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Posted by on Sep 26, 2017 in Blog, Essays, Personal, Restaurant Reviews, Travel | 3 comments

Why I Love Kuby’s but Hate S.M.U.

 

 

Note:  This is the third and final article in a trilogy on my reminiscence of Dallas. Read PART 1 here.  Read PART 2 here.

 

When asked why I ended up enrolling in the University of Texas state school system, the truth is — my S.A.T. scores weren’t high enough to get into Rice.

Sure, I’m proud that I graduated from a state university.  But part of me still peaks across the imaginary crevasse separating the haves from have-nots, connivingly curious about life on the other side.  As with many kids who grew up working-class who spent our adolescence checking price tags and scrambling for lunch money, we couldn’t afford the high tuition to a private school.  Our parents weren’t rich enough.  We weren’t quite smart enough to get academic scholarships.  And, we lacked the talent to play sports or do something else creative to get the tuition-free ride.  So, stuck on the poor side of the tracks and frowned upon by trust-fund BMW-driving brats, that left some scars.  I admit this experience fueled a personal resentment and class awareness which remains to this day.

Wait — wasn’t this article supposed to be about “Why I hate SMU?”

Yep. I’ll get to this in just a moment.  Hang on.

I wanted badly to get into Rice University, which is located in Houston.  Rice was really super cool.  It had a small enrollment compared to most other major colleges — only about 5,000 students total.  But Rice produced many extraordinary graduates and also enjoyed a stellar academic reputation.  Rice was widely considered to be Texas’ version of an Ivy League school.  But what appealed to me most was Rice’s scandalous counterculture.  Sometime during the late 1970s at a college football halftime show, the Rice University marching band paraded into a formation in the shape of — now imagine the utter shock of this — a giant marijuana leaf.  Then, before 20,000 or so rain-spattered fans huddled in disbelief in an 80,000-seat stadium the Rice Owls marching band blasted out the song “Mary Jane,” by funk-rocker Rick James.  While bands elsewhere around the country played stale Broadway tunes and marched lock-step in strict military formation, Rice did the unthinkable.  I wasn’t part of the drug culture, but I still looked at that bravado as something that I wanted to be a part of.  Students being crazy and free-spirited and having the times of their lives — all while getting a first-class education.  That was for me.  Where do I sign up?   The movie Animal House should have been filmed at Rice.

Side Note:  Rice’s academic deeds are equally contentious.  Consider the controversial report issued a few years ago by the James Baker Institute for Public Policy at Rice University, which obliterates the failed “War on Drugs.”  [READ MORE HERE]

Rive had two academic counterparts within the state of Texas.  TCU, in Fort Worth, was very much like Rice so far as size goes, but severely lacked its academic reputation.  Plus, TCU was Viagra hard for Bible-thumping Christianity.  TCU is, after all, Texas *Christian* University.  Even though the city was just 30 miles from Dallas, it might as well have been in the suburbs of Outer Mongolia.  I loathed everything about Fort Forth, as did just about everyone else from Dallas.  So, there was no way I’d ever go to TCU.  To me, Fort Worth was a stupid hick town.  No one from Dallas ever went to TCU.  Not even Christians.  It just didn’t happen.

The other upscale private university within Texas many of us wanted to attend was Southern Methodist University — “SMU” for short.  The red-bricked SMU campus is fortressed within the Highland Park and University Park sections of super-snooty North Dallas.  It’s Beverly Hills sans the palm trees smoking a crack pipe while riding a polo pony wearing an argyle sweater with a bow tie.  Envision SMU’s campus on Mockingbird Lane and every stately manner house and residency within a three-mile radius being worth at least a couple of million dollars — and way up.  It’s Dallas’ version of The Hamptons or Martha’s Vineyard or Palm Beach, only with far more ritzy homes and lots more right-wing rich assholes.  Indeed, even though Dallas is solidly Democratic politically speaking, this is one of the most conservative and uber-wealthy neighborhoods in America.  The musty homes and the musty people and the musty attitudes come straight out of the ’50s — the 1650’s.  That’s SMU.

