The Age of Buffalo Chips

A Pile of Buffalo Chips – aka Kansas Coal

By Cecil Hoge

My brother, who happens to be almost 30 years younger than me, is under the impression that my generation was worthless and the source of many of today’s problems. My generation, according to my brother, was composed of loose-living, weak-minded liberals befuddled by drugs and a lack of a work ethic. He may be right.

I admit my generation, like all generations, had many faults and it was certainly true that many of our ideas went off the deep end. In particular, my brother has cited the wide scale drug use of my generation as an example of just how misguided we were. I cannot deny that my generation took drugs…lots of drugs…and those drugs, in many cases, had truly harmful effects. I cannot deny that our lackadaisical approach to life and some of our beliefs were wrong or, at best, misplaced.

That said, I cannot help but believe that the present period suffers from faults of its own. Specifically, I think this is The Age of Buffalo Chips. What are Buffalo Chips you may ask? Well, since this is a family type blog, I prefer not to call a spade a spade when it might be considered vulgar and profane. Therefore, I am not calling this The Age of Bullsh–t and I am not fully spelling out that crude term.

If you still have further questions about what I mean by The Age of Buffalo Chips, try to imagine you are an American pioneer setting up a homestead on the Great American Prairie. There were not many trees on that prairie. And during the winter it got cold and nasty. So how did they heat their mud brick homesteads. Well, Buffalo Chips of course.

What exactly were Buffalo Chips. Well, Buffalos, like humans, have to go the bathroom. And Buffalos did not have the modern advantages of present Americans, namely, indoor plumbing. So Buffalos did the thing that came naturally to them. They pooped on the prairie. And Buffalo poop, after being left out on the prairie tended to dry out. So Buffalo Chips were dried out Buffalo Poops. And fortunately for the first American settlers on the prairie, the Buffalos pooped a lot. Why, you may ask? It turned out that when the Buffalo Poop dried out and became Buffalo Chips, those chips burned nice and slow and made very good firewood where there was no other firewood.

I have no reports as to whether Buffalo Chips smelled when they burned. If you are interested to learn, you will have to organize a seance with some American pioneers who lived on the prairie or try burning Buffalo Chips yourself. Hint: Buffalo Chips may be hard to locate in this day and age.

Lady with a Load of BCs

So Buffalo Chips were used in the same way coal was and heated many of the first homes on the American Prairie before indoor heating and plumbing came into wide use. You could say that Buffalo Chips were the same as bullsh–t, even if Buffalos were not exactly Bulls. That is what I mean when I say this is The Age of Buffalo Chips.

My calling this The Age of Buffalo Chips does not tell you exactly why I am using that phrase, so I wish to go further into my explanation. First and foremost, I would like to say that while my generation did indulge in drugs and other intoxicants, it seems to me that the present generation is stoned out of its mind – translation: acting as if they were taking heavy drugs. How so, you may ask? Not in the sense that the present generation is actually taking drugs, although the recent emergence of head shops in my little town of Port Jefferson would argue that some youngsters are still into Wacky Tabacky.

I do hear a lot of talk about “Opiods” and heroin addiction, especially in those depressed mid-west towns that voted for our present President. But those people are not stoned out their mind in the sense that I am talking about. I am talking about the people who look and talk completely straight, as if they have never taken a drug or a drop of alcohol in all their life. I am talking about groups of people, leaders, politicians, pundits, experts, economists, statisticians, prognosticators, lawyers, stock market analysts, big company marketers who are not taking drugs or “Opiods” or heroin. I am talking about a generation of business and political leaders who I think are “stoned out of their heads”.

Let me give you an example of  The Age of Buffalo Chips. There is a company that is presently running an advertising campaign on a product that is supposed to help people lower their blood sugar levels. The commercial begins with a guy walking dog. There is one problem – the dog is refusing to move. I guess what this is saying is that the guy is being held back from walking his dog. You can see that from the commercial. The dog is obviously not co-operating, and I suppose the point of that is that something in the guy’s body is not complying.

Meanwhile, the commercial is discussing the difficulties of controlling your blood sugar level if you have diabetes. It goes on to show some kind of instrument that seems to be both an injection system and medicine holding system. This system seems to be able to assist you injecting yourself with some kind of chemical (presumably to control your blood sugar) and at the same time, it seems to have enough medicine in it to give you multiple injections over a period of time. That seems to be the gist of both the instrument and the medicine. At that point, the commercial says, in so many words, that this is an easier way to control your blood sugar level, something very important for people with Diabetes.

Man and his dog, now walking

Pretty soon that commercial moves on to show the guy now walking his dog, who mysteriously gets up, presumably now because his master has used the mysterious instrument and injected the medicine. As he is walking along the guy begins to kind of dance. We can tell he is happy. Things are going better. The dog is walking with him…oh happy day. Then the guy ditches the dog and seems to be dancing through a park past picnic tables and happy park people.

At that point the commercial begins to list a litany of potential side effects from the medicine and we hear this list of problems that might occur…shortness of breath, wheezing, constipation, heart palpitations, diarrhea, bad breath, cancer, hernia, seizures, internal bleeding…I am not sure if this list is a complete or accurate list, but it gives you a feeling of the commercial. Meanwhile, the guy gets happier and happier, wiggling and waggling, shimmying and shagging his way through the park, dancing away, dancing around picnic tables, smiling at everybody and everything, with happier and happier music as the list of potential ailments goes on.

This guy is so happy that he mows lawns in circles!

Then the guy moves to an office, presumably one where he works, dancing through the office aisles, around desks, past other workers, with get happy music. In the background, the list of possible side effects ends with a fatal heart attack or stroke and then moves swiftly on to the many advantages of this remarkable new system. The final few seconds of the commercial show the guy mowing his lawn in circles while the announcer provides the sensible advice that it is perhaps good to consult your doctor about using this delightful new system, advising you prudently if you have a history tuberculosis, heart disease, liver disease or several other ailments that it is probably best to stay from this new miracle system.

I, not having Diabetes or a problem with blood sugar level, do not pay too close attention to this commercial. I am guessing that this kind of marketing does work, not only because it seems to be running almost every night, but also because there seem to be many other medicines running commercials at the same time touting different medical benefits, while each listing several dozen possible side effects. I offer the man walking his dog commercial as a prime example of The Age of Buffalo Chips.

1 Buffalo Chip Up Close and Personal

Another example of The Age of Buffalo Chips is politicians, some on the left, some on the right, telling us about a proper solution to a problem that they know never has a chance of ever being accepted. So, for example, Democrats today love to talk before TV cameras and say that we need to improve and enhance Obamacare. Now these politicians know of course that a new Republican President of the United States was just elected on the promise of abolishing Obamacare. And they know the Republicans now control The Senate, The Congress and most States in the country and that the Republicans have sworn, cross their hearts, to abolish Obamacare. Therefore, these Democrats know, clearly, absolutely, without any question or doubt, that there is not the slightest chance of Obamacare being improved or enhanced. And yet they say quite earnestly in front of cameras that this is what we should do.

So why do they go on TV and recommend something that there is absolutely no possibility of getting done? Simply because they want to put their faces in front of cameras and show their constituents that they are doing something that will never get adopted. Truly, this is an example of The Age of Buffalo Chips.

But fear not, this is a beloved technique of both parties. When the Democrats were in power and they had passed Obamacare, the Republicans proudly got up and said they would abolish Obamacare. Now they knew they had no way to abolish Obamacare with so many Democrats in Congress and in the Senate. But that did not stop them from getting up in front of cameras and saying and recommending what we should do.

And now, after they did get elected, after the Republicans did gain control of the Senate, the Congress and many state governments, these same Republicans cannot agree to adopt the very changes that swore they would put in place when they knew they could not do it. Truly, another prime example of Buffalo Chips.

Sustenance in the The Age of Buffalo Chips

While we are on the subject of TV through cable or satellite, I would like to mention that once upon a time TV was free. Now, you did not have many channels and in the beginning it was just black and white. As time went on, TVs moved from black and white to color and the number of stations gradually increased. Pretty soon it was almost 10.

There were still a number of problems with early TV. The channel selection was quite limited – there were a few local channels and a few national network channels. And then there were the advertisements. There were lots of advertisements.

The worst problem with TV of that time (the late 1940s and the early 1950s) was the fact that you had to physically change the channels. It makes me break out in a sweat just thinking about it. You had to get up, walk to the TV and turn it on. After that you still had to turn the channel dial, while standing at the TV. When you decided what station you wanted, you would select it and walk back fifteen or twenty feet and sit down. And most of the time you watched that station for the next one or two hours.

If you wanted to change a station, you had to get up, walk over to the TV and turn the channel dial to the new station you wanted. Then you had to walk back and sit down and watch that channel until you wanted to change it again. Truly, watching TV in those days was exhausting. And if you happened to be a channel surfer in those days and if there were as many channels as there are today, you would never need to worry about going to the gym because the exercise you would get changing channels would greater than the best gym workout.

We live in an age of progress and we can thank the good Lord for the invention of the remote. The first remotes were developed in 1950, but at the time you had to have a wire that ran from the TV back to your remote by the easy chair you were sitting on. This was a true danger because someone could trip over it on their way to get more chips or another beer. But progress waits for no man and in 1955 the first wireless remotes were developed and mankind, or at least many Americans, were freed from the need of wires.

Very early on there were attempts to have cable systems for TV, but these were only very limited. That was because no one wanted to pay for cable. In fact, in the 1950s and 1960s it was widely believed that TV would always be free.

But that is not what happened. In the early 1970s cable systems came into wide use based on the promise of commercial free TV. And for some years, cable TV was mostly commercial free, but you did pay for it. In the early days it was $10 or $15 a month. But as time passed and the cable networks saw new opportunities, the cost for cable went up and commercials began to work their way into cable TV programming. So by the 1980s people found themselves paying more for cable TV and watching just as many commercials as when TV was free.

Of course, because progress is always progressing, the number of cable TV programs was greatly enlarged. First to 30 or 40 stations, then 50 or 80 stations and then to hundreds of stations and soon to thousands. And that resulted in exponentially more channels to run commercials on.

It must be admitted, even by the most enthusiastic TV viewers, that the quality of these new programs was not always as high as the original programs that first aired when there were only two or three stations and when TV was completely free. And given the fact that instead of dozens of Tv commercials, you no had tens of thousands of TV commercials to work your way through. But, if channel quantity is a good indication of value, the cost per program became minimal and the opportunity to watch commercials became infinite.

So what cable TV offers today is a vast array of channel choices, some with good programming, good movies, some with myriad reality and Buffalo Chip programming and all with a sea of commercials for viewer to suffer through.

Given that we are in The Age of Buffalo Chips, all of this makes perfect sense.

Now my brother tells me that there are lots of new free digital programming available where the programming is much better and the commercials are either non-existent or at least far less. So this is a really good thing. Recently, my brother tried to convert his cable, internet and phone programming to just the internet. It sounds simple but this is a no no in cable land. I gather it took about three days and twelve hours in voicemail hell to obtain a talking, living person on the phone who said they might, just might, be able to do that although they absolutely recommended against making such a terrible decision as unbundling, since my brother would lose access all the wonderful programming cable, phone and internet that Verizon offered.

It is not clear if my brother John finally succeeded, but it is clear he is working his way through a giant pile of Buffalo Chips.

Let us move on to another field of activity…economics. Today we have a several cable or network shows reviewing and gleaning over and interpreting and pontificating on economic events on a daily basis and if one listens carefully to what these ladies and gentlemen say, one looks into the very heart of Buffalo Chips and sees that it is brown and dried out and, unlike the real buffalo chips, not even useful for heating homes.

What do these ladies and gentlemen of the dismal science tell us. Buffalo Chips is the answer.

Let’s make a few observations:

When the stock market goes down, the pundits interviewed tell us on the various national financial shows, that now is the time for “bottom fishing”. Oh, certainly, a few pundits are enlisted to say there may be some “risks” going forward, but then other pundits are interviewed immediately afterwards who point out that “the smart money” is “buying the dip”. Yes, we are told, at the time of maximum risk, the bold investor, the smart investor, the truly genius investor, is going into the market is…”bottom fishing”, “buying the dip” and surely, making a killing.

When the stock market is going up, the same pundits interviewed tells us about “the GoldiLocks economy” – that is when the business may not seem that great (for example, like today), but is still staggering upwards, while interest rates are held in check, while the Fed is still holding off raising interest rates too much, while the stock market continues to log increase after increase, though for no apparent reason. And so the pundits being interviewed always say the stock valuations are not really that high, even if they are higher than at any time in the last 150 years. Why? Because we are in a “GoldiLocks economy”.

And what happens if the “GoldiLocks economy” continues for years and the stock market goes up year after year and business stays about the same for year after year, as it has, for example, for the last seven years. Then these same pundits talk about “momentum” and “missing momentum”. Do you really want to miss the momentum when the economy continues to grow at a small rate and the stock market continues to surge upwards? Surely then, we are on the verge of a new boom, surely productivity is about to increase and there will be a growth rate that defies all others.

And yet, it does seem, when one looks at the stock market and the economy, that the stock market goes up 19% while the actual economy goes up 2.3%. Does that make sense. Not actually, unless, of course, you happen to be in The Age of Buffalo Chips. Then, it makes perfect sense.

I might slightly divert this discourse and mention that in recent years large corporations have discovered if they gobble up other companies and buy their own stock and downsize the overall number of their employees, they can see their stock valuations go up and they can show ever greater profits, even if the sales of all the individual companies they bought and own are declining. How does that work? In brief it works great for the brilliant business leaders of the company who draw millions and millions for their personal annual income. It does not work so well, however, if you are employed in any of these great corporations because there is a real possibility that you will be downsized. That is what is known as creative accounting in The Age of Buffalo Chips.

A Nice Toasty Fire To Gather Round!

This might be a good time to give my personal opinion of what happened in the collapse of 2007 & 2008. First of all, I wish to warn you that my opinion is most likely not held by many people and so, it should be considered just what it is, an opinion.

Here is what I think happened: The United States of America went bankrupt in 2007 and 2008. Now we all know that America did not declare bankruptcy in those years, so what I am talking about is a bit of a secret. I think when the Bush Administration (they were ending their administration just as the great collapse was starting) came to understand the true ramifications of what actually happened, they quickly and correctly understood that they could not tell the American public what actually happened. Why, because if they did, 50 or more million people might have been thrown out of work.

So they did the best thing they could: they lied. They said that the problem was only a temporary disruption and the government began writing blank checks to all the corporations that got us into trouble. I want to say something in favor of the Bush Administration: I believe they had absolutely no choice and they did the right thing. Yes, they could have let all the over large businesses that got us into trouble go bankrupt, but that would have resulted in another Great Depression and truly another 50,000,000 plus people would have lost their jobs and the government would have had no way to assist those people or deal with that problem.

So the government wrote checks and issued bonds for trillions of dollars to solve the problem. How did they do it? The Federal Reserve Bank simply purchased with bonds vast seas of bad, failing assets held by the companies that caused the problem. Now there was no actual money that existed for this. The American Government simply created funds, literally printing money or issuing bonds to purchase bad assets. They then took these bad assets off of the books of the companies that caused the problem and said they were now on the books of the Government. The total of those bad assets presently total $4,500,000,000. It is a big pile of Buffalo Chips.

In addition, the Government literally gave money directly to many of the same companies that got us into trouble. So the huge companies that created the problem were given cash to keep going in addition having most of their bad assets taken off of their books.

What do I think was the cause of all these problems and why was it so difficult a problem? I think it was one word: Leverage. For most of the 80s, all of the 90s and up through 2007, the new generation of financial experts were figuring out new and creative ways to create more and more leverage.

Let’s go back a bit. In the early 1900s, banks and stock brokerage firms lent money on the basis of having about 15% in hard assets and raising 85% in loans, stocks and bonds. The assumption at the time was that not all your loans could go bad at once and if you had 15% in hard assets, it was relatively safe to raise money in loans or stocks or bonds for 85% more. That worked pretty well up until 1920 and then banks and stock brokerage companies got together and figured out new ways for their customers to buy stocks, real estate and other bad investments while putting only a small amount money down.

That worked great as long as the stock market and real estate was going up, but when they went down many investors found they suddenly had to put up money they did not have. That, in essence, was the problem that the country faced when the Great Crash and the Great Depression began in 1929. It was also, by the way, the reason for the Glass-Steagall Act of 1934 which forbid commercial banks and investment firms from working together.

In the 1980s, when once again the stock exchanges began to truly recover from the terrible losses of the 1930s, the young people going into financial markets began to figure out new ways to gamble on investments. All sorts of new opportunities were created to invest and in doing so it became possible to greatly increase the money raised from hard assets. So, instead of having 15% in hard assets and raising 85%, it became possible to raise 99% from 1% in hard assets. Most of those people were still from my generation.

That was only the beginning of the trend of the rise of leverage. New younger guys and gals came on to the scene. They had borrowed money to get through college and they now found themselves starting careers with substantial college debts. Admittedly, this was nothing like the college debts as of May, 2017, which presently happens to be 1.4 trillion dollars. Let me write that number out – $1,400,000,000 owed by 44 million college student borrowers. Anyway, the next generation of younger guys and gals saw that stock market and investment businesses were prospering and they decided to join the prosperity train.

Now these young guys and gals were starting out with debts from college so they wanted to figure out new ways to create for more opportunity for themselves. And what better way to do that than to increase leverage. This allowed more money to be raised from the same assets so more investments could be offered and everybody could profit. And this generally worked really well all through the 90s. And by the end of century, Glass-Steagall was revoked and leverage surged ahead to become more like a half of one percent assets with 99.5% of all monies raised from that. If anybody had cared to think about that they would have realized that there was no there there.

When the 2000s began, colleges began to really get really expensive and each new class indebted themselves more. So it should come as no surprise that the newest generations of college students looked around to see where the best opportunities for enrichment were. Everybody could see that was in the go-go investment and stock brokerage and merger/acquisition companies, not to mention the formerly conservative banks who leaped into the game by selling stocks and bonds, gambling in currency markets and offering home mortgages and car loans to people who could not pay them back.

By the year 2007, things were beginning to fray a bit. The Age of Buffalo Chips was becoming evident. People were buying homes and cars and boats that they could not afford and it was all on credit made possible by, you guessed it, leverage. By this time, the money raised in mortgages, subprime loans, stock investments, real estate, government buildings was about 1500 times the actual value of hard assets available to borrow from. Houston, we have a problem. It seems there is no there there. Ooops.

I do not think the Bush Administration or the Clinton Administration before it ever saw this coming. To be sure, some people did see it coming – one only has to read Michael Lewis’s book, “The Big Short”, to know, without question that some people knew what was happening and made investments to counter what they knew would occur.

Now the gurus and the pundits and the economists interviewed after the collapse of the stock market and the economy all, almost to a man or a gal, said that no one could have foreseen or predicted the collapse of 2007/2008. But of course that is just another example of Buffalo Chips since there are still hard copies of “The Big Short” out there to directly contradict all those gurus and pundits and economists who, by the way, are still pontificating today about the glories of our stock market.

Anyway, when the Bush Administration did realize what had happened, the first thing they knew and understood was that they could not actually say that America had gone bankrupt. And frankly, this was a necessity. So they did their best and they printed a lot of money, wrote a lot of checks and bailed out the people who had created the problem because they knew if they didn’t a new Great Depression would arrive.

And shortly after, when the Obama Administration came to power and also came to realize the full extent of the problem, they also did essentially the same thing. They continued to pay off the people who caused the problem. And this is because the alternative was just too tough. In doing so, they also bailed out the American Car Industry, with the exception of Ford, who happened to be reasonably, well-funded. I believe this allowed us to get to the present period with a minimum of pain, but with a totally lackluster economy and it did, we must admit, save the majority of the American car industry.

Of course, today, 10 years after the collapse, we are still in a kind of economic haze of tepid survival. Today’s politicians lie about that. Maybe because they do not know better, maybe just because they want to be elected, maybe because they do know better. Whatever the reason, the economy is what it is because of the events we have passed through and because of the failure and collapse of leverage. At least, that is what I think.

I would also like to interject another opinion of mine here – that is, that America’s stock markets are rigged. Just how they are rigged I am not quite sure. I am guessing it is a combination of people and companies with faster computers than the computers used by the leading American stock exchanges, of computer generated algorithms that favor certain companies and certain trends and of many financial institutions working loosely together. Again, that is only my opinion and, like all opinions, it may be wrong.

But fear not, this is The Age of Buffalo Chips. As we speak, new, younger financial wizards are out there trying figure out new ways to increase leverage and to make money where there is no there there.

Moving on from the economy and back to TV, it is important to note that once upon a time, before The Age of Buffalo Chips, news organizations tried to report on news without taking sides. That is hard to realize in this era of “Fake News” and biased news where cable, radio and TV networks take sides and report the news with specific agendas. Our President says the main stream media is the enemy because they are distributors of “Fake News”. And surely it is true that the mainstream is biased because no matter the news organization, each has a point of view.

For example, surely CBS, ABC, NBC, MSNBC and CNN are all left leaning, pro-Democratic and decisively against Mr. Trump and the Republicans. And if it were not for Fox News, you would have to say that all the mainstream media is decisively against Trump and the Republicans. A curious fact is that Fox News spends a significant amount of time saying that the mainstream media is completely biased against Trump and the Republicans. And that would be true if it were not for the fact that Fox News is the most watched and the most popular mainstream news media in the United States.

So the truth of the matter is that the most popular mainstream media, Fox News, has made a career of calling all the other mainstream media biased. At the same time, most of the rest of the mainstream media – CBS, ABC, NBC, MSNBC and CNN – spends a lot of time calling Fox News biased and “Fake News”.

Both sides in this debate are 100% right. All media outlets have their own agendas and they are all, one and all, biased. And that also goes for newspapers and radio stations and the Internet in all its many forms.

I remember a time when the national media networks felt that they should only report the news and they should not take sides. I am thinking of Walter Cronkite and many other newscasters who at least seemed to be reporting what happened without saying what or who is wrong or right. Perhaps, my memory of that time is hazy or rose-colored. In any case, that era is long gone. We are now in The Age of Buffalo Chips.

I would like to say that I do not like The Age of Buffalo Chips. I would prefer news organizations to be responsible, but they are not. So, what is one to do? In my opinion, it is to look at the many different agendas and listen to the “news” as they report it and then make up your own mind and decide for yourself what is true, what is not true and what is Buffalo Chips.

This is not easy and I think it means listening to many sides and then reading history, thinking about all the different news reports and then making up your mind. It is my opinion, in The Age of Buffalo Chips, you have to think for yourself, decide for yourself and yes, make up your own damn mind.

Now as long as I am discussing this present period, I think it might be useful to consider lawyers. A lot of things have been said about people of that profession and almost universally, most of what has been said is negative. This is understandable when one sees some of the ads on TV for lawyers.

Whether it be Mesothelioma, Asbestos poisoning, or some terrible ailment caused by a wonder drug that has laid low a portion of the population, lawyers never seem to be at a loss to offer their services. In the old days, when advertising for legal services were forbidden or frowned upon, some lawyers were described as ambulance chasers. But the times have changed and there are much bigger bucks to be made.

Consider the prominent ads of the renowned firm, Yuckem, Suckem and Shuckem – I may have misspelled their name slightly. Their ads flood prime time TV. If you or some relative of yours has had the misfortune to contract Mesothelioma, leukemia, psoriasis, or some other disease that may or may not be related to some blockbuster drug, please apply to Yuckem, Suckem and Shuckem. They are the heroes of the people, they can get you big money, which, of course, is your God-given right to have.

Now perhaps the above is an example of what our President calls “Truthful Hyperbole”. Perhaps, there is no such firm as Yuckem, Suchem and Shuckem. You decide that. As far as I am concerned, this is just another example of The Age Buffalo Chips.

Perhaps This Is A Good Time To Reconsider This Lady

In reading this blog story I realize that I may have said many negative things about this period. I would like to mention some truly positive things about what I am calling The Age of Buffalo Chips. Perhaps the best starting point for that is the lady shown above. Let us consider her life when she and presumably her husband first arrived on the plains of Kansas to settle and make a new home in what was then the West.

Truly, her life and her husband’s life was not easy. We know from the picture above that she had adequate heating materials and she was strong enough to handle a wheel barrow. We can presume that she and her husband had access to water somewhere nearby. How far she or he had to carry the water we do not know. What seems sure is that she or her husband did not have indoor plumbing, did not have oil, gas or electric heating, did not have AC to cool the little homestead on those hot summer days on the Great American Prairie. Nor did they have a washing machine or a dishwasher, so house-keeping was not easy and starting out on the lone prairie involved struggle and endless hours of physically back-breaking work for she, her husband and her children.

Yes, they might have had a horse or a mule or a goat or a cow to provide some limited transportation, help with the plowing  or give the family some milk. They might have had some chickens or pigs to tend to and slaughter and eat. We can be sure they did not enjoy the modern benefits of an automobile that propelled them air-conditioned or heated according to the time of year back and forth to a supermarket packed with a myriad choice of meats, vegetables or sweets. A trip to town, where ever it was, might have taken many hours and the fare available to buy…be it hardware or foodstuffs or blankets and sheets…must have been limited.

Nor did our lady enjoy the creature comforts of the digital age. She could not call her children to remind them about soccer practice, she could not listen to songs on the radio or view soap or reality shows on TV. And most of all, she could not call her lady friends or perhaps even her boyfriend on the side and tell them or him her troubles and excitements and accomplishments of the day.

Yes, there are many enhancements and improvements in our life today in what I am calling the The Age of Buffalo Chips. There is much to be thankful about, there are many things that were issues for our ancestors that are not issues for us. So, the The Age of Buffalo Chips may be a period full of bullsh–t, but it also an age of privilege and wonder.

Perhaps the most wondrous example of this period is the ability to search for information on the web. Admittedly, sometimes it is hard to understand what is true and accurate because the choice and range of information available is truly mind-boggling. I am thinking specifically of a resource like Wikipedia. It is admittedly not the Encyclopedia Britannica, but it is a remarkable tool. Because it is an open source, ever-changing, ever-expanding media – kind of like our universe. It is not easy to be sure that everything is true and accurate. That said, it is resource that can be consulted at a moment’s notice almost anyplace at almost any time for free to check or counter-check some information.

I think the ability to access many websites for news, the weather or other desired information is a another remarkable advantage only made possible by the Internet and smart cell phones. The two combined provide us with a vast sea of portable, transmittable data and information. We can check things, verify things, look up things, photograph, record and video people and moments in our life. We can write notes, stories, novels, histories and even lowly blog stories. In truth, The Age of Buffalo Chips, as befuddling and confusing as it is, is also The Age of Great Possible Enlightenment.

It is great because there is an enormous amount of information available to access. It is possible because we carry around a tool, the smart phone, that can instantly access almost any kind of information. And that is possible because there is something called the Internet.

Of course, being possible also implies that it can be also be impossible. That is because in The Age of Buffalo Chips we are the ones who must inform ourselves and that means all of us must be willing and capable to stay informed, to judge for ourselves the information presented to us and to be able to determine the truth within. And that my friends is not always easy in The Age of Buffalo Chips.



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It Was The Music – Volume #2 – 1960-1963

A black gentleman who rolled Beethoven

By Cecil Hoge

In 1960 things were changing in the country fast. Blacks were integrating luncheonettes and riding buses in the front. Protest marches were beginning and some blacks were getting shot. John F. Kennedy was in the process of beating Hupert Humphrey on his way to best Richard Nixon. Nikita Khrushchev was banging his shoe in the UN and I was still at Portsmouth Priory School. Summer was still reserved for Southampton.

In 1960, the popular songs of the day were mostly concerned with love. The Everly Brothers were singing about being “Cathy’s Clown”, Elvis was trying to close a deal in “It’s Now or Never” and The Drifters were singing “Save The Last Dance for Me”. But other things were happening – folk music and jazz music were getting more acceptance from my generation. Me and my classmates were listening to it all, trying to make up our minds about what was good and what was not.


St. Thomas Aquinas, bright shining star of the Catholic Church

At Portsmouth the good monks were teaching me about St. Augustine, Thomas Aquinius and the principle philosophies and religions of the world. So I was learning about hedonism, epicureanism, Polytheism, Christianity, Islamism, Buddhism, Confucianism and Daoism. Of course, the monks’ viewpoint might have been a little skewed. Christianity is good, they said, the others are bad, they said. Of course, the monks were high IQ guys so they did it in a very high-minded way.

It went something like this: Hedonism is a simple dullard’s philosophy – pain is bad, pleasure is good – it leads to being a simple gross guy with no style – a drunkard, a sex fiend, a glutton. Epicureanism is one step above hedonism – you get to savor your food, slow it down, moderate your booze intake, enjoy stuff as you go – but, in the end, it is just the same thing, a pig with some paint on it, a dead end, an empty promise that leads to hell without hope of God or redemption.

Polytheism was a whole different can of wax for the Benedictines. It led, they said, to idolatry and the worship of the Golden Calf, Bacchus and Dionysus. There were a lot of different guys and gals who were gods and they tended to fight and be jealous of each other, so it was kind of hard to follow. Some were pretty good looking and tended to cause a lot of trouble. I have to say that Bacchus and Dionysus sounded like interesting fellows, but the good monks seemed to give them short shrift, saying they were just a couple of hedonists dressed as gods.

Regarding Christianity, having dog in that fight, the monks had a specific view. Christianity is the one true religion and provides the big payoff – provided you are good. And, by the way, they meant Catholic Christianianity. Not Eastern Christianity (a left turn off the true road), not Protestantism, not Episcopalianism, not Presbyterianism, and certainly not Baptists, all of whom the good monks regarded as misguided heretics. And in case you did not know it, Benedictine monks are, they said, the smartest, most noble and most correct guys wearing the black cloth and the white collar on planet earth. The good monks went on to explain that other forms of Christianity were just like movie reruns – never as good as the original. Yeah, they said more than that, but this is a blog story about music.

Regarding other aberrant schools of thought: Islamism might have some points, they said, since it was derived from Abraham and Islamic folks did regard Christ as a kind of prophet, but those guys really went off the deep end and found themselves on the wrong trail…after all, who would believe believe you will be feted by virgins with breasts like melons when you get to heaven.

Another gentleman that we discussed.

Buddhism was started by a rich wierdo, a prince who for all of his early life was sheltered by his parents. They did not want Siddhartha to know about death. But as happens Siddhartha left his home and, in doing so, saw death and poverty. This made him sad and confused and he meditated for many years on the meaning of life. Siddhartha tried starving himself to see if that would bring enlightenment. It did not and Siddhartha came to believe that extreme aestheticism was not the answer. Siddhartha came to believe that you have listen to your inner soul and try to achieve a state of Nirvana and thus escape pain and death. His big point seemed to be that the bow should not be too tightly strung or too loosely strung, meaning that any extreme was not the answer. Rather the middle way was the answer. That seemed like good advice to me. The Benedictine monks did not have a high opinion of “Nirvana”, which they considered a kind of negation of life, but they did admit Siddhartha was a guy to be reckoned with.

Regarding Confucianism and Daoism, the good monks also admitted these two philosophies were pretty impressive and intricate from a distance, but said they led nowhere. Confucianism wasn’t even a religion, it was really just a discipline to run an empire. After all, didn’t Confucius say, “Do not worry about the heavens, there will be time enough to worry about the heavens when you die.” Regarding Daoism, they said they did not have much use for “the way is the way” and water is stronger than rock and other such contradictory conundrums. Who would believe, that God is in everything? Why, that would mean that God was water, rocks, air, clouds, sun, stars…the whole kit and caboodle…everywhere and anything.

I know many folks may not like what is said above, but I am only the reporter. I am telling you what the good monks told me. So, if you have gripe about their opinion, I suggest you get in a car, drive yourself up to Portsmouth, Rhode Island and go talk to the good monks about it. But I will tell you something, if you do go, you better put on your best thinking cap. Those Benedictine monks are the sharpest guys wearing the black cloth and the white collar on planet earth, trust me on that.

Since this blog story is about music, I will tell you that I took a very interesting course at Portsmouth Priory called the history of music. Of course, it was rather limited. It only took in music from about the 12th century on. It did not cover Roman music, Greek music, Egyptian music, not to mention Chinese music, Korean music, African music, Indian music. And I don’t remember learning about Mayan music. I am guessing the good monks did not have any recordings available of the other stuff.

Actually, the good monks did not have recordings from the 12th century either, but they did have some information about what kind of instruments were played in those times. Seeing that people around that time were just coming out of the dark ages and were dealing with plagues, depression, constant wars, murder and rape, the music was mostly vocals and harmonies, including Benedictine chants. They did have some instruments that were not very complex, one or two string affairs and some gourds to blow into and create hornlike sounds. Anyway, the monks did have some recordings of that. It sounded a lot like the monks doing their Benedictine chants at our 5:30 am masses.

I will not say that I hated 12th century music, but it sounded kind of simple and dreary to me – like going to mass at Portsmouth Priory at 5:30am. But the music course moved on fairly quickly to cover some Renaissance hits. Those ditties were positively great by comparison and seemed to be almost band like. And apparently the guys and gals of the Renaissance had 3 and 4 and more stringed instruments, horn instruments and other things like piano like instruments and even drums. Yes, even in the 1400s, they were beginning to rock.

Well, I really liked the music of the Rennaisance. Not that I was going to go out to actually buy an album of it, but it sounded pretty damn good, especially when compared Benedictine chants. My course in music moved onto the 16th, 17th, 18th, 19th century and eventually got to the 20th century. Going from simple English folk songs like “Greensleeves”, a haunting song about camp followers (aka, prostitutes) dating back to the 12th century. And then on to Renaissance dance music, to more orchestrated music of the following centuries, passing through Baroque music and onto Beethoven, Bach and other biggies of the classical world. I can’t say the high falutin’ music held me. Finally, they passed into what sounded like some bad modern music, before they came to jazz music, which the good monks disparaged as a lower form of music, but I really thought was great, especially the early hot and rude jazz of Dixieland.

Not only was I going to school and studying music in a general way, but I and all my classmates were developing our own musical tastes which were mostly centered on the popular music coming out at the time. We were listening still to the Everly Brothers who also came out with “Let it be Me”. Chubby Checker was singing about “The Twist” and Fats Domino was “Walking to New Orleans”. Elvis had another hit that year, “Are You Lonesome Tonight”.

About this time, other influences and sounds were being heard. I was listening to different kinds of jazz, not just Dixieland, Fats Waller and Louis Armstrong from the 20s and 30s, but also new kinds of jazz, Charlie Mingus, Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Theolonious Monk. And of course, we had heard as background while growing up the music of our parents, Benny Goodman, Ornette Coleman, big band music, Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Tony Bennett and many, many others.

