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Thursday, 27 September 2012

Motoring West

After spending about 2 weeks this past summer in Ontario, Quebec, upstate New York and Vermont, it was time to head back to Vancouver Island where we live. All in all, I put about 13,000 kilometers on the odometer including the drive across Canada.
It can get pretty hot on Vancouver Island in the summer but there is always a bit of a breeze. Linda and I had forgotten how close and humid it can get in the summer back east. It can be kind of draining if you are not used to it. Now I know why older folks who go on long road trips always seem to plan them in the fall or springtime.
Our basic plan was to cross into the US at Michigan and make our way to two particular spots along the way out to the Pacific Ocean, Mount Rushmore and Yellowstone National Park.
We had no idea that the temperature would be as high as 105 degrees. In fact, last summer was the hottest on record in the US since something like 1889. Linda likes air conditioning in the car and I prefer the windows open and the breeze coming in. The latter isn’t much of an option when it really gets hot out.
We crossed over the border at Port Huron and a few hours later found a beach with sand dunes along the shores of Lake Michigan, a good place for our dog to have a swim. We spent our first night in a motel just outside of East Lansing, Michigan.
Lake Michigan.
The next day we put in a lot of miles. We went through Indiana and Illinois and ended up in the small town of Leclaire, Iowa. We stayed at a motel up on a hill overlooking the Mississippi River below. The back entranceway to the motel was clogged with dead mayflies. There were thousands of them. I drove around looking for a place that had take-out food and found a little sandwich shop by the river. I overheard some people talking about visiting the building that the American Pickers operate from. American Pickers is a TV show about two guys from Iowa who drive all over the US looking for lost treasures they can make a buck on.
American Pickers.

We checked out of our motel fairly early the next morning hoping to beat the heat for at least a few hours. That didn’t work. It was really hot out at 8 a.m. We drove down to the river and stopped where a Mississippi riverboat was moored. It took a little bit of time to find it, but up the road a bit we found the warehouse and office for the American Pickers. In front of the building there was a rusted old Hudson sitting up on a mound. Apparently the parking lot is often crammed with tourists. We were the only people there when we visited.
Old Hudson.
American Pickers home base Leclaire, Iowa.
Mississippi riverboat, Leclaire, Iowa.
We got back on the main highway and about an hour later pulled off the highway to visit a little community called The Amana Colonies. There are seven little villages in the area and it is populated by a religious group called The Ebonezer Society or The Community of True Inspiration. Most of them have German ancestry and they have a self-sufficient local economy. Everything looked very tidy. I grabbed a pastry at the local baker’s and we bought some sausages at the butcher’s.
Amana Colonies.
We drove past endless corn fields in Iowa. The temperature in the daytime was now as high as 105 degrees Fahrenheit. Each morning we packed up a small cooler that we kept in the back seat of the car. The back seat was our dog Cooper’s spot and we made sure he had plenty of water to drink. We pulled into Sioux City, Iowa and found a motel.
I’m not sure what day it was that we started to feel we were in some kind of marathon. The weather was starting to tap us. Even when we stopped to get gas or something to eat it was hard to find any shade. We took turns driving and there were long stretches of not seeing much off of the highway that was interesting. By the end of every day we were just happy to find an air conditioned motel room.
All across the US, other than fast food joints, we found the restaurant food to be awful. We weren’t sure if many of the restaurants lacked in knowledge of food preparation or just didn’t care. Maybe it was a small town thing as we avoided staying in larger cities. Americans seem to love things like biscuits and gravy with the gravy being kind of lumpy. In hindsight we should have brought a list of diners, drive-ins and dives. After a long day it can be a kind of empty feeling when the salad you ordered turns up with wilted lettuce with brown ends.
About a month ago I posted a comment on a site on the net about the crappy food we experienced and someone commented back that we had chosen the worst states to drive through expecting something reasonable to eat. He said he was a travelling salesman and the first rule is to stay away from square shaped states. Who knew?

