Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Gridlock - Highways I'd Rather Bypass

     Like most people, I enjoy driving a car. I've never been interested in having the fastest or shiniest or most expensive. My main concern is that it can get me from point A to point B without incident or a breakdown.
     But, I have to say when driving, there are several highways I could do without on my journeys around the countryside. They are I-95 north through New York City, I-495 or the Beltway around Washington, D.C. and I-76 the darling of GRIDLOCK, The Schuylkill Expressway into Philadelphia.

     When I see the red lights on the back of cars and the slowdown begins, I start to see red and get aggravated. There is no place to go. All you can do is stay in line with all the other lemmings pumping the gas pedal, tapping the brake. Repeat. I try to stay patient but that isn't one of my best attributes.
     We are all in it together as the outdated infrastructure and all the small feeders roads dump motorists onto the backed up highways. Vehicles clogging the lanes come to a dead stop what I like to call a CARonary vehicular attack. And then a lane jumper dodges left, cuts right and heads down the shoulder of the road.
     AHHHHHH! No road rage just frustration watching all of this. When we drove home from Connecticut on our last summer trip, it was a breeze until several miles from the George Washington Bridge in New York City. It took us over an hour and change to make it through. Good thing for Garmin keeping me on the straight and narrow and do I mean narrow as cars squeezed me from all angles but I remained on course. Hit the gas, jam on the brake hold my breath. Repeat.
    And my wife Deb and I are traveling off peak hours. I can't imagine what that road is like on a Friday at five p.m. when commuters and city dwellers are trying to get off the island for the weekend.
I like New York City but unfortunately so do millions of others and if I want to travel I have to play the game.
     Our family has preferred to travel south to enjoy the beach. We've been to Florida on the gulf and east coast, a couple times to the Outer Banks, but mostly Myrtle Beach, S.C.  I always try to talk myself into the fact that the drive will be better this time. I am a dreamer. We have finally given up driving during the daylight hours and instead leave shortly after midnight. On average it takes ten hours to get there, but in the event of a traffic backup hours can add on. It's not a problem driving down as everyone is excited to get on the road anticipating a great week ahead.
     But when you're dragging after playing hard for seven days, and we are forced to leave our rental unit in the morning with the thousands of others at the same time, the drive home can be a nag. Traveling is fine out of Myrtle and I'm in good spirits after a nice holiday with family, but in the back of my mind I know what is waiting for us when we get north of Quantico, Virginia. The backup is for miles and and miles on a Saturday nearing the point where Route 95 and the Beltway merge.
     The engineers and work crews have designed and built, redesigned, dug up and rebuilt the same roadway it seems like every summer. The road go from four lanes down to one and the jockeying for position in this mess is brutal even though no one gets very far. It's time to sit back take a deep breath, sigh and rub my aching head.

     My least favorite drive is the Schuylkill Expressway. From the point where Route 422 connects with Route 202 and then into I-76, it's one long backed up pile of cars and trucks slowly heading to the city. And what I don't get is that at times I'm doing 55 mph and in a blink of an eye I'm at a dead stop. Speed up slow down. Repeat. With only two lanes, every on and off ramp causes delays.
     So to balance the nasty roads that I have to navigate I drive over many country lanes. Deb and I will head out to Lancaster and travel some scenic backroads where the farmland goes on for miles. Take it easy, cruise along and relax. Enjoy the roads and the driving. Stop at some of the road side vegetable stands and eat lunch at a
barbecue joint. And then it happens, even here in God's country.
     HEY, What the heck is that big tractor doing driving only five miles per hour in front of me. You can't go anywhere not even when you've got nowhere to go.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Understanding The Meaning of a Bumper Sticker and The Vietnam War

