Season-ending selfie

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Blazermaniacs: Deborah and George during the first half. Smiles went away during second half.

You can stick a fork in the Trail Blazers now. After last night’s gut-wrenching loss to the titanic Golden State Warriors, my favorite basketball team is one loss away from having its season come to an official end.

That should happen Monday night when the Warriors seek to put the finishing touch on a 4-to-0 playoff sweep of the home team.

On Saturday, I went with my friend, Deborah Heath, to see Game 3 of this Round 1 matchup between the Blazers and the Warriors, the defending Western Conference champions.

The Blazers played beautifully in the first half, inspired by the presence of their injured big man, Josuf Nurkic, and brilliant play by their star guards, Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. Deborah and I wore giddy smiles as the Blazers took a 67-54 halftime lead.

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A fellow fan shows her support of the Blazers’ new center, a 7-footer from Bosnia who’s only 22 years old.

Unfortunately, Golden State is loaded with talent and the visitors came back to steal a clutch 119-113 win that tore the hearts out of the Blazers and their fans. So much for those halftime smiles.

The loss meant that I went winless as a spectactor. Yep, all six games that I attended this season ended in a loss.

LA Clippers. Dallas. Golden State. Boston. Washington. Golden State, again.

What a contrast to last year when every game I saw produced a win and a shower of confetti. I didn’t expect a repeat of last season but even one win — especially last night, when the stakes were higher — would have been nice.

Predictions: No. 1, Golden State is going to win it all this year. And why shouldn’t they with four All-Stars on their team? No. 2, if Nurkic is healthy next season, watch out for the Blazers.

Live from Portland!

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A Washington, D.C., crowd settles in for a performance of Pop-Up Magazine. (Photo by Jon Snyder. Courtesy: Pop Up Magazine)

As much as I enjoy books and movies, there’s something special about seeing a story come to life in real time, right in front of your eyes.

Twice in recent weeks I was able to take in a live performance. And both experiences left me wishing I had the time and budget for more.

Three weeks ago, I went with a friend to see a touring show called Pop-Up Magazine. It was exactly as advertised — a live version of traditional magazine content, presented in Portland by the authors themselves as part of a five-city winter tour.

A week earlier, Lori and I went to see a play performed in a spare, intimate space by a cast of two. The story revolves around a Latino teenager who leaves home to get away from his homophobic father and encounters another boy at a LGBT homeless shelter, sparking an unexpected relationship.

In both cases, the motivation to buy tickets came from the Media Literacy class I’ve been teaching at Portland State. I’ve encouraged my students to broaden their media consumption beyond favorite websites and social media feeds — and many of them have done just that. So it seemed only fair that I should do the same. Much to my delight, two shows popped up at the same time on my calendar.

The Pop-Up Magazine provided an opportunity to finally see a show at Revolution Hall, a renovated space that once was the auditorium at now-closed Washington High School.

Meanwhile, the two-man play gave me a chance to get reacquainted with Teatro Milagro (Miracle Theater), a company that’s been producing bilingual works for more than 30 years in Southeast Portland.

***

Teatro Milagro was part of a date night.

Lori and I had a light dinner during happy hour at a neighborhood restaurant, then motored over to the theater. We had plenty of time so we checked out a nearby place called Lantern, which bills itself as a French Vietnamese cocktail bar.  Nice!

Back at the theater, it was closing night of “Swimming While Drowning,” written by playwright Emilio Rodriguez and directed by Francisco Garcia. A small but appreciative crowd got into the story of teenagers Angelo (Michel Castillo) and Mila (Blake Stone), both estranged from their families and seeking a way forward.

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Original postcard artwork for “Swimming While Drowning”

What follows is a coming-of-age story, with touches of humor, romance, spoken word poetry and self-revelation. It always amazes me how a static set and minimal props, combined with skilled acting and the willingness to suspend disbelief, can all add up to a captivating story brought to life.

Pop-Up Magazine was, by contrast, a much larger production in a much larger space.

My friend David Quisenberry joined me on a Tuesday night as we caught the one and only Portland performance of 11 pieces billed as “A night filled with bald eagles, bad grades, blind dates” and more. The evening showcased the work of journalists, filmmakers, photographers, poets and other storytellers.

Instead of flipping through the pages of a magazine, you had these storytellers coming out solo or in pairs to read their work aloud, often with blown-up photos or videos above and behind them. The effect, for me, was one of authenticity.

Who better to deliver a tongue-in-cheek essay about one’s unattractive facial features than the owner of that “Picasso-esque” face? Who better to testify to the annoying presence of bald eagles in a remote Alaskan fishing port — where the locals refer to our majestic national symbol as “Dutch Harbor pigeons” — than the writer and photographer who spent some time up there on a reporting trip?

(Click on images to view details and captions)

In a review for PBS NewsHour, Elizabeth Frock explained Pop-Up’s genesis:

The magazine began in 2009 in San Francisco as a sort of experiment. Could a series of shows, structured like a magazine and performed live by journalists, pack performance halls across the country?

It turns out it could. It’s filled auditoriums and theaters in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York, among other places. A physical magazine, California Sunday, has also grown out of the show.

