Indiana Anatomy vs. Buckeye University

An old Hoosier geography lesson states, “North Vernon is in southern Indiana, South Bend is in northern Indiana, and French Lick isn’t all it’s cracked up to be”.

So I’m off to PUB 2015, ‘Pagoda University, Blacklick’, an unlikely burg east of Columbus, Ohio, to share owner experience with a peculiar group of devotees to a car produced, briefly, from 44 to 51 years ago.

In 1981, an internal urge, i.e., delirium, resulted in the purchase of an aging two-seat roadster, a 1971 Mercedes 280SL.  With an active business and two pre-teens, calling this impractical would be an upgrade.  Thirty-four years later, the “pagoda”, so named for its reverse parabolic roofline, remains in our stable, running like a ‘schweizer uhren’ (swiss watch).


The group, known by its chassis designation, W113, is an internet fraternity bonded in the digital universe.  Aside from 27 states represented, there are 11 Canadians (Ont, Que, Manitoba, New Brunswick), two Australians, a Swede, Frenchman, and a Dominican, all of whom have ‘met’, online, through the club forum and now transformed into a band of brothers.

The unlikely meeting place, the shop of one Joe Alexander, a mechanical guru, personable yet unrefined, with two bad knees.  His milieu, two acres of shop surrounded by a jungle of cadaver cars, oxidizing under the watchful eyes of cannibals.  And poison ivy.

DSCN3385 DSCN3386


Few people knew that Jim Morrison named his rock group, The Doors, and wrote the lyrics to “Light My Fire” * in 1965 while under the effect of cannabis grown in Joe Alexander’s boneyard.  The evidence below:

You know that it would be untrue


You know that I would be a liar


Attractive rumps on a damp day

Come on baby, light my fire

While the cars are the magnet, they are inorganic.  They are arbitrarily assigned name, gender, and personality when none exist.  They do not suffer headaches, menstrual cramps, or bi-polar disorders and cold shower alert, they don’t know you own them.

The glue in this endeavor, an array of disparate individuals sharing a common passion.  Below, one Stephen B., a retired U.S. Army Colonel, wiping his near perfect example with a turkish towel.  The more he wiped the car, the cleaner the towel became:


A PhD in mechanical engineering, from Quebec,  Inna S., articulate advocate of higher learning:


Below, Rolf D. (333miles, London,Ontario), Johan W. (3333 miles, Gothenburg, Sweden)

compare odometer readings:


Come on baby, light my fire

Many too numerous to mention:

  • An accomplished oil painter, nearly anonymous in the crowd, with a handsome collection of cars cloaked in his loft
  • A state department diplomat (ret.) with an exquisite eye for detail, a Rosetta stone memory
  • Radiologist, used to viewing negatives, with a 15 year restoration in progress; a decade away from conclusion
  • A clothing executive (ret.), sharing this experience with his hometown friend and barber…a drag racer of renown
  • 14 y/o Jacob, a grandson, who may carry the pagoda torch into the next generation
  • Former POW, Hoa Lo prison (aka Hanoi Hilton) USAF pilot and parachutist, whose identity shall remain private

A most memorable moment, sitting on the patio after a delicious Sat. evening dinner, watching the sunset over the Columbus skyline, in the company of three German émigrés discussing the homeland;

  • Rolf D, Canada, struggling over his wife’s declining health
  • Gernold N,  Arundel, Maine, mechanikermeister, born near the French/Belgian border
  • Urban J, Duluth MN, recently widowed, a transplant from Dusseldorf

The wine, average, the conversation was not, as the latter two enjoyed fine cigars of Cuban heritage.

Doesn’t get much better than this……..Blacklick trumps French Lick.

    Try to set the night on fire    


* ‘Light My Fire’ lyrics, courtesy Manzarek/Rothschild Production




On cruise control, I-94, Baraboo, WI, to South Bend, IN, passing the southern tip of a Great Lake, the waves and a memory swell……..

Early July 1965, Michigan City, IN, an outstanding warrant of the rust belt, has the ambiance of a boy’s locker room…smelly and sticky.  I walk up an extra wide stairwell, littered with waiting patients, to the packed 2nd floor office of King Jones M.D.  The decrepit wooden building on Franklin Street is 180 degrees from the impeccably fashioned Dr. Jones; resplendent in a crisp white shirt, tailored Italian suit, brilliant grin, against the background of silky chocolate skin.

The King is an excellent GP, a favorite in the black community, a popular figure at the hospital, and a prolific prescriber…hence, my visit.  A fresh anglo recruit, 26 y/o, representing an obscure Swiss pharmaceutical company, I’m here to introduce a ‘new’ drug, an antidepressant of marginal value.  Typical of the industry, it was simply a chemical first cousin of two existing drugs, neither of which were particularly effective, all too expensive, and accompanied by a litany of side effects.

The truth be damned, posit enthusiasm, tee it up, full steam ahead…fresh from a regional sales seminar, armed with a leather satchel loaded with colorful brochures, pens, advertising gadgets, and free samples, I’m welcomed by the doctor for a brief visit.  After feigning approval, he asked to see a sample.  I demonstrated the drug exactly as described in our product bulletin, 25 mgm., size # 4, flesh-colored capsule.


He stepped back, flashed that signature grin, and remarked, ” Mr. Charles, that all depends on what color yo’ flesh is !”  We both had a good laugh.  There was no tension, he held onto my shoulder and promised he might prescribe the drug.

