven inches high and ten inches wide.

I highly recommend both books to you.

Again, both books are rich with photos or illustrations. I hope to include a few for you.

But I was miffed by the publishers’ legalese warning that the photos / illustrations could not be used without permission.

Well, both books were published years ago. It would take me forever to get permission.

And if they squawked, I would argue that my blog would be wonderful publicity for them.

How about that?!

Oh, the woes of being deaf!

By John Guy LaPlante

I am totally deaf in my right ear and partially deaf in my left ear. I wear a hearing aid in that ear.

I have a lot of company. The latest statistic is that 37 million Americans suffer hearing loss.

It is the most common sensory disorder in our country. It affects more than 16% of our country.

We just take it for granted that everybody will become more and more deaf as they grow older. But kids can suffer from the problem. How sad!

How do I know that? I just read in the New York Times that President Biden by executive order has declared that hearing aids will be sold at pharmacies up to a level of $5,000 per pair.

Truth is you can buy a pair of hearing aids for $100 or for $10,000. Even more.

When I read that, I gave the President a thumbs up. Glad I voted for him. For that and other reasons.

A special one is that when I was serving in Peace Corps in Ukraine in my early 80s the then Vice President Biden was dispatched by Obama to hold conversations at the highest level.

One thing Vice President Biden did now and then was give a briefing to leaders and staff of our Embassy in whatever country he was dispatched to.

After his briefing he would offer to take questions from a few people in the audience.

Right now I am talking about the briefing that he gave at our Embassy in Kiev, which is the capital of Ukraine.

I was one of them. Lucky me. He noticed that I was not your typical youngish Peace Corps Volunteer 22 years old, or 28 or 35. I was 78 back then.

There were a couple of hundred people in the audience.

Anyway, he invited me to come down to the stage and I did that. He asked me how come I was such an old Volunteer and I told him.

I wanted to give back. And it appealed to me as a great adventure. And I wanted to write about it.

He could see that I was older than he was!

I had to keep it short and sweet. I knew I would be on the stage with him for only a minute or two.

He nodded. Smiled. Gave me a pat on the shoulder. And shook hands with me. And that was it. I left the stage.

But gosh, how proud he made me feel. I remember that moment to this day.

Many in the audience had cameras. In the next few days I received photos of that great moment from several. I was tickled.

One I liked a lot. I put it along with a few others that I worked with there in Kiev, on the cover of my book,”27 Months in the Peace Corps, My Story, Unvarnished.”

But why did I say “Unvarnished”?

Well, Peace Corps was very good but nothing is perfect, as we know.

It’s from those few fleeting moments that I got to see how caring and genuine a man President Biden was. And I have maintained that opinion of him ever since.

Now back to hearing aids. A couple of days ago when I saw him on TV explaining his executive order, I wondered, does he wear hearing aids?

Maybe he doesn’t. Maybe he does. Some hearing aids are so small you can hardly see them.

But to be purchased at pharmacies?!

I did not like that one bit.

Since living in Morro Bay here, I have patronized “Morro Bay Hearing Aid Center,” a small shop on Main Street.

They sell a wide assortment of hearing aids, some very expensive and some so-so.

They give expert advice, have fair prices, provide fine service.

They have gotten to know me well.

They know I don’t want to buy a pair. They know I need only one, for my left ear. I’ll explain in a minute.

Well, the President’s executive order could put that shop and many others out of business. Not good. I’m opposed to that.

Now I will explain.

As I look back, I felt I had very little hearing loss until about 15 years ago. My hearing was great.

Then one day I fell down a stairway headfirst and banged my head against a closed door. No broken bones, lucky me!

I managed to call for help and I was rushed to the local hospital.

The young doctor taking care of me called my daughter Monique to tell her what had happened, and of course she was shocked. She asked to speak to me.

The doctor passed the phone to me and I put it to my right ear. Which is what I always, always do.

I could not hear a darn thing!

I thought Monique and I had been disconnected, so I handed the phone back to the doctor.

“No, no, no!” she said to me. “Your daughter is on the line.” And handed me the phone again. Once more I put it to my right ear. And tried as hard as I could to hear my daughter. But I could not hear a thing.

That’s when I discovered I was deaf in that ear. What woe!

But very quickly the doctor tried to reassure me.

“Oh, please don’t worry,” she said. “I’m sure it will come back.”

It did not.

But with my left ear I could hear quite well. My right ear had gone dead.

Discharged from the hospital, I worried, in fact I was frantic. I quickly consulted an ear, nose, and throat M.D.

Guess what? He told me that if I had been prescribed a certain medicine by that doctor, my hearing probably would have been restored. Imagine my awful disappointment.

I happened to chat with a lawyer. He advised me that I had strong grounds for a malpractice suit. But I never followed through. Maybe that was very dumb on my part.

Now here is just one consequence of that great loss of mine.