To be fair, SMU has produced an interesting gaggle of graduates — from former first lady Laura Bush (who seems like a really nice person) to television mogul Aaron Spelling (who produced many of the shitty big-haired bimbo-brained television shows that most of us grew up loving and addicted to during the 70s and 80s)….from H.L. Hunt (once the richest man in the world) to his son Lamar Hunt (who founded the American Football League and owned the Kansas City Chiefs)….from actor Powers Boothe (who died recently — R.I.P.) to Oscar-winning actress Kathy Bates (who was cast in her first movie after someone saw her performing in a college play).   SMU also produced lots of great football players — from “Dandy” Don Meredith to Eric Dickerson, plus many more.

 

SMU wasn’t always despised as it is today.  During the 1970s, my father took me to most of their college football games, which were played then at the old blue and white striped Cotton Bowl until SMU illegally went pro and moved into the horrors of football warehousing — Texas Stadium.  The Mustangs were plenty terrible way back then.  But they were gutsy.  They were almost always competitive and wildly entertaining.  Seems like SMU lost every game I attended by a score of about 45-36, but we always sat comfortably 25 rows up on the 45-yard line since barely half of the cavernous stadium was filled with fans of a lousy losing football team.

Eventually, SMU and its corrupt alumni living in football-mad Dallas decided they were fed up with losing all the time and didn’t care any longer for playing in a stadium smack dab in the middle of a Black neighborhood, known as Fair Park.  So, they broke just about every rule in the college football rulebook in order to build themselves into a national title contender.  Before the conversion over to the dark side, no good athlete wanted to go to SMU, especially since the in-state powers Texas and Texas A&M were so strong and to the north Oklahoma basically used the entire state of Texas as it’s minor league football farm system.  So, SMU had to get super creative.  They slipped football players envelopes full of cash and gave others new cars to drive — just to play at a rich school in North Dallas.

The tipping point for my loathing of SMU and its horrible graduates (except for Kathy Bates) and the start of my declaration of class warfare came during, appropriately enough, during a football game.  While attending the annual SMU-Texas rivalry when both teams were legitimate national champion contenders, I experienced a true moment of personal and philosophical epiphany.

At that game, on the opposite side of the field (I was sitting in the University of Texas section), the SMU student section unfurled a huge banner like 50-feet long.  It was large enough for everyone in the stadium to see.  The banner was unfurled.  It read:  “Our maids and butlers went to Texas.”

What the fuck!  Hey, it was bad enough SMU openly cheated to recruit players.  Everyone knew those crimes were going on, which ultimately led to the hammer being thrown down called “the death penalty,” which all but obliterated SMU’s football program.  It was bad enough that the perfectly sculpted students who all looked like Tucker Calrson were all spoiled brats who never worked a day in their lives.  It was really bad that SMU was, academically speaking, an inferior school to Texas (quick — name anyone from SMU who’s ever done shit — except for Kathy Bates?).

I hate SMU.  I still hate SMU.  SMU sucks.  Unless I’m betting on SMU.  Then, I cheer for SMU and I become SMU’s biggest, fattest, poorest cheerleader.

______

I love Kuby’s.

Kuby’s is a German-themed restaurant that first opened in 1961.  The family-owned market and eatery nestled in the corner of Snider Plaza, due northwest of the SMU campus off Hillcrest, draws a steady clientele of both on and off campus loyalists — including me.  My first Kuby’s meal was sometime around 1978.  Since then, I estimate that I’ve eaten at Kuby’s at least 60-70 times, including this my most recent visit.

 

Here’s my meal, ordered for lunch.  Question:  What do you think this cost?

Try this — $7.95

Wanna’ know the difference between good versus great?  The Details.

The attention to details here is marvelous.  Three piping hot house-made sausages of your choice.  Two different kinds of mustard are served, including spicy.  Not just one generous side of sauerkraut, but two sides — cut fresh from white cabbage and red cabbage.  The German potato salad is warm and perfectly seasoned.  Rye bread quartered served with real butter.  A couple of pickles serve as garnish.  Plus, a handy steak knife to make shoveling easier.  This is absolute cheap meal perfection.

