Ramblin’ 10/11/16

Welcome back to Ramblin’!

It really feels like fall now. 71 degrees with a high of 75 on the way, and a low tonight of 47. Leaves are beginning to cover the side, fenced-in, yard. And Auburn is ranked. All is well!

I began reading Steve Spurrier’s autobiography, Head Ball Coach-My Life in Football, yesterday. A few chapters in and it is vintage Spurrier. Good stuff.

The book I completed last week, prior to starting on Spurrier’s, was one by crime-mystery novelist James Lee Burke. The Tin Roof Blowdown. It’s from his Dave Robicheaux series. Excellent writing. Brilliant prose. Intricate, compelling plot lines. Superb characters.

The Tin Roof Blowdown takes place in the aftermath of Katrina in New Orleans, New Iberia, Lafayette, and environs.

Highly recommended.

On the old Apple Music turntable, Lester Young and Billie Holiday. The album is entitled ‘A Musical Romance.’ Also brilliant.

Backing up to bring Auburn into the conversation again. They have an open date this Saturday. That will leave our focus on the SEC at Knoxville and Oxford. Alabama-Tennessee and Ole Miss-Arkansas.

Me and Paul will be having near and dear Bama friends over for for the occasion. I look forward to a great day and night of football, food, and music. An adult beverage or two might be consumed as well.

Birthdays today include Eleanor Roosevelt, Daryl Hall, Luke Perry, Elmore Leonard (speaking of great crime-mystery writers), and rapper U-God of Wu Tang Clan.

Yes, I have been to a Wu Tang Clan concert. They opened for Rage Against The Machine. How did I find myself at this event you might ask. It was 1997 and I took my son, Luke, to what was then Lakewood Amphitheater. It was an experience to be sure. People running around bumping into one another, et cetera. Old Dirty Bastard and all.

RIP ODB.

I was just scanning my Apple Music recommendations for today and under ‘Albums’ spotted one by UB 40.

UB 40 covered my favorite Neil Diamond song which is Red, Red Wine. UB 40’s cut was, of course, done in reggae style.

Another aside involving Luke. I was driving him to school at Lee-Scott Academy in Auburn back in 1989. I was then the retail store manager for Tiger Rags (shout out to Don, Charlie, and Jerry!). We were listening to a Columbus pop/rock station and they played the UB 40 cover of Red, Red Wine. The DJ followed the song with non-sensical lyrics of his own. “Red, red wine I can see your fanny. Red, red wine you got a hole in you panty.”

It’s all about those moments. Ain’t it?

Speaking of moments, I had one that knocked me for a loop back on September 15th. I had a bout of Transient Global Amnesia or, duh, TGA. Click the link and check it out.

It was scary. And I can’t imagine how awful it was for Melodye. I didn’t know what day it was or who the president was. I didn’t remember Auburn was playing Texas A&M in two days.

Mel had me on the phone and I asked her, “Paul, what is all this A&M stuff doing on the table? Are we playing football?” (I keep programs, cups, and paraphernalia from the coming Saturday’s opponent on the kitchen table the week of that game.)

She knew, then, we were in big trouble. It seemed so but all’s well that ends well. TGA is, essentially, harmless. ‘Twas NO fun though.

And thanks again for your thoughts and prayers. Your calls, texts, and well wishes.

Back in the saddle with ‘Ramblins’ again! It’s been far too long.

Ok! Apple Music now twangin’ out a ‘My Favorites Mix’ that they rustled up for me. All country. The last two songs were Hag’s ‘Somewhere Between’ and Conway’s ‘To See My Angel Cry’.

Now? Kristofferson’s ‘Why Me Lord’. That’s a great “hymn.”

Wow! How poignant!

