Two weeks ago tonight, in the post I’m Back, I apologized for the longest hiatus in the five years of Ron’s View.
The longer I go without writing, the larger my list of overdue items and the harder it is to get back in the rhythm. Being in San Francisco two weekends ago (for a wedding) and New York/Chicago last weekend (for family, then business) made it difficult to find time to write. Yet, the trips gave me more to write about. And this weekend had its own major event, which perhaps I’ll get to at some point.
It appears that I was premature in my announcement, in part due to the major event to which I referred, which would be my mother-in-law Bea’s death two weeks ago. That led a week ago to another eventful weekend, with pre-funeral dinner on Friday, funeral and dinner on Saturday, post-funeral immediate family dinner Sunday. And this weekend, well, Thanksgiving has brought more family events. It’s been a full month.
Tonight I’ll see if I can start catching up. I’ll begin here with a photo (up top) from our walk through Central Park three weekends ago, as we were heading to the Frick. You may recognize the remote-controlled model sailboats as the rentals available at the park’s Conservatory Water.
From the NYT Sunday Vows column—the column that keeps on giving—a passage today. The column features newly married Philippe Cousteau Jr., grandson of Jacques Cousteau, and Ashlan Gorse. We learn that Mr. Cousteau was
mesmerized by her spontaneity and boldness, particularly after she told him that she had once volunteered to swim with sharks wearing only a bikini and a mask. Not to mention that she has visited over 60 countries, thrown the first pitch at a Dodgers game, sky-dived with the Army, zip-lined through a Costa Rican rain forest and nearly sacked Joe Montana during a celebrity football game.
As a bonus, we’re treated to two brief but tantalizing descriptions of our wonder woman. At the civil ceremony at the city hall of Paris’s 8th arrondissement:
The bride, in gilded stilettos and a tight white dress with a low-cut back, clutched a red rose and her livret de famille, a family record book that is given to all the newlyweds in France.
At a second ceremony three days later, which took place in “a 16th-century castle near Versailles that has been turned into a flamboyant four-star hotel”:
Before the vows were pronounced, the long-legged bride, dressed up in a dashing white bustier dress from Lazaro, stood in front of the groom with a bouquet of lilies, as tears occasionally fell from her eyes.
The summer of limited blogging continues. Between work, remodel, and social events, I see little room for improvement. Prior to the past week, we’d been to four weddings in a two-week period, plus a sixtieth birthday party. This week brought a retirement party and a wedding tripleheader: rehearsal dinner Friday, wedding Saturday, post-wedding brunch Sunday (today). All of which was wonderful, but not conducive to blogging.
The bride is the daughter of good friends, and the officiant was Gail, which put us in the middle of the action. Gail anyway. Me, not so much, though I did get to observe, and to meet a lot of fascinating people on the groom’s side whom I may not see much of again. But for three days they were constant companions.
There’s the groom’s aunt from Fort Worth, and her husband, who runs the business side of a large university down that way, which means—when we found ourselves sitting side by side at the wedding reception last night—that we ended up having a lot in common. Especially beef, as it turned out. They’ve given it up mostly, in favor of fish, chicken, and a healthier diet. But they talked about ribeye steaks and barbecue in the most enticing of ways. I had previously wished to visit Fort Worth in order to see the Amon Carter Museum. Now I want to drop by their place for the ribeyes, the barbecue, and steak fajitas.
Also for a piece of golf history, as the uncle took golf lessons in his youth from the famed golf pro atColonial and lived near Shady Oaks, where Ben Hogan ate lunch and played golf for decades. Plus, the aunt’s storytelling. She’s quite the monologuist. At the rehearsal dinner the night before, she gave such detailed descriptions of Fort Worth summers that I was sweltering.
I could continue running through all the people we met and what I learned from them, but maybe I shouldn’t. There is of course the bride’s aunt, whom we’ve met before, and uncle, whom I talked with last night (as I did last September) about their vineyard. It turns out that tomorrow is the day that Quilceda Creek Vintners up in Snohomish makes their latest releases available online for purchase, so I especially enjoyed getting his insight into them and Washington wineries in general. Plus—small world and all that—today I talked shop with their daughter the math grad student and her boyfriend the fellow math grad student. I don’t see mathematicians at too many weddings. Well, except weddings of mathematicians.
Speaking of small worlds and coincidences, we got to talking with the groom’s father towards the end of the rehearsal dinner at his home Friday. Well into the conversation, when he asked about our kids, it emerged that the groom and Joel were born the same day, a couple of hours—and a few states—apart. They even went to the same school, but not at the same time, the groom leaving before Joel arrived for middle school.
This is where the homophone pair enters. Dinner consisted of an orzo salad that the father’s wife later told us is from The Herbfarm Cookbook, a fruit salad, some other things I’m forgetting, and excellent salmon cooked over a large grill. The bride’s father had mentioned earlier that he had been out fishing with the groom and his father the day before, but caught nothing. Now we learned from the groom’s father that he and his son had in fact caught the salmon we ate earlier.
