I'll leave it at that because Mark Evanier does a far-better job telling about it all, and how enjoyable it is, and you can read that here because I agree with pretty much all he says, except for the part about knowing many of the people involved...
Saturday afternoon I went to see the new play, For Piano and Harpo, written by and starring Dan Castellaneta (who as you may likely know does, among many things, the voice of Homer Simpson). It focuses on troubled musician/actor and bitterly-sarcastic wit Oscar Levant who spent a year living at Harpo Marx's house. The show is very well written and acted, and has an interestingly-staged, fast-paced production which, though a drama, is often quite funny. The show is at the Falcon Theatre in Burbank, and still has one more week to run, so if you're in the area, it's worth looking into.
I'll leave it at that because Mark Evanier does a far-better job telling about it all, and how enjoyable it is, and you can read that here because I agree with pretty much all he says, except for the part about knowing many of the people involved...
A short while back, I mentioned that Nick Melvoin, son of my friend Jeff Melvoin, was running for the Los Angeles School Board in next month's election. As you might imagine local elections, because they're so focused and personal, can be quite feisty. As you might not imagine, this can include the School Board. (Yes, really, the school board.) You know, those races you usually don't vote for because you don't have a clue who anyone is, what the issues are, and who would do the job best..
Stick with me, there's a point to this all.
By way of background, Nick Melvoin is quite an accomplished and impressive young man. He graduated from Harvard, has a Masters degree in Urban Education, and then decided that this wasn't enough so he got a law degree from NYU. After that, he did some work for the ACLU, worked in the Obama White House with the Domestic Policy Council, and also clerked in the U.S. Attorney’s office in civil rights cases. And then, with a wide range of highly-substantive career opportunities now available to him...he got a job teaching in the Los Angeles inner-city in Watts -- where teaching English wasn't enough, so he also coached baseball and soccer. And in his spare time helped students start a school newspaper.
All of these things, along with his proposals, helped him just get the School Board endorsement from the Los Angeles Times for his District 4 race -- which is impressive enough for a young, first-time candidate...but even more so when you realize that one of his opponents in the race is the current president.of the L.A. School Board! Beyond this, Melvoin was also endorsed by former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan.
It's not often that school board races gets attention, but there have actually been TV ads for the race, critical of that school board president, Steven Zimmer. (No, the TV ad did not come from Nick -- I asked, since it seemed so surprising. He's done very good fund-raising...but not that good. A TV ad for School Board??) Much of the public criticism about Mr. Zimmer, aside from other issues, centers around a plan with iPads whose special software never worked and turned into a disaster, wasting $1.5 million.
Last week, the Zimmer side struck back at the general criticism, and a mail flyer showed up trashing two of his opponents, one of who was Nick. The slam against him was that Nick Melvoin was apparently in the pocket of "billionaires." This got repeated several times since being in the pocket of anyone, let alone "billionaires" seems an attention-getting charge.
The thing is, there were a couple of head-scratching oddities about the mailer.
The first is that...well, it didn't name any of the billionaires. You'd think if you were charging someone with being in the pocket of billionaires, and kept repeating it, you'd name them. All of them, since that was the whole reason for sending the flyer. At the very least, you'd name one billionaire. And shine the brightest spotlight on it. "Look, over there, it's one dastardly billionaire!!" But, no, nobody is named. Just a generic charge of omnipresent and apparently venal billionaires. Mind you, it would be nice to know who any of these "billionaires" are -- even if it's just one -- because there are some perfectly respectable billionaires around. Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, Richard Branson, and Phil Knight, for starters. But no, no one is named. Just generic "billionaires." It tends to make one think if you aren't willing to name a single billionaire out of all you allude to, you might not be able to support the specifics of your charge. Which tends to be frowned upon.
The other oddity is that this flyer doesn't even really say what devious matters all these unnamed billionaires are doing to manipulate their personal candidates that is supposed to absolutely horrify us. The closest it gets is saying that Nick Melvoin supports charter schools, and so do these mystical "billionaires" (who the flyer seems to suggest also own some. Or own just one. Sorry, it doesn't say how many. Nor name any ). But the problem is, that can't be their big "in the pocket" devious issue, since charter school aren't devious -- they're part of the U.S. public school system, schools that any child can go to (with high academics) and generally have excellent performance records. Now, to be clear, for all their support, not everyone may support charter schools. But they hardly are the sort of crooked, smoke-filled room deals that one associates with billionaires putting politicians in their pocket. That's generally centered on getting government approval when acquiring land-and-mineral rights and missile guidance systems.
