Tag: john woestendiek
The older I get the more wary I become of technology.
What I haven’t figured out is whether one necessarily follows the other: Am I just becoming more fearful as I age, or is technology proving itself more worth fearing?
Both are unstoppable forces. Just as one can’t stop the march of time (even with anti-aging technology), one can’t stop the march of technology.
It keeps coming — whether it’s wise or not, safe or not — and we all blindly jump on board and become dependent on it. If it makes us prettier, gets us where we’re going, let’s us accomplish things more quickly, or function without actually using our brains, we humans are generally all for it.
Already we’re reliant on the Internet, GPS, and cell phones. Already we can purchase almost anything we want online. But the day may soon come when, once we order it, it gets delivered by a robot, perhaps a flying one, or a terrain-traversing one, or one capable of hurling 35-pound cinder blocks 17 feet.
I would say these robot dogs could become the newspaper delivery boys of tomorrow, if newspapers had a tomorrow.
Last month 60 Minutes revealed that Amazon was working on drones that will be able to fly to homes and deliver packages at our doorstep.
Last week the New York Times reported that Google has purchased Boston Dynamics, the engineering firm that designed the graceful beast known as “Big Dog” (seen in the video above) and other animal-like robots, mostly for the Pentagon.
It is the eighth robotics company that Google has acquired in the last half-year, but Google’s not divulging what it’s up to.
Given search engines don’t generally need to climb mountains, or hurl cinder blocks, to find their information, one can only wonder.
Is the company branching into war machines? Does it want to corner the market on robot pets? (Boston Dynamics did serve as consultant on Sony’s ill-fated pet robot dog, Aibo.) Is it hoping to take Google Earth one step further and have robots take photographs through our windows? Or, more likely, is Google, like Amazon, positioning itself to become the place where you buy everything, and working on lining up a delivery team whose members don’t require salary, or health insurance, or coffee and pee breaks?
It almost looks like Amazon is poised to cover air delivery, while Google, with its latest purchase, is positioning itself to cover the ground. (That, at least until Big Dog becomes amphibious, leaves the high seas open — aye, aye robot! — for, say, a Yahoo, Bing or eBay).
Boston Dynamics, based in Waltham, Mass., builds animal-like machines that can traverse smooth or rocky terrain, some of them at speeds faster than a human. Most of its projects have been built under contracts with Pentagon clients like the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA.
Google executives said the company would honor existing military contracts held by Boston Dynamics, but that it did not plan to become a military contractor on its own.
So why does it need computers with legs, or robots that can climb walls and trees? Surely Google isn’t working on ”Terminators” that can track you down, knock on your door and provide you with the top 10 recipes for apple crumb cake.
The Times reports: ”… Executives at the Internet giant are circumspect about what exactly they plan to do with their robot collection. But Boston Dynamics and its animal kingdom-themed machines bring significant cachet to Google’s robotic efforts … The deal is also the clearest indication yet that Google is intent on building a new class of autonomous systems that might do anything from warehouse work to package delivery and even elder care.”
EVEN ELDER CARE? Oy, robot! I do not want a robot dispensing my medication if I end up in such a facility. At that time, I will be even more terrified of technology, and the last thing I would want to see would be a robot coming into my room – no matter how sexy its voice – saying, “Time for your sponge bath.”
I’m not a total Luddite.
I can publish a website or two, and can hook up my cable TV, and can figure out about 10 percent of what my cell phone does.
But I resent how steep the learning curve has become — how much effort is involved in keeping up with technology. That device promising to make life easier — once you spend a week programming it — may be smaller than your little finger, but its owner’s manual will be fatter than a James Michener novel.
What I fear, though, is where technology can lead, especially technology without forethought, and how quickly and blindly many of us hop on the bandwagon, giving little consideration to the possible repercussions, and how easily it can run amok.
The one futuristic (but already here) technology I’ve researched most is dog cloning. Once achieved, the service was offered to pet owners hoping to bring their dead dogs back to life, and willing to pay $150,000 for that to be accomplished in South Korean laboratories. It bothered me so much, and on so many levels, I wrote a whole book about it. You can order it through Amazon, but don’t expect drone delivery for at least a couple more years. Might one day drones deliver our clones?
I realize my fears are both irrational and rational.
