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Manilow, Music, and Memories…

February 26, 2011

We gathered in the Las Vegas equivalent of the Versailles “Hall of Mirrors,” near the hotel registration desks of the  Paris Las Vegas resort.  Just nine people in line, more than an hour before showtime in the venue’s main 1,500 seat theatre.  Like the golden ticket holders in “Willy Wonka”, we each held in our hands a “Platinum Experience” ticket that promised an evening that few concertgoers ever receive.

In exchange for a sizable contribution to our favorite singer’s charitable foundation (which makes gifts of musical instruments to schools, in part with our money), we had lined up as instructed and were about to be ushered into the backstage inner sanctum.

Tickets and identification badges were checked and compared with a prepared list.  We were given special stickers that opened all of the doors.  We were led past the ushers in the theatre, who beamed at us.  They knew this was a very special evening, indeed.

Once backstage, we were shown to a very comfortable room with well-stuffed furniture.  A staff member poured from a freshly opened bottle of champagne, and then came the briefing:  remember that our favorite artist is a human being, so don’t grab him.  Be polite.  Think ahead about what you’d like to say.  A roster was read, noting who would go first, who would come next, and so forth.  Like batters at the ballpark, we were brought out to be “on deck” once the fan in front of us had his or her audience in an adjacent room.  Finally, it was my time.

Standing in the hallway, I handed over to a staff person the 30-year old concert program from the 1980 tour that I’d brought along to remind me how much this artist had influenced my love of music – the really melodic, singable kind of music you can belt out in the shower and still sound good.  

It’s the kind of music that made me and a colleague draw applause while singing karaoke on a houseboat in Asia.  We’d dropped anchor near a Pacific island not far from Hong Kong as we celebrated the New Year with our colleagues.  I’m not sure they knew the words to the songs Barry Manilow made famous, but they appreciated the effort with loud applause and grins.

And then with a whoosh, the door opened and I walked in.  And standing in front of me with a huge smile on his face and a ready handshake was Barry Manilow.  For real.

I was ready.  I’d thought about what I would say if this moment ever came.  I wanted to thank him for how he has inspired so many musicians, and relay some of my own experiences with his music.  

For a few minutes, we talked about the choirs that I accompanied in high school and my friends who sang Manilow songs in the 70’s and 80’s.  Gracious, engaging, smiling, and keenly interested in what this fan had to say, I told Barry Manilow how my piano teacher had first purchased sheet music for “I Write The Songs” to find a way for me to connect with something more popular than Chopin or Bach.

“You know, I took great care with that sheet music from those early songs,” he relayed.  “I notated the music EXACTLY like I played on the record so that you could play it just like I do.”  Most artists rely on someone else to listen to a recording and pluck out the notes so that amateur musicians can approximate their favorite music.  Not so with Manilow.

As we talked about Manilow’s music, I was thinking of high school classmate Scott Freeland –probably the biggest Manilow fan in our troupe.  He sang “Could It Be Magic” at a particularly memorable concert all those years ago, and I accompanied him on the song based in part on a Chopin piece in the key of C-minor.  Scott passed from this earth more than a decade ago, but the memory of his voice and his love of songs like “Could It Be Magic” stay with me.

Barry and I talked about his concerts at Deer Creek concert pavilion near Indianapolis, and his assistant correctly recalled that this was the spot where Lyle Lovett got married.  “And all of that corn,” said his assistant.  The last time Barry Manilow played in that amphitheater (17 years ago – on my birthday) it WAS surrounded by cornfields, but now it’s circled by a busy outdoor shopping mall and hundreds of homes.

He is taller than he looks, and thinner.  But even in his late 60’s, this powerhouse pianist, singer, arranger, producer, and showman is brimming with energy.  He still plans concerts around the world (with trips to London and Australia coming this year) and a busy year of shows at Paris Las Vegas.

With a Sharpie in hand, he autographs a stainless steel photo album that is a memento of our visit.  Our time together to talk about music and its impact was brief, of course.  He grabbed my arm, called in a professional photographer, and we posed for the camera.  And as quickly as it started, my time with this incredible artist was done.

A few minutes later, after being escorted to the front row of the theater, the show began.  And for the next 90 minutes, we were literally just feet away from the artist who brought so many hits to life.

We sang along on “Can’t Smile Without You,” and “I Write the Songs.”  We remembered the first time we heard “Weekend in New England,” and “Even Now.”  We heard “Mandy” sung by the man who first introduced it on the radio 35 years ago.

For an instant, I was transported back to Market Square Arena in Indianapolis and that 1980 Barry Manilow concert.  Our guidance counselor in high school had excused two of us from class in order to stand in line to get tickets to that show, in the days before Ticketmaster and the Internet.  In exchange, he handed us cash so that we could buy him Pacers basketball tickets from the same venue, after we had our concert tickets in hand.  That was a good deal!

I’m sure that others in the audience were thinking back to times they’ve heard these songs, whether on the radio “back in the day” or on today’s modern equivalent of the 70’s channel on satellite radio.

We applauded Barry’s renditions of the all-time best love songs from the most recent album, and heard his life story woven from New York memories with his grandfather.  And, at the end of the show, we jumped to our feet to dance around with “Copacabana” – the novelty song written on a lark that perfectly sets the mood for an evening in Las Vegas.

Alone in Vegas a couple of nights later, I made a last-minute decision to see the Manilow show again – this time from a great seat in the seventh row.  If I’ve learned anything over my lifetime — and particularly the last year — it’s to seize the moment!

I’m not afraid to admit that I love Barry Manilow’s music, and my respect for this artist has grown considerably through this incredible experience.