    In the '60s during the height of the U.S. troop escalation in the Vietnam War, my father placed a big bumper sticker on the front storm door of our Pottstown home with the following words - I SUPPORT THE TROOPS IN VIETNAM.
     It didn't say he supported the war or the politicians whose bidding these drafted soldiers were sent to do. It simply stated he supported the troops. My father was ahead of his time in this way. Many people around the country blamed these men and women for the battle they were told to fight. But the servicemen performed their patriotic duty and came home to a boiling society that wouldn't allow them to return with the dignity they deserved.
     My father was a career soldier who fought in World War II and Korea. He was in the Army reserves at the end of his last year when the fight in Vietnam was raging.  One of my older cousins and a U.S. Marine told me that my Master Sergeant dad couldn't lead any more young men off to war. So he retired in 1967. He served more than two decades and within a year he died at the age of forty-six.
     I looked at that sticker every day when I walked into our north end home wondering what it meant. And I'd think of the war protestors on college campuses trying to put the pieces together. How does my dad support these guys when everyone else seems to be at each others throat.
     Several of my friends had older brothers who went off to Southeast Asia. I remember talking to them and how down they were when the one they looked up to had to leave home with a duffle bag hanging from their shoulder. They were proud and afraid at the same time. I never saw a protest in Pottstown as a kid, there may have been one but people in this blue collar area were busy making a living at one of the many factories in town trying to pay the bills more than to make a political statement. I'm sure there was talk and fear but people had to keep on working.
     After the death of my father I'd accompany my mother to Valley Forge Army Hospital in Phoenixville on a weekly basis. At times my brother Gary and sister Lisa would be along. I saw the wounded suffering from amputations and other serious injuries.
     When you are born into a culture as an army brat, you are part of a family that extended far past your own. I could walk down the halls of the army hospital alone, without fear. These hurt men waiting in the halls to see a doctor would look up at me a twelve years old and say a couple words and give me a smile. And I'd answer them back as best as a preteen could. I never witnessed the worst of those who suffered but watched some who were recovering hobble by on crutches or sitting in wheelchairs wearing those baby blue colored pajamas.
     We'd go into the commissary and my mom would buy groceries or other goods at the Post Exchange. There were always soldiers around us. We went as a family to see the doctors for inoculations or dental checkups. I spent many days at the post in my youth. I liked being there and around those heroes.
     Every visit before heading home, I'd ask my mom to drive over to the landing pad to watch the military helicopters bringing in the wounded. They were transferred to a hospital truck with a big red cross painted on the side. My mom never hid this from me. It was part of the real world growing up in a military family.
     Seeing this would get to my mom, but it wouldn't stop her from taking me there. We'd sit in the car quietly together and took it all in. I'm not sure how I felt watching the injured carefully tended to by other soldiers and nurses. But I now understood the meaning of the sticker on the door.
      The Vietnam veterans weren't welcomed home after their days of combat were over. It took years for that to happen. The first time I photographed Vietnam vets at home was in Reading, Pa. 25 years ago this month when thousands lined the streets for a welcome home parade and then dedicated a new memorial in a city park.
      I've had the honor of accompanying them to The Wall in Washington, D.C. The bus was silent on the way, veterans deep in thought. There were hugs and tears shed and flowers placed on graves. But it seemed like a healing process that day as the ride home was filled with loud chatter and laughter.
     The dedication of the statue and memorial in Pottstown's Memorial Park was a great event back in 1989. I shot one of my favorite photos of an Airborne Ranger who had fought in Vietnam shaking the hand of the soldier statue. Sadly this veteran passed away last month. I knew him since I was a boy growing up in the same neighborhood.
      They came home changed men forever, some were okay and got back to work while others continue to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. I've gotten to know the local veterans from all wars and have the privilege of telling their stories working for The Mercury.
     This past week was the latest welcome home held in Pottstown with veterans opening up about their daily lives fighting in Vietnam. Warriors Watch Riders motorcyclists made their way down High Street to show their respect along with the speeches, hand shakes and thanks to the men. It was a long time coming for some of these guys.
     I will continue to cover the services and homecoming for veterans past and future because they deserve our thanks knowing we are behind them no matter our personal feelings. And I will support the troops wherever they go.
     Because that is what I have learned after looking at a bumper sticker placed on a door forty-five years ago.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Canning Fresh Vegetables by a Kid Who'd Rather Eat a Hot Dog

     Canning vegetables was an annual ritual for my wife Deb and me every fall buying boxes of tomatoes, corn and other vegetables at a good price.  And doing the work yourself gave you the satisfaction that on a cold winter day, cracking open one of the mason jars would give you a taste of all the fresh vegetables from summer. We haven't canned for a dozen years.
     For me eating fresh vegetables as a kid was an acquired taste. I grew up an army brat and everything came in a can from the Army post commissary. My mom made her own soups and was a great cook baking fresh pies weekly, but for some reason we ate vegetables out of a can. Annually we grew a couple of stringy tomato plants in the back yard but I got accustomed to the bland taste of store bought canned goods. And besides like most kids, I would have rather just eaten another hot dog than vegetables.
     When I met Deb, her late father was a gardener or should I say more like a farmer. He had a huge garden behind their Stowe home and was constantly pulling weeds or turning the soil planting and replanting. And at harvest time I was on hand at dinner to try the fresh veggies.
     I can eat a majority of anything fresh out of a garden but, I still can't eat fresh green beans. I look at Deb, smile and say these taste way to green! Funny, but the taste is still to strong to like. I can eat green beans pickled in a jar or cooked in with a ham and cabbage but I won't eat them unless they are boiled to death. The only vegetables I ate when I was a youngster was corn, waxed beans, apple sauce (yes I considered that a vegetable) and potatoes.
Deb working in her kitchen.
     With Deb's family, I was introduced to everything home grown from carrots, radishes, beans, cauliflower and broccoli, cabbage and tomatoes of all varieties. Peppers from mild to the set your tongue on fire types. Cucumbers, lettuce, squash, rhubarb, peas (no I won't eat these either) and kohlrabi. I looked at that green little thing and said to myself what the hell is a kohlrabi. I found out its a bit like a turnip. I never, ever in my life ate a turnip especially one called a kohlrabi. But when my father in law started mixing in all those leftover vegetables at the end of the season to make chicken soup on a cold fall day, I munched down those kohlrabi's along with all the other stuff. He made the best soup, just ask my daughters who still talk about how they miss not having a big bowl this time of the year.
     Deb's brother Joe also has a garden and cans some of the best vegetable concoctions I've ever tried. We were over recently and he had us try some home canned spicy hot asparagus and the taste was amazing. If I don't like something I'm not eating it to be polite. I could have eaten an entire jar and I'm not a big fresh asparagus eater. That ranks up their with the green beans. But pickled in a brine and adding in a couple of hot peppers gives it a flavor I go for. We ended up leaving with jars of some of his latest canned goods.
     And that got us thinking why not put up some jars for the coming winter. Yes it's easier to buy food at the grocery store, no mess, no time involved.  But being a vegetable convert, I have seen the light of eating home grown veggies, we decided to dust off the Victorio strainer, washed and sterilized our boxes of old mason jars and got to work.
     The first two projects were to make tomato sauce and the other was to make a salsa. I drove to several local farm stores and road side vegetable stands and bought a couple of big boxes of Roma variety tomatoes along with a bunch of onions, peppers and other vegetables requested by my wife.
     We skinned the tomatoes cut up the vegetables in large pieces. From here Deb took over to make her salsa. She has a processor that pulses them into small little pieces in seconds. It seemed to take a lot longer when we cut everything up by hand years ago. What a time and labor saver. From there we ladled the contents into a pint jars, sealed them up and boiled the jars in a hot water bath to kill off any remaining bacteria.  It was a lot of work to get fifteen pint jars of salsa. We chilled one down and tried it later that night, and I'm not exaggerating, it was the best salsa I ever had. Our kids agree as we are down to less than ten jars left and we haven't had a frost yet.  A second batch is schedule though I'm not sure we will be able to duplicate the taste. It had to be beginners luck.
     Next, we washed and cut up the remaining tomatoes in quarters and I ran them through the strainer to separate the juice and pulp from the skin and seeds. This hand operated little marvel doesn't miss a drop which is then mixed with spices and boiled down.
 I bought 75 ears of corn at another stand so that Deb could make a picked corn relish.  First we husk the ears, then blanch them. After the ears cools for a minute I take a sharp knife and cut the kernels from the cob.  By the time I get finished two large bowls are filled with corn. Deb mixes in her spices, vinegar and other secret herbs from her recipe and we again fill several dozen jars.  We will have enough to last a year. What was left over we froze and will be able to use over the winter. This was pretty cost effective and it was definitely cheaper to make than to buy in the store.
     We are looking to buy a bunch of vegetables for the next canning. Deb wants to make chow chow. I call this the hodge podge of home canned goods. Whatever is left after the smoke clears in the kitchen and wasn't used is stuffed together in a jar. So we will be hunting down the last of the fresh vegetables at the end of a good season.     But, I will tell you this, there won't be any kohlrabi added. I'm drawing the vegetable eating line.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Back to the Wooden Bat Game of Baseball

