Tuesday, August 21, 2007

My Stories About Being A Bear Hunting Guide and Country Girls’ Delight Up In Maine

Here is a guide to my stories about being a Maine bear hunting guide and country girl's delight up in Patten, Maine at Katahdin Lodge and Camps. I will provide links to each of these stories, where they are published on a Maine web site. Some stories are on several web sites.

Just keep in mind that I need some professional editing help and I also need to do some other 'sprucing up' of them in order for me to be completely satisfied with these written works--but the stories sure as hell are interesting, entertaining, a tad bit educational, and (according to thousands of readers so far) fun to read anyways.

I hope that you enjoy reading one or all of them.

The House Fire is a nice, but scary one (it scared me when it happened, that's for certain). This one is for good gentle and not so gentle folks of all ages.

The Day I Fell In Love With Patten Maine ain't nuthin' like you will expect, and it is a mind blower. It's a real, small town, soap opera scene, and a teenagers' thrill a minute experience.

An Italian Nice Guy is a good bear hunting story that is really a chipmunk story. It is actually good for kids to read. No bears are even shot at in it. It is fictionalized a bit, but mostly true. I expanded on what I knew about Tony and his family, but they had to be real nice people.

Here also are copies of emails exchanged between myself and the Italian Nice Guy's family confirming that I wrote his story well.

The Rocket Scientist is a crazy trip about a genuine Washington, DC Rocket Scientist. It is about one of any hunting guide's worst fears and dangers.

Jungle Dirt is something which stands on its own. It was my first attempt at fictionalizing a true story. It is about a Vietnam Veteran's experience when he went bear hunting in Maine just three days after coming home from fighting hard for a full year 'Nam. It is a good story for all of us Vietnam Era Veterans and others who care about us, and how we were treated in America during and after the Vietnam War. Just about the only fictional parts have to do with the me making some descriptive guesses about the Nam Vet's mother and a small amount was expanded on to the guy's stepfather's description. Boss Hog on the Dukes of Hazard did look exactly like that friggin' jackass of a stepfather though.

Easiest Way To Carry A Dead Bear is a nutty piece, but it does give a damn good hunting tip. It gets right loony, ain't no doubt about it.

Bananastien is about young adults testing the limits in 1969 Patten, ME. Part of it gets real wild on the back roads.

Driving Northern Mainer Style is a basic "how to guide" on driving on those wild and woolly, climbin' and droppin', twisty and hard turning country and backwoods roads up there in Maine. And also how not to drive them roads. Within that written piece, there is also a story about how I nearly 'bought the farm' early one morning up on the Washburn Road, where it goes into the small city of Caribou, Maine. Ya' better tighten y'ur seat belts for this one.

My VW Bug Trip To Maine has a hilarious bear hunting scene in it, it's a hoot, and the rest of it is a wild, funny, and very, very happy story. It was about a trip of mine to Maine while I was on leave from the Army just after I had graduated US Army Photographic Laboratory Technician School, and before I was assigned to duty over on Okinawa. This story goes from Patten, ME down to Dundalk, MD and through a bunch of quite memorable experiences.

Then They Own You takes place in 1979, when I tried to work for my Aunt Martha and Uncle Finley Clarke in Maine one more time. They simply had no appreciation for anything that I did for them. They wanted me to work my entire life for them at Katahdin Lodge without receiving a salary and while they seriously mistreated me. I did have some great times at Katahdin Lodge, but it wasn't worth the emotional abuse that they heaped upon me. Neither my Uncle Fin nor Aunt Marty ever said one good word about the work that I did for them. To this day, they refuse to acknowledge what I did up there, when a Baltimore suburbanite kid went way up into the Great North Woods of Maine and became a bear hunting guide and country girl's delight who never made one serious mistake while living and working there.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Baltimore Sun Newspaper Article, About Sparrows Point Maryland Steel Mill, Which Quotes Me

The legacy of Sparrows Point
Steel mill, company town, center of community life

By Tricia Bishop
Sun reporter

August 5, 2007

For the better part of three decades, as Richard Offley grew from a boy to a man on the peninsula between the Patapsco and Back rivers, the Sparrows Point steel mill was at the center of community life.

Back then, it was still owned by Bethlehem Steel Corp., as it had been since 1916, and many of its employees lived in its namesake company town. The mill put food on their tables, maintained their schools and churches and sponsored the softball teams.

"'The Company,' we called it, whatever the Company wanted, that's pretty much what happened," said Offley, 62. "They owned the town, they owned the fire department, they owned the police department. Basically, they ran everything that had to do with our lives."

But those days are gone. For some locals, Sparrows Point is essentially dead and news of its pending sale to a group led by Chicago-based Esmark Inc. unremarkable. When the announcement was made Thursday, it drew little more than comments about domestic owners versus foreign ones and the occasional shared memory.

"This is the fourth owner in four years," said Lionel van Dommelen as he perched on a bar stool and surveyed the lunchtime crowd at his Dundalk restaurant, the Sea Horse Inn. "It's not a big shock."

Back when the mill was in its prime, steel workers drank their way through 70 barrels of beer at the inn every week, he said. Now, the bar sells 10 to15 barrels' worth, mostly to retired General Motors workers. Only a handful of van Dommelen's customers work at Sparrows Point.

