Thursday, January 31, 2013

Buddy Holly and the Winter Dance Party in Duluth three days before "the day the music died"

Today is the 54th anniversary of three days before "the day the music died" when Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens died in a plane crash in Iowa. Three days prior to their death–January 31, 1959–these pop stars of the fifties performed at the Duluth Armory in a memorable appearance from my youth. A small private plane carrying these performers crashed following their final performance in Clear Lake Iowa, claiming their lives. The plane was heading to Fargo, North Dakota. As Don McLean wrote in his classic music parable, American Pie, the plane crash resulted in "the day the music died."

I, Bob Dylan and other area youths packed the Duluth Armory on January 31, 1959 to take in the performances of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. “Big Bopper” Richardson, three of Rock and Roll’s most promising musicians of that era. “The Winter Dance Party Tour” began on January 23, 1959 with performances scheduled for 24 cities. The Duluth appearance took place three days before the tour tragically ended.

My friend, Lew Latto, was the producer and MC of the Armory show that also included Dion and the Belmonts. Lew was a precocious teen who became a popular disc jockey as a youth and continued on with a successful career in radio until his death in 2011. (The poster advertising this Armory event is above and on your left left.)

I've written about my recollections while attending that event in the past and you can read about it HERE. Also check out Zenith City Online HERE for more about that memorable event, some fun photos and some interesting comments from readers.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Grand Central Birthday...

"One hundred years ago, on Feb. 2, 1913, the doors to Grand Central Terminal officially opened to the public, after 10 years of construction and at a cost of more than $2 billion in today’s dollars. The terminal was a product of local politics, bold architecture, brutal flexing of corporate muscle and visionary engineering. No other building embodies New York’s ascent as vividly as Grand Central. Here, the tale of its birth, excerpted from “Grand Central: How a Train Station Transformed America,” by Sam Roberts, the urban affairs correspondent for The New York Times, to be published later this month by Grand Central Publishing." As quoted in the introduction of Sam Roberts' historical account of this majestic emblem of New York City in the January 18 New York Times (read it HERE).

Surrounded by so many historic buildings in our own Duluth, I'm always drawn to those beautiful old buildings that capture the essence of their times. My recent New York City trip right before Christmas gave me the opportunity to see the grandest old building of them all, Grand Central Station in Midtown Manhattan. Grand Central is truly something to behold. This major transportation hub of NYC  turns 100 on February 2nd and I feel privileged to have spent some time there to see it in its restored glory.

Grand Central concourse
Our hotel during our NY visit was not too far away and we often used Grand Central to hitch a subway ride to destinations, to eat in the vintage Oyster Bar and to walk around and gawk at the famous clock, the skylit ceiling and other architectural wonders. If you click onto the Times link to read the story, check out the link to view the video (The Secrets of Grand Central) of Sam Roberts' tour of the building. That video demonstrates a corner located in the lower level where someone talking in a whisper in one corner can be heard by others some 30-40 feet away in the opposite corner. At the guidance of a native New Yorker friend who dined with us, we were able to prove that this is indeed a fact... the walls can talk! I remember another such phenomenon in the halls of the US Congress witnessed during a Washington DC vacation years ago.  

Grand Central, as so many buildings of old, was set to be demolished but thankfully saved by a dedicated preservation committee spearheaded by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. Today this restored and timeless beauty is a hub of activity for New York by serving as a transportation hub with restaurants, the big Apple Store and other shops and so much more. It sure was worth the save and well worth putting on a sight seeing stop for any out of town visitor.

Happy 100th birthday, Grand Central!

Friday, January 18, 2013

A call from Dear Abby...

     "Dear Abby: My wife sleeps in the raw. Then she showers, brushes her teeth and fixes our breakfast — still in the buff. We’re newlyweds and there are just the two of us, so I suppose there’s really nothing wrong with it. What do you think? — Ed
     Dear Ed: It’s O.K. with me. But tell her to put on an apron when she’s frying bacon."  
(As quoted in a past Dear Abby column in today's NY Times story by Margalit Fox: Pauline Phillips, Flinty Adviser to Millions as Dear Abby, Dies at 94. Read the full story HERE.)

I learned today that the creator of the famous Dear Abby column, Pauline Phillips, has died. She was a spunky lady who had a way with listening and giving advice. Her death was duly marked on the front page of the NY TImes, demonstrating the indelible mark she made on our society.

A few years ago, as I was rummaging around some old Duluth News Tribune columns I wrote and came across something that connected me directly to Ms. Phillips. In her research on limericks, Abby (Pauline Phillips) came across one of my columns about the limerick "An Old Maid from Duluth" and wanted to refer to it in her advice column. What does a spunky lady like Ms Phillips do when she wants something?  She calls the house after usual work hours and asks to talk to me. I, however, was still at work and she got my wife, introducing herself as "Dear Abby." My wife took the call and almost fainted, thinking this could be possibly be a hoax. Why would this famous person be calling the Heffernan home? Her voice was quite distinctive and well-known as she had–in later years–made many appearances on TV and radio as well as in print through her popular syndicated newspaper columns. My wife figured it could actually be her and gave her my work number. She introduced herself to me the same way, "Hi this is Dear Abby!" I, of course, gave permission for her to use my column with the reference to the limerick, "An Old Maid from Duluth" and she later sent me a nice note thanking me. I consider it a brush with a true American icon.