Ultimately, all this presupposes too that "charter schools" are the sort of high-yield ownership investments that billionaires are apparently so-known for loading their portfolios when building their financial empires. Lining their greedy pockets with charter schools -- indeed chains of charter schools, all sprouting up across the land, like a national empire of McCharters.
(Now, to be fair, we might have one clue about the billionaires. Not all of them, but the former Mayor Richard Riordan is a billionaire, and he supports charter schools. Horrors. The thing is, as far as I know -- and the flyer doesn't say otherwise -- he doesn't actually own any. Just thinks they're good ideas for public education with strong track records. And therefore he's endorsed the candidate who supports them. So, it's hard to find anything underhanded there, either. I'm guessing he paid for the TV ad. Who all the other billionaires are, though, it's not clear...)
And that's where the odd charge by Zimmer forces remains. That Nick Melvoin is, for some mystical reason, in the pocket of a rash of unnamed, manipulative "billionaire(s)" -- who support a form of public education.
Because, as we know, someone who graduates from Harvard, gets a Masters in Urban Education, earns a law degree, works with the ACLU, gets a job at the White House, clerks with the U.S. Attorney on civil rights and then goes to teach in the inner-city and coaches baseball, soccer and start a school paper -- is just the sort of person on the lookout for billionaire's payday...
If Nick Melvoin -- indeed if someone, anyone with those credentials -- wanted to be in the pocket of "billionaires," he'd have raced over breathlessly to Wall Street years ago, and be halfway up the ladder to his penthouse by now.,
But no, he took that "teach in Watts" and "run for the school board" route as a far better, faster and more clever way to riches and easy street.
Local politics can be fun. Sometimes though it's much more loco.
Ultimately, though, when someone makes unsubstantiated charges with unnamed participants of an uncertain problem, and it's all about support for a form of successful public education, the sense of desperation comes through strongly.
Thanks to Nick Melvoin's website, though, forewarned is forearmed, so the public can at least be on the lookout for the face of Machiavellian greed.
I'm a big believer in saying nice things behind people's backs. I have been known to write letters of complaint, and I feel that if I'm going to complain I have an obligation to praise when something is done well. Besides that, people really like it, they're so appreciative, and sometimes I even getting better service down the line. But mainly, I just think it's the right thing to do. And in the end, I feel good about it.
I was wondering through my local Ralphs grocery story today. (Not to be confused with Ralph's Pretty Good Grocery in Lake Wobegon.) And as I browsed the produce section, I saw a group of what appeared to management types checking it out. I've seen that on occasion here -- and for some reason it's always the produce section. The store is fine, nothing great, some things very good, some things ordinary, but they have a pretty nice produce section. It's not so much that the section itself is so great (it's definitely good), but it's very well-run and the people there are very nice and helpful. So, on those times when I've seen the Management Gaggle, I like to go over and praise the section.
I sought out the person who looked best-dressed and seemed most officious. I figured that he might be from the produce division in the area or something, so I asked if he was the one in charge here. No, he said, it would be that woman -- he pointed -- she's the president of the company. Well...boy, howdy, I picked the right group to send out some praise.
I went over, and asked if she was in charge. What I always love is that you can see in peoples' eyes a quick look of concern, since I'm sure most people come over to complain and ream them out, and the relief and pleasure in their faces when they realize you're actually giving praise is a true joy. So, I dive right in and don't let that momentary look of fear linger.
Needless-to-say, she was very pleased by my praise. (Not as pleased, I'm sure, as the person in charge of the produce section there, and the store manager, hearing this in front of the Big Boss...) We exchanged some pleasantries, and she noted my Cubs cap and talked about that, as well -- saying it was the first time she'd ever watched all seven games of a World Series when her favorite team wasn't playing. (I said that, yes, having a 108 year wait has an effect like that on people.) And then I wandered off.
But then, I realized I had a great opportunity to follow-up on something that did bug me about the store. I walked back over and said I had a request. There's a company called Mrs. Richardson's that make toppings which the store carries (like hot fudge and butterscotch). It's very high quality and wonderful. They also make a fat-free hot fudge topping that is stunning, otherworldly. I'm not a chocoholic at all, but I've sometimes eaten this by the spoonful -- it's rich, creamy, remarkably delicious, and hard to believe it's fat free. Years ago I could find it here, but not for years. I could mail order it online, but the shipping cost is deeply prohibitive, unless you order about a dozen jars.
