“Shepherd on the Rocks with a Twist” headlines the men of the Black Bear Diner’s epic Christmas extravaganza…!

six_singers
Once again, the men of the Black Bear Diner, in their ongoing effort to elevate the level of culture in the Truckee Meadows, are hosting a concert at the diner (their names are Carbon, Wassenberg, Kittell, diner owners O’Looney and Mavrides, the Reid/Reed boys Mike and Tom, Duhart, Felesina, Breckenstein, Cloud, Mastos, Lauren House with his incredible tenor voice and Hinxpeeps with his double-bell euphonium), and with any luck at all they may feel the electric thrill that Professor Harold Hill once enjoyed when Gilmour, Liberati, the Great Creatore, Pat Conway, W. C. Handy and John Phillip SOUSA all came to town on the same historic day, with Lida Rose Quackenbush, the only female bassoon player west of River City in tow.
The doors will open at 7 A.M. with the concert beginning an hour later. Parking is available west of the diner, admission is a dollar in advance, and free at the door.
The program shall be:
  • Hansel and Gretel and Ted and Alice,
          an opera in one unnatural act
  • Fanfare for the Common Cold in Ab Minor*
  • Birthday Ode to “Big Daddy” Bach
  • The Abduction of Figaro, a simply grand opera
  • 1712 Overture (often mistaken for a later work)
  • Toot Suite for calliope, five hands
  • Suite No. 2 for Cello, All by Its Lonesome
  • Perviertimento for Bagpipes, Bicycle and Balloons
  • Shepherd on the Rocks with a Twist
  • Oedipus Tex, and Other Choral Calamities
  • Music for an Awful Lot of Winds and Percussion

An element of the concert will be a brief discussion of two Lo Phatmusical events, VanVinikowmoderated by Reno’s own Van Vinikow, Supreme Being of the String Beings, [pictured left] whose string-based ensembles have been enjoyed by many local people for many years. Also on hand will be Wenxiu Wlodarzyk [at right], the director of music history at Manhattan’s prestigious Julliard School, discussing another element of contemporary music.

 Mr. Vinikow will speak of the creation of a musical key, cited above in the popular “Fanfare” and its origin in our own nearby Comstock Lode. The backstory is that Mssrs. SteinwayMackay, Fair, Flood and O’Brien were hosting a fête on the lower stopes of a mine in their lode for which they were lowering a Steinway concert grand piano, purchased only recently at Sherman Clay in San Francisco and brought up Geiger Grade by a team of Clydesdales, into the mine shaft. The cable supporting the piano broke and the piano landed on an unfortunate employee of the mine. Thus the key of Ab Minor came to be known, the key of A flat miner.

Mr. Wlodarzyk will reveal that a recent contest was adjudicated at Julliard, whose rules were that contestants, working in groups, were to write, record and publish the most annoying, repetitive song ever written; a tune which would make people wince in pain when its first few bars were heard, and moreover, a song that would emulate a song three- to five-hundred years old.

TwelveDaysThe names of the student contestants who triumphed were wisely withheld, but the winner, using the term loosely, was held out unanimously to be a groaner titled “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” about which one of its lyricists was heard to exclaim, “Let’s submit this bullshit and see if anyone will ever believe it!”

Regrettably, some took the song seriously and it has achieved a certain amount of notice.

This concert, of course, is also pure B.S. and should not be placed in your “things to do” folder…just funnin’ around

photo credit six singers Richard Termine for The New York Times. some text from The Music Man, other stuff from Peter Shickele

Turkey time, already?

Some of my columns have become iconic to a time of year; they were crappy when I wrote them 15, 20 years ago and haven’t become any better since, but maintain misleading, boring, non-factual, ill-researched, plagiarized and generally pathetic information. But, if I don’t run the Wreaths & Shamrocks piece on St. Patrick’s Day or the Squaw Valley 1960 Winter Olympics Opening with every new Winter Olympics, I catch hell: “Hey, it’s Thanksgiving; where’s the turkey story?” Just in case anyone alive hasn’t read this yarn that I stole from somebody in 1988, here it is:

Comet3In the dawn of the transition from propeller-driven to jet airliners – c. 1955 – the British DeHavilland builder of the Comet airliner turned to the Yankee builders – Lockheed, Boeing and Douglas – for insight into fabricating test strikes of aircraft windscreens, caused by planes striking birds at low altitude – takeoff or landing. The three Southern California giants gladly sent information about a rudimentary slingshot, to propel a store-bought 15-pound turkey into a windscreen to guage its effect.