Dallas is the best city in the country for outstanding cheap eats (okay perhaps, Los Angeles ties for first).  This is a city packed with stupendously tasty meals.  Kuby’s is sort of the embodiment of affordable excellence, am out-of-the-way hermit for insider locals that many people probably have no idea exists, especially in restaurant-heavy Dallas, consistently melding high-quality ingredients with outstanding value.

The layout:  Kuby’s is divided into two sections.  There’s a neighborhood market with a butcher on the premises.  European products are sold here.  It was also something of a cultural center, for a while.  For many years before the Internet existed and made international news and foreign languages easily accessible, this was practically the only place in Dallas you could pick up fresh copies of Der Spiegel or Frankfurter Allgemeiner.  All the waitresses and staff spoke fluent German (and stil, from what I saw last week).

 

The restaurant — open for both lunch and early dinner — offers instant counter seating if things are too busy and heavy wooden lodge-style tables and chairs, as you might expect in the Bavarian Alps.  Lunches are typically bustling.  The counter is mostly stacked with people reading who pretty much keep to themselves.  Tables are filled with college students and Highland Park locals.

VISIT KUBY’S OFFICIAL WEBSITE AND SEE MENU HERE

My only disappointment with Kuby’s was the recent shocking discovery that they’d changed their traditional recipe for the classic German delicacy — Black Forest Cake.  For decades as long as I could remember, Kuby’s used to serve the best Black Forest Cake in America.  I usually ordered two slices.  Yes, it was that great.  The former cake used to be multi-layered with a perfect balance of white Bavarian cream, fresh tart cherries, chocolate sponge cake, and an unusual crunchy texture that made each bite of torte a screaming orgasm for the taste buds.

Inexplicably, Kuby’s altered the dessert.  It wasn’t nearly as good.  So, I asked the waitress about this and she said desserts are now made out of house.  Perhaps it was the cost.  Perhaps it was a matter of space.  Perhaps it was the time it took to make fresh daily desserts for what amounts to a lowe profit margin.  Whatever the reason, changing that classic recipe and bringing in an outside supplier was a huge and a big letdown.  I wanted two slices.  This time, I ordered just one.  Mega-saddenz.

Even with the disappointment of dessert, my meal was almost as good as I remember.  Kuby’s receives my highest recommendation for German food lovers who are looking for quick service and extraordinary value.

Kuby’s the only thing about SMU I love — oh yes, and also Kathy Bates.

 

 

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Posted by on Sep 18, 2017 in Blog, Essays, Politics, Travel, What's Left | 1 comment

Robert E. Lee Loses Another Battle

 

 

We can’t help but be shaped by the experiences of our youth and the events of our past.

Last week in the heart of one of America’s poshest zip codes, a consecrated bronze memorial to Robert E. Lee was chiseled from its sturdy granite foundation.  Unencumbered, then it was chained to a giant crane and hoisted upwards into the bright blue Texas September sky.  Next, the bulky wrath of ire was loaded onto a reinforced flatbed truck.  Ultimately, the disruptive shrine and controversial symbol which instilled pride in some and to many others epitomized overt racism, discrimination, and hate was carted away to its final resting place somewhere outside the city, presumably never to return again.

Despite the sweltering humidity of the 90-degree day, a police SWAT team wore bullet-proof vests and black metal helmets.  Armed with assault rifles better suited for a military ambush rather than a typical weekday afternoon at the park, the forces remained on high alert for several hours, prepared for signs of resistance and violence.  However, there was no resistance.  There was no violence.  No one within this local community seemed to care very much.  Once the statue’s removal was completed, there was only a collective sigh of relief accentuating a much wider unspoken understanding which in some small way amounted to a city’s mass reparation.

Alas, the time to do the right thing had clearly come and although this moment had certainly been way past due for the great majority who viewed a Confederate monument in the 21st Century as culturally indecorous, racially offensive, and completely out of step with modern-day sentiment, we must also willfully acknowledge that it’s never too late to do what is a noble and proper deed.