Sleeping in bed at night, I have to be very careful. I sleep on my  left ear, which is what I have always done,  and thus my so-called good ear, the one in which I use my hearing aid when I am up and about, is muffled by my pillow, so no way could I hear my alarm clock when it goes off. So I make sure my so-called good ear is not totally muffled by my pillow. But it’s an imperfect solution, believe me.

Now more consequences of having only my left ear working, even with my hearing aid in it.

If I’m walking along on a sidewalk, and someone walking towards me says “Hello, John,” I can say “Hello!” back. No problem.

But if I can’t see him or her, I can hear that “Hello!” But I can’t tell if it’s from somebody behind me, or maybe across the street from me, or maybe even somebody calling out from a second floor window. I can’t tell who it is.

With two good ears, I would have what they call “directionality.”

Which is what you have, I’m sure.

Lucky you!

Again, with just one ear, I can’t tell who’s speaking to me. To repeat, it’s an awful loss.

But there are a lot of smart people around who have come up with solutions of one kind or another.

For one, think of people who are totally deaf from birth. They can learn to read sign language but very few people ever get to “speak” in sign language. So there are darn few people they can converse with.

I am sure that sign language is incredibly hard to master.

And very few people ever get around to mastering it. And they have to be able to use your kind of English — meaning there are so many dirty words and expletives and slang that you never, never heard, so how do you handle that with your sign language? Sounds utterly impossible to me.

But modern technology has provided another solution. But this one is limited in its own way because it involves surgery, which can be risky.

You may have heard of it. It’s quite new– a Cochlear Implant. A specialized surgeon has to put the implant in you. You choose to have that done because it’s the only option you have left. There is no other solution. It’s your only hope.

I know of one elderly lady who has had that done.

It seems to work quite well for her in her circle of family and friends. But there is a steep learning curve for both her family and friends who of course are the usual contacts she calls. I doubt that on her own she could call and make herself understood to a plumber or even her doctor’s office.

But suppose your insurance plan doesn’t cover that?!

Now let me tell you about another solution. It’s a remarkable invention called the CaptionCall telephone. Yes, spelled as one word as I just spelled it. And it is a telephone.

Using my CaptionCall that automatically converts what is being said to text I can read.

I’m very familiar with it.

In fact, I have two.

The CaptionCall is the size of a small computer. It’s just a foot away on a small table by the side of my favorite chair.

If a call comes in, I can turn up the volume very, very high. Which works fine for me.

But if that were not good enough for me, the CaptionCall automatically converts the conversation into nice big captions appearing on a screen. Imagine that!

But suppose somebody is calling in French, in which I am fluent. What then?

Well, I just called my CaptionCall phone, which has its own distinct phone number. And it just didn’t work.

Anyway, I have two of them. One by my favorite living room chair and the other in my bedroom.

And guess what? I was told they are provided free to California residents by a California government agency of some kind.

Then on Google I discovered there are other so-called Caption Call machines. $0 Caption Call phone and another is called the Alelo Caption Call phone.

It turns out that qualified individuals can receive one through the American Disabilities Act (ADA). Which is available to anybody in our country who meets certain criteria.

And that’s why I have never received a bill.

I am sure further things will be invented to make life so much better for people with hearing loss.

Think of what a miracle that was!

And shows what all out dedication and concentration can achieve!

And to say it again, people with normal hearing loss deficits like me, and maybe you, surely appreciate how fortunate we are to live at this time and in this place.

President Biden’s executive order to cover hearing aids for up to $5,000 purchased at a pharmacy to be covered by Medicare, as imperfect as that is, as I have already explained, is really a giant step in the right direction.

How fortunate we are to be Americans — Democrats like me who voted for him but even Trump Republicans or libertarians or people who never get around to voting for anybody or anything.

God bless America!

Around The World – Narrated with Photos

Have you read my book “Around the World at 75 Alone, Dammit!

Yes, I visited  20 countries and covered nearly 37,000 miles. I did it by plane, train, and bus for only $83 a day. And that covered even my medical shots and insurance!

Back in 2005, my good friend Matt Kidd helped me create a DVD that I narrated. On YouTube, you can see my photos and listen to me telling you about my many traveling experiences and adventures.

Part 1 of my photos and narration from my trip around the world.

Part 2 of my photos and narration from my trip around the world.

Part 3 of my photos and narration from my trip around the world.

Learn more about my trip of a lifetime in my book:
http://johnguylaplante.com/wp/my-books-2/

We get to see rare elephant seals close up!

By John Guy LaPlante 

Off I go with visiting family to behold an animal spectacle nearby it’s unlikely you will ever get to see.

That is, unless you happen to come upon an old issue of National Geographic or The Smithsonian.

I am talking of elephant seals.

Of course, if your community library is a good one, you might happen upon a DVD that shows it all.

We were going off by car to see why and how the elephant seals actually rook here every year.

But what the heck are elephant seals?!

They are sea animals that come up on shore for a few days to have their young.

