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.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Newest Good Old Days

"Book 'em, Danno!"
Publicity Still

Copyright © 2010 by Ralph Couey
Written content only

Every generation can identify something that defines them. It could be an event, or an historical benchmark, or the shift of a cultural paradigm that has shaped the environment in which they lived. The Civil War, The Gay ‘90s, The Roaring Twenties, The Great Depression, both World Wars, the Cold War, the list goes on and on.

The generation called the Baby Boomers occupies a unique niche in American cultural history. The Boomers bridged the gap from the post-war 1950’s, through the Space Age and civil rights movement of the 60’s, Viet Nam, and the explosion of the information age. But the one thing that has dominated our lives was the technological development of Television.

Our generation became the beneficiary of what I have come to call “The Instant Age.” For the first time, people had near-instantaneous access to events around the world. Images of coups in small, remote countries flowed to us as easily as did the local weather report. And as antennas gave way to cable and satellite, news became even more accessible. The knowledge about events around the world was just a remote click away.

But television was, at it’s genesis, an entertainment medium. The previous generation, confined to radio, had to use their imagination to invent the images suggested by the programs they heard. But with this new gadget, sound and images flashed in front of us, requiring very little brain work. Yet, the programs provided to us were interesting, even fun. Variety shows, evolved from Vaudeville, were the first successful shows. Then came situation comedies, such as the iconic “I Love Lucy” and hour-long dramas like “Ben Casey” and “Highway Patrol.” As audiences became more sophisticated, the shows evolved in content, color, and special effects. Over the decades, the shows we watched as children have stayed with us, providing the storylines and catchphrases that became the soundtracks and screenplays of our lives.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Scribophile: Learning How to Swim with the Sharks

Copyright © 2010 by Ralph Couey

Freelance writing can be a universe of contradictions. You want a paying gig, but you want to retain your independence. You want a steady stream of projects, but you’d like to work at your pace and schedule. You want people to read your stuff, but you’re terrified of critics. And while you always work to refine your art, you still consider yourself to be the second coming of Hemingway.

It’s a crowded marketplace. There are tens of thousands of freelance opportunities out there, but there are tens of millions of competing hopefuls as well. In a perfect world, our doorsteps would be the battleground as reps from Random House, Harper Collins, and Simon & Schuster engage in fisticuffs over our book rights. But let’s be honest. This is not a perfect world; if it were, there would be no need for writers.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Hell of Haiti

Copyright © 2010 by Ralph Couey

On January 12, 2010, a massive 7.0 earthquake hit the nation of Haiti. As is usually the case in a country with widespread poverty, irresponsible government, and no construction codes, the devastation was widespread, the death toll could be as high as 100,000. The government, barely functional in the best of times, has collapsed, emergency services nonexistent. People were left buried in collapsed buildings with no one but their neighbors to help them. Violence has begun as criminal gangs fight for control over scarce resources. It is, in a word, a mess, one that won’t be cleaned up for months, perhaps years. And the repercussions for Haiti and the rest of the Western Hemisphere will resonate for decades.

But the harsh reality is that the people of Haiti have been living with disaster on a daily basis for decades.

For a very long time, Haiti has been the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. The economy has forever been a basket case. The government, with a history of coups and counter-coups, has been infected with corruption and staffed by people for whom the welfare of their countrymen is an alien concept. There is no health care, except what can be offered by NGOs with very limited resources. HIV has been rampant in the country for as long as anyone can remember. Food is scarce, water always suspect. And if that weren’t bad enough, drug traffickers are using Haiti and the neighboring Dominican Republic as a waypoint for drug shipments between South and North America. The introduction of drug money into this penniless nation has made the corruption problem even worse.

Complacency...And The Choice*

*Johnstown Tribune-Democrat
February 28, 2010
as "Not Going to Waste Third Chance at Life"

Copyright © 2010 by Ralph Couey

It started as an ordinary day. I woke up, got ready for work, ate some breakfast, and headed out for my 30-minute commute to Johnstown. I was looking forward to the weekend and the big motorcycle show in DC.