In Dallas in the year 2017, the likeness of that bearded old general — seemingly so valiant and brazenly defiant riding so high and mighty upon his horse with a sentry in tow — did manage to make one last momentous stand here in the park named in his honor.  Though the real Lee is long dead and buried somewhere more than a thousand miles away, he waged one final ill-fated battle, his lost cause buttressed by an inexplicable lingering cult of adoration bolstered by a disdainful minority of reactionaries and historical revisionists who remain grotesquely insensitive to the very real scars of their and our history solely caused by the masochistic abuses of people of one skin pigment versus another.

And here it was, in Dallas, where he suffered yet another stinging defeat to a force greater than his own, this final humiliation not administered by a superior opposition army nor the blasts of angry cannons, but rather a perfectly legal and peaceful process set forth by democratically-elected local officials following the laws of this nation and guided by common human decency.  The Dallas City Council decided to act in unison and align themselves with the righteous principles of this century, instead of remaining preposterously tethered to some mythological mindset of a faux-romanticized era some 150 years earlier.  No one much feared the backlash of bigots anymore.

When the news of Lee’s final surrender here hit social media, the popular reaction elsewhere was quite predictably tainted by ignorance of this area’s multifarious past and liberated present.  Fact is, Lee lost his relevance in and around Dallas long before his haughty likeness was wheeled away.  Accordingly, I’d like to tell you more about those earlier defeats, those notable occasions commensurate with the victories of so many engaged in fighting the good fight, especially since I grew up in Dallas and spent a fair amount of my childhood living in and going to school in that neighborhood, all giving me a unique perspective of what removing Lee’s statue really means.

Lee’s bronze statue was erected in 1926 during a time when racism wasn’t in the shadows but was the law of the land.  Even though we consider this cringe-worthy, we must also agree that the memorial was marvelous work of skill and craftsmanship.  For 91 years, Lee’s statue stood at the center of what was known as “Lee Park.”  That was before the city council changed the name to Oak Lawn Park.  Indeed, Oak Lawn Park seems appropriate since it’s been one of Dallas’ most eclectic neighborhoods for a very long time.  The park lies within a shady winding valley nestled along the twists and bends of Turtle Creek, located about two miles north of Downtown Dallas.  The Turtle Creek area is canopied with picturesque oak trees, framed by perfectly manicured lawns, interspersed with hundreds of $10 million-plus homes that resemble castles, and several dozen high-rise condos.  It’s a really great place to live and one of the hottest real estate markets in the country, provided you can afford it.

Oak Lawn been like this for as long as I can remember.  Four decades ago, I attended elementary school nearby, which is still there today.  Holy Trinity Catholic School was within walking distance of Lee Park, on Oak Lawn Blvd.  Holy Trinity became famous when the priest in charge of the school administered last rights to President John F. Kennedy after he was assassinated in Dallas in 1963.

I have other memories, too.  I bought my first record album just a few blocks away from Lee Park, in 1971.  Music has always been important to me and a source of immeasurable joy.  I recall the huge record store where I used to hang out and spent many afternoons right after the bell rang and school let out.  In those days, there wasn’t any Internet where you could watch and hear popular music in an instant.  None of us kids had record collections.  So, it was really a big deal to buy the latest hit single you heard playing on the radio, or an album — provided that you had the money.  The first album I ever bought was “Hey Jude,” an album compilation of hit singles by The Beatles released right after the group officially broke up.  Actually, it wasn’t even an album.  It was an 8-track tape.  Remember 8-track tapes?

About that time, like many other big American cities, Dallas began experiencing anti-Vietnam War protests.  Some even turned violent.  Two of the largest protests were held at Lee Park, in 1970 and 1971.  Although I was just 9 at the time, I still hung out at the ’71 mass gathering because it was really cool to see so many strange-looking people known as “hippies,” and watch the excitement.  Their music was cool, too.  I also remember the movie theatre located next to Lee Park capitalizing on the chaotic situation on the streets by showing “The Concert for Bangladesh” on the giant screen, which was quite unusual at the time (I went and saw the music documentary — twice).   Here’s a file photo that was taken that day (above) with a link to a nicely-written blog story by a progressive writer who remembers the local activism of that volatile period.  [DALLAS 1960S ACTIVISTS REVISITED]

There’s a beautiful irony to this story.  No doubt, Robert E. Lee would spin in his grave at the idea of thousands of counter-culture hippies protesting a patriotic war in a park named in his honor.  Civil rights activists also held several rallies at Lee Park.  But the peace movement, blaring rock n’ roll, and cries for racial equality were nothing compared to what was to come next.

