Wednesday, September 23, 2009

the ironies of life

One of my favorite actors (and probably yours) was a guy named Paul Newman, who died of cancer on September 26, 2008, almost exactly one year ago.

On almost the exact same date, 53 years earlier, an event occurred that propelled the young failed actor to future stardom (his first movie, "The Silver Chalice", bombed at the box office, which caused him to take out a newspaper ad apologizing for its quality)

Included in the cast of characters that were involved in this change in status were a young college student named Donald Turnupseed and the esteemed actor, Alec Guiness ..

but I'm getting ahead of the story.

The first hint of what caused the transformation can be gathered by watching the video clip below (make sure that you have your speakers on for this one) :

the ending of the next video will give you a broader clue:

To quote Paul Harvey, though, here is the rest of the story:

On September 30, 1955, America's favorite young actor was involved in a head on collision with a 1950 Ford driven by Donald Turnupseed, a 23 year old Cal Poly college student.

James Dean died in a nearby hospital later on that same afternoon.

Donald Turnupseed passed away on July 13, 1995. Like Paul Newman, he was also a cancer victim. After the infamous accident involving James Dean, he never publicly discussed the incident.

James was scheduled to portray boxer Rocky Graziano in the film "Somebody Up There Likes Me", after which he planned to retire from acting. After his death, the role was awarded to Paul Newman.

Due to the fact that the studio bosses weren't fully aware of Dean's retirement plans, he was also slated to play the role of Billy the Kid, in "The Left Handed Outlaw".

That role eventually was awarded to ... Paul Newman.

If you'd like to read the full story of "Butch Cassidy's" predecessor on the silver screen, click on the link below:

who ARE those guys?

As I re-read the James Dean biography again tonight on Wikipedia, a few facts jumped out at me:

1) even though James Dean has been dead for 54 years, and he only made three movies (two of which were released after his death) his estate still managed to earn $5,000,000 last year

2) he was almost certainly gay, at a time in America when that was a very dangerous status

3) James Dean and Paul Newman both had an interest in auto racing. Although Dean's racing career was short, he managed to finish in the top three spots in the races that he entered. Paul Newman took racing lessons prior to performing in the 1969 movie "Winning", and went on to have a VERY successful racing career, which included a second place finish at Le Mans in 1979.

4) the Porsche that he was killed in (nicknamed "Little Bastard") has a history eerily similar to the car that Stephen King brought to life in "Christine"

When Dean introduced himself to Alec Guinness outside a restaurant, he asked him to take a look at the Spyder. Guinness thought the car appeared 'sinister' and told Dean: 'If you get in that car, you will be found dead in it by this time next week.' This encounter took place on September 23, 1955, seven days before Dean's death.

Since Dean's death, his Porsche 550 Spyder became infamous for being the vehicle that killed not only him, but for injuring and killing several others in the years following his death. In view of this, many have come to believe that the actor's vehicle and all of its parts were cursed.

Legendary Hot Rodder George Barris bought the wreck for $2,500, only to have it slip off its trailer and break a mechanic's leg. Soon afterwards, Barris sold the engine and drive-train, respectively, to physicians Troy McHenry and William Eschrid. While racing against each other, the former would be killed instantly when his vehicle spun out of control and crashed into a tree, while the latter would be seriously injured when his vehicle rolled over while going into a curve.

Barris later sold two tires, which malfunctioned as well. The tires, which were unharmed in Dean's accident, blew up simultaneously, causing the buyer's auto to crash.

Subsequently, two young would-be thieves were injured while attempting to steal parts from the car. When one tried to steal the steering wheel from the Porsche, his arm was ripped open on a piece of jagged metal. Later, another man was injured while trying to steal the bloodstained front seat. This would be the final straw for Barris, who decided to store "Little Bastard" away, but was quickly
persuaded by the California Highway Patrol (CHP) to lend the wrecked car to a highway safety exhibit.

