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(Author’s note: I am saddened to report that Randy died on Monday, April 12, 2021, after fighting the good fight. I am so glad that we were able to make this trip to Motown together in September 2019. Seize the moment, right? This story appeared in the Beacher Weekly Newspaper on September 3, 2020. Although I am a confirmed White Sox fan, I hope and pray that the Tigers will win the World Series this year, in Randy’s honor. Fair winds and following seas, my friend.)
Travels with Charley:
A Tale of Taking the Tigers by the Tail
by Charles McKelvy
My friend Randy Lober and I sensed last year that not all would be well with this year’s baseball season.
So we made plans last August to attend a Tigers game in Detroit, in September.
On September 26, 2019 to be precise. That was to be the Tigers’ last home game in quite a while.
Who knew, right?
Well, I guessed Randy and I must have sensed that something like the COVID-19 crisis was going to come along in early 2020 and turn the world upside down, including Major League Baseball.
So we sat down one August 2019 afternoon in Randy’s living room north of Kalamazoo and got the Tigers ticket office on the horn: we lined up a couple of ducats for the Tigers/Twins day game on September 26, 2019. Never mind that the Tigers were ending one of their worst seasons ever. We were going to see some serious baseball, because, after all, they were playing the Minnesota Twins who had earned a playoff berth. We reckoned that the Twins would be playing their back-up players to save their starters for the post season, but we didn’t care.
We just wanted to enjoy the game of baseball on a pleasant September afternoon in the Motor City, and we did. And let me tell you all about it:
Beginning, of course, with our drive over to Randy’s pleasant town on the afternoon of September 25. He lives northwest of Kalamazoo, so we took I-94 to Paw Paw and then plied some of the most pleasant backroads in all of Michigan to reach Casa Randy. We had planned to stay there overnight so Randy and I could get an early start to Detroit on the 26th, and so Mary, his wife, and Natalie could catch up and discuss their many topics of mutual interest, including books and their husbands’ latest antics.
So, we had a restful night with our friends, complete with one of Mary’s famous home-cooked dinners. After a bountiful breakfast the next morning, Randy and and I set out in his Buick Enclave for an afternoon of Major League Baseball in the Motor City.
Randy insisted on driving, and I am glad he did, because I do not enjoy driving in Detroit. But he handled it with ease, and I listened with interest all the way to Detroit as he told me of his service to the nation in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War. Randy enlisted in the army and could have easily gotten orders to serve in Vietnam. But he was ordered instead to serve in Germany, and so he “fought” the Cold War there preparing to face the Red Army in horrific combat.
I, who served stateside in the U.S. Navy Reserve, thanked Randy for his service; I told him he had put himself in harm’s way just as much as if he had taken that long flight to Saigon.
Being men of a certain age, we did have to interrupt our trip down memory lane by exiting the freeway before Comerica Park to make, as we say, “a pit stop.” That put us in a gritty, industrial section of Detroit, and, as we were trying to find our way back to the freeway from our pit stop, we spied a bar featuring “adult entertainment;” we wondered if Mary and Natalie would mind if we stopped there after the game. We decided that was not a great idea, and so we went on with our day which included parking in a garage right across Woodward Avenue from Comerica Park, a pleasant stroll to the old ballpark, and then seating ourselves in the wrong seats, up in the upper deck. At least we thought they were the wrong seats, but the Tigers front office said we didn’t look at the seating chart correctly when placing our phone order. Anyway, they made it right, and we soon settled into great seats on the terrace level, along the first baseline. We foraged for ballpark food before the first pitch, and we both found exactly what we wanted, including a couple of Tigers hats. Yes, I am a lifelong White Sox fan, but I do live in Michigan, and I do root for the Tigers when they’re not playing the White Sox, so—
Well, you get the point, and the point of this story is that Randy and I had a great time at the old ballgame, along with 17,555 other die-hard fans who turned out on a gorgeous fall afternoon to watch the Tigers set the dubious record of tying the 1939 St. Louis Browns for the most home losses (59) during a season in the modern era. The Tigers took an early lead, but they snatched defeat out of the jaws of victory by going down 10-4. But we got to see Miguel Cabrera hit a solid single and try to stretch it into a double until the first base coach stopped him. We figured he said something like: “You’re not that young guy anymore, Miggy.”
