My reaction to the Capitol siege: Bean Soup!

Watching the siege on the Capitol Wednesday, January 6, my mind turned to Senate Bean Soup because I once had the privilege of enjoying it in a Senate dining area.

When John Hinckley Jr. shot President Ronald Reagan, March 30, 1981, the NBC Network News operation in Washington asked for additional support. A field producer in the Network Bureau in Chicago, I was dispatched to help out.

One day I was assigned to link up with a Washington-based crew to cover a Senate hearing. Before the afternoon session, the crew suggested we eat lunch in a Senate dining area frequented mostly by Senate staff members open, as a courtesy, to members of the news media. (It was off limits to the general public.)

A tradition, bean soup has been on the Senate menu since about 1905, served every day. I had to have it.  As I tasted the soup, for a moment I was no longer a journalist but a citizen in a bit of awe at the privilege of getting a modest behind the scenes glimpse of the inner workings of our democracy. And what a special place the Capitol building is. What it stands for.

Watching a mob with no respect for -- maybe no understanding of -- democratic processes storm the Capitol and enter the Senate, just made me shake my head.

We have lots of work to do trying to bridge the gaps in our highly polarized nation. Mob violence is not the answer. We must talk this through peacefully, not over a beer in bar, but over a bowl of Senate Bean Soup at the Capitol.


Got an RV to sell?

There’s no disputing 2020 was a terrible year for businesses in general – and for the thousands of workers who either lost their jobs or had their hours cut.

But there are exceptions. Many homeowners are remodeling, helped by very low interest rates. That spurs construction jobs and appliance sales. Bicycles have been hard to come by. So, it turns out, have been RVs.

Reports of the sharp increase in demand for RVs hit us dramatically in mid-August, when we drove onto the lot of the RV dealer not far from our Wisconsin property. A lot normally full of vehicles for sale was two thirds empty!

As we checked in, Gary the service manager, assured us they were not going out of business. To the contrary, demand far exceeded the supply of RVs available. In years past, they might have 40 trailers of a specific model on the lot. They had two. When the sales staff got word of a delivery, the vehicles were often sold by the time they arrived.

They were not alone. An RV dealer in Pennsylvania that normally sold 10 units a week was closing sales on 300.

Two things converged to create this boom. First, trailer and motorhome manufactures shut down for about four months when the pandemic hit in March. So, no supply. About the same time, more and more families, decided RV camping was a safe way to get away from home but keep their pod safe from the pandemic – much better than flying or moteling. Hence, a big surge in demand.

A classic example of supply/demand economics.

IMG_0136                                                       At Pelican Lake, near Orr, MN, Sept. 13, 2020

We were very happy we had decided to upgrade to a newer used RV last December.

Years ago, we started taking an extended fall tour beginning in late August. The weather is still good and family trips are over because kids are back in school. With schools – elementary to college closed--RV parks – private and public – were still busy. The family-owned campground in Two Harbors, MN, on Lake Superior, we stayed in filled up every night. So did the municipal campground in Grand Marais, also on Lake Superior.

Minnesota was no exception. Across the country, according to industry news stories, demand for campsites jumped dramatically in 2o2o.

Wife Elaine, who does our trip booking, said next year she will have to start sooner to book the reservations we want.

Is this the start of trend or a fluke?

For couples who had been thinking of buying a camper and hitching it behind their pickup and decided to take the plunge, all may go well. Over time, they may even move up to a larger trailer or try a motorhome.

On the other hand, it takes time and, especially initially, a bit of patience to learn the ins and outs of RV life. Like a boat, it seems something always needs maintenance. Keeping one in tiptop shape is not cheap. How many will realize, while it may have been an option to get away from home in 2020, it’s not their cup of tea.

Will there be a glut of used RVs on the market next year or in 2022?


Summer of Covid

The combination of our getaway property and RV was a godsend this Summer of Covid.

Our 13 acres in Wisconsin’s North Kettle Moraine area always provide a peaceful respite from Chicago’s urban density.

