Hellhound on my trail – the lost guitar of Robert Johnson

Most people have heard the story, in one form or another, of the legendary Delta Blues guitar player who went by the name of Robert Johnson. Legend has it that on a dark October night sometime in the late 1920’s, Johnson traveled to the intersection of Highway 8 and Highway 1 in Rosedale, Mississippi and struck a deal with the Devil himself.

Robert Johnson and his Gibson L-1 guitar

According to the legend, when Johnson arrived at the crossroads the Devil was sitting on a log by the side of the road. The Devil was accompanied by a hairless dog, described in local folklore of the time as a “Hellhound”. As Johnson approached, the dog began to make a sound unlike anything he had ever heard before. The Devil, being the shrewd businessman that he was, recognized the look in Johnson’s eyes when he heard the wailing sounds of the dog.

“The dog is mine, but that sound he makes is called the blues and it has a price if you are willing to make a deal,” replied the Devil as Johnson listened to the sorrowful sounds of the dog howling as its eyes glowed yellow in the moonlight.

The Devil then took Johnson’s guitar, tuned it and handed it back to him. Then the Devil explained the terms of the deal. In exchange for his soul, Johnson was given the ability to play the guitar beyond the ability of any of his fellow bluesmen that roamed the Mississippi Delta playing on street corners and in the Juke Joints of the day.

One of three gravesites

Robert Johnson died at the age of 27 near the town of Greenwood, Mississippi after drinking whiskey laced with poison given to him by the jealous husband of a woman Johnson had been friendly with. It is said he died on his hands and knees barking like a dog. His half-sister came for his body several days later and took his guitar and other possessions with her after she took care of having Johnson buried. There are currently three grave markers in different locations that bear his name. Even his exact burial place is unknown.

Little else is known of Johnson’s short life. He left only a handful of recorded songs and his guitar has never been found. But his guitar skills are undisputed. Decades later, when Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards first heard one of Johnson’s recordings, he asked who the guitar player was playing along with Johnson on the record. Johnson’s picking was so complex that it sounded as if two guitars were being played together. To this day, no one has been able to match Johnson’s style and the tunings he used on his guitar are still undecipherable.

There is no shortage nowadays of guitars owned by famous guitar players. And very few of them have any sort of mystery tied to them. The whereabouts of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s guitars, as well as those of Jimi Hendrix are all well known. Even Buddy Holly’s famous Stratocaster is owned in a private collection. No mystery there. Walk into any Hardrock Café and you will see more than a few famous guitars on display.

The eyes of a haunted man…

But the most famous guitar of all time, the guitar played by a man who sold his soul to the Devil in exchange for his extraordinary playing skills is still shrouded in mystery almost 80 years after Johnson’s death.

Perhaps it is best that Johnson’s guitar remain lost forever. Who knows what kind of sound would come out of it were it were ever played again. And what would happen to the person bold enough to strum a chord across its strings?

Some things are best left alone. Maybe Johnson’s guitar vanished for a reason. Maybe it is not meant to be played by anyone other than the signatories of that infamous deal, namely Johnson and the Devil.

In one of Johnson’s songs, he sings of a Hellhound on his trail. His sad voice and intricate guitar playing match the soulful wails of the Hellhound present when he made his deal on that moonlit night at the crossroads.

If Robert Johnson’s guitar is ever found the person who finds it should proceed with caution. The sound from that guitar may very well conjure the Devil himself.

The Lost Ghost Ships of the Apollo Program

Apollo 11 on pad
Apollo 11 awaits launch. Photo courtesy of Getty Images

Readers of my blog know that most of my posts are about ghost folklore of the American South. But since July 21st marks the 46th anniversary of the first Moon landing in 1969, I decided to tell a different ghost story, one that will bring to light an often forgotten aspect of mankind’s journey to the Moon. It’s time to tell the story of the lost ghost ships of the Apollo Moon Program.

Where are they now?

Let’s start with the most interesting ghost ship of them all – the ascent stage of the Lunar Module for Apollo 10, nicknamed “Snoopy” by the astronauts that flew it very close to the surface of the Moon. Launched on May 18, 1969, Apollo 10 was a dress rehearsal for the historic Apollo 11 mission and did everything Apollo 11 did with the exception of actually landing on the surface of the Moon.

