Sunday, April 29, 2007

Enlightening Eastwood's Pale Rider

Enlightening Eastwood’s Pale Rider

By Jim Banholzer

With special lights from Brad Nottingham & Professor Tom Trusky
Click here for revised versions

Watching Clint Eastwood movies, particularly his well-crafted Westerns are almost like enrapturing religious experiences for some people. Each of his movies project priceless lessons, even when he plays an antagonist such as the callous elephant hunter in White Hunter, Black Heart. Astoundingly enough, Clint filmed much of Pale Rider right here in Idaho with a theme as ageless as the Boulder Mountains. Clint plays a nameless preacher protecting a poor prospecting town from a gang of ruffians sent by a greedy mining corporation, to intrude on their claim. This striking film -the first of Clint’s that he produced -was created in 1984 around Boulder City north of Ketchum and over by the Vienna Mine near Smiley Creek. Pale Rider was the predecessor to Clint’s 1992 Academy award-winning Unforgiven.

Each time I watch Pale Rider, I focus on the recognizable background terrain, sometimes freezing specific frames to find my way around in the mountains. As Brad Nottingham was a local then he reminds us, “For Pale Rider, there were some filming issues evident in the film as you see it today, which brought comment: it was filmed in our typically beautiful late Indian summer, and some of the riding scenes were filmed just before and after an unpredictable early season snow, which frosted the upper parts of the ranges, while quickly melting off the lower elevations. As a film viewer, a period of time that seemed to be about a week, appeared to toggle from summer to winter, which brought some criticism, I remember, but any of us mountain folk wouldn't give it a second thought.
In addition, Clint made tremendous effort to restore the site that was disturbed by the building fronts, construction crew, and later the feet pounding of the actors and production crew on the little ridge and river drainage near the quaking aspen groves. Winter seemed to come quickly that year and for a bunch of us, it was hard to spot evidence of the film set trampling that next spring, though we tried. We also tried to find some kind of film crew item or something. Lon and I located "the rock" that one of the miners was chipping on in an early scene from the film.
When it finally came out, Pale Rider sort of stunned people, because it was a break from the Eastwood tradition. He played an even quieter, low-key character, and I remember people being confused about connecting a "preacher" role to him. Others, expecting the active dashing and violent Dirty Harry traditions found this movie kind of slow and spacey, features I didn't mind at all this time. I just soaked in the scenery that I knew was almost in my backyard. I had driven my old Buick Wagon up there, and forded the rocky river crossing half a dozen times, hiking up to some of the "real" old mining cabins and diggings.
Soon afterward, a local man, David Butterfield had us typeset and produce an exhausting field guide to good locations across
Idaho, including information about accommodations, prices, in order to drum up more filmmaking interest from Hollywood. After the book was published, I remember that there wasn't much response, until the Bruce Willis engine began churning up sleep Hailey in the 90s. I still have not rented that weird, forgotten-about movie (Town & Country (2001)) filmed in Bellevue that included Warren Beatty that had a fly-fishing connection, nor the one about Hemingway, but I did see that odd Twin Falls picture(Breakfast of Champions (1999)) that Willis was working on when his marriage to Demi was fast unraveling.”

While I read Brad’s insights, it occurred to me that filming of this motion picture was a significant enough event that it should be commemorated with a historical sign. Folks I spoke with at The Idaho Transportation Department were receptive to this idea and may soon designate a spot along Highway 75, once the historical committee approves proper text for the legend.

I passed this suggestion on to Tom Trusky, Head of the Idaho Film Collection, and Professor of English at Boise State University. Tom was enthusiastic about the potential Pale Rider tribute and expanded it with a “Statewide Movie Signage Proposal”. To quote Professor Trusky, “The tourist / publicity value of such signage is apparent – and locals might appreciate such knowledge, too, if they are unaware of their cinematic heritage. As well, given the recent interest in bringing film production to the state, such signage would not only be public acknowledgement of Idaho’s considerable contribution to the film industry but also serve as a reminder to contemporary filmmakers of the Gem State possibilities.”

