Showing posts with label portfolio. Show all posts
Showing posts with label portfolio. Show all posts

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Who’s your Rickey? Nagging your friends to vote

Published in the Portland Phoenix
A college friend, named Jim, recently got in touch, floating an idea that resonated with me, and likely will with other political-minded folks who believe this election is vitally important to our country’s future.
Jim had run into another classmate — one I’d long lost touch with — named Rickey. Rickey lives in Nevada (predicted to be a swing state in the presidential race) and told Jim he probably wasn’t going to vote this year.
Jim lives in Vermont (rather less of a swing state), so he decided to mobilize a few of us to put pressure on Rickey to vote. “My vote won’t count for much in the grand scheme of things,” Jim wrote. “But Rickey’s will.”
He proposed the founding of RickeyPAC, a “grassroots political-action committee with the sole purpose of getting Rickey to vote.” Our voter-registration drive was a massive success — Rickey has (begrudgingly) registered to vote. But we’re looking for a bigger win.
As another friend, Jay, explained in an e-mail to the group, “Just about everyone knows someone smart who knows they should vote but has to be convinced” to actually do it.
Now, it’s up to you. What started as an inside joke among a few college friends needs your help. Take a moment to think about the Rickeys in your life, wherever they may live, and however long it’s been since you were last in touch. Tell them they need to vote. Because this year is different from all other years.
On the web:
RickeyPAC on National Public Radio

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Out for a spin: One week, one limited-edition Porsche — what to do?

Published in the Portland Phoenix
Driving a 2008 Porsche Boxster RS 60 Spyder Limited Edition is an exercise in ridiculous, indulgent impracticality. But it’s fun — and it might get your name written on the inside of teenage girls’ pants.
Through no effort of my own, a man I had never met drove that car — number 296 out of 1960 ever made — into the office parking lot last week, and handed me the key. When he had called out of the blue offering the car as part of a Porsche marketing and promotion effort, all I’d done was tell him I’d drive it and return it in one piece. I made no promise to write about it, and only a vague verbal assurance that I could drive a stick-shift car. (For the record, my regular car, a 1995 Subaru Impreza wagon, is a stick-shift. So I wasn’t lying.)
On the very first night, it failed utterly as a utilitarian object. My wife and I were slated to pick up a friend (who was in town on business) at her hotel and take her to a restaurant for dinner. But the Boxster has just two seats, so within hours of receiving the key to a $65,000 car, one of just 800 in North America, I had to leave it parked in the garage while we picked up our friend in my wife’s 2000 Subaru Impreza Outback wagon.
That was the first of a few downers. Other low points were general paranoia about police officers — my uncle, a genuine “car guy” — had reminded me, when I called to gloat, that “a ticket is wasted money.” And then there was the horrific downturn the nation’s economy took, almost from the moment I received the Porsche’s key. At various points I drove past the panhandlers near the Deering Oaks Park I-295 on-ramp, and along the social-services end of Congress Street, in a car I did not own, could not afford, and could never imagine myself ever actually owning, even if one day I do have that kind of money just sitting in the bank. Don’t ask me what they thought of me — I was studiously avoiding their eyes.
Let’s move on to the high points.
Some of the people I took for rides surprised me, and even themselves. A freelancer who normally bums around in a 1980s-era Volvo with more than 300,000 miles on it turned out to also own an ancient sports car he keeps in good repair. And an utterly grounded, down-to-earth college friend became totally flighty upon sitting in the passenger seat, and spent much of the ride extolling the just-discovered virtues of expensive cars (except when she was feeling guilty for being so materialistic).
Better than enacting my high-school fantasy of driving the coolest, fastest car on the block was giving someone else that feeling — a guy in a Pontiac Firebird spotted me in Cape Elizabeth and tailgated me for a while, hoping to race. Eventually he gave up and roared past me, earning the right to truthfully tell his friends how he totally dusted a Porsche.
My sister’s boys — ages 5 and 3 — had a total blast, even without going for a ride. They clambered all over the car, hid in the trunk and under the dashboard, got me to put the top down and up and down again, and pretended they were driving to Vermont to see their grandparents. The older one even managed to yank on the gearshift enough to make the car move just a little — before I intervened with the emergency brake.
The biggest high point of all had to be the spin a friend and I took out to Kettle Cove in Cape Elizabeth at sunset on a Friday night. As we drove through the parking lot, checking out the scenery, I heard someone woman shout, “Hey! Wait! Can I take a picture of your car?”
Sure, I thought, no problem. I pulled around and parked, and we found ourselves surrounded by a screeching group of teenage girls. I’ll let one of them tell you how it went, in an account posted on her Facebook page. But first, I have to explain (before any accusations of impropriety arise) that four of them share a pair of pants — a sort of “sisterhood of the traveling pants” — and wear them to special occasions, after which they write about what happened at the events on the inside of the pants, in laundry marker. With that, here’s the story, with spelling and grammar intact from the original:
So today was the best day of my life!!!! I was at my BFF’s sweet 16 and it was towards the end of the party and out of the cornor of my eye i saw the most beautuful site ever.....modle number 296 Porche!!!! Good lord it was the most beautiful thing I have scene!!! it was silver with a red interior!!! so of course being the very subtle person i was i yelled out to the driver....” CAN I TAKE A PICTURE OF YOUR CAR!!!!!!!” And to my suprise he came and rove over!!!! I was like salavating over the beauty of the car....and then he said something that made my whole year....” well do you want to take a picture in the driver’s seat...?” I almost dropped to the floor in praise, exclaiming...YES!!!!!! It was the most amazing experience of my entire life!!!!! My firends and I took sooooo many pictures that I think we could have gone through 2 memory cards!!! I think that the driver of the amazing car was more entertained with the fact that ther where like 10 screaming girls around his car than we where!!! He was just as giddy as us...not to mention that he was very gratious to let us take turns taking pictures in his beloved porche!
Well that was my day and i can’t believe that it happened to me!!! thank you soooooo much for making my day amazing!!!! “you will forever be in our pants!!!” hahahahahahahahah!!!!!!
I did indeed let the girls sit in the car, and they took tons of photos, many of which are now also on Facebook. And when I found out that it was a Sweet Sixteen party, I offered the birthday girl a spin. Her eyes lit up and she jumped in the car. Just before she closed the door, she said quietly, “It just occurred to me how sketchy this could be.” But she got in anyway, and off we went for a quick trip around the parking lot.
I showed her the same stunts I showed all the folks I drove around — its snap-your-head-back acceleration, growling exhaust (complete with a button on the console that makes it louder), stick-to-the-road cornering, tight turning radius, and snap-your-head-forward braking power. She was quiet but had a huge grin on her face. Her friends were more vocal, squealing away on the sidewalk. One of them called it “the Porsche that changed my life.”
The bottom line, though, is that it’s a silly car. Yes, it is a convertible, which is one of the key attributes I dream of in a car. It shows you on the dashboard your real-time miles-per-gallon performance (which I think every car should have), what the tire pressure is, and how many miles before you’ll need to stop for fuel. It has heated seats, which extends the top-down time period by a few weeks in the spring and fall. There’s a button to extend the rear spoiler if you think the silver car with red-leather interior doesn’t look cool enough as it is.
For all of those things — and for a week — I could overlook the biggest frustration, which was that I couldn’t get the racing timer to work. Mounted very prominently atop the dashboard, in a car that is in its entirety a tribute to racing, and there was no way to get it to start. I also could ignore its 19-26 miles-per-gallon fuel “economy,” those ultra-bright halogen headlights (I hate being blinded by them in oncoming vehicles, and I hate even more being that oncoming vehicle to other drivers), and slick tires that I wouldn’t trust at high speeds in the rain.
It’s entertaining to drive, though. If you’re on vacation somewhere sunny and have some extra cash to blow, rent the Porsche instead of the economy mini-compact you might otherwise choose. And if someone offers to loan it to you for a week, say yes.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Shifting sands: The real lesson of the Desert of Maine