To test the capabilities of the Lunar Module, astronauts piloted Snoopy towards the surface of the moon. They then jettisoned the lower half of the craft, known as the “descent stage”, before returning to the orbiting Command Module in upper portion, or “ascent stage”, of Snoopy. And just in case you’re wondering, the Command Module was nicknamed – you guessed it – Charlie Brown. The Apollo astronauts not only had guts, they also apparently had a sense of humor.

A lunar module ascent stage flying in space. Photo courtesy of NASA.

Shortly after separation, the descent stage of Snoopy crashed into the surface of the Moon. But NASA had a different fate planned for Snoopy’s ascent stage.

Once the astronauts docked with the Command Module for their return to Earth, the ascent stage of Snoopy was jettisoned into space into what is known as a “heliocentric orbit”, which means it was sent into orbit around the Sun. And there it remains to this day, an empty ghost ship floating aimlessly through the cold environs of space. Unlike all of the other Lunar Modules flown in space during the Apollo program, Snoopy remains the lone survivor.

The next most interesting ghost ship of the Apollo Moon Program is an asteroid named J002E3. Except it’s no ordinary asteroid. Discovered in 2002, it was first thought to be an asteroid until the reflected light from it was analyzed with a spectrometer by an amateur astronomer. The results showed wavelengths consistent with light reflected from black and white paint. There are no known natural asteroids sporting paint jobs of any color, but there was lots of black and white paint used on the Saturn V rockets that carried the Apollo astronauts into space.

A Saturn V booster stage identical to the one used in Apollo 12. Photo courtesy of NASA.

It was later concluded that asteroid J002E3 was not a natural asteroid at all, but rather the booster stage from Apollo 12. NASA routinely crashed the booster stages from the other Apollo missions into the Moon to study the seismic readings on instruments left on the surface by the astronauts. But the Apollo 12 booster was not crashed into the Moon. Instead, it left the vicinity of the Earth in 1971 and returned in 2003 only to leave again. Best estimates show it making another pass at the Earth sometime around 2040.

A lonely Lunar Module descent stage on the Moon. Photo courtesy of NASA.

The rest of the ghost ships from the Apollo program are on the surface of the Moon. All six descent stages remain on the surface and have been photographed by a satellite orbiting the Moon known as the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter.

And last but not least are the Moonbuggies of the last three Apollo missions. They currently sit riderless on the surface of the moon frozen in time just as the astronauts left them in the early 1970’s.

The Lunar Rover from Apollo 17. Photo courtesy of NASA.

Perhaps if NASA ever figures out how to get back to the Moon, something that as of right now is sadly beyond its capabilities, they will include a set of jumper cables in the gear of the astronauts so they can take the Moonbuggies for another ride.

Happy Father’s Day

America is currently facing many challenges. The economy, joblessness, war, terrorism, the list goes on and on. If you’re watching the news and paying attention, you know all about it. But there is another crisis facing America that doesn’t get much attention. That crisis is the decline of the American Father.

According to a recent post on The Art of Manliness, over 50% of Millennials are raising their children in single-mother homes. Fifty years ago less than 10% of children were raised in single-mother homes. Somewhere along the way, fathers were voted out of office as the head of the family. For many of them, it was of their own doing.

It’s plain to see what the absence of fathers is doing to our society. Again, watch the news and you can see it first-hand. And it’s not just fathers but men in general. Manliness seems to be on the decline in America. Nowadays you’re much more likely to find a man that owns a set of golf clubs than you are to find one that owns a set of tools. And not only is manliness in short supply, but gentlemanly behavior is as well.

A child benefits greatly from having a father in his or her life. A young girl with a good father is given an example of how good a man can be, and will often set about trying to marry a man that has the qualities of her father. A young boy with a good father is given the template for the kind of man he should strive to become. It’s a win-win situation. Young boys with good fathers often become good fathers themselves.

So to all you fathers out there who have chosen not to run off and abandon your children, take pride in the fact that you are a member of a select group of men in America, one that is dwindling by the day. If you have a son, pick up a wrench and teach him how to fix things so that he will never have to pay another man to do something that he should know how to do himself.