Fretting about the future, I guess, is part of getting older. Old fart worries were around back when automobiles first hit the road (and went on to become a leading cause of death). And it’s probably true that once we stop moving forward, we tend to stagnate. But there’s moving forward and smartly moving forward.
I’m not a fan of big government (except when it helps me get health insurance), but I sometimes wonder if we need a federal Department of Whoa, Let’s Take a Look at this First. Maybe it could monitor emerging technologies, and their ramifications, and determine whether they should be allowed to emerge at all. Maybe that would prevent unimaginable (but, with enough research, entirely predictable) things from happening — like cell-phone shaped cancers forming on the exact spot of our bodies where we pack our cell phones.
But we tend to be more reactive than proactive when it comes to those kinds of things. We wait for the damage to be done and leave it to personal injury lawyers to straighten it out — whether it’s a new anti-psychotic drug that unexpectedly made young males grow female breasts, or irreparable harm done by robotic surgical devices. (If you’ve been victim of either, lawyers are standing by to help you. At least that’s what my TV tells me.)
I want to enter my golden years without shiny silver robots assisting me in living, and without drones hovering outside my door (even if they are delivering a good book). Though I’ve met some clones, I wouldn’t mind getting through life without having any contact with droids and drones and robot dogs.
Sometimes, at least from the Fearful Old Man Perspective (FOMP), it seems we’re so focused on the future that we fail to see and appreciate the present, and don’t even begin to learn from the past.
Sometimes it seems we like dancing on the cutting edge, then cry foul when our feet get sliced up.
Sometimes it seems we embrace technology too quickly and casually, when it should be a careful and thoughtful embrace, made with the realization that, as much as technology can make life better, it can also screw it up badly. We tend to view technology in terms of what it can add to our life, not even considering what it might subtract. And, in what’s the biggest danger of all, we tend to let it overrule our hearts and do our thinking for us.
It can save and prolong lives, even, in a way, re-create them. It can make our human lives – though it’s arguable — more convenient.
But it can also gnaw away at us until we become tin men and scarecrows — maybe not actually missing our hearts and brains, but at least forgetting we ever had them.
Posted by John Woestendiek December 18th, 2013 under Muttsblog.
Tags: age, aging, aibo, amazon, androids, animals, aye aye robot, big dog, boston dynamics, brains, clone, cloned, clones, cloning, cutting edge, darpa, defense, delivery, dependency, dependent, dog inc., dogs, droids, drones, elder care, elderly, emerging, evolution, fear, fears, fretting, future, google, government, government regulation, hearts, high tech, human, human race, i robot, jobs, john woestendiek, machines, man, oy robot, pentagon, pets, regulation, research, robot dogs, robotics, robots, scarecrow, science, society, tech, technology, Terminator, tin man, war, worrying
For an article in an upcoming issue of The Bark on how we choose a veterinarian, we’d like to know what – in your eyes — are the most important factors.
If you’ve found the perfect vet, just what is it that makes him or her perfect? If you’re still seeking that person, just what exactly is it you’re looking for?
As our dogs become more and more like family members, the choice of vet is a decision humans probably take more seriously than they did 50 years ago. Time was one’s choice of veterinarian was based in large part on proximity.
We’re guessing that has changed. Now we seek opinions from friends, question fellow denizens of the dog park, turn to online reviews, and perhaps even make some in-office visits, all in our quest for the perfect vet.
But what makes the perfect vet?
Is it where he or she went to school? Is it a friendly staff, reasonable rates? Is it how quickly you can make an appointment or how long you spend in the waiting room? Is it bedside manner, how much empathy, or compassion a vet exudes? Is it how clearly that vet can communicate? Whether they honor your pet insurance? Is it how the vet connects with you, how the vet connects with your dog, or both?
We want to know what is (or was) the single most important factor in your choice of veterinarian, and how you found the one (if you have) that you can’t imagine ever leaving.
(John Woestendiek, who produces the ohmidog! website, is a frequent contributor to The Bark. His story on finding the ideal veterinarian will appear in an upcoming issue.)
Posted by John Woestendiek September 3rd, 2013 under Muttsblog.
