The News Butcher


News Butcher



  • A seller of newspapers, sweets, etc., on a train.

When I was a kid a family vacation meant a two week visit with my grandparents and that meant a train trip to western Nebraska.  The fastest route from Chicago was via The Milwaukee Road/Union Pacific but because we traveled on my dad’s Santa Fe pass for one trip we took the Santa Fe from Chicago to La Junta, Colorado then a Santa Fe local to Denver and an overnight CB&Q train north.

We didn’t travel on the Super Chief or Chief or El Capitan, we took a secondary transcontinental train which, during the summer travel months, had a mixture of lightweight and heavyweight cars—the Grand Canyon.

“Where to, folks?”

“La Junta”, said my dad.

“To the left, any seats except the facing seats in the back”, the attendant said as he pointed up the stairs and to the left.

My mom, dad, two sisters, brother and I lugged our suitcases and a shopping bag up the stairs, through the door, around the ladies’ lounge, past the facing seats and down the aisle about half way to the front.  When we decided on our seats my dad tossed our bags onto the luggage rack as we fought over the window seats.

It wasn’t long before you could tell from the commotion outside the train that we were about ready to leave and then we heard a bang, a thud, another bang, another thud and a moan as a man followed our tracks into the car carrying a trunk out in front of him like a bass drummer in a marching band.  He threw the trunk on the rear facing seat at the rear of the car, sighed and then walked to the front of the car and announced, “I’ll be open after the conductor picks up tickets.  I’ve got newspapers, magazines, candy, mints, crackers, cookies, nuts, apples and soft drinks.  I also have tooth paste, tooth brushes, combs and aspirin.  I’ll be open in a few minutes, folks” and every kid had his eyes on him but then he went to the next car forward to, I guess, make the same announcement.

“Can I go back just to see what he has?”

“Not yet.  Wait until the conductor is done.”

“How about now?” I said five seconds after the conductor was done picking up tickets and my dad said okay, he’d go back and get a newspaper.

I looked at the display sitting in an open trunk on the seat and saw Life Savers, M&Ms and Clark Bars.  I don’t know what I thought I was going to see but somehow M&Ms in a trunk on a train traveling over seventy miles an hour across the Illinois prairie seemed pretty exciting. My dad talked with the guy for a little while and I stared at the M&Ms.  When he noticed me he picked up a pack and waved them slowly in his hand as my dad and he kept talking.

Dad said, “You can get something later” as we got back to our seats and he told my mom, “That guy goes from LA to Chicago back to LA back to Chicago and then back to LA before he has five days off.”

“What a life”, she said.

“Yeah, what a life”, my dad repeated.

“Yeah, what a life”, I thought as I imagined nothing better than riding the trains.

I looked back every so often and when he caught me he held up the M&Ms like bait.  I saw another kid look back and when the bag was raised and waved the kid had a look of longing that still haunts me.

We ate our picnic dinner out of the shopping bag late in the afternoon with the scripted lecture from my mom that eating in the diner was just too expensive. “I don’t know how they expect people to live” she said in the same tone she had used the year before.  Dad said that maybe we’d get off in Kansas City for ice cream if the train is on time.

It got into Kansas City a little early so that meant ice cream if the Kansas City station sandwich shop was still open which it was.  While we ate our ice cream we saw him picking up a stack of newspapers and some more candy.  “What a life”, I thought.

When we left Kansas City he made the announcement that he’d be closing-up because the coach lights were going to be turned off shortly.

“I’ll be open about six with coffee and doughnuts.”

“I’ve got coffee and doughnuts”, he said in a soft voice as he walked down the aisle and the sun streamed through the windows onto the sleeping and dozing passengers but my mom already had her shopping bag open with apples and doughnuts and “you can drink water” as the train passed from Kansas into Colorado.

Even at six in the morning he was working the young passengers with the M&MS.  They’d make eye contact, he’d wave the M&Ms and point toward the adult head next to the kid, the kid would drop down and then pop up shaking his head “no” in unison with the adult head next to him shaking “no” and the kid would have that look.

After we passed Las Animas, Colorado the attendant came in, picked up the seat checks above our seats and said that we’d be in La Junta in about twenty-five minutes.

“You’ll get off from the rear of the car.”

My dad told us to pick up our stuff, got our suitcases down and took them to the rear vestibule.  When the train started to slow down and we walked to the rear of the car he smiled and said, “Bye, folks.”

We stood in the vestibule looking out at the box cars sitting on sidings whiz by and then at the streets of La Junta. When the train stopped the conductor opened the door, popped open the floor plate, wiped the hand rails and stepped off with his step box.

“Watch your step.”

My dad was the first one off and helped us down with our suitcases. When we were all on the ground he made a check of the suitcases like there were hundreds rather than six plus the shopping bag.

“That’s everything” he said and pointed to the depot. “Let’s get a couple lockers and we can go to breakfast” and I looked and saw my mom getting ready with another lecture.

As I picked up my suitcase I glanced up and saw him in the window with a look on his face like I was waving M&Ms.


What would Mom, Aunt Helen and Aunt Ruthie do?