If you have a daughter, then treat her mother with love and respect so that she will see firsthand how a good husband should act. Trust me, she’s watching and will remember what she sees when she grows up and it comes time for her to pick her own husband. My wife had an excellent father and there is not a day that goes by that I don’t see the results of the influence he had on her growing up.

America doesn’t need more golfers, CEOs, entrepreneurs or politicians. It has plenty of them already. What America needs are better fathers. So to the dads out there that have chosen not to run off, here’s to you. Happy Father’s Day.

Where would America be without you?

Old Harold’s Ghost

Back in the late nineteen eighties I had to good fortune to make my living as an elevator mechanic. The company I worked for had service contracts with dozens of old textile mills all across the Carolinas and some of those mills were almost a hundred years old. My fellow mechanics and I worked hard to keep the old freight elevators in those mills working as best we could, and oftentimes this meant driving to some remote small town in the middle of the night to troubleshoot and repair a downed elevator.

Rock Hill Printing and Finishing Co. in its heyday. Photo courtesy of Bill Wornall.

Late one night I was called to an old textile mill known at the time as Rock Hill Printing and Finishing. It was a huge textile mill in the town of Rock Hill, South Carolina that at one time had probably colored and printed enough fabric to clothe half of America. But by the late nineteen eighties it was on its last leg. Huge portions of the mill were sitting idle and as I walked along carrying my tool bag through a portion of the mill that was no longer in use I couldn’t help but feel that I had been transported back in time to a bygone era. That part of the mill was dark and musty and I swear I could feel the wandering souls of the former workers moving in the shadows around the abandoned machinery.

The elevator I had been called to work on was an old freight elevator that was over fifty years old. Once I fixed the problem, which turned out to be a broken door interlock on the 3rd floor, I decided to go to the basement so that I could check the elevator’s machine room. I wanted to make sure everything was okay so that I wouldn’t have to come back again later that night.

I didn’t think anything about going down into the basement as far as ghosts were concerned. My old man had always told me not worry about the dead, and that it was the living that I needed to watch out for. I thought about this as I rode the elevator to the basement.

The basement of an old textile mill in the middle of the night it not a place for the fainthearted, but it didn’t really bother me. I had seen countless machine rooms in dark basements and it was just something that came with the job. When I stepped off the elevator into the basement I closed the safety gate and doors so that the elevator would be able to respond if it was called from one of the floors above me.

Once in the machine room I opened the elevator controller, which for this particular elevator was an ancient contraption full of chattering relays and lots of wires. I knew better that to dust off any of the relays, touch any of the old components or otherwise disturb anything in the controller unless I absolutely had to. Old freight elevator controllers are temperamental animals that prefer to be left alone. I wanted to hear the pump run so I took the pencil out of my shirt pocket and used the back of it to push in the 1st floor call relay. The pump roared to life and promptly sent the elevator on its way.

The machine room fell silent as soon as the elevator reached the 1st floor. Out of the corner of my eye through the open door of the machine room I could see the heavy steel doors of the elevator. Unlike passenger elevators doors, freight elevator doors open up and down, not side to side. I could see the call button on the wall to the right of the closed doors.

Just as I was about to look back at the controller the hallway call button lit up. This was followed by a loud click as a relay on the control board energized to open the valves. I listened to the hissing noise as the oil began to drain into the tank as the elevator slowly descended to the basement.

Something had called the elevator to the basement. I looked at the energized basement call relay and knew that I hadn’t touched it with my pencil.

I walked out of the machine room and over to the steel doors. I could see the elevator car through the small window on the upper door. It was empty. I walked back into the machine room and used my pencil to push in the 3rd floor relay. Once again the pump roared to life and the elevator took off to the 3rd floor. Once it was there the machine room again fell silent.

To my surprise, the call button on the wall lit up again and the elevator returned to the basement. I stood there dumbfounded. As I had done before I used my pencil to push in another relay, this time sending the elevator to the 2nd floor. But the elevator didn’t stay at the 2nd floor for even a minute before the basement call relay clicked shut right before my eyes. I looked out of the machine room door to see the hallway call station button glowing brightly in the dim light of the basement.

