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Posted by on Sep 10, 2020 in Blog, Essays, Personal, Politics, Travel | 0 comments

When They Stood Tall: Remembering the World Trade Center — Before 9/11

 

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Introduction:  It’s hard to believe it’s been nearly two decades.  Today marks the 19th anniversary of 9/11, a fitting time to look back and remember the World Trade Center before they collapsed on that terrible day.  Marieta and I visited the World Trade Center a few times.  We even went to the top of one of the towers about a year before the tragedy.  Today’s essay includes some photos which were taken during those visits.  These photos are all that remains.

 

Note:  For a broader perspective of what I witnessed at the Pentagon on the day of 9/11, read this personal recollection posted at my site a few years ago — REMEMBERING SEPTEMBER 11, 2011 AT THE PENTAGON

 

They were colossal….even by New York standards.

The twin towers.  So utterly unremarkable in design, yet so grandiose by sheer size and scope, weren’t just windows to the world.  They were extensions of our national character and pillars of America’s unequivocal stature as a global superpower.

Within sight of those two towers, the Statue of Liberty is often said to symbolize our national identity.  But the unruffled lady bearing a flaming torch is more of an idea, really.  Perhaps even a myth, given where we are and what we’ve become.  Rooted squarely within the planet’s financial epicenter, the World Trade Center arose as the true manifestation of a nation, an economy, and a people — imposing, bold, excessive, and unapologetic for it all.

Which is precisely why they were such inviting targets on that fateful day no one saw coming.

 

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I took this photo about a year before it happened.

The view from the top of the towers looking east towards Brooklyn was breathtaking.

Visitors rode express elevators from the ground floor to the observation decks.  One was inside.  Another was on the rooftop, outside.

 

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That’s Marieta off to the right of the frame.

Here’s another angle, of the view looking east, but angled more towards the south.  If you look carefully, you can see the tip of Manhattan Island starting to curve around, there off to the right side.  The World Trade Center was only a block or so away from the shore.  In fact, a landfill was added to part of the outer perimeter which allowed traffic to move more easily.  A park was also added near the waterfront.  Of course, that’s all gone now, or at least it’s been transformed.

 

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When we stepped inside Windows on the World, the famous restaurant perched on the 106th and 107th floor of the North Tower, this was the view looking out towards Hudson Bay.  There in the center of the photo where the golden sunset radiates off the water is Liberty Island, which provides the base of the Statue of Liberty.  You can barely see her proudly standing there in the glow of the sunshine.

 

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The twin towers standing so close side by side meant you could sometimes see people over in the other building.  Those working in offices were on display, but if you fear heights, like me, the view was dizzying.  Company executives with corner offices who by the very definition of where they worked had “made it.”  All strangers.  But in a very real sense, they were our friends and our family, too.

Watching someone over in the other tower, catching their eye, and waving was pretty amazing.  Seeing them wave back was a real joy.

I wonder what happened to some of those nice people who waved.  I wonder how many survived, and how many did not.

 

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The first thing that hits you when you step outside onto the observation deck at the World Trade Center is — the wind.

It’s windy.

Not like a breeze.  Not even gusts.  It just blows…..hard….all the time.

We went outside on a perfect day.  I can’t even imagine the difficulty of what it must have been like to do construction or maintenance work on the roof of these buildings.  The wind was brutal.

Here’s the view from the outer observation deck looking directly north, uptown on Manhattan Island.  Oddly enough, when being up this high it’s so far up one might lose any fear of heights.  It’s almost like flying.

 

After

Just about everyone connected in any way to the events of 9/11 had an opinion on what to do with the now-sacred site.  In the end, rich and powerful financiers do what they always do, which is to tear it all down, haul it away, and rebuild again.  The land beneath the bodies and rubble was far too valuable to be left simply, as is, which would have been the most appropriate tribute.

At the very least, part of the iconic outer skeleton of the World Trade Center should have been left intact, and then other buildings could have been built around it.  Something, at least, should have remained of those fallen towers, to remind us.  Something tangible.  Something people can see, and touch, and remember.

Now that those two platforms of such wonderfully unique perception are gone, we can no longer gaze out, reflect, and enjoy.  The purgatory between earth and sky stands no more.

 

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Posted by on Sep 9, 2020 in Blog, Essays, General Poker | 0 comments

Remembering Mike Sexton

 

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Remembering Mike isn’t a sad occasion.  When I think of him, I smile. So many dinners, conversations, and fond memories. This photo was taken in 1997 at Puggy Pearson’s house, with Mike and Stu Ungar.

Three legends.