Thank you, Barry Manilow, for providing an avenue for your fans to share their thanks for your many years of singing some of the most memorable melodies of a lifetime.  And thanks for sending those contributions on to where they can do the most good – to the music classrooms where a budding Barry Manilow might now be learning to pour his own heart into music.

Dave Arland, February 2011

In Remembrance of Ann Teipen (1950-2010)

January 27, 2011

As I counted back through the years that we’ve known each other, I am astounded that Ann and I shared a friendship that lasted some 36 years.  It was 1974 when I first met Ann, at a monthly meeting of STAR BASE 6 – the local eastside STAR TREK fan club that met at the Warren Public Library.

My dad had excitedly come home from work one day.  He had been a substitute pharmacist at the Hook’s Drug store not far from 10th and Mitthoeffer.  He’d seen the flyer on the store bulletin board advertising a new STAR TREK club, and he knew that his 11 year old son might be interested.

 

New episodes of STAR TREK hadn’t been seen in five years, and yet the series seemed to be gathering steam in re-runs.  Every night, Channel 13’s evening news crew would “beam aboard the Enterprise” as a lead in to another episode.  It would be another five years before the first of 11 STAR TREK films would reach the silver screen.  This collection of science fiction fans – who were into everything from Dungeons & Dragons to comic books to STAR TREK – thoroughly enjoyed getting together and learning more about their shared passions.  The era of the STAR TREK convention was just beginning, and I remember all of the talk about a big TREK convention planned for Chicago in 1975.

I convinced my parents to plan a second honeymoon in Chicago, and to allow me to ride with Ann for the trip north.  We arrived at the Statler Hilton and immediately saw the actor who played Sulu on STAR TREK in the lobby.  I was starstruck.  To Ann, of course, this was bad form.  One must be polite, but not overbearing.  What followed was a weekend where thousands turned out to see the first assemblage of the full STAR TREK cast since the series had gone off the air.  TREK creator Gene Roddenberry was there, as were all of the actors who manned a makeshift bridge of the Enterprise.  It was incredible.  And even though I was only 12 years old, to Ann I was just another fan.  She treated me like an adult, even though I hadn’t even officially become a teenager.

The years that followed brought more conventions and adventures.  Ann came to my high school graduation, and we enjoyed attending big conventions in St. Louis in the 1980’s.

We cornered actors from STAR TREK when they’d come to Indianapolis, taking Sulu to breakfast and Scotty to lunch.  That even led to an invitation to come out to Hollywood and see some filming of STAR TREK IV – the fourth movie in the franchise.  Ann and I traveled together in 1986 to California to see STAR TREK’s creator get his “star” in the Hollywood Walk of Fame.


 

She pulled strings to get both of us invited to Paramount Pictures for the celebratory party, where we talked to our favorite actors and recorded video greetings for Mr. Roddenberry.  Years later, I delighted in the opportunity to repay the favor by inviting her to the RCA Tennis Championships when Bob Conrad of “Wild Wild West” fame and actors William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy from STAR TREK made a paid appearance.

It didn’t take long to introduce my wife Karen to Ann, my STAR TREK friend.  Ann came to our wedding, nearly 20 years ago.  She loved hearing about our daughter Katy and the trials of being a teenager.  She was always asking about my parents, my brothers, my job, and my passions.We didn’t agree on politics or religion – but we didn’t have to.  We enjoyed each other’s interests and joys, and celebrated the differences between us.  I loved visiting her in New York, when she lived in a one-room closet in the theatre district for a time.  And I enjoyed hearing about her trips to Paris, France and Hollywood – which became her reason for working.  STAR TREK was not her only passion – she also loved bands like The Beatles, and The Guild, and actors like Robert Conrad and others.  She even edited a “Wild Wild West” newsletter for several years.

From Ann, I learned to embrace new technology – really!  She was the first person I’d ever met who owned a videocassette recorder, and she carefully perused TVGuide to pick out the talk shows where her favorite actors would appear.  She was taping talk shows when blank tapes were still $25 each! Lately, she’d become a big fan of Twitter – because she could follow the unfiltered actions of her favorite actors.  She loved to tell me what Bill Shatner was doing, or what Leonard Nimoy had said about Bill.  I loved that.

Our family enjoyed catching up with her over pizza at UNO’s (her favorite), and we enjoyed very long lunches at Shapiro’s both downtown and in Carmel.  I think she loved Shapiro’s so much because dessert always came first.As with all of you, the news of her passing comes as a jolt and a shock.  How could this be?  She was too young to be taken from us.  Obviously (to me, anyway), God has another plan for her talents and connections.  Ann is, no doubt, already publishing newsletters and hard at work in heaven catching up with her favorite actors who are already there.

In the closing minutes of the very popular film STAR TREK II:  The Wrath of Khan, it was the Vulcan science officer who left his post on the bridge of the Enterprise.  He walked into a compartment flooded with radiation, working to get the Enterprise out of danger.  The result saved the day, but ultimately left Spock at death’s door.  His final words echo in my mind.  Spock was barely able to speak.  And yet, after being assured that the ship was out of danger, he told Captain Kirk that “I have been, and always shall be, your friend.  Live Long & Prosper.”

So it is with our beloved Ann.  She is gone, but her memory lives on in the life she led, in the people she touched, in the questions she left behind, and in the joy she brought to others – including almost four decades of love and caring in my own life.

And now she is among the many stars in the sky.

 

 

Dave Arland (Carmel, Indiana)

 

Beam Me Up to the World’s Largest STAR TREK Convention

August 20, 2010

Las Vegas seems like an unlikely place for the world’s largest STAR TREK convention, especially with the untimely demise two years ago of a STAR TREK-themed attraction at the Las Vegas Hilton that was shuttered just as the long-running TV and movie franchise was (once again) running out of steam.