They are called elephant seals because the males have a proboscis, a long snout that looks a lot like the trunk of an elephant but much shorter.

I hope to find a picture or two to show you. A video would be even better.

As I said, their rooking is quite a sight.

It takes place once a year on a Pacific beach some 40 miles up the seashore road from Morro Bay, CA.

Here is a photo of elephant seals from https://elephantseal.org/
They have a live beach camera and
online shop too: https://elephantseal.org/product/large-elephant-seal-plush/

As many of you know, I have been living here in Morro Bay for a few years, close to my daughter Monique and her husband David.

That elephant seal beach is some 10 miles north of the Hearst Castle.

The road goes right by the famous castle, luxurious beyond words, that was created by newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst at San Simeon high on a mountaintop. It attracts tourists from all over the country and even beyond.

So that was quite an extra nice sight to get to see as we drove by.

The elephant seals return every year from the Gulf of Alaska to this very beach.

And here they give birth to their pups.

The bulls also mate with the cows, competing with other bulls for the privilege.

The bulls come back twice a year, in the summer to molt and in the winter to breed and birth calves, year in and year out.

Bulls and cows migrate to different places. Bulls to the Gulf of Alaska and cows to the great, wife-open Pacific, plunging back into the saltwater and heading northwest to where they came from.

And next year the elephant seals will return to this same little beach for a few weeks, in the summer to molt for a repeat of this drama.

In the meanwhile, nothing unusual will take place on this little beach. It will be similar to so many other beaches along the shoreline.

But every year some local people are so enthralled by this brief natural occurrence that they drive to this beach time and again to see this natural spectacle take place.

As for me, I’ve lived here in Morro Bay close to a decade now, or so it seems. All to be close to my daughter Monique and her husband David.

It’s about a 40-mile drive to that little beach above Cambria. It was only my second time to go. All to see that spectacle.

Destination: Elephant Seals!

Got to tell you there was no headline in the local papers that I’m aware of that proclaimed “The Elephant Seals Are Back!”

The fact is that my son-in-law David just knew this was the time. And he did not need a calendar to remind him.

He just loves living close to the ocean. He can see it from the front porch of his home here high on a hill.

In the morning he steps out onto the porch to take a look at the ocean.

More than once I’ve stood on that porch with him. And I’ve commented, “David, to me the sky is much more interesting than the water.

You know, the interesting cloud patterns. The Sun beaming down on the clouds, constantly changing the scene. And at night, the Moon rising above!!”

But David just doesn’t buy that.

Every fair day of the year at low tide when the sand has become hard packed, he power-walks on the beach, meaning he walks just short of running on it.

By the way, according to astronomers, it is the Sun and the Moon that determine all over the world how tides, high and low, will take place twice a day.

And thus at exactly what time in the morning it would be best for David to take his power walk on the beach.

But for him, I’m sure a half hour one way or the other would make zero difference at what time he should be out there to walk.

Well, we had relatives visiting us — my son Arthur and his dear wife Marita and their daughter Elise, who is my granddaughter, of course, all just arrived from far-off Florida. Arthur said he had other things to attend to. Or maybe he felt there wasn’t enough room in the car with my big folding / rolling wheelchair and all.

My daughter Monique had seen them several times before and was needed at her office.

Our guests did not ask to go see the elephant seals. They knew very little, if anything, about them. In fact, didn’t know they exist.

To repeat, David just knew they would be greatly interested in seeing the huge animals. Who wouldn’t be?

After all, they are an AAA tourist attraction.

And he took me along for the ride.

I felt bad for my son Arthur.

I thought he wasn’t with us because there was not enough room in David’s car, with my big folding / rolling wheelchair and all.

He was a good sport about it. Said he had some private affairs to take care of.

My daughter Monique didn’t come because she had done the trip before with David and she was needed at her office.

David’s including me was not easy for him, believe me. That’s because I now have a hard time walking unassisted at home, which is on a single floor, mind you. I now walk with two canes.

And just recently I wrote to you about my swollen-leg condition called lymphedema. My legs from my toes right up to close to my knees swell with fluid, becoming twice normal size.

What’s the cure? There is none. It’s not a sickness or a disease. It is a condition, life-long, sad to say.

In the morning I have to put on very, very tight compression stockings to keep my legs from swelling. Thank God there’s no pain involved in any of this.

No way can I put these on by myself.

David comes over in the morning and puts them on me. In the evening my daughter Monique comes and removes them, soothes them with a special lotion, and puts ordinary stockings on me for the night. This goes on seven days a week, week in and week out.

And so it meant that on this excursion David would have to push me in a  folding / rolling wheelchair — a fine wheelchair intended for nice, smooth, very even surfaces inside or outside.

“No problem, John,” he said more than once when he invited me along.

But I knew that he knew that this would be a huge job for him. But as usual he would make light of it.