I imagined them in a powerboat, but as the father began to describe the outing, he said they they “rowed out.” I had to change my image from powerboat to tiny rowboat, with father, son, and bride’s father squeezed in. Next he said “in the car.” They “rowed out in the car.” Huh? Not powerboat or rowboat but car? This image didn’t work. Something was wrong.
Time to re-parse. Ah, they “rode out in the car.” That’s it. They weren’t in the water yet, they were on their way. That made more sense.
I found my confusion sufficiently interesting that after the father finished his story, I shared my confusion with him, Gail, and the bride’s mother. Now I’m sharing it with you. I may as well get one post out of this weekend.
The wedding? It was beautiful. But that’s another story.
Odds are, we’ll be staying in Seattle when retirement comes. And if we don’t, Gail’s preference will be to head straight to Nantucket. After last night’s dinner at neighborhood favorite Cactus, though, I suggested we should consider The Villages. You know, that Florida retirement community with all the advertisements on TV? (And if you don’t know, watch the video above.)
Why not? Restaurants. Nightly entertainment. Activities galore. No need to drive anywhere, except in golf carts. Plus, no kids! I mean, I love kids and all. Really, I do. But last night we were the only people at Cactus without children under the age of 3. Well, it was early, but still.
I always think of Cactus as a young adult hangout. The big bar. The noise. The excitement. That’s the usual reason I drag my feet when Gail suggests we go there. The place is packed nightly, and everyone seems to be having way too much fun.
Evidently, those young adults got a little older and decided to have children, all of whom showed up yesterday.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that. But we clearly didn’t fit in (as I first realized when our overwhelmingly friendly waitress greeted us by asking if this was our first time in. It was all I could do to keep from saying we’ve been eating there since before she was born. Which might be true, by the way.) The kids hanging over our booth, babies bawling, parents standing over other people’s tables with children in their arms were too distracting.
As we walked out, I suggested to Gail that we rethink our retirement and take a closer look at The Villages. When we got home, I did so.
There’s a video about their newest restaurant, City Fire American Oven & Bar, that gives me confidence we won’t be missing much.
It looks good, doesn’t it? I suppose kids are allowed in restaurants when they’re visiting with their parents, but all in all I picture life as quiet and idyllic. Lord knows, it’s cheaper than Nantucket. And we could build our dream home there.
What’s that? The Villages is owned by Gary Morse, major Romney supporter last year? Fox broadcasts from there frequently? Glenn Beck held a massive rally there in 2009? Oh, and this story from last November might give us pause. Here’s one paragraph:
If Villages transplants aren’t already disposed to conservative values, they’ll get a good dose of them through the Morse family’s small media empire. Fox News Radio is pumped daily out of speakers in town squares by the community radio station, WVLG-AM 640, making for an odd blend of sunny Villages-themed dispatches and distinctly right-leaning political news reports. A driver listening to Villages radio can step out of his car in one of the town squares and hear the same broadcast without missing a beat. In talking to HuffPost, several liberal residents likened the public speakers to Orwellian propaganda.
Gail, what are we to do? But watch the video below. Aren’t they having fun?
This summer continues to be a disaster for Ron’s View, and I’m at a loss as to what can be done about it. As the Ron’s View host explained in a post a couple of weeks ago, “other duties seem to be getting in the way.” New work duties taken up on July 1. The never-ending kitchen remodel. And all those weddings. They don’t stop.
Two weeks ago we were up in Oak Harbor Friday and Saturday for one, only to head south Sunday for another. More of the same this week, though confined to Seattle. We attended a wedding Thursday evening (interfering with what is often prime blogging time). And yesterday we went to a 3:00 wedding with a 7:00 reception, presenting us with the difficult dilemma of whether to drive all the way back across the city to spend some time home between the two or whether to stay on the other side of town in search of diversions.
We chose diversions, which turned out to be fun, other than our being a little overdressed. Ballard, the former independent waterfront city annexed by Seattle in 1907, was both the site of yesterday’s events and the home of Gail’s youth. Since the selling of her parents’ house a few years ago, we don’t get over there too often. Yesterday we got to revisit and explore, starting with an early dinner at Louie’s Cuisine of China, the cavernous restaurant just north of the Ballard Bridge. I had never eaten there until a month and a half ago. Now it is becoming a regular. Not that the food is all that great, but Louie’s features a classic Cantonese-American menu, an enjoyable change from our standard.
And Brown Bear Car Wash is just across the street. Not normally a reason to detour, but there’s this remodel we’re doing, as you know, and my car sits in the driveway under a maple tree these days instead of in the garage. Yes, I could park on the street, but the tree keeps the car cool. And messy. It needs washing, which it got in mid-June on our last visit to Louie’s and again yesterday.
Then, off to see Gail’s childhood home. We drove up the street to see the front side, then down the alley for a rear view. The foot of the alley lined us up to drive ten blocks west for one of the great views Seattle offers, from Sunset Hill Park.
Why oh why didn’t I bring my new camera and take pictures? Here’s one, from a city website.
The park sits atop a bluff, with Shilshole Bay and the Puget Sound shoreline directly below. Across the Sound directly west lies the north end of Bainbridge Island, and beyond that the Olympic Mountains. It’s an expansive view from north-northwest to south-southwest.
