Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Marching with the band

It really seemed entirely normal to have a son marching with the high school marching band on Memorial Day.

Robert marched with the Mount Pleasant High School Oiler Marching Band in the Memorial Day parade. Not bad for a kid who’s still in seventh grade, at least for a few days.
Robert doesn’t get nervous, at least outwardly, but I knew he was a little apprehensive Monday morning. It was new, after all, but he’d practiced his music, rehearsed with the band and was wearing his new band T-shirt.

Summer marching’s hot, and the band members were clad in the blue-and-gold Oiler Band T-shirts and khakis at the Rite-Aid Pharmacy parking lot at the corner of Mission and Broadway. The temperature already was in the mid-70s when we dropped Robert off at 9 a.m.
When the parade started at 10, it only had a block to go, to the World War I and World War II memorials at Broadway and Kinney. The memorials are erected on the street medians; no one seems to recall why.
The next stop was the main event – the Korean War memorial at the Town Center. This has been the object of controversy for some time. The terrible flag-eating tree is still there. The U.S. flag and the POW-MIA flag, were, of course, flying at half-staff, and had then been an east wind, it would have been a serious embarrassment.

But there was no wind, and a crowd of about 500 people gathered for the parade and the ceremony.
Robert was all business as the Oilers marched down Broadway. They gathered in a semi-circle around the speaker’s stand at Main and Broadway, and played “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
The band wrapped up the ceremony with a medley of all five services’ marches – and it was done.
It's Led Zeppelin in the fall.
I’d been running around getting some great shots – covering the event for the Sun. Unfortunately, the camera’s memory card turned out to be defective. At least we found that out now instead of when Kat would be trying it in Europe. Kissy Missy’s camera worked just fine; these are her photos.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

The blue man and blood on the pavement

Days like Saturday go a long way to explain the love-hate relationship I have with what I do.

For more than 30 years, I’ve covered the news. That’s a big, broad description, but what does it mean? Saturday explains a lot.

My usual beats for the Morning Sun are development and Tribal issues, with a lot of feature-type stories thrown in. Apparently I’m a decent storyteller, so I get to tell a lot of the interesting, quirky stories.

But every four to six weeks, each reporter pulls weekend duty. This is my weekend, and it’s the weekend of the Alma Highland Festival.

Kissy Missy came along Saturday morning as I went to cover the festival. The air was warm, the humidity rising and the sun was shining. Saturday’s first big event was the parade down Superior Street, and I decided to focus on that.

My task is to translate an experience to words, which then create an image of the experience in the reader’s head. Parades are tough to write about. They are so stylized, and they present themselves in a random-yet-chronological fashion.

Parades truly must be seen, heard, felt, smelled and experienced. The crowd watching the parade can be shared much more easily. That’s how I met Cameron.

He stood out. He was perhaps 18, very muscular and wearing only a kilt. His body was painted blue. Runic symbols were painted on his arms, chest and face. His blond hair was long, braided in places but mostly flying loose.

He was watching the parade. People were looking at him, staring at him, but no one dared ask why he was painted blue, and wearing runes and a kilt.

No one but me. I’m a journalist. My job is to walk up to complete strangers and ask them to explain.

I did that. Cameron, it turned out, was from Vestaburg and celebrating his heritage as a Norseman whose ancestors invaded Scotland, stayed, and became Scots. He appeared quite knowledgeable, explaining the tartan of his kilt and the meaning of the runes – life, strength and love.

He figures prominently in the story I wrote about the festival.

Later that day, after Kissy Missy had gone home and I was wrapping things up in the newsroom, the police scanner went off with news of a traffic accident on M-20 at Shepherd Road. The radio traffic became heavier, and it became clear this was a terrible crash.

Another crash, two days before, had forced the closing of the same highway in almost the same place. Now this crash would close it again. This was news.

The voice on the radio of the EMT in charge was professional, but it was clear from her tone that things were urgent, almost desperate. She wanted that helicopter ambulance there NOW.

This was news, in its most raw and simple form. I knew I should go out there and see for myself. I figured I could get past any roadblocks – and I did – and when I arrived, Lisa Yanick, our chief photographer, already was on the scene.

The sergeant in charge of the scene said, “It’s going to be a while.” I already knew that. No one interfered as I wandered through the site, watching the EMTs work frantically to stabilize one patient, the Aeromed helicopter land on the highway, the officers setting up to measure and document the scene.

A white car was on its roof, all the glass broken out, the driver’s-side door caved in as far as the passenger seat. As I got closer, I noticed a brownish-red puddle on the pavement, with a streak a good 12 feet long where the liquid ran downhill toward the shoulder.

“That car lost a lot of transmission fluid,” I thought. “Wait. That’s not transmission fluid.”

I understood the urgency. One of the occupants of the white car, a Mercury Mystique, had flown out of the rear window and hit the pavement with his head. I was stunned he was still alive.

At least he was when he was loaded on the helicopter, which flew off rapidly toward Spectrum in Grand Rapids. He’ll get good care there, perhaps even experience a miracle.

