Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Philly

 As stated in my previous story, the Singles from First Baptist went on a mission trip to Philadelphia in the summer of 1980 for a week.  We left on a Friday afternoon.  The weather report said there was a 20% chance of rain.  Just as we were getting ready to go, the skies opened and poured the 20% chance of rain.  Thankfully, we got most of the stuff loaded up before the storm.
 We drove all night and got to Washington DC the next morning.  We didn't have much time to sightsee, but we did see the Lincoln Memorial.  We headed onto Philadelphia and got there late Saturday afternoon.
 We stayed in an old church that was our home base.  Their electrical system was a little old.  If a girl wanted to dry her hair, she had to announce it, because two hair dryers could blow the circuit.  The guys slept in one classroom, and the girls in another.  One night, I woke up from sleep to go to the bathroom.  I walked into a fly strip hanging from the ceiling.  I got a face full of dead flies.  I waited until morning to go to the bathroom after that.
 One afternoon, two friends and I wanted to walk around the neighborhood.  We were near where they filmed "Rocky".  All of a sudden, we started hearing popping noises coming from behind us.  A guy in a car was shooting a gun toward pedestrians.  We ran to a bank.  I told the security guard that he needed to call the police.  His response to me was that sort of thing happens all the time.  Drive by shootings were common place?  We had dropped into another world.
 Of course, every tourist has to run up the steps at the art museum, just like Rocky did.  I had actually done the same thing years before, when I was in Philly in 1972, but this was different.  We were all Rocky.  The event really isn't all that hard.  It is a lot of steps, but they aren't steep.  Sorry if I burst anyone's bubble as to the accomplishment or lack thereof.
 Another free afternoon, I went into the downtown to go see a movie.  That night, we were going to a Phillies baseball game, and I had to be back at the church by 5:30.  The movie was over around 4, so I headed to the train station to get the train back to the church.  I noticed on the map that there was a red line and a blue line for trains.  I couldn't figure out which line I needed, so I asked a man on the platform which train I needed.  He told me the blue line.  I stood there on the platform waiting for the train, and wondering if he told me the truth, or was he just blowing me off.  I decided that it was really the red line I needed, so I got on that one.  As it took me out to North Philadelphia, my stop was approaching.  The train didn't stop and kept going.  I realized that the man was telling the truth, that I really did need the blue line.  I got off at the next stop and had to run back over a mile to the church, getting there just as they were leaving to go to the game.  I have a problem with trusting people.  We got to the game.  The Phillies were playing the Reds.  The Reds won 14-1.  It was one of the worst losses in Phillies's history.  That year they went on to win the World Series.
 On another free afternoon and evening, we went to Amish country.  They really know how to cook.  The food was great, but the people didn't want their picture taken by us.  One man got very mad and threatened us.  One of the cooks told us that carrot cake was an aphrodisiac.  I don't know if that is true or was she just trying to sell her cakes.
 Our last night there, we decided to do a talent show to amuse ourselves.  There was a record at the church of the greatest Motown hits.  A girl, a guy, and I got together to mime two Supremes songs--"Stop in the Name of Love" and "Love Child".  The girl played Diana Ross, and the guy and I were her backup "singers".  I worked out the choreography.  We won the show.
 As we left the next day, the kids found out when we were leaving.  They didn't want us to go.  We had made a lot of strong bonds with those children.  Some tried to get on our van to get us to take them to SC.  As we drove down the street, the kids ran after our van until they couldn't catch up with us.  I have often wondered what happened to those kids.  I hope they did okay.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Puppets

 Our church in Columbia was invited to do a Vacation Bible School in Philadelphia, PA in July, 1980.  A group of Singles would go.  They wanted me to put together a group of 4 puppeteers to present puppet shows to the kids.  I had never worked with puppets before, so I took on the challenge.
 I had to write five puppet scripts to be performed one each day.  Each script was 3 pages long and involved 4 separate characters.  Each character had a different personality.  2 guys and 2 girls.  Before writing, I researched other scripts to get a feel for how puppets would sound.  I then got to work on my scripts.  Each one had conflict between the puppets.  Each one had to have some humor in them.  And, each one had to have a moral lesson.  The kids attending would be from pre-school to 6th grade, so the hardest part of writing the scripts was that I had to write them so the youngest ones could understand them, and the older ones wouldn't be bored by them.  I also wrote the scripts so that the first day would connect with the second day and build to the third day and so on.  So by the fifth day, we concluded with what we had learned the previous days.  The stories included topics like stealing, bullying, lying, and more.
 I cast 3 other people to perform with me.  We each had to practice with our puppets, so that the words out of mouths conformed with the movement of our hands.  That was kind of hard at first, but we worked out like rhythms in music.  We also found an old refrigerator box that we used to stand behind and put the puppets above the edge of the box.  I tried to write the scripts so that each puppeteer didn't have to hold up his or her puppet all during each show.  One's arm could get tired.
 When we got to Philadelphia, we found that we had two different locations to do the puppet shows, as our group of Singles had two different VBS's.  Each location was outside in a schoolyard.  We had a van to transport us from one school to the other.  When we got to the first school, we had to sweep off broken glass from the area were the kids were going to sit.  Apparently, there was some gang activity in the area where we were, and they would party at night.  Once we finished at the first school, we would pack up and drive over to the other school to do a show there.  Before we started, we once again had to sweep off all of the broken glass.  Welcome to inner-city Philadelphia.
 All of the kids loved the puppets, although most called them "muppets", because they were used to "Sesame Street".  That was okay.  Whatever worked for them.  The shows were well-received, and my goal to appeal to all of the kids there was a success.
 The next few stories will also be on our week-long trip to Philadelphia.  Enjoy.