The mill that armed America during World War II and helped turn Baltimore into a major port has a tenth of the work force it had in its heyday.

Shopping plazas that once bustled with mill family business are barren. Many of the bars where mill employees had their first after-work beers are gone, as is the town of Sparrows Point itself, dismantled in 1973.

The pensions of many retirees have been gutted. And graduates of Sparrows Point High School now head off to college, not the mill.

"It's only the older people who remember what it was like," said Offley, who spent summers toiling at the mill while he was in college, preparing to become a teacher. Now retired, he volunteers at the Dundalk-Patapsco Neck Historical Society and Museum.

"The younger people, their interests are elsewhere, their employment is elsewhere for the most part. I don't think it means as much to them by a long shot."

For many of those raised in the area, the mill's ghosts are everywhere -- on street signs with names like Steel Avenue and Bethlehem Boulevard; in the independent welding and excavation shops dotting Dundalk and Edgemere, many begun by laid-off mill workers; and in the Turners Station neighborhood, which is still predominantly African-American. Black mill workers were allowed to live there -- but not Dundalk -- during segregation years.

Across the street from the mill, machines could be heard faintly humming. The dirt they stirred up lingered in the air over nearby Edgemere, where new homes mingle with the old.

And at North Point Boulevard and Sparrows Point Road, Jocelyn Palmer, 19, stood behind a restaurant counter on a recent afternoon, taking orders.

The structure was built in 1941, originally a Gulf station selling gas for 19 cents a gallon, but Palmer knows it as Pizza Roma. She's worked there three years, returning this summer after semesters spent in college out of state studying hospitality management.

From the front door, Palmer can see the mill, straight ahead on the horizon. Her grandfather worked there once. So did an uncle.

"Way back, when our parents were growing up, it was booming, and now it's dead," she said.

No one she knows from her 2006 graduating class at Sparrows Point High School went to work at the mill. No one even talked about it. "I think, one day," she said, "there will be no business there at all."

Teenagers of the 1940s, '50s and '60s living in the Sparrows Point company town, and in neighboring Dundalk and Edgemere, knew that well-paying careers were always waiting for them at the mill. They counted on it.

But their successors, who watched parents and grandparents lose mill jobs one by one as the company cut costs, rarely even consider it.

"What kid wants to go to work at a place where their father was laid off more than he worked?" said Joe Cristy, who grew up in Dundalk and still lives there.

"Now, when kids come out of school, they have to find jobs that they use from their shoulders up, their mental faculties, not from their shoulders down, their physical labor. Those jobs don't exist anymore."

Cristy was a third-generation mill worker, taking his first position there in 1966, when he was 18, before he earned a degree from the Johns Hopkins University. At the time, Sparrows Point had about 27,000 employees, down from a peak of almost 31,000 in 1959. The numbers kept falling as the demand for steel waned. Today, fewer than 2,500 people work there.

Cristy said he knew the jobs he relied on growing up wouldn't be there for his son, who's now 30 and lives in North Carolina with his own family.

"I knew the financial situation of Bethlehem, I knew the import/export situation, I knew we weren't putting money into the facilities," said Cristy, whose final post at Sparrows Point was as general foreman of the No. 3 rod mill. He was laid off in 1991.

In 1997, Bethlehem Steel sold its shipyard. In 2003, Bethlehem went under, and Ohio-based International Steel Group bought what was left of it, including the mill. Then, in 2005, Netherlands-based Mittal Steel Co. NV bought International Steel. And Thursday, Mittal agreed to sell the Sparrows Point mill under a Justice Department order so it could complete a merger with another steelmaker.

But the community is largely unmoved.

"Nobody's going to believe [in the mill] now," said David Robert Crews, 57. "The guys' pay got cut, pensions got cut, medical got cut, seniority was wiped out for some of them. I don't know all of the details, but it was pretty bad."

Crews' parents grew up in Sparrows Point as he did, before the town shut down. He now lives in Dundalk and pays homage to the region through his blog, "Blue Skies over Dundalk Maryland" (davidrcrews2.blogspot.com).

"It's changed," Crews said. "Now, nobody I know really trusts [the mill]."

Last month at D.A. Designs in Edgemere, George Morgan pulled out his wallet to pay for a fresh haircut, cradling the small oxygen machine he carries to help him breathe. Morgan has pulmonary fibrosis, a scarring of the lungs often associated with inhaling irritants, such as dust and dirt.

He worked at the mill for 31 years. "I hated the job," he said.

At 81, Morgan has stories to spare. He and his sister were the first set of twins born in Sparrows Point, he said, delivered by a doctor who drove a Model-T Ford door to door on his rounds. He remembers hot summers before the days of air conditioning, hanging out on porch swings, spraying friends with hose water.

When he was 15, his family built the Gulf gas station that has since become Pizza Roma.

When he was 22, he went to work for the mill. There, he met his wife of 66 years (a telephone operator), and they raised six children, all of whom got college educations and scattered throughout the state.

"It was a good life," he said. But now it's gone, along with much of his pension. "For all people around now, it's a done issue."