About Me

Pearl City, HI, United States

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Preserving the Community Voice*

Johnstown Tribune-Democrat
July 9, 2010
as "Newspapers in Battle as Technology Age Booms"

Copyright © 2010 by Ralph Couey

A newspaper is many things to the community it serves. First and foremost, it reports the news, chronicling the events that happen daily. Many would understand this task as a paper’s primary role. Historians certainly do. When researching an event or a place, one of their first sources is the local newspaper archives. In the almost 130 years since the famous shootout at the OK Corral in Tombstone, Arizona, the two local newspapers, the Nugget and the Epitaph, were invaluable at untangling the series of events that led to that 30 seconds of gunfire that forever enshrined the sepulchral name of an isolated mining camp.

When I was in my teens, my mother gave me a stack of old newspapers. Eagerly I read headlines about Pearl Harbor, and the battles in North Africa, Europe and the Far East. But of far more interest to me was the recollection of the everyday and the mundane. The price of a home, groceries, and clothes. Announcements of meetings, engagements, weddings. Stories about city council meetings and local political issues. And, of course, the breezy words of the local columnists. These stories painted a clear portrait of community life, allowing me to clearly imagine what it might have been like to live in that time and place.

A newspaper is also a public forum; a virtual speakers circle where editors, pundits, politicians, and just plain folks can air their opinions and passions. Left, right, center, radical and reactionary, all points of view are printed for posterity, fueling the community conversation.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Celebrating Freedom*

*Johnstown Tribune-Democrat
July 4, 2010
as "Freedom, Our Greatest Strength"

Copyright © 2010 by Ralph Couey

Every July 4th, Americans pause to celebrate the day when our forebears declared to the world the intent to become our own nation. It is a day when we lay aside our bitter political divisions and find agreement in our mutual love of the United States of America

In a decade of service with the Navy, I visited some 22 foreign countries. I spent those times walking the back roads and barrios of far-flung places, talking to people and learning about their lives. Everywhere I went, I was always asked: “What is it like to live in America?” I tried very hard to be realistic. I talked about the problems that we face. I spoke of how expensive life is here. But I also talked about the opportunities that exist; how anyone with an idea, the desire to dream, and the willingness to work hard could succeed. The reaction was universally the same: “I dream of someday living in America.”

On a particularly brutal hot day on the dusty streets of Berbera, Somalia, an older man asked me about America. I told him my story, but he insisted that he still dreamed of some day going to America. He said, “Here in my country, I was born ordinary; I have lived ordinary; I will die ordinary. In America, all things are possible. In America, an ordinary man can become a great man. In America, I would never be ordinary.”

Comedian Yakov Smirnov, an √©migr√© from the former Soviet Union, notes that half of the word “American” consists of two other words: “I Can.” It is this determination that marks us; it is this unbreakable faith in ourselves and our courage to risk that truly sets us apart.

America's Birthday; Our Birthday*

*Somerset Daily American
July 3, 2010
as "It's the Birthday of Our Country"

Copyright © 2010 by Ralph Couey
Today is the 234th birthday of the United States of America. On this day in 1776, a courageous group of patriots declared to the world that a new nation was born. They did this in the face of the most powerful nation on earth.

However, the process of forming a government and forging a nation united by one vision was a difficult journey. In the halls of congress, men debated whether we would be a nation of autonomous states, or with a strong central government leading states which would still have clearly defined rights, an argument that really wasn’t settled until the Civil War. On unforgiving fields of battle, blood was shed and men died. For a time, this nascent revolution tottered on the brink of disaster until pulled from that brink by the unbreakable will and inspirational leadership of a gentlemen planter from Virginia named George Washington.

The United States has risen to a globally dominant position. And yet, unlike empires and despots before, enemies who fought us and lost were astonished to discover that America was not only fierce and unbending in battle, but also generous and benevolent in peace.

Friday, June 25, 2010


Copyright © 2010 by Ralph Couey

My family has lived in a lot of places over the years, one 5-year stretch which we spent in Southern California.