Several weeks later, the Brits sent photographs of a windscreen with a gaping holeFrozenTurkey in it, then photos in sequence of a hole in the bulkhead behind the pilot’s head, the demolished flight engineer’s console behind that bulkhead, a hole in the bulkhead separating the flight engineer’s station from the crew lavatory and the interior of the lavatory, also trashed, with the turkey at rest on a countertop surrounded by glass from the mirror above the counter. The final photograph was of a question mark drawn on the damaged lavatory bulkhead. 

“Next time,” the American engineers wrote, “thaw the turkey…”

A friend asked about Stead AFB – here you are…

Here’s how quickly seven ill-chosen words can germinate into a whole column: Walking Virginia Street in a recent column set in 1950, I alluded to “…the recently-renamed Stead Air Force Base”.  This elicited several inquiries, all reducible to either “Recinchombrenamed from what?” or “We’re new here; tell us about Stead.”

            Let’s start at the beginning: The facility was commissioned in 1942 as the Reno Army Airport, renamed as Reno Air Force Base in 1948 (when most former Army airbases were ceded to the U.S. Air Force), and finally to Stead Air Force Base in 1951.  The Defense Department, in 1949, adopted a policy to name military facilities more after notable people, less after geographic references.

             Accordingly, Reno Air Force Base was renamed, not for Spanish Springs rancher/air race co-founder Bill Stead, as many of you thought; rather, for his brother Croston Stead, who crashed on takeoff into the desert on December 16th, 1948 in an Air Guard P-51 Mustang, not too long after the Nevada Air National Guard was commissioned at Reno Air Force Base in April of 1948, flying P-51s.  (Croston’s older brother Bill Stead, a hot-stick, high-time World War II fighter ace, died in an air race in Florida in 1965, flying a midget racer.  Go figure…).  The third Stead brother is Sparks developer L. David Kiley. 

The base’s mission over the years was basic aviation training, later rotary-wing training (OK: helicopters), and airport fire suppression – recall the Kaman-built fire-choppers (“Huskies”) with the weird twin “eggbeater” rotors that frequently flew over downtown.  There were a few uncontrolled auxiliary airports – patch a better word – around our valley, which were associated with Reno AFB in the early years.  I lived in the most northwest corner of Reno in the late 1940s and often hiked to a now-long-gone unnamed satellite Reno AFB strip that was between the present Keystone Avenue and McQueen High School.  Two youngish cadets in a Beech D-18 trainer with Army tail markings gave three of us kids a spin around Peavine Peak in a 20-minute ride neither our parents nor the flight-line officer at Reno AFB ever needed to hear about.  Some things are better left that way for fifty years or so.  Another Reno AFB satellite strip parallels Highway 70 at Beckwourth, in use to this day as the Nervino Airstrip.  (The bygone Sparks Airport strip northeast of Pyramid Way and Green Brae – the 1950s spelling – in Sparks was not a Reno AFB satellite.)

            Stead AFB conducted desert and mountain survival training, for pilots of all branches of the military, other nations, and even for the early astronauts.  Later there was a “SAGE” facility, an acronym for Semi-Automatic-Ground-Environment, or whatever paranoids do all day in a great big ugly four-story building with no windows, something to do with global air defense.                      

            One interesting occurrence that some old-timers may remember was when the Pentagon, in a convincing effort to demonstrate the massive economic impact the airbase had on our community, paid Stead troops one payday in crisp two-dollar bills.  Those bills circulated around for years, many emanating from the Grotto Bar at Fourth and Virginia Streets, the Stead airmen’s branch offic.  And apropos of probably nothing, I can report that yours truly drove a big bright-yellow, flat-front 66-passenger Cornbinder school bus to the enlisted men’s housing area at Stead, and that Ty Cobb Jr., son of the late RG-J columnist, drove a like bus to the Stead officers’ housing unit.  Between the two of us we delivered every single high school student who lived from the Reno city limits north past Stead and all the way to Bordertown, to Reno High School – the town’s only high school until Wooster was built 1961.  [And I caught Nancy Howell Spina and Tony Clark’s ire with that: “What was Manogue High, sliced bread?!”  Sorry…].  Believe it or don’t, only 132 kids, excluding truants, lived north of town in the early 1960s, and we drove them 36 miles a day for three school years, and never harmed a hair on their heads nor creased a fender.  Damn, we were good.       

