Back on Stage with Ed

20 09 2015
Interviewing Ed

Interviewing Ed

The summer trumpets have sounded. Into the autumn we go. Noise of political campaigns consume much of my days and nights — my reporting automatic at this point. I can see what is coming and avoiding danger, drama and becoming a jaded, bitter journalist is what keeps me on guard.

I have joined a monthly writer’s group separate from my two main employers. This gives me hope. At our first meeting, they ripped up my writing style pretty good. Call it an intervention on my addiction to clichés. My writing needs more description, they say. More color. More flavor.

Well, here we go.

When I shook Ed Asner’s hand I was surprised at its strength. It was a firm grip from a meaty hook. We were in Orlando, at the Doubletree Resort at a conference for mature people. Asner is 85 and he doesn’t forget easily. The legendary actor remains ever vigilant in the causes he holds dear. Fighting for the disadvantaged and working poor.

“For so many of us he embodied what being a man was all about,” said Tomcat, the conference organizer.

At this conference, I was the moderator on a panel of two — Asner and moi. My chief concern was not embarassing this Hollywood legend. Asner was cranky and cut me off on several occasions, much to the audience’s delight. My youthful inexperience during the program seemed to be part of the draw. I told the audience this was a first for me — sharing the stage with a Hollywood legend.

But it was not my first time standing before a crowd.

Flashback to 2010 and the race for the Florida House.

On an early Friday morning on the campus of Florida State University, candidates gathered to give speeches to the business community. This chamber of commerce function was attended by all levels — local, state and federal.

I dressed in a suit with pin-strip black pants. During this campaign I was intent on demonstrating an air of worldliness. I knew — we all knew — I would be defeated so I might as well go down in style.

Introduced to the audience my the former Speaker of the House, I spoke atop a wooden structure called a “stump” that had been placed on the stage. It was my desire to deliver words that would make my campaign stand out. I wanted to be remembered and I knew that the issues I was championing would not be a big hit in this room. Panama City, once a stronghold of Democratic values, had been flipped, like much of the South to represent Republican positions.

I was not speaking to the choir — and that was part of the fun.

And so from atop a staged stump, wearing Wall Street threads (Even mentioned to the audience, I was wearing Prada label shoes) I basically for all intents and purposes told those assembled to fuck off.

“Let me close with these words,” I said — slowly and softly — into the microphone. “It is a complicated world out there and only the naive see it in black and white.”

Later in the campaign, the Democratic Party chairwoman would say that speech was a turning point. The Republicans began to fight my message even harder.

“You scared them, John,” she said.

Five years later, I was on a stage in Orlando with labor activist and screen titan, Mr. Ed Asner. This manly man, as his admirers describe, fought the establishment many times in his career and lived to tell about it. I felt rejuvenated by his side and ready for the fight once more. Asner was blacklisted by the Reagan administration. I was by the local GOP good ol’ boys.

Common ground, through adveristy, was forged.

 

 

 

 





Closing one door, opening another

23 06 2014

Greetings from the far reaches of North America. I am corresponding from Glacier National Park in northwest Montana. The rivers are flowing fast and hard here as the snow continues to melt atop these spectacular mountains.

Together with Waterton Park in Canada, this area of wilderness was declared in 1932 to be the world’s first International Peace Park. At this point in my life it is the perfect place for me.

I have recently made peace with Panama City. The sale of our house is final and a decade long culture war has come to an end. I fought authority and challenged convention in one of the most conservative sections of the country and while I no doubt have battle scars to prove it, closure is vitally important.

And now we move on.

I find myself in Glacier hoping for nature’s healing hand to guide me again. The job is, quite frankly, the most responsibility ever bestowed upon me and I eagerly look forward to the challenge. I am managing a fleet of 27 vehicles and more than 50 drivers — each with their own unique personality.

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From my concierge desk inside historic Lake McDonald Lodge, I also oversee a staff of four concierges whose job it is to see that our guests and visitors not only enjoy their stay to the fullest, but also find their way onto one of the red buses, Glacier’s iconic touring cars. This is the centennial season for Lake McDonald Lodge and events are planned for throughout the summer.

No pressure for the guy named John McDonald.

Admittedly, the first month here was challenging. With a new company taking over the park’s lead concessionnaire contract, there was some confusion as we prepared to open our summer season. This was expected. There are obviously skeptical locals and those loyal to the former company whose grumbling I have experienced first hand.

For me, the transition from a labor activist to a middle manager is conflicting to say the least. I am beginning to see things from the other side. I am doing quite a lot of pausing and reflecting.

My father built a 30-year career in management — with one company, no less. I am hoping some of those skills are hereditary.

Lake McDonald is a nine-mile long glacial lake over a mile wide and 472 feet deep. When calm its royal blue waters reflect the neighboring mountain range in an amazing  mirror-like display that draws thousands to this remote location every year. It was named after Duncan McDonald, a fur trapper, trader and important negotiator with the natives. Duncan McDonald is described by one former red bus driver as a “Métis.”

“He was a half breed,” said Robert Lucke, a longtime employee at the lodge. “You can’t say that now because it is politically incorrect, but that’s what he was. He was half Scots-Irish and half Indian. He traveled this area in the 1870s and carved his name on a lakeside tree.”

Lucke, who at the age of 71 is retired from the Glacier Park lifestyle and now resides in Havre, Montana, has been a wealth of information for me as I continue my on-the-job training. He is a colorful character in his own right, who writes for several local papers around Havre and the lounge in the lodge bears his name.

At last week’s centennial celebration, Lucke entertained a large audience that had gathered inside the lodge’s auditorium on a wet and cold day with stories from his time driving those red buses. The stories clearly eased much tension associated with the new company in town, but could not overcome the question on everyone’s mind.

The Going-to-the-Sun Road and when will it open?

That, my friends, is the million dollar question here.