The Incredible Exploding Whale

With all that has happened/is happening in 2020, most of us are looking forward to moving into a new year. But not every event was bad. The city of Florence on the Oregon coast dedicated a new park.

To generate enthusiasm for the park’s opening, the city solicited suggestions from the public for its name. A hundred and twenty submissions were winnowed to nine that were submitted to the public for a vote. The winner: “Exploding Whale Memorial Park.

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Turkey Tales

The COVID pandemic has affected everything else, so of course it will have an impact on Thanksgiving dinner. Family gatherings will be small, intimate affairs. Smaller gatherings mean less demand for twenty-four-pound turkeys. Supermarkets are ordering more small turkeys, more hens and fewer toms. Growers are slaughtering their birds earlier.

Does this mean distributors’ freezers will be filled with unsold twenty-pound birds? Taking the Wayback Machine to 1953, we see ten railroad cars filled with 260 tons of frozen turkeys the Swanson Company had not been able to sell by Thanksgiving. Refrigeration only worked when the cars were moving. The train rumbled back and forth between Swanson’s headquarters in Nebraska and the East Coast while executives figured out what to do.

The solution was to put slices of turkey on partitioned aluminum trays along with sweet potatoes and cornbread stuffing. Thus was born the TV Dinner. In the first full year of production, Swanson sold ten million frozen dinners, turkey, beef, chicken and others. The company’s timing was good; by 1954, sixty-four percent of American homes had television. (A decade later, it was ninety percent, in time for the Beatles’ appearance on the Ed Sullivan show.)

If a frozen holiday dinner is not appealing, Williams-Sonoma is taking orders for Willie Bird free-range turkeys. Prices start at $139.95 plus shipping.

During my twenty years in Santa Rosa, planning a turkey feast usually included a short drive to the Willie Bird store. Willie Bird’s farm was in the hills behind the store. Family-owned for four generations, Willie Bird was woven into Sonoma County life. The county fair or farmer’s markets or most other outdoor events typically included Willie Bird’s barbecue, grilling drumsticks. Willie Bird’s restaurant was a mainstay in Santa Rosa for years.

Diestel Family Ranch, also in California, purchased Willie Bird this past summer. The new owner says the Willie Bird name will continue. The restaurant was sold last year and now operates as “The Bird.”

The Neverending Inauguration Story

Take a break from the 2020 campaign and reminisce about previous presidential transitions. Bill Clinton in 1997 and George W. Bush in 2001 limited contributions to their presidential inauguration festivities to $100,000 from any one donor. Bush upped the limit to $250,000 in 2005. Barack Obama did not accept contributions from corporations, labor unions, PACs (political action committees) or lobbyists for his 2009 inauguration celebration. Individual gifts were capped at $50,000. Still, he set the record with a $53 million haul.

The current occupant of the White House had no such limits. Thirty donors contributed $1,000,000 or more to the total of $107 million. What’s still in question is where all that money went.

Surprise! A lot of it went into the Trump Organization.

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Seattle’s Vanishing Landmarks

Fifty years ago, Congress voted against funding supersonic aircraft. The result was massive layoffs at Boeing and the not-so-tongue-in-cheek billboard adjacent to I-5 on the way out of Seattle.

Things are different now. Microsoft, Starbucks and Amazon—along with Nirvana and grunge—changed the Queen/Jet City’s image. The working-class town became hip and synonymous with tech.

Seattle’s metamorphosis continues in the twenty-first century. With a median home price of $750,000 and median household income above $150,000, the city has become a place for the well-off and not-so-well-off/homeless with not-so-much in between.

Boeing is contracting again, shutting down 787 Dreamliner production. Amazon is giving mixed messages about continued growth in Seattle.

And another Seattle landmark is about to disappear. Elephant Car Wash, the first automated car wash in the city, announced it was closing after seventy years at the triangular block bordered by Denny Way and Battery Street. Soon to disappear is its iconic garishly-pink neon elephant sign. The company will continue to operate its fourteen other car washes in the Puget Sound area. The property owner has not announced any plans for the property that’s now surrounded by high-rise condominiums and office towers that may or may not be occupied by Amazonians.

An earlier victim of urban progress was the Lincoln Towing Company’s landmark truck—also pink—on Mercer Avenue. In the age of GPS smart phones, nobody needs directions anyway: “Take the Mercer exit from five and turn right at the toe truck.”

Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?

Way back in the mid-twentieth century, if you lived in proximity to the border, finding Canadian coins in your pocket or coin purse was common. Even rolled coins dispensed by banks likely had a Canadian coin or two. Because of a difference in weight or metal content, vending machines had to display notices that Canadian coins could not be used. The exchange rate typically favored the U.S. but not by much. Many merchants would accept Canadian currency, but at a discount.

When I operated a retail business on the northern Oregon coast, occasionally a customer would refuse to accept a Canadian coin in change and I thought, Oh, you’re from California. Over time, the exchange rate widened and Canadian coins no longer were generally accepted anywhere.

Canada, unlike the U.S., stopped circulating pennies a few years ago because the cost to produce a copper coin was more than one cent. Also unlike the U.S., dollar and half-dollar coins are commonly in circulation. They also have a two-dollar coin. The smallest currency denomination is five dollars. The Canadian dollar coin featured the image of a loon, so it became known as a “loonie.” The two-dollar coin, naturally, is a “toonie.”

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Remembering the Inaugural

Perhaps this is a good time to think back to January 20, 2017 when the current occupant of the White House gave his first address to the nation as a first-time office holder.

Here are a few excerpts—offered without comment—as we reminisce about the past three-and-a-half years.

Today’s ceremony, however, has very special meaning. Because today we are not merely transferring power from one Administration to another, or from one party to another – but we are transferring power from Washington, D.C. and giving it back to you, the American People.

For too long, a small group in our nation’s Capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost. That all changes – starting right here, and right now, because this moment is your moment: it belongs to you.

What truly matters is not which party controls our government, but whether our government is controlled by the people. January 20th 2017, will be remembered as the day the people became the rulers of this nation again.

This American carnage stops right here and stops right now.

We will build new roads, and highways, and bridges, and airports, and tunnels, and railways all across our wonderful nation. We will get our people off of welfare and back to work – rebuilding our country with American hands and American labor.

The Bible tells us, “how good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity.” We must speak our minds openly, debate our disagreements honestly, but always pursue solidarity.

We stand at the birth of a new millennium, ready to unlock the mysteries of space, to free the Earth from the miseries of disease, and to harness the energies, industries and technologies of tomorrow.

A new national pride will stir our souls, lift our sights, and heal our divisions. Together, We Will Make America Strong Again. We Will Make America Wealthy Again. We Will Make America Proud Again. We Will Make America Safe Again.

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