We spent a forgettable night in Sioux City, Iowa and made our way into South Dakota the following morning. Linda had made notes of things to see along the way and we stopped off at The Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota. Apparently about a half a million people visit this tourist trap every year. We wandered around for about an hour. At one of the shops I saw a big blanket that had famous American Indians depicted on Mount Rushmore instead of the dead presidents. I thought it was funny. All in all the town was a bit….corny.
Corn Palace, Mitchell, South Dakota
We arrived in Keystone, South Dakota in the late afternoon. Keystone is the closest town to Mount Rushmore. We were attracted by a large flashing neon sign that advertised motel rooms for $59.00 a night. The motel was perched on the mountainside overlooking Keystone. It turned out that the advertising was just bullshit and the rooms were more like $159.00 a night.
We drove around town looking for another motel and saw another $59.00 a night neon sign. Again it was bullshit. We checked into a modest motel at about $100.00 a night and stayed there for 2 days. As we were unloading the car we struck up a conversation with some middle aged bikers who were sitting outside their rooms with their wives and girlfriends having a few pops. It turned out that they were all from Port Coquitlam, BC not far from where we live.
About the only thing we found interesting about Keystone was the local museum and some bronze sculptures by the guy and his son who built the Mount Rushmore monument. Their names were Gutson Borglum and Lincoln Borglum. When he was younger, the father studied in Paris and actually knew the famous French sculptor Auguste Rodin. The Mount Rushmore Memorial was started in 1927 and completed in 1941.
Mount Rushmore
We never got really close up to the monument as we couldn’t be bothered with the pay parking lot and you could see the thing very clearly from other vantage points.
The food in Keystone was probably the worst of our trip. We tried the breakfast buffet in one joint that had greasy eggs and partially cooked bacon. I ordered a donair in another place and was served some fried luncheon meat on microwaved pita bread. I placed an order for a 3 cheese grilled sandwich for take out and they gave my order to another customer. They actually ran down the street to recover it. I also made the mistake of buying some fudge that was below room temperature.

Every night in Keystone they stage some kind of native Indian thing with a whole lot of hooping and hollering. A lot of the shops had fake fronts making them look like they were from over a hundred years ago. Sort of. There were a lot of signs advertising 50% off. All in all a tacky, tacky little town.
Keystone, South Dakota.
We went for a drive around the area and it was well worth it. There were lots of short tunnels through parts of mountains and lots of pine trees. On our second day there I decided to see if I could find a good place where the dog could swim. It took me well over an hour to find a place that was accessible and it ended up being in a park in another small town that had a brook running through it.
We visited the Crazy Horse Memorial about 20 miles away from Mount Rushmore. Again another tourist trap but a lot more tasteful than Keystone. You can’t get very close to the actual monument as it is a work in progress. It was started in 1848 and it appears it will be well over 100 years from now when it will be completed. It is much bigger than Mount Rushmore and at this time only the head of Crazy Horse has been accomplished.
Crazy Horse Monument
We left the Mount Rushmore area and headed into Montana. We spent the night in a place called Red Lodge. The next morning we found ourselves on The Bear Tooth Highway that starts in Montana and ends up in Wyoming. It was absolutely spectacular and one of the high points of our trip. And I do mean “high point”. The highway winds and winds its way up to the mountain tops with lots of hairpins. We were up so far that there were snow banks that hadn’t totally melted in the summer weather.
Goat herd near Red Lodge, Montana
We saw a few marmots, alpine lakes, and wildflowers everywhere. It was totally amazing. I got a little nervous at times because the road was narrow and there were thousands of feet drop offs just off of the road and often no barriers. The speed limit was 15 miles per hour in some places.