The first exhibit from the CHP featuring the car ended unsuccessfully, as the garage storing the Spyder went up in flames, destroying everything except the car itself, which suffered almost no damage whatsoever from the fire.

The second display, at a Sacramento High School, ended when the car fell, breaking a student's hip.

"Little Bastard" caused problems while being transported several times. On the way to Salinas, the truck containing the vehicle lost control, causing the driver to fall out, only to be crushed by the Porsche after it fell off the back.

On two separate occasions, once on a freeway and again in Oregon, the car came off other trucks, although no injuries were reported, another vehicle's windshield was shattered in Oregon.

Its last use in a CHP exhibit was in 1959.

In 1960, when being returned to George Barris in Los Angeles, California, the car mysteriously vanished. It has not been seen since

This coming Tuesday, I plan to pick up a couple of jars of "Newman's Own" pasta sauce for a spaghetti dinner, and maybe I'll play a little more "Jimmy Dean" music.

Somehow it just seems like the right thing to do.


Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Road to Hell

The road to Hell is paved with good intentions. Everybody knows that. What everybody DOESN’T know is how that phrase applies to me.

Since a blog is an ideal spot for sharing your inner thoughts. It’s high time that I made a confession.

Two summers ago, I was definitely heading to Hell, but unforeseen circumstances caused me to make some major changes in my life.

Starting in January of 2006, I started out on a mission to visit every church in Evanston. By the summer of 2007, I had visited the vast majority of them, although my work schedule didn’t allow for Friday night services at the local synagogues, and some of the Baptist churches didn’t get visited because most of them seemed pretty much the same.

By now, you’re probably assuming that I had an epiphany, and got “born again” into a new religion. Unfortunately, that’s not what this story is about.

It’s about railroad tracks.

The Chicago Tribune published a story about a man named Clayton Klein in the summer of 2006. He’s a pretty old guy, and for a number of years, he has walked from Paradise, Michigan to Hell, Michigan, and then on to Ohio.

The total mileage is 428 miles, and the purpose of the walk is to raise money for charity.

Even though he is now 90 years old, he’s still at it.

In 2009, he started out on September 4, and will finish up on September 28. His bio can be read at the link below:

do you think he’d walk a mile for a Camel?.

After I read the story in The Tribune, the thought that popped into my head was, “gosh, wouldn’t it be fun to ride from Chicago to Hell and back again on my bicycle?”.

I floated the idea past a few friends and family members in the closing months of 2006, and picked up another person who is as crazy as me, my daughter Kelly.

I contacted the transportation departments of both Indiana and Michigan, and a few weeks later, got my complimentary maps in the mail.

For the majority of the trip, the best way to get across the state of Michigan is on Highway 12, which runs a slight diagonal from the lower southwest corner up to Ann Arbor and beyond.

Ultimately, Kelly and I settled on a week that fit both of our schedules, and we actually departed from Chicago on the first Sunday in August. We had lots of water and energy bars to get us through the week, and made motel reservations for the first night in Mishawaka, Indians, roughly 125 miles from our starting point.

We had pretty much everything that we needed, with the exception of spare tubes, a bicycle pump, a tire tool, bandages, and skin sanitizer.

Since my post of March 4 provides a lot more information about the conclusion of the trip, I’d like to refer back to the third paragraph of THIS story.

I was definitely heading to Hell (Michigan) , but unforeseen circumstances (the railroad track that crossed Highway 12 at a 45 degree angle) caused me to make some major changes in my life (the crash brought an immediate halt to the journey, and also caused me to have gravel embedded in my arm for a few days.

The reason that infamous bike ride came to mind again this week is that Kelly and Brett (her riding partner from this year’s RAGBRAI) are planning to ride 100 miles in the Apple Cider Century on September 27.

Like the North Shore Century (which all three of us completed just last Sunday) the Apple Cider ride has been going on for a while. This was the 25th year for the NSC, but the Apple Cider actually started 35 years ago, in 1974, two years after the first RAGBRAI.

