Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Damn You, Shawn Mendes! Tuesday in Cincinnati (November 29, 2016)

Someday we'll look back at this and it will all seem funny.
Yesterday we woke up just after 4am, piled in to the car at 5:45am, and drove more than 4 hours to Cincinnati. We stopped at a shopping mall and went in to a nice book store. I had my most important business meetings of the year, but at the most crucial moment my phone was on mute -- it would be hard to participate while Bruce Springsteen was standing atop the bookstore's staircase, surveying the hundreds of people cramming every aisle of the store.
Meet me in Cincinnati! Bruce preparing to meet and greet.
I thought I had missed the book signings. Last month's event in Toronto was supposed to be the end of it, and I hadn't managed to get myself a ticket. Of course, I could rationalize it: After all, who would really want to drive 4 hours each way for a firm handshake and a snapshot? < raising my hand /> And who would really want that full day excursion for a ridiculously below-market rate for a personalized copy of the book? < raising my hand, again />

So the first thing to realize, before any existential questions, is: don't bother rationalizing this. It is what it is. And I'm thinking, yes, it was worth every minute. But I won't do it again... this month.

The book-signing event at Joseph-Beth Booksellers in Cincinnati was only arranged last week. The store opened at 8am; some confused holiday shoppers wondered why it seemed so crowded. The meeting itself, of course was very brief. I didn't time it, but my thinking is that for every hour of the day's total trip, one second was spent with Bruce.
Bruce greets fan Brian Resnik. Photo by Ron Valle
Just like Luca Brasi, I practiced my "speech": I figured I'd get about four seconds, so I shortened it to the bare essentials: It would be an introduction for my daughter, whom Bruce recognized in 2012 when she was 11: "Toronto. 'Thunder Crack.' Striped Hat. That's her!" The former girl has grown up; there's no more hat and the long black hair is short and blue. The person is the same.
Toronto! "Trhunder Crack!" Striped Hat! That's her!" August 24, 2012: Elianna singing "Thunder Crack" with Bruce.
I took this picture.
I practiced test shots on my good camera. Bad lighting; use the flash. The staff was going around reminding people to have their batteries charged and their cameras turned on. One friend came down the staircase, shaking: "We got a family picture!!!" New goal: Family picture!

At the bottom of the stairs, I asked a store employee about their events. She said, "This is pretty big!" I asked her if this was the biggest. "You mean, this year?" You mean, that's not automatic??? Okay, this year. "Shawn Mendes was bigger." I had to ask Elianna. Twice.

Attendees were divided in to about 20 groups of 50 each, based on arrival time. We were in the eighth group. From the top of the staircase, before winding around the last aisle, we could see Bruce with some fans a few spots ahead of us. At this store a backdrop had been created from enlarged copies of the book cover (a good choice) and the bookshelf behind Bruce had history books: on one side, The Fall of the Ottomans; on the other, Target Tokyo.

Elianna with Bruce in Cincinnati.
The meeting moment was as brief as advertised. I said my lines. Bruce said, "Toronto!" I could feel the thought forming... "Toronto... Toronto... what's a Toronto?" The staffer took two quick -- and very nice -- snap shots, and... too late to ask for the family picture! The next staffer already had Elianna's cell phone in position, and that was that, though not before Bruce whispered a final, "thank you." When we returned downstairs, we traded in our wristbands for signed copies of the book.

I have wondered what Bruce gets out of these sessions. The line has to move super-quickly, and an egalitarian approach pretty much requires treating everyone more or less the same. Hand shake, snap pictures, say thank you, next in line! Imagine if Bruce had done something like Comic-Con circuit, where snap shots and signatures of lesser stars routinely go for much more than $35. But here Bruce is supporting booksellers (I'm sure there were substantial sales to many of us who came for the signing and browsed while waiting), and also affording to his fans a rare -- if necessarily short -- opportunity to a fairly priced meet and greet. I'll take it!

note - this review originally appeared in

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

A Really Long Walk Home

The bikepath on the way to the vote. Peaceful and free.
At 11am yesterday, I decided it was time to vote. The polling place is less than a mile from my home, and I thought it might be a good idea to walk it. The day was warm, as pretty much the entire fall has been warm. My fitbit said I'd been pathetic lately with the steps. Most of the leaves were down, and it was colorful and beautiful outside. I took some snapshots. "This is what my America looks like today." Regardless of who would win this thing -- and I had severe doubts -- this place, at this time, seemed a good place to be and good time to be here.

