Just Above Sunset
June 5, 2005 - Beatniks with laptops, Otto von Stroheim's legendary parties, and the Elephant Museum

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Book Wrangler

June 6, 2005

By Bob Patterson


Folks, who regularly read the Just Above Sunset weekly World’s Laziest Journalist (WLJ) columns, know that a running gag is that the columnist asks people if he can borrow a Ford Cobra for two weeks so that he can drive to New York City and back and write about the experience online, while traveling. 


We have always assumed that the most difficult part of the fantasy would be to secure the use of the car.  Recently we traveled to New York City and back to Los Angeles (on Greyhound) and discovered, much to our horror, that getting the car may be the easy part.


While we were on the road, we were provided with access to a friend’s computer so we wrote most of last week’s column at a KOA campground near Gettysburg.  After writing it, Jersey Bill e-mailed it to the Just Above Sunset world headquarters in Los Angeles (very close to the site where the legendary Garden of Allah apartments were located), while we continued on to various new adventures in Manhattan.


One of the things that’s different from when I worked there in the Sixties is that, now, I can tune in to LA Observed and learn what’s going on back in my neighborhood, while sitting in a cyber café on 42nd street.  A friend working in LA had gotten a job writing for the Baltimore Sun and I wasn’t going to find stuff out like that by reading the New York Times.  Folks in New York just didn’t seem to care about who had become the new mayor of LA.  It was nice to learn about that by typing in a URL rather than going to the Out of Town newsstand in NYC.  (Come to think of it, I didn’t see them in their usual location this time.  Hmmm.  Maybe the Internet has caused their demise?)


[Speaking of how things are different now than they were in the Sixties, while we were writing this column, we got an e-mail advising us that Peter Choyce was subbing for McAllister on her Thursday morning show on KXLU, so we tuned in.  Groovy!]


Working with a new computer (such as those in the world’s largest cyber café on 42nd St. in New York City) is difficult because of such mundane considerations as:  it’s a different keyboard with a different reach to get to the backspace tab.  That slows you down a bit.  Then there is the fact that the fact checking is limited to what you can look up online, since you can not take all your reference books with you on the road.  With some practice, we could probably have increased our speed and efficiency, but when you are on the road, who has time to practice?  Obviously, this columnist must get a notebook computer and learn how to file stories from anywhere while on the go.


Some time in the early 90’s, two fellows took off to see America using an RV and an Apple computer to chronicle their voyage of discovery in a monthly publication (produced on the road) titled Monk Magazine.  At the time, this columnist grabbed a copy for one month, at random, knowing that having at least one copy of the magazine that those history making writers were producing was an essential addition to the “On the Road” section of our personal book and magazine collection.  Now, seeing that doing fact checking, using a computer, sending the stuff back to the editor, and doing so while maintaining deadlines, while “on the road,” is a lot more difficult than sitting at one’s own desk and mailing the results off to Alan by Friday morning, each week.  Hence we have an even greater appreciation for what those guys accomplished.


After leaving Albuquerque, we met a German lass who was traveling about the USA doing a study (graduate work?) on contemporary American art.  She was using a digital camera and so we hipped her to a great online site for photographers that is produced in her home country called Photo-Blog.  Since she was going to go to San Francisco, we took the liberty of suggesting she contact the Tiki news website and asking if the saga of the legendary Venice (California) Tiki parties given by Otto von Stroheim was continuing in the city called “Baghdad by the Bay.” 


Serendipity is possible online, but when you leave LA behind and start wandering around, you can find all kinds of things you never imagined existed such as Mr. Ed’s Elephant Museum near Chambersburg and Gettysburg in Pennsylvania.  You might someday stumble across an online mention of it, but, most likely, not.  If you are driving along Route 30 in the Franklin and Adams County area of Pennsylvania, you will spot it and it might suggest feature story possibilities.  It is better to find material in the real world because you also get folks in that neighborhood telling you personal anecdotes, that you would not get if you happened to find that particular tourist attraction online.  For example, after seeing Mr. Ed’s location, we met a young man who graduated from the University of Alabama.  He happens to work near the Elephant Museum and, since the Alabama mascot is an elephant, when he learned that Mr. Ed’s collection lacked a T-shirt from his alma matter, he quickly supplied one.  While writing about this, the fact finder did learn the back story of how the elephant came to be the Alabama team mascot, but it is doubtful that, without extensive searching, a web surfer would find both the museum and the background information from that school’s 1930 season.