As students, our dorm rooms echoed with different types of music…pretty much every student had a record player…so, from our rooms, you would hear archipelago singing, rock and roll, jazz, classical and folk music, dissonant jazz to Dixieland Jazz. I, like some others, took a liking to various “Folk Singers” – Joan Baez, The Kingston Trio and others. We were too unsophisticated to listen to Woody Guthrie and other more authentic folk singers. We did not listen to much country music so you could say we were Hank Williams deaf and dumb. We were listening to Johnny Cash and some of the more popular country singers.

An interesting musical interlude occurred during Christmas break when my new German uncle (he was the brother  of my new stepmother) moved to New York and took me out one night with his best drinking buddy in New York. I had come home for the holidays. Now this was a time when I was still 17, in the winter of 1960, when I had sworn a sacred oath to my Benedictine monks not to drink alcoholic beverages for the rest of my life. My sacred oath did last until the summer of same year, when I came to conclusion that it might work for monks, but it would not work for me.

In any case, during my winter vacation, I got the opportunity to tag along with my new uncle and his best drinking buddy. Now, because I was honoring my sacred oath and because technically I was below drinking age in New York (an issue that had not always been an issue), I went out with my uncle Jackie, better known as Ernst Von Kalkreuth. Ernst had come to this country to find fame and fortune as a commercial artist – in Germany he had studied for this occupation. And as mentioned, Jackie, although brand new to the US, had some friends who had moved earlier to the States. And his friend Gottfried was one of them. Gottfried not only was a heavy drinker, he was a heavy smoker.

Now because Gottfried was in the States longer than Jackie, Gottfried was our official guide to New York that evening. So the first place we went to was Eddie Condon’s on 52nd Street. I remember they had some jazzy band that did not seem that terrific, but after an hour or two of listening with me quaffing down cokes and Jackie and Gottfried slugging beers and Gottfried chain-smoking cigarettes, it was decided that Eddie Condon’s was to antiseptic and so we headed downtown to place then unknown to me. Gottfried mentioned the name, the 5 Spot Cafe, and they paid up the check and we piled in a cab and headed downtown.

Although I did not know it, the 5 Spot Cafe was a pretty famous place where the hippest of the hip jazz musicians went and played and hung out. We got down there (it was in the Bowery) and we were lucky enough to get in and get a table. It seemed that Gottfried had friends in low places. So, we got a table about two feet from a piano, in the center of place. It was not big on decoration as I remember. In fact, the main decoration, as far as I could tell, was smoke. That suited Gottfried just fine, as he settled down in his chair and fired up his thirteenth cigarette of the evening.

At the piano was a rather famous black man, Thelonious Monk. Now, because I had heard recordings of Thelonious Monk at Portsmouth Priory, I was familiar with him and his music. Being about six feet away from the famous man himself I could hear the man real well, even if he looked more like a shade from the other world rather than a real human in that dense smoke. Jackie and Gottfried were now very happy. Gottfired got to tell Jackie mostly in German and occasionally in English what a great place the 5 Spot was, how great a musician Thelonoius was, what a great city New York was.

Jackie was saying that music was “verruckt” and did not make sense, but the beer was “ganz gut”. He was quaffing down Heinekens, if I remember. Jackie, although just a few weeks in America, had already decided that Budweiser was better renamed “Budwasser” – translation: Budwater.

I sat there, looking at their dim, but animated forms as they talked music, while Thelonious pluncked away at the piano dissonantly and someone played a horn mournfully. I couldn’t see too much in the room, the smoke hung over the place like Beijing or New Dehli. I can say this some 60 years later, I was never in smokier room than that evening, except, of course, a couple of times, during kareoke in Korea. I slurped down Coke after Coke, Jackie and Gottfried slugged down beer after beer, Gottfried fired up cigarette after cigarette. Thelonious Monk’s sets came and went and came back again.

I found that experience exhilarating, listening to the strange and dissonant sounds of the great Theolonius on the piano with the solo horn backing him up in sad, lingering tones. All in all, it was an exciting evening. I was fired up on sugar and caffeine and second hand smoke. Jackie and Gottfired were blazing a trail on beer and second smoke, with Gottfired leading the way with first hand smoke. Since I did not know what it smelled like, I am guessing mingled with the smoke of cigarettes was the smoke of marijuana. Maybe I am wrong, but by the time we rolled out of the old 5 Spot Cafe at 2:30 we were all more than a little high on something. Perhaps, it was the music.

Going back to school and the monks was somewhat of a come-down, although I got to tell my schoolmates what a great night I had listening to Thelonious Monk. There were a lot of smaltzy hits that year. “Teen Angel” was one, “Running Bear” was another. A guy named Bryan Hyland had a catchy song, “Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini”. Strangely, the Kingston Trio had a minor hit with, you guessed it, that classic 12th century ballad, “Greensleeves”.

The summer of 1960 found me in the Hamptons staying in a rented monstrosity my aunt called “The Monster”. It was well-named since it had 26 bedrooms. About a quarter of mile from the ocean and a third of mile from the beach club, it held all four factions of our family and an equal number of house guests. On a big weekend there might be 40 or 50 people coming and going. It was so big, often you would not see fellow family members for days. They came, went to their rooms, got dressed for some event, went out and returned, often never having been seen. I am not quite sure how we got this house. I think it came about because a friend of the family was a real estate agent and the normal deal for that house fell through at the last moment. We were more than happy to fill the void at what was surely a distress price.

That summer the Democrats nominated John F. Kennedy for President and Lyndon Johnson for Vice President. To me as a young kid just approaching drinking age, it seemed like a great thing that such a young, energetic and handsome man had been nominated. It seemed very hopeful to me. And speaking of approaching drinking age, I spent most of that summer sneaking into bars with my somewhat older friends.

Going back to Portsmouth Priory was a big comedown for me. I had had a blast of a summer, surfing, playing tennis, going to parties, sneaking into bars. The fall found me back in the land of the monks, getting up at 5:30 to go to mass and listening to Gregorian chants. During the day, I would attend classes and do all sorts of athletics in the afternoon.  We did still get our prescribed hour or so of American bandstand. We did, as seniors, also get our own single rooms, rather than sharing them with another classmate.

For the last four years of Portsmouth Priory, I spent all of my time trying to beef up with zero effect. As I was just turning 18 my weight was a magnificent 145 lbs. This had been a great struggle, starting in my first year at 125, and gaining about 5 lbs. each year. Of course, I was still growing, but I considered myself puny at 5′ 9″ and 140 lbs. as I entered my last year. I did everything I could think of to build up my body in that last year, playing soccer and tennis in the fall, hockey and squash in the winter, baseball, track and tennis in the spring. I even started doing sit-ups, chin-ups and push-ups every evening in my room.

Girls were almost an unknown thing at Portsmouth Priory. There were a few dances scheduled with some sister school not far from Portsmouth and we were allowed to write the young ladies after we had met them, so there was some correspondence. But nothing much happened except that 1960 gradually passed into 1961 and it dawned on me that I was going to either have to go to college or to work. Since I had never worked previously, the concept was unknown and out of the question. Fortunately, my father, having gone to the University of Virginia during the depression, was able to help me to get into that institution.

By June of 1961, I had built myself up to a magnificent 145 lbs and for the first time in my life I could say I was almost buff. This was accomplished by one or two hours of sports a day (soccer in the Fall, hockey in the winter and tennis in the spring) and one or two hours a day of calisthenics. As if that was not enough, I added chin-ups, sit-ups, pull-ups morning and night in my dorm room. I was pretty buff for a skinny dude and in probably the best shape of my life. That was not to last.

That summer, after graduation and before the big induction to college, I spent my summer with my rich kid friends, going to parties, laying on the beach and yes, surfing and playing tennis, but the emphasis was on fun, not on recreating my physique. Up in the morning by 10 or 11, down to the club by 12, laying on the beach and chatting with friends and fellow idlers. We would talk for hours, hang around in a rat pack and go out to bars and beach parties in the evening. It was indolence at it best, but I did hit the waves and play enough tennis to stay relatively mean and lean, finally, hitting the big 150 that summer and sprouting up another inch in the process.

That Fall I headed down to Charlottesville, the home of Mr. Jefferson’s University. Everyone called it the University and the dress was gentlemanly, with most students wearing jackets and ties. At the time, the University was about 10,000 students, with about nine thousand nine hundred being male. The fact that it was 99% male students was just about the only similarity between Portsmouth Priory and the University of Virginia was just about the only similarity. In every other respect, going to The University was different.

The first thing I discovered in this strange new world was that I could eat all the eggs and bacon I wanted at the University cafeteria each morning. At Portsmouth Priory, we were allotted small quantities of bad tasting, fairly well-balanced food. At the University of Virginia, you could heap any quantity of good tasting, high caloric food you wished on your plate. Moreover, you could come back for seconds.

The second thing I discovered was beer.

There was this place called The Cavalier, not co-incidentally named after the University’s football team, The Cavaliers. While I was not into to football, I did quickly get into the Cavalier. Every night I would go down to this local college dive and suck down 5 or 10 15 cent beers. Having come from a Benedictine monastery, I was unprepared for the freedom and access to the sins, the temptations, and the irresponsibility of “University” life.

In January of 1961, John F. Kennedy became President and there was a big space race going on. This race had started in 1957 when Russia sent a tin can called Sputnik up into “space”. Then there was a lot of concern about the “Russkis” getting the drop on us. The first guy to go up in space was Yuri Gragarian. He went up in April, 1961. But by May, 1961 we sent our first guy, Alan Shephard, up in “space”. He went up about 115 miles, cruised around a bit and came down. Bingo, we had upped the space race anti and showed we could get into the game.

Other things happening were not so successful. President Kennedy approved the Big of Pigs landing and some Cubans tried to retake Cuba. Fidel Castro, newly ensconced in power in Cuba did not like this idea. Nor, it seemed, did the Cuban people. In short order the Bay Pigs invasion failed and we had got a proverbial black eye over the incident. This was also the year that the Soviets tried to cut Berlin in half with a wall. Yes, this was the heart and soul of the Cold War and the Soviet Union was a much feared power.

And this was also the year that John F. Kennedy had chosen to send a few hundred U.S. personnel to Vietnam. From small acorns grow large oak trees. At the time the running argument was that the commies were overrunning the Far East, the French had lost their butts in Diem Bien Phu and if Vietnam was allowed to fall that whole part of the world would become part of Communist China.

What were the top songs in the heart and soul of the Cold War? Bobby Lewis had a single “Tossing and Turning”, Roy Orbison was “Crying” and “Running Scared” and Connie Francis was singing about “Where The Boys Are”. Another song, “The Twist” by Chubby Checker was still sweeping the nation and starting a new dance craze. That came just in time for me because The Twist was easy to learn and it was the first dance music that I could actually master.

Meanwhile, back at the University, this boy was in the Cavalier pretty much every night, drinking 15 cent brews with no more than 3.2% alcoholic content. Considering the number of 15 cents beers I was knocking back, the 3.2% was a pretty good idea.

And what about school. Oh that. Well, I was going to classes most days…at least in the beginning. Classes were really easy because most of my first year courses covered ground already taught me in last year’s courses in Portsmouth Priory. You could say that the first year courses were just catching up to the courses taught me the year before. So, I kind of cruised through that year with Cs and Bs. It was a blast and I was having the time of my life…going to keg fraternities parties every weekend with bands playing songs like “My Ding a ling”. Now, Chuck didn’t record that song until 1972, but his version of it kind captures that fraternity band music popular at the time.

While I discussing lowball music and even lower ball fraternity parties, let me tell you a little about that. Most of the fraternities were located on Rugby Road and they were lined up in two long rows on each side of Rugby Road. On a weekend, girls and guys wandered up and down, staggered might be a more accurate word, wending their way from one fraternity house to the next. Each fraternity had one or two kegs going, each had a small band blasting out music. The downstairs of the fraternity houses was devoted to the band and a lot of people crowded on to an impossibly packed dance floor.

If you could wiggle your way through, with you and your date – and yes, while there were very few girls going to UVA, it was possible to get dates from some of the nearby girl colleges. And believe it or not, in between the eggs and the beer, I was getting the hang of lining up dates. When you came into a fraternity with your date, there was usually a little room off to the left or right set up with a couple of kegs of beer and sometimes a very large punch bowl of some severely alcoholic mixture. A popular beverage to mix into the punch was grain alcohol, along, of course, with rum, bourbon and gin. If you ever tried to take a sip of the grain alcohol unmixed, you would find that it would simply burn your tongue off. It was powerful stuff and so was the punch that was often served on Rugby Row.

I would note this was before national networks discussed the horror of binge drinking in colleges. In fact, it was before the word binge drinking came into use. So, I can say with absolute assurance that we were not binge drinkers because we did not know what the term meant. I would admit that we did drink a lot. I might even admit we drank too much.

Now for a kid coming from a Benedictine monastery this was an abrupt and dramatic change in lifestyle. Hello hedonism, goodbye Christianity and all sobriety and all common sense had left the building. At the time I attended, the University of Virginia was designated by none other than Playboy Magazine as the biggest drinking college in the U.S. I can tell you one thing about the University of Virginia, while we all considered ourselves to be gentlemen of high honor because we were at Mr. Jefferson’s University, we were equally concerned that nothing that had been committed to writing by such a prestigious magazine as Playboy be anything but 100% correct. So we worked very hard at maintaining our reputation. And yes, it was true, many of us were young drunken fools.

I will mention a famous incident that had occurred on Rugby Row two years prior to my arrival. It was a famous story of my time. Louis Armstrong and his band came to the University to give a concert. It seemed that just after the concert, a few fraternity boys, perhaps several sheets to the wind, wound their way backstage and suggested to Louis that he come play at their fraternity house on Rugby Row.

Now it seems that the frat boys had no money to offer Louis Armstrong except a couple of hundred bucks and all the whiskey he could drink. I doubt that the offer of a couple of hundred bucks was very persuasive, considering Louis was one of the most famous and well-paid musicians of his time. But no matter, Louis took a shine to the frat boys and the promise of unlimited hooch and said sure, he and few of his band would come over to the fraternity. True to his word, Louis Armstrong came over to the frat house, whose name I do not recall, and started playing.

It seemed that Louis was having a fine time and in several nano-seconds word spread on Rugby Row that Louis was giving an impromptu concert. That invited a surge in the population of this particular fraternity. It was kind of like the Walt Disney movie where the mops keep bringing more buckets of water and the basement fills to the brim with water. Only in this case, it was young, drunken guys and gals, all jumping up and down on the dance floor. Well, dance floors can only take so much and apparently, after hundreds of people crowding on to it, jumping up and down and a bacchic trance, the floor gave way.

But fear not, it seemed there were no actual fatalities and the collapse of the floor did not end in total disaster. Now, the strange thing about this is that Louis Armstrong apparently did not notice that the floor had caved in even though he was only a few feet from a newly formed cliff leading to the basement. He just kept playing. Whether he just did not notice or he thought it was not that unusual an event I do not know. In any case, it was a famous story of events that occurred two years before my arrival and it gives you some flavor of the place.

By the time my first break for Christmas vacation, I had managed to pick up a quick 15 lbs. That was the direct product of eggs and beacon in the morning, robust lunch and dinners, followed up by mucho beers at the Cavalier. So I went from buff to flabby and paunchy in just 3 months. So much so, that when I got up to New York, I found myself being chided for becoming “chubby”.

That winter, when in New York, we visited the then famous for moment, Peppermint Lounge, the home of Chubby Checker and the Twist. Fortunately, in spite my quickly added weight, I was able to twist with the best of them, twisting the night away.

Back at college, I found myself more than ever entranced by the seduction of eggs and beer, picking up another 10 lbs. This instant chubbiness, at first surprising, was now becoming embarrassing. This led me to fits of limited athletic activity which prevented further decline, but did not get rid of the 25 lbs. that I had already gained. I had so quickly applied this extra weight to my body that it literally altered my appearance. I began to look like a young John Belushi, chubby before my time.

Well, to make a long story a little bit shorter, I spent the first two years of college flunking out. That was not my goal, but it was my trajectory. The first year was deceptive because I did pretty well scholastically, if you call you doing pretty well, getting B minuses and C pluses doing pretty well.

By the second year, things really started to go South – as in falling apart. After all, I had already gone South to Virginia so you could say that the South was catching up to me in my second year. I was partying hard and regularly forgetting that I should be attending classes. And a funny thing happened somewhere in the second year, I discovered that the courses were considerably harder. In the first year, it had not been necessary to study because most of the required courses I was given I had already studied in prep school. Yes, I did study a little bit, but in that first year, the courses were really easy.

In the second year, things changed. Suddenly I was taking Geology courses and Chemistry courses about things I had never been taught. I have to say that I was very surprised and intrigued by Geology. I was astounded to learn that the earth was very, very old. It seemed that the earth billions of years old. And more than that it seemed that the Universe was even older…who knew. The good professor who taught Geology said the Universe was literally billions of years older.

This was all pretty strange to me, but even stranger to me was how the earth evolved. It seemed it started as molten rocks and gases about 5 billion years ago. Certainly, that was not what the good monks had said at Portsmouth Priory. They had said that the bible had said the earth was 10,000 years old, but not everybody believed that they said, so it probably best to think of the 10,000 years as “biblical time”. That was an expression for a long time, but since the people writing the bible could not count very high, the 10,000 number meant a really long time. I’ll say, like 4,950,000,000 years instead of 10,000 years.

And if Geology was strange, Chemistry was weirder and mostly incomprehensible. Today, I wish I listened more and I wish I had attended more Chemistry classes, but in 1962, it seemed difficult to understand. I opted for partying. To make sure my descent into bad grades would continue, I joined a fraternity, Chi Psi, and upped my partying game because now I was living with 32 like-minded revelers.

A lot of other things were happening in 1961 and 1962 besides me chubbing up and failing to maintain grades. The Russkis decided to heat up things by erecting a wall between East and West Berlin. This was surprising to me personally because I had been to Berlin a few years before and had driven back and forth between West and East Berlin directly. I wrote about that experience in “A Fog Rolls into Berlin and I Gain a Stepmother.” So I was very surprised by the fact that a city that I had visited was now officially divided by a wall. It had, of course, been divided between East and West Berlin, but when I went you could back and forth to each part. Now the Russkis had made that almost impossible.

About this time, Bob Dylan was beginning to make his run at fame and genius, with a deadpan voice and profound sense of wording. At that time, his raw voice and the pure folk songs that he sang did not sound like very impressive. Bob was yet to sing, “The Times Were A Changing” and he way far away from adding electronic guitars to his music. Nevertheless, the times were a changing…people were coming and going. Among the many passers on, Marilyn Munroe, beautiful tragic lady, overdosed from drugs at the age of 36.

In the fall of 1962, I was busily doing everything possible to flunk out. In October, a major world event occurred and that was the Cuban Missile Crisis. President Kennedy came on radio and television and told the American people that a nuclear war might occur that week. That seemed like another perfect excuse to cut classes, drink a lot of beer and ponder the state of the world. So for three days, that is pretty much what everybody in my fraternity did.

We stayed in our fraternity house, known as the The Lodge. Our fraternity, Chi Psi, was almost unique in not being on Rugby Road. It was located about two miles from Rugby Road and the school campus. Our fraternity had a nice black couple who looked after us – Billy and Ester – Ester did the cooking and Billy did the driving. We had a Volkswagon bus that Billy drove us around in. We also a wierd triangular swimming pool located down a hill, surrounded by pines trees. The trees regularly dropped great quantities of pine needles into our pool, but in the fall of 1962, we were the only fraternity that could claim to have a swimming pool and that was a mighty powerful claim even if our pool was full of pine needles and the occasional beer can.

So, there we were, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, all hunkered down at The Lodge, huddled around a crummy black and white TV set and a not so bad radio. This was a period when all of America literally stopped and gathered around TVs and radios, watching and listening to find out if the world would end.

I well remember discussing the crisis with my classmates and fraternity brothers. As we huddled around the TV and the radio, the conversation wandered to what what we all wanted to do. One by one, each of us told our dreams. One wanted to go into the Air Force – he did and 5 years later he killed himself by accident crashing into an aircraft carrier in the Pacific Ocean. Another wanted to go to work for IBM – he did and to the best of my knowledge he worked there for about 25 years, before being down-sized. Yet another wanted to go into the secret service – apparently, he tried and did not get accepted – he went on to go into the infantry and served two in Vietnam.

I was the wierdo among the group – I said I wanted to design surfboards because I loved the ocean. That was true, but I never did design surfboards, at least not yet. Strangely, I did end up designing inflatable boats, kayaks and most strangely, stand up paddle boards, which are pretty close to surfboards. So you could say that in a way all our dreams, which we exposed to the world in heartfelt sincerity during those scary few days, came true. And hey, I still might design a few inflatable surfboards – it is on my bucket list.

So, imagine if you can, 10 or 12 frathouse brothers, sitting around a table, listening to a sad and partially defective black and white TV, listening to an almost decent radio, trying to glean information about whether world would continue. I remember those few days very clearly. There is nothing like the threat of the end of the world to help you focus. Even in the early months of that year, I kind of knew I was going to flunk out that year. The time discussing the Cuban Missle Crisis was a brief period of seriousness when we seriously discussed what we wanted to do for the rest of our life with the clear feeling that the rest of lives might only be the next three days. It was a strange period and perhaps strangest of all is how several of us correctly predicted our future life.

And while those three days seemed like they would never end, they did end and the Cuban Missile crisis passed. Russia withdrew the missiles from Cuba, the world took sigh and we went back to classes and partying. And yes, it did seem like flunking out of college was in my stars. And so as the year passed from 1962 to 1963 I found myself floundering and flunking and having a heck of a good time.

Author’s Note: “It Was The Music Volume #2” is the second blog story of a series of stories on the influence of music in my life. It is my intention to continue this series, but for the next few blog stories, I will return to some other stories.

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It Was The Music – Volume # 1 – 1953-1959


A Wild and Crazy Entertainer of the Time

A Wild and Crazy Entertainer of the Time

By Cecil Hoge

In the early 1950s, when I was growing up in Bellport, Long Island, there was not much happening in the music world. I remember one popular song of that day.

“How Much is that Doggie in the Window,” was a cute, catchy little song which, even if it was stupid, was memorable. It was about someone seeing a puppy in the window of pet store. I remember hearing “How Much is that Doggie in the Window,” in front of a pet store with a litter of cute puppies in the window.

If you play the above video you can watch this song. The song was being used by an enterprising local tradesman to sell puppies. Yes, music was used for marketing as early as the 50s. It is my guess the music has been used for marketing purposes for hundreds of years, if not more.

But I am not here to discuss music in marketing, I am here to discuss music in my life.

In the year 1953 when the song, “How Much is that Doggie in the Window” came out, Queen Elizabeth was crowned, Joseph McCarthy was getting discredited, Joseph Stalin died and, after three bloody years, the Korean War ended. In the United States, there was great concern about a nuclear attacks. Mr. Tippin, the nice old man who lived with his wife across the street, built a fall-out shelter for himself and his wife. I remember seeing their fall-out shelter. It was a pretty sorry affair, about ten feet deep, with a steel cellar door entrance. Inside it was a room about ten feet by twelve feet long. There was some shelving for jars and cans, a giant water cooler and a small double bed. It had no windows of course, but there was a ventilation shaft for air. I always wondered if you did go down there for two or three weeks, would you come out sane?

I remember going to a school in New York City, just before I moved Bellport, Long Island. In that school, once a week the teachers would ask us to prepare for a nuclear attack. So the students, who were nine or ten years old, were asked to get under our desks on our hands and knees and then told to put our heads down between our knees. John Noble, one of our smarter and more sarcastic young wits said the following:

“Now kiss your ass goodbye.” So much for nuclear defense.

1953 was not a big year for music. The year started out with the song, “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus”. Actually, that song had come out at the end of 1952 in time to catch the holiday season of that year. You could say America was kind of asleep. In addition to “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” and the “Little Doggie in the Window”, Percy Faith had a nice sounding hit “Song from Moulon Rouge”. Crooners were also big that year. Perry Como was singing, “Don’t Let The Stars Get in Your Eyes”.

1954 was not very different, Frank Sinatra was singing “Young At Heart”, Dean Martin was crooning, “That’s Amore”, Tony Bennett was swooning, “Stranger in Paradise.” But things moved along and sometime in 1954 Bill Haley and His Comets came out with “Shake, Rattle and Roll”. That might have been the first hint that new times was coming. Forgive me for using the singular verb rather than the plural verb, but I trying to get a point across and I really do mean, new times was coming.

By 1955, big changes were underway and America’s war babies were waking up to new sounds and new times. Something called Rock and Roll was coming on the scene.

The Maestro himself, Bill Haley & Comets

The Maestro himself, Bill Haley & His Comets

My first real introduction to Rock and Roll music was Bill Haley and His Comets. I had heard the song “Shake, Rattle and Roll” the year before, but the song that changed everything for me was called “Rock Around the Clock” . That song came out in 1955 like an announcement that something new had arrived. And that something new was Rock and Roll music itself. I first heard that song when I was going to Indian Mountain School in Lakeville, Connecticut. I remember hearing “Rock Around the Clock” in a small movie theater which happened to be playing a movie called, you guessed it, “Rock Around the Clock”. The movie featured a number of bands, but it was that particular song that made a kind of statement that a new kind of music had arrived in the world.

In 1955 times was moving forward and things was changing. General Motors had introduced their popular new Chevy model and it was hot, hot, hot…coming in at around two thousand dollars. Gas was running 25 cents a gallon so people were out riding. Boys and girls were discovering all sorts of way to get to know each other in cars parked along darkened streets. Nikita Khrushchev was running the show in Russia and Marilyn Monroe was getting photographed with subway air blowing up her skirt. Things was getting interesting.

Admittedly, Bill Haley and His Comets were not the greatest rock musicians, but that song caught the moment of that time. I am not sure what teacher at Indian Mountain School got the bright idea that it might be good to take the kids to a movie showing this new fangled music. It turned out to be a decidedly bad idea. And that became particularly evident when the song “Rock Around the Clock” came on.

“One, two, three o’clock, four o’clock rock,

Five, six, seven o’clock rock, eight o’clock rock

Nine, ten, eleven o’clock, twelve o’clock rock

We’re gonna rock around the clock tonight.”

The words were extremely simple and so was the message. Rock and Roll had come to town. Well, that little movie theatre, with about 90 of my male schoolmates – it was an all male boarding school except for about 6 girls who only attended day classes – went wild. All 90 of us jumped up from our seats and started screaming “Rock Around the Clock”, jumping up and down, throwing our arms up in the air. You could say that pandemonium was released, but that would be an understatement. Now we were not very old, I believe our average age was 12 or 13 at the time and I was one of the older guys. So try to imagine 90 11 to 13 year olds, all screaming, all jumping up and down, all waving our arms frantically in the air, no longer contained by the theater seats, wildly dancing in the aisles.

Now, up until that point, I think the teacher who guided us to that theatre thought of us as a pretty nice bunch of kids. All of that changed about 12 seconds into “Rock Around the Clock”. All sensible and responsible modes of activity went out the window with the opening lyrics of “Rock Around the Clock”. By time the first verse had gotten around to “We are gonna rock around the clock”, all dignity, all sanity, all decorum left the building and 90 kids popped up from their movie chairs and began flailing about in way that would make Dionysus proud.

Needless to say, after that event, we lost our movie going privileges. There was much debate among the teachers of the school as to whether we had collectively lost our minds or had been under the evil influence of one of Satan’s princes or had gotten hold of some powerful illegal drug. This question was debated and discussed among the school staff for several weeks afterwards, with different theories having precedence before being replaced by other new theories. I am not sure the staff was able to simply accept that it was the music stupid.

At Indian Mountain School, even if the teachers managed to keep us away from the local movie theater, they were not able to keep us away from the music that was just beginning to be played. In the afternoons, after classes we would go up to play pool and ping pong in the rec room. There we played endless hours of pool and ping pong and in doing so ended up listening to endless hours of music. That was because that spare and barren room, up on the third floor of our dormitory building, had one not so good Zenith radio which, if we were lucky, could get some local stations and pull in some pretty good music. And when it was working, that Zenith sounded pretty good.

I remember listening in that room to song like “Little Darlin'” by the Diamonds. It was not the most intellectual song, but had a message and a beat and it moved.

I remember first hearing Johnny Cash with “I Walk the Line”, his voice was like a deep-throated train with a driving beat behind him. It was not rock music, but it not country music either. It was something new, something elemental, something unavoidable. And so we played ping pong and pool for hours on end, each afternoon, listening to whatever we could get on the local music stations. And yes, there were still that pleasant popular songs that burst upon the scene, such as “The Yellow Rose of Texas” and “The Ballad of Davy Crockett” – these songs were kind of patriotic and had something to please everyone.

There were four of us at Indian Mountain School who used go up to that rec room as a group…Whitman, Tompkins, Ermentrout and myself…all around 14 years old. Off of the rec room was a small apartment for one of the younger teachers. I do not remember his name, but I remember that all was not well with him and his wife because he would emerge from his little apartment and ask us to turn the radio down or keep it quiet. Sometimes the teacher’s face was red and blushing, sometimes he almost had tears in his eyes. We would try to obey his plea for quiet but soon some song would come on and we would go back to turning up the volume, to shouting and arguing and telling each other what losers we were.


This guy who changed my life

This guy changed my view of music

The song that changed forever my view of music was “Heartbreak Hotel”. I remember first hearing that song in Bellport, Long Island at the local soda fountain shop. The year was 1956. I would go to the soda fountain shop every one or two days, usually before picking up my mother a couple packs of cigarettes and a bottle of scotch. That was the major errand my mother would send me on and I hated it because I knew no good would come of it. So to make my task less painful I would always stop off at the soda shop. If I was going to get my mother cigarettes and alcohol, I would at least get myself a vanilla milkshake.

This was in the summertime, when I was not at Indian Mountain School, but staying in Bellport at our small Cape Cod style house on 25 Thornhedge Road. Going to the fountain shop was a special pleasure for me. I was really into vanilla milkshakes. Occasionally, I would vary this with a vanilla ice cream soda. It was a big debate in my mind which was better – the vanilla milkshake or the ice cream soda. Some days I settled on the milkshake, other days I would come back to the ice cream soda, deciding that was the best in the land.

On one of those days, when I was innocently having a milkshake or a soda, the song “Heartbreak Hotel” came on the Jukebox. Now this soda shop had a giant Wurlitzer Jukebox. Those things were a piece of art unto themselves and a wonder to behold. And I remember when I first heard the first words of that great song come on:

“Since my baby left me,  I found a new place to dwell

Down at the end of Lonely Street at Heartbreak Hotel”

It was not just the words, it was the sound of the song, and low, throaty voice of the King himself belting out what was for me one of his first hits. That song sounded so different to me, unlike anything else I had ever heard, that I went right up to the big Wurlitzer that was stationed between the soda fountain where folks sat on chrome stools that twirled in circles and the soda fountain booth area where young couples snuggled together slurping milkshakes and sundaes.

That song, when it first came on, demanded attention and I gave it all I could. I walked over to the Wurlitzer, sat down cross legged and put my ear against the giant speaker and listened to the whole song. I just could not believe the song, I could not believe the words. And when the song ended, I stood up and pulled out a nickel (the fee for playing a song on the Wurlitzer at the time), pumped it in the jukebox, selected “Heartbreak Hotel” and sat right down to listen to that song again. I listened to “Heartbreak Hotel” four or five times that day, only getting up to plug in another nickel in to the jukebox.

I am not sure if the proprietor of the soda fountain approved of my strange behavior, but he never stopped me as long as I was plugging in nickels. And he seemed more than happy to change the dollar bill I had for more nickels. The year, as I said, was 1956.

In that year, My Fair Lady with Rex Harrison and Julie Andrews came out on Broadway. I know because my rich aunt took me to see it. Grace Kelly married the Prince of Monaco and Arthur Miller, the playwright, married Marilyn Monroe. You might say it was a good year for marriages, but I would point out that it was also the year my father officially divorced my mother and Marilyn’s marriage to Arthur Miller did not last too long either.

“Heartbreak Hotel” was the first song that seemed to have the power to take me away. It pulled me aside and said here is another way to look at things. And in doing so, it got me through periods of time that were personally and emotionally difficult for me and set me to thinking about other things, other possibilities. Rock n’ Roll was literally taking me out of my 14 old body and introducing me to something, a kind of inner joy. And in that period of time, I needed that because the times were confusing and what was happening in my personal life was also confusing. And if you think about it from that point of view, music was a kind of balm, a kind of cure for the soul.

And while “Heartbreak Hotel” was always for me the first rock and roll song that I realized was Rock and Roll, another song came out that came out that announced that the end was nigh for old style music. I speak of the immortal Chuck Berry and his classic song, “Roll over Beethoven”.

In 1957, I was still at Indian Mountain School, which was a pre-prep school for boys whose parents were either unable to take care of us or who were in the process of getting a divorce or who just wanted us kids away. Whatever the reason, in Indian Mountain School I found a new identity, a new ability to take care of myself. I was learning to read books on the side, I was taking interesting classes learning about things that I knew little about.

Of course, as a teenager I was afflicted with many of the hormonal changes of youth.  I was having my first problems with acne, I was starting to think about girls. It was about that time that I had some problems with warts. This was not the end of the world, but it did bother me. The school nurse gave me some kind of poison to put on my warts which were all located on the palm of my hand. After about two weeks of being poisoned, the warts would drop off my hand – all, that is, except one persistent larger wart which was larger and more durable than the others.

imageIt was about that time that song “Wake Up Little Susie” by the Everly Brothers was released. It was another song that made a big impression. It did not have great meaning, but it kind of caught a quirky spirit of the times, telling the tragedy of two teenagers falling asleep in a movie theater. I remember that song because I first heard it in the office of the local doctor I was sent to in downtown Lakeville, CT. The good doctor was just cutting out my most obstinate wart and that song came on. It helped with the pain as I watched him use an exact Exacto knife (or what looked like an Exacto knife) to cut out the last elements of my lingering abomination. Most of the time the Exacto knife was cutting dead wart, but occasionally the good doctor got into real flesh and blood and that hurt. Fortunately, “Wake Up Little Susie” came to the rescue and I remember feeling pretty good as the last bit of the song dropped away and I walked out of that doctor’s office.

1957 was the year that Humphrey Bogart died from cancer. Sputnik was launched by the Russians and the Edsel car was introduced. In other words, not too much was happening. Elvis Presley was still churning out hits like “All Shook Up”. “Little Darlin'” by the Diamonds was still a hit. At the time, I had made a $5 investment in a radio that did not need batteries and did not have the best sound. It was a pretty simple affair. It was a plastic tube with a cone and an antenna on one end and a double wire coming out the other. At the end of the double wire was one snap clip and one earphone speaker. The idea was pretty simple – you clipped the snap clip to a radiator or some other metal pipe (effectively grounding the radio) and plugged the earphone into your ear and moved the metal rod back and forth. That brought in different radio stations, if you were lucky.

