“I’m not sure where honorable mention would be in a stockcar race, but I’m guessing somewhere near dead last.”
I was watching an episode of The Rifleman the other day during one of my often writing breaks, and in one scene, a newspaper reporter from back east is referred to by a rough talking cowboy in a North Fork, New Mexico, saloon as a two-bit-writer.
This New York journalist was composing a story on what it’s like to live in the Wild West, and after his manuscript is snatched away by the fellow poking fun of him, the notebook is quickly handed to another cowboy to read. That was the best part in my mind.
When this other saddle tramp starts reading words out loud, it’s disclosed that some disparaging comments are written about about his illiterate pal. At this point, the easterner is roughed up a bit by the goon until Lucas McCain intervenes.
After this literary insult was made, I couldn’t tell if the journalist was offended by it or not. It appeared he was but I’m not totally sure, because you see, the channel broke for a commercial, which they always do about every five minutes.
Had I been that newspaper fellow back in the day, I would’ve taken two-bit-writer as a compliment. With two bits equaling fifty cents, in the 1870s, that would buy a nice steak and drink at Delmonico’s. That’s the name for the best place to eat in Dodge City. If you watch Gunsmoke, you’re well familiar with this restaurant. Marshall Matt Dillon, Miss Kitty, Doc, Chester, and Festus always eat there yet I’ve never seen them leave a tip.
Years ago, I took a creative writing course under the tutorship of Professor Michael Burwell. Our class composed several stories during that two month period, with Professor Burwell stating that students should submit one of their pieces to The Anchorage Daily News Creative Writing Contest. I elected to mail in “Fishin’ with Mike,” believing it was my best work.
Several weeks went by and finally the winners were announced in a special Sunday edition called, We Alaskans. Quickly going to the list of winners hoping to see my name, there it was, Michael Hankins – Honorable Mention. I framed that certificate which came in the mail, and kept it on my office wall as a joke for many years.
To be honest, I would just as soon not had that title. The late and great Nascar driver, Dale Earnhardt Sr., once said, “Second place is the first loser!” I’m not sure where honorable mention would be in a stockcar race, but I’m guessing somewhere near dead last.
Watching that episode of The Rifleman got me to thinking back to this creative writing contest in 1984. I believe had I looked, and saw two-bit-writer beside my name, at first I would’ve laughed, and then called my friends to hear their congratulations. Undoubtedly, they’d already labeled me as such, in jest of course.
Had that outlaw informed the New York writer he was an honorable mention where his story was concerned instead of calling him what he did, that would’ve been immediate grounds for the easterner and saddle tramp to meet on the street and settle things. Afterwards, if he was last man standing, the journalist would’ve really had something to tell folks back home!
“I consider myself more of a “rural traveler” than anything else.”
World traveler has never been tacked onto my lengthy life resume. The only foreign country my wife and I have visited is Canada, loving the place including its people. I’m blessed to live amongst fine natives from this land right here in Lake Havasu City, where they maintain second homes, and oftentimes relocate for good.
I’ve learned several Canadian words: Canucks, kerfuffle, two-four, loonie, and Ontario. That last word is shared by Canadians and Californians alike, with a friend from Fontana claiming that California had it first. Who am I to doubt the man, because Fontanians are not known as story tellers. Hopefully, a kerfuffle doesn’t now break out over this. Kerfuffle is Canadian for argument or scuffle, and you often see these during hockey games.
I consider myself more of a “rural traveler” than anything else. The seldom used title is not as widely advertised as world traveler, because in layman’s terms, it’s someone traveling on a shoestring budget.
My wife and I generally take back roads—finding them much slower than the interstate and more to my driving skill. Going 45 in a 55 is something rural travelers do quite common and I’m quick to imitate. It’s amazing how much more you can see by slowing down. Years ago, I spotted a rusty Crescent wrench lying along one country road, having time to stop—then back up and retrieve it. Try that on Interstate 40 with big rigs whizzing by.
