Bodie, A Genuine California Ghost Town

Banner California Bodie Ghost Town 23, photo by John Ecker, pantheon photography
There are many so-called ‘ghost towns’ in North America.  But few rival the historic town of Bodie in Northern  California.
California Bodie 3, photo by John Ecker, pantheon photography - Copy
It is now a State Historic Park located northeast of Yosemite Park about, 20 kms. east of Highway 395 on Bodie Road (Hwy 270), 11 kms. south of Bridgeport.
At its height, Bodie was home to almost 10,000 people during its gold rush.
 
California Bodie 7, photo by John Ecker, pantheon photography
Today, it’s a photographer’s dream!
California Bodie Ghost Town 31, photo by John Ecker, pantheon photography
California Bodie Ghost Town 16, photo by John Ecker, pantheon photography
California Bodie Ghost Town 11, photo by John Ecker, pantheon photography
California Bodie Ghost Town 14, photo by John Ecker, pantheon photography
California Bodie 4A, photo by John Ecker, pantheon photography
The town is named after William Bodey (some references indicate the name was Body) who discovered small amounts of gold around 1859. Bodey died not long after his discovery and never lived to see his namesake town rise in the Sierra Mountain foCalifornia Bodie Ghost Town 29, photo by John Ecker, pantheon photographyothills.
Some attribute the switch to Bodie as the result of an illiterate sign-painter while others believe the change was to ensure proper pronunciation.
California Bodie 8, photo by John Ecker, pantheon photography
In 1877 the Standard Company discovered large deposits when it dug a mine. The population grew very quickly and by 1879 Bodie had an estimated population of about 6,000 people (some believe as many as 10,000). However, there are many conflicting accounts of the actual resident numbers during this period. The town grew very fast.
California Bodie Ghost Town 18, photo by John Ecker, pantheon photography
California Bodie Ghost Town 10, photo by John Ecker, pantheon photography
 
The California Bodie Ghost Town 30, photo by John Ecker, pantheon photographyheyday for Bodie was around 1880.
By California Bodie Ghost Town 22, photo by John Ecker, pantheon photography1882 a railway brought in essentials, including mining equipment, lumber, food and other essential supplies. During this period, there were approximately 2,000 buildings.
Roughly 30 mines were in operation and the money flowed.

There were 65 saloons, gambling halls, brothels, three breweries and even opium dens. The Methodist and Catholic churches were built in 1882.

California Bodie Ghost Town 3, photo by John Ecker, pantheon photography
Bodie also had a Chinatown with several hundred Chinese residents and a Taoist temple.  As fast as it grew, the town population dropped as opportunists attracted to the gold rush moved on to other boomtowns.
California Bodie 9, photo by John Ecker, pantheon photographyBy 1882 population was around 3,000 residents. Then, in 1892, a fire destroyed much of the main business district. The main mill was burned in 1898 and rebuilt the following year.
 
California Bodie Ghost Town 21, photo by John Ecker, pantheon photographyCalifornia Bodie Ghost Town 15, photo by John Ecker, pantheon photography
California Bodie 5, photo by John Ecker, pantheon photography
By 1910 there were fewer than 700 residents in Bodie. In 1912, the Bodie Miner newspaper closed its doors.
California Bodie Ghost Town 13, photo by John Ecker, pantheon photography
In 1916 the Standard Mill was closed and soon after the railway was abandoned. Fire again hit in 1932 when a young boy was playing with matches. That fire destroyed 95% of the town.
 
California Bodie Ghost Town 5, photo by John Ecker, pantheon photographyIn 1942 the last mine in Bodie was closed on the order of the United States government which was consolidating the industry in aid of wartime production. The Post Office—which had operated since 1877, was also closed that same year. By this time, most of the town was owned by the Cain family who hired caretakers to watch over what remained of the town as it became popular even then as a ‘ghost town.’
 California Bodie Ghost Town 28, photo by John Ecker, pantheon photography
In 1961, after years of decline,Bodie became a National Historic Landmark and the following year a State Historic Park. At that time there were approximately 170 buildings remaining. Today there are about 110, including one of the Standard Company Mine building.
 
