Thursday, January 11, 2018

Sherman's Road

 One summer night at White Oak, John (the Eagle Scout) said he wanted to show us Sherman's Road.  Apparently, when General Sherman's Army left Columbia, they moved north past Winnsboro toward Chester.  Highway 321 had not been built yet, but this road sort of paralleled what is now 321.  It was a dirt road that had mostly disappeared over time, but there was still a portion left intact, which ran from White Oak to Blackstock.  It was history and some of us wanted to see it.
 Suzanne, Angela and I piled into the front seat of John's pickup truck with him behind the wheel, and off we went to Sherman's Road.  It was night, because it was the only free time we had from work.  We started out down this dirt road with no lighting other that the truck's headlights.  We came to a ravine that had two boards across it.  John lined up his truck to the boards and drove across.  A pretty easy task, except for one major problem.  The two girls and I were SCREAMING!  The boards sagged, as we drove across, and the ravine was deep.  What is the truck slid off?  We would all be killed.  John thought our fright was funny.  We got over the ravine and continued on our way.  Until we came to another ravine and another two boards.  We begged John to turn around.  The truck got over the ravine, and we kept going.
 It was getting darker, and we were afraid that John didn't really know where he was going.  After some choice words said to John, he finally agreed to turn around.  There was a house along the road, where we could turn around.  It was also obvious that the home owner did not expect anyone turning around in his front yard.  After all, there was probably a reason why he wanted to live way back from the main highway with no neighbors around.  As John was turning around, the man came out of his house holding a rifle.  If we hadn't been freaking out about the boards over the ravines, we were now.  This man was going to shoot us trespassers.  John sped off in the other direction .  We didn't care about him lining up the wheels to the boards.  We shot over the ravines.  I had never been in a flying pickup truck before, and hopefully will never again.
 My suggestion to anyone interested in going down Sherman's Road is:  DON'T.  Maybe look at it on an old map, or better yet--take Hwy 321 and imagine just off in the woods is where Sherman's Army was.  You don't want to be mistaken for a revenuer.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Cameras

 Each summer, we would have youth camps at White Oak.  Those weeks were the busiest of the whole year.  There were always more to do.  As one of the jobs I had was washing dishes, it became increasingly challenging to separate the trays from the dishes, cups and silverware, especially if all 250 kids decided to return their trays all at once.  It took a real skill.  There was also a lot of bad words said under one's breath.  You had to put yourself in a zone and not think about the gross stuff you saw on their trays, but one guy left his retainer.  We had to clean it and return it to the owner.  That was pretty gross.
 Another job I had was running the canteen.  Usually, I had two or three helping me.  I shudder to think how many kids got sodas that sprayed in their faces, when they opened the cans.  Things moved pretty fast in there during youth weeks.
 During one week, John and I were asked to build a bonfire near the lake.  John was the Eagle Scout, so he knew more than I did about how to build a good fire.  We also had these large water containers that we carried on our backs to put the fire out, once the kids finished their fun.  So, we built the fire and were ready for the kids.  We waited quite a while.  The camp's director came down to where we were and told us that the kids had decided they didn't want to the bonfire after all.  More bad words under our breaths, and we proceeded to put out the fire.  Unfortunately for us, it was burning pretty good.  Had the kids gone with the bonfire, we wouldn't have had so much fire to put out.  Our backpacks full of water were not sufficient to put out the blaze.  We had to go to the lake and fill up the tanks to continue putting out the fire.  This went on for almost an hour.  Moral of the story is don't let an Eagle Scout make your bonfire.  It was too perfect.
 One job I had was great.  I had helpers as we would change the sheets and towels during youth camp.  The kids would be in meetings, as we would go to their rooms and make everything nice for them.  A lot of the kids would bring their cameras with them to take pictures of the woods and other stuff as memories of their time there.  Their cameras were left in their rooms, while they were away.  We would go into their rooms and take pictures of our feet, the ceilings, the floor, and anything else that folks wouldn't normally take pictures of.  The reason was that when they got home, they would show their friends the pictures they took, and their friends would ask, "Why did you take a picture of the ceiling?"  I know that was rude, but we had to find fun where we could.  I am sorry if the kids didn't share in our humor.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