I spent the next two hours trying to figure out why the elevator kept coming back to the basement. I unfolded the old wiring diagram and checked every circuit possible before finally giving up. The elevator was working fine but for some unknown reason it wanted to stay in the basement. It was late and I was tired and wanted to go home. I had no idea why the elevator was behaving like it was and I made sure I told this to the lady in the tool room on the first floor that had the job of signing my service ticket.

“I could have saved you some time, young feller,” the old woman said as she signed my ticket. “That’s just Old Harold playing around. He does that from time to time.”

“Who?” I said. It was two in the morning and I wasn’t much in the mood for a mill story but I knew I had to hear this one. I knew I had been alone in the basement. No one had been down there with me.

“Who is Harold?” I asked again.

The woman gave me an understanding look. “Bless your heart,” she finally said. Then she decided to tell me the story.

“Old Harold had a heart attack and died down there in the basement way back in the late forties. He was trying to work on that old elevator and didn’t know what he was doing, or so the story goes. So every now and then he likes to call the elevator to the basement. But we don’t pay him any mind. We just let Old Harold have his fun. He’s not hurting anyone.”

I looked at the old woman and tried to figure out if she was serious. It seemed to me that she believed what she was telling me.

The next day I mentioned the elevator to my coworkers. All of them knew about Old Harold and how he loved to call the elevator to the basement anytime someone was down there working. Every last one of them had seen the basement hall button light up, pushed by Harold’s unseen finger.

Three months later I was called back to that mill to work on the same elevator. Just as he had done before, Old Harold’s ghost returned and called the elevator to the basement over and over while I was down there working. When I was finished, I collected up my tools and returned them to my tool bag. As I walked towards the closed elevator doors I smiled when the call button lit up just as I was about to reach for it. Then I smiled to myself.

“Thanks, Harold,” I said into the empty basement.

The Haunted Fields of Andersonville

When it comes to haunted places in the Deep South, two cities often come to mind. They are Charleston, South Carolina and Savannah, Georgia. If you’ve ever been to either of these two cities you’ll understand why. They just look haunted, to be honest. And considering their history, how could they not be? Given the bloodshed of the Civil War as well as the horrible Slave Trade, it is easy to understand why these two cities carry a reputation for harboring the souls of the dead.

But there is another haunted place in the Deep South, one that is brimming with wandering souls and restless “haints”.  It is known as Andersonville.

If ghosts are your thing look no further than the 26 acres nestled deep in the heart of the Georgia countryside near Sumter County. There you will find the former location of the Civil War prison camp known as Andersonville. The actual prison camp is gone now, but most of the ghosts of its Union prisoners remain, and they can often be seen wandering in the area.

An actual Andersonville survivor

Living conditions were so bad at Andersonville, also known as Camp Sumter, that over 13,000 Union prisoners of war died there from 1861 to 1864. There were no buildings at Andersonville, only crude tents that provided little protection from the weather. A swamp ran through the middle of the prison and this contributed greatly to the squalid living conditions in the camp. Scurvy, diarrhea and dysentery were rampant among the prisoners. There were no latrines or clean drinking water, and little food was supplied to the camp.

And if the horrible living conditions weren’t enough, prisoners also had to fear “the dead line”. Any prisoner that crossed the dead line, an imaginary line that marked a boundary between the tents and the stockade wall, was shot immediately by the sentries in the guard towers.

The execution of Henry Wirz

Conditions were so inhumane that the Confederate officer that commanded Andersonville, a Swiss-born man named Henry Wirz, was hanged for war crimes after the war ended. In what some would say was a fitting end, the hanging did not break Wirz’ neck and thus spectators were treated to the image of his body dancing on the end of the rope until he finally suffocated. The ghost of Captain Henry Wirz can often be seen walking along the roads that lead to Andersonville.

Andersonville graves. Photo courtesy of Jud McCranie

People who visit the location of the Andersonville Prison, now preserved as a national historic site, routinely report seeing Union soldiers walking in the woods and fields around the site. When the sun goes down or the weather darkens, cries of agony can often be heard wafting across the grassy fields and through the rows of tombstones that mark the final resting places of the thousands of former prisoners buried on the site.

