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Friday, 14 June 2013

Black And White Movies

I never was much of a movie goer. It was always a now and then thing for me. When movie rental places opened up in the late 1970s I would sometimes get confused about the titles and bring home something I had already seen before. This isn’t to say that I never went to a movie theatre, I did, maybe just not as much as some who always wanted to see the latest thing on the big screen.
I think the first full length movie I ever saw was on TV around 1954 or 1955. It was Babes In Toyland with comedians Laurel and Hardy. Television was desperate back then for stuff they could fill the hours with and often their choices were wrestling or old movies. In fact they were so desperate that they sometimes showed silent movies with musical backgrounds.
I remember seeing a number of Harold Lloyd silent movies on the tube back then. About a month ago Turner Classics showcased some of Lloyd’s movies and he certainly could give Charlie Chaplin a run for his money as far as slapstick goes. He did some amazing stunts and managed to accomplish them without the use of a few digits on one of his hands.
In 1956 my grandfather took me to see Mike Todd’s Around The World In 80 Days at a theatre in downtown Montreal. It might have been at The Capital, The Princess, The Palace, or at The Loews. That same year I saw the movie Trapeze with Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis at a drive-in in Plattsburg, New York. I know I saw a few other movies in theatres during the 50s but the only other one I can recall right now is Some Like It Hot with Marilyn Munroe, Jack Lemon, and Tony Curtis. I saw it in London, England.
When I was about 8 or 9 there was a summer movie series on CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corp.) that was sponsored by Kraft Foods. At the beginning of the show the camera would pan in on a slowly turning camera guy on a boom. The camera guy and the boom looked like they were made of wood. I got to see some of the classics that summer including Key Largo, Pickwick Papers, The Petrified Forest, Goodbye Mr. Chips, Great Expectations, and The Tuttles Of Tahiti.
I watched these movies with my mother. Sometimes the lead windows in our living room would be wide open due to the summer heat. My mother seemed to know who all the charactor actors were. My guess is she saw a lot of movies at the nearby Monkland Theatre when my father was overseas during WW2. I think she had a bit of a crush on Tyrone Power.
When I was about 10 some distant relative died and we inherited an extra TV. For a while that TV sat in the room I shared with my brother who was a sound sleeper. Back then the CBC showed old movies at about 11:30 p.m. I laughed my ass off watching Terry Thomas in Blue Murder At St. Trinians. One night my father walked into my bedroom in the middle of The Fuller Brush Man with Red Skelton and the TV was removed the next day.
I kind of fell in love with old black and white movies. I was hooked. Often the story lines were quite predictable but that wasn’t the point. In some ways I was watching history,…. the old cars, the way people lived, the mannerisms, the corny jokes, the clothes people wore, the lingo of the times. On top of all that I was watching actors and actresses in their prime.