In a move never fully explained to the TREK faithful, the frothy attraction that brought Trekkies to Vegas like moths to a flame was snuffed out.  Today, the exhibition space remains unused in the large but shopworn Hilton hotel.  It was a sign that perhaps TREK’s time had come and gone.  Even the popular STAR TREK.com web site was put in stasis during this period of wandering, with its staff suddenly let go and no updates made to the popular site for years.

In a corporate spat, rights to STAR TREK — one of the crown jewels of the Paramount Pictures empire – were split in half.  Paramount Pictures still controls any STAR TREK movies.  Viacom’s CBS Television got rights to the various TV series incarnations for exploitation. It is a very odd arrangement.

Ironically, CBS had turned down STAR TREK forty years earlier because it already had a science fiction TV show on the schedule with “Lost in Space.”  Rival network NBC gambled on STAR TREK, but canceled it after a brief 79-episode, three-year run.

It was 1970’s re-runs that reinvigorated the franchise and the success of STAR WARS (created by George Lucas and distributed by Fox) that convinced Paramount to try to catch lightning in a bottle a second time with 1979’s moribund STAR TREK: The Motion Picture.  STAR TREK was declared dead, once again.

But the franchise was rejuvenated with opera fan Nicholas Meyer’s brilliant direction of STAR TREK II: The Wrath of Khan, which featured scenery-chewing antics of both William Shatner and Ricardo Montalban. (Generally, even-numbered STAR TREK films are the better ones.  STAR TREK I, III, and V are so-so.  STAR TREK II, IV, and VI have better stories.)

In 1987, another TV series — this time called STAR TREK:  The Next Generation — took flight.  It was followed by Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and Enterprise.  After the fifth STAR TREK TV series was canceled five years ago, and after 10 films, the various powers declared that STAR TREK needed a breather.  It also needed a swift kick in the pants.

Despite the support of legions of fans who carry the torch for their favorite episodes, the future of the science fiction cash cow was seriously in question.

Seven Hollywood warehouses filled with props and costumes from the various TREK incarnations have since been liquidated through a series of high-profile auctions.  Now TREK fans have closets brimming with screen-used costumes and props.

The future of the STAR TREK movie franchise was left to Hollywood uber-director J.J. Abrams and his production company that had brilliantly executed rebirth for another tarnished Paramount property (“Mission: Impossible”) and also developed the mystic TV series “LOST.”

STAR TREK would not be lost for long.

Abrams’ re-imagining of writer Gene Roddenberry’s creation not only breathed new life into the wheezing franchise, it also re-ignited the rocket fuel of TREK fandom.  While in some fannish circles, Abrams is regarded as an upstart who ignored the biblical canon of STAR TREK history (“Spock would never get it on with Uhura”), most of us have found something to love about both approaches.  For the diehard Trekkies, there is a convenient exit ramp with the Abrams retelling of TREK history – it exists as an “alternative timeline” that allows the familiar TREK past to live on, too.

Certainly, the 2009 STAR TREK movie – which will soon be followed by another sequel – introduced the gallant crew of the Enterprise to new generations of younger, passionate fans who are discovering for themselves what we like so much about the galaxy-hopping starship on a mission to explore the “final frontier.”

I’m delighted that a younger generation is now plugging into to TREK, popping DVDs into players to view never-before-seen episodes as though they are lost relics of an ancient civilization.  (It is interesting to note that STAR TREK episodes have been a favorite of virtually every type of home video in history:  Beta tapes, VHS, SelectaVision Disc, LaserDisc, DVD, Divx DVD, HD-DVD, and now Blu-ray.)

In early August, with temperatures in the Nevada desert climbing above 105, the most devoted STAR TREK fans made a pilgrimage to Vegas.  Thankfully, the convention meeting rooms were well air-conditioned, insuring a comfortable costuming experience.

There were many devoted fans from every chapter of STAR TREK history in attendance in August at the annual confab that establishes the superlatives in the convention business.  Make no mistake, this is a very big business.

Professional convention organizer Creation Entertainment assembles an outstanding array of stars – this year some 70 TREK actors took to the stages in Las Vegas to talk to some 3,500 STAR TREK fans, hundreds of whom had shelled out $700 for the privilege of an up-close seat in a massive ballroom temporarily renamed in honor of Gene and Majel Roddenberry, who have both passed from this earth.

Next door, a 32-thousand square foot ballroom (bigger than half a football field) was jammed with dozens of vendors plying their wares:  STAR TREK photos, costumes, autographs, model kits, replica props, uniforms, patches, buttons, plates, commemorative statues, fuzzball Tribbles, and a wide assortment of t-shirts, jewelry, and even tables selling reservations to STAR TREK cruises in the Caribbean.

Sprinkled throughout the Vendors room are tables with photos for sale and actors whose younger faces graced the TV screen when STAR TREK was on the air.  A handful of graying actors sign photos of themselves as guest stars of the original TREK series more than 40 years ago – at $20 a pop.  Even actors from unrelated science fiction shows make an appearance for the four-day love-fest – from “Jaws” in that James Bond movie to “Boomer,” one of the characters in the original Battlestar Galactica.

At every turn, Creation Entertainment (widely known for their fine-tuned convention events for STAR TREK and now the TWILIGHT franchises) offers fans an opportunity to get closer to the actors and images they love.

Autographs are no longer free with convention admission, like the old days.  Instead, a quick autograph from Leonard Nimoy (Spock) runs $79.  A very brief photo session with William Shatner costs $90 for an 8×10 print, and $10 more if you want that as a .JPEG image for impressing your friends on e-mail.  Your “brush with greatness” with a well-known actor is literally two seconds in length.  Smile.  Snap!  Next…

STAR TREK writer David Gerrold penned one of the most popular episodes of the entire STAR TREK series, when as a 19-year old college student he submitted the draft for what became “The Trouble with Tribbles,” which was ultimately produced as a light-hearted December episode in 1967.

