February 14, 2018

Some super-smart millennials ask, "What is that thing?"

     With two auditors peering over my shoulder—watching every move—I should have been nervous.  Instead, I was laughing. That wasn’t the first time it’s happened.  Some millennials aren’t sure what that electric thing is, the one sitting on the small oak table, clicking and clacking.
     The puzzled look on their faces was a clue that they were clueless. It has a keyboard but no flat screen.  When the young CPAs stopped snickering, I said, “This is one of my prized possessions.  I dreamed about owning one for years.  In 1988, I finally splurged and bought a top-of-the-line IBM typewriter.”
     One of the auditors reached over and touched the tan plastic cover of the IBM 6781 with its “personal wheelwriter.”  
     “Careful,” I warned.  “This has to last for the rest of my career, and I don’t plan to work a day past 90.” 
     The numbers-crunching duo snickered, again.
     While my world is filled with high-tech gadgets—with keyboards and screens large and small—I like sitting down at the tiny typing desk to address envelopes.  And every time I do, I am back in Peachy Aspinwall’s 10th-grade typing class at Jesup High School. 
     “Class,” I can hear her saying, “start warming up, and I’ll give today’s assignment in a few minutes.”  With that you heard a flurry of keys tap tap tapping and the click of her high heels on the tile floor, as she moved among the rows of students.  I started on a manual Royal, but I will never forget the thrill and the pride when she promoted me to an electric typewriter. 
     Don’t snicker. 
     That was a coveted honor in her class, down the second hall and on the right.
     Years later, after I started at the Wayne County Press, I couldn’t wait until I could afford to retire my Smith-Corona typewriter and trade up to the ultimate typing machine—an IBM.  Today, I like to shift into the bold mode on the keyboard.  It makes rapid-fire staccato sounds, as if I am typing twice as fast. 
     Don’t laugh. 
     Old guys need to have fun, too.
     So how’s this for funny?
     In October 1988, we started negotiating to buy Community Newspapers Inc.  Hubert Howard was the attorney for my partners and me.  Michael Jacobs, the C&S investment banker in Atlanta, offered to fax the documents to Jesup.  “What’s your fax number?” Michael asked. 
     “Uhhh,” I said, “we don’t have a fax machine.” 
     He was nice and didn’t laugh.  Instead, he asked, “Do you know your attorney’s fax number?”  “I will call you back,” I said.
     Hubert didn’t have a fax, either.  However, his ever-efficient and loyal assistant, Winifred Thrift, did have the latest magnetic-tape-fed-and-memory IBM word processor, a whiz-bang typewriter.  With a company credit card,  The Press-Sentinel’s ever-efficient and loyal business manager, Lynn Rice, raced to Savannah to purchase two newfangled facsimile machines—one for 252 W. Walnut St. and the other for Hubert’s office on Brunswick Street.
     Today, our fax machines mostly gather dust.  With the internet, word documents and PDFs, our computers do most of the heavy lifting of sending and receiving.  Yeah, I know my computer will address those envelopes, too.
     But just when super-smart millennials think they know everything about everything, my 30-year-old typewriter proves that they don’t.  So, don’t expect me to give up showing off my prized IBM any time soon. 
     Old guys need a chance to snicker, too.


February 7, 2018

People wearing mule blinders is dangerous

     Ignorance is bliss. 
     What you don’t know can’t hurt you. 
     Out of sight, out of mind.
     How many times have you heard those sayings?
     There’s something to be said about wearing mule blinders.  What if all you had to do was plow through life—looking at only what’s in front of you—so you could ignore everything else?  Ignorance could be blissful.  Not knowing can also be dangerous.
     We’ve learned that the hard way in our rural corner of Southeast Georgia, but we aren’t alone.  Mega landfill companies—across America—are famous for zeroing in on communities such as ours.  In the early 1990s, we were blissfully ignorant about the downside of inviting a regional landfill into Broadhurst. 
     Your mama was right: “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”  Make no mistake.  The money sounded good, very good.  But what we didn’t “know” about were the unintended consequences, such as how millions of tons of toxic coal ash can poison our environment.  Call us what we were on that subject: ignorant. And put me on top of that uneducated list.
     There was a time coal ash wasn’t a typical conversation topic, but no longer.  Today, the proverbial mule blinders are off.  People are paying attention.  Elected officials are being asked for stronger protective laws, while asking why Georgia is a coal-ash dumping ground for the Carolinas and Florida.  Follow the money, and the answer to that question is anything but blissful.
     Few days pass that I don’t get a call, a letter or an email about coal ash. The following email is an example:
     “Feb. 3, 2018
     My name is Shannon, and I am currently an Emory University senior studying the effects of coal ash storage on local Georgia communities.  I’ve been following the story of Jesup for about a year and a half, and before I go any further, I just want to say how incredible the work of The Press-Sentinel was/is and how much Jesup has influenced what I study (environmental economics and sustainable development) and my perceptions of waste management.
     I’m contacting you directly about the article recently wrote about Homer, Ga.  Homer has come up quite a lot in my research about Jesup because of their own coal ash storage issues.  However, there is substantially less written online about Homer, and I am having trouble finding out about current community activism in Homer.
     Do you know anyone in Homer who is currently writing about the issue, or involved in activism about coal ash in the town?  I would love to talk to someone about their town’s story and help in any way in terms of general access to information about what they are facing.  Coal ash is so dangerous, and part of that danger is that most people don’t know it exists, let alone that fossil fuel corporations are exploiting and slowly poisoning so many communities with it.
     Thank you for taking time to read this email, and I hope to hear from you.”
     Shannon’s email shows why coal ash is no longer “out of sight, out of mind.”  She agreed for her message to be printed. I am not publishing her email address, but I will forward your comments to her.
     Coal-ash dumping and storage aren’t just a Wayne County or Georgia problem.  Without wearing mule blinders, you can see this is a national and global issue.  This is 2018. What we don’t know can and will hurt us.