It would be nice if the Idaho Department of Transportation eventually expands Tom’s Statewide Movie Signage Proposal with a further plan. As technological -capabilities continue to advance in affordable ways; it would be uplifting to see Idaho embrace the next generation by attaching to our historical signs, interactive items. For instance, when traveling up Highway 75 past the North Fork Store, when reaching the perimeter of interest where Marilyn Monroe’s Bus Stop was filmed, an alert could be made available for interested traveler’s “duzz-all” digital devices. A short holographic film of Marilyn hypnotically dancing with a billowing skirt on driver’s dashboards would keep dozing dad’s chipper and alert, lending to driver safety. Then, for the next fistful of history, when reaching Pale Rider’s phantom hill, the sounds of bullets whizzing by ears could be the subsequent alert, then up to Galena Lodge, for a quick passerby browse over some books about the area’s rich history. Proprietors of the Sawtooth valley could smilingly profit by making related material available to help satisfy recently whetted travelers appetites. Inexpensively solar powered Kiosks could develop from these informative signpost-pullout areas. They could be further engineered to include emergency communications devices. A camera-eye imbedded within the untouchable hologram could help prevent vandalism and if tampering is detected, could be set to announce, “Go ahead, make my day!” Stranded drivers in remote areas where cell phones don’t work could come to know these signposts as secure places. One might even hope that drivers passing the Pale Rider signpost would be reminded to take after the nameless preacher and help their fellow man in need.

Certainly, ITD already has some technologically savvy leaders aboard. This is the third time I have had a positive experience with ITD leadership, which leads me to believe that innovativeness is embraced in their daily working environment. These leaders could take our ideas to the next realm by showing us how signpost pullouts could transformed into something that truly enhances the landscape.

By merging the information superhighway with our back road signage, Idaho could show the world how we are on the cutting edge along with being able-bodied enough to cut through bureaucracy in the meantime.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

More of Brad Nottingham’s insights on “Good Guys” can be found in the Idaho Film Archive on Pale Rider:

Whale Tale

Whale Tale
Jim Banholzer
A Dozen years back, a whale beached itself directly in front of my Brother David’s apartment, on one of the rare occasions that he was out of town. We considered this uncanny event symbolic, since David is a top-notch Wildlife Protector for the State of North Carolina. While he has a rascally background, Officer Banholzer takes his job as seriously as I do mine -as if our lives depended on them.
Once a whale beaches itself, that’s about it for the creature. The weight of its own body, used to being buoyant, crushes itself without the encompassing ocean-water to buttress its gravity. Many people wonder why so many of these creatures continuously thrust themselves onto our shores.
Some say that whales are becoming disoriented by modern sea vessel sonar and other mitigating factors –known and unknown. Ever since TV first radiated, it seems that technology gets placed on fancy pedestals while impact studies are mostly burning afterthoughts.
Could it be that the whales are sending us a bottled message from the once crystal seas, that they now mourn the earth? Their self-sacrifice is looked at as a clarion call for better caretaking by some, while laughed off meaninglessly by others.
Occasionally I read North Carolina newspapers. In fact, a “Mountain Xpress” comes out every Wednesday in the enlightened mountain town of Asheville. When the entire hullabaloo came into our hollar, about a rancher in Mackay who legally shot a local man’s dogs chasing his cows, I found a fascinating story in this seemingly parallel paper. It shows that the ways in which we treat animals, reveals much about ourselves. (See: In the eye of the beholder / Mountain Xpress / Asheville, NC)
After serendipitously discovering this story, I remembered another passage in Carson’s / Sam’s Medicine Cards, speaking about the loyalty of dogs:
“If Dog has been yelled at or paddled, it still returns love to the person who was the source of its bad treatment. This does not come from stupidity, but rather from a deep and compassionate understanding of human shortcomings. It is as if a tolerant spirit dwells in the heart of every canine that asks only to be of service.”
David gets to bark up all sorts of trees as a Wildlife Officer. If gunshots of unknown origin are heard, in the cover of night, he gets called first, in under the assumption that poachers are out spotlighting again. He rescues deer caught in barbed wire fences, using the same wrassling moves, I was only too eager to use on him, before he joined the Marines. In between teaching hunter safety courses, David occasionally captures and relocates wayward alligators away from Golf Course Links.
One dark night David caught a preacher illegally shooting deer in the dark. The preacher shrieked, in an inhuman voice, “I can’t help it; it’s a disease!” After his conviction, the preacher continued crying shrilly from his pulpit, that his parishioners “may have read some things in the newspaper, but that they are all fallacious.” Soonafter, people attending worship came to David and asked, “What is the truth?” David told them that in this case they should be believers –of the news of record accounts, of their leader’s conviction.
It seems that half the populace will try to take the easy way out. When they think that there is no
watchdog, many do not abide by the simple rules. David says that of the potential “violators” he surveils; fully one-half eventually litter something during the course of an afternoon. I have asked him about this often and he says that this statistic remains static.
Ironically in North Carolina, newspapers and political signage are not considered trash, even if they are stained full of things more unseemly than bloody poaching convictions, before being tossed aside into un-receptacled areas. Imagine the sausage-like mechanisms that went into passage of a law like that.
David sometimes finds fish choked in plastic, discarded from six packs. Some wormy fishermen find this funny. I suppose then for them, a keg of beer gone overboard, blocking up a whales blowhole is about as good as it gets.
Perhaps the real reason the ocean is so saline is that every animal on earth has been filling it with saltwater tears, trying to rinse clear their eyes from how wrongly man has war-shipped the earth, ever since that first rotten apple core was tossed aside, violating that foremost pristine garden.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Harping over spiritual robots

