About Me

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Husband, father, grandfather, friend...a few of the roles acquired in 62 years of living.  I keep an upbeat attitude, loving humor and the singular freedom of a perfect laugh.  I don't let curmudgeons ruin my day; that only gives them power over me.  Having experienced death once, I no longer fear it, although I am still frightened by the process of dying.  I love to write because it allows me the freedom to vent those complex feelings that bounce restlessly off the walls of my mind; and express the beauty that can only be found within the human heart.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Things That Make You Go "Hmmm..."

Graph by Dr. J. Storrs Hall, Foresight Institute

Copyright © 2009 by Ralph Couey
Written content only

I've stayed (mostly) clear of the climate debate on this blog, mainly because opinion on the issue is so politically polarized.  People are yelling at each other, but nobody's listening.  And what's worse, people are utterly unwilling to critically examine the conclusions they spew. 

The release of emails from the CRU and the refusal of other researchers to allow public access to the research and methods underlying their work seems to have revealed a science bureaucracy and a compliant press intent on solely political motives, ignoring the voices of the 31,000 scientists who disagree.  Also, the revelation that the IPCC's findings on global warming came not from the scientific method, but an undergraduate's research paper.  This whole mishmash has, in my mind, called into question the entire basis for the conclusion of Anthropogenically-caused Global Warming (AGW), and its adherents who seem far more intent on destroying the economies of western nations. 

I've looked at data from both sides, but this chart, based on NOAA ice core data showing the temperature history going back some 425,000 years, is too compelling to ignore. 

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

The Battle of Gettysburg

Copyright © 2009 by Ralph Couey

Between July 1 and July 3, 1863, the town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania was the scene of what many historians call the pivotal battle, and the turning point of the Civil War. On this ground, the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia under the command of the legendary Robert E. Lee and the Union Army of the Potomac, under the command of General George Meade, met in a bloody fight, the result of which changed history. After three days of unremitting bloodshed, the two armies quit the field, having lost some 57,000 of their comrades dead, wounded, and missing. It was a battle characterized by bad strategy and stubborn leadership at the top, indescribable heroism in the ranks, and unbelievable luck and timing.

The battle was framed by events in the spring of that year. In May, Union and Confederate forces clashed at Chancellorsville, Virginia. The Confederates, as always, were outnumbered. Nevertheless, Lee divided his smaller force, sending Stonewall Jackson against the Union right flank. The Union 11th Corps under General Oliver Howard had been poorly deployed and were unprepared to meet an attack. The shocking appearance of the large Rebel force resulted in shock that quickly turned to widespread panic. They broke and ran. This attack sealed the victory for Lee. Unfortunately, even though they won the battle, the South lost General Jackson to friendly fire, as he was returning to his lines after reconnoitering the Union position. His eventual death from those wounds deprived Lee of a brilliantly aggressive battlefield commander, a loss that would prove pivotal at Gettysburg two months later.  In a surprising move, Lee appointed J.E.B. Stuart, his brilliant and colorful cavalry commander to take command of Jackson's troops.  Stuart proved his abilities as a professional soldier, performing brilliantly.

In June, Lee embarked on an invasion of the North. The Army of Northern Virginia marched through the Shenandoah Valley, using the Blue Ridge Mountains and Stuart's cavalry to shield their movements. Up to that point, the Union Army had proven to be slow to react and even slower to move. Lee counted on that temporary paralysis to allow him to advance unchallenged. By June 28, Lee’s forces were stretched out on a 55-mile arc from Chambersburg, PA to the outskirts of Harrisburg, the Pennsylvania state capital, a line that roughly follows the modern route of I-81. On that day, however, Lee and his “Old Warhorse” James Longstreet, received information that not only was the Union Army on the move, but were perilously close. Considering his options, Lee looks at a map, and seeing a farm town with a large network of roads, issues orders for his Army to concentrate there. The town was Gettysburg.

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Day of Dilemma

Copyright © 2009 by Ralph Couey

In the weeks prior to last Sunday, I experienced the growing realization that I faced a dilemma of major proportions, trapped between two competing loyalties.

I grew up in the Kansas City area, becoming a Chiefs fan when the team arrived in 1963 from Dallas. I was passionate in my support of the team, remaining loyal even during the crushing poverty the team experienced in the ‘80’s. The Chiefs began winning in the ‘90’s, but it was still annual exasperation and heartbreak as they never made it past the AFC Championship game.

In 2004, I moved to Pennsylvania, where I found myself unable to resist the Pittsburgh Steelers. I suppose it was natural. The Steelers and the Chiefs share some common attributes. Both are family-owned, The Rooneys and the Hunts beloved in their respective communities and supported by a fan base whose passion approaches religiosity at times. Both have a rich history and tradition. But the Steelers have won the Super Bowl twice in the last four years. The Chiefs haven’t even been to the Big Game in forty years. And the last three years have been exquisite agony.

So I am a guy who sports both Black and Gold, and Red and Gold with a clear conscience; you could call me ambi-teamdrous. Up until Sunday, it wasn’t a problem. The two don’t play in the same division, and due to the vagaries of the schedule, there never seemed to be time when I had to root for one against the other. But Sunday changed all that.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Meteorologist Jokes

Copyright © 2009 by Ralph Couey
 And now for something completely eclectic...

How come it never rains inside a barn?
It's a stable atmosphere.

What did the Irish meteorologist name the stream behind his house?
The Mary O'Donnell Flow

What's the wierdest kind of snow?
Lake effect.  Because it can be Erie.

What kind of atmosphere exists in a theater during a chick flick?
A cry-osphere.

What does a meteorologist call the "Man Space" in his house?
The Him-osphere

What do you call a divorce lawyer's office?
The Exosphere.

What do you get if you're too slow in changing a diaper?
The jet stream.

What do meteorologists get after a long night of tacos and bad tequila?
Rear flank downdrafts and backing winds.

What do you call a kid's room?

Why did the meteorologist paint a big blue "L" on his house?
He wanted it to be an area of low pressure.

When is the monsoon?
Before the mon-later.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The First Snow*

*Somerset, PA Daily America, November 30, 2009

Copyright © 2008 by Ralph Couey

The days that populate the time between the last of the fall leaves and that first snow are bland and colorless. Bare-limbed trees stand watch over fields of grass, dead and browned; no flowers bloom. The wind, delightfully cool during October, now blow cold, every breath containing sharp edges. Even on the sunniest of those ever-shortening days, it is a monochrome landscape; a world cast in sepia tones. But, the arrival of that first blanket of snow softens and brightens the world. Dull brown is covered by brilliant white and the earth becomes beautiful.

There’s something marvelously magical and exciting about the first snowfall of the season. You see it first as an occasional white streak on an otherwise dreary day. Then, a few more flutter down, and eventually, the very air becomes alive. The ground turns white and the world is transformed.

Snowfall is curiously hypnotic. Rarely do the flakes fall straight down. They flutter and dance in response to the unseen winds, even moving upwards close to buildings. They seem to reflect the moods of the storms that create them. When the winds are high, the flakes move in urgent angles, seemingly in a hurry to reach some unknown destination. Yet, on calm nights, they drift down softly, even dreamily to land soundlessly on the blanket of white that waits to receive them. Even though they share paths and directions en masse, each individual flake still possesses an independence of movement, unlike their warmer cousins the raindrops which always fall drone-like in straight lines. But, whatever the mood, whatever the pace, I am ever drawn to the window to watch, lost in fascination. It is grace and artistry as only Nature can produce.