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As I looked through my own archive of photos, I realized just how important Mike was at various junctions of my life. I’m sure many others feel the same and, like me, credit Mike for making a difference and always providing just the right inspiration or motivation to do the right thing.

Here’s one more photo worth sharing, taken sometime in the 1990s. Mike and I are at Stu Ungar’s house.

Wish I’d taken more photos, but back then we didn’t have camera phones.

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I appreciate being quoted in this article on Mike’s passing by one of Las Vegas’ top journalists, Howard Stutz.

READ ARTICLE HERE

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Bill Ordine, a longtime sportswriter for the Baltimore Sun and Philadephia Inquirer, wrote this nice tribute to Mike, and asked for my thoughts.  It was tough to list all of Mike’s contributions in a simple statement.  In fact, Mike’s legacy would require volumes, especially if written and spoken by all the thousands of people whose lives he touched.

READ ARTICLE HERE

 

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What a beautiful tribute to Mike on this podcast, thanks to Chad Hollaway, Sarah Herring, and Jeff Platt at Poker News:

01:30 First news that came as such a shock
09:25 Maria shares her thoughts
26:30 Linda Johnson joins the show to give deep insights into Mike Sexton
34:30 Mike Sexton was a dancer!!
39:15 Jan Fisher shares Mike Sexton hustle story
42:50 Nolan Dalla explains how Mike was essential in his book about Stu Unger
52:48 Remko Rinkema reveals his experience and understanding of Mike Sexton
01:06:00 Adam Pliska & Vince Van Patten from Mike Sexton’s WPT family
01:28:00 Some unknown elements of Mike Sexton through the eyes of Tony Dunst
01:33:45 Why every poker player should be more like Mike Sexton according to Antonio Esfandiari
01:36:20 Mike’s brother Jeff Sexton shares thoughts on Mike Sexton from outside of poker

LISTEN HERE

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Posted by on Sep 6, 2020 in Blog, Essays, Politics, What's Left | 0 comments

What I Miss Most

 

 

America’s political crevasse has wrecked families and ruined friendships.

It’s tested our patience, made us question our values, caused us to rethink priorities, and utterly dominated every sector of our lives nearly to the breaking point of exhaustion.

This comes as a non-partisan observation. As you read on, I think people on the Left and the Right will be somewhat in agreement.

In recent years, I’ve witnessed friends and colleagues, who never expressed their political opinions before, becoming both outspoken and active. It’s as though fuses were lit. Passions exploded. This is true for Trump’s defenders and his critics.

I never thought before this ordeal that I’d ponder, let alone scribe, the statement which I’m about to make: I AM SICK OF POLITICS.

Now, to understand the gravity of that comment, you must understand that I have lived and breathed and inhaled and expectorated politics for all of my adult life. 36 years ago, I earned a degree in political science and later, worked in government for more than a decade. No matter which party ruled, or who was elected, my enthusiasm for the American political process, even with its many shortcomings, was heartfelt and genuine. And even after leaving politics in pursuit of other interests, in my spare time, I continued to read about current events and explore ideas. That was my hobby, but even that description doesn’t do the devotion justice.

Hence, I never thought I’d finally reach the stage of fatigue where I dreaded turning on the television each morning, for fear of the next and newest shock and scandal and the inevitability of another galactic battle between alternative universes of an opposite reality. I never thought I’d come to the point of reading books on political and social philosophy as nauseating. I never thought I’d reach the end of the path of what had been a roadway of insatiable curiosity to slamming into a cul-de-sac.

But now, here I am.

Over the next eight weeks, I am determined to work as hard as I possibly can and put everything within my soul into electing the people and party who I believe can best deliver something that’s vanished in recent years.

And that is — normalcy.

What I miss most is — normalcy.

Yeah, I want a revolution. I want big changes. I want the ideas I believe in to win. But this election isn’t about ideas or issues or ideology so much as it’s about normalcy versus pandamonium. Sanity versus chaos. Normal daily activities for ourselves versus fighting in the streets and ceaseless wars on social media.

If my preferred candidates win, does that mean the nation’s deep fissure of division will heal? Of course not. Division and arguments and debate and pain, perhaps lots of pain given the hole we’re in, will continue.

But for a few years, we might also get a break. A breather. A little normalcy. A bit more kindness. Fewer scandals. Less cruelty. More civility. I’m voting for that.

On or before Nov. 3rd, I’m voting for the thing I miss most — normalcy.