Harping over Spiritual Robots

Last Idaho potato moon harvest, I conjured up some Spiritual Robots while searching for artwork. Sixteen Google images appeared and twelve of those were of people attending symposiums on artificial intelligence. The first thing that stood out in the photos was that most of the participants were taking it sitting down.

Robots are increasingly becoming humanlike, as people get rigid. Seems cute in a faraway Oz’es Tin man way, but the twain shall meet someday -perhaps sooner than you imagine.

Actually, we’re already overlapping; No eye contact sealed in on “freeways”. Can’t get a person on the phone? That’s an old problem. Now it’s depersonalized electronic chatter sent between cubed workers way off the earth in so many windowless offices. Calculating kids seldom step out of their cybercaves for fear that a snowflake of yellowcake dropping from our acid sky will rust their tongues. When they do, they plug in as pod people,

to feed off music of irregular beats with strangers –rather than having actual conversations.

These days just about every body part is replaceable. Even the Vice-President has artificial heart valves. Machines could be used to help us make wise decisions, but many of us let them decide. Swirling Slots in Nevada hypnotize many that would be better off watching whirling dervishes. With new money rushing through their veins, Gas station lottery winners declare “I always knew I was going to hit the number!” However, millions with similar wishes become numb zombies when their fortune spirals downward.

Nonetheless, machines take us everywhere –through the water, snow and air. They list of things they can’t do ever shrinks. Artificial intelligence systems help doctors diagnose medical concerns. You can play twenty questions over the “Internets” in intelligence experiments. A futuristic system learns from us in vast ways as we feed it more information. Robots can disarm bombs. They can enter areas where hostage situations take place helping make assessments while delivering a pizza. However, at what point will the gollem spirits began running a new lottery of whom gets to live and die? Making it even easier for those in control to further justify dehumanizing some “outside enemy.”

Google News claims that their information results are “compiled solely by computer algorithms, without human intervention.” Then who created those algorithms? Do they fine-tune themselves? At night does a robot mouse dust and vacuum the Googleplex nano-nuts and bolts into absolute purity? I’m having a nightmare that it’s terminally daytime for robots. If I breathe deep with my own lungs and Count Five, my psychotic reaction will eventually taper off.

Doctors in our Country have institutionalized thousands of patients into mental hospitals unnecessarily then over medicated them into robotic states for stinking profit. More jails are planned but with less real rehabilitation prospects –creating millions of outcasts. What a great backup slave labor force these dispossessed will make in the event, the next line of robotic Iron Men develops glitches. Increased frivolous laws with stricter enforcement and draconian sentences translate into job security for the machine-like penal systems.

Instead of spending more money on locking prisoners away into subhuman states at record levels, ideal communities could preemptively strike at root causes of “waywardness” by caring more about schools. Higher pay would attract more inspired teacher’s -resulting in a better outcome for our youngsters. However, what exactly are these root causes? Should not we be cautious in screening our children from the normal difficulties they encounter as they emerge from their age of innocence? Who is going to screen the screeners? Vacuous, steel-hearted leaders fiddling with low approval ratings? Perhaps a savant metallically inoculated into mathematical beauty could lend the social engineers some thoughts on what’s worth tracking.