Published in the Portland Phoenix

If you want to know what the future holds, take a ride up to the Desert of Maine in Freeport. It’s simultaneously an example of how badly we humans have been wrecking the Earth over the past few centuries, and a sign of hope that maybe the planet will recover after all.
The desert, a Freeport “tourist destination” which has been featured in the New York Times and on the Discovery and Travel channels, can teach a few lessons about nature, but it is not quite the “natural” geological marvel that the marketing materials might suggest.
Fortunately, the video on the Web site gives us a couple hints: back in the 1700s, desert owner Gary Currens cheerfully explains, “it was actually productive farmland for several years, and then” — this is where the hints come — “between the clear-cutting, bringing sheep in, not rotating the crops proper [sic], sand all of a sudden started appearing.”
In the middle of explaining how all this sand, deposited by glaciers, began “appearing,” Gary, in the video (and a tour guide at the place itself), admits what you have started to suspect: “the topsoil was eroding.”
Yes, the “Desert of Maine,” the 50-acre swath of sand that would otherwise be forest, was “uncovered” by irresponsibly exploitative land-management practices that resulted in the erosion of thousands of years’ accumulation of topsoil in roughly a century, leaving behind a barren landscape that is, nevertheless, slowly being reclaimed by the forest around it.
The booklets, posters, and Web site call the sand — which once covered nearly 300 acres of former-farmland, and which may in places be as much as a mile deep — a “natural phenomenon,” but what’s most “natural” about this barren expanse in the middle of the Maine woods is that it’s Nature’s warning to any of us who might seek to exploit the land and its bounty. Without care, the blowing sands show us, we’ll lose everything and have to leave.

Wrecking the land
The story goes like this: a big huge glacier moved through Maine about 20,000 years ago, crushing stones beneath itself, leaving behind a sand-like silt with finer grains that you would encounter on an average Maine beach. Between the time the glacier retreated, leaving the sand on the surface, and the late 18th century, the land got relatively little use and was colonized by mosses and lichens, small plants, bushes, and eventually trees, as Maine’s forest expanded to cover most of the state. Roughly eight inches to a foot of fertile topsoil gradually accumulated in this area of the forest.

In 1797, the Tuttle family moved to the 300-acre parcel and raised potatoes, vegetables, hay, apples, and cattle. The family cut trees from the property to create fields and to sell as building lumber and firewood. As the trees departed, so did their root structures, which had played a major role in anchoring the top soil. The Tuttles next brought in sheep to raise for their wool. The sheep grazed very close to the ground, as sheep do, and pulled much of the grass out by the roots. To make matters worse, their hooves cut into the topsoil, loosening it up.
That is when the sand “started appearing,” and when things began to go wrong for the Tuttles. As one of the tour guides told it on a recent afternoon, the family cut down some of the last big trees on the property to use the branches to cover the sandy spots, in a vain effort to halt the erosion. You’ve spotted the rub, though: while they might have slowed erosion where they put the limbs, those last few trees were anchoring other topsoil, which soon sloughed away in spring thaws and summer rains. The sand took over completely.
After the Tuttles gave up and abandoned the place, a few opportunistic entrepreneurs got interested in this much-abused land. One bought it in hopes of selling the sand to brickmakers, but the silt was too fine and the bricks wouldn’t hold together. He, in turn, sold it to a man who wanted to make it a tourist attraction back in 1925, and so it has been ever since.

Preserving the sand
The sand, geologists now know, lies under the topsoil throughout much of Maine, New Hampshire, and even most of the northeastern United States — if it was covered by a glacier during the last ice age, there’s likely sand down there somewhere. (How deep the sand is, and how much topsoil has accumulated on top of it, varies widely.)

As a tourist attraction, the value of the desert is in the exposed sand, so the property has remained largely unchanged by humans for about 80 years. In that time, nature has begun to do what it did after the glacier receded: the mosses and lichens are coming back, the remaining trees are dropping leaves and needles that decompose, seeds are blowing in from nearby plants, and the forest is retaking the sand.
One guide grew up nearby and first worked at the desert in 1961 at the age of 13; after an adult life doing other things, he returned to the desert a couple years back. He recalls the sand covering much more area back then, and marveled at the forest’s return, and that the wind had uncovered some farming equipment buried by sand after the Tuttles abandoned the property. (The sand has also drifted to cover a small shelter built near a spring in the 1930s, where visitors could sit in the shade and have a cool drink of fresh water. But that part of the tour is pretty anti-climatic, as you get to look at a large pile of sand and try to imagine a building underneath it.)
What’s more interesting — and what could one day become the real focus of their efforts — is this recovery, which simultaneously shows both how vulnerable our ecosystem is if we mistreat it, and how resilient it can be if we just leave it the hell alone.

Desert Of Maine | 95 Desert Rd, Freeport | daily 8:30 am-5:30 pm; tours on the half hour 9 am-4 pm | $8.75, ages 13-16 $6.25, ages 5-12 $5.25 | 207.865.6962 |

A night in Guantánamo: Staying in a replica cell, with no waterboarding included

Published in the Portland Phoenix (with an excerpt in the Boston Phoenix); reprinted in the Orlando Weekly
First thing in the morning, a man stopped at my door, leaned in, looked me square in the eye, called me “a piece of shit,” and spat on my floor. I tried not to take it personally.
I was in a prison cell and wearing a day-glo-orange inmate’s jumpsuit, sitting on a thin mat, where I had sat and slept intermittently — and uncomfortably — through the preceding seven hours.
Amnesty International brought the cell to Portland’s Monument Square and arranged several days of events about the offshore prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, last week to draw attention to the 270 or so inmates still held there, and to highlight the support of some of Maine’s congressional delegation for suspending the legal rights of inmates there, most of whom have never been charged with any crime.
I’d volunteered to spend the night in the replica cell (which is modeled on the ones at Gitmo, which are very like the standard isolation units used in US “supermax” prisons) because we’ve all heard stories about unlivable conditions at Gitmo but can’t come close to imagining what it must be like to live for as long as seven years in a small box with little contact with the outside world, and even less hope of release. I hoped my few hours of simulated incarceration — even without the alleged abuse visited on Gitmo “detainees” by US service personnel — would help me appreciate the nightmare those prisoners endure.
When I first entered the cell, I sized things up. I could take three normal-size steps from side to side, four from the door to the bed; a “lap” around it involved 12 reasonably normal-sized steps. With my arms outstretched to the sides, I could touch the walls; reaching up, I could touch the ceiling with my stocking feet flat on the floor. Lying on the raised platform that served as my bed, my head touched one wall and my feet pressed against the other. The walls and ceiling were white; the toilet/sink fixture by the door was stainless steel; the floor was gray. There was one small window — easily covered by my forearm — by the bed and another in the door.
I was already in the jumpsuit, so I sat on the thin sleeping mat, got out my iPod, put in the earbuds, selected the “Gitmo” playlist, and turned the volume up. (The guards play a wide selection of American music — though mostly dark heavy stuff like Drowning Pool and Marilyn Manson — at high volume, at all hours, as a form of psychological torture for the prisoners.)
I read from the Koran, opening it at random and finding the 36th sûrah (chapter), entitled “Yâ Sîn,” or “O Man.” According to the annotation in my copy, that chapter is often recited by Muslims at times of adversity, to sustain their faith. At one point in the text, a group of believers approaches a city of non-believers to try to convert them: “(The people of the city) said: we augur ill of you. If ye desist not, we shall surely stone you, and grievous torture will befall you at our hands.” But, Allah explains through the prophet Mohammed, whatever suffering his followers must endure will be relieved if they stick to their faith, while those who did the torturing will be condemned to burn in hell. After a few readings, I found my hope rising and my discomfort decreasing, even though I am not a Muslim.
I also read — for the first of three times that night — a book of poems written by Guantánamo inmates, seeking a sense of what they feel and think. Despite great discomfort, hardship, and fear, some inmates are able to transcend themselves and their situation and find hope, and dreams, and a sort of freedom.

