Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Yes, you can come home again

I caught my first glimpse of my old hometown of The Dalles, Oregon, while part of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony was on the radio. I just crested the hill on the road from Dufur, and there like a jumbled collection of building blocks was the town. That might seem to be an incongruous combination to some, but it makes sense to me. The Dalles and its environs, complete with combines going through wheat fields as I drove by, deserves a classical introduction. I believe Ludwig would understand.

This was more than a visit for old times' sake. I was staying with old friend Steve Garrett and his wife. Steve and I go back to our youth baseball days. Steve was a pitcher and I was the catcher on the Commercial Babe Ruth team. Yes, a few years have gone by, but a friendship endures. It helps that both of us have literary aspirations.

But my big hopes for the visit centered on my experiences at a local pizza parlor. I had a reading in a back room at Spooky's. It was lined up by a part of the family, Anita (Anthony) Ordway, who thought it was pretty cool that a published author was coming back to his town. I was greeted by old classmates and friends, and other family members. I had two longtime friends, Bob and Darla McConnell, drive up from Madras. I half-expected them to be at one of my Central Oregon readings, but they chose to be here. As soon as I entered the door, I heard a raucous greeting and saw their smiling faces. Good Lord, I thought, I'm home.

I am not going to mention anyone else who attended for fear I forget a name. I read two chapters and took questions from the audience. My old friends asked some great questions, and I enjoyed the give-and-take. Those sessions allow me and the reading audience to expand on topics, and I can at least partly explain the what and why of what I write.

The session stretched for quite awhile, and then I dined with Anita and other relatives. Oh, only The Dalles people will understand this, but I had a Hefty Henry for dinner. This was my favorite sandwich while growing up, and it was available only at a drive-in restaurant. That spot is now a coffee place, but the Hefty Henry has a home at Spooky's. The quality hasn't decreased a bit. It is a warm French roll with loads of ham and a special sauce. Again, I felt like I was home.

I am out of The Dalles in just a couple of hours, but I will treasure this small slice of time together. Those at the reading were linked to me by threads of experiences that spanned the years, and I was linked to them. Hey, we are the kids of The Dalles, and we are proud of our roots. I believe Ludwig would understand that, too.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Bye bye Eugene, hello Central Oregon

Hey, it was tough for me to leave Eugene. It has been my hometown for more years than any other place I've lived. There are great memories, both pleasant and bitter, from my time there. I was a college student there, living a student's life. I was a journalist for 16 years at the Register-Guard, and I worked my butt off to give readers a well-edited, timely edition when they picked up their newspapers in the morning. The digital push was just beginning, so my experience with that was zero.

There were things that softened the blow. I made the drive up the McKenzie River, which is one of the gorgeous trips in America. I went over the pass by Hoodoo and dropped down into Sisters, which is a lovely Western-themed town. Well, it's lovely when the tourists aren't clogging the streets, which was the case as I passed through. I then showed up in Bend, which was my family's hometown from 1981-85. It was a jewel back then, and it has grown and become even more alluring. The Welcome to Bend sign says there are nearly 81,000 residents, and I believe that figure is a tad low.

Bend is a city now. Driving downtown means navigating through slow-moving traffic. I mean lots of stop-and-go traffic. That beautiful little drive by Drake Park moves at a pace a snail could beat. Oh, did I tell you about the roundabouts? Bend has adopted those European traffic devices with a vengeance. Every major street I've driven on features a few of those.

The literary side of my trip gets a couple of nice bumps today and tomorrow. I drive to Prineville today for a 2 p.m. reading and Q-and-A session at The Hub, a nice little bookstore and cafe. I have cousins in the area, and they have been "working the field" and inviting friends and others to my session. Tomorrow (Sunday) I have a 2 p.m. reading at Dudley's Bookshop and Cafe, which is in downtown Bend. I look forward to the ambience at both places. The Hub is a quiet little store, and they have an outdoor area for speakers. I chose that, and I hope that provides shade and comfy places to sit. Dudley's in Bend has an upstairs room with a big couch and lots of chairs someone can sink into. Now that's my type of literary environment.