Our first challenge was getting the RV to Moraine Elaine from winter storage in Southern Indiana.

Starting in mid-March, Wisconsin told Illinois residents to stay away – unless they planned to move to their summer homes and remain long term. (Not us.)

We carefully watched the situation develop through April. Finally, in May we decided, travel advisories or not, it was time to move the RV. We arrived at Moraine Elaine May 20, a month later than normal.

How pleasant to wake up in the morning and check if Luke, our friendly barn cat, was waiting for us on the steps to the RV – ready to tell the first person out the door he’d like a serving of canned food. This year we were joined by the neighbors' two young cats.

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How pleasant to check the bird feeder for the arrival of a new species, some just stopping by on a northerly migration, others hanging around for the summer: Indigo buntings, various woodpeckers, blue jays, cardinals.

How pleasant to once again bicycle our favorite county roads, walk familiar routes and, for Elaine, bird favorite spots.

How pleasant to light logs in the fire pit and watch the skies darken, revealing bright stars.

Once in Wisconsin, we took steps to minimize risk. At our favorite restaurant, we found the patio open with appropriately distanced tables, but were disappointed to discover servers were not wearing masks. (At the time Wisconsin was one of four states that did not require waitstaff to wear facial covering.) We did not go back.

The local Pick n’ Save (a Kroger property) enforced a corporate mask mandate. We took satisfaction watching an employee turn away a couple who refused to wear ones. Walking away the husband grumbled, “I guess we’ll go hungry tonight.” We thanked the young woman for standing up to them. Over the summer customers got the message, and Elaine compared compliance in line with our local Jewel-Osco.

In contrast, the local Fleet Farm also had a corporate mask mandate posted on every door, but no enforcement and wide disregard by customers and employees alike. We tried very hard to avoid the place and to plan ahead and buy supplies at our local Menards, where a mask mandate was vigorously enforced.

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With infections trending down, we felt comfortable inviting a group of socially responsible friends to join us  over the Labor Day weekend. They brought their own sleeping accommodations -- two tents and a pop-up trailer. We spaced out around the firepit. For our friends it was it was a welcome “mini-vacation” from the city.

 

 

(Kris, who took these pictures, brought along Soji to keep an eye on us.)

 

 

When they headed south toward Chicago, we headed north toward Upper Michigan and the Arrowhead Country of Minnesota.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By the time we returned to Moraine Elaine, the fall surge in infections was well underway in rural Wisconsin (and wide swaths of the Upper Midwest). We still traveled to Moraine Elaine, but now made a point of avoiding contact with local residents.

We were not all that upset that, due to a commitment that had nothing to do with the pandemic, we left out getaway property for the season two weeks earlier than planned. We hugged Luke one last time (he will be in good hands over the winter) and fired up the RV.

During this Summer of Covid, we were at Moraine Elaine 50 days over a 150-day (five month) span. It was so pleasant. Helped us keep our sanity.

 


Happy Birthday Luke!

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Because of the attention he got as a kitten from the then-neighbor’s grandkids he’s very friendly. He’s often on the front steps to our RV when we get up – ready for pets and extra food. He will curl up in Norb’s lap when we have a blaze in the firepit – until he hears something in the woods that needs to be checked out.

Since we are only on the property 45-50 nights a year, we have always depended on neighbors to take care of Luke the rest of the time. The arrangement has changed over the years, but obviously has worked.

Nancy and luke

 

 

This is the third winter Nancy, who lives down the road and loves cats, has backstopped the next door neighbors.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Luke has a heated box in the barn’s parlor for warmth, a heated water bowl, food and a south-facing window that provides warmth and a view.

Luke in Window 5


Paul Hornung: The Handoff Didn't Work

 

News of the death of Paul Hornung, sometimes called the Golden Boy of 1950s and 1960s football, brings to mind my first encounter with him at WBBM-TV, the CBS-owned station in Chicago. (Hornung died Nov. 13 in Louisville. He was 84.)