The Bull

 The next several stories will be about things we did while working at White Oak Baptist Conference Center.  The staff did some creative things to pass the time, when we had free time.
 As I wrote in the last story, we had a guy named John who worked on the staff with us.  He was a senior in high school and an Eagle Scout.  John was younger than the rest of us, but he also had some great ideas for things to do.  He, Jeff and Mike got an idea to throw cafeteria trays in the air and take pictures of them.  We were going to send them into the National Enquirer and say they were UFO's.  Somebody suggested that we wrap the trays in tin foil to make them more shiny.  I also chimed in and said we should do this at night, since most UFO sightings had been at night.  John said that we needed to propel the trays into the air, so he suggested building a cannon.  So, we did.  The planning and execution took a couple of hours.  In hindsight, we should have planned it out a little more.
 It was around 10pm, and we set out to find a place that had no street lights.  We wanted to find a place where the only light was the flash of the camera.  John had the "cannon".  It was a tube filled with gunpowder.  I don't know where the gunpowder came from, and I don't want to know.  We brought a couple of trays wrapped in tin foil.  We set one of the trays on top of the cannon, and lit the fuse.  The tray went up about six feet and fell quickly.  It really wasn't enough time to snap the picture.  So, John "modified" the cannon to get a bigger explosion.  This time, the tray flew farther up, and I took the picture.  We wanted to get several good pictures, so we did this procedure over and over again.
 To do this event, we had chosen a large cow pasture that was far enough away from the farm house that we didn't think anyone would mind.  Unbeknownst to us, it wasn't far enough away from the cows.  A bull heard the explosions and decided to investigate.  He was not pleased that we had woken him up from his dreams of cows.  When the bull came over toward us, he was pretty mad and charged us.  We ran with the trays, but we left the cannon out there.  We barely outran the bull.  The next day, the farmer contacted the director of the conference center.  We had apparently woke him up too, and he found the cannon in the pasture, and put two and two together.  After all, the White Oak staff was known in the community for being pranksters.  We got into trouble and had to apologize to the farmer.  We didn't send the pictures into the National Enquirer.  They just weren't good enough.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

White Oak

 For my next series of stories, I will be discussing my work (and play) at White Oak Baptist Conference Center, where I worked from 1981 to 1983.  It was owned and operated by the South Carolina Baptist Convention.  It was about 8 miles north of Winnsboro off of I-77 and Hwy 321 in the town of White Oak, SC.  They had a post office, a couple of churches, and a bunch of farm houses.
 The conference center was built on a large tract of land.  It had an administration building with a book store and canteen.  Adjacent to the administration building, there was a dining hall with 4 conference rooms separated by folding partitions.
 A short walk down a paved path, there was a motel-style living area.  Another short walk down an unpaved road was another living area that was made up of multiple bunk beds.  Beyond that building, there was a small lake.  Three houses were also on the property for the center's director, maintenance man, and administrative assistant.
 I was hired to do a variety of jobs.  My main responsibility was setting up for conferences.  Some were small with just a few people, while others were big.  We could do ones for up to 250 people.  Those were usually youth camps.  During the summer, I had others on staff to help me.  The rest of the year, I may only have one other person to help me.  His name was John, and he was a high school student in Winnsboro.  Another helper year-round was Amelia.  She did the food line and was our main lifeguard.  She was an EMT and lived in White Oak.
 My other jobs included: washing dishes; running the canteen; replacing sheets and towels; maintaining the drink machines; building bonfires; running the reservation desk at night; security; and whatever else came along.
 Other summer staffers included:  Jeff, Mark, Angela, Suzanne, Rod, Fran, and a couple of others during my tenure.  They were mostly college students.
 My day usually consisted of getting up around 6am and working breakfast.  I was on call all day with various chores to do.  I would have to stay up until the last conferee left their meeting area, which could be late into the night.  We had a TV in the dining hall, and some would watch late night football.  I tried desperately to get them to leave, so I could go to bed.  I had to lock up all of the buildings.  I would use the method of flipping the lights on and off or make a bunch of noise to let them know I was still there.  One thing I couldn't do was to ask them to leave.  The director never wanted me to make anyone mad, so I had to be subtle.  Some nights, I might get a couple hours of sleep before having to start all over again.  My body clock was very messed up.  When I left the job in 1983, I had to take a couple of months off and get back to normal.
 I had a room in the motel on the property, where I would stay as long as a conference was going on.  The motel room had two beds and a bathroom.  There were no TV's or radios in the rooms.  I brought my portables from home, but the guests staying there did not have that luxury unless they went up to the conference area.
 So, that's a brief overview of what was there.  More later.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

