Monster Trucks and Sausages



S omeone gave me free tickets to the monster truck show at the county fair, entitling me to be among the privileged few to witness a huge, elevated truck smash into a motor home.

As I chewed on the tougher parts of my fat-laden giant sausage, I surveyed the enthusiastic monster truck audience, watched them cheer for the wheelie-popping trucks, and mused on just how fragile our participatory democracy truly is.




~ by Russ Allison Loar
~ Photograph by FlagWorld.com
© All Rights Reserved

Notable People I Have Met ~ Part Four




My Afternoon With Alex

The charming and erudite host of Jeopardy!, Alex Trebek, is surprisingly sardonic off camera. The studio audience—about 100 split between members of the general public on the left side of the theater, friends and family of the contestants on the right—had plenty of opportunity to ask him questions during down times between segments, sampling his slightly snarky sense of humor.

I got in the first question, a technique I used as a reporter, knowing that even at a major press conference there is often a reluctance to ask the first question. So I prepared my question in advance, rehearsed it mentally and was ready to go when Trebek asked for questions from the audience.

I asked if he'd ever been a game show contestant; if he would ever be a contestant on Jeopardy! before he retires; and how did he think he'd do as a Jeopardy! contestant.

He said he'd been a contestant on a few game shows, but would not be a contestant on Jeopardy! because then someone else would have to host the show, and "he might be better than I am." How would he do as a Jeopardy! contestant? Trebek said he would probably do well against his "peers." Then, looking directly at me, he said, "I see by your white hair that you might be one of my peers. I would crush you!"

A middle-aged man in the mostly middle-aged audience asked, "How do you pronounce all those foreign words?" Trebek answered with overemphasized, drawn out speech: "W-i-t-h M-y M-o-u-t-h."

I also talked to crisp-toned announcer Johnny Gilbert, asking how many tapings per day the winners do. He said they tape five shows a day. For Jeopardy! champion Ken Jennings to win seventy-four consecutive games, he had to win five games in a row, then get up the next morning and go win another five games. Whew indeed! The show tapes Tuesdays and Wednesdays, three weeks a month, nine months a year.

Gilbert introduced two of the three Clue Crew members who were at the taping—Sarah and Jimmy. When the pair stood up and waved to the audience, I saw that Jimmy was wearing a maroon hoodie with "HARVARD" emblazoned on the front in big letters. Yeah, OK. You're smart.

A Few Candid Moments

A fortyish woman asked Trebek what his favorite karaoke song was. He replied, "My favorite karaoke song?" then turned his head to the side and pretended to spit on the floor, saying: "I hate karaoke."

Another audience member asked him what he thought about rap music. As he began to criticize it, he seemed to pause and take a quick scan of the audience, then said he disliked most of it because of the bad language and negative references, adding that he thought it was a bad influence on youth. "Not all of it is bad, but most of it," he said, apparently not wishing to condemn the entire black youth culture.

Surprise! Trebek Doesn't Know Everything

When one of the contestants incorrectly answered "era" instead of "eon" in response to a science question requiring a three-letter word with two vowels, Trebek told the young man that "era" was not a scientific term. One of the fact checkers disagreed.

(Era can be generic, such as the era of horse and buggy, or scientific, such as the Paleozoic era.)

Trebek seemed to think "era" had only a generic meaning. But after the fact checker disagreed, he walked over to the front of the stage where a semicircle of fact checkers are located in a pit behind computer screens and telephones, and picked up one of their dictionaries. He seemed genuinely interested in making sure he had the correct information, although the staff photographer who took candid photos during the taping of the show moved quickly into position to take a few shots of Trebek studiously peering into the dictionary. He lingered just long enough to ensure a good publicity shot.

Trebek Is 73

When asked what books he's read, Trebek said he reads a lot of nonfiction, "political stuff," and also likes novelist "John . . ." and then couldn't think of the author's last name until an audience member called out: "Grisham." Then he mentioned finishing a book during a recent trip, but could not remember what it was. "It'll come to me," he said. It didn't.

So even the sharp-witted Trebek, adjudicator of all knowledge, cannot escape the symptoms of an aging mind. Or perhaps it was just overload, considering all the data that had passed through his brain by the last taping of the day. It was the fifth and last show during a day in which he'd already articulated 264 questions with but a very few misspeaks. Is this reassuring to those of us who worry about occasional memory loss? I don't know, but I'm gonna keep playing.



(Written March 2014)


~ by Russ Allison Loar
© All Rights Reserved

My Heaven














M y grandparents were best friends.

They’d known each other since kindergarten, grew up together in rural Texas in the late 1800s, moved to Southern California and were married in 1908. They were the kindest people I’ve ever known.

During the summer I often slept overnight in the top floor of their enchanted two-story Spanish-style house. My bedroom had a balcony overlooking a rock-lined goldfish pond in the front patio. A small trickle of water poured continuously from a ceramic pitcher cemented among ragged rocks above the pond, dribbling into the murky green water where fat goldfish drifted lazily beneath a few lily pads.

I was in a storybook house surrounded by a magical forest – my grandparents’ orange grove. The house was full of old furniture and books, lamps and paperweights, oil paintings and figurines, dishes and silver. The furniture was thick, dark wood and the paintings were hillsides, streams and forests – places without people. There was a book of maps with Persia and Siam.

Everything in the house spoke to me of ancestors, an unbroken line of family where no one ever threw anything worthwhile away. If it was worth owning, it was worth taking care of and passing on to the next generation.

In my bedroom was an old lamp on the night table, left on while I fell asleep. The lamp’s tubular base was decorated with a painting of an angel bearing a small-winged boy away to heaven. It was originally a gas lamp purchased in about 1860 by my grandmother’s sister, converted to electricity in the 1920s when a glass bowl and lampshade were added. As I drifted off to sleep I watched the angel and imagined she was taking me to heaven.

Sometimes I was startled awake by a nightmare, but quickly soothed by the stillness and security of my grandparents’ home, by the sense of their protection embracing me.

The only sound was the tic and toc of the Regulator clock at the top of the stairs just outside my room. The clock had belonged to my grandmother’s father. It was the heartbeat of their home, of their constancy.

Most summer mornings I was awakened by the sound of rowdy crows perched near the top of ancient sycamore trees in view of the balcony. I loved being high up in the air, stepping out onto the balcony in my pajamas, looking at the large green world and endless blue sky, smelling the warming air filled with the sharp scent of citrus, brushed with the fragrance of rose and camellia, filtered through my grandmother’s orchard, lifted on the wings of butterflies and blown into my room.

I especially loved the plaintive cries of Mourning Doves, a sound I imagined I would hear when I woke up some morning in heaven. But then, I was already there.



~ by Russ Allison Loar
© All Rights Reserved