Hey, we were a couple of old guys enjoying baseball with other like-minded old guys in our section. We didn’t catch the orange t-shirts they blasted into the stands between innings, but we hit the pro shop before heading for home and were their last customers of the 2019 season. Randy bought himself a smart Tigers golf shirt; I got myself some hot Tigers pajama pants to wear with the orange t-shirt I received as a result of volunteering at a church function in Detroit in 2017.
It was all good, and we had a great ride home, chasing the setting sun along I-94.
I kept saying we had to do a repeat in 2020, but Randy kept saying one doesn’t know what the future will bring.
COVID-19 and the cancellation or postponement of everything, including Major League Baseball in 2020!
At this writing, MLB was just released an abbreviated, 60-game schedule for 2020, but no matter, because Randy and Charley have their memories of a great day at Comerica Park in 2019.
Travels with Charley:
Travel “for friendship”
by Charles McKelvy
Why would some 12,000 Boy Scouts from 108 nations gather in the mountains of northern Idaho from July 31 to August 9, 1967?
Why “for friendship,” of course.
And we who attended 12th World Scout Jamboree at Farragut State Park in the mountainous Idaho panhandle were all for friendship.
Or, as I told the German troop I hosted, Wir versammeln uns hier zur Freundschaft.
I told you last time all about how my Host Corps troop reached the campsite via Great Northern Railway’s legendary Empire Builder.
Now let me tell you of the enduring friendships that were forged at the 12th World Scout Jamboree.
For starters, there were those aforementioned scouts from the Federal Republic of Germany, or West Germany. I was to be their host for the Jamboree, so I greeted them as they arrived at Farragut State Park with a hearty greeting, or, as I said, “mit einem herzlichen Gruss.”
Their bilingual scoutmaster told me to continue with the German because not a one of his scouts spoke English. So I relied heavily on that most useful of all German sentences: Wie sagst du das auf Deutsch?
In other words, how do you say that in German? They were always happy to tell me, and I thus left Idaho in 1967 calling the eagle, der Adler, and jelly donuts, Berliners. I was so immersed in German by August 9, 1967, that I completed entire dreams in German. And, yes, I still occasionally dream in German. And I dream now of that moment when my new friends from Germany broke the existing record for the obstacle course.
It was one tough obstacle course, let me tell you. I know our troop struggled mightily to pull ourselves up a steel embankment with a rope and such like. Not for wimps, but when the German scoutmaster surveyed the course and heard what the record was, he announced that his troop would do better.
And they did. By several minutes, as I recall. Trust me when I tell you that was no easy obstacle course.
So there was that humbling experience, and then an even greater one when we Yanks of Host Corps Troop 57 challenged our neighboring troop, a bunch of Limeys from London, to a spot of that game they insisted on calling football. We knew it simply as soccer and we knew that we were so fit from real American football and baseball and basketball that we could easily cream them at their own game.
Not by a long shot. The Brits were soon handily demolishing us on the pitch, passing the ball past us with nimble feet. Realizing that we were about to start another American Revolution, they suggested we continue the game with blended teams, half-British and half-American. That worked to heal our wounded egos and we had a rollicking good time playing—all right, I’ll say it—football.
And, as a post-jamboree bonus, my family hosted a British scout from a town southeast of London called Swanley. His name was Paul Hills. We took him to a Cubs game, and although he feigned polite interest, he said baseball was no substitute for cricket. Still, one of my high-school friends fell madly in love with him, and Paul did introduce my family to the proper preparation and serving of proper tea. At tea time, or 4 p.m., of course. And no, there was absolutely no place in a civilized home for what he dismissed as “cold tea.” Hey, what were we thinking when we served a proper Englishman iced tea?