Now it so happened at Indian Mountain School my bed was right next to a radiator. This made hooking up my new fangled radio simple. The earphone was also a good call because lights out was 9:30 and it was forbidden to listen to radios, read in bed, talk or do anything but sleep. Fortunately, I had my $5. radio. I cannot say the reception was that good. It was kind of hit and miss, but every once in a while you would come across a station that came in real clear. That is when I first heard “Jailhouse Rock” and “Teddy Bear” by Elvis, “A Whole of Shakin’ Goin’ On” by Jerry Lee Lewis, with the lights out, huddled in my bed on a cold winter’s evening. It was not the best sound, but at the time any sound was great.

“Young Love” by Sonny James was another big hit in 1957. It was soon to be knocked off by Tab Hunter. I, of course, only respected the Sonny James version, which had a twanging, haunted, driving sound to it. It was a song to remember. The only time I got to listen to that song was in the rec room playing ping pong or pool in the afternoon or after lights out in bed on my tiny, trusty radio.

In 1958 a number of things changed. I graduated from Indian Mountain School and enrolled in new school, Portsmouth Priory. This was a Catholic prep school run by Benedictine monks. These monks were pretty serious folks. Five of the people who were monks, including our headmaster at the  time, Dom Leo van Winkle, had come from the Los Alamos National Laboratory. If you did not know it, the Los Alamos National Laboratory was the place that brought you the atomic bomb. It seemed these five guys were so depressed by making the atomic bomb that they decided to become monks.

Now, having come from an all boys boarding school, I was used to living a pretty controlled life where we did not get to see girls, but the monks at Portsmouth Priory took my already esthetic life to a whole new level. The monks themselves got up at 4am for a round of dried bread, cold coffee and Gregorian chants. Not long afterwards (around 5:30am), we were rousted out of a perfectly good sleeps to join them for a few more Gregorian chants. And then it was on to mass, breakfast and five or six classes. I will say that the courses were interesting or the curriculum was truly educational, but sometimes you can go overboard and I think this was one of those times.

For that reason alone, music was more important than ever. This was the time that 45 singles were becoming more and more popular. The Italian song, “Volare” was extremely popular. The Everly Brothers had a truly great hit, “All I Have To Do is Dream”. Groups like the Silhouettes, the Platters, the Drifters, The Coasters all had great hits and were coming onto the scene. And of course, Elvis had a usual round of hits. Chuck Berry was singing about “Sweet Little Sixteen”. And then there was the great Jerry Lee Lewis sang about, “Great Balls of Fire.”

Benedictine Monks or not, the blood was beginning to pump and you might say, in today’s lingo, animals spirits were awakening.

In the afternoon, after the five or six classes, lunch and after two solid hours of  sports and calisthenics at Portsmouth Priory, we would get about an hour off before dinner. That was just on time to watch Dick Clark’s American Bandstand and for young guys holed up in a Benedictine Monastery that was a revolution unto itself. Singers like Little Richard, Dion, Jerry Lee Lewis would come on and sing songs like we never heard before. And American Bandstand had girls dancing with guys and while there was nothing much to be seen in that, we could let our imagination run free.

In the summer, after completing my first year of prep school, I came back to New York to spend my summer vacation and that year, unlike the last few years before, I spent my summer in Southampton. I have written some things about my family at that time in Southampton in this blog in “Our Family Secret” and in “The Zirinsky House”. In my case the contrast between Southampton, Long Island and Bellport, Long Island could not have been more different. Bellport was a sleepy little summer resort with zero pretensions and a great place for crabbing and snapper fishing and a few friends of my age.

But Southampton was something else altogether. In the 1920s, Southampton had been called the queen of New York’s summer resorts and as time passed, it became only more so. When I first went out to Southampton, I came to discover that it was inhabited mainly by rich people. Now most of those rich folks were older people, like Henry Ford, like the Wanamakers, like the Chryslers, like the McCormicks, like the Havemeyers. These people came from families that had made money and had become rich and had become social and who decided they no longer should work, because work, after all, was a kind of dirty occupation, and so they concentrated on being rich and living rich and doing very damn little.

All that is except my family, who were not rich and who probably had very little reason to be in Southampton other than the fact that we came from a quote, unquote “good family” and my family knew a lot of rich people who also came from quote, unquote “good families”. So we had good connections and very little money, but we had something some of the richer folks didn’t have. We had four families and we joined forces, scraped together some money, and by virtue of combined resources were able, just barely, to rent a big rambling summer house and join the two all important clubs. I speak of course, about the Beach Club, aka The Southampton Bathing Corporation, and the Meadow Club, aka, the Meadow Club.

So for me this was a whole different world. Not only was I now living in a house with multiple cousins, younger and older than myself, I quickly acquired a bunch of new young rich kid friends and instead working like other kids of our age, we would hang at each other’s houses, go to the beach club, go to the Meadow Club and swim and surf and play tennis and then go out to young kids’ beach parties, which, by the way, were truly on the beach. And of course, in doing that we listened to a lot of music, sometimes on nice stereos, but more often on transistor radios or jukeboxes. And by the way, this was around the time that the drinking age in New York was 18 and it was also along the time that we were figuring out how to sneak into bars and what soon were to be called discotheques, even if I was only sixteen at the time.

This was also the time that Buddy Holly and the Crickets were becoming popular. He had leapt onto the scene with “That’ll be The Day” in 1957. In 1958 he followed up this original hit with “Peggy Sue” and “Everyday”. By that summer, Buddy Holly and the Crickets were one of the leading groups in Rock and Roll. This success was not to last long. Several months later, Buddy Holly died in a plane crash, along with Ritchie Valens and J.P Richardson, aka, The Big Bopper. This was the famous day that the music died.

Anyway, in the summer of 1958, I was hob-knobbing with a bunch of much richer kids than me in Southampton. Our days were truly carefree. Get up, have a late breakfast, head to the Beach Club, hang out on the beach. If there was surf, maybe we would stay in the ocean, coming out only to warm up for a few minutes on the beach, go to luncheonette counter and slurp down a hamburger and few cokes. If the surf was really good, maybe we would head down to the inlet, walk across the dunes and catch the surf break by the jetty where the waves broke slow and well-formed and where you could walk out a few hundred feet in the ocean and catch long lingering waves.

If the break wasn’t breaking, then we would head to the Meadow Club for two, three and sometimes four sets of tennis and then take a shower and then sit on the big porch and chit chat for hours, part gossip, part recalling what each of our friends did the evening before, part discussing important matters, like where we would go that evening, whose house we would visit, which bar or discotheque we would try to crash. Yes, these were simple pleasure filled days and we didn’t do a damn thing all day long. And we pretty much spent the evenings the same way.

For me, a person who had been used to going to a boarding school, to wandering in the woods by myself, used to fishing and crabbing in Bellport, it was a whole new life. Yes, kind of worthless, with a big priority on doing nothing worthwhile or useful. They were carefree days and nights. I cannot say that I improved my mind or moral purpose. I cannot say that I went to work for the first time in my life and learned new skills and lessons while I worked. I can say we lived days in the sun and water and we had truly fun times going with my friends in the evening doing things that were not very constructive, but having a good time anyway. And I cannot say I regret those days.

Every summer comes to an end and pretty soon I found myself in Portsmouth, Rhode Island in the land of Benedictine monks learning about more serious things…Gregorian chants, religious philosophy, world religions, mathematics, geometry, American, Greek, Roman and European history and reading English and American novels. I have to say that the folks at the good monastery were truly good teachers, dedicated to trying to make civilized creatures out of the wild human creatures they were presented with.

One of my first roommates was a guy named Michael Ward. It turned out he was the son of Jane Wyman, a beautiful and famous actress who had been married to Ronald Reagan. Michael was the progeny of another husband and so he ended up in Portsmouth Priory, like many of us, somewhat lost and disengaged from our parents. Michael was a very quiet guy who kept to himself, but he was a great pianist and he loved to play jazz on the piano, which, if I remember correctly, was located, somewhat incongruously, in the gym. Anyway, in the late afternoon, Michael would go off to the gym and play right up until dinner time.

Sometimes, if I was not watching something frivolous, I would go to listen to Michael playing jazz and while I did not know very much about that kind of music, I could tell he was highly skilled. I also remember Jane Wyman coming to the school and sitting with Michael, Jane Wyman and Dom Leo van Winkle, the headmaster and the head monk. I think there were one or two other students and one or two other monk teachers at the table. The food was traditionally bad to terrible, but I think they made a special effort that evening to make the food only poor.

I will say that in the evening we had a little more free time. Lights out in our dormitory was 10pm, so we had a whole extra half hour while away. Mostly, we chatted in our rooms and listened to 45’s on crummy record players that we had at the time. The 45’s got scratched up pretty quickly and we would spend hours listening to different kinds of popular music, arguing who was better…Elvis or Dion, Buddy Holly or the Platters…there was quite a division of opinion. Some of us were getting more sophisticated, listening to jazz, Louis Armstrong, Fats Waller, some of us even liked Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett.

The King himself in army gear

1958 was the year that Elvis went into the army and Boris Pasternak wrote “Dr. Zhivago” and I was spending my first year at Portsmouth. By 1959, things were changing – Fidel Castro took over Cuba, Alaska became the 49th state and Charlton Heston starred in Ben Hur. At Portsmouth Priory I was playing soccer, hockey, squash and tennis…fall, winter and spring. For a school dedicated to intensive intellectual and religious study, Portsmouth Priory had a surprisingly robust athletic department. Those monks believed in sound minds in sound bodies. After one or two hours of soccer, hockey, squash or tennis, the athletic director would send us off to run up hills, to do pole vaults, chin-ups, jumping jacks, climb 30 foot high ropes and other strange things.

The summer of 1959, I resumed my summer schedule in Southampton, playing tennis and surfing in the days and doing my best to be a young teenage wastrel in the evenings. We were chit chatting and laying around the beach on sunny days, going to parties and sneaking into bars in the evenings. In short, I was having the time of my life.

There was a French guy who I got to know during that summer. I do not remember his name, but he was a thin, tall, cool guy liked by all the girls we hung out with. This French guy was the summer guest of Mrs. McCormick, she was the great, great granddaughter of Cyrus McCormick. Cyrus was the inventor of the mechanical reaper. He founded the McCormick Harvesting Company, which later became part of International Harvesting Company. Needless to say, Mrs. McCormick was rich and because she was having a young French kid staying at her Southampton home for the summer, she decided to buy him a car, so he would have something to run around in.

If I remember that car was a Ford Fairlane 500 Galaxie convertible. So, Pierre had this boss car and I was lucky enough to tool around in it with him. And while the girls were lined up to go out with Pierre (I will call him that for want of his real name), Pierre was much more interested in racing his Fairlane. I was lucky enough to accompany Pierre on a few of his racing expeditions. There was a kind of ritual to his racing.

We would head out around 8 or 9 at night from Southampton and take the back road to Shinnecock. Pierre usually had the top down and the radio blasting music. “Mac the Knife” by Bobby Darin, a cool jazzy ballad, “Stagger Lee” by Lloyd Price, another haunting ballad and “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” by The Platters, a great, moody undulating ballad were some of the songs that came on. As soon as we turned off on the back road, that was the sign that the race was about to commence. Pierre would pull over on the side of the road and raise the convertible top.

He was afraid having the top down might down might cause wind resistance. While I am not sure I bought into this theory, being the passenger, I did not argue. Besides, Pierre said we could hear the music on the radio better and that was sure true.

As soon as the top was up, secure and clamped down, Pierre would turn me and say, “And now we go!”

And Pierre really meant go because he would put the pedal to the maximum metal and we would peel out on that black top road, with the back end of that Fairlane squirreling about until we got a full head of steam and we were on the straightaway of that little road doing 50, 60, 70, 80 and 90 miles per hour. Now this road did not at time feature street lights so you could truly say we were driving in the dark at ever faster speeds. Fortunately for me and Pierre, he was a really good driver.

Pierre was very serious about his racing. Each time he would ask me to mark the time. The first time we made the trip to Riverhead in 40 minutes, which I thought was pretty good because I usually made the same drive in 50 minutes. Anyway, that was not good enough for Pierre. He was convinced he could do better. I accompanied Pierre two other times when Pierre methodically reduced the time, first to thirty-five minutes and then to thirty minutes. The only thing that kept me in my seat was listening to “Mr. Blue” by the Fleetwoods as we touched 95 mph. Pierre seemed more satisfied with his performance. I, on the other hand, was terrified.

I did not accompany Pierre on his later runs. I found some logical excuse to bow out each time. About two weeks later, Pierre came to me that I should be sorry I did not accompany him the night before. He made the trip from Southampton to Riverhead in 20 minutes.

“That’s great, Pierre,” I said.

Despite my fear of Pierre racing from Southampton, I used to do a little racing myself. Some evenings I was granted use of my parent’s Nash Ambassador, which was a big hunk of American steel, about as fuel inefficient as a car can get, but pretty damn fast. Some evenings I would race up and down that quiet street with Megan, Shirley, Ricky and sometimes Pierre, just to prove my racing chops. And if truth be said, I could get that caboose car up to 90 or 100 mph. It was usually accompanied by the screams of my passengers, all this is, except Pierre, who kept saying:

“Go faster. You can do it. This car can do 110.” Fortunately, I always slammed on the brakes before getting to the magic 110 mph.

I loved that Nash Ambassador. Three years later I smashed it into Merrill McGowan’s car. Merrill was the grandson of Charles E. Merrill, and we were coming back from Charlotte Ford’s deb party. I was not going a 110, but I did get up the old Nash up to about 55 mph on Henry Ford’s driveway before realizing there was a car in front of me and slamming on the brakes. That proved to be too late and we slid into Merrill’s car.

He got out, looked at the back of his car, “Damn, Cecil, I am supposed to play golf at ten in the morning.”

That was all he said. Since it was then four in the morning, that did not leave Merrill much time for reporting the accident to the police, which we did, after I swallowed 2 tubes of toothpaste, which was happily provided by some other party goers who happened by. I told Merrill I was sorry about the car and that I hoped he still might get some sleep that morning.

In 1959 the streets of Southampton were virtually empty at night and if we saw another car on one of the back roads of Southampton at night it was often a friend. I remember cruising around one night with Charlie Munroe and myself. We saw a car coming down First Neck Lane and instantly recognized it. That was not hard to do because Ricky Harris’s yellow Chevorlet Impala was hard to miss, even at night. Both of our cars stopped in the middle of First Neck Lane (I guess we thought we owned the street) and we started up a conversation at twelve o’clock a night. Ricky’s Impala had the top down and Ricki was with his sister Megan and Fernanda Wetherill. We were just chatting and enjoying the warm summer evening with Ricki’s radio blasting and then “Hats Off to Larry” came on. It was a great song by Del Shannon. Listening to that song, parked in the middle of First Neck Lane, kind of captured for me that essence of that carefree summer.

I remember also going to a party with mostly guys older than me, drinking mucho beers and listening to Buddy Holly and the Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens. It was a kind of day the music died party. I remember there was Sidney Wood III and Merrill McGowan. Sidney Wood III was Sidney Wood Jr.’s son. The father was the Wimbledon tennis champion in 1931 and also a member of the Beach Club. Sidney Wood the III was his son, going to Yale at the time, the captain of the tennis team there and a truly great guy. Merrill McGowan was the a golfer that I had irritated a couple of years later the night of Charlotte Ford’s deb party. There was Ricky Harris, Charlie Munroe, myself and few other friends, all beered up in this small cottage on the beach, listening to the stereo.

Somewhere after about 5 or 7 beers, Buddy Holly’s swan song, “Rave On” came on. Now the great singer himself had died the winter before, but it was only then that I was realizing what a truly great singer he was. “Peggy Sue”, “Ready Teddy” and other Buddy Holly greats had already played on the album we were listening to. Then “Rave On” came on and we all went wild singing the lyrics, dancing in a horizontal line, in front of a couch, part staggering, all singing, 6 or 8 guys, arm in arm, still trying to hold our beers and dance at the same time:

“We-a-he-a-hell, the little things you say and do

Make me want to be with you-ah-ou

Rave on, it’s a crazy feel in’ and

I know it’s got me feeling’ and

I know it’s got me reelin’

I’m so glad that your revealin’

Your love for me

Rave on, rave on and tell me

Tell me not to be lonely

Tell me you love me only

Rave on for me.

Rave on, it’s a crazy feelin'”

Needless to say we were a little “buzzed” to use a popular phrase of this moment. More than that, we was happy, we was drunk, and we loved that song. I still remember that evening. I really looked up to Sidney Wood and Merrill McGowan, who were both older than me, far cooler than me, and I remember their smiles and laughter and their good cheer to this day. Two years later, Sidney Wood was killed in an automobile accident in North Carolina while on the way to a tennis tournament in Florida. He was truly an up and coming tennis player. Perhaps, if he had lived, he too would have won at Wimbledon.

Author’s Note: Music is a very personal thing. What I like, others may not like. What I choose as popular or good or noteworthy or earthshaking, may not be any of those things, but it was to me. And the small list of artists and the limited range of music mentioned are not meant to be inclusive of the music of the period discussed – 1953 to 1959. I have chosen to omit music after 1960 because that would make the list of songs and artists in this story far longer and this blog story far, far longer. I do intend to cover music from 1960 on, but this will take more blog stories, as the plot thickens and music evolved. That is, by the way, why I call this volume 1.

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Moses Drury Hoge – Preacher to the Confederacy During The Disunion

Moses Drury Hoge, one in a long line of family preachers

Moses Drury Hoge, one in a long line of family preachers

By Cecil Hoge

I have mentioned on this blog that I come from a long line of preachers and pirates. In “Grandpa Gets Busted”, I discussed the pirate side of my family, citing my grandfather, Edwin Shewan, who repaired ships for the Atlantic fleet and ran liquor during prohibition. In “Sailing Clipper Ships Around the World”, I recounted some of the exploits my great, great, great, great uncle, Andrew Shewan, who was a captain of clipper ships that sailed from Scotland and England to China and India, sometimes carrying cargoes of a dubious nature. Those two Shewan men came from a long line of sea captains who, the further you go back the more likely it was that they were pirates or privateers appropriating cargoes from Spain or some other unfortunate country…no doubt in the good services of an English Queen or King.

I would like to say that my claim to be related to a long line of preachers is equally secure. In this, I offer up my great, great, great, great grandfather, Moses Drury Hoge, shown above. Not only was he preacher, his father, Samuel Hoge, also was a pastor, as was his father’s father, named, not co-incidentally, Moses Hoge. Given this long line of distinguished preachers, I can say that coursing my viens is the blood of both pirates and preachers. This mixed heritage had left me confused at times and perhaps, sometimes led to a few mistakes in the direction of my life.

Here are some facts about the preacher side of my family. Moses Hoge, Moses Drury Hoge’s grandfather and Drury Lacy were both associated with the founding of a church in Richmond, VA. and with the founding of Hampden Sydney College – both having served as Presidents of Hampden Sydney College. Samuel Davies Hoge wed Elizabeth Rice Lacy in 1817. Samuel was a pastor at Bethesda Church located at the Culpeper Court-house. Moses Drury Hoge was born September 17, 1818.

John Blairsville Hoge, another relative, said at the time of his birth, “Take this child and train it for heaven.”

So it could be said that from birth there were high expectations of Moses Drury Hoge.

Moses was a constant reader, well read both in the Bible and the Classics. He went Hampden Sydney College in 1836 at the age of 18. After graduating, Moses became a trustee of that college at an early age. According to another preacher and relative, Peyton Harrison Hoge, Moses Drury Hoge was “a moral man and shrank from whatever was low and defiling.” In college and afterwards, Moses associated with Christians, many of whom were Presbyterian ministers. At college and as soon as he himself climbed the pulpit, Moses gained a widespread reputation as an orator and preacher. His speeches were considered brilliant and powerful.

In the 1850s Moses had the opportunity to go to Europe. In England he met many Presbyterian Ministers and became acquainted with the leaders of the Church in England.

While still in college, he was approached by the Reverend B.M. Smith, a young minister himself, to become a minister. Moses had all the right stuff…coming from a long line of ministers, preachers & pastor’s, being both serious and religious, well versed in the Classics. Strangely, at the time Moses replied that he doubted he would live long enough. It seemed his early health was not the best and for some time he thought he might die of consumption. That did not happen and some time later, after being approached by more preachers, he decided to enter Seminary School.

He was licensed as a minister by West Hanover Presbyterian Church in Lynchburg on October 6th, 1846. This was the same church in which his father and grandfather had been licensed. Thus three generations of the same family were connected by this strange sequence of events in the same church.

Apparently, Moses was a star preacher and orator from the start. Moses Drury Hoge was thought to be a great and powerful orator. In the early part of 1844, he became a minister at the First Presbyterian Church on Franklin Street, near the Exchange Hotel.

Second Presbyterian Church where Moses Drury Hoge preached to Stonewall Jackson, Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis and many other leaders of the Confederacy.

Second Presbyterian Church which Moses Drury Hoge founded and later preached to Stonewall Jackson, Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis and many other leaders of the Confederacy.

His church was crowded from the beginning, Sunday after Sunday.

On March 20th, 1844, he married Miss Susan Wood. They made their home at the Exchange Hotel. At this time, his health still was not good. This changed when he went to Europe. In the spring of 1854, he went abroad for five months to London, Liverpool, Edinburgh, Dublin, Brussels, Antwerp, Cologne, Frankfurt, Zürich, Lucerne, Berne, Milan, Genoa, Turin, Verona, Venice, Lyons and Paris. In doing so, he also visited many of the finest lakes and the grandest mountains in the world. Apparently, it was the trips to the mountains and the lakes that improved his health.

In 1855, after returning from Europe, Moses and a Dr. Moore, another fellow pastor, purchased the Watchman, a respected Presbyterian publication. The two partners changed the name to Central Presbyterian. Moses became the editor of that paper and wrote editorials in that paper from 1855 to 1879.

By 1855, he had three children, one of whom, Fanny, died in 1851. In his travels around the country, Moses preached in Brooklyn at the Academy of Arts. It was gathering of ministers from all over the country and was well-received. His first son was born in 1859. It was around this time that debates about secession became prominent in Moses’s life. Moses did not think of the Civil War as having its origin in the debate over Slavery.

Moses, according to his nephew, Peyton Harrison Hoge, in his book “The Life and Letters of Moses Drury Hoge”, agreed with the words of John Randolf Ticker:

“The North fought for the great political idea – the idea of the Union; the South fought for another great political idea – the idea of local self-government. Preserve the two and the war will not have been fought in vain”.

Apparently, Moses did not approve of slavery. On receiving a number of slaves from his wife’s estate, he offered them their liberty. Interestingly, only one accepted and the others remained with Moses and his wife. At another time Moses bought 5 slaves, the relatives of his hired servants and then set them free.

In any case, Moses Drury Hoge still preached to slaveholders. He may have abhorred the institution, but he did not condemn it. Moses was apparently in favor of sending slaves back to Africa.

“I was pained in observing the extensive disaffection to the Union which seemed to prevail in that part of Virginia. It strikes me if you expressed anything too strongly it was when you spoke of the small number in the South who are in favor of secession, if it could be accomplished peacefully.” Moses Hoge wrote in 1851.

In 1859, Moses wrote to his brother, William Hoge, who was also a minister, at the time preaching in New York:

“Tomorrow is our Thanksgiving Day. One thing darkens its joy. Shall as many States ever again celebrate one day united in one Confederacy? I trust and pray He will save us from the wrath and folly of war. But my own hopes have never been so darkened. The people have in a great measure lost their horror of disunion. I still believe an overwhelming majority love the union.”

But as time went on Moses changed his attitude towards the North. In another letter in January of 1861 he says, “I have considered the state of Northern aggression very ominous for many years.”

And then he writes his brother:

“My Dear Brother: The thing we have feared is upon us. The spirit of Cain is rampart, and we seem about to plunge headlong into an unnatural and diabolical war. We may not long have the privilege of even writing to each other…You are right in the impression expressed in your letter to the Central Presbyterian that Virginia has nothing to expect by way of conciliation or concession from the North…The war spirit is fearfully aroused here, and the fierce demon of religious fanaticism breathes out threatening and slaughter. It is not safe even for a minister to counsel peace.”

By the middle of 1861, Moses Drury Hoge’s opinion of the coming conflict changed and he came to the conclusion that the South was right in its quest to secede. In another letter to his sister June 1, 1861, he says:

“With my whole mind and heart I go into the secession movement. I think providence has devolved on us the preservation of constitutional liberty, which has already been trampled under the foot of a military despotism at the North…I consider our contest as one which involves principles more important than those for which our fathers of the Revolution contended.”

After the war began Moses worked at “Camp Lee”. He wanted to become a chaplain to a regiment, but he was persuaded that he was needed at the center of the Confederacy.
Writing his wife on June 24th, 1862 describing the battle lines being set up at “Nine Mile Road” he wrote:

“The town is now all excitement in anticipation of the battle which is expected to come off tomorrow or next day. Jackson and Ewell are said to be in Hanover, ready to strike McClellan’s army in the flank. The conflict will be tremendous, but I have no fears as the result. I think we will utterly rout our enemies, by the blessing of God, and we live in Richmond in long suspense of it, and of the burden of having two vast armies in its vicinity, consuming everything there is to eat…All my concern is for the multitude who must fall, and for the number of the wounded who will crowd our houses and hospitals.”

Two days later the “Seven Days” fighting began, resulting in the withdrawing of McClellan and the present relief of Richmond.

In the early days of the Civil War or the Disunion, as some called it, there is the curious story of Moses overhearing some soldiers talking.

One soldier said, “I wish all the Yankees were in hell.”

Moses said, “Would you not see them sent to heaven?”

“No I would rather see them in hell.” Said the soldier.

“Oh,” said Moses, “I thought you would probably prefer them to be where there is less probability of your meeting them.”

This apparently caused laughter in the soldiers.

At this time, Moses was also made the honorary Chaplain of the Confederate Congress. Moses wrote his brother, William Hoge, about his many duties at the beginning of the war:

“When you saw something of my manner of life in former days, you thought me a busy man, but I am now the most pressed, the most beset and bothered brother you ever had. My 6 sermons a week, and funerals extra, might fill up all my time reasonably well, with pastoral visits thrown in to fill up the chinks, but it is only the beginning of the Illiad. I have opened Congress every day this session…life of late has been all work and no play with me…I have been preaching the last three Sunday afternoons to the Fourteenth Regiment near the reservoir.”

In another letter to his brother, he wrote:

“I had my first sight of the enemy day before yesterday…The enemy’s pickets were about 500 yards distant, in full view…It gave me new indignation to see them walking and riding about in a locality which I was so familiar. McClellan has his headquarters at friends Webb…There is no panic among our people. Resistance is to the death and is the calm determination of the citizens and our soldiers are confident of victory.”

As the war proceeded Moses found himself closer and closer to battles. Here is a description by Moses of The Battle of Seven Pines:

“We halted a moment at a building about two miles from the disease of the battlefield where we saw a great number of our wounded – which had been brought and laid, some of them on the floor, and others on the ground around the house – the surgeons standing over them with bloody hands and knives, busy making amputations, bandaging up wounds…Before reaching this building, we saw many of our men wounded, yet able to walk, staggering towards the city, other were conveyed on horseback, in ambulances, or in litters, carried by their comrades. Some of these men were groaning, others seemed ready to faint with pain or loss of blood, while others went along sang froid.

“Passing the temporary hospital, near the roadside, I begged to go in and take a look at the condition of things there. It was a spectacle at which the Angels might weep! No one knows what war is who has not seen military hospitals; not of the sick but of the cut, maimed and mutilated in all the ways in which the human body can be dishonored and disfigured. Inside the hospital on the floor, the men lay so thick that it was difficult to walk without stepping on them. I kneeled down and prayed for God to comfort them, give them patience under their sufferings, spare their lives, bless those dear to them, and satisfy to them in their present trials.

“On the ride back to town, the scene which the road presented was one never to be forgotten. Artillery and baggage, wagons were coming out, while ambulances, hacks, buggies and persons on horseback were going in. These meeting in narrow places, blocked up the way. Omnibus and other heavy vehicles were stuck fast in the mud, which drivers were trying to prize out; and in the midst of the noise and the confusion the groans of wounded men, jolted and jerked about, could be heard everywhere. I was glad when the first gas lights of the city came in view, fatigued as I was, covered with mud, and wet from wading the swamp road after I gave up my horse to the wounded boy. I immediately went off to the War Office and found Secretary Randolph still in his house. I gave him some account of what I had seen…on reaching home, I found good Susan, standing in the front door, watching and waiting for me.”

In the first years of the Disunion, Stonewall Jackson came to Moses Hoge’s church and listened to many of Moses’s sermons.

The beloved Stonewall Jackson

The beloved Stonewall Jackson

As a sign of his respect and trust, Stonewall Jackson gave Moses the following pass:

Headquarters, Valley District, Near Richmond
“Permit the bearer, the Rev. Moses D. Hoge, to pass at pleasure from Richmond to any part of my command.”
T. J. Jackson, Major General

General Jackson was a member of Moses Hoge’s congregation and General Lee was a close and personal friend. Moses’s friendship and association with Stonewall Jackson grew until Jackson was killed.

In 1863 Reverend Moses Hoge took a steamer from Charleston to England in order to get 35,000 bibles, prayer books and testaments. This was a dangerous mission because they had to run a blockade and the captain had instructions to scuttle the ship if capture was imminent. That meant that the passengers would have to get on small boats at the last minute, and make their way to shore. Moses wrote to his brother explaining this and asking him not to tell his wife who would be terrified.

Later, in a letter to his sister, after he had successfully passed through the blockade, Moses wrote enthusiastically about this escapade:

“Our run of the blockade was glorious. I was in one of the severest and bloodiest battles fought near Richmond, but it was not more exciting than that midnight adventure, when, amid lowering clouds and dashes of rain, and just wind enough to get up sufficient commotion in the sea to drown the noise of our paddle wheels, we darted along, with lights all extinguished, and not even a cigar burning on the deck, until we were safely out, and free from the the Federal fleet. In Nassau we chartered a little twenty-ton schooner, hired a crew of negroes, and made a fine run to Havana, where we got on the Royal Mail Steamship Line, to St. Thomas, and so to Southampton.”

In London, Moses gave an account of the Southern cause to Lord Shaftsbury who then announced that they would send 10,000 bibles, 50,000 testaments and 250,000 portions of the Psalms and Gospels.

Among the many people that Moses met when he was in England, was Thomas Carlyle. Apparently, Carlyle, because he was interested in the right of the Able-man to rule, took a steep interest in the Confederate cause. While Moses was obtaining bibles in England, his brother William was visiting Stonewall Jackson’s troops near Fredericksburg to engage in mission work among the soldiers. Shortly thereafter, Stonewall Jackson was killed in an unfortunate accident, shot by his own troops.

William Hoge, Moses Hoge’s brother, wrote his wife about Jackson’s funeral. Here is part of his letter:

“So I will begin with “Gordonsville”. About ten minutes after I our train arrived, the special train came slowly around the curve, bearing it’s sad, precious burden, the dead body of our beloved glorious Jackson. As it drew near, the minute guns, the soldiers funeral bell, sounded heavily. How strange it seemed that a crowd so eager should be so still, and that Jackson should be received with silent tears instead of loud-ringing huzzas. As the train stopped, I caught sight of the coffin, wrapped in the flag he had borne so high and made so radiant with glory so pure. Many wreaths of exquisite flowers, too, covered it from head to foot. Sitting near the body were young Morrison, his brother-in-law, our dear friend Jimmy Smith, and Major Pendleton.
“I asked if Mrs. Jackson would like to see me. And there sat this noble little woman in her widow’s weeds, a spectacle to touch and instruct any heart…And there, just before her lay her sweet little babe, little Julia, named by him for his mother, the babe he had never seen till her recent ten days visit abruptly ended by the great battle; the babe he delighted in…here it lay on its back, the best little thing, looking so tender and so unconscious of its part in these tremendous scenes, not starting, or ceasing the meaningless pretty motions of its little hands, as the cannon thundered.”

While Moses was in England, he also learned of the death of his son, Lacy Hoge. Soon afterwards, Moses returned to the States, first sailing to Halifax and then going to Bermuda. From there Moses steamed in the blockade-runner, “The Advance”. As they came to Wilmington and Cape Fear the Northern fleet was in full view. The captain, apparently drunk at the time, steamed ahead and soon they were fired upon by the Northern fleet. Fortunately, they came within range of Confederate guns at Fort Fisher and soon they were firing at the three Northern ships pursuing them. While this situation was not helped by the captain being drunk as he approached Wilmington, it perhaps gave the captain the courage he needed to run past the three Northern ships.

For Moses, now safely landed, the contrast between London and Wilmington apparently was stark. Wilmington had been decimated by yellow fever earlier that year and was a terrible and forlorn comparison to the bustling and prosperous London. Perhaps, more discouraging was the fact the his bibles and testaments never did make it to the Confederacy. They were captured December 6th, 1863. So it could be said that his mission was a failure.

Moses was able to carry some sample bibles with him which he then sent to various Confederate military men. And Moses did receive several letters of thank you from leading generals in the Confederate army, including letters from Robert E. Lee and Jeb Stuart.

In 1864, his brother, William Hoge, died, adding more sorrow to Moses. Apparently, after preaching and working in hospitals, William Hoge’s strength gave out and he passed away.

As the end of the Civil War approached, it fell to Moses Hoge to write a resolution appointing a day of fasting and prayer. Moses also accompanied Jefferson Davis and his cabinet as they withdrew from Richmond. If he had remained in Richmond he would have to take an oath of allegiance to the United States. Moses was not willing to do that as long as the Confederate Government existed.

After the war, Virginia and all the Southern States were governed as a conquered province by military law and martial authority. It must have been a time of profound despair for Moses. He wrote to his sister in May, 1865:

“I forget my humiliation for a while in sleep, but the memory of every bereavement comes back heavily, like a sullen sea surge, on awaking, flooding and submerging my soul with anguish. The idolized expectation of a separate nationality, of a social life and literature and civilization of our own, together with a gospel guarded against the contamination of New England infidelity, all this has perished, and I feel like a shipwrecked mariner thrown up like a seaweed on a desert shore. I hope my grief is manly. I have no disposition to indulge in lousy complaints. God’s dark providence has enraptured me like a pall. I cannot comprehend, but I will not charge Him foolishly; I cannot explain, but I will not murmur. To me our overthrow is the worst thing that could have happened to the South – the worst thing that could have happened for the North, and for the cause of constitutional freedom and of religion on the continent. But the Lord has prepared his throne in the heavens and His Kingdom rules over all. I have not been very well since the surrender. Other seas will give up their dead, but my hopes went down in to one from which there is no resurrection.”