My travels have taken me to some out-of-the-way places that few of my friends here in town have had the honor of visiting. Yoder, Kansas, quickly comes to mind. Yoder is an Amish community where residents still use horse and buggies as transportation. They have a renowned restaurant in town that my wife’s family loves to visit called, Carriage Crossing Restaurant and Bakery. The portions are good and food tasty, much akin to our Black Bear Diner here in LHC. My number one rural restaurant though, is Coachlight Restaurant in Longford, Kansas.
Longford is a small town where you can go and not feel unwelcome. Residents there seem to treat all visitors with open arms much like Lake Havasu City does. Coachlight Diner in Longford is my favorite place to eat because of their freshly baked pies. It’s generally packed on Friday and Saturday nights with folks driving fifty miles or more one-way just to eat. I equate it to Crossroads Diner in Parker or The Wagon Wheel in Needles, California, where ambiance is concerned. The buildings in all three places are not fancy but have lots of history behind them, much like Hussong’s did in Havasu before it went up in flames.
With Father’s Day coming up, I’ve got a hankering to get on the road once again and hit another one of those exotic rural destinations. Not wanting to go very far, Kingman, Arizona, and their world renowned Cracker Barrel Restaurant comes to mind. I’d hang around town for a meal, but unfortunately, no one here serves chicken & dumplings that I know of.
For us rural travelers, that’s one delicious lunch or dinner simply to die for!
“I’ve scored many hole-in-ones at miniature golf courses over the years, but most likely, I’m one of few people having done so in a go-cart as well.”
Years ago in Lake Havasu City, there was a miniature golf course located in the old Mudshark Pizza building on Swanson Boulevard. This is now the newly remodeled, yet still vacant Foundry building, with the upscale looking structure having a for sale sign on it for a couple of years, that sign just recently disappearing.
My wife and kids visited this defunct Havasu miniature golf course a couple of times on vacation in the 80s. It wasn’t large by any means in comparison to Golfland-Sunsplash in Mesa, but did give us something different to do besides the lake, or hanging out at Holiday Inn swimming pool. I’m referring to the old Holiday Inn that’s now named Hampton Inn.
I can’t recall if any of us ever got a hole-in-one while golfing at this local facility but it’s highly probable. It’s doubtful we ever visited one of these miniature golf courses without getting several.
I’ve played at numerous miniature golf course throughout the country with my favorite being a Putt Putt Miniature Golf course in Manhattan, Kansas. This franchised course sat next to a shopping center in the city, and was owned by an older man and his wife. It was meticulously maintained, which is what counts most to me. There’s nothing worse than putting and having your ball derailed by an acorn or gum wrapper.
At 12:27 PM, on March 30, 1981. I was playing this Kansas course with my wife and her brother, Calvin Freeman. The reason I know the exact time and day was that President Reagan was shot at that precise moment.
The old guy owning the business came running out of his little golf shack and told us the shocking news, quickly piping a live report over his outside speakers. Besides that owner, we were the only three people present at this time. Memory of such sticks in my brain like it was yesterday.
A year or so later I revisited the place on a rather cloudy day. It was just my brother-in-law at this point, with the owner watching us from inside the hut. We’d reminded him beforehand about being there when Reagan was shot, and he remembered things well.
On that second visit, Calvin and I were in a tightly contested game when lightning and thunder came up with a fury. Kansas electrical storms have a way of doing that just like in Arizona. Neither of us wanted to stop even after rain started falling. The owner, evidently afraid that lightning would strike us, handed out a refund including two passes for free games.
A couple of years went by before we drove back to Manhattan solely for the purpose of using those passes, finishing that game, and finally declaring a winner. Pulling into the parking lot, sadly, this golf course was gone with nothing showing that it’d ever been there. That happens a lot to these entertainment facilities as the one in Havasu is testament to.
Something else we often did on our vacations was ride go-carts, especially the Malibu Gran Prix cars in Phoenix and Tucson. Those bigger Malibu cars had 440cc snowmobile engines in them and were quite fast. My daughter was in one of their conventional lawnmower-engine powered rigs. It was her first time behind the wheel.