Southern California is a geographical euphemism for a 230-mile long by 70-mile wide stretch of prime real estate stretching from Santa Barbara to the Mexican Border. It is a beautiful, if painfully expensive place to live.

We learned quickly is that this region is not stable. The earth moves there on a regular basis, an unsettling experience, to say the least.

Now, I’ve been through thunderstorms, tornados, hurricanes, blizzards, drought, floods, heat waves and cold snaps. I think the only thing left is to be struck by lightning. Knowing this, during a thunderstorm, I find my friends moving away from me with alacrity.

But of all those events, nothing is more unsettling than an earthquake.

We think of the earth beneath our feet as solid and imperturbable. It is, after all, a planet. In addition, while you can take shelter from a storm, an earthquake leaves you no place to hide.

October 1, 1987 dawned bright and lovely in Orange County. We had taken the day off and liberated the kids from school to go to Disneyland. This is something you do to avoid the heavy crowds and long wait lines. We were getting the kids ready to go when it happened.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Biker Down! What Do You Do?*

The end of a perfect ride.

*Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
July 15, 2010
as "Biker Down!  What Do You Do?"

*Johnstown Tribune-Democrat
July 18, 2010
as "Bike Down; Tips to Assist at Scene"

Copyright © 2010 by Ralph Couey
Written material only

It was a beautiful day; bright sunshine and comfortable temperatures. A line of motorcycles stretched out in front of you, thundering along roads dappled in sunlight and leaves. Suddenly, it happened. An oncoming vehicle strays across the centerline. You see a bike swerve to avoid the collision and go down. A shower of sparks flies from the sliding machine as it shreds itself all over the road. Everyone pulls over. People jump off bikes and rush toward their fallen friend. Men are shouting, women screaming; the scene has devolved into chaos. And from over the hill, you hear the unmistakable roar of a coal truck headed your way.

Summertime is the best time for group motorcycle rides. Most times, the rides are smooth and uneventful. But occasionally, it all goes sideways. In those situations, you have to act. But knowing what to do, or just as important, what NOT to do can keep a tragedy from becoming a disaster, and an injured friend from dying.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Why We Ride, the Sequel

Copyright © 2010 by Ralph Couey

There's a horizon out there.

On the far side are places I've never been...
Things I've never seen...
People I've never met...
Experiences I've never had.

All day long I ride to that horizon, freed by the knowledge
that I have nowhere to be,
and all the time in the world to get there.

There is no destination because the ride itself is the adventure.

And yet, I am driven by the desire to go there,
see that,
do that...
feel that;
The urgency of a finite life in which to explore the infinite universe.

I reach out and touch the world, and the world reaches back.

Riding is a timeless exercise that frees the human spirit to soar, unburdened.

Each day is a lifetime unto itself;

And every morning there is a new horizon out there;

Calling to me...

My soul answers;

And in the fresh light of a new day,

Am I reborn to live again.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Sailing Sunderlands and the Power of Dreams*

Abby and Zac Sunderland, from

*Somerset, PA Daily American
June 20, 2010
as "Father's Day and Empowering Dreams"

Copyright © 2010 by Ralph Couey

Any man who’s ever been a Dad to a teenager is familiar with that ultimate moment of fear; the first time your 16-year-old asks for the car keys. The tests have been taken, the license has been awarded. Still, you’re terrified because you know that being a qualified driver is completely different from being an experienced one.

Swallowing hard, you pass over the keys with one last piece of advice: “Be careful.”

For the next few hours, you sweat inwardly, jumping every time the phone rings. The sound of a distant siren brings your lung function to a complete halt. Later on, the car pulls back in the driveway, thankfully intact. Getting the keys back, you chide yourself for your lack of confidence. After all, it was just a trip to the Galleria.

