Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Life Passages - Part 3

(Continued from Part 2)

I was excited about the opportunity of teaching in Chile.  This particular school taught English to miners who worked for an American company just north of Santiago.  The term of employment was to be for one year.  I spoke to a Canadian teacher at the school to get her opinion on the job.  I already spoke Spanish and I saw this as an opportunity to improve my Spanish reading, writing and speaking skills.  I had a plan to offer my house in the mountains east of Albuquerque up for a 1 year lease.  I would take my pension early so I had a monthly cash flow. happens.

Ron in 2005

I met Ron early in 2005.  He lived in Rio Rancho, about an hours drive away from my home in Tijeras.  We started going out.  He had a house and business of his own and he was charming.  He endeared me to him when he brought me home-made chicken soup when I got very sick.   He loved travel, the theater, and dining out at good restaurants.  We enjoyed each other's company and spent weekends making little road trips to out-of-the-way places in New Mexico.  We took trips to Arizona, California, Colorado and Los Cabos, Mexico.  I had found a companion to share my love of travel.

He asked me to turn down the job in Chile and then he asked me to marry him which I accepted.  I moved into his house in Rio Rancho.  We got married in January, 2006 in Poway, California and then we flew to Ireland for a honeymoon.

I got my Substitute Teaching Licensure and began substitute teaching in the Rio Rancho schools. I got paid $70/day and $35 for a half day when teaching kindergarten.

Working at home for ETS
Teaching English at Southwest Creations Collaborative
Through membership in my professional association, TESOL,  I saw an ad for on-line raters for a Test of English for International Communication (TOEIC) offered by Educational Testing Service (ETS). I applied and was provided training and I was certified to score the TOEIC test at home on my computer.  The hours were flexible and allowed Ron and I to travel.  The pay was $10/hour.  After a couple of months of TOEIC scoring, ETS offered me an opportunity to qualify to score the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL iBT).  After training, I was certified to score the TOEFL Speaking and Listening Test in September, 2006. It was a good fit for me in semi-retirement.  I would work when I wanted to in either 4, 6.5, or 8 hour shifts any day of the week.  I worked at home.  I started at $14/hour and later made $18.54/hour.  A good part-time job for me.

I also continued to do volunteer ESL tutoring for the CNM Literacy Program where I was able to create my own original teaching materials and have face-to-face interactions with wonderful ESL students. I especially enjoyed my time teaching English at the Southwest Creations Collaborative in Albuquerque where every employee gets 2 paid hours of English language training each week.

Employees at Southwest Creations Collaborative are immigrants from Mexico and all need English language training

Most recently, I volunteered to tutor English language learners at Central New Mexico Community College (Montoya Campus).  My students were primarily Arabic-speaking immigrants.

Now, after more than 10 years of working for ETS, I am hanging it up.  I worked my last shift on December 22, 2016.  I may continue to do volunteer ESL tutoring.  There is an opportunity to teach English to newly arrived immigrants from Africa which I may undertake in 2017.  For now, I will work on my hobbies like painting and photography and plan some more travel with my husband.  Our next trip is a cruise to the Western Caribbean in February. Next summer, I will continue to volunteer for the Forest Service as a Wildflower Interpretative Guide in the Sandia Mountains.  I have done these summertime wildflower walks since the summer of 2009 and have frequently posted my wildflower walks on this blog.

It's been an interesting life so far.  I've done a lot of different jobs.  I've learned that you may not always get to work at jobs which interest you, but jobs you needed just to make money or train for the job you really want. Planning and preparation are important.  But sometimes, randomness brings you jobs that are enormously satisfying. Plus, I have been a mother and raised two fine daughters who are now married and working in their own careers.  Mary now has two young daughters, is finishing her college degree, and works as a District Manager for Starbucks.  Amanda has her own business and volunteers in many capacities including mentoring young women in jail.  I believe my life has set a good example for my children just as my own hard-working parents set an example for me.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Life Passages - Part 2