In the late 60s old movies and old movie stars became camp. You could buy a poster of Bogie, The Marx Brothers, W.C. Fields, Fred Astaire and many others whose heyday had been 25 or 30 years earlier. In cities across Canada and the US some second rate theatres began showing the classics often catering to the college crowd.
Yes all old black and white movies weren’t classics. You needed a lot of stamina to watch a George Arliss movie. Arliss was an ugly looking old man who almost always seemed to be overacting. He was the same in every movie he made. An hour and a half of listening to Arliss’s pompous English accent while portraying Voltaire or Cardinal Richelieu could drain you.
George Arliss as Disraeli
My tastes in movies are kind of simple. I like a good story. I like slice of life kind of things about average people. I like clever humour and good dialogue. I don’t want to be rushed. I want to be able to absorb. I want to come away from a movie knowing I have seen something that makes me think or at least know that I didn’t waste my time. Unlike many others I have little interest in science fiction, action movies, or fantasies. I lost interest in cartoons a long time ago.
So…this is supposed to be a short story which means I can only cover so much ground. Books have been written about singular movies. About all I can offer up here is some observations and recommendations of some of the thousands of movies I have seen over the years.  I will only be talking about black and white movies.
My Picks For Best 100 Black And White Movies Of All Time
#1 Citizen Kane, #2 The Best Years Of Our Lives, #3 Casablanca, #4 The Grapes Of Wrath, #5 Sweet Smell Of Success, #6 Sunset Boulevard, #7 Strangers On A Train, #8 Goodbye Mr. Chips, #9 All Quite On The Western Front, #10 The Petrified Forest, #11 Mildred Pierce, #12 Dark Victory, #13 Great Expectations, #14 It Happened One Night, #15 Mr. Smith Goes To Washington, #16 King’s Row, #17 Lost Weekend, #18 Double Indemnity, #19 The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre, #20 It’s A Wonderful Life, #21 Key Largo, #22 Sullivan’s Travels, #23 I Was A Fugitive From A Chain Gang, #24 The Asphalt Jungle, #25 The Postman Always Rings Twice, #26 His Girl Friday, #27 My Man Godfrey, #28 Touch Of Evil, #29 The Third Man, #30 The Oxbow Incident, #31 Mutiny On The Bounty, #32 Notorious, #33 The Maltese Falcon, #34 High Noon, #35 Going My Way, #36 Lifeboat, #37 The Killers, #38 Mrs. Miniver, #39 Out Of The Past, #40 Arsenic And Old Lace, #41 Hobson’s Choice, #42 Pickwick Papers, #43 Cape Fear, #44 12 Angry Men, #45 49th Parallel, #46 Murder My Sweet, #47 To Have And Have Not, #48 42nd Street, #49 Pickup On South Street, #50 All About Eve. #51 Inherit The Wind, #52 On The Waterfront, #53 To Kill A Mockingbird, #54 Top Hat, #55 The Big Sleep, #56 39 Steps #57 Stalag 17, #58 From Here To Eternity, #59 In Cold Blood, #60 Anatomy Of A Murder, #61 The Bad And The Beautiful, #62 Gunga Din, #63 The Philadelphia Story, #64 The Naked City, #65 Gold Diggers Of 1933, #66 All The King’s Men, #67 The More The Merrier, #68 Shadow Of Doubt,  #69 The Talk Of The Town, #70 Detour, #71 The Shop Around The Corner, #72 Now, Voyager, #73 The Magnificent Ambersons, #74 Treasure Island, #75 The Pride Of The Yankees, #76 A Letter To Three Wives, #77 Murder, My Sweet, #78 Lady In The Lake, #79 Sahara, #80 The Devil And Miss Jones, #81 Call Northside 777, #82 The Man Who Came To Dinner, #83 Till The End Of Time, #84 A Night To Remember, #85 Night And The City, #86 Kiss Me Deadly, #87 Sorry, Wrong Number, #88 Marty, #89 In Cold Blood, #90 Robin Hood, #91 Raging Bull, #92 Night Of The Hunter, #93 The Hustler, #94 Requiem For A Heavyweight, #95 The Last Picture Show, #96 Some Like It Hot, #97  The Tuttles Of Tahiti, #98 The Man Who Came To Dinner, #99 Lost Horizon, #100 Mr. Deeds Goes To Town.
The Sweet Smell Of Success
 Memorable Black & White Movie Moments
The Best Years Of Our Lives….when the officer played by Frederick March returns home unannounced from the war and his teenaged kids answer the doorbell to their apartment. He puts his finger to his lips to keep the kids quiet. There is moment of silence. His wife who is played by Myrna Loy is in the kitchen. She asks who is at the door. Suddenly she realizes that her husband is home after being away for years.

The Best Years Of Our Lives
The Big Broadcast of 1938….Bob Hope and his wife who is played by Shirley Ross are close to divorcing. They are sitting at a bar on an ocean liner. They sing the song Thanks For The Memories.

The Big Broadcast Of 1938
The Oxbow Incident….Henry Fonda and Harry Morgan (MASH) are cowboys standing at a saloon bar in some small western town probably around 1880. 2 men have just been hung who were suspected of cattle rustling and murder. Fonda had tried to intervene on their behalf. It is discovered that the man who was supposedly murdered is alive. Fonda starts to read the letter one of the lynched men had written his wife before he died. The brim of Harry Morgan’s hat  blocks the view of Fonda’s eyes while Fonda reads the letter.
The Oxbow Incident
Gold Diggers Of 1933….A Great Depression movie made to cheer people up in hard times. Ginger Rogers sings We’re In The Money in English and Pig Latin.
Citizen Kane…. Heavyset Orson Welles dances with chorus girls.
The Third Man….Post 2nd World War Vienna, Austria. Orson Welles, Joseph Cotton, Trevor Howard. The haunting Harry Lime Theme is played throughout the movie.
The Grapes Of  Wrath….John Steinbeck’s fine story about the downtrodden in the Great Depression.  Henry Fonda plays Tom Joad.  At the end of the movie and in spite of experiencing much suffering in his own life and his family’s life Tom gives a speech about not giving up. “Wherever there’s a cop beating up a guy…I’ll be there!”
Strangers On A Train….Farley Granger plays an amateur tennis player who meets Robert Walker on a train. Granger wants to divorce his unfaithful wife and Walker wants to murder his wealthy father. Walker tries to convince Granger that they should murder for each other. One of Hitchcock’s best movies.

