Thursday, February 11, 2010

Good health to Clinton; WCBS blows it

A chill ran down my back as I read a CNN bulletin that former President Bill Clinton was hospitalized with chest pains. I then read the comments on the CNN page.

UPDATE: It turns out he had two stents placed into an artery and he is in good spirits and looking forward to getting back to work. Whew!

The guy will rank as one of our best presidents for any number of reasons. He took the Reagan-Bush deficits and turned them into surpluses. He kept us from going into a stupid war, for a few years at least, until his successor...well, let's not get into that.

Hillary Rodham Clinton, the secretary of state, also is pretty bright, knows how to get things done. I keep hearing second thoughts from people who backed our current president, saying Hillary would have the same bright ideas as Obama, but would not wimp out when it came to pushing them through the Congress.

How is it that a man can have a huge plurality in both houses of Congress but we stalled by a few naysayers. Dear Barack: You need to use that bully pulpit to hit some people over the head. Chinless Mitch McConnell just says no. I guess he's channeling Nancy Reagan.

What is WCBS thinking?

News radio out of New York, WCBS (the only news radio we have in New Haven is WELI, which promos news but delivers none) is offering coupons to reduce the cost of parking one's car in Midtown and the Theater District.

What are they thinking?

The ad has two people talking about coming into New York from the burbs. One says, "Let's take the train." It's cheaper than driving. Not so, says the other person. We can get a break with a coupon from WCBS.

There you go. There aren't enough cars in Manhattan. I thought the whole idea was to promote mass transit so there are fewer cars blocking the streets in Manhattan and getting into stupid accidents because of bad driving or just plain selfishness.

It's bad enough that WCBS spends two minutes of every eight on traffic reports to help people who may well have alternate, cheaper, certainly less polluting sources of transportation into the city. Now, these nitwits are making it easier and cheaper to bring more cars into the city.


Where's all the snow?

I gotta do this. My brother-in-law and his family lived for close to 30 years in Niskayuna, N.Y. Where is that, you may ask. It's near Albany. Near the snow belt.

So, when his wife got a job hundreds of miles south, he sold his house and moved partly to get away from the snow. To Bethesda, Md. Where they have welcomed three feet of snow in the past week.

Sometimes, it just doesn't pay. Anyway, he lives in an apartment and soon will live in a condo, so at least he won't have to shovel.

It happens. My friend Carole Miller, she of the Oregon Ducks, decided she'd had enough of New York winters and moved to North Carolina about 10 years ago. She brought the snow and ice. Or so it seems.

In any case, how about those weather forecasters on television?Brutal Weather Headed Our Way. Not. Schools were canceled. Meetings called off. I originally had two meetings Wednesday: Both were canceled.

So, what happened? The foot of snow turned into three, maybe four inches. With the mid-February sun, all the shoveled sidewalks now are dry. I guess it could be worse; They could have forecasted four inches and we could have gotten the foot. But the way the weather yakkers were carrying on, all the models were converging on us getting whacked this time.

I'm rooting for the jet stream to stay just where it is. Let is snow in Washington. They're used to snowing each other.

Until next time...

Monday, February 1, 2010

Warm memories of the Blizzard of '78

Happy Monday.

I see that at least one TV outlet, local public television, is planning a retrospective on the Blizzard of 1978. I don't know why now. It's not an even anniversary, but the storm started 32 years ago on Feb. 5. Channel 3 insists on calling it Storm Larry, because they name storms. Easier to remember, I guess.

I was there, in the middle of it. Remembering it is pleasant for was a positive experience. It also reflected a bygone era when newspapers gave a damn about covering news and their employees.

My poor wife, pregnant with our second child and stuck home in Moodus with a 2 1/2 year-old doesn't remember it fondly at all.

It was funny afterward but not then...she was out shoveling snow because she thought I was coming home that first night. I was trying to call to tell her I was not coming home for at least two days and probably three. She couldn't hear the phone because she was shoveling. This, remember is before cell phones.

As for me, it was an adventure. Pete Zanardi, a talented sports writer and editor who lived in Chester, used to carpool to work with me. That day, his editor had told him he could stay home, but he drove in anyway with me so I wouldn't have to drive the 50 miles alone. That's a friend! He kept up a steady stream of conversation so I wouldn't think about the disaster that was occurring all around us. He even brought along a pint of brandy just in case we became stuck. More about that later.

So off we drove from Chester picking up Route 9, a four-lane limited access road that would lead us to the Connecticut Turnpike (Route I-95) and New Haven, where we both worked for the late, lamented Journal-Courier morning newspaper.