Starting sometime around the late 1970’s, the districts known as Oak Lawn and Cedar Springs began to attract increasing numbers of gay people.  Today, within sight of where Lee’s statue once stood, tens of thousands of openly gay, lesbian, and transgender citizens have come to proudly call this neighborhood their home.  Understandably, most of these trendy locals don’t have much regard for nostalgia or an old relic of the past intended to pay tribute to someone who fought to preserve the right of his rebel movement to enslave millions of people.  Such a man doesn’t deserve a statue.  He deseerves burial in an ash heap. [Here’s an interesting ARTICLE on the Oak Lawn “Gayborhood.”]

So, if Lee would have been pissed off before about the hippies and rockers and Blacks taking over his park, he most certainly might have shit a bronze brick at the notion of thousands of free-spirited activists marching in the annual Gay Pride parade, many of them gathered around his antiquated perch of isolation.  Once someone even stuck a gay rainbow flag in Lee’s hand, seemingly waving the banner of pride atop his horse.  Oh, the irony indeed.

I didn’t expect to revisit these memories nor experience an emotional reaction to the news blip of Lee’s vintage statue being removed.  I doubt many others, even living in Dallas, gave it much of a thought.  It’s pretty clear to most of us now that the old relic has no place here.  While we should study and remember our history and protect it when appropriate so that we might learn from it, that’s a very far cry from memorializing its most painful chapters and honoring those traitors who personally contributed to so much mass misery.

When the Civil War waged to the east, Dallas was then a small town.  It played virtually no role in the short-lived southern Confederacy.  Nonetheless, after that bloody conflict a long time ago the locals inexplicably decided to honor this man who symbolized the farce of their self-professed superior cultural heritage.  Even though Robert E. Lee wasn’t defeated on any battlefields here, he was ultimately upstaged many times over by the very people he would have disdained had been alive to witness what came later — including civil rights activists, war protestors, and tens of thousands of gays conspicuously dancing in the shadows of where a bronzed shrine once stood.

This was Lee’s final surrender and a notable victory for those still willing to fight a noble battle in a centuries-old conflict that has not yet ended.

 

 

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Posted by on Sep 15, 2017 in Blog, Essays, Restaurant Reviews, Travel | 3 comments

Keller’s Drive-In (Dallas) — The Most Wonderfully Disgusting Burger Joint in the Universe

 

 

My unplanned detour off Northwest Highway onto the oil-stained parking slick fronting Keller’s Drive-In prompted a most peculiar of culinary quandaries.  Namely — should I risk my life for a hamburger?  

From the rusty dangling carports taunting wide-eyed anxiety of an imminent collapse….to the dreary landscape beguiling a knife fight between rival gangs….a pit stop at this East Dallas hamburger haven demands a divine leap of gargantuan faith, garnished with an intriguing sense of unease.

Keller’s Drive-In has been around since before I was born — which is to say when all the Kennedys were still alive.  Growing up in Dallas, I fondly remember Keller’s Drive-In as that last great American hamburger joint before the microwaved abomination of corporate fast-food chains conspired to destroy the world and all but obliterated these genuine small-time monuments to food art and guilty decadence.

All I can say is — thank fucking god this awful place is still around and remains so marvelously defiant.

While we’re now in the midst of a trendy faux-renaissance of the good old-fashioned era of the greasy burger, unfortunately, most of the forgers financed by quinoa-nibbling waifs charge at least quadruple the price of the most expensive menu item at Keller’s — and still aren’t even half as tasty.  Fuck them.  Fuck them with triple patty sideways.

