Postcards From the Edge

Since we received a bit of positive feedback to our Vapor Trails post (a truly rare occurence here), and since apocalyptic weather has kept our canoe flipped over waiting for the tornados to pass, we're going to paste more of the postcards we found this week at a local used bookstore. Like this one from the Drake Hotel in Chicago, circa fifty years ago, where guests at the Coq D'Or cocktail lounge are enjoying their mid-day drinks. At the bar sits a well-dressed business man, Pall Mall in one hand and Johnny Walker in the other, precisely the clientele the Drake was targeting. This card harkens us to a place and time when the captains of industry conducted their day to day business in smoky rooms, where discussions with gin-soaked associates ended with either a warm handshake or swinging brass knuckles.

The writing on the back of this card was in Russian so we're not exactly sure what it says (if any of you can translate Без перевода ðàçüåäàòü õîäèòü ïî ïÿòàì, let us know). Our best guess would be peasant family feeding their chickens in the Ukranian countryside or something to that effect. The bigger mystery here is when was this card made: with their yellow skin and neon clothing, we're left to wonder if this photograph was taken before or after the Chernobyl melt down?

There's something a little odd about this beach scene. Why is the schnauzer twice the size of the people? Why is he staring at the lake? Maxine Farrow of Bancroft, Iowa, chose to not discuss the obvious incongruituies in her note to Mrs. J. White of Portland, OR, dated May 25, 1945: It rained nearly all day. I sure wish it would warm up. Our company left Saturday. Gee it's lonesome now. We had a wonderful time. Write soon.

Look at this card with the border collie sitting in front of the barrel house in Tonopah, NV. We've been to Tonopah and can attest to the lack of trees in the high desert. So it makes perfect sense that a early pioneer, after his horses died of dehydration crossing the barren hinterlands of northern Nevada, would use whatever belongings he had to make a home. Nice casa too- except for the little problem with bulging lower barrel (by the dog). Uh oh- that is not in the book of good things. We wonder if the hard-scrabble homeowner fixed the structural defect or if he awoke one morning after a heavy snow wondering why he was covered in dirt and rocks.

Written on the back was this message dated January 8, 1909, to Mrs. Bertha Blecha in Clark Co, Wisconsin: My dear- rec'd. pkg. All OK. Just lovely. Bunch of girls coming and we are going to spread paint in my room. Wish you were here. Hastily, Lola. Lola clearly had lesser things to worry about in her home than the owner of the barrel house.

This postcard of oil fields near San Luis Obispo, CA, also had us wondering. We passed through the area several years ago and found a quaint city nestled in the hills with magnificent views of the Pacific Ocean. So why would anyone choose a postcard of sludge tanks over a nice ocean sunset? Clarence didn't consider this in his note to Miss Lottie Miller of East Toledo, Ohio on January 20, 1921: Dear Cousin. We all well and happy to find you all the same and i am to home now. You git better i say goodbye to all.

Then we saw this postcard of the Kentucky Dam on the Mississippi River, and we had an epiphany: back in the day, oil fields and dams were objects of great civil pride and that is why so many of the postcards from decades past show interstate tunnels and skyscrapers and power plants. These were the projects that built our society and made us different from the rest of the world. Pretty sunsets and mountain peaks- phooey! How about our freeways and hydroelectric dams!

On the backside, the card is dated May 24, 1942 and addressed to Mrs. Rose Clegg: Dear Grandma, It is 2:00pm and we are ready to catch some big ones. Sure hope we do. We'll we see you in a week or so. Love Mont and Everett.

Now here's a card we can relate to: a solo canoeist style paddling a cedar strip canoe near Algansee, MI (we'd never heard of the place and wondered if it still existed. A Wiki check said yes, Alagansee is a real place near the border of Indiana). The card is postmarked June 21, 1915 and the handwritten note to Miss Mary Franks of Montgomery, MI (another place unknown to us. Turns out it's right next to Algansee), is absolutely illegible. But we still like the card.


Vapor Trails

Back in the day when a Blackberry was something picked on the side of a country road and a Bluetooth was how your mouth looked after nibbling on too many blackberries, the most popular way to send a brief note to someone was by postcard. We witnessed the fading days of their golden era in the 1970's, when summertime mail included assorted postcards from friends and family on vacation who felt obliged to send a short message from some faraway tourist destination. The cards documented the weather (always warm) and the sunsets (always beautiful). Before chain hotels and fast food restaurants overtook the interstates, postcards could be found at almost every Mom and Pop motel and greasy spoon diner. Like the Riverview Motel on River Road in Harrisburg, PA, where the rooms are modernly furnished, steam heated, and have showers. To make a reservation just dial CEdar 39822!