So there would be four of us on this excursion. David and me and my daughter-in-law Marita and my granddaughter Elise, herself a grown-up adult.

David parked at the very end of the parking lot, as close to the viewing area as he could get us, with stern warnings posted of stiff fines for anybody bothering the elephant seals in any way.

But the seals’ beach was closed off to us by a heavy fence.

It was a cold gray day with a sharp wind. David had told us to make sure to wear warm hats and jackets.

The Pacific Ocean stretched out in front of us. There were just half a dozen other tourists there.

Probably first-timers, come from long distances probably to see the elephant seals for the first time.

By the way, this was not a nice, smooth, blacktopped parking area. This was very rough and uneven gravel.

David had to use a lot of muscle to push me up close to the viewing area.

The elephant seals were still out of sight. They were on a broad beach below us. We were on a mound looking down on them. There were more than a hundred of them.

Some were huge. The males. The size of a big pickup truck, so to speak. Some absolutely still. Then one would wake up and with a strong swish with one of its two flippers spread sand over itself.

The females were smaller, about half the size of the males.

One of the males would rouse himself and waddle to one of the females. To have sex, but that happened only in the winter.

Some of the females had pups at their side, and were not in the mood to be bothered.

It was that these elephant seals had to make a huge swim to get here.

Over the years marine scientists must have tagged some and found out that way. Maybe these studies are ongoing.

And these elephant seals swam to this very cove every year to give birth to their young, repeating the cycle year after year.

David told us this was not so.

There were other coves north and south of here.

Some elephant seals would make landfall at one of them, in time returning to more than one or two of them.

This cove was famous because it was close to the highway, and close enough for visitors like us to get to see them quite easily.

Others were in coves too far from any highway to make it possible for people to get to see them there.

For sure the story that the seals came back here every year was terrific for the local economy, with numerous motels and restaurants and shopping centers and gas stations and souvenir shops nearby.

Oh, on the way home a thick, cold fog had come in and there was no way we could see the world-famous San Simeon Hearst Castle high on its mountain top. What a shame.

Well, even with one difficulty after another, we had a wonderful time.

I am sure that my daughter-in-law Marita and my granddaughter Elise will never forget their visit here to the cove famous for elephant seals returning year after year to give birth to their young, repeating the cycle time and again.

For me what was most meaningful was that it was a rare family outing, from my point of view unlikely to take place again. I’m grateful for that.

A strange new medical problem have I!

By John Guy LaPlante

Yes I do. Now in my 93rd year on this planet, I have now developed a brand new medical problem.

It is called lymphedema.

It is not a disease. Not a sickness. It is best described as a condition.

Well, to me that “condition” has become a very definite problem.

I had never heard of it. I saw it happening but I thought it was a minor thing. It was annoying. It was unsightly and for sure I was increasingly concerned about it.

But no pain. Absolutely no pain.

I had thought it would simply take care of itself, like a cold, hahaha, and simply go away.

I will bet that you have never heard of it. And have never known anybody to have it.

But after I have explained it to you, please do let me know if you have some knowledge of it. But not personal knowledge!

I wouldn’t wish this on anybody.

I have just spent several hours online researching it.

It turns out a lot of people have it, men as well as women, and very often it has happened to people who have had cancer of some kind.

I have never had cancer of any kind.

It can affect people in different ways. Sometimes on one leg and one arm.

It affects me on both legs from right below my knees down to my very feet.

And I have just spent a month going to treatments at a lymphedema clinic in San Luis Obispo, California.

That’s the fair-sized city just down the road from my home here in Morro Bay.

The clinic occupies a small house, surely somebody’s home at one time. I’ve been there half a dozen times, always driven there by my daughter Monique or son-in-law David.

I have checked. There is no other such clinic within driving distance for miles around.

It seems to have a staff of four people, three of them trained, certified lymphedema therapists, plus an office gal.

I have traveled and lived in many places, here in the USA and in many places around the world.

It is the first time that I have become aware of such a strange problem, or of such a clinic.

Lymphedema has become such a personal worry that I have put aside my life story that I have been writing up of late — taking a break, so to speak.

I saw what was happening to me.

There was a terrific swelling of my legs, from my upper feet to my knees. Yes, it was happening to both legs, not one or the other. And equally.

It is most easily described as a huge ballooning. More than twice normal size.

When I was dressed up, this ballooning was concealed by my trousers.

I did not like it. There was no pain. Absolutely no pain. I thought that it would pass. And it took me quite a while to realize that this ballooning was the result of a buildup of fluid. What kind of fluid, I had no idea.

And the whole point of the treatment is to get rid of this fluid.

This is done by squeezing it out of your body. To this day I do not know how it leaves the body. There is no natural orifice for it. This has still not been explained to me.

The only thing that seems to make sense is that it is squeezed out like urine.

This will be my first question to my therapist on my next visit, which would be four days from now.

Actually, the condition was brought to my attention by my cardiologist. She is a very fine cardiologist.