Moses became very active in helping with the reconstruction after the war, but in 1868 a new personal problem arose. An attack of facial paralysis made speech impossible. This of course meant that he could no longer preach. Fortunately, this condition only lasted for a few months. Thereafter, his ability to preach was completely restored.

During the 24 years of their married life, Moses Hoge’s wife had lost her father, mother, brother, five grown sisters, and four children; the last, little Genevieve, dying at Mr. James Seddon’s, just as their hearts were crushed with the downfall of the Confederacy.
In the spring of 1868, she contracted a fatal disease. On November 23rd, 1868 she died.

General Robert E. Lee

General Robert E. Lee

Robert E. Lee wrote Moses a letter condolence to Moses. Here is part of what he said:

“I hope you felt assured that in this heavy calamity you and your children had the heart-felt sympathy of myself and Mrs. Lee, and that you were daily remembered in our poor prayers.
With our best wishes and sincere affection, I am
Very truly yours, R.E. Lee”

Two other disasters occurred in 1868, the Senate Chamber in Richmond collapsed and killed 65 persons and injured 200 others and the President of the former Confederacy, Jefferson Davis, passed away.

Because Richmond was almost completely destroyed, Moses was urged by many to restart his church in some other place. Moses thought this over, but decided to remain in Richmond. This proved to be a good solution in the end and the church in Richmond prospered as Richmond was rebuilt.

In 1872 Moses went north to Princeton College and preached in their chapel. This sermon was well accepted. This led to other sermons in Philadelphia and New York. These sermons were also well accepted. By this time, Moses Drury Hoge was a famous and revered Presbyterian minister.

Moses Hoge also spoke at the World’s Evangelical Alliance. He was invited to speak on the “Mission Field of the South”. His address was well accepted and apparently established his fame throughout the Christian World.

Here is what Moses wrote his sister in October 16, 1873 about his sermon in New York:

“I found the church packed, aisles and all. I preached a sermon I had arranged that afternoon (having changed my theme after dinner) without any notes, and I had what the old divines used to call “liberty” of feeling, thought and expression, which greatly helped me in the delivery.”

Where Stonewall Jackson spent his last minutes alive

Where Stonewall Jackson spent his last minutes alive

In 1875, Moses gave the oration commemorating the Foley statue of Stonewall Jackson. This statue was presented to Richmond by an Englishman sympathetic to the Southern cause. Here is part of what Moses said:

“And now, standing before this statue, I speak not for myself, but for the South, when I say it is our interest, our duty and our determination, to maintain the Union, and to make every possible contribution to its prosperity and glory, if all the States which compose it will unite in making such a union as our fathers framed, and enthroning above it, not Caesar, but the Constitution in its solid supremacy.”

Apparently Moses was upset when the London Times wrote an article suggesting that his speech had political motivations. Moses response was this:

“So far from it, I announced it to be the purpose of the Southern people to maintain the government as it was now constituted, though we should profess no love for a Union in which the Southern States are denied privileges accorded to the Northern.
Moreover, I said, “We accept this statue as a pledge of the peaceful relations which we trust will ever exist between Great Britain and the confederated empire formed by the United States of America.”

Moses was also upset at the New York Tribune because he thought they misrepresented the design and spirit of his speech at the unveiling of the Jackson statue.

Moses wrote, “The celebration here had no political significance whatever. It has not had the slightest political effect. It was not intended to excite animosity especially between the North and the South, not to stir up rancor between Great Britain and America.”

However, according to the account of D.H. Hill, perhaps, Moses got somewhat carried away by the event:

“Dr. Hoge made the mighty effort of his life. He was inspired by the grandeur of the occasion, by the vastness of the audience, and above all by the greatness of the subject of his eulogy. He impressed all who heard him that he is the most eloquent orator on this continent…Dr. Hoge, in closing his address, alluded to the prophecy of Jackson, that the time would come when his men would be proud that they belonged to the Stonewall Brigade. Rising to his full height, the orator exclaimed in his clear, ringing tones:

‘Men of the Stonewall Brigade, that time has come. Behold the image of your illustrious commander.'”

D. H. Hill concluded: “The veil was raised, the life-like statue stood revealed, recalling so vividly the loved form of the illustrious soldier that tears rained down ten thousand faces. Men of sternest natures, cast iron men, we’re weeping like children.”

For the rest of his life, Moses went around the country preaching in both the North and South. There was still a great deal of bitterness and tenderness in both the North and South, so what Moses had to say was not always received well. There was still discord between North and South sections of the Presbyterian Church. Various assemblies were held in the North and South which Moses attended.

Here is part of what Moses had to say at one of these meetings:

“Who are the men who cannot bear the test of the light of our purity. Is there no genuine Presbyterians but ours? If the only pure Church is the Presbyterian Church of these Southern States; if the problem of the development of Christianity as symbolized in the Presbyterian faith and form of government had been solved only by us; if after all the great sacrifices of confessor and maters of past ages, we alone constituents the true Church; if this only is the result of the stupendous sacrifices, on Calvary, and the struggles of apostles and missionaries and reformers in all generations; then may God have mercy on the world and on the Church.”

By the late 1870s Moses was coming to grips with the end of the Disunion and making a new life for himself. In 1877 Moses wrote his sister from New Orleans:

“This is the land of summer most of the year, and of almost perpetual flowers, but the brightest and the most fragrant was the one wafted by a Northern breeze from New Brunswick.
We are having a pleasant time socially. A few of the old families here still retain their wealth and former homes and style of living. I dined yesterday with one of them. As we went in to dinner, the old lady on my arm, in passing the broad staircase there came floating down two young granddaughters all in white, looking like the angels who came down Jacob’s ladder, to bless the men who waited for their coming below.
The dinners have many courses here – with proper sequence, with the proper vegetables served with each meat or bird, and a great variety of wines. Well, it is pleasant to sit by a good old lady at such a dinner (provided her tender granddaughter is on the other side) and take course after course, leisurely, with much conversation between, anticipating the crowning cup of cafe noir and cigar.”

One senses that Moses Hoge and the world in the South are returning to some kind of normalcy and Moses in beginning to enjoy life again.

Moses attended a delegation of Presbyterian ministers, representing the Southern branch of ministers.

Here is what a paper called the Daily Review said:

“Exceptional interest was excited by the appearance of the next speaker, Dr. Hoge, of Richmond, Va. He stepped upon the platform – a tall, spare, muscular man, of military type of physique, and features bronzed by the sun. His manner at starting was almost painfully deliberate, and with cool self-restraint with which he surveyed his audience and measured his ground before he opened his lips deepened the interest which attended the beginning of his speech…he set forth, with great dignity…the leading points of his many sided subject – the simplicity and scriptural character of Presbyterianism, it expansiveness and adaption, and its friendly aspect to other churches.”

In the summer of 1877, Moses went to England to preach and minister there, meeting again with many members of the Church of England. The next summer, he also went abroad. After returning, Moses wrote:

“The old world was not so interesting to me the last time I saw it. I have become somewhat wearied with galleries, museums, and antiquities in architecture, and I find Europeans inferior to our own people in so many respects that I am more than ever contented with my own country.
All we need is the continuance of a free and stable government to make this the happiest country on the globe…I find, however, many thoughtful men look forward to a near future of strife and disintegration, which Heaven may avert.”

In 1880, he went to Italy and then on to Egypt, Palestine and Syria. For the rest of his life, he traveled and remained active as a minister. He died in a streetcar accident at the age of 80 on January 6th, 1899. Apparently, an electrified trolley car ran into Moses when he was driving his buggy. This resulted in his buggy being overturned. While he did not die immediately from the injuries he sustained, it was said that Moses was never the same vigorous man he had been for most of his 79 years of life. He died a month or so later, apparently from complications from the injuries he sustained in his streetcar accident.

In reading about Moses Drury Hoge, I found one thing very strange. If you read his letters you find that Moses was a very passionate man with extremely strong convictions. It had been my assumption that if I read the sermons of Moses Drury Hoge, I would find the same traits and ardent feeling expressed. So, while preparing to write this article, I bought a book entitled “The Perfection of Beauty and Other Sermons” by Moses Drury Hoge.

Now, having been brought as a Catholic, I was familiar with sermons and with the common fact that generally a priest or minister did not have much to say about the present day. Rather sermons always seemed rooted in what happened 1800 to 2000 years ago and have very little reference to any modern day events. Nevertheless, even the most parochial priest would make some reference to some modern day events or ills, be it drug addition, crime in the streets, some far off war or political events affecting our daily lives.

However, in reading the sermons of Moses Drury Hoge, there seems to be little or no reference to what must have been the most important events in his lifetime. I speak specifically of the War between the North and the South, the Civil War or The Disunion, as it had been alternatively referred to.

Moses does make some reference to modern times in “The Perfection of Beauty” sermon:

“Why is it that in none of the great resorts and haunts of pleasure and fashion collections are ever solicited for the suffering poor, for associations organized to advance all the forms of benevolence?”

Moses answers his own question by saying:

“There is but one gate through which the benefactions of the truly charitable forever flow, and that is the beautiful temple. Yes, this is one of the elements that constitutes the beauty of the church, it’s boundless benevolence, it’s wide-reaching, far-reaching, all-comprehending charity.”

Obviously, this was before Welfare, Medicaid, Medicare and Obamacare. Moses goes on to cite the comments of the Poet James Russell Lowell, who when attending a dinner party in London and heard some eloquent guest disparage Christianity. Moses quoted the following comments of James Russell Lowell:

“It is very easy gentlemen, sitting in an elegant apartment, around a table covered with flowers…to speculate about religion in a jocose way…our friends…would do well to be thankful they live in a land where the gospel has tamed the ferocity and beastliness of those who but for Christianity might have long eaten their carcasses…or cut off their heads and tanned their skins like the monsters of the French Revolution…”

Here I wish to interject that there are two sides to every argument. While it is long true that many arguments have correctly been made that Christianity has been a civilizing influence on human beings, human institutions and civilization, there have also been many arguments made that Christianity and the adherence to Specific sects of Christianity has also been the cause of many wars and the deaths of many people.

Moses Drury Hoge’s argument in this sermon, “The Perfection of Beauty” is that Christianity, and specifically Presbyterian Christianity is profoundly beautiful, beneficial and benevolent. Moses ends this sermon with the following words:

“Yes, my hearers, where this gospel goes, Liberty goes, just laws go, education goes, churches are built, all benign and institutions which bless and benefit society appear.”

That seems to as direct as Moses Drury Hoge gets in the printed sermons that I read to referring to his times. His sermons are all eloquent, but they are undated (at least in the book I have) and mysteriously, there it no reference to the war which tore our Union apart and so demoralized Moses. What is the explanation of that? I can only guess.

I have used two main references to gather information on my relative preacher/minister. One is the previously mentioned “The Life and Letters: Moses Drury Hoge” by Peyton Harrison Hoge published 1899. That book contains an amazing of amount of letters that Moses Drury Hoge wrote to his wife, his sister and his brother. It also includes a large number of letters written to him, some by quite famous people of that time. I have liberally quoted from those letters. The other reference is the book I just cited – “The Perfection of Beauty and Other Sermons” published in 1904 by what is ominously referred to as “The Presbyterian Committee of Publication”.

While Moses’s letters refer to Civil War and speak of that time as tumultuous, sad and tragic, the sermons that I have read do not make any reference to those times. In Peyton Harrison Hoge’s book there is mention that many of Moses Drury Hoge’s notes and written sermons were lost in clamor and confusion of the war. I suspect a darker secret.

I can only guess that even in 1899, when Peyton’s book was first published, there was still a great deal of sensitivity to the events and to the long term effects of the Civil War. I suspect the written sermons might actually have been destroyed or that references to the Civil War were actually taken out from whatever sermons did exist. This is, of course, just a wild guess. And I have not fact to cite to say that I am right.

Jefferson Davis

The former President Jefferson Davis

I would like to know what Moses said on the pulpit in his sermons during the Civil War when he addressed Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, Stonewall Jackson and other leaders of the Confederacy. In Peyton Harrison Hoge’s book, which I have quoted extensively, it is said that Moses Drury Hoge preached to over 100,000 Confederate soldiers. My question is what did he say to them? Did he make no reference to the great struggle they were in?

My guess is that he did refer to the great events that they were passing through and that Moses Drury Hoge had much to say about the position of the South.

Did he, for example, get up before his congregation and say with utmost conviction in his loud, sonorous, slow Southern drawl (I am also guessing what his voice sounded like):

“God has ordained that there will be a 1,000 years of slavery and God is on our side. The South will rise to be a great nation and we will live free under the benefice of God.”

Or did he say in a slow, dignified, powerful Southern drawl:

“The Southern States are right and moral in their pursuit of an individual country and an individual civilization, preserving the most honored institutions and examples of our Southern Confederacy. We shall emerge a free country to construct our own civilization as God has mandated we will.”

My guess is that he did not stand up for slavery itself because Moses was reputed to have sold slaves in order to free them. So I would think that Moses was very uncomfortable with the institution of slavery itself. However, I suspect that he did believe fervently, ardently, with all his heart and soul, in the right of the South to revolt and establish their own independent country.

We know that people’s beliefs evolve with time and no doubt the beliefs of Moses Drury Hoge went through several evolutions. Perhaps, as a young man, he believed in the Union as it existed at the time. Perhaps, as the years passed, he frowned on, disagreed with and was against slavery as an institution. But as the Civil War came closer and the movement for secession gained traction, perhaps, Moses came to be a fervent and ardent supporter of the Disunion, a believer in the rights of individual States to decide their own future and their own fate.

After the Civil War, Moses views and ardent opinions probably changed again with the new times and the new reality that the South had lost.

On July 2, 1881, President Garfield was assassinated. This sent, in the words of Peyton Harrison Hoge, “a thrill of horror through the country”.

By a strange co-incidence, Moses happened to be near New York City at the time of Garfield’s death. The funeral for President Garfield was to be held at The Fifth Avenue Church in New York. The pastor of that church happened to be traveling and was not able to give the oration for the funeral. After asking many ministers and preachers around who might be a good replacement, The Fifth Avenue Church were recommended Moses Drury Hoge to give the sermon for President Garfield’s funeral. And so they did.

Here is part of Moses’s oration:

 “Our present sorrow shows how God, in his provenance, can arrest the attention of the world, and make the heart of humanity tender, and so cause all to feel the dependence of man upon man, of State upon State, and of nation upon nation. The news of the attempt of the assassin was flashed all over the world, and then across all continents, and under all seas came electric messages of sympathy and condolence – China and Japan uniting with the states of Europe; paganism and Mohammedanism joining with all Christendom in the expression of common sorrow. Thus God makes the very wounds of humanity the fountains from which issue the tenderest sympathies and the sweetest charities which bring comfort to the suffering, which at the same time, make the whole world akin in the consciousness of common interests and interdependence.

“More practically important to us is the fact that the great bereavement we commemorate today has hushed the voice of party clamor, and at once rebuked and silenced the discord of sectional animosity.

“Death is the great reconciler.

“A Federal officer was mortally wounded on one of the battle fields of Virginia. As he lay upon the ground, far from his comrades, conscious that his end was near, while scattered soldiers of the Confederate Army went swiftly by, he called to an infantryman who was passing the spot, and asked him if he would offer him a prayer. The man replied “My friend, I am sorry I cannot comply with your request. I have never learned to pray for myself;” but he did what he could; he moved the officer into the shade, put something under his head, gave him some water out of his canteen and then hurried on. Presently a dismounted Union cavalryman, who had lost his horse came by. The confederate officer called to him and made the same request, “Won’t you stop and say a prayer for me?” The trooper kneeled down at the side of the dying man and commenced a prayer but as he uttered one tender petition after another, the officer used the little strength that remained to him in creeping closer and closer, until he placed both arms around the neck of the petitioner, and when the last words of the prayer were uttered, he was lying dead on the bosom of his late antagonist in battle, but in the parting hour he was one with him in the bonds of the gospel, a brother in Jesus Christ – united in love forever.

“Yes, death is the great reconciler.

“I am here today, while making a brief visit to a friend in an adjoining State, taking the only rest I have had for a year, an invitation came from the officers of this church urging me to perform this sad office in the absence of its honored pastor; and I stand here to represent the feelings of the Southern people, whose interests and whose sentiments are mine, and to say that today your sorrow is their sorrow, and your bereavement theirs. Today Richmond and Augusta and Charleston and Savannah and Mobile and New Orleans, unite with Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Cincinnati and Chicago, in laying their immortelles on the tomb of the dead President. Today there is a “solid South” not in the low and unfriendly sense in which demagogues use the phrase, but in the nobler sense of a South consolidated by a common sorrow; and one with you in the determination to advance the prosperity, the happiness and the glory of the Union, and that, too, without the surrender of one just political principle honestly held by them. This is the day for the inauguration of a new era of harmony and true unity. The great calamity will thus be overruled to the good of the whole land.

“The providence of God sometimes wears a frowning aspect as it approaches, and men’s hearts grow faint with foreboding; but as the providence, which looked like a demon of darkness drew near, is passing away, it turns and looks back upon us with a face sweet and bright as the face of an angel of God. So now the angel of death seems to menace the land over which he is casting his dark shadow, but lo! As we look we see him transfigured. It is the angel of love, dropping peace and goodwill upon the world.”

We can tell from this oration that Moses Drury Hoge’s adamant and fiery feelings from the Civil War had mellowed and there came a kind of peace to Moses.

Moses Drury Hoge’s trek through this world, while already long, was not yet done. In 1884 he went abroad with his oldest son, who had been pursuing his professional studies for two years in Berlin. He also visited England and went to Copenhagen. He gave sermons and orations in almost every foreign city he visited.

 As further time passed, Moses became more and more at home with the change and evolution of his country after the Civil War. One could say he was almost becoming cheery.

In 1888, he again went abroad and attended the London Council of the Presbyterian Alliance. On July 11th of the same year, Moses wrote about a lucky circumstance that occurred while in London:

“It is like telling one’s dream, but it is a waking reality that I am the sole occupant of one the most elegant houses in the West End of London, on one of the most beautiful squares. It happened in this way. For ten days I was at the De Kayser Royal Hotel hard by Blackfriers Bridge; but while I was taking “mine ease in mine own inn,” one of London’s pastors told me a wealthy lady, a member of the church had gone to Scotland to be absent all summer, but had expressed the earnest wish that her’ house be occupied by members of the Alliance during its sessions, and he invited me and another delegate from the South to accept the proffered hospitality of his parishioner… my fellow member had to decline, but, I accepted it and…I found the kind pastor there to receive me and put me in the good care of the good housekeeper.”

So Moses Drury Hoge’s later life had its pleasant surprises.

A grainy picture of Moses Drury Hoge in later life

A grainy picture of Moses Drury Hoge in later life

He continued throughout his life to preach all over the world and all over this country. At times he said things that were committed no time and true for all time. Here something that sounds more as if it came from Confucius, not a Southern Presbyterian minister:

“A nation is but congeries of families, and what the family is, the nation will be.”

He spent 3 summers preaching in Baltimore in the steaming heat of that city. And his letters about that time, not only shows how truly busy he was in old age, but also that he possessed an active sense of humor:

“I was never more thoroughly well than I am this autumn,” he wrote, “although I worked steadily through the entire summer without a day’s rest. It was the hottest summer, too, known for many years.

“I had to go to Bridgeton, NJ on the 20th of July to deliver a centennial oration. It was a day of the most intense heat, so statisticians assure us, for twenty-one years. I spoke in a Grove to two or three thousand people in the afternoon the mercury marking one hundred and one degrees, and made my oration at night in the the church, but I do not know what record the thermometer made of the temperature. It exceeded anything I ever experienced, and when I returned to my room at the hotel, I sat most of the night in the window, sucking lemons and drinking ice-water. I passed the ordeal, however, so well that I converted to the theory of evolution from the lower animals, and think that one of my great ancestors was a salamander.”

As evidenced by the quotes above, Moses was busy and active all his life and, as time passed, his beliefs further moderated and changed. Perhaps, he came to think of the Civil War as the will of God. Perhaps, he came to think of the great and bloody Southern effort to secede from the Union as meant to fail. Perhaps, he came to think of this Great War as the glue which would forever make the American Union strong and immutable to further change. Of course, we all know nothing is immutable to change.

When I got the idea to write something about my great, great, great, great grandfather, Moses Drury Hoge, what intrigued me was here was a man of God, on the side of the South, who preached to Jefferson Davis, to Robert E. Lee, to Stonewall Jackson, to tens of thousands of Confederate troops, to the Southern people. I thought in the beginning it must have been a difficult moral position to be in…to be preaching for freedom in a land based upon slavery.

At the time, I had no real idea of who my relative really was. As I started to do research and discovered that there was an enormous amount of written information about him, I began to be amazed, surprised and then impressed, not only by what words were written about him, but also by his own words, which were so extensively quoted and which I have so liberally re-quoted.

As I read more and more of what Moses said and did, I came to understand that he was much more than the man I thought he was. One thing was fairly clear early on, as read more and more of his letters: Moses was an incredibly eloquent writer and I presume, an incredibly powerful orator. Obvious testament to this was the very breath and scope of his vocabulary. Yes, it was Biblically based, but it also was Classically based. I can only think he must have been far better read man than myself or most people today.

When I came to the time of the Civil War and Moses Drury Hoge’s descriptions of that event, I came to see it for a what was. A searing event that forever changed America and changed Moses. His descriptions of the battlefield, of going through a Confederate hospital, of walking home from the battlefield were detailed, harrowing and rang with sad and horrifying truth. I know many true and forceful things have been written about the Civil War and that there is an enormous amount of material on that conflict. But somehow, when I read the words of Moses Drury Hoge, that war became more near, more terrifying and more sad in my mind.

I think Moses was a truly great man. At the same time, I think he must have been a man conflicted on the inside, surely and clearly knowing that when he preached individual states freedom for the South, it could not continue as long as the South was the home of slavery. So at bottom, inside, Moses was conflicted. This does not show up in his outward words, but it must have been true in his inner self.

I would like to quote the end of Moses Drury Hoge’s oration on Stonewall Jackson:

“In the story of empires of the earth some crisis often occurs which develops the genius of the era, and impresses an imperishable stamp on the character of the people. Such a crisis was the Revolution of 1776, when thirteen thin-settled and widely-separated colonies dared offer the gage of battle to the greatest military and naval power on the globe…

“After innumerable reverses, and incredible sufferings and sacrifices, our father came forth from the ordeal victorious…

“But this day we inaugurate a new era…We come to honor the memory of one who was the impersonation of the Confederate cause…And at last it is Jackson’s clear, ringing tone to which we listen:

‘What is life without honor. Degradation is worse than death. We must think of the living of who are to come after us, and see that by God’s blessing we transmit to them the freedom we have enjoyed.’

“Heaven hear the prayer of our dead, immortal hero.”

So, Moses concluded his oration to Stonewall Jackson in 1875.

I cannot guess what the truth is about Moses, I cannot know how he really felt inside and I do not know how his beliefs finally evolved, but I would love to know and I think whatever he came to believe might have some lesson for us today.

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On Time and Travel

WeiHai in the rain Ocoter 2016

View from my hotel room of WeiHai in the rain October 2016

By Cecil Hoge

I started traveling at a young age. At least that is what I am told. I went to Chicago at the age of one and half to meet my rich aunt Nan. I do not remember many details of that flight, but I am told I was a real fire-cracker of a passenger, crying and screaming from time to time, trying to get out of the wicker basket that I was being carried in (seat belts were not the issue they are today), trying to peer out the window and look down at clouds and the landscape of America below. Yes, it was early flight experience and I do not remember much except the big turning propellers. That was over 70 years ago so I hope you forgive my lack of detail.

I did not travel very much in the next fourteen years…a few trips to Chicago to say hello to the relatives we had out there. I am not counting train rides to various schools, car rides to from the city to beaches and ocean, to Bellport and the Hamptons.

At 16 that changed.

That was when my father came back from a trip to Europe and announced he wanted to marry a German lady and told me he wanted me to meet my new German family. Three weeks later, I was on a Boeing 707 on my way to Berlin. The year was 1958 and the Boeing 707 had just been introduced for travel to Europe three weeks previously. So after my father had decided to remarry, I found myself in the cabin of one of the first 707 jets.

This is the jet plane I flew in.

This is the jet plane I flew in.

And that was a flight I do remember. For one thing, I remember being astonished by the fact that the plane had jet engines on the wings and that there were no propellers. The few earlier flights I had been on, all were in smaller planes and all with props. This was a time when airplane seats were comfortable to sit in. This was a time when pretty young stewardesses came over every few minutes to see if you were comfortable, if you needed a blanket or a snack or a full meal. And I had blast requesting multiple Coca Colas and potato chips and cookies and other good stuff.

What knocked me out about the flight was that they served full meals on the plane with real silverware. That plane ride was also establishing an historical speed record for commercial intercontinental flights because the flight only took nine and half hours – all previous flights to Europe took 14 hours or more and sometimes involved stop-offs in Iceland or Ireland, in which case the flight times were longer – more like going to Asia today. So this was a kind of break-through flight at that time.

The faster flight in the 707 and the sudden emersion into West Berlin culture was a shock to my 16 years old, jet-lagged body. I do not remember what going through customs was like, I just remember sticking close to my father as we were asked various questions. At the airport, we were met by, Fritzi, my new step-mother to be, Papilein and Mutti. Papilein and Mutti were slang for my step-mother’s father and mother.

Berlin was a tremendous mind blowing experience. Meeting my new stepmother to be, meeting her parents, and after we drove in from Tempelhof Airport, her sisters and her young brother was unbelievable. We spent two weeks in Berlin and every day we went different places and did different things.

In its heyday, this was the snazziest, the newest hotel and the tallest hotel in Berlin.

In its heyday, this was the snazziest, the newest hotel and the tallest hotel in Berlin.

I was seeing buildings and museums and restaurants and parks I had never seen. Berlin at that time was still a very barren city, despite the fact there were already a lot of gleaming new buildings. And we found ourselves staying in one particularly new gleaming building. It was a brand-spanking new Hilton Hotel. We were checked into two luxurious rooms. Yes, I had my own single room and this was just another wonder that was hard for me to understand. As I remember it, it was on the 8 or 9th floor. At night I could see the cars and buses and trucks bustling along on the Berlin city streets below with the city light bouncing off the roads below. It was an awesome sight, to use a present day expression.

On several occasions, I went through the Brandenbur Tor into East Germany. Once to listen to Bach Choir concert in some famous East German church, once to visit various Soviet museums where I learned about industrious Soviet women who developed better socket wrenches to improve production of various Soviet products. It was quite a contrast to West Berlin.

This was the Brandenburg Tor

This was the Brandenburg Tor

I have written more detail about this particular trip on this blog in a story called “A Fog Moves into Berlin and I Gain a Stepmother”. So to get more details on my first big trip to Europe and how my father came to marry my stepmother, just scroll down to that story. It is still on this blog.

For the next 8 years I finished Catholic prep school and eventually college, but I did not travel much, except for a few train rides and motorcycle rides back and forth from prep school and college. After emerging from college and a few false starts on the road to life, I entered my father’s business, married my wife, had a child and started to travel on a more regular basis. At first it was just trade shows for our fishing lures and inflatable boats, then it was to visit customers around the country. After a few years, it was to visit suppliers for our fishing lures and inflatable boats in Europe.

I did not mean to become a traveler, although I always thought it was a very cool thing to do. It was just that it became a kind to routine to attend certain trade shows around the states, to visit certain customers around the country and to visit certain suppliers, first in Europe and eventually in Asia. Well, if you travel for 60 years, the effect becomes cumulative and perennial.

I will try to give you an example of a typical year.

In January, I might go to the boat shows in New York or Chicago. In February, I might cruise down to the Miami Boat Show. In March or April, I might be at visiting some fishing lure or inflatable boat customers. In May, I would head to the grand city of Sidney, Nebraska to visit Cabela’s and then come back by way of Springfield, Missouri to visit BassPro’s headquarters. In June, I would head out to visit my big wholesaler fishing lure customer in Chicago and then cruise over to Seattle to visit Costco or a local inflatable boat dealer. And often in June, I would head over to a European Fishing Tackle Show which could be in Paris or Amsterdam or Copenhagen or Milan. In July, you could depend on me
being at the American Fishing Tackle Show, presently called Icast, in St. Louis or Kansas City or Las Vegas or Miami or most recently, Orlando. In August, I would be at the Outdoor Retailer Show in Salt Lake City. In September or October or November, no doubt, I would being visiting suppliers, first in Italy and France and in the last 25 years in Asia, in Korea and China.

In some years, I would go two or three times to Europe or Asia, but most years, just once. But the trips to suppliers were always long because we always visited four or more suppliers in Europe or Asia. And if you were trying to visit four or five suppliers, you would have to take 1, 2 or 3 days with each and then were weekends, which meant that your Sundays and sometimes, your Saturdays, were free. Anyway, add it all up and the supplier trips were usually always 3 or 4 weeks, depending on which countries I going to and how long I had to spend in each place. These days I try to keep my trips to three weeks, but even that is very difficult.

Now I have been traveling like this for forty years, so that amount of travel really does add up. I have pretty much visited every major city in the U.S. once or more. I have visited France and Italy each about 20 to 25 times – I have lost count. I have been visiting China once or twice year since 1993 and Korea once or twice a year since 1997. Then there is the odd country here and there – Japan twice, Taiwan twice, Costa Rica twice, Germany four or five times, Switzerland, Denmark, Norway one or two times. So in the end I think it is true to say that I have traveled pretty far and pretty wide.

I have said in other places in this blog that is is very hard for travelers to explain their travels to non-travelers. It is my theory that the world is divided between travelers and non-travelers and while it is easy enough to tell someone about a trip, it is almost impossible for a non-traveler to understand what your trip is actually like. This is because, if you have not experienced travel, it is hard for non-travelers to relate to the stories of a traveler.

With that said, I would like to relate what a recent trip to Asia was like. I know it is an impossible to really capture the experiences I had, but I will try to explain just one trip.

This is a new city in Korea where we tested boats. Five years ago it existed only as an architech's scale model. Today there are 50,000 people living here.

This is a new city in Korea where we tested boats. Five years ago it existed only as an architect’s scale model. Today there are 50,000 people living here.

It happens that I am recently back from a trip to Korea and China. Now this trip is particularly short, just nine days, so it might be easier. In the last two years, I have cut back my trips because my wife has had some back and knee issues and I wanted to stay nearby. So this particular trip was less than half the normal trip to Aisia.

Any trip these days starts with an airplane ride. To get to the airport, JFK in this case, we chose to take a limo. So I got picked up by a nice driver some Central American country (Honduras, if I remember) named Julio from my house in Setauket and then with one heavy bag in the trunk and my business bag inside, we head off to pick Ryan Healey, a guy who works with us and handles our inventory management. That means he buys boats and accessories for our inflatable boat business.

We stop in St. James, pick up Ryan and head out to JFK. It is a trip that lasts a little over an hour. After some discussion with the driver about corruption in South America and the upcoming presidential election – Julio immigrated to the States about 30 years ago, thinks America is the greatest country in world and is worried about corruption in Central America, turmoil in the Middle East and the election in the States.

The ride goes quickly and Ryan and I enjoy Julio’s thoughts on the state of the world. Julio seems to be a very intelligent guy very up to date on world events. He is particularly worried that Iran, with Russia’s help, will takeover over the oil in the Middle East.

“What are we going to do without that oil?” He asks.

I try to console him by saying we are doing a lot more fracking these days (a practice I am not thrilled about) and now have quite a bit of oil. We get out of the car, start dragging our heavy bags into the terminal, leaving Julio to ponder how he might drive back and forth from Kennedy if the Iranians and Russians take all that Middle Eastern oil.

For the last 20 years or so we discovered that we can trade American Express points (of which we have a lot) for business class flights all over the world. This makes travel a whole lot more comfortable. Accordingly, we cruise up to the Korean Air business counter, check our bags, which conveniently are not that heavy ( just under 23 kilos/50 lbs.). That is not important for business class because they will accept pretty much any bag, no matter the weight, but it will be important later on our other flights inside Korea and China, as will be explained later.

Now business class is nice in many ways. It is not quite as comfortable as first class and nowhere near the comfort of flying  your own jet where you have full power to outfit the plane as you wish and where you employ people to wait on you hand and foot. But we are not billionaires. That said, business class is pretty damn comfortable. First of all, check in is a lot easier.

The line for economy is 15 to 20 times longer than business class. So, with business class, you can usually cruise through in less than 5 or 10 minutes. But after that, there is security and security is completely democratic these days. There were times in the more pleasant past, when there was a special lane for business class or first passengers, allowing them to cruise through security far faster, but these days we are all into in it together – at least in JFK on the October 15th, Sunday noon hour, 2016.

So getting through security involves winding around on a line that takes about 20 minutes (the line is relatively light on this Sunday), taking off your shoes, removing everything from your pockets and getting radiated or scanned by some infrared technology that helps detect bombs and weapons by perhaps imparting more radiation or something else which you may not need. No matter, while not without its irritations, it seems better to get scanned or to get a vertical MRI, than have people shoot you or place bombs on your plane.

Once through security, you then have to make your way to customs so they can can check that you have the proper papers (valid passport, valid visa for China) to legally leave the country. That takes another 10 minutes or so, and then, finally you are released to area where duty free shops, restaurants, bars and business class lounges are all available.

Now, I can say the process of getting through an airport was infinitely easier and more pleasant 20 or 30 years ago. 30 years ago, there literally was almost no security. Yes, you had to present your passport and ticket at the ticket counter and check your bag. And then all you had to do, was go through customs. There was literally no actual security. So the whole process took far less time.

Anyway, we head to the business class lounge to soak up some coffee and itty bitty sandwiches before getting on the plane. After and hour or so, the computer screen showing the flights that are boarding starts to start blinking for our flight. We head down to the terminal gate, get in on the business class line, which though about a tenth of the length of the economy line, still has a good 50 or 60 people waiting to board. The plane we are going to fly today is an Airbus 380, quite literally the biggest commercial airplane in the world.

In due time we file onto the plane and are lead to our seats in business class. Now Korean Air Business Class is different from some other airlines, like Delta. In Delta, for example, you have this magnificent angled bed, but you are absolutely separated from the passenger seated next you. Korean Air is more democratic having business class seats where the passengers can actually talk to one another. I like the Democratic setup because sometimes you find yourself seated next someone interesting.

And in this particular seat it turned out that there was a nice young lady next to me who is a shoe designer for Tory Burch. After the flight takes off we strike up a conversation. This lady is on her way to Hong Kong where she and another designer will be picked up and whisked into the city of Dongguan.