Strangers On A Train
The Bolero. In this 1934 film before the Hays Code, Carole Lombard and George Raft dance together and at one point his hands are on her breasts.
The Asphalt Jungle…. Film Noir at its best. Nobody did it better than Sterling Hayden. Sam Jaffe is on the run but stops at a roadside café while his taxi driver who is going to drive him Cleveland waits. Jaffe gives some teenagers a roll of nickels so they can play the jukebox and he can watch them dance. He is arrested as he leaves.
The Asphalt Jungle
Casablanca…..”Here’s looking at you kid!” Say no more. The classic movie with the classic lines, made at a time when the world was getting a lot scarier. Bogart never looked better. He was in his prime.  George Raft had turned down the part of Rick. Everything fell into place with this movie.

 Great Character Actors And Actresses
Lionel Barrymore. Key Largo and It’s a Wonderful Life.

Eve Arden. Mildred Pierce.
Eve Arden

Jack Carson
Jack Carson. Mildred Pierce.

Cecil Kellaway
Cecil Kellaway. The Postman Always Rings Twice.
John Qualen.

The Grapes Of Wrath and Casablanca.
John Qualen
Barry Fitzgerald. Going My Way.
Sydney Greenstreet. The Maltese Falcon and Casablanca.
Sydney Greenstreet
Peter Lorre. The Maltese Falcon and Casablanca.
Peter Lorre
Elisha Cook. The Maltese Falcon.
Elisha Cook
Hoagy Carmichael. The Best Years Of Our Lives.
Monty Wooley. The Man Who Came To Dinner.
Eugene Pallette. My Man Godfrey.
Eugene Pallette
Spring Byington. The Devil And Miss Jones.
Spring Byington
S.Z. Sakall. Casablanca
S.Z. Sakall
Mary Wickes. Now, Voyager.
Charles Coburn. The More The Merrier.
Charles Coburn
Edward Everett Horton. Top Hat and Lost Horizon.
James Gleason. Here Comes Mr. Jordan.

Some Thoughts On Black & White Movie Stars

Humphrey Bogart. I think he singularly has the best body of work in the history of movies. He kind of stunk out the joint a bit when he started and he wasn’t that great just before he died (he looked worn out in Sabrina) but in between he made a number of exceptional movies that I don’t think will ever be matched. The Petrified Forest, Key Largo, Casablanca, The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre, African Queen, To Have And Have Not, The Caine Mutiny, The Maltese Falcon (“The stuff that dreams are made of.”), Dark Passage, and The Big Sleep. All actors and actresses have their prime and Bogey was in his in Casablanca.

Spencer Tracy. Very likely the best movie actor ever. He could do it all and make it look so easy, from screwball comedies to The Old Man And The Sea. Bogie couldn’t do that.

Spencer Tracy
Bette Davis. Nobody could play a bitch like she could. A bit over the top at times.
Bette Davis
Clark Gable.  Always a man’s man, he could do comedy pretty well too. You pretty well knew what you were going to get with Gable and nobody seemed to mind. He was still playing the stud right up until the end in The Misfits.
Clark Gable
Joan Crawford. I never found her appealing. For some reason she looked to me like someone with bad hygiene. She did knock it out of the park in Mildred Pierce. She didn’t look great as she got older.
Joel McCrea. Although he finished his career making mostly westerns he had a nice care free presence when he was younger and was in some great screwball comedies including The More The Merrier.
Joel McCrea
James Cagney. I liked his energy but I found him to be too much of the in your face type and he always seemed to be punching someone.
Ginger Rogers. She could do it all, comedy, serious acting, singing and dancing. She did everything that Fred Astaire did except she did it backwards in heels.
Katherine Hepburn. A good actress but her screechy voice could sound like scraping your fingers on a blackboard. Was great in The African Queen.
Myrna Loy. The perfect wife, she had great chemistry with William Powell.
Errol Flynn. You pretty well knew that he didn’t really give a shit about much and was having fun until his time was done. He had a nice lilt in his voice. You knew he liked the ladies. He had a wild off screen image.
Charles Laughton. He had the fat leading actor category sewn up, was in some great films.
Gary Cooper. Pretty predictable in most movies as the strong silent type but could do light comedy if he had to.
Dick Powell. Looked like a nerd when he was younger but came into his own later in his life in Film Noir movies.
Edward G. Robinson. Great at playing gangsters as he did in Key Largo.
Mickey Rooney. An amazing talent. I’m still trying to figure out how a guy that short could marry Ava Gardner.
Norma Shearer. She might have been the first actress that brought both class and glamour to the movies. She was one fine looking woman.
Jean Harlow. Always looked like a waitress in some 1930s greasy spoon to me. Never thought she was much to look at. She hardly ever wore a bra. Died young.
Zachary Scott. Nobody could play a cad better than him.

Zachary Scott
Marlene Dietrich. Not my idea of a beauty.
John Wayne. Could be good or terrible. The Conqueror. Really?
Cary Grant. Nobody could touch him when it came to light comedy.

Cary Grant
Fred Astaire. Average looking man with unaverage grace.

Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers
May West. How anyone ever found her sexy is beyond me.
Jean Arthur. Loved her!
Jean Arthur
Jimmy Stewart. Yesterday’s Tom Hanks. Who didn’t like Jimmy Stewart?
Joseph Cotton. Great voice.
Henry Fonda. Made some great message movies including The Oxbow Incident, The Grapes Of Wrath, and 12 Angry Men.
William Powell. Could charm the pants off of women even with a weak chin.
Barbara Stanwyck. Could play hardboiled, breezy, or vulnerable.

Barbara Stanwyck
Frederick March. Great actor with versatility.
Wallace Beery. Great at playing stumble bums. Supposedly took part in the beating death of Ted Healy in real life.
Greta Garbo. I never got the mystery about her. It must have been a 30s thing.
Irene Dunne. Mostly boring.
George Brent. Soap opera kind of movie guy. Supposedly slept with more actresses than almost any other movie star.
Leslie Howard. Made some great movies like The Petrified Forest. Died when the passenger plane he was in was shot down in WW2.
Rosalind Russell. Was in His Girl Friday, one of the best written dialogues ever in the movies.


Times have certainly changed since the older black and white talkies of the 30s and 40s. Back then rich people were shown living the high life oblivious to the hardships being suffered by their fellow citizens. Being drunk was always supposed to be funny. Married couples always had separate beds. Making love was basically just kissing. Black people were mostly portrayed as simpletons.
It was what it was.
Now or then, if you want to escape for an hour and twenty minutes, black and white movies can suck you right in. Sure we now know that Frank Capra movies were often wishful thinking but what the hell. The lion roars, bolts of electricity shoot out from the RKO logo, a woman in a robe holds a torch in her hand, all signalling the beginning of the movie. Watching one of those movies today is like a walk through 20th century history when times were a lot simpler.
Stick the popcorn in the microwave. Fluff up that pillow on the comfy couch. Dim the lights. Roll film.
And remember…if your dog is in the your living room with you this might be right up his alley because he or she is of course…..colour blind.
There is nothing like a good old black & white.

Monday, 10 June 2013


Over the next month or two I am going to offer up some of my personal opinions on things political. I hope to cover a number of isms including communism, conservatism, socialism, capitalism, progressivism, and corporatism. Sometimes the isms will be mixed together. In most cases I will be referring to things political in the US but not exclusively.
If politics isn’t your bag you can be assured that I will also be posting other stories about other things too.