(Continued from Part 1)
After starting my job at NCR, I learned how to stuff and solder circuit board assemblies, to run auto-insertion machines, and to read blueprints.  These circuit board assemblies were for the new digital cash registers that scanned prices.  I liked the work and the camaraderie of my fellow co-workers who were mostly female, black, white, Mexican and Filipino.  We would share communal dinners, talk about life, love and anything else, and then head to the clubs for dancing and drinking when our shift ended at midnight.  The Teamsters were trying to organize the Sony plant and I went to their meetings and took membership cards to NCR.  I put up flyers in the stalls of the restrooms telling people about their right to organize.  We hadn't received a raise of any kind but, as NCR ramped up production, the company hired new workers for more money than we were receiving and we were expected to train them.  In September, 1977, my car pool riders heard that General Dynamics was hiring and we all applied as electronic assemblers there.  General Dynamics was the largest private employer in San Diego and it had good benefits and wages and a union.  I and three of my co-workers were immediately hired by General Dynamics Electronics Division (GDE).  I started at $3 per hour and got a cost-of-living raise of 11 cents an hour within two weeks (per the Union Contract).  I got fully paid medical insurance after three months and dental insurance after one year.  I got two weeks paid vacation and five days paid sick leave after one year.  I got life insurance, a stock and savings plan with a 100% company match of stock for every dollar we put in,  I also began a five-year vesting period for a retirement pension.

At GDE, I built circuit card assemblies, wiring harnesses, and electro-mechanical assemblies for government defense contracts.  In 1979, we went on strike.  We were trying to get better wages but President Carter's Wage and Price Controls capped defense industry wage increases.  We did get an increase to our pension and some other concessions.  We built wonderful solidarity during that time.

I developed friendships from my years at General Dynamics over the years that were the most important in my life.  The people I worked with were the kindest and most caring people I've ever met. In 1980, I got married and my co-workers gave me a bridal shower.  My co-workers were loyal and helped me to get elected to union office.  I was now an elected shop steward and an officer in my local union. I worked hard to give them the best union representation they deserved.

I applied for a promotion to Offset Printing Press Operator.  When they hired an outside employee, I filed a grievance and won because our union contract guaranteed that qualified current employees have preference for a job opening over new hires, and I was certainly qualified. I worked in several bargaining unit jobs during the 19 years that I was hourly: I was a Group Leader for Assembly,  an Inspector and a Stock Clerk.

In 1985, I was elected as the IAM&AW Business Representative to represent all the union employees in the three divisions of General Dynamics in San Diego: Electronics, Convair, and Space Systems.  I heard grievances, represented employees in arbitration hearings and Unemployment Appeals, wrote briefs and negotiated contracts, trained union stewards and worked on election campaigns and organizing campaigns.  I won my first arbitration case for a terminated employee and got a decision that reinstated him and gave him full back pay.  Although not quite a lawyer, I was doing a similar job and had to go up against high paid lawyers of General Dynamics in both arbitrations and contract negotiations and I always held my own.   I was elected twice by the union members and I did this job for 9 years while on a "leave of absence" from my regular job. The union members paid my salary from dues.  My kids learned first hand the value of unions and they were active in solidarity marches and strikes.

Amanda and I marching in Washington DC for Solidarity Day
Mary helped picket United Airlines to stop union busting

 We also enjoyed family union picnics and even a pig roast at the beach.  These were wonderful days from the early 1980's until the the early 1990's.  I got to combine my talents and capabilities with my love of working with people to improve lives and working conditions.

In the early 1990's, in a post Cold War economy, the U.S. Defense Budget was on the chopping block.  General Dynamics was selling off its plants to enhance their cash position and to drive up its stock price. The result was that thousands of General Dynamics workers were laid off in San Diego from 1991 through 1996.  It was a very tough time for all General Dynamics workers and the chaos and uncertainty sometimes generated workplace violence with my narrowly escaping a murder during a grievance hearing.  We had four Machinists Union Business Representatives in 1991, but two went on medical leaves in the midst of the most termination grievances we had ever experienced.  The other Business Representative, Paul Pechtor,  and I split up the Convair termination cases and Paul drew the Robert Mack termination case.  In January, 1992, Robert Mack, a 23 year Convair employee who had been suspended before the Christmas holidays, showed up at his grievance hearing with a gun and killed a company human resources representative and severely wounded his supervisor.   I actually felt relief when I was laid off from my stressful Business Representative job in March, 1994. I went back into the factory for a couple of weeks before I was laid off from my job, too.