A couple of things about the city of Dongguan…it is a city that I regularly visit. When I first started going to Dongguan it was extremely seedy and depressing looking and there was only one hotel near the factory we were visiting that seemed reasonably safe, that was a 5 star hotel called The Silverland. In 20 short years everything changed. New highways were built in every direction coming in and going out of the city. Extremely well manicured gardens began to appear along each highway. New hotels and giant shopping malls were erected. Pretty soon the city began to have many beautiful sections. In that period, The Silverland became outdated and surrounded by 4 or 5 bigger and more glamorous 5 star hotels. This all took place in the space of 20 years.

Meanwhile, on the 380 Airbus, I had a very nice conversation with the young shoe designer for Tory Burch. It turned out that she had previously been traveling to and working in Italy, Spain and Brazil. So the young lady has gotten around.  As things would have it, Tory Burch, the famous company she designs for, decided to move its shoe manufacturing and shoe design facilities first from Italy to Spain, then to Brazil and then to China. Such is the state of modern out-sourcing these days. So this meant that first this lady was going back and forth every 30 days to Italy, then every 30 days to Spain, and she then every 30 days to Brazil.

And now this young lady found herself on the way to Dongguan, via Hong Kong. I did not envy the lady’s ride, having made the same leg several times. The flight today is thirteen and half hours from JFK to Seoul. After that, the young lady must move to the transit lounge at Incheon Airport, and after a two hour layover, she would have to get on a flight to Hong Kong. Of course, flights every 30 days back and forth to Italy and Brazil are no picnic either, so I am guessing this young lady is up to the trials she has to face. Travel requires stamina and it is most definitely a younger person’s game.

The young lady was in her own words, “Living the life.”

In her case, that meant she was living in Brooklyn with her artist husband and they were having a blast. Restaurants, bars, museums, theaters, movies, concerts, designer parties, artist parties. The future was wide open and the city was theirs.

Did she plan to have kids, I asked. Not just yet, she said. She wanted to get a few more years under her belt and then she and her husband would raise the nuclear family.

Anyway, we had a nice conversation. After lunch on the plane, we decided to go back to the lounge area and sit around and chat. My associate, Ryan came in and joined and so did the other designer from Tory Burch, who turned out to be a nice British lady in her forties. There we talked about travel, about changes in China, about Italy, Brazil, China, about shoes, about design, about travel, about the difficulty of explaining travel to people who did not travel.

It was a fun conversation and soon enough we ambled back to our seats, got some sleep and before you realized it, we were landing.

Benjamin Franklin, one of our country’s founders, scientist, printer, businessman, inventor, diplomat and man about town said something about travel that I always thought was quite true. And that was, when you travel, you ended up doing about twelve times more things. It was literally like living 12 years in one. He regarded travel as a kind of extension on life because you met so many people, did so many more things, dropped in on places that you never would otherwise have gone, did things you never otherwise would have done, talked to people you never would have spoken to, learned things you never would have learned.

I think this is still quite true. Today travel starts the moment you leave your home. Almost immediately you are talking to new people, considering new ideas. This happens in a limousine to the airport, in an airplane to a country. You meet people, you start interacting with them and your journey begins.

Now, you may say that the real journey only begins when you get to the country or place you are traveling to, but I think it starts before. I think it starts the moment you begin your journey.

Anyway, about fourteen hours after getting on the plane, I said goodbye to the girl designing shoes and made my way, with Ryan through customs, then down to baggage claim and then out the door into the terminal arrivals area. Sure enough, there was Chris Jung, our factory contact, there to greet us, there to grab my bag and ask if the flight had been satisfactory. Chris is the young Korean guy who manages our account and tries to keep up with our various requests to change products, to make new products, to deliver faster, to improve quality control, and in this case, to drive us to our hotel.

Chris leads us to the P. Diddy van. At least that is what we call it. I am pretty sure Sean John Combs never owned this particular van, but from the look of it, you could imagine P. Diddy and a group of his buddies piling into, drinking Courvoisier and heading out to the club. The van is a fine sight inside, with tinted windows and window blinds to pull down just in case someone was trying to peer in, a righteous stereo, GPS, Internet and a solid selection of action movies, with a movie screen just above the mirror.

Chris turns on the local GI station which seems to want to play an eclectic combination of rap, Taylor Swift, Kendrick Lamar, Ed Sheeron, Eminem, Bruno Mars, classic country and pop. Ryan and I feel right at home as we peel out of Incheon Airport and head for downtown Incheon. The idea that Incheon Airport might be next to Incheon City is a quaint one since it is about a 40 minute ride over spanking new expressways and over under passes before we make our way into the actual city of Incheon, but all things considered, after a 14 hour flight, the P. Diddy ride is painless and pretty soon we are pulling up to our hotel.

Just before we arrive, Chris asks the all important question, have we had dinner?

This is a picture of downtown Incheon, near where we ate

This is a picture of downtown Incheon, near where we ate

We reply no, since we do not count the dinner we had 12 hours ago on the plane, not to mention, the lunch and breakfast that came 8 hours and 4 hours ago. Riding a plane builds up your hunger. I am convinced of that.

So Chris Jung suggests that we go around the corner to a local Korean barbecue. First Ryan and I check into the hotel, present our passports, bring our bags to our rooms, take a few minutes to wash up, and then head down to the lobby. We walk across the street and about half a block away and within a few minutes we are enjoying Korean barbecue.

For those of you who don’t know, Korean barbecue is where you sit at a table with a charcoal or propane burner in the center of the table. Then a Korean lady brings about 15 little plates of different vegetables, spices, fish and meats. An absolute must among these dishes is Kimchi, which is a kind of sauerkraut that comes in 50 of so varieties. The simplest form of this a kind of cabbage that has been left to marinate in some kind of sauce. It sounds gross, but it is actually kind of addictive. It is a staple of the Korean diet.

As soon as they bring these dishes, you can dig in with stainless steel chopsticks and a stainless spoon. The stainless steel chopsticks are harder than wooden chopsticks, since they tend to be slippery. A couple of points about the 15 different little plates. It is not always clear which of these dishes are meant to eaten as food and which are meant to be spices for other dishes. Fortunately, Chris is there to help point us in the right direction giving a giggle whenever we might try to take a bite out some spice or sauce meant to be combined with something else.

Almost immediately the nice Korean lady brings tea, water and fires up the burner and the middle of the table. Then other plates of raw meats arrive, chicken, steak, pork and shrimp. All of this is delicious and within minutes we are plowing through a wide variety of Korean vegetables, meats and fish.

Ryan and I are having a good time demolishing all the 50 or so little dishes when my brother John suddenly arrives along with Greg and May May.

Now John’s travel story is different than ours. He is about two thirds through a trip around the world. John started about 10 days before us, first going to Berlin, then to a small town in East Germany, then back to Berlin, then on to Istanbul, and two days earlier on to Korea via Abu Dhabi. In Korea, John met with our fishing lure customer (we sell things in foreign countries as well as buy things) one day before we arrived. And then today, before we arrived in Korea, John drove with our Korean lure customer Greg and his associate, May May Kim, down to the middle of Korea to go fishing with some of our Panther Martin lures to see if they work.

John let’s us know it has been a successful fish and they have caught a number of Korean fish. The fish are apparently a small version of trout. Greg, May May and John are all pleased with the day’s fishing. Chris Jung is little bit confused wondering where John and these other Koreans have come from. After a little discussion, some short introductions, everybody gets the jist who everybody else is. Greg takes this opportunity to order some barbecue and we settle in for a kind of second dinner, which in Ryan’s and our case, might be called a fourth dinner since we have been eating nonstop our way from JFK to Incheon.

Anyway, It is a jovial fest. Greg explains what he does – primarily selling cosmetics and clothing into China. Greg has a special love of fishing and has decided that in the future fishing will become popular in China and Korea, even if his present is rooted in selling Chinese girls Korean clothes and cosmetics. It seems that young Chinese ladies are attracted to the hot young Korean ladies living and looking the life on Korean soaps. It is a strange world sometimes, hard to figure.

We finish dinner, Greg and Chris share the tab, and then we walk across the street to our new hotel and say goodbye to our hosts. A big thing with travel is hooking up the various electronics that you inevitably bring. Fortunately, in my room there are two good plugs, conveniently fitted with Western style plug fittings for 110 volts, even if the outgoing electric is 220 volts. Plugs and volts used to be a big deal on travel, but these days it is less of a hassle. I do carry spare converter plugs for different situations, but it seems that on my stay in Korea these will be unnecessary. I do have a double hook up that allows me to charge my cell and iPad at the same time. The second plug I use for charging my Jawbone speaker and iPod alternatively.

I believe in bringing music wherever I go because local Korean TV can be a little difficult and because I get bored with CNN or BBC English language news. Music allows a different mindset, which can be very helpful when making your way in a different country.

Now you would think that I would be a little tired after 14 hour flight and a long Korean dinner and you would be right, but I believe in ignoring time zones and staying up late when you arrive so when you do go to sleep, you really sleep. My brother John is a little tuckered by the Korean fishing and perhaps the ten previous days of travel from the other side of the world, so says he is going to crash. Ryan and I agree to meet downstairs to head out for a walk and a chat at one the local sit down cafes.

So after setting up my electronic paraphernalia, hanging up some clothes in my new closet which is large enough for about 4 hangars and washing my face quickly, I head down to the lobby and stroll outside where Ryan is waiting for a walk and sit-down chat. Now the weather in Korea on this particular trip is quite warm. I would guess the temperature to be in the low seventies or high sixties. So it was quite pleasant to go for an evening stroll.

Within a block of this hotel, The Hotel Koryo, are several brightly lit streets of bars, restaurants and cafes. Ryan and I settle down in one of the outdoor cafes and chat up our experiences on the trip so far, discuss a little of what we will be doing the next day. We are to be picked up at the hotel at 9:30 am and by this time it still relatively early, being around 10:30 pm Korean time. After about 45 minutes of chitchat, we head back to the hotel and our respective rooms. Both of us have been up for about 30 hours straight so it really is time for some sleep.

The next morning, I get up, do a few exercises in my room – I bring a kind of pocket gym with me – a handgrip, a jump rope, elastic arm and leg bands and, most importantly, a hackysack. After my exercises, I head downstairs to the second floor where they serve complimentary breakfast. It is a kind buffet style setup, with sections for American style food, European style food, Korean and Chinese food. A nice touch is that they have guy standing by wearing a nice white chef’s hat ready to make eggs on demand.

I like to stick with an American breakfast because after that I know that will be the last thing that I eat that is remotely American for the rest of the day. Now I do cheat a little bit and throw on some Kimchi and noodles on my plate, but mostly it is eggs over medium, croissants and jelly. This system seems to work for me and provides, I think, a good base for the many varieties of Korean fare that will come later.

When we get down to the lobby and walk out the door, there is the P. Diddy van with Chris waiting to power our chariot on to the new offices. Inside, Bruno Mars is singing about uptown funk. Today we are visiting Woosung, our Korean boat inflatable supplier. We wend our way through Incheon traffic. It is a city of 3 million people, not nearly as crowded as Seoul, which is just 20 miles away and can take an easy 3 hours to get across. That said, traffic in Incheon is crowded and slow, even by New York standards. After about ten minutes and a mile or so, we pull up to the new and impressive offices of our supplier.

When we first began buying inflatables from Woosung, they were quite a small manufacturer with one office and factory in a space of about 30,000 square feet. Like many Korean companies in the last 20 years, they grew rapidly, changed their original factory for another larger factory and then built on to their new factory building, which was originally about 50,000 square feet and then became 75,000 square feet of offices and factories.

Today, they now have a new building for their offices and are still using the 75,000 square feet for manufacturing. The office building is brand new and has six floors and a whole slew of young Koreans working as managers and designers. If you had visited their original space and then saw their new spaces you would be impressed and startled by the many changes. But that does not tell the whole story since Woosung also has two additional factories in China and one in Vietnam. This is a company that has probably increased it sales 30 times since we started visiting it in 1997.

To get in the building there is a special security card needed. This is helpfully supplied by Chris. Once inside the glass enclosed lobby, there is a display of various inflatable boat models, some of which are ours, that they have made for various customers. To left of the entrance is a mini Mistral Store – this is the French brand that they have licensed to sell clothing, sunglasses and other kinds of sporting equipment under in Korea. As we approach the elevator there is a digital screen a over the elevator scrolling the following message:

“Welcome, honored guests, Cecil Hoge, John Hoge and Ryan Healey.”

It is nice to be recognized as you come in the door.

We take the elevator to the fourth floor. We come out and take an immediate right to say hello to their Korean sales team that has assembled to greet us. This includes Walter Kim (our account manager leader), Larry Lim (head of production), his son Mike, now working in sales, Jenny Park, Kevin Kim, Chris Jung and about six other sales gals and guys. They are all young, thin and you might notice that they have all American fist names and a limited number of Korean last names. That is pretty much the case for the whole country. The American first names are strictly for sales purposes – the theory being if an English speaking person can pronounce your first name he might buy more and Because English is pretty much the official business language in Asia. Regarding last names, Kim, Lim, Park & Lee seem to account for about 80% of the last names in Korea.

After saying hello, shaking hands and half- bowing to the sales team, we about face and head for the conference room, which is located in the opposite direction, just to the right of a room ominously labeled, The War Room. We never got into the War Room so I am not quite sure what goes on there. I imagine, 50 or 60 grim-faced Koreans gathered in the room with Haji Lee, the owner. As soon as Haji arrives, he harangues them for an hour or so on some sales imperative of the day.

In any case, we case go off the big conference room which can sit 20 or so people and place our bags on one side. Outside is a nice view of the city of Incheon. Chris then tells us it is time to go and meet Haji, so we dutifully file out of the conference room, get into the elevator and head up to the fifth floor. There we take a right turn, where we see a sign saying “Oldest and Best Customer”. Below is our company name: Sea Eagle Boats, Inc. with a picture of John and myself.

We are one Woosung’s oldest customers, that part is correct, having first visited their far smaller offices and factory in 1997, during their great currency collapse. In the early years of doing business with them, we did become their best overall customer. That is no longer true. Today, we have been surpassed by many new customers. Woosung manufactures inflatable boats, kayaks and standup paddleboards for a wide variety of customers. Hobie Cat, Naisch, Starboard, NRS, are just a few of their staunch customers. While we are still a pretty good customer, we are nowhere near their best customer. Anyway, it is nice to be honored with a sign.

In the room beyond is Haji Lee’s office. It has a big, wide desk, piled high with papers and documents and a mini conference table also and a great view of city outside. Haji is sitting at his desk, looks up, says, “oh,” or something like it in Korean, jumps up and comes over to shake hands and greet. Haji is vigorous and energetic man in everything he does and he almost seems to approach you on the run.

We shake hands, chit-chat a little on our respective flights, our lack of or presence of jetlag, some discussion on where Ryan and I came from and a little discussion of where John came from. After that is done, we sit down in the very comfy chairs in Haji’s mini conference room. Actually, I call that the quality face time table. Asians seems to like to sit down, ask a few questions, look at each other for about 20 minutes, trying, I guess, to discern some inner meaning, and then after 20 minutes of some tea and mostly quiet saying little or nothing, suddenly get up and move back down to the big conference room on the floor below. It seems to be an important thing to do.

Haji tells us, as usual, that he has a few other things to do before joining us in the conference room. Judging from the stack of catalogs, documents and magazines, that could be a few minutes or several hours. Anyway, we head back down to the conference room. There we are joined by Larry Lim, Walter Kim and Chris Jung.

I do not know how other people conduct their foreign meetings, but in our case, we write up an agenda of points to be discussed and send it to them a couple of weeks before we arrive. After we make up our agenda, Woosung then makes up their agenda, which is half in English and half in Korean. It is not identical to ours, but it does tend to follow our original plan with a little Korean twist and turn here and there.

Basically, in the beginning we have general review of how the year went for us, how it went for them. Then we move on to general hopes and goals. In this part, Woosung usually shows us some videos on new products that they working on, some of which may be related to what we we do and some of which may have nothing to do with what we do. Then we go over problem issues. These can be quality problems, defects issues, payment issues, unresolved issues. Then we review new prototypes, discuss new products and here what suggestions Woosung wishes to make. Usually, we set also aside a day or half a day for boat testing of new models. Last of all, we discuss pricing.

That is the schedule of our meetings in one paragraph, but the reality of our meetings is that it takes 3 full and long days to go over all the various points.

Before beginning, I want to await for the arrival of Haji Lee. To bide our time, an young Korean lady comes in bringing green tea or coffee. When in Asia, I stick with a steady intake of tea, so I am happy to go with the green tea. John and Ryan stick with Western culture and go with the coffee. Shortly after starting to sip our tea and coffee, Haji comes charging in.

I begin by asking what their take on the year is. Haji says it has not been the best. The Standup Paddle Board business, which had enjoyed tremendous growth, now has slowed down. Transom boat business – inflatable boats taking 10 to 40 hp engines – is basically dead. His Mistral brand business, which he started last year, is now up to 12 shops around Korea, is growing, but not growing as fast as anticipated. Inflatable kayaks have been a bright spot (this is good since that is the main business we are in). They have hopes for a new business – inflatable rescue structures – but that business has not yet started. The cow mattress business has been steady, but not growing.

Before going further, I must tell you about Haji’s cow mattress business. It is a little out of the ordinary and perhaps not what you think about when considering inflatable boats. It seems some years ago a Canadian company came to Haji with a strange idea. They wanted to make cow beds for cows. After some interrogation, Haji found out that a comfortable cow is a happy cow and a happy cow gives more milk. At the time, the Canadian company was making cow beds using a fabric bladder with polyethylene foam inside. This seemed to work OK, except after a short time, the cow, weighing up to 3,000 lbs. and having relatively hard hooves, would puncture the cow mattress cover and shortly thereafter the foam would get ground to powder. Anyway, the Canadian company thought maybe inflatable boat material was stronger and better than the truck tarp material they were using for the foam covers.

Haji began to make some mattress covers to hold the foam material. The inflatable boat material did last longer, but the foam did not. This definitely did work better, but the fabric would still burst after one or two years and the foam basically was crushed to dust with two months. That meant they had to replace the inner foam section every two or three months. You might think this was unacceptable to the Canadian cow bed company, but in actual fact they were happy since they were getting longer life than out of the previous products.

Now let me explain something here that might surprise you. The cow mattress business is quite large. I certainly was surprised. A couple of years ago I had the opportunity to go out to dinner with Haji, a number of his employees and two of the owners of Canadian cow mattress company. That evening the two Canadian owners gave me a little history on their company and the cow mattress business in general. For me, it was a whole new world.

Apparently, there is a great need to keep cows comfortable. This is because, as mentioned before, comfortable cows produce more milk. In the the history of cows and milk and how to manage that, at first there was mud and straw. This was the prevailing system for the last couple of thousand years, but it was messy and neither the cows nor the farmers liked the mud and straw. The cows because it was muddy and messy and cold and uncomfortable. The farmers because it was muddy and messy and hard to keep clean.

So in the late 20 century, some farmers got the bright idea put concrete and straw down where before there was only mud and straw. This was definitely easier to keep clean for the farmers, but the cows did not like it because, let’s face it, concrete, even with some straw on it, is not very comfortable. Along the way, it was noticed by the farmers that the cows seemed more agitated when sleeping on concrete and, more importantly for the farmer, they gave less milk.

This got the farmers to thinking. Maybe there was a way to make cows more comfortable and stalls easier to clean. So they consulted some experts who suggested using foam cushions. This was about the time the two Canadian guys began to get interested in the cow bed industry. They had been supplying farmers with needed things for farming such as straw for beds, hay for food, milk pales and other cow-milking equipment. It seemed natural for the two Canadians to start providing foam mattresses.

Now you would think that foam mattresses would be pretty durable and you would be right…for humans. However, as mentioned, cows weigh 1,500 to 3,000 lbs. and they have hooves. When they go to their stall, after grazing in the field, they are not real careful how they step on the foam mattresses under them. Two things happened from this usage. The cows’ hooves would break through the cover around the foam mattresses. The second thing that happened is that the cows hooves crushed the foam to dust wherever they stepped on the foam. This process of breaking through the cover and crushing the foam, did not occur instantly, but within two or three months and foam mattress cover would look like it had been shot through with holes and the foam inside would look like it had been ground into fine particulate matter.

Not helping this problem was the fact that the cows came to like to munch on the exposed foam. This made many cows sick and caused some to die. The two Canadian gentlemen were discouraged by this and decided to seek another solution. Perhaps, they could make inflatable air beds for the cows. This is when they suggested this improvement to Haji. Haji, always liking a new and different challenge, and also liking the idea of making the whole product where he could charge more, started making inflatable air beds for cows.

The inflatable air beds did do better than the foam mattresses, but the still got destroyed by the cows after two or three months. It seems that cow hooves and air beds do not get along. Punctures would occur and then the mattresses would go flat. Now the two Canadian guys were still able to sell this product, because while they lasted, the air mattresses were far more comfortable for the cows and that meant they produced 40% more milk. That was a good deal for the farmers. It seemed that farmers, once they got sold on cow comfort and more milk, were willing to pay for air mattresses even if they only lasted 3 months or so.

The business itself began to flourish. At first the two Canadian were selling a few hundred mattresses, then a few thousand mattresses. Pretty soon, they were selling over 5,000 air mattresses for cow beds a year. And this was a pretty good business for Haji and the two Canadian guys. Haji was was selling the cow beds for over $200 each and the Canadians were selling the cow beds to farmers for over $500. In other words, in pretty short order Haji was selling over $1,000,000 of cow beds a year and the two Canadians were selling over $2,500,000 a year. It was becoming a business.

Still, there was a problem of durability. Farmers were getting tired of buying replacement air beds four times a year. This is when a new innovation came along. The two Canadians figured that if they used gel, they might get longer life from their cow beds. And they were right. The inflatable cow beds, now filled with gel rather than air, did last longer, about a year.

On the basis of this innovation, the cow bed business grew rapidly. Soon Haji was selling 10,000 cow beds a year. He did not fill these with gel. Rather he sent them empty to Canada and the Canadians provided the gel. Everybody was happy for a while. Haji and Canadians sold more cow beds than ever, the Cows were more comfortable and gave 40% more milk and the farmers were happy because they bought cow beds less often, they got more milk which they sold for more money. It was a win, win.

But progress never stops. About this time, Haji started working with drop stitch material and starting making Standup Paddleboards with this new inflatable innovation. Drop stitch material is two layers of material with millions of woven threads going back and forth between the two layers of fabric. This allows you to make rectangular shapes because the threads hold the two layers of fabric at a specific width. This material, the two Canadians realized, was perfect for making cow beds. For one thing, you could add layers of fabric top and bottom making the material far stronger. For another, you could have quite high pressures and a flat cleanable surface. This is important when farmers who have to clean up cows after they have done their business. That is because cows do not pay that much attention to where they do their business and that often meant that cow beds became pretty dirty.

Again, the new drop stitch material, with its heavier layers of material and with air inside instead of gel solved a lot of problems and it also lasted longer. It was easier to ship, easier to setup and easier to clean. Even so, drop stitch cow beds did not last forever, but now they were getting two or three years of use. And as the technology improved, so did the sales. Sales were now over 20,000 cow beds a year. So that is a brief history of one the product Haji was producing.

So at this meeting Haji let’s know that the cow bed business is still good and he is hoping to sell another 20,000 cow beds in 2016.

Haji then explained some of the new businesses he is trying to enter. One is a unique rescue product that you drop from an airplane or helicopter and it automatically inflates providing an inflatable structure that 100 or 200 people can hang on to. This product is to be used in life or death situations, when a plane is crashing into the sea or when a ship is sinking. The safety device can be on board a ship or plane or it can be brought to the rescue site by a helicopter or plane or a boat. In any case, it can be deployed in minutes and it is large enough for 100 or 200 people to hang on to until somebody comes to rescue them.

Since this is new product, not yet on the market, I cannot really tell you more other than in the video we saw, it looked like it will really work. Haji and his company have spent two years testing and developing this product. They hope to start selling it in 2017.

Haji went on to tell us about some other new products – inflatable water bike (the bike was not inflatable, just the pontoons holding the bike), an electric moped that they are thinking to sell in Korea and some other products. We watch a video showing the water bike peddling along on water. It looked like it really worked and we immediately said we would have an interest in selling it when it was ready. Haji shows some literature on the electric bike. I am not quite clear why Haji wants to be in the electric bike business, since that seems pretty crowded and not directly related to water bikes, standup Paddleboards, inflatable kayaks and inflatable cow beds. But that is the way Haji is, he is always looking to get into something new and different.

We then went over how our sales have been. Down in Standup Paddleboards, up in kayaks, up in fishing boats, up in transom boats. We go over some of our hopes for the future…large sales of transom boats in India for rescue work (we have already sold over 100 boats to India for flood rescue work in 2016) and we are bidding on several new large contracts. In short, we think this can be a big new business for us. In summary, we mention that 2016 is our best year ever and that we will sell around 2o,000 inflatable boats, kayaks or SUPs in 2016.

By this time, we have already arrived at lunchtime in Korea, so we all evacuate the conference room and head upstairs to the sixth floor. That is where the new company cafeteria is located. There are 40 or 50 people eating there in a dining room off to the left. We head over to the executive section on the right which is a cordoned off table for about 20. Today, we are about 12. Haji has invited some wealthy friend of his to lunch with us and he tells us about some new relaxation device he is hopping to sell a million units. Apparently, this gentleman is very successful in the kitchen appliance business. At the moment, he seems more interested in talking up his new product.

We all try the device which kind of wraps around your neck and stomach. I can see it does provide some support, but it seems bulky and ungainly to me. Haji’s Korean friend enthusiastically explains how they plan to sell one million units, apparently, if I understand him correctly, in the next 6 months. He wonders whether we might interested in selling this in the States. We politely try to explain that it is a little outside of selling inflatable boats and fishing lures.

Anyway, we have a nice Korean meal, with different kinds of Kimchi, fresh fish, tofu, assorted vegetables, some fried eggs, some meats, a cup of rice, some delicious spicy soup and other things I am not quite clear on. Now my rule wherever I travel is to eat whatever is placed before me, so I plow through quite happily. It is all quite delicious and pretty healthy, I am guessing.

After lunch in the cafeteria, it is back down to the conference room. We are still in the introductory phase, not having discussed specific problems, new designs, new orders, shipping schedules, new order plans or a review of goods already ordered and on the sea somewhere. Today is Monday and it is mostly for introductory discussion and review of samples. Tomorrow, we are scheduled to test several prototypes on a nearby waterway.

So after sitting down in the conference room for more general chitchat, we head over to the actual factory, which is about a half a mile away. The traffic makes short distance another 10 minute journey. As we go into the factory, we slip on protective shoe covers that are required and are supposed eliminate or reduce any dirt coming into the factory floor. Putting these elastic foot covers on is not so easy, since you have to balance on one leg. I have developed a tried and true method for this by leaning on a nearby wall.

We start on the first floor where several prototypes are waiting our inspection. Today we are reviewing a fishing kayak, a racing Standup Paddleboard and a new kind of drop stitch transom boat. Since I am in the process of applying for a patent on the new kind of all drop stitch transom boat, I will not divulge too much information on that, other than to say that I am hoping it will be very light, easy to assemble, fast to row and motor. None of that is known when you make a prototype. Basically, the prototype process is a hit or miss proposition. You throw out your best ideas and they either work or they don’t.

I head over to the prototype of the drop stitch transom boat while my brother and Ryan head over to the racing SUP. Both look better than I anticipated. Again, that is something that is hard to know in advance. You make a drawing of something you want your supplier to make and it either comes out the way you think or it is close or it is way off the mark. Anyway, I am happy with the appearance of the new kind of transom boat. We are with Haji Lee, the owner, Larry Lim, the head of production, and Chris Jung, our contact for the Sea Eagle products that they make for us, and several workers and technicians in the factory.

I shake hands with the chubby Korean guy who always makes the first prototypes. He kind of bows. I bow back. I am thinking I must be a very frustrating guy for him because he has been making strange prototypes for us for about 10 or 15 years and most of the time, we end up only selecting just a few of those prototypes to be actual products. And worse, sometimes, I take a very long to decide what features and dimensions a new product should have.

For example, I took 5 years and 14 prototypes to decide what the actual final dimensions and features of our new Sea Eagle RazorLite all drop stitch inflatable kayaks would be. I can imagine that Haji Lee, Larry Lim and the somewhat chubby Korean gentleman who makes the physical prototypes were not very happy with me. But then again, we have now sold our first 1,000 RazorLites in less than two short years and now it is looking like all those prototypes might actually have been worth it.

Now some projects are much easier. The Sea Eagle NeedleNose SUPs (Standup Inflatable Paddleboards) turned out to be a much easier project. I made a drawing on my iPad at the Outdoor Retailer Show in about an hour and half. It came to me in a moment of inspiration that that inflatable SUPs could be made with a rigid bow mold at the front in order to pierce through waves. This, I cleverly called, a wave piercing design.

So, in an hour and half, sitting in my booth at the Outdoor Retailer Show in Salt Lake City, amid talking to customers and to Chris Jung from Woosung (who happened to be there), I drew this new NeedleNose design – the shape, the dimensions and bow mold. It was pretty crude because I had just begun to learn the drawing program (which was called iDraw), but it was clear enough for my supplier, who happened to be at the show. So, an hour an hour later, I hit the send button and a PDF of the drawing went to Chris Jung and Larry Lim, both of whom happened to be in the States at the show sitting a few feet from me. That was in August of 2006.

Three months later they had made a bow mold of this new design and we were on the water testing the first prototype of this new model. Unlike almost all prototypes we receive, there was almost nothing to change – a slight movement of a few d-rings, the addition of a large D-ring for a paddle leash, the decision of where to put our logo and SUP safety instructions. Two months later we were selling and shipping this model and I applied for a patent on this design. The rest, as they say, is history. I got the patent and we have now sold over 5,000 of these NeedleNose SUPs.

After looking over the transom boat, I walked over and started asking questions and looking at the racing NeedleNose. It really is the same as our standard 12′ 6″ NeedleNose. It was 4″ narrower in order to increase speed. We were building this new model specifically for young lady in Okinawa named, Marta Hogan. She is an avid SUP racer and wanted to use our board for SUP races around Asia – you can see her picture below.

The board we designed for Marta was not only narrower, it has an American fin box without the two side skegs we usually have and it was missing the stainless steel D-rings we normally have for those who want to use a seat and the nylon D-rings and elastic cord we have to for those who want to be able to stow gear. This was because Marta wanted the board as light as possible and wanted the ability to change out skegs for different racing conditions. Other than that it is essentially the same craft and the same shape, although considerably narrower. The prototype looks beautiful, but I very worried that it will be unstable on the water. Going faster will not help if the paddler cannot stand on it.

This is the energetic lady we were making the new 26" wide NeedleNose SUP for. In this picture she is pivoting on our standard Sea Eagle NeedleNose.

This is the energetic lady, Marta Hogan, that we were making the new 26″ wide NeedleNose SUP for. In this picture Marta is pivoting on our standard Sea Eagle NeedleNose.

We move on to the third prototype which is our new fishing FastTrack. This is a fishing version of our Sea Eagle FastTrack. It features what we call “Crocodile” EVA – this is a 1/4″ thick foam padding on the side pontoons and on the cockpit floor. I decided to put this EVA padding on to protect against fish hooks and fish fins. Of the two, fish fins are far more likely to cause puncture problems, by the way. In looking at the prototype Woosung has made for us, we immediately decide that we should use more of the “Crocodile” EVA since it is relatively cheap, very durable and looks really cool. Accordingly, we tell Chris Jung that we want the EVA to extend further down and around on each sides of the pontoons.

We also discuss whether it is possible to add a fish ruler to one side of the kayak so a fisherman or fisher lady can measure the size of the fish they have caught without having to paddle to shore – this is important, especially if there are regulations regarding the minimum size fish that you can keep. We discuss the various ways the fish ruler can be added. Printing on the EVA – we reject this idea because we do not think the pebbly surface of the “Crocodile” EVA will be very suitable. After several suggested alternative methods, we decided we will print a ruler on fabric and then have the ruler glued on the EVA.

Here's what the Fishing FastTrack looks like just before going to production. We plan to sell these by May, 2017

Here’s what the Fishing FastTrack now looks like just before going to production – the white strip on the far pontoon is the fish ruler. We plan to sell these by May, 2017

Since we are in the midst of exploring new rod-holders for this model, we hold off further decisions until we finalize our rod-holder solution. And that is where we leave it. By this time it 5:30 in the afternoon and they propose to take us out to dinner. And so, after about 45 minutes of further chitchat, we head out in two cars for dinner – us in the P. Diddy van with Chris and Larry and Haji and Walter and Haji in Haji’s monster Hyundia. The monster Hyundia is South Korea’s answer to Mercedes and Rolls Royce, being slightly larger than a Mercedes and slightly smaller than a Rolls. I have ridden in this car a few times and comfort is its middle name. It comes complete with TV, computer, Internet and video, super plush leather seats throughout, etc., etc.

Pretty soon we are in downtown Incheon with lights blazing everywhere in a section of the city that is clogged with restaurants, bars and cafes, near where our hotel is. We disappear into one and sit down on some compromise Western style chairs. When I first came to Korea, in most of the restaurants, you sat on a seat cushion on the floor with your legs crossed yoga style. I am quite comfortable sitting like this, but my brother and Ryan, being taller and perhaps more Western, prefer to sit in a regular chairs. Anyway, this evening we are comprising sitting almost on the floor, on a chair that is sunken below the table. So the table is only about 10″ above the floor, but because the floor is sunken below the table, you can sit on it like a regular Western chair.

We enjoy another Korean barbecue meal, this time with more fish than meat and about 50 side dishes, including a selection of 5 or 10 Kimchi dishes. It is, as usual, an extremely healthy and tasty meal. I have to say I particularly like Korean barbecue meals since you see it being made right in front of of you and when you snag the food off the of barbecue, it piping hot, dripping with juices and spices. You then dip your piece of fish or meat into the 3 or 4 different sauce dishes. The result is always hot and tasty and hot dripping good.

At dinner we discuss a wide range of subjects, going from market conditions to sports, to Korean politics (their lady President is about to be impeached) to the upcoming American Presidential election.

Haji asks me who I think will be elected.

I predict Trump, saying while the polls show him losing, I think he will win because the people who will vote for him are not the people who talk to pollsters. Moreover, I say I think trump has tapped into a sea of discontent, literally finding a whole population of people who feel mislead, cheated, over-looked and unheard.

Haji finds this difficult to understand. Why won’t Hillary win?

Too much baggage I say.

“Who will you vote for?” Haji ask.