Out of all the swear words, we know that the “F” word probably has the biggest impact. Calling someone a “communist” is intended to have a similar impact. It is like a broad condemnation of complete evil. In some ways calling someone a communist is like lobbing a grenade. Just like putting “mother” before the “F” word to give it more impact “Marxist” or “Stalinist” are often words that are used as substitutions for “communist.
You could find yourself in a lot of hot water if you used a disparaging name to identify a minority but hardly anything is ever said by anyone if someone is labelled a communist. Most often the accusation is associated with anything by the right to be considered socialist.
Something like 40% of Americans believe that Obama is a socialist. It is kind of hard to figure out that assumption because he hasn’t done anything of note that would be considered socialist. Even Obamacare (The Affordable Healthcare Act) requires US citizens to buy their healthcare insurance from privately owned insurance companies. The stock market has been booming for the past few years and corporate America is making record profits. There has been no curtailing of religious freedoms and there have been no restrictions on gun ownership. Where is the socialist take-overs of privately owned businesses?
None of this stops the far right from lobbing the grenades though.
For all intents and purposes communism as a political ideology is almost dead. There are only 5 communist countries left in the world and there is zero threat of communism expanding. Those 5 countries are China, Viet Nam, Cuba, Laos, and North Korea. North Korea is basically a rogue state run by people that are close to being insane. North Korea is more like a cult that a society. Laos (11 million people) and Cuba (6.5 million people) have small populations and are hardly influential in the world. China and Viet Nam have mixed economies even though they are considered communist. Over 7 million tourists visit Viet Nam ever year and China has over 560,000 millionaires.
The same people who throw the grenades accusing people of being communists seem to have no problem with the hundreds of US corporations including Apple, Nike, Hewlett Packard, etc.,  that use communist labour in China to manufacture their products. The grenade throwers also turn a blind eye to all the US jobs that have gone to China or the simple fact that China wouldn’t be what it is today without all of their exports to the US.
A number of Americans have a funny way of looking at history. If the truth is uncomfortable they often tend to ignore it like it never happened.
Socialism and for that matter unionism became a part of the American fabric with the advent of the industrial revolution in the latter part of the eighteen hundreds. It used to be that kids could work in mines instead of going to school, there was a 6 day work week, workers had few rights, and working conditions were often deplorable. The Gilded age in the 1890s in America was about a large working class ruled by wealthy monopolists. Those that went out on strike for better conditions were often beaten and sometimes murdered by hired thugs or private militias including the Pinkertons.
The stock market crash of 1929 (caused by greed and false values of stocks) and the Dust Bowl in the 1930s (caused mostly by poor agricultural practices) led to The Great Depression which was felt worldwide. People with no hope looked to other political ideologies. Communism was one of them. Many were looking for some way to try and solve the poverty and unemployment problems. At its peak, the American Communist Party had something like 80,000 card carrying members. Most of these members had no clear understanding of the suffering and deaths going on in Russia at the time.
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt
In 1932 FDR was elected president. The US economy was in a shambles. Unemployment was at 25% and millions were homeless. One of the first things FDR did was institute new banking regulations and the Glass-Steagall Act was implemented to prevent risky business practices by financial institutions.
Old age security was also introduced. Up until then old people who were poor often lived their remaining years in poor houses. The WPA ( Workers Progress Administration) was formed to carry out public works projects. Almost every community in the US had a park, bridge, or school constructed by the agency. At its peak in 1938 the WPA employed over 3 million people.
FDR was elected in 1932 with 57% of the vote and in 1936 with almost 61% of the vote. Some Republican businessmen including the father of later president H.W. Bush, Prescott Bush, a banker who was against any form of socialism, considered overthrowing the elected government with the aid of an armed militia. Oddly enough, Prescott Bush was a big advocate for birth control for women.
For the most part the US was isolationistic when it came to being involved in WW2. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour changed all of that. Between the socialistic things that FDR introduced to the US and the US entering WW2, any American interest in communism became hard to find. Even Woody Guthrie signed up for the merchant marine.
Throughout the duration of the war thoughts about the evils of communism were put on the back burner in the US. FDR sat at the same tables along with Churchill and Stalin. There were even American war posters lauding their Russian comrades. America said and did very little when Stalin took over the Baltic countries in 1939 in a deal he made with Hitler.
Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin chummy at Yalta.
After WW2 the USSR moved rapidly in bringing eastern European countries into the Soviet bloc, including Hungary, Yugoslavia, Romania, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, and East Germany. It is quite understandable that American politicians and generals were freaking out. And on top of having a huge army the commies now had their own atomic bombs. In 1946 Winston Churchill read a speech that talked about the “iron curtain”.
In 1948 Israel became a country. In order to survive they instituted a kind of collectivism in which their younger people were required to work on kibbutzes (agricultural farms) and serve for a few years in the military. Nobody in the US was calling them communists or even socialists because of those collective farms.
In 1953 Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were executed in the US for espionage on behalf of the USSR. Alger Hiss had previously been convicted of espionage in 1950. There was a kind of panic at the time as to who how many had infiltrated the military and the government in the US.
Joseph McCarthy
Also in 1950, a Republican Senator from Wisconsin made his first accusations about the number of communists he believed to be in the US federal government. The blacklists started with creative Hollywood types who were mostly writers who at some point earlier in their lives had communist sympathies. At one point even Lucille Ball of I love Lucy was suspect because her uncle at one time was a communist. The reality is that Lucille Ball twice was registered as a communist when she voted in 1936 and 1938.
McCarthy never was one who liked to deal in facts. He would reel off numbers of who he thought were active communists but couldn’t actually name them because he was just guessing. He was exposed for who he was by the famous newsman Edward R. Murrow as man of innuendo and little else.
Joseph Welch and Joseph McCarthy
In June of 1954, Joseph N. Welch, the head council for the US army, called McCarthy out for going after a junior lawyer who at one time had belonged to the National Lawyers Guild, a group that FBI director  J. Edgar Hoover had once tried to get designated as a communist front organization. Welch said to McCarthy “Have you no decency sir?” Later in 1954 McCarthy was censured by the US senate in a 67-22 vote. McCarthy’s career was over and he died a few years later of alcoholism.
By the mid-1950s there were only about 5000 card carrying members of the American Communist Party. It is thought that 1500 of them were informants for the FBI.
The “Cold War” between the US and the USSR lasted 4 decades. Once McCarthy disappeared the paranoia about suspecting Americans of being communist sympathisers disappeared except for a few right wing crackpots.
In 1961 The Bay of Pigs assault on Cuba by a rag tag bunch of Cuban exiles with some clandestine American support occurred and ended up a disastrous fiasco. Cuba had become communist under Fidel Castro who came to power in 1959. In 1962 there was a standoff between the USSR and America over Soviet missiles in Cuba. It was probably the closest that the Soviets and the Americans ever came to going to war with one another. In the end the Soviet missiles were removed from Cuba. Missiles were also secretly removed from Turkey, a US ally.
10 years later, in 1972 US secretary of state, Henry Kissinger, under President Nixon opened up detente with China. US relations with the USSR also started to change.