Most all of these machines have remote kill switches that employees use to stop a cart if something goes wrong. This device didn’t work on Miranda’s when she drove off the track, underneath a chain link fence, ultimately crashing into a big thick hedge. My daughter was unhurt, yet the manager wasn’t where nerves are concerned. This guy was so stressed that he gave us free tickets for additional rides, including drinks. I suppose the fellow had potential lawsuit on his mind although we’re not that type of people.
Havasu at one time had a nice go-cart track located on Lake Havasu Avenue, with it best seen from Highway 95. The cars they used were not on the same caliber of Malibu Gran Prix, but fun to drive, nonetheless. I visited that track a couple of times before it was shutdown, finding things a blast like I generally do with these type of venues.
On another such track in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, sometime in the 1970s, it was extremely hot outside, and the sweltering asphalt was oily and slick. Drivers were told not to leave the course because sand on the outskirts of the raceway would go flying into machines, and they’d have to thoroughly be cleaned before reuse. Doing so was grounds for immediate expulsion.
Thinking there was no way one of these low-horsepower cars could possibly slide off the course, I pushed mine hard into a sharp curve, and it did just that, with me ending up stuck in a sand pit of sorts, something like those sand traps in actual golf courses. They weren’t very happy and I wasn’t allowed to reenter the track for obvious reason.
I’ve scored many hole-in-ones at miniature golf courses over the years, but most likely, I’m one of few people having done so in a go-cart as well. Sometime in the late 1960s, there was a go-cart track in Anchorage, Alaska, three miles from where we lived. I would’ve been around sixteen at the time. This seasonal track was located on Boniface Parkway near a tool rental place. Going there one night with several friends, we raced each other in some doggy, three horsepower, Briggs and Stratton powered carts.
One of the employees suddenly appeared in a cart and blew around us like we were standing still. Observing that he had one hand reaching around back of the engine, I knew exactly what this guy was doing. Having owned gas powered mowers going back to the beginning of time, it’s easy to disable a governor allowing one of these engines to rev beyond its limit.
On our next race, I reached back and opened things up, so to speak, exactly like this attendant had been doing. Whizzing by my friends like my cart was on steroids, a young worker was evidently screaming obscenities at me, although I couldn’t exactly hear what choice words he was using. Just as this employee started to run out on the track and flag me down, my cart backfired with a pop, and then departed this life with a big cloud of blue smoke following. The attendant was extremely angry saying that I’d just put a hole in the piston. Evidently a valve came loose and that’s all she wrote.
When I told this irate fellow I was only copying him, the guy quickly calmed down, probably not wanting such information leaking out to his boss. That’s when my friend, Rod Sanborn, came up from behind and slapped me on the back. Much like golfers do to a fellow player after they’ve hit a hole-in-one, Rod said something like this to me,
“I’m not so much into this living the dream theme like I was when younger.”
I visited a local taco shop the other day looking to score a couple of shredded chicken burritos. Love those things especially with bell peppers and grilled onions crammed inside. Waiting for my food, I asked one of the young workers taking orders how it was going.
“Livin’ the dream!” was his reply and I immediately chuckled.
I’d heard that statement plenty of times over the years—even using it myself. It’s generally said in sarcasm, even so, I’m sure there are some folks out there actually meaning what they say.
This fellow should’ve been happy just to be working, although that seems to have gone by the wayside considerably since my generation… Okay, stop right there. Young readers don’t want to hear about our generation no more than they want us talking about theirs. It’s been that way going back to the beginning of time.
I suppose to some millennials, living the dream would be akin to a Paris Hilton floating around the world on a trillion dollar yacht, with servants at every corner waiting to refill their glass of Perrier-Jouet champagne. I can only assume that’s what these people drink based on stereotype alone. Hey, Paris Hilton might even crave Hires Root Beer like me, in a crystal glass of course instead of aluminum can.
