We Drove Death Traps

As I mentioned in an earlier story, my first car was a 1949 Ford. It was a straight stick V8 with the gear shift handle attached to the steering column. To dim or brighten the headlights, I’d step on this little metal switch on the floorboard. It was quite a skill to drive this sort of car, but my peers and I managed to get around. It was a common skill for guys to drive this sort of contraption with just the left hand, with the right arm around their girlfriend.

1949 Ford

1949 Ford Coupe (photo courtesy fordaddict.com)

One of my friends had a Chevy of similar vintage and design, another a Plymouth. One thing all these cars had in common was, by today’s standards, rolling death traps.

We had no seat belts. No airbags. No rear view camera. No warning buzzer if you got to close to another car or a brick wall. It had no side rear view mirror. How in the world did we survive? Well, admittedly, a few of us didn’t. I know of one or two fatal accidents involving people with whom I was acquainted. But, that’s happened in more recent years as well. So, what’s my point?  Just that in the “olden days” we survived with what life gave us to work with. As did our ancestors. I often relate how, “when I was in high school with Abe Lincoln we did our homework with a piece of coal on the back of a wooden shovel.” The most frightening part of all of this, for me, is trying to imagine how things will be for our kids, twenty or fifty years from now. Will people be safer? Or, will folks be so restrained by protective measures – in their cars, online, in schools, anywhere…that their lives become less enjoyable and they create less…and care less? I wish I had a crystal ball that worked.

Ever Drive a Copperopolis?

My first car was a ’49 Ford. That was it. Just Ford. If the trend toward naming cars after cities had begun, it might have been called the ’49 Ford Fresno. But, no…just Ford. Other popular cars were Chevy, Plymouth, and so on.  Most didn’t have an extra name – with some exceptions. The Buick Roadmaster comes to mind.

Durango is a city nestled in the mountains of southwest Colorado. It is one of several towns which, today, have cars named for them. Dodge chose the name for its versatile sports utility vehicle, to reflect the character, strength, and durability of this city of classic beauty. Also, because the alliteration sounds good.

Buick LaCrosse

Of the cities we could think of without looking it up, most of them are west of the Mississippi, one is ON the Mississippi, that being LaCrosse, Wisconsin. Buick named one of their newer and more expensive sedans after LaCrosse, because it sounds classy and because a lot of old people live in LaCrosse. Another takes us all the way to the east coast, Chrysler New Yorker. Buick chose to name a car after just one street in New York, the Park Avenue. Cities in the Southwest seemed to be famous for which cars are named. Two are in Arizona; Hyundai’s Tucson and the Kia Sedona. New Mexico’s Santa Fe is Hyundai’s’ larger version of the Tucson SUV – even though Santa Fe is a smaller city than Tucson. Two west coast cities have cars named for them: Tacoma, Washington, and Malibu, California. Tacoma’s a small truck, Malibu a mid-sized Chevy.

We tried to think of any cars named for cities farther east than LaCrosse, and all we came up with was Dodge Daytona and the now-defunct Chrysler New Yorker. Austin-Healy makes a “Cambridge,” but I don’t think it is named after the place in Massachusetts. It seems there is some sort of prejudicial automotive nomenclature going on here. But, when you think of it, it is hard to think of cities in the East that would sound good as car names. Imagine parking a Mazda Buffalo in your driveway, or pulling up to a stop light in a Ford Philadelphia.

I’ve often thought a dream job would be thinking up the colors of cars – sparkling graphite, moondust gold, sierra dream red, coconut white, etc. I think it would also be fun to think up the car names. Let’s try it, with eastern U.S. cities. I’ll name a few. The Cadillac Cleveland, The Toyota Tampa, The Ford Miami, The Nissan Newark. Alliterations aside, how about the Chevrolet Bloomington or the Acura Charleston? Hmm… .all a bit bland.I’m starting to think cities west of the Mississippi sound best for car names. Although there could be some notable exceptions. Imagine driving a Toyota Tombstone, a Chevy Walla Walla, or a Kia Copperopolis (yes there is a city in California with that name.)

Meet Paco. And Contest Winner.

The results are in and first we’ll reveal the name of the puppy. He’s “Paco” and he is one-eighth Chihuahua. He is also one-eighth Miniature Pinscher and one-fourth American Staffordshire Terrier. (The remaining 50%, which goes back beyond third generation, is a mix of more than several different breeds.)