     There is a distinct crack from a wooden baseball bat when the ball is smacked on the sweet spot. And when you don't make good contact you hear a splat and the ball doesn't travel very far.  When using a metal bat and hit it good you'll hear a ping, and when you don't you still hear a ping.
      Baseball is going back to the days of the wooden bat after years of kids swinging the metal. The metal bats give a routine hit more distance and the possibilities of of a ball rolling to the fence. With wood, outfielders can challenge the hitters by playing in closer to the infield.
     There are arguments for both sides, some say using metal makes for a more offensive and action packed game. Others like the fact that teams can play small ball with wood, bunt and hit and run manufacturing runs instead of just hoping someone will hit a pop that will carry out of the park.
     I'm all for the return to wooden bat game. Kids will get more accustomed to it with time. Instead of one base at a time mentality, coaches take more chances and I feel that the games are just as exciting.
     And what's wrong with leveling the playing field and having a good old fashioned pitchers duel. Bats will splinter and break and that can be a danger but it's also a problem with balls whizzing by the mound clanging off the metal ones.
     I feel Pennsylvania is on the right track and school districts still using metal bats need to get on board. They can argue it's costly to keep replacing broken wooden bats and school budgets are already tight. But, when's the last time a kid arrived at a game without carrying his own bat bag. So that argument is a bit weak.
     Even when I played decades ago, I had my own bat that I used in all of my games. If I broke it, then I'd use one the team supplied until I got back to Bechtel's Sports for new one.
     There was a couple things a baby boomer kid had on a bike when he pedaled off for the day's adventures. One was a baseball glove looped over the handlebars, also a baseball jammed into the bike frame. If you had a pickup game planned with the many other kids running around the neighborhood you brought
your wooden bat and held it across the bars as you steered.
     I'm still waiting to see a homer off of a wooden bat this summer and with several state tournaments coming up I'm sure someone will hit one out of the park. Abner would be happy to see the game returning to it's roots.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Travel - Touring Connecticut and Sneaking into Vermont