“Hillary,” I say.


“I am afraid of what Trump might do.”


“Because of his campaign promises.”

“Are you afraid he might not keep his promises?” Haji.

“No,”I reply, “I am afraid he might keep them.”

Haji ponders for a moment and then says, “We think Hillary will win.”

That seems to be the end of conversation.

After dinner, Haji tells us it his anniversary is tomorrow and tomorrow afternoon he will have to drive to the country with his wife to celebrate with his wife’s family.

I remember what Haji told me when I first met him.

“Woman is Buddhist, man is Buddha.”

It seems that Buddha will have to go visit his wife’s family. We shake hands and Buddha gets into the monster Hyundia and heads off to his Incheon home while we head off to the local cafe for some more chit chat with Chris Jung and Larry Lim. By 12 we are back at the hotel. I go to my room and put on some Michael Kiwanuka. His debut album is out a couple weeks and I decide this is good chance to take some time to get acquainted before snoozing off. This is my second or third listening to the album and I find myself really intrigued by it.

The next morning – Tuesday in Korea – I get up, do some exercises in the room (leg lifts, elastic arm pulls, a hundred skips, some hacky sack), shower, get dressed, go down and have an American / Korean breakfast – a little Kimchi, eggs over easy, noodles and sausage. Fit and ready for a new day I go down to the lobby to wait for the P. Diddy limo. Today we are heading to a new Korean city some early boat testing.

When I say new, I mean new. Five years earlier I had come and Haji told excitedly about the plans to build 5 new Korean cities close to Incheon Airport. Now they are up and running, brand new and glistening. Near the port of Incheon, the new building are erected of land that used to be tidal flats and now are city streets with waterways interesting the buildings.

We all pile into the P. Diddy van. Chris flips on the local GI station and Taylor Swift comes on tell us she and an undesignated person got problems and she is not sure she is going they are going to solve them. We head into the traffic of Incheon, wedge our way through city streets and city traffic, listening to an eclectic mixture or rock, rap and country, some out in the last few years, other stuff, like Johnny Cash’s I Walk the Line recorded 50 or 60 years hence. After about 40 minutes we begin to enter the new city section with new modern building jutting up into the sky.

In due time, we pull behind a bus, park and get out of the P. Diddy van. I know we are at the right place because I see some of the guys from the factory inflating the racing NeedleNose, the new boat all drop stitch boat I am testing and a wierd prototype kayak we had seen in the factory that we asked to give a whirl.

We are not testing the all new green fishing kayak because we already know how that paddles. This is because we have already sold over 5,000 of our regular FastTracks, so our concern with model was features for fishing and appearance, not paddling ability.

The big question market is my new all drop dinghy. Some of the Korean factory guys set that up on a floating dock and pull that off the dock and get in. Immediatiately I am aware that is tippier and less stable than I had assumed. Ooops. The next thing I try is the oarlocks. This uses a wierd system of my device and almost immediately it becomes apparent that the grommets that I thought could make simple and cheap oarlocks do make simple and cheap oarlocks that do not work well. Ooops. I try rowing for about 20 minutes, become disgusted and get out to watch my brother and Ryan try out the new NeedleNose.

This is our new NeedleNose 126r racing board. It was good to go.

This is our new NeedleNose 126r racing board. It was good to go.

Here the story is the opposite. Despite my fears about stability, both John and Ryan try it and find reasonably stable and quite fast. Even Chris Jung gives it a whirl and finds it fast and stable. Their best guess is that the reduced width results in about a 20% faster to paddle board. This is huge, as our now new President might say.


In the distance you will see us out testing.

After that we test the wierd new paddling SurfSki that Woosung is working on. It shows promise, but this prototype is too tippy and not that fast. We go on to test my new dinghy with a 3 hp gas motor. Here the results are better, but not ideal. The space in the boat only seems to allow 3 people. When one of the passengers shifts their weight, the dinghy tips to the left or right. It simply does not have the stability of a traditional inflatable boat. It does look cool, it is remarkably light (just 61 lbs.), but it is not ready for prime time. Anyway, we try it it with one, two and three people and it motors pretty well, but even in that use, it does not performs ideally. I decide it is time to go back to the drawing board on that one.

By this time, it getting to be around 1 pm, so we head back to the office and up to the sixth floor for lunch. Haji is there to greet us and ask about about our testing. We tell him the NeedleNose was good and the dinghy was no good. On the basis of this testing I have decided to put my dinghy project on hold. I will ask them to fix the oarlock problem and send the existing prototype, but, for the moment, I am not planning to include in this year’s new models.

After lunch, we begin discussing some our conclusions so far, both from our initial visit to the factory to review the new models and with our testing of two of the models. We spend several hours trying to go over changes to the fishing kayak – we are extending and enlarging the protective EVA foam on the outside – this is to prevent fish fins and fish hooks and fish knives from ever puncturing the boat. We are adding a fish ruler on the top of the boat. We want to have cutouts on the front and rear spray skirts to hold up to 4 fishing rods and to also hold fishing tools and lures in a place where they are safe and easily accessible. There is a lot of discussion about how to do this. We finally say they should wait until we get back to the States and provide them with detailed drawings of how all this will work.

For the racing NeedleNose the path forward is much clearer and more immediate. They will make a second prototype for us. One prototype will go to Okinawa where a very fit Marta Hogen will race it in a Standup Paddleboard race taking place at the end of November. We decide this product is ready for prime time and say we plan to introduce in the spring or summer of 2017.

For the dinghy, I say I will provide them with an alternative idea of how to create workable oarlocks on the existing prototype. I tell them if we cannot figure out how to make it row properly, it will be game over. So again, we postpone a final decision on the final product until we can solve the oarlock problem. In this case, I say once they outfit it with workable oarlocks, The plan would then to either give up on the project or come with a final concept boat for 2018. If we do go forward with some version of this boat in 2018, it will mean we will have to get a final version of the new boat by the summer of 2017 in order to test and verifying it will really work.

Making a new boat is a long process. And as mentioned, some products come far easier than others while some end up taking years. And a lot never get developed at all. That is the process. I wish it was cleaner, simpler, more scientific, but that is how it works for us.

After going over new model issues, we move on to pricing and problem issues. We review different histories on different models they produce for us. Some are very good, some are not so good. Our computer system keeps record of every boat we sell – that is 20,000 a year. Woosung makes about 4,000 of those boats. The quantities are not the greatest of what we sell, but they are generally our most expensive boats, so the sales in dollars of the 4,000 boats is actually greater than the other 16,000. In terms of dollars, Woosung is our largest supplier.

The process of discussing pricing and quality issues is also long and arduous and sometimes quite contentious. Fortunately, we have good data for them to review and they do realize the importance of solving both of these problems. The day before I let drop the fact that we have moved some of our production to HiFei (another supplier of ours and a competitor of Woosung). There is nothing like telling one supplier that another supplier can provide the same quality product at a lower price. It gets their attention.

In the case of pricing, Woosung suddenly has a change of heart. It seems where before it was impossible for prices to go down, a new way has been found and now prices will go down on many products. This is something that I had hoped for, but not something I had planned for. So, naturally this is a big win for us. We do not say much, but inwardly we are most pleased by Woosung’s action on the pricing issue.

We move on to the quality issues. Here the details are everything and we spend literally several hours reviewing different problems, trying understand what might be the issue in each case. We look at detailed pictures which we e-mailed ahead. We discuss individual solutions. When you find a problem, the first thing to figure out is where it came from. In the construction of inflatables, there are many things that can go wrong…seams, material, gluing, welding, fittings, accessories. It is important first to focus on the origin of the problem, then to concentrate on the solution.

Generally, our supplier, is the best producer in the world for the products that they produce. We have 48 years of experience of trying many, many different producers. Woosung’s strongest quality is their fearless willingness to make new designs. Most manufacturers are unwilling to try new designs, preferring instead to stick with what has sold and worked in the past. This is not a bad policy if designs stay stagnant, but designs are always changing and it is the nature of things that better ways are found to produce different shapes and different products.

The problem with someone making a new design for the first time is that your supplier is learning how to make it and it takes times to develop the best way to make an individual product. Woosung is more professional than most manufacturers – making a CAD drawing of what a new product will be, establishing specs for every piece and part that goes into the product. All of that reduces possible problems in the future, but it does not eliminate all problems. The reasons for that is when you make something new you find that there are stresses and problems in the production or the use that you never anticipated.

Unfortunately, this process is further harmed by the fact that I love to design things that nobody ever made before. This means I only find out what problems a new product might have after we start the production. This is normal, but it would be nice if products could be perfect from moment the first one rolls off the production line. The situation is further complicated by the fact that most of our success comes from developing unique new designs. And that comes with the need to resolve and solve any problem that becomes apparent before, during and after the production.

About 5 o’clock Haji gets up and shakes hands and says it. Time for him to get back his wife before Buddha is chewed out by his Buddhist wife. That leaves Larry Lim, Walter Kim and Chris Jung with me, John and Ryan to go over the remaining quality problems. We do that for another hour. By this time the sun is setting in Korea and it is again time to consider dinner.

Off we go for another dinner, this time hosted by several of the Woosung workers. It is a jovial affair, with a long dinner and after chitchat. By 12 I am back at hotel, this night too tired to do anything but crash. We have been 3 days in Korea. Tomorrow, after a short wrap up morning meeting we will head out to the airport for a flight to China. Time to change countries.

The next morning the P. Diddy van arrives around 9am and we head off to the office. In the big conference room, my brother, Ryan and myself sit opposite Chris Jung, Larry Lim and Walter Kim. We run through a general review of all the things we discussed, basically repeating everything we said and did. We are interested to know about some of their future projects such as the water bike they are working on, we are proceeding with the NeedleNose SUP and FastTrack Angler. The all DS  (drop stitch) dinghy is on hold until we can figure out what to do about about the oarlocks and how to make it a truly functional boat. We thank them for their price concessions and we ask them to do their very best to eliminate all quality problems. Then we ask for them to give our regards to Haji and wish him a happy anniversary and thank them and all the other folks at Woosung.

All of this takes about an hour and a half and then we go outside, shake hands with the various Woosung folks who are assembled for our departure, bow to them, they bow to us and we get into the P. Diddy van and head off to Incheon airport. In the van, “We know our shit because we good at business and we know our shit” is again playing. I am gathering this is a popular song among the GIs living in Korea. In 40 minutes, we are checking into our China Eastern flight, heading through security, presenting our passports and Visas and finally settling into a very nice airport lounge not far from the China Eastern gate.

Our flight on this day is the polar opposite of the flight coming over Korea. It will not be business class. Fortunately, because we have something called Priority Pass, available through American Express, we get to settle into a very nice airport lounge for about 50 minutes before having mosey over to the gate and to board the China Eastern flight, which is about 124 notches down from the Korean Air flight coming over. The plane is a well worn Boeing of some earlier generation, the seating packed and fully booked.

A characteristic of flights from Korea to WeiHai, the city we are flying to today, is that almost every passenger aside from ourselves is carrying bundle of new bought goods from Korea. Haji has told us the reason for this – duty free in Korea is the cheapest in Aisia and there apparently is a big business in passengers ferrying new bought duty free goods into China. This results in every flight being completely booked and over-crowded because 9 out of 10 passengers are carrying duty free goods.

In my case, I am in the middle seats, wedged between two Chinese guys with duty free goods in their lap, below the seat in front and above in the bag storage compartment. Fortunately, these guys are relatively thin so instead being wedged against fat, fleshy people, I am wedged between cartons of Benson & Hedges cigarette carton, boxes of well-packed bottles of Courvoisier Cognac and boxes of Gucci shoes, Armani shirts. These guys are packing and while they do not take up much space, their goods do.

This would not be much of a problem except that it turns out that the flight is delayed and we have to sit on the tarmac while we wait for smog to clear at the WeiHai airport so it is deemed to be safe to land. Smog is, of course, a common problem in Korea and China. Often flights are delayed by it because it is literally hard to navigate in.

So we sit, wedged in together and I try to start up conversation with one of the guys next to me. He is very nice, seems to know some English, but very reticent about who he is and what he does. I get out out of him the fact that he not just visiting for shopping. Rather he has been in Korea for 12 weeks. When I ask him what he does, his English, which had seemed quite good, suddenly disappears and I realize the conversation is at an end. I have the suspicion that he might be in Korea to do a little surveying from the Chinese government. I have no way to know if this wild guess is untrue or correct.

Once off the ground, the flight to WeiHai is only 50 minutes. So it is a quick up and a quick down. I will say this for China Eastern, they do know how to serve people food in that short time. It comes in heated boxes. Some rice, some pork, some tea. And since our lady stewardesses could not begin serving until we had gotten off the ground and since the pilot is trying to make up for lost time, the lady stewardesses have to zip around, almost throwing the boxes of food at you and then jumping all over each other to serve the 175 passengers and clean up the leftovers of 175 passengers. Because the actual flight turns out to be only about 35 minutes, the stewardesses almost have to run to their seats after the last boxes are collected.

Once landed we begin the familiar experience of going through customs, getting our bags. WeiHai is a relatively small airport serving a relatively small Chinese city. The population is only about one and half million, which almost classifies it as a village by Chinese standards. It has been two years since my last visit to China and right away I notice some things have changed coming through customs. There are video screens above the custom gates. They are playing military music and showing videos of Chinese soldiers marching in formation, of Chinese soldiers practicing unfriendly moves with their bayonets, of Chinese soldiers practicing Marshall Arts. I get the impression that China is getting ready for something. I do not remember seeing these kind of videos coming into WeiHai two years ago. I get the sense that something has changed and that China has decided to be more on the defensive or the offensive – I am not sure which.

It has to be said that whenever you visit any place you usually come away with some impression and since any impression is coming only from yourself, it should be said that impressions can be very wrong. Nevertheless, my impression was that China had gotten a lot more militarized in the two years since I had been there. I know for a fact that this last summer there was a lot of concern about China going to war with the U.S. This was not reflected in our news, but it was passed on to me by Mrs. Zhong, who is our main contact at HiFei Marine, the company we were on the way. She had told me that many Chinese people were talking about the possibility of war with the U.S. because of confrontations between the U.S. Navy and the Chinese Navy around the islands in Pacific Ocean that China was building up from sand spits.

In the U.S. we hear a lot about what we think is an outrageous effort to extend Chinese sea power by literally constructing islands in the middle of the ocean where there were none. China has a different view of that and basically they think that particular area of ocean is theirs and so they feel they have to right to build up and militarize these islands. And if you happen to get into a genial conversation about this, it will soon turn adamant. The Chinese really think they have the right to do this since they have controlled this part of the Pacific Ocean for about 3,000 years.

Anyway, whether my impression on sensing a new militarization in China is correct or not, I do not know. I can only say the patriotic marching music with video of marching Chinese soldiers was real. That said, we were able to cruise through the customs line with little or no trouble.

Once we get out of the security area and start walking into the airport, we see a guy holding a sign with our names on. This must be our ride I surmise. I shake hands with the driver, he kindly takes my bag and we start walking out of the airport into the parking lot which is just across the street from the terminal. In no time, we are seated in a large minivan listening to ethereal Chinese music. Now the WeiHai airport is only about 40 minutes from WeiHai itself. It is a pretty pleasant ride take you through hills and small mountains with ancient China landscapes.

You know you are in the new China when you see Mercedes and BMWs and Maseratis and Ferrarris zipping by on the same road with ancient moped tractors that move at about 8 mph and are loaded with hay or apples. Along the highway you can see old Chinese people with ancient weather beaten faces either picking apples, loading apples, sweeping road with straw brooms or riding bycycles or mopeds with 3 or 4 people clinging to them. Meanwhile, the modern traffic moves along in brand new cars and SUVs, many of new and very luxurious at 70 to 80 mph. In WeiHai you see the new China and the old China on the very same road.

I should tell you that WeiHai is quite famous for apples and we happen to be touching down in the heart of the apple season. Along the road you see row upon row of apple trees each laden with an impossibly dense amount of apples. One wonders how the trees can support so many apples. These WeiHai apple trees are not very tall, 5 or 6 feet high and they seem to far wider than tall, maybe 20′ in circumference. I did not try to count the apples on one tree – it would be impossible – I can only say it looks like these trees hold about 10 times more apples than any apple tree I ever saw in America. I am guessing that 3,000 years of growing apples in the same place teaches you a thing or two.

Into the oncoming traffic lurch these little moped tractor trucks – I am not sure just what they are for – they look like a bicycle with a moped motor and a flat bed truck attached and strung together. They are, as mentioned previously, piled high with hay, or corn or, most often, with apples. These moped truck do not go very far. It seems they are designed to motor about 200 feet from the orchard to the side of the road. I am not sure if they are just severely under-powered or just heavily over-loaded or both. Anyway, they seem lurch out into the road with great regularity and apparently with no sense of oncoming traffic and then proceed about 25 feet at 8 mph to a full sized waiting truck with a real motor.

As we pass the ancient and modern Chinese landscape with smoky mountains shrouded in wispy smog, a call comes in to the driver. The driver talks a bit in Chinese and then passes his cell phone to me. It is Mrs. Zhong on the other end. She is at the factory of course. She says she will meet us at the hotel around 7. This suits us since it is only around 5 and we are just pulling into the hotel. I am look forward to laying out my clothes and maybe heading down to the lobby for some chitchat before dinner. So we agree to meet Mrs. Zhong in the hotel lobby.

The hotel is of the Chinese variety. That is to say big. The lobby has a very high-ceiling – least 60 feet or so with quite impressive pillars leading all the way up to the ceiling. We go to the front desk, present our passports and check in. I have been to this particular hotel four or five times. We first came it had only been open for about a month and so it was almost empty. Coming into the hotel this time, it also seems empty. There are a few hotel guests wandering around, but there is no crowd hovering before the front desk waiting to check in. The check-in is fast and easy and a few minutes later, the hotel check-in lady hands us back the passports and our room keys. Without further ado, we head to our separate rooms.

I did notice something in the check-in process and that was that I was assigned a different floor from my brother and Ryan. I am on the 8th floor and they are on the 7th floor. I think nothing of this, happily supposing that the higher the room, the better the room. When I get to the eight floor I sense something is different. I try to guess what it is and then it strikes me that I am smelling smoke in the hallway. I think nothing of this as the bellboy rolls my bag to the room. He opens the door, let’s me in and says something in Chinese which I suppose is enjoy your room. I hand him a 50 yuan note and he departs.

But almost immediately I realize that I do not enjoy my room since I am smelling the leftover residue of smoke. It is at that moment that I realize that I have been assigned a room on the smoking floor. I immediately call downstairs and ask to speak to a manager who speaks English. I explain that I would really like to change my room for a non-smoking. The manager says very politely in pretty good English that that is impossible since all the non-smoking rooms in the hotel are taken. I am not happy with this and ask if can I at least change rooms tomorrow. The manager says, in quite good English, of course, sir, we will be very happy to change your room tomorrow. There is something in the tone of his voice that tells me this is not the first foreigner assigned a smoking room when they probably wanted a non-smoking room. I decide to bide my time and accept this for the moment.

After opening up my suitcase judiciously (I want to relieve only the minimum amount of clothes because I know I may be moving soon), washing up and brushing my teeth, I go downstairs to talk with John and Ryan in the lobby. We sit down for a while and I tell them my plight. Immediately John suggests that I put Mrs. Zhong on the case. So we sit there for an hour or so and wait for the arrival of Mrs. Zhong.

In do course, Mrs. Zhong arrives in trendy jacket and machine weathered jeans, looking, trim, fit and ready to feed us. Mrs. Zhong is an example of the new Chinese power woman. She is successful, she is good at her job and she knows it. She says for this evening she is going to take us to the hotel restaurant since no doubt we are a little tired from our flight. She is right about that. John already has decided to give up on dinner, so it is only me and Ryan with Mrs. Zhong and we quite happily head into the restaurant, which is serving a kind giant Chinese buffet with what seems like about 1200 different dishes to choose from.

Some Chinese spinach, a favorite, and some other unidentifiables

Some Chinese spinach, a favorite, some shrimp and some other things that I am not sure about.

After acquiring about 27 of the aforementioned delecacies – it not easy to get 5 kinds of vegetables, 6 kinds of meat, 12 kinds of fish, and some odd things I am not really sure what they are on to one pretty big plate, but I manage it. As soon as I have a chance to get some of the food down, I explain my smoking room plight. Mrs. Zhong is very sympathetic. She explains how happy she was when her co-worker finally gave up smoking and how she came to hate the smell of cigarettes. She then goes on to say that she is furious at the hotel for giving me a smoking room.

I tell her that I already asked for a room, but the said they did not have one.

Mrs. Zhong looks at me for a minutes and smiles, “Well, maybe, that is because you are not Chinese.”

There is nothing like a Chinese person working on a Chinese problem.

Mrs. Zhong calls Ms. Wang, her assistant, who is still at the office, explains the situation and tells her to call the hotel manager and threaten to withdraw all future business if they do not immediately give me a non-smoking room. I tell Mrs. Zhong that I can hold out on the non-smoking room until we finish the 22 dishes left in front of me. Mrs. Zhong barks some instructions to Ms. Wang and then she turns to me.

Ms. Wang will call the manager and straighten out the situation, she tells me. In the meantime, I have some clams, some crabmeat, some pork, some chicken, some spinach, some sweet potatoes, some shrimp, some broccoli, and, as mentioned, some other things that I cannot actually identify.

A frown passes over Mrs. Zhong’s face. You have to eat more she tells me and Ryan. I had thought I was doing pretty well, but Mrs. Zhong is clearly worried that we are not eating enough. She calls over a waitress, barks out a bunch of instructions in Chinese and the waitresses goes bustling off towards the 20 or so buffet tables. This is a huge dining room, about the size of a hockey ring. In the distance I can see the waitress piling unknowables on top of two plates. Within minutes she returns to take away our old plates and replace them with two fully loaded new plates. So, now round two of dinner begins.

In round one, I was pretty careful to stay away from things I did not recognize. I round two the Chinese waitresses brought a whole new selection 20 or 30 untried delicacies. In travel, I have a rule – eat whatever that is put in front of you. I can tell that Ryan, while doing his best, is clearly avoiding some of the items on his plates. And indeed, some items can look a little unsettling, scorpions, for example, but at least the ones on my plate were not moving and so they did not present any danger of biting you. I munched away gradually reducing my plate to about third of it size. It was mostly delicious. I particularly like the eel and what looked liked robin’s eggs.

I thought I could safely say I was done, but no, Mrs. Zhong had the waitress bring over a plate of round scaly things. They reminded me of larvae from moths or some other insect. It turned out I was right on the money.

“One of these provides more protein than 3 eggs.” Mrs. Zhong said. She quaffed one down to show me that it could be done.

Since I had just had two robin’s eggs, I was not sure I needed more protein. Of course, they were only a quarter size of a regular eggs, so I guessed I could have a few of these brown, scaly things without overdosing on protein.

I picked one up and chomped into it. It was kind of milky and dense tasting. Not bad, I thought, as I felt my protein level rising.

“Oh, you should have more,” Mrs. Zhong said.

And so I downed a second one. I was beginning to like it.

“What is it?” I asked.

“Silkworm,” was the reply. Well, I had always thought that silkworms were highly valuable and here we were having some as an appetitizer. This must be a pretty rich country to eat silkworms I thought. Anyway, the silkworms were pretty good. I am still not sure whether they were cooked, warm or raw, but whatever, they were tasty and I could feel myself getting stronger by the minute.

That made me decide that maybe I was ready to go out and do battle with the hotel manager. I was dubious that I would have much success by myself, but with Mrs. Zhong along and the silkworms in my belly, I was ready.

So Mrs. Zhong kindly paid the bill and we went off to do battle with the manager. It did not take long. Mrs. Zhong snapped some hard Chinese at the ladies at the front desk and they bowed and kowtowed and a manager appeared. Mrs. Zhong barked some more sharp and hard Chinese at him and he bowed and kowtowed and then a new room key and a bellboy magically appeared.

We shook hands with Mrs. Zhong, thanked her again for dinner. I told Ryan I would meet him downstairs in the lobby in 30 minutes and I went off with the bellboy to retrieve my bag from one floor and move it down to another. Happily the room was as advertised – smoke-free. This gave me some time to hang up some of my clothes, set up my Bluetooth speaker, go on-line, brush my teeth, comb my hair and head back down to the lobby.

Ryan and I sat down there talking about the day, the flight from Korea, the differences between China and Korea and about some of the points we would have to go over. About an hour later we both headed up to our respective rooms. I took some time in the room to listen to some old Rolling Stones music – Exile on Main Street. Yeah, I was an exile in WeiHai! But I was definitely not on Main Street.

In the morning I did some exercises in my room, went downstairs, had a kind of American/Chinese breakfast of eggs, croissants, bacon, noodles & Chinese spinach. I love that Chinese spinach, it is not leafy like our spinach, more long and stringy. Around 9:30 Mrs. Zhong’s Cadillac Escalade SUV arrived with a company driver and John, Ryan and myself piled in and we were whisked away to the main factory and office.

HiFei is a pretty large company by my standards. The main factory and office were two buildings – maybe they accounted for about 150,000 square feet. Nearby, they have 6 other buildings for additional production, storage of materials and aluminum hull production. Maybe, those buildings added another 200,000 square. I am not sure. It is hard to tell when the two main buildings both had 5 floors and the other 6 buildings were generally one or two floors with very high ceilings – maybe 30 or 40′. The company has about 330 employees, making it relatively small by Chinese standards, but quite large by my standards. We have, for example, only about 30 employees and 24,000 square feet, although we have also use two logistics warehouses – one on Long Island, one in Nevada, to carry our inventory of boats.

After driving about 20 minutes from the hotel, we arrive at the new factory and offices. I say new because these buildings were only finished about 5 years ago, but already the buildings are showing signs of aging. There are cracks clearly visible on the front wall of the 5 story building. They build in fast in China and usually the speed of their endeavors takes a toll on the longevity of the building. Inside, the building is still in good shape, almost new condition, although some of the marble steps leading up to the third floor where we are going are showing signs of minor chipping. Perhaps, Chinese marble is not the same as Italian marble.

We first plop our biz bags in Mrs. Zhong’s office. This is very spacious, surrounded by glass walls. After some tea, we move to the conference on the fourth floor. Before doing so, we pop into Mr. Wang’s office, and say hello. Mr. Wang is the big boss. He is fairly tall, 6′, I would guess, somewhere in his forties, a young and successful Chinese business, sporting a short leather coat, an expensive looking knit shirt and some expensive looking Chinese jeans. In China, it is important to look rich, casual and sporting all at the same time.

Our contacts at HiFei are two Wangs, Mr. Wang, the big boss, Ms. Wang, Mrs. Zhong’s assistant and the lady directly in charge with our account, and Mrs. Zhong herself, the able administrator, 2nd boss to Mr. Wang, wearer of many hats.

Mr. Wang is full of cheer and broad smiles. He jumps up to greet us, we shake hands, gives us a hug and starts talking.

Almost immediately, he asks, “Who will be your next President?”

Consistent with my predictions in Korea, I voice the opinion that it will be Trump. My brother John chimes in for Hillary. The voices of reason will overcome the clamor of the masses, he says.

Mr. Wang is clearly disturbed by my prediction of Trump.

“Trump,” he says, “That’s not good. He doesn’t like China. What do you think?”

I tell Mr. Wang I think Mr. Trump is hard to read – it is hard to tell if he means what he says and it is harder to tell if he will do what he means. I guess if he gets elected, we will just have to wait and see, I say.

Mr. Wang does not seem particularly happy with my answer, but the conversation soon drifts to the general economy, thoughts about next year and our hopes for our two businesses.

I tell Mr. Wang it has been a good year for our boat business, not so good for our lure business. Mr. Wang is familiar with fishing since he first started in the fishing business, so he asks what is wrong with the lure business?

I tell him our largest customer, a wholesaler who services WalMart, is having some financial difficulties, taking less goods than in previous years and perhaps having some problems with WalMart itself, who, to put it mildly, is a difficult customer. I also explain that some of this wholesaler’s customers went bankrupt this year and that did not help. I go on to explain that overall our two companies, when taken together, had a solid increase for the year, even though the lures were down about 5%. This is because the boat business is the far larger business these days and our increase in the boat business was in the double digits.

Mr. Wang seems happy with this. He says he has some work to do, but he will see us for lunch. We go off to the big conference room. It is a pretty large room, maybe, 30′ X 60′ with a nice open space at one end and a large, mahogany conference table at the other end. We drop our bags on spare seats at the large mahogany table.

Mrs. Zhong and Ms. Wang come into the room. We discuss some general points. What parts of the inflatable business were up this year, what parts were down. In the case of HiFei they have several sections of business. They make small, portable transom boats that take wooden or aluminum floorboards or inflatable drop stitch floors. They make large inflatable rib boats with outside inflatable tubes around a fiberglass or aluminum hull. They make some kayaks and they now make quite a few inflatable Standup Paddleboards.

The transom boat business apparently is enjoying a recovery. It had collapsed because of the economic woes starting in 2008 and because of the recent problems of the Russian ruble. Since their two biggest customers were from Russia, the last several years was a problem for them. It was the more recent problems of the Russian Ruble that had really cut into their business because orders from Russia just ceased to come for about a year and a half. But now, apparently they are seeing some recovery in Russia, and a rise in general, especially for Europe in transom boats. Their kayak business is small and not important, but their Paddleboard business is healthy and growing.

I contrast their experience with theirs, telling them our transom boats sales had been in collapse every since 2008, but we’re enjoying some resurgence, thanks mostly to the Government of India who had ordered 100 transom boats for flood control work this year. Standup Paddleboard sales for us are now down, from a not too impressive total of a 1,000 units a year, fishing boat sales were stable and growing slightly, kayak sales were growing strongly.

So, if our difference experiences did not exactly match, it seemed that both of our companies were doing pretty well in a not so easy marketplace. We go on to discuss where we see the future and where HiFei sees the future. HiFei seems to be thinking that Standup Paddleboards are going to continue to grow, we are somewhat dubious, seeing our own sales hurt by an enormous influx of competition. I say that I think a good place for us is to concentrate on fishing kayaks and fishing SUPs. For this trip, I have sent the, designs of two new products we want them to make…a small fishing kayak and a fairly large fishing SUP. My brother thinks the future will be in the fishing kayak and I think the fishing SUP maybe the better product.

In the conference room, before going to review the two new products, we did go into a detailed report on how the products they made for us have done in the last year and how we think they will do. For the last several years, HiFei had made just two of our fishing boats. A small solo fishing boat and a little bit larger two person boat. Both models had done well, with almost zero defects, and a very high customer satisfaction level. During the year, because of this successful experience, we switched the production of a larger two person fishing boat to them and although we had only sold a 100 of these new fishing boats, we told Mrs. Zhong and Ms. Wang that we were pleased with their quality and with the sales so far.

Because of this experience and in addition to the success with the fishing boats, we also switched the production of another series, the Sea Eagle Explorers to them. By this point in the year, sales had been pretty good, with these models being up 36% for the year. HiFei had made their first production of these kayaks only a couple of months before, so our purchases so far only represented a small portion of our sales of these kayaks this year, roughly two hundred of the one thousand units we had already sold.

At that particular moment, they were making an additional 100 kayaks of a smaller size. Since we had not seen the smaller size kayak or the newer fishing kayak that they were making in the same size, I asked that samples of both be brought up to the conference room along with a sample of the original model they were making it from from – this is to compare and see if indeed the two models are identical. Ms. Wang got on her cell phone, barked a couple orders in Chinese and in about four minutes, three kayaks were brought in by four technicians and were laid out together.

So now we had an original production model kayak that we had sent them and a new production model they and the prototype of new fishing kayak.

The first thing that caught our attention was how good the new fishing kayak looked. This new model featured green EVA foam over the areas that might get punctured. They had decided to use a special green camo pattern and it did look good. Very professional, with sharp colors that I thought would appeal to fishermen everywhere and still look like a serious fishing kayak. But as I looked closer I noticed a couple of other problems.

On both of new kayaks made by HiFei the pontoon tubes were slightly larger than the original tubes and the cut-outs were slightly smaller. The oversized tubes was not a great problem. For our standard whitewater kayak it actually had some advantages. It would be more buoyant and more stable in whitewater because the tubes were larger. For the fishing kayak it would be more stable for fishing and casting, but it would also be slower to paddle on open water. That was because the HiFei kayaks with the wider pontoons were about 3″ wider than the original kayak.

The problem of the smaller floor cut-outs was more serious for the standard kayak, since that model was mostly used for whitewater. The smaller cut-outs in the floor meant that it was hard to reach and unscrew the drain valves where the cutouts were. This is important because you want the drain valves open when you are in whitewater and closed when you are on flat water – so the kayak drains water in white water and is dry on flat water. We discussed and hemmed and hawed over the two problems for about 30 or 40 minutes. Finally, we decided for this production of the 100 units of the standard kayaks being made, we would accept the slightly larger pontoons as long as they corrected the too small cut outs in the floor. They agreed to do and the crisis of the moment passed. That meant that they would have cut out larger cut-outs and remake 100 drop stitch floors. It amazing what you can do with a pair of scissors and some glue in China.

Since the the fishing kayak was only a prototype, the problem of the wider pontoons and the smaller cut-outs could easily be corrected in the actual production.

By this time, the lunch hour had arrived and, in China, as elsewhere, they do stop for lunch. So, we knock on Mr. Wang’s door, he says he will meet us downstairs and we trundle down the marble stairs, go outside and pile into Mrs. Zhong’s Cadillac Escalade SUV. Mr. Wang follows us in a rather exotic looking BMW. Chinese cars are not very popular with owners and managers of Chinese companies. And because cars are relatively new in China, it seems important for Chinese Owners to have very snazzy cars. Two years before Mr. Wang had a LandRover, but maybe that was not sporty enough, so now it is onto the Beamer.

Today, we head out to a Chinese restaurant for lunch. There is fish soup, some pork, some chicken, some Chinese spinach (a favorite of mine). Of course there is rice. Mr. Wang is wanting to know more about the SUP market and so he asks questions about who is the biggest seller, where the majority of SUP products are sold.

I tell him this is not our best expertise since we are more known for kayaks than SUPs. I posit that the market it still growing overall, but because there are many new entries to market, it is very difficult for the individual companies to grow. I tell Mr. Wang, it is the big surfboard companies that have had the best sales – Naisch, Hobie, Starboard and also, strangely, NRS, a company specialized in river running equipment.

Mrs. Zhong says that the market seems to be divided between the low-price sellers and the bigger brand names. I tell her that it is my opinion that is the big brand names, surf companies in particular, who sell the most boards.

