Sunday, July 25, 2010

Signs of the Times

Took a drive across mid-America last week.

Along the way were signs of the times.

Billboards, to be exact. And other signs.

West of St. Louis on old-Route-66-cum-Interstate 44, a business has posted a billboard against current government policies. Elsewhere on the same highway: “Missouri loves Arizona (Mexico, too).”

One Midwestern billboard proclaims a quote from John Adams: “Liberty once lost, is lost forever.”

An upper middle class Michigan neighborhood has political-style yard signs proclaiming “Taxed Enough Already.”

What really got my attention were black-on-white wooden signs in Illinois cornfields along the interstate in the manner of the old Burma-Shave jingles that were popular from the 1920s to the ‘60s. For those too young to remember, Burma-Shave advertised around the country on sets of a half dozen red-on-white signs about a foot high and a yard wide. Each sign contained part of a rhyme with the last sign having the Burma-Shave logo. As seen below, some series of signs advertised the product, others functioned as kinds of public service announcements:

Our fortune
Is your
Shaven face
It's our best
Advertising space


Dim your lights
Behind a car
Let folks see
How bright
YOU are

Regarding the political jingles in Illinois, I can’t recall what any of them said. They came up too quickly to write down. Also, they were difficult to read at 70 miles per hour, which is exactly the reason Burma-Shave abandoned its roadside advertising campaign as the interstates spread during the ‘60s. However, I was able to make out the last sign in the series: “” and upon entering that URL into my computer I was directed to a site entitled “Billboards for America.”

There I found that a group of small business people began an organization that is gradually buying billboards to make claims against growing government encroachment. Now they have billboards in eleven states and are collecting donations for more.

Their web site ( gives samples of their billboard messages:

“Liberal Plan: They Spend. We Pay. Children Owe.”

“The Bigger the Government, the Smaller the Citizen.”

And my favorites, two billboards designed to look like electric-lit road work signs:




It was interesting last week to drive across the county’s heartland, where people tend not be flamboyant and are inclined to mind their own business.

But they’re restless.

Something is stirring.

You can see the signs.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

On the Moon.

I walked out of the building, absent-mindedly looked toward the southwestern sky and it just so happened that my eyes looked upon the moon.

The moon!

It had been on my mind all day in an entirely new way, and yet here it was in its familiar role, benignly gazing down on the summer Earth below.

It was July 20, 1969. And there were men on that moon. And I, along with millions of others, had been with them.

I had spent that Sunday working as an announcer at a suburban Chicago radio station. But was anyone listening? Everyone was glued to television watching as astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed and then walked on the lunar surface.

TVs were not all that portable in those days, but I had brought a fairly small black-and-white set into the radio station control room and placed it behind me on a chair, as I recall. I had announcements to make throughout the afternoon and records or taped programs to play, but every chance I got I turned around to watch Walter Cronkite and the unfolding lunar drama.

Earlier in the ‘60s President Kennedy had challenged us to put men on the moon by decade’s end. That was a tall order, considering that just a few years before he issued his challenge, U. S. rockets were blowing up on a regular basis. But today it was happening. Men on the moon. And just five months before the new decade.

What a Sunday! There was the thrilling descent from the command module, leaving astronaut Mike Collins to continue on lonely orbits to the far side of the moon. And then there was that landing. We listened as pilot Armstrong professionally read off altitude and descent and drift rates. He was as calm as if he was monitoring a residential gas meter. Men on the moon! Will they make it? Is this for real? Armstrong droning numbers. Controllers discussing a computer alarm. What does it mean? No change – still going down, down, down. To the moon.

More data from Armstrong. Just feet off the surface. Unbelievable!



A pause.

“Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.”


A Cape Canaveral guy tells Armstrong everyone has been turning blue. Cronkite is all grins. Men on the moon. And I’m right there with them.

A few hours go by. I still have a radio station to run. I’m missing cues, making mistakes, generally doing a lousy job. But who cares? There are men on the moon, and we’re all there with them.

Then: walking on the surface.

The remote TV camera shows Armstrong’s bulky space-suited silhouette clumsily backing down the ladder. Is this really happening? Am I really seeing this? He steps to the surface.

The first historic words from the moon.

Are a blooper.

“That’s one small step for man,” says Armstrong, “One giant leap for mankind.” That’s not right: it was supposed to “be one small step for a man…” Too late. Moon or not, in live TV you don’t get a second take.

And who cares? There’s a man on the moon.

That night, leaving work, getting into my car, I’m overwhelmed by just the sight of the moon. I was just there today. Vicariously, to be sure. But I was there. With the men on the moon.

Driving home, I’m listening to the radio and an announcer misses a station break.

I know why.