     After finishing up my Saturday work shift, my wife Deb and I headed to Guilford, Connecticut for a week of day trips and sightseeing with longtime friends Anne and Ted who had a loose itinerary set up for daily adventures.
A view of the architecture at Yale University
     It's a four-hour plus ride on Route 78 through the Lehigh Valley onto Route 95 and over the George Washington Bridge in New York. Heading to Connecticut it was white knuckle driving and quick lane changes to stay on course. I sneak a quick peak at the horizon of the Manhattan skyscrapers while keeping one eye on the snaking traffic.
     Crossing the state line into Connecticut, Deb dials up Anne and we meet at Wilson's Holy Smoke Barbecue, a joint my wife picked out after watching her favorite food shows. We keep a list of restaurants and diners to visit on upcoming trips and this was a nice start munching on a pork barbecue sandwich with collards, baked beans and cornbread.  Deb had the perfect words after dining stating, "The food was yummy!" After dinner it was a short thirty minute ride to their home which is near the Long Island Sound.
Pepe's Pizza
     On Sunday afternoon we stopped at Chamard Winery and shared a bottle of Chardonnay. Later we made our way to New Haven for a walk on the grounds of Yale University and snapped some shots of their historic buildings. I've grown to appreciate the value of taking the time to look at architecture and famous places during our travels.
      Dining in spots also takes on a new meaning looking for family run businesses with a unique style so we dropped in at The Original Pepe's Pizza in the town's Italian district. The pizzeria was opened in 1928 and still serves up delicious pies from their coal fired brick oven. We waited in line outside the popular pizzeria along with other hungry guests before a booth opened up. It was worth the wait.
   The following day we went sailing on the Long Island Sound with Ted's neighbor. This was new to me as I've only been on the sea in power boats and cruise ships. I was put to work by Captain Fred and he had me hoist the main sail and jib and tie them off.
Captain Fred and 1st mate Ted prepare to sail
He also gave me a turn manning the tiller and it took a while to keep the boat on the correct heading and the sails filled with air. We sailed out on the sound 3.5 miles and circled Faulker Island lighthouse and back to the docks. The two men know the water and are able and knowledgable sailors. They sat relaxed giving me instructions as I took control of the boat. The winds were light so this landlubber wasn't concerned about tipping the boat and dunking us into the water but it does take some time to get a feel for controlling the boat.
    We were up early the next morning and drove to Hartford with our main stop at the home of Samuel Clemens, better known as Mark Twain. I enjoy reading his novels and got a kick out of touring the family home and seeing his upstairs area where he wrote at his desk, smoked cigars, took a nip of the spirits and shot pool with friends. We stopped at the book store inside the welcome center
The Mark Twain house
which is on the grounds and is larger than the home. Deb and I bought a book and I am saving mine for reading on cold winters nights later this year. The center has some of his catchy phrases cast in the cement walls.  There is a short movie of his life and some of his memorabilia displayed in the building.        
Deb's in the fast lane on the alpine slide in Vermont 
     From there we headed north. I took the wheel and drove through Massachusetts for a hour until we crossed the border into Vermont.  The state was the destination as we really didn't have a plan in
mind. The previous day while talking I stated, that while Deb and I have been to every state in the east from Maine to Florida, we never set foot in Vermont. To date,  I have been to thirty four states in the union. But whenever I would look at a map of the United States, I'd stare at Vermont, nagged that I hadn't made it there.
     I would have been content to stop the car, stick my toe on
the ground and drive back, but we decided to head to Bromley Ski Resort that had zip lining, an alpine slide and other summertime activities. The clouds were forming and a
View of Long Island Sound 
thunderstorm was nearby. The owner told us to head up the mountain on the chairlift and kindly offered for us to pay when we got back so we could at least get one run on the zip line. But when we got to the top workers told us we'd have to do the alpine slide with the fast approaching storm.
Gillette Castle
     Deb and I had ridden on the alpine slide at Camelback Ski Resort until they dismantled the run years ago. The rider sits in a sled with nylon runners and speeds downhill on a concrete or fiberglass bobsled track. It's lots of fun and I've crashed a number of times racing Deb in the lane next to me. I'm a little older these day but still zipped down the lane at a swift pace but did pull back on the brake at times to keep from getting out of control. We could only make one run as heavy rain wiped out the rest of the afternoon. On the return trip we stopped at a country store and bought the obligatory bottle of maple syrup, cookies and other snacks. Another state checked off of my list.
     The rest of the week we rode around Connecticut and toured a number of locations including Gillette Castle, the home of Broadway stage actor and writer William
Drawbridge opening in Mystic, Connecticut
Gillette. His castle sits on a hillside with a breathtaking view of the Connecticut River. Gillette was famous for his portrayal of Sherlock Holmes with the play opening in 1899. We took the time to read a number of Gillette's personal letters that are set under glass for visitors to see and we also looked over the unique interior decorations of the home.
      A side trip to Mystic, Conn. had us walking around the nostalgic town. Large sailboats passed by the open drawbridge on the Mystic River at the main street in town.  For lunch we chose Mystic Pizza, the restaurant where the Hollywood movie "Mystic Pizza" starring Julia Roberts was filmed.
      It was a fun-filled week and we boarded the Sea Mist for a boat tour of the Thimble Islands. The captain navigated the waterway where multimillion dollar homes are neatly built onto the small islands dotting the cove.
     We put in close to six hundred miles that week driving over some of the lesser traveled forest covered mountain roads and also along speedy interstates.  I prefer the two lane roads where I can turn my head on occasion to view the scenery without my co-pilot Deb offering her driving instructions to me about watching the road. I can't wait for the next time we hit the trail for another countrywide adventure.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Fly Fishing - I've Never Had A Hobby Until Now

     Yes sports fans, I recently took up the art of fly fishing.
The first thing I learned is that there is a lot to learn. And I am waist deep getting accustomed to the technique of casting and retrieving line, talking the jargon and figuring out what the heck is needed to be tied onto the end of a tip it ( new term for me ) to catch a fish.
Strick's Pix tries his luck.
     The main reason for the new hobby is an idea for my brother Gary and I to travel to West Yellowstone for an outdoors adventure together. We've never done anything like this and while I'm in still able, the time seems right for some hiking, sightseeing and fishing. And out west it's mostly fly fishing in the streams and rivers. This gives me a reason to try something new and I don't want to feel like a tourist when I get into the water.
     I am no purist and the journey will be long. Friends and family who fly fish give me ample opportunities to pick their brains as I launch question after question in their direction. I'm also watching videos, reading blogs and stories and books about line tying and what type of bug, nymph, wet fly, streamer or dry fly may help in the effort for a successful day on the creek. And it will take practice. Lots of practice.
     I've bought a number of flies with the recommendation of knowledgable sportsmen at several fly fishing businesses. Also bought a four piece rod and reel set prefect to start.
     Any day out will be a great day regardless of whether or not I've figured out what fish are biting on. So far the best I can say is that I'm a work in progress. One thing I need work on is tying a fly to the line.  I have hands of stone, the dexterity is lacking and it takes a while to get a proper knot tied with these shaky mitts. The improved clinch knot is fairly easy, but learning the surgeons, albright and nail knots will take practice.
     When winter rolls around and I'm not in the stream as much, I will sit down and perfect these knots. I'm too anxious now with the nice weather not to run down to the stream and drift a line in the water.
Small mouth
      I've been out to the creek a number of times and casting as close to a spot that I pick out. Sometimes good other times ugly, but for the most part I am getting the line where I want. I haven't ventured into any trout stocked waters yet, preferring to start in areas where with open spaces so not to snag brush losing those two dollar lures with a single bad flip of the line. Even so some have ended up snapped off out of my reach. A sad trophy for nature dangling from a tree branch.
    I have had success getting a feel for stripping in line and enticing fish to bite and take the fly. I've caught a number of small mouth and rock bass in Manatawny Creek in an area in West Pottsgrove Township. A bunch of blue gills some nice size others small but none the less, I am catching fish.
     In one hole while nymphing I managed to catch eight rock bass knowing I must be doing something right. I wasn't only drifting line downstream and waiting for fish to bite but worked the fly to have a fish bite. I missed a number of times failing to set a hook or watched one jump out of the water and spit the hook but that's okay I'm tossing everything back. That way, there will be smarter fish waiting for me to try again.
   I'm off to a fly fishing trout area in the French Creek with brother Gary for the first time together. He has been working the streams too, looking for areas where we novices can start out. Wish me luck!