Read the article here: How a pop-up magazine experiment is turning journalism into performance art

There was an added incentive for me to catch this March 7 show. One of the performers was Kelley L. Carter, a senior writer at ESPN whom I’ve known since we met on the recruiting trail in the ’90s. She was a promising journalism student at Michigan State and I was representing The Oregonian when our paths crossed at the Spirit of Diversity job fair in Detroit.

Kelley did a powerful piece entitled “1991” —  a year that she contended was both the best and worst year ever for black America.

I got a chance for a quick hug and hello after the show. Kelley, after all, had flown into Portland that day and was operating on East Coast time, so I knew her energy was flagging. Still, it was fun to see her and also offer congratulations to a couple other performers who happened by.

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After the show with Kelley L. Carter

The next morning, I gushed about this novel way of multimedia storytelling. Where my boomer generation grew up primarily with two-dimensional media (print, TV and radio), today’s college students and other consumers, for that matter, are blessed with an abundance of video and interactive material on digital platforms. And now this — live storytelling presented within a journalistic framework. Genius.

Back to PBS’ Frock for a final insight:

It’s important to note that Pop Up Magazine is gaining ground as most national magazines are struggling for readers, forced to slash newsstand prices or shut down all together. But in many ways it seemed that it wasn’t just format of the night that made the magazine something special, but the quality of the stories it put out. Almost every performance was carefully-structured, deeply reported and, in some way, surprising.

Can’t wait until this tour comes through again.

Taking a break from bowling

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Good times on Monday nights. The fab four from left: Mike (Spud) Slama, George (The Professor) Rede, Joel (The Dude) Odom and Brian (El Chapo) Wartell.

They say all good things must come to an end. Even bowling.

After seven years in a Monday night beer league, I’m zipping up my bowling bag and putting my shoes and ball away for the next few months. Now that I’m teaching three classes on two college campuses, I’m going to need every available night during the week to keep on top of all of it: lectures, readings, exams, student work, emails, etc.

It’s been all fun since this Monday night activity got started in January 2010. I’ve bowled with a changing cast of friends and co-workers who’ve come and gone due to work and personal commitments.

We’ve bowled at two venues — the venerable Hollywood Bowl (now a hardware store) and AMF Pro 300.

We’ve bowled under five different names — Broken Taco Shells, Steamin’ Chalupas, The Cheeseheads (when I was the only guy with three women who were Green Bay Packers fans), the Mediaocracies (when my teammates were primarily former colleagues from The Oregonian/OregonLive) and, most recently, Bowling 4 Goats.

A teammate came up with the latter name during a Happy Hour brainstorming session. Silly? Of course. Why goats? Why not? Portland is one of those places known for urban chickens and urban goats – and, in fact, even has a resident herd, The Belmont Goats, with their own Facebook page and Instagram account.

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Portland’s own Belmont Goats.

We’ve bowled well (league champs one season) and we’ve bowled poorly (last-place finish another season).

Through it all, the weekly routine has provided a place to unwind. A place to celebrate strikes and spares, and to shrug off life’s gutter balls. A place to talk about work, family, books, sports, movies, music, travel, politics and (this being Portland) food — all while socializing with average joes and jills from all walks of life.

Last night, my teammates and I celebrated the end of our fall 2016 season. Out of 19 teams, we finished in third place with a record of 42 wins and 22 losses, 3 games behind the first-place team. I averaged 151 for the season –which was a personal best and one pin above my goal..

As before, we celebrated at Tilt, home of the biggest and baddest burgers in town.

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Clockwise from left: George, Mike, Joel and Brian raise a toast to Bowling 4 Goats.

I told my teammates I was dropping out temporarily and hoped to rejoin them next summer or fall. Until then, thanks to my bowling buddies — Brian, Joel and Mike and so many more — for the memories of the past seven years.

Photo montage: The Belmont Goats

Sounds of the season

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Members of the Portland Intergenerational Choir perform at Pacifica Calaroga Terrace.

Monday nights usually find me at the bowling alley, sipping on a cold beer and enjoying the company of my teammates. Last night, I departed from that routine and instead found myself in the chapel of an assisted living facility.

The reason?

Lori and I went to see our daughter, Simone, perform Christmas carols and other songs as part of the Portland Intergenerational Women’s Choir. With choir members ranging in age from 10 to 80 years old, it was a musical and visual experience that lifted our spirits. Just the kind of thing to put us in a proper mood for the hectic holidays to come.

It was charming to see about 30 women of all ages gathered together to sing all the traditional songs (“Silent Night,” “Deck The Halls,” and more) as well as the 1961 classic “Stand By Me.” Five preteen girls stood next to each other, one row above four older ladies seated in chairs. All around them were women in their 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, etc. In the back row, a 1-year-old named Edith bobbed and bounced on the shoulders of her young mother.

All were singing with abandon, with more joy than technique. But that was the appealing thing. And I don’t think I’m being too hokey saying their happiness radiated into the audience of about 50, many of them residents of the facility who came with walkers and wheelchairs. Three choir members, in fact, live there in the high-rise retirement community known as Pacifica Calaroga Terrace.

***

Simone has always loved singing. Since middle school, she’s been a part of one choir or another, performing around the metro area and even touring internationally with the Portland Symphonic Girlchoir and the Grant High School Royal Blues.

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Choir director Crystal Akins urges the audience to sing along.

She was excited to invite us to her latest group, a choral residency choir that teams up with nursing and assisted living homes to provide weekly on-site rehearsals to residents and community members.

