Will Rogers. For President?

Bookmarks showing Will Rogers for President buttons
Bookmarks showing Will Rogers for President buttons. (Source: Will Rogers Memorial Museum online store)

TULSA — Somewhere in the mist of the beginnings of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists arose two icons, Ernie Pyle and Will Rogers. NSNC has other now-ghostly mentors, including Erma and Molly and Art, but these two men from the first half of the 20th century are the modern mentors of columns.

It’s taken me years to understand why.

I loved Ernie Pyle’s World War II columns, classics of our genre and also of overall journalism. Did those send him to the top? Not to me. When, however, I pored through the collections On a Wing and a Prayer: The Aviation Columns of Ernie Pyle, co-edited by our friend the late Mike Harden, and Home Country, American travel stories edited by Lee G. Miller, it became obvious: Pyle observed, then he wrote it true.

What of Will Rogers? He started out a vaudeville solo act of spinning rope and spinning quips and stories. He turned those into movies then into newspaper columns, among other outlets.

Those one-liners of Will’s haven’t gone stale nearly a century later, repeated especially in election years. Worthy of hero-worship? By the end of our Labor Day weekend to Rogers’ hometown of Claremore then to Tulsa for its museum of another gifted performer, the answer came out yes and the reason became obvious.

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Basket of Responsibles

“Bushel picking basket from the book: Vegetable Gardening by Ralph L. Watts, 1919
Source openclipart.org

It’s only Oct. 1, and my prescription for Damnitol is nearly out. I may not have any more refills authorized. Dr. O’Connell probably thinks I’m popping them like peppermints.

Maybe I am.

This week, though, I’ve figured out a drug-free solution, maybe even drub free: Form a club: the Basket of Responsibles.

This is a third American basket. The first this election season is the “basket of deplorables,” coined by 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Rodham Clinton. The second is HRC’s “Other Basket.” Many people in the GOP “Other Basket” would be proud to be with the Responsibles.

First we have to define my basket a little. It’s tough, because I’m not gray enough to proclaim “being responsible” as groovy. (And groovy was nearly before my time.)  Continue reading

Vegan Frittata

My chickpea frittata with flash-cooked bok choy.
My chickpea frittata with flash-cooked bok choy.

ForksOverKnives.com, the website of the 2011 documentary, piqued my interest a few months ago with a recipe for “Chickpea Omelet.” No, it’s not lumpy with garbanzos. The dish is a savory pancake using flour ground from the bean.

The chickpea flour sometimes is found in the gluten-free section of supermarkets, but it always has a shelf spot in Indian or other Asian groceries. There it’s also known as gram or besan flour.

Nor can the beans sit still with just two names, as they’re also known as chana or ceci.

Gram now has a spot in my pantry. A 2-pound bag costs under $10, even the organic version, at my area’s main South Asian market.

I’d been missing frittatas and omelets since going vegan in spring 2013. Scrambled tofu doesn’t appeal. (I am a 95 percent vegan — rarely, I’ll order huevos rancheros at a TexMex cafe, and I never interrogate any host on whether their cookies or cakes contain milk and eggs because they likely will.)

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Tear Down This Wall, That Wall, The Other Ones

Mr. Developer,
Tear Down This Wall.
Pull over the other walls. Haul off the rubble and rebar.
Thank you.

Looking northwest at the side of what's left of the Mountain Inn, downtown Fayetteville, Arkansas, March 21, 2016
Looking northwest at the side of what’s left of the Mountain Inn, downtown Fayetteville, Arkansas, March 21, 2016

It’s a straightforward request but due a complicated, expensive and apparently years in length answer. Thursday (March 24), I made the request to the city of Fayetteville, Arkansas, that something be done about remains of the Mountain Inn, left vacant for ages then partly razed a few years ago. Some three stories of wreckage remain at the entrance to our restored and popular downtown.

[See the end of this column for updates.]

An entity named NWAP LLC of Mountain Home in 2014 bought the property, on the southwest corner of College Avenue at Center Street about a block east of the historic Square. (Mountain Home by the way is not a suburb but 122 miles east.)