Tags: animals, article, attributes, bark, bedside manner, best, choice, choosing, choosing a vet, communications, compassion, connection, cost, dogs, dream vet, education, factors, great veterinarians, ideal, input, john woestendiek, magazine, perfect, pets, prices, query, rates, reviews, the bark, training, veterinarians, veterinary, vets, waiting, word of mouth, writer
A friend sent me this photo, taken at the Barnes & Noble in Towson, which shows “DOG, INC.: The Uncanny Inside Story of Cloning Man’s Best Friend” getting some pretty decent display (at least better than the bottom shelf of the astronomy section, as was the case at an area bookstore that shall remain nameless).
I can think of no other sign I would like my book to be under — except maybe ”New York Times Bestseller.”
Alas, it’s not there yet, but it did rate the “Page 99 Test,” a website by Marshal Zeringue dedicated to the proposition that the quality of a book can be judged by turning to, and reading, its 99th page.
I lucked out in that page 99 of “DOG, INC.” contains a revelation — namely who it was that located Genelle Guzman, the last survivor found after 9/11, and held her hand until she could be freed from the mound of debris she was trapped under.
(Clue: It wasn’t the volunteer firefighters who took credit for rescuing her on CNN)
If you’re wondering what this has to do with cloning dogs, you can click the link to Marshal’s blog or, better yet, buy the book and allow your thoughts — and perhaps more — to be provoked.
Posted by John Woestendiek February 15th, 2011 under Muttsblog.
Tags: 9-11, 911, animals, author, barnes & noble, best in show, book, books, bookstores, cnn, display, dog books, dog cloning, dog cloning book, dog inc., dogs, firefighters, genelle guzman, genelle guzman-mcmillan, ground zero, john woestendiek, last, marshal zeringue, new york, page 99, pets, rescue, revelation, sales, sign, signs, survivor, thought provoking, towson, westminster, world trade center
The star of my book signing in Federal Hill yesterday wasn’t me.
Nor was it my book, “DOG, INC.: The Uncanny Inside Story of Cloning Man’s Best Friend.”
And it wasn’t even — awesome celebrity traveling dog that he is — Ace.
No, the show was stolen by Jude, a pit bull mix from Baltimore Animal Rescue & Care Shelter who showed up in hopes of getting adopted.
(While a couple of people showed interest in her yesterday, my latest information is that she’s still available.)
Jude, according to the BARCS volunteers that accompanied her, was surrendered to the shelter a couple of months ago. Either her former owners or the staff at BARCS have taught her well.
At about two years old, she’s an absolute sweetheart, with a playful but peaceful soul, and she got along with everyone, dog and human, that came into The Book Escape (it’s dog-friendly) during the signing.
Well, she did a lot more than get along; I think she captured some hearts.
If I weren’t still wandering and trying to figure out where home is, I’d have snapped her up. She will be the best investment somebody will ever make.
Thanks to all those who came out in yesterday’s drizzly cold weather, bought my book, and/or donated to the Franky Fund, which BARCS uses to provide medical care to seriously injured animals. You can learn more about it here.
Also joining in was local artist Kelly Lane, who showed up to sell her hand-made Valentines Day cards, also donating 20 percent of her sales to BARCS. Kelly will be selling her cards today — Super Bowl Sunday — at Captain Larry’s, 601 E. Fort Avenue.
Captain Larry’s is holding its 4th annual chili cookoff today — for $5 you can sample chili to your heart’s content, at least until it runs out. The event starts at 4 p.m., and proceeds are going to BARCS.
Thanks again to all that helped out yesterday — Andrew Stonebarger, owner of The Book Escape, Kelly Lane, Tamara Granger (for making sure Ace behaved) and the staff and volunteers at BARCS.
And, hey, most of all, Jude.
Posted by John Woestendiek February 6th, 2011 under Muttsblog.
Tags: adopt, adoptable, animal welfare, baltimore, baltimore animal rescue and care shelter, barcs, book, books on dogs, dog inc., dogs, franky fund, hey jude, john woestendiek, jude, pets, rescue, shelters, the book escape
Today’s book signing is still on, despite predictions of some inclement weather.
Ace and I will be at The Book Escape, at 805 Light St. in Baltimore’s Federal Hill neighborhood, from 1 to 3 p.m, to sign copies of my new book, “DOG, INC.: The Uncanny Inside Story of Cloning Man’s Best Friend.”
(The Book Escape is dog-friendly.)
We’re hoping the weather turns clement by then — as of now it appears it won’t get worse than a little rain.