The excitement of this event touches us all. For children, the sight of snowfall brings bright anticipation of sledding, snowmen, snowball fights, and the possibility of a precious day of freedom from school. Even adults feel changed. As jaded as we would like to pretend to be, the arrival of snow breaks up the daily routine in the most delightful ways. Our daily commute, having been Xeroxed into dull routine, becomes a challenge, even an adventure. Upon our arrival at work, the very air seems alive with talk of the weather. Everyone has a story to tell. Throughout the day, we sneak glances out the window, gauging the accumulation and wondering silently, perhaps hopefully, if The Boss might cut us loose early. Most times, when the storm ends relatively early, we all feel a bit let down by the return to normality. But once in a while, the snow keeps coming and we are left with a world transformed.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Lunch and the Lunch Thief*

*Waterbury, CT Republican-American, November 18, 2009

Copyright © 2009 by Ralph Couey

Written content only
Like most workplaces, we have a breakroom, within which resides two refrigerators. They are placed there for the benefit of employees who bring lunches that might prove inedible after four hours in a desk drawer. In normal terms, the ‘fridge is one of the last refuges of safety and security. One can breeze through in the morning, drop the plastic discount store bag in an open spot, and proceed to the workstation with that confident feeling that your food is safe and secure.

A bag lunch is, naturally, an investment. You have to get up early enough (or stay up late enough) to make the sandwich, or package the leftovers, adding the bonus apple or thing of yogurt. (If you have a better name for those concave foil-topped plastic contraptions, let me know.)

The point being, time was taken; effort was expended. And when the noon hour arrives, there is a certain level of anticipation, even satisfaction in retrieving and consuming our custom-built repast.

But lurking among us are the lowlifes; the scum of the workplace; those whose own needs trump all others. They usually strike on bad weather days. They had planned to go out, but when visiting the window and seeing the driving rain, the blistering heat, or the biting wind, chose to be cowards to the elements.

These are the lazy; the slovenly; the careless individuals who went to bed too late, blithely assuming they’d have time to make lunch in the morning, only to sleep in just a little too long. This is the person you picture sprinting out the door, tie in one hand, electric razor in the other while doing the hop-along-tie-the-shoe-on-the-run thing, and turns a routine commute into something more suitable for Daytona or Indianapolis.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Flight 93: The Power of Unity*

November 7, 2009: The Dream Becomes Reality
*Johnstown Tribune-Democrat, and National Park Service website (www.nps.gov/flni)
November 12, 2009
as "People Bound By a Cause Can Achieve Great Things"

Copyright © 2009 by Ralph Couey

It was a beautiful day, in many ways reminiscent of another perfect day, an early September morning in 2001. An impromptu speaker’s platform was set up in front of a line of flags, standing stiffly upright in the brisk wind, a familiar feature of this sacred valley. A singular group of people had gathered on this sunny day. It was a crowd whose members numbered among the famous and the mostly incognito. But every person there, despite their evident diversity, shared a common link.

Saturday, November 7, 2009, was a day when a dream ended, and reality began. Construction of the Flight 93 Memorial has officially begun.

For most of the past 8 years, a highly dedicated coalition of people have worked tirelessly, sweating blood as they surmounted innumerable hurdles. Working together, they survived unending frustration and celebrated each hard-won victory. It is an interesting collection of people. A task force and a commission made up of those with political power and personal influence; who possessed the "juice" to get things done. It also included stalwart members of the National Park Service, a few helpful volunteers, and a corps of dedicated Ambassadors, proudly wearing those sky-blue shirts. And at the heart of it all, a collection of families, all linked by a terrible personal tragedy experienced on the canvas of a larger day of Infamy. Together these remarkable people shared a dream; a dream to build a lasting memorial to 40 ordinary people who, in the face of terror and violence, stood together and fought back. On a dark day, they provided a ray of light; the light of unity, of courage, and of sacrifice.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

"On My Honor;" Reflections on a Boy Scout's Life*

*Johnstown Tribune-Democrat, January 31, 2010
as "Boy Scout's Lives Shaped in Honor and Courage"

*Waterbury, CT Republican-American, February 20, 2010

Copyright © 2009 by Ralph Couey

Written content only
In 1909, a publisher from Chicago, W. D. Boyce, on a visit to England, encountered a Boy Scout. As they spoke, the American was deeply impressed by the philosophy which had guided the youngster’s development. Upon his return to America, he incorporated the Boy Scouts of America. It was Deputy Chief Scout Executive George J. Fisher in 1937 who articulated their goal:

"Each generation as it comes to maturity has no more important duty than that of teaching high ideals and proper behavior to the generation which follows."

The BSA’s current mission is "to prepare young people to make ethical and moral choices over their lifetimes by instilling in them the values of the Scout Oath and Law.”
I was a Boy Scout, an Eagle, and a proud one. I remember with great clarity the moment that medal was bestowed. It was the first meaningful thing I‘d done in my life.

Though that moment lies almost 40 years in my past, the important things Scouting taught live within me still.

Monday, October 26, 2009

A Good Time In Vegas Doesn't Have To Be A Gamble


Copyright © 2009 by Ralph Couey

As the plane banked into it's final turn, the wing dipped and revealed below a glittering carpet of lights. Unlike the airborne views of other cities, these lights didn't merely glow; they danced, making the cityscape come alive. A few minutes later, the wheels galumphed onto the runway and the overhead speakers announced: "Welcome to Las Vegas!"
Variously called "Sin City" or "America's Playground," Las Vegas has always seemed to exist in its own continuum. Regardless of events occurring in other places, boom or bust, war or peace, this oasis of neon in the middle of a very dark desert glittered without pause. I suspect that other-worldly quality is one of the reasons Vegas remains today a favored tourist destination. Yet even Vegas has felt the pinch, although you have to look hard to find the signs. Unemployment has soared to over 13%, due mainly to the suspension of the construction of several large developments. Even the entertainment industry has seen jobs dribble away. And yet, even when facing these difficult times, Vegas still manages to flash it's trademark diamond-studded smile.

The Gift of Life

Big, Big Grampa, Little Bitty Baby

Copyright © 2009 by Ralph Couey

For the last seven months or so, we've been caught up in the anticipation attendant to the birth of a grandchild. Our oldest daughter announced the coming event, not with a phone call, but in true 21st century style, via Facebook.

Through the intervening months, she's kept us up to date with her progress. Her husband was medically discharged from the Army and they left North Carolina for California with their car and a U-Haul truck stuffed with their worldly belongings. The pittance the Army advanced them for the trip ran out in Albuquerque, New Mexico, prompting a frantic phone call and some hurried negotiations with Western Union. Despite the hiccup, they eventually reached the Golden State and into the welcoming arms of his family. She made contact with her new doctor, and things looked good.