The director is Crystal Akins, a cheerful and energetic woman who sang with Simone back in her Girl Choir days. Crystal leads multiple choirs, including one serving inmates at a women’s prison in Wilsonville and another serving homeless youth in Beaverton.

Talk about walking the walk.

***

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A post-concert photo of two lovelies: Lori and Simone

Though the concert was upbeat, there was a touch of melancholy associated with the venue.

Calaroga Terrace, a mile from our home, is where Lori’s mother lived in the final years of her life after she had moved up from San Francisco to be closer to us and other family members. Virginia, a devout Catholic, would attend services in the chapel where the concert was held. She died 11 years ago and neither Lori nor I had been there since.

We’re not sure if Virginia would have joined the choir had it been an option. But we’re certain she would have loved seeing her granddaughter sing — and no doubt would have joined in on the Christmas carols.

The talented Liz Longley

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Liz Longley: Five CDs and still in her 20s.

I’d circled Nov. 29 on my calendar several weeks ago, waiting patiently for the return of singer-songwriter Liz Longley to perform live in Portland.

The date finally arrived and I was delighted to be part of a small but appreciative crowd that showed up at the Alberta Rose Theater for a Tuesday night concert. (Lori doesn’t attend midweek concerts owing to her early-bird hours as a personal trainer.)

Liz is most likely under the radar for most people. But no matter. I think she’s equally talented as a lyricist and a performer, toggling back and forth between acoustic guitar and piano and singing with delicacy or verve, depending on the song.

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Liz Longley performs Nov. 29, 2016, at the Alberta Rose Theater in Portland, Oregon.

My longtime friend, Mike Granberry, is the one who first told me about Liz. He’s a music critic for The Dallas Morning News and sees plenty of acts come through that city.

I checked her out at a May 2015 show at Mississippi Studios and was suitably impressed. She was touring then in support of her self-titled CD, her first since relocating from Philadelphia to Nashville.

This is the first track from that album:

Last night Liz played several songs from her newest album, “Weightless” and made sure to perform a few older favorites, including “Camaro” and “Bad Habit” — both songs about ex-boyfriends — and “Unraveling,” a ballad about her grandmother’s battle with dementia.

She was joined on stage by Brian Dunne, a classmate from the renowned Berklee College of Music in Boston, who performed a solo set and then came back for a few songs with Liz.

***

Tuesday was my first time at the Alberta Rose Theater, a renovated movie theater in Northeast Portland known for presenting live music, comedy and vaudeville. It’s an intimate space with general admission seating and a bar serving beer, wine and snacks.

I was four rows from the stage, maybe 30 to 40 feet away, so I had a great view. After the hour-long concert, Liz came out to the foyer to meet with fans, pose for photos, and sell her merchandise. She’s released five CDs and she’s still in her 20s.

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A selfie after the show with Liz.

As I approached after a short wait, Liz stopped me in my tracks and said, “Wait, I know you.”

“You have a great memory” I said. “I’m Granberry’s friend. I saw you at Mississippi Studios.”

“Oh, yeahhh!” she said with a smile. “I remember that show.”

***

Liz performed in Dallas in October and, according to my friend Mike, put on a great show. You can read his review right here.

An excerpt: “Bad Habit” chronicles her failed relationship with a chain smoker: “The night we first kissed/on the balcony alone/Well, he tasted like trouble/But he felt like my own bad habit.”

Tuesday night was the first date on Liz’s West Coast leg of her national “Weightless” tour, which began in mid-September. She performs tonight in Seattle and finishes up in southern California on Dec. 10.

I’ll be keeping an eye out for her next visit to Portland.With any luck, it’ll be a weekend show and Lori can join me. And maybe by then, Liz Longley will be a better known name.

A legacy of courage

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Gordon Hirabayashi was a student at the University of Washington in Seattle when the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, plunged the United States into World War II.

Barely two months later, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 authorizing the imprisonment of thousands of Americans of Japanese ancestry.

FDR’s order, signed February 19, 1942, sanctioned the rounding up of thousands of families up and down the West Coast who were sent to camps in ten states and held until after the war’s end.

Hirabayashi, born and raised on American soil, refused to go, believing he and his family posed no threat to the U.S. government. Two others, Minori Yasui of Hood River, Oregon, and Fred Korematsu of Oakland, California, also resisted the curfew order  All three men took their battle to the U.S. Supreme Court and all three lost.

President Gerald R. Ford issued an official apology for Executive Order 9066 in 1976, but it wasn’t until the 1980s that the trio of dissenters received justice in the form of overturned or vacated convictions.

On a recent Sunday afternoon, Hirabayashi’s story came to life. Lori and I and four friends saw the play “Hold These Truths,” produced by Portland Center Stage at The Armory in Northwest Portland. It was a one-man play, a 90-minute performance with no intermission, and it was splendid.

Ryun Yu was marvelous as Gordon Hirabayashi. From the opening scene to the last, Yu channeled the intelligence, humor, wisdom and fortitude that characterized the young man who stood by his principles in the face of racial animosity.

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After the war, Gordon Hirabayashi continued his education at the University of Washington, earning his B.A., M.A. and Ph.D degrees in sociology  .