It’s really far worse
My night was only a tiny taste of what the detainees held at Guantánamo experience. The most obvious difference, of course, was that I spent just over seven hours in a replica of a cell sitting in downtown Portland. Many of the inmates have spent more like seven years in real cells in a remote base in Cuba. By comparison, my imprisonment was soft time.

A Portland police officer sat in his patrol car outside, mostly to protect the cell itself and its accompanying gear (a generator, electronic equipment, parts of a disassembled information booth), but I took comfort in his presence, knowing that if any harm befell me, aid would be nearby. The Gitmo detainees have their own uniformed, armed guards, but they are as likely to be their tormentors as their rescuers.
It was mostly dark in my cell, though a few streetlights shined in. Some detainees’ lawyers claim their clients are suffering permanent psychological damage because the lights in their cells have been kept on 24 hours a day for years.
I was warm and not hungry, equipped with a sleeping bag and fortified with a good meal at home before going into the cell; the inmates get blankets if they’re lucky and regularly complain about both the quantity and the quality of food served at Gitmo.
I could control the volume on my iPod (and I confess to skipping a couple songs); the detainees can neither control the volume nor prevent a guard from playing one song over and over for hours on end, as happened on at least one occasion with Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” from their 1991 eponymous album.
But the biggest difference, the one that really made it possible for me (a somewhat sane person who functions fairly well in this weird world) to handle my time inside, was this: I knew when I would eventually leave. The men held in Guantánamo don’t. Even those who have been declared not dangerous, not worth holding, whose arrests and incarceration are acknowledged mistakes, are held for months before being finally released. One man, Maher Rafat al-Quwari, has been cleared for release since February 2007, but as a Palestinian with no passport or other national paperwork, he has nowhere to go, so he stays in 23-hour-a-day solitary confinement.

Without a futureI thought about what it would take to close the prison. Calls for just that have come from such high Bush administration officials as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and even the president himself, as well as both major-party presidential candidates, John McCain and Barack Obama. And yet it remains open, stalled at best by the practical difficulties of moving terrorism suspects into other prisons, or, at worst, held up by people who may not mean what they say.

Maine’s DC delegation is split on the issue: Republican Senator Susan Collins and Democratic representative Mike Michaud voted for the Military Commissions Act of 2006. [Please see clarification, below.] It recreated a kangaroo-court show-trial system for “trying” detainees in front of military judges (after a nearly identical arrangement created by the Pentagon was struck down by the US Supreme Court in 2006), and granted the US government the power to indefinitely imprison anyone — even US citizens — without charging them with a crime, and without ever bringing them before an independent civilian judge. Democratic representative Tom Allen opposed it; Republican senator Olympia Snowe didn’t vote, but later voted to overturn some of its harsher provisions.
And then there was that passerby who spit into my cell. I wondered if his attitude, amplified by the isolation of being stationed at a remote military base, and inflated by being allowed to carry large automatic weapons, might turn him into a rage-filled guard who just might do some of the things prisoners have described.
I wanted to judge him, to accuse him of insensitivity, of sympathizing with those who abuse and torture inmates. But I know as little about that man as we Americans do about the people held at Guantánamo Bay. I don’t know his name, and can tell you only the very basic outline of what he did. Without talking to him, without finding out why he did it, or where inside him that feeling came from, I cannot honestly “convict” him of anything more serious than common rudeness.
He walks free, though, so I’m less worried about him. The men in Guantánamo do not. Whatever they may be suspected of, why they were arrested, has never been made public, nor have the results of any subsequent investigations. Little wonder, then, that they have not been convicted of anything either. Justice has been slow in coming, and for some, may never arrive — at least four of them have committed suicide since the camp opened, and at least 40 of them have attempted it, often repeatedly.
Five others, among the most high-profile ones, appear to be seeking death another way. The morning I left the cell, they went in front of a military judge, in a proceeding that was widely criticized by lawyers and other observers for its departure from common legal standards (such as preventing co-defendants from talking to each other). After they were told what charges were being laid against them for their alleged involvement in the attacks of September 11, 2001, some of them said they wanted to be “martyred,” apparently asking for the death penalty. But like their fellow inmates, they wait.
I did, too. As people walked by throughout the night, some looked in, a few asked me what I was doing; others didn’t seem to notice the cell was even there, much less occupied. It was impossible to know what they thought.
I thought of the young men, some as young as 14, kidnapped from the streets of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq, and sold to US troops as alleged terrorists for thousands of dollars in reward money, who now sit, as I did, in small cells awaiting the next dawn. And when I became cold, tired, and cramped, I reminded myself that they are enduring worse and suffering more. Their fortitude was a thin, cold comfort, but it gave me strength.
Visions from inside
Inmates’ smuggled words show pain, frustration
I discovered during my time in the cell that it is possible to look for so long at one spot — on the floor, the wall, the ceiling — that the spot actually disappears from view. With enough uninterrupted time — or enough detachment from the brutality of the “real world” — it must be possible to make everything you can see just disappear.

What appears in its place? We know some answers, courtesy of the men held at Guantánamo. They have, with the help of their lawyers, published fragments of poetry shedding light on their thoughts, dreams, and visions.
Poems from Guantánamo: The Detainees Speak, published last year by the University of Iowa Press, includes 22 poems that made it past the US military’s censors. The one that struck me most deeply, in the middle of the night as I read the poems aloud to myself, was “O Prison Darkness,” by an author identified only by his first name, Abdulaziz. It ends with these lines.
Even though the bands tighten and seem unbreakable,
They will shatter.
Those who persist will attain their goal;
Those who keep knocking shall gain entry.
O crisis, intensify!
The morning is about to break forth.

These were some of the songs I listened to while in the cell. My selections were based on reporting by Spin, Mother Jones, the BBC, the New York Times, Time, Transcultural Music Review, and FBI documents, all of which listed songs or bands played by soldiers at Guantánamo, usually at very high volumes, as a way to break down detainees’ psychological defenses.

“Soldier Like Me (Return of the Soulja),” 2Pac & Eminem, Loyal to the Game, 2004
“Don’t Get Mad, Get Even,” Aerosmith, Pump, 1989
“Dirrty,” Christina Aguilera featuring Redman, Stripped, 2002
“One Eight Seven,” Dr. Dre, Chronicles — Death Row Classics, 2006
“Step Up,” Drowning Pool, Desensitized, 2004
“Bodies,” Drowning Pool, Sinner, 2001
“If I Had,” Eminem, The Slim Shady LP, 1999
“Take a Look Around,” Limp Bizkit, Greatest Hits, 2005
“This Is the New S**t,” Marilyn Manson, Lest We Forget — The Best of Marilyn Manson, 2004
“The Burn,” Matchbox Twenty, Mad Season, 2000
“For Crying Out Loud,” Meat Loaf, Bat Out of Hell, 1977
“Whiplash (Live),” Metallica, Kill ‘Em All, 2008
“Meow Mix” radio commercial
“Killing in the Name,” Rage Against the Machine, Rage Against the Machine, 1992
“Naked in the Rain,” Red Hot Chili Peppers, Blood Sugar Sex Magik, 2006
“Sometimes,” Britney Spears, . . . Baby One More Time, 1999
“How Mountain Girls Can Love,” Stanley Brothers, 16 Greatest Hits, 2004
“Walking Man,” James Taylor, Greatest Hits, 1974
“The Star Spangled Banner,” United We Stand, Songs for America, 2001

Clarification: The original version of this story did not fully explain the positions Maine Democratic US Representative Mike Michaud took on the Military Commissions Act of 2006. He voted in favor of the bill as it was introduced in the US House of Representatives, but in a subsequent vote changed his mind and opposed it.