I implored them to consider ordering it for their store. They already get Mrs. Richardson's products. And they have two other fat-free hot fudge products, one from Smuckers that is tasty, but not close to Mrs. Richardson's. I said that I understood if they didn't think it was something that would sell, but I at least wanted to bring it to their attention. In fact, the store manager said, fat-free hot fudge is a good seller, and he would personally look into it and have it in the store in a week. I am not holding my breath on that -- hey, for all I know the Mrs. Richardson's company doesn't ship that product to the West Coast for some unknown reason -- but I live in hope.
I do know one thing though -- if I hadn't started the conversation with a totally random praise of the produce section, my request wouldn't have been met with the same response.
And it helped too that I picked the right group to ask this to, with the president of the company there...
For those who aren't as fortunate as to run into the president of your local grocery store chain, and who are willilng to pay for shipping prices, you can find the Mrs. Richardson's Fat-Free Hot Fudge topping here.
'Tis the season for Propositions on the California ballot. It's a long tradition in the state -- and one I've grown to detest. In fact, years ago, I largely gave up voting on Propositions because I'm so opposed to the system as a terrible way to make laws, and have pretty much no interest in participating in the system or helping to perpetuate it. The only time I'll vote is when there is a proposition that strike as so deeply important that it would be irresponsible to ignore it. (This year, there are three, out of the many.) Other than that, no, I don't vote on them.)
I came to this conclusion when, after years of meticulously reading the lengthy booklet sent to voters to describe in great detail the Propositions, along with unbiased analysis, pro and con statements and cross-arguments, and then the exact, convoluted wording of the laws themselves -- that I just didn't want to read it all anymore, and if I (who eat up elections like a near-religious experience) wasn't planning to read the long booklet, then it was pretty likely to most voters didn't. And relied only on TV commercials. And this is no way to make laws.
This is an article I wrote for the Huffington Post seven years ago that deals with the problem with the Proposition system in California, and it holds today.
California Propositions are a Bankrupt Idea
Quite a few years back, I had a debate with a friend. I disliked California’s Proposition system, he thought it was great.
I am here to proclaim victory in the debate.
The Proposition System in California, while noble in theory, is an ill-thought out disaster. Somewhat like New Coke, the Edsel and Viet Nam. Miserable failure was the only likely outcome.
It was based on the premise of full-participation democracy of an informed citizenry, but even the Founding Fathers understood that that had its limits. America is not a democracy, it’s a representative democracy. This is the concept that most people just want to know where the On switch is for their computer, not how electronics works. When it comes to laws, just pass the things, and if we don’t like them, we’ll vote you out.
However poorly one thinks of politicians, the Proposition System is worse. It starts with the faulty premise that the voting public is going to willingly study a thick guidebook. The voting public didn’t willingly study even thin guidebooks when they were in high school and required to. Instead, with propositions, they turn to watching 30-second TV ads to learn what the laws are about.
Watching 30-second TV ads to learn what a law is about is like reading a fortune cookie and believing that you now understand Eastern Philosophy.
Initially, the Proposition System had its successes mixed among warning signs. That’s when the legal equivalent of the San Andreas Fault hit in 1978. Proposition 13 – the most appropriately-numbered law ever. This wasn’t just bad luck, this was The Big One.
For years, a crotchety coot named Howard Jarvis would annually try to get some loony proposition passed against having taxes. It was wildly entertaining, though a bit annoying, like watching a rapid dog yowl nightly at the moon. But in 1978, the moon yowled back, and his co-sponsored Proposition 13 actually passed. And the joke was on California.
On the surface, Proposition 13 appeared to be about limits on property taxes. What it actually did was send California crashing to ruin. It wasn’t just that revenues plummeted, but that Proposition 13 required a “supermajority” of two-thirds vote in the state legislature for any tax increase.
The resulting problem is that the public keeps voting proposition initiatives to improve the state – yet they vote against bills to pay for it. And the state itself is unable to raise revenues to make up the difference.
(Side note: in the comedy, “Airplane!”, a passenger gets in Robert Hayes’ cab, just as the cabbie leaps out. That’s actually Howard Jarvis. He sits in the taxi the entire movie, the butt of the joke, as the meter keeps running. Alas, talk about a prescient metaphor. California’s meter has been running ever since.)