During my lay-off, I went to work for Sir Speedy Printing and took classes at the Community College in Desktop Publishing with a goal to open my own graphics-related business. At Sir Speedy, my duties were not printing, but were estimating, bindery, shipping and delivery and copying documents.  It was hard work and I wasn't sure I would make it.  Then, one day when several casual day laborers who spoke only Spanish were having trouble with a shipping job, I spoke to them in Spanish and directed their work to a satisfactory end..  My boss was so impressed and I earned his respect. I had a mortgage and property taxes to pay and although the Sir Speedy job paid only $9/hour, I really needed that job.   I was separated from my husband now and raising two children on my own. I worked a second job at night in telemarketing to pay my bills but I was rapidly going into debt. My boss at Sir Speedy gave me a $1 raise which helped.  The General Dynamics Electronics Division had been acquired by the Carlyle Group in November, 2002, and the company remained in San Diego as GDE Systems, moving their operations to Rancho Bernardo.  I was recalled in 1995 to a job as an assembler when GDE Systems was awarded a Lockheed subcontract for the Atlas-Centaur rocket program.  The work paid $11.85 an hour and my benefits were restored and my pension time bridged, so I had to quit Sir Speedy and my goal to start my own business. I now assembled Gyro Assemblies and other sophisticated flight assemblies.  But I knew I had to make more money to pay off debts and enhance my marketable skills so  I went to classes at UCSD-Extension at night to get a Professional Certificate in Purchasing and Supply Management .

I was hired in 1997 as a Buyer and the manager of the Small Business Subcontracting Program at GDE Systems.  This was a salaried position and therefore I was leaving the protection of a union contract.  I was wary of this because I had been an active union advocate and many in management disliked me.  The Vice President of Operations, Kevin Harkenrider, who hired me convinced me that there would be no retaliation and he wanted me for my abilities.  Kevin was always very supportive but he lost his job in 2001 as many management changes occurred after the retirement of our beloved President, Dr. Terry Straeter.

My company went through a series of ownership changes the next 7 years during which I was primarily administering my company's  Small Business Subcontracting Program to insure compliance with the SBA and government goals.  Our company received many awards for our Small Business Program and we exceeded many of the SBA goals.

DCMA award for our Small Business Program in December, 2004.  Enid Allen (2nd from left) was the DCMA Small Business Manager and Dennis Bent (far right) was the Vice President-Procurement for BAE Systems. 
During these years, I traveled a lot for small business conferences and met wonderful people both in the government procurement world and the small business world. I frequently went to Washington, DC for the annual SBA Conference and I visited NYC for the first time.

A cruise up the Potomac River in Washington, DC

Visiting New York City
Another advantage to my job was that my youngest daughter, Mary, was able to get a college scholarship awarded to her 2002 by the company.

After our company was acquired by Carlyle, we went through a number of ownership changes from Tracor to Marconi Electronic Systems and finally to British Aerospace.  We were now a division of BAE Systems.  It was clear great changes were ahead when management began to show us videos  like "Who Moved My Cheese?" and my manager told me to get a Master's Degree.

I was thinking about a "second career" now because I could retire at 55 with 30 years of service and receive a pension.  I had always wanted to be a teacher, but I didn't think starting as a K-12 teacher was a smart idea with the low salaries and great patience you needed to teach in the public schools nowadays.  I loved travel, so why not become a teacher at an overseas English language  school?  In 1999, I  began night classes to obtain a Certificate in Teaching English As A Second Language.  I completed my practicum in 2002 at a local community college and began volunteer ESL tutoring for READ San Diego, to gain experience.

My first ESL student was Hermalinda Figueroa, a wonderful person from Oaxaca, Mexico who was working, buying a house, and raising 3 grand-children and taking care of her own elderly mother. She and her grandchildren are still my dear friends to this day.

I began a plan to enhance my skill set at the company to keep my job until I could retire at 55. I got a Professional Certificate  at San Diego State University in Government Contracts.  I began an MBA program at the University of Phoenix.  I got half-way through the MBA program with the help of the company tuition reimbursement program before I was laid off in 2004.  My division was now known as BAE Systems Mission Solutions.  I had worked in the Procurement Department for seven years and was laid off at age 54 on December 31, 2004 along with 7 other legacy employees in my department who were over the age of 55.  We were replaced by college hires who had fewer benefits and lower salaries than we legacy employees had.