She went into labor on a Saturday, 10 days early. About 8 hours later, she gave birth to a girl, 4 lbs 9 ozs tiny. Zoe, as she was named, had eating problems initially and spent her first two weeks in the Neonatal ICU. At one point, the doctors called in a geneticist. She ran tests and a week later, dropped a bomb on this young family.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Hibernation and the Motorcycle

Copyright © 2009 by Ralph Couey

The wind blows stiff and cold. The skies are leaden, casting the world in a sort of gloomy semi-darkness. The warm days of summer, and even the sparkling days of fall seem distant. I, like millions of other motorcyclists, stand mute and sad in the garage, having come face to face with that depressing reality. It’s time to put the bike away.

I’ve lived in many places, the last one in Missouri. Winters there mimic the ones here in Pennsylvania temperature-wise, but get far less snowfall. But around here, that first accumulating snow can come as early as mid-October. And once the road crews lay that thick layer of sand, salt, and cinders on the roadways, riding season is officially done. Even on those rare days when the sun shines and the temperatures flirt with the upper 40’s, all that stuff on the pavement renders riding a hazardous undertaking. One of the worst feelings for a rider is to be leaned into a curve and hear that tell-tale zetz as the back wheel slides out from underneath, sending you and the bike skidding wildly across the oncoming lane and into a culvert.

With those dangers in mind, the prudent ones among us go through this annual ritual of hibernating the bike, and the first taste of separation anxiety.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Tool Time*

*Johnstown Tribune-Democrat, March 21, 2010
as "Handy Man in Need of Repair Man"

Copyright © 2009 by Ralph Couey
There are certain expectations that go along with being a man. Most I fulfill with ease. However, where home improvement is concerned, I definitely fall short of the mark.

Most men yearn to build, or at least remodel. There’s something about tools that awakens the primal urges buried deep within our DNA. All of us have experienced the sensuous power of the drill, or the circular saw. For men, standing in front of a fully stocked tool chest is like standing before the gates of Heaven. “I am Man; Watch me Build.”

Traditionally, sons learn from their fathers. This is accomplished by the father hijacking a perfectly good Saturday, and putting the son to work. I was raised by a father who hired repairmen. About the only thing I ever did that even qualified as home improvement was change the furnace filter. So while my contemporaries labored and learned alongside their fathers, I coasted blithely through my life, content to watch my Dad hire contractors and service people.

Friday, September 18, 2009

The Culture of Fear*

Sometimes, you're better off not knowing.
Photo by Thomas P. Peschak.

*Johnstown Tribune-Democrat, May 16, 2010
as "Sane Days and Peaceful Nights"

Copyright © 2009 by Ralph Couey

Last summer over Labor Day, our family went to Washington D.C. to take in the sites. It was warm and humid and we eagerly sought the cool air inside the Smithsonian Natural History Museum. The Smithsonian, or “America’s Attic,” is home to a seemingly infinite number of items, ranging from the historical to the merely curious. In one side gallery dedicated to diamonds, is a heavily fortified clear display case holding the legendary Hope Diamond. This huge 45.5-carat blue gem draws thousands daily, sparkling smugly and seductively behind the thick bullet-proof glass. As people cluster around the case, usually you can hear a woman say wistfully, “Honey, if you really loved me…”

This day was no different. The room was crowded, but despite the close atmosphere, no one seemed to mind. The conversations were muted, the atmosphere was calm.

Then, someone sneezed.

Friday, September 11, 2009

9/11 Anniversary Speech: “Today, We Remember”

Copyright © 2009 by Ralph Couey

“Time is passing. Yet, for the United States of America, there will be no forgetting September the 11th. We will remember every rescuer who died in honor. We will remember every family that lives in grief. We will remember the fire and ash, the last phone calls, the funerals of the children. “
“Now, we have inscribed a new memory alongside those others. It’s a memory of tragedy and shock, of loss and mourning. It’s also a memory of bravery and self-sacrifice, and the love that lays down its life for a friend–even a friend whose name it never knew. “
- President George W. Bush, December 11, 2001

These words, spoken by President Bush, will be echoed by many this day. Nine years ago, in the space of 2 hours, the world was changed; our nation was changed; we were changed. 9/11 has become a watershed event in history, defining two separate worlds – the one before, and the one after. On that day, we were ripped from a world of the safe and familiar and plunged into another world; a world of dark uncertainty; a world dominated by shock, pain, horror…and fear. Our senses at first refused to accept the reality of the images transmitted to us, desperately hoping that the disaster unfolding before our eyes was a Hollywood concoction, or perhaps just a bad dream.

For Americans, the attacks were more than the sum total of damage and loss of life. Collectively, our myth of invincibility, our illusion of invulnerability, our delusion of safety was shattered.

But in the midst of that tragic day, a great light emerged. The darkness was dispelled, illuminating this nation from border to border and sea to sea. We, the people of the United States found our unity. For a few brief, precious moments in time, we stood shoulder to shoulder; arm in arm. We spoke with one voice. We felt with one heart.

And the world stood back in awe.

Today, we remember.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Our Journey; Our Story*

The ending of day, the beginning of night;
A moment in time;
A moment of life.
--R. F. Couey

*Johnstown Tribune-Democrat, October 11, 2009
as"Everyone Has a Story to Tell"

*Ada, OK Evening News, October 11, 2009

Copyright © 2009 by Ralph Couey

Recently, a legend of television journalism passed from this life. In 1968, Don Hewitt created the first “news magazine” for television, calling it “60 Minutes,” forever identified by the iconic image of a ticking pocket watch. 60 Minutes birthed the usual retinue of copycat programs, but none achieved the hard-hitting quality as the original, a power that remains undiminished today, in its 42nd remarkable season.

The stories were often complex and guaranteed to incite the righteous anger of the viewer. But however intricate the tale, Hewitt’s instruction to the producers and the reporters was deceptively simple:

“Tell me a story.”

The history of humanity is a vast collection of tapestries, upon which is recorded the journey we have all traveled, and shared. Some of these tapestries glitter with the light of notoriety and fame. Others hang muted and silent. But no matter how famous or obscure, each human has a story to tell. All these stories have in common triumph and tragedy, events that scale the heights of elation, and plumb the depths of sorrow.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Laura Ingalls and the Lotos Eaters

Laura Ingalls
Photo from her estate collection

Copyright © 2009 by Ralph Couey
Written content only

I grew up a devoted fan of Laura Ingalls Wilder, she of the famous “Little House” books. Those cherished tomes chronicled the nomadic life of her pioneer family in the 1870s and 1880s.

The most remarkable element is the recounting of how hard their life was. Everyone worked, even the children; and not for wages, but for the sake of survival. They endured unbelievable privations, all without the safety net we take for granted.

The work was exhausting; their pleasures simple and few. And yet the family was bound by respect, honor, and love. Parents taught solid lessons of right and wrong, which the children took to heart. They learned from them the honor-bound promise to stand on their own two feet, never living off the hard work of others.

Their life provides a sobering comparison to the standards by which we live. Even the poorest among us live in houses that would have seemed palatial to the Ingalls family. A trip to our local grocery store or food pantry in the middle of winter would have left that pioneer family goggle-eyed. Electricity is delivered to our doorstep, as is water, the freshness and purity guaranteed. And despite our whining about health care, we no longer die from those diseases that ravaged entire towns back then..