Before being dosed into something they’re not, it should be considered that many of the modern inventions that we now take for granted, would not exist, had we “fixed” past Einstein’s and Edison’s at their first sign of boredom in the classroom. Healthy daydreamers of today like Segway inventor Dean Kamen, who also developed the heart stent keeping VP Cheney alive don’t need to be labeled ADHD and force fed questionable pills just because they’ve tapped into a different drumbeat.

As much as I harp on about mechanization’s hostile takeover of society, I would like to thank Googles robots for helping me with this article. I have heard they have a cousin that likes beer. He is probably the most humanlike robot yet. One who really seeks to understand man. Next time he flies in to enjoy the non-motorized parade, I would like repaying him with some special input. Over ales poured out in inexact measurements, we’ll watch some sports together. I’ll strike up a lively conversation, explaining how the most difficult thing for them to accomplish will be finding ways to replace the unique qualities inherent in our precious athletes and artists. Futhermore, we'll ruminate about why we'll continue needing human referees for these gladiator games we worship. Later , my smart-pill friends will tell my pre-fab palsey-walsey that we ape-revolvers should teach the Trans-humans to sing with us in perfect harmony. Some day we will make beautiful music together. In this way, the robot will quickly delve into the deepest dimensions of the soul. Because you see, the way things are heading with my fancy free speech, we’ll be singing the most heart rendering songs chorded together on a chain gang. Power-pointed Feds will allow this machine into designated wilderness areas so he can joyfully hold a bucket for me to mop plutonium off the previously pristine primitive foliage. I promise that metalbreath and me won’t give any lip if our guard can find himself human enough to conjure us up some potato hooch nightcaps to keep us from blowing our tops. -While cloistered in a modern Minidoka Manage-mental camp.

The uncharted territory of Transhumanism:

Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. –Albert Einstein

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

I know about where it is
This big rock with a candy vein of gold in it
Scintillating under the stars

I want to find this Idaho Sword of Shannara
and lay me down under the silver fruit
Press the Gold of my ear to the vibration
to sense if I can detect the echo of
when Lurch -or was it Jaws?
Split this baby in half
with an old 1863 hickory stick sledgehammer

I'll bend up over the hill tonite
Too itchy and scratchy for a truck in that rough spot
to see if'n I can't see how them thar hills have changed

Yeah that's it
I'll pack up the DVD player
better bring a spare battery juice-pack
Cause it's cold in them thar Idaho hills
I'll freeze frame on the DVD
sections of Mountains in that backdrop
and compare it to our current status

i think of the nameless preacher in the movie
and for some reason the Beatles real nowhere man
jangles my juices like Satchel Paige on opening day

On spectacular evenings like these
Sometimes it feels like we'll still be standing strong
longafter those them thar hills have fast eroded away

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Ranting about being Green is not always Pennywise

An opposite-take essay on disposability

By Jim Banholzer

Trying to save money, I set out to survive cold Idaho winters by plopping myself down on the edge of Hailey society in an affordable shack with minimal utility needs. Although, I attached lots of character to the poorly heated hut, sometimes its confined quarters gave me cabin fever. The second winter there, I begin having difficulty breathing and even nightmares. After a few nights of thinking I was suffering from a heart attack, I discovered that the substandard flooring and antiquated plumbing system were allowing poisonous methane fumes to seep up into the tiny living space, where there were no windows or ventilation.

The landlord then thought it was high time to profit from its booming in-town location. That old shack is now smithereens and I say, “Good Riddance!” Like lots of thought to be cost-cutting measures, the quality of living, which dropped tremendously in that tiny shelter, proved to be more costly than any rent savings I might have imagined.

Around the next corner, in my warm new close-knit community, I was secretly relieved when I saw my next-door neighbor throwing away recyclables. She was an intern for an environmental concern and I had been worried that she would give me the evil eye if I did not rinse every can, spic and span, before plopping each into politically correct pristine containers. Who has time to waste on this type of virtuous garbage anyway? It’s going to take some serious sustained efforts to convince many people and me that investing time to surface scrub every throwaway is worthwhile.

Take non-refundable glass for instance. There are only nine glass-reprocessing factories in the Nation. The closest one to Southern Idaho is in Portland for gush-sakes. Jeezum Crow! How can some people implore that wasting gas, by limousining glass over Oregon trails is better or even profitable with the rock bottom price glass has crashed to?