California Bodie Ghost Town 25, photo by John Ecker, pantheon photographyVisiting Bodie? The  last 5 kms. are a very rough gravel road making reduced speed an absolute necessity. There are restrooms in the ‘pay and display’ parking lot.  That’s it; nothing else. Bring your own food and beverages.  Wear a hat; there’s virtually no shade.  Sunglasses are a good idea too.
California Bodie Ghost Town 9, photo by John Ecker, pantheon photographyCalifornia Bodie Ghost Town 8, photo by John Ecker, pantheon photography
You are not allowed to take anything from the site and the National Parks Service does not permit metal detectors in the park. No overnight camping is permitted. The best time of the year to visit is in the late summer early fall.  Winters can be very snowy and in Spring the road in and the park itself can be very muddy.
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All photos copyright, John Ecker     |     pantheon photography
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Happy (Burp) Valentines Day!

Pantheon | john ecker

A few thoughts on Valentines Day…  just a week away guys!

“You’re a super wife. I’m a hapless dweeb. Happy Valentines Day.”  It’s that time of year when guys search for the perfect card to express their deepest Hallmark feelings to the one they love.

For many guys, husbands in particular, this is a difficult task. Recently, I checked out cards to best capture MY innermost thoughts at this romantic time of the year. Naturally, I looked at the ‘Romantic’ section first. I found cards expressing mostly gushy sentiments for new love. There were promises of a long and happy life together full of passionate devotion…. ‘if you’ll be my Valentine’. Truth be told I am a bit of a romantic. As a consequence, I tend to find these deep and heartfelt expressions, written in some faraway card factory, artificial at best. Besides, I could not find romantic cards that declared…

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The Who, Toronto, November 23, 2012

The Who’s November 23rd concert at Toronto’s Air Canada Centre was an awesome event.  I went there with my 20 year old son, Chad.  When Quadraphenia was released, I was a 14 year old kid.  Yet there we were last night, together rocking out to music that feels as fresh today as it did then—19 years before my son was even born.

Yup, Quadraphenia was released 39 years ago.  Last night we were enthralled with two guys—Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey– who have 135 years on earth between them.

We had excellent seats—row 19, on the floor, just seats from the centre aisle.  The ACC was packed and the energy level ‘at ice level’ was incredible. We never sat down the whole time.  The Who performed Quadraphenia from start to finish, faithfully executing pretty well every song like the original. Even John Entwhistle and Keith Moon made appearances via terrific archival footage that placed the old bandmates, now deceased, virtually on the stage.

Moon, of course was well-known for his on-stage and off-stage antics. He died in 1978 just three weeks after the release of The Who’s seminal album “Who are You.” Moon’s death was ruled accidental.  A strange fact about his death is that he died in exactly the same London apartment where “Momma” Cass Elliott died in July 1974.  When asked in his prime if he thought he was the world’s best drummer, Moon reportedly responded that he was the “best Keith Moon type drummer in the world.”  Despite all the craziness, he was most definitely among the best drummers ever as you can see in this Keith Moon video.

John Entwhistle was also featured prominently via archival footage and it served as a reminder that yes, he may well have been the world’s best bassist guitar player ever. See the virtual appearance of John Entwhistle at The Who’s Montreal leg of the current tour here, (at around the 6 minute mark).   Entwhistle died more than ten years ago, in 2002 at the age of 58.  Like Moon, he died a rock star’s death.  Entwhistle was staying at the Vegas Hard Rock Hotel in room 658 on June 27th.  He went to bed with ‘stripper and groupie’ Alycen Rowse. In the morning he was dead. Cause of death was a heart attack induced by cocaine. Sex and drugs and Rock ‘n Roll.

So Daltrey and Townshend remain as the last original members of the band.  Last night both were self-deprecating and mindful of their own mortality. Townshend noted he no longer drinks and Daltrey, after a particularly vigorous performance, reminded us all he was a pensioner and it was now well past his bedtime. 

In addition to their almost note-perfect presentation of Quadraphenia, the band performed crowd favourites Who Are You, Behind Blue Eyes, Pinball Wizard, Baba O’Riley and Won’t Get Fooled Again. The last song was Tea and Theatre, with only Daltrey’s vocals and Townshend’s acoustic guitar occupying centre stage.   What a terrific concert.

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Venetian Gondolas

In 1818, Percy Shelley wrote:  “These gondolas are the most beautiful and convenient boats in the world. They are finely carpeted and furnished with black and painted black. The couches on which you lean are extraordinarily soft, and are so disposed as to be the most comfortable to those who lean or sit.  The windows have either Venetian plate glass, flowered or Venetian blinds or blinds of black cloth to shut out the sight.”