Simply by donning one pair of eyeglasses versus another, and by wearing a sport coat or a cardigan sweater, a bow tie or a necktie, Yu seamlessly moved in and out of time, with only two wooden chairs as props. He drew us into his character and into his lonely fight against an executive order that led to the forced removal of nearly 120,000 people from their homes.

An estimated two-thirds of those who were rounded up were U.S. citizens, including our friend Nancy, whose family was among the 9,000 people sent to live behind barbed wire at the Minidoka internment camp in south central Idaho. She and her husband attended the play with us.

In the program notes, Director Chris Coleman said of Hirabayashi: “His story is one of immense courage and moral conviction, as stirring as it is infuriating.”

So true. And to that, I would add “inspiring.”

I can only admire the sense of right and wrong that compelled a young man, then 25, to defy a wartime order that sent people to camps in 10 states across the country.

Decades later, hindsight allows us to condemn the camps as a horrible civil rights violation.

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 Gordon Hirabayashi taught at the American University in Beirut, the American University in Cairo and in Canada at the University of Edmonton, where he lived.

The U.S. government eventually paid reparations to those who were imprisoned. And all three of the wartime resisters received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor in the United States — Korematsu in 1998, and the other two posthumously in 2012 and 2013.

In a 2012 obituary that followed Hirabayashi’s death at age 93, The New York Times noted, “The Hirabayashi, Yasui and Korematsu cases were revisited in the 1980s after Peter Irons, a professor of political science at the University of California, San Diego, found documents indicating that the federal government, in coming before the Supreme Court, had suppressed its own finding that Japanese-Americans on the West Coast were not, in fact, threats to national security.”

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One of 432 World War II internment barracks that were located at a county fairground and returned to Minidoka, about 130 miles southeast of Boise, Idaho. (Photo by Aki Mori)

It was somehow fitting that Lori and I would see this play one day after we had participated in a Saturday night discussion of what the American Dream means to us.

With the presidential election now only a week away, the timing also could not have been better as a reminder of what harm can come from demonizing an entire class of people based on their race, religion or national origin. We all know which one of the candidates has singled out Muslims, Syrian refugees and Mexican immigrants as threats to the U.S.

The play continues through November 13. If you live in the Portland area, I urge you to go see it. Ticket information is here.

Photographs: Densho Encyclopedia

Related reading from Voices of August: American internment in the shadows of Yellowstone by Aki Mori; My visit to Heart Mountain by Midori Mori.

Whose baby is it?

Over the Labor Day weekend, Lori and I ventured out to our neighborhood theater for what has become a rare experience — seeing a first-run movie on the big screen.

In this age of streaming, which allows viewing virtually anything anywhere anytime, it’s still a treat to see a motion picture as it’s meant to be seen. Especially when the film is good enough to justify the steep cost of admission.

“The Light Between Oceans” isn’t a perfect movie, or even a great one. But I liked it well enough that I’d recommend it to anyone who’s drawn to a story centered on vulnerable characters and compelling moral choices. Add in lustrous cinematography and a talented, international cast and you’ve got a winner.

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The movie is based on a novel by M.L. Stedman, an Australian author. I was unfamiliar with the book, so I walked in with no expectations. I left pretty impressed, though a review in The New Yorker I read a few days later faulted the film for being “nonsensical” and “rather prim.”

Michael Fassbender, the Irish-German actor who played a sadistic slave owner in “12 Years A Slave,” plays the lead role of Tom Sherbourne. Alicia Vikander, the Swedish actress who won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in “The Danish Girl,” plays his wife, Isabel. Rachel Weisz, the British actress who won in the same category for her work in “The Constant Gardener,” plays Hannah, a young widow. The director is Derek Cianfrance, whose previous films include “Blue Valentine.”

The story takes place just after the First World War. As a veteran of that conflict, Tom has seen too much death, so he welcomes the opportunity to accept a position as a lighthouse keeper off the coast of Australia, a job that would seem to guarantee isolation and ample time for introspection and possible healing.

Before leaving the mainland, however, he meets Isabel. He goes off to work on the fictional island of Janus, but they correspond and when Tom returns to the village where Isabel lives, they quickly fall in love and get married. The couple move to Janus, where they are the only humans, and agree to start a family. Poor Isabel has not one but two miscarriages.

lightoceansSo when a small boat comes ashore one day bearing a dead man and an infant girl, with no sign of who they are or what brought them there, the couple must decide: Do they keep the child and pretend it is theirs? Or do they make an effort to return the child to its mother? That is, if the mother is even alive?

Isabel argues strongly for keeping the child. Tom acquiesces. They name her Lucy.

Four years later, on a visit to the village, Tom figures out that Hannah is the biological mother and that she believes her daughter Grace was lost at sea. His conscience tells him that returning the child is the right thing to do.

But is it? Doing so would crush his wife and thoroughly confuse the little girl they’ve raised as their daughter. Isabel, too, must decide. Can she bear to part with the little girl who came into her life, seemingly as an act of providence?

And what about Hannah? Initially incensed upon learning that Tom and Isabel made no attempt to reach out to her, she now can see how tightly bonded her daughter has become with the couple.

Whose baby is it? With whom does the child truly belong? Is the morally correct action the best option?

These are gut-wrenching questions, and the answers have life-changing consequences for all three adults as well as for little Lucy/Grace. Fassbender, Vikander and Weisz all deliver excellent performances as they convey pain, heartbreak, confusion and sacrifice. Husband and wife are pitted against each other as are the child’s biological and adoptive mothers.