Charles worked 160 acres with two horses and a plow. Up before dawn, he broke the ground, plowed the soil, and planted the seeds. He harvested by hand all that he could before the winter closed in. He cut and stacked acres of hay, fed and watered the livestock, and took odd jobs in the nearby towns as they came available, working until it was too dark to see. All by himself.

The Ingalls’ knew the value of education, sending the girls to school, and insisting on their studying hard each night by lamplight.

The Ingalls’ would be shocked at how comparatively easy our lives are. Today, we live in houses and apartments. While they’re not as grand as we would like, they’re mansions compared to anything the Ingalls’ lived in. We don’t have to hunt to survive. We don’t have to chop wood; just turn up the thermostat. We think 8 hours is a long workday, and we complain about working weekends.

But the one thing about our modern life that would likely shock Charles and Caroline Ingalls right down to their toes is our laziness.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Boycott Illegal Drugs!!!

Copyright © 2009 by Ralph Couey

Over the years, people attempting to change things they deem destructive have resorted to the practice known as the boycott.

The most well-known was the boycott of the Birmingham, Alabama bus system after Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white man. It became the focal point for civil rights activists, including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. After a year of nearly-empty busses, the bus company changed the seating policy.

Other examples of successful boycotts include:
• Companies that did business with South Africa during apartheid
• Wal-Mart and Target for allegedly selling the products of sweat shops
• Tuna fisherman for failing to protect dolphins from seining nets
• Agricultural interests for exploiting immigrant labor.

Yet, there exists today an ongoing source of human misery which has been largely ignored.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Motorcycles and the Death Wish

Copyright © 2009 by Ralph Couey

Around my day job, I’ve become a highly-visible practitioner of the motorcycle arts. Hence, when an issue comes up concerning the sport, I become the recipient of many questions. But nothing generates conversation like an accident.

We humans are seemingly riveted by death and destruction. I think a big part of that is our fascination with the amount of destructive potential that exists in the simple act of driving down the road. Also, there is that sense of compassion for those victims who lives have been turned upside down. A motorcycle accident, however, is particularly horrifying.

In July, a motorcyclist was leaving town on a trip to Tennessee. He didn't get very far. As he approached the entrance to a shopping center, a driver turned left in front of him. The pictures in the paper were horrifying. The bike, a big cruiser, had essentially disintegrated; the rider, killed instantly. Over the next week or so, several concerned colleagues, some who had known the deceased, wanted to talk about that tragedy. Dependably, at some point, those conversations would wind around to the question, "Do you ever worry about accidents?"

I do think about accidents; all responsible riders do. In fact, one of the ways to avoid them is to think through the possibilities and plan for those situations. I don't, however, dwell on death. People burdened with that particular obsession have far more serious issues than traffic.With forethought, planning, and a lot of practice, the average motorcyclist can avoid accidents most of the time. Mostly it's the simple things, like...

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Love of a Dog

Copyright © 2009 by Ralph Couey

I've always been a dog person. While we've owned some cats (usually the result of a process of reverse inheritance), I've never been able to warm up to them in quite the same way. While dogs seem to respond to their owners with an uninhibited joy, cats are much more reserved, taking their affections on their terms. And at 54 years old, I have no patience for hard-to-get.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Train Travel*

*Johnstown Tribune-Democrat August 9, 2009
as "A Journey of the Soul"

Copyright © 2009 by Ralph Couey

I was sitting at my desk, contemplating an upcoming business trip to New York City. I was researching flight schedules out of Pittsburgh, adding up the hours I would need to allow, taking into account the drive over, security, and all the folderol I’d have to endure once I got there. My best guess was that this 90-minute flight would take about 8 hours to complete. Yes, I could have flown out of Johnstown to DC, but for two reasons. First off, the seats on those planes are decidedly tiny, whilst I am decidedly not. Plus, I’ve about had my fill of the roller-coaster ride I always seem to get on those flights over the mountains.

As I continued to ponder, my eyes went to the windows where outside, Johnstown lay basking under the bright sunshine of an all-too-rare perfect summer day. My gaze wandered across the rooftops, eventually resting on the train station. It took my brain a moment to make the connection, spawning a novel idea. Why not take the train? Upon researching, I discoverer that the train took about the same time as the convoluted process of flying. And cheaper, after looking at gas and tolls to and from Pittsburgh, a rental car, and parking in Manhattan (up to $50 per day at most hotels). I could catch the train one block from the office, and ride all the way into Penn Station, right near where I needed to be for my meetings. My bosses bought the idea, an easy sell since they tend to err on the side of the parsimonious.

On the appointed day, my wife dropped me off in front of the station, our goodbyes tinged with the sadness of two people grown used to having each other around. We've gone through this several hundred times, and no matter whether I am gone for 6 days or 6 months, those final moments weigh heavily upon us both.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Top Ten Reasons Why a Newspaper is Better Than a Laptop*

*Johnstown Tribune-Democrat, July 7, 2009

Copyright © 2009 by Ralph Couey
Being a child of the Alvin Toffler generation, I'm the first person in line to acknowledge a paradigm shift in our culture. Information technology has exploded, and every newspaper now has an online site. Some have asked why a hard copy version is still necessary.

But, I guess I'm a traditionalist. I love the smell of fresh newsprint in the morning.

So in recognition of our shifting perspectives, and out of respect for the time-tested traditions, I respectfully offer...

Top Ten reasons a newspaper is better than a laptop.

10. You can't fold a laptop to make it easier to hold.

9. You can do crosswords online, but you can't live dangerously and do them in ink.

8. Breakfast just doesn't taste good with silicon. Besides, you get crumbs on the keyboard.

7. You can't cut an article out of a laptop without killing another tree.

6. Newspapers don't need powercords or batteries.

5. With a newspaper, you don't have to worry about losing your wireless signal.

4. Nobody can hack into your bank account through a newspaper.

3. A newspaper won't give you carpal tunnel.

2. Just try to line a birdcage or light a fireplace with a laptop.

And finally...

1. If you spill coffee on a laptop, you have a $1,500 piece of junk.

If you spill coffee on a newspaper, you have...

...a wet newspaper.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Worst Ride

Wall cloud...on steroids. Picture from NOAA

Copyright © 2009 by Ralph Couey

The weather here lately in the Laurel Highlands of Pennsylvania has been a bit of a mixed bag. The geography of the mountains and the proximity of the Great Lakes (Erie in particular) normally generates a fairly wet climate. It's rare, even in the driest part of summer, that we go more than three days without precipitation.

Now, this can make for a frustrating time for motorcyclists. Nobody likes to ride in the rain, but neither do we like to see our machines idle in the garage. Consequently, bikers in this area (at least the more dedicated ones) will bite the bullet from time to time, don the rain gear and hit the road. I've done this on several occasions, sparking some interesting reactions from my colleagues. A few understand the passion, tending to nod knowingly with respect. Most, however, just shake their heads scornfully. This has made for some interesting elevator rides, especially when I step in, still dripping from my ride in.

Once in a while, I get the question, usually from folks motivated to determine exactly how mentally bent and crazy I actually am:

"What's the worst ride you've ever taken?"

Friday, June 26, 2009

What??? You Bought ANOTHER Motorcycle???

Copyright © 2009 by Ralph Couey

My passion for motorcycles has been well-documented on this blog and through the pages of the Johnstown (PA) Tribune-Democrat. Through many posts and columns, I've tried to verbalize the emotions that this activity has stirred in me through the years.