            The Defense Department began phasing out Stead AFB in 1963 – actually selling off some of the original 20,000 acres as early as 1958 – and it was finally fully decommissioned by 1966 and acquired by the City of Reno.  The renamed Reno-Stead Airport once hosted all airline passenger flights into and out of Reno while our downtown airport, at that time hung with the unpopular name of Reno-Cannon Airport, was closed for a major runway resurfacing.  For five weeks the PSA pilots in their DC-9s raced the AirCal Boeing 737 guys around the Reno National Air Race’s 8-mile unlimited-class course pylons at Stead on their way to final approach for runway two-four.

            Just kidding…

• •

July 2 – a Mackay and a murder with a shake, and who is “Delongchant”?

JohnnyFeverThe Artown challenge continues! If you’ll bookmark this URL I won’t have to post it all month..

I have it on fairly solid authority that the John Mackay statue was originally destined for the Statuary Hall of the State Capitol Building in Carson City. Upon arriving with the statue aboard a V&T train, its creator, Gutzon Borglum, was informed A) that there was no statuary hall in the building, and B) that if there were, it still would not stand there because the State as a whole was still not enamored with Mackay, Fair, Flood, O’Brien nor their ilk for the waste they had laid upon the Comstock while lining the streets of San Francisco with gold. Say goodnight, John.

Mackay

Following some frenzied cabling back-and-forth between Carson City and New York City, and conversation with the officials at the fledgling Nevada State University, it was decided that the statue would be placed at the north end of the Thomas Jefferson-designed Quadrangle.

The donor of the statue, John Mackay’s son Clarence, subsequently came to Reno to view the statue and was displeased that its background was a ramshackle corrugated tin shed. Clarence then endowed the Mackay School of Mines structure in its place, and commissioned the famed New York City architect Stanford White to design it.

That was supposedly 1906. Several other events happened that year: Stanford White was caught in flagrante delicto on the roof of a building that he had earlier designed, Madison Square Garden. He was caught in the act of, er, winding the clock of Evelyn Nesbit, the toast of Broadway celebrity style and élan, by her husband Harry Thaw, described by most as not a well man upstairs, that being charitable.

So – Stanford White met his maker, after accepting the contract to design a building for the Mackay family, and sending off his design for another building he’d designed as its basis, which I think was a Carnegie Library in Framingham, Massachusetts. I think. That design was sent to architects Faville & Bliss, prominent in San Francisco (and yes, principal partner Walter Bliss was from the Lake Tahoe Bliss family). The firm had designed quite a few buildings in San Francisco, and later some buildings for the University of Nevada.

It gets better: On April 18th 1906, an earthquake of epic proportions reduced that city – and many Faville & Bliss buildings including Charles Crocker’s St. Francis Hotel – to charred rubble. The firm had more to contend with than a tiny university’s building in Reno.

Here, I prove the theory that one finds more when he’s looking for something else, than the original quarry of the research: Once while seeking out a fact for a story about San Francisco in the SF Fire Department’s excellent museum/library, I inadvertently saw a listing for “Faville & Bliss, Architects” in an old Polk’s City Directory, c. 1905. Down the hall in the same building, on Franklin Street, as I recall:

“Frederick Delongchant, Architect”

Delongchant was Delongchamps’ original surname. It challenges reality to think that Faville & Bliss, with a good percentage of their architectural works in San Francisco in ruins (and at the University of California in Berkeley, I might add; the East Bay caught it also), and, a young architect who graduated from the Nevada State University two years before, right down the hall, and sensing that they needed one more infinitesimal job 200 miles away like Custer needed Indians, didn’t take White’s rolls of plans to Delongchant and say, “Good luck!”

I don’t know that for a fact. Some of what I write is incontrovertible fact – White was a goner, we know that; Delongchant graduated from the School of Mines, not yet the Mackay School of Mines. The earthquake. The years fit: Mackay graduated in 1904; the earthquake and White’s demise were 1906, the statue and the building were dedicated on Mackay Day 1908, but could have been there a year or two longer.