It’s a gripping film. Moral choices are never easy and in this film, you can feel the tug-of-war within each character’s mind and heart. Go see it and consider what you would do in their situations.

America: Still ‘the beautiful’?

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Iconic greats James Taylor, at 68, and Jackson Browne, 67, still bring it. Big time.

By Michael Granberry

CHICAGO — On a cloudless night in late June, my wife and I began our vacation at Wrigley Field. Sitting in the outfield just a few rows back from the stage, we listened to James Taylor sing “America the Beautiful.”

Thus began my long period of introspection. Is it really “America the Beautiful?” Is it still? Despite Taylor’s velvet baritone insisting it was, I couldn’t help thinking of our national rage, of mass shootings, deep, ugly racial divisions and hopeless politics.

We had begun our 12-day vacation on the banks of Lake Michigan because I wanted to see my favorite singer-songwriter, Jackson Browne, team up with a fellow member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Browne and Taylor are iconic greats from the early 1970s, when I was in college, bursting with innocence and idealism.

Jackson and James did not disappoint.

Michael Granberry

Michael Granberry

With the sun still shining on the 102-year-old ballpark where Babe Ruth allegedly called his shot by pointing to where he would (and did) hit a homer in the 1932 World Series, Browne opened with “Rock Me on the Water.”

Oh, people, look around you, the signs are everywhere.

He played “Fountain of Sorrow,” from his landmark 1974 album, Late for the Sky; “Somebody’s Baby” from the soundtrack of Sean Penn’s 1982 breakout film, Fast Times at Ridgemont High; and “These Days,” which Browne wrote when he was only 16.

“These Days” ends with one of my favorite declarations:

Don’t confront me with my failures
I had not forgotten them

He played “The Pretender” and “Running on Empty” before inviting Taylor to the stage for a pair of duets: “Take It Easy,” which Browne co-wrote with the late Glenn Frey, who used the song as the Eagles’ signature anthem, and “For a Rocker.”

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A 12-day, multistate vacation began in Chicago with a concert at venerable Wrigley Field.

Then it was Taylor’s turn, and though I was there mainly to hear Browne, Taylor emerged as an AARP revelation. Browne is 67, Taylor 68. The tall, balding singer sang 21 songs, launching his two-hour set with “Something in the Way She Moves.”

He covered Carole King’s “Up on the Roof” and “You’ve Got a Friend” — which he said King wrote for him, back when Taylor, Browne and King were all performing at the legendary Troubadour in West Hollywood in the halcyon era of the early 1970s.

Taylor sang “Carolina in My Mind,” saying he wrote it in London, where he had gone at the invitation of a group called the Beatles to record his debut album on the Fab Four’s Apple Records. Despite the euphoria of reaching such a pivotal moment, what he mainly felt, he said, was homesick.

And so a classic song was born. He sang “Angels of Fenway,” drawing a smattering of friendly boos when he told the Chicago crowd how deeply he felt their pain. He’s a Red Sox fan who had to wait until 2004 to see the Curse of the Bambino — inspired by the Red Sox inexplicably trading the Babe to the dreaded New York Yankees – die a slow, painful death. After decades of futility and failure, the Bosox had emerged as champs. At the moment, Chicago is cautiously optimistic that 2016 will be the first time since 1908 that the Cubs might actually win the Series. (Footnote: Browne and Taylor played their second of two concerts on Aug. 3 at Fenway Park in Boston.)

At Wrigley, Taylor sang  “Fire and Rain,” one of the most magnificent songs ever written, about his friend Suzanne, whose suicide inspired this wondrous elegy, in the context of his own grueling battle with heroin addiction.

He sang “Sweet Baby James,” “Shower the People,” “Steamroller” and “Mexico” before giving me something to think about with “America the Beautiful.” He invited Browne to the stage for an encore; the two sang Browne’s “Doctor My Eyes.”

Taylor closed the show with his own fittingly sweet goodnight ode “You Can Close Your Eyes.” The 41,000-plus of us who populated sold-out Wrigley Field pounded toward the exits, most of us boarding the subway, where my mind continued to fixate on “America the Beautiful.”

***

Amid the clatter of the train as we returned to the downtown Hampton Inn, I chatted with a young woman who told me how much she loved Chicago, where, she said, she feels safe. “You have to know where you’re going,” she said.

It’s her kind of town, Chicago is.

She was warm, engaging and non-judgmentally curious about my hometown — Dallas — where I live with my wife and four sons. Everyone we met in Chicago was as friendly as that young woman.

And then we drove all the way to Cleveland, where I longed to see the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

I should tell you at this point that my wife and I were combining our several-states car trip with an informal book tour. Nancy Churnin, to whom I am married, is the author of a recently published children’s book, which is doing fantastically well. (Nancy even got a rave from The New York Times and from the great George Rede.)

[Editor’s note: Who am I to argue with the author’s adjective?]

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Outside of Cleveland, Mike and Nancy (the one without the bonnet!) helped a Pennsylvania-bound driver who was transporting a busload of Amish children by driving him to a restaurant where he could tell the kids and their parents that he was headed their way.

After checking out of our Cleveland-area hotel, we spotted a broken-down bus in the parking lot. Its poor driver was beside himself. He was transporting a busload of Amish children and their families back to their home in Pennsylvania.