I am having a blast. More later.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

The amazing story of my new friend Mitch

I needed a place to stay in Eugene, so I contacted my friend Brett Gilchrist, who leads University Fellowship Church in Eugene (the folks who meet in the South Eugene High gym). He put me in touch with a guy named Mitch, who has a house in Creswell. It is one of the best introductions to a truly fine man I've had in my life.

Mitch spent 32 years in prison for armed robbery and a shootout with police. He grew up with an abusive environment, and he turned to people in his native Philadelphia to find mentors. Those mentors were criminals. He ended up in Nevada, got involved with robbing places in South Lake Tahoe, and ended up on the wrong side of bullets from police. He was convicted and started his incarceration. He tried for 25 years to be paroled. For 25 years, his requests were denied, so he stopped trying. There was something that had to change drastically for him to become a free man.

I don't get into faith in God matters on this blog, but I have to with this story. Mitch gave his life to Christ during his prison time, and he asked God to lead him whether it was in a lifetime sentence or a life outside the walls. Mitch made another request for a parole hearing, but he was one of thousands of prisoners asking for the same thing. Only one prisoner received an OK for his case to be heard. That was Mitch. He appeared before the governor, state court justices, and a battery of lawyers and those involved in the criminal justice system. One lawyer argued that Mitch had no business being out of prison, that his violent behavior before his incarceration and in his early prison years disqualified him from the chance to be a free man. The governor thought otherwise, and Mitch was released.

Think about that for a while. He had a 32-year history of having every decision made for him. He had become comfortable in the prison environment. All this new-fangled stuff about technology and such was baffling. He remembered when telephones were mounted on the wall, not carried in a pocket. How would he make a living? The recidivism rate is exceptionally high, and how would he beat the odds? He encountered people like Brett Gilchrist who have a heart for those in prison. Brett and others in the UFC community became Mitch's mentors. Above all, Mitch learned to let go of the old ways, take his hands off the steering wheel and let God lead him where he needs to be.

I spent a long time this morning talking to Mitch about his history, his changes and his hopes for the future. He talked about a possible GoFundMe effort to finance a ministry aimed at those just getting out of prison. He is a man with a good heart. Mitch is honest and articulate, and we have become friends. To put it in simple terms, he's one helluva good guy. He has a standing invitation to stay at our house if he ever travels to Colorado.

Isn't it funny how God uses us, and leads us along paths that we never would travel if we made all the decisions? Mitch learned that, and I'm in the process. Heck, every Christian is in process. We don't have all the answers, but we have the important ones.

So there's my story for Day Three of the publicity tour.

Life is good. Mitch is a friend, and I will pray for him every day in the hope God opens doors to his "fresh out of prison" ministry. He deserves that and much more. I want to see Mitch succeed in a noble cause. He's earned that right.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

A slice of small town life

I am staying in Creswell, which is a wide spot in the road between Eugene and Cottage Grove. It's the kind of place you would expect to find a cafe named Joe's Diner, which is exactly where I ate last night and this morning. It's a farm belt/timber town. People here for the most part work by the sweat  of their brow. None of this hoity-toity Eugene PC vibe for them.

I saw a couple leaving the diner last night, and they are perfect examples of this place. They looked to be in the latter stage of middle age. They got into a truck that wasn't exactly fresh out of the showroom. The paint was faded, and there were dents here and there. Why didn't their vehicle look pristine? It didn't have to. This was a working family's truck, ready for duty on some farm or maybe on a logging road deep in the forest. Typical Creswell kind of place.

I will be stopping in other towns somewhat like Creswell, places like Prineville and The Dalles. I expect to see a few trucks with faded paint, and drivers who don't care that their vehicles look that way. I also will be in Bend, which is upscale, trendy and drop-dead beautiful. I have to use one line about Bend here. One of my favorite sources for articles at The Bulletin was Dr. Tom Carlson, who moved to Central Oregon from Minnesota. When I asked him why he settled on Bend, he said, "it's a small town with swish." I still laugh about that line.

Creswell isn't swish. It's a town of strong shoulders, aching backs and not much for the kids to do. Nice place to visit. It strangely feels a little bit like home.