Wednesday, November 1, 2006

‘In the story’: Cape Elizabeth author Clint Willis explores himself in a biography of others

Published in the Portland Phoenix

Clint Willis grew up reading the stories of adventurers like Chris Bonington, a twentysomething English climber around whom collected a group of young mountaineers who would redefine their sport, and, for some, the definition of the possible.

Willis, a longtime rock climber who now lives in Cape Elizabeth, read their climbing journals, spending as much time between the pages as some of the writers spent on the sides of mountains.
And when he grew up, Willis, rooted in rock climbing, made the intellectual leap to mountaineering. He has never climbed a big peak, but that didn’t stop him from bringing armchair adventures to a wider audience, beginning with the November 1997 publication of Epic: Stories of Survival from the World’s Highest Peaks. It was the first of a series of anthologies of particularly strong writings by mountaineers pushing the limits of their bodies, minds, and spirits.
Following shortly with High: Stories of Survival from Everest and K2 and Climb: Stories of Survival from Rock, Snow and Ice, Willis created collections, as he noted in introductions to several of them, that were the kinds of anthologies he himself wanted to read. Those books and about 40 others published the stories that didn’t make the headlines — except maybe in passing — but were true-life, human stories of a person or a small group going well beyond what most of us think we can achieve, doing something incredible, and surviving.
With his newest book, The Boys of Everest: Chris Bonington and the Tragedy of Climbing’s Greatest Generation, Willis heads into new territory. But though it is not an anthology and he has written every word, the stories he tells are still very dependent on the writings of others. (Some were even included in his earlier collections.) The book, on local shelves now, has been named a finalist in the “mountain literature” category at the prestigious Banff Mountain Book Festival (with results to be announced Thursday).
Bonington and his friends attempted — and climbed — some of Europe’s most spectacular peaks — the Eiger, the Bonatti Pillar of Petit Dru, the Central Pillar of Freney on Mont Blanc — and made early or first ascents of Himalayan routes thought by many to be unclimbable. Their efforts were monumental, their suffering at times crippling, their survival seemingly impossible.
What’s more, they climbed these peaks with little or no support from the traditional climbing establishment, and largely without native porters or sustained “siege-style” assaults, like those common on Mount Everest even today.
These men were legends-in-the-making; among them were Joe Tasker and Peter Boardman, whose writing was nearly as powerful as their climbing, and Don Whillans, who invented the high-altitude shelter known as the Whillans Box on a series of climbs with Bonington. But it was their writing that earned Willis’s respect, almost more than their physical and mental exertions. “These guys are my heroes,” he says.
Willis writes as though he’s an expert mountaineer who knows firsthand the cold and pain and blood of a daring high-altitude climb. He isn’t. He writes as though he witnessed the events he describes. He didn’t. Yet his voice is authoritative because he’s steeped himself in the climbers’ first-person accounts and experienced the thrills and hardships of climbing vicariously for so long that he has internalized the sport’s emotional vocabulary.
He relied heavily on the people about whom he writes, who left detailed chronicles of their exploits as they laid the groundwork for light and fast movement up, down, and through the mountains — their lives quite literally hanging in the balance.
“Almost all of these guys have written about their expeditions,” Willis says, noting that many climbers keep journals of their efforts that include “blow-by-blow” recollections of the most minute details, so precise that — if a climber had three hands — he could, with the right skills, equipment, and daring, follow right along the route as if reading simple driving directions.
The book itself is almost cinematic in its alternation between big-picture “wide shots” of a climber’s position (physically, emotionally, situationally), and tight close-ups where the reader can see the grain of the rock as a climber’s fingers scrabble for purchase. In its transitions between great intensity and great detachment — the drama of a literal cliff-hanger turning into a distant image of a body falling through the sky — The Boys of Everest lacks a consistent tone, which can be jarring when it is not enthralling. And because of its scope, the book is sometimes necessarily choppy, moving back or forward in time between chapters as Willis maneuvers the characters (and their backstories) into position for the denouement: the 1982 assault on Mount Everest that decimated what remained of the team.
Willis has been inspired by these risk-it-all adventurers, not just in his life, but in his writing. He faced challenges similar to the people he wrote about: complete freedom to move anywhere he could conceive of, the cold crush of reality on his dreams, the loneliness of the endeavor, and the fact that he was not in control of what happened next. And he was able to explore his own youthful dreams and visions, much the way the subjects of his books did.
Where the climbers themselves disagree or are silent, Willis has used his imagination — always based on as much research and fact as he could find — to fill in some of the gaps, such as recreating the exact circumstances under which a disoriented, exhausted climber just walked off the edge of a mountain into freefall.
He admits this approach is unorthodox, but he takes advantage of resources many biographers lack: the living memories of the people Willis writes about, or their surviving friends and family, revisited repeatedly over the five years he spent writing the book.
In doing what he called taking “liberties,” he felt a deep sense of responsibility with the stories of his heroes: “all we have to give each other, is the reality of our lives,” he says, suggesting that even an accidental misportrayal would be nothing short of betrayal.
He likened his efforts to “being in the story,” and while researching and writing, found a deeper understanding of the men whose lives and feats had inspired the younger version of himself: “When you reimagine a story this way, you end up realizing that it actually happened,” he says, his voice breaking with emotion.

Thursday, July 6, 2006

Fighting for freedom: You are the key to government openness

Published in the Portland Phoenix

I carry a copy of Maine’s Freedom of Access Act in my pocket. It’s not only useful as a reference when dealing with government officials who want to hold on to information I or my newspaper would rather they set free, but it’s an excellent reminder of how to approach government officials: with the attitude that they work for us, that their records are our records, and that their business is our business.

