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Jay Leno: Cool-and-a-half!

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I’m not a television watcher, so I’ve never seen Jay Leno on the Tonight Show or any other program. But I’ve read on the Web about his car collection and that makes him the coolest person in the world.

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Mr. Leno is a couple of years older than I am, and better preserved (damn his eyes), but I’m willing to bet we shared one obsession as we grew up: CARS!

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In my teens, I read every Motor Trend, Hot Rod, Road & Track, or other car-related magazine I could get my hands on. Sitting on the side of my bed in the bedroom I shared with my brother, I’d read and re-read all I could about what was coming out from Detroit or what the kustom karmakers were up to. I sent off for the J.C. Whitney catalogs and read and re-read ‘em.

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Folks like Big Daddy Don Garlits, George Barris, Ed “Big Daddy” Roth, and Dean Jeffries were my idols. GM designer Harley Earl was the fellow with the best job in the world.

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My blue-fabric school binder had a Garlits sticker, an STP sticker, a Hooker Headers sticker, Moon eyeballs, Cherry Bomb, and Thrush muffler stickers on it. Of course, I had no car, but once I did, I used STP in it (for whatever it was supposed to do) and one afternoon installed a Cherry Bomb muffler. The cop who pulled me over on the first ride I took with that muffler explained that it wasn’t against the law for me to buy it or own it, but the town of Wonderful Naples on the Gulf wouldn’t allow me to use it on my Corvair!!!

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Back in my youth, cars were amazing. And a bit of the coolness of your car rubbed off on its owner. It’s just the way things were. I remember riding the schoolbus in Port Arthur, Texas, past the Ford dealer and seeing Kraft paper covering all the windows so we couldn’t get a peek at the NEW FORD MUSTANG! God knows, we tried to sneak a peek! I remember walking out of a movie theater in Houma, Louisiana, after seeing A Hard Day’s Night with my gang and seeing my first Studebaker Avanti, gleaming metalflake gold, roll by like a chariot of the gods. Holy crap; what a car!

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My favorite Christmas of my kid days was 1966, when we lived in Marathon, Florida. My favorite gift wasn’t the Man from U.N.C.L.E. plastic briefcase with that snazzy multi-part pistol/rifle, or the green bottle of Hai Karate aftershave. It was the stack of car magazines Santa brought! And what cars there were that year. I read and studied those magazines till they fell to pieces.

The two most astonishing cars, to my eye, were the new Camaro—utter elegance—and the Olds Toronado. That car was just an absolute mind-blower. Looking like an updated coffin-nosed Cord, this was perhaps the most unabashedly masculine car GM ever made. That hood went on forever, those wheelwells were aggressively bold, the rakish rear roofline just screamed speed and arrogance. And it had hide-away headlights and front-wheel drive! Oh, my. I swiped some of my dad’s onionskin typing paper and traced those Toronado magazine photos over and over; trying to discover what made it look so amazingly cool.

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The next year, in spite of my pleading, my mom bought a ’67 Riviera GS. It was a beaut; battleship gray with redlined Kelly Springfield tires. The rolling speedometer went to 160. But I wanted us to have a Toronado! At least my dad didn’t get his way; he wanted us to buy an AMC Ambassador, of all things.

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I knew a guy in his late ‘20s who owned a then-new ’65 Buick Skylark convertible. It was metallic gold or bronze, depending on whether it was in the sun or the shade. He washed and waxed that car every week, and it just gleamed. This fellow was handsome; ripped from working every day on a commercial fishing boat, and if a girl wanted to hang around him, she had to help with his weekly car ritual. That’s just the way it was. And this was no cursory wash and wax; he used that Blue Coral car wax in the tin and he even waxed the inside of the gas-cap door.

No shortcuts allowed on HIS car.

Did I think that guy was cool? You KNOW he was cool. His ride was cool, and that made him just that much cooler.