Between the bookstore and me, we’ll be donating 20 percent of today’s “DOG, INC.” sales to BARCS Franky Fund, which helps provide emergency medical care for seriously injured animals — like Phoenix and Mittens — who come into the shelter.
Some representatives from Baltimore Animal Rescue & Care Shelter, and one of the shelter’s adoptable dogs, are scheduled to attend, provide information and collect any additional donations to the fund.
The Book Escape also happens to be having a big sale today, with all used books being 50 percent off for “book pass” members, and 25 percent off for everyone else. Book passes cost $50, but those who buy them get $50 in store credit at regular prices.
Posted by John Woestendiek February 5th, 2011 under Muttsblog.
Tags: ace, baltimore, baltimore animal rescue & care, barcs, book, book signing, bookstore, cloning, dog, dog book, dog books, dog cloning, dog friendly, dog inc., dogs, federal hill, franky fund, john woestendiek, signing, the book escape
The Baltimore bookstore will feature not only me, signing my new book, but a storewide used book sale. Ace will be there, and your dog is welcome, too. (The Book Escape, located at 805 Light St., is dog-friendly.)
And to top it all off, we’ll be donating 20 percent of the store’s Saturday sales of “DOG, INC.” to the Franky Fund, which helps provide care for sick and injured animals at Baltimore Animal Rescue & Care Shelter.
The signing will be Saturday (Feb. 5) from 1 to 3 p.m.
The Book Escape has made “DOG, INC.: The Uncanny Inside Story of Cloning Man’s Best Friend,” its featured selection for the month — giving it prominent display not just on its website, but in its storefront window.
Ace and I, temporarily living in a friend’s empty house as we continue, for now, our roaming ways, are located right around the corner. So we pass the window often, sometimes pausing as I point out to him my book … look … right there … in front of Tom Wolfe’s. It fails to impress him.
In addition to the signing, The Book Escape will be holding a big sale this weekend, according to owner Andrew Stonebarger.
All used books will be 50 percent off for “book pass” members, and 25 percent off for everyone else. Book passes cost $50, but those who buy them get $50 in store credit at regular prices, on top of reduced prices everytime they present the card.
Stonebarger says that means a person who bought two copies of “DOG, INC.” – one for themself and one for a present, he suggested (and who am I to argue with that idea?) – would “get a free book pass and get big discounts for the whole year.”
In light of this week’s disturbing revelation of another pet set on fire in Baltimore — a cat named Mittens who, thanks to the Franky Fund, is recovering — we (meaning The Book Escape and me) will be donating 20 percent of each sale of “DOG, INC.” on Saturday to the special BARCS fund.
It’s not the first time I’ve worked with BARCS (where Ace came from), or raised money for the fund, which I’m a fan of because it gives a chance to abused and neglected dogs and cats that, because of serious injuries, might otherwise not have one. In addition to passing along all profits last spring from my photo exhibit, ”Hey,That’s My Dog,” I’ve done a couple of stints as Santa Claus, for ”pet photos with Santa” fundraisers.
Saturday’s book signing seemed a good opportunity to raise a little more for the Franky Fund — without having to dress up in a funny suit, freeze, or swallow wisps of polyester beard hair.
Ace and I hope to see you there.
Posted by John Woestendiek February 3rd, 2011 under Muttsblog.
Tags: abuse, ace, animal cruelty, animal welfare, animals, avery, baltimore, barcs, book, book signing, books, bookstore, cloned, clones, cloning, cruelty to animals, dog, dog cloning, dog inc., dogs, federal hill, franky fund, fundraiser, help, hey that's my dog, injured, john woestendiek, meet, mittens, neglect, non-fiction, ohmidog!, penguin, pet, pets, phoenix, pit bull, publishing, santa claus, sick, the book escape, the uncanny inside story of cloning man's best friend, treatment
The agitated American was back.
She’d stood before the same ticket agents at the United Airlines counter in Seoul-Incheon International Airport the day before, and the one before that – pleading in tears one moment, loudly threatening lawsuits the next. She and her five nearly identical puppies needed to get home to California and putting them in the jet’s cargo area – as the airline was insisting its rules required – was, to her, out of the question.
Even after she presented them with some dubious “official” certificates stating the pups, despite their tender age, were service dogs, the airline officials held firm. She could carry one in her lap. The other four, they insisted, would have to travel as cargo.