“Why me Lord, what have I ever done
To deserve even one
Of the pleasures I’ve known
Tell me Lord, what did I ever do
That was worth loving you
Or the kindness you’ve shown.
Lord help me Jesus, I’ve wasted it so
Help me Jesus I know what I am
Now that I know that I’ve need you so
Help me Jesus, my soul’s in your hand.
Tell me Lord, if you think there’s a way
I can try to repay
All I’ve taken from you
Maybe Lord, I can show someone else
What I’ve been through myself
On my way back to you.
Lord help me Jesus, I’ve wasted it so
Help me Jesus I know what I am
Now that I know that I’ve need you so
Help me Jesus, my soul’s in your hand.”
Amen.
(Photo me & Paul with our Bama friends, Terry and Lyndie Sims)
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Ramblin’ 8/16/16

Last week I mentioned the Woodstock Festival as High Holy Days, celebrated here at 116 Sundown Way, and now those days are upon us. We are in Day Two of the festivities, the day it began to rain. And it’s thundering, and about to rain. Right here. Right now. Seems fitting somehow.

Musically, at Woodstock, yesterday was Richie Havens, Arlo Guthrie, and Joan Baez, among others. Today features Country Joe McDonald (“Gimme an F!”), Santana, Canned Heat, Mountain, The Grateful Dead, and CCR .

Here are some festival facts I thought you might enjoy:

  • 1 Diabetic coma
  • 2 Festival births
  • 3 Tracheotomies performed
  • 6 Months preparation time before the festival
  • 15 Price for an ounce of marijuana (in dollars)
  • 18 Price of admission for three days (in dollars)
  • 18 Number of doctors who treated 6,000 patients
  • 20 Amount of bail bond for those held in possession of LSD (in THOUSANDS of dollars) DAY-UM!!!
  • 40 Shortest waiting time between acts (in minutes)
  • 80 Width of the stage (in feet)
  • 90 Percentage of festival attendees smoking marijuana
  • 346 Number of New York City off-duty policemen hired, joined by 100 local sheriffs, several hundred State Troopers and deputies from 12 counties
  • 346 Number of cops who walked off their jobs on the first day of the festival
  • 450 cows unfenced for three days with the campers (Mooooooo)
  • 2,500 1989 price of posters used to advertise the original event (in dollars)
  • 8,000 Price paid in 1989 for an uncollected festival ticket
  • 30,000 Number of sandwiches prepared by the Women’s Group of the Jewish Community Center of Monticello and distributed by the Sisters of the Convent of St. Thomas
  • 186,000 tickets sold
  • 250,000 Number of people who never made it to the site
  • 500,000 Frankfurters and hamburgers consumed on the first day

There’s more but you get the gist of it.

Impact of the festival… immeasurable.

I just returned home from running a couple of errands. Picked up a James Lee Burke novel. I don’t read a lot of fiction, but I stumbled upon his work a couple of years ago and I really loved it. Louisiana guy. This one, as were the other two I read, are from a series centered around a detective named Dave Robicheaux. Very intense stuff and written with equal parts beauty and horror.

The one I got today, with store credit, is entitled ‘The Tin Roof Blowdown’. It’s set in New Orleans in the aftermath of Katrina. Can’t wait to jump right in! The previous two I read were ‘Neon Rain’ and ‘Heaven’s Prisoners’.

I haven’t been to NOLA since the 2005 Sugar Bowl. It’s been far too long.

My bride and I have attended all of the Sugar Bowls our Auburn Tigers have participated in except the one following the 1971 season, when Pat Sullivan and Terry Beasley were seniors. Oklahoma, under head coach Chuck Fairbanks, whipped us like a red-headed stepchild. Glad I missed that one.

It would be great if Auburn made that New Year’s Six game this year, but I wouldn’t hold my breath if I were you. On the other hand, don’t count us out. You never know.

Truck Drivin’ Classics playing on Apple Music as we ramble along. Six Days On the Road, Eighteen Wheels and a Dozen Roses, East Bound and Down, and Guitar Town, to name a few of ’em.

My favorite truck drivin’ song is ‘Willin’, by Little Feat. Linda Ronstadt did a great cover of that one.