I have a very slight heart problem. Not unusual for a person of my age. I was advised to go to her as a preventive, to forestall the need big time of truly needing an expert cardiologist.

She is the one who referred me to the clinic. In fact, the clinic sends her detailed reports of its findings and of any improvement I am making.

The condition is covered by Medicare, fortunately, but not of any items used to treat it, which can include medications and items of clothing.

In fact, I was given information on how to contact my local representatives in Congress and have them protest that this is an oversight not to be tolerated.

My therapist that first time was Jamie. About 30, I’d say. Very sweet. It quickly impressed me that she knew what she was doing.

Yes, David had driven me. As I’ve reported to you, I’ve given up my license to drive after more than 70 years at the wheel. A very, very sad day that was for me.

Never killed anybody, never injured anybody.

I am so, so fortunate to have David helping me in so many ways as I do my daughter Monique.

I am giving my 10-year-old Hyundai Sonata to my grandson Thomas in Florida, who needs a better car.

It barely has 70,000 miles on it and looks great.

Now back to my lymphedema problem.

My therapist Jamie had taken me into a small treatment room. David got to see everything she did. He’s retired, by the way.

I wanted him to see it all and I got my daughter Monique to take time off to come and see for herself as well.

Jamie had me lay on my back on a treatment table. She adjusted it to the right height for herself and for me. She had a long roller made of very dense plastic, about a foot in diameter and four feet long. She had me raise my legs and placed the roller below my knees. She spent several minutes examining my problem.

And told me that she was going to work to get rid of this fluid by wrapping the affected part of my legs with very long compression tapes.

They are made of a thick white fabric. About four inches wide and many, many yards long.

She started above my toes. Kept wrapping the band around my ankle and kept wrapping it up to just below my knees, one layer upon another, locking it in place by using a piece of very heavy tape. Then sent me home.

And that was it.

“I want you to come back in days for another treatment,” she told me.

I already have a hard time walking.

I use a 3-sided “walker”. I am sure you have seen such.

I use it with David at my side to assist me if necessary.

Sometimes I get along by using not one but two canes!

Just getting me into the front passenger seat of his car and buckling me in takes a major effort. As it did when we got back to Morro Bay and he had to assist me to get into my home.

I was exhausted. It was only three in the afternoon but I had been told to go right to bed and lie on my back with my legs positioned higher than my heart level. That was extremely important.

I have an adjustable hospital bed, which turned out to be a great assist.

David made sure that I was all set, said goodbye, and told me he would come back and assist me in the morning.

How fortunate I was to have him helping me!

I wasn’t accustomed to sleeping like that, flat on my back. I usually sleep on my left side. But finally, I fell asleep.

But then a great pain developed in my lower right leg. It was wrapped so tightly there that at one point it was cutting into me. As if by a knife.

Just my right leg. Not my left one.

What to do?! What to do?!

Somehow, I don’t know how, I managed to lower my hospital bed to its normal, not-in-use position, sit up on the side of the bed, and reach down to my right foot, and somehow release that huge band of tape that Jamie had so carefully put on.

What an enormous relief.

I was very, very worried. Finally, finally managed to fall asleep.

Since then I have been to the clinic six times.

I have met another of its therapists. There seem to be only three.

His name is Hasheem. About 45.

He used the very same technique that Jamie did. But he has a very special gift. He enjoys talking, talking, talking as he works, explaining in detail the right way and the wrong way of applying those compression bands.

Now they have shifted from the bands to extremely tight compression stockings of the perfect size for me. So, so compressive that they are very difficult to put on me.

And the last time I went, he told me they have done everything they can do for me. It’s up to me now to have the discipline to do this as long as necessary, perhaps even for the rest of my life.

Wow!

That was a shocking thought, of course. Meaning that I might have it to the very end of my days.

No need to come back for another office visit, I was told. Only to come back if I have more questions or want to have my compression technique tuned up. They were straightforward about that and I admired that.

Since then I have had an appointment with my cardiologist. She told me she had been receiving detailed reports about my progress from the clinic and was very pleased.

By the way, if all this arouses your curiosity, do go online and check out “lymphedema.”

I have met a whole new world of information about it out there. I was amazed to see so much about it. How it affects people in different ways. Especially the photos. The photos are incredible. Beyond description

I have the condition in both legs. Well, some people have it in one leg and one arm, and there is no concealing it. And so many come down with it so much earlier in life.

I am so much better off than they are.

Obviously, very many people have a lymphedema problem.

I am just one of them. My lymphedema is far from cured.

I have no idea whether it will be a problem of a few days or a few weeks or a few months. Or for the rest of my life.

I have worked out a daily arrangement with my son-in-law David and my daughter Monique.

David is retired and Monique is still working.

They live 10 minutes from where I live.

Every morning he comes over to put on my compression stockings. I cannot do it because I cannot reach way down there and anyway I wouldn’t have the strength to adjust the stockings just right.