Before, the Mountain Inn extended a block south of Center to Mountain Street. That half block of 1960s-ish building, an eyesore for years, finally was torn down, left as a hole for some time but now is a parking lot. A strip of land about 20 yards wide along College (U.S. 71) next to the ugly part has been landscaped with grass and a few shrubs. The front though is nice.

A summary can be found at the Fayetteville Flyer’s May 2014 “Mountain Inn Property under Contract in Downtown Fayetteville” and from July 2014 “Ex-Developer Richard Alexander Still Keen on Mountain Inn Site” in the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal. The latter is about the immediate previous owners, partners planning a new hotel who bought the site in September 2007 — yes, right before the Great Recession, which explains what happened then.

All that makes sense, and our right course should be empathy and patience. Within reason. This past Feb. 1, the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette began, “Publicly announced plans to remake the derelict Mountain Inn building downtown haven’t yet happened, and a representative of the property’s owners said it could be still longer before the owner makes any substantial changes.” That article is behind a fee wall.

The newspaper included a timeline:
“• 1923: The Oriental Hotel was bought and turned into the Mountain Inn. It eventually expanded to about 100 rooms in the 1960s.
“• 1998: The Mountain Inn closed and has remained vacant and in disrepair since.
“• 2005: Developers demolish a portion of the building, which is eventually replaced with a public parking lot that still covers much of of the property.
“• 2014: NWAP LLC buys the property for $1.1 million from the Bank of Fayetteville.”

One assumption is that the City takes care of dilapidated property sooner or later, notifying the owner, pushing the owner and, finally, after bureaucratic maneuvers takes action: tows the abandoned vehicle, scythes the tall weeds or pulls down the gray-painted-brick hulk, billing the owner or perhaps absorbing the cost, we taxpayers’ price for living in society.

Looking north at the rear of what's left of the Mountain Inn, downtown Fayetteville, Arkansas, March 21, 2016
Looking north at the rear of what’s left of the Mountain Inn, downtown Fayetteville, Arkansas, March 21, 2016

The NWAP LLC site is not dangerous. Nothing seems likely to fall, and there’s no nails or broken glass. Just embarrassing. I posed a question on the matter on Facebook days ago and got quick answers from people who know what’s what: the city needs a complaint filed first. Because I smelt it this time, I’ll be the one that dealt it.

At least be first: For something this big, others now should complain, for best results. Here are the steps.

At the municipal website homepage is a link to the City Service/Complaint Form. Click “Begin Request,” which leads to “Type of Service or Problem,” with a drop-down menu of common topics, “Select the Service Requested or Problem Reported.” The closest perhaps is “Substandard Unoccupied Structure Report.” If another label looks better when you file an online complaint, use it.

For “Description of Request of Problem,” I wrote:

“It’s been years, and what’s left of the Mountain Inn continues to be an eyesore to residents and visitors to our otherwise beautiful downtown. The remaining structure is three stories tall, with boarded up windows and doors or on upper floors holes or exposed insulation where windows were. Brick and block are cracked or crumbling.”

The (perhaps salvageable) front of what's left of the Mountain Inn, downtown Fayetteville, Arkansas, March 21, 2016. This is Center Street just west of College Avenue.
The (perhaps salvageable) front of what’s left of the Mountain Inn, downtown Fayetteville, Arkansas, March 21, 2016. This is Center Street just west of College Avenue.

For the actual street address, I typed in Center St. and “front” because the accurate address number may not be that of the still nice-looking front. So I filled in the “Locator Information” field with “Southwest Corner of College Avenue at Center Street, remaining part of the Mountain Inn.”

You then hit “Next,” which wants your name, address, phone and email. Then, “Finish.” The last window provides your service request number. Mine is 159027.

I’ve received an email confirmation. Time to wait.

• • •

Update, March 25, evening: Friend Dave Edmark alerted me to this tweet:

This indicates a cleanup is forthcoming. Perhaps the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette will have details in its Saturday edition. Its photo is from today, Friday. I shot mine earlier in the week. “Sealed” or not, what’s left of the building behind its front facade is waiting for the wrecking ball. And the property should make some developer a lot of money, sooner not later.

