Saturday, August 31, 2013

Bad postcard of the week: Escanaba's band shell, awaiting Miley Cyrus, or anyone else

Escanaba has a big band shell, but apparently no bands

Live, from Escanaba! We have….well... nobody.

Today’s bad postcard takes us to the wilds of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Lots of people are flocking to the U.P. this holiday weekend. About 40,000 are expected to take part in the annual crossing of the Mackinac Bridge, connecting the state’s two peninsulas.

Some of them might come over from Escanaba, unless there’s a big concert at the Karas Memorial Band Shell. Our postcard makes it appear that such a concert won’t be happening any time soon.

The back doesn’t reveal much: “Karas Memorial Band Shell at Ludington Park, Escanaba, Mich.”

Firmly planted in the “ghost town” bad postcard genre, we get the stage and some weeds. Apparently no one thought to spruce up the place before the postcard photographer got there.

I do see some flowers in the planters.  The flowers and the lack of snow allows us to place this photo sometime between July 1 and July 15. As the Escanabans say, there are two seasons: Winter is here, and winter is coming.

But why take a photo of the band shell without the benefit of a band? Could they not book anybody? I bet Miley Cyrus will have some openings on her tour schedule now. She could replace the giant Teddy bears with regular-sized moose. I'd watch that.

I did attend a John Ruben concert once that had a crowd like this. It was at Calvin College during spring break week, so the student were gone. It was poorly promoted. I bet there were fewer than 50 people in the audience, and it was a good-sized hall. 

Ruben came out and said, "This would be a great crowd -- in my basement!" But he was a trooper and put one a great show. Talked a lot to fans, and didn't need the microphone to do it.

We know that the folks in Escanaba are proud of their municipal structures, as we've already dissected the postcard of the water treatment plant.

Research for that post uncovered this gem about Escanaba being a place for secret celebrity weddings:

“In January 1968, Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi's daughter was married in Escanaba at St. Anne's Church. Upon finding out his then-unwed daughter was pregnant, Lombardi, who was vacationing in Florida at the time, insisted she drive to Michigan to get married rather than doing it Green Bay, in order to keep the news out of the papers.”

I don’t know if they were able to find a band to play at the reception. Our vacant band shell postcard makes us wonder if there are any up there!

If you enjoy the bad postcard, here's a link to the MLive entries.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Bad postcard of the week: 'Big Tex,' the rather awkward symbol of the Texas State Fair

"Big Tex" had some issues in 2012.

The problem with this week’s gloriously bad postcard isn't necessarily the awful and awkward cowboy statue, though we’ll get to that.

It’s everything else going on.

Let’s start with the writing on the back to set our scene:

Directing State Fair Crowds, Dallas

“Big Tex,” symbol of bigness of Texas and the State Fair, is 52 feet tall. His size 70 boots are nearly eight feet high and he wears a 75-gallon cowboy hat.

“A champion midway ballyhoo expert, Big Tex is directing the vast crowds to the myriads attractions of the Fair, especially the Cotton Bowl, where 75,000 football fans respond to his clarion call.”

I’m not sure you can make myriad a plural, but let’s move on.

Starting with our two Texans with their arms on hips and backs to the camera. We can only surmise that they are standing there in slack-jawed awe at Tex. Or they are wondering what in the heck is going on with his hands.

Is that a man purse on Mr. Plaid? I’m hoping that’s a camera bag or binoculars holder. Or maybe it’s a newfangled holster. This is Texas, after all.

Next, what’s with the piles of garbage on the berm? Hey, Texans! Clean up your mess! We’re trying to take a postcard photo here!

Now let’s get to Tex. Hard to tell what’s happening with the left hand, and to whom is he shooting the “come over here” finger wag?  It’s like Tex is of two minds, saying “Stop!” with one hand and “Come hither” with the other. That’s creepy.