Paco Chewzing

NOBODY guessed all three breeds correctly. However, five people had two correct. The winner was picked from those five using an ultra-scientific method we developed. Each of the five names was written on a small piece of paper, folded, and tossed on the floor in front of Paco. The first one he picked up was declared the winner.

paco down 2And, the winner is Linda Stuffelbeam, of Lombard, Illinois. Linda will receive a signed copy of my book, “Roy and Kitty.” And, as a bonus prize, a durable, stylized bookmark with a glossy photo of Paco. Linda also gets a copy of my new CD, “Smooth Country Covers,” which could serve as a fine coaster to hold a drink while she is reading the book.

The other four contestants who also made two correct guesses, will receive a heartfelt thanks and a lick on the toe by Paco, at a later date. Those four are Donna Abella, Sandra Finn, Sharon Simpson, and Valerie Vancil (yes, a cousin of mine who only communicates with me when there’s a prize.) Paco’s Booby Prize goes to Mitch Kite, the only contestant who had zero guesses correct, Mitch receives a “good boy” and a virtual pat on the head.

Here’s what you should have guessed:  1. Dachshund  2. Smooth Coated Spaniel  3. Rat Terrier   4. Beagle  5. Chihuahua  6. German Shepherd  7. Miniature Pinscher 
8. Boxer  9. American Staffordshire Terrier  10. English Bulldog

We received entries from Arizona, Wisconsin, Illinois, Tennessee, and Washington. Thanks everyone for visiting Brainshowers.net. If you like our stories please share (below)


Monk Gets it Straight

One of my all-time favorite TV shows is “Monk.” In one episode, Monk, a detective with O.C.D. is hurrying into a burning building to save a child, and while running through a smoke-filled room he spots a stack of several books. The books are out of alignment, so he stops to straighten them into a neater pile, before continuing to rescue the kid.Monk TV Show

According to WebMD, 3.3 million adults in the U.S. have O.C.D., Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. It’s possible millions more cases are never reported. I have never felt the need to seek professional help for my mild case of O.C.D.  However, I have figured out some ways to deal with it. There are lots of places on the internet to get detailed information about O.C.D. so I won’t bother to cut and paste any of that.

I’ll share a couple of ideas which might help you or someone you know who has a mild case of O.C.D. (Note: If I had a severe case you probably wouldn’t be reading this…I’d still be on about my 600th rewrite.) I have learned to deal with O.C.D. using the memory technique of association. Tie the word in with a graphic image, make it as bizarre as you can. For example, you might remember Mrs. Burnside’s name by picturing, not just something burning, but something weird like a water buffalo but, burning on only one side of the creature. Picture it, a water buffalo…burning, just on one side. Burnside. Get it? This method would be particularly useful if Mrs. Burnside happens to look like a water buffalo. COD Door

One of my biggest nuisances with O.C.D. is making sure I’ve closed the door when taking the dog out. While my dog, Paco, waits patiently wondering what the heck I’m doing, I firmly grip the door handle, pushing it gently against the latch, and create a mental picture of, for example, a green elephant pushing the door closed with his trunk. I repeat the mental process. Halfway down the street, when I’m asking myself, “Did I close the door?” the green elephant responds, “I’ve got it. Don’t worry.” Next day, different picture. Same dog. Another thing I sometimes do is use my “Departure Double Check.” For example, before I get in the car to go somewhere, I pat my pockets one-by-one and say, out loud, “wallet, cell phone, glasses, keys…” Saying it out loud makes it easier to convince your brain that you have accounted for these things. I use the same “say it out loud” method to remember that I closed the garage door. Only I say it louder, “Door IS down!” (repeat if necessary.)

Disclaimer: What works for me may not work for someone else. As the commercials say, “results may vary.” If you think you have a severe case of O.C.D., please consider seeking professional advice.

A Ping Pong Ball Decision

The 1994 Wyoming’s House of Representatives race, Republican Randall Luthi and Independent Larry Call tied with 1,941 votes each. Governor Mike Sullivan settled the election by drawing a ping pong ball out of his cowboy hat and pulled out Luthi’s name. Luthi served the Jackson Hole-area district until 2007, ultimately becoming Speaker of the House*. Close elections happen. But, by one vote? It doesn’t happen often, but it does happen.In a 1910 contest for Buffalo, New York’s congressional district, Democrat Charles B. Smith snuck by incumbent De Alva S. Alexander by a single vote:  20,685 to 20,684. That same year, Conservative Henry Duke defeated Liberal Harold St. Maur in the South West England city of Exeter to maintain his seat in the House of Commons by a vote of 4777 to 4776.

