Mangan’s memoirs

A tribute to Bev Gibbs, my dad’s oldest sibling

My Aunt Bev, firstborn of the five children of Thomas Mangan (my grandad), died a week ago today. I spent a few days with family last week remembering what made her such a remarkable woman. My dad recalls how now and again he’d be reading a letter to the editor of the local paper “giving the politicians hell,” and then he’d see his sister had written it.

Bev should’ve been a journalist — she loved to write, loved to spout on politics, and had a human touch that would’ve invited people to tell her their stories. Well, at least one of us Mangans got into the news biz.

Speaking of stories, my Uncle Mike recounted a gem: Back in the late 1950s, he hitchhiked all over the West; I think he knew every pothole in Route 66. One time he caught a ride to Sacramento and got dropped off on Interstate 5 in a boiling stretch of the Central Valley.

After a good bake in the sun, he finally got a ride from a guy heading southbound. On the way south toward L.A. the guy asked Mike where he was from.

“Peoria, Illinois.”

“Really? I spent some time there myself. What’s your name?”

“Mike Mangan.”

“You know a Bev Mangan? I used to date her.”

“Sure I know her, she’s my sister.”

(This is my all-time favorite “small world” story).

Anyway, about a decade ago I interviewed Bev for a web project called SevenQuestions. These are her Q’s and A’s.

ONE

What happened to you as a a teen-ager in the 1940s that convinces you teens haven’t changed much in the past 50 years?

The biggest thing that hasn’t changed much is that every teen wants to be popular in school, no matter how far back you go. We would all like to be the cheerleaders, the jocks, prettiest or handsomest or popular with the other sex in the “in”crowd.

The biggest difference is in the ’40s, nobody shot you for it.

TWO

Another Tom Mangan — your father (my grandfather) — was a traveling salesman always strapped for a buck. What was something he did to economize that makes you laugh when you think about it today?

In 1937, I was seven years old and an only child. My Dad was making about $15 a week selling refrigerators. The only economy he practiced that I can remember is that whenever we ran up too many bills at one address, we would move so that the bill collectors would have to search for us, slowing them down a bit.

We always lived in apartments and many times just moved next door or around the corner. I must have driven the school record keepers crazy!

THREE

What you were doing when you heard Roosevelt had died?

It was a pretty day in April 1945. I had just gotten home from school in my freshman year and was talking to some friends. A man came by shouting “Extra, Extra” selling papers from the Journal. We bought one and read the news.

Everybody was devastated. I remembered the last newsreel in which I had seen him, he looked ill. I took the paper to my parents. My father cried.

FOUR

Tell a story from your first days as a new mother with Randy, your oldest son, that made you wonder if you were cut out for the mommy business.

As Ran is now 47 years old, it has been a while.

As a lot of new mothers find out after all the embarrassing stuff is over at the hospital, they are frazzled and nervous and now must take this little package home and take care of it. Their nervous reaction is passed right on to the baby and the result is “nervous tummy” which translates into lots of screaming, which can go on for days.

I for one would have gladly returned him, but there are no exchanges! Oh, the first day I knew, about 24 hours after we brought him in the door!

FIVE

What did you think of television when you saw it the first time?

It was at a neighbor’s home and I remember wondering how on earth they got those pictures to travel through the air.

I knew it would be a long time before we had one. A little later on, my husband’s uncle got one and we would go to their house after work on Wednesdays to watch “Dragnet” and have a few beers.

SIX

Who killed JFK?

I believe Oswald was a patsy, but he was there. However, he was not alone.; the mafia, the U.S. government (CIA) and the hatred of so many important people had a lot to do with it.

It was a major conspiracy. The movie “JFK” with Kevin Costner comes closest to the truth.

SEVEN

Describe something you learned late in life that you wish to heck you’d known all along.

For all the young people contemplating matrimony, remember this. What you see is what you get. Don’t go into marriage expecting the things you don’t like about him or her to change. They won’t.