Friday, May 3, 2013

Pottstown Rumble 2013 - Misty May-Treanor Will Be Here

     It's official!  Three time Olympic gold medalist Misty May-Treanor will be in Pottstown for the annual volleyball rumble June 21-23. The Pottstown Rumble is one of the nations largest grass volleyball tournaments and is played on the Memorial Park fields. With May-Treanor attending it will give the event even more star power. Thousands from around the United States and some from other countries make Pottstown their home for the weekend.
     And I can say that I have been a part of it playing in the tournament with different partners over the years.  Volleyball was my sport and an outlet for me for over 25 years but time moves on and playing competitively has to come to an end.
     Early on I played in three different leagues per week and couldn't get enough. I wasn't playing two man beach style volleyball at the time. But twice a week I played against some very good athletes. Guys that could set and others that could drill the ball with a powerful spike.
     And that what I liked to do. Take the days frustration out on that white ball and smash the snot out of it when someone set you up with a perfect ball. Bang! And I'd get a big smile on my face. Other times I'd get roofed and the ball blocked back into my face. But that was part of the fun.
     On the third night I ran a co-ed team in the Norco league with wife Deb, other family members and friends. This was a good league but not nearly as intense but a fine way to enjoy the game with family.
     Then twenty-two years ago Ken Kaas a true volleyball lifer started the Volleyball Rumble with a bunch of friends. From the start the tournament was a big hit. I played a number of years with Ken on the six man teams, some years on the same squad other times across the net from him.
     I don't remember if I played in the very first Rumble, but got to play a number of times.  Some years I had a justified conflict as our daughter Kelli's birthday is on June 22nd. She is a married adult with kids these days and not as concerned that Deb and I don't spend the entire day with her. But back then I'd get the question, "You aren't going to play volleyball and miss my birthday are you dad?" Of course my answer was that the day was hers to do what she wanted and we would be with her. I'd sneak down early to watch a little bit but family came first.
     Other years I'd work for The Mercury and photograph the event.  I think this was harder knowing I had no family commitments and still I couldn't get on the court.  But on the years I signed up to play, I couldn't wait for the weekend to get here. Sometimes I wondered why I played. The weather would get hot into the 90s and as I got older the guys around me got younger and the court seemed to get bigger. That couldn't have been due to the fact that I was over forty. Nah! And come Monday morning I'd be scratched up from diving trying to dig balls before they'd touch the grass. My knees ached and right shoulder would be sore as I hobbled into work. But it never stopped me. I loved volleyball.
     Some years we'd get beaten badly by teams. Other years we'd go far in our tourney bracket and into the final rounds. When teamed up with my brother Gary one year, I was dragging with high temps and the sun beating down on me.  If we won our last game against our bracket opponent we'd make it into the medal round. Sweating, I told him let's just lose this and go home, but that didn't happen and we continued to play. You give it what you got and I couldn't quit no matter how I was feeling.
    The Rumble grew and grew. Kaas is like a carnival barker, but humble. He always has a new idea up his sleeve to push at the event. Early on he held a swim suit contest. One year he brought out a motorcycle stuntman to jump across the Manatawny Creek to keep drawing interest. On opening morning at the start he sends up booming fireworks to let people know what's going on. Last year they had Gary Fry owner of the Craft Ale House and also an avid volleyball player serving up the local Sly Fox Beers inside the beer tent.  And now one of the highlights for the never tiring showman will be to have an Olympic gold medalist as part of the festivities.
     But Kaas is the first one to say that he couldn't keep the tournament running without his family and close knit friends. They start setting up piles of nets and fencing during the middle of the week. Once the suns sets they don't just sit down in a chair with a cold drink. You'll see them bumping, setting and spiking getting together for pickup games on a nice evening.
     You can spot him wearing a red, white and blue rumble shirt,  running around the grounds with a walkie talkie in hand and biting down on the short stub of a stogie.
     I'm scheduled to shoot photos again this year and will look forward to seeing some of the old faces I know that keep playing the game and the younger ones that move around effortlessly from corner to corner heads better than I could have ever wanted to be.
     Let's count on some sunny skies and good weather. Keep it in the low 90s to have these guys and girls sweat a little to get that victory. Welcome to Pottstown Misty May-Treanor. You will be surprised to see how a small town can put on a big-time tournament.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Travel-The Grand Teton National Park and Jackson Hole, Wyoming