“But I have three handicaps,” Bernann McKinney countered, big blue eyes staring out from under blond bangs. “I should be allowed to take at least three dogs, one for each…”
– From Dog, Inc.: The Uncanny Inside Story of Cloning Man’s Best Friend
When airline officials refused to let Joyce Bernann McKinney and her five dogs board the cabin for a flight from Seoul to San Francisco, she took some drastic steps. That’s the kind the former beauty queen with a scandal in her past has always been prone to taking — the cloning of her dead pit bull Booger being perhaps a prime example.
McKinney, who, like other customers, banked her dog’s cells before the cloning of dog was even achieved, would wait for years — first for the science that brought us Dolly the sheep to get around to dogs, then for her laboratory-made replicas to be born.
When, as the first customer of commercial dog cloning, she went to meet the newly born clones, things went smoothly at first. She and her dogs would have a moment in the spotlight — but stepping into it would bring some other things back to life as well.
She’d be recognized from video of the press conference as the woman who, 30 years earlier, had been charged with abducting a Mormon missionary in England, and accused in court of having her way with him. (Her trial never took place because she fled the country then, disguised as a member of a deaf mime troupe.)
Getting Booger cloned — and all this is just part of the “uncanny” referred to in the book’s title — was a similar mission in many ways, marked by the same single-minded persistence and her refusal to take “no” for answer as she crossed an ocean, and a number of other boundaries, to be reunited with her true love. In 1977, it was Kirk, the Mormon missionary. In 2008, it was Booger, the dead pit bull.
When she returned to Seoul a second time to pick the Booger clones up, her problems – once she refused to permit the pups to fly in the cargo hold — continued.
What she did next was one of the scenes I used to open my new book, “DOG, INC.: The Cloning of Man’s Best Friend” — an excerpt of which, for those of you seeking a preview, I’ve just added to the book’s website: Dogincthebook.com.
Once she’d picked up the dogs in Seoul, she sought travelers who would be willing to pretend they were handicapped and take one of the “service” pups aboard the cabin with them. She went to the airport every day, offering free airfare to anyone willing to take part in the ploy. But she found no takers.
Eventually, her money and patience and energy running out, she began bringing the dogs to the U.S. one at a time — leaving four in a Seoul kennel, flying one to San Francisco, leaving him in a kennel there, then flying back to Seoul to pick up another.
Not until her third trip there did she find some willing accomplice. She managed to get all five clones to her home in Riverside, Calif. But there would be more troubles ahead.
In addition to being one of the main characters in my book, McKinney is the focus of a new Sundance-bound film by documentary-maker Errol Morris, called “Tabloid.” It focuses on the 1970s-era “Manacled Mormon” scandal, the feeding frenzy it represented for the British press and the toll that took on McKinney.
“DOG, INC.” delves into Mckinney’s background, as well as those of pet cloning’s other customers, including a police officer-turned-actor who says his German shepherd found the last survivor of 9/11, and a Texas rancher who learned the hard way that the clone of his unusually tame bull Chance, Second Chance, wasn’t the same gentle soul. It looks too at those who funded and researched the effort to clone a dog, and those who sought, and are still seeking, to make cloning pet dogs a profit-making business.
(This Saturday, Feb. 5, I — along with my dog Ace (no, he’s not a clone) — will hold a book signing for “DOG, INC.” at the Book Escape, 805 Light Street, in Baltimore’s Federal Hill neighborhood, from 1 to 3 p.m.)
Posted by John Woestendiek February 2nd, 2011 under Muttsblog.
Tags: bernann mckinney, booger, book, book signing, clone, cloned, clones, cloning, documentary, dog, dog inc., dogincthebook, dogs, errol morris, excerpt, john woestendiek, joyce bernann mckinney, joyce mckinney, korea, Mckinney, new book, pit bull, seoul, signing, south korea, tabloid, the book escape
Ace and I woke up yesterday morning in a Motel 6 in Fredericksburg, Virginia. It was the cheaper of the two in town, at $29, probably because it lacked a certain amenity — that being hot water. At least my room did.
We woke up today at the Hotel Monaco in Washington — after an evening that included a long hot bath, washing my hair with complimentary Aveda products, drying off with big fluffy towels, then cloaking myself in the complimentary leopard print robe.
Ace, because I wondered what he’d look like as a leopard, tried one too.