It is a well-known fact that both sides treated their prisoners horribly during the Civil War. We as a nation can only hope that such grim times never visit us again. The wandering souls of Andersonville should serve as a reminder of how dark the human spirit can become when calmer heads do not prevail.

The Lucky Gold Coin of Lt. George Dixon

Legend has it that Lieutenant George Dixon of the 21st Alabama Infantry Regiment was quite a lucky man. Shot at the battle of Shiloh, the ball from a Union soldier’s musket hit that him in the thigh should have taken his life, or at the very least his entire leg. Serious arm and leg wounds during the Civil War were often treated by amputating the affected limb, the practice of which required nothing more than an ether-soaked rag over the nose and a surgeon’s saw.

Photo courtesy of Friends of the Hunley

But Lt. Dixon’s wound would require none of this because when the musket ball struck him in the leg it was deflected by a $20 Double Eagle gold piece that he kept in his pocket as a lucky charm. The story has been passed down through the years that the gold piece was given to him by his true love as a token of her affection.

Whether or not this is true is beside the point. The coin was where it needed to be when fate struck regardless of who gave it to him. Instead of dying on the battlefield at Shiloh, the lucky lieutenant walked away with both legs and nothing more than a permanent limp. A greater fate awaited him.

Because of his keepsake coin, Lt. Dixon was allowed to live on and find his true place in history. It would not be at Shiloh. Lt. Dixon would find his real place in history, the one that fate had planned for him, on the night of February 17, 1864 in the dark waters just outside of the harbor of Charleston, SC.

The CSS Hunley on the pier.

On that night Lt. Dixon commanded the CSS Hunley, the first submarine in history to sink an enemy ship in battle. Dixon and the other seven men of his crew slipped beneath the surface of the water in the hand-cranked, cigar-shaped Hunley and proceeded to navigate towards the looming hulk of the USS Housatonic, a Union warship engaged in blockade duty just offshore of the port of Charleston.

The USS Housatonic

When the long spar on the front of the Hunley struck the Housatonic, Dixon ordered his men to reverse their cranking in order to deposit the TNT charge in the hull of the Union warship. The idea was to deposit the charge and then back away from the Housatonic so that the charge could then be detonated by a pullcord. But Murphy’s Law took over and the resulting explosion not only sank the Housatonic in less than five minutes, it also sent Dixon and his entire crew to the bottom of the harbor shortly thereafter. On that dark night, the Hunley became their tomb. The submarine would not surface again until it was located and raised in August of 2000.

The CSS Hunley being raised in August, 2000

Speculation about the identities of the crew, and most notably the commander of the Hunley ended when one of the researchers found a $20 gold piece inside the hull of the Hunley near the remains of one of the crewmembers. Not only was the coin bent like it had been struck hard with something, it bore the initials G.E.D and the inscription My Life Preserver. Sadly, the coin that saved George Dixon’s life at Shiloh and allowed him to find his true place in history was not able to save him from his watery grave.

Ghost stories about the Hunley and its crew abound in the Charleston area. When the remains of the crew were finally buried in the Magnolia Cemetery in Charleston, next to the two previous Hunley crews that had lost their lives during the Hunley’s sea trials, thousands of people turned out for the event. The people engaged in the burial ceremony wore period-correct Confederate uniforms and civilian attire in order to pay respect to the fallen crew of the Hunley.

Spectators reported seeing Civil War soldiers walking among the crowd but when they later examined the photographs they took of the ceremony these soldiers could not be seen in the photos. One woman reported snapping a picture of a Confederate soldier adjusting the canteen strap of one of the reenactors standing in formation near the gravesite but when she later examined the photo the soldier was not there, leading her to believe that the soldier she saw adjusting the canteen strap had been a ghost.

The crew of the Hunley had been instructed to surface and light a signal lamp upon successfully sinking the Housatonic.  Witnesses on shore reported seeing a light shortly after the Housatonic sank, but the Hunley never returned.