Fast forward one month, I meet with the division manager, a likable buffoon who had played linebacker for the University of Kansas, most often without a helmet.  We were having an ‘assessment’ lunch to evaluate the desipramine introduction.  Think how difficult it is to describe “lukewarm” or “limp” to your boss…with artificial, orgasmic enthusiasm.  Over a tuna salad sandwhich.  Five decades later, I still harbor guilt from those three years representing what is now referred to as BigPharma, a cabal proven the equal of the tobacco industry.

However, Old Mortarhead’s toothy smile waned, his brow deeply furrowed, when I recalled anectdotally; the reception by Dr. Jones.   I only mentioned it in passing to alleviate the boredom of a business lunch.  He wrote cautiously in his leather memo, a word-by-word transcript, abruptly adjourned the meeting and beelined for the nearest telephone booth.

Bottom line: the company did a quiet total recall of all samples, product literature, hospital displays, and reprinted journal promotional ads within weeks.  This was pre-TV ads implying, ‘ask your doctor if it’s right for you’.  Flesh colored had morphed into “pink” overnight. The cost, in today’s $, had to be in the eight figures. There was no press release, no acknowledgement; this was the era before political correctness.  Recall, the march from Selma to Montgomery, a fresh memory, occurred only three months before.

Later that year, I called on the King once again.  This time, to relate first hand what had transpired from our casual, two-minute conversation in July…he was overwhelmed, overjoyed, and gave me the most robust hug since my Dad returned from the Marine Corps in 1945.  Only then did I realize how important the encounter was for a poor black kid who had worked menial jobs, endured family struggles, just to finish medical school.

This was my personal Edmund Pettus bridge walk across the racial divide.  Sadly, little has changed in 50 years. Yes, there is ‘minority’ representation in the supreme court, the congress, the presidency, in the media, and near total dominance in most professional sports, but the reality belies optimism.  Some improvement, perhaps, but racial tension and suspicion continue, unabated.

I’m almost home now, both in age and @ mile-marker 75.    Our country is not.

There is no quick-fix in our technology hurricane, no antidepressant to elevate our spirit and serotonin level, no microphone-muff CNN press conference, urgently called by a reverend du jour or police commissioner. Insecurity covered with frosting.

Welcome home.  I wish I had the answer.

The  common denominator we share….humanity….remains elusive.  Both for the nation and the turbulent planet, with little regard for the color of your capsule.




Copper Galore

The approach to Houghton, MI., along the Portage Lake Channel is attractive, not breathtaking. However, the anticipation of a week on the shore of the Keweenaw peninsula is pure oxygen.

HQ of the copper boom lasting a century from 1845-1945, it is now home to the famed engineering Michigan Technical University (formerly Mi. School of Mines) with a noted alumnus, Julie Estep PhD, the prominent rhetorician. Ms. Estep quietly manages to avoid the public limelight in Chico, CA., along with her husband, Gary, and four dogs.

Add Norman Rautiola, now living in splendor, Montecito, CA, inventor of patented keyless entry into automobiles.  He also developed the electromagnetic field which senses your approach and opens/closes doors and windows. Being the nation’s electronic valet became profitable, which Mr. Rautiola generously shares, in addition to his time and business savvy, with MTU.

In the future, sooner than imaginable, we’ll be traveling in driverless vehicles. Rest assured, his Nartron Corp. will own the patent.

L-R, Norm Rautiola, Mrs. and Mr. Al Gebeau (Ford Motor, ret.)
Aboard the Keweenaw Star, MTU in the background



Native copper ore, barely oxidized, MTU mineral museum

Unlike California, the planetary prune, which continues the unsustainable siphoning of the Colorado River, the Keweenaw is surrounded on three sides by Lake Superior, the deepest and largest supply of fresh water in the hemisphere.

Add these pluses:

  • birthplace of professional hockey
  • more Finns than a suburb of Helsinki
  • four times the annual snowfall of Buffalo, NY
  • pure water, clean air, no traffic
  • nearest interstate ramp 264 miles;Duluth,MN
  • Scandanavian indelicacy, lutefisk

Quoting* Garrison Keillor ” the purgatory of lutefisk, a repulsive gelatinous fishlike dish that tasted of soap and gave off an odor that would gag a goat….not edible by normal people. It is reminiscent of the afterbirth of a dog or the world’s largest chunk of phlegm”.

Lutefisk may have been solely responsible for the noticeable Lutheran inbreeding of Swedes and Finns.  Who knows?  What is important is that humans are all hybrids, just like our dogs, and you have to wonder…why can’t we get along?

Tribal battles flourish.  In northern Iraq, the Sunnis slaughter the Kurds.  In northern Michigan, factions of the Chippewa, Sault, Ojibwa tribes engage in turf battles for casino revenues.  Everybody is a loser….prisons prosper; substance abuse and depression become the fast track industries.  A solution might be to have warring factions spend a winter together, sharing firewood, skis, lutefisk, and ice fishing huts.

Population growth here remains at zero. No surprise when most activity, in or out of doors, revolves around ice. Californians may be proud of their tan lines, being on a first name basis with cosmetic surgeons, or thankful their homes have not been incinerated in a wildfire or on a mudslide headed for the beach.

No such problem in Houghton, as the natives have an unlimited supply of water to wash and wax the snowmobile in anticipation of another birth controlled winter. We, thankfully, plan a perfect summer week in the community owned waterfront RV park.  The array of local activities has us mouthing at the frost.

Don’t change the dial………

* Pontoon, Aug 2008 Penguin Books®