Next we drove south through Ballard past Ristorante Picolinos, which we have been meaning to get over to for years. We did eat there unknowingly one afternoon three summers ago, the day after we had our 25th wedding anniversary party, in order to celebrate the wedding of our friends Sverre and Megan, who had married in Norway. The party was on the back patio and it took us another couple of years to realize that the restaurant we kept hearing about and intending to try—Picolinos—was the very place we had been to for this occasion. Since we entered the patio directly from the street, the restaurant’s name never registered on us. Truth is, we should have eaten there last night instead of at Louie’s. But they don’t have a carwash across the street.
From Picolinos, we continued south to the Ballard Locks, hoping to find a parking spot and walk around by the canal, locks, and gardens. But parking there on a summer weekend is hopeless, so we continued driving instead, along the opening to the canal toward the waterfront, then north along the waterfront to Golden Gardens Park, another Seattle treasure that is impossible to park at on summer weekends.
Up the switchback road we went, back up to the bluffs, and then on through a variety of neighborhoods to the north of Ballard. This gave us the opportunity, as we meandered past houses with extraordinary views, to review why it is exactly that when we spent a year househunting twenty years ago, we didn’t move to such neighborhoods.
We did look. In fact, we looked closely and fell in love with a house just north of Sunset Hill Park, hidden among the trees but completely open to the very views one has from the park. We passed that one up for fear that it would fall off the bluff in our lifetimes. Our drive last night offered examples of houses with almost as extraordinary views that aren’t likely to slide down a hill. But that crosstown drive just isn’t one I wanted any part of, and so we didn’t look too hard, instead ultimately settling on a landlocked house with no water or mountain views at all.
No regrets. It’s just that last night we got to see what we have been missing all these years.
We weren’t done driving around. There was more to see. Soon, though, it was time to head back down to the waterfront so that we could attend the wedding reception, in a building right on the water, just south of the Shilshole Bay Marina. We chose to sit at a table just past the windows so we wouldn’t be in the sun, and maybe so we wouldn’t continue to have the Sound and Olympics in our faces, questioning our decision to live on the other side of the city.
Hmm. This post was supposed to be about the decline of Ron’s View. Instead it’s about the decline of Ron’s view. Returning to the intended subject, I wish I could promise improvement. I’ll do what I can.
One consequence of my bad blogging month (or will it turn out to be a longer stretch of bad blogging?) is that I didn’t get around to commenting three weeks ago on the astonishing NYT article about the discovery by upper east siders of lower Manhattan real estate. What’s astonishing is that we’re not talking about people moving from the upper east side to lower Manhattan. We’re talking about people buying second (or third or fourth or whatever) homes there. Yes, a coop just four or five miles away from their principal residence.
There are so many rich quotes. Let’s start with this one, which opens the article:
Many uptown adherents now [embrace] downtown neighborhoods that would once have been considered unthinkable.
“Downtown is livelier — we feel as though we have been in Milan for the weekend,” said Brooke Garber Neidich, a chairwoman of the Whitney Museum, a founder and chairwoman of the Child Mind Institute and a trustee of Lincoln Center Theater.
Ms. Neidich, who owns the Chicago-based jeweler Sidney Garber, has spent much of her married life living on exclusive East End Avenue. But a few years ago, she stunned her well-heeled friends by buying a pied-à-terre on West 12th Street in the Village. “When we come home at 10:30 in the evening,” she said, “we can sit outside at Sant Ambroeus and the streets are crowded and it’s not even a Saturday.”
It’s perhaps worth noting that one doesn’t need to go down to the Village to eat at Sant Ambroeus. A Sant Ambroeus sibling is conveniently located in the heart of the upper east side, on Madison between 77th and 78th. I’ve written about it several times, most recently here.
Some have gone beyond the pied-à-terre stage and made the move.
“I think there is a big romance about living downtown,” [developer] Mr. Senbahar said. “It is much more diverse, it isn’t all fund managers, but artists, literary people, then some Wall Street sprinkled in.” For those fortunate 1-percenters, “you can live in a building downtown now that has Upper East Side amenities, and still put on your flats, walk into small shops and live that easygoing lifestyle.”
Linda Lambert agrees. “You can go out to dinner and you don’t have to be dressed,” she said; “you don’t have to wear jewelry.” Ms. Lambert lives with her husband … in a loft on Laight Street in TriBeCa. The couple had lived in a town house on 82nd Street between Park and Madison Avenues for decades before moving into the loft …
For Suzanne Cochran and her husband, Robert, … it was a downtown soiree some years ago that persuaded them to buy a pied-à-terre in TriBeCa. “We were at a friend’s party,” Ms. Cochran recalled. “She is a very downtown girl, and it was all my favorite kind of people: artists — cool, hip people. And we were the only ones who lived on the Upper East Side.” At the time they were living on 84th Street and Park Avenue.
The couple … soon bought a 5,500-square-foot loft and began alternating on the weekends between the loft and their home on Long Island. Last year, they sold their uptown home to move downtown full time.
As the article draws to a close, we are warned that this all may pass.