My son, Timmy, will be six on Friday and Emily, Cathy’s girl, will be eight on Saturday.  So many kids in the family and that means way too many birthday parties and that means my wife and her sisters are doing the same thing that my mom and aunts used to do with all the kids’ birthdays: they group the birthday parties. It’s easier for the family and a whole lot cheaper, too.

Cleveland is having a good year.  The Cavaliers are in the playoffs and if you’re in the playoffs you have a shot at making the finals and the championship.  The Indians are also playing pretty well so far and staying healthy. With a better start than last year they might make the playoffs this year and again, if you’re in the playoffs you’ve got a chance to play in the World Series and win the championship.

Two contending sports teams and the city is also hosting the Republican National Convention  this summer so Republican delegates and Black Lives Matter and Occupy youngsters will be coming in from out of town.  Possibly two sports championships and a national convention and that means three potential riots.

I’ve sent a letter to the mayor about how my mom, Aunt Helen and Aunt Ruthie consolidated birthday parties and have asked him what he thinks about waiting until after we know if the Indians make the playoffs to plan a big riot/looting extravaganza for Cleveland.  You know, thinking about it if the Indians do get into the World Series and win that will be close to the Presidential election in November and that means another riot if Donald Trump wins. Four possible riots in one year, wow.  Help, Aunt Ruthie.

I know what mom, Aunt Helen and Aunt Ruthie would do, they’d plan one big event and that could be what the mayor might want to explore.  Fewer riots and less mounted police overtime cost for the city and a chance for Black Lives Matter and Occupy to tear up Cleveland and then go home with a big screen TV.  Seems like a sensible idea to me.

The only down side is if the Black Lives Matter and Occupy kids come in for the convention in July and then postpone their rioting and looting until later in the year, possibly in November, will they be able to get off work in order to come back for the riot and looting activities?

First Merle then Prince

Merle Haggard died a couple of weeks ago.  I was surprised but I wasn’t shocked: he was 79. I can’t say I was a big Merle fan but I liked his music and his sound brought back a lot of memories.

Prince died last week and I was shocked.  He was only 57.

I thought about Prince when I heard the news and the next day I was still thinking about him.  Friday night, when I was watching the Indians play the Tigers on TV, the game was in the bottom of the first inning and after the Tiger’s third out I decided to turn off the game and listen to my favorite Prince songs.

I turned the game back on just before the Indians came to bat in the top of the second.

Welcoming in 1986

“The amount of money that this company will spend on our new computer systems next year is more than the total sales of the company just twenty years ago. Wow”, said company president E. Walter Craghouse as he turned and pointed at a screen behind him with the logos of all the IT vendors which are involved in the various projects.
“I don’t really understand all of the details of how it works but what I do know is that we have to be an industry leader, we have to use the latest technology and link up with our customers and create true twenty first century electronic partnerships going forward. I’ll let our experts Bob, Charlotte, Martin and Ellen go over their vision, give you the details and open the conference to questions.”
The rest of the morning was much the same with commitments from all the presenters to make the company the best and brightest by developing the best and newest and describing our future with the best and greatest clichés. One after another we heard, “new, best, cutting edge, ground breaking, future, user friendly, powerful” and they just kept coming.
Did I tell you that we’re the best and the brightest and ready for to go forward as we move through the twenty first century?
Finally you could see the end coming if for no other reason than the presenters on stage were squirming in their chairs just like the rest of us.
Mr. Craghouse stood up and took the microphone from Ellen who had just finished telling us about new and better and greatest, “I want to thank all of our presenters today who have done a fabulous job of showing us the company’s vision for the future. We are new, we are now and we are marching into the future. I hope you are as excited as I am” and with that the lights came up, everyone stood and clapped and started to do their waddle out of the room.
“Oh, oh. Wait everyone, hold on, one more thing.”
Helen, the president’s secretary, took the microphone and nervously said, “I want to remind everyone that I need an address list of your customers who you want us to mail them our 2016 desk calendar and planner. Our customers really love them so let’s all be sure we get them out early this year.”
“Thanks, Helen, said E. Walter. Let’s make sure we do it, folks, real important.”
I wonder if that desk calendar/planner is for 2016 or 1986?

Pretty great

There is no doubt from watching the various protests which have taken place over the last year that there are Americans who hate their country. As the TV news reports showed businesses being looted, buildings being burned, police cars being set on fire, police being attacked with rocks and gun fire coming from those rioting in the streets we heard their chants calling for dead cops, heard their foul language, saw their obscene gestures and read their signs which condemned America as a terrible nation. The rioters spit on the flag, burned the flag, stomped on the flag and one bright light even demonstrated how to use the American flag as toilet paper.
It’s funny though that as we watch these anti-American demonstrations and riots we never see any of the America haters pull out a pair of scissors and cut up their EBT (electronic benefit transfer) card. I guess we can all agree that free groceries are pretty great.

Where were you?

“Where were you?”
“I remember I was…”
“I’ll never forget…”
But we have pretty much forgotten except maybe every year on 9/11 when we remember the three planes used to attack our country.
And now millions line up to invade Europe and get ready to be brought into the United States. This time we get to pay to for the invasion, for the attack.
“What did you do to stop it?” our children will ask. “Where were you?”
“I don’t remember, I forget”.