One of the EMTs was a former student of mine. She was all business, professional, passionate and empathetic. Her job is to save lives, and that’s what she does. I admire her very greatly. I hope I taught her something, and I know she taught me a lot.

I hope my story shows the same kind of empathy. I had to choose what to bring in, what to leave out, where the boundaries were. The name of the injured man is in; the blood running down the road is out.

It’s all real, the blue man and the trauma. Somehow, I was chosen to take the images I see and make them words, so the words can become your own images of reality. Somehow, I was chosen to teach other people how to do that as well.

I know how to do this, because I’ve done it many times. I recall one incident when Fuzzy called me, just to talk, while I was at the scene of a crash on U.S. 127.

“Hey, guy, can I call you back?” I said. “I’m standing on the freeway waiting for a helicopter.”

What other kind of job gives anyone a chance to deliver a line like that?

Friday, May 26, 2006


I used to dread going to the kids' concerts. Little voices like nails on a chalkboard, singing bad songs badly. I felt as if I were being punished.
I went to two shows this week, and I loved them both.
Robert's band concert was Tuesday night. I'll admit that the Christmas show was kinda shaky, but Tuesday's West Intermediate band concert was really, really good. And Thursday's West Intermediate choir concert was absolutely first-rate. Rick Phelps is challenging these kids to perform well, and they're living up to the expectations.
The sound inside the Mount Pleasant Public Schools Performing Arts Center is good -- and the sound on stage, from both shows, was good.
I used to count the years until I didn't have to go to any more shows. Now I'm looking forward to them.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Language lessons . . .

Andrew is being so helpful to his little sister as she prepares for her trip to Europe. He's even been teaching her some useful phrases. But perhaps someone should tell Katherine that "Ich habe eine Partei in meinen Hosen" [translate] does not mean "Where is the ladies' room?".

...and Nobody Came

It's frustrating. The house was absolutely beautiful. The open house had been promoted very well, and nobody came.
We had gone over to Blue Lake to pick up Kathy, who had spent the weekend rehearsing for her European tour. When we got back, there was a note from the real estate agent: Nobody. Not a soul.
Kissy Missy cried.
It was like getting all ready for the prom, and the date doesn't show up.
We're looking for a Plan B.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Open House

Today is the big day, the May open house as we continue our adventures in selling the Lake Isabella house.
Preparations for this have been under way, literally, for months.

Kissy Missy had decided back in January to bid on two hours of the WCFX Breakfast Flakes show, and she bought it.

On Friday, bright and excrutiatingly early, she went on the air to hustle the place.
Man, she sounded good. Very smooth, very professional, and she used every bit of her "She could sell dog food to a cat" expertise.
The house is nearly ready. All last summer and last fall, we painted and cleaned and repaired and did all the stuff that you're supposed to do to sell a house.
We still were at it yesterday. The spray nozzle on the back kitchen hose broke, and between Bert, Andrew and me, it only took about and hour and a half to fix it. (It took a while to find that rare and elusive tool, used once in a blue moon, called a basin wrench. It's clear I've been a homeowner too long -- I had one. Robert found it.)
A run outside, running the leaf blower to clean off the decks and the stepping stones, straighten-tidy-straighten, and we'll be ready.
The Mount Pleasant Realtors have scheduled a lot of Lake Isabella open houses today. There should be prospective buyers all over the place. I just hope they can find our place.
Months of preparation, months of prayer, months of keeping things together. St. Joseph, your help, please. All it takes is one buyer.
And then the fun of moving will begin.
The weather seems good -- it's a little chilly, but the day shooooooould warm up. The sunrise is absolutely golden.
So will somebody want the house? Will an interested buyer walk in the door and say, "Yeah, this is the place."?
Please, Lord, send us a buyer for our house. I've often heard that if you want the Lord's help to move a mountain, bring a shovel. We brung one, Lord. Bring us a buyer!

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Robert joins marching band

Robert just joined the Mount Pleasant High School Marching Band.
"He plays well and we need clarinets," said Matt Taton, the band director.
Robert's in seventh grade.
The Oiler Marching Band is very good, even though it didn't qualify for state competition last fall. It's a new season, and Robert's in it.
He'll be marching -- performing -- in the Memorial Day parade. Looking at it strictly from a Midland-style, mercenary perspective, that could be a heck of a resume entry.
He's proud of himself, of course, but not annoyingly so.
Last fall, I did a story on the marching band at MPHS. Last fall's performance was based on "Hair;" this fall, the band does the music of Led Zeppelin.
Far out, man.

About the Ranzenblog

I was mowing the lawn the other day, thinking about how I sometimes enjoy, and sometimes loathe, the overachieving-family Christmas newsletters we receive. I've never had my act together enough to put one of these out. Yet the overachieving Ranzenbergers are the type of people that annoying Christmas newletters are written about!
So why not a blog? Why not put all that stuff on line as it happens, and perhaps -- just perhaps -- create a "best of" at the end of the year? (Nah -- that would take planning and focus.)
Here it is. Characters and content come later.