Hairy road.
Our dog Cooper swimming in Alpine lake.
We found our way to the park entrance to Yellowstone National Park. We were on a roll as far as spectacularscenery goes. Years ago, I spent some time living in Banff and Jasper, Alberta in the Canadian Rockies and Yellowstone gives them a run for their money.
Gatehouse to Yellowstone.
The wild buffalo herds alone are enough to blow you away. The scenery is awesome. We saw mountain goats, deer, and elk. There were lots of creeks and small lakes. We took a pass on going to see Old Faithful as we had seen a number of other geysers. We really only spent one day at Yellowstone but was a day we will long remember.


Mountain Goat. Dead center of pic.
Cool tour bus.
We did stop at Wounded Knee in South Dakota and Little Big Horn in Montana and both times we decided to take a pass. One of reasons we opted out was we couldn’t leave the dog in the car and another reason was we would just be looking at an open field with little to see other than people selling souvenirs.
Entrance to Little Big Horn
We ended up spending the night in a forgettable town called Belgrade, Montana. We asked the front desk gal if she could recommend a good place to eat and she suggested a truck stop across the highway. I got to eavesdrop on a conversation between some truckers at a nearby booth. It was mostly about women. Our food came and it was another culinary disappointment.
On the road.
We were about to begin our mad dash for home. We had had enough of the unrelenting heat. There wasn’t a lot to see out of the window that was of much interest by this point. We did notice in different spots across the west that wind turbines had been set up over the last number of years as another source of energy.
Wind turbines.
We crossed the mighty Columbia River and into Washington State. The eastern part of Washington is desert like in a lot of places. In other spots they grow wheat and corn and some vegetables. We spent out last night in Ellensberg, Washington about 100 miles east of Seattle. (Hey…I’m an old guy and I still use miles and Fahrenheit when I can.)
Columbia River.
As we got closer to Seattle we could see the thick forests we are familiar with in BC. We were almost home. We stopped off at a MacDonalds for breakfast. There was a white guy about 40 years of age sitting with a black teenager at the next table. A prayer was said before they ate. It made me think of the good rock stations we listened to on the road trip that faded away before us then hearing some religious sermonizing and us deciding to just turn the radio off.
We stopped off at Bellingham, Washington and went to the local mall and bought a bunch of clothes. Also picked up some duty free booze near the border.
We had a bit of waiting to do at the ferry terminal near Vancouver and after a long day and a 35 day trip it was good to be home. One of the first things I did was go to the grocery store the next day to get some decent food.




Saturday, 22 September 2012

Georgeville and Stanstead, Quebec and Lake Memphremagog

Our family spent part of the summer of 1955 in Georgeville, Quebec. Georgeville is a small town about halfway down the eastern side of Lake Memphremagog in the Eastern townships south of Montreal.

We rented one of the several cottages that were dotted about on a large property that I believe was part of a working farm. There was a large farmhouse with a veranda. In the back of the house there was an outdoor hand water pump. In the front of the house there was a mowed lawn where they set up a croquet pitch. I remember being surprised that a girl from my grade school class back in Montreal was also staying at the same place. There was a dining room in the farmhouse that catered to guests who rented rooms there and the cottage renters.
Old farmhouse, Georgeville, Quebec circa 1955

Same farmouse 1982.
I vaguely recall hanging out with some other boys my age that summer and riding the swings behind a little one room schoolhouse. I also remember the local general store where you could buy a Popsicle or blackball candies that were 3 for a penny.
There was a rather tiny beach area on the property and most of the activity seemed to be centered around a cement pier that was a short walk away. At one time, a paddle wheeler docked here back in the early part of the last century.
Maison McGowan or McGowan House as it used to be called, is an old wooden building that once was a summer boarding house. It stands right on the shore of Lake Memphremagog and appears to still be a going concern with an outdoor restaurant. It also looks like they rent kayaks. Across the lake is Elephant Mountain.
Dock at Georgeville, Quebec
Farm on western side of Lake Memphremagog.

