Wednesday, August 28, 2013

“Geauga News, Reviewed: Part Two”

c. 2013 Rod Ice
All rights reserved

As I have written here before, one fascinating thing about researching newspaper archives for Geauga County is that the stories from yonder days were very much like our own. Themes of political intrigue and a struggle to preserve the rule of law sound very familiar in a modern context.
In those days, professional writers had far fewer tools at their disposal to cover such events. The speed at which stories developed was slower in pace, often taking months to evolve. Yet their zeal to report happenings of the day can be felt, even across the vast distance of time:

NO WITNESS TALKS IN BRIBERY INVESTIGATION - Spokane Daily Chronicle, January 20, 1898

“Columbus, Ohio – The investigation into the charge of bribery in connection with the recent senatorial election reached a crisis tonight. No matter what may be the final result of the investigation, there will likely be several witnesses arrested for contempt. They had several witnesses subpoenaed for tonight, but they were not all examined, because none of them would testify... A. D. Hollenbeck of Chardon, auditor of Geauga County and a member of the Republican state executive committee, was among the witnesses called. Hollenbeck was asked repeatedly if his son was not in the employment of Senator Hanna and if his son did not carry funds from Columbus to Cincinnati. Representative Otis lives in Cincinnati and made the charges under which the investigation was instituted. He (Hollenbeck) invariably refused to answer these questions, doing so, he said, upon the advice of his attorneys.”   

Not surprisingly, reporters of yesteryear documented that Geauga County as they knew it was a place where social mores and the rule of law was well respected, especially in comparison to neighbor counties in the state:

GEAUGA MODEL COUNTY – The Champaign Democrat, November 28, 1911

“Columbus, O – Crime statistics gathered by Secretary H. H. Shirer of the state board of charities, and which will be made a part of the board’s annual report, show that Geauga County is more nearly law abiding than any other county in the state. In one year there were only three persons in the jail. One was a woman. The county is also one of the few which sent no persons to state penal institutions. Others are Fayette, Henry, Holmes, Mercer, Monroe, Morgan, Pike, Preble and Union. Mercer and Henry are the two wet counties in the honor list. Those who had no convicts to send to the penitentiary are Adams, Carroll, Crawford, Highland, Logan, Miami, Putnam, Wayne and Wyandot. Cuyahoga leads all others in number sent to penal institutions. Her record is 162 to the penitentiary and 147 to the reformatory. Others are: Hamilton, penitentiary 68, reformatory 50; Lucas, penitentiary 70, reformatory 63; Franklin, penitentiary 82, reformatory 11. There have been 16,012 males and 978 females confined in county jails.”

But even Geauga was sometimes touched by the stain of criminal activity. Infamous gambling institutions located here made headlines for a generation and more, in the early to middle 20th Century:

FOUR OPERATORS BROUGHT TO JUSTICE - The Miami News, August 13, 1929

“Cleveland, Ohio – Two officials and two contribution ticket sellers at Bainbridge race track in Geauga County, near here, were arrested on warrants charging operation of gambling devices yesterday, and today it was undecided whether the present horse race schedule at the track will be continued. Tommy McGinty and Homer J. Klein were the officials arrested. They pleaded not guilty before Justice of the Peace Arthur M. Ladd, at Claridon, and were released on $200 bond pending trial Aug. 28. Matt Brock and George Lynchburg, the ticket sellers, met a like fate. The arrests were made by Sheriff Ben Hotchkiss and 10 deputies. Sheriff Hotchkiss said he had not decided what action he will take if the contribution betting is continued at the track pending the trial. While the arrests were being made, just at the close of the fifth race, the contribution and refund windows at the track were closed, but when the officers left with the prisoners the windows were reopened and racing continued.”

And at least one story from these bygone days revealed that in our county, lawless men acted with a naked and careless disregard for the law:

HANGED BUT NOT DEAD – Paterson Daily Press, November 21, 1877

“Cincinnati – A special dispatch states that the man who was taken from the constable of Middlefield, Geauga County, Ohio, on Tuesday night and lynched, was taken down and resuscitated. His name is Luther Scott. It is supposed that the object of the lynchers was to prevent Scott from revealing to authorities the doings of a gang of desperadoes, of which he was a member.”