But while it is fast becoming the latest fad for uptowners to dip a toe into downtown, the trend is still largely untested. “I am not sure that once they get down there, they are all going to love it,” Ms. Kleier said. “They may find themselves constantly going uptown to get their nails and hair done. It could be that the excitement wears off.”
I’m glad the NYT is on this.
Now a small confession. Here in Seattle, I’ve imagined life with a downtown pied-à-terre. Not that I seriously think we have need of a place to stay after the symphony, rather than making the four-mile drive home, though the parking space that would come with our condo sure would be handy.
The point is, when I get to thinking what would happen if Jessica were to vacate her Belltown condo just blocks from the symphony and art museum and surrounded by many fine restaurants, that’s when I imagine life with our very own pied-à-terre. Until last month, those imaginings would end the moment I remembered our dear sweet Emma, who wouldn’t enjoy spending the night without us. Now that she’s gone, why adopt a new cat when we can have a condo?
Am I right?
[Mike Siegel/The Seattle Times]
A week ago, in my post Down But Not Out, I offered some of the reasons for my worst month of blogging (by far) in the almost five years of Ron’s View. I then intended to provide one more post, but it didn’t happen.
And then we had a weekend typical of why blogging has been on hold most of the month. Friday we packed up and headed north to Oak Harbor, on Whidbey Island. Gail had a sharp deadline for being there, in time for the rehearsal of a wedding she would be performing the next day. This meant we dare not risk taking the ferry over to Clinton on the south side of the island. Instead we drove north on I-5, the dullest stretch of road imaginable (though it did mean that we got to cross the newly opened bridge over the Skagit River in Mt. Vernon, the one that collapsed two months ago), then west to Fidalgo Island, over to the magnificent Deception Pass Bridge that connects Fidalgo to Whidbey on Whidbey’s north end, and down to Oak Harbor (home to Naval Air Station Whidbey Island). Just over 90 miles to Oak Harbor’s Candlewood Suites.
A short break, and then on to the wedding rehearsal and post-rehearsal dinner. No blogging that night. I admit, Saturday morning was free, but hey, that meant I could watch as dramatic a stage of the Tour de France as I can remember, the final day in the Alps, culminating in the climb up Annecy Semnoz. And after that, round three of the Open golf championship in Muirfield. It ended just in time for us to get to the wedding.
Wedding, reception, and south the length of the island to the ferry. Saturday late afternoon. No chance, I imagined, that there would be ferry traffic. Boy was I ever wrong. An hour and a half wait, which we got to share with what must have been a dozen vans filled with cyclists who had just competed in Ragnar Relay Northwest Passage. I hadn’t heard of Ragnar before. I know about it now. Click the link and find out for yourself.
Long though the wait was, the ride across the sound to Mukilteo was beautiful, with mountain and water views and perfect weather. We were home by 7:00. A night of blogging! No, I just wasn’t up to it. And Sunday morning, well, we had to watch the final round of the Open. Phil! The subject of another post. And the final stage of the Tour. Paris at night! The first nighttime finish, celebrating 100 Tours, and magnificent it was.
No sooner had the Tour ended than we hit the road again, 45 miles south to Orting for wedding number two of the weekend. One of Gail’s cousins lives in Orting, and we’d been down to her house, but not the extra 2 miles to the center of town, and the two hundred yards more that brings you to the south end, with as magnificent a view of Mt. Rainier, looming less than 30 miles away, as I’ve ever had. When we arrived at 2:15, there was still some marine air around and all you could see was the bottom 2/3 or so, with the huge base. Two hours later, in utterly clear skies, the mountain rose in its full majesty, so much more dramatic than up here in Seattle.
Sunday evening is peak blogging time for me, but not this past Sunday. We were home around 8:00, with no energy. And no time Monday to make up for it, because Monday I attended the annual basketball game and barbecue of the summer program I run. Tuesday was new camera night (subject of another post), last night the weekly pizza dinner with my summer program. I tell you, this month just isn’t meant for blogging. Which is too bad, because I have no shortage of topics. Sorry.
[Bryn Lennon/Getty Images]
Ron’s View seems to have vanished. Sorry about that. In the four years and ten months of its existence, there’s never been a month of such limited activity like this. Where have I been?
Right here. Doing what I always do in July. Getting up early every morning for the last twenty days to watch live coverage of the Tour de France. Sitting outside in the evenings enjoying our beautiful Pacific Northwest evenings.
But a few other duties seem to be getting in the way. For instance:
1. If I haven’t blogged much all week, I usually do some catching up on Sunday evenings. Not the last few weeks. Three Sundays ago, I spent the late afternoon and evening on campus hosting the opening of a summer program I run. Last Sunday we were at a friend’s 60th birthday party. This weekend won’t be much better, with a wedding rehearsal and dinner tomorrow, a wedding Saturday, and still another wedding Sunday.
2. I began the month by assuming new job duties, duties that are keeping me busy all those hours between the end of the day’s Tour de France coverage and the beginning of my evenings outside. In past summers, I might get some blog posts written outside using my laptop, but now I sit outside catching up on all the days news and other people’s blogs.
