Sunday, December 09, 2007

Christmas Blog 2007

On this December evening it is feeling a lot more like Christmas than last year at this time. For us in the Northeast, last year’s early winter was warm and sunny with temperatures in the 50s for the holiday itself. When winter did finally make an appearance, around January 15th, it decided it needed to stick around through late April just to make sure we had enough.

This year we had our first major snowstorm last week with nearly a foot of the white stuff falling here in Augusta. Due to work requirements, I haven’t had time to “get the tree yet,” but the view outside my window is very much the winter wonderland.

I’m kinda hoping this means an early spring.

This year was memorable with reconnections with old friends, long and exciting travel, and sadly the loss of some family members.

The reconnections came in several forms and included some contact with people who I have not seen in over 30 years. Some were college friends who appeared at our Treaty Stone Reunion Concert at St. Francis College in Brooklyn in March. Most looked almost exactly the same albeit a bit more gray or sans hair. We had a wonderful night of song and laughs and lots of promises about keeping in touch. We’ll see.

Then there was a lunch date in September with an old work colleague who was visiting Maine with her son who was looking at colleges here. Despite annual Christmas card exchanges, I don’t think I have seen Pat since her wedding over 20 years ago. We had a great visit and have had several phone calls over the months. In both of these experiences, it is clear that women seem to preserve better than the men.

The last reconnection came with one of those weird Google moments when, after hearing the name of a kid who I knew from summer camp in the early 1970s, I went on a quest to see if I could find information about him on the web. He was one of those bright and talented kids who I figured would be the president of General Motors by now. When I couldn’t find information about him, I tried looking up his younger brother’s name and lo and behold, after a few clicks, I was looking at a photo of middle age man remarkably similar to the 12-year-old I knew so many years ago. We reconnected briefly via e-mail and discovered he’s now the father of two and living in California. Despite the picture evidence, he’ll always be 12 years old in my mind.

Sister Mary required a visit from her big brother this summer and I made the trip into a real adventure by booking passage on the Amtrak and traveled from Augusta to Portland, Oregon in three days. The trip entailed an overnight leg from Boston to Chicago on the Lake Shore Limited and a two day journey from Chicago to Portland on the famous Empire Builder. The Empire Builder passed through some extraordinary country including the upper Mississippi River valley in Wisconsin, the majestic plains of North Dakota and Montana, the spectacular mountains, rivers and lakes of Glacier National Park and ultimately the extraordinary Columbia River gorge with its rich red stone and transitioning climate.

Five days in Portland did not seem enough, but I had a great time visiting my sister and seeing the sites of Portland and the surrounding country side. On the return leg of the journey I was able to stop and visit with cousin Ralph in Chicago and have a wonderful meal that couldn’t be beat.

By the way, a detailed set of blog entries and images documenting the trip can be viewed here in this blog.

The news of the sudden loss of family members came three times this year. We lost a cousin Warren Smith in April and another cousin, Peter Feeney just last month. Both were still young men and I grieve for their families. The most shocking death was that of my brother-in-law Chris Frawley in August. My sister Sigrid is picking up the pieces and doing as well as she can. No one is prepared, or expects these events, but it does bring families closer together and perhaps this is an intended consequence.

And me, I’m fine. No real changes here on the home front; another year older and hopefully, another year wiser.

BTW, I chose the theme of this year’s Christmas card while viewing the annual A Charlie Brown Christmas on TV. I’ve seen the show so many times I can recite almost all the lines from memory.

But despite the scores of viewings, I am always strongly moved by the scene where Linus’ responds to Charlie Brown’s question, “Isn't There Anyone Who Knows What Christmas is All About?” by quoting scripture.

On an American Masters PBS special this fall, Charles M. Schultz was portrayed and some of the backstory of A Charlie Brown Christmas came to light. What was most intriguing was how the network executives didn’t want the scene included in the show. Schulz was reportedly unyielding about keeping the scene in, responding that “If we don't tell the true meaning of Christmas, who will?”

And that’s what Christmas is all about Charlie Brown.

Merry Christmas to you
Go to


Friday, December 07, 2007

The Great Oz Has Spoken.

Over the years, I have been in hundreds of terminals (train, bus, and air) and have often wondered who and where The Voice that makes all the announcement comes from. You know, The Voice is usually one of those distinct, often regionally-accented, tired messengers who alerts you to the arrivals, departures and other important facts. I'm not talking about the The Endless Loop Voice like the one at the airport telling you all cars will be towed. No, this is a real person, in real time, telling you real information.

Well, in Boston's South Station yesterday I actually met The Voice.

She must be one of the busiest people working for Amtrak and in addition to being The Voice, she juggles control of two or three seemingly vital jobs including reviewing various track information by watching over a colorful screen marking the movement of trains in and out of the station. Mind you, she was not controlling these trains, but she was using this information to announce the arrivals as well as the departures. And when someone not on time, she was on the two-way radio giving them the business.

I met The Voice while dutifully waiting to check into the Acela Lounge. I soon learned that I was not qualified to be in the lounge because I had not purchased a First Class ticket. But she was cordial - and fascinating to watch - just the same. Although she didn't offer me a cup of coffee or a nice fresh danish, she did let me stand there long enough for my hands to thaw. She also tried very hard to find out if I was indeed entitled to membership in this exclusive club.

In between the dispatching of the 11:10 Acela to DC and the 11:05 arriving on track 9, she had time (God knows how many hands she had) to call the Amtrak Awards office, punch in my 11 digit account number, file through four or five voice menus and reach the mechanical voice that announced that I only had "400 points." By the look on her face I knew that was probably not enough to get me a free newspaper let alone the coveted danish.

I mentioned that I had traveled cross country on Amtrak last summer and should have had lots of points. She then punched in some more numbers and got a real person on the phone. Two more trains were being dispatched through all this and she read through the script which announced each of the stations along the way without missing a beat. "…with stops in Providence, New Haven, Penn Station New York…" The voice on the other end confirmed I was a loser. I really wanted that danish now.

I took back my $211 business coach Acela ticket and thanked The Voice who was now apologetic. I told her I was glad I had stopped by because I had always wanted to meet the person who was in control of the universe. "It's Oz," she said, her thick Southy accent bending the words almost to the point of being unrecognizable. "They call this place Oz."

Indeed, the Great and Powerful Oz had spoken.