Covered gondolas are a rare sight in Venice, but the boat described by Shelley then is similar to the modern version of the gondola we see today.  The first solid reference to gondolas was in 1094. By the 1600s, an estimated 10,000 gondolas could be found in the canals of Venice.  Gondolas have a very shallow draft, making them ideal for navigating the canals and lagoons of Venice. For centuries they were the primary means of water transport.  Their numbers only dropped later in the 1800s with advent of steam-powered vessels.

The gondola described by Shelley was likely one equipped with a ‘felze’. It was a small cabin that could be installed in the cooler or wet weather.  It was also more private and often contained a small charcoal heater.

Today’s gondolas are rooted in the same strong tradition of boat-building that has been  around for centuries but there have been attempts at some short-cuts.  Many boats, until recently were made with marine plywood.  It’s more durable, easier to work with and more economical.  It seems though that plywood has now been banned on account of traditionalists.  And, an effort to have fibreglass gondolas accepted seems to be (I hope) a complete failure.  For those expecting the gondolier’s undivided attention as he navigates you through the congested waterways, don’t be surprised if you slow down on occasion.  But it might not be because of the heavy traffic.  It’s not easy talking on a cellphone and propelling a gondola!

A traditionally built gondola costs $35,000.  They weigh about 1, 500 lbs. and are made with cherry, elm, fir, larch, linden, mahogany, oak and walnut.  By law, gondolas must be black, though on a recent trip I saw bright red and yellow versions at dock.  Decorations are also apparently regulated and limited to sea lions, dragons, dolphins, mermaids and other creatures of the sea.  The length of a gondola is standardized at  35.5ft. They are 4ft, 6ins wide, narrow enough for two to pass each other in the narrow canals of Venice.

Gondolas are synonymous with Venice.  Some might say that no trip is complete without a ride in the ubiquitous boats.  However, as a photographer, I’d much rather photograph them from a distance.  Most gondoliers wear their distinctive and traditional hats and shirts.  They know they are the constant subject of photographers.

Gondoliers have a website that explains their official rates.  Find rates at: GondolaVenezia.it.  It’s not cheap, by any means.  At the time of writing, prices were approximately 80 Euros for a 40 minute ride for up to 6 persons.  And that’s during the daytime. At night, rates rise to 100 Euros for a 40 minute ride.  If you have your heart set on a romantic ride for two, that’s the rate you’ll pay.  But if you hang about the popular spots where rides commence, you’ll find fellow travelers looking for others to share the cost of the ride.   Don’t be surprised if gondoliers ask for more than these posted rates.  So, settle on the price and length of the ride at the outset.  Also, check the time of the start of your ride and confirm it with your gondolier. Why?  Gondoliers’ watches can run suspiciously fast!

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Normandy Invasion Revisited, Part I

NORMANDY INVASION REVISITED, PART ONE:   Tomorrow, June 6th, is the anniversary of the D-Day landings in Normandy France.  In 1944, the outcome of the war was at stake. Operation Overlord was the allies’ master plan to bring defeat to the Nazis.

The names of the allied landing beaches have become seared in our collective memory, each evoking a measure of sadness, joy and pride.  Gold, Sword, Juno, Omaha and Utah were the codenames for the major beaches.

There would be a further eleven months of battle following D-Day, but there is no doubt the invasion is one of the greatest turning points in military and world history.

General Dwight Eisenhower headed SHAEF, the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force, comprised of troops from Canada, Britain, America, France, Poland, Norway and other allied countries. Once launched, the massive force could not
turn back. An invading army had not crossed the dangerous and unpredictable English Channel since 1688.

Intelligence gathering was crucial to plan the landings.  In 1942, the BBC appealed to listeners to send in postcards and photographs of the coast of Europe from Norway to the Pyrenees.  The War Office received millions of submissions.  Intelligence from French resistance fighters,  military air reconnaissance and aerial photography helped shape the plan of attack and the selection of targets.

On D-Day, Eisenhower had over 11,000 planes at his disposal.  His force included Spitfires, Thunderbolts and Mustangs along with Dakota and B-17 bombers.  7,000 vessels of various types and sizes made the crossing. Naval losses for June 1944 included 24 warships and 35 merchantmen or auxiliaries sunk, and a further 120 vessels damaged.

160,000 troops would land on the beaches or be parachute in, along the coast.  By the end of August that year, 3 million troops were on French soil.

On D-Day the American forces numbered 73,000: 23,250 on Utah Beach, 34,250 on Omaha Beach, and 15,500 airborne troops. In the Canadian and British sectors, 83,115 troops were landed (61,715 of them British): 24,970 on Gold Beach, 21,400 on Juno Beach, 28,845 on Sword Beach, and 7900 airborne troops.