3. And then there’s our remodel. What are we in now? Month four? Plans to review, products to look at, emails to write, contractor and subs and architect to talk to.
4. I already mentioned the Tour, but perhaps I haven’t been sufficiently clear about how much mental space it occupies. If I had had more success writing posts this month, they would all have been about the Tour. And you don’t need my daily reports. If that’s what you’re looking for, you’re better off heading to the Guardian’s sports pages and turning to William Fotheringham’s daily piece. Or follow him on Twitter, as I’m doing.
Oh, and that crucial first week of the month, when Ron’s View went quiet, there wasn’t just the Tour to watch. There was Wimbledon. I mean really, what is one supposed to do on a day like Saturday, July 8, when Chris Froome is tearing up Ax 3 Domaines in the Pyrenees to grab the yellow jersey while Marion Bartoli is winning the women’s championship at Wimbledon? Is there a better week in sports?
As it turns out, the answer is yes. This week. Just today the Tour featured a historic double climb of Alpe d’Huez and the men’s golf Open Championship began at Muirfield, just outside Edinburgh. It’s impossible to watch both simultaneously. Cycling won. I couldn’t take my eyes off the race for 2 1/2 hours, at the end of which I had no interest in watching golf. What a day!
What happened? William Fotheringham explains, though no short article can do the day justice. Ever since we rented a car in Grenoble in 2009 in order to drive up Alpe d’Huez ourselves, when the Tour returns there, I have an added sense of familiarity on seeing the sites.
Meanwhile, the blog isn’t the only victim of the shift in my attention to other matters. My book reading has gone to hell as well. It’s almost a month since I wrote about The Blackhouse, the first book in Peter May’s Lewis Trilogy. I wrote at the time that its “portraits of island life are marvelously rendered gems, lifting the book well above whatever expectations one may have of crime novels.” A few days later, I anticipated writing a second post about how the book had stopped being a crime novel at all. The precipitating crime had faded into the background as we focused with steadily increasing intensity on Fin’s past on the Isle of Lewis before moving away to Glasgow and Edinburgh.
Increasing intensity indeed. So much that I had to take a breather, and once I did, I stopped reading the book altogether. Just as with Ron’s View, I return home each day feeling pressure to get back into the book, The more pressure I feel, the more stubbornly I resist. Hence, no new posts and no progress in the book, which I’m beginning to resent, since it’s keeping me from moving on to all the other books I hoped to read this summer.
At least I’m doing my job. And at least the remodel is progressing. And at least the Tour continues, though I suspect it might do so even without my daily devotion.
Maybe I’ll yet produce a post on life without Google Reader. (Another change in my life this month.) The posts I had in mind on the Supreme Court’s closing decisions last month are probably a lost cause.
What else? I was halfway through a second post on the book I first wrote about in early June, Lucas Mann’s Class A: Baseball in the Middle of Everywhere. Just as The Blackhouse isn’t about crime, this isn’t about baseball. I was going to say a few words about its depiction of the decline of an economic way of life in Iowa, and its reflections on fandom. This in turn was to lead to a post on the pain of fandom, as most recently experienced in Phil Mickelson’s crushing loss at the US Open and Mark Cavendish’s surprising failures at the Tour. But then Phil went and won the Scottish Open and Mark picked up another stage win the day after a shocking loss at the line.
Several other items have piled up in addition to these. But other duties call. I don’t know when I’ll write all the missing posts. I hope I do.
Rowing great Harry Parker died nine days ago at the age of 77. Not knowing he had been ill, I was stunned to learn the news (via a tweet by WSJ sportswriter Jason Gay that night linking to Harvard’s news release), all the more since Harry always seemed ageless.
Like so many others, I view him as a major influence on my life, although I’ve had no contact with him for decades. As it happens, this week marks forty years since I accompanied him to the famed Henley regatta, where a Harvard crew won the Ladies’ Challenge Plate. That brought to an end my days as a member of Harvard crew.
Some facts, from the Harvard release:
Parker began his storied coaching career in 1960 as Harvard’s freshman coach. After the sudden death of head coach Harvey Love, Parker was promoted to the role which he would go on to hold for 51 seasons. Parker’s efforts also reached outside the Harvard rowing community, as evidenced by the 2008 dedication of Community Rowing, Inc.’s new boathouse in his honor.
During Parker’s tenure, Harvard crews enjoyed spectacular success at the Henley Royal Regatta in England. It began with the 1973 JV win of the Ladies’ Plate followed by the 1985 varsity win of the Grand Challenge Cup, its fifth and most recent title in Henley’s most prestigious race. Harvard went on to six more varsity victories in the Ladies’ Plate. The victory in 2012, beating Leander by one foot, was one of the most thrilling victories of his career as the crew overcame a three-seat deficit over the final 50 meters. Harvard also won three times in the Britannia and Prince Albert fours events. The Crimson owns three course records at Henley, more than any other university.
The Crimson also won the 1965 Lucerne International Regatta, took second at the 1967 world championships, captured the 1967 Pan American Games and claimed the 1968 U.S. Olympic trials before taking sixth in the Games at Mexico City. Additionally, a total of 52 Parker-coached Harvard oarsmen have rowed at the Olympic Games over the past six decades.