Mount Moran reflected in Jackson Lake
    Floating on the Snake River as part of a rafting trip with my wife Deb and looking up at the Grand Teton Mountains is spectacular. The two-hour float capped several days in Jackson Hole, Wyoming  and is a part of the country where I could spend months. The veteran guide navigated the swift moving current and we felt safe. He was in complete control rowing and offering bits of wisdom and watched for bald eagles for us as we floated. The eagles were gliding above the water searching for cutthroat trout to swoop down and snatch for a meal.
Strick's Pix and Deb on float trip
Bald Eagle along Snake River
     There was plenty of time to take snapshots and there wasn't any sections of white
water to contend with. As advertised it is a float trip. I'm not looking for a rip roaring ride just a calm, easy drift downstream. But it's not a river to take lightly and can be dangerous to novices with little river knowledge floating without a guide.
     I never tired of viewing the Teton range and would like to hike on more of the trails in the area. While in the Grand Teton National Park I shot photos of Mount Moran reflecting in Jackson Lake and snapped others at Jenny Lake.  I made a number of nice pictures but seeing the range up close is what keeps me going on these trips. The sky was constantly changing as clouds filled in over the craggy tops. A short time later the mountains are bathed in sunlight, set against an emerald sky.
     There were other things to do in town as we
Deb at Antler Arch
shot the required picture standing in the Jackson Hole town square beside one of the antler arches. We did some shopping and Deb found a moose charm for her bracelet. She looks for a charm from each trip we take as a memento of our travels. Then we sauntered over to the Million Dollar Saloon straddling a saddle seat bar stool for a couple beverages. It's all part of the experience.
Dinner at Bar J Chuckwagon
     That evening we had dinner at Bar J Chuckwagon. You are given a tin cup and can wet your whistle with lemonade, water and ice tea which come with your meal. With a seating capacity of 750,  the bell rings and hungry wranglers line up holding onto a tin plate as workers ladle out a variety of dinner choices along with a baked potato, baked beans and other trimmings. I had the beef bar-b-q and Deb had a rib eye steak. The ranch hands get all the diners through the line in less than 25 minutes.  The meal was very
tasty and brought a smile to Deb's face enjoying the experience.
View of The Grand Tetons
     After dinner the Bar J Wranglers entertain the crowd with western musical numbers mixing in comedy and foot stomping fun for the crowd.
It's definitely part of the trip itinerary each time I'd travel to Jackson Hole.
 And on that note there is talk with my brother Gary about a trip out to the Grand Tetons for some trout fishing in the fine streams and rivers in Wyoming and some hiking in the back country. So I'm on a mission to learn how to fly fish so I'm not such a tin horn when I get to the stream. I'll see if I can master the art form before heading West again.

Speeding in a Work Zone

     Last week troopers from Pa. State Police and Lower Pottsgrove Township officers worked together on a traffic detail for drivers to slow down on Route 422 in a work zone in Lower Pottsgrove Township.
     Motorists continue to ignore the 40 mph designation in the area, many driving through the zone above the normal highway 55 mph. I was sent on assignment to the highway construction area to record photos for the website and The Mercury to get the word for drivers to follow the designated speed reduction or be ticketed by police.
     It didn't take long for a string of cars to get pulled over. After four hours 39 citations were written. Officers will continue to monitor the area and keep it safe.
     I don't profess to always stay under the speed limit and at times will look down at the speedometer and see I'm moving along, but as I get older I'm not hurrying down the highway as much. In a construction zone I try to stay as close to the limited speed limit as I can.
     The other day I was driving in the construction zone and tried to keep my car at 40. I was more worried about cars flying up on my back watching in the rear view mirror as drivers again were ignoring the speed limit. Many buzzed by like I was standing still.
     The only way I can see to get people serious to follow the rule is to constantly run a traffic stop so that motorists get the idea that its time to lower speeds not only for the driver snaking through the barriers but also for workers on the ground and in slow moving construction vehicles.
     If that doesn't slow them down keep writing the tickets. They can probably solve the national debt with all the money drivers will pay for their lack of concern in these areas.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Spring-Ford Rams Girls are State Basketball Champs

     This was the year the Spring-Ford Rams girls basketball teams would win it all. They weren't going to be denied the title. Nothing would keep them from obtaining a state championship they thought they'd win last year. But in 2012 Spring-Ford was stopped in a state playoff game.
     Not this year. They played with reckless abandon. None of the girls were worried about how many points they scored or how long they were on the court. It was team work from day one. And it paid dividends as the season progressed with a PAC-10 and District One title.
     But it would take two hard fought games at the end of the season to be the champs. The Rams were getting their chance in the state finals by beating a tough Cardinal O'Hara team in the semi-final round.
     It was a bus ride to their destiny, a trip to Hershey and their PIAA state game against Cumberland Valley in the Giant Center. What a beautiful field house for the girls to play their final game. Bigger and better than the fine court they play their home games on.
     I can only imagine what goes through a high school seniors head walking onto a court with pressure to win knowing they won't be back for another try next year. There were the early nerves after tip off but the girls got back on track patiently working the ball around for an open shot.
I don't think Cumberland Valley was aware of the type of players they were going against. Cumberland was overwhelmed by a swarming Brittany Moore, Sammy Stipa and Sammi Haas diving on the floor to secure the basketball.  Sarah Payonk and Courtney Hinnant would tightly guard on defense under the basket. And Shelby Mueller, and Maggie Locke fought for rebounds and then put the ball back up against a trio of six footers. Coach Jeff Rinehimer and staff sent in the right instructions.
    If Cumberland swatted the ball away on a layup the Rams would dish it out past the arc and one of them would drain a three point jump shot, slowly pulling away from a very good team. The players went full blast for four quarters until the final buzzer sounded with them victorious by a score of 60-45.
     It was celebration time holding the cherished trophy. Hugs and tears, smiles and cheers.  The 2012-13 Spring-Ford Rams are the PIAA Girls AAAA State Champions, the best girls team in the history of their school, the PAC-10 and this year the state.
     They took a deep breath after it was over, able to successfully finish what they started. But if it were up to the seniors, they'd probably lace up the sneakers and do it again.