Tex has kind of an odd shape, too. He’s got a bull-sized abdomen supported by calf-sized legs – bow-legged ones, too. And skinny jeans are not a good look on any guy.

I did some research. It turns out that Tex’s girth stems from his first life as a giant Santa, intended to lure shoppers to Kerens, Texas.

The novelty wore off, and the statue was repurposed to become a giant cowboy.

There were some problems at first. After the first fair appearance, he got a nose job and changes to correct what some people thought was an inappropriate wink. He also was given a moving mouth so he could talk to fair-goers.

More changes in the 1990s, when his hand was made to wave at passers. He also got a new neck that allowed his head to move.

Now for the sad part: In 2012, a fire started somewhere inside Big Tex. We went up in flames as onlookers watched in horror. The damage was extensive.

But fear not. State Fair organizers have promised a new Tex in place for this year’s event, which kicks off next month.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Bad postcard of the week: Musical fountain and other dangers of Grand Haven

The world's largest musical fountain. 

GRAND HAVEN – We first visited Grand Haven back in 1999 when the newspaper was interviewing me for a post it was creating in the lakeshore city, and I brought the family out there to check it out.

It was a stunning early summer afternoon, and the place was spectacular, with a trendy downtown, a beach, docks and an unusual two-part light house on a long jetty extending into Lake Michigan.

The waterfront was packed, with families having fun and many of them sunning on blankets and towels. We were working in Flint at the time, and remarked that if that many people were found lying on the ground in that city, there would be someone drawing chalk outlines around them. Flint is a rough place.

The newspaper opted against the Grand Haven plan, but hired us anyway. But Grand Haven has always been a fun place to visit.

Which is not to say it is without some challenges or danger.

Today’s bad postcard tells us about one of them: The Musical Fountain.

The back reads: World’s Largest Musical Fountain – Great plumes of water, reaching as high as 100 feet, dance and flow into a myriad of spectacular patterns and colors in perfect time with some of the world’s greatest musical compositions. The thrilling performances are held every evening all summer long.”

Now, there are some very nice postcards of the fountain. Most of them are in focus. This is not one of those cards.

The fountain was created in 1962. We've attended two of its shows. Here’s what happens. A voice booms from the speakers, and is the fountain talking to us. Sometimes it sounds like a grown-up, sometimes it sounds like a kid.

Then music plays, and lights flash on the fountain as water spurts.

It was interesting for about 15 minutes, because there are only so many combinations of lights and water. Our problem that night was that the playlist seemed like it was the one used in 1962 and aimed people where senior citizens -- at the time.

We’re talking “Volare,” that Polish Bobby Vinton song and other stuff that Rockford plays from the speakers downtown to drive away the skateboarders.

We collectively decided that we, having once watched the singing fountain, did not have to ever see it again. Caroline and I caught it another time, and the playlist was pretty similar.

Doing some research, it appears we were just unlucky, because a fountain schedule posted online tells you which songs are planned for each night, and there are some nights where they mix in a classic rock song and even some Coldplay.

We headed back out to Grand Haven on Saturday for some late-summer fun. It was again a perfect day, with an art fair along the water, and the main drag closed so merchants could have tents and sales up and down the street.

Here’s where things get dangerous. We purchased a ceramic switch plate at the art fair, then a bottle of wine in an Italian shop. Both were placed in one bag, entrusted to me. I was cautioned many times not to break either one.

Julie and Caroline were looking in a clothes store and I went in search of a restroom. There’s a pretty nice museum downtown – selling Grand Have Zombie Walk t-shirts for just 50 cents – and museums usually have restrooms.

I took care of business and checked out the musk ox exhibit on the third floor and was heading back down the stairs when a little girl darted out in front, out of nowhere.

I don’t know why this startled me, but it did. I missed a step and started to fall, clinging to the banister with my right hand and holding the bag with the breakables in my left.

It seemed like everything was happening in slow motion. I hit my face on the wall, the banister or a step – maybe all three – and ended up on my back on the bottom of the landing, head hitting the floor with a thump.