There was a cleared lane -- that is one that had only a few inches of snow in it, and we soon caught up with the plow that had cleared it and followed it down entrance ramps and up exit ramps. The radio, WELI which, at the time, actually covered news, was saying I-95 was a mess with cars littering the road. Not true. I'm glad we didn't listen. We lost the plow in Old Saybrook, but by then, we were almost at I-95.

So, we drove slowly along the turnpike, stopping to pay the tolls in Madison and Branford. We drove down an entrance ramp to I-91, up a few one-way streets the wrong way and into the newspaper's parking lot. We had made it.

At the time, the New Haven Register and Journal-Courier were at Orange and Audubon streets, now a parking lot.

Inside, it was barely managed chaos. We, who drive 50 miles, were assigned hotel rooms at the Park Plaza and listened to phoned excuses from people who lived 20 blocks away how they didn't dare try to get to work. We all had assignments...mine was signing off on pages as they made their way to the composing room. I was to be the last one out, but everyone waited for me. Nobody from the newsroom was left to their own devices. A few production people had to sleep in a convent that shared the block with the paper. They didn't have a good time.

We put out the paper. There were stories, some the usual stuff, some really bizarre. The funniest was from a photographer -- I can't remember who. Gov. Ella T. Grasso had closed the state highways. It was illegal to drive on them, unless you were piloting an emergency vehicle, but reporters and photographers were out there anyway.

One camera jockey came back laughing so hard he could hardly breathe. He was driving in on the closed I-95 when he approached the Branford tolls. As he slowed, a hand came out of the toll booth. The road was closed but the state still was collecting the quarter tolls.

We put the paper to bed. In the left hand column was a ruler as tall as the news hole -- about 18 inches, with a headline that said "It Snowed This Much." That was the brainchild of Bob Granger, the news editor, a man so beloved because, in spite of a Draconian management style, he never told a lie. Can you imagine: a boss who, if he tried to lie, his tongue would fall out of his head?

Reporters and photographers went out and got remarkable stories and photos. They told the story of the blizzard from macro and close-up perspectives. These people were the best.

Granger was famous for another headline. He had been ordered to juice up the headlines, so, when a man shot five people to death in a West Coast Chinese restaurant, the headline wrote "Chinese Diners Served Hot Lead." The bosses left him alone after that.

Another great head from the J-C. When Felix Frankfurter had to replaced on the Supreme Court, Connecticut Gov. Abraham Ribicoff let it be known he was interested. The headline was "Abe Relishes Frankfurter Role." Those were the days!

Back to the storm.

In order to collect for ads, the paper had to be published, which meant printed and distributed somewhere. We rode the six or seven long blocks to the Park Plaza hotel in delivery trucks, about 10 to a truck. The bottle of brandy rode with us for the two blocks that it lasted.

Speaking of booze, there was a copy boy, it was said, who was given the following order from Managing Editor Bill Guthrie. "Here's $200 cash. Go to the liquor store. If you come back with change, you're fired." Remember, this is 1978 money.

The paper had bought up every hotel room it could. The bosses cared about the reporters, editors, photographers, and the rest. In other papers, people had to sleep on their desks. Not New Haven, Not then anyway.

The delivery truck drivers told us they couldn't stop for fear of becoming stuck in the snow, which was still coming down too fast for plows to keep up. So we lined up, paratrooper style, stand up, stand in the door. We tossed out our bags, tossed out a few packages of papers, and jumped into the snow. No casualties.

On the way through the hotel lobby, we were accosted by businessmen offering obscene amounts of money for our rooms. Nobody even thought twice. Forget it.

We shared rooms, but the party was in the boss' room. One hell of a party. It spilled over into the hallways on the 17th floor. There were stories....if you know Mary O'Leary of the Register, ask her about her night. She was just trying to get some sleep -- she was quite pregnant -- but her roommate had other ideas.

The next day, we slogged our way back to the paper on foot along Church, Elm and Orange streets. We were kicked out of the Park Plaza because the Ice Capades show, which had reserved the second night, showed up. They had driven in from Canada and wondered what all the fuss way about. A foot and a half of snow is a spring day up there.

Anyway, we all transferred to the Howard Johnson's on Long Wharf. The booze, or what was left of it, made it, too. More drinking. Then, on the third day, our cars were plowed out and we drove home, tired.

My wife, by the way, wasn't interested in hearing the stories. She was too tired from shoveling a space in a driveway and keeping it clear so, if I could get home, I would have a place to park.

So, there's the inside scoop about newspapering and the Blizzard of 78. It was good training, because about 15 years later, there was another blizzard in another state and I had to run the paper and make sure the staff was housed properly, which I did. But that's another story.

Until next time...