My children were in college in other cities.  I had a huge house where I lived all alone. I had a couple of mortgages and was looking at more debt so I put the house up for sale and it sold in less than 2 months in the overheated California housing market.  I packed my belongings, my kitties, rented a U-Haul moving truck and drove to my new house in Tijeras, New Mexico in a rural area of the Mazanita Mountains, about 30 minutes drive from Albuquerque.  I was in heaven living in the midst of the national forest with nature all around me at 7,000 ft. elevation.  I began to remodel, paint and repair my new home to my liking.

My Tijeras home and the jeep I bought after getting 2 feet of snow in March, 2005
Long driveway from the road

Bandit and Precious loved their new home

My dining room

My living room 

Sunset view from my house in Tijeras
In Tijeras, now 54 years old

Amanda, visiting me in winter
My Tijeras home in winter

I was now settling down into a semi-retired life, spending my spare time on art and photography.  I applied to the local community college as an Adjunct ESL teacher but wasn't hired, so I began volunteer ESL tutoring in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I also completed a certificate in Teaching Business English with a goal to work overseas as an TESL instructor.

 I then began negotiations with an English Language School in Chile to work for them in a new career as an English Teacher.

Continued in Part 3.

Life Passages - Part 1

I retired from my job last week.  I've worked a part-time gig for more than 10 years scoring on-line TOEFL tests for Educational Testing Service.  The job served me well in my late fifties and early sixties.  It was done at home and was a totally flexible fit for my wanderlust lifestyle because I got to choose when I would work and when I would not.

Working as a TOEFL test rater was a good second profession after "retiring" (actually, laid off after 27 years) from my previous profession as a purchasing agent/subcontracts manager for BAE Systems in San Diego.   I was 54 years old and eligible for a pension when I turned 55 years old.  So I sold my house in San Diego and moved to New Mexico in March, 2005. New Mexico has a haunting beauty with deep blue skies and it is uncrowded.  The state has an interesting, diverse culture and a lower cost-of-living so it was a good place for me to retire. Now as I look back on my working career, I find that, like many folks, you don't always know what you'll end up doing.  You might have a plan, but mostly you fall into certain jobs that you never anticipated.

 I've worked a lot of different jobs.  In high school, I worked the kinds of jobs you do when you are not yet an adult.  I was a baby sitter and a house cleaner.  I enjoyed baby sitting and got about 35 cents and hour. When I was in high school, I scored a house cleaning job for my drama teacher.  Can't remember what I made, but that was a tough job.  I always appreciate what maids and house keepers have to put up with because of that dreadful experience.  I next got a job as a cashier and snack bar attendant at a drive-in movie theater.  The old guy who taught me the ropes was a bookie who eventually got busted. I only worked the summer in that gig after I graduated from high school in 1968. I was going to go to college and was lucky enough to have my parents' financial support.

I stayed at my parents' house while I attended the local "junior college" (as we used to call two year community college) as a freshman. Then I transferred to San Diego State in 1969 where I had a dramatic arts scholarship that covered my educational fees while my parents still provided me with living expenses. I took a summer job in 1970 as a counselor for children at a camp for the blind in the Malibu Mountains for a $200 honorarium.  I transferred to the University of California in San Diego located in beautiful La Jolla by the Pacific Ocean where I stayed in a dormitory and worked (for college credit) as a writing tutor for incoming freshmen.  My parents paid for my room and board and my student fees which were only $100 a quarter then (1970-71).  I did private tutoring of English writing that gave me a little  spending money.

As a senior in college, I took a job as a live-in companion for a schizophrenic girl. I thought that this job would give me some practical experience with social work plus  I received room, board and a small stipend.  I did that for one crazy year.  The experience definitely changed my mind about a career in social work.  When I graduated with a BA in December, 1972, I knew that I wanted to do something to make a difference in the world.

I applied to work for the United Farm Workers Union as a community organizer. By early 1973, I got a letter from Cesar Chavez saying I was hired and was to receive $5 a week, plus room and board, and gas for my car, if it was used for union business.