He has become an expert. He does that seven days a week for me.

As some of you know, I pedal a tricycle every day. Now electrified, meaning power-assisted, as you know. But it still requires some actual pedaling. This is very important to me because it is the only physical exercise that I get around to doing.

And my compression stockings must be adjusted just right. Otherwise, they cut into my legs as I pedal. David has become an expert at it.

Monique stops by on the way home from her office every day.

She removes the stockings, applies a therapeutic lotion to my legs, and freshens the stockings. No need to wear them in bed anymore.

This takes place 7 days a week, morning and night.

How very fortunate I am!

I do plan to keep you up to date.

I do intend to get back to my regular blogging. But I’ll give you an update if need be.

If you have lymphedema, or know someone who does, please tell me about it. That would interest me greatly.

Oh, I have not yet received a report from Medicare about this. It will be interesting to see how much the San Luis Obispo Lymphedema Clinic is receiving for its services.

I never dreamed I’d live and work in so many places. Part 4

By John Guy LaPlante

In Part 3 I told you how at the Worcester Telegram I did extra things for extra money.

For instance, starting a weekly column on camps and camping and writing it for 10 years.

I did another thing. Our Sunday Telegram had a section called House and Home.

Nothing new about that. Every Sunday newspaper in the country has such a section. True today.

On its front page, it would feature a detailed story with photos of a beautiful home, or of a home quite different in some significant way.

I would search for such homes in Worcester and nearby towns that we covered. And I did find one that was quite different. Quite interesting.

In speaking with its owner, he explained that yes, it was different and in a totally significant way. His story wowed me.

He told me that instead of having been built in the conventional way, one board at a time, so to speak, his house had been built in a huge shed where the carpenters built houses the way Detroit builds cars.

They adopted some mass production methods. And didn’t have to worry about rain or snow and lose a lot of time that way.

They would build the house in sections, load all the sections on a truck in a certain order, and deliver the house to the customer’s house lot.

Meanwhile, the customer could prepare. Build a foundation, say. Make sure electric lines were available. Put in a well, for instance. And so on.

The name of the company was Hilco, which stood for Hog Island Lumber Company, located in Philadelphia several hundred miles away.

Hilco had a catalog of house plans. You could study the catalog and choose the floor plan you wanted.

(I previously wrote a bit about Hilco: http://johnguylaplante.com/wp/2017/02/02/an-email-from-a-total-stranger-and-my-reply/)

Furthermore, it offered an architectural service. You could make any changes within the floor plan.  For instance, make the kitchen bigger by cutting the square footage of the living room. Or, instead of three bedrooms, you could change them into two bedrooms. And so on.

And Hilco would send you a new set of plans at no extra charge.

All of which saved the owner a ton of money.

Pauline and I were living in Webster, Massachusetts. About 20 miles from Worcester. It would take me close to an hour to get to work.

She was teaching in a public school there.

We had no children thus far.

We were thinking of buying a house in the Worcester area. Much closer to my job. But too expensive.

It turned out that Hilco would not be just another interesting story that I would write up.

Sure, I would write it up. But for the first time, I’d be writing up our house!

And here is how we would start.

Pauline and I would find a nice house lot, choose the Hilco plan that would work best for us, modify it if necessary, and set it up on our new house lot.

All big decisions!

So instead of looking for a newly built house ready to move in, we would be looking for a nice lot on which to build our Hilco home in the town of Auburn.

As I said, we were living in Webster and it took me an hour to get to work at The Telegram and Gazette then an hour to get home at the end of my day.

Now it would take me just 20 minutes in the morning and 20 minutes in the evening.

We looked for the right house lot. We looked at several. Finally we found the one that was perfect.

It was on Millbury Road, a quiet, twisting two-laner that led to downtown small Auburn a mile and a half away. A full 15 or 20 minutes could go by before a car passed by.

There were just a handful of houses farther down Millbury Road.

But it wasn’t a house lot. It was an acre of a large dairy farm out in the countryside.

I looked up who the owner was.

He wasn’t just a farmer. He was a gentleman farmer, and there’s a difference. His name was Adna Cutting, and he ran the farm as a sideline.

I called Mr. Cutting and told him I wanted to build a house and would he sell me an acre of his land.

There was a very long pause. Obviously he was thinking a mile a minute.

Finally he said yes, but he would have to approve the house plan, of course.

That really impressed me.

To prepare for this, I had gone to the bank right next door to the Telegram and Gazette. I used to go there to deposit my T&G check.

Nearly all of us working at the T&G had an account there.

I was well known there as the editor of the Sunday Telegram’s Feature Parade. Bottom line, I didn’t have much of a problem arranging for a mortgage to cover everything.

I met Mr. Cutting at his farm on a beautiful sunny Saturday morning. On the very acre that appealed to Pauline and me. I was alone with him.

We sat on a boulder under a huge oak tree. Nice and shady.