The Charleston Tea Party

 In the early 1980's, the South Carolina Educational Television folks put together a group of actors for a series of programs for their instructional network.  The programs would be sent out to students in the schools around the state.  I was chosen to participate in a program called The Palmetto Special, which was designed for 8th grade history classes.  The first one I did was called "The Charleston Tea Party", and it was filmed in 1981.  As far as I know, it was shown in classes into the 1990's and maybe beyond.
 The program was about a little known event in South Carolina history that occurred in 1774.  Everyone knows about the Boston Tea Party, but the one in Charleston was more about taxes and contraband.  I played the evil Mr. Lindsay, who was one of three Charlestonians who brought in tea to the colony over the objections of the residents.
 We filmed the majority of the program in and around Charleston.  Most of those in the cast had Theatre experience, and the crew had a lot of TV experience, so it made for a professional look.  We were dressed in wigs and period costumes.  They put us up in a motel off Meeting Street in downtown Charleston.  Our first location was at a bank about two blocks away.  I walked in costume over to the bank.  Some tourists thought I was a tour guide and was asking me about where one thing or another was located.  I sent several tourists in the wrong direction.  Sorry guys.
 The scenes at the bank had an outdoor courtyard scene in the back of the bank, and the other scene was upstairs in a meeting room.  The outdoor scene required dialogue between the three evil tea merchants.  Because there were cars and planes around town, we had gone out about a week before and recorded our dialogue in the depths of Sesqui Park outside Columbia in the dead of night, so that there would not be any noise.  There is also an earlier scene of a bonfire, which was also done in the park.  So, when we got to the bank in Charleston, the crew put up giant speakers behind the bank, and we mouthed our lines to the audio.  We had to do several takes.  I also had to work without glasses, and I was pretty blind.  There was a narrow brick walkway that we had to proceed down toward some steps.  There was a brick spot that jutted out, and I kept tripping at that spot.  If you ever see the finished product, you will see me glancing down as we walked.  I was looking for that spot.
 As we walked up the steps, I had a line about "bowing to Mr. Gadsden".  I thought of doing a bow with my hat.  The director liked that idea and kept it in the film.  We got up to the meeting room for the next scene.  I had my glasses tucked into the cuff of my coat.  There was an actor (one of the evil three) that had to make a short speech.  He was flanked by me and another actor.  He had a tough time keeping a straight face while making his speech, and he would laugh.  The director would have to stop the film, and he would do it again.  We did several takes.  The actor on the other side of him and me began pinching the actor to try and get him to stop laughing.  If you see the program, he looks like he is in pain while delivering his speech.  He was.  One regret about that scene for me was I was not consistent in tilting my head.  One shot it was one way, and then another shot was another way.
 Our other big scene was the dumping of the tea into Charleston Harbor.  We shot that scene at Charles Towne Landing on a very cold day.  The wind was blowing off of the water.  The crew had made boxes out of Balsa Wood, so they were very light to pick up.  Nothing was in the boxes, and we had to look like we were dumping the tea into the harbor without actually doing it.  The boxes were down in the hold of this period ship that was moored to a pier.  One actor got at the bottom of the steps in the boat and picked up a box, supposedly full of tea, and gave it to me.  I was at the middle of the steps, and I had to carry it up the steps to another actor at the top of the steps.  He then proceeding to carry it over to the side of the ship for dumping later.  First of all, it was hard for me as I couldn't see to carry the box up the steps without falling.  But, the first actor in the hold made it look like it was a heavy box.  He gave it to me, and I just carried it up the steps like it was nothing.  The third actor took the box, and he made it look like he was getting a hernia.  I looked like I was the strongest man around.
 We then had to look like we were dumping the tea.  The two actors did a box together.  They then gave me a box to "dump".  The thing is that the boxes were sealed, so it had to look like we were dumping the tea, when nothing would be coming out.  After we had done this, the director decided that he wanted a shot of someone breaking open the box with a wooden club and to do it in slow motion.  One of the crew members did that.  They then wanted me to use another box to dump more tea flanked by the other two actors.  It was one of those already sealed boxes.  I was to then take the box and bring it back down to the deck of the ship.  I asked the director about that, and he said that I would be out of focus and no one would see that the box was sealed.  It was while the narrator was finishing up the story on camera.  I was right behind him.  When I brought the box back down, I was in focus, and everyone could see the box was sealed.  I wish I could have used the box they broke open, but that one had been destroyed by the crew member.  I just hope 8th graders didn't catch those errors.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Philly #2