Busta Move Chronicles Vol. 432

So the part where we move back in with the folks has been tried. Nice while it lasted, but we needed our names on a lease somewhere to remind us of the proper place for folks of our advanced years.

For those wondering about the difference in rent between the Bay Area and the middle of North Carolina, it’s about like this: twice the space for half the money. Groceries, however, are no cheaper.

I’m hoping to find more time for updates here … we’ll see.

Gettin’ hitched at Hanging Rock

“Let me guess, you’re looking for the wedding,” says the guy through my opened car window.

“No, I’m just looking for Hanging Rock State Park.”

Seems there’s a bridge out on the road to Hanging Rock, a state park highly recommended by local hikers. The guy standing by the road has been redirecting folks all morning. They’re all going to a wedding. Except me.

Well, that’s what I thought anyway.

So I take the detour, find my way to the park, get myself parked and all my gear strapped on, and set out in search of the nearest point of interest, Upper Cascades Falls. I figure the light might be good first thing in the morning and what the heck, it’s only .3 mile from the parking lot.

Then I wander down this wide gravel road, round a bend and see a large gathering of folks dressed oddly office-casual for a state park on Labor Day weekend. Of course by now I’ve completely forgotten about the guy on the road and all the folks looking for the nuptials.

So I blunder right up to the rail, look down at what everybody else is looking down at, and the first thing I hear is a male voice down there saying “now, let us pray.” On one side, a woman clad in white. On the other, a guy clad in black. Nearby, a bearded guy with a guitar.

My rule is, when the man says pray, you pray. In my case, I pray that these good folks don’t toss me down the ravine for crashing their wedding. Last I knew the preacher, bride and groom were breaking bread and getting ready for a Communion. I sorta slinked away.

As I’m making my way back up the trail, two women in heels are picking their way down the gravel trail, asking me how much further to the waterfall. “Don’t worry, it’s just around the bend,” I reassure them. They’re wishing somebody had told them to wear hiking boots.

The waterfall was lovely, by the way.

(More on the hike at Two-Heel Drive, if you’re curious).

Thoughts on driving across the United States

Map of the United StatesAmericans should have “traverse the nation by car” on their life list — the whole shebang of purple mountains majesty, amber waves of grain, obnoxious tangles of traffic (from the verse I would add to update the song for modern audiences) .

I wouldn’t recommend the method we employed last week, dashing across in five days. We went that route mainly to save money and reduce trauma for our cat, a full-voting member of the household. What I wish we could’ve done if unemployment weren’t a part of the picture:

Take two weeks

Aim for 250 to 300 miles a day rather than 600. You can do that in five or six hours, leaving time to get off the Interstates and take day trips to the really cool stuff. The only redeeming characteristic of a superhighway is its ability to get you from point A to point B. Everything worth seeing is on the state and federal highways that zigzag across the landscape.

Don’t use your own car

Driving your own car will encourage a major compromise: the drive to and from wherever you live. I think it’d be much wiser to buy plane tickets to and from the coasts of your choosing, and rent a car for your driving. Weekly rates are far more reasonable than dailies and you typically can get unlimited mileage. You save wear and tear on your own car and if it breaks down, it’s somebody else’s responsibility to get you back on the road again.

Don’t lock yourself in

Say you pull in for gas at a truck stop in Arizona and see a gift shop of alleged Indian artifacts across the street that you’d really like to check out because you’re into kitsch. A hard-and-fast itinerary leaves little chance for checking that stuff out. Some sites like the Grand Canyon simply must be seen, but if fun is the main goal of going on vacation, give yourself a chance to have some.

Time your travels around big city rush hours

The only thing worse than being stuck in your own town’s traffic jams is being stuck in somebody else’s. Left turns and lane changes that come naturally on home turf can be a white-knuckle nightmare in foreign cities.

Consider a criss-cross route

I’d love to do this in separate trips: San Diego to Portland, Maine, one year and Vancouver to Miami the next. These routes could add several hundred miles and a couple extra days of driving, but you’d get a far tastier range of terrain and weather.