The additional problem with the Proposition System is that, unlike when a legislator puts himself on the line when passing laws, there is no one to vote out of office if a proposition screws things up. No one is responsible. So, the death spiral continues.
The result is that the California budget deficit is now $26.3 billion. The state sent out IOUs last week.
Certainly, there are many causes for the problems California faces today. But the root of the problem is that the California Proposition System is a system that allows reckless action without accountability. And worse, it’s a system that increasingly does the very opposite of its original intent of full democratic participation of the public: the more propositions, the less the public wants to study them all – and the fewer people who vote. In the most recent special election this past June, specifically to deal with the state’s budget crisis, voter turnout was a paltry 28.4 percent.
Worse still, because of another proposition – term limits – representatives know they have no political future, regardless of what they do in office, so there’s no need to work out issues in the state legislature with your opponents, but just vote in self interest. The result is gridlock.
When you let politicians do what you elected them to do – for all the good and ill – at least you are getting 100% of the electorate represented in the results. And if you don’t like those results, you can vote your officials out. But with the Proposition System, a mere quarter of the public is at times deciding how the state should be run. Based on watching 30-second TV ads. With no accountability.
How can anyone be shocked to discover that people vote for things they like, vote against paying taxes – and a $26.3 billion deficit is created because a near-impossible two-thirds supermajority is needed to fix things?! And you throw out your leader to bring in an movie actor with no political experience to get you out of the mess.
This is no way to run a democracy.
Make no mistake, it crosses all parties.
In California, majority doesn’t rule. It’s the tyranny of the minority, but worse it’s too often the tyranny of the irrational. The California Proposition System may have begun with a noble intent, but it was ill-conceived, and has become selfish, greedy, mindless, unworkable and a disaster.
There is only one proposition worthy of having on the ballot and voting for. A proposition that would get rid of the California Proposition System.
It's come to this. Today is Vin Scully's last game at Dodger Stadium announcing Dodger baseball after 67 years. Fortunately, it's not his last game, yet. That's still be pushed back a few days, since he'll be going up to San Franciso to end the season. And his career. But this is his last game before the home crowd.
On Friday, the Los Angeles Dodgers honored the fellow with an emotional ceremony. And here are three videos of that event.
It starts with a lovely 3-minute tribute video, "Thank You, Vin," that was played to the crowd on the big scoreboard. I have no doubt that it was a challenge figuring out what to cram into three minutes, and mostly it's some impressive people talking about Vin Scully, but they did a wonderful job.
This is the Introduction of Scully to the crowd, hosted by by current Dodgers radio announcers, Charley Steiner. Not much is said here, but it's not silent. That's because it's three minutes of cheering and a standing ovation, as people like Sandy Koufax, Don Newcombe, Clayton Kershaw, Kevin Costner, Tommy Lasorda, Peter O'Malley and others look on.
And here at last is Vin Scully's gracious, charming speech. There's one oddity -- when mentioning the year he began broadcasting, he says 1958, which is long enough away, but the actual year was 1950. I have a feeling that what he's referring to is when he first began broadcasting in Los Angeles, after the team moved from Brooklyn. That might have been implied, in his mind, but I just wanted to offer a clarification.
And offer his farewell.
There is one huge bonus for living in Los Angeles. Listening to Vin Scully do the play-by-play of Dodger games. As Scully winds down his otherworldly, inexplicably-great 67-year career, I’ve been able to tune in to radio and watch as many of his TV broadcasts as possible. True, I’ve been able to watch and listen to him for the past 40 years, and I have, but not being a big Dodgers fan I haven’t remotely been a steady listener.
When I got to L.A. in the mid-1970s, I was okay following the Dodgers -- hey, it was baseball, and a top-notch major league franchise, though only up to a point. I wanted to enjoy following them as a "second team" (after the beloved Cubs, of course...), but there was a hurdle. What I disliked about the team as a Cubs fan (who famously haven't won a World Series since 1908, or even been in a World Series since 1945) is because the Dodgers were in an era when they got to the post-season regularly and fans just assumed it a natural course of life. The attitude really annoyed me for its arrogance. Beyond just that, though, I remember reading a description of Dodgers fans that I’ve found spot-on, which has always part of my annoyance with them and the team. I think it was written by the great Washington Post sportswriter Thomas Boswell. It was basically, “Dodgers fans absolutely love the Dodgers. They just don’t especially like baseball.”