Between 15,000 and 20,000 French civilians were killed, most because of Allied bombing. Thousands more had to flee their homes to escape the carnage.  While German casualties on D-Day are not known, they are estimated at between 4000 and 9000 men.

Thousands of allied soldiers lost their lives that day in the Normandy campaign.  Conservative estimates are that America lost 4,696. Britain lost 1,043 and the Canadians lost 1,204. While that total is 8,443 the real number is likely closer to 9,000.

Twenty-seven war cemeteries hold the remains of over 110,000 dead from both sides: 77,866 German, 9386 American, 17,769 British, 5002 Canadian and 650 Poles.

Today, visitors to Normandy can still see an abundance of evidence from the great battle. The remains of bunkers, gun emplacements and the concrete ‘Mulberry’ harbours are readily found.   Allied cemeteries dot the region and memorials to countries, military divisions and battle sites abound.   Private museums are great places to see battle equipment and uniforms.

These memorials are one of the ways that the memories of June 6th are kept alive.   Another way is the vast number or WWII re-enactors who descend on the region each June.  Community festivals are held.  Battles on beaches are re-enacted.   All kinds of military equipment is on display and on the roads.  It’s been said  that on these weekends, there are more jeeps in Normandy than during the D-Day landings.  Swap meets are terrific places to see the re-enactors in their full gear.

Most are French citizens, but many come over from England.  I have even seen re-enactors from former Soviet-bloc countries participating. Last year, I spent time in some small villages, including Ste. Marie duMont, Ste. Mer Eglise, Colveville sur Mer  where various celebrations were held and re-enactors were out in force.  Almost all take on the roles of American soldiers.

Below is a collection of various photos taken on June 5, 2010.   June 6th, the anniversary date of the battle, was much quieter, with mostly official observances along the beaches.  Much fewer re-enactors were out, in deference to the sombre memorials and the sacrifices made during Operation Overlord.

More photos here in Part II

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Normandy Invasion Revisited, Part II

NORMANDY INVASION REVISITED, PART II:  More re-enactor photos from Normandy, France.  For Part I of this story, click here: Part I

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Time to end TTC Streetcar “whack-a-mole?”

Remember those old war movies, when the young green paratroopers would stand at the door, looking apprehensive before their jump into the battle zone?  Watching those movies, we all knew some would not make it.  They’d drown in a river or get shot as they tumbled toward earth. 

When I first moved to Toronto, I would imagine myself one of those paratroopers as I’d stand on the step of the streetcar, waiting for the conductor (jump master) to flip the switch for the doors to open for my exit (jump) into the busy street.

Too dramatic an analogy for you?  How about whack-a-mole’ then?  Emerging passengers are like the little moles that emerge from the holes in the game, only to risk being ‘whacked’ by a club wielding protagonist (oncoming traffic).

That was years ago. Now, I tend to walk as much as I can in Toronto, avoiding the TTC whenever possible.  Why?  It seems so often that when I do choose “the better way” to get around, I get caught in delays that actually lengthen my travels.  Nowadays, I only take the TTC  for trips longer than a twenty-minute walk.

I walk daily along Queen Street West, between University and Spadina, on my way to my office.  I play a little game each day.  I like to see how far along Queen Street I can get before my 12 minute walk is overtaken by a passing streetcar.  Many days I can walk the whole stretch without being passed by a “Red Rocket.”  Other days, I’m amazed at the cluster of streetcars that finally come along, single file.  The front car will be packed of course; the cars that follow inevitably empty.

I’ve been giving some thought to the dangers and frustrations faced by both streetcar passengers and the other vehicular traffic that shares the road.  I am astounded that more TTC patrons are not run over by cars as they enter and exit streetcars.  But don’t get me wrong, this is not a rant against drivers.   There are real dangers for passengers and vehicles alike.  It’s time the TTC got serious, and more practical with streetcar passenger safety.  I’ve asked the TTC for their annual statistics on streetcar deaths and injuries, but I have not heard back yet.  I’ll post them when/if they arrive.

You’ve probably seen those big decals plastered over the rear right windows of streetcars.  They show a graphic stop sign reminding drivers that ‘It’s the law!” to stop for streetcar passengers.  Ontario law states:

(1) Where a person in charge of a vehicle or on a bicycle or on horseback or leading a horse on a highway overtakes a street car or a car of an electric railway, operated in or near the centre of the roadway, which is stationary for the purpose of taking on or discharging passengers, he or she shall not pass the car or approach nearer than 2 metres measured back from the rear or front entrance or exit, as the case may be, of the car on the side on which passengers are getting on or off until the passengers have got on or got safely to the side of the street, as the case may be….”