Moreover, the tree-huggers and whatnot brag that they mix their big deal glass into road compounds. These people are making me sick. Does all this stained glass blind the bulging mountain of “Dudley Dew-Rights” into limited prisms of thought? While they’re celebrating their tiny merit-badge highway clean ups, why don’t they just righteously tamp the beer bottles they find tossed off sides of roads directly back into the sand it came from. After all, silica (sand), which glass is formed from, is the single most abundant element found on this planet. Instead, the earth-muffins haul it back to the central scrutinizer transfer station, cut their vain little hands –probably getting hepatitis and God knows what else from the filthy glass–then crush it up for a waste of time photo-op, exposing negative chemicals to the wind. Environmental nuts like these should come clean themselves and admit that most of them are there posing to display their emerald vanities. I bet they have endless reasons as to why you never see them recycling their prized peacock styling mirrors over to the Gold Mine (thrift store).

By the same token, many people admit to throwing pennies into the rubbish for the job-secure sanitation engineers to pick up. That’s right, tossing away money freely, following our Government’s lead of greasing the slippery economy inner-mechanisms. Wheeling garbage around under well-designed plans is not all bad. The quicker we can stuff more landfills complete, the sooner some more mountainous parks will come into play.

What’s a penny to buy anyway? It’ll cover my rent for about thirty seconds. There is no more penny candy to rot your teeth. Heck, for years the cost to produce a penny has far exceeded Lincoln’s face value. Nowadays, the materials alone melted into copper basins are more valuable than infinitesimal pennies of the same weight.

Saving spendthrift pennies makes about as much sense as bronzing gold medals. Honest Abe. Only an untouchable person would stoop to pick up dirty coinage from the gutter and become the butt of cruel jokes. “Indisposed” Sun Valley girls won’t touch a man unless he has about a million starched greenbacks sticking out his back pocket, at ready stand-by for high-society squandering.

A modern fable related to this has Bill Gates strolling on a Segway, where he spies a hundred dollar bill with his money detector, blending in the green grass. If he clicks the kickstand with his penny-loafers, stopping to pick up the $100, the seconds spent doing so, in theory earn him (and the Gates Foundation) less money than he would have earned by not halting progress to grub up the lesser green.

On a more down to earth scale, let’s say that it takes you six seconds to lean over and pick up a glistening penny from Ketchum’s Gem Street. Is it levelheaded to do this? Some quick math: Six times ten is sixty seconds…times six again equals six dollars an hour. Therefore, if you are making minimum wage it does still “make sense” to take a break from harvesting potatoes, or bussing tables for Allen & Company to pluck up that fools gold!

Harping over this surprising new aspect makes me believe that perhaps I am a little green about some common cent facets. After all, legend has it that when Abe was an agile young man, he chased down an old Kentucky customer, realizing he had short-shifted the purchaser a couple of three pennies. Just as Lincoln later matured his own mind over larger issues, it’s only right that I should follow his lead and reflect about higher level spiritual items, rather than these small change squabbles. It’s easy to see gazing trancelike into Lincolns memorialized penny eyes, that as our founding Republican, he understood flip-flopping from heads to tails on some issues is the healthiest thing for humankind.

Unfortunately, it’s also human nature, to discard such wisdom unthinkingly, while lazily living off the overabundant lard so easily scooped and gathered from our heartland’s arteries.

Before the grizzled men battered down my old hovel into Lincoln logs, my friend Brad came to visit there a few days. It was good to see Brad back in town and we caught up on old times. On his last morning, hard rains spilled from the substandard shack roof, revealing by the front stoop a quicksilver mercury dime from WW2. When Brad turned this over to me, it was a priceless moment. We remembered steel pennies backing up steely nerves from that war effort, since every scrap of precious copper was ceremoniously cut, then cleansed on wings and prayers, for dumping throwaway bombs to “wipe out” expendable Japs and Germans.

In that era, the creed “Every Penny Counts” was treated like a religious doctrine. By utilizing that conviction, look to what degree we have ascended from earths touch. By accomplishing so many missions of far-reaching disposal, and standing haughtily like ill-bred Giants with food to burn, the rest of the world who must love us to death, say they want to greatly warship the United States!