A quick ‘Willin’ story. I was at a Pak Mail store, about eleven years ago, near our house with some files to ship to a colleague of mine, Alice Vargas. I began to quietly sing a line from the words to ‘Willin’, “Dallas, Dallas Alice…” The lovely and spirited brunette, Carmen Park, who was preparing my package blurted out, “A Little Feat song!” And we connected. From that day to this, we have been fast friends. Even though she moved to Los Angeles, we remain in touch. We’ve tried to figure out past lives we might have shared and the forces of  God and nature that brought us together. One of our best theories is a life as French peasants.

The last time I saw her was when Auburn played Florida State in the BCS National Championship Game. Melodye, Me and Paul, spent an entire afternoon and evening with Carmen as our tour guide to LA. When we went out to the Rose Bowl, she exclaimed, “Y’all are family!”, after a few exchanges of ‘War Eagle!” with Tiger fans. We ate Thai food. We also drove by the Whiskey A Go Go, the Rainbow Room, the Chateau Marmont, and detoured into Laurel Canyon. A great day! I miss you, c!

Friends like this are rare, people. I hope every one of you has at least one, and that you treasure them dearly.

“I been warped by the rain
Driven by the snow
I’m drunk and dirty, don’t ya know
And I’m still, willin’
Out on the road late at night
Seen my pretty Alice in every headlight
Alice, Dallas Alice

I’ve been from Tucson to Tucumcari
Tehachapi to Tonapah
Driven every kind of rig that’s ever been made
Driven the back roads so I wouldn’t get weighed
And if you give me weed, whites, and wine
And you show me a sign
I’ll be willin’ to be movin’…”

This old, retired road warrior will see y’all again soon.

Grace and peace. (Patti Smith sings us out)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book It!

This will probably be the last thing I write for Campus Pressbox until July. July will also be a very light month as far as writing here is concerned. August is when the heavy hitting begins again. We have slowed the pace down, on our sports site, but August will be here before we know it, and things will then begin to rock. SEC Media Days will be behind us and fall camp will be before us. Pace yourselves, folks. It’s coming!

So what do we do with ourselves until then?

Read. No, not on social media. Get actual books. Hold them in your hand. Feel them. Smell them. Read them. Here are thirteen recommendations, from a variety of types, and in no particular order. All of the books listed below have had a big impact on me.

For fun, I’ll tie a college football team to each title so we can keep the sports theme going for all you fans. Some titles will beg for me to depart from the SEC. See if you can decipher the connections when it’s not obvious.

Fear and Loathing: On The Campaign Trail ’72 – Hunter S. Thompson. The Gonzo journalist is my favorite and this might very well be my top choice of his. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is a great, iconic work of American literature, and it gets all the press. But The Good Doctor’s take on the Nixon-McGovern presidential race is also essential reading, in my humble opinion. Whittier College.

The Hobbit – J.R.R. Tolkien. Another marvelous novel that resides, somewhat, in the shadow of Tolkien’s opus, the Lord of the Rings Trilogy. I was assigned The Hobbit as my first book to read for freshman English 101 at Auburn. It was a game-changer which then led, of course, to my reading of the trilogy. Alabama. Hint, their coach.

Brother to a Dragonfly – Will D. Campbell. Campbell is my hero, and his life and work had as much, or possibly more, influence on my life than anyone else. This is his masterpiece. We old renegade Baptist preachers have to stick together. Georgia Tech.

The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test – Tom Wolfe. From The New York Times’ Eliot Fremont-Smith, “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test is not simply the best book on the hippies, it is the essential book… the pushing, ballooning heart of the matter… Vibrating dazzle.” We old hippies have to stick together. Sorry that I have to step out of the SEC, but this one just for the University of California at Berkeley.

On The Road – Jack Kerouac. Not stepping far from the previous Tom Wolfe recommendation. Another essential American novel. Brilliant, lucid, disturbed, wild, cavorting, mesmerizing. We old road warriors have to stick together. Mississippi State.