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And when I saw a little segment on the Web that showed Jay Leno with his metalflaked-gold customized ’66 Toronado, I was stunned. The segment went on to show a large garage Mr. Leno has, filled with beautiful and well-cared-for cars, and I knew that, to my way of thinking, Mr. Jay Leno is the coolest guy in the world. He earned his money and spent it wisely and all the coolness of all those cars transfers coolness to him. That’s just the way it is.

How many “Z’s” are in the word “inept?”

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For the third time, the Pizza Hut in Hyattsville, Maryland, has tripped over their own feet when it comes to delivering what their parent company spends millions of dollars, presumably, to promote: Pizza Hut: Make it great!

More like Pizza Hut: Make it WRONG!!!

For the third time, we have ordered online, as part of our family-dinner order, a large Super Supreme, hand-tossed, with extra cheese. The automatons at their Queens Chapel Road facility, for the third time, have delivered a large plain pizza instead of what we ordered and paid for.

Once, I called, and spoke for half an hour with a belligerent and defensive manager at that Pizza Hut facility, and he offered to send out another, properly prepared, pizza if I would hand the driver the earlier incorrect one. I finally agreed. After a two-hour wait, their delivery person delivered ANOTHER LARGE PLAIN PIZZA!

Astonishingly inept.

I think what trips these folks up is when you order an additional ingredient to their standard offerings. They see “extra cheese” and forget the primary choice, Super Supreme. Or they are so overworked they simply don’t give a damn.

I will never give another nickel to Pizza Hut. They aren’t ready for prime time. They are inept. Three strikes and you are OUT!

Never let your customer be your quality-control department. There are other vendors out there who can get it right.

 

Kaiser Permanente, Popeye, my Grandfather and Me

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Like a Dickens novel, life is full of surprising associations that best come into focus in hindsight. In today’s exciting blog entry, we explore the relationship between Kaiser Permanente; Popeye’s friend the Eugene the Jeep; my grandfather, James P. Page, Sr.; and me.

Years ago, when we first moved to Maryland, we lived in a suburb of Washington, DC, known as Calverton. Patty and I would drive by the nearby Kaiser Permanente Silver Spring Medical Center and wonder what it was.  At that time, the sign just read “Kaiser Permanente” with no indication of what the purpose was of the site.

Henry J Kaiser

Henry John Kaiser (1882-1967) was an American industrialist who became known as the father of modern American shipbuilding. He established the Kaiser Shipyard which built Liberty ships during World War II, after which he formed Kaiser Aluminum and Kaiser Steel. Kaiser organized the Kaiser Permanente health-care system for his workers and their families. He led Kaiser-Frazer followed by Kaiser Motors, automobile companies known for the safety of their designs. (Info swiped from Wikipedia)

The name indicated a relationship with the brilliant industrialist Henry J. Kaiser, of dam-, ship- and auto-building fame, but the Permanente part of the name seemed odd to me. Little did I realize that they would later become our health-care provider or that I would one day be working for the firm. The Permanente part of that name, by the way, comes from the name of a creek that ran by the lodge of Henry and Bess Kaiser in Santa Clara County, California; in 1945, Mrs. Kaiser thought the name would be fitting for the new health system they had started for their shipyard employees. Here’s a recent view of that beautiful creek:

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Probably named Permanente Creek by the early Spanish settlers of California because it didn’t dry up during the year.

So how do Popeye’s friend and my grandfather and I come into this? Kaiser, with his business associate, Joseph Frazer, began making wonderful cars just after World War II. The autos of Kaiser-Frazer, as their company was called, were very innovative and attractive, and they also made cars called Allstates, which were sold by Sears Roebuck in the 1952 and 1953 model years. Yes; you could buy a car (and houses, for that matter; my 1926-built house is an example!) from a Sears catalog in those days.

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Great-looking car; a good many of these were made into hot rods after mom and dad passed them on to the kids!

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This amazing Kaiser car, like the Corvette which came out the same year, was made with a huge engine and a fiberglass body.

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Ahead of its time and still looks stylish 60 years later.

1951 Kaiser Ad

Typical of the innovations that Kaiser-Frazer autos were known for, this Traveler model would be useful for toting things around in the days before SUVs and minivans.