After seven months of living on a shoestring, and staying in dozens of Motel 6′s during our 22,000 mile journey, checking into the Hotel Monaco was culture shock. I like culture shock.
Upon arrival, Ace immediately ate an entire bowl of dog treats left by the front desk, then asked for more. One of the desk clerks proposed to him, and he received a gift bag to take the room. Hotel Monaco is very dog friendly, charges no fees, and has no size, weight or breed restrictions, which is as it should be.
The hotel’s awesomeness goes beyond that, though. It’s in what was once Washington D.C.’s General Post Office, built in 1839 by Robert Mills, the architect who designed the Washington Monument. We were able to enjoy our nicest lodgings yet courtesy of my publisher. At least it better be courtesy of my publisher. Otherwise, I am officially over my credit limit.
We’re here for an appearance on the Diane Rehm Show this morning to talk about my new book, “Dog, Inc.: The Uncanny Inside Story of Cloning Man’s Best Friend.” Ace will luxuriate in the hotel room while I do that, and tape another radio show in the afternoon.
Then we’ll head back home to Baltimore for a book signing party tonight, and another tomorrow.
The one tonight — and everyone is invited to both — will be from 7 to 10 p.m. at the Idle Hour, 201 E. Fort Avenue.
Tomorrow (Thursday) we’ll be signing books (and of course selling them, too, with help from The Book Escape) at Captain Larry’s, 601 E. Fort Avenue, also from 7 to 10 p.m.
Posted by John Woestendiek January 5th, 2011 under Muttsblog.
Tags: america, animals, author, baltimore, book, book escape, captain larry's, cloning, diane rehm, dog friendly, dog inc., dog's country, doginc, dogs, dogscountry, hotel monaco, idle hour, john woestendiek, motel 6, ohmidog!, pets, road trip, signings, the book escape, travels with ace, washington
I’ve written my name in books before — but always as a reminder to other people to keep their grubby paws off of them, or at least return them when they’re done.
But yesterday was a first: I signed my own book — own, as in the one I wrote.
So when my publisher called to find out where to send the author’s copies of “DOG, INC.: The Uncanny Inside Story of Cloning Man’s Best Friend,” I used my brother’s address, and he delivered them over the weekend.
I won’t compare the excitement of tearing open that cardboard box to seeing your baby arrive — that would be wrong — but there are some similarities, the main ones being, “Wow, that came out of me?” and the realization that all the labor pains were worth it after all.
The book is about the cloning of dogs — how, and why, it came to be achieved, and the colorful characters involved: from the Arizona billionaire who funded the initial research; to the scientists who produced Snuppy, the first canine clone, in South Korea; to those who marketed the service (even before the first dog was cloned); to those who bought it, the bereaved pet owners seeking replicas of dogs dead or near death.
It was two years in the making (the book, not dog cloning) — a project I undertook right after I left the Baltimore Sun, and one that wouldn’t have been accomplished were it not for the help of a lot of people.
My first autographed copy is being sent to one of them, Rona Kim, a law student in Seoul who served as my guide and interpreter during my visit to Korea, and without whom I would have probably spent three-fourths of my time there hopelessly lost.
The official release date of “DOG, INC.” is Dec. 30, but it can be pre-ordered now from all the major retailers.
By then, Ace and I will be headed back east — first to Washington for a scheduled appearance on the Diane Rehm show Jan. 5 (me, not Ace), then to Baltimore, where we hope to host a couple of book signing parties (details to come) and find a place to call home.
Posted by John Woestendiek December 8th, 2010 under Muttsblog.
Tags: ace, animals, author, autographed, baltimore, book, book signing, books, clone, cloned, clones, cloning, dead, death, dog, dog inc., dogs, grief, john woestendiek, korea, man's best friend, marketing, new release, non-fiction, order, pets, pre order, publishing, release, rona kim, science, scientists, seoul, signing, snuppy, travels with ace, uncanny inside story
With a deep bass toot, the ferry to Connecticut began churning across Long Island Sound. I leaned over the railing and, as the water rushed by, felt a deep sense of accomplishment — for the ground we’ve already covered and that which we will be covering in the second phase of our trip.
Ace not being around — he was inside the car in the ferry’s gut — I gave myself, figuratively, of course, a pat on the back. This was a good idea — my highly original plan to copy (more or less) John Steinbeck’s trip. Others have retraced the route, and written about it, but I had the foresight to be starting off exactly 50 years to the day after Steinbeck did.