But ask any Charlestonian and they will tell you that if you go to the water’s edge on the night of February 17, you might just see a light in the distance, hovering just above the surface of the water. Some say the ghost ship and its crew, the first submarine crew in history to sink an enemy ship, remain on patrol signaling in vain to a shore party that has long since vanished.

Live Long and Prosper

It was with great sadness that I learned of the passing of Leonard Nimoy yesterday. Forever to be known as Mr. Spock, he was one of my biggest childhood heroes.

I didn’t start watching Star Trek until the mid-seventies, but that didn’t matter. Once I saw the first episode I was hooked for life. I’ve been a Trekkie ever since. Despite loving all of the characters in the show, my favorite character by far was Mr. Spock. As a wide-eyed twelve year old sitting in front of the TV, I had never seen anyone like him.

One of the best things about Star Trek was the interaction between Mr. Spock, Captain Kirk and Doctor McCoy. McCoy loved to spar with Spock and try to rile him into showing his human side, but it was the “bromance” between Kirk and Spock that took center stage in the show.

My best friend and I were consumed by Star Trek and had a bromance of our own that mirrored Kirk and Spock’s. We greeted each other every day with Spock’s trademark split finger salute while deadpanning “live long and prosper”. Then we would rehash the previous night’s episode, discussing at length whether or not the Klingons would win the next battle and take over the universe, or if the Enterprise would make the mistake of crossing into the Romulan neutral zone never to be seen again.

I was a model builder back in those days and I built every single plastic Star Trek model available. Hanging from the ceiling in my room were models of the Enterprise, a Klingon battle cruiser, the shuttlecraft and a Romulan Bird of Prey. I even built models of Spock’s Phaser, Tricorder and Communicator. I carried the Communicator to school with me and on more than one occasion tried to raise the Enterprise on a hailing frequency from the boy’s room at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic school in Daytona Beach. I never could get the Enterprise to answer and I always attributed this to the fact that the Romulans had to be jamming all the frequencies.

Courtesy of CBS

The best way to live long and prosper is to find out what you are good at, and then find out what you enjoy doing. If you’re blessed they will be the same thing. Leonard Nimoy was blessed in this way. He brought a character to life that has endured for generations, one whose face is instantly recognizable whether it be on Earth or Rigel VII. He gave young boys like my myself someone to look up to in an era where we were very short on heroes. He gave the smart kids a reason to be proud because as Mr. Spock he made being intelligent look very cool.

Mr. Spock was a hero to my generation. He was the ultimate bad-ass scientist. May his memory live long and prosper.

The Ghost of Tobacco Road

Click photo to view ebook on Amazon.com

On the banks of the Skeleton River in a remote part of North Carolina lies the small town of Starlight. Once known for its tobacco fields and rural charm, Starlight has seen better days. Now most of the stores on Main Street are boarded up, and many of the residents have left town for good.

Logan Shaw, a down and out used-car salesman living in Wilmington is convinced that the letter he has received from a small law firm in Starlight has to be a mistake. The letter states that Logan has been named the sole beneficiary in the last will and testament of one of Starlight’s residents, a reclusive old woman recently found dead in her home on the outskirts of town.

After arriving in town, Logan meets an attractive young woman named Colby who has lived in Starlight all of her life. No one knows better than Colby about the stories passed down over the years of what can happen when the harvest moon rises over the tobacco fields outside of town.

With Colby by his side, Logan struggles to comprehend the unspeakable evil that has entered his life, and to understand how he is strangely connected to it. Under the light of the harvest moon he will learn of the dark secret that Starlight holds, and of the legend the locals refer to as “the ghost of tobacco road”.

Pinball and Prostitutes on Court Street

Playing pinball and negotiating a business deal with a prostitute are not usually two things that are done at the same time, unless, of course, you’re on Court Street in Jacksonville, NC.

Every Marine stationed at Camp Lejeune in the 1980’s remembers Court Street. It was the center of our world, because, well, our world was centered on pole dancers, titty bars, tattoo parlors, and on occasion, a good game of pinball.

Now I’m not exactly the Pinball Wizard, but I’ve played my fair share of the silver ball. But the most memorable game I ever played was on Court Street not long after I arrived at Camp Lejeune to begin my service with an artillery battery in the 10th Marine Regiment.

