An Essay to Friends, Tolerance and the Power of Words

Posted By Mike Padgett

Aug. 31, 2011

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Let me tell you about two of my best friends. They may not fully realize the roles they played in teaching me the power of words. Their encouragement and trust changed my world.

I have many acquaintances. Most are talented, hard-charging journalists and photographers. Some are business leaders. But I am distant, so my friends are a select few. They know me, as I know them. We click. In groups, I mostly listen and watch. My study of people and their behavior has been invaluable in my career. I avoid self-absorbed individuals; they don’t realize their talents are clouded by their egos.

I speak up when I have something important to offer. I don’t talk just to keep pace with shallow chatter. I seek valuable input. My brain hungers to learn. Which is why, in our home, books and the Internet’s educational cornucopia outshine the high-definition junk food on today’s television menus.

I avoid those who mock others because of their ethnic or religious roots. I enjoy nature’s treasures, like the ocean vistas along Australia’s Shipwreck Coast, accessible from the Great Ocean Road.

The sights and sounds of the ocean, even on cold days, can sooth the mind and body. Here, the view along Australia’s Shipwreck Coast encourages a slower pace. Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett

I am drawn to solitude and acts of selflessness and heroism. I admire the way Nelson Mandela, following his release in 1990 after 27 years in prison for his anti-apartheid activities, used soccer to help unite his country. In 1995, one year after he was elected South Africa’s first black president, his country’s soccer team won the World Cup Championship.

My heart is caught by stories of hope, like Mandela’s, as well as by the music from a lonesome guitar. On desert hikes, and occasionally on our street, I exchange glances with wary coyotes and prowling bobcats. I am intrigued by the coiled rattlesnake. I enjoy watching a million stars in the night sky fade into a brilliant sunrise.

….Like a compass seeking true north

I prefer to keep company with those with compassion, who are interested listeners and decisive workers. Experienced listeners make the best reporters. A seasoned intellect is a powerful guiding force, like a compass seeking true north.

In interviews, journalists who avoid filling the gaps of silence with chitchat will obtain better information. In the end, their stories have more value. A recent and dramatic example of how best to interview and edit and photograph people and events is producer/director Steven Spielberg’s six-hour achievement, “Rising: Rebuilding Ground Zero,” on Discovery Channel.

I enjoy history, so I’m drawn to ancient churches. One of my favorites is St. Margaret’s Church in London.

St. Margaret’s Church in London, next to Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament, is called the parish church of the House of Commons. St. Margaret’s was rebuilt in the 1500s. Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett

Disjointed meetings kill team spirit

I dislike the workplace meeting where everyone gets interrupted, especially by the prima donnas ­whose behaviors are tolerated by management. The result is a disjointed meeting that runs too long and achieves little.

Shy worker bees with much to offer, who are unafraid of bone-tiring work and who wish for a stronger team effort, will withdraw their loyalty. They will retreat from weak management and disjointed office meetings.

Among the few of my true friends is a publishing executive. If this person reads this, he or she will know to whom I’m referring. To you, my friend, I offer a heartfelt thank you. I hope you understand the positive role you played in my newspaper career.

Career boost

We started working together nearly a quarter-century ago. This publisher was part of an editorial committee that recruited me from a suburban newspaper.

On the career ladder, it was a move up several rungs. However, moving to a metro paper meant leaving a suburban publication where I earned more writing awards than I would ever earn again in my career of 30-plus years. I attribute those writing honors to the greater freedoms I had at the smaller paper.

Officer down

One story at the smaller paper began when a deputy police chief alerted me to the attempted murder of a police officer in his patrol car at dawn. The officer had been shot in the left side of his face with a shotgun. His attempts to radio for help were garbled because of the injuries to his face.

The officer survived; the shooter was caught. My story in the suburban paper about the officer’s weeks-long recovery was picked up by The Associated Press and published the next day in the metro region’s morning and afternoon papers. Careers at smaller newspapers are options I will always recommend to the newest J-school graduates.

To my publisher friend, I owe the importance of cultivating relationships with people. I learned that there is much more to interviews than asking questions. Which is why I prefer meeting people on their turf for face-to-face interviews. During a phone interview, you won’t see body language or the person’s family photographs and career trophies in his office. Can you see pain or sincerity in their eyes? Notice the executive’s red plaid golf shorts or his nervous rocking in his office chair.

A chance meeting, a passion for writing

My other important friend and mentor is my very best friend. We’ve been together since the day we met in 1969. We’ve shared many adventures across the United States and in other countries.

Powerscourt, with its take-your-breath-away beauty, includes a luxurious garden that puts more sparkle in rainy days. Notice the different colored pebbles arranged in designs on the steps. Powerscourt is a short drive from central Dublin. Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett

On a misty day, we wandered the gardens at Powerscourt House & Gardens in Ireland. We walked part of the Freedom Trail in Boston, reading headstones that date to the 1700s. Twice, with sore necks, we walked in wonder among the redwood giants in Muir Woods National Monument north of San Francisco. We enjoyed a summer vacation in John Steinbeck country in central California, from Carmel and Monterey to Point Lobos and Salinas.

Then there were the many adventures in Arizona, like the sunset visit to Canyon de Chelly, collecting fossils on the Mogollon Rim, and a winter hike along the Grand Canyon’s south rim where we saw deer and a bull elk grazing at sunrise on the grass outside the lodge.

Caught in the rain, then a trek through clouds

We once found ourselves in a morning sun shower on a beach on Kauai. We laughed and hugged in the soaking rain, enjoying the rain streaking our hair and waves lapping around our feet.

During another visit to Hawaii, we fed the cooing quail every evening on the patio at our Maui condo. We drove a winding road up through the morning clouds to the summit of Haleakala.

In recent years, there have been our memorable visits to Ireland, Australia (twice), England and France. In silence, letting our minds wander, we walked the square in Trinity College in Dublin. We toured St. Margaret’s Church, situated between Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament in London. We stood before Stonehenge, the Eiffel Tower, and Shakespeare’s home. In a chilly wind, we stood on a cliff and admired the rock stacks in the waves along the Great Ocean Road on Australia’s Shipwreck Coast.

Roads into the future

Our future is an open road. I wish I could find a photograph I took of her at San Juan Capistrano that year we met. It was summer. She was walking between short hedges, coming around a corner in a garden at the ancient adobe California mission. I surprised her by taking her photograph. In my mind is the image of her surprise, and the love in her face.

Since our paths first crossed, we have helped each other through glad times and sad times.

She tolerates my weaknesses and encourages my strengths. To her, I owe my intellectual growth to a role in media where I helped readers learn more about their communities, neighbors and local governments.

All those years ago, her confidence in my work sparked a fire that continues burning. She encourages my passion for writing.

My wish is for everyone to have a companion or a friend whose encouragement helps reveal not only the power of words, but also the importance of listening and tolerance and compassion.

Updated Sept. 18, 2011

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Aug 31st, 2011

A Night Cruise Across Mountains and Memories, Then to the Beach

Posted By Mike Padgett

July 28, 2011

SEATTLE – Out the window of our plane approaching Sea-Tac, the evening sun reflecting off Puget Sound creates a giant pool of brilliant silver surrounded by shadows of blues and blacks.

A ship or ferry cutting across the Sound leaves an arrow-shaped wake in the silver. Soon, I want to explore the west side of Puget Sound. We descend over downtown Seattle with its office buildings, jammed freeways, Pike Place Market and the Space Needle.

Puget Sound shimmering at sunset, next to Seattle, the Emerald City. Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett

After landing at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, we collect our luggage, check out a rental car and start our night drive east from Seattle. Behind us, in our mirrors, we see the setting sun with its reds and purples. Ahead of us are hours of driving in the darkness. We pass communities whose names, like Issaquah and Snoqualmie, have Native American roots.

We are on I-90 streaking across the Cascades. East of Issaquah, four motorcyclists wearing hiking boots, coats and backpacks merge next to us from an on-ramp. Their cycles are saddled with camping gear. They’re probably headed for evergreen cathedrals and creeks cold and clear as melting snow.

I reach over and touch my Best Friend’s arm. She laces our fingers. Our adventure continues. Behind us are monster malls and strip malls and gridlocked freeways and coils of concrete overpasses. We are cruising into the shadows of an evergreen forest. Out there, hidden from view beyond the dense walls of firs and pines along the highways, are giant patchwork sections of forest harvested by logging companies.