For us older folks, living the dream takes on different meaning after passing sixty, at least for this old man it does. Living the dream means crawling out of bed without my back kinked up to the point where I can’t… you fill in the blank, because it’s different for all of us.
Living the dream is being able to park my car, and as I limp to the store, turn around seeing that I actually got it between the lines, for once.
I’m not so much into this living the dream theme like I was when younger, these days, just give me the living part. I always dreamed I’d own a Lear jet, but that never happened. At this point I could care less, preferring to drive everywhere I go instead of flying. You can can see a Hecht of a lot more country this way. A former coworker of mine, John Hecht, always used his last name out of context like that for a chuckle. He won’t mind if I do the same.
Never being one of those rich folks that Forbes Magazine likes to tout, even going so far as to rate them from one to a thousand, life’s been rich enough in other nonmonetary areas and there are no complaints. As I recall, Pastor Chad Garrison, at Calvary Baptist Church, once said that the poorest people in the United States have things better than something like 98% of those in third world countries. I might have the number off a tad but you get the point. If that’s the case, I’d probably be looked at as a zillionaire by those destitute people, sadly so.
Living the dream to someone in Ethiopia I’m sure is much different than what young and old folks in America equate things to. Having clean water is undoubtedly at the top of their list. Most likely, the same applies to residents of Mozambique and Somalia, while having something to eat each and every day is only a dream for some of these folks—nothing else.
Next time I hear someone tell me that they’re living the dream, whether in jest or being serious, I’ll smile and have something fruitful to say in return.
“I’ll never disclose who is who, but if you think a portion relates to you, then it’s probably true.”
I’m pretty much done with all that I can do with my new book, The Last Christmas Card, now having moved on to another. The publisher in conjunction with a publicist totally takes over at this point in trying to sell it with me having fulfilled my obligation.
In another blog article, I mentioned some of the events within this book as “somewhat” actual occurrences although not on the same exact level as written. What wasn’t mentioned is that bits & pieces of my friends, going way back, are also included in an extremely subtle manner.
When my brother first proofread things he made mention of that although I hadn’t said a word to him. There’s a disclaimer at the front of the book that has to be there to protect the publisher and myself from any liability. Most fiction works have them. Some friends that read The Last Christmas Card will probably take notice of something and say,
“I believe that could be me doing that!”
I’ll never disclose who is who, but if you think a portion relates to you, then it’s probably true.
I started this project in 2009 and stopped before it was complete finding the ending much too hard to compose. My wife came across the unfinished manuscript a little over a year ago, and after reading a few paragraphs, asked that I please finish it.
This book was designed to be read in two hours; highly condensed writing much like a poem. It could’ve been ten times as long but the overall story would still remain the same.
Once finished, I took time to set back and enjoy it – glad that Joleen pushed me to complete the mission. The ending that I was looking for came to me one night along with the town where I wanted things to occur, Council Grove, Kansas. That’s how it often seems to go, thus, I sleep with a notebook close by so when that happens, I can groggily get up and jot things down. So many times I didn’t and the thought was lost.
This is my first fiction Novella as it’s called. Hopefully you enjoy it as much as I did putting the story together!
“What Gabriel discovered sixty-feet underground could destroy the peaceful religious community forever, including surrounding areas.”
My latest book, “MENNONITE MYSTERY – Bizarre Saga of Hawkeye, Kansas” will be out early spring, 2024. The manuscript is complete and in the edit stages. Final book covers (front and rear) are being put together at this time.
The following is a short synopsis on what this fiction story’s about:
“In 1934, the United States Government quietly purchased over a thousand acres of grassland near the ghost town of Hawkeye, Kansas, adjoining the old Geoff Schmidt farm. Shortly afterwards, strange things begin to happen, with some type of top secret operation taking place. Only a handful of Mennonite brethren knew the reason why, yet under the strictest of orders, weren’t allowed to say a word. Thirty years later, area resident, Gabriel Schmidt, out of pure curiosity, began searching to find out what transpired back then. Almost ready to give up, he was ultimately led by a higher power to continue pursuing things to the fullest extent. Only then, did the unfathomable truth come to light. What Gabriel discovered sixty-feet underground could destroy the peaceful religious community forever, including surrounding areas.”