At Kaleidoscope Used Books in Ann Arbor, you'll find stacks and stacks of old postcards (according to the owner, they have over 10,000. We concur with that estimate). Some are very rare (like a pre-WWII Japanese beheading postcard. Who would want to get that in the mail?), but most display freeways and museums and natural attractions and assorted apple pie Americana. Flipping through the postcard collection is a portal to the past and reading messages written by people decades ago allows for a brief glimpse into their life experience. The handwritten notes, scribbled in pencil and faded from the years, are akin to vapor trails; a term used in quantum physics to describe the remnant signs of sub-atomic particles after their energy dissipates into the vacuum of time and space.

So we bought a few of the cards and scanned them to share with you. The writers, no doubt, never fathomed that decades later their messages would be posted on some lamebrain blog. And somewhere, from the far reaches of the universe, they are reading this and chuckling at the absurdity of it all.

Greetings from LA. Having a delightful visit! wrote Martha Gainsburg to Mr. and Mrs. Gehrman on April 18, 1960, on a card with this pool scene at the Cavalier Hotel, where the ladies (looking like models from a Sears catalog) adorn modest swimwear and high heels- even when on the diving board. The men are standing watch over the pool, as if parahna fish were seen lurking earlier in the shallow end. Notice how no one dares enter the dangerous water.

Other cards, like this one dated August 24, 1941(addressed to "Miss Wendt, Toledo, OH"), mark a time when America was small enough that mail service only needed a name and city. This country is beautiful. Having a busy time, going places and see and seeing things. Mrs. Degener. We've been through Kansas a few times and beg to differ with her assessment of the geographical center of the U.S.A.

From the far northern reaches of Quebec, "Master Craig Hudson" received this card from "Johnson" on August 19, 1960. Hi. There is much of this country to see and they sell excellent ice cream. Evidently the deer in Quebec have little fear of mankind- take a nap under a tree and you might awaken to the sensation of a fawn licking vanilla flecks from your chin.

Not all cards are cheery and bright. "Mr. and Mrs. P.M. Haskell" of Lima, OH, received this note on July 12, 1953: We came to see Lester we only could see him a few minutes. He is still under restriction so we saw him a few minutes. Floyd went to find out where he was and he saw me in the car and came running. You come the week of Aug 2. See he will be under restriction. A google search of Station Hospital revealed it served American POWs. We hope Lester overcame his afflictions in quick order and went on to live his life without restriction.

Mrs. Alice Teare was sent this card displaying Hairpin Curve near Lewiston, Idaho (postmarked September 28, 1964): We are about ready to climb 4,000 feet from the river valley of Lewiston, where we spent last night. Yes- today we crawled up one even worse- car over-heated part way up and we had to let it cool down and re-fill the radiator. No problem tho as we lots of H2O in our tanks. We are fine and hope you are too. Merton and Mary. We can attest that Hairpin Curve, Idaho, is still causing cars to overheat, forty-three years later.

Mrs. C.R. Van Bruggen recieved this nice card from Hartwick Pines State Park near Houghton Lake, MI, on October 14, 1957. Jim and Dee took us up to the old logging country and to this lodge today. Lovely sunny day. Hope all okay with you. Louise. Notice the white writing on the wooden bench- that is not painted lettering. Back in the hay day of black and white postcards, messages were scratched into the enamel of the negatives. And if anyone recognizes the serious-looking man in the portrait above the fireplace, let us know. We suspect he is Major Edward E. Hartwick, who died overseas in WWI and his widow later donated the land from their logging empire to the State of Michigan.

This gem from the Roanoke Courts Motel in Roanoke, Alabama, comes with a message but no name or address. This was not uncommon- some people bought nickel postcards just to document a pleasant motel stay or ocean overlook. April 25, 1957. Room cost 4.00 very nice for that and so clean. Came from Moticello Fla today- 260 miles. This is the same room I had last fall Oct 27 when I went South. Such a clean place and the lady who manages it is sure nice; her name is Mrs. Hornsby. Got here about 4:30 had supper in town. Mrs. Hornsby no doubt appreciates your kind words, whoever you are. And Room 6 will always be your special room.

Mr. Wm R Mcgee in Jackson, MI, received this postcard of the Feather River Canyon on August 26, 1962. Bill, this is beautiful country came through here on the train. It was really something to see the snow covered mts. We arrived at Gerber last nite which is about 40 miles from Jo & Howard they were there to meet us and to our surprise R&G were with them. Arrived sooner than expected. Hope all are fine- Mom and Dad. It does look awfully nice there. We'll have to visit someday- maybe launch a boat on the Feather River.