Elephant Mountain, Lake Memphremagog
McGowan House, Georgeville, Quebec
McGowan House, Georgeville, Quebec
On the day we were in Georgeville this past summer there was some kind of festival going on but we had arrived when things were petering out. I believe the old farmhouse that we used to dine at had been torn down or burned down a number of years ago. We took a walk up a lane and I recognized the landscape as where the cottages were over 50 years passed. A few seemed to be still intact with some additions.
I had read somewhere that Donald Sutherland owned a home in Georgeville. This was confirmed by a few of the local weekenders we talked to. We could clearly see that the little village that once was almost exclusively English had transformed over the years and had become a popular weekend retreat for many French Canadians.
The old general store was still in operation and had been considerably updated. Instead of blackballs they were now marketing upscale food products.

General store, Georgeville, Quebec circa 1982

General store, Georgeville, Quebec 2012

There is a small town on the Oregon coast that reminds me of Georgeville. It is called Manzanita. One of those places when you are driving that you spot at the bottom of a hill that looks interesting and if you didn’t stop you would miss it going up the hill after passing it.
Stone ring, Stanstead, Quebec
Not far up the road from Georgeville is the town of Stanstead, Quebec. It is located on the Canadian side of the US border adjacent to Derby Line, Vermont. I can’t remember visiting Stanstead as a kid but I am sure we passed through it. On either side of the main drag that goes through the town there are a number of amazing looking Victorian mansions and old churches.
Stanstead College
Old house in Stanstead, Quebec
A church in Stanstead, Quebec.
Stanstead College, from what I understand, caters to international students and Canadians who want to experience getting a grade school and high school education at a private institution. A friend of mine from high school spent his whole adult life teaching at Stanstead. Kind of reminds me of the movie Goodbye Mr. Chips. About 18 years or so ago, I tried to look him up in Stanstead. It was Labour Day Weekend and he was away somewhere with his family. I left my business card stuck in the door jamb of his house and later tried to e-mail him. I never got a response. I hope I didn't freak him out. Hi Andy!

Newport, Vermont, Lake Memphremagog.
Sailor, Newport, Vermont.
There is something about this area around Lake Memphremagog. Time just seems to slow down and nobody seems to be in a terrible hurry about much. Kind of neat.

Old barn.
Wicked weather vane.
Covered bridge.
Kelley's Motor Court & Restaurant, Derby Line, Vermont 1950s.