“Some of the stuff found in antique stores and on eBay have no more right being there than a life insurance agent does at a funeral.”
I’ve heard a certain statement over the years repeated by many people that goes something like this,
“It really isn’t worth anything other than sentimental value!”
I first recall hearing that line as a child most likely coming from my mother, although all four grandparents might’ve used it as well. As a kid, I wasn’t tuned in to what sentimental value was, yet by my teen years, I began to somewhat grasp the meaning.
Mother had a tiny porcelain figurine of a lamb that her mom once owned. Now worth perhaps a couple of bucks at a garage sale if even that, she hung on the knicknack like it was a crown jewel. Story goes that Mom was fascinated by the figurine as a young girl, yet was forbidden to play with it. Undoubtedly, all five of her sisters were told the same and that’s why it survived.
Going through her things, I could’ve just added it to other stuff being donated to local charity such as the Hospice Retail Store here in Havasu, but that didn’t seem right with this little lamb. Even though the sentimental value of this object didn’t exactly apply to me, its family history does. A handed-down-story was attached to that lamb, and that story with figurine should be passed along to my children and grandchildren. I’ve since learned that what I think here and they think isn’t always the same.
Dad evidently had no use for items of sentimental value, because when he died there were relatively few things left from his childhood. I suppose to folks like him, simple objects from their past were nothing more than useless junk and ended up being tossed or sold. I’ve run into several folks, family and friends, that believe this same way. There’s no right or wrong here so who am I to condemn them.
A friend once told me that antique stores are basically graveyards for people’s stuff. I know what he meant having been to numerous such stores throughout my life. I take things a bit further than Jeff, saying that an antique store is not only a cemetery for items, but a place where sentimental is no longer attached to value.
Some of the stuff found in antique stores and on eBay have no more right being there than a life insurance agent does at a funeral. Family members are well known for “claiming” something of dad, mom, or the grandparents under the guise of sentimental value, only to sell it down the road for financial gain. In some cases that was their intention to begin with.
Thankfully, stuff that my grandparents left behind including my parents has no real financial value. They do possess sentimental value with significant family history still attached. That little porcelain lamb is a prime example. I like to simply hold it, knowing that Mama Haynes once did the same, including Mom and her sisters, although for them it was quickly taken away.
I’ll keep it around, along with an old sewing machine that Grandma Hankins once sat in front of and pedaled, her wrinkled hands teaching me at an early age how to use. You see, in my mind, sentimental and historical value far outweighs the few dollars that can be had for these items. If my kids or grandkids decide to part with either after I’m gone, they’ll hear a couple of great-grandmas yelling at the top of their lungs from way up high!
“When Banquet frozen dinners start melting along with Minute Maid frozen orange juice you’ve got a real crisis on your hands.”
I was in a southside grocery store the other morning when a bell started ringing much like those heard on a large ship. An automated message immediately came over the intercom asking for a perishable manager to come to the dairy section. I happened to be in that department getting a gallon of milk at the time. Having worked as a stocker and cashier at Proctor’s Grocery in Eagle River, Alaska, years ago for a short while, I don’t recall anyone having the title of perishable manager.
Perhaps they should have because I remember a freezer going down overnight when no one was around, and the next morning a bunch of us quickly shuttling goods to an outside frozen food locker. It was a little too late because most of this stuff was already partly thawed.
Not wanting to be one of those vultures following ambulances or firetrucks to accident scenes, nonetheless, I hung around the dairy section of this store waiting to see what transpired. Most likely, those clanging bells I heard were meant as a warning to hustle, much the same as when Code 99 comes across a hospital loud speaker signifying cardiac arrest. I was in a hospital once when that happened, with nurses and doctors seemingly coming out of the woodwork all on a dead run to a certain patient’s room.