From 1964 in Tokyo until 1984 in Los Angeles, Parker regularly coached U.S. Olympic crews, leading both men’s and women’s entries to strong finishes in the eights and handling the sculling at the 1984 Games in Los Angeles. He coached the 1972 Olympic men’s eight, which featured five Harvard oarsmen, to a silver medal and led the first U.S. women’s national team to compete in the world championships, earning a bronze in 1975. Parker later coached the U.S. women’s eight to a bronze medal at the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal.
In 1980, Parker coached the U.S. men’s Olympic eight, which ranked second in the world prior to the boycott of the Moscow Olympics. In 1985, he coached single sculler Andy Sudduth ’83-85 to an astonishing performance in the World Rowing Championships, during which Sudduth finished second and defeated four-time world champion Peter Michael Kolbe of Germany.
Parker began rowing as an undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania, where he was part of victorious crews in 1955 at Sprints and the Grand Challenge Cup at Henley. After graduating, he took up single sculling and won the gold medal at the 1959 Pan American Games. He then placed fifth in the single at the 1960 Olympics.
The most prestigious event in rowing is the Olympic eights competition. For much of the twentieth century, the US entry was our best collegiate crew, and it would win the gold medal. (There’s a current bestselling book, The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, by Daniel James Brown, about the University of Washington crew that won the eights that year.) But in 1960 a German crew won, suggesting that the rest of the world had caught up and we couldn’t continue to win with college kids. In 1964, we reclaimed the gold with a crew of older rowers from Philadelphia’s Vesper Boat Club. Harry’s 1968 Harvard crew was the last college crew to represent the US. They won the Olympic trials, went to Mexico City, qualified for the final, came down with intestinal illnesses, and finished sixth.
The time had come to send not our best crew among competing boats but our best oarsmen. Harry was picked to run the 1972 Olympic team alluded to in the quote above. He established the model, setting up a camp, inviting the top oarsmen in the country, and selecting the eight best for the Olympic boat. At its heart was two pairs of brothers who had been the heart of Harvard’s best crews in the preceding years. The boat won the silver medal, behind New Zealand.
It’s during this period that I showed up, going out for the freshman crew in the fall of 1969. My father had rowed at Penn, like Harry some years later, and I loved the sport, but I wasn’t very good. Sophomore year, by happenstance, I returned to the boathouse as a manager. Junior year I became what Harvard called the “varsity manager”, the #2 staff member, assisting the “undergraduate manager” in arranging trips and attending to other needs. Senior year, I was the undergraduate manager. In that role, I spent countless hours around Harry.
Harry coached until the end. Just a month ago, his crew finished second to Washington in the IRA Regatta, the unofficial national championship, and beat Yale a week later in the Harvard-Yale Regatta, the oldest intercollegiate event among all sports.
The Harvard-Yale race is distinctive because it continues to be rowed at its traditional distance of 4 miles, on the Thames River in New London, Connecticut. The standard distance for international and intercollegiate rowing now is 2000 meters, or about a mile and a quarter. The switch from this to 4 miles is challenging. To prepare, the Harvard and Yale crews built separate camps decades ago on the Thames upstream of New London, each complete with boathouse, primitive housing, a cafeteria, and a small house for the coach. It falls to the undergraduate manager to run the camp, which I did for two weeks in 1973.
In those days, Harvard and Yale never competed in the IRA, because it conflicted with their race. I don’t know the arrangements now, but I’m guessing they have shortened the time they spend at the camps. Indeed, in 1974, the year after I graduated, Yale moved its own graduation date up and decided not to compete with Harvard, since doing so on the usual date would have forced the oarsmen to stick around for weeks. (Harvard went instead to Madison to race Wisconsin and on to Seattle to race Washington, a rare dual race of crews representing two historic rowing traditions.)
The two weeks at Red Top—the Harvard camp—were an intense time. We would head down right after final exams. Or maybe it was even before finals ended, with finals proctored at the camp as needed. The race would be on a Saturday, with graduation on Thursday two days before. One consequence is that graduating seniors didn’t attend graduation. Not in Cambridge, that is. Instead, Harry would run an unofficial graduation ceremony after dinner on graduation day. The undergraduate manager would drive up to Cambridge in the morning to pick up the diplomas.
That’s me. And that’s what I did. Instead of attending morning graduation in Harvard Yard, I arrived at the boathouse to pick up some supplies, headed to the registrar’s office to pick up the diplomas, was told that they couldn’t release one diploma because one of the senior co-captains owed some funds, then dashed over to Mather House, my residential house, for the post-graduation lunch and house ceremony. My parents had flown up for that, so I got to spend a little time with them, then headed over to Quincy House to say goodbye to a good friend, and back to the registrar’s office to sort out the diploma problem. A well-timed emergency phone call to Red Top, the writing of a personal check to cover the balance, diploma in hand, I drove back to Red Top.
I missed a lot that day. But I had the honor of receiving my diploma from Harry, who spoke a few words about each of the graduating seniors. I had no doubt I was in the right place.