The law’s very clear, so I guess police, the courts and the occasional coroner’s inquest jury must find it all pretty straightforward!  But really, in practical terms, does the TTC procedure for exiting and boarding patrons actually work?  I don’t think so, and here’s why.

– when passengers exit, the external warning light for approaching traffic comes on when the doors open and the passenger is just nano-seconds from stepping into the traffic lane.

– those lights are about 3 inches in circumference. Because of how they are mounted (projecting out from the side, rather than pointing toward the rear of the streetcar), they are hardly visible to traffic approaching from behind, in the curb lane.

– To put it in perspective, these same warning lights would be too small–if they were brake lights— to meet the minimum size standards for large motorized vehicles anywhere in this country.

(The top photo on the left was taken a heartbeat before the doors opened.  Below, passengers rush from the streetcar.  Can you see the tiny red light?)

– the warning lights mounted on the side of the streetcar are about 7 feet off the ground, well above an approaching driver’s eye-level. 

This really messes up drivers:

– drivers must be extremely vigilant, watching for that obscure little red light on the side of the streetcar to turn on, anytime a streetcar comes to a stop—regardless of whether the streetcar is boarding or exiting passengers

– streetcars can’t change lanes. When they slow down or stop for left turning vehicles in front of them, other drivers right behind them or in the righthand lane can’t see why they are slowing down.  So, these drivers are constantly stopping for phantom passengers.  That just slows down all traffic on the street.

– in heavy traffic, because the warning lights come on so suddenly (only when the passenger is about to exit) many drivers find themselves next to streetcar doors, blocking passengers, and not behind them, as the law requires.

– on many streets with streetcar routes, the righthand lane is taken by parked cars for extended stretches. When the right lane opens up, frustrated drivers who have been following the streetcars feel compelled to scoot up the right side of the streetcar to pass.  For exiting and boarding streetcar passengers, it’s a recipe for disaster.

What could and should be done? 

First, the big decals in the rear window are a cop-out.  They help no-one. Get rid of them.  They don’t improve passenger safety.  While they scream out about the law to stop, let’s remember that the law requires drivers to yield to “passengers… getting on or off until the passengers have got on or got safely to the side of the street.” And that’s the problem. With no advance warning, drivers of approaching vehicles have absolutely no way of knowing whether there are actually any passengers boarding or exiting… until it may be too late. 

Second, the streetcar driver should exercise control of  the warning lights,  so that they serve as an advance warning to approaching vehicles.  When a passenger pulls the cord signaling an intention to get off, or when the driver sees someone at an upcoming stop, the driver should be signaling this fact to other traffic.  It could safe lives and limbs.

Third, the warning lights should be on the back of the streetcar.  They should be of sufficient size to actually be noticed by approaching drivers who must also be alert to myriad other attention-getters.  School buses have large, visible flashing lights.  Why can’t streetcars use similar signals when passengers are about to board and exit? 

The current ‘system’ is grossly unfair to the drivers of approaching vehicles.  It’s also dangerous for TTC patrons.  Why is this allowed to continue?   When will TTC’s game of “whack-a-mole” end?

(A final thought… I wonder if the person who dreamed up the monster warning stickers on the back of  streetcars is the same one who had the ‘walk left/stand right’ signs on subway escalators removed.    Apparently, there was a concern that because escalators are intended for standing on– not walking on– there could be a successful lawsuit.   Poof, no more signs.  They used to be everywhere; not anymore.)

John Ecker, Pantheon

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Blue Rodeo, Sanderson Centre, Brantford, February 2011

In early February, Blue Rodeo, one of my favourite all-time  bands to see in concert was playing the Sanderson Centre in Brantford, Ontario.  The back-to-back dates there were the first shows for the full band since late fall, wrapping up a huge tour that took them across Canada, the United States and, memorably, the Grey Cup half-time show.

I’ve seen Blue Rodeo play many times over the years, most often at  the Sanderson Centre and the GM Centre in Oshawa.  Each venue has its own distinct vibe.  The Sanderson has terrific acoustics and, despite its size, the former movie theatre is an intimate space. The GM Centre, on the other hand, is the home to the Oshawa Generals OHA hockey club and has the feel—and the sound, of an arena. 