Several minutes passed in this supermarket as I stood around like a vagrant watching for things to happen. Not seeing anyone rushing to the scene I decided to leave. At this point, a plainly dressed employee with no badge calmy walked up with a laser thermometer and pointed it inside the dairy case. Maybe it was just me, but it appeared this worker didn’t see things here as a real emergency. I don’t know what the temperature reading was in that case because I wasn’t tall enough to see over his shoulder, although I tried. It must’ve been okay because the young man walked away laid back and unconcerned like when he first arrived.
I suppose had that bell sounded and the robocaller asked for a perishable manager to come to frozen foods it might’ve been a different story. When Banquet frozen dinners start melting along with Minute Maid frozen orange juice you’ve got a real crisis on your hands. During midsummer, when it gets really hot outside and I’m having to shop, sometimes I venture to this section and leisurely stroll through. I’ll even open a door or two just because I like the feel of twenty degree air hitting my face and body. I’ve seen other seniors do this as well, although none have admitted like me that the reason is to cool off. That short burst of cold air sometimes allows my underarms to chill which is a really good feeling.
Should one of these frozen food freezers ever go down when a slew of us seniors are gathered around it, hopefully, the perishable manager sees fit to call a repairman right away. It might be nice if this employee also knows CPR. Jus’ sayin’. And one more thing. Why not change the title of the position to “cold enforcement” with perhaps a badge to wear dictating such. People like me would then know to give these folks the same respect due cops and firemen.
“Exactly what life accomplishments to place on a two-foot by two-foot chunk of granite took some serious pondering, being that I have so many.”
A letter specifically addressed to me arrived in the mail the other day, and I had to chuckle after reading the following message inside:
“A grave marker is how people will remember you long after everyone you know has passed, so you’d better make it good. When done well, it can provide a sense of one’s style in life. The epitaph should be pithy, the shape and style memorable. You could go for the classic granite slab, or opt for something a little more memorable.”
Of course, this advertisement was from a statewide monument manufacturer trying to coax me into preordering one before my time. No one else would claim that a grave marker is a person’s living legacy. It had me thinking of what would be the ultimate gravestone for a jokester. Of course, I’d definitely want one “a little more memorable” as the letter mentioned.
The ultimate tombstone would be one with a list of my life accomplishments chiseled into stone, so that those folks walking through the cemetery, after stopping and reading, would think more highly of Michael Hankins. Exactly what life accomplishments to have engraved on a two-foot by three-foot chunk of granite took some serious pondering, being that I have so many.
Early on, at five years of age, I escaped Sunday school one morning by faking a trip to the restroom, and then walked a couple of miles only to be caught. I’ve never bumped into anyone else having made it that far. At least I survived my escape unlike those three men trying to leave Alcatraz Island in 1962. This story alone would take up the whole stone so I’d just have to say: Escape artist.
At one o’clock in the morning, as Dad drove our family from Texas to Alabama, I accidentally shot my camera flash into his rearview mirror causing the old man to drive off the road without crashing. To simplify things on my memorial it would simply read: Photographer.
While on vacation in Lake Havasu City, and riding a rental personal watercraft on the lake, I popped things into reverse doing forty just to see what would happen. Catipulted a good twenty feet as my son watched, I survived other than having the wind knocked out of me. I’m definitely not the only person having done that but most likely one of the first. A simplistic description here for my marker: Stuntman.
Accruing nine speeding tickets before turning eighteen, and not losing my license or insurance thanks to there being no computers back then to log data equates to: Racecar driver.
Having my first checking account and not taking into consideration the balance didn’t reflect some checks not clearing made me a: Bouncer.
Playing catcher on a church softball team and having the crotch totally rip out on my weathered jeans, yet continuing to play while folks I didn’t know silently laughed: Exhibitionist.
Getting lost in a Phoenix parking lot after walking out of a large mall, and not being able to find my rental car for over an hour: Discoverer.
There’s many more accomplishments, yet I believe the stone’s now full. In fact, there’s not enough room left for month, day, and year. Perhaps, preordering a tombstone with that in mind isn’t such a bad idea after all?