Ball Four – Jim Bouton. Groundbreaking, rule-breaking, eye-opening, code-of-honor shattering book about life inside the New York Yankees organization back in the 60’s. Bouton pitched for the Bronx Bombers back then. Sparky Lyle’s, The Bronx Zoo, would follow in that tradition. Fordham University.

Mockingbird’s Song, Hettie Keller’s 10 Maxims For Peace And Happiness – Arnold Heflin. Arnold is a friend of mine and an Auburn graduate. He wrote this book, a platonic love story, based on a true story, his story. It will make you laugh and it will make you cry and it might just change your life. It should be made into a movie. Beautiful. Auburn.

They Came To Nashville – Marshall Chapman. Another friend of mine. Required reading if you’re a fan of country music. Marshall interviewed Kris Kristofferson, Emmylou Harris, Rodney Crowell, and Willie Nelson, along with eleven other Nashville singer-songwriters, and she shares their stories in this book that you will not be able to put down. Vanderbilt. Duh!

Skinny-dipping, Wildcat Wine, Bone Valley, and Sweetheart Deal – Claire Matturo. Claire and I studied journalism together at Troy State University, now known as Troy University. We also lived in the same trailer park for a brief period, and a good time was had by all. I am not a huge fan of fiction but this series, featuring protagonist/lawyer Lilly Belle Rose Cleary, is great fun. Smart, sharp-witted and sometimes spine-tingling crime fiction with great characters. Anybody see Kentucky in there?

A Confederacy of Dunces – John Kennedy Toole. “A corker, an epic comedy, a rumbling, roaring, avalanche of a book.” The Washington Post. “A masterwork… the novel astonishes with its inventiveness… it is nothing less than grand comic fugue.” The New York Times Book Review. Ole Miss.

So, take a break from social media. Try to put behind you, if only for a brief period, the madness that seeks to engulf us each and every day. Relax and immerse yourself in some entertaining, inspiring, and excellent reading this summer. And let me hear from you. Tell me what you thought about these great literary works.

Peace.

But don’t forget, only 78 days remain until South Carolina and Vanderbilt kick it off. 😉

 

Ramblin’ 8/9/16

Coming straight to you from a brand new iMac with the 4K retina and all. First blog typed on this one. Wow! Should have upgraded before now! Oh, the speed!

Speed. That’s what Kam Martin, true freshman running back who transferred from Baylor to Auburn, has…in spades. He was the #1 running back coming out of the great state of Texas. He WILL see time on the field of play this fall. Hey! First scrimmage today! Probably still in progress.

Carolina Chocolate Drops playing on Apple Music. Amazing music! Check ’em out!

Love this new keyboard and wireless mouse, as well.

Anyone remember Mighty Mouse? “Here I come to save the day! Mighty Mouse is on his way!” I loved Andy Kaufman’s use of that song in one of his bits. He just played the vinyl of and pantomimed the lyrics. Mercy, he was funny. Brilliant! I mis him. RIP, Andy.

Miss Andy Griffith also.

And Don Knotts. Speaking of brilliant. No time or space to touch on of all the great Barney Fife moments here.  A quick one. Barney had Gomer with him on a stakeout. Remember their signal?  “Hooty Hoo. Hooty hoo.” I still use that one a lot. And, “Here at The Rock.”

Steve Spurrier’s autobiography comes out at the end of this month, the 30th, I believe. A must read. As is Bruce Springsteen’s, for me. It releases on September 27th. Just discovered the beauty of The Boss a few months back. All in.

Ray Wylie Hubbard now up on Apple Music. His album, A: Enlightenment B: Endarkenment (Hint There Is No C). Just great, as is all his work. One of my favorites on this record is Drunken Poet’s Dream.  It’s coming on! “I got a woman who’s wild as Rome. She likes being naked and gazed upon. She crosses a bridge and sets it on fire. She lands like a bird on a telephone wire. I’m gonna holler. I’m gonna scream. I’m gonna get us some mescaline, then I’m gonna rhyme that with gasoline. A drunken poet’s dream…”

I get it. Been there.