I think about the brave souls who, in the 1800s, blazed trails across these mountains for pioneers to follow. They had no four-lane highways, or bridges that are engineering marvels hugging rocky mountainsides, or AAA maps. Their adventures were long before rest stops with Wi-Fi and vending machines. I wonder at the pioneers’ courage and their abilities to find water and food on their journeys.

Driving long distance at night in the mountains at 75 mph is a different world. There are only headlights, brake lights and the green glow of dashboards creating ghostly mug shots of oncoming drivers.

Near the end of our night’s journey, a sickening thump breaks the monotonous sound of tires on concrete. It was a tiny brown blur, maybe a rabbit that darted into my headlights.

A yellow half moon rises from the horizon ahead of us as we stop and fluff our hotel pillows.

At dawn, vineyards outside our window greet our bleary eyes. A farmer starts watering the vines. They need weeding.

Across the road, hundreds of cows fresh from milking are enjoying their feed.

In the distance, we see a farmer cutting his field of alfalfa for hay. And farther beyond, in the light between dark and dawn, are the distant hills where I practiced with my rifle.

I remember cruising this region decades ago, waiting for my draft notice and listening to the Doors and the Righteous Brothers.

After breakfast, we buckle in and continue cruising. We pass a few barns with caved-in roofs. Their paint flaked away years ago. In one community, we see a deteriorating downtown scarred further by a recent fire that destroyed a decades-old business. Other stores are closed or in redevelopment.

We see a region’s population that in recent decades has undergone an ethnic shift.

Rural America’s Future

Youngsters graduate from high school and many hit the road, leaving few to shoulder the future of the small towns. Where are the young? If they stay home, or if they return home after working elsewhere, what are their futures?

We hear and read about drive-by shootings and drug deals that a generation ago, and more, were distant and foreign events.

Local police update their files on gang membership. They know the hand signals and tattoos. They keep tabs on who’s new, busted and dead. They have files on graffiti taggers.

On a drive across the countryside, we see fields of corn, alfalfa and mint. Fruit crops are late because spring was late and cold. Asparagus fields have gone to seed.

We pass a large luxury residence built years ago on a hillside in the country. It has a new gate at the driveway and a tall fence.

Signs say the property is under surveillance. We wonder whether illiterate burglars will understand. Dogs, they would understand.

We pass several new schools on the edge of town. The aging high school is undergoing expansion.

There always will be children to educate, but where do they go? What is the future of high school graduates in small-town America, suffering from flaking paint, closed businesses and shrinking per-capita incomes?

Unless small towns can attract new business, what is the future of the communities? A new census report says many U.S. counties are dying because they are recording more deaths than births. Here, as in other states, we’ve seen small towns deteriorate over the years. Businesses close. Population dwindles. Are we witnessing the slow-motion arrival of future ghost towns?

Cruise to the Beach

Our return across the Cascades takes us to Washington’s coastal region, where green is the year-round color. The skies here often are overcast, especially during cooler months.

But to a couple of longtime residents of the American Southwest, the color and the coolness of western Washington are rejuvenating.

We arrive at the coast in early afternoon. Lunch with a couple of our best buds is fish and chips in Westport, a small town we’ve visited many times. Many of the local fishing boats are in their slips. A few haven’t yet returned from their charter trips.

We see two men struggling up the wood ramp with a cooler. The men are bent over, guiding the cooler on wheels. We assume it’s filled with ice, chilling the fish from their trip.

On this day, the sky is clear, a rarity for this region. Hours later, a fogbank rolls in, attracted by the warmer land temperature.

We drive back to our hosts’ home, where we spend a few hours catching up since our last visit a few years ago. They tell us about the deer that hop the fences to munch on apple trees outside their back door. They marveled at the bear that scratched its back on their gazebo. A feral cat hangs around. Crows stay close for kitchen scraps.

On this day, in our hosts’ home surrounded by evergreens and a short walk from the beach, time passes too quickly. We must leave Westport and the ocean and fresh seafood. We linger in our handshakes and hugs. We exchange promises to visit more often. I wish we had connected earlier in our lives.


Leaving Westport, I push the accelerator and touch my Best Friend’s arm. She smiles. We lace our fingers. Our adventure continues.

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Jul 28th, 2011

A London Adventure, With Visits to Westminster, Stonehenge, Oxford, Warwick Castle and More

Posted By Mike Padgett

July 19, 2011

LONDON – When you step off the Eurostar in London’s St. Pancras International Station, one of the first things you’ll see is the colorful Olympics symbol for the 2012 games hanging overhead.

Personally, I plan to watch the Olympics on television and avoid the crowds and heavy traffic. London’s veteran taxi and bus drivers make driving in London look easy, especially the drivers of the behemoth tour buses on this city’s already-crowded streets.

The giant 2012 Olympics symbol greets visitors at St. Pancras International Station in London. Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett

Anyway, our ride on the Eurostar from Paris to London, under the English Channel, was memorable. The train’s smooth and quiet ride gave us a chance to rest after a busy week wandering the streets of Paris and visiting Versailles. It was our dreamed adventure come true.

When the Eurostar stopped at St. Pancras, we headed down the aisle of our car. I stopped to grab our luggage stowed at the end of our car. Behind me was a young man struggling with more than his share of luggage. He paused to let me grab our two bags. My hands were full, as were his. I nodded “thank you” to him and turned for the door.

The young man had sat across the aisle from us on the ride from Paris. With him were a young woman, an older woman (his mother or mother-in-law?) and a young boy and a young girl. My Best Friend and I could see theirs was a comfortable family relationship. At one point, the young woman got up to buy sandwiches for their lunch. We heard the adults slip back and forth between English and another language. Oh, to be bilingual.

We were a little sad to see the end of our ride from Paris to London. The fast train carried us across fertile countryside painted a kaleidoscope of greens by different crops. The countryside in June was mesmerizing. It reminded me of our summertime wanderings across the rolling terrain in the U.S. Midwest.

The French farmhouses were surrounded by crops and livestock. Many of the small communities were dominated by a towering Gothic church spire. I wondered how the farm families’ lifestyles compared to the crowded streets and mass transit systems we left behind in Paris.

And our departure from Paris on time almost didn’t happen. But that’s another story.

At a queue outside St. Pancras in London, after we exchanged our euros for pounds, a taxi ignored the couple in front of us to pick up someone else farther down the curb. Odd. Eventually, a taxi took us to our hotel, where we spent the first day planning our week and doing laundry. Then dinner. The hotel lounge menu included comfort food. We connected with burgers and fries and Coke.

In London, as in Paris, we felt and saw energy and excitement. France and Great Britain have much to offer, but I favor Britain. Maybe it’s my distant roots, and the nearness of another favorite, the Land of Eire with its leprechauns and Cliffs of Mohr.

Our stay in London was at a hotel in Kensington. A bus stop outside the front door made travel in the city easy. We stayed a week, which is too little time to see London, much less other parts of England.

We stopped first at Westminster Cathedral, where the lines were long. Next door is St. Margaret’s Church, where members of Parliament pause before they get down to business. We paid our respects at St. Margaret’s, studying the church’s history. Then we walked across the bridge over the River Thames to lunch.

Over the next two days, we booked bus tours that included Stonehenge, University of Oxford, Bath, Stratford-upon-Avon, Salisbury Cathedral and Warwick Castle. Wandering through centuries of history in one week is a challenge. I’m not big on group tours, but the bus drivers know the highways and roads, especially when driving is on the left side of the pavement. Plus, as a passenger, I can absorb more of the scenery.

Words are insufficient in describing the visual impact of Stonehenge. Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett

Visiting Stonehenge was a special treat, after reading about the prehistoric site so many times. One thing that’s always puzzled me is this – in a country where the sun shines rarely during winter months, it must have been a stroke of extraordinary luck to see the sun shine on the winter solstice, Dec. 21.

University of Oxford. Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett

We wish we’d had more time to wander the Oxford campus. In the short time we had, we thought about the collective brainpower and political influence rooted in this institution.

An annual flower show adds more color and fragrance to Salisbury Cathedral. Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett

Cranky driver

After his insult, the English taxi driver asks if I’m an actor. His thick accent made it difficult for me to understand him. Thousands of taxis in London, and we get a cranky driver.

The dour encounter began as we stepped into the back of his black cab in London’s Kensington neighborhood.

St. Martin-in-the-Fields in Trafalgar Square, I said.

Where? he said.

Trafalgar Square, I said.

Don’t you speak English, he snapped.

Startled, I didn’t know how to respond. Trafalgar Square, echoes my Best Friend as I close the taxi door behind us.

She and I glance at each other. Are we imagining this rudeness?

The driver negotiates his way into London’s heavy traffic. He remains silent for several minutes.