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“Reunion Run & White Castle Fun”

c. 2013 Rod Ice
All rights reserved

On the first Saturday in August, members of the Ice family gather in Gallia County, Ohio to revisit old memories and catch up on new developments from the year.
This ritual means a great deal to those of us who remember meeting in Columbus, in yonder days, at the feet of our patriarch, M. C. Ice. Since his passing, the focus of our family has been changed by circumstance. And yet, we still meet each year to celebrate and remember.
Of primary importance on this day is the kinship experienced between us, by the river. Yet one extra event makes the day special for this writer.
For the past few years, it has been visiting a White Castle, along the way.
The story of this seminal fast-food chain remains part of American lore. Founded in 1921 by Billy Ingram and cook Walt Anderson, the company began in Wichita, Kansas. At the time, there was no industry dedicated to the vending of quick-made hamburgers. So these pioneers literally invented the concept. Eventually, their system would include making everything needed to set up a restaurant, including the building itself.
Being from Columbus, I had always thought of White Castle as a curious part of Midwestern culture. But five years living in the Finger Lakes region of New York changed my perceptions. Suddenly, I met people who were inclined to drive hundreds of miles for a simple meal of these square ‘sliders.’ Their zeal was amazing.
Never again would I take White Castle for granted.
Their location at Arlington Road, in Akron, appeared by surprise as I was making the family reunion trek, a few years ago. It looked easy to find, literally right off of Interstate 77.
For the past three years, I had chosen to stop on the way home from Gallia County, never earlier than one o’clock in the morning. This meant that each visit took on the character of a dream sequence. Only leftover rubbish bearing the ‘Castle’ logo proved that these drive-thru encounters were real.
My order last year had been for a ‘Crave Case’ of thirty hamburgers. After speaking my request, there was an audible sigh from the clerk. Fatigue made him visibly unenthusiastic about the task. And I felt a tingle of guilt while driving onward, toward Geauga. But that mood passed after about two bites of onion-steamed burger.
In current terms, I decided to change my routine. A daytime pause in ‘Craver Nation’ seemed in order. So I stopped in the early afternoon, actually going inside. The lunch rush had already come and gone. For a moment, the restaurant was nearly empty.
I took time to look around, while my meal was being prepared. A mural by the front registers depicted the urban history of White Castle, in hues of black and white. A large sign by the front door offered the image of a cook in his company uniform. Another, by the side entrance, displayed a cab driver waiting by his vehicle. All of these exuded a sort of retro vibe, as if merely being at a White Castle location had customers plugged into the vast continuum of time itself. I pondered how Ingram and Anderson’s creation from 1921 had proved to be so long-lived as a culinary and cultural phenomenon.
From PBR-sipping hipsters to full-throttle rednecks and rhyme-spitting urban outlaws, the crowd of those waiting to adopt White Castle as their own was considerable. A bit of research uncovered the company providing a list of many counter-cultural connections between their restaurant chain and the unwashed masses, including not only the adventures of Harold and Kumar, but also cinematic sagas like ‘Amreeka’ or ‘Fresh Horses.’
But in personal terms, this slider purveyor meant something more directly important. It represented part of our identity as a family.
Legend has it that Frederick Iaac came to the North American continent from Europe. He was German or Dutch, perhaps even Russian. He spoke several languages and was gifted with durable genetics.
Much debate has ensued regarding his loyalties, philosophical outlook and religious beliefs. But one thing always remains undeniable – that Herr Frederick would have craved White Castle hamburgers. That conclusion seems certain.
While traveling south on I-77 my thoughts have been fixed on aunts, uncles, cousins and unidentified mysterians, wandering in and out of the family. But this shining tower of squared steer has eclipsed everything else.
My journeys represent more than merely honoring family connections. They speak of life as portrayed on the doughy canvas of a hamburger bun.

White Castle
2900 South Arlington Road
Akron, OH 44312
(330) 644-0091

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“Campfre in the GC”

c. 2013 Rod Ice
All rights reserved

Note to Readers: A favorite summer activity in my rural part of Geauga County is gathering around the campfire after sunset. It provides a brief interlude where cares of the day are negated by the dancing brilliance of natural combustion. Participating in these sessions are neighbors of varying interests, none of which include journalistic endeavors. These sessions provide the kind of escape needed to decompress and relieve the pressure of everyday life as a wordsmith-for-hire.