Saturday, 15 September 2012

Baseball Memories

I was a 5 year old kid growing up in Montreal when I first discovered baseball. We spent part of the summer in 1952 in a small village called Chateuguay just across the St. Lawrence River from Montreal. One day my grandfather took me for a walk that included crossing a railway bridge. We stopped off at a local convenience store and my grandfather bought me my first pack of baseball cards. One of cards had a picture of pitcher Bob Lemon on it. The card also had the logo for the Cleveland Indians which was a smiling American Indian with big teeth. I didn’t have a clue where Cleveland was.
We lived in a fourplex in the N.D.G. area for most of the 1950s until about half way through the 1960s. A guy who was about 4 years older than me lived downstairs from us and he was a big baseball fan. His name was Peter Tellier. Often on Sunday mornings, he would throw a ball against the wall of our building for hours on end. The sound drove my father crazy and I remember him saying “That damned Dogan is stotting the ball against the wall again!” I can’t recall ever hearing the word “stotting” again in my life.
Peter was a bit of a jock. He was the kind of guy who would organize street hockey games or round up some kids to play baseball behind West Hill High School. Getting 18 kids together to do anything is a bit of a feat in itself. Little league baseball in Montreal didn’t exist back then in Montreal as far as I know. I remember organized hockey and football at Terrebonne Park but not baseball.
Peter Tellier and me on Harvard Avenue about 1954.
Peter was the kind of guy who loved to talk about sports. He would tell us about seeing the Montreal Royals baseball team at Delormier Stadium. The Royals played in The International League that included The Havana Sugar Kings. Jackie Robinson broke into baseball with the Royals and at one time Chuck Connors, The Rifleman, played first base for them.
I believe Peter pitched for the local N.D.G. junior baseball team in his late teens. He once told me he had been scouted by the Philadelphia Phillies.
In the 1950s the World Series was a big deal for a lot of young boys, even in Montreal, and because the games were played in the daytime a few of us brought transistor radios to school. I used to follow the baseball standings in the sports pages of the Montreal Gazette and just about every year it came down to what team the New York Yankees were going to play in the Series. I had become a baseball fan. I even had an Al Kaline fielder’s mitt.
In the autumn of 1960 I was home sick from school for about a week. I had the good fortune of witnessing one of the best World Series ever on our black and white TV, propped up on our lumpy couch in the living room.
The Yankees were like the gods of baseball. They had players like Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, Tony Kubek, and Bobby Richardson. They had a crusty old manager named Casey Stengel and had won 6 World Series in the past decade. What team could hope to beat them?
Growing up In Montreal, I had never been a fan of the Canadiens hockey team. When Bobby Hull turned up I became a Blackhawks fan. For some reason I liked pulling for the underdog. In 1960 it didn’t take me long to start rooting for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Even the name “pirate” had a bit of an allure.
About the only name player I was a bit familiar with on the Pirates was Roberto Clemente. Over the next several days I got to recognize all of them. Vernon “Deacon” Law, Smokey Burgess, Dick Groat, Harvey Haddix, Bob Friend, Don Hoak, Bill Virdon, and some guy who played second base, Bill Mazeroski.
The Series went back and forth and the Yankees evened things in game 6 by demolishing the Pirates 12-0. It was now down to the 7th and final game. Maybe it was too much to ask? Fate seemed to be on the side of the Yankees.
In game 7 the Pirates got out to a 2-0 lead after the 1st inning and bumped it up to 4-0 a few innings later. Then the Yankees started to come back. Can a 12 year old have a stroke? Both teams scored some more runs and by the beginning of the 9th inning the score was tied at 9-9. The Pirates managed to keep the Yankees off of the score sheet in the top of the 9th inning.
The first batter for the Pirates in the bottom of the 9th was second baseman Bill Mazeroski. The first pitch to him was a ball. And then it happened. Mazeroski hit the ball over the left field fence. It was over. The Pirates had won the World Series. It almost seemed like there was a moment of “Did this really happen?”

Bill Mazeroski's winning home run.
What a series! It didn’t get any better than this. A year later the Chicago Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup. I thought I was on a kind of roll picking underdogs.
I continued following the Pirates over the next several years in the sports pages. In 1971 they won the World Series again with players like Roberto Clemente, Willie Stargell, Dave Cash, Manny Sanquillen, and Steve Blass. Once again it took seven games.
Roberto Clemente died in a plane crash off of the coast of Puerto Rico in the last day of 1972. He had chartered a plane bringing relief supplies to earthquake victims in Nicaragua. The only teammate who missed Clemente’s memorial service was his good friend Manny Sanguillen who spent the day diving and trying to recover Clemente’s body. It was never found.

Roberto Clemente
In 1968, a year after Expo 67, it was announced that Montreal had been awarded a National League baseball franchise. A lot of the efforts to secure a team were headed by a Montrealer named Gerry Snyder. In 1969, the new team, now named the Montreal Expos, took to the playing field for the first time. They were made up mostly of fringe players and over the hill veterans from the other teams. This pool of rejects was shared by San Diego who had also been a awarded a franchise. The baseball park the Expos first played in was Jarry Park which only had a seating capacity of about 28,000.
Mack Jones, Manny Mota, Bill Stoneman, Bobby Wine, Bob Bailey, Carl Morton, Coco Laboy, and John Bocabella were some of the first Expo players. The team logo and name never seemed to make a lot of sense but the big deal was that Montreal finally had a team. And to top everything off in early 1969, before the team was in their first exhibition game, a trade was made to acquire outfielder Rusty Staub. Over the next several years Rusty became a god in Montreal and was known as Le Grand Orange.