I-40, I-70 or I-80?
I haven’t driven the far northern Interstates that go up into Washington state, but I can speak to the three middle routes.

I-40 runs from Wilmington, NC, to Barstow, CA, offering most of the southern United States from a single highway. It passes through must visit music towns of Memphis and Nashville and runs through Indian country through all of Oklahoma and much of New Mexico and Arizona, two states where you could spend months exploring the southern high desert.

I-80 goes from Chicago to San Francisco, crossing a thousand miles of prairie before the terrain gets interesting at the Wasatch Range dropping into Salt Lake City. The drive from Salt Lake to the Sierra is pretty dreary, but crossing the Sierra and driving down to the Bay Area is a wonderful drive (just avoid the weekends; the whole population of the Bay Area seems to head for the hills every Saturday and Sunday).

I-70 Goes from Baltimore to southwest Utah — crossing much of the Midwest farm country, which can be flat and boring, but it gets very exciting coming into the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains at Denver (the mountains loom dark and gray like a distant thunderstorm for several hours before you hit Denver; it’s one of the most impressive scenes in North America). I-70 continues through the spectacular Rocky Mountain heights and continues through the amazing canyon country of Utah.

Picking your route may be the hardest part. No matter which one you choose, you’ll give up something worth seeing.
Map of the United States

Alas, all vacations must end

Today is my last at the San Jose Mercury News. When I arrived in this crazy place of perfect weather and tolerant populace, it seemed I was on vacation from the first day.

All I had to do to remain on vacation was spend 7.5 hours a day doing something that came as naturally to me as waking when rested. The pay was not great, but it was good. The company was often cranky but excellent. What the people of San Jose and points beyond needed to know, we told.

Five days a week of playing on computers and fixing people’s grammar was all it cost to subsidize a 10-year vacation from blizzard winters and tornado summers. The weekends were mine; the mornings were mine. California was mine, at least my little sliver of it. It was worth having, full of things worth doing.

I once read you should live in Southern California but leave before it makes you hard, and live in Northern California but leave before it makes you soft. Either way, you don’t stay.

So, it’s back to working for a living (assuming there’s work to be had). Sure, I’m sad that the gravy train ran out of track, but the great thing about this world is they’re always building a new one somewhere.

California experiment successfully concluded

Around this time 10 years ago I was wandering around downtown San Jose on a sunny Saturday. I had a day to kill after my interviews at the San Jose Mercury News so I roamed the city’s mostly empty streets. People work and raise kids here, they don’t hang out downtown. A couple weeks later I had a job offer from the paper, which paid all the freight to move me, Melissa and our two cats to Silicon Valley.

Back then the valley was booming; now we’re working through our second bust, which has pummeled the paper and put many friends out of work. In three weeks I’m joining them.

I had an option of staying on while the Merc outsources its design and copy desks to Walnut Creek, about 50 miles north of here, but we decided it’s time to move on. We’ve worked under a cloud of doom for the past four years and we finally crossed our enough-is-enough threshold. The paper’s offering a modest severance package, just enough to get us across the lets-try-something-new threshold.

In the next three weeks we’re going to donate or sell everything that won’t fit into the Hiker Hauler. A couple days after my last day at the paper we’re going to pack up the car, head east to North Carolina and ride out the recession at Melissa’s mom’s place.

When we got here I published a series of pages called “The California Experiment” and have spent the past decade testing theories and observing behavior. Prime operating theories:

  • Vast wealth generated by the state’s abundant resources leads to delusional “we-can-have-it-all” attitude that generates government gridlock.
  • Vast wealth also creates pervasive “it’s-all-about-me” thought patterns (and their corollary, “it’s all about money”). There’s a great band out here called Me First and the Gimme Gimmes; it could not be from anywhere else.