Monday, August 28, 2017

WIS

 One job I applied for was at WIS TV.  They were looking for a host for a news segment called "The Palmetto Traveler".  The concept was that the person would travel around South Carolina and tell about historical sites that viewers may not know about or interesting out of the way places of interest.  I was not well-versed in television work at that time.  I did take a course in seminary on TV production, but that was all.  I had already turned down a production job for Pat Robertson, but I thought I would give this a shot.
 My father was a huge South Carolina history buff, and he had instilled (or rather hammered) it into me.  The news director at WIS was very impressed with my knowledge of SC, but I had to do a final screen test.  They wanted to see how I would look on camera, as well as interviewing a subject.  I didn't do too good, so I didn't get the job.  The person who got it was a Drama teacher at USC.  He didn't last too long with it.  They should have gotten me.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Census 1980

 In 1980, I was out of work and needed a job.  One that wouldn't be a problem for my back.  I heard about the Federal government hiring to take the 1980 Census, so I applied.  I was initially hired as an enumerator, who was one that went out into the field, but things quickly changed.  The man in charge was a friend of my brother's, so I got a job as the assistant in the Special Places Department.  Our offices were on the 7th floor of the Strom Thurmond Federal Building.  I say "offices", but it was really one giant room with a bunch of files and a lot of desks. 
 On my first day, I had to take an oath to protect the country from people without and within.  I asked who those people were, and they told me bad people.  I think the oath now replaces without and within with enemies foreign and domestic.  That makes more sense.  Without and within what?  That bothered me.
 Special Places were those places were people lived that wasn't permanent.  Schools, Hospitals, Homeless, Lodging, and other places.  The goal was to count everyone, wherever they were, on one date.  I was in charge of supervising enumerators who went to the colleges.  We had a five-county area that we were in charge of.  There were a lot of students to count.  The enumerators were paid on the number of forms they gave out.  I had one guy who went into a dorm and just dropped the forms on the floor.  He came back and said he had delivered them to the students.  A dorm counselor called me to complain that the census forms were all over the floor in the lobby.  We fired that guy.
 Another one of my jobs was to call every motel and hotel in the five-county area to ask what they charged for a night.  The amount was important, because it depended on how the place was classified.  I called one motel in Columbia, and they asked me if I wanted the hourly rate or the nightly rate.  I told her nightly, and she said to take the hourly rate and multiply it by 8.  Classy place.  I also had the ability to send out US Marshals to a place that didn't comply with my questions.  I called one motel, and the woman on the other end refused to give me the information.  I told her that I would send the Marshals to her motel, and she said that I should go ahead an send them.  So, I did.  About an hour later, she called me back and told me that she thought I was kidding, and she gladly gave me the information I needed.  Force works.
 I also had the job of finding out why people had not paid their taxes in 7 years or more.  Most of these people lived in rural areas.  I learned how to find people.  This was before the internet, so I had to get good at finding people.  In the smaller towns, one could find names of people close to the name that I was looking for.  Most of them were related to one another, or they knew them.  I called one number and got hold of a woman.  I asked her if her husband was home, and she told me that he had gone.  I asked her when he would be back, and then she started crying.  She yelled out that he was dead and hung up the phone.  I didn't know that "gone" meant "dead".  I do now. 
 Federal government work was fun but also hard.  We only got thirty minutes for lunch, which was almost impossible to handle.  Restaurants were few and far between.  One of our workers was named Margaret.  She had a convertible.  She and I went to a restaurant across town and were back within 30 minutes.  She ran all of the lights.  Another guy I worked with was named Billy.  He made things light with his jokes.  Our job was high-pressure, so the lighter you made it the better.
 Toward the end of the counting, we had cities and towns in the area go over our numbers.  There was a formula that each person counted would go toward how much federal dollars they would get.  It was something like $1500/person.  Most areas agreed with our counting, but the city of Columbia didn't.  They went over our figures and found discrepancies, so I had to go back over the numbers and our maps to determine what was correct.  One place that the city claimed was a house was actually a dugout at a softball field.  It got rather contentious.  Going back and forth with them.  We finally settled on a figure that was about 2000 more people than originally. 
 My responsibilities involved dealing with some very sensitive information.  It was high-security.  After working there 8 months, my boss called me into his office and asked me if I had filled out a security checklist.  I had not, so they ran a security check on me.  Fingerprints.  The works.  About a week later, he called me back into his office and told me that I was being let go.  I failed the security check.  Why?  Because of my FBI file in Washington about my anti-war activities some 9 years earlier.  So, for 8 months, I had been around very sensitive material.  Now, I couldn't.  I was told to shred all of my documents before leaving, but then Columbia tried to sue for more people.  All of my notes were gone.  Sorry, Columbia. 