As an added bonus, Paul invited me to visit him in Swanley, England, should fortune and fair winds ever send me that way. A friend and I did, in 1971, and Paul and his parents showed us their lovely village. They told us of the London blitz during World War II, and told us the grim fate that awaited downed German airmen, if the enraged citizenry got to them before the army or police. We had proper tea every day at 4, and the Hills even took us into London on the train to see “the cinema.” And what better movie to see in London than the 1969 classic, Anne of a Thousand Days? The film stars Geneviève Bujold in the title role and Richard Burton as Henry VIII of England. Spoiler alert: Anne Boleyn doesn’t keep her head about her.
So, my trip to England to visit the Hills family, as a direct result of the Jamboree, was, as we used to say, all too beautiful.
I also visited a Japanese friend from the Jamboree at his home in Kyoto, in 1969. His father, who has been an officer in the Imperial Army, showed us his samurai sword before hosting us for an unforgettable evening at a geisha house. Trust me, it was all family fare, but I did learn to respect that warm rice wine known the world over as saké. Live and learn, right?
So, yes, the 12th World Scout Jamboree was clearly a gift that has kept on giving. My fondest memory of those golden days in Idaho in 1967 was of the Shabbat I witnessed at the Israeli campsite on a sublime Friday evening in the Idaho mountains.
Mind you, the World Scout Jamboree occurred just weeks after the so-called Six Days War, in which Israel defended itself from coordinated attacks on three fronts.
As a result of Israel’s victory, the Arab nations boycotted the Jamboree.
But Israel mustered one troop, consisting entirely of veterans of that desperate struggle for survival. They were close to us in age, but so, so far beyond in worldly experience. You could see it in their eyes the moment you saw them standing under that flapping blue-on-white flag in the Idaho sunset.
They were hosting Shabbat for the surrounding Jewish community; the faithful were arriving by the busload from points near and far.
The assistant scoutmaster, who had invited me to attend with him, smiled and said: “The Bible is still being written.”
He said that with authority, because, after all, he was a Catholic priest. No sooner had he said that than an older woman alighted from a bus and stopped in her tracks at the sight of those lions of Judah from Israel standing under the flag of Israel. Tears streamed down her face, and, little wonder, because she bore a tattooed number on her forearm. Yes, that marked her as a survivor of the Holocaust.
“Remember this,” the assistant scoutmaster/priest whispered.
“Yes, Father, I will,” I whispered.
And I have.
All because I suited up and showed up at the 12th World Scout Jamboree in Farragut State Park in Idaho in the golden summer of 1967.
(Harbert, Mich.) A storm was coming Thursday afternoon, so I headed down to the lake with Flyboy the cat and Canon the PowerShot SX160 IS camera. When I saw the diffuse light, approaching storm clouds, and placid, silvery sea before me, I wished I had brought brush, water color paint, and paper. But there was no time for that. Only for some power shots with my PowerShot, and then Flyboy and I beat a hasty retreat to home and dashed in the door just before the heavens opened.
For Easter, I rode the full Log Cabin, meaning I rode all of Log Cabin Road from Glendora Road on the north to Warren Woods Road on the south. This without ever leaving lovely Berrien County, Michigan.
We planted our potato crop, two bags full, on Easter Sunday. Now let’s see what happens.
Travel by Great Northern Railway
by Charles McKelvy
“Looks like we’ll travel by train.”
Those were the memorable words of my scoutmaster for the Boy Scout World Jamboree 1967 at Farragut State Park on the shores of Lake Pend Oreille in the Idaho panhandle.
I was 17 that year, and I was so done with boring, old train travel. I was so much the modern jet-setter who could tell the difference between a Boeing 727 and a Boeing 707 at a glance. The distinctive 727, of course, had three aft engines, and the 707 had four, wing-mounted engines. And when I traveled I expected to hop on a 727 or 707 and be in Philadelphia or San Francisco in time for dinner. No more slow-poking across the countryside on some old rattle-trap of a rusted-out train. Train travel was for squares, daddy-oh!
And it sure looked in the spring of ’67 that our “Host Corps” troop of scouts from around the Midwest would—gosh darn it!—have to fly to the World Jamboree due to a threatened railroad-workers strike.
But then the labor dispute was settled, and our scoutmaster, an executive for a major Michigan manufacturer, was happily announcing that we were back to our original plan. We would take the “Great Northern’s greatest train, Empire Builder, from Chicago to Seattle for a side trip and then back to Idaho for the Jamboree.” And then, of course, back to sweet, home Chicago on the Builder.