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Posted by on Aug 31, 2020 in Blog, Essays, Travel | 0 comments

Dallas’ Dirtiest Drive-In: The Lone Star

 

 

Once upon a time, Dallas had 19 drive-in movie theaters scattered throughout the city.  This is the story of the one that created traffic jams on the freeway, ignited court battles, and quite likely was the ground zero of conception for many. 

 

November 3rd, 1951 was opening night at the Lone Star Drive-In, which would become a thriving business that lasted 37 years, the longest of any outdoor movie theater in the city’s history.  The film which premiered that night was Broken Arrow, a western starring Jimmy Stewart.  Reportedly, the grand opening was accompanied by the explosion of fireworks.

Oh, if irony could foretell of the surreptitious sleaze to come.

Camped in a swampy industrial section of East Dallas engulfed in oak trees on Military Parkway, the Lone Star Drive-In was just another family-friendly hangout for a decade and a half,.  But then the owners cooked up a wacky way to increase profits by carving out a niche customer base that was certain to be controversial, even scandalous, but would also attract even more cars and customers — if only they could get away with it.

Their new business model was to start showing smut.

In 1966, the happy families loaded into station wagons must have slammed on the breaks in full panic mode when they pulled into the Lone Star Drive-In and been shocked to discover it was now showing X-rated movies.  Quick daddy, hit the reverse!  I’m not sure exactly what an X-rated movie looked like in 1966 since the MPA rating system wasn’t instituted until two years later, in 1968.  I presume those early films must have been hysterically awful and even tame by today’s tawdry standards.  But back then, with strict decency codes the norm in most American cities, it’s almost unimaginable that Dallas had an open-air, outdoor movie venue that featured hard-core pornography, what were then called “skin flicks.”

Welcome to the Lone Star Drive-In!

Note from the banner ad, that when the theater first opened, they advertised a “playground for the children.”

Presumably, that attraction later hit the skids once the porn began to flow.

 

 

Dallas has no natural reason to be a hub for drive-ins.

Except for lots of cars.  Hot summer nights.  And nothing much else to do.

Okay, so maybe Dallas — at least back then — was the ideal town for drive-in movies.

History doesn’t lie on this question.  Years later, well into the 1980s, Dallas featured the only nationally-syndicated drive-in movie critic.  Joe Bob Briggs (real name — John Bloom) wrote a hysterical weekly column, movie reviews actually, of the worst films ever made.  They were published in the Weekend section of the now-defunct Dallas Times Herald, which also spawned the careers of many — including sportswriter Dan Jenkins, PBS’ Jim Lehrer, the late politically brilliant Molly Ivins and Skip Bayless, the motormouth on ESPN.  Briggs himself became semi-famous for playing the role of the incompetent hick slot manager who was fired in Martin Scorsese’s film, Casino.

However, for all his ambition and talent, Briggs never once reviewed any of the movies playing at the Lone Star Drive-In between 1966 and 1987, not even Debbie Does Dallas.  That’s when the giant screen finally went dark….after one last money shot.

 

 

The most unusual thing about the Lone Star Drive-In was its location, adjacent to a busy expressway that was named after a former member of the Ku Klux Klan.  [Note 1]

You can look it up.

Movies couldn’t be shown until after dark.  But when skin flicks hit the screen nightly between 8 pm and midnight, graphic sex scenes were easily visible from the road.  Envision driving down the expressway one moment, and then the next — penises the size of Chevrolets.  And the acting skills of a jackhammer.

Many rubbernecking witnesses recall “traffic jams” building up along the expressway, particularly during the winter months when the surrounding trees shed their leaves and made for a dangerous driving distraction.  Others who remember the Lone Star Drive-In said accidents were common along the section of the roadway where voyeurs could capture a quick peek behind the wheel of the car.  Truckers sometimes parked on the median, feigning a “flat tire.”

The stretch of road on the other side of the drive-in complex, known as Lawnview, reportedly had “much clearer views.”  It also wasn’t subject to the dangers of distracted drivers barrelling down the expressway going 70 mph.  There, on a dark and quiet city street, dedicated aficionados of the cinema arts unwilling to pay the cover charge could watch the screen, though without the sound.  The Dallas Police regularly patrolled the area, frequently running off lots of teenagers and cheapskates.

 

 

The owners operated several drive-in theaters across Texas, but their decision to show X-rated movies in the middle of Dallas got to be way too much for local authorities to ignore.  That’s when the legal battles began.

Somehow, reasons unknown, land exemptions had been grandfathered in.  The Lone Star Drive-In’s owners escaped the normal zoning restrictions for decades, to say nothing of the mystery of how they managed to evade local laws on decency.  Bribes?  How much profit could a porno movie earn to be used to bribe cops and politicians?  Who knows?