These conventions have changed quite a bit since the early days, Gerrold recollects to a small crowd during one of the side-show convention sessions.

“In 1968, it was all male – a dreadful gathering of human beings.  But the panel discussions at that time had incredible writers like Isaac Asimov, Robert Bloch, Harlan Ellison, and more.  It was like Disneyland for the mind,” explains the writer.  But by the time World Science Fiction Convention was staged in 1969 there was another force that had entered fandom.  “It was those damn Trekkies, and they were mostly women.”

The first STAR TREK conventions appeared in 1972.  I convinced my parents to take their 12-year old TREK fan to Chicago for a landmark 1975 convention that brought the original cast together for the first time since the series wrapped production in 1969.

Conventions have evolved over the years.  Until the late 1980’s, there was a good mix of fan-run conventions and professional offerings.  Now, it’s mostly Creation Entertainment that stages the events.  Things are different, and in some ways better, than the old days.  But nostalgia is a powerful force and many of us fondly remember the gatherings of the 70’s and 80’s.

We’ve lost some of the original STAR TREK stars and producers to time.  Actors DeForest Kelley (Dr. McCoy), Majel Barrett (Nurse Chapel) and James Doohan (Scotty) are gone.   So are production icons like Bob Justman (associate producer) and series creator and executive producer Gene Roddenberry, who died in 1991.

From the stage in Vegas, Gene’s son Rodd Roddenberry tells the crowd that he has finally finished a documentary about the impact of STAR TREK that he is now shopping to film distributors.

“’Trek Nation’ is done.  The reason for the delays is that this is the first documentary for me and our producer.  A lot of people only knew my Dad as the creator of STAR TREK and they put him on a pedestal.  And he was a genius and a visionary.  But I don’t want us to look up at Gene Roddenberry.  I want us instead to look AT him.”

Rodd was a teenager in 1986 when his father got a symbolic star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.  Today, he carries the family mantle through his production company and Roddenberry.com, which is one of the few places licensed to sell prop recreations and other merchandise.

Early on a Saturday morning, I join 543 other costumed STAR TREK fans as we set a Guinness World Record for most people ever assembled for a photograph while wearing a real STAR TREK costume.  It seems strangely satisfying to be in that group, while I donned my Captain Kirk tunic, sparkly space trousers, and custom-made boots.

Later that day, the Hilton ballroom was at full capacity for the star attractions of Bill Shatner (Kirk) and Leonard Nimoy (Spock), who appeared in succession.

They are still a study in contrasts.  Both actors are pushing 80 years old.  Nimoy declares that he is again retiring from acting (after a superb role in the latest TREK film), and that this go-around is his last one on the convention circuit.

Shatner, on the other hand, gleefully describes the FOUR television series he now has on the air.  A favorite is “Aftermath,” where he interviews names in the news several months after their moment in the spotlight.  He talks about a landing airplane manufacturer Bombardier as a production sponsor (providing an airplane for the production crew), after learning that the Canadian manufacturer’s CEO is a STAR TREK fan.  Shatner is electric with energy, and answers questions from the crowd.  He is rumored to have never seen the latest STAR TREK film, but quashes that rumor with a declaration.

Diembodied voice at microphone:  “Why won’t you see J.J. Abrams STAR TREK film?”

Shatner:  “I saw it!  I saw that wonderful motion picture.”

All of the fans in the room know the undercurrent and backstory.  Shatner actively campaigned for a cameo role in the latest film.  But that never happened.

“I sat by the phone, day after day,” Shatner tells the audience.  “And then the phone rang, and it was Leonard Nimoy telling me that he was going to be in the new film!”

Nimoy is up next.  He wears a black t-shirt with four letters emblazoned on the front:  “LLAP.”

“Do you know what it stands for?” he asks the faithful.

“Live Long & Prosper,” we all shout back.

Nimoy talks about his passions, beyond acting.  Later in the day, he will lead a photography seminar.  A fan asks him a question about the 1970’s book “I Am Not Spock.”

“I caught hell for that book,” the actor admits.

“What are your favorite STAR TREK episodes?” asks another fan.

It’s a question Nimoy has been asked hundreds of times, and he rattles off the answer – a list that is agreeable to many in the audience.

City on the Edge of Forever.
Space Seed.
Amok Time.
This Side of Paradise.

“Amok Time was very important episode for Spock character.  Theodore Sturgeon wrote beautiful script.  It was memorable because it was the first time that ‘Live Long and Prosper’ was spoken and also the first time that we introduced the Vulcan salute.”

Another fan asks the inevitable question:  “Would you consider doing another STAR TREK movie.”

Nimoy is forthright.

“That question comes up regularly.  I am very flattered.  I have learned time and time again — particularly in my STAR TREK career — never to say never.  But as we stand here now, I have no plans to be involved.

Together on stage at the end of the session, Shatner and Nimoy relish the opportunity to reflect on being working actors together on a 1960’s TV series.

“They were trying times and very physical work, typically six days a week.  It was a great and proud experience,” Nimoy says, as he turns to look at Shatner.

And as they end another convention appearance together, the actor who played the non-emotional, logical science officer from another planet turns to colleague Shatner with a warm smile.

“You are an emotional brother to me, and you always have been.”

And in that moment, these two actors perfectly capture what attracts so many to the STAR TREK universe.  After almost 50 years, it’s the human stories of conflict, adventure, love, and longing that continue to draw thousands to the world of the Starship Enterprise.