But…no, it’s not possible to dislike Vin Scully. He’s pretty conservative politically, and on a very rare occasion that does creep in his commentary, or an interview with him, but you let it pass because it tends to fly by, and he’s just too great. And when I say that, how great it is, it's worth deep perspective. I come from a town which had three Hall of Fame baseball announcers, so my standards for comparison are pretty high. I do have one friend who hates Vin – in part colored by his politics – but his opinion on the subject is nuts, and we nurture him like a special-needs child…
So, it’s been nice to “participate” in his send off as the season winds down. His last game in Dodger Stadium is this Sunday. But even though he stopped traveling with the team several years ago for road games, he’s making an exception this year and going to go up to San Francisco to do the final three games of the season there. And yes, to be clear, and to repeat, he’s as great as his reputation. Still.
I was thinking of writing a tribute, but didn't think I could do it justice. Especially since there are others who have followed Scully's work far more intimately. And I came across a terrific, new article in GQ magazine written by Keith Olbermann which is wonderful. Overflowing with deserved praise, but in a perspective of Vin Scully being great, but human, with occasional, though rare baseball flaws. Besides which, it's filled with some great tales.
One of those concerns a pompous radio broadcast who was "Number One" at the time. Though unnamed, it appears that it is likely Rush Limbaugh. The story is interesting for two reasons -- one, that if it is Limbaugh, it's interesting that Olbermann does name him. And that, being conservative himself, Scully cuts him down to size with grace and subtlety.
But it's the last story, that oddly refers to a rare gaffe, this is the most pure-Vin Scully story, and a gem.
My only quibble is that though Olbermann references Vin Scully almost becoming John Maddon's partner on football broadcasts, he leaves out that Scully was a football announcer on NBC for a while. And that he also broadcast golf, as well. Eventually, he decided it was all too much, and went back to just baseball. Where he was a master.
You can read it all here.
That was the main point of this, Keith Olbermann's article. But then I realized that it's not possible to write about Vin Scully and not include a clip of him broadcasting. But what to use? I decided not to have a clip of him doing play-by-play. Though Vin does it far better than all others, everyone does play-by-play, that's the point. (Though how great is he? Okay, here's a link to something I posted previously -- the tale of his legendary call of the final inning of Sandy Koufax's perfect game, and then the call itself: you can read and listen to it here.) Instead, I decide to post Vin Scully not doing play-by-play or A Classic Call, but rather what he does that no one else does nearly no remarkably. And that's telling stories and keeping his listeners informed and entertained between pitches. Here is, calling an game, and all the while filling in his listeners on the history of beards. This isn't necessarily the best of Vin Scully...not even close, but that's what makes him so special. That this is pretty typical of him.
And for 67 years.
Read the article above, check out the Koufax call, and find out about something you probably didn't know. That's Vin Scully.
A few weeks back, I posted the tale of an email exchange I had with an American Airlines customer service rep over a series of problems I had on a recent flight, and it was one of the more impressive, thoughtful apologies I've gotten over the years. I particularly liked it because I tend to fly American, and have for decades, and have fairly substantial miles in their AAdvantage Club. In fact, I recent decide to make the leap and got an AAdvantage credit card, where you earn double-miles and get other bonuses for flying American.
And it all seems for naught.
The reason is uncommon and wouldn't affect most people. And it isn't a case of being upset with the Airline over bad service. But it is a big problem that doesn't seem to have a resolution one would like.
Setting the background to the story, several weeks ago I applied for a permanent TSA PreCheck. I have it applied randomly and if you've ever had reason to take advantage of it, you know it's wonderful. But "randomly" is the problem, since you never know. So, for just $85 over five years, just $17 a year, I applied for a standard PreCheck where you get a KTN -- Known Traveler Number. The process was extremely easy, you apply online and then set up an appointment to answer a few questions, get finger-printed, and pay. Then they do a background check -- and shocking as this might be to some people -- I passed. It takes a few weeks to get the letter of approval, but I got an email the very next day.
So, now on to the tale.
A couple weeks ago, I flew American again from Los Angeles to Chicago and was dropped off at the main terminal at LAX. It turned out that American is doing construction at the airport, and so my flight instead left from the Tom Bradley International Terminal. Fortunately, I’d left enough time to walk over, but that's not the problem.
As you might imagine, it’s a bit problematic not knowing where to be dropped off for your flight. One can always call ahead of time, and I suppose should, but I suspect most people don't.