I’ve always looked at it this way: If you are considering staying home and not voting, then what if there are thousands of others feeling the same thing? I always try to apply a little telepathy as I leave for the polling place thinking, “c’mon the rest of you…let’s go vote!”

(*source: mentalfloss.com)

On Writing Well

On Amazon there are well over fifty books about writing. Favorite reference books, besides the dictionary, are Strunk and White’s “The Elements of Style,” and “Roget’s Thesaurus.” But, these are “tool books” to help you use a better word, avoid grammatical errors, or not look stupid misspelling something, or is it “mispelling?”BOOKS_pile of

Books about writing are different. Not reference books, per se, but rather books about the reasons for writing, instruction that goes beyond the books already mentioned, exploring the feeling one gets from creating, the sense of accomplishment of knowing that you are, little by little, mastering one of the most screwed up languages among those that use Latin script. (or is it “which uses…”)

My favorite book about writing is subtitled “The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation.” Actually, it is perhaps my favorite book, period. (or should it be…”period!” Written by Lynne Truss, it was a #1 New York Times Bestseller, and is famously titled, “Eats, Shoots and Leaves.” (or is it “Eats Shoots, and Leaves?”) Placement of the coma is critical.

A former writing teacher at Yale who writes about writing is William Zinsser. His “On Writing Well” is a must-read for anyone who wants to write well. Hence the title. (or is it “Hence, the title?”)

Another book by Zinsser, which I’m currently reading, is “Writing About Your Life.” Early on, Zinsser suggests that it’s good to start writing about something that you do, or have done, and the words and thoughts will come. That’s how I wrote this piece. (or is it “…how this piece was written?”) Note that this book of Zinsser’s is not so much a “how to” book as it is a collection of written pieces, gathered to teach by example.

I’m a stickler for punctuation; I use semicolons in text messages. That’s why I like Lynne Truss’s book so much. I also attempt to use correct sentence structure. But, I will expose a secret of mine; I cheat a bit. There are lots of tools right here on the internet to help you write well. I edited this piece in a program called “Grammarly.” It’s not free, but it works quite well. Then, there are the free, basic supports such as Dictionary.com and Thesauras.com and lots more apps and programs.

If you feel you’d like to write…or need to write…just jump in. Starting is the hardest part. And, don’t be afraid to re-write, and then re-write, as many times as necessary. Writing is work. Writing is fun.

The article you just read, is a re-write of one we published in April of 2016. In doing the revision, I made twenty-eight edits of the original. Did I mention, having patience is a good quality for a writer?

Upstairs at the V.F.W. Hall

In the early ’60s, I was working at powerhouse radio station KSTT in the Quad-Cities. In addition to being a disc jockey, I also did commercial production. One day during my air shift, the receptionist buzzed me on the intercom. “Ulysses is here,” she announced with a twinkle in her voice. I asked her to send him back to the studio. Ulysses Walker was a local promoter who from time-to-time would bring acts to town for a one night show. They were always up-and-coming R & B artists who were not well known. Whenever he had another show, he would come and ask me to write and produce the commercials for the event. He refused to talk with our sales reps about his advertising. He said I was the only one he wanted to work with.

“Not many have heard of these two artists,” Ulysses told me. “But, Bill, they are excellent, got a great band, and with a good spot on the radio I think we could maybe fill the upstairs room at the V.F.W. hall. It holds about five or six hundred people. I gotta load up the place to make any money.VFW 02

I told Ulysses I’d give it my best shot. He handed me a 45 rpm record on some obscure label and described the group – a duo, with a band, from Tennessee. I had never heard of them. A couple days later he came back and listened to the commercial I had created, liked it, and handed me cash to pay for the ad schedule (he did everything by cash.) We started running the spot a few days later. It was a small schedule, Ulysses could only afford about twelve radio ads.

Well, it turns out the show did fill the V.F.W. hall to standing room only capacity! Ulysses credited my commercial for the success, but as I told him, “It wasn’t me. It was those two and their band. What a show!” Either the commercial did work, or more people than we realized had already heard about this new group… (scroll down)



Originally published on Brainshowers.net in October, 2015