In the northeast I could see the taller buildings of downtown Worcester.

Around us, Mr. Cutting’s prized Golden Guernseys were contentedly munching the grass.

Some 500 or 600 yards to the south I could see his beautiful white barn.

It was really a showplace farm. Now and then teachers at the grade school would bring their little students to show them how the cows got milked.

I showed him the house plan of the Hilco Home we were going to buy.

And I showed him where it would be oriented on the acre we wanted.

He examined it most carefully, and he asked a question or two. I had carefully written out the details of the deal that I was hoping he would agree to.

I asked him to sign his name to this very important document. He read it twice. Slowly. Had no questions to ask me.

I gave him the check that I had brought along and handed it to him. He smiled and wished me the best of luck. And extended his right hand and shook hands with me.

I was delighted. There could have been no better way to complete our transaction.

Along Millbury Road was a stone wall that kept his Golden Guernseys from playing hooky.

He told me that on Monday morning he would have one of his workers come with a tractor and cut an entrance 30 feet wide to make what he felt would be the best place for a driveway for me. I studied the area and agreed that would be the best place for our driveway.

And there would be no charge for that!

I was tickled. I just couldn’t wait to get home and tell Pauline the whole story. Within a few days I made a deal with a local contractor to begin taking the first steps to put up our Hilco Home when it arrived.

The next day he contacted the Power Company to extend its service to our house lot.

Then he had a bulldozer in there preparing the foundation. It all happened.

The address of our Hilco home is 160 Millbury Street, Auburn, Mass. It’s a beauty.

Yes, Millbury Road has become Millbury Street.

You can Google it.

As it turned out, over the years we had to modify it to meet interesting new needs.

I will be telling you all about that in a minute or two.

Pauline became a public school teacher in Auburn.

Our three children, Arthur, Monique, and Mark, were all born there and graduated from the Auburn Elementary School and High School.

One day I heard that at the next Auburn annual Town Meeting a new director would be elected to the Auburn Public Library. I ran for the job and was elected.

It was the only time I have run for a public office.

I thought we directors would talk about books. I thought that would be important. Nothing doing!

What we talked about was should we find a new janitor, or should we increase fines for lost books, or should we put in two additional handicap parking spaces. Things like that.

Anyway, what was really astonishing was the key role that lovely Hilco Home got to play in our lives for some 20 years.

Especially when I decided to go into the public relations business as well as fundraising for non-profits.

I’ll be getting to that in a minute or two.

Oh, I should tell you that living closer to Worcester led to some other very nice experiences.

On the east side of the city was a very long, narrow lake. It was called Regatta Point because college sculling meets were held there. Holding regattas.

Sculling has very little to do with the wind. It’s several athletes sitting one behind the other in a long, narrow boat and propelling it by using two short oars.

The lake was perfect for that. But it was far more difficult for anyone to sail up the lake and down again because it was so, so narrow.

And that’s why Regatta Point Community Sailing was called that.

A membership cost just a few dollars. Regatta Point would teach you how to sail, and then after you had passed a technical test, starting with proving that you could swim at least 100 yards, you could go there at any time and take out a sailboat for an hour or two.

It had a dozen sailboats, all identical sloops. Know what a sloop is? No?
I suggest you look it up in your dictionary. You might like to learn to sail one.

When I heard about it, I went and interviewed Alan Fearn, the very capable manager and a very capable sailor. And I wrote a long article about it for Feature Parade Magazine, along with half a dozen photos.

And that’s how I got the idea that I would enjoy learning.

I had learned to swim as a kid, so no problem there.

But tacking and jibing and running in a stiff and shifting breeze were a different matter, and I flunked the first technical test. Very embarrassing. I had to retake it. This time, I passed.

Practice makes perfect, as we know, and I got the hang of it.

My three children, Arthur, Monique, and Mark, all took sailing lessons there.

I took a great interest in Regatta Point Community Sailing as a fine and worthwhile program. And I thought the world of Alan Fearn.

I was invited to join the board of directors and one year was elected president. Then re-elected for another term.

The officers and directors were all working people. So meetings had to be held at Regatta Point on Saturdays. That was no fun. They wanted to be out sailing.

And Alan Fearn was tied up running the program. 

So I got the idea of inviting them to my Hilco Home in Auburn on a workday evening, along with Alan. They thought that was a good idea.

One more thing. A few years earlier, at a different lake, I had become a competent canoe oarsman.

Sailing and canoeing, along with swimming, were interests of mine for many years. In fact, at one time I owned and enjoyed a sailing canoe. That was really something!

One year I even built one. Once I proved to myself that it would really float, I held a nice big party and broke a bottle of champagne over its bow. I had invited 25 or 30 friends to see me do that and enjoy the party.

By the way, I could also row my canoe. That was always quite a workout.

If you know anything about rowing, you know that you can’t tell where you’re going exactly. There might be a rock in the water straight ahead, or a log or something.