Anyway, after reaching the Bradley Terminal, I then headed to the gate. To those who've never flown from this International Terminal, let me explain that it's a journey. Having enough nourishment ahead of time helps. So, there's more time you need to leave ahead of. But that's not the problem either.
The problem is the International Terminal does not have TSA PreCheck facilities, which defeats the entire purpose of having just paid for the TSA PreCheck approval. (Again, fortunately I left early enough, even though expecting the short TSA PreCheck line.) My hope was that the construction work would be completed soon, and then the world would go back to normal.
I wrote back to my American Airline customer service buddy and explained this all, and asked if he knew when the construction would be finished. I got yet another lovely note back from him -- since my email addressed some other points, as well -- and then he came to the kicker.
He had looked into the issue. The good news is that the construction should be finished soon. The bad news is that American Airlines has no plans to stop using Tom Bradley International Terminal as a departure point for some of their flights. And the further problem is that the International Terminal has no plans to put in TSA PreCheck facilities.
This is not A Good Thing.
Not knowing which terminal one's plane is going to fly out of is not good. Having to make an incredibly long walk to your gate is not good. But permanently using a terminal that does not allow for TSA PreCheck is a deal breaker.
As I wrote back to the fellow, I thought it was likely that I would end up cancelling my AAdvantage card -- and eve more, probably stop taking American Airlines. There's no point, it's just too inconvenient...and on a lot of levels. And the thing is -- he understood and agreed. He said he hated to lose me as a long-time customer, but he said he couldn't make an argument why I should continue.
As I said, this isn't a situation that would affect most people. For starters, you have to live in Los Angeles. And also, you have to have a TSA PreCheck KTN. And probably having an AAdvantage card probably helps. But unfortunately, I fall into those cracks perfectly.
I'll still fly American on occasion, because I still have a lot of miles to use up. And I'll do my best to get flights that leave from the main American terminal. I don't know how possible it is, but I'll try, even if it means changing flights the day before -- which one can do when using AAdvantage Miles. And maybe they'll stop flying from the Tom Bradley International Terminal. Or who knows, maybe I'll move elsewhere. But until any of that happens, I'll likely be ending my long run on American Airlines.
Of course, an additional loss is that I'd finally found a wonderful pen pal at American Airlines with who I could write with my concerns. But now, that's gone with the wind...
I've already gotten another double-miles card for air travel. It's not the same -- having an airline's own card gives you benefits, like first group boarding which has become very valuable in this day of full flights. But that's the way of the world.
And so we move on.
Last night, I spent the evening at the Hollywood Bowl, for Garrison Keillor's final show as host of A Prairie Home Companion after 42 years. As I wrote here yesterday, I first saw PHC when it was just a local show in St. Paul, Minnesota, when I went to visit my brother who had been writing me about it. This was probably at least three years before it became a national weekly program. So, it was quite a moving experience to be there for the last show.
Keillor came onstage 10 minutes before the show started, talked a bit and performed a couple of songs. One was a funny, original song, "Ah, the Stories I Will Tell," that touched a bit on him leaving, and had a verse --
I never got fired
Because I'm the boss.
And I have no regrets
Due to memory loss.
Today, the present becomes the past
And four decades went by so fast.
And then a duet with Christine DiGiallonardo, "If Not for You." He also answered the question why they were doing the last show on Friday night rather than in their regular Saturday two-hour timeslot from 5-7 PM. "A few years back we did our show here at the Hollywood Bowl at our regular time -- and some of you were there and have finally recovered. (Which got a big laugh.) As he explained it, to do a show with a 5 PM start Central time, that meant having to begin in Los Angeles at 3 PM. And the sun in Los Angeles at that time in July was not even remotely conducive to the program. "You don't do outdoor matinees here." And so, that's why they did it the night before.
He also noted that the audience there at the Bowl will hear almost all of the show -- but they prerecorded one segment which will get edited into the broadcast. That seemed odd...until it turned out the reason. President Obama called. So, that's what will be included.
Interestingly, that pre-show song that dealt with him leaving was one of the more up-front references to it the entire night. There were some minor comments and songs with leaving as their subtext, but not much that was directly about him leaving. Really only two pointed segments. One was a sketch near the end when the cast members brought up that this was "your final show -- how do you feel?" And he kept having to explain that in Minnesota you don't discuss your feelings. This lead into what he planned to do after leaving, and it turns out that his dream was always the circus. (He described an act he had he mind, with a monkey and some other animals, noting that after writing a new show every week for 40 years, it would be nice to do the same act over and over again.)