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Ronald Reagan

 In 1980, Ronald Reagan was running for President.  He was scheduled to make a campaign speech at the State House in Columbia, and I wanted to see him.  As I have said before, one of my obsessions is to see every President or potential President in my lifetime, and I have except for JFK.  And, I am a political junkie, so I had to be there. 
 One way to see someone famous is to figure out how he is going to get to the site of his speech.  Which route is he going to take?  I knew that Reagan would have to come in the south side of the State House, because it was easier and more private from a security standpoint.  I stood next to the south side entrance to the grounds.  It was just me and an elderly woman.  Just the two of us.  Shortly, we heard the sirens of police cars, and a nondescript car approached.  It wasn't a limousine.  Just a plain four-door sedan.  The car had to slow down to take a speed bump just before the entrance to the grounds.  I was about three feet from the car.  I looked inside the back seat, and there was Ronald Reagan along with his wife Nancy.  The woman and I waved at them, and they waved back.  I then gave a thumbs up to Reagan, and he did the same back to me. 
 After that brief encounter, I noticed that Reagan gave the thumbs up sign a lot after that.  I don't know if I gave him the idea, but it is nice to think so.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Christmas Work

 I had to make some money, after getting back home from Texas, and not being able to find a teaching job.  I answered an ad in the paper for a writer.  It was a man, who lived in a public housing high rise, who wanted me to write his life story.  I interviewed him for hours.  He said he worked at the old Jefferson Hotel in Columbia, which was at the corner of Laurel and Main.  It was during the prohibition era, and he used to work at a speakeasy.  He would see politicians stop by for a drink and hook up with a prostitute.  He told me all about the Roaring 20's.  The problem with his story was that it was a one-person's account, which couldn't be verified.  I did some research on my own, and his name never came up in any of my research, despite how powerful he said he was.  In fact, he said he was a local gangster and hitman.  It was obvious to me that he was suffering from dementia.  I never wrote his story.  I don't even remember his name.  He didn't want to pay me, until the book was complete.  So, that's why I didn't write it, even though it was questionable to begin with.  He died a year later.
 I did get a job at J. B. White's at Richland Mall for Christmas.  It was part-time, and my job was to restock bags at registers and do some stock work.  I was not the only one doing this job, which was good, because it was pretty hard.  In those days, department stores were very busy with Christmas shoppers.  So, I spent the majority of my time bringing bags out to the departments that needed them.  At first, it was a not so bad, but as Christmas got closer, it got more demanding.  I brought the bags out, and stooped down to put them underneath the registers.  On one occasion, I brought out a pack of really big bags.  The load shifted on me, and I hurt my back.  So much so that I couldn't stand up.  The pain was awful.  I had to quit that job, because my back was more important to me than the money.  Ever since then, I have had lower back problems.  No workman's comp for me.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Willie Nelson

 When I sold records in Ft. Worth, Willie Nelson was the second most popular artist.  The most popular was Bob Wills and The Texas Playboys.  So, when Willie announced he was coming to Columbia for a concert in 1979, I just had to go.
 Delbert McClinton opened for him.  He was great.  Then, Willie came on stage.  He did a killer show.  The one thing that I was amused at, and I know he was too, was that a bunch of guys in the audience showed up wearing cowboy hats.  The hats were nice and clean.  They looked like they had never been worn before.  What was funny about that was what I had seen in Texas.  Any self-respecting Texan would buy a cowboy hat and then run over it with their car or truck before wearing it.  That fashion statement was important, because it had to look used.  It had to be dirty.  And, it had to look beat-up.  None of these guys in Columbia had hats that looked like that.  They weren't real cowboys.  They were showy, fake cowboys.
 So, if you go to a country music concert, be sure to roll your hat over with your car or truck, preferably in the mud.