Being fresh out of boot camp and unschooled in the ways of the world when it came to purchasing whiskerbiscuit from a working girl, I had no idea of the existence of the golden rule. But after that night on Court Street, I learned my lesson and learned it well.

The end of an era. Court Street was cleaned up in the late 1980’s. It’s all law offices and bail bondsmen now.

I was hanging out in one of the snack bars with several of my fellow Marines just playing pinball and marveling at the fact that in just a few months I had been transformed from a lost high school student into a very focused U.S. Marine. I was surrounded by a world that up until that time in my life I had only seen in the movies.

“You looked at her twice,” replied the salty Marine sergeant standing next to me as he watched the prostitute make her way towards us. “Now you’ll have to talk to her.”

Who knew that the golden rule with prostitutes was that you could look at them once and not be committed but if you looked at them twice they took it as a sign that you liked what you saw and wanted to commence negotiations?

Sure enough, I had looked at her twice and the game was on.

I could hear her heels clicking as she approached me. Then I felt her arm around my shoulder as she moved in close. Her scent was a combination of mint chewing gum, cheap perfume and cigarette smoke and that scent, along with her arm around my shoulder made it a struggle to keep the silver ball out of the gutter. Only my raw skill at pinball kept me from losing my quarter.

“Hey baby, you want a date?”

A date? I thought silently to myself. Did she want me to take her to the movies and then for cheeseburgers before we broke out the condoms? I was in uncharted territory.

In hooker lexicon, a “date” is the actual act. You take a girlfriend to the movies on a date. You take a hooker to the alley for a date. Often the outcomes of both scenarios are the same.

Now abandoned, this building was the site of the infamous game of pinball.

I lost my quarter in the pinball machine that night, but I gained something much more valuable. My negotiating skills failed me and no business transaction took place, but there would be other transactions in my future as my skills with decent women, as well as prostitutes, improved. From that point on I made it a point to remember the golden rule.

But of all the working girls that would cross my path in the many foreign ports I travelled to, none would hold a place in my memory like that gum chewing, fake mink shawl-wearing, high-heeled business woman that interrupted my pinball game that night on Court Street so long ago.

As any Marine can tell you, you never forget your first working girl.

Tower Chicks

In a previous post I talked about America’s infatuation with cell phones. We have  become a nation of yappers and thumbers, and it’s time we pay tribute to the people that make it all possible for us to communicate with each other.

Just as most people nowadays have no idea what goes on under the hood of their car, they also have no idea how their cell phone works, or that there is a small, specialized group of people out there that risk their lives every day so that Americans can have cell service.

They are known as the Tower Chicks.

Got balls?

Even though they’re women, Tower Chicks have more balls than most latte-sipping, Prius-driving American men who ride down the Interstate every day thumbing their BFFs while steering their car with their knee. These men, as well as all cell phone users, have no idea that Tower Chicks are risking their lives every single day to make all that thumbing and yapping possible.

In a male-dominated field, these women climb cell phone towers every day to repair or replace the equipment located at the top of the towers. They climb towers everywhere in America, from the deserts of New Mexico to the frozen wastelands of Wisconsin, to the flatlands around Miami to the gloomy mountains of Seattle.

In the cities and out in the countryside, these women spend their days climbing sometimes as high as four hundred feet in the air with tools hanging from their work belts. They live in motels, eat gas station food, and then climb to their “office” at the top of a tower to begin their workday.

Note the bird’s nest in the background

Cell tower climbing is one of the most dangerous jobs in America. It is not for the fainthearted, or for anyone, man or woman, who suffers from a lack of guts. These courageous climbers perform an essential task in our society and sometimes get hurt, or fall to their deaths while doing it.

So the next time you’re sitting in your pod at work surfing the Internet on your cell phone, or driving down the highway trying to check the stats on the game, think about the Tower Chicks that climb the towers to make it possible for you to have that privilege.

And when you drive past that 400 foot cell tower with the lights blinking on the top, tip your hat and toast your pumpkin latte’ to the Tower Chicks, and their male counterparts, that climb the towers all over America.

The world would be silent without them.