My thoughts ranged from “Ouch this hurts,” to “I didn't hear anything in the bag break” to “If I have a concussion; people are going to think I’m going to be dangerous like an ex-football player” to “This is embarrassing.”  It’s amazing how quickly things run through your mind in just a few seconds like that.

I think I scared the little kid and her dad, who were kind and concerned – but didn't help me up. Assuring them that all was well, I headed down the second set of stairs, passing a museum staffer.

“What’s going on up there?” she asked.

“I think someone fell,” I replied.

Just a little dizzy, I made it back to the clothes store where Caroline was trying on a dress and flip flops.

Caroline and I at the light house post fall. We survived.

I’m a little banged up. There’s a big blister on a finger from trying to hold on to the banister, and my lower back aches a little – which made the hard pews in church a tad more uncomfortable.

But nothing is broken – in me or in the bag – and we were able to complete the day of shopping and touring. We made it out to the light house --  but opted against sticking around for the Musical Fountain.

Friday, August 09, 2013

Bad postcard of the week: Frustrated deer and emergency elk in Atlanta, Mich.

We can only speculate why this hunter is frustrated.
Why is this guy frustrated? Or, is the deer frustrated?

There’s a lot going on in this week’s postcard. And I have a story to tell about my own experience this week with large beasts with antlers.

Our postcard reads “Greetings from Marquette, Mich.” And then, at the bottom, it reads “Frustration.”
The back of the postcard reveals nothing about our woodsy scene, simply repeating the frustration line.

Our photo shows a deer off in the distance, and a red-clad person doing, well, I’m not sure.

It might be a male. I’ll assume it is, since I don’t know any women who partake in this activity. I’m not saying there aren't any, I just don’t know them.

He’s not wearing orange camo. He’s not hiding in a tree stand. He’s not hiding in a blind. I don’t see a pile of apples and carrots used to lure deer to their bloody deaths.

The white pants are odd. And I’m praying that they are in fact white pants and not a really, really pale pantless hunter taking care of business like the bears do, in the woods.

And he’s reaching for his gun. So, why is he so frustrated? Is he out of ammo? Is he out of beer?

The deer seems to have spotted him, and he’s got pointy antlers. Maybe the deer is a little frustrated that decorum prevents him from rushing over there and evening the score for all the deaths of Bambis past.

I nearly was headed to Marquette this week. Instead, I went to Alpena, up in Northwest Michigan, for a work assignment.

I passed through a little town called Atlanta along the way, and the sign read “Elk Capitol of Michigan.” I didn’t realize there was such a thing, or if there was much competition for that title.

Now, it was dark as I passed through. But I could have sworn that I saw a giant elk in a glass case, right there in the center of town.
Encased in glass, like Snow White in her coffin.

Sure enough, driving back through the next day I saw this majestic beast in a glass case, right in front of the post office. Of course I stopped the car to investigate.

I wondered if there would be a sign reading, “In case of emergency, break glass.”  Because when there is trouble, you want to set free your emergency elk to gallop in and save the day.

I saw no such sign. But there was a little box with a red button – but no indication what would happen.
 Pressing it, some odd mooing and snorting bellowed through the speakers. I considered running away, because, lacking an emergency, I didn't want this beast coming alive and crashing through the glass.
Press the red button to hear wondrous sounds. 
The mighty elk, peering down from the heavens to keep the people of Atlanta safe.
But then there was a human voice telling me that this was, in fact, the sound  of a giant elk during mating season – yikes – and some other interesting elk facts.

Two girls walked past as this was going on. They gave me funny looks. I guess the locals have already pressed the button.

Saturday, August 03, 2013

Bad postcard of the week: 'Gray Shirts' keep the band rolling

This crowd is about to be whipped into a frenzy.
You just know that a mosh pit is about to break out, right there in front of Olive.