Ronald Reagan
In 1981 Ronald Reagan was elected US president. He was as anti-communist as they come dating back to the 1940s. He believed in a large build-up of US armed forces with a presence around the world. The Soviet Union was teetering at the time. The president of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, condemned a number of actions that Stalin and Nikita Krushchev had taken. The Soviets were at war in Afghanistan for 9 years and it was draining them financially.
In 1987 Reagan gave his “tear down this wall” speech in Berlin. In 1991 the Soviet empire collapsed. It is still being argued today as to what impact Reagan had on the demise of communism in Eastern Europe.
10 years later 9/11 happened. Politics were changing rapidly in America. The new fears resulted in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. America became more severely divided. Conservatives became more rigid. Bush Jr. ran the US into the toilet. The 2 wars he engaged in were unfunded. Although the US was at war for most of his presidency, he decided to do something unprecedented during a time of war. He gave huge tax breaks to the rich.
Most of America had had enough of Bush’s style and Obama was elected over John McCain as president. Obama was first of all black which enraged many on the far right but he was also perceived to be a liberal. Instead of recognizing how the Republican Party had been largely responsible for the huge accrued national debt, the financial meltdown, and massive unemployment, Republicans decided instead to block anything progressive that would help solve some of the problems.
In 2012 Republicans took over congress with the promise of more jobs aided in large part by a new faction of their party called The Tea Party. Congress now has an approval rating of about 9%. Social issues like abortion and gay marriage have come to the fore and job creation has virtually been ignored.
Along with the Tea Party came the identifying of Obama as the “other”. 64% of Republicans believe that Obama was born in Kenya and not Hawaii and dispute his birth certificate whether it be the long or short one. Equally disturbing is the continual identification of Obama as a communist or socialist. Obama could have fought for the public option in his healthcare bill which would have been a socialist entity but he took a pass on that. Hell, Obama isn’t really a progressive never mind being a socialist or communist.

Communism is dead period. Using it as an attack tool in this day and age is sad and it really is a very strong indication that those that use the word to defile someone else’s character just don’t have any understanding of what they are talking about.



Saturday, 8 June 2013


Oregon. It’s my favourite US state. I’ve been there 6 times. If I had to live somewhere in the US this would certainly be the place.
The first time I visited Oregon was in 1968 when I was hitchhiking from Vancouver, BC to Montreal, Quebec.  It was the latter part of March and I thought traveling across the US would be warmer than crossing through the Canadian Rockies and the prairies of Saskatchewan. I guess I didn’t think about Colorado. I made it as far south as Portland Oregon on my trip before cutting east. I stayed overnight in a jail cell in the small eastern Oregon town of Fruitland. You might say I just got a whiff of the state on my first visit.
My second time in Oregon was on my honeymoon in 1981. I got married in Saskatchewan and after the wedding we headed south stopping in places like Sun Valley, Idaho, Reno, Nevada and San Francisco. We took the 101 coast highway north from San Francisco and into Oregon State. The 101 is one of most spectacular highways anywhere with amazing ocean vistas. We went for a jet boat ride up the Rogue River in southern Oregon, went salmon fishing at Winchester Bay, and took an elevator rise down to the stinky seal caves near the small city of Florence.
My third trip was with my ex-wife a few years later. We mostly hung around the upscale Cannon Beach area. We slept in the back of my van a few nights which wasn’t that comfortable. We said the hell with that and checked into a waterfront lodge by the ocean. Our suite had two fireplaces. We went from roughing it to luxury with no regrets. One night we saw Arsenic and Old Lace at small theatre on the main drag. I bought a tape of Japanese bells at a local bookstore. Why I can’t recall. I remember pulling over one morning to have breakfast in a local diner. The talk in the café among the regulars was about poaching salmon in the dishwasher. I wasn’t sure if they were chatting about the salmon partly to see our reaction on our faces.
My fourth time in Oregon was by myself after my ex-wife and I had separated. I discovered the airplane museum not far from the big cheese factory at Tillamook. I bought a reproduction of an old newspaper that had a headline about Amelia Earhart having disappeared in the eastern Pacific Ocean. I walked along the beach and felt a kind of emptiness knowing that I wasn’t sharing the time with anyone else.
The fifth time I went to Oregon was to a jazz festival on the Hood River east of Portland. It was a 3 day deal and they called it “Jazz  On The Water”. The venue was out on a little peninsula on the Hood River. They had some notable jazz greats including Chick Corea and Dee Dee Bridgewater. I’m pretty sure the festival no longer exists. The area is known to windsurfers from around the world. For some reason the winds coming over the hills provide the ideal propulsion. I spent one morning watching part of a triathlon a few miles up the river. 
My last trip to Oregon was 3 summers ago. I thought Linda would really enjoy Oregon and knew that she had never been there before.  We made plans to do some camping for several of the nights of our two week getaway. Linda made some reservations at a few motels and at 2 state parks.
We ditched the dog at Linda’s daughters and caught the Blackball ferry from Victoria, BC to Anacortes, Washington. (I once saw Leon Russell do a show in Anacortes between some fishing sheds.)  There are two main highways that run south of the state of Washington into California, Highway 101 and the interstate expressway the I-5. We took neither.
Linda thought it might be interesting if we took some secondary highways south. It turned out to be a bit of a mistake as we ended up traveling for miles and miles through deep forests which can get boring pretty fast. We noticed a number of abandoned sawmills along the way and when we drove through small towns we could see that a number of stores were boarded up.  You could tell that the local economies weren’t what they once were.
We took the long bridge that crosses over the Columbia River and into Oregon State and spent the night in the seaside town of Astoria. Astoria was named after John Jacob Astor who made his fortune in fur trading. We had dinner at a local bar that had some live music. The next morning we tooled around town a bit admiring a number of Queen Anne type of houses and we saw the Astoria Column in a nearby park that depicts the history of Oregon.
For most part our first several days in Oregon the weather was overcast. It never really rained but the skies were almost always on the dark side. All in all we spent about 4 days camping in state parks close to the beaches. Each night we had a campfire going and had a shot of Drambuie before hitting the sack. The parks were nice but each morning we would wake up in our tent and we could almost taste the moisture. It was still only June and the bright hot sunny weather on the Oregon coast doesn’t really start usually until July. We packed up our camping gear and left it in the car trunk for the duration. A nice softy comfy bed was in order.