See, Keller’s is the raw real deal.  Taste buds never lie.  Where else in this compromised day and age of mass copy-cat conformity can you wolf down a piping hot guilty pleasure and guzzle a cold beer in the front seat of your car (ALL LEGALLY!) for less than ten bucks?  Indeed, Keller’s isn’t just a teary throwback to bygone authenticity given that its days are probably numbered, memories destined to be bulldozed into an Applebee’s next to Chevron.  It’s a cenotaph to anti-political correctness.  Let me put it this way:  If Jesus ever did return and was an auto mechanic instead of a carpenter, and he wanted to re-do The Last Supper, he’d host it at Keller’s.

On this day, I didn’t plan on eating at Keller’s.  Hell, I wasn’t even hungry.  I was full, even.  But you only live once according to my spiritual leanings and if my time has indeed come to keel over from a heart attack or a switchblade thrust into the abdomen by the newest inductee into the Banditos — then so be it.  My friends, this is precisely how I want to go out — with a scrumptiously sinful artery blocker in one fist and some kind of alcoholic beverage in the other palm, all while mutinously singing The Internationale.

Here.  Check out the menu.  Look at these prices!  “The Best” Hamburger clocks in at $2.35.  Throw in some greasy fresh-cut fries for a buck fifty-five.  Then, kill those intestines with a hearty milkshake for $2.25 (not the corn syrup garbage served elsewhere, but the real dairy product where you can taste the cream).  You can also add a cold beer for $1.75.  Holy shit!  I need to rent an apartment next to this joint!  Or, be buried here.

The best burger, plus fries, plus a milkshake, plus a cold beer comes to — cha -ding! — a grand total of $8.90!

 

 

Allow me to become a bit philosophical.

Food is the most obvious revelation and the ultimate confirmation, that above all else, egalitarianism rules.  Screw everything else.  Fact:  We all want to eat well.  Food is the magnet that makes snooty rich people drive into shitty neighborhoods for no other pursuit than that uniquely scrumptious meal you simply can’t get anyplace else in the city, or the universe for that matter.  Food is the epicenter our most inherent of social and commercial bonds, often between the most disparate tribes.

My rental car pulled up next to a Tesla.  Across the breezeway was a lowrider, which looked to be a ’66 Chevy Impala, though I’m not a car guy (thanks Google).  To my left was a soccer mom with her too many kids in a Toyota SUV.  Behind me was an old paintless pickup truck with a bunch of lawnmowers in the back — presumably all “rapists and murderers” doing their part of keep Dallas green and beautiful.  See, lots more cunts live in Highland Park than Oak Cliff.

Where else but Keller’s Drive-In would I witness a solo visitor from Las Vegas parked right next to an asshole driving a $100,000 car, next to suburban soccer mom, next to a Cheech and Chong wannabee, next to illegal aliens on lunchbreak — all eating pretty much exactly the same incredible meal for the same price?  If that’s not egalitarian awesomeness, then nothing is.

Note, however.  Badass bikers have recently been banned.  [READ “EATER DALLAS” STORY HERE]

 

 

Not often does one accurately describe a popular eating establishment as a total shithole, yet also give it a glowing recommendation.  Well, here you go.  Keller’s Drive-In is a total shithole with fabulous food at ridiculously cheap prices.

Which now brings me to the close.  The culinary encore of this review can be expressed in either one word or perhaps two words.  I’m not sure which.  That word or those words are — POPPYSEEDS.  Ersatz POPPY SEEDS.  I’d crawl over broken glass to devour those poppy seeds.  They’re sewn into every bun at Keller’s Drive-In.  My new sick fetish is poppy seeds.

I’m not sure what exactly is the best thing about Keller’s Drive-In, but the poppy seeds in the bun are right there next to the free knife fight.  Then, there’s the burger.  The burger is so messy, napkins aren’t adequate.  More like you need a beach towel, and perhaps a shower.

Keller’s Drive-In reminds us all of what we once used to be and what can still be, given the will of taste over convenience, the popular demands of quality over quantity, and the indubitable love of great food over mass production.

This is badass greatness on a poppyseed bun slathered in a special sauce.  Blow your dick off perfection with a heart attack in your hand all washed down with a cold brew.

Keller’s Drive-In is absolute magnificence.