The latest Brantford show is probably the best Blue Rodeo concert I’ve ever attended.  Yet, they were not particularly tight and the show had some technical difficulties.  Our seats were right up front, second row and it was great to see/hear the on-stage communication—spoken and unspoken—among the band-mates.

When the band took the stage, Cuddy was followed out by what I thought was the newly—and amazingly—chiselled frame of Greg Keelor.  But it wasn’t, and Cuddy said he’d have more to say about how the night was going to unfold after the first song.  Like many people in audience, my first thought was that Keelor was sick that night, or perhaps worse.  

After a solid It Could Happen to You, Cuddy explained that Keelor would be on later in the show and that Colin Cripps (Crash Vegas, Junkhouse, Headstones), would sub for Keelor who was having hearing troubles.  That also meant Keelor’s set would be without drum-kit.  Cuddy had some fun, wondering aloud if Keelor was becoming like Elvis, wanting to be the headliner with the rest of the guys just being ‘the band’. It was good natured fun—I think.

Cuddy also explained that drummer Glenn Milchem was expecting a phone call that could come at any time, sending him back to Toronto for the birth of his child.  The call did not come during show— I’m not sure if he’s a new daddy yet at the time of this writing.

A few songs into the night, Cuddy performed Bulletproof, a song I’ve not heard him play much in concert the past couple of years. His voice remains as fresh as ever, never betraying its 56 (!) years. Take a look at this video of Blue Rodeo on Letterman 1991 singing Trust Yourself. Other than a few gray hairs, Cuddy looks the same! 

Keelor came out to sustained applause, singing several songs, including Is it You and Cynthia with Cuddy.  During one song—I don’t recall which one now—Keelor hand-signalled Cuddy to move off.  Cuddy’s perpetual stage smile receded and he stepped back, giving Keelor the room he wanted. It made for a few awkward moments later as Cuddy moved back to his own microphone.  Keelor’s vocals on To Love Somebody were as haunting as ever.  And in that song, I realized that as much as I enjoy Keelor’s and Cuddy’s solo singing, it is the magic they work singing in harmony that is the core sound of Blue Rodeo. 

Wayne Petti of Oshawa band Cuff the Duke also sang harmony, accompanying Cuddy on several songs with Keelor out of action.  Petti’s been called ‘Little Greg’ because, some say, he resembles a young Greg Keelor.  When Petti sings with Cuddy, he keeps a constant eye, displaying a mix of respect and mild angst.  Short in stature, Petti defiantly kept his microphone the same height as Cuddy’s, standing on his toes to reach.  What he may lack in height Petti more than makes up in performance.  Petti fits right in with Blue Rodeo and is a terrific talent.

The final encore was Lost Together, often the closing song at a Blue Rodeo concert.  With Keelor back on the stage, the song unfolded acoustically with no drums or electric guitars.  For the final verse, I saw something I’d never seen before, and may never again.  Bazil Donovon, who usually plays a solid bass guitar, had an acoustic guitar in hand. I could see and hear both Keelor and Cuddy encouraging Donovon to step up to the microphone.  Keelor was even shouting the lyrics of the verse over to Donovon, who finally stepped to the front and sang the verse alone.  The crowd went wild. 

I thought I’d list my top ten favourite Blue Rodeo songs.  And yeah, based on this list, I guess I am “a  little more Keelor than Cuddy.”  It was tough, but here they are: 

1.     5 Days In May

2.     Beautiful

3.     Blue House

4.     Bulletproof

5.     Dark Angel

6.     Diamond Mine

7.     Glad To Be Alive

8.     Lost Together

9.     Outskirts

10.   Try

Bonus Track (original by the Bee Gees)

11.   To Love Somebody

John Ecker    |     Pantheon

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Happy (Burp) Valentines Day!

A few thoughts on Valentines Day…  just a week away guys!

“You’re a super wife. I’m a hapless dweeb. Happy Valentines Day.”  It’s that time of year when guys search for the perfect card to express their deepest Hallmark feelings to the one they love.

For many guys, husbands in particular, this is a difficult task. Recently, I checked out cards to best capture MY innermost thoughts at this romantic time of the year. Naturally, I looked at the ‘Romantic’ section first. I found cards expressing mostly gushy sentiments for new love. There were promises of a long and happy life together full of passionate devotion…. ‘if you’ll be my Valentine’. Truth be told I am a bit of a romantic. As a consequence, I tend to find these deep and heartfelt expressions, written in some faraway card factory, artificial at best. Besides, I could not find romantic cards that declared romance and reflected on a long relationship.