Fundamental observations:

  • Staggering natural beauty encourages people to put up with aforementioned insanity. Just the idea of never hiking the trails around here makes my eyes misty (an improvement from yesterday, when the response was inconsolable grief.)
  • People come here and never want to leave, leading to permanent overpopulation.
  • If you put three Californians together, they will immediately start a suburb and a traffic jam.
  • Keeping your money in your wallet and away from those with superior claims is a full-time job. A sign at the Santa Cruz Municipal Pier just before you pull up to the toll booth says it all: “Have money ready.”

It feels like a good time to close down our California experiment and do something else with our lives, closer to family and sanity.

California seduces just about anybody with a trace of mad passion in their veins. But eventually you have to get out of bed and start living in the real world again.

So long, Merc, it was nice knowing you

My days are numbered at the Mercury News. We just settled a new union contract that punishes everybody to the tune of hefty pay cuts in the next year, but a few of us were singled out for extra spankings. All production — copy editing and page designing — will be moved to our sister paper in Walnut Creek, which generously pays its people at about 20 percent less than we earn. It looks like half of our production team will be laid off and the other half will get to soldier on with smaller rations.

Great time to be in the newspaper biz, eh?

I could just put my foot down and refuse to go, but I figure 80 percent of my Merc wages drains my savings considerably more slowly than zero percent, so I’m putting in for one of the Walnut Creek jobs. Walnut Creek is a nice town in the East Bay, close to tons of great trails. It also has BART access to San Francisco, unlike my current abode, and the rents are cheaper, so I don’t have any issues about living up there if I survive the cut.

I once wrote that I wouldn’t give up on the newspaper biz till it gives up on me. Well, the biz has its chance; we’ll see how it goes.

Survivor’s remorse

I’ve heard it said that in combat, when a soldier sees a comrade killed, “better him than me” flashes through his mind for just a moment. Then he spends the rest of his life regretting that one-second urge for self-preservation.

What’s happening to the newspaper biz is nothing like a battlefield … people will walk away with their friends and body parts intact. Some are losing jobs but they are not losing their ability to earn a living.

Still, I can identify with better-he-than-me guilt. Today the Rocky Mountain News publishes its last edition. My employer, who also publishes the surviving Denver Post, will be in much better shape financially, and by extension my paper’s prospects have improved. So my job is probably 3.763 percent more secure than it was yesterday. I don’t feel the least bit good about it.

The Rocky paid good union wages to its newsroom of 230 or so. A few of the paper’s stars got hired on by the Post but the rest are in deep doo-doo, economically. There are no other newsroom jobs anywhere in the country that pay the kind of wages they earned at the Rocky. Really, none.

I figure they’ll do OK … getting a paper out every day requires resourcefulness that’s always in demand (except, perhaps, now). The economy will turn around eventually, though minus a few more newspapers.

I’ve been expecting this day for 15 years. I remember thinking in about 1995 that newspapers had about five years till Internet broadband rendered them obsolete. Here we are nine years later and I’m still working for one.

But my illusions are gone. The end is no longer near. It’s here.

What dies with the Rocky is the age of big-city newspapers that matter. Papers of some sort will probably always be around, but they won’t be able to attract big-time talent until they can offer something better than more work for less pay. Maybe in a generation, after all the trapped-in-the-old-era farts like yours truly have been shunted aside by new blood, young newsies will be content to earn their stripes on starvation pay like cub reporters always had to do in previous golden ages of newspaper journalism. It’ll probably be good for the craft.

It’s not much consolation to the folks in Denver, I realize, but endings always lead to beginnings. Something newer, cooler, smarter, etc. will come of all this in a few years. And if it doesn’t I will still have successfully delayed getting a real job until I had to.

Comes a dawning

A couple days ago I was at work putting together a couple items for our “star watch” celebrity column when a statement from Will Smith struck me: he said he’d told his daughter she could grow up to be president, but now he actually believes it.

Here’s a guy, Hollywood Movie Star and successful beyond most of our wildest dreams, revealing something I suspect a lot of black people are thinking today: America, finally, feels like our country now.