I see him glancing at me in his mirror. Are you an actor, he asks over his shoulder.

Actor? No, I say.

That’s the actor’s church, he says.

I was beginning to focus through his accent. Or maybe he has a bipolar personality, alternating between civil and rude. Anyway, he was becoming understandable.

Our taxi driver’s smartphone rings. He slips in an earplug and talks with the caller.

When he wasn’t on his phone during the ride to Trafalgar Square, the driver volunteered details about historical buildings we passed.

Eventually, he pulls into a bus parking lane at St. Martin-in-the-Fields. I give him one pound more than the fare.

St. Martin-in-the-Fields in Trafalgar Square in London was consecrated in 1726. Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett

The church is popular among the theater crowd. Plus, it offers many concerts each year. We enjoyed a wholesome lunch (with ample servings) offered in the church’s popular Café in the Crypt. It was lunchtime, and the cafe was packed. Our takeaway from the church was a rubbing we made of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.

Except for this social hiccup, we were impressed with the courtesy we saw in hotels, restaurants and most stores during our London adventure.

Last day

On our last day in London, we treated a couple we know to lunch. They chose a private club that dates to the early 1900s. When we tried to pay with our credit card, it wouldn’t work. That’s because England is switching to a system that uses credit cards imbedded with computer chips. Our cards worked elsewhere in London, but not this time. So we paid with cash.

But that one situation reminded us of the difficulties Americans could  face when they visit London during next year’s Olympics. Imbedded credit cards in America are years away. If you go to the 2012 Olympics, it would be best to have plenty of cash on hand because your plastic may be unusable.

We also visited Shakespeare’s home in Stratford-upon-Avon. I’m neither a fan nor a critic of his work, but I’m fascinated by the creative achievements of someone from such humble beginnings. Shakespeare’s father made gloves, which was a worthy career during a time when working with one’s hands was expected.

But a glove maker’s son becoming one of the greatest writers in the English language is unusual, a head-turning kind of a story that today would be studied and analyzed for educational journals. Shakespeare’s genius, judging from his body of work, had to have been in his DNA. It must have been innate.

He must have had support from his parents to reach what today we consider a major position in literary history. He had to have the time, the creative imagination and the writing skills for such achievements.

And that is what fascinates me. What is the source of creativity? What are the best ways to nurture and encourage talent? How can parents without such abilities recognize and encourage talents?

Humanity benefits when talent blossoms, whether it involves interests and skills in arts or sciences. Conversely, the world suffers when talent is repressed by ignorance and criticism.

Too little time

Looking back on our Paris-to-London trip, despite the challenges in France with the language and reading the street signs and menus, and trying to cram too many plans into too little time in London, and remembering the “Look Right” warning at London’s crosswalks, our adventure was too short.

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Jul 19th, 2011

In Philadelphia, A Close Encounter of the Presidential Kind

Posted By Mike Padgett

July 6, 2011

PHILADELPHIA – He was in guard dog mode, this man in a suit ordering me to stay in the hotel lobby. He was part of the Secret Service effort establishing a protective bubble around President Obama.

Our encounter with the presidential entourage started after lunch June 30. We were moving from the Philadelphia Marriott Downtown to the Hyatt at The Bellevue.

The Hyatt at The Bellevue Hotel in Philadelphia. Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett

As my Best Friend and I stepped from our taxi at the Hyatt, we learned the historic hotel was going into lockdown because Obama was arriving in a few hours. A bellman started to take us to the hotel’s main entrance. When he learned it was restricted to the President’s entourage only, he turned us around on the sidewalk. He led us to the brass-and-glass revolving door for the mixed-use historic building, part of which is filled with offices. The Hyatt occupies the top floors of the Bellevue building on Broad Street.

The bellman led us across the building’s lobby to the glass doors leading to the hotel lobby and registration desk. But two Secret Service agents in dark suits blocked our way. A hotel employee with them stepped forward. She said registration was being moved to the 19th floor during the President’s visit. But to save us some steps, she offered to register us on the spot.

We gave her a credit card and waited with the bellman and our luggage. He shared with us some of the building’s history. It dates to 1904. A few minutes later, the hotel employee returned with our credit card and room keys, apologizing for the inconvenience.

Our patient bellman led us to an elevator and took our luggage and us to our room. We overheard someone in the lobby complain that the security procedures were interfering with dinner plans.

We learned later that hotel registration had been moved to another floor so the Hyatt lobby could be kept clear during Obama’s arrival and departure.

Demonstrators on the sidewalk across the street from the Hyatt at The Bellevue Hotel in Philadelphia during President Obama’s arrival for a speech. Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett

Soon after we arrived, but hours before Obama’s scheduled arrival, demonstrators began gathering across the street from our hotel. I grabbed my camera bag and headed for the elevator. I wanted to get out on Broad Street for photos.

I stepped off the elevator and headed for the lobby exit to Broad, but another agent blocked my way. He was big enough to be a defensive lineman. I’m not sure what he said. It sounded like it was all one word, something like, “Pleasestayinthelobby.” Wraparound sunglasses hid his eyes.

We could see, through the glass doors, demonstrators gathering behind barricades across the street. My goal was to mingle with the crowd and get photos. I asked the big man with the sunglasses if I would have trouble re-entering the hotel.

Pleasestayinthelobby,” the man said again, with growl. Maybe aggression was slurring his words. He leaned in my direction and pointed behind me.

I thought he was a little too aggressive. Until I learned that authorities across the U.S. this summer are on higher alert because of the approaching 10th anniversary of 9/11.

Or maybe it was because of 32 shootings – including five deaths – in this city during a three-day period just before the President’s visit.

I turned from the agent in the lobby. He didn’t offer a suggestion for another exit. I found it around the corner from the elevators and down the hall.

On Broad Street, the crowd was almost shoulder-to-shoulder in places. Police standing in the street motioned to bicycle riders on Broad Street to use side streets. No cyclists or pedestrians were allowed in front of the hotel. Police vehicles were parked along the street and in the median. Several bicycle officers stood nearby, as did a K-9 officer and his dog. A police officer on an upper floor of the hotel parking garage was a lookout.

The demonstrators were kept behind steel barricades across the street from the hotel. Some demonstrators waved placards while a young couple used a bullhorn to keep the crowd chanting. One demonstrator kept a yellow “Don’t Tread on Me” flag waving.

Obama landed at the airport in Air Force One. On the way to the hotel, the motorcade stopped for a few minutes at John’s Water Ice in South Philadelphia. Obama stepped out and ordered a cup of lemon ice.

The motorcade, which included several motorcycle officers, arrived at the hotel at 4:58 p.m. Inside, Obama spoke to the crowd of nearly 800, according to press reports.

The presidential motorcade from the Philadelphia airport to the Hyatt at The Bellevue was led by several motorcycle officers. Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett

With Obama safely inside the hotel, the crowd outside began disbanding. After his speech at the Hyatt, Obama headed for a fundraising event at the home of David Cohen, Comcast Corp. executive vice president.

My Best Friend and I didn’t see the President, even though we were in the same hotel. The last time we were in the same vicinity was when we attended the 2009 Inauguration.

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Jul 6th, 2011

Wanderings in History in Paris and Versailles, Then Stalled in Traffic

Posted By Mike Padgett

June 19, 2011

PARIS – Erase this escapade from your mind, I keep telling myself. Erase it. Forget it. Focus on the positives. The Eiffel Tower. Mass at Notre Dame Cathedral. Luxembourg Gardens. An evening cruise on the Seine River. Walking in a summer rain and reading a soggy map in a phone booth in Paris.

One of the main attractions in Paris is Tour Eiffel, or Eiffel Tower as it is known to Americans. This icon of France was built in 1889 for the Universal Exhibition (World Fair) by Gustave-Alexandre Eiffel. It is 1,040 feet high. Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett

Don’t let missing the Eurostar ruin your visit to two of Europe’s major cities, I say to myself. A Paris-to-London adventure doesn’t come along too often.

From the back seat of our taxi, I look past the driver at the bumper-to-bumper traffic ahead of us. He hits his steering wheel. He is agitated. We are anxious. If I could understand his mumbling French, I might learn some colorful words. The string of trapped vehicles ahead of us on this narrow side street includes one of those lumbering leviathan tour buses. I look behind us. Both lanes jammed with bumpers and windshields around the bend.

The couple with an elderly blind man in the taxi in front of us get out and pay their driver. Leaving our taxi isn’t an option for us, because of our luggage and not knowing the location of the train station.