Sure, there were exceptions, but why were they written in the same font as the sympathy cards? So, I checked out the ‘Wife – Funny’ section, hoping I’d find the perfect little joke that, combined with a jewellery box, flowers or a dinner out would capture that Valentines feeling and, well you know where I’m headed. Guys, check out these cards very carefully. Did you know that card companies have determined that once married, husbands lose all sense of romance, their IQ drops thirty points and they develop the worst grooming habits of any primate?

For married guys, Valentines cards tend to be an apology for being such a total idiot for most of the year. Here’s a gem from the ‘Wife – Funny’ section. “When something needs doing I don’t always do it. When something needs fixing, I don’t hop right to it. When the cheque book’s a mess I may throw a fit. When the going gets tough, I have been known to quit. When I start off each day I don’t always smile. When we step out to dine, I may not be in style….” I’m not making this up.

But why pick a card that catalogues all of the nasty habits you have, item by shameful item?  Maybe it’s better to just pick the all-encompassing apology for being such a loser. “You know I love that thing you do. That one special skill only you seem to have. I call it the ability to put up with me.” The ones that don’t rhyme sound the harshest. Yes, there are so many ways to show how flawed you are as a husband. There’s even a card and button combo. The button reads “Perfect Wife” and the card says, “For my wife on Valentines Day. That special time of year when I show how much I love you and what a lousy gift buyer I am. Buttons are sort of like jewellery, aren’t they?” Pure poetry!

Having exhausted the “Wife – Funny” card selection, I thought I’d check out the ‘Husband – Funny’ cards. Be ready guys, because these cards are also hilarious. Wives can buy a combo with a button that states, “I’d be lost without my wife” and the card advises “Today is a good time to let the world know how you feel about me. You can also wear it when we are driving together.”

Brilliant! But why beat around the bush, when a wife really needs to express something strong? She can buy the card with the cartoon gorilla sitting on the toilet… “To my husband, my stinky Valentine.” Still, for my money it’s the ‘Wife – Funny’ section that delivers more yucks than the ‘Husband – Funny’ section. One of my faves was “This Valentines Day let’s spend the evening playing around with one of those fun battery powered gadgets.” Inside, the cartoon hubby is reclining, malty beverage within reach, remote in hand, and he says “So what channel do you want to watch?”

Of course, being king of the remote is a fairly common theme. How about the one that starts with “Honey, I hope you know that all of your hard work has not gone unnoticed.” Inside, it says “I’ve been watching you from the couch during the commercials. Love you.” Again, hilarious. Valentines day cards demonstrate the epitome of the ‘guy as idiot’ theme that’s ubiquitous in advertising. I still can’t eat a dill pickle without recalling those radio ads where guy sounds like he’s about to wet his pants because he can’t find his precious snack in the cupboard. A calm, reassuring voice (must be his wife) tells the hapless dweeb the Strub’s are in the fridge.

On reflection, maybe all of these cards portraying husbands as dolts aren’t such a bad thing. After all, they set the bar pretty low. And surely most guys can hurdle over such diminished expectations just by flushing the toilet or oiling a sticky hinge.

But the remote? Seriously, don’t touch it ladies. Remember, we’re not perfect.

Pantheon     |      John Ecker

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Alomar in the Hall!

Roberto Alomar’s election to the Baseball Hall of Fame is great news.  He came so close last year in his first year of eligibility when he fell just short with 73.7% of the vote.

This year, by earning 90% of the vote, Alomar will join Pat Gillick, his General Manager from the Blue Jays’ glory years, which included back-to-back World Series wins in 1992 and 1993.  Let’s hope that Tom Cheek wins the Ford Frick Award and is the next Jay to get the call.

It’s terrific that these two men will be added to the hall’s pantheon of great people associated with the game.  But the Hall also needs more and better ‘artifacts’ related to the Blue Jays, their greatest players and their greatest moments.

The Hall of Fame mostly relies on donations from players and fans for its extensive inventory of icons related to the great game and its greatest moments.  Cooperstown is a treasure trove of baseball memorabilia and iconic artifacts. Visitors can see the autographed bat and ball from Babe Ruth’s 60th home run in his 1927 season.  His called shot’ bat is also on display.  The ball and bat from Ted Williams’s 500th homerun is enshrined in the Hall.  Joe Jackson’s glove, from when he played for the Chicago White Sox and patrolled left field is also something to see—it’s simple and tiny by today’s standards.  There’s even a Honus Wagner baseball card.