The Abandoned Luncheonette

     In 1973 Daryl Hall and John Oates released the album Abandoned Luncheonette that became a top seller. I was in the eleventh grade and remember walking through one of the stores at the Coventry Mall when I spotted the cover of the album. The hand colored artwork gave it a unique charm. I checked it out but had to put it back on the rack as I didn't have the money with me to make a purchase.
     I figured one day I'd get back to buy one not only because I like the music but because of the local connection with the Rosedale Diner and former North Coventry resident Daryl Hall. But, I never did and before you know it years had gone by. I listened to music on the radio all the time, but didn't always buy an album.
The Abandoned Luncheonette in Kenilworth
     One afternoon, while driving down Route 724 in Kenilworth I looked over at the old diner that I passed almost daily while out shooting pictures for The Mercury. The luncheonette was really starting to get rundown and overgrown with brush so I took the extra time, pulled off the road and walked over to get a better look.
     I wanted to take some photos as a keepsake. So I snapped a bunch of pictures in black and white for history sake. I figured it wouldn't be long until the diner would be hauled away as bits and pieces of wood and metal were being pulled off by fans who wanted a souvenir to remember the famous musicians.
     While looking around from the road, the owner spotted me and came over to see what I was doing. He had problems in the past with people entering the rickety structure. I assured him that all I wanted was to grab a couple of photos to keep in my archives. The photo hadn't been published in The Mercury until this year when we did a feature piece on the band and the album. I dug through a bunch of my old 11x14 inch prints and found it in the bottom of a box. I dusted it off and recopied it for publication.
     It's hard to believe that this will be the fortieth anniversary of the albums debut and I can say I'm still a fan of the duet. Even though I no longer have a turntable,  I'm going to hunt down an old copy of the album just to add to the other ones that I don't play. I should have bought the one I picked up all those years ago.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Happy Trails Sally Starr

     I kissed another part of my childhood goodbye with the passing of Philadelphia television personality Sally Starr. Thinking of her brought back some memories when I spent time on weekday afternoons in front of the black and white tv.
     Normally I would drop my books and run right out of the front door when I got home from school. But on a rainy day I would warm up the old Zenith and turn to Channel 6 for Sally Starr's Popeye Theater. I figured my mom was praying for sunshine to get my brother and me out of the house instead of us horsing around like bandits and cowboys.
Sally Starr
     We'd have our plastic pearl handled six shooters in our holsters wearing cowboy boots and acting like Roy Rogers. We'd pull the trigger on those guns and the smell from the caps would fill the room. How my mom put up with us I don't know but she did turn gray haired fairly young. Those were definitely innocent times and I'm glad I grew up in the late 50s and 60s.
     But when it was dreary out I'd listen to Sally tell stories while waiting for the Popeye cartoons she would run on her two hour show. The one eyed sailor man with pipe in mouth and bulging forearms would battle the bearded bad guy Bluto who always tried to steal his girl Olive Oyl. The story line seemed the same and they'd tussle until Popeye would mumble those words, " That's all I can stand and I can't stands no more." He'd grab a can of spinich and smash his nemesis in the mush sending him into orbit.
     Then it would be back to 'Yur Gal Sal' and another skit. She was on television from 1951 until 1972 a long run in the tv world today.
     I met Sally Starr in 1988 on an assignment to photograph her for a Mercury article. I told her how I watched the show years before and out came that smile of hers. She was very friendly making it an easy photo shoot.
     Seasoned workers in the newsroom recalled Sally Starr and other tv personalities airing on Philadelphia stations including Happy the Clown, Pixanne, Captain Noah, Gene London, Captain Kangaroo and Chief Halftown. We could use more shows like these for kids instead of the afternoon crap talk shows that are on for adults. But times have changed.
     I was a cartoon watching enthusiast as a little guy.  From Bugs Bunny and Yosemite Sam to Tom and Jerry, Saturday mornings were my favorite times until I got kicked out of the house to play outside. I have to say that I saw my share of those celluloid characters and enjoyed all of them.
    And I won't forget the words of wisdom that I learned from Popeye to keep me on an even keel. "I yam what I yam."  Happy trails Sally.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Shooting Photos on COLD Winter Days

     Why do I want my house a warm seventy-six degrees in winter and on a hot steamy summer day I want it a chilly sixty-eight. It's one of those oddities I can't figure out, but last week it has been COLD! No doubt about it winter is finally here, the ground is rock solid and overnight temperatures are in the single digits.
The snow was so light on cold day it could be cleared with a leaf blower.
     Luckily, the lingering cough and runny nose I had were finally showing signs of ending just as the arctic blast hits the area.  There is nothing worse for me than to be out shooting photos with a fever and feeling like I'm frozen to the bone.
     No getting around it, I can't hide in the office and wait for it to pass. The news of the day will have something to do with the weather and I have to cover whatever happens outdoors.
     So out I go looking for photos with my hat pulled way down over my ears, gloves on and a hooded sweatshirt adding another layer of clothing before I button up my winter coat. I feel like the character Randy in the movie Christmas Story who was so heavily bundled up for a walk to school he couldn't put his arms down.
     The first day or two is tough and I'm shivering not yet adjusted after several weeks of milder weather. But, once I'm out for several days I get used to it and not affected as much. Don't get me wrong, I don't want to stay out all afternoon. I don't know how borough workers can repair broken water mains with water soaking them. Wrangling with tools in these muddy holes and trying to bolt down collars over cracked pipes. This has got to be one of the tougher jobs when the wind blows so cold.
     When it snowed last week I could drive around any corner and find a page one photo while I looked for daily coverage of the storm. With the large snowflakes falling residents were on it right away shoveling, salting and cleaning off vehicles. But as the winter gets longer and the weather continues people tire of the snow and the cold and just stay inside. It's as if they wave a white flag and give up to Mother Nature.
     I looked on line to see if  freezing temperatures over a period of time helps kill off germs.  The answer was no as noted by various scientific folks. I still prefer a good week of these frozen days. The air seems cleaner and better to breath. And it can't hurt to freeze up the moldy, soggy ground after all the rainy days in the forties this winter.
     So I'm not going to complain as I slog around on a bitter windy day. I know it's not going to last forever. Ground Hog Day is this Saturday, so at worst ole Pux'y Phil will give us is another six weeks of bad weather. That's not so tough to take though winter does seem to last longer than summer.
     The other day I walked into The Mercury building bundled up and definitely not making a fashion statement. The workers downstairs didn't envy me for having to go outside and were content to work at their desks.
     So I reminded them laughing that when the calender changes to May with temperatures starting to climb and Spring Fever affecting every worker, that I earned my days out shooting pictures under the sun after working through all those dreary days of winter.