Check this out, we get a piano, an organ, hand bells and a marimba, which we call a “maranda” in our house for reasons to be explained.

The back reads: "Interior of Tabernacle where Bible teachers, missionaries and musicians are enjoyed. Gull Lake Bible Conference. Box 248, Kalamazoo, Michigan”

Some awkward wording there, to be sure. Not sure how we are going to be enjoying our missionaries.

But my attention was drawn to the marimba. I know about those. You see, I’m a proud marching band chaperone. And I move the marandas. I called them that once by mistake, and it kind of stuck.

 Band chaperones do a million different things to transport and prepare 300 kids for their performances and competitions. We’re like roadies, but with shorter hair and fewer tattoos. We get sweet lanyards with our names on them, too.

Given my limited skill set in these areas, I’m limited to moving stuff. And I hand out apples and granola bars. It’s more complicated than you think.

Marching bands these days have all the instruments that you expect, and a bunch of others, like base guitars and electric keyboards. They all need speakers, long cords and a power source. And, parents to push them.

I confessed to one fellow chaperone, we’re called “Gray Shirts” because of our uniform, that I had no idea what I was doing.

“Don’t worry about it,” he said. “I move the stuff, then stay out of the kids’ way. They know what they’re doing.”

Before a home football game, we roll everything into the end zone. The traditional instruments – the ones that are played while marching – perform the anthem and fight song at the start of the game. Then they eat apples and granola bars and wait for a touchdown, which prompts them to erupt into the fight song.

It’s important to keep the kids occupied. This usually means I hand them my iPhone and they show me funny cat videos on YouTube.

Then, at halftime, we pounce. We roll the speakers into place, toss around the cords, plug stuff in and get out of the way. This has to be performed quickly, since the clock is ticking.

Then the magic happens. The kids get a little frustrated when people in the stands don’t pay attention. Hey, football fans! Watch the magic!

Then we roll everything back all the way to the band room.

Competitions are more complicated. The band travels with a semi holding all the instruments and other accessories. There are several smaller trailers, too. We have a lot of stuff.

Bands practice in a distant parking lot while others perform in the football stadium. People with supreme organizational skills figure all this out. I move stuff.

Everything is unloaded from the semis, arranged in the parking lot and set up for the kids. We then push, drag and march everything from the distant parking lot to a back entrance to the stadium. As soon as the other band clears the field, we rush into action, because seconds count.

Once everything is in place, the Gray Shirts scramble to the sidelines and watch the kids kick butt. Then we haul everything back to the trucks. Veteran Gray Shirts collect uniform hats and their plumes, which have special storage units. I push big speakers.

Then, we load everything back in the semi. There’s a special order to this, and the inside has racks and shelves to hold everything. You don’t want tubas bouncing around on top of the marandas.

Here’s one thing I learned: On late fall nights, there is a lot of dew. This makes the ramp up the semi wet. And if you are pushing a speaker or a maranda up the ramp and you slip and fall and you get run over by a speaker or maranda, it hurts. I have battle scars.

Back to our rocking postcard band.  Clearly there’s a flash problem, and I mean the camera and not Olive.

I see Gladys, the woman in red playing the piano, Olive on the hand bells, Chester in the bow tie pounding away on the maranda and Earl cranking out the best organ riff since “Light My Fire.”

But check out the two guys in the middle, sitting down. Dudes, security is supposed to be in the front of the stage! And they don’t even have cool lanyards.

See little Bobby in the front? He’s awed by Chester and the maranda, but in a moment he’s going to rush the stage, climb up and stage dive.

And if our elderly security team has to climb over the maranda or push aside Olive and her handbells, well, it’s going to get ugly.

This band clearly needs a bunch of Gray Shirts.

Thursday, August 01, 2013

A tale of two gnomes, Mets pride and Yankee shame

This is a tale of two gnomes, and I warn you, it’s not pretty.

I was pretty excited when this very classy gnome arrived on Wednesday.