On another Sun Valley trip the same season at Brad’s, when His Holiness the Dalai Lama wrapped up his visit here, he made an interesting observation about jet setters. He said something to the effect that it’s remarkable, our society pays to travel thousands of miles for meeting and celebrating with strangers in other lands, yet we do not invest free time to cross our streets to get to know our own neighbors. Reminds me of how often you see someone trying to flag down help on the side of the road to no avail. Another message mostly lost on the somewhat-jaded crowd was that The Dalai Lama was interested in making a buck and was happy that his elite sponsor with connections here in the United States was helping him launch his enterprising new book, The Universe in a Single Atom. Here is a holy man who, through living poorly has done enough rich shadow work on himself that he can freely broadcast his wide smile to millions showing that he, too, is attracted to powerful fistfuls of dollars. Unlike handlers behind some high-preaching podiums, the Dalai Lama openly recognizes that within the purest of bright goods lies balanced a minuscule seed of darkness and vice-versa. Identifying this innately human fact allows rational creatures to harness certain control over their inner conflicts, rather than be spooked from reflecting about the powerful prehistoric urges dormant, but still raring to go if needed, within all of us.

From throwaway pennies to the chemicals creating people on them and even the religious convictions behind it all, disposability is an extremely broad and complex subject. Being able to openly listen and debate from many sides of the issue is the strong mark of an established scholar. Some will argue that all of us are replaceable, yet at the same time, it’s clear that that the wiser you are, then the more distinct differences you can find between individuals. Each person has a unique gift of some sort. Sometimes these are hidden talents, unknown by the persons themselves and not revealed until later life fermentation.

When Brad visited, I realized that I had been taking him for granted –as a throwaway friend. I was blind to my ignorance until after he had moved on. Sometimes it takes a moving experience or even the death of a loved one for it to be evident of how much of an energetic force they became. Once centered in your life, but then transformed into a puzzling vortex of barrenness.

On the other hand, even Copernicus had to wait for deadwood thinkers to drift out of the way before he could show off his new spin to the world.

Therefore, the paradox to keep in mind is that even though people are replaceable they are also, irreplaceable. If we knew that we never moved on, we would all end up taking each other for granted. Having a near-fatal experience of being gassed by a shameful human waste disposal system, helped me strongly concentrate that life is ever so fleeting, making it evermore precious.

A long day spent tinkering with “time saving” devices

Jim Banholzer

Remember the good old days when you used to drive down your (much less expensive to maintain) gravel driveway and drop off an annual firewood load onto your porch? Now with an electronic starter for your gas fireplace. You’ll never have to worry about keeping your axe sharp or ask where you wheelbarrow machinery is again. Or will you?

If the fragile lifeline of gas or electricity the feeds this valley were to suddenly cease due to fire, severe windstorm, earthquake, massive computer crash or some other disaster, you’ll be wishing that you’d stuck with that old fireplace, because this will be the time you will need it the most.

Unless that long suppressed “free energy” whirls around soon, you may find yourself soon winding around in the crawl space like a bull snake on your belly, to duct tape some hand warmers onto your frozen water pipes.

Well, brush off those coveralls now, because you can merely e-mail your local utility companies and find out when power and gas is expected to arrive back in the valley. Oops, their servers are down! Well perhaps you have a satellite connection and possibly a small generator. Now you’re okay -right?

In the meantime, your brother has been laboring in the flickering candlelight. He’s pushed your faux logs with the blazing Sun Valley logos aside. And now he’s breaking a sweat in this crazy freezing indoor weather, trying to reverse engineer the fireplace back into simple caveman days. He’s already pulled the gas piping system apart. Now you have agreed it’s time to go out and cut up some deadwood to get a real blaze a-going. Just need a little gas for the chainsaw from the gas station. Oops, that’s not going to work, because all the fuel pumps are inoperable. Where’s that handsaw then?

Finally you get going. Siphoning what little gas you have left in your car’s tank ought to be enough fuel to cut up a couple nights wood. You’re chugging up Phantom Hill and suddenly see some plentiful yellow pine deadfall. You quickly pull over to the side of the road, but are sucked in by a snowbank. No darn shovel in the car either, because you’ve been relying on that gas snow-thrower at home. No other vehicles seem to be coming by and you’re not quite sure how long a hike it is back to town, because those GPS receiver batteries drink up battery juice faster in this cold weather and now they’re done.