(A partial list, for those who care in indulge...)
"Eternity and the Road"
"Let's Be Careful Out There"
"The Journey"
"Why Do We Ride?"
"Males, Middle Age, and Motorcycles"
"Thinking About a Motorcycle?"
"Deals Gap"
"The Honda PC800 Pacific Coast"
"Snow Day"
"Saying Goodbye..."
"My Lake Superior Adventure"
"A Wild West Ride on a Wyatt Earp Pilgrimage"
"Bikes and Big Ben"

In May, I had an accident on a bike I had owned about a month. While the injuries were painful, they weren't serious enough to dissuade me from buying another one, a purchase completed June 25th.

The reaction among my family and co-workers was universal dismay. Suddenly, I found that all the sympathy and concern accumulated during my recovery evaporated into an orgy of head-shaking befuddlement. One colleague, who had sent me flowers after the accident, declared, "You only get one bunch of flowers from me, kiddo!"

Intellectually, I can well understand their reaction. After all, why would any reasonable human being go back to an activity or situation that resulted in pain and injury?

R.I.P, M. Jackson

Copyright © 2009 by Ralph Couey

Like many others, I was brought up short by the news yesterday that Michael Jackson had died. The suddenness of his passing was surprising, leading me to initially suspect that the bulletin was false, especially since it was passed to the public, not by his family or staff, but by some unnamed internet source. But, within minutes, the news was confirmed.

Tributes began flowing in almost immediately. It seemed that people from all walks of life were touched by his death.

It is almost impossible to overstate Michael Jackson's impact on the music business. Early on, he gained fame as the lead singer for the Jackson Five, the group of singing brothers formed by his hard-driving father. Later on, he went out on his own with his first solo album "Against the Wall." But it was the mega-hit album "Thriller" that elevated him to mythic status. "Thriller" remains today the biggest seller in the history of popular music.

But it wasn't just his music. He was an incredible dancer, astonishing all who watched with his grace and inventiveness. He didn't just use existing moves; he created a whole new genre, patterns which, at times, seemed to make him weightless.

He was also an entreprenuer. I still remember the day it was announced that he had bought the entire Beatles library, before the Fab Four themselves apparently knew it was on the market.

As he grew older, he began to change. His personality turned a corner and wandered off in an unsettling direction. He had repeated plastic surgeries, attempting to re-shape his face into a mirror of his idol, Diana Ross. For a while, he slept in a hyperbaric chamber. And then there were the allegations of child abuse. He was acquitted by a Los Angeles jury of those charges, but as usually happens, even the declaration of innocence failed to remove the shroud of suspicion. It is perhaps a statement of our societal attitude toward that particular crime. For many, the accusation itself was enough to convict him.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Eternity and The Road

Jornada del Muerto, New Mexico

Copyright © 2009 by Ralph Couey

I’ve been a motorcyclist for almost 18 years. I still remember with great clarity the first ride I took on my ’82 Suzuki GS550T. I was nervous and not very smooth, but the sensation of gliding down the road, the wind blowing past my head, the sky open and glorious above, seized my soul with a powerful embrace, a grip that hasn’t loosened in almost two decades.

Most of the miles that lie in my past were expended on commuting. For some odd reason, we’ve always lived at least 30 miles away from wherever I’ve worked. I’m not sure why that has happened, but it did provide the opportunity to turn a mundane act into a little adventure every day. Looking at my fuel logs, I estimate that I’ve put down in excess of 280,000 miles in that span.

Of course, there were the weekend rides, undertaken after I was freed from my chore list. Also, I took a lot of short trips, less than 500 miles, each time stretching the envelope of my experience. Twice, I embarked on even longer trips, a 6-day jaunt to Lake Superior, and the other a 9-day trek through the U.S. southwest, easily one of the most important times of my entire life.

I still peruse maps from time to time, contemplating other journeys. Time is passing and I know that the physical ability to endure such trips will not be with me much longer. So while I ponder the future, I also allow myself to dream.

Simon Says: Understanding The Abrasive Mr. Cowell

Simon Cowell; Image from People Magazine

Copyright © 2009 by Ralph Couey
Written content only

I’ve never been a fan of the talent shows that have proliferated across television. American Idol, So You Think You Can Dance, Britain’s Got Talent, and its Yankee spinoff, America’s Got Talent have all brought home to viewers the process of identifying and testing those with the talent to succeed in the entertainment business. I watched a couple of episodes of Idol before tuning out in disgust. While I understood the aim of the contest, the process, I felt was inordinately cruel to those who presented themselves and failed. It was hard to watch people whose dream had not only crumbled, but then had to endure the harsh words of the judges, in particular a seemingly contemptuous Englishman named Simon Cowell.

Sunday, June 21, 2009


*Johnstown Tribune-Democrat, June 21,2008
as "Thunder Becoming Landmark Event in Motorcycling"

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, June 24, 2010
as "Pittsburgh Rides: Lets Get Ready to Thunder"

Copyright © 2009 by Ralph Couey

If boxing announcer Michael Buffer were going to be in Johnstown, PA on the third weekend in June, he might just use this version of his trademark opening. The expression certainly catches the excitement and anticipation of this annual summer rite and what is rapidly becoming a landmark event in the world of motorcycling. The 2006 version Thunder In The Valley is expected to be the biggest ever, with event organizers anticipating that as many as 200,000 riders will somehow squeeze themselves into the Valley of the Little Conemaugh for four days of sun, fun, chrome, and iron.

200,000 people! Let me try to put that in perspective for you. Imagine if every living soul residing in Orlando, Florida came here for a visit. That’s the kind of numbers we’re talking about. Every hotel room within 40 miles is booked, and has been for a year. Area restaurants, bars, drug stores, gas stations, and retailers are gearing up for this version of the Johnstown Flood— a deluge not of water, but of customers and cash. And the associated sales and use taxes make for a very healthy payday for local city, boro, township, and county governments.

The most remarkable thing about this rally is the smoothly uneventful way it glides through the weekend. There are other places hosting rallies of this type that are compelled to put out a call for assistance to every badge-carrying agency who will listen to deploy uniformed officers in an often vain hope of keeping order and preventing riots. From what I have been able to find out, the local PDs have always handled this crowd with their own resources, not even calling on the State Police for assistance. Part of this is, of course, the efficient way the local gendarmes go about their business. Mainly, however, it is the characteristic of the Thunder faithful, a largely responsible, peaceful, and “adult” crowd whose primary preoccupation is to have a good time within the bounds of good taste and the law. Don’t get me wrong, there are occasional “incidents.” You simply can’t put that many people together without at least some problems. But for a rally of this size, you couldn’t ask for a better-behaved crowd; unless you had the Quakers in for a weekend.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Biker Down!!!

In Pace Requiescat
Kawasaki Vulcan VN900LT

Copyright © 2009 by Ralph Couey

Despite the picture that television and the movies paint, rarely does anyone sense any anticipatory moments before serious events occur. That’s certainly been the pattern in my life. One moment you’re sailing along, immersed in the mundane things that seem to carry us through the day. Then instantly, it all goes sideways. Usually it is some kind of accident that happens, whether in or out of a vehicle. The suddenness and violence by which the event is thrust upon us leaves us dazed and confused.