One day in California, a Dad watched his teenager get into a vehicle. Only it wasn’t a car, and this wasn’t a trip to the Mall. 16-year-old Abby Sunderland stood alone in a 40-foot sailboat on her way around the world.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Being a Skeptic*

So far, he's dragged that buck in front of cameras in 17 states.

*Somerset Daily American
June 11, 2010
as "Be a Skeptic"

Copyright © 2010 by Ralph Couey
Written material only

Raymond Tomlinson is a name you may not be familiar with, yet he is responsible for an invention that literally changed the world.

In 1971, while working for a tech company, he was asked to change a program used to exchange messages between users of the same computer into something that would enable messages to be sent via the ARPANET Network Control Protocol. The resulting software became known as “email” and the rest, as they say, is history.

Email has changed communications across the globe. Before, it took letters, stamps, and a sometimes iffy international mail system in order for people to communicate. Now, communication is nearly instantaneous whether your recipient is five feet or five continents away.

Of course, with any good, there’s always bad.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Thunder's Positive Rep Spreads*

*Johnstown Tribune-Democrat
Special Thunder in the Valley section
June 24, 2010
as "Thunder a Template for How Successful Rallies Should Be Run"

Copyright © 2010 by Ralph Couey

For over a hundred years, the valley embracing the city of Johnstown thundered with the sound of steel and iron. Hard times silenced the mills in the ‘80s, but starting in 1998, the valley once again thundered, this time with a different kind of steel and iron.

Thunder in the Valley, or in local shorthand, “Thunder,” began as a modest gathering and has grown into one of the premier motorcycle events in the eastern United States. Attendance at this June event has climbed to over 200,000, quite an accomplishment for a city a tenth of that size. It’s like hosting every man, woman, and child from Richmond, Virginia or Montgomery, Alabama for the weekend. Neighboring towns, like Somerset and Ebensburg, seeing the financial bonanza, have chimed in with their own events, spreading the spirit across two counties.

The benefits to the community have been substantial. Although a full-blown economic impact study has never been done, Lisa Rager, who heads the Thunder team at the Convention and Visitors Bureau, conservatively estimates a payday of $20 to $30 million. That’s a lot of coin to an economically distressed area.

In addition, Johnstown’s profile is raised in the eyes of the visitors, nearly all of whom leave with a very positive impression of the city and her people. Cruising just a few of the plethora of motorcycle lists on the Internet, one finds uniform praise for Thunder, and for Johnstown, flowing from those who have been here.

Thunder in the Valley has been popular for not only attendees but residents as well. Some cities merely endure their rallies. Johnstown embraces ours. The annual incursion is recognized for the economic benefits, and for bringing a few days of color and excitement into the life of the community.

Bikers from across the country have put Johnstown on their summer schedules, even with the country in somewhat less than rosy economic conditions. There are numerous rallies across the country every summer. But what is it about Thunder that makes it such a unique event?

What Year Is It, Anyway?

Copyright © 2010 by Ralph Couey

A writer, even a freelancer, is familiar with language struggles. The on-going effort to articulate life as it happens around us can be tough. I wish I had a nickel for every time I have stopped in mid-sentence as my brain sorted madly through its word files for that elusive perfect term.

The turn of this still-new century presented us with a whole new problem: what to call the year.

For the previous 100 years, it was spoken as “nineteen-something” or shortened to the last two digits. For many who were around at the turn of the previous century, the first ten years were referred to as “ought.” “The Wright Brothers flew their plane in ought three,” I heard older folks say. But that antiquated language has long passed from common usage. At first, we heard those years expressed as “two thousand three,” or “two thousand eight.” There were a few attempts to use the previous convention, as “twenty oh eight.” But the problem with those expressions was their length. Each one was a complicated collection of four syllables, and no matter how hard we tried, we couldn’t get them to roll smoothly off the tongue. This is a tech age. Everything is short-cutted or just converted to an acronym. Even trying to shortcut them left us with attempts like “twenty seven.” So, was that 2007, or 27? We seemed to settle on simply saying “oh eight,” oh nine” finding that to be the easiest to say.