Abby, of course, is the name of the syndicated advice columnist appearing in newspapers all over the country, including the Duluth News Tribune where it still runs. Some of you are old enough to remember the originator of that column–the mother of the current Abby, Pauline Phillips. The senior Phillips penned the name Abigail Van Buren and began writing her very successful column in 1956. After she retired, her daughter, Jeanne, took over–and the rest is history.

You can read that old Dear Abby newspaper column printed in newspapers across the nation about Ruth from Duluth by clicking HERE where you'll also see my claim to fame in the advice world. The current Dear Abby maintains a web site and continues writing her advice column in newspapers everywhere.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

A punny story for the new year: Three jokes, one story, no blood pressure cuff...

By Jim Heffernan

Preface: Recently I made up three jokes. I don’t ordinarily go around making up jokes but these three just happened to occur to me, not all at once, but one at a time over a couple of weeks.

I’ve been trying to figure out a way to use them in my public writing, but they are unrelated thematically, so they’ve just been rumbling around in my head as I saunter through my life.

Now I’ve got to get them out so that I can get on with 2013. I almost never tell jokes in conversation, so I’ve decided to work them into a single story here, not an easy task because they are so different, so unrelated. One is a shameless pun, another a regular joke and the third slightly off color. Very slightly.

What follows is that single story incorporating the jokes... I just had to do it.

It was a dark and stormy night (you can see right there that this is going to be pretty profound) and a few of us were sitting around the wood stove discussing world history, as is often our wont. Naturally, the subject of Attila the Hun came up.

A few in the group were harshly critical of Attila, and you can understand why. He and his tribe, known as the Huns, ravaged much of Europe in the first century, A.D., some 20 centuries ago, give or take a few hundred years. Somehow Attila has come through the ages as one of the meanest guys ever.

But I had to defend him: “You can say what you want about Attila, but he stuck to his Huns.”

After our wood-stove session, feeling the pangs of late-night hunger, a few of us decided to go out for a bite. McDonald’s was about the only handy place open and, besides, we knew one of the workers there and always enjoyed talking to him.

Upon arrival, though, we noticed he wasn’t behind the counter. We asked one of the other workers, who revealed that our friend had quit McDonalds and taken a position at Kentucky Fried Chicken, adding, “He went from flipping burgers to flipping birds.”

But we stayed at McDonalds, ordering burgers all around with fries and soda. While munching, two of the older members of our little group -- suddenly and without warning -- got into a deep discussion involving one very personal confession.

The rest of us overheard part of it: “I’ve given up foreplay,” the first one confessed, his face reddened either from high blood pressure or embarrassment -- we couldn’t tell which and nobody had a cuff along.

“That’s nuthin’,” the second one responded gravely, “I’ve given up golf entirely.” 
 There you have my three jokes, all wrapped into one tall tale. After reading them over I’m feeling a little flushed myself out of embarrassment or…who knows. But I just had to do it.   Jim

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

New York City: A familiar face in the madding crowd

By Jim Heffernan

Crowded New York City subway
Whew! The holidays are over. Ours were especially active this year, punctuated by our whirlwind trip to New York City in mid-December.

Wonderful experience -- to be in New York at holiday time. Crowds at mid-town – everywhere, really – are amazing, including on the subways. No surprise there.

When you’re from Duluth, New York City is one place where you are fairly confident no one will recognize you, especially when you scurry aboard a crowded subway with scores of people sitting and others standing, hanging on for dear life to metal tubes running the length of cars.

Grand Central Station Main Concourse
On one run from Battery Park, Wall Street and the nearby 9/11 Memorial north to Grand Central  Station, the subway car was particularly crowded, although they all seem to be all of the time.

We had squeezed into a seat, other passengers indifferently hovering above us, when suddenly I heard my name loudly beaming from somewhere to my left. What a coincidence, the thought quickly flashed through my mind, there’s another Jim Heffernan on this packed subway car.

When a smiling face and proffered hand connected to one of the nearby standing passengers extended my way, I looked up, utterly baffled. Couldn’t be, I thought. Yet the face looked familiar and recognition began to find its way to my consciousness. “Proctor,” I uttered. Flabbergasted, that’s all I could come up with at the moment.

I had the right town – our western suburb. That Proctor. And the smiling face belonged to Jake Benson, the publisher of the weekly Proctor Journal and civic activist there. I’ve known him for years, but couldn’t immediately connect the name with the face on a crowded New York subway. You just don’t expect to meet people you know under those circumstances.

But Jake it was, himself on a whirlwind trip to New York where he has relatives and to take in a Rolling Stones concert.

You exchange “small worlds,” of course, and it can be, but not as small as Duluth…or Proctor.
Grand Central Oyster Bar 
Note: Grand Central turns 100 in 2013. This famous vintage NYC building is a true transportation–and so much more–hub. We met some friends for dinner at the Grand Central Oyster Bar on our first night in NYC.