I’ve certainly had my share of these events in my life and even when recalling them in their lurid detail, I still find myself wondering why I couldn’t get that anticipatory tap on the shoulder.

It was a new motorcycle, well, new to me anyway. I had been bike-less for the better part of two years, as we sorted through some tight financial times. And it was a thing of beauty. Long, low, sleek, just the right amount of chrome, it joined the long line of dream chariots which have shared my garage over the past 17 years. I remember the day we closed the sale and I joyfully rode the bike home from the dealership – taking the long way, of course. The throttle responded to my hand and the bike leaped ahead down the highway, flitting among the sun-dappled shadows. Consciously, I held back. I had never owned a cruiser-type before and I had yet to learn is traits and balance points. Nevertheless, my spirit soared as I rode, the bike’s voice, that guttural roar echoed back from the rocks and trees and spread in my wake, like a noisy contrail. After a couple of hours, I returned home, backing the machine into the garage. Almost reluctantly, I shut the engine down. In the resulting silence, I contemplated with quiet joy a new relationship begun.

For about a month, I rode often on open roads at high speeds and inching along city streets in heavy traffic. I was getting comfortable with the bike, although I would still have an occasional awkward moment. As far as I was concerned, it was the start of a beautiful friendship.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

To My Shipmates: Remarks on the Occasion of a Reunion

Copyright © 2009 by Ralph Couey

I’ve been looking forward to this weekend for some time. I think one of the most memorable events for anyone is that occasion when we have the opportunity to meet with people with whom we’ve shared a special and crucial part of our lives. This is especially true of those who have served the people of the United States as members of the armed forces. Service in the military is a life-changing event. Whether you wear the uniform for one hitch or an entire career, the discipline, the camaraderie, and sense of duty forever marks those who served.

The Navy took us across the globe and in the process, opening our eyes and forever altering our perspective. You can read volumes about other lands, and other cultures. But the personal perspective; the eyewitness experience dwarfs whatever knowledge you could glean from a text. It provides an education in reality no university could ever provide. After an experience like that, nothing looks the same; not even home.

The Navy life is a hard one. The days are long and arduous. The separations from loved ones are difficult and all-too frequent. While that kind of life is hard enough on the sailor, it is even more difficult for the wives and children left behind.

It is often said that the hardest job in the Navy is that of a Navy Wife. For them, the challenges of life must be faced alone, often for months at a time, from the mundane logistics of getting the kids where they need to be, to that long, terrifying—and lonely-night in the emergency room, the pressure is unrelenting. There is never a day off. Ladies, we are awed by your strength and dedication. And we also know that whatever we have accomplished in our lives, we could not have done it without your unfaltering faith and support. Being a Navy Wife requires a special kind of courage; and a love that knows no bounds.

Commencement Address: "Dare to Dream!"

Copyright © 2009 by Ralph Couey

Dr. Brouder, Dean Smith, Dean Randerson, Dean Burchard, Coach Burchard, Director Sheehan, Faculty, students, graduates, alumni, parents, families, and friends. It is an honor and a pleasure to share with you on one of the most important and life-altering days in the lives of the men and women who sit before you. In December of 2000, I, too, sat here, feeling the powerful emotions that all graduates feel on such a day, linked by the common desire for the commencement speaker to stand up, finish up, and sit down.

It may be helpful for you if I share a bit of my educational background. I got my first degree from Regent’s College in Albany, New York. I got my second degree from here, from Columbia College. The third degree I get from my wife on a frequent basis.

It is good to be back in Columbia and I am honored and humbled by the invitation to share this wonderful day with all of you.

I am an Intelligence Analyst, working in the counter-drug community. It is a difficult job, one that challenges me on a daily basis. I study organizations that consist of the most ruthless, amoral, and violent people in human history. I have reviewed volumes of material containing the tragic accounts of human destruction wrought by drug abuse; young lives cut tragically short, not only by the substances themselves, but also by the associated violence.

A few years ago, after a two-year dance with the devil known as crystal methamphetamine, a nephew of mine took his own life. The memory of T.J. is a constant companion; a daily source of inspiration for me. But it’s not just T.J. It’s also the millions of others who are enslaved by addiction, brutally exploited by drug traffickers and dealers, who are the new slave masters. But today, I can, for a time, set aside the grim nature of my work. Today, I can revel in the promise of the future; the promise of hope.

Earlier, I spent some time walking among these graduates. I saw many people with big smiles, glowing faces, and bright, twinkling eyes. I saw people who have decided to have a future, rather than surrendering to the situational prison of the past or the present. Their success should be a beacon for the rest of us. Each one of us has the ability to pursue success; all that is required is the courage to step up. So many of the problems that confront us as individuals, as a community, a culture, a country, could be solved if we would face the mirror, look ourselves dead in the eye and say, “My biggest problem is me; Me, I can fix.”

In a conversation between a DEA Special Agent and a member of the DAS, Colombia’s version of the FBI, the Colombian remarked, “In our lifetimes we only have a few chances to be a hero, but everyday we have a chance to NOT be a coward.”

Speech: "Freedom: America's Greatest Strength"

Copyright © 2007 by Ralph Couey

It is an honor and a privilege to stand before you today. In recent years, we have all seen the negativity and outright hatred directed at our fair republic and perhaps, just perhaps we have felt a little lonely. Today, my spirit is buoyed, as I’m sure yours is, to discover that we are most emphatically NOT alone. Here, we have chosen to stand together; to stand together in our love of this great country; to stand together in our appreciation for the singular gifts of freedom; and to stand together in our unqualified support for those brave souls who have freely chosen to stand guard on the wall between tyranny and liberty.

The fact that we have the right to gather here and speak our minds and hearts is a positive affirmation that here in this land, the heartbeat of democracy beats and beats strongly.

The experiences that have shaped my life have been many and varied. As a child, I traveled extensively throughout this country. Through those journeys, I gained a deep appreciation not only for the awesome physical beauty of this land, but in the tremendous strength of will and character in her people. Later on in life, I spent ten years in uniform with the United States Navy. In that decade of service, my feet touched the soil of some 22 foreign countries. Unlike some others, I didn’t spend that time at the beaches or hotels. I spent the time walking the back roads and barrios of those far-flung places, talking to people and learning first-hand of their lives and their challenges. Through those experiences, I gained a new appreciation for America. For I have seen what happens in places where the people have no voice in government; where the politics of exclusion protected the powerful and victimized the weak.

Everywhere I went, I was always asked the same question: “What is it like to live in America?” I tried very hard to be realistic. It’s not as if I wasn’t proud of my country, but I felt it important that people understand the sometimes harsh realities of life, even in America. I talked about the problems that we had faced in the past and continue to face daily. I spoke of how expensive life in this country is and how hard it was for some of us to make ends meet. I also talked about the inherent opportunities that exist; that anyone with an idea, the desire to dream, and the willingness to work hard could succeed. But regardless of the bleakness of my portrayal, the reaction was universally the same: “I dream of someday living in America.”