Finally, the driver, who had driven all the way from Nashville, got his tire fixed. We helped him out by driving to a Red Lobster to tell the Amish kids and their parents that he was headed their way. That gave Nancy a chance to tell them about her book, which she never tires of doing.

“The William Hoy Story: How a Deaf Baseball Player Changed the Game” chronicles the life of William “Dummy” Hoy, who played in the 1800s and early 1900s and who may have been responsible for the hand signals that everyone now takes for granted.

The Amish kids seemed fascinated, enthralled, as kids everywhere tend to be about Nancy’s book. They were so cute! Not to mention incredibly friendly. Maybe Taylor is right, maybe it still is America the beautiful.

From the young woman on the subway to the Amish kids, I was being shown that it is, despite my raging cynicism.

At the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, a spectacular building on the banks of Lake Erie, I met more friendly people, who love music as much as I do. There on the walls, I saw all my favorite musicians: Browne, Taylor, Simon and Garfunkel, Linda Ronstadt, Bonnie Raitt, the Eagles, Elvis Presley, The Beatles and The Rolling Stones.

So many musical greats came from Texas! Those in the hall include Stevie Ray Vaughan, who like me is a native of Dallas; Eagles’ great Don Henley, who lives in Dallas; and native son Steve Miller, a 2016 inductee who graduated from Dallas’ Woodrow Wilson High School.

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Niagara Falls: “nothing less than amazing.”

From Cleveland, we drove to Buffalo, N.Y., and then in the improvisational chutzpah that only car vacations can produce, we drove all the way to Canada, where we stayed overnight and saw Niagara Falls, which is nothing less than amazing.

From there, we drove to the Catskills, where my wife and her Jewish family spent their treasured summer vacations, but not before stopping in Amherst, N.Y., where Nancy checked in at a Barnes & Noble bookstore. A sweet, young B&N saleswoman named Kaylee Willis took to the book instantly.

Again, America with its kindness was telling me it was beautiful.

Nancy, my brown-eyed girl, wept softly as she walked Thompsonville Road near Monticello, N.Y., remembering idyllic summers spent with her mom and dad, her grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins in the family’s Mountain View cottages. The Catskills are not what they used to be, but Nancy and I loved meeting a young Hasidic couple, who leave Brooklyn each year to spend their summers in the Catskills, just as her family did. Nancy saw a deer standing majestically on the same parcel of land where her grandparents had built their cottages and where their grandchildren played for years. The deer made Nancy feel better. These days, the land belongs to him.

MG woodstock

July 4 brought the opportunity to visit the grassy hillside where the Woodstock music festival unfurled over four days in 1969.

We celebrated July 4 by driving through the splendor of the Catskills to Bethel, N.Y., where the seminal Woodstock music festival was held in 1969, in August, the month I entered my senior year of high school. We strolled the grassy hillside where more than 400,000 people spent four historic days, awash in rain and mud, listening to the cacophony of Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Crosby, Stills and Nash and so many more.

But the best thing about stopping at the Woodstock site was getting to meet Rhoda and William Pollack, a couple from New Jersey. Two of the kindest people I’ve ever met.

On July 5, we saw a mama bear and two cubs scamper across the highway as we drove to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., where my wife would speak and where my all-time favorites appear in plaques on the wall: Mickey Mantle, Ernie Banks and the one who became my friend, the late great Tony Gwynn.

MG tony gwynn

Tony Gwynn is immortalized in the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.

Nancy got a super-charged confidence boost about her Hall appearance from Kerry Featherstone, who works the night shift at our hotel in Oneonta, N.Y. Kerry gave Nancy the best hair-do she’s ever had. Kerry asked for $10. We gave her $20. Kudos to Kerry, who radiates kindness.

The next day, Nancy spoke to a packed crowd at the Hall, sharing with them the incredible true story of the great Dummy Hoy. Kids by the dozen asked her questions and (thank goodness) begged their parents to buy the book (which they did). The next day, Nancy did readings of the book at two Manhattan libraries, one in Harlem, the other in a Dominican neighborhood. The kids reveled in the story, asking her to read it to them again and again and again.

I could almost hear Taylor singing “America the Beautiful” as I drove our rented Subaru Outback onto the Hudson Parkway and gazed at the Statue of Liberty in the distance.
When we went to bed that night, we felt peaceful, so serene, as though we had savored the most exquisite vacation we’d ever had. And then we turned on the television.

***

Back home in Dallas, a gunman had fatally shot five police officers during an otherwise peaceful Black Lives Matter protest.

Suddenly, it was hard to sleep, just as it was on the night of Friday, Nov. 22, 1963, when, as a 6th-grader, I struggled with the grim reality that earlier that day President John F. Kennedy had been slain in my hometown.

The new atrocity occurred only a few blocks east of where Kennedy was assassinated, taking with him to his grave so much idealism and hope. In my mind, America hasn’t been the same since 11/22/63. Much of its beauty died on a street in my hometown.

I was hardly surprised the next morning, when our editors called, asking me and Nancy to each write a story on deadline. The newsroom had entered one of those voracious all-hands-on-deck situations.