A statewide study four years ago and a follow-up in May, whose results were released this week, show how far Maine officials are from remembering who employs them. The studies highlight a serious threat to our democracy: Maine residents are being denied access to important information about our government’s actions, particularly at the local level — information we have the legal right to inspect.
Maine’s Freedom of Access Law is clear and specific when it says you and I have the right to see any piece of paper, any computer file, any sheet of microfilm in the custody of a public official. We have the right to see any videotape, listen to any audio recording, read any e-mail on office computers. It is a simple principle: we own the buildings and pay the workers, so everything inside is ours, too.
Any time you approach a public office, or a public official, you must keep that in mind. Don't walk away empty-handed if an official won't show you the information you want. Demand to be shown the text of the law allowing that information to be kept secret. And don’t walk away unless you personally agree, upon reading the law yourself, that the information is legally secret.
The Freedom of Access Act has your back. It says very clearly at its outset, “public proceedings exist to aid in the conduct of the people’s business. It is the intent of the Legislature that ... actions be taken openly and that ... records ... be open to public inspection.”
You do not have to be a town resident, a Maine resident, or even a US citizen. You do not have to give your name, show ID, name your employer, say why you want the information, or give out any information at all about yourself.
We in Maine now have strong proof that public employees are defying the intent of the Legislature. This is particularly a problem at the local-government level, where, ironically, the officials denying us access to public records are the same folks whose salaries we pay with our property taxes. Nobody argues that “local control” should mean “local secrecy,” but in some towns that’s what we’re getting, even though there is no cost involved in showing a person a piece of paper that already exists on a desk or shelf somewhere.
In 2002, I helped with a Maine Freedom of Information Coalition public-records audit that found not even six in 10 government offices surveyed complied when approached by a member of the public seeking a record that was certainly public (according to lawyers who helped plan the audit). And nearly two-thirds of public employees who allowed access to the documents broke the law in other ways, by asking for ID or a reason the person wanted the information.
Statewide, the results were so bad that the Maine Legislature created a committee to study the 500-plus exemptions in Maine laws that permit public officials to keep information from the public, and to review any future proposals of laws that would allow government records to be kept secret.
This year, a follow-up audit to test compliance — after the law changes, the missives from organizations intended to help governments do their jobs better, and even after a warning e-mail from one town manager to all the others around the state that an audit was in progress May 3 — found more than one-third of public officials audited still broke the law by denying access. And more than half of the offices that did allow inspection of public documents illegally asked for either a reason the auditor wanted the information, or the auditor’s ID, and some did both.
Me? On audit day this year, I was charged $12.50 just to look at a public document in Old Orchard Beach, in what the Maine Freedom of Information Coalition is highlighting as one of the most serious transgressions of the day. On any other day, I would have refused, pulled out my copy of the law, and argued about it. That day, though, the point of the audit was to find out how these sorts of requests were handled. I paid in cash, didn’t give my name, and got a receipt to prove the law had been broken.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

It was Geno

Published in the Portland Phoenix

It was the cigarette smoke wafting in from the sidewalk, making Geno’s air still potent that night.

As most night owls know, Geno D’Alessandro was a legendary and pioneering club owner in Portland. His death February 10 was the reason for last week’s memorial, but, as expected, it was more of a celebration.
Geno’s was Geno’s. It was unlike anywhere else, and the memorial was, too: folks barely 21 and senior citizens; punk rockers cleaned up and others still — or again — in the outfits of misfits; musicians just beginning and long since moved on; solo acts representing whole bands and entire groups reunited years later.
It was the punks and horsemen wanting to pay tribute together, greeting Geno’s welcome still hearty that night. Musicians who had never met — and at least one who hadn’t picked up a guitar in years — got up on stage together to play one last song for the man who gave them their start, who gave them encouragement every step of the way, and who, even when a winter parking ban kept any attendees away, was known to give out-of-town bands at least “enough for cheeseburgers and gas money” to get to their next gig.
It was the mourners struck dumb, hearing Geno’s sound still strong that night. Punk songs from the likes of Bates Motel, which hadn’t graced the Geno’s stage in more than a decade, roared from the speakers. His own stories and stories about him; his own words and words about him. Originals composed in his honor; old favorites — among them Sinatra’s “It Was A Very Good Year”; repurposed tributes — like Del Shannon’s “My Little Runaway”; lines scribbled on shreds of paper or printed formally from a computer; tales told, angst wrung out, honor paid.
It was the brave faces, seeing Geno’s look still bright that night. Smiles between strangers, hugs among old friends, the groomed and the rumpled, eyes bright and hands outstretched. In the eyes of a punk-country guitarist, of an impassioned ranter, of a two-man drum crew, of a bombed-out bassist, of old friends, family members, employees past and present, the same expression: happy curiosity. Glad they came, but with no idea what might really happen. And no concern, sure it would all be true, good, and beautiful.
It was stunned players looking through tears, finding Geno’s pool prowess still stiff that night. The light over the pool table shuddered more than once, reeling from hits more solid than the cue ball took. And balls that sank took longer to resurface, perhaps themselves slowing down to remember that the last time they rocketed into that corner pocket, it was at Geno’s hand, and that will not happen again.
It was to drown sorrow, sensing Geno’s thirst still unquenchable that night. The “no beer on stage” rule was too much for some, including a guy who “used to suck the beer out of the rug” of the Brown Street club, a memory drawing both laughs and grimaces from those who remember.
It was no dream, but Geno’s love still alive that night.

Monday, August 1, 2005

Maine Attraction: Portland's inland and coastal secrets

Published in National Geographic Adventure

Come August, Mainers and Maine-lovers take to Portland's Casco Bay like lobsters to salted herring. But while the bay's more than 200 islands offer countless opportunities for sailing, paddling, and lighthouse ogling, savvy visitors combine coastal attractions with inland thrills to create the ultimate seaside escape. Hit the coast, sure, but also bike a back road, climb a local hill, and save an evening or two to check out the urban scene in Portland's very own warehouse district-bum-boutique haven: the Old Port.

Drop your bags. The 1835 vintage Inn at ParkSpring ($149;, just off Portland's bustling Old Port, offers an eclectic medley of lodgings, from 19th-century colonial bedchambers to renovated modern rooms - all air-conditioned to cool you down after a hard day's exploring. In the morning, get your fill of Maine blueberries and other local delicacies at the inn's breakfast table before setting out on your day's paddle or pedal.

Treat your ears. Seven nights a week, top local and regional artists, like the rockabilly group King Memphis, jam at the Free Street Taverna's downstairs bar (207-772-5483). Accompany the set with a pint of local summer ale like Geary's or Shipyard ($3).

Fill your belly. Wrap up your day's coastal adventures like a true-blue Mainer: Eat seafood from a plastic basket at a picnic table right on the rocky shore. The Lobster Shack at Two Lights (207-799-1677) in Cape Elizabeth specializes in steamed lobster and lobster rolls, but their lobster stew ($13) - a coastal favorite little known elsewhere - steals the show ($4 to $22 for entrées; lobster prices vary with market).

Bike by morning. If you only have a few hours, rent a bike from CycleMania ($20 a day; and head north out of town for the rolling countryside along the lightly traveled State Routes 9 and 115. Don't forget your snack money: At Toots Ice Cream (207-829-3723) on Walnut Hill Road, just south of the junction with Route 9 in North Yarmouth, you'll have a chance to meet the cows who contributed to your chocolate shake.

Hike by day. A scenic hour's drive northwest of Portland is Pleasant Mountain, in Bridgton, where the three-and-a-half mile (round-trip) Ledges Trail affords summit views that extend to New Hampshire's Mount Washington.

Paddle by night. Choppy surf and hidden rocks make a nocturnal paddle on Casco Bay a dicey proposition. But at Scarborough Marsh - the state's largest - you can paddle in the enchanting stillness of a full-moon night. Your naturalist guide from the Scarborough Marsh Audubon Center ($12 for a one-and-a-half hour trip; will attune you to the great horned owls hooting from their perches and the black-crowned night herons stalking in the darkness.

Resources: To find out about the best sea kayaking between Kennebunkport and Bar Harbor, take the ferry to Peaks Island to visit the Maine Island Kayak Company (800-796-2373; For other pursuits, stop by one of Maine MountainWorks's two Portland stores (207-879-1410).

Wednesday, April 23, 2003

Column: Live in Maine? Pay me

Published in the Current and the American Journal

I’m 29 years old, I hold a master’s degree, and I live in Maine. The state should pay me to stay here.

In November 2001, the State Planning Office issued its “30 and 1000” report, saying that the two keys to improving and stabilizing Maine’s economy, income level and state tax revenue are having 30 percent of adults over age 25 with a four-year degree, and spending $1,000 per worker on research and development into new products and possibilities.

Evan Richert, who was director of the SPO when that report came out, spoke in Cape Elizabeth recently and continued his push toward that goal.