The NYT obituary gets close to capturing Harry’s mysterious essence and why receiving my diploma from him was an honor.
Beyond the innovations in equipment and training, Parker was known as a personality. Like Rockne and Wooden, he became legendary in his sport and something of a cult figure on campus. A taciturn but highly competitive figure, he imbued in his athletes a sense of purpose and dedication that helped his crews cohere and endure both the anticipated and experienced agony at the finish of a close race. And his influence was lasting, some of his former rowers say.
“The standards Harry set were there long after you stopped rowing,” said Kip McDaniel, a financial writer who rowed varsity crew for Harvard from 2002 to 2004. “Before a race, you knew the pain was unavoidable. But one of Harry’s great gifts was for creating crews. They were communities where there was simply no doubt that everyone was going to live up to Harry’s expectations, and as a result you were probably going to win the race.”
As news of Parker’s death spread, similar sentiments were expressed by others from previous generations.
“Working with him, you saw that as you applied yourself, you could apply yourself a bit more,” said Dr. Paul G. Ramsey, who rowed for Harvard from 1967 to 1971. Now chief executive of UW Medicine, which operates hospitals and clinics in Washington State, and dean of the University of Washington medical school, Dr. Ramsey added, “He was the best teacher I ever had.”
Rockne and Wooden! That’s rarefied company. I overlapped with Paul Ramsey. Years later, i would find myself at the same university, and even joined him as a dean for a while. Small world and all that.
One of my favorite memories, from that 1973 stay at Red Top, was of an afternoon when everyone else was napping following morning practice and lunch, before the afternoon practice. It was hot and humid, a good time to be asleep. But I was up, as was Harry, so we started up a croquet game, soon to be joined by our varsity boat’s stroke, Al Shealy (later to stroke the 1975 world champion crew and 1976 Olympic silver medal crew). Harry was competitive as always. The focus was on winning, not chit chat.
A few weeks later, we were in Nottingham for a new international regatta, which we were using as a tuneup for the Henley regatta. Harry and I took an after-dinner walk, with a low sun shining in our eyes as we crossed the River Trent. A beautiful evening. And the first time that he asked what it was I planned to do now that I had graduated, despite all the time we spent together. It was all about crew. Nothing personal. But that made sense. We had work to do, races to win. That was the focus.
Another memory: the weekend in Annapolis that May for the Adams Cup, the annual race between Harvard, Penn, and Navy. Winds were expected, the races should have been moved up, but the admiral wanted to come out and watch, and the starting times went unchanged. That was the story anyway. The winds picked up after the freshmen rowed, the remaining races were postponed to the next day, and suddenly I had to re-book 50 people for either a later plane that day or a plane the next day, plus figure out how to feed them Saturday lunch and dinner and make meal arrangements for Sunday.
Won, the JV coxswain had been unable to make the trip because of a Saturday exam. In the pre-cell-phone era, I somehow got word to him while he was seated in a theater Saturday to get on an airplane to Baltimore. My varsity manager Bill and I dropped off the freshman crew, then awaited the incoming plane to see if Won made it. He did. Sunday morning his boat awoke to the surprise that he was there to race with them. That was fun.
When we got back to Logan Sunday evening, while Bill and I were handing everyone cash as they came off the plane so they could take the subway back to Cambridge (in lieu of the rented bus we had set up for Saturday), Harry walked up to us and said words I thought I would never forget. Alas, I have now, but I was sure then that they were the highest praise I would ever receive from anyone, given that until then I had never heard words of praise from him at all.
The next winter, Harry decided everyone on the crew should take up cross country skiing as cross training for rowing. I was in graduate school at that point, but still had some friends on the crew, especially Won and Bill. Prompted by Won, I went out to the suburbs with him to Harry’s house so we could go skiing with Harry at an adjacent golf course. A couple of days later, I went to Eastern Mountain Sports in Boston with Won to buy new skis, practicing around the boathouse and the athletic fields the next day. With that as my total experience on skis, I joined a caravan of crew members the next weekend to drive up to Vermont and compete in a Washington’s Birthday weekend race. That’s a story in its own right, and this isn’t the place. Suffice to say that my accomplishments were sufficiently notable that I led the NYT coverage of the race the day after.
I realize that none of what I’ve written conveys Harry’s essence. Sorry. I don’t know how. He was unique. When my parents came up to Red Top two days after flying to Boston for my abbreviated appearance at graduation, I was thrilled that I could introduce them to Harry, before abandoning them one more time to jump in the launch with Harry so that we could head downstream to the start of the four-mile race and follow the two boats up to the finish. It’s hard to believe now how much crew dominated my undergraduate years, but it did. Which means, inasmuch as Harry was the center of Harvard crew, he dominated my life. In some sense anyway. Which is why his death comes as such a shock.
A week ago I finished Methland: The Death and Life of an American Small Town, Nick Reding’s account of life in Oelwein, Iowa, in the first years of this century. This morning I finished The Summer of Beer and Whiskey: How Brewers, Barkeeps, Rowdies, Immigrants, and a Wild Pennant Fight Made Baseball America’s Game, Edward Achorn’s account of the 1883 season in the American Association.