My grandfather, who was never one to ignore a business opportunity when he saw it, opened what was likely the smallest of Kaiser-Frazer dealerships, on U.S. Route One in Callahan, Florida. Here’s a photo of the then-brand-new dealership; my grandfather is second from the right. The little fellow next to him is my Uncle Ronald, who went on to a 35+ year career as a special agent with the FBI and now lives in New Mexico!

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Here’s a recent photo of the Page Building in Callahan, which we still own and rent out to various businesses. To my knowledge, this property has never generated a thin dime in revenue, but there are those in the family who have an emotional attachment to this old building and we guess it pays for its upkeep.

Page Building, Callahan

Until today, I had identified the wrong tacky building as the Page Building. John H, a Callahan historian, kindly pointed out my error. Thanks, John!

Now, let’s get to Popeye, shall we? In the pre-WWII United States, the newspaper comic strip, Thimble Theatre, by Elzie Segar, was a big deal. The best-known member of the strip’s zany ensemble, Popeye the Sailor Man, was a stroke of genius, but Segar had many such strokes and his creations caught the country’s imagination in a big way. Another inspired Segar creation was Eugene the Jeep. The Jeep was a made-up word Segar used to describe his little creature, who had the ability to pop through time and space and do wonderful things for his friends.

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The original Jeep!

The Jeep character became a big fad, especially among children, and there were books, stuffed toys and cartoons about this loveable character, as shown by this great movie poster from 1938:

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Moving forward a few years, into the Second World War, the Willis Corporation developed a General Purpose, or GP, vehicle for the U.S. Army. This rugged and unpretentious four-wheel-drive car was manufactured by the hundreds of thousands during the war, and the GIs of the day dubbed it the Jeep, because, as one soldier said, the thing was “small, able to move between dimensions and could solve seemingly impossible problems.” That, plus the GP designation sounded like the word “Jeep.”

Jeeps On A Flatcar, 1944

Sixteen of the over half-million GP vehicles or Jeeps head to war on a railway flatcar in 1944. Legend has it that you could buy a war-surplus Jeep in the late 1940s for $50.

After the war, Willis was not making too many Jeeps and Kaiser’s autos needed engines; Kaiser bought Willis and used their engines in the Kaiser-Frazer autos. Production of the Kaiser-Frazer line stopped for various reasons in 1955, but Kaiser kept making Jeeps of different types and styles until 1970. They sold that part of their empire to American Motors in that year, and American was later purchased by the Chrysler Corporation, who continue making Jeeps today. My grandfather’s Kaiser dealership closed after his death in the mid 1950s.

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The Kaiser line of Willis Jeeps; I’d love to have one of those Utility Wagons.

Kaiser Permanente, of course, has thrived as the nation’s largest, most esteemed and (by my family, at least) best-loved managed-care provider, and I work as manager of marketing and creative operations at their Mid-Atlantic Regional Headquarters. Wonderful place and I’m proud to help in its mission in my small way!

Thus the connection between Kaiser Permanente, Popeye, my grandfather and me!

Kaiser Jeep

One of the last of the Kaiser-built Jeeps romps over rocks.

Dasheen Dreams . . .

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If you’ve never heard of dasheen, don’t feel like the Lone Ranger; I hadn’t either. My daughter, Colleen, is the historian of our family and is always finding, archiving and annotating old family photos. Here’s one she found from 1923, showing my grandfather, James P. Page, Sr., and his dad, James Graham Page, at a meeting of the Nassau County (Florida) Dasheen Growers Association in the little town of Callahan:

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My grandfather and his father were very active in that organization, or at least they had leadership roles. My grandfather was a heck of a businessman, and owned a lot of businesses that did well. I can’t say how well he and his dad did with dasheen; it put some of his land holdings to productive use, I suppose.