We extended checkout two hours, wrote our stories and began the 12-hour trek back to Chicago for the flight home. We got there a bit early and ordered two “very berry” hibiscus drinks at a Starbucks in Park Ridge, Ill., where we met Rob, one of the friendliest baristas you’ll ever meet. We talked about the Cubs, the Bears, the Rangers and the Cowboys. We joked about the Rangers and Cubs meeting up in the World Series. Hey, it could happen! We exchanged contact info. I hope he’ll visit Dallas, as he said he would.

And then Rob told us something we didn’t know — quaint, bucolic Park Ridge is the hometown of Hillary Clinton. We drove by the house where she spent her youth, the Methodist church she attended, the library where she loved to read and where she made a recent campaign stop at the historic Pickwick Theatre.

Rob was like all the other people we met on our amazing vacation — warm, friendly, someone you’d love to get to know, the kind of sweet soul who makes America beautiful.

Not once during our 12 days of summer did we meet a single unpleasant person.

Not once did anyone make an offensive comment when we announced where we lived, as a few nasty people did on a car trip to Colorado I’ll never forget months after Kennedy was gunned down in Dallas.

Not once did anyone make us think that Taylor is wrong, that America isn’t beautiful.

And yet, back home, five Dallas policemen lay dead, their homicides apparently triggered as a response to the grotesque epidemic of policemen using deadly force all too often. The resulting carnage has left black men dead in Louisiana, Minnesota and too many other American locales.

Since we returned, Dallas has been a city in mourning, and yet, we have shared many beautiful moments. Our recent memorial service at the Meyerson Symphony Center saw President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, former President George W. Bush and former first lady Laura Bush share the stage in a show of unity. A Dallas gospel singer named Gaye Arbuckle filled the Meyerson with the most soulful, healing music you’ll ever hear.

gaye arbuckle ap

Gaye Arbuckle performs during the July 12 interfaith memorial service for the fallen Dallas police officers. Among those gathered were Jill Biden, Vice President Joe Biden, Laura Bush, George W. Bush, Michelle Obama and President Barack Obama.

At the moment, Dallas is a city pulling together. But as President Obama said, we have seen far too much of this. It has to stop. It will remain America the beautiful, but only if we let it. There have been too many examples of a country whose problems are beginning to feel … overwhelming, insoluble.

Don’t confront us with our failures. We had not forgotten them.

But we must act on those failures as soon as possible. Or it won’t be America the Beautiful.

Nor will anyone remember when it was.

Dallas photograph: Susan Walsh, The Associated Press

***

Michael Granberry is an arts and feature writer and a Sunday arts columnist for The Dallas Morning News. He is working on a book about the founder and first owner of the Dallas Cowboys, Clint Murchison Jr. 

Editor’s note: Mike and I met as college students when we were summer interns at The Washington Post in 1973, when the Watergate investigation was at its height. He was a groomsman in our wedding; some 43 summers later, I’m honored to call him my friend — even though he’s from Texas. He’s a prodigious, immensely talented writer with a great sense of humor.

Tomorrow: Lillian Mongeau, Mile 17

Books and beer

first book dream team

A Dream Team of trivia quiz masters. From right: team captain Casey Jones, Simone Rede,  George Rede, Lori Rauh Rede, Kyndall Mason, Sarah Feldman (Casey’s wife), Sarah Jones (Casey’s sister).

Take a favorite activity (reading), combine it with a favorite beverage (a local microbrew), top it with a good cause (a literacy program for children) and you’ve got an irresistible combination.

Now throw in a trivia quiz, a raffle, and the company of good people and you’ve got the recipe for some serious fun.

All of that is what drew Lori and me out to a Northeast Portland brewpub last night.

On a pleasant summer evening, we joined a crowd of people attending a fundraiser for First Book Portland, a nonprofit that provides new books to low-income children.

We were invited to the Breweries for Books event by Casey Jones and his wife Sarah, a young couple we met a couple years ago at a summer party hosted by longtime friends. Casey is a member of the advisory board that raises money to provide book grants to existing community programs (such as Head Start) serving children from low-income families.

First Book is a national organization and the Portland chapter was founded in 1998.

Casey knows of my fondness for books. In fact, he paid me a visit when I held my own used book sale last month to raise money for a similar cause. I didn’t hesitate to return the favor when he invited me to the First Book event at Migration Brewing Co.

Also joining us last night: Casey’s sister, Sarah (yes, another Sarah), our daughter Simone and daughter-in-law Kyndall.

Together we named ourselves the Dream Team and took on four other teams in a literacy-and-beer themed trivia quiz. Above the din of conversation, we fielded questions about  literature, sports, science, beer, pop culture and other topics. I thought we’d be shouting out answers but the format was different — and better. After each question, team members had the opportunity to talk among themselves before committing to a single, written answer.

After four rounds, scores were tallied and, guess what, the Dream Team took first place. We promptly donated our prize — 50 percent of the trivia contest entry fees — back to the organization. The winner of the raffle did the same. Migration Brewing donated 10 percent of the evening’s profits. And Kate Berube, a local children’s author and illustrator, did the same from her book sales

I guess you’d call that a win-win-win-win situation. All for the benefit of young readers.

Want to know more about First Book and help out, too?

Read more: firstbookportland.org

Save the date: October 26 for the fifth annual Wine-ing for Literacy event, a wine tasting and silent auction at Olympic Mills Commerce Center, 107 S.E. Washington St.