Kirk at Bowling Green State University received this postcard of McCutcheon Residence Hall at Purdue dated March of 1984: Hello Kirk, Thanks for the card. Well, all is fine on this end. My physics sucks, English is boring. Calculus is not easy. German so so. This weather is great for morale, rotten for scholastics. 2.5 weeks till spring break. Can't wait. I saw Bren last weekend. 1st time in 4 weeks. Too long!!! You're right, we are close as ever. Maybe too close for 19. P.S. Been to any proms lately?!!! Bob

Bob and Bren may have been a college fling that ended two months later. Or maybe they're happily married now with three kids and a dog and a nice house in Indiana. We'll never know. But the vapor trail lasts forever.


Dog the Bounty Hunter

When we heard on the radio this week that Duane Chapman, (aka Dog the Bounty Hunter) was coming to a local Borders for a book signing, we knew this was an event we could not miss. While Ann Arbor gets a fair share of writers on the book hawking circuit, for the most part they are little-known and obscure (for example, the next writer in town is Fred Thompson, author of Barbeque Nation- 350 Hot off the Grill Recipes from America's Backyard. Our point exactly). So what the hell, we thought- we'll buy Dog's book, wait in line for an autograph, engage the Dog in brief conversation, and off we'll go with a story to tell about meeting a C-list celebrity best known from a reality show on the A&E Network. What a Friday night that'll be!

It didn't quite work out that way. We'll discuss why in a minute, but first let's delve into Dog's background (mainly for our loyal cadre of readers in the former Russian republics where American television is prohibited. Огpомное спасибо- На здоpовье!). In a nutshell, Dog's life redefines complicated: married five times, father of twelve children (two deceased). Former Texas outlaw gang member convicted of murder in 1977, who, following his release from prison, turned over a new leaf and became a bail bondsman in Hawaii. He made international news in 2003 when he captured Andrew Luster in Mexico after the creepy heir to the Max Factor cosmetics company skipped the country during his rape trial (Luster is currently serving over 100 years in prison). Unfortunately for the Dog, bounty hunting is illegal in Mexico so he was arrested and charged. After a lengthy legal battle, all charges against Dog and his posse were ultimately dropped (within the last several days, ironically). The notoriety of arresting Luster led to a show with the A&E network and after four seasons, the escapades of Dog and his bounty-hunting family have become one of the most popular reality shows on TV.

For good reason too- we have to admit the show can be amusing. Often clad in biker leather and flea market jewelry with little feathers braided in his hair, Dog looks more like a Harley rider from El Centro than a bounty hunter. His uber tan and power mullet and faded prison tattoos only add to the caricature. He says aloha to whoever he meets and calls everyone brah and utters the same cliches (he calls them "Dogisms") over and over to the point of ad nauseam. Each episode starts with Beth (Dog's alpha-female wife) throwing a kinipshitfit about losing the bond money they posted so an accused criminal could get released pending trial. Dog and his posse (mostly family members) then go looking for the missing jailbird and the goat chase officially begins. Sheepish relatives and associated derelicts get pinched for the last known whereabouts, doors get kicked in, clouds of mace shoot from canisters the size of small fire extinguishers, and the bounty hunters fight and wrestle with some degenerate who clearly does not want to return to the grey bar hotel. Every episode ends with Dog having a "Come to Jesus" conversation with his absconder as they drive to jail and by the time they arrive, the bad guy is bawling and promising to give up his n'er-do-well ways and thanking Dog for returning him to a 6x10 cell.

It's that sense of empathy that endears Dog to so many people. We expected to encounter a small crowd, and oh boy, were we ever mistaken. We arrived an hour before his scheduled appearance and the store was absolutely packed. We bought his book (the only way to get a wristband to meet and get an autograph), only to find 450 people were already ahead of us. Dog arrived and gave the local media an interview before they shuttled him off to a question and answer session with 75 early attendees. Hundreds of more fans funneled through the door and we contemplated whether it was worth waiting three hours to have a five second encounter with a reality-TV celebrity who is equal parts Boba Fett and P.T. Barnum. Outside, a perfect summer evening beckoned and minutes later, we were enjoying a carafe of merlot and a thick steak on the patio of a new restaurant. When we got home and read the opening lines of Dog's book, we knew we made the right choice.

In the old days, there weren't enough lawmen for all the criminals on the loose, so sheriff's posted hefty rewards to capture crooks on the run. Legends of the Wild West, like Wild Bill Hickok, Wyatt Earp, and Billy the Kid, all made their living hunting bounties. Now I might not be as famous as some of those guys, but I am the greatest bounty hunter who ever lived.

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