Friday, May 29, 2009

Dumber Than a Smart Phone*

My new...thingy.
*Johnstown Tribune-Democrat, September 6, 2009

Copyright © 2009 by Ralph Couey

We are fortunate (or cursed) to live in a time where technology is rapidly forging ahead. What was cutting-edge in January is hopelessly antiquated by June. Our kids, steeped in this exploding environment since birth, swing with the changes with what seems painless facility. We adults, particularly the boomers, find ourselves struggling to understand even the simple stuff. Rare is the parent that hasn’t been rescued from computer hell by a 9-year-old.

For a long time, it was easy to discover the technologically challenged among us, the scarlet letter being the steady blinking of "12:00" on the face of their VCR's. But as the future becomes today, we all risk being left in the dust.

Nowhere has this accelerating complexity manifested itself more than in the cell phone universe.

My wife and I were relative newcomers to the cell revolution, not getting our first phones until 2002. We floated along, safe in the knowledge that our phones didn’t exceed our comprehension.

However, since last fall, we'd been talking off and on about our phones. We could upgrade again with our provider. But frankly, we were ready for a change. Still, we procrastinated until a series of events forced the issue. Cheryl inadvertently left her phone out in the rain, and the phone belonging to Tigger, our youngest daughter, had suffered some kind of blunt force trauma (no explanation offered or sought). Since we would be all together over Memorial Day Weekend, it seemed the best time to make the switch, using my birthday as the excuse.

“Tigger,” (fully recovered from her hit-and-run accident, thanks for asking) went with us, ostensibly to “advise” us on the purchase. I had already decided on a model with a full keyboard, since texting with a regular keypad had become decidedly too slow. Cheryl was ambivalent about any particular model, but with Tigger, the consummate techno-booster at her side, she never really stood a chance.

Friday, April 24, 2009

"Let's Be Careful Out There!"*

*Johnstown Tribune-Democrat, April 28, 2009
as "No One is Exempt From Rules of the Road"

Copyright © 2009 by Ralph Couey

Riding season is upon us. As the weather warms, motorcycles will once again populate the roadways. The responsibility of survival in traffic rests upon the shoulders of both riders and drivers. For the sake of everyone, please read and heed these prudent reminders:

DRIVERS: Motorcycles are small and easily lost in the background of other traffic. Take that extra moment to look carefully before pulling into traffic, particularly when turning left.

RIDERS: Remember the first rule of inattentional blindness: Even if they look directly at you, they may not actually see you. When approaching a possible situation where a driver could pull out in front of you, plan an escape route, if possible. Watch the driver’s eyes and flash your high-beam if there’s any doubt.

DRIVERS: When merging onto a highway or changing lanes, please make the effort to actually turn and look over your shoulder. Don’t rely on that glance in the rearview mirrors. They are small and leave blind spots around your vehicle.

RIDERS: Like you, drivers are human. They have the same propensity for mistakes as you do. In traffic, leave room for the unexpected and you will lessen the risk.

DRIVERS: Don’t tailgate. A fender-bender between cars is an annoyance. The same impact could maim or kill a rider.

RIDERS: Don’t tailgate. Your headlamp could blind a driver by reflecting that light from their rear-view mirror into their eyes. Also, your proximity could unnerve or distract the driver, making the likelihood of a panic stop more likely.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Parents, Kids, and the Nest*

L to R: Niki, Jamie, Robbie, Crystal, Easter 1988

Crystal, Jamie, Robbie, and Nikki, April 2010
A rare moment of joy on the sad day of Baby Zoe's funeral.

*Johnstown Tribune-Democrat, May 8, 2009
as "Moms, Dads Are Never Prepared for Empty Nest"

Copyright © 2009 by Ralph Couey

Adults fill an abundance of roles throughout our lives, but none more exhausting, exasperating, or more rewarding than being “Dad and Mom.”

My wife and I both wanted children, sharing that naïve dream of how easy it would be. Watching our parents, it seemed so easy. They always knew the right answer, always made the correct decision. There was nothing they hands couldn’t create or fix. They came to our games and concerts, making us feel special. And they were always that emotional safe harbor for scraped knees and bruised feelings.

The illusion that we could do as well didn’t last long. Kids are complicated little beings. They are always changing and growing. Being parents means working hard just to keep up. And it was always hard. I was barely an adult myself, trying to be a good example when I wasn’t completely sure what that was. I remember feeling confused and overwhelmed.

And worried. Always worried.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Honor and The Uniform*

Cryptologic Technician Network Chief Robert T. Couey;
Second Generation Chief Petty Officer
Third generation Navy

*Johnstown Tribune-Democrat, May 25, 2009
as "As Soldiers, We Honor Those Who Have Gone Ahead"

Copyright © 2009 by Ralph Couey

Service in the military is a life-changing event. Whether one wears the uniform for one hitch or an entire career, the discipline, and sense of duty forever marks those who served. The veteran’s perspective is broadened, forever altered through the experience of having seen first-hand the unpolished areas of the world. That experience provided an education in reality no university could ever provide.

The military life is a hard one. Every day is an exercise in being pushed to the limits, only to discover far more capability than previously imagined. In meeting those challenges head-on, a person grows in ways that takes years to fully appreciate.

The relationships formed in such a crucible are in many ways the most valuable and enduring. Like steel, the most durable friendships are those formed in the hottest fire. That shared adversity forges links that endure across the decades.

The sign on the door announces a “reunion.” Coming down the hall, an old man, wrinkled and grey, walks with difficulty into a room filled with similarly old, gray, and wrinkled men. Then, their eyes meet. Suddenly, the years fall away. The backs straighten; the faces light up, perhaps there is a tear or two. Instantly, they are all in their 20’s again.

A reunion of veterans is not just a renewal of friendships. It is the all-too-brief visitation of youth. As the memories come flooding back, stories are told and re-told, admittedly with a somewhat carefree application of the truth. Remarkably, even though decades separate their last encounters, they pick up right where they left off, as effortlessly and comfortably as sliding into an old pair of jeans. It is good to see them, their backs straight, their heads held high; glowing with the pride borne out of service and sacrifice.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Circles and Echoes

Mother and daughter

Copyright © 2009 by Ralph Couey

"Even if we never meet or ever see each other again,
we have left our thumbprints in the thick, moist clay of each other's lives."
--Hugh Elliott

We often think about life in terms of a circle. Within that circle are the collection of experiences and characteristics that largely define us. As we move along through time, our circle crosses the boundaries of other circles, representing the interactions we have with others.

Some of our circles travel together for mere moments before moving on; never touching again. Others stay with us for decades. Those are the relationships most precious to us, for they are our trusted friends and those others with whom we share love. They become not only a part of our lives, but also a part of us. When their circle leaves ours, they take a part of us with them. And we are left a little emptier.

Life is a fluid state. Change is, in fact, it’s only stable component. As a result, the number of other circles sharing space with ours changes. When we make physical changes, such as a new school, job, or moving to a new city, we will get a whole new collection of circles. We also endure emotional changes, such as a death, the loss of a friendship or the end of a romance. In those cases, the separation of circles is difficult and painful, especially when we have to see them every day, knowing that they are no longer a part of us.

Yet, even as people leave our circles, they leave an echo of themselves behind. That echo takes up residence in the hope chest of our memories.