We had given ourselves plenty of time to get to the station, only to get trapped in traffic. A special event today, a Sunday, requires barricades on major streets. No hotel to return to, and a train beyond our reach.

My Best Friend and I look at each other. Do we have a plan B?

If I had a crystal ball, I thought, would I want to learn whether we would soon be on the Eurostar speeding under the English Channel headed for London’s St. Pancras International Station, or sitting on our luggage in the Eurostar Paris Gare du Nord train station, remembering our visit to Notre Dame Cathedral and other historic sites?

Notre Dame Cathedral, one of the world’s iconic cathedrals, is an architectural masterpiece. It was founded in 1160. Napoleon crowned himself emperor here in 1804. Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett

Looking out the taxi window, I wish I’d found this two-lane street earlier. These old buildings look interesting, like a part of Paris off the tourist map. Tiny shops of all kinds selling produce and local goods. Small restaurants along the narrow sidewalk. Bakeries and their wonderful aromas. Alleys that lead who knows where.

Reality returns. I imagine myself out in the street, waving my arms and urging drivers on this Paris side street to start leaning on their horns. The collective sound of hundreds of blaring horns would get someone’s attention. And then maybe the barricades would be removed.

Honking stalled caravan

Someone must have had the same idea. A driver begins some serious honking. Then another. A few more join the honking protest. You could tell by their long toots they were unhappy.

Traffic police, if that’s what they’re called, soon respond by dropping the yellow barricade tape. Maybe they weren’t supposed to, but they let motorists through. We begin moving. Our driver drives like he has one foot on the gas pedal and the other on the brake.

I saw one officer holding the untied end of the tape with one hand and with the other giving motorists a secretive waist-high wave that says, “Hurry, before someone sees me letting you through.” He looks around, like he’s trying to be invisible, but waving cars by. Our driver accelerates over the barricade tape.

Thank you, officer whoever-you-are. The 20-minute ride from our hotel to the train station lasts 90 minutes. The taxi fare is 40 Euro, more than the usual 15. A visit to the ATM will be sooner than planned.

At the train station, we have 10 minutes to get our London tickets printed and find our gate in a busy, foreign train station. We find a kiosk and type in our name. Nothing. A typo. We erase and type our name again. Success. Two tickets. Now what? The instructions are in stilted English, like the instructions you receive with the overpriced gimmick you order from an airline magazine.

We ask the man in the glass booth nearby for help. Go upstairs, he said. I glance at my watch. We’re running out of time. We get to the customs booth and discover we have to fill out forms. Scribble fast.

Traveling together? Then both of you need to approach the guard booth. No smiles from this guy. Your business in Paris was what. And what are your plans in London. He pauses, looking at our passports. This is taking too long. Finally, he stamps our passports. Move along. People skills, he needs.

Right away we do the luggage-through-the-metal-detectors routine. My Best Friend walks through the metal detector and sets it off with her slender necklace. I walk through the other machine. I’m wearing metal-rimmed glasses, a watch, a large metal belt buckle, and the metal detector remains silent. The machines must have been designed for TSA in the USA.

That was the last hurdle. The train gates are down the hall. See all those people standing with their luggage? We get in line a few minutes before boarding the Eurostar for the ride to London. We’re the last in line at the end of a 12-car train. Our seats are in the first car.

Week in Paris

We find our seats. On the way to London, I reflect on our week in Paris. The cabdriver who picked us up at the Charles de Gaulle Airport a week ago wore beach shorts, a casual shirt and flip-flops.

We arrived early at our hotel. Our room wasn’t ready, so hotel staff gave us access to the executive lounge to catch our breath from our long flight from Arizona. And sadly, one of the first news items we see on CNN news is about the wildfires in northeastern Arizona.

Later, after unpacking, we take turns connecting our laptops to the Internet. We then enjoy a late lunch of burgers and fries in the hotel restaurant. Since we didn’t sleep much during the flight, and because our lunch was late, we treat ourselves to a late afternoon nap. Two hours later, we take a walk around the neighborhood.

At a crosswalk, a man approaches us and begins talking in French. When I say, “English,” he replies, “No English,” with disappointment on his face. “Sorry,” I say as he walked away.

We stop at a neighborhood grocer for a few things. We skip dinner today because lunch had been late and substantial.

Our excursions in Paris take us to several of the city’s major attractions. There is the sunny afternoon in Luxembourg Gardens, a popular public park that includes the buildings occupied by the French Senate.

The park at the back of Notre Dame Cathedral is a favorite area for quiet lunches and walks. Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett

There is the visit to Notre Dame Cathedral. From there, we walk to the Louvre Museum, which was closed for the day. We couldn’t tell if it was the regular day for closure, or if there was a special event.

The Louvre Museum’s entrance is a glass pyramid. The Louvre, one of the world’s largest museums, occupies what once was the world’s largest palace. Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett

We turn around from the Louvre’s entrance – the one at the glass pyramid in the plaza – and spot the Arc de Triomphe in the distance. I imagine the armies that marched on the cobblestones here. I think about the dictators and revolutions and spilled blood.

Walking in the rain

We head back for our hotel and find ourselves walking in the summer rain in the heart of Paris. We stop at a restaurant where we believe English is spoken. But from the behavior of the hostess, we discover English wasn’t on her menu du jour. Although there were several empty tables, we leave. We can spend our euros elsewhere.

When the rain increases, we dash into a phone booth to check our map, which was getting soggy. I usually have a good sense of direction. But the meandering streets of Paris, and not seeing the sun for several days, keep my compass spinning. Finally, we find the commuter rail station, the Paris Metropolitain, and wait for our train. We pick up lunch back at our hotel.

The next day, I board the Metro for a visit to the Eiffel Tower. I arrive to find French police and military casually patrolling the plaza under the tower. The soldiers, one with tattoos on his biceps, cradle their automatic weapons.

I see hours-long lines to ride elevators to the top of the tower. Incredible views from the top, but I don’t wait in lines that long. I’ll shoot photos from the ground up. I find a spot under the center of the tower and shoot straight up. The color of the tower reminds me of light chocolate.

An eye-catching photo from under the center of the Eiffel Tower shows an intricate steel framework. Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett

After a few minutes of shooting vertical photos, my neck complains. I hear someone talking in French nearby. I don’t understand French. But the friendly voice continues. I look around and see a young woman sitting on her bicycle speaking to me.

She’s handing her camera to me and speaking in French. English, I say. She switches to English. “Would you take my picture?”

Silly monolingual American, I think of myself. I position her with the massive tower overhead, shoot a few frames of her sitting on her bike, and hand the camera back to her.

Look at the photos and tell me if those are what you want, I say. Fantastic, she says. These are great. Thank you. She rides away. I continue shooting the tower from different angles.

I walk back to the Metro station, which isn’t far. The Metro, with a network of 16 mostly underground lines, carries more than 4 million passengers daily. It is said to be Europe’s second-busiest metro system, after Moscow’s.

One stop after I board the Metro, a wiry man with a guitar and a harmonica steps aboard. He stays in the space by the doors. Once we were moving, he adjusts his guitar and begins to play the folk classic, “Blowing in the Wind,” adding his personal flourishes with the harmonica in the neck holder. At each Metro station, he stops to let riders maneuver around him.

This Metro car is about half full. I see a commuter focused on his computer. Others are carrying briefcases or groceries. A few departing riders give change to the musician. He thanks them.

Judging from his relaxed body language and his polish with his guitar, this street musician has performed his routine many times. It’s part of his day. He enjoys performing. As he plays, he sometimes closes his eyes. He has patience. He believes in himself. I glance at the Metro map over the doors. My stop is approaching.

A few days later, my Best Friend and I take the 30-minute ride by train to Versailles. I thought the Eiffel Tower was impressive. And it is, in its own category.

But then we visit Versailles. Or rather, we experience Versailles. The opulence and extravagance are breathtaking. So are the paintings covering the ceilings. And the chandeliers and thrones and the overall construction. And the fountains in the gardens that seemingly extend to the horizon.

The immense Versailles estate, started in the 1600s, was expanded over the next two centuries by France’s rulers. According to its visitor’s guide, Versailles has 700 rooms, 67 staircases, 2,153 windows and 200,000 trees on 800 hectares, or about 2,000 acres. Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett

The gardens of flowers and hedges and fountains are magnificent. The Grand Canal is large enough for people to use rowboats. There is the history of Versailles, its majesty, and its role in France’s past and its present. But I wonder, what was the price of this extravagance in terms of human starvation and death?

Walking the first set of stone stairs at Versailles, we were struck by how worn the steps are on the right side, next to the bannister. Who walked here before us? What were their positions in government or the upper class?

