February 2008


Pullman Porters Helped Others Reach Their Destination – washingtonpost.com

So much cultural meaning is packed into the figure of the Pullman porter — racial pride and racial guilt, the faded glory of the American railroad, a level of customer service now extinct — that it seems beyond mere mortals to inhabit the myth.

Three avatars of the age did just fine yesterday, nevertheless. They were the best-dressed gentlemen in Union Station: Not in the starched white jacket, bow tie, pressed trousers and blue caps of their old profession, but in sharp business suits, each man displaying — and they did not plan this — a colorful pocket handkerchief.

But then, of course. A Pullman veteran knows everything there is to know about self-presentation, about working a room, about coming out on top in the daily status wars — maintaining one’s self-respect without threatening the status of those who think they are superior.

“A certain profile of man was successful out there as a sleeping car porter,” says E. Donald Hughes II, 53, who put himself through the University of Maryland making beds and shining shoes on the railroad. “We could think on our feet, and we could turn things around to our advantage very quickly and make you think that you were in control when in fact, you weren’t in control.”

My dad worked for several railroad companies throughout his career. As family, we did most of our travel by train. I didn’t realize how lucky I was until I was a teen since none of my friends ever traveled this way.

My favorite memory is having my 7th birthday on the train while we were traveling from Baltimore to Montana. We were having dinner on the train (full service with lots of linen and silver) and I was a little grumpy that I wouldn’t be home with the cake and presents. Just before we were to order dessert, the waiter brought out a lovely birthday cake. I’m certain my parents asked what could be done and at a previous stop, someone went and bought a cake for me. Everyone sang Happy Birthday and I felt so special.

My parents always taught us to be respectful to the porters and waiters. They were not babysitters or playmates – they had work to do and we should respect that. We always said called them “Sir” and said “please” and “thank you” when they helped us.

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Summing It Up (in Six Words) – City Room – Metro – New York Times Blog

This looks like a fun book.

The New York-based, online Smith magazine is releasing a collection of six-word memoirs called “Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous and Obscure” (Harper Collins, 2008). The project was inspired, in part, by the legend of Ernest Hemingway responding to a challenge of a six-word story with “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”

Some of the highlights:

Lots of folk are adding their personal six word summaries to the NYTimes site.

So I did as well – comment #353: “I am my own hero, finally.”

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I made beef stew yesterday because it was supposed to be cold and I knew that cooking it would warm up the house. Little did I know when I bought the ingredients that it would turn out to be warm outside.

There is something terribly wrong with temperatures in the 60s on February 17. People are wearing flip flops and the crocuses are shooting up out of the ground. While on a walk, I found some forsythia branches by the road and brought home a sprig with some blooms. Forsythia have always been the harbingers of spring for me – but not in February! What will it be like in July?

Forsythia in February

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US Elections – Times Online – WBLG: A town called Obama

Thousands of Pacific miles might separate residents of an isolated fishing town on Japan’s snowy west coast from the buzz of the US election campaign but that hasn’t prevented them from taking an avid interest in the fortunes of one candidate – the young Illinois senator with whom the ancient community shares its name.

Obama, Japan has been thoroughly infected by the mania surrounding its accidental namesake and is mounting an astonishing display of support for the man who hopes to become America’s first black president.

The main hotel is splattered with posters hailing Obama, while his image will grace headbands and T-shirts currently in production. Sweet bean “manju” cakes bearing Obama’s portrait are being prepared by local confectioners, and the town of 32,000 has even held special primary night parties to celebrate his victories.

This is from the London Times – I’ve taken to reading it’s RSS feed daily (sometimes hourly) since it has such a different POV. This is the kind of “political” story I really enjoy.

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Paul Westerberg 2002

Well you wish upon a star that turns into a plane
And I guess that’s right on par
Who’s left to blame?

If you were a pill
I’d take a handful at my will
And I’d knock you back with something sweet and strong
Plenty of times you wake up in February make-up
Like the moon and the morning star you’re gone

Tonight makes love to all your kind
Tomorrow’s makin’ Valentines

Hey you pop up in this old place
So sick and so refined
Are you strung out on some face?
Well I know it ain’t mine

If you were a pill, I’d take a handful at my will,
And I’d knock you back with something sweet and strong
Trouble keeping your head up when you’re hungry and you’re fed up
Like a moon and a lone star you’re gone

Tonight makes love to all your kind
Tomorrow’s makin’ Valentines

If you were a pill, I’d take a handful at my will,
And I’d knock you back with something sweet as wine
Yesterday was theirs to say, this is their world and their time
Well if tonight belongs to you, tomorrow’s mine

Tonight makes love to all your kind
Tomorrow’s makin’ Valentines

Valentine, The Replacements, Pleased To Meet Me (1987)

Pleased To Meet Me album cover

Most people who know me know that I am a die-hard Paul Westerberg fan. I love the Replacements, too, but I became a fan after they broke up and heard Westerberg’s solo stuff first so I consider myself a Westerberg fan. The photo is from a 2002 concert at the 9:30 Club in DC – probably the best concert I ever witnessed. Just Paul and guitars – magnificent!

This song is from one of the best albums the Replacements ever recorded. Buy this album – you won’t regret it.

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Feb. 14, 1929: Al Capone’s .45 Caliber Valentine

1929: The art of the gangland slaying takes a quantum leap when mobsters working for Al Capone use the cutting-edge technology of the day — the Thompson submachine gun — to wipe out a rival gang in a garage on Chicago’s North Side.

The St. Valentine’s Day massacre wasn’t the first time a mobster used the Tommy gun in a rub-out, but the slaughter — seven men were killed — was unprecedented and therefore shocking, even by jaded Chicago standards.

Instead of the usual hearts and flowers, I thought this was an interesting Valentine’s anniversary.

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Polaroid Abandons Instant Photography – The Lede – Breaking News – New York Times Blog

It was a wonder in its time: A camera that spat out photos that developed themselves in a few minutes as you watched. You got to see them where and when you took them, not a week later when the prints came back from the drugstore.

But in a day when nearly every cellphone has a digital camera in it, “instant” photography long ago stopped being instant enough for most people. So today, the inevitable end of an era came: Polaroid is getting out of the Polaroid business.

The company, which stopped making instant cameras for consumers a year ago and for commercial use a year before that, said today that as soon as it had enough instant film manufactured to last it through 2009, it would stop making that, too. Three plants that make large-format instant film will close by the end of the quarter, and two that make consumer film packets will be shut by the end of the year, Bloomberg News reports.

I love Polaroid cameras – I still have one of them and a special slide printer. I also learned to make Polaroid transfers onto watercolor paper – really lovely prints with a vintage feel. Our family had one of the early B&W cameras that needed to have the rather smelly coating smeared on after it developed for preservation. The later color cameras were great fun at parties. It’s sad to see an entire industry die away.

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