So, you decide not to hoof it back. You won’t be returning to a warm house anyway. Still no cars come by. It’s been hours. Eventually you dig out with a clipboard, but by now, your car battery is dead. Can’t push-start the rig either because you invested in the extra convenience of automatic transmission!

Your car clock is kaput and you never wind up that old family heirloom in the glove box, grand-pop used to rely on for years. After waiting for an eternity, a nameless lumberjack wearing preacher’s clothes gives you a jump-start and helps hoist a couple of the best yellow pine logs into your back end. After sensing that you’re fit to drive back, he drives off into the mountain mist. You try to wave your hand out the window for thanks, but the electronic windows are frozen shut. (Lucky thing you didn’t slide off into the Big Wood River)

In the immense quiet, you descend again down Phantom Hill. There’s been absolutely no traffic since your encounter with the nameless preacher. You’re almost home, when the traffic light turns red to let through some phantom traffic. You don’t mind though, because you suddenly realize the red light means that electricity has returned!

You’re glad to be back on your super-addiction to the grid and worked up a nice appetite to boot. If no one calls your recharged cell phone, you’ll have time to purchase some farm-raised salmon for supper. How convenient it is for those struggling fish to be spared that arduous nine-hundred mile journey from the Pacific has somehow become the accepted wisdom. Tame schoolchildren speak of how nice it is for those truckers to have driven the salmon clear around those dangerous dams in their newly approved 300 foot long hot-dog rigs.

In the meantime, you download some holiday music and hyper-record it into gifts in less than a minute. Some day you say to yourself -after the yuletide turns- you’ll make time to absorb a festive Christmas song or two. Then you pause for a millisecond and tinker with the idea, just what are some other cool labor saving gadgets that can be quickly grabbed up to help speed up the holidays this year?

Whitefield Street Fairfax, Virginia

Pete Banholzer’s 1949 V.W. Convertible and other folksy Volkswagen ruminations

In the spring of 1965 when my father was towards the beginning of a long career selling Volkswagens with the Horst B. Lantzsch dealership in Fairfax, Virginia, he came across a unique chance to buy a 1949 Beetle. This model was the first year that Germany’s small affordable car for the masses was permitted for import to the United States, as WW2 had just ended a few years before.

“An egg with wheels and flying saucer appeal”, is how some have described this small wonder. The early versions looked like a Beetle and Carmen-Ghia hybrid. During the Bug’s heyday dad once sold 200 vehicles in a single month. Great photos of 1932-1979 Volkswagens are online at:

The air-cooled engine afforded easier parking in the elements for those without garages. But the defrosting system left something to be desired. In winters Dave Banks, a VW mechanic would attach a rubber tube to the one tiny heater outlet behind the driver’s seat of his VW to blow warm air up the back of his uniform for the duration of his Berryville to Fairfax commute.

H.B. Lantzsch had owned an Eastern Germany Chevrolet dealership in the 1930’s until the Nazi’s confiscated it. Working a series of hardscrabble woodworking jobs alongside his wife after immigrating to the United States, Horst eventually parlayed his earnings and connections into his own Volkswagen dealership by 1959. Hiring mostly German mechanics, English was a second language in his shop for many years. I polished up my German while shining cars alongside some of these same mechanics on the improved pollution controlled Volkswagen’s of the early 80’s.

In our shop we took out the trash with a 1960’s era VW bus that appeared as though the top half had been cut off to convert it into a pickup truck. It had multiple toolboxes built into the sides. I wondered why I hadn’t seen more of these, as they would have been the perfect light trucks for carpenters, electricians and other handymen. The shop foreman, Werner Kulbe told me that these trucks were extremely popular when they first came to America in the early 60’s, but around the same time the European Economic Community had raised tariffs on imported chicken, effectively cutting off the United States from this lucrative market. In what became known as “The Chicken War”, our Country soon responded with a 25 percent tariff on various items including light trucks. This tariff continues over 40 years later even though Volkswagen no longer produces trucks.

Dave Dando used to help me take out the trash in the chicken wagon here, as we started on the “shine and glow” crew around the same time. As one of the most knowledgeable mechanics in the world today he’s had a career encompassing medical research on prions and installed Thermonuclear resistant shields over electrical systems in now unified Germany.