One day I went to an auto junkyard and bought a nice pair of rear-view mirrors. You know, one for the left side and one for the right side.

And used them on my canoe when I went rowing. They were so wonderful that I should have patented them!

Anyway, what was really astonishing was the key role that lovely Hilco home played in our lives when I got into the public relations business as well as fundraising for non-profits.

I built up an impressive list of clients, as I told you.

I would write up a press release, for instance. Or I could develop a fundraising plan, say. I could do that just about anywhere — wherever I could use my typewriter.

And then hand-deliver the press release to whatever editor or reporter or radio station director I felt I had the best chance to “sell it to”, so to speak.

Or get them to write a feature story about it. My client would love that!

Or if I had developed a fundraising plan to some business or institution, I could go to the president or board of directors and present it.

It might get approved then and there.

Oh they might demand some modifications.

I would get paid for all that, of course. That’s what they paid me to do.

But often some supporting materials would be needed.

A newsletter. Or a four-page or a six-page booklet.

I would type up all those myself.

In the case of that New England-wide 

Franco-American Fraternal Society in Woonsocket, RI, that awarded me a scholarship, I developed a bi-monthly tabloid newspaper.

The Union Saint-Jean-Baptiste d’Amerique (USJB) was founded on May 7, 1900 in Woonsocket, RI. The USJB was a fraternal organization for Franco-Americans living in New England, and other states with large Franco-American populations. The USJB promoted the social and moral welfare of its members, helped their sick and poor members, as well as the relatives of deceased members.
Source: https://library.assumption.edu/unionstjohnbaptiste

For the Town of Shrewsbury School Department, which became one of my clients, I would prepare a four-page tabloid for the beginning of each semester.

So for all these, I would do the writing plus the layout of the text, the columns, the headlines, the photographs, the captions, and for every page of course.

Then I would send this off to whatever printer I felt would do the best job.

I would get the printer’s bill, mark it up a bit, which was all kosher, and send it on to my client.

Then I got a terrific idea. I would expand my services. Do everything I used to do plus everything the printers used to do for me. Right to the final product.

I could even prepare a mailing list for my client, pay for the postage, and even get all the copies to the post office for the date my client had specified. I made a list of the staff I would need to get all that done.

A secretary. Maybe a writer who would do rough drafts under my supervision. A designer to make my booklets and reports and tabloid papers look good with the right typeface, the right headlines, the right photos and captions, maybe even a colored ink or two to make my black- and-white tabloid more impressive.

And I would need typesetting equipment. Maybe even someone to process film and make beautiful photo prints I needed for my publications.

But where to do this? Yes, where?

This could run into a lot of money. 

That’s when I thought of our Hilco home in Auburn. On a quiet country road. Just 20 minutes from downtown Worcester.

Our home had an extra-large two-car garage under it. Large windows for sunshine and fresh air in nice seasons. And It had a large parking space for several cars.

I and my family would continue to live in our home. That would now be the second floor.

I would convert the garage into an attractive office with an attractive front door for my workers and occasional clients.

I even built a large separate room at the rear of the house, not visible from the street.

I mapped out a separate office for myself, one for my secretary, the typesetting equipment, and the other work that would need to be done.

This would now be the first floor. Our residence upstairs would be off-limits to my staff.

I would build a separate, attractive three-car garage 150 feet back, with a large loft with big windows where I could store seasonal equipment.

I would park my car inside in the first space, Pauline would park hers in the second, and the third would be for our lawn mower and snowblower and our kids’ bicycles and sleds and so forth.

Steadily I got more and businesses and institutions to work for. Two banks. A co-ed Catholic prep school called Marianapolis in Thompson, Conn.

Seven hospitals, would you believe, including the Conn. Natchaug Psychiatric Hospital.

Also St. Francis Home, a Catholic institution for assisted living operated by a community of nuns.

Also AdCare Hospital in Worcester, the largest hospital for alcohol and drug abuse care in southern New England.

After getting my staff started, I would go off to visit my clients, hoping to return for lunch.

In some cases, for clients many miles away, I might not return till 3 in the afternoon.

Pauline would continue to teach in the Auburn Elementary School. And our three children would go off to the Auburn Elementary or High School.

The day came when I needed even more office space.

I built a large addition in front of the office I already had. Very attractive with a handsome office door, and large picture window with matching shutters and flower box. 

Very quiet. No close-by neighbors. The Auburn Town Attorney told me it was okay to build that big addition.

And this time Adna Cutting, the gentleman farmer, did not ask to see my plans.

My business prospered. But then changes became necessary.

Some good, some not so good.

By the way, if you are curious, you can still get to see the Hilco Home that I started out with, and the additions and other changes that I made one by one as my business expanded. Even my three-car garage.

Just Google “160 Millbury Street, Auburn, Massachusetts.”

Yes, Millbury Road became Millbury Street.

And the Golden Guernseys are still there, I believe.

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.

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