The 233-foot-long Hall of Mirrors, completed in 1686, often was used for celebrations, such as grand balls or meetings with other heads of state. The treaty ending World War I was signed in the Hall of Mirrors. Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett

On our way back to our hotel, first on the train and then on the Metro, I thought about the financial role Versailles plays in the local French economy. It must be substantial. I suspect that the world economy has a little more sparkle than the grim portrayal by pundits. In line to enter Versailles, we – along with a few thousand others who travel here from around the world – paid 25 Euro each for one ticket.

Each visitor to Versailles, especially those from other nations, likely paid substantially for travel, lodging and meals. We heard many languages during our visit.

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Jun 19th, 2011

Recharging with Hugs and Canoes at Sunrise in Santa Barbara

Posted By Mike Padgett

June 4, 2011

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. – I love walking or exercising at sunrise. It helps clear the adrenaline fumes or disappointments from the day before.

Shadows form, then fade with the rising sun marking the start of a grand new day. No traffic threatening pedestrians, yet.  The night’s silver moonlight segues into golden sunshine. Perfect for photos. With coffee.

My favorite places at sunrise are the coasts of California, Oregon and Washington State. The West Coast is where I can return to watch the sunset over the ocean. A child of the West and its open spaces, the mountains and the ocean are where I belong.

Stearns Wharf, in the distance, starts taking shape at dawn. It offers a few restaurants and shops out on the water – and a panoramic view of the city. Built in 1872, the 2,000-foot wharf was owned in the 1940s by actor Jimmy Cagney and his brothers. Be sure to watch for rowing enthusiasts cruising the harbor in their canoes. © Copyright photo by Mike Padgett

On this day, I head for the beach between Stearns Wharf and the Santa Barbara Marina. Cabrillo Boulevard, the city’s usually-busy main drag along the beach, is deserted.

But I am not alone at dawn on the beach. A couple have a camera mounted on a tripod in the sand. They must have flashlights. The sun’s first rays are about to arrive. I see them catch a hug between checking and rechecking their camera’s settings. Hugs remind me of my Best Friend. She’s not with me on this walk.

The couple with the camera are anxious about capturing the dawn. I walk on in the twilight, toward the shore. The breakwater keeps the water calm here. Two curious creatures, probably seals, with only their eyes and the tops of their heads visible, swim in my direction. A minute later, they slip away.

Canoes with outriggers are stacked near the shore. In coming days, rowing teams will sync and strain their muscles, rowing back and forth in the harbor.

In the quiet marina, a man in a small motorboat ripples the mirror-smooth water.

The sun is up. Joggers begin pounding the sidewalk along the boulevard, adding more life to the dawn. Most are in good physical condition. A few wear headphones. Some run solo or with a dog on a leash. One woman pushes a three-wheeled baby buggy.

American Riviera

Santa Barbara, with sidewalk cafes downtown and moderate temperatures, is a photogenic city with a Riviera feel. It is dominated by historic Spanish Colonial architecture topped by red-tiled roofs.

This city’s magic – the ocean, the mild climate and the mountains – includes excellent restaurants. We enjoyed the Enterprise Fish Co., where those beautiful people should bottle their courtesy and energy. The website is

On our last day in Santa Barbara, we chose Emilio’s for dinner. Emilio’s, across Cabrillo from the marina, is an elegant restaurant where customers are greeted by proprietor Michael De Paola. Ask him about his De Paola wines. Our table wasn’t ready when we arrived, so Michael offered each of us a glass of wine while we waited. He prepared a table by the window for us. Emilio’s website is The vineyard’s is

We also enjoyed Andersen’s Danish Restaurant & Bakery on State Street. Twice, we treated ourselves to lunch on the sidewalk here. Try the crab salad sandwich on a croissant. Check their menu at Both days, we managed to maintain our diets and avoid the picture-perfect desserts in the bakery case.

Mission Santa Barbara, established in 1786, often is called the “queen of the missions” because of its architecture. © Copyright photo by Mike Padgett

We spent parts of two days wandering in and around Mission Santa Barbara. This hilltop mission, now surrounded by residential neighborhoods, was the 10th of the 21 California missions founded by the Spanish Franciscans.

One morning, I thought I arrived at the mission early enough to avoid crowds. I barely had time for a few photos when three charter buses pulled into the mission parking lot. Their passengers pulled out their cameras as they scurried to find the best spot for photos. They’re on a schedule.

Churches, especially those with long histories, offer many photo opportunities. The image of the Mission Santa Barbara is reflected in its fountain. © Copyright photo by Mike Padgett

Another day, my Best Friend and I drove the 40 or so miles over the Santa Ynes Mountains to Solvang, which is surrounded by wine country. She’s the expert navigator, studying maps before we start a new adventure. She says we need a portable GPS system.

We stopped at Mission Santa Ines in Solvang. We enjoyed the drive but we were surprised at the increase in residential development in this area since our last visit about 20 summers ago. The mission appears to be in better condition today, probably because of the support of a larger congregation.

Serenity and beauty fill the courtyard of the Mission Santa Ines in Solvang. The hedge’s Celtic cross design reflects the heritage of the mission’s administration, beginning in the 1920s, by the Capuchin Franciscan Order of the Irish Province. © Copyright photo by Mike Padgett

Over the years, we’ve visited seven of the 21 California missions. The missionaries played a vital role in the opening of the American West, starting in the 1700s. I wonder if I could have survived at that time, without all of our conveniences of food, medicine, housing and technology.

We enjoy the rejuvenating atmosphere of the religious properties. And to make up (hopefully) for our absences in church.

Yes, some of the original Spanish missionaries abused Native Americans, and that violence is regrettable. I think about that abuse each time I enter a mission. Prayers of compensation for the abuse and violence against ancient cultures hundreds of years ago are all we can offer. I hope it helps.

By the way, Stearns Wharf makes an interesting photo backdrop from the beach, and a place from which to photograph Santa Barbara or watch boats enter and leave the marina. It has a few restaurants and gift shops, and even a fortuneteller.

The day I visited the wharf, a tanned entrepreneur in the sand at the entrance was using a magnifying glass to burn designs into wood plaques for sale. Business was slow.

On the wharf, a couple of fishermen ignored the sign, “Do Not Feed the Birds.” One tossed his minnow bait in the path of a seagull gliding overhead. The bird spied the flopping minnow, but it veered away to avoid nearby pedestrians.

Farther out on the wharf, a pelican stood motionless on the boardwalk, waiting for handouts from passersby. He turned and walked away from a woman who approached slowly, extending her empty hand.

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Jun 4th, 2011
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Beyond the Beaches: Serenity and History in Hawaii

Posted By Mike Padgett

May 30, 2011

HONOLULU – The history of Hawaiian royalty and a U.S. military cemetery in an ancient crater overlooking Honolulu grabbed our attention. For us, they were unexpected discoveries.

We arrived too late to visit the USS Arizona Memorial. The parking lot was packed, and this was our last opportunity this trip. Bummer. So we shifted to another plan.

We drove to ‘Iolani Palace on King Street in downtown Honolulu. Built in the 1880s, the Palace was the home of the Hawaiian royal family. It also is the only official residence of royalty in the United States. The Hawaiian monarchy existed from 1796 to 1893. In 1898, the Republic of Hawaii was annexed by the United States. Hawaii became the 50th state in 1959.

The regal ‘Iolani Palace is a substantial building with high ceilings and deep verandas. © Photo copyright by Mike Padgett

Etched glass and sheet glass for doors and windows and cast iron columns for the veranda arrived from San Francisco. A quarry in Pennsylvania provided slate for the roof.

Plumbing designs for the building were lavish, according to a booklet sold in the gift shop. The second floor had four bathrooms. King Kalakaua’s “copper-lined bathtub was 7 feet long, 2 feet wide and 2 feet deep,” according to the booklet, “’Iolani Palace.”

Visitors carry audio wands on self-guided tours of the palace. To protect the wood floors, visitors must wear cloth booties over their shoes. Photographs of the palace interior are forbidden. For interior photos and more history about the palace, visit

Serenity landscaped

We also visited the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific. The 112-acre cemetery occupies a volcanic crater formed about 100,000 years ago. It was designed as a burial site for the remains of thousands of soldiers who died in the Pacific Theater in World War II.

Each year, more than five million visitors stop by the serene National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, making it one of Oahu’s most popular attractions. © Photo copyright by Mike Padgett

The afternoon we parked to pay our respects, there weren’t many other visitors. Which gave us more time and space to wander and wonder at the peace and the beauty created in the wake of mind-numbing brutality.