Cesar Chavez, UFW President, and John Waite,Migrant Ministry, who was in charge of San Diego boycott

I started out organizing boycotts of Safeway, lettuce and grapes in San Diego.  Then I was sent to Tucson, Arizona for 3 months to work on the Arizona Governor Recall campaign.  I registered voters and collected recall petition signatures 6 out of 7 days a week.

I worked on the Recall Governor Jack Williams campaign in the spring of 1973 in Tucson, Arizona
I returned to San Diego in the summer of 1973 and lived in a "Union House" in Logan Heights where we had Gallo Wine strikers working on the Gallo Wines boycott that summer.  We also went out to the desert and supported the lettuce strike in the California Coachella Valley against the Teamsters and growers where there were threats of violence, people were beaten and some strikers were killed.  There was always a fear that Cesar might be assassinated.  One day, I had to pick up Cesar Chavez from the San Diego Airport and I was so nervous as I was stuck in traffic so his son-in-law and bodyguard, Richard Ybarra , took over driving.  Cesar Chavez was a soft-spoken and inspirational leader who practiced non-violent direct action.  I am very proud to have known and worked for Cesar Chavez.

In December, 1973, I left the UFW and moved in with my boyfriend.  Impressed with the decisive  role of lawyers in the farm workers' movement,  I took the LSAT and applied to Law School.  I worked to support myself by doing food preparation and packing for a small manufacturing company.  My boyfriend and I bought a house in East San Diego and I was enrolled at the University of San Diego Law School by August, 1974.  I worked in the food factory five days a week and went to law school at night.  I lasted 6 weeks in law school.  It was just too much.  I had to read 50+ pages a night to be prepared to brief cases for the next day, work 8 hours doing strenuous factory work, and try to maintain a relationship with my boyfriend.  I withdrew "in good standing" and thought I would go back to law school "later in life". I took a job with Canteen Corporation as a cashier and cafeteria worker at the San Diego Union Tribune newspaper, a job I really disliked for all the weird shifts they gave me, sometimes with less than 8 hours rest.  But I needed money because I had now enrolled  in a Graphic Communications class offered by the Regional Opportunity Program at El Cajon High School.  I learned to do graphics layout, plate making and printing. I graduated in 9 months and was immediately employed with Postal Instant Press as a printer, quitting that Canteen job.  I loved doing offset printing.  I enjoyed seeing a job go from concept to finished product. I was in an entry-level job in "instant printing" but longed to learn the craft of full color printing.  I worked for the PIP Corporation for about a year but my manager was a heroin addict and he embezzled money from the store and was caught.  The Company brought him back after he promised to pay retribution and entered a treatment program,  I found out he was stealing again and that he was still using heroin when I found his drug kit in the bathroom.  He tried to fire me and he generally made my life miserable until the company "closed" the store and tried to fire all of us when they found out he was embezzling money again.  I quit.  I thought I would find a better printing job but this was 1976 and it was still rare for women to be printers.  My mom was a printer for Moore Business Forms in the 50's and early 60's,  so now I knew what a good  job she had when mostly men did printing.  I applied at the Union Tribune for a web printing job. I applied at fine printing companies where I could do full-color printing on multi-head printing presses.  No interest from anyone and I couldn't even get an offer from an instant printing company.  I tried to apply for unemployment but since I had quit, they wouldn't give it to me.  I learned later in life when I became a union representative, that I had a "constructive quit" due to impossible working conditions.  I was now living by myself in a studio apartment, the rent was due, and I had exactly $40 in the bank.

I desperately looked at the classified ads for a job.  Burroughs, an electronic manufacturing company, was hiring trainees to do electronic assembly.  It was located in an industrial park in Rancho Bernardo, about a 30 minute drive north of San Diego.  I put in my application and upon leaving, I decided I might as well apply at the rest of the companies located there.  So I submitted applications at Sony and NCR for electronic assembler positions.  NCR called me the next day and hired me for $2.77 an hour on the night shift as an Electronic Assembler Trainee.  And that is how I came to work in the electronics manufacturing industry for the next 28 years.  Totally random and driven by economic necessity.  To be continued in Part 2.