In terms of the 30 percent goal, he said about 23 or 24 percent of adults in Maine now have four-year degrees, up from 19 percent in 2001.

As for research and development money, it can be hard to come by in a state with a big budget crunch. The Maine Technology Institute, which provides seed money for R&D, is losing 10 percent of its funding under Gov. John Baldacci’s proposed spending for 2004-2005.

There is a lot of talk, but little action yet, about spending a few million to retool the state’s technical colleges into community colleges, and the UMaine system is also looking for money to spend on R&D, even as its budget belt tightens.

But there is an easy way to move closer to the “30” benchmark: Help the Mainers who already have four-year degrees.

We’re already looking to other states for opportunities, especially those of us who are young. It’s cheaper to live in other states, and incomes are higher too.

Why should we stay in Maine, and why should people move here from elsewhere, when the cost of living is substantially similar, wages are much lower and there are fewer good jobs?

I would like to feel that the state recognizes my presence here as contributing to its economic well-being both now and in the future. Right now, I feel unappreciated by the state that is my home.

The simple solution is money, but how do you allocate it fairly?

One way would be through the state income tax. The state and individuals already use the income tax to exchange money. If I paid too much, the state gives it back; if I didn’t, I write the state a check.

Maine should add a box to the income tax form: “Check here if you are over the age of 25 and have a four-year degree.” Checking that box would permit a taxpayer to add, say, $500 to the standard deduction amount. For single filers, that would bump the amount of money exempt from taxes up from $7,550 to $8,050.

Married filers would go up from $6,775 to $7,275 per person. If the state wanted to, it could require a photocopy of a college transcript be filed with the return – most of us have one somewhere, and I’d find it if it meant money in my pocket.

The tax rate on taxable earnings after the first $16,950 is 8.5 percent. By offering an increase in the standard deduction, the state would be losing in tax revenue 8.5 percent of that $500, per person with a degree, or $42.50 a head.

If one-fourth of the 1,275,000 people in Maine have a degree, there are just under 320,000 of us. It’s a rough estimate, but that would cost $13.6 million in lost revenue for the state. That’s far less than the $43 million being allocated for R&D, and less than the $50 million to assist students in paying for higher education. It would be about 1 percent of what the state now collect in income tax – just over $1 billion – and less than 0.2 percent of what the state spends.

That $42.50 wouldn’t hurt the state budget much, or permit me to buy a lot, but it would say Maine’s government was thinking about me and valued my presence here. If Maine is trying to up the number of folks with college degrees, it should look at keeping what it has as a starting point.

Monday, July 1, 2002

A government freeze

Published in the International Press Institute's Global Journalist magazine
Reporters are to receive approval (for stories) from their editor, who will obtain National Science Foundation concurrence for all proposed stories to insure [sic] they meet U.S. government standards. — Guidelines for Editorial Employees of the Antarctic Sun.
Except, there are no written standards given by the National Science Foundation. The Antarctic Sun is an information outlet with significant access to the U.S. Antarctic Program, employing professional journalists and reaching members of the general public and even world media organizations. But the NSF sees the weekly newspaper as a “house organ,” analogous to a corporate newsletter providing the company line on events.
“There are times when it is better to not say anything,” said NSF’s Antarctic information manager Guy Guthridge.
Former editors of the Sun, including myself, aren’t so sure, though we agreed to the restrictions as a condition of our employment. Current Sun editors were unavailable for comment.
“There were some NSF managers who took the role as information flow manager to a level that was well above and beyond what was probably good for the NSF and for the people working (in Antarctica),” said Sandy Colhoun, who was the editor of the paper during the 1997-1998 and 1998-1999 austral summer seasons.
Josh Landis was my colleague when we were editors of the paper in the 1999-2000 and 2000-2001 seasons. When asked about press freedom in Antarctica, Landis said, “It doesn’t exist.”
Landis qualified that by saying he’s not sure there needs to be press freedom within the U.S. Antarctic Program. “It’s a program to execute a series of goals,” Landis said. That focus, he said, “does create frustrations for journalists,” adding that we learned about restrictions during the hiring process and during employment orientation. “I felt like I knew what the rules were going in,” Landis said.
The Sun’s planning and reporting are similar to any newspaper. Though NSF and program officials would make suggestions about interesting subjects to cover, “they never told us what to write,” Landis said. And Sun reporters do get to travel around the continent at times, reporting on research and logistics at field outposts, though NSF controls who goes where and when.
It is near the end of the production process that NSF’s power becomes clear. The paper publishes a note about itself indicating that it is “funded by the National Science Foundation,” and further saying, “NSF reviews and approves material before publication.”
The senior NSF representative on the continent reviews a draft copy of the paper and has carte blanche to change content and even kill stories before publication. Though some in that position are helpful, all have the power to “kill anything for any reason and there’s no recourse,” Landis said.
Some stories did not get killed, though they might have been. The Dec. 19, 1999, issue discussed severe pollution in Winter Quarters Bay, right next to McMurdo Station. And the Oct. 29, 2000, issue included a picture of a sea urchin using a tampon as camouflage on the sea floor. Both of those stories were about NSF-funded scientific research into Antarctic pollution.
Other stories, though, never see the light of day. Landis secured a series of interviews with people who had wintered at the South Pole with Dr. Jerri Nielsen, the doctor who discovered she had breast cancer while at the Pole in 1999.
“I probably had better access than anybody to get the details of the story,” Landis said. “When the NSF found out about this, it was very quickly ended.”
“I actually ended it when it became apparent that any final version would be so heavily edited for the purpose of removing things that I knew it wouldn’t be satisfying,” Landis said.
January 2002: Artur Chilingarov, a deputy chairman of the Russian Duma and a towering figure in Russian Antarctic research, was stranded at the South Pole because of mechanical problems with his aircraft. A Sun staffer was at the Pole at the time, but the paper carried less than a paragraph about the visit, making no mention of Chilingarov’s name or position.
November 1999: An LC-130H “Hercules” aircraft had to take a 12-hour trip in attempt to land at several runways due to whiteout conditions. The story ran, but with some restrictions. “That story was a perfect example of how censorship can be acceptable,” Landis said. All the facts in the story were accurate, but “I stayed away from certain things that might upset people about the flight,” Landis said, meaning not only officials in the program but employees who needed to get around the continent. “You don’t want everybody flying on a Herc for the rest of the season to be afraid,” he said.
November 1998: An Air National Guard plane went into a crevasse, with no injuries and only minor damage to the plane. “I wanted to get that story out right away, and I wasn’t allowed to,” Colhoun said. He had a photo of the plane in the crevasse the day the accident occurred, but “they wouldn’t let me use it,” Colhoun said, offering a possible explanation: The Air National Guard had just begun taking over Antarctic flying from the Navy, which had flown for the program since the 1950s. Air Guard officials had been reluctant to take Navy advice before the accident, and could have been embarrassed by the story.
Not only the big stories were cut, though. A short piece about a cave of boulders built for McMurdo’s rock-climbing community’s use was struck from the paper in October 2000. No reason was given for the large X on the proof page. Though that was more the exception than the rule, it and the other restrictions provide a look at what governmental control over media can do.
“It’s not an independent publication,” said Valerie Carroll, the Sun’s publisher and communications manager at Raytheon Polar Services, NSF’s Antarctic contractor. “We’re being paid by a client to put out a newsletter-slash-newspaper,” Carroll said.
NSF may have its own publicity plans, she said, and “it wouldn’t look good for us to scoop them,” Carroll said, adding that there are “other perspectives we’re not aware of and don’t need to be.”
Colhoun and Landis offer kudos, though, for some openness on the part of the NSF. “For their culture, for them to allow even what we did was pretty remarkable,” Landis said. “In general, you weren’t censored.”
“The NSF feels like they let you have 70 percent freedom,” Colhoun said. He wanted to show a complete picture of what was going on in Antarctica — good and bad. “That agenda was not the one that the NSF wanted for that product,” Colhoun said. “I was owned by the NSF. They were the editorial power.”
Guthridge agrees. All NSF publications must go through an official approval process, he said. The Sun’s process is streamlined because of the distance and time difference between McMurdo and Washington, as well as the volume of material published in the Sun each week.
“We’re using public dollars here to put out something, and so we’re responsible to the larger public,” Guthridge said. For him, that means keeping some things quiet.
Alex Jones, director of the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard University, said it is reasonable to expect that the government would spend money on a publication to serve its purposes. But, he said, they run the risk of improving short-term image at the expense of long-term credibility.
“The more frank and open the government is in publications of that kind, the more valuable they are,” Jones said. “The long-term best interests are in being open and honest.”
All parties agree that the Sun is not in the role of watchdog of the U.S. Antarctic Program, though there isn’t any other organization that is or could be. Logistics are the main problem. “Journalists can’t just hop on a plane and go talk to who they want to,” Carroll said.
The Sun staff is based at McMurdo and has limited access to field camps and Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, giving them better access to Antarctic information than any other U.S. journalists.
“It’s not meant to be what (a newspaper) is in the world,” Landis said. “NSF gets to control what facts become public.”
Other journalists do come to the continent, after applying to NSF and having their plans approved. Some of these have included staff members from U.S. News & World Report, the Baltimore Sun, and National Geographic.
When journalists do come from outside organizations, Guthridge said, “They do what they want,” Guthridge said.
The time they are allotted, Colhoun said, is often too short for real reporting. Weather delays, survival training, and other commitments can mean there is little time to get into issues of waste or mismanagement on the ice, he said. “The only kind of reports that can come back are happy reports,” Colhoun said.
Guthridge said all signatory nations to the Antarctic Treaty are required to publish annual plans and reports on their activities. Countries can verify that information by appointing observers who have free access to the stations and equipment of other nations. The public, though, has little access to the U.S. Antarctic Program, only experiencing life and work at research stations when in the employ of government organizations or their contractors.
“It’s their show, they make the rules,” Landis said, adding that being more open would help. “More press freedom would create better dialogue in the Antarctic community,” Landis said.