And why did this assortment of stuffy University mavens bristle when I speculated at that meeting that Delongchant/Delongchamps was the horse behind the Mackay School of Mines’ design? EVERYONE wants a Delongchamps work. Unless they have to surrender a Stanford White design to get it – Delongchamps was  prolific and a hot item locally, but far short of a Morgan, Williams or a Lloyd Wright. A White design on one’s campus ranked it up with a modern Piano, Saarinen, I.M. Pei or Gehry design.

I could hear them cackle: “This upstart columnist says the Nevada campus lacks a Stanford White design…” Not what I said, Dearies:, what I inferred was that Frederick Delongchamps influenced the Mackay School of Mines building…

This story is offered with the reminder that no less than Mark Twain borrowed from me his credo, “Never let the facts interfere with a good story…” Much of it was told me by an elderly lady with an indelible memory, whose father had had an integral relationship with both the early University of Nevada and with the Mackay family. But – take it with a grain of salt, and enjoy the totality, if not the yarn’s most-minute details. And if you want to dispute it, bring some facts, not the thin air that a university professor hung his hat on a decade ago!

© Karl Breckenridge 2019

 

 

A post-a-day in July

That’s my goal. NBafferto Facebook correlation; if you want to be heard, send an email to kfbreckenridge@live.com – please know that all emails are subject to re-posting here, same with photos if source is indicated. Let’s have some fun – it’s too damn hot, Artown events are underway and traffic’s too screwed up to research anything seriously anyway!

 

30061 mt rushmore

 

VanVinikow60032 grumpBeasArtistMeetingFearlessNoTextSiig1PAUL_R._WILLIAMS

 

JohnnyFever  OK, now leave me alone; I have work to do….

Happy New Year to all!

LittleKarlOur editorial staff last evening, New Years Eve, played hooky from our bounden duty to readers of updating this site, and instead streamed a classic: “Smokey and the Bandit” – the Bandit, Snowman, Fred the Basset, the Frog, Beaufort P. Justus, still ranking up there with Butch and Sundance and with Igor and Frawnkensteen for the three greatest shit-kickin’, no-brainer, New Years Eve flicks ever made!

Thanks for coming back and viewing – as in the past 12 years, the site in 2019 will be no cropped-cropped-kfb-bow-tiedifferent – poorly-written and -edited notes about God-knows-what, arriving on your screen with little or no forethought nor schedule – this year with hopefully a bit more reader participation, wherein I’m downplaying the “comments” feature of the site in favor of including my email address below and inviting everything from a short squib about a past column to your submission of a complete new column, that I can post for all to see. Don’ worry about the gramer or speling – I’ll fix that for you. Photos are welcome and encouraged with releases and accreditation, and no downer stuff – this remains an upbeat, non-political place to visit and relax.

On that score, I encourage newer readers to utilize the WordPress “search” function in the box below. Type in a keyword and then click the box and scroll down. You may just find what you’re seeking. If not, email me and I’ll try to help. There are over 420 posts on the site and I don’t know myself what’s posted here! But if it’s somewhere we’ll find it, or maybe just write a new one for all to enjoy.

Now – it’s the kickoff day to a great year, the sun’s out – let’s make a dandy!

KarlBreckenridge490@gmail.com (a new address for column/website traffic; don’t panic, the old live.com address still works. Usually.)

Flicks & Quickies – just some loose text to update the outdated column…


KFB bow tieI’m often too embarrassed to let a dated column stay alive, for example the preceding Thanksgiving dinner column. But, I’m also too lazy to write a new one, as I am this morning. Thus, I go into the laptop’s disc and find one that hasn’t run lately, like this piece that was  mostly updated from a 1997 column and hasn’t been seen since 2002 about some folks, the University’s missing ceremonial mace, a mother’s shamrocks from the Emerald Isle,  old theaters and some darn good trivia. Here it is, unedited, and copyrighted by the RGJ under the hed
Flicks & Quickies:

How in the world would I know that Walter Baring worked at McMahan’s Furniture as a salesman in the very early 1950s if one of someone didn’t call me?  [This following a “why did you leave Walter Baring’s name out?” of McMahan’s on Commercial Row during a downtown text “walk”].   Baring was a dandy, went to Washington in 1956 as our Representative in Congress, our only one in those days as Nevada had only one seat.  “No one likes Baring except for the voters,” was the accepted mantra in Nevada politics – he served us in a long series of two-year Congressional terms until 1972, when he had a cardiac problem only days before the primary election.  And true to form, Baring didn’t hush it up.  He got beat by a relative nobody in the primary by playing off his formidable incumbent’s health problem; the nobody in turn got beat by another nobody in the general election.  Baring could have covered it up, won both elections and remained Representative until today, (notwithstanding the fact that he died in 1976, but as we see in the CNN sound bytes of several dinosaurs every evening – presence of pulse, respiration and temperature are not necessarily requisites of congressional delegates.)  The one-time furniture salesman got a major street named after him in Sparks, and in retrospect, he was a hell of a Nevadan.

            A reader a recent column about downtown Reno took umbrage that I didn’t mention Fenwick’s (art supplies) on Sierra Street just south of the tracks – I pointed that store out in a column last summer but I don’t mind saying it again: Fenwick’s was a wonderful store, and Jerry Fenwick remains today a northern Nevada history buff and the keeper of an extensive bygone day-photograph collection, and who, like historian Neal Cobb, is happy to let the community enjoy the old photos and has arrived in the 21st Century ahead of most of us – computer-wise – and is hard at work digitizing old local photos.

Or, you might like this one – this firsthand from Clayton Phillips during our many “Tuesdays with Clayton” before he passed away: Two popular Reno couples, Virginia and Clayton Phillips, and Nevada and Sessions (Buck) Wheeler, were sitting around a campfire in northern Washoe County many years ago – four late Nevadans who knew our state like the backs of their weathered hands, and loved every acre of it.  They dreamed up an icon that night: a baton, embodying all the elements of our state.  Over time, they found a suitable piece of native mountain mahogany.  Onto it they bonded some Carson City-minted cartwheels, some gold, silver, copper and other ores that Nevada produces; they affixed sprigs of sage and pine and fauna indigenous to our state and a host of other souvenirs embodying Nevada, like chips from some old casinos.

            They presented the mace to the University of Nevada, where annually University Provost Alessandro Dandini, a legend in his own mind, raised it with great aplomb just as Professor Post cued the orchestra to begin Pomp and Circumstance and start the graduates in their processional.  Count Dandini then carried the mace on high as he led the graduating classes onto the Quad for Commencement, as did Rollie Melton in the years to follow.  At Clayton’s memorial service a few years ago, where the featured music was Home Means Nevada, natch, the question was asked several times: Where is the mace now…? 

Next time you’re stop-and-going along Kietzke or Longley Lane, remember that either the guy behind you or the one in front of you, or both, aren’t trying to go north nor south, but in reality to the east or west, but have to get around that great big long airport runway that a young Realtor named Karl Breckenridge (the Elder) wanted to tunnel under when the costs were still minimal.  Ol’ Dad about got a net thrown over him for irresponsible babble like that – how ridiculous!  A tunnel or trench?

            And the moral is that some ideas are wonderful, but become less so as the infrastructure grows and costs skyrocket.  End of trench commentary, no position taken.  [For now]

            On the Saturday nearest St. Paddy’s Day each year we usually run the story of a shamrock – this year we’ll abridge it a bit to give it a rest.  The shamrock in question arrived yearly from Ireland just before March 17th, to be placed on the grave of a young Irish U.S. Air Mail pilot who crashed in 1924, while trying to drop a Blanchfieldwreath at Air Mail mechanic Samuel Gerrit’s funeral service in the cemetery behind the present ATΩ fraternity house. The leaf was mailed until the war years from the Emerald Isle by the pilot’s mother. After a number of years the shamrock quit arriving, but the tradition was resurrected a score of years ago by northwest Reno resident Barbara Rabenstine, who will journey tomorrow [written March 16, 1998 ] to Mountain View Cemetery to place a shamrock on the grave of William Blanchfield [pictured left].  Barbara, a friend and fine lady, has the dubious distinction of being a resident – three years old at the time – in the home that Blanchfield’s DeHavilland mail plane crashed into.  By the luck of the Irish, Barbara, her sister Betty and her family were away from the home at the moment of the crash on that hot August afternoon.