One story goes that they were able to avoid the deadly classification as an “adult-oriented business” by occasionally running mainstream movies, those rated G and PG, suitable for the whole family.  Hence, on some nights the neon marquis in front might advertise a showing of 101 Dalmations, and the next night promote the feature attraction — Sorority Sluts.  No word on how they avoided confusion when Snow White and the 7 Dwarfs was shown.  Presumably, moviegoers didn’t know if they’d be watching a kiddie cartoon or a gangbang.

 

 

I remember the Lone Star Drive-In.  Very well.  I even went there a few times.

The legal age for entry was 17 and during high school, it was just another rite of passage to the eventual boredom of adulthood.  Just like the first time you saw the centerfold in Playboy or kissed a girl.  Once a group of us guys went together, which was way far more awkward than it was exciting.  Another time, I went on a double date.  Some helpful advice:  Don’t ever take a girl to an X-rated drive-in movie on a first date.

Whatever the cover charge was ($5 for a carload, I think — no matter if it was 1 person or a dozen), you got to watch three sleazy movies.  What a joy!  They also had those giant metal speakers attached to an industrial cable that would be hung inside the car window, which was always screechy.  I don’t recall much about the concession stand, other than the hot buttered popcorn was certainly something not to be touched.

According to a few drive-in nostalgia sites, the Lone Star Drive-In finally closed down with utterly no fanfare.  This time, there were no fireworks.  No porno parage.  No gooey goodbyes.  It wasn’t the Internet and free porn that killed all the big-screen fun.  It wasn’t free porn.  Rather, it was a new city law and an updated ordinance.  The owner’s exemption to restrictions on adult businesses ran out, and the movie went dark on December 18, 1987.  One week before Christmas Day.

Ho, ho, ho.

Sometime later, many months or it might have been a few years, with weeds sprouting in the parking lot and the white-plastered screen dingy with dirt and faded by the searing Texas heat, the drive-in suffered a sad and mysterious end.  The television news later reported the abandoned drive-in, including the giant screen, had somehow caught on fire.  Never mind how suspicious it sounds that a vacant property matted in gravel and surrounded by sheet metal miraculously burst into flames.  The punch lines to the story wrote themselves:  Wow, the X-rated drive-in caught on fire!  That must have been one hot movie!

I guess, looking back now many years later, the Lone Star Drive-In was equal parts of quirky reminiscence and shameful disgust.  All the drive-ins are gone now, perishable by evolution, erased by time.

 

Note 1:  That busy freeway is named after R.L Thorton, a former Dallas Mayor and member of the Ku Klux Klan.  Many Dallas residents are trying to change the name of the freeway.

Photo 1 Credit:  http://cinematreasures.org

Photo 2 Credit:  http://photos.cinematreasures.org

Photo 3 Credit:  Derek Maxwell

Photo 4 Credit:  DFW History Alive

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Posted by on Aug 28, 2020 in Blog, Essays, Politics, What's Left | 0 comments

Who is This Man?

 

 

CAN YOU IDENTIFY THIS MAN?

Here are a few hints:

— He born on May 18, 1855, in Mount Morris, NY. He lived much of his life in Rome, NY.

— He became an active member of the First Baptist Church, where his father was a minister. He also became a minister and author.

— He once ran for the office of Governor of New York State, but lost.

— He was a self-described “Christian Socialist” who (in his own words) championed “the rights of working people and the equal distribution of economic resources,” which he believed was inherent in the teachings of Jesus.

— While speaking as a minister, he was once removed from the pulpit in Boston for preaching out against the evils of capitalism.

— Later in his life, he left the ministry and stopped attending church altogether, reportedly because of the racism he witnessed there.

— His career as a preacher ended because of his tendency to describe Jesus as a socialist. He taught classes with topics such as “Jesus the socialist,” “What is Christian Socialism?”, and “Socialism versus anarchy.”

— Today, he’s widely regarded as one of the most influential figures in the early American socialist movement.

 

So, who is this person?

His name is Francis Bellamy.

Who? So, what was he best known for?

FRANCIS BELLAMY wrote THE PLEDGE OF ALLEGIANCE. *

So, next time you think the principles of democratic socialism are anti-American, try this:  Say your pledge and remember the words and wisdom of its author.

 

Footnote:  Bellamy wrote the original Pledge of Allegiance, which did not contain the words, “under God.”  He believed in the absolute separation of church and state and did not include the phrase “under God” in his pledge, which was added in the 1950s, 25 years after Bellamy’s death.

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