Monday, August 14, 2000

Demolition derby rocks county fair

Published in the Addison Independent

NEW HAVEN — A junkyard was parked in the mud. The crowds were gathered to watch the ultimate battle, a fight to the mechanical death. The last one to need a repair shop wins — except they all could already use some body work, and maybe a few new parts.

A coat of paint? Definitely.

But then, this is the Addison County Fair and Field Days demolition derby, where muscle and steel count for everything and things like windshields and mufflers don't even exist.

Fire crews and an ambulance stand ready to rescue drivers whose cars get destroyed — or rather, finished off. Seventy vehicles are in the lineup for the night, in six heats with a final feature smash-up for the big money.

Without the traditional Field Days rainstorm, the Vergennes Fire Department had to pre-soak the ground to ensure the proper degree of mud for the first night of competition on Wednesday. The destruction began with four heats of big six-cylinder cars.

Here is a look at how the action went.

In the first heat, Thadeus Sorrell in the No. 41 car took several long high-speed runs, reversing into the mass of cars at one end of the ring or the other. But his fortune turned against him when several cars seemed to gang up on him, reducing his car to a smoking hulk with massive bends in its frame.

Matthew DeBisschop in car 70 took Madeline Martell in car 57 and Travis Forbes (car 45) on a long ride most of the length of the ring, pushing Forbes over the concrete barrier at the edge.

"Number 51 is now a compact," the announcer said, after a big multi-car collision.

The heat winners were Chad Steady (car 99) and Mike McGrath in car 11. Wendell Mason in car 21 was third.

The top two in a heat win money and are eligible to appear in the final feature of the night. The third driver is also eligible for the final, though the driver wins no money for the heat.

As the smoke cleared, two Bobcats and a forklift entered the ring to begin removing the steaming, smoking wrecks. Most of the drivers were able to steer their cars; some were able to move under their own power after being extracted from other cars or the barrier edging the ring.

The second heat started with Pat Deering (car 12) nicking part of the log barrier on his way into the ring.

Nathan Bingham (car 9) was quickly driven up high on the barrier. Thomas Sattus (car 38) hit Troy Goduo (car 30) heavily, but was then pinned by three disabled cars. Eric Huestis in car 55 cleared Goduo with a heavy hit.

Derrick Dykstra (car 81) got stuck in a corner for a while, but managed to make it out eventually. Because his car was protected from the early carnage, Dykstra was able to make some long damaging runs later in the heat.

Goduo put a huge hit on Deering, lifting both cars off the ground. Car 55 had destroyed its rear end, but Heustis continued smashing competitors with the back seat.

When action resumed after a fire was extinguished, Nathan Bingham took his No. 9 on a long run, pushing Harry Chamberland (car 22) high up onto the barrier. Chamberland was able, though, to spin his wheels enough to get unstuck.

VanDeWeert and Chamberland were the top two in the heat, while Bingham also survived to be eligible for the final round.

In the cleanup, Garrett Given's No. 77 pushed Matt Deering (car 13) out of the ring.

As the cars entered the ring for the third six-cylinder heat, Phillip Stevens' No. 63 died before even getting past the barrier. Stevens, obviously frustrated, was towed away, but would return in the fourth heat.

This round was characterized by several cars pushed up on the barrier very quickly, and by the massive fishtail tactics of Boomer LaFountain in the No. 57 car.

For a time, Kenny Lussier in No. 2 was sandwiched between LaFountain and Gerard Grant in No. 71, but escaped and slammed Jeffrey Sampson's into the wall.

Sampson got stuck in the corner behind Jody Bartlett's No. 72. Sampson kept backing into Bartlett, hammering away trying to get out, but eventually the engine had enough and quit in a massive cloud of smoke and steam.

LaFountain and Lussier won the heat, with Ben Paquin (car 69) in third.

"It was my first time out there," Lussier said, "I just keep hittin' and hittin' and hittin'."

In trying to remove David Parker's car 51 from its position on the barrier, the Bobcat drivers nearly flipped it. When they did get it unstuck, though, Parker was able to drive out of the ring without a problem.

Stevens got his car 63 into the ring for the fourth heat, but only took one run at an opponent before it died.

The No. 35 car, driven by Roxie Hall, caught fire and Hall got out quickly. Safely in the crowd, she could still see the flames in her head.

"I had watched the fire long enough," she said.

Gregory Manchester in No. 52 and Michael Gill in No. 32 set up a joint attack on Mike LaFountain's car 84, but it went awry. Gill successfully hit LaFountain, but was immediately hit by Manchester.

Bruce Putnam, in No. 50, had some serious trouble with his partially-detached bumper. No matter where he headed, he had to drive over his own bumper to get there. It made for a rockier ride than usual for Putnam, whose car later caught fire.

The final three were locked in battle for a long time. Manchester and LaFountain sandwiched Tim Tenney's No. 44, compressing it from both ends simultaneously. When Tenney finally escaped, his car was crippled.

LaFountain executed a smooth evasion of a threat from Manchester, but was hit by Tenney's crawling car in a last-gasp effort to keep car 44 in the running.

In the back lot, work was frantic. Drivers who won their heats were trying to fix up their vehicles to give them a good chance in the final.