As I walked up Market Street, I began to feel a dull ache in my chest. I paused briefly at the Vine Street intersection, and the pain faded a bit. I was trying to hold onto the shreds of denialism, but it was becoming difficult. I had to stop twice more, once at Main, and in front of Gallina’s as the pain spread into my shoulders and arms. By then, I had to finally admit to myself that this was no passing malady. The pain was familiar, having experienced it once before.

In the Spring of 2003, I ended up in the hospital with similar chest pains. A heart catheterization opened up and stented two blocked arteries. During the procedure, though, my heart quit and while the team worked feverishly to bring me back, I paid a brief visit to a land of tunnels and white lights.

Now, feeling that familiar sensation again, my discomfort began to turn to fear.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Our "Normal" Winter

Copyright © 2010 by Ralph Couey

It’s a well-known fact of human interaction that if one brings up the weather, a conversation will almost always ensue. Since it is the one element of life we all share equally, it is the perfect icebreaker.

This winter, especially so far, has been the inspiration for a lot of conversations. There have been famous individual storms in history (The Blizzard of ’93, for example) but the bad weather that has rolled across most of the U.S. this time around has been steady and relentless. Literally thousands of low temperature and snowfall records had been set even before the New Year. In the southeast, the entire citrus crop is at risk from temperatures that have plummeted as far as the mid-twenties, sometimes for several days in a row. Colorado Springs, Colorado announced in December that they would no longer be plowing suburbs because they had already run through almost the entire snow removal budget. In the Northern Plains, incessant snow, high winds, and temperatures going as low as 30 below zero Fahrenheit has resulted in a winter that’s beginning to sound like one of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books.

Weather is not climate. Weather happens over a period of days, while climate is measured across hundreds of thousands of years, so to say that this harsh season is proof that the planet is cooling is premature. We did have a very comfortable summer, at times even distinctly chilly. Weather is also cyclical. Here in Pennsylvania’s Laurel Highlands, we’ve enjoyed at least 5 relatively mild winters in a row. Normally, Johnstown receives around 55 inches of snow while Somerset, 30 miles south and 500 feet further up, averages around 100 inches per season, “season” being the operative word. Winter snowfall is measured from December 21 through March 21. But those totals don’t count the snow that, around here, can fall as early as mid-October and as late as mid-May. So even “official” totals can be a bit misleading. The National Weather Service warned us early on that this year we would be enjoying a “normal” winter for the mountains.

Saturday, January 09, 2010


Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
(Photo on hundreds of websites without attribution)

*Johnstown Tribune-Democrat, January 18, 2010
as "America is Strongest When it Stands United"

Copyright © 2010 by Ralph Couey
Written content only

America in 1954 was a segregated nation, and nowhere more oppressive than the south. Years of systematic and institutionalized racism had fueled the anger and frustration among black Americans. The brutal murder of 14-year-old Emmet Till, followed by the astonishing acquittal of the two murderers (who later admitted their guilt), pushed that rage to the breaking point. The Civil Rights Movement in America had begun. All that was required was the right person to provide its unifying national voice.

In 1955, a young charismatic Baptist Pastor in Montgomery, Alabama with a brand-new PhD, led a boycott of that city’s bus system after a courageous woman named Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat to a white man. Through his gift of powerful oratory and his genius for organization, he united blacks and kept them faithfully holding the line for almost a year. With the bus system on the brink of bankruptcy, the city then admitted defeat, vacating the segregation laws.

This was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s first successful action in the struggle to come. Following the bus boycott, he organized the Southern Christian Leadership Council, providing him a strong organization in the south, and through the power of the new medium of television, access to a national audience as well. Over the next 12 years, he became the face and voice for racial justice. No one, either before or since, has galvanized social and political forces in the way he did. In so doing, he forever altered the American cultural, economic, and political landscape.