 

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Posted by on Jul 24, 2017 in Blog, Essays, Picture 1, Travel, Uncategorized, What's Left | 1 comment

The Greatest Photograph Ever Taken

 

 

[This is the follow up post to the article “WHAT’S THE GREATEST PHOTOGRAPH EVER TAKEN?” and subsequent discussion HERE which took place on Facebook.]

 

You’re looking at the greatest photograph ever taken.

It’s an astonishing image, spellbinding even, especially given the unforeseen interlude of the snapshot and the tumultuous times unraveling back on earth at the instant that it was taken.  The image is a blaze of contrasts, and for many — an inspiration and a call to action.

This photograph was snapped by William Anders in late 1968.  Anders was one of three astronauts aboard the Apollo 8 space mission.  Remarkably, Anders had no prior experience in photography, and yet his image has been called “the most influential environmental photograph ever taken.”   Not bad for an amateur.  The photo was even something of an accident.  It wasn’t planned.

Later named “Earthrise,” we see the earth in the distance which appears as an oasis of vibrant colors floating in the dark abyss of outer space.  The foreground shows the moon’s surface up close for the very first time, directly beneath the Apollo 8 spacecraft.  Contrast this image with grainy black and white television images transmitted back to earth from the lunar capsule, and the differences are striking.  We take these images for granted now, but at the time they were taken and later splashed around the world in media, we were in awe.

This image was a first in so many ways.  Earthrise was the first photograph to show the earth in its entirety.  While some of earth is concealed by a shadow and we can’t see the other side of the planet, it’s still the first comprehensive photo of all of humanity and the place we call our home.  Still, let that sink in.  Before this instant, we never quite knew what the whole earth looked like.  Previous manned space missions had beamed back many stunning images, but they were taken much closer to the earth’s surface.  Until this mesmerizing moment, we’d never seen ourselves truly as one.  In a sense, it’s the first “group shot” of everyone on earth.

This is us.

The timing of the photo also adds significantly to its power over us.  From space, we see what seems to be a peaceful planet.  But the historical backdrop to this photo was the terrible year that was 1968.  The world was in chaos.  This was the height of the Vietnam War.  The two superpowers were locked in a death-stare of conflicting ideologies, both sides stanchioned by thousands of nuclear warheads.  At the time, the U.S. didn’t even recognize the largest nation on earth, the People’s Republic of China.  Apartheid was the law of the land in South Africa.  Famine and starvation raged across parts of Asia and Africa.  Tensions were brewing in the Middle East, which had just come off a war between Israel and the Arab States in the prior year.  Central and South America were in the midst of their so-called “dirty wars,” as many countries were ruled by brutal military dictatorships.  Revolutionaries were active almost everywhere and had even launched a new tactic particularly loathsome to humanity, called “terrorism.”

The United States was also in crisis.  National Guard units patrolled the streets of many American cities.  There were nightly curfews.  Every major university had mass protests against the Vietnam War.  Race relations exploded into riots and burned many American cities.  There was a generational split on every cultural and political issue — the old didn’t like or trust the young, and the feeling was mutual.  Yes, 1968 was a bad year — Dr. Martin Luther King was gunned down.  A few months later, Robert F. Kennedy was murdered.  Even one of the national political conventions erupted into near anarchy.

Yet, none of these man-made troubles are apparent in this stunningly beautiful groundbreaking image.  This was the portrait of a seemingly very different world that was taken when Anders lifted a Hasselblad camera loaded with 70 mm film and aimed it at the earth.  The audio recording of the conversation between the three astronauts inside the spacecraft reveals just how spontaneous this moment was:

William Anders:  Oh my God! Look at that picture over there!  There’s the Earth coming up.  Wow, is that pretty.

Frank Borman:  Hey, don’t take that, it’s not scheduled. (joking)

William Anders:  (laughs)  You got a color film, Jim?  Hand me that roll of color quick, would you…

Jim Lovell:  Oh man, that’s great!

Here’s another thought:  Given these historical firsts, the ironies of what the year 1968 was like, and the accidental occasion to take such an iconic photograph, also consider the actual date this image was taken.