I never got to Jarry Park but I religiously followed the “Spos” on the radio with Dave Van Horne describing the games. For the first few years Van Horne was assisted by Ron Reusch and Russ Taylor, two really dull guys. Later Don Drysdale and Duke Snyder added a little more pizazz.
Nobody was expecting any miracles. A few years earlier baseball fans had witnessed the follies of another expansion team, the New York Mets. One of their pitchers, Roger Craig had a record of something like 1 win and 25 losses. They had a first baseman, Marv Throneberry, who was nicknamed “Stone Hands”. The aged Casey Stengel came out of retirement to coach them.
I left Montreal in about 1970 and lived in other places in Canada. I always kept track of the Expos and watched them on TV whenever I could. Over the years they had some really great players, many of them developed through their farm system. Rusty Staub became a bona fide star. Other great players were the high average hitter and base stealing whiz Tim Raines, second baseman Dave Cash, ace pitcher Steve Rogers, home run hitting outfielder Andre Dawson, and egocentric catcher Gary Carter. And of course, pot smoking pitcher Bill Lee.
A number of years later the Expos were loaded with talent and leading the league in wins. A baseball strike put an end to that. Eventually the crowds at Olympic Stadium where they were then playing, started to dwindle. The frost was off the pumpkin. A lot of the better players were shipped off. Management was in turmoil and less and less French Canadians had much interest in the sport. In some ways it was like a slow death of a game in a city that had introduced Jackie Robinson.
In 2005 the team moved to Washington, DC. Their new name was The Nationals. In some ways the end of the Expos was the end of my interest in baseball. The truth is that I had already lost interest years before. I never liked the idea of the New York Yankees ending up with the best players other teams had drafted and groomed. I didn’t like the steroid stuff and the amazing amount of home runs that were being hit by some. I really didn’t like seeing players with their pants bottoms dragging on the ground. I also didn’t like the economics of team owners threatening to leave cities if the local taxpayers didn’t cough up for a state of the art stadium.
I only ever made it to Olympic Stadium once to actually see the Expos and that was in 1982. Years later I saw the Seattle Mariners a few times at the old Kingdome. I tried following the Mariners for a bit but they seemed to mostly have one bad year after another. Like a lot of Canadians, I have never had much use for Toronto but sucked it up and enjoyed seeing the Blue Jays win a couple of World Series.
Steve Rogers on the big screen at the big O.
Expos game 1982.
My son played baseball until he was 18. When he was younger I was an assistant coach on his team for a few years. Back then, I was into riding my bike (that ended when I got a big dog) and every once in a while I would get off my bike and watch a local ball game for a bit of time. I’ve often thought that baseball is a bit like fishing. There might not be anything happening now but something could if you wait around long enough. In the meantime a hot dog might be a good idea.
Years ago I saw the occasional baseball game at Nat Bailey Stadium in Vancouver. Some years it was Triple A and other years it was Double A. (Baseball people know what I mean.) It only cost a couple of bucks to get in and they made most of their money from the concession stands. One day I kind of figured something out. The difference between major league baseball and Triple A is about 2 plays in a 9 inning game. A key hit to the opposite field or a circus catch out near the bleachers. Something like that.

Vancouver Canadians at Nat Bailey Stadium in Vancouver about 1994.

The Astroturf tells me that this PIC and the following pics were taken of the Vancouver Canadians at BC Place.

I’ve kind of given up on baseball. I would rather watch golf. I find the CFL far more entertaining than the NFL. In general there is far too much hype in professional sports. Monday Night Football often sucks. Cage fights seem a bit barbaric to me. Basketball is kind of a freak sport in that you pretty well have to be a giant to play it.  The one game that seems to have held its own over the years is hockey. (Honourable mention-tennis.) It is as good or better than it ever was. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like we are going to get to see any NHL games this year.
Where have you gone Joe Dimaggio?