Skimming the Waves in St. Martin

June 9, 2010

From the shore, they zip along the waves effortlessly – almost like ice skaters who glide across the landscape leaving nothing but a spray of ice crystals behind them.  It had been more than a decade since I had last mounted a Jet-ski like the one that was bobbing in the surf of a secluded beach on the island in the French West Indies.   Dubbed a “wave runner,” which suggests the without-a-care ease that they appear to impart, I was about to climb aboard the mini motorboat after a safety and operations briefing from Max at the water sports rental shack.

Tall and self-confident, Max explained with a French accent that the green button starts the engine and the red button turns it off.  The safety wristband that I wore on my left hand was connected to a switch that would kill the motor if I fell off, and unlike a motorcycle it was the handgrip on the right side of the steering column that delivered more fuel to the engine.

I was suited up in a life jacket, snapped in place over a t-shirt to protect my already sunburned torso.  With his colleagues calling out to make sure he had put on a fresh dose of sunscreen, Max pulled off his shirt and put on an instructor’s life jacket.

“You will follow right behind me when I signal like this,” Max cautioned, noting that we would be circling the peninsula of the beautiful island by passing under two bridges with “no wake” zones that required a peaceful transition between the open sea and a more serene bay.

“But don’t worry.  We will go VERY fast,” my younger guide assured me.

Standing in the pale blue ocean, Max held the Yamaha wave runner as I mounted my steed from behind.  Straddling the beast, I struggled but eventually landed squarely on her back.  I bravely pushed the green button and she roared to life.  Even before I could grip the gas, Max was on his lead wave runner and speeding off into the ocean.

So I gunned it and she took off, heaving mightily across the open ocean waves.  Up and down with a jolting crash, two or three wave breaks a second.  It was like a rollercoaster with hiccups.  I gripped the wet rubber handles and pulled back the gas with my right hand, as we paralleled the shoreline.  Up ahead, Max turned to avoid the rocky point and I decided to try riding in his wake. Maybe the waves would be less severe.  Well, that’s what I thought anyway.

And while it was easier to follow my guide by chasing him, the bumpy ride didn’t really smooth out.  Instead, the pace quickened.  Max shot ahead as if propelled by a rocket blast, and he stood up on the motorized surfing machine.  This must be the “going very FAST” part, I reasoned.  So I followed suit, squeezing the accelerator trigger and gripping harder on the ribbed handles.  She raced forward even faster, as I stood up to mimic the skier now far ahead of me.  Standing wasn’t as hard as I thought it might be, and it actually cushioned each crash into waves with the body’s natural spring-like reaction from foot to ankle to knee to quad leg muscle.  It would feel like the aftermath of an intense leg workout soon enough.

We were approaching the first bridge and I pulled alongside Max as we slowed down.  By now, he had dropped to a more reasonable speed and when I got closer I noticed he was also casually riding his wave runner sitting “side saddle” – like he was out for a Sunday stroll.  We dropped to almost nothing and passed under the drawbridge, as rusted ships and sunken boats poked through the water near the shore.

Once safely inside the bay, the pace picked up again – only this time it was raining overhead.  And as our speed started rising, the tiny droplets of rain felt like needles piercing my face.  We toured the coastline of the large bay, and then slowly went under another bridge and out again into the  ocean.  On our left, a French navy ship guarded the coastline.

Speeding past the island’s airport, we rounded the rocky coastline as the starting point of our journey came into view.  Again, I was pounded by the repetitive rise and fall of the ocean waves as my tiny but powerful watercraft skimmed the waves.  The faster we went, the more it shook every bone in my body.  Over one wave, crashing headfirst into the next and then up and over another – all in rapid succession.

Nearly an hour of heart-pounding and body-pounding time had passed.  My hands had frozen on the handlebars, well aware that a loose grip would mean that I’d be thrown instantly into the rollicking waves around me.  I could taste the saltwater spray that had drenched my whole body.

Max went to shore first, and then motioned me in.  The dismount was achieved by backing off the gasoline-powered mini-motorboat, careful not to fall backwards into the pounding surf.

“It was good, buddy?” asked my guide.

“Yes, it was good.  Invigorating,” I replied, glad to be back on terra firma, and a little wobbly as I climbed the steep sandy beach.

Only then did I learn that my cool-headed guide who navigates the waves with the ease of a fish is only 18 years old.  Maybe I’ll come back and try it again when he’s closer to 30!

Butler: Now We’re On the Map!

April 5, 2010

“In the Gallery of Mem’ries, there are pictures bright and fair.  And I find that Dear old Butler is the brightest one that’s there….”  (Butler alma mater)

It’s amazing what winning almost 90 basketball games in a row will do for a school.  Humble, quiet little Butler University — the Indianapolis liberal arts university best known until this spring for its pharmacy school and dance program — is in full bloom.  Like the “little engine that could,” Butler has defied all of the oddsmakers and risen to the top of the pile.

Everyone is talking about Butler.  29-thousand people showed up for the PRACTICE session of the Final Four basketball tournament, just to see the Bulldogs warm up.  Hinkle Fieldhouse was filled with thousands more who didn’t have (or couldn’t get) tickets to the games in Lucas Oil Stadium, which was designed to match Hinkle’s “Hoosier Basketball Palace” aesthetic — a shrine of steel and brick, or at least concrete pressed to look like brick!

T-shirt sales have propelled the usually-quiet campus bookstore to chart year-over-year sales that are 60 times normal.

Everyone, it seems, is pulling for Butler.  It could be that the dreams of yesterday are finally coming true.