He’s on the moon.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

A Trip to America

I got depressed Saturday morning.

Reading some online news items regarding the state of our country got me down. I tried to will it away, but it nagged at me.

I’m glad, however, that I had something scheduled for the day that was guaranteed to chase the blues away.

A trip to America.

Elkins, Arkansas, to be exact.

The Cutest Community Organizer to whom I am married and I went to the Fourth on the River parade in Elkins. (Clever: have your Fourth of July celebrations on July 10th. Beats competing with everyone else). We went to help campaign for Fayetteville resident Charlie Collins in his bid for the Arkansas House of Representatives.

Wasn’t much for us to do: ride in the back of pickup truck in the parade and throw candy and hold signs.

But what a grand morning it was! When’s the last time you’ve been to an old-fashioned small town parade?

It’s America at the roots.

Had you gone, look what you would have gotten: antique cars (check out the white ’57 Thunderbird), a lone rider on a horse carrying an American Flag, the MIA-POW Honor Guard bikers, police cars, fire trucks (lots of fire trucks – does everyone in Elkins have a fire truck in their driveway?). Along the parade route: men in overalls, pretty girls, children diving for thrown candy, young couples, old couples, a decaying old barn with an old-fashioned windmill behind it, new houses, old houses, the peacefulness of the rural Ozarks.

The green hills, green grass, green trees – green, green, green (lots of rain lately), and the bright blue skies and big puffy clouds.

People are friendly. Everyone waves at passing parade vehicles. “Vote for Charlie” the woman standing next to me on the truck yells. “Vote for Charlie Collins.” People wave and smile back. “I’ll think about it,” replies one guy.

It’s a hot, humid day, but people keep cool by putting their lawn chairs under big trees. For us, there’s a perfect temperature riding the truck going 10-15 miles per hour (it’s a three-mile-long parade, all motorized on the main highway through the Elkins area, so it travels pretty fast). One woman has an umbrella as a parasol that’s shaped like a baseball cap with markings for the University of Arkansas Razorbacks.

It’s a great, old-fashioned, Fourth of July parade. On July 10th.

And we’re having a great time.

The economy is crashing (witness empty stores in the Elkins area), the country is fighting two wars, the federal government is corrupt, incompetent or worse, and there is a palpable fear spreading around the nation.

It’s enough to get you depressed.

But don’t be.

Things are bright in America.

The America of Elkins, Arkansas, U. S. A.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Reflections on Thirty-eight Years of Marriage.


............................................................................................................................................................................................................In a store last week to buy a gift for the Cutest Community Organizer to Whom I Am Married. Small talk with two women working in the store:

Occasion? Anniversary.

How long? Thirty-eight years.

Wow. What’s the secret to your success?

I pause. How do you describe it all in thirty seconds?

“Put God first,” I reply. One woman nods. “Put Him first, then comes your spouse – put them before you.” I don’t take the time to go into all the detail of how I came to Christ about a week and a half after Barbra and I were married. Or how four years later, Barbra came to know Christ. Both of us raised in church – she Baptist, me Catholic – yet neither of us with a real relationship with God through Christ until each of us was about 24. I doubt if we would still be together were it not for that. After all, how can two know-it-alls live together without some Jesus-injected humility?

“Then practice courtesy with each other,” I said. “If we bump into each other in the hall, say ‘Excuse me;’ say ‘please,’ and ‘thank you.’ Don’t allow the familiarity of life together to let common courtesy go away. Another thing we do: if one of us is out and the other is home working on something and sloppy and grubby, we try to get dressed up somewhat before the other gets home. Can’t always do it, but we try. It’s just a courtesy.”

That’s what I told them. But there’s more that I didn’t think to say. I didn’t say that marriage is a commitment. That’s COMMITMENT. Some days the romance is gone: bills to pay, kids to raise, cars to fix, errands to run. Truth be told, there have been times that we haven’t always liked each other – at least the emotional spark has not been there. But the commitment remains. When you promise before God and man that you will stay together until death do you apart, sometimes that commitment is the only thing making it all go.

Ultimately, that’s what love is, is it not? A commitment. A decision.

Ah, but when the commitment gets you get past the problems-boredom-hurt feelings-anger-tedium-insensitivities-or whatever crisis it is, it’s great to fall in love all over again.

And as time goes on, it all gets better.

That’s why I admire people who have been happily married fifty, sixty years. Where the newlyweds are bright flickering flames, the long-married couples are the deep glow of long-burning coals.

Where young couples are poetry, dance, and song, for the old ones sometimes bad hearing and creaking joints drown out the party.

But through decades of caring for one another, putting each other first, being true to their commitments, it’s the old ones who are the really hot lovers.

I’m looking forward to that.

Happy anniversary, Barbra.