Here comes a SEGWAAAAAYYYY… Since hallucinogens are on the table, the 47th anniversary of Woodstock begins Monday. It’s observed at 116 Sundown Way. High Holy days. From the opening with Canned Heat’s ‘Going Up The Country’, to the nuns flashing peace signs, to  Richie Havens’ improvised opening set, to Hendrix on Monday morning. A thing of beauty. They pulled it off under the most adverse of circumstances. Three Days of Peace and Music. It can be done. A snapshot into a true moment of grace. Like the Dead sings, “Once in a while you get shown the light in the strangest of places if you look at it right.”Amen.

Here’s a blog I did on the epiphany I had when I saw the Woodstock movie for the first time as a freshman at Auburn in September of 1970. War Eagle to that!

The Braves are playing well. Took two out of three in St. Louis, of all places. Beat the Brewers, 4-3, in 12 innings last night. They’ve been hitting, including taters, over the last couple of weeks. They’ll get there in a couple of years. A plethora, remember that word from last week?, of young talent in their system.

Guess what just popped up on my phone? ‘Inside The AU Tigers – Scrimmage News & Notes.’ How about a teaser? “Sean White threw a touchdown pass to Marcus Davis. Jeremy Johnson hit Ryan Davis on a long pass play to near the goal line and then scored on a keeper. Franklin threw a short pass to Jason Smith who took it the distance for a touchdown…”

Football! Received a note pad from the University of Iowa with a picture of one of their all star candidates on the front, Desmond King. He’s s defensive back  and a candidate for the Bronco Nagurski, Jim Thorpe and Walter Camp awards, among others. As a member of the FWAA (Football Writers Association of America) I get to vote on those things as well as their All-America team, College Football Hall of Fame. It’s fun and something I dreamed of as a kid. I always wanted to be a sportswriter or a sportscaster. DJ too. That’s two out of three. Now, let’s find me an event to call the play-by-play on.

Grace and peace (and music).

 

Ramblin’ 8/2/16

I went to the dentist, today, for my regular cleaning, x-rays, etc. All is well. It really helps when you have a hygienist that is gentle, swift, and conversant. Her name is Leah, which is my daughter’s name. Actually, a pleasant visit. But, my guess is everyone has hellish dentist stories, as do I.

I’m listening to an old Willie Nelson album on Apple Music. 1967 old. ‘The Party’s Over And Other Great Willie Nelson Songs.’ Amen.

Fall camp begins on The Plains TODAY! Hot diggity dank! Column to follow on Thursday.

Back to Willie. He did a duet with Tracy Nelson, no relation, many, many moons ago. After the Fire is Gone. Conway and Loretta did it as did many others. Spend the .99 and get it. Killer!

The Party’s Over always makes me think of Dandy Don Meredith and Monday Night Football. Howard Cosell and Frank Gifford, may they rest in peace. Such great stuff. Howard introduced many of us to the term “plethora.” As in, “A Plethora of wide receivers.”

Was Rush Limbaugh actually on MNF a few years back or was that just a nightmare? I didn’t watch it for  years. Didn’t watch much in the way of pro sports for quite some time. My NFL now consist of the Panthers, some Falcons, and the playoffs.

Cosell’s autobiography is quite good.

We’ve been watching Fargo, the FX series, for the past three nights. I absolutely loved the movie, but I love most anything the Coen brothers do. Billy Bob Thornton is great in the TV series.

Billy Bob is from Malvern, AR. Arkansas was in my territory, from ’93-’96, when I was working for AAA. Malvern had one motel, The Trout Motel. One of those old ‘mom and pop’ motor courts. It was clean. I love those old motels, particularly along old Route 66 in New Mexico and Arizona.