Butler’s big-time alumni supporters of the 1920’s had huge ambitions for the school, so big that they they built the largest basketball arena in the U.S.A. back in 1928 — a title that the beloved Fieldhouse held for over 20 years.  In fact, so much money was poured into athletics during the late 1920’s that Butler had its academic accreditation stripped because of inattention to what the school was supposed to be doing (educating) and a lopsided emphasis on sports with the new $1 million Fieldhouse for basketball and Butler Bowl for football.  The fledgling university, which had just relocated to a former city park, was nearly drawn under in the crisis.

The result profoundly changed Butler’s focus.  Over the years, its academic credentials were restored and new investments brought consolidated schools of fine arts, business, the sciences, and religion.  Basketball and football were still popular, but the dreams of being part of the Big Ten were never realized.

The massive Fieldhouse became Tony Hinkle’s domain, as revered coach of basketball, football, and baseball.  It was Coach Hinkle who carefully and quietly built the Butler foundation.

Probably the most famous thing about Butler is not its current stellar academic reputation, its thousands of graduates (17-thousand of whom still live nearby), or its stateley “Collegiate Gothic” architecture.

Butler is famous this week for its basketball team — and hardworking, youthful coach — who emphasize academics over basketball, and team play over individual showmanship.

This school of not quite 4,000 students is perhaps best known for its role as a backdrop for the movie “Hoosiers” — considered by many to be the best sports movie ever made.

This week, the fans come like pilgrims to a shrine to see Hinkle’s House — with the gentle arcing roofline constructed by bridgebuilders to span a maple floor and contain Indiana’s passion for basketball.

My first campus tour as a high school student was 30 years ago, and Butler’s stellar Radio/TV program (now morphed as “Telecommunications Arts”) remains a powerful asset.  But we were never like Indiana University with Bob Knight and his crazy chair-throwing antics.  Nor did we have the legacy of Purdue, with its stadium filled with thousands upon thousands of students and alumni.

We’re just Butler.  The northside Indianapolis campus familiar to most here for its quiet, tree-lined streets, concert halls, and that mighty arena.

But this week, we get a taste of what it means to go all the way.

A dream we couldn’t even imagine until now.

GO BULLDOGS!

Butler War Song

April 2, 2010

by John Heiney, Butler Class of ’23

We’ll sing the Butler war song,

we’ll give the fighting cry.

We’ll fight the Butler battle,

Bulldogs ever do or die;

And in the glow of the vict’ry firelight,

hist’ry cannot deny,

To add a page or two for Butler’s fighting crew

beneath the Hoosier sky.

At The Top of Their Game

November 14, 2009

In a darkened high school cafeteria, 350  Michigan and Indiana students and a few dozen parents hold their breath and stare at the video screen that holds their fate.  Six months of intense rehearsals have led up to this moment.  Hundreds of thousands of dollars from communities near Detroit and Indianapolis have been privately raised to make possible only nine minutes of choreographed excellence.

Twelve miles away, a stadium is filled with several thousand more people who watch the results live.

We hope to hear those magic words that signal our advancement to the next step.

Families throughout Carmel, Indiana this week opened their homes to 150 marching band members from Walled Lake Central High (not far from Detroit.)

During preliminary competition at the massive new stadium in downtown Indianapolis, an section of students rises and cheers as the Carmel Marching Greyhounds take the field.  The cheering section is the entire entourage from Walled Lake, who performed earlier in the day.  The surprise welcome feels great.  Almost 24 hours later, mutual admiration is returned as an entire stadium erupts in applause to welcome “our neighbors from the north,” as the Carmel band director so appropriately commented.

And while the Carmel band is enormous (nearly 200 students are on the field), the truly impressive statistics come from Walled Lake Central — where their 150-member band includes 10 percent of the student body.
Their show is marvelous — a humorous take on spy movies featuring an impressive all-band tango sequence.

Carmel’s show is equally dramatic, with snippets of Bach, Rachmaninoff, and Debussy and featuring virtuoso players on cello, piano, and flute (with the pianist playing while moving on a giant fulcrum that represents the scales of justice.)  In the crisp fall air, the full force of the band’s powerful performance almost knocks you back in the stands.  All of those days of 7:00AM and late afternoon rehearsals culminate in this performance.  They are ready to give it their all at the annual Bands of America Grand National Championships in downtown Indianapolis — IF they advance.

91 bands compete this year.  Only about one in three will make it to the morning semifinals, and a more select group will compete before tens of thousands of band fans.

The kids sit together, teenagers who share a love of music, fun, pizza, and texting on their cellphones. Until this week, they were strangers.  Now they rally around each other like brothers and sisters.

“We will be cheering you on in the finals,” pledges the Walled Lake band director, uncertain if his band will advance during this first visit to the national competition.

And then the moment is here.

34 bands are being named to semifinalist status.

The disembodied voice on the other end of the Internet connection calls out Carmel High School as a semifinalist, and the room erupts in applause.  The kids from both schools are ecstatic.

More bands are called out, including some familiar from previous contests.

And then he says “Walled Lake Central…” and a silent room of 400 erupts in wild applause.  Parents grab their cell phones and BlackBerries to share the news as tears stream down their faces.

The kids can’t believe it, either.

For this one moment, all is right in the world.

Hugging and cheering, the preparations begin for another competition — this time at the top of their game.

California Poised to Ban Big-Screen TVs – Data be Damned!

November 13, 2009

In its unquenchable thirst to claim “leadership” on environmental issues, the California Energy Commission is expected by most government watchers to enact new rules that will effectively ban one out of four TV sets currently sold in the Golden State.  Instead, buyers may head to nearby and sales-tax-free Nevada or up to Oregon to satiate their big screen desires.