I had just settled on a bench, and had stopped patting myself, when Bill Steigerwald walked by, camera around his neck, notepad at his side, taking it all in and looking at passengers that way reporters look at people — like they are cuts of meat that might be worth tasting — as he pursued his highly original plan … to copy John Steinbeck’s trip.
So we sat and talked, comparing notes about our highly original plans to copy John Steinbeck’s trip. We decided, I think, that we liked each other, and concluded that though our goals our similar — a book, somewhere down the road – we weren’t barking up, or peeing on, the same tree.
Steigerwald, like me, was a career newspaper guy. We both accepted buyout offers from our newspapers — he in 2009, from the Pittsburgh Tribune Review, me in 2008 from the Baltimore Sun — in hopes that, if we continued our writerly ways, we might survive in 21st Century America without having to become fast food cooks, Wal-Mart greeters, or strip club flaks. And both of us are now self-subsidizing our travels in hopes that some day, in some way, somebody might want to buy what we want to write.
We are both brilliant, in a stupid kind of way; or maybe we’re stupid, in a brilliant kind of way.
Steigerwald, who is traveling doglessly, is reporting on his trip — which will be a more precise retracing of Steinbeck’s route than mine — for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, where he also once worked. He, like me, is blogging about it daily.
Bill is 62, five years older than me, but I think we’re both among a large group of once-and-maybe-still-somewhat-idealistic baby boomer former reporters who jumped ship amid the industry’s downward spiral. Now we’re seeking a flotation device. In my case, at least, I’ve continued doing what I’ve always done — write stories — even though I’m not paid (other than by my fine advertisers) for it. I wonder if people who have left other careers do that — keep plying their trade even though the salary and benefits have stopped. To some extent, I think yes. One’s job gets in one’s blood. So retired lawyers probably keep arguing long after their last case closed. Former politicians probably continue to lie. TV weather reporters likely continue to make erroneous forecasts.
Possibly the whistling ferry loader in charge of getting cars aboard the boat yesterday will keep whistling, waving his arms, complaining about “f***in’ management” and saying things like, “Give me a couple of minutes, I’ll wave youse up,” for at least several months after he starts drawing a pension.
With writers, though, I think that runs even deeper — either because we see it as somehow noble, or because we don’t know how do do anything else. Like dogs, we tend to keep following and sniffing along the trail we are on. It’s not a totally mindless pursuit. We do what we know how to do. We know there might be something good ahead.
Not knowing, either, how to board a ferry, I just followed the shouted orders yesterday. I didn’t get a ticket in advance, so I paid $61 for my sound crossing; Bill, clearly a better planner than me, paid $49.
I took him down to the bowels of the ferry, and we compared vehicles. He has a red sport utility much like the one I’m in, but his backseat — because he’s not toting a dog — is open, with a large mattress he can sleep on. I showed him my dog, then took Ace up on the deck, which I had assumed wasn’t allowed, but actually was.
Bill fell for Ace, but, as he wrote today, was kind of glad – after seeing how much space my dog took up in my vehicle — that he didn’t have a dog along.
We parted ways — both intent on continuing our highly original plans to copy John Steinbeck’s trip — agreeing to try to meet up again in Maine or Michigan or Montana. As he plans to complete his trip in six weeks, I’ll probably be lagging behind, though.
As I waited my turn to pull off the ferry, I wondered what Charley — now buried behind John Steinbeck’s house in Sag Harbor – would make of it all: all these literary/scholarly/newspaper/blogging types who, over the years, have seen fit to repeat the trek that he made with his master.
Silly humans, he might think, following their so-called instincts, which aren’t very good in the first place.
My guess is he would get a good doggie chuckle out of it all. He’d probably break into a poodle smile.
“Ftt,” he’d say.
Posted by John Woestendiek September 24th, 2010 under Muttsblog.
Tags: ace, america, american, animals, baby boomers, bill steigerwald, blog, blogging, blogs, charley, connecticut, dog's country, dogs, dogscountry, ferry boat, industry, john woestendiek, long island, new york, newspaper, pets, pittsburgh post-gazette, poodle, reporters, road trip, travel, traveling with dogs, travels with ace, travels with charley, travels without charley