            Next time you’re riding about up by Whitaker Park, check out that home at 901 Bell Street, the only residence in America built by the U.S. Government, appropriated following a debate that took place on the floor of Congress.  The solons concluded that since a federal airplane wrecked the home, the feds should rebuild it, and so they did.  If you’re in that neighborhood, we’ll point out another home with a story, at 752 West Street, a home designed by Death Valley Scotty’s architect and later the residence of a University of Nevada president.

[Yes, the U.S. Air Mail airport by the present Washoe Golf Course was named Blanchfield Field in his honor, to be officially shortened in years to follow to the more obvious Blanch Field.]

A recent column “killed” the YMCA too early, in the words of Neill (two-ells) West. The boiler blew and the 1911 Delongchamps building was razed by the ensuing fire three years after our 1950 walk, which I meant but wasn’t what the text conveyed.  Neill was an Alpha Tau Omega fraternity pledge in 1952 and was working in the building, where he probably met Les Conklin the Younger, while Les was lifting weights when the building exploded.  (No doubt buffing up for a career selling heavy fur coats a block to the west for 40 years.)  Les questioned the date too, and I thank them both.  (Too many notes – I was researching our walk downtown and the fatal Greyhound building fire at the same time, a fire that did in fact predate 1950 by two years.  And I’m too old for multitasking.)

We’ll throw this out to get the pot boiling a little: Realtor Paul Crooks supplied a 1958 photo of Crooks Bros. Tractor Co. on two-lane Glendale Road, which he reported to be the first building ever built by real estate magnate John Dermody (and I suspect was actually constructed by McKenzie Construction.)  It’s still visible as the core building of mighty Cashman Equipment, your local Cat dealer.

• • • 

And now, to the flicks:

To hear from three favorite correspondents in one week is a thrill, and this week Pauline Carpenter, Neill West [text preceding] and Nevada history heavy-hitter Richard C. Datin all checked in.

            Richard is a gentleman.  A historian and prolific writer, and a nationally regarded authority on Nevada’s railroads, he’s more entitled than most to derail meWigwamCafe for an error, but only pleasantly nudges me that “…the Reno Theater you mentioned last week as being next to the Wigwam cafe, was actually just south of the Overland Hotel on the east side of Center Street.” He’s right, of course; an old photo at the Nevada Historical Society shows the “Nevada” theater, not the “Reno”, next to the Wigwam Café, from 1942 to 1948, when it became the “Crest”.  Mea culpa. 

            About 22 of you all claimed to have the neat clock, the one that we all remember over the fire exit of the Crest with the white hands and blue-neon rim, hanging in your dens.  Several people recalled never, ever sitting under the massive chandelier in the Majestic Theater.  (That chandelier’s featured in  1920s brochure about the Delongchamp’s rejuvenation of the Majestic.)  Several readers mentioned the wide seats – about a seat-and-a-half/three buns) – on the ends of alternating rows in the Tower theater, so that no seat was directly behind another.  Those who would neck in public places, the Pagans, generally grabbed those wide seats first.

             I mentioned that the Granada had no loges in 1950, prompting Pauline Carpenter to scold me for forgetting that the Granada had loges and balcony seating until a 1953 fire trashed the inside of the theater, when it was refurbished with no upper deck.  And I never argue with any lady who was a head Granada usherette during her senior year at Sparks High School (maiden name Pauline Keema).  Nothing escapes you readers…

And then I wrote: Sarah Bernhardt would be hopping mad: The tiny 3,800 square-foot office building in Sparks that Joe Mayer and I eke a living out of has four handicapped parking spaces, with two or three usually in use.  The new art museum on Liberty at Hill Street?  Four handicapped parking spaces.  Go figure…

And that’s the way it was, Spring of 1998. “God bless America” didn’t appear at the end of my columns until the Saturday following 9/11.

Don’t tell Mom….

LittleKarlThe following is a tale of the Grandpa without a Clue. To elaborate, at a family gathering in San Mateo recently assembled some folks, dear friends all. On Saturday a cortège was leaving my younger son’s home – sons and daughters-in-law, grandkids, grandfathers, grandmothers – a lot of grand people in a flotilla of cars. The trip was to be short – through a quiet neighborhood to a youth ballpark where two granddaughters would play in separate games. The Final Boarding Process began. My grandson Andy spoke up: “I’ll ride with Grandpa Karl.”