Rebby is a homemaker. Her husband, Rhineland, is captain of a local citizen patrol and fire department auxillary. Taybor who lives down the street is a mechanic. Pratt and Mayte, new to the neighborhood, are parents of three children, all from Akron.
Typically, our evening adventures have consisted of Beer Pong matches, played in non-alcoholic fashion. But on this occasion, the neighborhood meeting found us around the fire.
The new members of our group laughed out loud when I confessed to being a humble, small-town, newspaper scribe, living with two dogs in a rustic shack by the county line. My profession was one they could not quite comprehend. Yet my story piqued their interest.
Still, everyday concerns remained of primary interest.
Rebby twirled her hair reflectively and observed that the upcoming NFL season was not far away. “The Steelers will be ready, soon!” she cheered.
Pratt rubbed his bald head. “Professional sports is a crock! I would much rather be playing on my XBox.”
Mayte nodded in agreement. “You are right, honey. But I do love the Steelers.”
Taybor gestured with a greasy hand. “None of you would have talked like that in the old days!”
“He’s right you know,” I agreed. “Things have changed a lot since the 80’s.”
Rebby frowned. “Listen to the old guys talk!”
Rhineland stuck his head out the door. “Aren’t you people done for the night?”
His wife responded with a grin. “If you won’t sit out here with us, then go watch a movie!”
He was not amused. His face went red.
Pratt adjusted his steel-rimmed glasses. “The Cleveland Plain Dealer just laid off one third of its workforce today,” he said, ominously. “How does that make you feel, Rod?”
I bowed my head. “Sad, more than anything. But the newspaper industry is in a transitional period. Those who adapt quickly will survive, those who don’t will be left behind,”
Rebby pondered my statement with disbelief. “Left behind?”
“Yes,” I repeated. “Left to rust away.”
Mayte shook her head, sending her thick, brown curls into the air. “If you write for a newspaper, then how can you have that opinion?”
My eyes narrowed. “Thankfully, the Maple Leaf has done a superb job of meeting these challenges. Our website has won awards from the OSNA...”
Taybor cringed visibly. His overalls were stained with gasoline. “The what??”
“The Ohio Small Newspaper Association,” I said.
Pratt rubbed his head again. “But where will all of this leave a printed-word guy like you?”
“Look,” I explained. “When I was a kid, pinball was all the rage. We couldn’t imagine anything more exciting than that game. Even ‘The Who’ wrote a Rock opera about it. But then... pinball was gone without a whisper.”
Mayte shrugged while lighting a cigarette. “And what was your point?”
“Technology advanced,” I continued. “But the excitement remained. Just on a whole new level. The creative spark that made us feel alive gave you the same kind of energy.”
Rebby looked sour. I don’t understand.”
“It is a matter of moving from one level to the next,” I proclaimed. “Get moving, or get left behind. That is the way of history.”
Pratt threw his hands in the air. “Okay! You sound awfully brave for a guy in his fifties.”
I laughed out loud. “Would you like to still be driving a Model T Ford in the age of hybrids and plug-in electrics? Or be reading books by candlelight while your neighbor has a Kindle? Progress is inevitable. Frightening, yes, but also thrilling. Like Star Trek, we are going where no one has gone before.”
Matye smoothed her brunette curls. “My dad liked Star Trek.”
Pratt clapped cheerfully. “So did my father!”
Taybor groaned. “I watched the original series when I was a kid.”
“Ditto,” I said. “But did you get my point?”
Rebby closed her eyes. “You two are sooooo old!”
Mayte looked confused. “Your point?”
“Radio and television both failed to eliminate newspaper journalism,” I quipped. “The Internet may offer a different avenue for distributing information, but it doesn’t have to destroy our tradition if we remain viable.”
Pratt scratched his head. “So, newspapers will survive?”
“Those that adapt will live,” I promised. “And those that ignore the march of progress will fade into oblivion.”
Taybor rubbed his hands together. “Gone like yesterday’s parts catalogue.”
“Yes,” I observed.
Rebby twirled her red hair again. “Like last year’s football season.”
“Yes, yes,” I repeated.
Rhineland reappeared at the door. His scanner squawked with emergency calls. “It is long past bedtime! I have to stay up all night, but you don’t. Doesn’t anybody need to sleep?”
Mayte finished her smoke. “I’m ready for some sleep. Good night, everybody!”
Darkness won out at last. Our night around the campfire was over.