Now it’s chains. Everything is a chain. Food, beverage, drugs, retail, blah blah blah. We used to go to Liddell’s, Wetherbee’s, Joe C. Williams, Matthews Hardware, Albritton Drugs, Ratcliffe’s, et al, in Camden, AL. Same in Selma, often on Thursday afternoons  when Camden was shut down, or Saturdays. There was Lilienthal’s, Jackson’s, Brown Drugstore, Swift Drugstore, The Toy Arcade, and the Selma Del restaurant, among others.

Now ‘The Best of the British Invasion’ on Apple music… ‘She Loves You’ up first!

Anyway… chains. I try to avoid chain restaurants, unless it’s a rare “cheat” meal at a fast food place. It’s tough to avoid Target or Walmart. I’ll start with Goodwill first.

One chain I did love going to was Howard Johnson’s in Montgomery on the south side of town. I always ordered a ‘grilled frankfurter on a toasted bun,’ and either Swiss Chocolate Almond or Pistachio ice cream. Pistachio seemed so exotic. Went to the Paramount and Empire movie theaters up in the Capital City.

Hey! We had not one but TWO movie theaters in Camden, AL! The Alco and The Baggett. We’d stay all day on Saturdays usually watching either ‘cowboy’ or ‘scary’ movies.

Once I went to see ‘Frankenstein’s Daughter’ with Rich Jones (RIP, brother) one afternoon at the Alco. In one scene, the girl who transformed into Frankenstein’s daughter was sitting at a vanity and all of a sudden the camera zoomed in as she turned around, fully transformed. I fried like an egg,  jumped from my seat, and hauled butt to the concession area, screaming all the way. Rich came up there, got me, and talked me into going back in. He assured me the worst was over. I remain terrified at the thought.

And, oh! It was the ‘picture show’ and not the movies or the theater. Also it was ‘funny papers’ instead comics.

Something else just occurred to me, we, occasionally had a magician or some other type of live entertainment at the ‘picture show,’ if I’m remembering correctly. And the concessions were a pittance, as was the price of admission. A quarter for me to get in until I was twelve and then it went to fifty cents. A dime would do for your snacks. If you had a quarter you were in high cotton.

Wow! Today took a nostalgic turn. I’ll leave you with ‘The Game of Love’ playing in the background. Can anyone name the artist without cheating?

Ok… you can cheat now.

Grace and peace.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ramblin’ 7/25/16

Fall camp begins next week for all but one or two SEC teams.

Another political convention begins tonight. It will, mercifully, be over before the weekend, just like the nightmare that was last week’s circus. Deliver us, God.

I miss Hunter S. Thompson. I would truly love to read his scathing takes on these events. Fear and loathing, no doubt.

The Braves continue to hobble along.

A few of the songs on the Apple music setlist playing now. Sundown – Gordon Lightfoot, Shotgun Willie – Willie Nelson, Slow Rollin’ Low – Waylon Jennings, and 300 Pounds of Hongry – Tony Joe White.

A quick Tony Joe story. He and Tom Kimmel, a friend of mine and many of you, had been put together by the record label they shared, years ago. They hung out, did some riding around, shared ideas, and so forth. I suppose the label expected some big collaboration. One day they were eating lunch at a place famous for fried chicken in Franklin, TN. Tony Joe leans over Tom’s plate and, in his deep slow drawl, says, “I don’t see how anybody can eat that dark meat.”

Later he asked Tom when he did his best songwriting. I don’t remember what Tom’s response was but Tony Joe said that he, “…Did his best songwriting when he was driving to Arkansas.” You really need to hear Tom tell it. He has a gift for such.

Poke… salad, UNH!

I haven’t been to a movie, at the theater, in quite some time. I don’t tend to like summer blockbusters, action, popcorn movies, etc. Woooo!!! That blowed up REAL good! I do love popcorn though. Had some last night.

Bob Dylan is now serenading me with a song entitled Isis. Nope, not that ISIS.

Auburn’s first five games will be played in the friendly confines of Jordan-Hare Stadium this fall.

I love Kroger fuel points.