Cemetery opened in 1949

The cemetery has records for 35,224 interments. According to the Department of Veterans Affairs website, the first interment was on Jan. 4, 1949. Six months later, “the cemetery opened to the public on July 19, 1949, with services for five war dead: an unknown serviceman, two Marines, an Army lieutenant and one civilian – noted war correspondent Ernie Pyle.”

The cemetery’s landscaping is meticulous. The expansive green lawn dotted with headstones is bordered and divided by ancient trees. © Photo copyright by Mike Padgett

Several months ago, the cemetery landed on my list of places to visit after I learned Pyle was buried there. Pyle was one of the original “embedded” journalists. He spent time in the trenches with soldiers across Europe and throughout the Pacific. World War II was a few years before television, and several decades before the Internet, so newspapers and radio were the only connections readers and listeners had with news about the war.

By traveling with and writing about American GIs, Pyle became one of the nation’s most popular journalists. His crisp writing, with short sentences, is easy to read. He often mentioned soldiers’ names and hometowns in his columns, making him popular with soldiers and their families.

Killed by sniper

In 1944, Ernest Taylor Pyle received a Pulitzer Prize for his war reporting. Pyle, who served in the Navy in World War I, was killed in World War II. On April 18, 1945, he was hit by a Japanese sniper’s bullet on an island off Okinawa. Pyle’s decision to return to the war front, again, after a rest at home became his tiger behind the door.

Pyle’s writing style is easy to read. He was judicious with his words. Several years ago, I visited the Albuquerque house that Pyle and his wife Jerry called home from 1940 until his death five years later. The former Pyle home has been a city branch library since the city in 1947 accepted it to be maintained as a memorial to Pyle and as the city’s first branch library.

The simple and unpretentious clapboard house with shake roof on Girard Boulevard sits on two lots. The house was designated a National Historic Landmark in 2006.

Pyle has been criticized, according to the historic register nomination of his house, “for his unwillingness to question the conduct of the war or to reveal all the horror of combat.”

However, the nomination continued, “even his critics concede that he was the most important interpreter of the war to the American public.”

By April 1943, Pyle’s columns were published in 122 newspapers with a combined circulation of nine million. Later that year, 143 papers were publishing his column. Pyle was popular because he focused on the soldiers, not politicians.

Pyle didn’t judge the correctness of the war, and he didn’t judge governments responsible for decisions that led to war. He wrote about grimy, unshaven soldiers facing death 24/7.

A clerk in the cemetery office pointed me toward the section where Pyle is buried. That part of the cemetery is under renovation.  Finding Pyle’s headstone, I found myself humbled. He was a journalist who made the ultimate sacrifice while writing about everyday Americans on the front lines living in mud, some splattered with blood.

On each side of Pyle’s headstone are others inscribed, Unknown. © Photo copyright by Mike Padgett

Next to Pyle’s headstone during our visit were a bouquet of flowers in a black plastic pot and a familiar blue-and-white Portage “Professional Reporter’s Notebook.” The notebook’s pages were rippled from the humidity.

On one page, someone had scribbled a note about Pyle’s popularity linked to his cynicism.

I couldn’t tell if the notebook was added by cemetery staff or bus tours (a charter bus stopped at the site while I was at Pyle’s headstone), if it was a prank, or if a journalist placed it there.

Standing at Pyle’s grave, and while reading the headstones as I walked in the military cemetery, I thought about my father, who died many years ago. During World War II, he spent 22 months in the Army in New Guinea. Part of that time was aboard fuel tankers dodging the enemy. He lost a brother to combat in Italy.

That’s all he shared about his war experiences. He didn’t like war movies. I was in the Air Force but I never saw combat. I have no concept of the wartime experiences of my father and the uncle I never knew.

Hawaii’s other treasures

This was our first trip to Oahu. We’d traveled to Hawaii years ago – twice to Kauai and twice to Maui, each for a week at a time. Staying in one place for a week allows plenty of time to unwind and explore a region’s more remote areas. On Kauai, we drove around the island as far as we could in each direction. The road does not go completely around Kauai because of the rugged Na Pali Coast.

On Maui, we drove the circle road around the island, along the way visiting Hana and the island’s more isolated countryside. And the drive to the top of Haleakala, at 10,023 feet, where visitors drive through the clouds to temperatures that drop to freezing after sunset, was breathtaking. Temperatures at the summit vary, depending on weather, but they typically are about 30 degrees cooler than at the beaches, according to the National Park Service. It was about 45 degrees during our visit. Pack a sweater or light jacket.

Oahu, for me, is too civilized. I’m sure it’s because of the size of Honolulu, which is the state capital, and because of the commercialization of the city. High-end retailers and rush-hour traffic on an exotic island are not for me. But in Oahu’s favor are its beaches (away from Waikiki) and the importance of the Hawaiian historic sites and the U.S. war memorials.

A friend drove us around the island of Oahu. After a lunch of steak for him and grilled mahi mahi for us, we headed east from Waikiki. We drove through some exclusive neighborhoods where many of the high-dollar homes have ocean views. The neighborhoods reminded us of California residences in La Jolla and Coronado.

We passed the Stairway to Heaven (Google that name if you want more information) and a tiny beach our friend says was used in the movie, “From Here to Eternity.”

He drove us past several more beaches as he looped around part of the island. After about an hour, we eventually entered the west side of Honolulu.

Oahu has much to offer visitors, including hotels in Waikiki on and near the beach, a variety of restaurants, and Technicolor scenery. © Photo copyright by Mike Padgett

We prefer less-populated scenery, like the ‘Iolani Palace and the National Cemetery of the Pacific. If we’d had more time, we would have checked out the North Shore, which we learned is a mellow, must-see part of the island.

One last thing: In the April/May issue of Hana Hou!, the magazine of Hawaiian Airlines, is a clever photo essay featuring dogs that ride surfboards with their masters in Hawaii. Here is the link: Enjoy.

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May 30th, 2011

Relocating to Arizona; Fuel Prices and Scooters; and Writer’s Block

Posted By Mike Padgett

May 9, 2011

– Opinion –

You might disagree but…..


Arizona has been my home since 1968, and I can’t remember when the light at the end of the state’s financial tunnel was this dim. If anyone in another state were to ask me about relocating to Arizona, I would say, “Do more research.”

They need to study extremist politics in the Arizona Legislature. They need to read about lawmakers focusing on endorsing a state gun, requiring presidential candidates to prove their citizenship, immigration, and allowing people to carry guns on college campus rights of way and into state and local government buildings.

Gov. Jan Brewer exhibited wisdom when she stood up to her Republican ideologues and vetoed their citizenship proposal, as well as the measures allowing weapons on college campuses and in public buildings. By the way, the endorsement of an “official” state weapon could be a technical violation of the state Constitution. For details, read

These bold gun proposals from Arizona legislators came in the wake of the Jan. 8 massacre in which six people died and 13 were injured, including Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. Doctors say Giffords, who was shot in the head, is making an amazing recovery. Suspect Jared Loughner faces a large number of criminal counts related to the shootings.

A state’s radical politics intimidates the business community. If employers are local, they will put on hold any plans for expansion in a state guided by extremism politics. If employers are out of state and are considering a move into a state with extremist leadership, they likely will shift their attention elsewhere.

That means Arizona’s existing unemployment of more than 9 percent is likely to remain unchanged, at least until the existing political leadership shows signs of compassion and moderation. And with that high rate of joblessness, the state will continue carrying its existing inventory of unsold homes. The jobless are not buying homes.

Sure, look for improved home sales. But some of those new sales will be to investors and speculators. Interested owner-occupants looking for work will keep their purchase plans on hold. Which begs the question, who will become Arizona’s future buyers and renters? For all of the above reasons, Arizona will be slower on the rebound when the national economy begins regaining strength.

Plus, the Legislature has attached so many financial gimmicks to the state budget in recent years, look for annual budget battles to become more divisive. The GOP-dominated Legislature used smoke and mirrors this year to obscure the state’s immediate budget troubles. To avoid raising state taxes, state legislators shifted more costs to the budgets of cities and towns, which will be forced to raise their taxes. I would expect one or more of those tax measures to lead to court challenges. Don’t believe me? Check this editorial in The Arizona Republic for details. For more specifics, read this opinion column by Democrat Chad Campbell, minority whip of the Arizona House of Representatives.