The first five Apple Ciders were held entirely with the city limits of Three Oaks, Michigan, but moved 3 miles north in 1980.

This year, the starting point of the ride is back in Three Oaks.

If you plug in Three Oaks, Michigan on either Google Maps or Map Quest, you’ll discover that it sits right on Highway 12.

If you travel east from Three Oaks, you’ll find that eventually you wind up in Saline, which is due south from, and a short ride to, a town called Hell.

Since part of this year’s Apple Cider route will be going east on Highway 12, that means that Kelly, for the second time in her life, will be on the road to Hell.

This year, I’ve got a strong suspicion that her journey will be a lot more fun that the last one.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Michael Jackson and the white rabbit

On the same day that Farrah Fawcett became one of the angels again (June 25, 2009) Michael Jackson, the king of pop, died of mysterious causes at UCLA hospital.

Roughly two months later, his death was ruled a homicide by the Los Angeles County coroner's office, who said that the death was caused primarily by "propofol intoxication."

The coroner's office confirmed that it found lethal levels of the powerful anesthetic propofol in Jackson's body. The death was caused by a mix of drugs meant to treat insomnia.

The drugs PROPOFOL and LORAZEPAM were found to be the primary drugs responsible for Mr. Jackson's death. Other drugs detected were Midazolam, Diazepam, Lidocaine and Ephedrine.

The final Coroner's report, including the complete toxicology report will remain on Security Hold at the request of the Los Angeles Police Department and the Los Angeles County District Attorney.

The finding makes it more likely criminal charges will be filed against Jackson's personal doctor, Dr. Conrad Murray, the doctor who was with the pop star when he died. Murray is the target of a manslaughter probe headed by Los Angeles police.

Like many other famous people before him (Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley, Lenny Bruce, Kurt Cobain etal) Jackson became victim of the mentality that pills, or drugs, can cure any ailment.

That idea was central to the theme of my favorite song from Woodstock, which took place 40 years ago this summer:

White Rabbit

In view of the fact that pharmaceutical sales in America are now close to $300 Billion a year, it’s not surprising that a lot of people believe they can cure their problems simply by popping a pill. Not too many years ago, my mother-in-law consumed THIRTEEN different pills at every meal!

Believe it or not, there IS a better way, and it’s considerably less expensive than the solution the drug companies would have us follow. Although there are several variations, the “better way” could best be summarized as “natural healing”, and is sometimes described as “holistic medicine”.

Tai Chi originated in China thousands of years ago. On July 22, 2009, the Chicago Tribune published an article about its benefits:

tai chi

Yoga started about 5000 years ago in India. Although I haven’t practiced a lot of yoga, I know someone who has, and it probably saved his life.

Roughly 5 years ago, our son Brian was experiencing a lot of anxiety, a very common occurrence for people in their mid-20’s. When he first discovered yoga (possibly at the urging of my sister, the nurse) he meditated 5 times a week, for an hour each time. Over time, he reduced his anxiety to a much more manageable level, and now meditates once or twice a week for 30 minutes at a time.

At the height of his anxiety, he developed agoraphobia, which meant that he became highly stressed even if he left the house. The agoraphobia lasted about a year, but eventually faded away.

The origin of the practice of acupuncture is shrouded in antiquity, but it likely goes back several thousand years.

Grace Slick and I have more in common than you might think.

She was born in Evanston (the town where I currently live) in 1939, but her family moved to California in the early 1950’s. She has had a very “interesting” lifestyle since that time, and has been arrested three times for “talking under the influence”, but she is still alive today, even though she literally does not remember some of the years that have passed in between.

In the closing moments of “white rabbit” Grace tells us to “feed your head”.

If you’re tuned into yoga, you’re doing EXACTLY that.


In case you’re wondering what my favorite Jefferson Airplane song is ..

Give me a minute ..

it will come back to me ..