SO YOU WANNA BUY A LOCKHEED LIGHTNING?…

January 18th, 2010

I was sixteen, still full of the excitement of World War II. An intact war-surplus P-38 had been sitting, forsaken by its owner, on the tarmac at the Wilkes-Barre – Scranton airport and had been offered to me for $1,000. Trying to convince my father the fighter could be disassembled and stored in a neighbor’s barn, he asked if “I had my head on straight,” saying it was “a fool’s dream.”  My Dad refused to come up with the money.

Forty-five years later, on the road as a long haul trucker – gathering the information to write 3 ACES – I would visit the air museum at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and learn that the “piece of junk” my father had ignored was currently worth at least $1 million dollars – whatever its condition. The plane had finally been sold for scrap.

And here I was, about to board a Jet Blue A320 for JFK, 3000 miles away, at the very Burbank, California airfield that had been the birthplace of that fighter plane and thousands like it. The Lockheed plant was now a parking lot.

The Burbank airport is tiny compared to JFK, the personnel folksy, its TSA people even managing smiles.  I stood a moment in the hallway leading to the security check-in, admiring a chiseled bronze statue of Amelia Earhart surrounded by photos of her famous Electra parked before some of the old Lockheed hangars.

Once in the air, we climbed through a filmy layer of pure white clouds to 36,000 feet. Scudding at 460 miles per hour through a clear blue sky, I read for most of the flight, but spent the last two hours in conversation with a student occupying the window seat next to me. Deep into criminal law, he had spread his schoolwork out on the little seat tray before him. He wanted to know what I did, where I was from, what my life had been like – and what I thought of his girlfriend. His questions were sincere, very much in earnest. I did my best at the answers, and he thanked me by saying the conversation had not been like talking to “just another old man.” Those questions of his opened up the age gap in a way I’d never experienced. On the ground at JFK, when we shook hands at the baggage carousel and parted, I felt like I’d just lost a chunk of my past.

Getting off the Air Train and approaching my car in the long-term parking area, a queasy feeling hit me. The weather here very cold during my week in Ojai, something told me my battery was dead. The key went into the ignition switch very carefully…I turned it…and my 1987 Dodge Diplomat roared to life! Then came a sharp rapping on my driver’s side window – a frantic young couple pleading for help: it was their battery that was dead! Half an hour and two jumper cables (in series) later – after one hell of a cranking session – we got their newly bought Chevie running.

An hour later, I was coming off the lower deck of the 59th Street bridge, proceeding west in Manhattan on 60th Street. May I advise Mayor Bloomberg that his 60th Street is an ungodly mess of dips, patches, and thick steel plates?.. Cars double-parked in the middle of the night, buses and taxis converged on me more rudely than ever. West on wider 57th was little better. Relief came only when I emerged from the Lincoln Tunnel and found myself running almost alone on New Jersey 3, west toward Scranton and Tunkhannock, PA and the peace and quiet of the Endless Mountains.

My thoughts drifted back to the two hour ride that morning to the Burbank airport, with Tom and Christine, my hosts for the past week. We’d left their peaceful home in the Ojai Valley bathed in 80 degree sunshine, to climb route 150 along the edge of the Sierra Madre Mountains then descend steeply into Santa Paula (an area setting for the Daniel Day-Lewis movie, THERE WILL BE BLOOD). Those quiet agricultural valleys, framed by leafy, sandy hills had left me partly in another world.

A quick Cheeseburg platter at my favorite diner polished off the transition back to the East Coast. As always, Frankie and Charley (I’ve no idea of their real names) were on duty. “Frankie” sits on a stool as you enter the diner. He escorts you either to a table or the counter. When I indicated the counter he grunted, his face curling in a sour smile. My platter came “up” as though it had been waiting, the Cheeseburg delicious, and “Charley” slithered from the kitchen, waving an empty milkshake glass at the Strawberry phizz machine; it spit a horrible thin stream of rosy liquid into his glass. A dejected look on his puss, he moved off to the empty dining room.  At the register, “Frankie” grunted again, took my money and waved a menu to three wise-guys who, elbowing me aside, had just come up the diner’s brick steps. Yeah, yeah, yeah…I was back in Jersey. But traffic was light and the diner business was hurting.

Four hours later I turned the key in my door and set down my stuff. Just for fun, I unzipped my overnight carry-on bag: I didn’t need the TSA’s pre-printed, stamped tag to tell me what had happened. Those smiley faces at Burbank had dumped the contents, pawed through every smidgeon, then jammed it all back in again. The inspection probably triggered when the metal in my surgically corrected hip and shoulders set the bells a-ringing, which in turn had brought a fierce sweat to the TSA fellow’s brow; combing my frame with his wand, he couldn’t get the bells to stop ringing. (When was that bomb he thought I was carrying going to explode on him!) I’d stuffed the transformer, wires, and cables for my laptop into my overnight bag (along with the mouse and batteries in the toe of one slipper) to make my laptop case lighter to carry. Wonder what kind of a sweat my bag had raised on the forehead of the X-ray techie?…

Well, it’s a changing world, folks. Moving a little too fast for this old man…and maybe way too fast for the poor devils at the Burbank TSA.