In something of a coup, Channel 2 general manager Edward Kenefick, who played football at Notre Dame, added Hornung to the station’s sports staff after he retired from his stellar career at Notre Dame and the Green Bay Packers. Next, he talked retired Notre Dame coach Frank Leahy into joining Horning to do Sunday night critiques of Chicago Bears games. It was a bold move into new territory that didn’t please the Bears.

Hornung couldn’t type and knew nothing about television production. Neither did Leahy. They needed a producer-writer to pull it all together for them. Somehow, I have no idea how, I was picked.

One problem: in those days I knew as little about football as they knew about TV.

On launch Sunday the three of us sat in a conference room watching the Bears game. While the two of them talked football – “It’s a third-down game” -- and shared Notre Dame memories between plays, I took notes. Every so often Hornung would turn to me and say “we will want that play.” Duly noted.

Obviously, this didn’t work. Mercifully, by the next week I was replaced by another producer (Bob Harris), who understood the game and appreciated the legends he was working with.

Together they put launched a Sunday night success – a hit with fans if not the Bears.


Carol Marin: To very early memories

Carol Marin

A bit of background for readers who do not live in Chicago:

Carol Marine retired November 6 after four decades in Chicago television, most of it at NBC-owned WMAQ-TV. During that long career she set the gold standard for journalism excellence.

After the announcement of her retirement, well deserved tributes poured in. Instead, I chose to write this more personal trip down memory lane. (No idea if she had read it; she’s been very busy.)

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Carol, it was always a pleasure working with you. Tons of people have paid well-deserved tributes to your contribution to broadcast journalism in Chicago.

But, for old time’s sake, take a moment to reflect on the beginning at WMAQ-TV, in the late 1970s. I produced the first newscast you co-anchored (with Mike Jackson). Before your debut ND Paul Beavers told me that Mike, as the familiar face, should lead for the next few weeks. Almost immediately you asked me why. I explained what Beavers had said.

Soon I got a message from Beavers: “Never mind.”  You had talked to him. You and Mike began sharing reading lead stories.

I was always flattered that you picked me to be the first producer in your unit. It didn’t last long, because I got an offer to move over to the network side – the beginning of a great eight-year experience.

I’ve always appreciated that you wanted Don Moseley to join you but initially there was no writer’s slot open, so he had to remain in Tennessee. In the end, all three of us won: I got a dream job as field producer for the network, and you and Don teamed up to do amazing, great journalism in Chicago – for decades.

Enjoy the next phase of your life.


Got quarters?

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For sake of my tenants, please spend them.

I wasn’t aware of the quarter crisis caused by the pandemic until I got a pleading email from a tenant in August. The local supermarket would no long sell him $10 rolls of quarters. Neither would his bank. Without quarters he couldn’t wash his clothes.

A second tenant chimed in, calling them “exceedingly difficult to find.” When she visited her parents in the suburbs, the local banks would give her only $5 in quarters.

When Covid-19 struck in the spring, the normal circulation of currency was disrupted. Small-dollar purchases often made with paper and coin – that morning cup of coffee – simply weren’t being made. People were staying home. Those who ventured out found their local bakery closed, and if it was open, they were encourage to use credit cards.

No segment of the economy has been hit harder than laundromats. According to an association count, 56 percent of them require customers to insert quarters into their machines.

In the meantime, I am doing what the banks wouldn’t: selling $10 packets of quarters.

I own the machines, so I collect the quarters, and I developed a system: For every $10 they add to their monthly rent, which tenants pay electronically, I deliver a packet of quarters. Two months in, it seems to be working.

In fact, it actually saves me money. Banks long ago stopped using coin-counting machines and may not accept a roll of coins.  My only real option is Coinstar, which has installed machines in supermarkets and other retail outlets. It charges a 15 percent service fee. So, I have every incentive to take care of my tenants first.

 I win. They win. And some coins remain in circulation, even if they don’t leave the building.

The Federal Reserve insists there is no shortage, it’s a matter circulation. If people would just start spending quarters, all would be fine. But they aren’t, and who knows when, or if, they ever will.

My tenants can’t wait if they want to wash their clothes.