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.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Circumstance and the Wall Around the Presidency*

Theodore Roosevelt at a camp in Yellowstone. 
Library of Congress

*Somerset, PA Daily American
October 9, 2010
as "Changes in the Presidency"

Copyright © 2010 by Ralph Couey
Written material only

I’ve been reading Edmund Morris’ bio of Theodore Roosevelt, covering his Presidential years between 1901 and 1909.

To say he was a vigorous man is to engage in understatement. He led “Rough Riders” during the Spanish-American War, winning a legendary victory on Cuba’s San Juan Hill. As New York City Police Commissioner, he single-handedly cleaned up the notoriously corrupt NYPD.

As President, he championed the Panama Canal, which fundamentally re-shaped the Western Hemisphere. Using the Navy’s “Great White Fleet, he took America onto the global stage, demonstrating our ability and resolve to defend our overseas economic and political interests.

He undertook explorations of the American west by horseback. Visitors were warned to “wear your worst clothes” in preparation for hikes up mountains and through gorges. He took an annual winter skinny-dip in the Potomac, and practiced sparring. There are pictures of him walking the streets of Washington in the mornings, accompanied by one or two friends. And there are stories of him racing his horse up those same streets with reckless abandon and a shouted “Ki-Yi!” Under his leadership and irrepressible spirit, the nation surged into an era marked by confidence and prosperity. Though a conservative Republican, he gave birth to “The Progressive Era,” championing conservation and the establishment of America’s National Parks. Booker T. Washington made one of the first African-American official visits to the White House.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Floods and Citizens*

*Johnstown, PA Tribune-Democrat
May 27, 2010
as "Water Tried to Put City Down, But Human Spirit Buoyed Us"

Copyright © 2010 by Ralph Couey

Monday, May 31, is Memorial Day, set aside after the Civil War to honor America’s war dead. It’s also the holiday weekend that marks the “official” start of the summer holidays.

But for the people here in Johnstown, the day marks an event that is far more personal.

In 1889, after two days of torrential rain, a poorly maintained earthen dam in the Laurel Mountains gave way. Some 20 million tons of water roared down a twisting series of gorges for some 14 miles before exploding on the city of Johnstown. The town was almost completely destroyed and 2,209 people perished.

These are familiar facts to those who live here. For others, it is history. But for Johnstowners, these are memories.

This was not the only water-borne disaster. March 17, 1936, after another long torrential downpour, the city flooded again. 24 people died that day. And on July 20, 1977, the skies opened yet again, and another dam collapsed. This time, 85 were lost. The damage totals, corrected for inflation are staggering. The $17 million in 1889 becomes $414 million in 2010. The 1936 total of $41 million explodes to $649 million today. And even as recent as 1977, that $300 million would be $1.07 billion if the flood happened today. If you add those figures up, floods in Johnstown have racked up a total of over $2.1 billion in damages.

The Field of Dreams of Fathers and Sons*

Father and Son
Universal Studios publicity still

*Somerset Daily American
June 27, 2010
as "More Than a Movie"

Copyright © 2010 by Ralph Couey
Written material only

A colleague and I were sharing some breakroom chat when he dropped a minor bombshell.

“Did you hear that the Field of Dreams is up for sale?”

I’m sure there are a lot of guys who shared my wildly irrational thought of whether I could somehow afford the $5.4 million asking price.

The history of the field outside of Dyersville, Iowa has not been without controversy. It was built by the movie studio on land owned by two neighboring families. The Lansings owned the infield, right field, and the adjacent house, while the Ameskamps owned left and center fields. For years the two families ran competing enterprises until 2007 when Rita Ameskamp sold her share to the Lansings. But even the supernatural forces of Shoeless Joe and the White Sox couldn’t shield this pop culture shrine from hard economic realities. Thus, on May 13, 2010, the Lansings announced that the field was on the market. In one unusual twist, the listing agent for the property is Ken Sanders, who spent 12 years in The Show as a relief pitcher for the Brewers and the A’s.

In America, baseball fields scattered across the landscape, as common a sight as the grass that covers them. But of all the fields in all the parks in all the land, there’s something very unique and special about this one.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Be Happy...for once!*

*Somerset, PA Daily American
June 6, 2010
as "How Are You?"

Copyright © 2010 by Ralph Couey

It happens a hundred times each day.

“How’re you doing?”


And the conversation dies. On the other hand…

“How’re you doing?”

“Not good.”

“What’s wrong?”

And things are off and running. An opener like that can keep two people engaged from a few minutes to several hours. Part of that is related to that unfortunate part of our psyches that seems to be fascinated by bad news. It drives us to “dish the dirt” on each other, and in that process passing judgment like a caffeinated Solomon. Most of the time, we feel motivated by an empathetic concern for another person’s welfare. Sometimes, however, it is a way for us to not think about our own situation and feel grateful that someone else is worse off than we are.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Gushing Over Galloways*

Belted Galloway
From Golden Howe Farms, UK

*Johnstown Tribune-Democrat
June 13, 2010
as "Co-Worker Giddy Over Galloways"

Copyright © 2010 by Ralph Couey
Written material only

I am a pet person. Like so many others, I have come to enjoy having that cute little furball around the house to greet me excitedly at the door, take me for walks around the neighborhood, and lie quietly beside me as we both gaze hypnotically into the flames of a warm fireplace on a cold winter’s eve. I’ve heard that people with all manner of initials after their names have said that it’s good for humans to have something to take care of because it draws us out of our self-protective shell as well as helping to make us feel needed.

Most of us have settled on dogs and cats, although birds, snakes, gerbils, and iguanas are among the list of creatures we have adopted into our homes and taken into our hearts. Occasionally, you hear of someone who has something creepy like a tarantula, or something scary like a lion, but for the most part, pet people are normal humans.

But last month I realized just how far afield this pet thing can go.

One morning, a co-worker be-bopped into work. She was smiling and laughing, coming close to actually dancing an Irish jig. For a few brief moments, I thought she had won the lottery. But unbidden, she exclaimed, “We got ‘em!”

Monday, May 03, 2010

The Evolution of a Motorcyclist

Copyright © 2010 by Ralph Couey

Like most other endeavors, motorcycle riding involves a sort of evolutionary track for the rider. From the day we first mount up and through the years and decades to follow, each ride is a learning experience, accumulating skills and experience and constantly becoming more proficient.

My first motorcycle was a 1981 Suzuki GS 550T, a relatively small naked standard. I learned a lot on this bike, like how to execute a climbing right hand turn from a dead stop, how to maneuver around a sofa and cushions that had flown off a flatbed trailer in front of me, and what to do when riding into a fogbank at night and having your windshield, faceshield, and then glasses cloud up leaving for visibility only that small gap between the edge of my glasses and my cheekbone available to find the solid white line that marked the edge of the shoulder, and safety.

On that bike, I fell over several times (a common occurrence for newbies), doing slight damage to the machine, but incalculable wreckage to my ego. I learned how important it was to be on a first-name-basis with the closest motorcycle salvage yard.

Most importantly, this was the bike I took to the MSF Rider Safety Course. That was a real eye-opener. I learned a ton that weekend, and I wasn’t the only one. On graduation day, a grizzled old guy got up and said that he had taken the course to reduce his insurance rates. But, he said, “I learned (stuff) this weekend that I haven’t learned in 25 years of riding.” That was all the endorsement I needed.