I wonder how One-A-Day Multivitamins are holding up against the onslaught of vitamins and supplements we have today.

Supplements? I take Fish oil, folic acid (My how my taste in acid has changed! Gettin’ old!), probiotics, Co-Q 10, cinnamon,  B-6, and B-12. That’s in addition to the meds which my myocardial infarctions have necessitated. Yes, I have one of those damn trays that you load this stuff into by days of the week.

New setlist time. I’ll go with Rodney Crowell Essentials. Rodney wrote one of my favorite songs of all-time, Till I Gain Control Again. The first time I heard it was Willie’s cover on the ‘Willie and Family Live’ album. That was 1978. Goodness! What a great song!

There was, actually, an Apple Music option for me called ‘Songs With Parental Advice’.

Have y’all been getting some good home grown tomatoes?

We’re gonna get the AP and USA Today Coaches Polls pretty soon. Look for Alabama, LSU, Tennessee, Florida State, Clemson, Ohio State, Michigan, Oklahoma, Baylor, Stanford, and Notre Dame to jockey for the top ten spots.

Google or Yahoo?

Fallon or Colbert?

How about Kimmel and Conan?

Two different Kimmels in one short blog.

Burnt Siena is a good name but the crayon used to make me nervous, as did Periwinkle.

I really would like a couple of more days at the beach before school starts, but it ain’t happening.

What’s your favorite Beatles song? Stones? Those are really tough calls.

It’s been 41 years since the summer of Jaws. Yep, gettin’ old.

Speaking of The Beatles and the Rolling Stones and gettin’ old, Paperback Writer and Paint It Black were big summer hits 50 years ago, as were When A Man Loves a Woman, Hanky Panky, and Wild Thing.

Chip Taylor wrote Wild Thing. He also wrote Angel of the Morning. If you want a tip on a great record, Chip and Carrie Rodriguez did an album by the name of Red Dog Tracks. That and/or their ‘live’ record are must haves, IMHO.

Well, my daily walk ain’t gonna take itself.

Grace and peace.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

California Here I Come

I walked through the twin, imposing iron gates and paused at the massive steel doors where I punched a red button. A loud buzz sounded, the doors opened and I entered. Then I heard those doors crash loudly behind me. I was was momentarily taken aback. It was at that point that I thought to my self, “How on God’s green earth did I wind up in San Quentin Prison ?”

That is a question I asked myself then and it is one which, to this day, gives me great pause. The short answer is God but to see how the Almighty brought this into fruition, when we trace the steps that take us anywhere… to where we have been and to where we are going it is truly amazing… grace.

My commitment to campus ministry at SUNY Albany was, initially, for those two years. But two years became three and we had to ask ourselves how much longer we should ask people to honor their TWO year commitment in supporting us on this journey.

This was early in 1986. Ten years earlier a close friend had told me that a wise old pastor shared with him, before he embarked on his journey to seminary, to “Stay until you get what you’re after. I stayed ten years.” I have followed that advice throughout my pilgrimage since my friend shared it with me. That advice was instrumental in leading us to leave seminary in Ft. Worth when I was ten hours shy of receiving my Master of Divinity. It seemed that God was nudging us toward returning home to Alabama. We did that after the spring semester in June of 1980 when we returned to our native state. That is when we took the call to Shady Grove Baptist Church that was mentioned in my last blog, “New York, New York.”

The lingering question was… Why ?

That question was answered when my father was diagnosed with a number of issues relating to his heart immediately after we accepted the call to Shady Grove. He had a leak in his aortic valve, an aneurism and four blocked arteries. He, obviously, was going to need extensive surgery and that took place in September of 1980.

Long story short is, he died from complications of all of this on April 2,1982 after another heart surgery. Had we not returned to Alabama we would not have spent his last 22 months with him. I thank God for that time. And I thank God that she did “nudge” us to go against the grain of conventional “wisdom” and urge us to take that step. God is like that. But that is an entire book unto itself.