As a white guy I could never presume to know what it’s like to be black in the United States of America, but I suspect it’s been like this: everything we have, The Man can take away. The man dragged us here in chains and kept us there for 300 years. Fought a war that supposedly set us “free” but treated us like dirt for another 100 years. It’s their country, we just live in it.

Until today.

A single Ivy League-educated half-white paid-up member of the nation’s intellectual and financial elite will not fundamentally change America’s race equation. But Barack Obama’s inauguration will say one thing: we don’t have to be the way we’ve always been.

It’s probably dangerous to read too much into what’s happening today: to be the first black president of the United States, you have to be Barack Obama, a guy curiously unaffected by impossible odds against him. Think of what he was up against 18 months ago. Beyond being a member of a racial minority with foreign first and last names and a notorious dictator’s middle name, he had almost no track record in politics. He wasn’t from an established political family. He was a complete outsider.

A guy like him finding a way to become president forces us to widen our ideas about what is possible and impossible.

Obama had no chance, and yet here we are today. Cynicism seems pretty empty in the face of that.

The Romenesko Effect and what it means for the future of news

Newsies read Jim Romenesko’s Media News page every day for fresh evidence of the demise of newspapers, journalism and all we hold dear.

I wonder how many realize that Romenesko is the future of news, and has been every working day for the last decade. What Jim did was vanishingly obvious: identified an audience with a shared self-interest and sent them a daily digest of news they were interested in. He doesn’t have millions of readers like Drudge or Perez Hilton, but I’m guessing he does have about 100,000 (roughly the number of people working in news, last time I looked).

What I’m thinking is: anywhere you can find a 100k audience, you can make a living as a journalist online. The hard part is identifying the audience. The good news is if you start writing about stuff they care about and send a constant stream of timely news via a blog, they will find you. It might take a year or two and you’ll have to bone up on developing a blog, learning search engine optimization and monetizing it via paid clicks (eg, Google AdSense) but the main thing is: those audiences are out there.

Awhile back my wife and I were talking about Caterpillar Inc., the world’s largest manufacturer of earthmoving equipment, which is based in my hometown. Cat runs everything in Peoria so it’s always creeping into the conversations of folks who grew up there. We reasoned that Cat has 100,000 employees worldwide who should be interested in a centralized site for Caterpillar-related news and links. Surely a company of this size with revenue in the tens of billions has a dozen blogs devoted to it already, right? Nope.

Now there’s one. I started Cat Stock Blog in mid-December with the idea of answering a simple question on the mind of everybody who works there: how’s the stock doing? I found a free service that provides free stock chart quotes, assembled a mass of links, designed my site logo and just started posting Cat news all within a week of coming up with the idea. The audience is small today, but over time people who work there will get in the habit of checking the site just as we newsies go to Romenesko every day. Here’s one interesting tidbit: Right now Cat workers represent a tiny fraction of my readership, meaning it could go well beyond the 100k figure.

I’ll be the first to admit that blogging about tractors is not the sexiest topic on Earth. I’d much rather blog about cars, movies, rock ‘n’ roll or walking in the woods, but the first three are covered to death and the last one has very small audience potential (hikers don’t blog, bloggers don’t hike; it’s just how it is).

Romenesko lucked out early on by securing a deal with the Poynter Institute, but I’m guessing by now his brand is strong enough that he’ll survive even if Poynter, which owns the St. Petersburg Times, decides he’s too expensive.

The rest of us will not be so lucky: we’ll have to fight, scratch and blog our way to financial security. It’ll force all of us to learn some things about the money side of the biz that we never worried about before. Maybe most of us don’t have all the aptitudes we need. But people in the news biz are curious by nature and addicted to the Next Big Thing.

The Romenesko Effect is simple: blog about something that hits people where they live — their jobs — and they start showing up, habitually. We can do it much better than anybody else can. If we let ourselves find that 100k audience, the future will take care of itself.