• • •

Update: March 26: The Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette published in Saturday’s Fayetteville/Springdale section front a photo similar to the above (shot by Andy Shupe). The caption explains corrugated panels are to seal upper stories and that city officials in January told NWAP LLC to make repairs, ensure people can’t enter and otherwise “bring the property into compliance with city code or else face possible legal action.”

• • •

Update, March 26: The city emailed me that it has completed my service request, in that there’s already an open case it’s addressing. And I’ll be contacted. Here’s the completed form (I blocked out my contact information):

The city emailed me a link to this report at 6:52 a.m. March 26, 2016.
The city emailed me a link to this report at 6:52 a.m. March 26, 2016.

• • •

Update: April 9: A representative of the city phoned not many days after the service request was filed. Great! But it took days of answering-machine tag for us to connect. David of the Compliance Division of Community Development only had a little to say but wanted me to take all the time I needed to vent — that must be their training — but I wanted information not to complain so this wasn’t a long call. No surprise that there’s no law or ordinance against “eyesore.” The city can act on matters of public safety. An “unoccupied or substandard structure” needs to be safe, as in relatively accident-proof, and it needs to be secure, so trespassing (and vandalism and accidents) would be difficult. The city has a good relationship with the “new ownership and their agents,” who agree to requests for sealing openings, landscaping along the side and that the front facade be presentable. “As long as it remains secure we’re not going to have any issues with it,” David said. The city — along with us — hopes the new owners do something wonderful with the old Mountain Inn property and soon. That’s it.

• • •

Update: Sept. 8, 2016: An art collective based in Fort Smith my hometown, named The Unexpected, has commissioned professional muralists to work there in the last year or so, creating huge paintings on the sides of buildings downtown. The Unexpected ventured to Fayetteville  — to the main exposed wall of the Mountain Inn as a matter of fact — where it put Alexis Diaz of Puerto Rico to work. He finished this week, and here’s a 40-second video about it, from The Unexpected’s Facebook page:


As can be seen in the film, parts of the vacant building still are an eyesore. But now, motorists have something wonderful to see as they drive up old 71 to our burg.

The Fayetteville Flyer published some details about the project just before it was completed, in “Unexpected Mural to Be Finished Wednesday.”

If it was up to me, I’d name the painting “Owl Be Seeing You.”

Teen Score and Whole Foods Ago, An Onion

The knobs on the amp of guitarist "Nigel Tufnel" go to 11 not 10. The 1984 fictional documentary "This Is Spinal Tap" continues to be a locus of cultural history.

Shy of a Load

A longtime Onion fan, I had to see Scott Dikkers, an early editor and former, longtime owner of the satiric website. He spoke March 10 at the University of Arkansas. About a hundred people attended the midweek evening lecture, which the sponsoring Honors College publicized widely.

Also compelling me to learn more about this successful enterprise was my being a working journalist, sometime educator and freelance media ethicist. Yet, the Journalism Department did not co-sponsor the speech, nor were any faculty apparently present. The campus newspaper did not cover the event. Dikkers asked if any journalism students were in the audience, and one person raised a hand. One.

Instead of considering what that says about my ol’ haunt, here are highlights of the talk, on behalf of a friend who couldn’t go and asked for them (she was an Arkansas State University J major).

Dikkers’ Five Principles — for magazine publishing, business or maybe life in general — followed by paraphrases of his explanations:

  1. No Permission — just do what you want to be doing
  2. Invest Your Passion, Not Your Money — this is anti-Shark Tank thinking, he said, noting that for him financials come second to drive when it comes to making something a success
  3. Be Prepared to Scrap Everything — use your brain and your hard work but do not deplete your savings so that you can move on if needed
  4. Trust Your People — this Dikkers called his biggest lesson, you should be the best boss, hire the best people, who will be smarter than you, and trust them
  5. Don’t Just Work Hard, Work Smart; Not Just Work Smart, Work Right — learn from the mistakes and successes of predecessors, rivals, competitors because that’s efficient.


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