 

Light to darkness: DCX

dcx ridgefield

Everyone — and I mean everyone — stood from beginning to end of Saturday’s 2-hour, 15-minute show by the Dixie Chicks.

With dusk falling, maybe it was fitting that storm clouds gathered over the outdoor concert venue where the Dixie Chicks had come to perform last weekend.

A few miles north of Portland, fans scattered across a sloping lawn bundled up in ponchos, rain jackets, blankets and tarps while light rain fell during two forgettable warm-up acts.

Days earlier, America seemed ready to burst at the seams, ripped apart by the newest spasms of gun violence in three states. Two African American men were shot to death by police in Louisiana and Minnesota. Five white police officers were gunned down by a black sniper in Texas, evidently seeking revenge for the civilian deaths.

Even though I’d waited years to see the Dixie Chicks live, I couldn’t help but view the weather as a metaphor for the national mood and my own.

(Aside from dark emotions unleashed by the shootings, I also was thinking of the older of our two dogs, who was spending the night in an animal hospital because of worsening symptoms associated with congestive heart failure.)

dcx outdoors

Fans bundle up against the rain and a light wind as they wait for the concert to begin.

It wasn’t lost on me that all three of the Dixie Chicks were born or raised in Texas and that the band had gotten its start in Dallas, site of the mass cop killings. I wondered, would they address the ugliness?

Some two hours later, after a setlist of 20-plus songs, I had my answer.

***

From the opening notes of “The Long Way Around,” the mood changed in an instant. Thousands of people leaped to their feet and stayed there all night long — dancing, singing along, taking selfies and shooting videos. In the covered seats under a pavilion, the scene was much the same.

Saturday’s concert was at the Sunlight Supply Amphitheater in Ridgefield, Washington, and comes as part of the band’s first tour in a decade, dubbed DCX MMXVI.

The Dixie Chicks rocketed to fame in the late ’90s on the strength of “Wide Open Spaces” and “Fly,” but hadn’t released anything since 2006, when they won five Grammys, including Album of the Year for “Taking the Long Way.”

Lead singer Natalie Maines released a solo album in 2013, and sisters Martie Maguire and Emily Robison (now Strayer) had teamed up to do the same in 2010. Neither, as far as I’m aware, found great commercial success.

Seeing the band reunited, three moms in their 40s with nine children among them, was worth the wait. There’s no question that Maines, a blonde spitfire, is the heart and soul of the band. Though Maguire (on fiddle) and Strayer (on banjo, mandolin, dobro and bass) are superb musicians and fine backup singers, it’s Maines that exudes a commanding presence and Maines who speaks for the band.

It was she who criticized President George W. Bush during a concert just days before the Iraq War began in 2003, drawing the wrath of many country music fans and performers. And it was she who led the pushback after her comments led to boycotts and cut into record sales.

dcx natalie maines

Lead vocalist Natalie Maines.

dcx martie maguire

Fiddler extraordinaire Martie Maguire.

dcx emily strayer

Multi-instrumentalist Emily Strayer.

On Saturday night, as the rain dissipated, it was Maines who bantered with the audience, who introduced the musicians in their backing band, who set the tone for the evening. .

And what a concert it was. If you think of the Dixie Chicks as a twangy, country-western band, think again. They hop back and forth across genres, from country to bluegrass to rock, performing ballads, foot-stomping numbers and covering songs by Patty Griffin (“Truth #2”), Stevie Nicks (“Landslide”), Bob Dylan (“Mississippi”) — even Prince (“Nothing Compares 2 U”) and Beyonce (“Daddy Stories”).

They performed all the crowdpleasers you would expect — “Goodbye Earl,” “Sin Wagon,” “White Trash Wedding,” “Cowboy, Take Me Away” and “Wide Open Spaces.”

And they didn’t hold back on their feminist politics.

During one song, a backing video showed caricatures of all the presidential candidates. During “Goodbye Earl,” the screen showed photos of O.J. Simpson, Chris Brown and other abusive men and also included an image of Donald Trump with drawn-on devil’s horns. And when it came time for the encore, Maines at last referenced the mayhem that weighed on my mind.

I can’t recall her exact words but they were something to the effect of urging everyone to get past the crazy shit that has us warring with each other instead of coming together as a nation. And with that, the Dixie Chicks ended the night with a rousing version of Ben Harper’s “Better Day.”

***

Before the concert, I marveled at the variety of people streaming into the venue. For sure, there were big hats, belt buckles and blue jeans on many of the guys, and cowboy hats, cowboy boots and long dresses on many of the women. But there were lots of gays and lesbians, too, as well as mothers and daughters, teenagers and senior citizens.

Somewhere between the Chicks’ speaking out against President Bush and their Grammy-winning CD — somewhere en route to becoming the biggest-selling female band of all time in the United States — “the band’s fan base apparently had shifted away from the red and toward the blue,” one writer noted.

I would agree.

 

dcx rainbow heart

Emily Strayer, left, and Natalie Maines perform against the backdrop of a rainbow heart.

When Natalie, Emily and Martie left the stage just before 11 p.m., I don’t think anyone left without having had their spirits lifted. Nothing like a talented trio of women to bring light to darkness through the gift of music.

Interested in more? Check out these two pieces:

“Dixie Chicks take the stage again on their own terms,” Erie News-Times.

“What it’s like seeing the still-political Dixie Chicks in the U.S. and Europe,” The Washington Post.