"They're just rippin' stuff off, ripping fenders off, changing tires, chains and that," said Mike McGrath. He didn't have much work to do, though.

"I just tried to plug up the radiator so it won't leak," he said.

In the meantime, the four-cylinder cars were lined up to drive each other to bits in two heats.

Jason Paquette in No. 42 was first off the line, but Chris Bearor in car 9 stole the early stages with a long sweeping run piling up several cars on the rear end of his.

Todd Huestis in No. 75 had a flashing light atop his car. After a few hits, though, the light quit flashing and just stayed on.

Jeremy Markwell in No. 65 smashed into Bearor, putting both through the barrier.

"It's crunch time at the Addison County Field Days," the announcer said.

Melissa Smith in No. 31 went head-to-head with Kevin Wedge in No. 17. Smith, granddaughter of legendary demo derby driver Wally LaFountain, took a huge evasive swing and drove Wedge into the wall for the win.

In the second four-cylinder heat, John Bannon, Jr., in car 22, didn't get off the line.

The other cars did, though, and soon bumpers, tires and car parts littered the mud, popping tires and adding to the mayhem.

In a tribute to the American automotive industry, several cars took head-on collisions and kept moving, with their drivers unhurt.

Mike Paquette in No. 19 and Steve Miller in No. 33 were the last two. Miller's car was much stronger, but Paquette's was more agile and outmaneuvered its opponent for the win.

The final feature heat brought back the winners in the six-cylinder class. Some were in the same cars, while others had traded up to better cars for the final.

Mike McGrath in No. 11 dominated the final, making hard hits on Jason VanDeWeert in No. 25 and Mike LaFountain in No. 49. LaFountain and Harry Chamberland in No. 78 spun their tires into cinders and smoke.

LaFountain and McGrath were the last two, engaged in a dance for the cash. They spun in circles, went back and forth, side by side. McGrath's dashboard warning lights were all lit up.

In the haze and smoke the two drivers eyed each other, each aiming to disable the other's car without a fatal blow to his own. After several attempts, McGrath got free and set up for a crushing reverse blow. He delivered it and went back for another, both of which landed solidly.

LaFountain's engine caught fire, and it was all over.

McGrath came over to the stands, waving his trophy to the adulation of his fans. His most enthusiastic supporter, though, was Dave Musante, who gave McGrath the car.

"When I first came here in 1998, I drove into a snowbank," Musante said. "Mike pulled me out and said it looked like a good car for the derby. I told him, 'It's yours when I get rid of it.'"

On Thursday, the action continued, with Dave Holbrook outlasting everyone and taking the championship.

Sunday, January 30, 2000

Pinsetting for dollars

Published in the Antarctic Sun

Housed in the basement of McMurdo’s Building 63 are two bowling lanes, one of a few remaining manually-set alleys in the world. The exact number is difficult to know, because they are so small and so rare.

The lanes were the site of last week’s bowling tournament final match, won by the Freshies, with the help of the people behind the pins.

Several McMurdo residents are pinsetters in their spare time, earning minimum wage and tips from bowlers.

It’s a rough job, involving constant bending and lifting in a confined space, moving speedily so as not to delay the bowlers, and also avoiding the 10- to 16-pound balls which hurtle down the lanes.

There aren’t all that many pinsetters today. In earlier days of bowling, fallen pins were collected by hand and re-set in place individually, often by young people, called “pin boys.”

At the end of World War II, there was a shortage of willing pin boys. Technology offered another solution, automated pinsetters. These were often cheaper to run, since one or two people could service numerous lanes at once.

“It’s very rare to find people who manually set the pins anymore,” Jim Dressel, editor of Bowler’s Journal International, said in a phone interview.

The machines themselves are also of interest.

“They’re antiques and they’re very valuable,” said spokeswoman Jackie Twa of Brunswick, the corporation which made the pinsetting trays used at McMurdo’s lanes.

Despite the lack of replacement parts, “you could sell them for a lot of money and buy a new center,” Twa said.

Dressel was surprised to learn of the existence of McMurdo’s artifact.

He recalled that in the 1940s and 1950s there were a number of bowling alleys installed in military bases around the world.

But the automated setters used by most bowling centers nowadays were first introduced in 1945 by AML, Dressel said. Brunswick started making them in 1950, he said.

The manual pinsetters in Building 63 carry the following information on the manufacturer’s label: “Style B-10,Brunswick-Balke-Collender.” The machines are serial numbers 1023 and 1028.

The company changed its name from Brunswick-Balke-Collender to Brunswick Corporation on April 18, 1960, according to Linda Haschke, a marketing representative for Brunswick.

Sunday, November 28, 1999

Gas, food, lodging (and cargo): Marble Point serves up warmth and good cheer

Published in the Antarctic Sun

Flying into Marble Point there’s not much to see from the air. It’s about five buildings, dwarfed by fuel tanks. It’s all tucked away into the loose gravel of a spit of land between the glacier and the sea.

But upon exiting the helicopter, you discover another world. A man waves and shouts hello from across the landing area. Even the fuelie smiles as she drags a hose toward the thirsty vehicle. A woman waits in the warm house, ready with hot chocolate, tea, and coffee.

They are James Raml, Meg Flanagan and Diane Bedell. They are the real Marble Point. McMurdo’s still the big town, but this is civilization, Antarctic style.

Helicopter pilots know Marble Point well. They fly into and out of the Dry Valleys through the area.

The Cape Roberts pilots also stay here, on the west side of McMurdo Sound, to be able to fly the morning shift change even if there’s weather in McMurdo.

Raml describes the place simply. “It’s gas, food, lodging and cargo.”

For four seasons, he’s been the site manager, the telecommunications technician and general handyman. If it’s been built or repaired around Marble Point, he’s worked on it. There’s almost nobody else, and not much in the way of materials.

He took a Wannigan structure when Williams Field got rid of it. It was leaning over and pretty well beaten up.

That was a couple of years ago. Now it’s upright, with a new floor and a new coat of paint on the inside. It sleeps eight and includes a furnace that’s as clean as a new one.

All of that was done with materials left over from other projects, including work done at McMurdo or the South Pole.

There’s always more to do. Among the tasks: Cleaning up the site from decades of messy Antarctic operations, getting cargo ready for transport to the Dry Valleys, getting waste and cargo ready to return to McMurdo, and then–oh yes–the normal stuff to support life.

Even in just a short 10-minute tour of the place, Raml comes up with a list of about a dozen things he intends to work on now or in the future.

“Every year I try to get a few things done,” he said of his “spare-time” projects.

In addition to helping Raml with the cargo and life-supportjobs, Bedell makes sure the guests are at home in their well-maintained surroundings.

“We try to run it basically as a bed and breakfast,” she said.

She makes an excellent quiche, ensures that everyone has more hot drinks than they can
hold, and is the weather observer, medic, and doer of anything Raml doesn’t do–except fuels.

She is very relaxed, though, even with all that on her plate. She’ll sit with you and talk if you’re in the mood, or let you be.

Raml and Bedell make an excellent team. They have anywhere from one to 12 guests on any given night. The camp can sleep 17, and while the table is not quite big enough for everyone all at once, there’s plenty of room for eating in shifts.

The other member of the team is the refueling technician. Fuelies rotate every three weeks, which is a nice break from town, but is no picnic. Helicopters fly 24 hours a day for large portions of the season, and there’s always another one coming in.

It means all three are going all day long, stealing time “off” whenever there’s nobody visiting and no helicopter on the way.

The beautiful setting is just part of the payoff for being the first field camp put in each season, and the last to be pulled out. For all of them, it’s the appreciation on visitors’ faces when they realize this is a special place and that they’re as welcome as can be.