Monday, February 23, 2009

"The Future...The Undiscovered Country"*

*Johnstown Tribune-Democrat, March 15, 2009
as "At Crossroad, Hopefully City Takes the Right Path"

Copyright © 2009 by Ralph Couey

I’ve been intrigued how the concept of “the future” is perceived. For some in Johnstown, it seems that the best future would be a return to the past; when the mills were roaring, downtown was buzzing, and everyone was flush. But the world has changed. Johnstown must change along with it.

In 1970, sociologist and futurist Alvin Toffler published a book entitled “Future Shock.” Toffler discussed how the effect of “too much change in too short of a time” leaves a populace suffering from “shattering stress and disorientation.” Humans are resilient to a point, but when the world turns upside down overnight, even the most prepared find themselves reeling.

Johnstown is suffering from a type of Future Shock. The city is historically a blue-collar town. If you didn’t work iron, steel or coal, then your business income depended on those who did. The collapse of those industries left a gaping wound that to this day has not fully healed. The loss of Johnstown’s signature industry has forced the city and its people to redefine themselves.

Through the efforts of the late Congressman John Murtha, several firms have arrived, bringing much-needed jobs. But, prolific he may be, but immortal he is not. Already there are worried whispers about the fate of the area’s economy now that he is gone. One local man told me, “Losing Mr. Murtha will be worse than losing the steel mills.”

It is time to think seriously about the future. If Johnstown wants to be a magnet for economic development, then it must be able to target those businesses that fit in the economy of the 21st century.

Friday, February 20, 2009

A Battle Won*

*Johnstown Tribune-Democrat, February 25, 2009
as "Rest Assured, the Memory of Heroes Will Never Fade"

Copyright © 2009 by Ralph Couey

At long last, the final hurdle remaining for the construction of the permanent memorial to the crew and passengers of United Airlines Flight 93 has been cleared. Agreements have been reached regarding the purchase of the final parcels of land, including the impact site itself, and on Friday, February 20, a public commitment was made to break ground and have the facility completed by the 10th anniversary of the attacks.

Although the announcement was attended by such luminaries as Governor Rendell, and the two United States Senators, the credit for this lies solely and completely with the tireless and dedicated volunteers of the Flight 93 Advisory Commission, the Flight 93 Memorial Task Force, the Families of Flight 93, Joanne Hanley of the National Park Service, and the tough weather-hardened members of the Flight 93 Ambassadors, who have performed magnificently as the faces and voices for the fallen to the hundreds of thousands of visitors to the site.

I have to admit that for awhile, I was worried. The dispute over the land purchase seemed to be hopelessly mired in mutual intransigence. The gap over a fair price per acre remained wide, as neither side budged an inch. Politicians in Washington would toss in a rhetorical bone from time to time, but in their actions seemed to be keeping the issue at an arms length.

Mostly though, I was concerned about the passage of time and the tendency of some Americans toward selective amnesia. Would this thing drag on until public apathy buried the whole idea of a memorial?

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Love Is...

Unknown source from Google Images

Copyright © 2009 by Ralph Couey
Written content only

“Marriage is dead.” Surprised, I looked up from my lunch in response to my acquaintance’s bald statement. “As an institution,” he quickly added.

Swallowing the forkful of salad I had been chewing, I asked, “How so?”

“I think folks realize that for two people who truly love each other, a piece of government paper is worthless. Besides, you know that half of all marriages end in divorce anyway.” He had been going on for some time about the joys of living with his girlfriend and went on to explain how much in love they were and that they were in that somehow magical zone known as a “committed relationship.”

That conversation stayed with me for quite some time. I lost track of them for a few years before meeting again in the aisles of a local Wal-Mart. They were now married, happily so, and I asked them how they were doing. He admitted “it was an adjustment.” Curious, I asked, “How is being married different from living together?”

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Kansas City, Tony Gonzalez...And Fairness*

Making a living the hard way. Photo by Julie Jacobson, Associated Press

*Independence, MO Examiner, February 21, 2009
as "A Favorite Player Deserves the Fans Best Wishes"

Copyright © 2009 by Ralph Couey

In the last year, Tony Gonzalez has become a figure of some controversy. For him, it has been an unusual role, to say the least. For his entire career, the Kansas City Chief’s number 88 has been the NFL version of the good soldier; the battlefield hero. He took to the field in 190 NFL games, turning his competitive fire into a blowtorch, leaving behind the smoking ruins of many a defensive secondary. In nearly all that time, his behavior on and off the field has been beyond reproach. There are several dominant receivers in the league, but when you compare the unmatched professionalism of Gonzalez to characters like Terrell Owens, Randy Moss and Ocho Cinco you cannot help but respect the man.

It’s not just the stats he’s put up, although they are considerable. Consider this:

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Remembering '69

The General at Work in Super Bowl IV. (Photo Kansas City Star, 1970)

Copyright © 2009 by Ralph Couey

“20 seconds…19…18…the game is going to be over. Mike Livingston doesn’t want to play anymore, neither do the Chiefs. They’ve had enough. They want the football. They’re going to blow the clock out. THAT’S IT! CHIEFS ARE THE WORLD CHAMPIONS OF PROFESSIONAL FOOTBALL!”

As historic moments go, it was a spine-tingler. Bill Grigsby, a monument of professional broadcasting in Mid-America, had the honor of counting down the waning seconds of Kansas City’s only Super Bowl victory. And as the seconds ticked away, Chiefs fans in bars, homes, parties, and those lucky enough to be in Tulane Stadium that day unleashed their joy in a tsunami of celebration.

Reflecting back on 1969, it’s amazing how much the game has changed. The offensive line that opened the holes for Garret, Holmes, McVea, and Hayes, enabling that quartet to amass over 2,000 yards of rushing, was considered one of the biggest in professional football. Yet today, they would only be the size of an average linebacker. Our quarterback, at 6-1 and 180 lbs, was considered average in size. Today, a skinny runt like that would likely get the tar beat out of him. Witness the fate of Brodie Croyle.

But despite the vast differences in size and speed between then and now, one thing has never changed.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Surviving Winter's Doldrums*

*Johnstown Tribune-Democrat, January 6, 2010
as "Helpful Hints for Beating Old Man Winter's Blahs"

Copyright © 2009 by Ralph Couey

“We are made to persist. That’s how we find out who we are.”
--Tobias Wolff

The holidays have passed. The lights, color, and giddy excitement are behind us, having joined the substantial collection within the memory vault. Life returns to that state of being we so flippantly describe as “normal.”

Now we face the deepest part of winter. January and February, described as one long 60-day month, is a stretch I’ve come to call “the long, dark tunnel.” The days are short, and the weather’s bad. After the light, color, beauty, and emotional highs of Thanksgiving-Christmas-New Years have faded, it is a time of unimaginative routine; of sheer mundane drudgery unbroken by celebration. Snow has lost its brief romance, and what was once magic and beauty now has us grimly reaching for a shovel. The days shuffle past like a bent old man. The restless energy that had kept us charging at a breakneck pace for two solid months has vanished. We feel drained, flat, devoid of interest.

The hardest moment is taking down the Christmas decorations. For weeks, our homes and lives were brightened by lights and elegant beauty. Now, with the tree down, the draping garlands and the Nativity boxed up and stored away, the house feels curiously empty, as if the movers had come, leaving nothing but blank walls and vacant floors.