Friday, October 28, 2016

"I've come to look for America"

This post is titled from a line in the iconic song "America"  by Simon and Garfunkel:

It's a Presidential election year and America seems more divided than I remember in my lifetime of 65 years.  So, what an opportune time to take a road trip through the Heartland of America which is what we did this past summer.  Our pretext was to visit Ron's children and grandchildren and see some of this great country's landmarks and cities.  So click on the Simon and Garfunkel video, turn up the sound,  and join me as we all go look for America

We spent 17 days on the road as we traveled through Amarillo, Texas and stopped in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma in the midst of Thunder basketball playoff madness.  

This capital city of the state that gave us the preeminent American humorist of the 20th century, Will Rogers, was crazy united in their support for their basketball team that was fighting the Golden State Warriors for a shot at the NBA Championship.  This place where the National Cowboy Museum and the Rodeo Hall of Fame is, where several native american tribes and freed slaves were relocated from the American southeast in a forced march called "The Trail of Tears" between 1830 and 1850, and where the biggest domestic terrorist attack occurred in 1995,  was all in for their hometown team predominated by African American players and international players from New Zealand, Republic of the Congo, and Switzerland. Yes, this is America, celebrating its diversity in the heart of "cowboy country".

Traveling through Texas and Oklahoma which have strong oil and gas production, we noticed hundreds of new wind turbines providing a new source of jobs and revenue along with clean renewable energy.  This was very reassuring.  

Heading into beautiful Arkansas and the Ozarks, we had lunch at a swiss winery just off I-40 near Ozark. Who knew that Arkansas had wonderful immigrant settlements producing vineyards and fine wine?  We know about Walmart and Tyson Farms as strong components of this state's economy, and transportation and logistics and hydroelectric power are also big employers.  Wind power and aerospace are growing new industries for this state.  This is America, continually developing a diversified economy.

We spent the night in Memphis, the "Birthplace of Rock and Roll." Memphis was undergoing a crime wave fueled by drugs, gang violence, and poverty but is on the mend with less poverty and a jobless rate at it's lowest in 9 years in 2016.  We couldn't find a vacancy in the name brand hotels in Memphis, so we had to stay far out on the east side in a small motel operated by an east Asian immigrant family.   Yes, this is America, getting better and recovering from a shattered economy but still with pockets of poverty, despair and violence. 

We traveled on to visit the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville, Tennessee.
Crossing the Cumberland River into Nashville, Tennessee

Downtown Nashville

We loved the exhibits and special nature of America's home-grown music with its roots from immigrants like the Scottish, Irish, English, and Africans.  This is America singing it's songs of freedom, love and sorrow, of God and Faith, of our hopes and dreams.  

We headed north to Louisville where Ron was stationed in the 1960's at Ft. Knox in the army.  We stayed at  the historic and elegant Brown Hotel in downtown Louisville, Kentucky.  

In this town where the venerable Kentucky Derby is celebrated each year with fine hats, fast horses and expensive soirees, where the great boxer Muhammed Ali was born as Cassius Clay in 1942, we saw a renaissance of re-purposing old buildings, a vibrant small business community, a city with a grand plan to redevelop the downtown. We enjoyed one of the newer bustling independent restaurants as we dined on fresh oysters, fried green tomatoes, slow cooked ribs, and local crafted bourbon at a converted bourbon distillery warehouse called  Doc Crow's Southern Smokehouse and Raw Bar just off Mohammed Ali Blvd.   This preservation of the old culture with new millennial energy and entrepreneurship is America.  
Entering Cincinnati, Ohi

The next day we drove through Cincinnati and Columbus, Ohio on our way to Cleveland, Ohio to visit my husband's daughter, son-in-law and grandson.  These cities were bursting with economic activity and new construction everywhere. Ohio was very prosperous-looking as we drove along the interstate highways.  The use of the term "rust belt" for Ohio is outdated. One bright light is Honda that has built factories in Marysville, Ohio. Ohio is recovering from the recession but the recovery is uneven for Ohioans and there are still pockets of high unemployment, high rates of opiate addiction and thousands of non-college educated workers who will never work again in highly paid manufacturing jobs.  This is the transition economy with winners and losers that is America in a global economy. 