After our general SUP market discussion and lunch, we pile into our respective cars and head back to the factory. After lunch, we head down to the factory floor, which is on second floor of the building behind HiFei’s general office and administrative building. There I spot my new fishing SUP. It is a kind of strange design that both Ryan and John are not too sympathetic about.

It takes only a short glance for me decide that this is a good new item. I particularly like the EVA camo foam. Now I have asked them to put green EVA foam on, but they have chosen the same camo pattern they used on our fishing kayak and I like it immediately.

This is a top shot of the finished SUP hull

This is a top shot of the finished SUP hull

The reason I like it and the reason I am excited is that I can see what it will be. Now, the board we looked at in the factory was not exactly the board you see above. The motor mount – the board at the back – had not been attached and the way it had to be attached had not been decided. We discuss the problem of how to attach motor mount. My original idea was to have 2 grommets (one on each side of the board with a bolt going through plastic dowel inside the grommet on each side.

We try that and immediately I see it is not rigid enough. We try two grommets on each side in front of the board and we find that is not rigid enough. Finally, after pulling out my iPad and drawing various solutions, several of which do not work, we come upon the solution shown above. That is a grommet in front of the board on each side and a grommet behind the board on each side with an inner plastic dowel and bolt and nut going to enclose and secure the motor mount board. It takes about and hour and half of going back and forth to get to this decision.

My brother, though not enthused with particular product, thinks it is interesting and jumps in several good suggestions, some off base, but with one that solves the problem. John’s solution is that is to have a simple grommet front and back of motor mount board. Of course, because these changes take time and implementing them takes more time, we do not actually get to see the solution finished. That is because they have to remove and replace the grommets, change the width of the board, drill large holes in the board, paint it, find the right size bolts and then glue the grommets in place. In truth, we will no get to see the final product for about four weeks, after it has been remade and flown over to us.

The next thing I go about is trying to explain to Mrs. Zhong, Ms. Wang, several of their technicians just how this strange looking board will work. This is a pretty big inflatable SUP – 12′ 6″ long and even stranger, it is 40″ wide. Most SUPs are only 30″ wide, but I wanted the extra width for stability because it is my theory that most fishermen do not want to contend with keeping their balance. Standing is great – you get a much higher line of sight and it is easier to cast. Nevertheless, most anglers do not want to have to worry about falling in while they are casting or pulling in a fish – that is my theory.

I ask where the swivel seat fishing rig is. They produce it after a couple minutes. There it is, still in the box, un-assembled, left untouched after I had sent it to them by air three weeks ago. I guess they figured that I would assemble for them when I got there. They figured right and I did assemble it and the first thing I realized was that my drawing put the 6 D-rings too far apart – in my drawing they are 30″ apart when they should have been 24″ apart. This is unfortunate because now my beautiful swivel fishing cannot be easily tied down. So the first thing I tell them is that in the next prototype they have bring the D-rings closer together. I tell them do not bother with this one because we first need to test on the water anyway. So fix the motor mount and decide to have the existing prototype sent as is.

In the meantime I assemble the swivel seat with the two rod-holders, place it on the fishing SUP and show them how the swivel seat will work after explaining about the D-rings. Suddenly, everyone, my brother and Ryan, Mrs. Zhong, Ms. Wang and the various technicians begin to understand why this may be a good product. Below is a picture not of what it looked like in the factory that day, but a picture of the final prototype before going to production.

This is a picture picture of what our Sea Eagle FishSUP 12.6fs will look like when fully rigged

This is a picture picture of what our Sea Eagle FishSUP 12.6fs will look like when fully rigged

When the swivel seat was assembled on the board, my brother John, Ryan, Mrs. Zhong, Ms. Wang and some of the factory technicians began to understand how this strange shaped SUP would work. It was a FishSUP, hence the name, something you could sit on in the swivel chair and fish, something you could stand up and cast and fish from. Something you could paddle and something you could motor with a small electric motor.

I was very happy with the way that the prototype came out. Of course, it still remained to test this craft on the water and see what it could do. Three weeks later, back in States, we did just that and, as I expected, it was very stable, paddled well, was easy to stand or fish, and motored really nicely. Of course, in WeiHai I did not know that. I only knew the prototype looked good to me.

We spent the rest of Thursday afternoon going over the small fishing kayak wandering up and down factory floors and then going over to the other 6 buildings and walking around them. I can tell you after a day of walking up and down concrete or marble steps and all over 8 factory floors, it can become tiring. Nevertheless for me it is always an interesting experience. Since I had not seen these buildings for about two years, it was interesting to see that the half empty, half built buildings I had seen two years ago were now all built and fully used. HiFei, like Woosung, is a company that has grown greatly in the last several years.

Mrs. Zhong says that tonight John, Ryan and myself will go out to dinner with Julian, their French rib sales guy that works from HiFei and Mrs. Zhong and Mr. Wang. Tonight we will be going to a Japanese restaurant. So after our meeting, we pile into Mrs. Zhong’s car and head out to dinner.

John and Ryan chowing down in the Japanese Teppanyaki restaurant.

John and Ryan chowing down in the Japanese Teppanyaki restaurant.

This proved to be excellent and a nice compromise between Korean and Chinese meals. We chow down on shrimp, steak, pork, vegetables, oysters, clams, veggies, sitting at a table with a built in griddle with a Chinese Samurai chef standing in front of us slicing, dicing, chopping, flipping knives, cutting up veggies, dumping various spices on them, throwing pepper shakers and other spice shakers in the air, using his knife to shovel food on to the hot metal griddle, chopping food up, down and around and then scooting mini size servings of shrimp, fish, steak, spinach, pork, chicken, or whatever to our small plates.

When these little plates in front of us became to crowded with leftover debris they were swooped away by waiters hanging behind us always ready to replace our dirty empty plate with clean little plates soon piled high with more little servings. During the small intermissions between arriving and departing plates, I get to talk to Julian about the state of the rib business. Julian had originally worked as an Asia sales manager of Penel e Flipo. By a strange coincidence, Penel e Flipo was the second company we imported boats from in France. I remember visiting their office in the seventies many times.

Here is Julian on one of the Highfield Ribs

Here is Julian on one of the Highfield Ribs

Julian is a young French guy in his late 30s, thin, dark, handsome, with long hair that occasionally flopped over the side of his face. It was Julian’s task to develop inflatable ribs for HiFei, which they sell under the trademark name of Highfield. Originally these ribs were primarily fiberglass hulls using Pennel e Flipo’s legendary hypalon inflatable boat material. Julian has now worked in China for HiFei for 6 years and has concentrated on the development of large aluminum ribs using the same inflatable boat material.

Now a lot of time has passed between my first visit to Penel e Flipo and the time that Julian had worked for the same company, but some things still remained the same. They still were a leading producer of inflatable boat material. At the time I used to visit them, they were supplying of Zodiac’s hull material. Zodiac, at the time, was the most famous inflatable boat company in the world.

How the times have changed. Today Zodiac has gone through many permutations, becoming first and foremost a supplier of military equipment throughout world. The recreational inflatable boat side of the business kind of collapsed, except for the business of selling big ribs to industry and national governments, mostly for rescue and military purposes. Today, Zodiac still exists, but the inflatable boat side of recreational use hardly exists and has been sold off to various corporate players who do not seem to know to do with it.

Anyway I am interested to learn more about building of inflatable ribs. For those of you who do not know, an inflatable rib is a boat inflatable section around a rigid hull. The hull is usually fiberglass and sometimes aluminum. In a way, it is the best of all worlds. You the great ability of rigid boats to cut through large ocean waves combined with the safety of having inflatable section to stabilize it on sharp turns and give inherent buoyancy so you do not sink.

You might think that the inflatable pontoon going around a rigid fiberglass hull is the weakest and most easily damaged part, but you would wrong because it is generally harder to damage inflatable air chambers than a rigid fiberglass hull. Aluminum is something of a different story. It really depends on the thickness of the aluminum being used. If the aluminum is quite thick, it is far stronger than fiberglass. If it is not so thick, then it is susceptible to dings and damage from impacts. Generally an inflatable pontoon can better withstand impacts because they tend to give. That is true as long as the impact is not into a really sharp object. Then, you can have a puncture, but since inflatables usually have multiple air compartments, there is still plenty of flotation left.

So I spend most of the dinner querying Julian on HiFei’s inflatable rib business. This is a growing part of HiFei sales and a part of the business that has become quite significant. We stayed out of this section of the market because we could never figure out how to ship inflatable ribs. Our business is based on selling things over the Internet and shipping them by Fedex or UPS. Selling $50,000 boats, which a rib often costs, is a hard sell on the Internet and shipping 800 to 1500 lb. boats is even harder for FedEx or UPS.

HiFei has been making inflatable ribs for about 1o years. At first they started with fiberglass ribs, but they found out that these could be easily damaged and the competition in that part of the part of the market was fierce. Then they started making aluminum ribs. There was far less competition in that kind of inflatable rib, so they quickly established themselves as the market leader of inflatable boats with aluminum hulls. Julian tells me this is the part of the business that he had the most impact on, having personally helped with the design of these models. Julian likes aluminum ribs over fiberglass ribs because they are far more durable generally and because the competition is far less. In the last few years, they have become the market leader for high end aluminum ribs.

We have a nice conversation between Julian, John, Ryan, Mr. Wang and Mrs. Zhong in between the endless plates of cooked and chopped shrimp, fired eggs and rice, sashimi (raw fish), chicken, steak, pork, fish, vegetables. In short, we did not go hungry and all was delicious at the Teppanyaki restaurant. After dinner, Mrs. Zhong drove us back to our hotel while Julian and Mr. Wang peeled off in there respective cars.

Back at the hotel, we talk a little bit downstairs, plan to go for a group walk down by the river in morning and talk about our upcoming visit to HiFei’s new SUP factory which is located about 30 minutes away. By ten, we are back in our respective rooms. I listen to some Black Eyed Peas to get in the mood for the SUP factory visit and nod off to sleep shortly.

The next day we meet downstairs for our walk around WeHai. The day before Ryan has taken this walk along a river canal that runs through town. He tells us it was very interesting so off we go. After crossing the street from the hotel, we take a right turn, walk two blocks and then come to a stairway that leads down to the river that runs through the city. This river does not have a natural river bed, rather it has a pre-made canal path. How old that path is I have no idea. It could be 50 years, 100 years, 500 years. It sure is pretty with a series of little bridges going over it. So the river flows straight and is about 75 feet wide. I gather it is tidal, or just very shallow. I am thinking it is tidal and it gets a lot deeper when the tide is in, but I do not really know.

This is not the bridges that we passed under along the river, but it might give you an idea of what they looked like. Ryan took this picture the day before our walk.

This is not the bridge that we passed under along the river, but it might give you an idea of what they looked like. Ryan took this picture the day before our walk.

As we walk along the river, I am struck by several sights. There seems to be a group of older guys and gals practicing Tai Chi up on hill among some trees. Now we are in the middle of this city with one and half million people, but somehow there is this quite open space with trees on a hill, the city buildings hang in the background, the city sounds can still be heard, but there they are practicing Tai Chi moving in slow motion, in tune with some different reality.

Along the river walk I see a guy with a giant bamboo pole dressed in what looks like a blue suit – it is sashed around the waist, the short is loose, the pants are loose, it is a Kung Fu exercise suit, I guess. I am pretty sure he could take out John, Ryan and myself in one smooth stroke, but he does not and I am grateful for that. Nevertheless, I take care to give the gentleman a wide berth. There is an old lady walking in sneakers, apparently out for a morning jaunt in the city, with chiseled face that looks like it was etched out of a pale white stone. I can see the muscles of her face wriggling and alive, yet there is another reality of her face, it is ancient, out of a different place from a different time.

There are joggers and walkers and one wierd guy who was practicing walking with his arms sideways on a stone wall. The walls have two inset grooves, each about 2″ deep, so there is something to grip upon. And while almost all of the strength needed for this strange sideways crawl is provided by his two arms, I can say that occasionally he uses a foot to stablilize his body when changing hands and more bring himself forward. Imagine a crab in human form scuttling along a wall and then you have the picture of this guy. I can only think that he was in good shape and also another good candidate to give a wide berth to.

We walked briskly along the river for about a mile breathing in the early morning air as the sun was rising and providing its muted glow. Because it is in WeiHai, China, of course there is no direct view of blue sky. Rather there is a gray hazy overhead with a dim sun providing the fact that it existed, at least in the background of the gray, yellow haze. WeiHai residents are out by the river by the hundreds. This is a vibrant and beautiful Chinese city, pollution aside, and the residents of WeiHai are taking full advantage of their beautiful city this early morning.

Just about then Ryan said follow him and we took a sharp left up a narrow stone walkway. Suddenly, we found ourselves in the middle of a farmer’s market right in the middle of the city. And this farmer’s market had everything one could want, raw oysters, cut up goat legs, alive and bustling scorpions ready for frying, blankets, radios, computers, live chickens, silkworms ready for whatever, wrapped crabs for Longshan Lake, lobsters, dogs, Chinese vegatables, Chinese fruits, WeiHai apples and much much more.

We walked through this market, amazed and thrilled and maybe a little horrified, by what we saw, but it was all there, and it was all Chinese and John, Ryan and myself were happy we took that stroll. The rest of the walk was rather prosaic, walking again on city streets, threading our way through the throngs of people now on the next few blocks, nevertheless, over the course of the walk I had the feeling that we had walked in and walked out of the real China. The walk itself was quite invigorating and even the somewhat polluted air felt good.

At the hotel, we went back to our rooms, showered and prepared for the new day to come. This was the day that we going to the SUP factory, so bang on time, Mrs. Zhong showed up with Ms. Wang, aka, Shirley. We piled in and off we went. The trip to the SUP factory was in a different direction and it took a good 50 minutes to get there. We drove by hills and valleys, mostly filled with WeiHai apple trees which were in the process of being picked and loaded to mini-moped trucks. As the trucks would put along for about 200 feet to where a real truck was parked and then the apples were off-loaded from mini-moped trucks to real trucks. It was October in WeiHai.

In a short time, we pulled up to the new SUP factory. This was an interesting visit for me because I had visited this same factory two years ago and at that time it unfinished. They did have little area in the factory then that was up and running, but most of the factory was either empty or not operating. When we arrived this day all had changed. I could see, even from the outside, that all had changed. There was a testing pool outside, now empty, but I presume it was full a month or so before. I not sure what they would learn from this testing pool. It looked about two feet deep and seemed to about 30′ X 70′. I would guess by the second or third stroke your board would be crashing on the other end.

The most visible evidence of this was the multitude of workers walking and milling around outside. Apparently, they were on some kind a break and 30 or 40 people are talking and milling around outside, some sitting, some playing some basketball around the one hoop they had standing watch over the factory yard.

It was evident that there were more people inside and that activities were going on. We went in, put on the regulations shoe covers to protect against dust in the factory. We were then given a kind of tour. Walking through the factory floors (there were several), looking at cutting machines, printing machines and various inflatable SUP manufacturing equipment, almost all of which busy producing SUPs for various customers. Mrs. Zhong explained that they had enjoyed substantial growth this last year. In particular, they were having good luck with both large and small customers in Europe.

We wandered up and down stairs, from one floor to another. We watched some of the workers putting together seams, a difficult hand gluing process that must be done with great care with both the humidity and temperature (F) between 60 and 75. We watched their printing machine as it spewed out hundreds of side panels with different customers names on it. We watching drop stitch material being cut into pre-programmed patterns. We walked past several hundred inflatated SUPs as they were being checked for air tightness. We walked around new and different designs they were working on.

I could see that everything had been changed and the factory was now up running. Mrs. Zhong explained how they were going to have to move their present factory – the one we had visited yesterday – to another location. Perhaps, she said they would move the factory to this location. They were waiting to hear from the local Chinese authorities just when they would have to move. The city of WeiHai was planning a whole new city right where their present factory was. Perhaps, tomorrow, Mrs. Zhong would take us to a museum that had been setup to show the plans of this new city.

I explained that John and Ryan probably could not go since they were going to visit another factory the next day, but I said that I love to go and se the plans for the new city.

As usual the drive to SUP factory and the tour of the SUP had taken more time than anticipated. We drove back around 2:30 in the afternoon and Mrs. Zhong took us to a new mall in WeiHai where we went to a fancy restaurant that served lunch in pots. This ended up being a mixture of foods, kind of part soup, part meat, part fish, all lunch. It proved to be delicious.

After lunch, Mrs. Zhong gave us a choice. We could head back to factory for more talk or she could drop us off at the hotel for some well-deserved rest. We opted for the well-deserved rest and even wimped out on an invite to dinner, saying that we would get something at the hotel and take the night off. And that is what we did.

Now the next day Ryan and John were headed to another factory that had invited us to visit. I opted to go HiFei to have what we call a wrap-up meeting. All of us decided to crash early and meet the next day at 7am in the lobby for a morning walk. It was not to be. When I got up, I could see it poring rain. So that morning I took the picture that is at the front of this blog story, did some exercises in the room, went downstairs for breakfast and met Mrs. Zhong around 9:30 am for the wrap up meeting.

We drove off to the factory while Ryan and John headed out to the other factory. I had a nice wrap up meeting with Ms. Wang and Mrs. Zhong, going over final changes to the next production, changes to the two prototypes and reviewing our hopes for the coming year. It was all pretty straight forward stuff and pretty soon it was lunchtime.

On the way to lunch, Mrs. Zhong me took to a museum that was displaying architect plans and a scale mockup of the new city the Government officials were planning to create in the next five years. By chance, one of HiFei’s former employees was working at this museum, so Mrs. Zhong called and they let us in. It seems the museum was not quite open to the public, we got a sneak peek anyway.


This is a mock up of the new city that is just being built in WeiHai. They expect to have 500,000 people living in this city in five years. The video screen in the distance is about 20′ high by 80′ long.

A lonely guard comes to the door of museum, let’s us in, leads us to a giant room where the mock up of the new city is and then turns on the video, so I can get the full impact of what is going to happen here in the next 5 years. Of course, the video is in Chinese, but from the pictures and from the mock up I can see this is going to be a big deal. Not only are they planning apartment building, shopping malls, restaurants, bars, they are also planning lakes, rivers and boating marinas and, like many a Chinese highway, all this area will be “gardenized.” That means they plan to landscape and pre plan everything, including, bushes, lawns, hedges.

This may seem normal to you, but you have not seen the area surrounding the museum where they plan to put up this new city. It is not exactly finished. Here’s a view of some of the surrounding area with some of the first buildings going up.

They started these buildings in July. They may not look ready for 500,000 people, but I bet they will be ready in five years.

They started these buildings were started in July, 2016. They may not look ready for 500,000 people, but I bet they will be ready in five years.

The lone guard in the museum is very kind while I wander around, taking pictures with my cell phone, asking Mrs. Zhong questions about the new city. He decides he wants to have my picture taken with him. So Mrs. Zhong takes a picture with his cell phone of me and the guard, arm in arm. He seems generally happy that someone has taken interest is the new city he is standing guard over. I am guessing he has been a little lonely in his new job, standing guard over a museum that is yet to open.

After seeing the video and wandering through the new museum, Mrs. Zhong and I went off to Koreatown for lunch. I should explain that WeiHai is quite close to Korea and so there is a large contingent of Korean companies in WeiHai. This includes Woosung, our Korean supplier who also has a factory here. So, Mrs. Zhong takes me in here Cadillac Escalade SUV to Koreatown to have a Korean barbecue. We had a nice lunch, chatted for a while about the changes coming in China and then she drove me over to the hotel where I would get a welcome another break. This is my last full day in China. Tomorrow, I fly back to Korea and then the day after fly back to The States.

Mrs. Zhong dropped me off around 4pm and said she would be back by 7 to pick all of us up for dinner. When I get back, I head up to my room to rest and gradually gather my stuff for the next day’s ride to the airport. Pretty soon I get a call in the room from Ryan, telling me they have returned and to me meet downstairs in the lobby. I head down, my bag almost fully packed and ready for the next day’s flight, and talk with Ryan. Apparently, they have had an interesting meeting. The supplier they met is promising to make SUPs for a far lower price than we currently buy.

This is a common softy in China. You meet a new supplier and often their price is very low. It is also a danger sign because often it is just a lot wall price to pull you in. Often a new company will actually sell goods at a loss, on the theory that once they get you, they can raise the price at a few production runs. But we have seen this before and I am concerned that the new price is just a come-on. Anyway, Ryan and myself and eventually John sit in the lobby discussing the ins and outs of new suppliers in China.

At 7 promptly the Escalade rolls up and we are whisked downtown.

Tonight we are heading to Chairman’s Mao’s favorite restaurant. The name of the restaurant is the The Great Wall. I do not know if it actually was Chairman Mao’s favorite restaurant but it definitely dates back to the time of civil revolution in China and the time of Chairman Mao. I have been to this restaurant several times in my visits to WeiHai. It is an old style restaurant from the Communist era. You could say that China is still in the Cummunist Era since they are still in power, but I would suggest that there have been so many changes since the time of Chairman Mao that it is in fact a different country. I may or may not be right about this.

In any case, the Chairman Mao restaurant is interesting in itself. You come in on the ground floor where you order your dinner before going upstairs to receive it. On the ground floor various kinds of food are on offer. Fresh seafood is kept in 3 concrete boats. Fish, eels, lobsters and many other kinds of living seafood is on offer. Next to the open boats with water and live seafood in them are platforms loaded with other different kinds of seafood, this time not moving. So on these platform tables were wrapped crabs, lobsters, clams, chilling on ice, ready to be cooked. Around the outer walls of this room are selection of meats and vegetables. The way all this works is the a waiter comes up and talks to someone to gives orders. In this case, the waiter ends up talking to both Mrs. Zhong and Mr. Wang while we wander from boat to boat, table to table, and the outer perimeter of the room. We are not so certain what to pick. It is kind of like Pin the Donkey where you throw darts blind-folded and you hits what you hits.

So we pick and choose, pointing to various kinds of food we think we might like. We are somewhat at a disadvantage because we do not actually know what we are picking out. In some cases, of course, various kinds of fish, swimming or laying out on an iced tray, are easy enough to get an idea of, but there are also a lot of things that either we have no idea about what it is or no idea of what it might taste like. In the end, we have to lean on our hosts, Mr. Wang and Mrs. Zhong.

After picking and choosing what we might like, we go upstairs and are lead into a room. Mr. Wang is not very happy with the room because he does not find it suitably big enough, but there is no helping the situation. It seems that all the bigger rooms are occupied. Chairman Mao’s favorite restaurant is very popular this evening. Tonight, not only Mr. Wang and Mrs. Zhong are present, but also Miss Wang and three other workers. One of the workers is the production manager, another is specialized in marketing and a third is a technician working on making new prototypes. Two or three waiters arrive bringing food and drink for the table. So with John, Ryan and myself we are a group of 8. And while the room could be bigger, it easily fits all of us.

Some yummies swimming in a concrete boat.

Some yummies swimming in a concrete boat.

We start out simple with peanuts (not so easy to pick up with chopsticks), veggies, some fish, some bits of pork, some fried scorpions (ah, so tasty and crispy). It gets more complicated from there with waiters bringing more and more servings to our room. This kind of feasting is very popular in China with those who can afford it and it is pretty obvious, Mr. Wang can afford it. So we dig in big, battling our way through plates of oysters, fish, steak, chicken, pork, Chinese spinach, and lots of other vegetables and servings of things I cannot quite identify. It is big, glorious Chinese feast and we go with the flow.

The things on the left are crabs tied with colorful strings, the rest I am not sure about.

The things on the left are crabs tied with colorful strings, the rest I am not sure about.

Our conversation covers many points. We discuss SUP design…the prototype manager and the productive and production manager are surprised that I, an old man, am using a drawing program and an iPad to make designs. Yes, I tell them. Originally, I taught myself to make drawings on a graph pad where I gave a measurement to one square, for example 6″. This would allow me to draw and calculate the exact dimensions of some future product. However, drawing with a pencil on graph paper is pretty slow and not very beautiful the way I did it. So, about 5 years ago, when I got an iPad, I also invested $8.99 in drawing program called iDraw. That was an Apple product and while a lot less sophisticated than Adobe, it was simple enough for me to learn and actually produce drawings that not only looked better, but were very accurate regarding dimensions.

So I explain all this to the prototype and production managers. It all seems very strange to them, an older man making drawings on an iPad.

“Who does your website,” asks the marketing manager, “we all admire your website.”

I explain that John does that and he started the website in 1996. In other words, 20 years ago. That seems like an impossibly long time to the HiFei technicians to have had a website.

John comes in on the conversation. He goes through the fact that we did not even have an order cart when first went online – all we had was an 800 number to call if you had any questions. He relates how we were surprised to find out that we had sold over $50,000 the first year. Then it dawned on us maybe it would be a good idea to have an order cart. We still worried, John related, whether anyone would use the order cart, especially at night. And then when we found out that most of the orders came at night, we finally realized that this had the makings of a business.

All the HiFei guys listened although they did not understand a word of English. Then Mrs. Zhong or Mr. Wang would translate what John said. This started a spirited discussion between all the HiFei people who seemed to discuss and argue about Web based marketing. The HiFei marketing guy, who was pretty young, was very enthusiastic about Web marketing. Then the conversation drifted on to e-mail marketing.

We had a discussion that some things were not possible in China since China had basically either outlawed or blocked most American social media. We explained that we thought YouTube, Facebook, WordPress, InstaGram all offered great ways to get information out on your products to your customers, but that could not be done in China because all were blocked.

I explained that when you looked at our website in China whole portions of it was missing. All the videos linked to YouTube, for example were just missing.

In fact, I pointed out rather cutely that if you want to seewhat our website actually looks like you have to go to Spain. This was actually a clever reference to the fact that Mr. Wang and Mrs. Zhong had just come back from Spain. So then Mrs. Zhong came, in on the conversation and began to relate what our website looked like when she was in Spain.

The three HiFei workers seemed very surprised to learn that various parts of our website were blocked in China.

Anyway, our feasting and conversation carried on for a good two hours and I felt good about it because we got to know each other better. I was particularly struck by the enthusiasm of all the workers. Our conversation drifted over many topics…the economy of China, the U.S. Presendential election coming up…I again prediicted Trump would win. We talked about life in China, the high prices of real estate, the never ending building of new cities and the never ending thrust of China into the future.

During the conversation I showed some pictures from home. Mr. Wang looked at some my pictures showing blue skies and open beaches and just said in English one word “Unbeleivable.”

I knew what he was talking about: what was unbelievable to him was our blue skies and the open waterways that we had access to. You see in WeiHai they rarely have blue skies…most of the time the sky was a yellowish gray. It often looked like it was about to rain. Sometimes, it was about to rain. But many times were no clouds in the sky to rain out of…just a dull yellowish gray.

Now WeiHai and the surrounding area are quite beautiful. The city itself has a strange European influence since it was occupied by Germans and, at times, English. They left some European style buildings that still stand. And some newer buildings also echo that style of architecture. The city is quite pleasant with wide streets and a wonderful road that passes a long waterfront park. The city is full of optimism. An example of that is a statue of two hands holding a concrete picture frame that might be 15′ high by 30′ wide. The picture frame is open and before you is the Yellow Sea stretching out into the distance. The future is wide open and for every citizen to make, that’s what I think the statue says.

The skies in WeiHai are not always a yellowish gray. This is a picture of a house that I visited in WeiHai a few years back and as you can see the sky is actually blue.

The skies in WeiHai are not always a yellowish gray. This is a picture of a house in the distance that I visited in WeiHai a few years back and as you can see the sky is actually blue.

And there are beaches and places you where you take a boat. I can vouch for that because we have tested boats in WeiHai on several occasions. Still the beaches in China are mostly crowded, the highways full of traffic and the sky a yellowish gray.

After dinner, we shook hands with Mr. Wang, Mrs. Zhong, Ms. Wang, and three other HiFei employees and Mrs. Zhong ferried us back to our hotel room. That evening I listened to some Elvis Presley and to Michael Kawanuka in my room. I was getting to really like Michael. My trip was coming to end. In the morning I only had to worry about getting to airport, getting on plane to Incheon, spending the night at the Grand Hyatt at Incheon Airport and then, finally taking a business class flight the next day back to JFK.

It sounded simple, but it turned out, like Odysseus, there were a few twist and turns to take before my final arrival home.

Sitting in what Ryan called a Big-Ass Chair at the Hotel Bliss, waiting for the arrival of Mrs. Zhong

Sitting in what Ryan called a Big-Ass Chair at the Hotel Bliss, waiting for the arrival of Mrs. Zhong

So all went well the next morning, at least until I got to the airport. Mrs. Zhong showed up around 9am to drive me to the airport. We had an exhilarating talk on the way to the airport, going over the different points of our meeting, the possible business ahead, the state of China’s economy, why she thought HiFei was positioned to grow in the future, why there were so many apples on a WeiHai apple tree (it turned out Mrs. Zhong had no idea – it is just that they always had a lot of apples), and several other topics before dropping me off at the front entrance of the airport.

Inside, things did not go quite as planned. It turned out they were not going to open my gate to accept passengers for an hour. After an hour passed, the gate did open and I filed in, presenting what I thought was my passport to a rather sleepy looking Chinese guard. I went in and found out that I had to wait another hour for China Eastern airline customers to present their passports and tickets. So, after the allotted hour, I waited in another line, happily talking to some German guy who was also flying to WeiHai. He was ahead of me and he got stopped for having a suitcase with more than 50 lbs. of stuff in it. He got thrown off of the line while he had took out his excess clothes and had to carry them in separate laundry bag. I felt sorry for him and self-satisfied for myself, since I knew about this regulation and planned my baggage accordingly.

Then I confidently walked to the ticket counter, handed the pretty Chinese girl my passport and my e-ticket papers. She started scanning the computer and a frown passed over her serene face. She could not find my name on the passenger list. I confidently pointed to my e-ticket papers and that was when she said “I do not understand, your name does not match your e-ticket.”

It was then she passed back my passport. The only then that I discovered that it was not my passport. It was my brother’s passport. I do not know if I can impart the shock and awe I felt when saw my brother picture and name on what I thought was my passport. Let’s just say I was not a happy camper. It meant, quite literally, that I could not leave China.

I did not take long for me to figure out what had happened. When I had checked into the Bliss Hotel four days before that lady who gave back my brother’s passport and my passport, simply reversed the order and gave my brother’s passport to me and my passport to my brother. It did not help that neither my brother nor I thought to look at the passports being handed back to us to see if indeed they belonged to us. I will not make that mistake again.

Unfortunately, that still left me on the line wit wrong passport. I now had to make way for the German passenger who had now replaced his bag and he, quite justly, had the same look of sad contempt at watching fellow passenger fail in the ins and outs of international travel. So, I had to turn around go back through where had come, explain to the sleepy guard who did not speak English that I needed to get into the airport. That is not as simple as it sounds because technically I had already passed through the first barrier out of China. Fortunately, another guard, not so sleepy, came over and waved me back through.

Back in China, I then had to call my brother. His phone did not answer. I then tried Ryan. Fortunately, his phone did answer. I explained plight and told Ryan that I not only needed to get John to bring my passport, but I needed John to get me a new flight to Incheon, since by this time, it was obvious that I would miss my flight.

Well, as they say, it darkest before the dawn. I settled in to the Airport Restaurant, munching down some kind soup stew – not so easy with chopsticks – fortunately, they also provided a spoon. In due course, I got another phone call from Ryan saying that my brother had booked a new flight for me, this one for 5pm on Asiana Airlines and that they would be at the airport and hour or so. They had to be at the airport because they were flying on to Shanghia and certainly John would need his passport just as much as I needed mine.

After more Chinese stew soup and several cups of green tea, Ryan and my brother did arrive, John and I did exchange passports and, in due course, after waiting a couple of more hours for the flight gate to open up, I did go through. The ticket lady at Asiana was polite and there were no problems with my passport or my bag and so it was not too long before I was actually on a plane headed to Korea. Of course, being on plane is not necessarily the same flying plane. It turned out that there were traffic problems at Incheon Airport, so we were not allowed to take off for about two hours.

Anyway, the Asiana flight going was far better than the China Eastern coming – all 35 minutes of it, not counting the two hour wait on the Tarmac. Going through Korean customs was pretty smooth, getting on the Grand Hyatt bus to hotel was relatively easy and by about 9:30 pm I was actually in my room. That left me about a half hour to go downstairs and get hamburger – I was due and after, I was now at a place that I could was almost home, ensconced in big hotel in big airport a mere 14 hours from home.

This is the skywalk from one part of the Grand Hyatt to the other part. I was almost home.

This is the skywalk from one part of the Grand Hyatt to the other part. I was almost home.

After dinner I wandered around the big hotel to get an idea of the facilities. You never know when you might passing through Incheon so I thought it would be a good idea to reconnoiter. Most of the hotel was empty. Restaurants, bars, stores, all were closed or empty.  I passed by a Casino. It too was empty. Enough of that, I thought. I went back to my room and set up my speaker and listened to some old Eagles’ music about the Dalton Brothers. Two men come to town, only only one man leaves, something like that. I was almost back in the States.

I will not bore you with many details of the rest of the trip. It was pretty routine. I woke on time, I got to the airport on time. I got on the plane on time and I landed on time. In a mere 14 hours I flew 8,000 miles and landed at JFK. There I was greeted by Julio, the limo driver, who ferried me through the heavy traffic, even though it was only about 12:30 pm. In less than two hours, I was home. Home with my wife and son. It was good to be back.

In looking at this blog story, I realize it is my longest. And yet, the last half of this story is devoted to one my shortest overseas trips. I guess it a good thing that I did not try to describe a long trip. Ryan and John, by the way,  continued on for another seven days, doing the second leg of the trip that I would normally go on.

I believe travel changes you and travel changes your perspective. I think Benjamin Franklin was right – you see more and do more when you travel. More importantly, you see things and hear things that you never would otherwise. And if Mr. Franklin is right that travel greatly extends and enriches your life, then I have lived 5 or 10 times longer than most humans.




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I Go For A Row In the Dark and Ponder The Donald


This was all I could see as I rowed out of Little Bay

This was all I could see as I rowed out of Little Bay

By Cecil Hoge

On the morning of November 9th, 2016, I decided to go for a row. What perhaps would make this unusual for most people was the fact that at the time I went, 5:15am, it was still pitch black and about 45 degrees Fahrenheit. Most people do not go rowing at that hour or in that temperature, but I am a little strange and going at that time in that temperature is not unusual for me.

Many people would think that it is quite cold and perhaps dangerous to go when it is dark and relatively cold, but I paddle or row almost all year around and about the only thing that stops me is ice or driving rain or driving snow. To be sure, I was not wearing a short-sleeved knit shirt with someone’s nifty logo or a bathing suit. Rather I was wearing a new Duluth Grab jacket, good gloves, warm socks, comfortable Croc mocs and fleece lined pants. When I go rowing, I am as snug as bug in a rug, warm and toasty, ready for a relaxing and energizing and warm row for an hour or more.