I walked around the corner, and up the next street. It started to rain, just a little rain. I didn't have an umbrella, and I was too far to come back home, so I kept going. I thought of walking songs, and the first one that came to mind was "This Land is Your Land." One of the most openly -- and great -- political songs of the last century, and I thought of that 5th verse, one that was cut out of the original recordings and discovered only in the 1990's:

There was a big high wall there
That tried to stop me
The sign was painted
It said "Private Property"
But on the back side
It didn't say nothin'
This land was made for you and me

I looked around, and noticed I didn't really see any signs at all. Typically when the elections roll around, there are lots of signs. I live in a reasonably diverse neighborhood: politically, nationally, religiously, racially. For the township primaries a few months ago, there were signs all over the place. And that was just for township clerk and treasurer. Yesterday, the 3 little signs that Lori put up at the corner of our lot seemed... lonely. There was just nothing to see. No Clinton signs. No Trump signs. Whatever excitement there might have been about this election, it had bypassed my little part of West Bloomfield.

I made it to the bike trail leading to the primary school hosting the 7th precinct. A neighbor was walking his dog. He was going to vote, too... but first he had to walk the dog. The walk was quiet, and free, and peaceful. The bike trail passed over a little branch of the Rouge River just before I reached the school; the same branch that passes under my house. We've had rain lately, so the river was a bit swelled.

Ever since Brexit I felt that Donald Trump was likely to win the election. There were too many single-issue (or nearly single-issue) voters: The voters who would vote Pro-Life. The voters who would vote Gun Rights. The voters who would vote Supreme Court (often in support of Pro-Life or Gun Rights or "Religious Rights"). Too many disaffected, who wanted to hear that magic word: "change." They were going to vote for him so long as he seemed to speak for them, even if he was personally a scoundrel or worse, even if he lost every debate. Then there were the scary ones, the ones who spoke in dog whistles, of dark things to come for immigrants and minorities and people like me. Running against this, we had a lifer establishment candidate who excited... nobody, it seemed, running with a Vice Presidential candidate who somehow excited even few people than her.

The campaign was ugly and stupid. Instead of issues, we got a diet of hacked emails and leaked videos, fake investigations and unreleased tax returns. Some people I knew were totally passionate in their positions; probably more just tuned the whole thing out. To them, one candidate was simply "corrupt," facts be damned, and that was the end of the story. Along the way, I'd lost a bunch of facebook friends. The further they tilted to the right, the more likely they were to slip away from me... or for me just to unfollow them. Some people I thought I knew revealed themselves to be racists or conspiracy theorists; others just didn't want to read about the election on social media. Oddly, I didn't lose any left-leaning friends.

The school was busy but orderly. The whole thing took maybe 10 minutes. There were no poll watchers. I'd read the League of Women Voters guide to the candidates. One Republican candidate for Township Supervisor started off his "top priorities" by writing, "The voices of the people were being ignored or overturned by the courts or shut out by minority special interest groups." He wasn't getting my vote anyway, but to see someone in town leading off with such openly paranoid racism was disturbing enough.

Where do we go from here? Where is there to be?
Trump will likely be a disaster for the environment, for international relations, for civil rights, for the economy, and more. There is talk that he might put Sarah Palin in his cabinet, and there is just no suitable joke to respond to that. I always felt that a Clinton election might only have delayed the sort of hostile takeover that began last night, but I wanted that delay.

Bruce Springsteen performed at Hillary Clinton's campaign event in Philadelphia the night before the election. He performed "Long Walk Home." On the surface, it may seem a song of healing: "everybody has a neighbor, everybody has a friend, Everybody has a reason to begin again." He introduced it as "a prayer for post-election."

But when Bruce first performed that song, almost exactly 10 years ago tonight, it had one extra final verse:

Now the water's rising 'round the corner, 
there's a fire burning out of control 
There's a hurricane on Main Street 
and I've got murder in my soul 
Yeah well when the party's over, 
when the cheering is all gone 
Will you know me, will I know you, 
will I know you

We might need to re-learn that one.