Impacts of fuel prices

Rising fuel prices hurt consumers’ pocketbooks everywhere, but especially in the West where mass transit is less prevalent and there are many miles between cities. As fuel prices rise, consumers tend to drive less. Or they trade in the gas guzzlers for more fuel-efficient vehicles. And with the impending retirement of baby boomers, the nation’s largest workforce in history, look for a decline in fuel sales as the boomers stop commuting. All of these factors translate into reduced fuel sales, and that means less fuel taxes paid for road improvements. Which means more deterioration of roads and bridges. Have potholes? Get used to them.

In Arizona, home sales and fuel sales go together. Many new unsold homes are in housing developments on the edge of the metro Phoenix region. Who can afford long commutes when fuel is $4 or more per gallon? I anticipate an increase in housing sales closer to city cores and employment centers. Developers tell me they expect future residential and commercial growth to be focused within the metro Phoenix region’s ring of freeways.

Scooters and fuel prices

Rising fuel prices could have a negative impact on OPEC, too. There is a new report predicting a rapid increase in the sales of scooters worldwide. Once scooter owners start experiencing dozens of miles per gallon, they could depend less on their larger vehicles. The report is available at

Writer’s block

Suffering from creative block, whether you’re a writer, photographer or sculptor? It happens. For me, writer’s block is like running into a brick wall. The energy is there, but the words aren’t. My solution is setting aside my plan to write and listening to what I have indexed in my iTunes library as “Power Rock” and “Soundtracks Power Music.” Almost always, the music’s energy clears the fog obscuring my creative juices. My music library includes classic rock ‘n’ roll and movie soundtracks. On the rare occasion when music doesn’t break the block, I’ll try again tomorrow. My muse will return.

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(Updated May 10, 2011)

May 9th, 2011

Newseum Spotlights Centuries of News History, Major Events

Posted By Mike Padgett

April 17, 2011

WASHINGTON – The rain streamed sideways on our plane’s windows as we landed at Reagan National Airport. No sunbeams on this day. April’s dense clouds were almost as low as treetops.

The rain drenching Washington forced us to switch to Plan B on our newest visit. We had set aside two days for ourselves on this trip. But instead of attending the Cherry Blossom Festival, we headed for the museums to avoid the cold and damp weather.

The highlight this trip was spending a day in the Newseum. Its 250,000 square feet of displays of media pioneers, technology and historical events unleashed an adrenaline rush I hadn’t felt since my work on news teams during several Arizona elections.

The next time you’re in Washington, reward yourself with a visit to the Newseum, 555 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. If you appreciate the role a free press plays in a strong democracy, you won’t be disappointed. Copyright photo by Mike Padgett

The visit should remind you to look beyond public officials’ sound bites and posturing, and to always challenge their statements and motivations.

My Best Friend and I saw sections of the Berlin Wall and an East German guard tower. We studied the biographies of media pioneers.

A popular display in the Newseum has eight sections of the Berlin Wall and a three-story concrete guard tower. The display is a stark reminder of a once-divided Germany. The west side of the wall is covered with colorful grafitti. The east side is blank. Copyright photo by Mike Padgett

We studied analyses of the news media’s coverage of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

We stood before the display of Tim Russert’s office. On his desk is a wooden plaque, “Thou Shalt Not Whine.” Russert, respected by his colleagues and politicians for his fairness, died of a heart attack in June 2008 at NBC News’ Washington bureau. He was 58. Earlier that year, Russert was named by Time magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world.

In the memorial room honoring reporters who died on the job since 1837, I sat and watched other visitors study the reporters’ names and mug shots. At a special ceremony May 16, the Newseum will rededicate the Journalists Memorial. The names of 77 journalists will be added, bringing the total to 2,084, according to news reports.

9/11 display

When I entered the room with the 9/11 display, my throat tightened. I returned to this room two more times before we left the museum near closing.

I stood before the bent and twisted broadcast tower from the World Trade Center in New York City. This metal tower had been the top of one of the tallest buildings in the world.

America’s collective memory includes the iconic video showing the WTC’s collapse. The broadcast tower sinks into a cloud of dust as the building falls in on itself.

Visitors to the 9/11 Gallery walk slowly around the broadcast tower that once was the top of the World Trade Center. They read the chronology of the attacks that day 10 years ago next September. Copyright photo by Mike Padgett

On the high wall next to the broadcast tower are 127 front pages from newspapers around the world. Each front page has photographs showing the WTC’s two skyscrapers burning or collapsing.

On another wall is the U.S. flag. And on a third wall is a slideshow. It shows people running for their lives while firefighters are racing to the burning towers

In the seconds it took for the buildings to collapse, thousands of lives – with dreams and smiles and freckles – were erased.

This display is powerful. It grabs the attention of those who remember the attack as well as students who weren’t born when this terror spawned a new world.

Visitors enter the room and stop and stare. I saw a couple, as they began reading the 9/11 chronology, inch closer together. They reached for each other’s hands. Reading about thousands of lives vanishing in a few grisly minutes is almost incomprehensible.

Attack 10 years ago changed the world

I studied the wall of newspapers with giant headlines blaring that day’s terror. Some visitors walked slowly around the broadcast tower, reading about the terrorist attack that, 10 years ago next September, changed the world.

I remember reading, in the days and weeks after the 2001 attack, about firefighters and police officers cringing on the sidewalks. Those first responders, already hardened to suffering and death, dodged office workers who chose to jump from the burning skyscrapers, rather than die in the flames.

Witnesses looking up saw office workers, dozens of stories above the streets, step to the windows and lean into space.

Newseum visitors who are old enough likely remember reading about the makeshift bulletin boards on the streets around Ground Zero. Relatives and friends posted notes about their missing loved ones. Single mom of two. Dark hair. Brown eyes. Loving father or brother or son. Worked at such-and-such company. Loved baseball and football. We miss you. We love you. Phone number. Please call.

The display reminded me of my feelings on the day of the attack. I was eating breakfast at home in Arizona. I was watching the morning news when I saw the first airliner fly into the World Trade Center. My brain said my eyes were wrong when they saw an airliner vanish into a skyscraper.

That’s when I realized our world has changed. We can never go back.

I continued listening to the news on my way to work that morning. When I heard the report about another airliner hitting the other WTC tower, I pulled over and stopped. I could only imagine the horror in the minds of office workers and rescuers facing death.

The news that morning included accounts of two other hijacked airliners. One was flown into the Pentagon. The other, on which passengers tried to retake control from hijackers, nosedived into a field in Pennsylvania.

More than 3,000 people died in the attacks in New York City, Washington and Pennsylvania. I remember thinking this new world will be painful.

Many displays

The Newseum’s many other displays feature the First Amendment, ethics, the Internet, early news, Pulitzer Prize winners, and political cartoonists.

Historic quotes are on the walls throughout the Newseum. This one is by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. Copyright photo by Mike Padgett

The names and places on the collection of front pages reach deep into U.S. and world history. There are the pamphleteers, those early reporters who helped spread news and gossip in the Colonies.

There are details about the first publications, dating back hundreds of years. The American Revolution. The Civil War. World War I. Charles Lindbergh and his solo flight in 1927 across the Atlantic. President Franklin D. Roosevelt. World War II. President Harry Truman. Korea. Edward R. Murrow. Joseph McCarthy. President Dwight Eisenhower. The 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Vietnam. Watergate. The Pentagon Papers. The resignation of President Richard Nixon in 1974. The attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan in 1981. Wars in the Mideast.

The Newseum’s top floor includes a terrace with one of Washington’s best views. In the distance is the U.S. Capitol. Copyright photo by Mike Padgett

Since its opening in 2008, a visit to the Newseum has been low on my bucket list. I was wrong. I didn’t realize the museum’s large size and its comprehensive history of the media as part of U.S. history. For me, with my 30-plus years as a journalist, our tour of the Newseum was very humbling.

We also visited the National Geographic Society at 17th and M streets. A new exhibit spotlights the recent book, “The President’s Photographer,” by John Bredar. Copies of several of the book’s photographs are matted and mounted on the display walls.

One of the photos, by George W. Bush chief photographer Eric Draper, shows Bush at a public school where he was speaking when he learned of the 9/11 attacks. The photo shows Bush taking notes while watching television coverage of the burning World Trade Center.

Nation’s capitol offers more than politics

Washington is a mesmerizing city. I love the energy of the neighborhoods with historic buildings, pizza joints, hotels, restaurants, grocery stores, bookstores and dry cleaners, all on the same block.

It is an international city where media is a major player. Near Dupont Circle is The Front Page, a restaurant with a media theme. The restaurant is decorated with dozens of framed and matted historical front pages dating back many decades. The weeknight we were there, the place was busy. My Best Friend and I enjoyed the crab cake sandwiches with sweet potato fries.