Downtown Cinncinati

Cleveland was the birthplace of my husband, Ron and he happily re-visited many places he had known as a young man.   His daughter promised to treat him to some of the great ethnic restaurants of Cleveland.
Sylman's in downtown Cleveland

Matzo Ball Soup a at Sylman's

Huge plates of pastrami, corned beef and french fries
Of course, we visited the great Rock and Roll Hall of Fame overlooking Lake Erie.
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with Max

Max learning about the history of rock and roll

A tribute to the inventor of the electric guitar - Les Paul

Our Nobel Laureate of Literature - Bob Dylan

A tribute to Roger Waters and Pink Floyd's The Wall
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on the shore of Lake Erie was designed by the great Chinese-American architect, I.M. Pei. Born in China, Pei came to the US at age 17 to study architecture and today is one of the world's greatest living architects.  This is the America of dreams where young unknown hungry artists feel the freedom to explore their desires to make an enduring culture that all the world admires.

Ron's daughter, Margaret, moved back to her birthplace of Cleveland from Davenport, Iowa a year ago.  She is now the Dean of Arts and Sciences at a liberal arts university.  Her son, Max, is 5 years old.  Her husband, Jeff, found a new job teaching in Cleveland. So life is busy for their family.

In Margaret's office at her university

Ron and I toured the beautiful campus at his daughter's workplace
One morning we went  to dine at The Flying Fig which bills itself as a "small eatery and bar," one of the newer businesses that have been opening up in the downtown area near the Westside Market.

Max perusing the breakfast menu

After brunch, we enjoyed the ethnic delicacies at the Westside Market, a place Ron hadn't been in 55 years.  Cleveland is a great city with so much to offer.  The city was looking forward to hosting the Republican Convention in June.  

Westside Market in downtown Cleveland

We enjoyed an extended family get together on Memorial Day at his daughter's home in Shaker Heights.  Nephews and a grand-niece and grand-nephew visited from Ron's birth family (he was adopted as a baby and has only recently discovered his birth family). Raised in a family with a Polish grandmother, he has now found his ethnic background is 100% Slovenian.

Memorial Day get-together at Margaret and Jeff's Shaker Heights home.  Ron with his nephews, Dan and Greg, Dan's wife, Lori, and their daughter, Lauren

Ron's extended family: Lucas, Lori, Dan, Lauren, Margaret, Ron, Max, Jeff and Greg
Jeff is a school teacher.  Margaret is a college dean.  Lori is a college professor.  Dan is a small business owner.  Greg works as an account manager.  Lauren and Lucas are college students.  Max is a kindergartner.  Ron owns a small business but is mostly retired.

This is America where the intact nuclear family with a stay-at-home mom are not the norm anymore. This is America where family traditional ties are still valued while embracing modernity. 

We left Ohio on May 31st and headed up to Michigan to Charlevoix, Petoskey, and Mackinac Island for 3 days of northern Great Lakes culture (good beer, whitefish and walleye). Charlevoix is a town settled by the French originally.  It has a place in Mormon history when James Strang declared himself King of a Mormon colony in 1848 on Beaver Island just offshore in Lake Michigan.  Strang was assassinated by disgruntled followers in 1856 and the Mormons were driven from the island and replaced by Irish settlers and Gaelic became the common language. Today, Beaver Island is a park reached by ferry boat from Charlesvoix. The weather was a bit unruly so we decided to skip the day-long tour of Beaver Island and instead explored the northeast shore of Lake Michigan.  This area has many fine homes and was and is the vacation destination for the wealthy.

We stayed in a condo in Charlesvoix.MI

Charlevoix is on the Lake Michigan northeastern coastline

Ernest Hemingway spent many summers near Petoskey as a young man at his family's lakeside vacation home.

We had lunch at The City Park Grill in Petoskey where Ernest Hemingway used to write. 

We drove a long, slow scenic drive around the northeastern shore of Lake Michigan from Harbor Springs through the Tunnel of Trees.  This area has full time residents but the economy primarily depends on summer and winter tourism.  There is even a ski resort near Harbor Springs.  