What next? Why not combine the two themes? A book that recounts a season of baseball in Iowa in the early years of this century would be in order. And what do you know? Such a book appeared five weeks ago: Lucas Mann’s Class A: Baseball in the Middle of Everywhere. Perfect timing. I’m now a few pages into it.
I learned about the book last month at the Harper’s blog, where Jeffery Gleaves had six questions for Mann. (A week later, the NYT ran its own online Mann interview.) Of course, the book isn’t simply about baseball. It’s about life in Clinton, Iowa, and about the author’s own travails. Here’s the blurb:
An unforgettable chronicle of a year of minor-league baseball in a small Iowa town that follows not only the travails of the players of the Clinton LumberKings but also the lives of their dedicated fans and of the town itself.
Award-winning essayist Lucas Mann delivers a powerful debut in his telling of the story of the 2010 season of the Clinton LumberKings. Along the Mississippi River, in a Depression-era stadium, young prospects from all over the world compete for a chance to move up through the baseball ranks to the major leagues. Their coaches, some of whom have spent nearly half a century in the game, watch from the dugout. In the bleachers, local fans call out from the same seats they’ve occupied year after year. And in the distance, smoke rises from the largest remaining factory in a town that once had more millionaires per capita than any other in America.
Mann turns his eye on the players, the coaches, the fans, the radio announcer, the town, and finally on himself, a young man raised on baseball, driven to know what still draws him to the stadium. His voice is as fresh and funny as it is poignant, illuminating both the small triumphs and the harsh realities of minor-league ball. Part sports story, part cultural exploration, part memoir, Class A is a moving and unique study of why we play, why we watch, and why we remember.
In the Harper’s interview, Gleaves asks, “Why not write this book as pure journalism? Why insert your own story?” To which Mann replies:
So much of how I write is wrapped up in voice. I write personally; that’s how it comes out. I like essays and nonfiction that try to do a lot of things at once, that investigate and report on subjects but never shy away from showing how all that observation affects them. I’m terrified of omniscience, both as a writer and a reader. Lawrence Weschler, the great New Yorker writer, has a quote along the lines of, “I like to insert a strong I into what I’m writing not out of some sense of egomania, but precisely the opposite.” I agree with that. I don’t have the hubris to traditionally report on something, then step back, remove my personality, biases, memories, and screw-ups, and speak with authority. I’m the neurotic, often-confused dude who is trying to figure out why all this stuff is important to him, and that crucial, intimate honesty isn’t something I’d ever want to remove from the work.
Mann’s bleak description of Clinton in the opening pages is redolent of Methland‘s Oelwein and Ottumwa, Iowa.
At the turn of the twentieth century, Clinton was the center of a lumber empire. Millionaires were made here. … Though the industry and its spoils have long since disappeared, some mansions are still here. …
A lot of things are gone. Things downtown closed; some collapsed. Things burned. In 1968 the sociopathic hippie son of a local businessman set fire to nine buildings …
That hippie boy set the most famous fires, but not the last ones. Fans have told me that it feels as if something were always aflame now. When buildings are old, when nobody’s watching, anything can be tinder. Some of the fires are on YouTube. The dilapidated apartment with the mother and her two toddlers inside. The ancient white house without smoke detectors. The Lutheran church with flames dancing in the stained-glass windows. Old homes with no life in them, no care for them, so eventually they burn. …
… Allied Steel, back when steel, along with paper, along with wood, along with plastic, along with corn, catalyzed the town. But Allied left with a lot of other businesses, and left behind 100,000 tons of coal tar blocks down from the riverfront stadium, not cleaned for decades.
As for the baseball, two players have been introduced so far: shortstop Nick Franklin, of whom great things are anticipated, and Nicaraguan pitcher Erasmo Ramirez. Clinton is a Mariner farm team, and Franklin was big news here in Seattle two weeks ago when he was called up to the majors for the first time to replace one-time-can’t-miss second baseman Dustin Ackley (the second overall selection in the 2009 draft, behind Stephen Strasburg). In his fourth game, Franklin hit two home runs. Ramirez also made it to the majors, pitching in 16 games for the Mariners last year with mixed success, but is back in Triple-A Tacoma this season.
I don’t yet know what to expect from the book. And I’m not yet committed, having downloaded only the free opening pages to my Kindle. I suspect I’ll keep going. Certainly Boston Globe reviewer Adam Langer would have me do so:
Watching Clinton’s star pitcher, Erasmo Ramirez, strike out 12 on the road in Quad Cities, Mann wryly notes that the performance was watched by more people than will ever watch Mann do anything.
But he is being overly modest. For if there’s one surefire big-league prospect among the has-beens, might-bes, and never-will-bes who populate this memoir, it’s Mann himself who, in his first trip to the plate, knocks it out of the park.
The fate of most writers may ultimately be not all that different from that of most ballplayers. Decades from now, the vast majority of the names currently seen on the spines of books will probably seem as unfamiliar as those found in a pack of random 2013 baseball cards. But I’d be willing to wager that Lucas Mann is one of the names that will endure.