If you didn’t meet someone who works for a newspaper devoted to the "Marine Community of the Upper Potomac River," would you think to do a Google search to see if such an entity exists?


If we were just Googling, would we find a website that chronicles the fictional adventures of a dog in New York City?  Luckily, we met someone in that very city, who twisted our arm (metaphorically speaking) to get a plug for such a website into our column. 


If we remained at home in on Sepulveda Blvd., reading Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, how likely is it that we would learn that there is a town named Barstow in Texas?   


One way to learn that the town of Sweetwater, Texas is famous for its annual rattlesnake roundup, is to go there and see one of the billboards touting the approaching festival. 


Sitting at home reading William Safire’s weekly “On Language” column in the Sunday New York Times Magazine Section you might wonder about the phrase “buy the farm” and its origin, but what are the chances that sitting in your favorite work chair, you would learn about a company that specializes in directing buyers to farms that are for sale? 


It’s more fun to see a billboard touting one particular railroad museum than to Google the phrase “railroad museum” and get a megachoice of numerous URL’s.


In the past we have repeatedly mentioned books that fall into the “on the road” genre, but only by going out and seeing the difficulties of getting diverse information and ideas can one truly appreciate the effort that went into the writing of those works.  Even Jack London did a bit of vagabonding and wrote it up in a book.  It’s a genre with a long history.  It didn’t start (or end) with Jack Kerouac.  There was even one book (in one of my boxes of books) about the genre itself called Vagabonding in America.


To do all that work and get it written and sent back to the editor’s desk, will take a great deal more computer expertise than the Book Wrangler/World’s Laziest Journalist possesses, so we realize that we have a lot of computer learning to do while we hunt for the next chance to ask someone if we can borrow their Ford Cobra for two weeks.


If we don’t help some people sell some new books, there will be no reason whatsoever to write future Book Wrangler columns either at home or while out among them.


Here are some new books which caught our eye and which we thought worth mentioning:


The Schwarzenegger Syndrome: Politics and Celebrity in the Age of Contempt by Gary Indiana ($19.95 The New Press) 

Shouldn’t the publishers send a review copy to singer/mystery writer Kinky Friedman who is running for governor in Texas?

Under Fire: Great Photographers and Writers in Vietnam edited by Catherine Leroy forward by Senator John McCain  ($35 Random House) 


The title says it all.


By Duty Bound: Survival and Redemption in a Time of War by Jr. (CA. Ret.), Brig. Gen. Ezell Ware, and Joel Engel ($23.95 Dutton) 


When the black author of this book was shot down in Vietnam he and the other crewman from the helicopter fought to escape from the jungle.  Along the way his fellow flyer reveals that he was a member of the KKK.  Are the film rights to this book still available?


On the Waterfront by Malcolm Johnson ($24.95 Chamberlain Bros.) 


Who needs unions while generous, loving, and caring employers are getting the Bush Junta to scrap all the fair labor practice rules?


Sunset Limited: The Southern Pacific Railroad and the Development of the American West 1850-1930 by Richard Orsi ($29.95 University of California Press) 

Of course, this weekly online magazine is going to plug that book just because of the title.

Blind Spot: The Secret History of American Counterterrorism by Timonthy Naftali ($26 Basic Books) 

There you go again thinking about valid, reliable intelligence.  Didn’t someone once say:  “WMD’s?  WMD’s?  We don’t gotta show you no stinkin’ WMD’s.”

Prelude to Terror: The Rise of the Bush Dynasty, the Rogue CIA, and the Compromising of American Intelligence by Joseph J. Trento ($26 Carrol & Graf)


There were no WMD’s; get over it already!


If you can’t get to Cali to see the LA Film Festival, you can visit it vicariously online. 


The Construction Battalion in WWII had the motto: “The difficult we do immediately; the impossible takes a little time.”


Now, if the disk jockey will play Robert Goulet’s version of “The Impossible Dream” from The Man of La Mancha, we’ll drift off to sleep and dream of driving through Concordia in a Cobra.  Tune in again next weeks for more similar paranoia and dementia, until then, have week where your tach (as in tachometer) reaches the red line.


[Note if you click on the underlined type in this column, it will take you to another URL with more information about the topic.]





Copyright © 2005 – Robert Patterson


Copyright © 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
The inclusion of any text from others is quotation
for the purpose of illustration and commentary,
as permitted by the fair use doctrine of U.S. copyright law. 
See the Details page for the relevant citation.

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