FAREWELL CHRISTMAS BUM…

January 2nd, 2010

From the corner of my eye, driving home New Year’s Eve, I spotted him in the the driving snow…treading the bridge walkway over the ice-filled Susquehanna River…bent into the snowdrops, grizzled, ruddily complected, bed roll strapped above his backpack…not a scene I felt comfortable being a party to from my snug, warm vehicle.

Had I been the victim of some paranormal vision? – a witness to some holiday will-o’-the-wisp?..or some benighted Santa sailing through the Christmas of our town and on into 2010? Bless me, I swear I was perfectly sober…and may I say, completely rational.

In nine years of crossing this nation as a long haul trucker – incidentally gathering information for my novel, 3 ACES – how many lost wanderers had I borne witness to over the million miles I logged? In springtime they would sprout, once again after a winter’s absence, along the highways and byways. And a week or so later you would pass them off as part of the indigenous scenery. But this? – this isolated Santa seeking neither aid nor attention, this apparition bending doggedly onward in a swirl of snowflakes… Read the rest of this entry »

MEMORIES OF CHUKCHI, OUR CHRISTMAS DOG…

December 23rd, 2009

It seems so long ago…atop the mountain, at Button Top with my wife, Susan, and two growing children, Nick and Gwen…Christmas approaching, the kids yearning for another dog. Truth to tell, so was I.

While I was away on a business trip, my wife had been forced to bury our friend, “Irving,” an exhausted, cast-off collie who had, one winter evening,  limped into our family circle out of a blizzard roaring through the surrounding woodland. The bedraggled Collie entertained us through that next summer with numerous porcupine chases, all ending painfully for Irving – though happily enough for “Dr. John,” our local veterinarian over in the town of Meshoppen. Irving’s porcupine adventures came to an end one sultry summer day, in the shade of my wife’s car where the old fellow breathed his last. My wife, along with a visiting woman poet and the children, solemnly laid Irving to rest in the clearing behind the cabin. Read the rest of this entry »

WHAT’S A DOG DOING IN MY TRUCK? – OR HOW “PIP” POPPED INTO 3 ACES.

December 13th, 2009

Whenever you pull alongside a big truck and glance up at the driver, you may spot another face staring down at you, that of man’s best friend. Truth is, many drivers – not to put down their womenfolk, at home with the kids – welcome a dog’s company. Reciting your troubles to a canine pal won’t get you any answers; on the other hand, it won’t produce any criticism. When you’re all done kvetching to your four-legged friend, what you will get is an impulsive slurp or two on the kisser accompanied by an enthusiastically wagging tail. Your long haul pooch is happy just to have you all to him or herself.

A trucker faces often impossible delivery deadlines, grueling hours behind the wheel, arguments with his dispatchers, and telephone battles with the home front – if there’s anything left of the marriage after a few years of regional or long-haul driving. You want to rest assured there’s no one breaking into your cab while you’re in a truck stop shoveling down a meal or enjoying a good, warm shower; a snarling beast steaming up the windows of your truck is a wonderful deterrent. Read the rest of this entry »

RESHAPING MY VISION OF NORMAN ROCKWELL

December 6th, 2009

Growing up during World War II, one of the things I most looked forward to was running to our roadside mailbox and greeting the weekly arrival of the Saturday Evening Post. Each issue was sure to feature a cover by Norman Rockwell. I didn’t realize it then, but those incredible magazine covers – and the associations they represented – were to become an indelible part of my life.

In the course of nine years of long haul truck driving – the main purpose being to gather information for my recently published novel, 3 ACES – I often ran trips to New England, each time routed up I-84 to reach the eastern portion of the Mass. Turnpike. Only once did I run the western section, unaware, at the time, that I had passed a few miles north of Stockbridge, Mass. and the Norman Rockwell museum.

Last Saturday, returning home in my car from a holiday visit in Boston with my son’s family, I found myself driving west on Mass. Route 102. I decided to both reawaken a few childhood memories and make up for that occasion I’d missed visiting the Rockwell Museum. At Route 183, a bit beyond Stockbridge I turned left, then left again less than a mile down the road, into the tree-shrouded Museum drive. Read the rest of this entry »

WRITERS & SCAMMERS – REVIEW PURVEYORS…

November 15th, 2009

Looks like there was some unfinished business in last week’s piece…too much for a single additional blog, so let me take it one subject at a time.  Let’s settle, this week, on a relatively quick discussion regarding book reviews and their purported suppliers, the review purveyor.