We spent a few days in the Cannon Beach, Manzanita, and Tillamook areas.  We walked along the beaches at Canon Beach and Manzanita, skipped the cheese factory at Tillamook and spent an afternoon at the Air Museum which is in a huge concrete air hanger. Apparently at one time there were 2 hangers but one burned down. The site was used for flight training during the Second World War and there are a number of vintage planes on display. In 2016 the owners of the museum plan to move the whole shebang somewhere in Oregon where it isn’t as damp. I guess they don’t want those old planes rusting away.
Cannon Beach
Cannon Beach
Cannon Beach
Air Museum, Tillamook
Air Museum, Tillamook
We visited an aquarium in Newport, Oregon. It was a bit overpriced for what was offered and the building it was in seemed to have seen better days. I guess when one is familiar with first class aquariums like the one in Stanley Park in Vancouver, BC comparisons are inevitable. We skipped the seal caves near Florence, Oregon. I told Linda about taking an elevator down to the caves a number of years before and how stinky it was and she was happy about taking a pass on that deal. We saw plenty of seals out in the ocean.
We were now staying in motels. For some strange reason many motels all along the west coast, including Washington and California, are owned by East Indians.  Most of them were OK but nothing fancy. Linda had made a number of reservations as we were getting into summer peak season and we didn’t want to have to spend hours looking for a place to stay. I have to say that there wasn’t one motel that we would ever go back to or highly recommend. To be fair, we weren’t staying in the most upscale places. Sometimes a bed is a bed and it sure beats the hell out of sleeping in the car.
Dune country
We were now getting into dune country.  We spent a bit of time watching the dune buggies race across the countryside. Once in while we would hear a maniacal shriek as one of the dune buggies sailed in the air at the top of a hill. For some reason I pictured in my mind Toadie the frog and his stolen motor car in The Wind and the Willows Disney cartoon with his eyes glazed over in his madness.  They seemed to be having great fun but the dune buggy thrill seems to be something meant for folks a bit younger than me. I don’t need any more back problems.
We stopped off at the marina at Winchester Bay where I had gone salmon fishing 30 years before. I asked the folks in the bait and tackle shop if they had ever heard of a marlin being fished out of the nearby waters. (Marlin are a rarity off the coast of Oregon). Indeed they had heard about the marlin from years ago and in fact had it on display up until a year or two before our current trip.
We stopped in a number of towns as we headed south. A few times we ate in seafood restaurants with ocean views. It is always nice to kind of experience a bit of the local flavour. We were now winging it a bit with no more reservations ahead of us. Most days we would spend on one beach or another. Personally, I can be quite happy with a spot in the sand sitting there watching the waves roll in for hours on end. We also ventured inland a few times just to see something other than the ocean. We found some very pretty creeks and smaller rivers.
Pacific Ocean views
Local coffee shop in some small town in Oregon
The skies didn’t clear up totally until we got to southern Oregon. Up until then most days had been rather cool. There were two places still that we wanted to see. One was to take a trip up the Rogue River on a jet boat and the other was to see the giant redwood trees in Northern California.
Gold Beach is the town on the Pacific coast where the Rogue River jet boats are located. It is not that far north of the California border. We found a nice motel by the ocean and went down to the marina the next morning to book our river trip. Without making things too complicated the Rogue River jet boats are able to navigate through waters as shallow as a few inches because they don’t have propellers below the surface and use powerful engines to force the water out behind them. Huh? The boats are flat bottomed and quite large in that they are capable of carrying around 40-50 passengers.
Things hadn’t changed much since my last boat trip 30 years before other than that one of the operators of a fleet of the boats (Jerry’s) had bought out their lone competitor. We were offered 3 options. The 1st was the 64 mile return trip “Historical Mail Route” at 50 bucks. Years ago the mail was delivered to settlements up river by boat which wasn’t an easy task.  The 2nd option was the 80 mile “White Water Excursion” at 70 bucks and the 3rd option was the 104 mile trip “Wilderness White Water Adventure”.
We decided to take the 80 mile trip. We took off shortly after donning our life vests. I am guessing there were about 30 of us in the boat. We would have lunch 40 miles up the river at a little restaurant before returning. Lunch was not included in the deal. The skipper of the boat had a microphone and gave us some history of the area and what critters we could see in the water and possibly on land as we made our way up the river. Turtles, otters, deer, eagles. There was no mention about the white man forcing the native Indians off of the land and placing them in distant reservations. No surprise there. After all we were in America.
A few jokes were told by the skipper and you could tell that his verbal observations were well rehearsed from many other trips. Whatever, it was keeping the customers happy. About an hour into the trip the skipper decided to jazz things up a bit and did some sharp turns which resulted in everyone getting soaked. A few of the older folks didn’t seem to find the soaking that much fun but we enjoyed it. At one point the skipper let us all know that he was a Lutheran minister when he wasn’t guiding folks up and down the river. There is a bit of power when one person has the mike.
We had about an hour for lunch part of which I used to take a short nap on a picnic bench. Not much was said by the skipper on the way back. I mean we were passing things we had seen on the way up so there really wasn’t much point repeating the jokes and whatever.
Not my dog.