I sensed a bonding moment. He examined my nearly-two-decade-old Miata ragtop rice Miatarocket, fire-engine red and looking as if it were going Mach One, when in reality 65 MPH was about all it wanted to go. But it looked hot. Andy, now 15, offered to drive. “I can get us there.” Having lived 62 years longer, I sensed the peril of his request. “You have a learner’s permit yet?” I asked. “Working on getting it online. No,” he responded, strongly reminiscent of his father in 1982, absent the “online” afterthought.

“How bad could this be?” I pondered and flipped him the keys. “Don’t tell your Mom,” Mom was now aboard a car enroute to the ballpark. I entered the passenger side, he the driver side. I noted that he didn’t pull the seat forward, owing to his frame well on the way to his father’s 6’-4” range. He cranked up the tiny engine. He slipped it iAndyBnto gear and made a smooth start up the avenue. “YouKFB bow tie been driving your dad’s stick-shift much?” I asked. “Yup,” he answered. “Don’t tell my Mom.” We were off to the races. But not to the game – he passed the turnoff to the ballpark. I just sat and watched, my mind going back to having his dad drive me around in my pickup in 1981. We didn’t tell Mom about that either.

I sensed my error in giving him the keys when we turned onto the El Camino. A right turn put us on to Highway 92, and a short block later a big swoop put the rice 747rocket onto the Bayshore. He slipped into fourth gear, then high. Approaching the SFO airport a Boeing 747 that had probably just ridden United’s Friendly Skies from Hong Kong for the past 13 hours was paralleling our route, low and slow in the clear blue sky with full flaps and all the gear hanging. “Take a good look; that’s the Queen of the Skies and we won’t see them in another year.” The death knell hasBeemer sounded for the Seven-Fours and soon they’d all be parked in Mojave, replaced by the Triple Sevens and the big Airbuses. Quite a sight. North we went on  US101, and in a quick glance in my outside mirror I saw a BMW 1600 in our wake, with an older gent in a jaunty driving cap, surely a grandpa, and an underage kid at the wheel. Curious…

T_BirdThe  light towers of AT&T Park came into view on the right. The Giants were in New York, but Jon Miller was on the radio, Pence was on second and Crawford was at the plate. Out Third Street to Van Ness and then Geary, turning south onto 19th Avenue. Looking around, the same Beemer was on our tail, but now with a ’57 T-Bird MG TDdriven by a kid with an old guy like me next to him, and in the inside lane a classic MG TD, with a youngster driving a geezer. Four old ragtops…curious.Muni

Past Coit Tower and the Golden Gate’s orange towers we went, a Goodyear blimp overhead, out 19th Avenue, Stonestown and the Parkmerced Apartments to our right, an SF Muni “M” streetcar on our left. A slight jog at Junipero Serra put us on Highway 280. “Wanna hit the Crab Shack?” Andy asked. I told him no, we’d better get to the ballgame to watch his cousins. Our speed was still OK. Crawford singled with an RBI as Pence scored in New York. And I looked over my shoulder – yikes. The trailing Beemer, T-Bird and the MG had been joined by an early ragtop ‘Vette – a beauty with another youth driving an old guy with a yarmulke then a red Fiat 124 with a young dude namedFiat Luca driving what looked to be my buddy Joe Fazio from Marin. We took up the whole three  southbound lanes of Highway 280. Still doing only 65, as student drivers with no permits should.

But passing Half Moon Bay, the blue Pacific to the west, I noted a black-and-white helicopter overhead, and joining the parade of ragtops in trail was a black Crown Vic, “San Mateo” on the white door over a gold CrownVicstar. We were busted. A CHP cruiser joined the Crown Vic, all with annoying red and blue lights. Then another. And into that mix, an old Mustang and a ’68 Camaro melded, with, you guessed it, underage drivers hauling grinning old guys. Turning off 280 in unison, a dozen old ragtops merged onto Highway 92 toward San Mateo, with half the police in the Peninsula following and H32by now three helicopters overhead. Highway spikes and flares crossed Highway 92 ahead. “What’ll I do?” said Andy over the deafening sirens.