According to what I’ve been able to find out on the Net, dasheen is another term for a type of taro root, and, in the early 1920s, the Florida Secretary of Agriculture was promoting the cultivation of this plant for areas of Florida with boggy land not suited for growing much else except snakes (this part of Florida has 31 types, including six or seven “hot” ones, as the herpetologists call venomous snakes), alligators and pine trees. Here’s a Google satellite photo pinpointing the town of Callahan in Nassau County; my brother, Jeff, and I were born on Amelia Island, where the town of Fernandina Beach is located:

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The red arrow points to Callahan, Florida. The dark area to the left of Callahan is the Okefenokee Swamp. The Okefenokee is the largest blackwater swamp in the U.S.; a shallow, 438,000 acre, peat-filled wetland straddling the Georgia–Florida border. Okefenokee is an Indian word meaning “trembling earth.”

Since the area our family is from borders the Okefenokee Swamp that hugs the Georgia line, it’s ideal for such an effort. Here’s a photo of a dasheen plant, and also a photo of the edible root.

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Looks like an elephant ear plant, doesn’t it?

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Can these make good French fries? America waits for the answer!

This enterprise probably didn’t amount to much, but it’s kind of a nifty idea. Another Net resource mentions that at the height of the dasheen-growing effort, ten boxcar loads of the roots were shipped from Callahan, where we still have a family farm. I don’t think any dasheen is grown on our farm now, though I did see that someone else has a dasheen farm in the area nowadays. Good luck to them!

UPDATE:

Thanks to my daughter, Colleen, for finding the letterhead below from the Dasheen Growers Association in a history of Nassau County. There’s also a little paragraph describing the operation. You can see from the annotations that the photo above, showing the intrepid dasheen growers in Callahan, was from this same book, which was published some years ago.

James_Graham_Page_info_on_Dasheen_Growers_Assn__from_WNCPH

Hard Time Killing Floor Blues

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Perhaps the scariest three minutes of music ever recorded were by Nehemiah “Skip” James in 1931, in Grafton, Wisconsin, for the old Paramount blues label.

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Here’s the original recording of Skip James’ Hard Time Killing Floor Blues. The way I heard it was that it refers to James working the “killing floor” in a Chicago slaughterhouse.

Any guitar player who has tried to do this song can tell you that it isn’t easy. I think James recorded it in Em tuning; for the sake of not popping strings, I’ve shifted it to Dm in my poor attempts to play it. This style of fingerpicking blues evidently originated in or near Bentonia, Mississippi, where James was from. My dad drove us through Bentonia when I was a kid; it’s a wide spot in the road near where Highway 49 crosses the Yazoo River.

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The idea of someone doing this song on an electric guitar is not so novel– I do it on a Strat– but doing it with a band, live, and with an accordion and drums as part of the deal . . . well, it took Lucinda Williams and her fine band to manage that and the following YouTube video is, to me, stunning. Their spare arrangement just nails it:

Sorry I can’t provide any info on this video; the intro, showing someone playing James recording his song on a Stella guitar, is very well done. Folks who knew Skip James, who died in Philly in 1969, say he wasn’t a very happy person much of the time but I suspect he’d love what Ms Williams and her associates did with his wonderful song.

AN ASIDE . . .

It occurs to me that it was almost exactly 50 years ago that our family drove through Bentonia, Mississippi. At the time, the late summer of 1963, we were living in Houma, Louisiana, which is southwest of New Orleans. I don’t know what possessed my dad to move there; they must have had a great airport as flying was the only thing that he cared about. I remember that we were living there when John Kennedy was killed.

My mom, my brother Jeff and I loved Houma. It was deep in the Cajun bayou country and the food, music and people were wonderful. Near Houma was a smaller town called Thibodaux, on the banks of Bayou Lafourche, where my dad took us to a superb little seafood restaurant on the weekends; here’s a photo I took of Jeff standing on Thibodaux’s main drag. Moody and magnificent, wasn’t he?