Unbeknownst to the boat passengers there was somebody hired by the boat tour company up on a bridge near the home marina taking photos of the boat which would be available for a price when the boat reached the dock. There was a big sticker on the windshield on the back of the boat where the skipper stood that said tips were greatly appreciated. Of course you couldn’t get off the boat without passing the skipper and looking him in the eye as he was now situated at the exit spot. 30 boat people at 10 bucks a head in tips is about 300 bucks in tips. 30 boat people x 70 bucks admission equals 2100 bucks. My guess is the skipper’s take for the day was about 600 bucks. Not too shabby. Maybe he is giving half of it to run a soup kitchen somewhere?
All the math aside about the profits, we had a great time and would heartily suggest the boat trip to anyone. It is a unique adventure. Well worth the money.
Ginger Rogers the actress, supposedly owned a ranch near the Rogue River and spent the latter part of her life there in the summers before buying a house in the nearby town of Medford.
The next day we headed down to Northern California in search of the giant redwood trees. Crescent City is about 20 miles south of the Oregon border and this where the site of The Redwood National Forest is located. The tallest redwood is something like 379 high with a girth of about 26 feet. Redwood trees in the US are sometimes called Sequoias.

The park was amazing. Taking pictures of huge trees may sound easy to do but it isn’t. You can kind of get an idea of how big the trees are by having someone stand in front of one but then you can’t see the height. The drive through the forest was along a very narrow road but there were plenty of places to pull over. We spent several hours in the park. There is something humbling about standing near giants.
It was time to head home to Vancouver Island. To make better time we decided to take the I-5 interstate highway. We were totally surprised how much hotter it was inland. We had become used to brisk days out on the coast.
I had heard and read lots of good things about Portland, Oregon and we planned to stop there for a day or so on our way back to British Columbia. We spent a night at a motel on the outskirts of the city and went investigating the following day. I had heard about a well-known local bookstore in Portland called Powell’s. We stopped and asked some people on the street to see if they knew where it was and they turned out to be fellow Canadians on their way to the same place. They also told us they had been checking out some restaurants they had seen on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives on TV.
Portland, Oregon
Powell’s didn’t disappoint and I came away with several used Studs Terkel books and one written by Jean Shepherd. Linda picked up some art books. We spent the rest of the day at some kind of festival near the river. We saw some live music and ate some stuff before packing it in. I don’t know much more about Portland than I did before this visit. I think there is still a lot more to see there.
The rest of our trip back home was pretty uneventful. We did a bit of shopping near Bellingham, Washington and as per usual bought some duty free booze at the border.
I would like to go back to Oregon again in the next few years, maybe next year when we are planning on seeing the Grand Canyon we will stop off there for a few days. I would also like to see Ashland, Oregon where Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader is published. It seems like a cool town. Maybe something like Austin,Texas?
What I would really like to find is an affordable place halfway down the coast in Oregon with a kitchenette that allows dogs. I kind of like the idea of just relaxing with long walks along the beach with the dog and a small stack of good books to read.
If you know of such a place let me know too. It would be much appreciated.