 Our Singles group at church did so well in 1980 going to Philadelphia to do Vacation Bible School for the kids, they invited us back for another week in the summer of 1981.  We took more people this time.  Some of those from the year before went, but most of them were newbies, so us veterans could tell them what to expect.
 We stayed at the same church as the year before.  However, they had us set up one VBS site at Fairmount Park in Philadelphia.  I did the puppets.  I only had three people doing puppets rather than the four the year before, so I had to rewrite the scripts for just 3 puppets.  It wasn't too hard, although I only had one female, so her lines were a bit more than the two males.  We used another refrigerator box for our stage, and we did 3 shows per day.  The kids seemed to like it.
 One of the kids who came was named Zoom.  I don't know his real name, but he ran everywhere.  He had more energy than anyone.  If anybody knows Zoom now, tell him hello.
 One night, our group went downtown to look around and have a steak dinner at a restaurant.  I ordered the cheapest steak on the menu, and the waiter brought a steak that was much bigger than the picture.  I started in on it, and got about a quarter eaten, when the waiter came over and told me that he had mistakenly given me a steak ordered from another table.  He asked me to give him the steak back.  I asked him what was he going to do?  Serve an eaten steak to someone else?  The waiter then said I would have to pay the difference for his mistake.  That would have been close to $50.  So, I asked to speak to the manager.  He came to our table, and I told him what had happened.  He said it was the waiter's fault, and I could have the expensive steak at the price I should have paid for the cheaper one.  Good customer service kept me from having to wash dishes to pay for the bigger steak.  Good call, Mr. Manager.  I hope the waiter wasn't fired.
 Another trip we took while there was back to Amish country.  We ate at a restaurant there which was out of this world.  If you ever get to go to Amish country, bring an empty stomach.  One guy in our group ate an entire chicken, or maybe 3.  He couldn't eat anything for a couple of days.
 One afternoon, the kids in the neighborhood challenged us to a stickball game.  We had never played stickball, but we had played a lot of baseball, so we knew we would win.  After all, most of us were in our twenties, and these kids were in like 6th grade.  The stick was a broomstick, and the ball resembled a small tennis ball.  If it hit anything, it wouldn't break it.  We played the game in the street with cars on either side.  Everyone had a nickname, so the kids named me "Walt the Stalt" after the basketball player Wilt "The Stilt" Chamberlain.  We found early on that you couldn't just swing the stick as hard as you could to hit the ball.  Their pitching was relentless.  They knew that if they hit the ball under a car that it would be a homerun, because we couldn't get to it in time.  They beat our socks off.  It was rather humbling.  But, we had a good time interacting with the kids on their home turf.  We definitely didn't let them win.  They were just too good for us.
 I did have a scare while in Philly.  I had to eat a Hoagie.  It was a requirement.  I don't know what sauce they used, but it turned out I was allergic to it.  My tongue and lips got swollen.  Thankfully, it was our last night before leaving to go back home, so the puppet shows were done.  The swelling went down by the next morning, and I was okay, but I think I won't be getting a Hoagie again.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Butterflies

 In the spring of 1981, I was cast in the lead of a children's play called "The Butterfly That Blushed".  It was for the Gingerbread Theatre at Columbia College.  My role was called Worm, and I played a moth, while everyone else had turned into butterflies.  So, all of the butterflies made fun of Worm.  In the end of the play, Worm turned into the most beautiful butterfly around.  The moral of the story was that there is more beauty on the inside than the outside.  The play was for young children mostly.
 One of the things about the play was that I had to perform two songs.  I had never sung a solo before in a play.  I had done musicals before but only in groups.  It scared me to death this time.  The director told me that little kids didn't care how bad I was, but I wanted to do as good as I could.  The music was written by a local pianist, so I wanted to do good for him too, since he was also handling the music for the show.  The first song was pretty easy.  It was a depressing song about why didn't anyone like me.  The second song was harder, as it was a happy song about Worm turning into a butterfly.  I had problems with doing it.  It also required me to dance.  I just have a hard time singing and dancing at the same time.  Kind of like patting your head and rubbing your belly at the same time.  So, I worked with the director and figured out I could speak the song instead of singing it.  I think I became one of the first ones to do rap in public.
 Another problem I had involved one of the other actors.  There were two men in the play and seven women.  All of the women were students at the college.  When I had been in some plays before, there had been one dressing room for everyone.  You just changed and didn't look around at anyone else.  For this play, there was a dressing room for me and the other guy, and there was one dressing room for all of the women.  Before the dress rehearsal, the other guy was putting on his makeup, and I was changing into my leotard.  A knock came on the door, and I said come in.  The stage manager came in and screamed, as I was not dressed.  I apologized, and the other guy explained that this school wasn't like others.  So, I learned.
 We had two shows.  After each show, the actors stood outside of the theatre to sign autographs for the children.  I would sign my name and put "Worm" next to it.  About a year later, I was at work and two kids looked at me and got very excited.  They started screaming--"Worm".  It really surprised me that they remembered my role.  It  became a running joke for several years after that, when they would see me and still yell out "Worm!"
 I auditioned for "The Wizard of Oz" at Columbia College later that semester.  They wanted me to sing something, so I chose the song from "The Butterfly That Blushed".  I didn't get the role.  I guess singing for kids was different than singing for adults.
 I got the Best Actor Award for a Gingerbread Theatre production in 1981 at Columbia College.  They gave me a certificate, which I still have.  I have gotten several awards over the years for acting, but I think the award in 1981 meant the most to me.