There’s a lot going on here.

First, like everyone else, he’s celebrating the Mets hosting the All-Star for the first time since 1964. But he was lucky enough to find a giant apple – or a Big Apple – with the game logo as his own very special souvenir.

I was thinking my cap, program and mini “Apples on Parade” figure were pretty cool, but our gnome friend clearly has me beat.

When you get something that cool, you’re not just going to park it on the shelf. You’re going to show it off. That means getting into the spirit of things with a fancy outfit.

Your options there are:

A)     A Mets jersey and cap, proclaiming your love for the Amazin’s.
B)      Lady Liberty.

I see the gnome working here. He couldn’t decide between wearing his David Wright jersey or his Matt Harvey jersey, making Lady Liberty the obvious choice, forever lifting her lamp beside the Golden Door, which, I believe, is the Seaver Gate at Citi Field.

All in all, it’s a dignified approach. And, incredibly, I found it on clearance at

I thought my family would share in their appreciation for this very special souvenir, and prepared a spot for it on the living room mantle.

Alas, they recoiled in horror, as if a statue of a gnome sitting on an All-Star Game apple wearing a Statue of Liberty costume was not the coolest thing ever.

Apparently friend and colleague Dave Pelland was inspired to go searching on to see if there were any All-Star Game gnomes still available.

Instead, he found this creepy scary gnome.

You need to know that Dave has experienced true terror.

We spent a year working in the Bridgeport Post’s North Bureau, enduring conditions and abuses that decorum prevents us from describing here.

Those experiences must have hardened him, because he was not freaked out by this other gnome.

The website calls it “New York Mets Mad Hatter Gnome.” I call it “Mascot Slaying Gnome.” This gnome has what appears to be the severed head of the beloved Mr. Met replacing its traditional pointy gnome cap. He also has a sawed-off bat and four baseballs.

Your repulsion to this new gnome, also remarkably on clearance, will depend entirely on how you view Mr. Met.

If you are one of those people who insist that Mr. Met is a guy wearing a mascot costume, this gnome will frighten you.

It appears that the hooligan gnome used his bat to pummel the poor intern wearing the costume, knocking him unconscious and stealing the costume’s head, because it’s not like someone playing Mr. Met is going to give up the head willingly. This gnome is a thug and a thief.

But the rest of us know that Mr. Met is a living being so devoted to our team that his over-sized noggin has taken on the appearance of a baseball.

That means our gnome has gone down a more sinister route. He’s probably a Yankee fan, distraught over the impending lifetime ban of Alex Rodriguez.

Of course, ARod is only the latest Yankee busted for using performance-enhancing drugs. Considering the accusations surrounding Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte, Jason Giambi, Aaron Boone and other True Yankees, the Bombers are perhaps the most roided-up franchise in the sport.

The team is a fraud. The 2000 World Series trophy should be awarded to its rightful owners, which would be the Mets. (The Yankees should return their other trophies, too, but I don’t care about those as much.)

Confronted with the realization that the much-heralded “Yankee Magic” comes in a syringe, the gnome apparently snapped. He searched out the living symbol of all that is good: Mr. Met.

Filled with rage, the deranged gnome whacked Mr. Met from behind with his sawed-off bat, severing his head and, in a particularly ghoulish gesture, removed his pointed Yankee cap and replaced it with the lifeless but still smiling head of our mascot friend.

It’s like a scene from “Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” with this gnome as Leather Face.

I understand the shame that must come from being a Yankee fan. But slaughtering innocent mascots and wandering around with body parts worn like trophies is simply unacceptable. And it’s certainly not appropriate for the mantle in the family room.

So, perhaps, once my family learns about the alternative, murderous gnomes out there, I’m sure they’ll welcome my apple-sitting, Liberty costume-wearing gnome as a beacon of taste and a worthy companion to the injured and retired Gnome of Victory and Celebration and his intact replacement.