December 24, 1968.  Christmas Eve.

Some 240,000 miles away, a billion people were about to celebrate the holiest of holidays.  Many of us would later sit down to dinner just hours later with our friends and loved ones (I was 6-years-old at the time).  While many of us enjoyed our Christmas feast, three remarkably brave men were so very far away, locked inside a tiny compartment the size of a Volkswagon, circling the moon.  The mission set the stage for the first moon landing, some seven months later.

Now, take another look at the photo.

I’m often asked why I believe the way I do.  I’m asked what makes me champion the virtues of science and reason, and why I value cooperation over conflict, and why I’m an advocate for human and animal rights, and why I’m an environmentalist, and why I don’t believe in imaginary gods, and why I don’t think national boundaries or borders are a good thing when it comes to being a fully compassionate human, and why I’m convinced we’re all much more interconnected than the wedges of disagreement which divides us.

There is no mine.  There is only ours.

Never has one photograph instilled within us such an important task — to save what we see.

 

Note 1:   The Earthrise photo had been preceded by a previous image taken in 1966 by a robotic space probe.  However, that image was in black-and-white and didn’t generate nearly the impact.

Note 2:  Read more about the marvel of Earthrise here, from the official NASA website.

 

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Posted by on Mar 14, 2017 in Blog, Essays, Rants and Raves, Travel | 2 comments

So, It Snowed Today in New York: Hello? It’s Still Winter!

 

 

So, it snowed today in Buffalo, New York.

Big fucking deal.

I suspect that it always snows in Buffalo, New York.  I think it snows in Buffalo, New York during the Fourth of July.

That’s what you get for living in Buffalo fucking New York.

Today, it also snowed in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington.

Big fucking deal.

That’s what you get for living in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington.

Hey, listen up.  You chose to live in the Northeast.  That’s the decision you made, a choice which encompasses all the repercussions of dealing with occasional bad weather.  And, according to my calendar, today is March 12th.  That date places us squarely in the season known as Winter.  W-I-N-T-E-R.  Spring is still more than one week away.

Okay, so let’s say it snowed 12 inches a month from now, sometime during April.  Then perhaps you can make a case for acting all surprised and going full ape mode.  But right now, it’s still wintertime.  News Flash:  It snows during the wintertime.

I just don’t get what’s the big deal about the weather.  I don’t.  Unless there’s a hurricane brewing off the Gulf Coast or a tornado has touched down in Oklahoma and people need to evacuate, I see no purpose whatsoever in covering nor discussing the weather.  Ever.  It’s a total waste of time.  There’s nothing we can do about it anyway.  So, just deal with it.  Live with it.  And if you must talk about it, do so among yourselves because of the rest of us living in other parts of the country really don’t give a shit.

This is not news.

I live in Las Vegas.  You don’t hear those of us who live in Las Vegas crowing about the scorching temperatures during the summertime, now do you?  We don’t say, “Hey, look at us — it’s 110 degrees today!”  That’s because we know it’s going to be 110 degrees in July, just about every single day.  It’s also going to be 110 every day in August.  That’s because we live in the fucking desert!  It gets hot here.  Just like it snows in the Northeast, sometimes even in mid-March.

Bingo.

You think people living in Seattle bitch about it raining 364 days a year?  Hell no!  Well, maybe they complain just a little.  But it’s never a national news story.  Same with bone-chilling temperatures in North Dakota.  You know what they call 32 degrees in Fargo in the middle of January?  A heat wave.

Nobody in North Dakota complains about cold and snow in the Winter.  That’s what bars and fireplaces were made for.  They man up.  They toughen it out.  They go on with their lives and don’t give a rat’s ass about the weather.

But all of you so-called “tough guys” living in the Northeast get a few inches of snow and all the sudden milk and bread flies off the shelves like you’re stocking a nuclear fallout shelter.  Wanna’ know something?  Tough guys don’t bitch about snow.  Tough guys don’t even notice it.

I just thought of a better use for the pejorative insult-of-all-insults during this post-election season:  Ladies and gentlemen, what we have here are way too many snowflakes.

 

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