The other was the News from Lake Wobegon monologue. It wasn't directly about him leaving, but that was the clear subtext. Talking about how when he wandered through Lake Wobegon the other way and looked at things, what it made him think of. (Nice that one of the references as to Father Emil, the longtime pastor who got written out of the show years ago.) And then the story shifted into talking about legacies, and that there really aren't such things.
But that was really as blunt as it got. Mostly it was a straightforward, fairly typical show, not a valedictory. Only at one point, when Christine DiGiallonardo joined him on stage, was anything said directly, and that's when she said, "I am going to miss you," and seemed like she was about to choke up. There were also some songs that clearly seemed to touch on the subject of leaving, and a lovely number that Keillor sang that had a verse --
My life, it didn't count for nothing
When I look around it seems so small
...But I can make it seem better for a while.
I said it was a "fairly" typical show. Only "fairly" because Keillor performed a good deal more than usual. The monologue, sketches, some solo songs and such, but also a lot of duets. A lot of them. The guest cast was five women -- DiGiallonardo, Sarah Jarosz, Heather Masse (pronounced Massey), Aoiffe (pronounced Eee-fa) O'Donovan, and Sara Watkins, Most of their performances were duets with the host. They only had probably 3-4 standalone numbers all night.
And it was a long night, making the few solo numbers by others all the more pronounced. The show is two hours, but on Friday night it lasted three hours! I have no idea if they'll edit it down for broadcast, or if (being the final show) they'll air all three hours. Cutting out an hour of material seems awfully much. So, given that it's a special event, it may well run for all three hours. It's also possible that they won't include the encore, and will trim about 15 other minutes, and the show will run for 2-1/2 hours. But I wouldn't be surprised if they leave it at three hours -- and it would be appropriate to let the radio audience hear the full thing.
A very funny sketch also touched on him leaving, but only as part of the set-up. It was one of his "Life of the Cowboy" Western adventures, telling about Lefty who used to have a radio show, "Bunkhouse Buddies," that he did out on this here prairie, with his pal Dusty. As the years passed, though, he couldn't remember why it was he left.
Dusty: You never smiled.
Lefty: But it was radio.
Dusty: Your voice was depressing. The listeners could tell.
But the sketch actually evolved into something totally different, about all of Dusty's women duet partners quitting the show, one by one, for their own reasons. It has an extremely funny ending, with Sara Watkins playing the editor of a Western poetry magazine.
There was also a sweet, new song that Keillor said he wrote just the day before, which was a tribute to his many teachers growing up. And a lovely song that Heather Masse sang, with the line, "I'm going to miss you every time we say goodbye."
I liked that Keillor had several notable references to the past. One was singing an old song he had written years before that he always loved, about a couple of horses on his uncle's farm. Another was singing a song by Greg Brown, who had been a regular on the show for many years during the program's early years.
As the show neared the end, he sang a duet with new, funny lyrics to Bob Dylan's song, "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right."
I can't tell you, though, how he ended the show. That's because the moment he said, "That's our show for tonight," the audience began cheering for about three minutes, loudly and standing, over whatever he was saying. I'm sure you'll hear it on the radio, because he was talking into the microphone -- but in the Hollywood Bowl audience, it was inaudible. The only sound was roars and applause, on and on. And it wasn't only the audience applauding him -- so was the cast.
Then, a final song and it was over.
He did return for an encore, though unlike last week he walked on stage alone, without the cast. So, it was clear that this would be it. Yet it went on for 10-15 minutes, as he sang a medley of basically "goodbye" songs. Things like "Goodnight, Ladies," "Goodnight, Irene," "Happy Trails," a hymn, an English madrigal, some other things, and then ending with the rousing gospel number, "Amen."
And to final cheers, he waved and walked off.
And his 42-year run of A Prairie Home Companion was over.
It was a joy to be there. And wistful, as well.
You can listen to the final show streaming today here on the Prairie Home website at 5 PM Central time. (That's of course 6 PM in the East, and 3 PM on the West Coast.) The site also lists what radio stations carry the show, so you can find out the local time it will be airing for you.
And that's the news...
As I've mentioned here lately, the final broadcast of A Prairie Home Companion with Garrison Keillor is coming along very soon, in July. The show will continue starting in October, with new host Chris Thile, but Keillor is winding up his own run after 42 years. Almost to the day, it turns out.