“Punch it,” I responded.

Onlookers were mesmerized to see an aging red Miata, followed by XK120the MG, the BMW, the 124, a T-Bird, a Jag XK120 [left] that had recently joined the convoy, with another half-dozen old roadsters rise up from the pavement, gently lifting through the low hills of west San Mateo, not unlike Elliot and his friends on their bicycles with E.T. in the basket in the Extraterrestial movie. Thin smiles crossed the countenances of the Grandpas without a Clue, and I think I even detected a ETslight grin on the mug of a rather senior CHP trooper alongside the formation as it made its mass ascent. In the manner of airmen everywhere, we tossed a thumbs-up to the other Grandpas and their underage chauffeurs, barrel-rolled the red Miata back to earth to a full-stop landing on the ballpark parking lot, chocked the tires and Andy flipped me the car keys with a grin.

“Don’t tell Mom,” I reminded him.

And this essentially fictitious tale is dedicated by all Grandpas without a Clue to Grandmas with an Attitude everywhere, and to Moms, on Mother’s Day [when this piece was published originally. And yes, the “Grandmas with an Attitude” was in tribute to Gazoo columnist Anne Pershing, who passed away four days prior to the  piece’s appearance in the paper, and editor Brett McGinness let it stand as written].

Thanks for reading and believing, and God bless America.   

 

 

 

Of Heaney and Herb

LittleKarlA fortnight ago I surprised Hank Philcox and a few others right here with my revelation that I’d written a Herb Caen column. Which was ‘way before disc, and I can’t now locate in print. But I will. [Caen pictured below right, atop the Fairmont Hotel]

My better inclusion in Caen’s column came in 1966, when a bad guy entered GeorgeHerbCaenFairmont Heaney’s pawn shop downtown and stole 18 uncut gems. The perp was cornered soon after by the fuzz, and taken to a room in the newish Reno police station and held until, well, until the gems reëntered daylight, ‘nuf said there. The crime was duly reported in the Nevada State Journal. And probably the Reno Evening Gazette.

 I – then living in Reno – wrote Caen at the SF Chron, 500 Mission Street, adding a dimension to the yarn. Remember at this juncture in time, one didn’t phone Caen ‘lessen they were named Wilkes Bashford or Willie Brown; there was no such thing as a fax in 1966, and the mere whisper of emailing a document would get one incarcerated for mental observation. Hence the Nevada State Journal clip of the yarn traveled to Mission Street via snail mail, together with my assessment of the caper.

 Nor was there digital access to the Chron following its publication, so the waiting game began. Filching a Chron each day after a few days had passed, to see if Caen had nibbled at the bait, a week went by. Then, pay dirt.

 “Our man in Reno Nevada reports that…” and so on, Caen’s usual making something out of basically nothing, and concluding with my comment.

 At this juncture I’ll clarify that I shared the same given name with my father – Karl – a  practice that should be made illegal in modern, computer times. He gets killed in 1971, Union Federal Savings calls my home loan. My mother, Mrs. Karl, passes years later, and my Visa card goes bye-bye. Can’t be too careful. But Hank Philcox, among others, know that my parents’ credo in life was, “What will people think?” What will people think of Karl Breckenridge, a bastion of Reno business, sending some smartass comment into Herb Caen. He was embarrassed; I was severely chastised. (But I loved it!)

 I asked society undertaker Ted Williams of Walton’s while dining at Brickie’s in preparation for my mother’s funeral service if I could place on my parents’ gravemarker at Mountain View, the simple words, “what will people think  now?” Ted declined. Oh well, no matter.

 Caen’s words and my comment were picked up in the Reno Gazoo back when it still had a local presence and a personality, and eventually received nationwide exposure when it was picked up by the UP, now UPI, wire service. Karl the Elder was definitely in the national bright beam, and boy was he pissed!

 Hank Philcox knew Flo and Karl the Elder, and can appreciate this story.

 Anyway, that was my shining moment in Herb Caen’s column,  not in the stand-alone columns that I and a few others wrote when he was hospitalized, c. 1983.

 Oh by the way, the comment was: “Reno records the world’s first 18-jewel movement.”

 No big deal…