Friday, January 18, 2013

A Wristband Had a Strong Meaning

    Livestrong. At one time, the word molded in a plastic yellow wristband had real meaning for me. Not giving into anything. On tough days the word gave me an added sense of determination. Livestrong. Sadly, with time and admission of guilt it has lost its luster.
     Shortly after Lance Armstrong's foundation came out with the new wristbands in 2004 I got one, put it on my left wrist and never took it off. I try not to follow trends or fads. I never wear sports players jerseys or shirts advertising sneakers.
     But, I thought Livestrong was different. It made a statement on the fight against cancer and a way to live one's life. A subtle band of yellow let people know you were supporting the cause.
     I wore it for my mom Virginia who died from lung cancer never having smoked a day in her life. And for my best friend Dave who lost his life to liver cancer when he was only in his forties. When I looked down at my left wrist it reminded me of the both of them.
     It never came off. I wore it when I was dressed in a tux for my daughters weddings and I'd wear it when I went swimming in the ocean. I wore it until the plastic snapped.
     But I had a shiny new one waiting on my dresser replacing it immediately never missing a day until late in 2011. I was tiring of all the controversy on whether Armstrong was using steroids and blood doping to his advantage while pedaling his bicycle to a record number of Tour de France victories. So even though Armstrong hadn't admitted to taking steroids, I had enough and took the wristband off never wearing it again.
     I enjoy watching the Tour de France more than most sports on television. Everyday for a solid month these riders are in their Super Bowl or World Series. Not one game but a constant grind of tactics and teamwork. Jerseys ripped and skin bleeding from spills along the picturesque countryside. Grueling uphill climbs and whistling at incredible speeds and great skill down winding mountains.  Sprinting at the end to see who wins the daily race and met with a kiss and flowers from beautiful French women on the podium.
     I've grown tired of huddles and batters stepping out of the box along with constant stream of commercials. I lose interest in no time. But the biking tradition seemed to intrigue me and I'd watch for hours. It started with Greg LeMond back in the 80s who became the first American to win. I remember when he was accidentally shot while out hunting and watched as he made his comeback. LeMond was a great champion.
     I fell away until the guy named Armstrong starting making noise in the great race. Along with him the television coverage increased. I was just as interested in watching the photographers balancing on the back of the big motorcycles shooting pictures as they zoomed along. The scene kept me in my seat.
     Lance Armstrong was the top competitor in his sport and when he was diagnosed with cancer, he fought the deadly disease and made a full recovery. Livestrong. Who could deny this man and his work as he gave back to the world with his foundation that battles cancer.
     But along the way he made a monumental mistake just as many in his sport and also those in other sports. He used an unfair and illegal advantage to gain the upper hand to take him to the top of his profession.
     And yesterday he finally came clean, during an interview with Oprah Winfrey that yes, he took performance enhancing drugs. I wasn't shocked or angry, just disappointed that it took so long for him admit to doping.
     The bike race will go on. Armstrong is far from the only one who has been kicked out for using illegal substances. Just the most famous and highly decorated in the yellow jersey. His legacy will fade as years pass and new champions will be crowned.
     I don't remember what I did with the second wristband whether I misplaced it or threw it in the trash. But I kept the original wristband because it meant more than supporting a racer, I wore it for family and friends. Seven years the band stayed on my wrist.
     Maybe I'll find a new one of pink or purple if the cause is just. But, it won't be worn as a novelty.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

New Year's Day Polar Swim 2013

New Year's Day 2013
     If your best friend jumped into a frigid river would you follow? I would guess the answer is yes as one hundred friends, family and Pottstown area neighbors decided that New Year's 2013 was a good day to take a frozen swim in the Schuylkill River for the fifth annual Polar Plunge at Riverfront Park.
     This year was especially chilly with the water temperature reading 39 degrees and the air temperature around freezing. The saving grace for the morning was no breeze to add on a nasty wind chill factor.
     The plunge continues to grow, but I don't for the life of me understand why anyone wants to jump in on a winter day. I can't take swimming when the ocean is 70 degrees. Even though I've been challenged to participate, I fight off the peer pressure and stay focused behind the camera and keep warm and dry wearing my heavy winter coat and knit cap.
Polar plunge at Riverfront Park
     It takes a special breed to jump in, a fool hearty and lively bunch to say the least. It's not just high energy males challenging each other but folks from all walks of life. Young skinny teens, boys and girls wait alongside fathers sporting a few extra pounds. And don't think mom is left out, she is jumping in too. Some dress in silly costumes and hats to match, others strip down to a bathing suit and pair of old sneakers which are a must to deal with the mucky and rocky riverbed.
     Hundreds of witnesses stand alongside these brave souls who are about to get the shock of their lives. And then the countdown 5,4,3,2,1!
     The crowd cheers them on and these happy souls run head first into the water. Some put the brakes on immediately as the water gets to their knees. They start feeling the icy chill, turn and slog back to the bank. Others push out to deep water, submerge themselves and bob to the surface letting out a loud shrill scream telling everyone know how cold the water really is.
Bonfire warms brave polar bears.
     The event doesn't last very long as the heartiest finally climb out of the river with skin turning a bright red.
     While drying off, it's a quick jog across the park where revelers stand and warm up by a roaring bonfire. You could hear friends already making plans to return next year for their annual tradition.
     I'll be there too, with camera snapping away to record the crazyness. Happy New Year Pottstown. You know how to have fun.