We took the ferry to Mackinac Island where there are no automobiles.  You must walk, take a horse taxi or ride a bicycle.  We stayed at the Inn on Mackinac and, although the season had just opened, there were no vacancies on the island.  We got one night at our B&B due to a cancellation. The island was very busy with visitors and a large Detroit Chamber of Commerce convention.  

Returning to the mainland, we crossed the Mackinac Bridge to the Upper Pennisula of Michigan and drove along the Lake Michigan shoreline toward Wisconsin.  Along the way, we stopped at one of the many "mom and pop" stores and tried pasties (a meat pie that originated as a meal for Cornish miners).  I purchased wild rice and maple syrup to bring back to Albuquerque. It was still early in the season, so visitors here were few.   I believe the auto industry probably fueled the development of this area for vacations and second homes in the last century. Now, that money is mostly gone.  In summer, people stay in cabins along the beaches for boating, fishing and swimming.  In the winter, snowmobiling and hunting are the main sports.  Still, it is clear that the demise of manufacturing in the Detroit area of Michigan has affected the economy of this rural area. We saw many tourist cabins and motels that looked abandoned.  We passed through northern Michigan towns on our way to Wisconsin. The towns looked like they were just hanging on with pensioners as their main residents.  This is America where manufacturing in the 20th century created and maintained a large Middle Class that now was shrinking. 

We spent the night in Eau Claire, Wisconsin where the clear and abundant river water has produced wineries, breweries and great farming. The Hmong people are the newest immigrants to an overwhelmingly white population in Eau Claire and they represent the largest minority community with about 3% of the population.   "Now Eau Claire’s largest and most visible ethnic group, the Hmong make up over 80 percent of the venders at the city’s farmers market, run successful local businesses, and have their own churches." This is America where long term majority white communities have pockets of new non-European immigrants bringing new perspectives and economic entrepreneurship. 

 We tried fried cheese curds and beer cheese soup at The Milwaukee Burger Company.  It was Friday night and there were long lines at this place.  People waited for more than an hour to be seated.  It was family night out as workers relaxed for the weekend at a popular hangout. This is America where family and friends still gather together for a weekend of good food, drink, sports and music.   

Trying fried cheese curds

Finishing off dinner with an ice cream sundae

The next morning, we drove through green farmlands in western Wisconsin and eastern Minnesota until we arrived in Minneapolis, Minnesota. We were struck by the many corporations that are located here.  This area looked very prosperous.  Even though it suffers from long and freezing winters, Minnesota is well-known for good government, good business, good health care, good schools, high employment and prosperity. We arrived in Chaska, Minnesota to visit with Ron's daughter, Anne, and grandson, Will, and grand-daughter, Milla. We visited The Landscape Arboretum and watched Milla play soccer and watched curling at The Curling Center in Chaska.

Milla, Anne and Will at the Landscape Arboretum
Milla playing soccer

Will, Anne and Ron watching Milla's soccer game

Watching curling games at The Chaska Curling Center while enjoying dinner at The Crooked Pint

After a couple of days in Chaska, we decided to cut our road trip short and go home without going on to Mt. Rushmore and the Black Hills of South Dakota.  We had two days of travel to get home to Albuquerque.  We drove to Kansas City, Kansas for the first night and then Guymon, Oklahoma for the second night. Guymon is a tiny town with an economy based on cattle feed lots, pork farms, natural gas and wind energy production in the panhandle of Oklahoma.  We found a delightful new restaurant in downtown Guymon called The Galleon Restaurant featuring a nice wine bar and Spanish-Mexican-Filipino fusion cuisine.    The place was packed with a majority of cars sporting Texas license plates for some unique ethnic dining in this town of mostly chain restaurants. It was very cool to see the local people, farmers and oil and gas workers, embracing new ethnic foods amid the standard barbecue, burgers, shredded pork,  biscuits, gravy and grits.  

Yes, this is America today.  Young entrepreneurs opening up new businesses and expanding our cultural depth and breadth, creating new prosperity even in older communities that seemed to be crumbling.  This trip taught me that Americans throughout the Heartland are a lot more open, positive, tolerant and hopeful than the daily news presents to us and it's clear that America has never stopped being great!  For it's many problems, there are an endless number of problem-solvers.  For it's many social and economic fissures, I believe America has far more people who are unified around common values and goals.