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Saturday, August 03, 2013

“Aztek Attack”

c. 2013 Rod Ice
All rights reserved

“The Pontiac Aztek was a mid-size crossover marketed by Pontiac from the 2001 model year to the 2005 model year along with its rebadged variant, the Buick Rendezvous.” – Wikipedia

More than a decade ago, I became friends with a local woman named Misty. She, her husband, daughter and mother were all customers at the store where I was a manager. We were conversational chums from the beginning, for no apparent reason. She was an Air Force veteran and a businesswoman, so I appreciated her knowledge and experience. But otherwise, we had little in common. Still, our conversations would cover topics of a diverse and intriguing nature.
Misty’s most interesting habit was to regularly purchase off-the-wall motorcars. In particular, her ‘daily driver’ was a white Pontiac Aztek. It suited the practical needs of her family, but was undeniably weird for a middle class, GM vehicle. I couldn’t think of another person in my circle of friends who owned such a car.
I nicknamed it the “Assault Vehicle.” I reckoned it fit with her military experience.
The Aztek literally looked like something out of a futuristic, action movie. The sort of conveyance one would expect to be piloted by Arnold Schwarzenegger, Rutger Hauer or Sylvester Stallone. Or something that the military might secretly be using in faraway places like Iraq or Afghanistan. But this aura disappeared when she took me for a ride. As a passenger, I felt like a minivan occupant, shrouded in blandness. Inside, nothing matched the vehicle’s aggressive exterior. The ‘AV’ felt like what it really was – a go-getter for the kids.
Later, Misty got divorced and moved to Cleveland. General Motors discontinued the Aztek after 2005. Yet the roadgoing parade of these quirky people-movers did not go away.
As the years passed, I continued to see them on a regular basis. Colored in hues of white, red, black and orange. A few in blue or green. I reckoned the federal government’s ‘Cars for Clunkers’ program would have cleaned them out of existence. But they continued to appear.
Misty had moved on to a Smart by Mercedes-Benz. She thought my interest in the Aztek was mildly strange. With the passage of time, however, this redheaded stepchild of Pontiac remained a curious target for off-hours research.
A bit of reading uncovered important facts about the motorcar. It was styled under the direction of Tom Peters, who also created the C7 Corvette for Chevrolet. At introduction, it was called “Quite possibly the most versatile vehicle on the planet.” Based on the U-body/GMT 250 platform, the Aztek had a 3.4 liter, V-6 engine and was offered in front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive versions. It was built at the Ramos, Arizpe, Mexico assembly plant along with the chunky Buick Rendezvous.
Pontiac bragged that the vehicle could carry a standard sheet of plywood (4 ft. by 8 ft.) in its cargo area with seats folded down. Additionally, one available option was a center console that also served duty as a removable cooler. Another was a tent and inflatable mattress combination, with an onboard air compressor.
The Aztek was regularly criticized for its aggressive looks. One automotive authority attributed the demise of Pontiac, in part, to this vehicle. Famously, GM executive Bob Lutz observed that many of their cars looked like “angry kitchen appliances.”
Time magazine eventually named it one of the 50 worst cars of all time.
General Motors projected sales of up to 75,000 per year for the line. But in its best year, Aztek sales only reached 27,793.
Amazingly, J.D. Power and Associates awarded the mini-minivan with high praise.
A look at Kelly Blue Book indicated that a 2002 Aztek, in excellent condition with 132,000 miles on the odometer would still fetch $4521 at a dealer in our area. Personal experience looking at local car lots revealed that the asking price for such vehicles was even higher. A seller in Bedford had a similar model with 86,000 miles listed at $9497, for example.
Misty found this investigation to be a subject of humor. She was befuddled by my attachment to her bygone people-hauler. Still, pleasant memories remained.
On the Internet, I discovered an enthusiast group for the vehicles at, which had been founded by Tom Moog while Pontiac still offered this oddity. Other articles available indicated that the site was later purchased by Ken Rhyno, a Canadian corporate project manager.
In modern times, my friend Misty has become much more loyal to the Mercedes-Benz Smart than she was to the Aztek. But every time I see an ‘Assault Vehicle’ on the road, I still think of her, and smile.

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