Jeff In Thibodaux. LA

Here are my mom, Jeff and me in front of our house on Willard Avenue; I’m the geeky-looking guy wearing glasses; I wasn’t moody or magnificent, but at least I was cheerful:

Jim, Mom, Jeff 2

Anyway, there was a hurricane about to hit in that area and it was something to worry about. All that part of the Gulf Coast is low-lying, and the Houma/Thibodaux area especially so. If you recall the Swamp Thing comic books, they were set in Houma. So my dad decided the smart thing to do would be for us to hop in the white DeSoto and spend a few days in Yazoo City, Mississippi (250 miles due north and on higher ground), and Bentonia is 15 miles south of that town.

As it happened, the hurricane came up as far as Yazoo City so we didn’t escape much. But I got to see Bentonia, never dreaming that one day I’d wish I’d paid more attention to it!

Murphy Inspects . . .

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Tremolux & Barris Custom, Murphy

Murphy inspects my 1966 Fender Tremolux amp in its custom JD Newell cabinet with two Weber 12A125A speakers; the amp has been at Don Oliver’s studio for a couple of years and returned last evening.

Murphy hasn’t seen this amp before!

The Tremolux is not a Fender amp that’s often seen; they were only made for a couple of years. I had wanted one since I first saw the cover of the Blind Faith album; Clapton is shown here with that amp at the Rolling Stones December, 1968, Rock and Roll Circus event as a member of the one-shot Dirty Mac Band, consisting of Clapton, John Lennon, Keith RIchards on bass, and Mitch Mitchell on drums.

Clapton's Tremolux

I believe Clapton endorses a new Tremolux combo amp made by Fender nowadays, but I’m sure it isn’t much like the original ones. For one thing, they cost over two grand.

I have the original piggyback head cabinet for my Tremolux, restored by Rocco Egizio of Rockometer Amp Cabinets in Chicago, but I don’t have a proper speaker cabinet for that configuration, so it lives as a combo. One day I’ll find a speaker cabinet, but it has to be a 4-ohm one for the Tremolux.

The guitar is my Hallmark Barris Kustom, which sounds nice through the Tremolux. For you gearheads out there, the Barris Kustom has a single pickup with just a volume control; the pickup is Bob Shade’s recreation of the old Carvin AP-6 classic.

Murphy and His Toys

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Our Boston terrier, Murphy, is quite a character, as all who know him will agree.

He is curious about many things. Shown here last year, he wonders about my grand-daughter Maddie’s toy laptop.

Murphy And Maddie

Murphy has strange beliefs. To you and me, who see with our eyes, this is an ordinary vacuum cleaner. To Murphy, who sees with his nose, this is a dog trapped in a cloth bag attached to a machine. Every evening, Murphy comes to me barking, and won’t stop until I’ve walked to the vacuum cleaner on the back porch and patted it and told him that all is well; there’s no dog inside the machine. He believes me for the next 24 hours, but then doubt sets in, and we go through the procedure another time. Every day!

Vacuum Or Dog?

Here’s Murphy in my bedroom with all his toys. He used to keep them in a group on the living-room couch, but he slowly began transferring them to my bedroom, one by one. He’ll take a toy downstairs to play with for a while, but he always brings it back to the bedroom upstairs when he’s done playing.

Murphy's Toys

I’ve numbered the toys so that you can easily identify them as you look at the photo. 1) A hard red rubber ball (Bostons are strong and determined chewers, so their toys must be durable). 2) Another hard red rubber ball. Murphy can tell them apart, but we can’t. 3) A JCrew tie I decided was too ugly to wear. Murphy has gone through four ties in the last year. This one is ready for the trash. 4) A tug-of-war rope. 5) A blue-and-white hard-plastic bone, also ready for replacement. 6) A ridged hard-plastic bone. 7) A red-and-beige hard-plastic bone. 8) A hard-plastic S-shaped object. 9) A hard-plastic propeller.

His favorite toy, not shown because it was in my bed when I took the photo, is a black Kong Extreme dog toy, shown here.

Black Kong Toy

Murphy thinks I love this toy as much as he does, and he wakes me in the morning by pushing it into my hand as I sleep. That means he’s decided it’s time to wake up and play!

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