Lost in the reams of manufactured data conveniently provided by the state’s electricity generating utilities are the facts.  Instead, the very entities that will benefit from a regulation (that would be the utilities with stockholders as well as ratepayers) have suggested sweeping and unnecessary regulations that are like a parlor game of hide and seek.

They claim unmitigated disaster if this crisis of the grid is left unchecked.  They also ignore enormous advances in energy efficiency that TV makers have voluntarily instituted nationwide – with 20 percent year-over-year improvements in energy efficiency.

Consider some of the more specious arguments made by the drama-loving but factually-starved environmentalists who are squawking in this debate:

  • They say that TV sets are responsible for 10% of your electric bill.  Sounds like it might be possible, but it’s also false.  Try three or four percent, as a fact.  Want to know what consumes nearly HALF of your home’s electricity?  Heating and air conditioning.  But that’s not as sexy as the crusade to reign in the boob tube.
  • They claim that bigger TVs are a threat to the state’s electrical grid, with ever bigger screens gobbling more and more electricity.  Ummm, also not true.  Buying an already-efficient flat-screen set (no regulation necessary) and then chucking the 36-inch TV you dragged to the basement will do more to cut your electrical bill than any regulations that have been proposed.  Even the little 25-inch TV in my bedroom, which dates from 1994, is sucking seven times the power of a new TV when turned it’s turned off!  Why not a program to encourage old TV recycling and new TV purchases?  Save energy AND stimulate the economy.  Wait, can’t do that.  It would make sense.
  • But the ultimate fight is being waged in the battle of the Living Room versus the Kitchen, believe it or not.  Listen to the environmental community beat their chests about the almighty refrigerator and how it’s been tamed by the sterling regulators to become a purring paragon of energy efficiency.  Lo, behold the TV behemoth and how it consumes more energy than the frugal fridge.  Gee, that sounds good — but it also is NOT TRUE.  Turns out that a new flat-screen plasma TV only sips a tiny amount of juice, when compared to the icebox.  In fact, a modest 21-cubic foot standard refrigerator will drain 45 percent more energy than a new 42-inch plasma.

So don’t let the facts, and relevant, up-to-date data cloud the issue.

Go ahead California, lead the way — right down the primrose path of feel-good regulations that will only hurt consumers, California-based electronics retailers, and state tax coffers.

After all, what’s a few million in much-needed revenue when you can issue a great press release?

In California, The Only Thing Lost is Your Freedom to Choose

August 11, 2009

In the wake of billions of dollars in state budget deficits and an 11.5 percent state unemployment rate, California bureaucrats can’t wait to get their hands on your TV set – particularly if you’re thinking of upgrading to a very large Plasma or LCD model, as prices continue to fall.

Regulators at the California Energy Commission are poised to enact new restrictions that could eliminate as many as one-in-four current TV sets from stores in the Golden State.  Sound ludicrous?  Think again.  They’re very serious.

Under the guise of energy conservation and with the wholehearted support of environmental and utility company lobbyists, appointed officials in Sacramento are “crossing the t’s and dotting the i’s” on the new regulations that would give Californians only one choice when buying TV sets – buying from an approved list of TV sets that meet new energy regulations.

In the 17th century, such sparse decisions were named for Cambridge, England livery stable owner Thomas Hobson – who offered customers the choice of either taking the horse in the stall nearest the door or taking none at all.

“’Tis Hobson’s choice – take that, or none,” goes a poem written in 1688.

That’s the same menu offered to new TV buyers under the overly-restrictive proposal from the California Energy Commission.  The proposed regulations would effectively ban the sale of 25 percent of current big screen TV models and 100 percent of plasma TVs larger than 60 inches in California.

Never mind that TV manufacturers have voluntarily made incredible strides in energy efficiency, and are already saving many kilowatts of electricity for investor-owned utilities (who are not so quietly behind the latest proposal) and for California ratepayers, who benefit from more efficient products that were marketed without any government regulation whatsoever.

Mike Rosen, an editorial writer for the Denver Post newspaper, predicts what comes next.

“Having established the principle that bureaucrats can dictate the size of your TV set, you can expect their next move to limit your viewing choices to PBS and the National Geographic channel,” Rosen wrote back in April.

Another prediction from the same column:  “if California goes ahead with this plan, they’ll get a lesson in the law of unintended consequences in the real world. There’ll be an instantaneous gray and black market for non-complying big-screen TVs. Consumers will buy them on the Internet from places where they’re not illegal or they’ll cross borders to bring them in from neighboring states.”

Who is hurt most by this illogical and unnecessary intrusion by government?  None other than Californians themselves, including the hundreds of small business people who own and operate the high-end specialty retailers that make their living from sales and installation of very large Plasma and LCD screens to clientele from San Diego to Hollywood and Sacramento.  Those retailers will be on the doorstep of the California Energy Commission this week to decry the swift moving proposed regulation, which regulators seem hell-bent to implement.

The California Energy Commission’s ban on big-screen TVs would cost California $50 Million a year in lost tax revenue and literally destroy 4,600 jobs, according to a study by Resolution Economics, LLC.

Such heavy-handedness is not always appreciated.  An outcry erupted with an earlier proposal that would have allowed the electric utilities to use “smart meters” to reach into your home and remotely manipulate the air conditioner if they felt you were using too much power on a particularly sweltering afternoon.

As Americans, we love having the ability to choose.  Some of us drive ultra-efficient hybrid cars that sip fuel.  Others appreciate the roominess and appeal of a larger vehicle.  But if California regulators have their way, there won’t be any choices at all for consumers who want a big-screen TV experience.

Instead, they’ll either be relegated to look-alike small-screen TV sets or to cross-border imports of big-screen TV sets from retailers in Oregon, Nevada, and Arizona who might appreciate having some new customers only a short drive away.