While checking to see when that last broadcast will be, I just found out yesterday that it would be July 2, only two weeks from now. (His first broadcast was on July 6, 1974. So, he bookended the Fourth by two days on both ends.
More to the point though, to my amazement, that final show will be...at the Hollywood Bowl, here in Los Angeles! They're doing it on Friday, July 1, and recording it for broadcast the next day. Why they're doing it here and not in St. Paul at the Fitzgerald Theater, I have no idea. I know that they have been doing summer tours for the past several years, so maybe the Fitzgerald is always booked in the summer. But still, I'd have thought that with enough advance warning they could find a venue in St. Paul to do it in. It's also possible that they do these summer tours as a way to raise a great deal of money, at such large locations. Last week's show, for instance, was at the Ravinia Festival outside of Chicago in Highland Park. And the Hollywood Park seats probably around 16.000. (It's not fully sold out, but probably three-quarters so, with two weeks more of sales.)
And yes, I bought a ticket.
I figured that since the first A Prairie Home Companion show I went to was at the old World Theater probably around 1972 -- two years before the show went national! (my brother lived there at the time, and had written me about it a lot, so we went together, and I still have souvenirs from it) -- I figure that this would make a nice completing of the circle.
If anyone in the Los Angeles area is interested in going, here's the link to the Bowl's webpage.
This will be of absolutely no interest to anyone who doesn't live in the West Los Angeles area of Southern California. No matter, it's of great interest to me, and happily I have access to the keyboard.
As you might know, there is a primary election in California tomorrow. And this is about that. But not about the contest that's gotten so much national attention for months. It's not even about any of the important statewide elections, including the important U.S. Senate primary. For that matter, this isn't even about the small local races that no one pays attention to, because they don't know anything about them, like judges. No, this is about a race that makes even those seem newsworthy by comparison. It's about the race for the Democratic Party's Central Committee in Assembly District 50.
Say what??, I hear you cry.
Well, yes, I'm interested in this race, and if you live in the area, you should be, too. That's because the son of a good friend of mine -- the oft-mentioned here, Jeff Melvoin -- is running for the position. His name is Nick Melvoin, and he's one heck of a great person and candidate.
Nick Melvoin will also be running for the L.A. School Board in November, and I'll be writing him more then. But for now, we're just focusing on the Central Committee ballot. And I can't say enough good things about Nick.
Just a few things to note, since most people's eyes understandably glaze over for races like this one. But Nick is a graduate of Harvard, and got his MBA in Urban Education from Loyola Marymount -- and he put his money where his mouth is when he went to teach seventh and eighth grade at an inner-city school in Watts as an English teacher...also coaching the soccer and baseball teams, while helping start the school newspaper.
Sorry, but that's not all. Nick also has a law degree from NYU -- and worked in the Obama White House with the Domestic Policy Council...as well as the US Attorney’s office as a legal clerk, getting involved in civil rights investigations.
So, while I can be accused of bias for supporting the son of a friend, I think it';s fair to say that my bias is highly justified. Central Committee races like this don't tend to get candidates of this quality.
And it's only a precursor for the School Board race in November.
Oddly, I think this will be a tougher race, because there's some cachet in being a Committeeman, rather than the more thankless job on the School Board. As a result, there are some semi-familiar names in L.A. politics running tomorrow. But Nick Melvoin is the best. And whatever happens tomorrow, he's got a great future -- in politics starting November, or whatever he does,.
But if you do live in that area, check your ballot for "Assembly District 50" and the race for the Los Angeles County Central Committee for the Democratic Party. The line that says "Nick Melvoin" on it is Line 33.
I was going to say you should do Nick a favor and consider him. But I'll say instead that you should do yourself a favor, as well. Besides, people usually say their vote doesn't matter. In a race this small, your vote finally matters.
So, write yourself a note now while it';s on your mind, and clip it to your Voters Pamphlet. And don't worry, I'll bring the good fellow up again in November...
Robert J. Elisberg is a two-time recipient of the Lucille Ball Award for comedy screenwriting. He's written for film, TV, the stage, and two best-selling novels, and is a regular columnist for the Huffington Post and the Writers Guild of America. Among his other writing, he has a long-time column on technology (which he sometimes understands), and co-wrote a book on world travel. As a lyricist, he is a member of ASCAP, and has contributed to numerous publications.