Our scoutmaster said it was fitting that we should travel in style, because we were specially selected members of the elite Host Corps charged with “hosting” troops from abroad at the Jamboree. By virtue of my two-year struggle with German at Morgan Park High School in Chicago I was assigned to host a troop from West Germany. (Yes, there was also an East Germany back then, but they were commies and thus were not sending troops to the United States.)
“The days of the great passenger trains are numbered,” he said. “So this is a great opportunity for you lads to experience the best of America before you play hosts to visitors to our great land.”
And what better way in which to see our great land, and certainly that great swath between Chicago and Seattle, than aboard Great Northern’s Empire Builder?
None better, I can assure you.
I can assure you that yours truly, and his new Builder buddies, immediately discovered that the best platform for discovering America was in the front seats of the full-length dome lounge.
We staked our claims before the Builder had sped through Hinsdale, Ill., and we were so mesmerized by the unfolding panoramas that we had to be torn away for dinner in the diner and sleep in the sleeping car.
And, wouldn’t you know, but our Builder bound through the most majestic scenery of the entire journey on Sunday morning. Our scoutmaster had reserved the dome lounge for our religious observances, first the Protestant prayer service and then Catholic Mass. My new best friend, Dave Moody, and I stayed for both, claiming that we wanted to be truly ecumenical. All I know is that we were closer to God and to the beauty of His creation as we gazed at the Rockies from our front-row seats.
And, yes, I confessed to my innermost self that I could be both a jet-setter and a choo-choo-cuckoo. Fly when needed, but always opt for a scenic train ride when offered, especially on a legendary liner like the Empire Builder.
Outbound, we took the Builder to Seattle where we “camped” downtown in a hotel and rode the exciting new monorail to the Space Needle. From Seattle we took a day trip by ship to Victoria, British Columbia for a tour of North America’s most English of cities. Alas, we were not properly attired for high tea at the Empress Hotel, but they did allow our band of knobby-kneed Yanks to look in on the proceedings.
On our way back to Seattle we spotted a pod of killer whales, or orcas, and then after another night in a hotel we took the eastbound Builder to Sand Point, Idaho, where we were met by buses for transport to the Jamboree.
So much needs to be said about our life-changing experiences as hosts at the World Jamboree that I am going to save all that for next time. Except to say that I learned more German in those two weeks than I did during those two years in classrooms at Morgan Park. For example, when I greeted my troop from Bavaria, their scoutmaster cheerfully informed me: “They don’t speak a word of English.”
And so I soared like an adler, or eagle.
Also, I will tell you next time of the moving visit some of us made to the Israeli campsite for Shabbat. Mind you, the Jamboree occurred just weeks after the so-called Six Days War in which Israel defended itself from a coordinated attack by Egypt, Jordan, and Syria. All of the Israeli scouts were veterans of that war of survival. But more on that next time.
Now we have to board the eastbound Builder in Sand Point, in the dark, for a brief trip to Glacier National Park. We were warned at Glacier to beware of grizzly bears; I and another scout already knew what to look for because we had accidentally gotten between a momma grizzly and her cubs while hiking up a trail on the far side of Lake Pend Oreille. Don’t ask, and I won’t tell, but, thankfully, I am here to tell you about it, lo, these many years later.
The Great Northern Railway inaugurated the Empire Builder in 1929 to honor company founder James J. Hill and to serve the national park the railroad had lobbied to create. So, of course, the Great Northern served us a delightful day’s worth of Glacier National Park. What was not to like, right?
That night, we caught another specially chartered train that was full of homebound Boy Scouts of America.
Our wise scoutmaster opined that we were riding “a troop train full of troops.”
They fed us cafeteria-style in a galley car that had seen service during World War II, and they deposited us safely, and on-time, at Chicago Union Station, where we departed chanting rugby songs we had learned from a neighboring Australian troop at the Jamboree.
Some 12,000 scouts from 108 nations had built friendship for ten days in the Idaho sun, and we had gotten there in style and comfort on the farthest thing from a rattletrap—the Great Northern Railway’s Empire Builder.