Dads 49er’ originally had a 25 horsepower engine in the rear. The fuel level used to be checked with a wooden dipstick since it had no fuel gauge. There was however a reserve tank, with one gallon of gas that could be accessed by pulling a special lever while you drove along sputtering out of gas. The engine was soon replaced with a zippy ‘62 VW Bus’s, and soon we were floating fast like a yellow hovercraft clipping an hour off from our frequent trips over the Potomac River and through the woods of Pennsylvania to visit Grandma. Like some things today, the paper trail of a speeding ticket could be easily intercepted with the right connections.

Automobile safety wasn’t thought to be much of an issue back then. Speed limits were higher and seat belts were just coming out. (The 1949 Nash had the first ones) It was interesting when my Ecology teacher asked for my opinion of Ralph Nader –an early car safety advocate and author of “Unsafe at Any Speed”- with my father being well known as a Volkswagen salesman in what was then a small community -about the size of Boise today.

Dad took a lot of pride in his 49er and brought it dozens of car rallies, dune buggy races and other shows, which enabled him to meet a wide variety of interesting car buffs with similar interests. Copious car show awards and plaques filled the walls of our basement between the pinball machine and the pool table.

My brother David and I had similarly narrow escapes while taking Dad’s prized VW out for joy rides while he was away. Mine involved almost ramming into the basketball pole while getting used to clutch driving, backing out of our Whitefield Street driveway. David’s entailed finding our parents coming home a day early from vacation while he showcased the convertible on a wild ride for a gang of neighborhood kids.

April’s fool’s pranks have often been played with lightweight VW’s. One of our teachers told us about his college days when his buddies pushed a 50’s era Bug onto an elevator. Bribing the elevator operator with some whisky they rose up to their professor’s unlucky 13th floor and blocked the apartment door with his own car.

Cramming people into a VW is another fad that occasionally gets broken. The current confirmed Guinness record is 25. This may be difficult to beat anytime soon in our super-sized fast food nation!

A less tasteful caper is one that National Lampoon ran in the 1973. Spoofing a Volkswagen ad they featured a picture of a VW floating in water with the caption reading, “If Ted Kennedy drove a Volkswagen, He’d be President today”. Ted Kennedy didn’t sue, but Volkswagen almost did. A shocking aspect of this ad was the powerfully different future this country might have had if the Chappaquiddick incident had a less unfortunate outcome.

My friend Tiss and I used to ride his 60’s era VW back home from basketball practice. His car even wore “Famous Idaho Potatoes” plates just like the ones online at:

His father; a Colonel in the Air Force had recently transferred from Mountain Home, Idaho’s base. If the weather was cold this Bug would catch a virus, because the horn would start honking on it’s own like a sick Trumpeter Swan. “HRMMMUPHH! HRMMMUPHHH!” It squeaked. Always while turning the steering wheel slightly to the right. This gave us an excuse to travel home in a roundabout fashion taking only left turns to avoid the unnecessary horn blowing. We discovered escapades on our new path more attractive than our awaiting homework. Tiss later bought a VW Scirocco from my dad and sometimes drove through town with his head sticking out of the sunroof, since he was over Zwei meters tall. Today Dr. Tissaw still occasionally enjoys a VW ride –as long as his fly rod fits aboard.

In 1974 Dad displayed a VW with good old number 53 emblazoned on the sides in a movie theatre lobby for the Washington area premiere of “Herbie Rides Again”. It’s a famous story where a living Volkswagen helps a lady protect her home from a corrupt developer. In the snack area my brother, sister and I were stunned when we dropped a dime into the Tab soda machine and a robotic voice said “Thank You!” Turned out it was the theatre manager. Whenever he would hear the change drop into the back part of the machine built into his room, he would play jokes on those of us recently indoctrinated to Herbie type personifications of machines!

The first Herbie the Love Bug movie from 1969 contains a scene with the actors talking on a cell phone as they carefully drove along. These guys were ahead of their time! Disney this summer is bringing out a hot new film: “Herbie Fully Loaded”

There is a nice young girl in town that drives a decorative Doodlebug of the 21st century. I’ve nicknamed her VW “Herbaceous”. The other day I saw her buzzing down Highway 75 with what appeared to be one headlight flickering. Was her light really going out or was this just another VW with a sparkling personality winking at me again?

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