Back to the Golden State.

I applied and was accepted to Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary. Why Golden Gate?

I attended a conference for campus minsters in the Mission Service program, in which we were involved, in November of 1984. It was held in Nashville. It was there that I met the director of campus ministry for the Bay Area of California, John Woodfill. Circumstances through all of this put us in touch with John and, his wife, Teresa in early 1986. This led to continue in the Mission Service Corps ministry on the left coast as we were looking to return to that next stint in seminary.

And sooooooooo…

“California here I come… ”

To say we hit it off with John and Teresa would be an understatement. They remain dear friends until this day. Many of you have prayed for them throughout John’s kidney and liver transplants. That is one absolutely incredible story and material for an amazing book unto itself.

Anyway, John assigned me to the University of California-Berkeley as a campus minister. Hand meet glove. As a teenager I had watched with wide eyes at the goings on at this institution of higher learning and my hippie “sensibilities” were ideally suited for me to set up shop there.

An aside here. When we shared the news of our impending trip with Melodye’s family, her brother, Jon Vergeson, incredulously retorted, “Bird ! They don’t anything about getting in a pile out there.” LOL ! You gotta love it !

I told this story on my first day of class in a course, Christian Ethics and the Kingdom of God, at Golden Gate. My fellow students appeared to be as amused by it as I was and as I am until this very day. Yes, California is… well… California and, no, we did not “get in a pile” during our time out there.

BUT we did get involved in a program out there which matched concerned/caring community members with prisoners, at San Quentin, who received virtually NO calls, cards or visits. It was called M-2, or Match 2, people… the community member and the prisoner. I began as a volunteer with a commitment to visit my “match” at least once a month but I wound up going once a week. It was powerful and it worked.

The mind-boggling fact is, the majority of prisoners ARE going to be put back on the street. The question is… In what state do we want them to return to those streets ? Also, the great majority (80%) of inmates WILL return to prison. It is a most vicious cycle or crime, punishment, incarceration, release, return to prison.

M-2 cut deeply into that recidivism rate.

It also happened when I got involved in the program that M-2 was in need of someone to head up the position of doing the matching. They needed a person to do the “M-2 ing”, to match up the inmates with the community members. One did this by doing mass media presentations throughout the Bay Area. I was hired to do this. I was blessed. It was, yet another, life changing experience.

That brings us baaaaaack to the beginning of this tale and my first day on the job as director of the M-2 program at San Quentin, USA. Me, my manager Mike Ensch, along with several others were given a tour of the prison and its grounds. Before the day was over I had to sign an agreement that I understood that prison officials would not bargain for my life if I was taken hostage (I would later have to explain that to “Paul”). Mike insured me that this was a good thing. He also told me that inmates would consider me one of the “good guys.” I understood all of this but I also understood that God had led me here and all was well. I was, again, where I was supposed to be and I could not wait to begin my duties !

Now, to say that is an ominous sound, when you enter that prison for the first time and those doors slam shut behind you, would be understating it a bit. The ungodly reality of it all. But the true reality of it all is… God is there as well. He was/is very much alive in San Quentin and I was a witness to that fact.

Now just a quick quick story before we close another chapter in the beautiful journey that I refer to as, “Me and Paul.”

On that first day, as an employee of M-2, I would begin the routine of entering the prison (after a thorough check), getting a printout of the “movement” sheet, and locating the inmates that had applied to M-2 so that I could interview them.

I had time to interview a small handful of prisoners on each visit and would search the printout to see where each person was located… in what block, tier and cell number they resided. On that bright and sunny April morning, while scanning the list for my guys, I came across a name, NOT on my list, that startled me somewhat… Manson, Charles… east block, tier 1, cell number 43.

And we were off and running !!!

1/15/17 Addendum. Charlie, as he was known “inside,” was not eligible for the M-2 program. He was not a part of the mainline population and was in lockdown 23 hours a day. That did not stop him from filling out an application, my supervisor informed me.