 The Hall of Fame display for the Jays’ back-to-back wins in 1992 and 1993 contains several items related to the team.  Behind the glass is a pair of shoes worn by Paul Molitor.  There are game jerseys from John Olerud and Joe Carter.  There is a Joe Carter bat, and a Roberto Alomar jersey.   I suppose it’s a respectable collection, but not exactly one that features truly iconic items from those magical post-seasons.  

What would I like to see?  How about a line-up card listing the legendary WAMCO batting order that so terrorized pitching?   How about a bag from that final ’93 game to link Carter’s game winning home-run to Tom Cheek’s now famous call of “Touch ’em all, Joe! You’ll never hit a bigger home run in your life!” Or, how about “the” Joe Carter bat from that same play? Or the helmet he lost because of all his jumping around as he round the bases? Or, how about Roberto Alomar’s ball and/or bat used to hit that 9th inning home run off of Dennis Eckersley in game 4 of the ’92 AL championship series?  Alomar’s high line-drive dramatically shifted the momentum of the series and finally knocked Oakland down to size.  A Roberto Alomar glove, perhaps?  Or, how about the bag and some bloodied dirt from Todd Stottlemyre’s exhuberant face first slide into the third base in game 4 in the 1993 World Series?  Okay, maybe that’s going too far, but you get my drift.

The Hall also features ‘lockers’ for all of the major league teams in a large room set up to look like a locker-room.  Team ‘stuff’ is located behind plexiglass in mock lockers.  The Jays locker is the sparsest of all 30 teams.  When I last visited the Hall, the locker featured a Tony Fernandez bat, used in 1999 when he had his .328 batting average.  There was a Carlos Delgado jersey worn in 2004– of course the sign even helpfully notes it was his last year with the Jays.  Also in the display was a Frank Thomas jersey celebrating his 500th career home run on June 28, 2007 when was with the Jays for  a little more than a season before his acrimonious departure.  Rounding out the display was  Charlie O’Brien’s hockey style catcher’s helmet.  Add in a couple of stock photos of Vernon Wells and Roy Halladay and that’s the whole locker.  Unfortunately, the Jays locker is also tucked into a corner at the farthest corner of the room and this only adds to the overall impression.

I find myself thinking about the slim collection in that Cooperstown locker almost every day I walk into my garage at home.   My son Chad and I are die-hard Jays fans and we have a 3 ft. by 5 ft. display case featuring our own collection of Jays memorabilia.  Sure, a lot of the stuff is game day give-aways, but all of it connects us to memories  of days at the park.  We have bobble-heads of Roy Halladay, Lyle Overbay, Cito Gaston, Eric Hinskie and John Macdonald.  We have assorted mugs, pins, and pennants in celebration of World Series wins.  There is even a creepy looking Carlos Delgado rubber duck.  There’s a Blue Jay Troll.  There are also some tiny logo’d tiny running shoes, Jays hats and shirts, all worn by Chad when he was a young boy. 

But we also have what I think is some pretty cool stuff.  There’s a Joe Carter ball, signed by Joe and given to then 4 year old Chad. We have a Roy Halladay autographed All-Star ball from 2003, his first Cy Young season. We also have a Halladay autographed rookie card.  We have gameday tickets and a souvenir shirt given to fans who attended the October 2, 1991 game when the Jays became the first team to exceed 4 million fans in one season.  José Bautista gave Chad a signed ball when he was sitting on home run #40 on his way to a Jays season record of 54.  There are other balls signed by Jays players including John Macdonald, Lyle Overbay, Jason Frasor and Jesse Carlson.  There’s even a Vernon Wells home run ball that Chad caught above the Jays’ bullpen in 2008.

The Hall of Fame in Cooperstown relies on players, teams and fans to provide significant items related to the game.  Judging from what’s on display there now, The Blue Jays are very poorly represented when compared to other teams.  This is a big year for the Jays with Alomar being elected along with Pat Gillick.  And let’s hope that Tom Cheek is finally recognized as the great broadcaster he was, with a Ford Frick award this next year.

So, what would you want to see in either the Jays World Series display or their ‘locker’ at Cooperstown?  What are the iconic items that should be there to celebrate great moments or players in Jays history?  Do you have an item that should be in the hall?  Do you know some former Jays players who might be persuaded to donate some iconic bling to the Hall?  If you do have something that deserves to be in the Hall, click here for information and guidelines: Hall of Fame

As for me, I’ll be keeping the Delgado rubber duck and the Blue Jay Troll doll as part of our permanent collection. These items will be rare…. someday.

John Ecker    |    Pantheon

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