You might have noted that November 9th, 2016 was the day after Donald Trump was elected our 45th President of the United States. That’s true. And I will say that The Donald was on my mind. I had stayed up a good portion of the night before watching the election results. Around twelve the night before, when the outcome I dreaded was about to occur, I decided to get some rest. That worked until about 4:30 when I woke up, flipped on the TV and confirmed what I feared all along. Donald Trump had been elected President. That was the end of possible further sleep, so I decided to get up, have a cup of coffee with my wife who always gets up very, very early, ruminate a bit with her on the fate of the world and then go for a row.

Before heading out into the dark, I poured another cup of coffee into a special spill-proof stainless steel coffee mug from Starbucks that keeps my coffee nice and hot and I headed out. As mentioned, it was almost pitch black when I got to my dock, although I could make out the shadow on the dock that was my boat. In touching the plastic seat of my rigger arm rower, I could feel it was completely soaked with a cold dew. Fortunately, I keep a dry seat cushion in a small waterproof boat locker on my dock, so it was only necessary to pull it out and place it on the wet plastic seat. With coffee safely on board, I slid my rowing kayak off of my dock and sat down on my nice dry seat cushion. I was ready to head out.

The first thing I noticed on this dark and chilly fall day was the fact that there must have been a lot of Canada geese around. Somewhere in the dark I could hear them squawking and flapping away. I was not sure just where they were, but that quickly became evident when I kept rowing and several hundred birds started squawking in an increasing crescendo and then began to take off, flapping their wings, squawking and quacking as they became airborne. It sounded like a 747 taking off.

As I rowed into Setauket Bay the faint image of the sky, trees and landscape began to emerge

As I rowed into Setauket Bay the faint image of the sky, trees and landscape began to emerge along with the lights of some houses

I kept rowing on. I am used to noisy geese and a multitude of other birds. As I came out of my bay and headed into Setauket Bay (the next bay over), I could see light beginning to brighten the back of the bay. It was still dark, but now I could see some slight awakening of the sky and some lights from houses. Above you will see a picture of that.

Rowing out through Setauket Bay towards Port Jefferson Bay, I began to think, for the first time clearly, about the momentous events that had taken place the night before. Unlike most people, I had anticipated that Trump would win. I had calculated that there was a vast sea of discontented voters out there and that Trump had managed to channel into their fears and their dreams. Whether Trump knew or understood or felt their pain was perhaps something different, but what was clear to me, is that he had identified their pain and had locked on to that discontent as a movement, as he quite truthfully said. So, no matter his motives, I knew Trump had recognized the discontent in the electorate, the economic angst that affected the majority of voters and had bent that to his own purposes.

As I came out into Port Jefferson Harbor, the sky began to become more visible

As I came out into Port Jefferson Harbor, the sky began to become more visible

As mentioned, just after I had woke up at 4:30, I had checked out the latest election stats and by that time, the game was over and Trump had won his long march to the White House. What would he do with his victory I wondered? I had my own doubts and fears about that. Now, out on the bay, alone in the dark on that quiet chilly morning I had some clean air to breath, some hot coffee still in my cup and some time to ponder what the new Trump Presidency might mean.

To me, for sure, it was a sea change in the world. In my own mind, it was a tectonic plate that had shifted and somehow re-oriented all the world. What that meant, where it would lead, really was impossible to say in early morning light of that new day.

So what I fell back on was the campaign promises that I had heard Trump repeat time after time and I tried to speculate where those promises might lead. Now, I know that many of things that I worried about, other people deliberately voted for. With that in mind, here are some of the things that I was worried about:

Tariffs – Having been all my life an importer of goods to the United States, I have always believed that trade is good, not just for me, not just for our company, but for our country and for the whole world. To me the interchange of goods is important in itself and the access to good value products at reasonable prices that would not be available otherwise is also important. I know that trade often results in dislocations of technologies and in the loss of jobs here in the United States. That said, I have always felt that the benefits coming from trade are greater than the harm done by trade.

And here I would like to make one important personal point, in my own particular case, we have never been a manufacturer of goods, so we never closed a factory in order to buy cheaper goods overseas. And that is simply because we never had an actual factory to manufacture things. Rather, we have always imported unique good quality products that simply would not be available in this country otherwise.

By the same token, I know many companies that did have factories in this country, that did move their production overseas and did end up firing American workers. So, first and foremost, I can say that it is desirable to keep as many factories here and to keep as many people working in factories here as possible. That said, I am terrified that raising tariffs on foreign goods will kill existing business without creating new factories and new jobs in this country.

As some of you know, in the first year of the Great Depression, we did institute a wide range of tariffs on foreign goods and that resulted in many other countries instituting a wide range of tariffs on us. This was the Smoot Hawley Tariff Act of 1930 which raised tariffs on over 20,000 different kinds of imported goods. The full results of this act are still debated by economists today, but most economic historians believe the Smoot Hawley Act greatly deepened the worldwide depression, caused a collapse of trade around the world and resulted in millions of people losing their jobs in this country and around the world.

Of course, that was a long time ago and we do live in a different age. I do not believe that history repeats itself exactly but I do believe that things that happened in the past can happen again in some different form in the future.

Now, I know Mr. Trump is thinking to use tariffs as a negotiating tool. But tariffs are a blunt instrument and sometimes the results from an action are different than the results you anticipate.

I will cite Obamacare as an example of this. President Obama and the fact that the outgoing administration anticipated that they would get enough young people signing on to Obamacare to pay for the older people who would also sign on to Obamacare. But they guessed wrong and their numbers were off. Specifically, they got far less young people signing up for Obamacare and far more older people signing up for Obamacare. As one administration official said, it seemed that young people preferred to drink beer rather than sign up for health insurance. The result of this miscalculation was that Obamacare was a financial disaster, that costs for health are rising sharply and that this miscalculation  probably helped Donald Trump get elected President.

I am afraid of the same kind of miscalculation about tariffs. When we announce new tariffs on other countries (after all, how else will they believe us), I am afraid other countries will announce new tariffs on us. That, I think, could lead to a trade war and a collapse of trade around the world. I would like to repeat that in the past this actually happened when we last announced tariffs on other countries in 1930. So there is a precedent for this actually happening.

I also think that tariffs would raise the price of many imported goods coming into the United States. And that could mean that the cost of many, many things we buy goes up… in example, the price of shoes, shirts, coats, cars, food, oil, steel, vegatables, fruit and many, many other things. Having been to China many times, having seen their economy as recently as a few weeks ago, knowing that they too are suffering from many of the same problems we are, I wonder if they will sit meekly by when Mr. Trump announces he is putting tariffs on products coming from China?

Perhaps, China will say, go ahead, make my day! If you do, we will also impose tariffs on products coming from the U.S. And one more thing, maybe, it is time to cash in on those little pieces of paper you call bonds. That’s what I fear. I know this is a fear only, and I also know that we need to wait to see what actually happens.

I would like to report that the day after I went rowing, November 10th, Bloomberg reported that while stocks have risen in the last two days, bonds have sold off sharply and that long-term interest rate of 30 year bonds has gone up dramatically in just the last two days. Those of us who remember the 1970s, probably remember that bonds sold off almost every day for several years throughout the Carter administration and this resulted the prime rate going to 12 and half percent. At that time, people had trouble getting mortgages at 14% to 16% annual interest. Let’s hope that is a part of history that is not repeated.

In the same Bloomberg program talking about declining bonds and rising stocks, Bloomberg interviewed a lawyer from Hogan Lovells.

The lawyer being interviewed was asked what promises could Donald Trump legally make good on. Somewhat to my surprise, the lawyer said with the executive powers that Congress had granted the President, Donald Trump could, without consulting Congress or the Senate, immediately impose tariffs on Mexico, China or any other country he chose of 45% or more. The lawyer went to say that the new President could also cancel Nafta or any other trade agreement presently in place and finally, he could also cancel Obamacare and our treaty with Nato. In short, this lawyer said President Trump could enact many of his promises by the end of January. That would indicate that we should know just how serious President Trump is about his campaign promises pretty soon.

But tariffs, Nafta, Obamacare, Nato are not my only concerns:

The Wall – I know that Donald Trump is great builder and he has built hotels and post offices and skating rinks and apartment buildings in many parts of the U.S. and around the world. So Donald Trump probably knows how to build a wall better than anyone.

That said, I am dubious that Mexico will pay for it, as President elect Trump has promised. I can see Donald announcing 35% or 45% tariffs on Mexican goods and no doubt that will produce some revenue for the US, but if Mexico also institutes tariffs on our American goods going into Mexico, like I-phones, like computers, like American cars, like America steel, like American copper, like American wheat, perhaps the tariffs instituted on both sides will reduce the sales of goods on both sides and perhaps the revenues from the announced tariffs will disappear as imports and exports collapse.

And then there is the little matter of the cost of the wall. Let me try to give you an idea of what that might be. I happen to have a little wooden fence that I need to replace. It is about 30′ long and 4′ high. I recently asked a local builder what he would charge me to replace my 30′ wooden fence. My local contractor said he would do it for $3,000. That was cheap, he assured me. Of course, my 30′ fence is only 4′ high and made of wood. I know for sure that Donald Trump is going to build a really beautiful wall and that wall is going to be at least 30′ high and 1989 miles long and, I am guessing, it will not be made of wood.

So, let’s do a little math: 4′ into 30′ is 7.5 times. So if my wood fence was 30′ high and 30′ long, it would cost, if all other things were equal, $22,500. Now there are 5,280 feet in one mile. That means there are 10,501,920 feet in 1989 miles – I have a powerful calculator that can figure these things out. Are you following me? Now if I then divide 10,501,920 feet by 30 feet, I get 350,064 30′ x 30′ wall sections. And then if I multiply 350,064 by $22,500, I come up with the calculation that it will cost $7,875,000,000 to erect a 30′ high wood fence. Of course, I think Donald Trump would select a different material. And while I know his preferred material is gold, I am guessing in this case the Donald would settle for steel, either powder coated or stainless steel.

Now, I do not know how much more a stainless steel or powder steel powder coated 30′ wall 12″ thick (I am guessing Donald would like it to be at least one foot thick) would cost more than a 30′ high wooden fence. I am gonna say that will cost at least ten times more, making the cost for the beautiful Mexican Wall $78,750,000,000. And when you think about it this really is that much. I mean that is less than the yearly sales of Amazon. That’s doable, isn’t it? Well, yes, but I think we have add a few other costs.

It seems to me that this beautiful wall will need some high tech cameras and lights for surveillance. Let’s say one camera every 300 feet, so if you have a border of 10,501,920 feet, that means you are going to need 35,000 cameras and lights to scan the wall night and day. So let say our President gets a good deal with Amazon or Best Buy and each camera is just $300, including installation. Well, that’s an another $10,500,000 for cameras. That’s still chump change.

But of course, these 35,000 cameras and lights will have to be plugged in which means we will need some electric. Here, our President could go solar (I am not sure that would be his choice, but who knows), but there is an upfront cost for installing solar panels to power 35,000 video cameras and lights. Let’s say that is another $10,000,000. That puts us at $78,795,000,000. That’s still doable.

But someone is going have to look at the video the 35,000 cameras spew out. Presently, we have about 20,000 custom officials patrolling the Mexican border. So lets say we need another 20,000 folks to review the videos that 35,000 cameras spew out and help catch any offenders and let’s say each person costs the government $30,000 a year. Well, that’s another $600,000,000 a year. So now we are getting close to $80,000,000,000 for the first year of the wall. And of course, I am not talking about on going costs for electricity, camera replacement and payroll costs. Those costs would on for as long as the wall is standing.

It is still not big number stateside, but for Mexico? It happens I looked up Mexico’s Gross National Product for 2014. That was a record year. It was $1,294,690,000,000 or a little over a trillion dollars and $80,000,000,000 is only about 6% of their Gross National Product. So, if you believe what Trump says, Mexico is going to be happy to give us 6% of their gross national product. Me, I am worried that Mexico may not pay up and we may get stuck with the $80,000,000,000 cost, not to mention the yearly ongoing cost for maintaining and patrolling our beautiful wall.

Of course, I may must say that my method of calculating the cost of the wall may be flawed, even if it seems pretty solid to me. Whatever, it is a big number and somebody, Mexico or us, will have to pay it.

Tariffs and paying for the wall are only two concerns or I have doubts I have about other things that Trump may do.

I am skeptical he will send 11,000,000 Mexicans back to Mexico, especially if he is also asking Mexico to give us 6% of their gross national product. It seems to me taking back 11,000,000 Mexicans might be kind of expensive. For that matter, gathering them up and just putting them on a bus might be pretty expensive. Let’s take a crack at that. If you gathering up 11,000,000 and 60 people and their stuff fit in a bus, you need 183,333 buses to carry them back to old Mexico. Let’s say is the cost $300 on average to find each illegal Mexican and let say we make a deal with Greyhound Bus to pick up and transport each Mexican for $60 each. That would mean it cost $360. per Mexican to send them back to Mexico. Again, this is only what my father call a guestimate, but if it was correct (and I see no reason why it is not), that would mean that somebody would have to pay $3,960,000,000. Since I do not want to pay this, I am hoping that the Donald can use his deal-making power to get Mexico to cover the 4 billion dollar or so cost.

Thinking about, I am wondering 35 or 45% is enough of a tariff. Maybe, we need 60%.

Then there is the matter of replacing the Obamacare Healthcare System. I can understand that the present system is a true catastrophe, but I am just wondering what we will replace it with? Will more or less people have insurance? Will patients with pre-existing health conditions now have to pay extra for their pre-existing health conditions? In an interview with 60 Minutes, our President Elect has said he try to make sure pre-existing conditions are covered. I am still a little dubious this will actually be practical.

And what about taxes? Will corporate taxes really go down from 35% to 15%? I would love that, especially if I are going to have pay a 35% to 45% to 60% tariff on the goods we import, I am going to need a tax reduction.

I can only hope the Donald is telling us the truth on taxes, because I have the feeling we are going to need help to pay for some other things.

I cannot say if my doubts and fears are realistic. I can only say I have doubts and fears. It certainly is too early to make any prediction of what will actually happen and I do believe he was legitimately elected and we have an obligation to let him take his best shot at fulfilling his promises.

Fortunately, most of my thoughts and doubts and fears, drifted out of my mind as I rowed out into Port Iefferson Harbor. There I was greeted by a new dawn, a bright red sky rising above an all beautiful horizon. The view that stretched out before me was almost enough to make me forget my doubts and fears. You can see the picture below. In the meantime, I leave with an old nursery rhyme:

Row, row your boat,

Gently down the stream,

Merrily, merrily, merrily,

Life is but a dream.

November 9th, 2016, 6:05 am - The Dawn of a New Day is Upon Us. Red sky at night, sailors delight. Red sky in morning, sailors take warning,

November 9th, 2016, 6:05 am – The Dawn of a New Day is Upon Us.
Red sky at night, sailors delight. Red sky in morning, sailors take warning,


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My Hospital Visit

This is where I went!

This is where I went!

By Cecil Hoge

A day after returning from a recent trip to Asia, I fainted in the bathroom and managed to smash my right leg in a couple of places. My wife, who was concerned to see me fall and lose consciousness for a minute or so, insisted that she call the doctor. It was my guess that my fainting was a simple case exhaustion after a 9 day trip to Asia and a cold that I had caught, but my wife thought it was best to be prudent.

From there things went downhill fast. She called my doctor who was not available and ended up speaking to his assistant. The assistant said I should go straight to the Emergency Room and get checked for a stroke or a heart attack. Well, I didn’t think I had either, but my wife is a determined woman who believes in the edict Doctor Knows Best. I don’t, but I also know arguing with my wife over such things is a losing game. Hence, in a very short time, I found myself on the way to the emergency room.

On arriving at the ER , the admitting nurse, a sandy-haired and somewhat balding young man, asked about 3 questions and then called a “code orange” situation. That means that I may have had a stroke. I did not think this was necessary, but it certainly made me feel well-attended.

Immediately, I was whisked into the ER holding room to have blood tests, blood pressure, X-rays and, shortly thereafter, a Cat Scan taken. The attention, though not requested, was quite impressive. Nurses rushed around bringing water, taking vials of blood, hooking me up to an IV and presenting me with a turkey sandwich and a nice plastic receptacle to pee in. Multiple doctors and nurses came in to ask my name and birth. I proudly recited both with lightning speed. I knew their intentions were good and it was their job to ask the same questions time after time. And, true to their profession, they asked my name and birth date about 25 times.

It was only after about an hour of various tests and 10 vials of blood being taken that they announced that I would be admitted to the hospital for observation. I tried to argue that this was unjustified. My arguments were listened to respectfully and then denied. They said a Dr. Roth had determined that I should stay the night for observation. According to a nice young doctor lady named, Dr. Cooper, Dr. Roth was an excellent neurologist and also a very nice lady.

The fun did not stop there. They went on to say that I also needed an MRI of my brain and an Echo Cardiogram of my heart. I could see this was going to be a very exciting day. Personally, I would have preferred to stand up, walk out and leave, but several new doctors arrived to tell me what an imprudent thing that would be. At this point, I was comfortably enscounced on a hospital bed and my wife, who had back and knee issues plaguing her, decided to go home for a short break. After about an hour of munching on my turkey sandwich and drinking some water, some guy showed up and rolled my hospital bed to the MRI room.

There I got onto the MRI Table, put on earplugs and a MRI helmet to cover my brain. Soon I found myself inside the glorious machine which made an incredible racket. I tried to imagine that I was listening to some new, atonal guitarist like Slash or Motörhead, although if it was Slash or Motörhead, I am pretty sure they also wore earplugs. Anyway, after 28 minutes of banging, knocking, screeching, grinding, beeps, bells, dongs at the highest possible decibels, I emerged from the tin can, had the earplugs and helmet removed and was told by a trim Korean lady that the agony was over.

Almost immediately, I was whisked out of the MRI room on my roller bed and told the next stop was the Echo Cardiogram room. A young lady came and then rolled me off. It turned out to be a busy day in the Echo Cardiogram Room, so I was rolled off something called the Nuclear Room. There, in a corner behind a curtain, the nice young lady smeared some goo on my chest and took something that looked like a pestle for pummeling garlic, but was not, since it was metal and had an electric wire sticking out of it. Then she pushed the metal pestle against my chest and began to pummel me for the next 20 minutes while looking at a computer screen. She was kind enough after the procedure was finished to say that she saw nothing bad that she could tell. Of course, she said dutifully, the pictures from the Echo Cardiogram would have to be reviewed by a cardiologist.

After that the real excitement began. I was wheeled to my new home…room 314. There I found a gentleman named Orlando in the next bed with his daughter sitting by his side. A curtain separated out two beds and my bed was next to the window while Orlando’s bed was nearest to the door. For a while things went pretty well. I didn’t hear or see Orlando even though he was in the room with me only a few feet away. His daughter seemed to be pretty jovial, asking her father to think of the medicine a nurse was trying to administer as vodka. That seemed work well as long as his daughter was around. However, things went south once she left.

The first thing I noticed was that Orlando had some kind of bowel problem. This became evident as a succession of nurses came to change his clothes and wash him up two or three times. From the smell of it, I judged the bowel problem to be of the solid variety. And I could tell by the offhand comments of the nurses that they were, as is perfectly understandable, getting fed up with the mess up and clean up routine of Orlando.

Pretty soon a special ringer nurse was brought in. At first I thought he might be a relative, but I finally realized he was a late night nurse brought to help out with the more difficult cases. Pretty soon Benny (that was his name) was doing his very best to take care of Orlando. In doing so, Benny noticed I was watching Fox News about the election. While Fox News is not my favored media, I, being just back from Asia, was eager to catch up on all opinions of each station, so I was moving back and forth between Fox and CNN, soaking up their diametrically opposed opinions. I have to say, horrifying or not, the Presidential Election of 2016 is really interesting.

Anyway, Benny, in between trying to calm down Orlando, started to ask me questions about the election. Who did I think would get elected, Benny asked. I said I was afraid that Trump was going to win. How could he win, asked Benny, Trump hates everybody.

Well, I agreed that Trump did seem to hate everybody, but I still said that I felt that he might really win. For a while Benny and I had a nice conversation on the state of the world and for while, things the room were pretty quiet.

Around 7 pm and while Orlando was still relatively well-behaved, the good Dr. Roth, the lady neurologist, showed up to say that she had looked at my Cat Scan and my brain MRI and had found nothing out of the ordinary. She went on to say that she really no idea why the nurse called it a code orange situation because she could see no evidence from the tests results she had seen of a stroke or of brain damage. That was good news to me and we had nice little conversation about what happened, how I fell, what parts of my knee that I bruised and how it is good to check if you have had a stroke. After about 20 minutes of this nice conversation, she drifted out the room on her to other patients, who no doubt had more pressing needs.

A little after the nice lady Dr. Roth left, Orlando decided to up his game, just as Benny and I the beginning to get into a further conversation on politics. Not only was Orlando asking Benny for more cleanings and more changes of clothing, he was beginning to tell Benny that he had not checked into the hospital and it was all a big mistake. I could see that Benny was having a tough time dealing with his new problem child.

But Orlando, who turned out to be very obstreperous 92 year old man, was not content to leave it at that. You would not think that a 92 year old man could be that difficult, but Orlando was not to be underestimated. Pretty soon Orlando was trying bribe Benny to take him to a hotel and claiming he had been kidnapped. Benny bravely tried to reason with Orlando that it was his own family who had put him in the hospital.

But Orlando was not buying that for a minute and pretty soon he calling out loud for the police to come and rescue him. This went on for a good two hours with other nurses coming in and frantically and Benny and the other nurses trying to reason with Orlando. All efforts failed and Orlando kept up cries of “Help” and “Police”. Again, you would be surprised at the strength and persistence of Orlando.

Now, since Orlando was a 92 year old guy, his voice and physical strength was not as great as a 40 year old man. That said it was enough to keep 3 females nurses and Benny frantic with trying to reason with him and trying to restrain him and trying to keep up with his mess ups and clean ups. Finally, in consideration of the fact that I was an innocent victim who just happened to be in the same room, the nurses had a little pow wow and decided to move me to the only empty room on the floor, room 304. I was very grateful because the cries and antics of Orlando were beginning to wear me down.

As I was being wheeled out, I wished Benny good luck.

Benny was not optimistic.

“Oh, no, I am going to die tonight,” he said as I was being I wheeled out of the room.

I found out, just as I was leaving, that Benny was working overtime, so it was probable that Benny had not much sleep.

I left Orlando and Benny to their pain and was rolled off to the relative quiet of room #304. Here, I kind of struck gold because I was the only human in the room. Considering the fact that this was a very busy night in Mather Hospital, another fact that I learned as I was being wheeled away, I was really lucky to have a room of my own.

This is the wall in my room. If you look closely you can see my recorded blood pressure and heartbeat taken at 8:30pm

This is the wall in my new room. If you look closely you can see my recorded blood pressure and heartbeat taken at 8:30pm, after my TV got working again.

Shortly after getting to room #304, the nice nurse who had rolled me over, came to check in on me. I am guessing she was in her late 50s and, after asking her a few questions, I found out she had been working in Mather Hospital for about 20 years. She was concerned to see if I was now comfortable and she checked on how the various hookups to the portable monitor I was wearing, took my blood pressure, pulse and temperature, all of which were normal. She was concerned to see if the TV in my room was working – it was not – and she promised to call the TV company to make sure they got it working.

I complained about the IV that was still in my arm, even if it was no longer connected to anything. My nice nurse said they could take that out because you never if they might have to administer some medication. I didn’t like the idea of having a catheter sticking in my arm, but there seemed to be no way around having it.

The nice nurse went out of her way to apologize for the behavior of Orlando, saying that it must have been stressful listening to Orlando protest his situation. I said that I thought it was probably far more stressful for the nurses, her, Benny and the other two nurses, having to deal with cleaning and changing and restraining and trying to control Orlando.

Sometimes the patients get that way, especially, the elderly. she said. And then she said something exceedingly strange which made me have some sudden and genuine sympathy for Orlando.

“You know in Florida they don’t give colonoscopies to patients over 75. I don’t know why they give prescribe a colonoscopy for patients over 90. You know, he had a bowel prep. So his bowel problem was caused by the bowel prep that he was given. That’s why he had to be changed so many times.”

It was then that I realized that it was kind strange to order a colonoscopy for a 92 year old man. I mean, what was the point? If the test was negative, what would they say? You can go home. If the test was positive, what would they say? You got colon cancer and maybe you will die. If you are already 92, you probably know you do not have many years to live. So, again, I could not help but wonder why Orlando was having a colonoscopy. I can hope there is some logical reason for that.

Anyway, I was grateful to the nurse for being kind enough to come back and check in on me and give me this somewhat strange information on the plight of Orlando.

I mentioned before that my new room was relatively quiet and that is true. By that I mean, I did not have to listen to the croaking cries of Orlando as he endeavored to get released from the hospital. So in that sense, the room was much quieter. However, after a few minutes in my room, I began to really notice all the other sounds and the spectrum of different noises was truly impressive. There bells and beeps and humming sounds coming from both the various machines in my room and the machines just outside my room and just down the hall.

It seems that in a modern day U.S. Hospital all the patients are hooked up to some kind of machine. Now I was relatively free, being only hooked up to a monitor that kept track of my heartbeat, my CO2 content and my blood pressure. And my monitor was relatively quiet. It only beeped and binged a little bit. In my room, was another monitor that seemed to be a general monitor somehow connected to all the other patient rooms. And if a patient pushed the little button to call a nurse, it would start beeping. And if nurse didn’t come, it would start beeping louder and more frantically and if the nurse did not come for a longer time, the decibel level would increase with each minute.

It was then that I realized that my room was really not as a room meant for patients, but rather it was designed as a nurses station. However, on nights where all the rooms on the the hospital floor were fully occupied, this nurses station was occasionally used as a patient’s room. Hence, my good luck in having my own room.

All this probably meant that this particular room might have been somewhat noisier than the other rooms with patients in them. I say somewhat noisier because in truth all the rooms were inherently noisy, mostly because the many patient were all hooked up to different machines that beeped and whistled and hummed and droned and moaned and whined and made noises that the most brilliant digital musician could only dream about.

Now, by this time it was about one o’clock in the morning, and because evening had set in, there were very few sounds of nurses and doctors on the floor. This made the noises from the various medical machines and equipment really loud and really dominant. And while I was trying to go sleep, I tried think think of what that really like. I came up with the idea that trying to sleep in that hospital room was like trying sleep on the inside of a pinball machine while a pinball game was being played.

So imagine, if you can, a man on a hospital bed inside of a pinball machine with the pinball bouncing off of different parts of the pinball field and a very active and enthusiastic pinballer pushing buttons frantically trying to knock the pinball around my bed while the pinball bounced off of different stations, making maximum decibel bell sounds with bings, and dongs and sirens going off. In short, it was impossible to sleep.

This was not improved by the fact that a nurse showed up at 2am and 6am to take my vitals and several more vials of blood. I suppose this what a modern hospital in the U.S. is. I could not help but wonder to whose benefit all this was? Was it to the benefit of the electrical company powering all these beeping and binging and ringing and buzzing machines while happily charging for the needed electricity, or to the benefit of the makers of all these wonderful high tech monitoring machines keeping track of all the vitals of all the patients, or to the benefit of the nurses and doctors who occasionally looked at the data continuously streaming out these machines, or to the benefit the patients whose vitals were being monitored while they trying to get some sleep among all this clamor.

I did not go around floor and ask each patient if they were able to sleep, so I do not know for a fact who got sleep and who did not. I can only say that I think you would have to be in deep coma to get some rest on that hospital floor.

As you might understand, by the time the morning rolled around and sunlight began to flood into my beeping and binging room, I had long made up my mind to get the hell out of there at the earliest opportunity. So when the nurse brought in the tray with the long dead pears in little cup of goo juice, the Raisin Bran cereal with warm skim milk and the decaf tea which tasted like warm oak leaves, I announced to the nurse that I wanted to her to call my doctors and tell them I wanted to get released as soon as possible.

At first the nurse said it was up to the doctors to decide when I would be released and that they might decide they needed a few more days to observe my condition. But I was ready for nurse because I had used my sleepless night to good purpose. I had gone to the trouble of reading through the nice booklet they provided on patient rights and I immediately pointed out that points #11 and #13 permitted me to refuse all hospital services and to be advised by the doctors of all the reasons that was a bad idea and to then leave the hospital. So, I told the nurse, unless the doctors can give me some actual and valid reason not release me, I was determined to be released that very morning.

Now, this may make you think that I was just as much a trouble-maker as the 92 year old Orlando that I mentioned earlier, but no, I was far more diplomatic. I said I really would like my doctors to sign off on this, to say that it was perfectly all right to leave because after all, after taking a bunch of tests, they found nothing wrong.

Anyway, this approach got the attention of my nurse and while she was very much saying doctors know best, she was still sympathetic to my wish to get released. So she went off to consult one of the doctors who was now coming onto the floor to make her rounds. Soon, a nice young Indian or Pakistani lady Doctor (I preferred not guess which country since the two countries seem to hate each other) came in to try to persuade me that this was unwise. First, she tried to persuade me that I had stroke.

No, I said, I have already had a nice visit the night before with the good doctor Roth. She said my Cat Scan and my brain MRI were both normal and showed no evidence of a stroke.

“Hummh,” said the lady doctor, “Well, we are worried you might have had a heart attack.”

“Why?”, I asked, “Did my EKG or Echo Cardiogram show evidence of a heart attack?”

“Well, the EKG was normal, but I did not know you had an EchoCardiagram. I will have to check that out.”

I told the young lady doctor, who I am sure was trying to be a professional and as responsible as possible, that I was pretty sure my EchoCardiogram would be normal if my EKG was. After all, I had no history of heart problems, I get checked every year for heart or other problems, I don’t take medications, I exercise regularly, I have normal blood pressure, heartbeat and temperature. I then went on to say, if the doctors can tell me one good reason to stay in hospital longer or take other tests, I would listen to that, but if all the tests they had so far were normal, after a Cat Scan, a brain MRI, an EKG, EchoCardiogram and God knows how many tests on the 12 vials of blood I had already given, I am going call this fishing expedition at an end and insist upon leaving the hospital.

The good lady doctor was not happy by this, especially when I asked to get the doctor to review all this in the next two hours. She went off shaking her head in dismay. She had, by the way, beautiful black hair and I was only able to guess that she was either Indian or Pakistani and, as mentioned previously, one has to be careful about suggesting either these nationalities since they hate each other with a passion. And of course, she could be some other nationality. Whatever, she seemed to be a fine young doctor lady, who was a little too prudent for my taste, but no doubt well-intentioned.

As luck would have it, the needed doctors to approve my release did show up around 11am and they did come by. They were headed up by the good Dr. Ahktar. Now with a name like that you think he looked like a terrorist from the Middle East. Not this Dr. Ahktar, he looked more like Princeton graduate. Under his white cloak, he wore snappy collegiate sweater vest, spoke the most fluent American and seemed to have a sandy complexion and sandy hair to go along with his All-American look.

He seemed like a truly nice guy, although he did reiterate that they would love check me out a little more. In any case, he did admit it was true that all the tests they conducted were completely normal and there was no real reason to keep me in hospital any longer. In the end, he signed a release and extracted a promise from me to see my regular doctor within four days.

With great relief, I left the hospital, went home to recoup from the beeps and buzzing and ringing and dinging and binging that seemed to inhabit my head for several more days. How anybody can actually rest and recover in a hospital is beyond my understanding. I can only hope that there is good scientific reason for all the machines and all the noises in a hospital.

In the allotted four days, I did schedule an appointment with my regular doctor, Dr. James Kelly. He kindly saw me, asked what happened. When I told him it was his assistant who recommended me to go to the hospital.

“That’s the best thing you could,” he said, “If you come to our office and for some reason do have a stroke, it will probably be too late to help you. You did the right thing.”

Dr. Kelly then took my temperature, my pulse, my blood pressure, listened my heart, looked in my ears and in my mouth.

“Everything looks normal,” he said.

I asked Dr. Kelly to tell me what the blood tests the hospital conducted told him. I had brought along the hospital report that they gave me when I was released.

“Let’s go through that,” said Dr. Kelly, taking a look at the paperwork that I gave him.

He then went through the 25 or so test results listed on the paper. After stating each test, he ended with two words:

“All normal.” The only thing that was not quite normal was cholesterol level.

“This really isn’t pertinent to these these tests, but your cholesterol level is really good – 117 over 56.”

I was glad to hear all of this. I then told Dr. Kelly that I thought my passing out and hitting my knee on the bathroom floor was probably the result of being tired from my trip to Asia, having a cold and taking Contac.

No doubt, that was what it was, said Dr. Kelly. He then went on to volunteer this:

“You know, years ago, when I went to church as a kid, every Sunday, someone would faint in the church. And what did they do? The priest would give whoever fainted some water, tell them to sit down in a pew for 20 minutes and then send them home. That was it. It was a different time.”

That reminded me that I had fainted in church on two separate when I around 14.

“It’s all the lawyers.” Dr. Kelly volunteered, “That’s why the doctors give you all these tests. If there were no lawyers or they just put a cap on liability insurance, they would give you half the tests and you have been out of the hospital in less than two hours.”

This led to a different track. I had come to my own conclusion that giving me all these tests must be pretty expensive. I was thinking $10,000 or $15,000 for the day I was in the hospital and the various tests I was given.

I asked Dr. Kelly what he thought the cost for my visit might be. He did not hesitate to answer.

“$25,000 to $30,000,” he said, “And you know, it goes on all day long, every day, people coming to the ER, getting all sorts of tests done, most them just because the doctors know if they do not prescribe the tests, they will be sued by the lawyers. The system is broken and I don’t see it getting fixed.”

I left the good doctor Kelly on that note. I must say this experience, both the visit to the hospital and my talk with Doctor Kelly set me to thinking.

As far as I can tell Obamacare or whatever system we put in place of it, just does not have a chance to ever be reasonable in cost. Nor is it likely to ever offer patients the best possible service. Our system almost seems setup to subvert that from happening.

I can say without question that I think it was important to check out what happened to me. It is no stretch of imagination to think that I might have had stroke or even a heart attack, especially for a man of my present age (74). So clearly it is important to check out some health event and see if it is serious. And certainly doing this without questioning and as fast as possible, is also equally important.

That said, the system a patient is confronted with today is clearly vastly expensive and vastly over-protective. There must be, there should be, a better and less expensive way to quickly and quietly determine if someone is having a stroke or a heart attack without the fear of thousands of lawyers suing for and against what happens or what did not happen. It is truly a broken system.

One can only hope a better way is found forward in the future.


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