Anyone who publishes (whether through a NY Trade house, or via the self-published, POD route) comes to the realization that their book must be reviewed many times, and each time as well as possible. I don’t speak for authors published by major Trade Publishers, but am assuming their publishers have made arrangements to have their books reviewed in venues such as the New York Times, Publishers Weekly, Poets and Writers, etc. This may NOT always happen; I have been told that, in some cases, the author has been called upon to assist in lining up reviews for his or her book. Should the reviews disappoint, or the cover, title and edited contents not enthuse the publisher’s marketing & sales department, money and effort earmarked for the promotion of that book may be applied elsewhere. The author is deprived of a sincere sales effort by the company’s distribution arm; book tour and advertising money is diverted. What else might set off this ugly chain of events? Perhaps a block-buster book by a certain celeb. needs a greater initial push (if only to recover a huge advance). Suddenly, a chill wind is felt – you are left very much alone. At publishing conferences, I’ve heard several such stories directly related by the victims. Read the rest of this entry »

WRITERS AND SCAMMERS – ODD COUPLES…

November 8th, 2009

When an author finishes writing a cherished piece of work – be it poem; an essay; a memoir, popular, or paranormal novel; perhaps even a humorous work – at that very moment, the writer’s creative enthusiasm has him teetering at the edge of a precipice. If he hasn’t already landed a book or magazine deal, he’s either looking for an agent, or thinking deeply about having the work printed and distributed independently. Let us then count the peddlers of provender gathered in the valley below.  In a great sweat, without an agent or a trade publisher, that writer is virtually forced to take the independent leap…possibly into the arms of one or more scammers.

Need a POD publisher?.. A website?.. Editorial help?.. Guidance in finding an agent?.. Promotional help?.. A distributor?.. Book designer?.. Cover artist?.. on and on goes the list. No end to the services available, ’til your credit card  registers dry on an emptied checking account. Read the rest of this entry »

SO YOU WANNA CREATE YOUR OWN BOOK COVER?…

November 1st, 2009

Hmm… I wanted to. And I did. And I’m now having second thoughts about what I did. Let me provide the final chapter to the “3 ACES Cover Story” as presented in my August 3rd, 2008 blog…

Now that the book has been read by a good number of folks, gone through the hands of more than a few critics, contest judges, etc., the feedback cometh in strong (whether I welcome it, or not). THE most negative feedback has been centered around my vaunted 3 ACES front cover, which I conceived all by my lonesome and had executed by two local artists, with the desert background brushed in by my book designer. The story inside (by those brave enough to ignore the front cover) has been well received, and granted a Book Of The Year award in November, 2008, by THE INFINITE WRITER ezine,

Unfortunately, my front cover does NOT tell the book purchaser what type of story lies beneath its surface – and, as far as I am concerned, that’s a disaster. Worse, it leads some to think it’s a Harlequin Romance; others tell me it’s a book about gambling; still more tell me they really haven’t a clue what the hell the book is about. If that isn’t a publishing disaster, what is? Read the rest of this entry »

USING YOUR LOCAL WRITERS GROUP TO ADVANTAGE…

October 25th, 2009

Your local writers group has already used you…”ha-ha, made you join didn’t we?” So why not use it – to the fullest?  It’s not just a place to socialize, it’s a way to glom onto the tools and techniques that will improve anything you write.

I don’t care how far along you are in the craft of writing, there are lessons to be learned and relearned. No one’s writing is that sanctified that it can’t benefit from your local group’s collective critical eye. Read the rest of this entry »

LOCAL WRITERS GROUPS – WHY JOIN..?

October 18th, 2009

Simple…the key word here is FEEDBACK.

You can sit in your room for hours, days, hammering away at a novel, article, or short story on your typewriter or computer keyboard (hopefully, you are using a computer!..) and acquire a major case of literary blindness.

By that, I mean you are zeroed in so tightly on the task at hand that you lose the ability to stand back and view just what it is that you have finally hammered out. When fresh eyes hit your pages (that may look dandy to you) something else ALWAYS happens: those new eyes see something other than what you felt you put on the page. Maybe it’s punctuation; possibly a detail or two don’t make sense – like dates or technical references; perhaps you’ve overpopulated your novel or story with extraneous characters that are muddying up your plot; your sentence structure may lack clarity; maybe your overarching STRUCTURE is muddy, sections cobbled together, scenes indistinct – or, even more disastrous, the basic premise of your novel, article, or short story just doesn’t make sense to the majority of the group. Tough stuff to face, eh?… Read the rest of this entry »

 

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