Let’s keep the hands of government off the remote control.

Join Californians for Smart Energy and make your voice heard!  www.CASmartEnergy.com

270,000 and Counting

August 5, 2009

New Orleans is sweltering in August, overheated and humid.  But we were college guys on summer break just a couple of weeks before our senior year.  And we’d come to Louisiana’s party city to experience the sights, sounds, smells, and libations of the French Quarter – and also to celebrate the 75th Anniversary of our beloved college fraternity.

It was August of 1984, and President Ronald Reagan (still in his first term) had just joked during a microphone check before a radio address that he had signed legislation to outlaw Russia forever and that “we begin bombing in five minutes.”  Three months later he would carry the electoral votes of 49 states to beat Walter Mondale and win a second term.   Apple introduced its first MAC in 1984, in the era before e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, or even the ubiquitous cell phone (which was first introduced that year and sold for $4,000.)  Our fraternity house at Butler University had payphones and a few of us actually owned corded telephones – a novelty with the recent breakup of the Bell System.

We’d come together at the historic Fairmont Hotel in New Orleans (only recently re-opened in 2009 as the Roosevelt Hotel with a $145 million renovation,  after damage inflicted by Hurricane Katrina) to mark the founding of Lambda Chi Alpha, better known to some as the “Lamb Chops.”  Hundreds of undergraduates converged on New Orleans, some acting as official delegates of more than 200 chapters from universities throughout the U.S. and Canada.DSC_0183

Lambda Chi Alpha had inauspicious beginnings, with founder Warren Cole visiting or writing to more than 100 colleges and universities before finally installing a functioning chapter.  In the beginning, the new social men’s fraternity was almost a joke created to poke fun at the serious sounding Greek letter societies.  Lambda Chi Alpha once meant nothing more than “Little College Asses,” a sobriquet that was quickly ditched when the movement took hold.  That first chapter was installed in 1909, the same year that the U.S. military ordered its first airplane (from the Wright brothers) and the year that Pearl Harbor opened as a base and the first auto and motorcycle racing events were held at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

A small local society at Butler in Indianapolis became Lambda Chi Alpha’s 25th chapter in December 1915.  The International Fraternity has now initiated more than 270,000 men as members, with more than 1,600 coming from Butler – and most Butler Lambda Chi’s living in our stately fraternity house on Sunset Avenue in Indianapolis.

4721 Sunset at Centennial

Those who have never lived experienced Greek life are usually somewhat mystified by the appeal.  Why would anyone want to live with 60 other guys and all of the horseplay and problems that inevitably creates?  Isn’t a fraternity nothing more than a drinking society?  Aren’t those things as antique as visiting hours at the women’s dormitory?  Everybody knows it’s nothing more than “Animal House” – so how could you possibly endorse something as backwards and Neanderthal as a college fraternity?

I think those critics and their protestations  ring hollow.  Don’t knock it unless you’ve tried it!

They’ve obviously never known the deep bonds of friendship and love that exist with a group that is both wildly diverse and at the same time unified in mission.  Even with the undergraduates who are now returning to campus, we alumni share experiences of respect, understanding, teaching, guidance, and lifelong friendship.  We’ve lived together under the same roof, dealing with the same problems.  We’ve learned to listen to diverging opinions and carefully weigh our options.  We’ve shared in the joys of victory (sometimes, admittedly, at ridiculous campus competitions) and turned inward when a brother is hurting or scared.  We’ve joined hands to help end hunger, raise money for cancer research, and have helped to teach hundreds of men how to grow up – accept responsibility – and lead others.

Butler Brothers at the Centennial

Butler Brothers at the Centennial

In my own years as a Chapter Adviser and volunteer member of the House Corporation that oversees the upkeep of the Sunset Avenue house, I’ve been energized by the enthusiasm and limitless possibilities that our undergraduate brothers exude.  These are the men who will soon grow up to be husbands, fathers, businessmen, and leaders.

Lambda Chi Alpha is stronger than ever, with a solid membership base in changing times.

This past week, more than 850 undergraduates and alumni again gathered to celebrate an anniversary – and this time our Butler chapter and the university campus served as host.  We acknowledged the amazing foresight of our founders, noting the significant milestones as the fraternity adapted to new challenges.

The Old Ones:  Randy, Bryan, Arno, Swaff, Wild Bill

The Old Ones: Randy, Bryan, Arno, Swaff, Wild Bill

With my brothers from the 1980’s, we gathered together to mark the Centennial – and also to tell stories about that August weekend 25 years ago in New Orleans.  Our children are now entering high school, and some are already heading off to the leafy campus surrounded by fraternity and sorority houses.

The words of the fraternity creed echoed throughout Clowes Memorial Hall as we marked our one hundredth birthday:
“We believe in Lambda Chi Alpha, and its traditions, principles, and ideals. The crescent is our symbol — pure, high, and ever growing; and the cross is our guide — denoting service, sacrifice, and even suffering and humiliation before the world, bravely endured if need be, in following that ideal.  May we have faith in Lambda Chi Alpha and passion for its welfare.  May we have hope for the future of Lambda Chi Alpha and strength to fight for its teachings.  May we have pure hearts, that we may approach the ideal of perfect brotherly love.”

Magic Carpet Ride mosh pit

Magic Carpet Ride mosh pit

I believe in fraternity.  I believe in Lambda Chi Alpha, and its symbols that represent growth, purity, sacrifice, and service.  I believe in celebrating the things that hold us together, not drive us apart.

One hundred years ago, a few college kids saw the opportunity to work together and make a difference in this world.

I’m grateful for that dream, and honored to be part of how that dream became reality.