She will tell you I couldn’t keep my eyes off the headlines, straight out of history, covering the restaurant walls.

(In the interest of full disclosure, I spent most of my life in the media world, first as a hardcore news consumer. I was in grade school when I began watching Edward R. Murrow. Later, Douglas Edwards, the news team of Chet Huntley and David Brinkley, and finally Walter Cronkite shared with me the important news du jour. Later, for more than 30 years, I was a newspaper journalist. I worked with several outstanding editors and photographers.)

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Apr 17th, 2011

Between a Beach and a Railroad, A Flood of Memories

Posted By Mike Padgett

April 3, 2011

CARLSBAD, Calif. – Beaches and trains are the sources of my favorite sounds. The sounds of waves, either lapping on the sand or crashing on rocks, and the horns or whistles of thundering trains represent adventure and independence.

During a long weekend in Southern California, we recently found ourselves within a short walk of a Pacific Ocean beach to the west and a railroad to the east.

We had made plans, after a business meeting in Thousand Oaks, to follow our inner compasses. For me, our adventure took us back in time. Our time.

After the meeting, we sat in our rental SUV to check the map. Our detour would take us south from Thousand Oaks through Los Angeles to San Juan Capistrano and Carlsbad. Both have access to beaches and a railroad.

I soon discovered that pelicans and surfers are the regulars on the beach at Carlsbad. The pelicans, soaring north in V-shaped squadrons of a dozen or more, bank into a steep U-turn and glide south single file inches above the waves, avoiding the surfers.

Surfers in their wetsuits join joggers and other visitors most mornings at the beach in Carlsbad, Calif. Copyright photo by Mike Padgett

Pacific Ocean beaches and the lifestyles they represent have been a lifelong attraction. I first wandered the beach as a kid in the 1950s, digging for razor clams. In the 1960s, beaches were the stage for the Beach Boys music, which in 1967 helped pass the time and miles when I helped a friend drive his new sports car from Indianapolis to Los Angeles.

My roots are mobile. I was born many miles from any beach, but the lure of the Pacific Ocean is visceral – Highway 101, Point Reyes north of San Francisco, Point Lobos south of Carmel, Point Loma in San Diego, the coves and inlets along the Oregon and Washington state coasts, the smell of the salt air, and waves shiny as sequins at sunset.

In California, Maui and Kauai, I’ve enjoyed walking and sitting on the beaches, alone or with my Best Friend, watching the waves, birds, dolphins and surfers at sunrise and sunset.  Years ago, on a sunny morning, we were caught in a sudden shower on a Maui beach. We laughed, rain streaming into our eyes, sharing a rainbow.

On this recent California detour, we stopped first at San Juan Capistrano. Wandering the mission reminded us of our first vacation together here on a journey we began when our paths first crossed. That trip doesn’t seem like that long ago, until a flood of memories began.

After my military discharge, we helped each other through college. My bachelor’s degree. Her master’s. My writing awards. Her doctorate. Our career achievements. We grieved during each other’s losses, and we celebrated each other’s victories.

In between our shared milestones, we visited Capistrano a few times. That first year we met, our pockets were mostly empty. The only treasure we had was our attraction for each other. Over the years, we’ve collected many priceless memories.

Hiking, camping and collecting fossils in the mountains in central Arizona.

Sitting before a fireplace and sharing s’mores in Washington state.

Browsing used bookstores in Oregon.

Spending Christmas in California, where we walked beaches and avoided malls and traffic.

Enjoying a wine tour for two east of Santa Barbara.

Cruising antique stores on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles.

Joining a tour of a think tank in New Mexico.

Spending a day at The Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens in San Marino.

Standing in the shoulder-to-shoulder crowd, bundled up for the 24-degree day, at the 2009 Inauguration on the Washington Mall.

Before visiting Mission San Juan Capistrano this time, we stopped for lunch two blocks away at El Adobe de Capistrano. The restaurant is on the California State Historical Landmark list because part of the building dates to 1797, according to its Website.

If only its walls and gardens could talk, imagine what Mission San Juan Capistrano could teach its visitors. Copyright photo by Mike Padgett

It’s been too long since our last visit to the mission and to El Adobe. Dedication to our careers has absorbed our time. For us, Capistrano is a focused calm in a world burdened with Internet pirates, road rage, high unemployment, airport inspections for terrorists, record fuel prices, workplace challenges, drive-by shootings, and freeways that often become linear parking lots.

Although we missed the swallows returning to Capistrano by a week this time, the Friday we walked the mission grounds was perfect. The midday sun was burning off the coastal clouds and exposing the blue sky. California poppies and other flowers and plants were at their peak.

Timing, as they say, is everything. We learned that in 24 hours, an annual celebration was expected to attract shoulder-to-shoulder crowds and gridlock traffic that would overpower the solitude we were enjoying. Capistrano often suffers from its own popularity.

On this day before the celebration, we wandered the mission separately. Exchanging knowing glances, my Best Friend headed for the chapel. She wanted to offer prayers and light candles. I whisper my prayers in forests, beaches, canyons and patches of flowers.

The mission offers photo ops everywhere. There is the original chapel damaged in long-ago earthquakes. The ancient arches. The flowers. The inner garden. The weathered wood cart turned into a flower garden on iron wheels. Capistrano has become our rock, our retreat.

For a short time each spring, the grounds of Mission San Juan Capistrano sparkle with California poppies and other flowers. Copyright photo by Mike Padgett

“Sorry, I’m sorry,” the woman said repeatedly, accidentally walking into my photo of an arched doorway. “Sorry, sorry.” She and a little girl hustled across the room to the opposite door.

Capistrano, founded in 1775 in an isolated part of California, has witnessed the birth of the United States, its 44 presidencies, the formation of its 50 states, the completion of its Transcontinental Railroad, many wars, and moon landings. I can only imagine the tranquility the Native Americans enjoyed before the arrival of the Europeans.

When the Spanish explorers landed by ship, they probably saw the foothills between the Pacific’s beaches and the coastal range carpeted with chaparral and sage. I’m sure they also saw vernal pools, those shallow depressions trapping rare rainfall that sustain the short lifecycles of certain plants and animals.

Other Capistrano visitors shared the mission’s ambiance with us. They walked silently, basking in the quiet or listening to recorded presentations on rental headphones. In the history of California and westward expansion, this is a special place.

Capistrano’s presence and history offer healing powers to the tired brain, as antibiotics do to a wound.

Mission visit ends

At mid-afternoon, after wandering the mission separately, we decided to drive on to Carlsbad.  We were anxious to get to the Carlsbad Inn Beach Resort so we could continue unwinding. The weekend will go by too quickly.

We checked in, left our luggage in our room and went exploring on foot. The compact downtown encourages pedestrian traffic. Plus, Carlsbad is served by three types of rail transportation – Amtrak as well as the commuter trains Metrolink and the Coaster. The railroad goes through the downtown area.

One morning, we drove to the San Diego Botanic Garden, a 35-acre collection of gardens representing regions around the world. The garden is on rolling hills in Encinitas surrounded by residential neighborhoods.

The conical purple blossoms of the Pride of Madeira shrub add color to the San Diego Botanic Gardens in Encinitas, Calif. Copyright photo by Mike Padgett

A hummingbird landed on a cable handrail a few feet from us in the garden. It watched us for less than a minute. Then it went from sitting still to full-speed gone.

For lunch, we drove on Highway 101 from Encinitas south a few miles to La Jolla. Since restaurants close to the coast would be crowded for lunch on Saturday, we drove inland a few miles. We found a terrific Mexican restaurant, Cozymels, where the food and the service were excellent.

We stayed in Carlsbad three days. Each morning at the beach, I saw a few surfers in their wetsuits. Some were in the water, straddling their surfboards. Others were on the beach, surveying the waves, which were about five or six feet.

The Pacific beyond the waves was calm. One morning, I saw two dorsal fins break the water beyond the surfers. The fins were rounded and small. Maybe they were dolphins or porpoises.

I was hoping for sunset photos, but our first two evenings were cloudy. Finally, on the third day, the evening sky was partly clear.

Sunsets along Pacific Ocean beaches usually offer a colorful palette of gold, red, blue and silver. Copyright photo by Mike Padgett

Other visitors began gathering on the beach, anticipating the sunset. One man sat down. Distracted by the day’s gold and crimson end, he didn’t see the waves edging closer. He tried, and failed, to crawl backward on his hands and feet. The wave soaked his shoes and the seat of his pants.

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Apr 3rd, 2011
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