St. Patricks Day: Whiskey & 'Darby O'Gill and the Little People'

WATKINS GLEN, New York - St. Patrick's Day is usually a day of, well, celebration and little work..

But most of the morning (and now afternoon) ended up with organizing some short stories for a book/collection Adm. Fox has been itching for me to put together. (I did promise her I would do this, oh, a year ago!) And that led me to reworking a novel-in-progress (tentatively titled Jack's Boat) for a couple of hours. I started writing Jack's Boat, oh, so long ago I won't mention it here.

By the way, the Jack in Jack's Boat has no connection to Jack Stafford of The Fracking War or Fracking Justice.

But in a few hours I am heading to that hotspot of wild party activity - downtown Watkins Glen - for a drink or three. Then I will head back home to watch Darby O'Gill and the Little People. It's kind of a tradition.

I'm sure I saw it in the theatre when I was 11 or 12 years old. And I had been bombarded with Irish stories and Irish lore by my grandmothers. One grandmother always insisted that some of her relatives still in Ireland had some of the little people living right under their cottages in County Cork.

If you haven't ever seen this 1959 Disney movie, you should take a peek at it. It has leprechauns, pots of gold, rainbows, whiskey, a pretty Irish lass - and even Sean Connery.

Yes that Sean Connery. And he is singing. I'm not kidding. Singing.

The film also features an Irish ghost called a 'banshee.' If you heard the wind howling in an especially evil way today, that might have been a banshee warming up to warn of a death tonight.

A banshee wailing
I had nightmares as a kid after watching the banshee in the movie, though the cleaned-up Disney banshee wasn't nearly as scary as the image I'm posting to the left.

Hope it doesn't give anyone a fright.

I had been thinking about stopping by the Democratic Party's corned beef and cabbage party downtown tonight, but because I don't eat beef anymore, just cabbage seems a little, well, plain. And it's doubtful they will have any whiskey on hand to wash the cabbage down.

Happy St. Pat's Day to all!


Out in the cold at the Town of Reading Town Hall - again!

TOWN OF READING, Schuyler County, New York - The weather was the same (cold, snowing) the cast of characters slightly different when court convened in the Town of Reading Wednesday night for the 40 people scheduled to be arraigned on charges of trespassing.

They faced hearings for blocking the gates of Crestwood Midstream, the Houston-Texas company that has been pushing a project to store 88 million gallons of propane in salt caverns on the shore of Seneca Lake.

It barely needs mentioning this is a colossally bad idea that has people all around the Finger Lakes protesting. A regional rally is planned for Jan. 31 at 2 p.m. in Geneva.

Since October the group We Are Seneca Lake has been blocking traffic from entering or leaving the 576-acre facility - at least until Schuyler County Sheriff's Deputies show up and haul them off, citing them for trespassing. The deputies are feeling the pressure and have been exhibiting signs that their senses of humor are stretched pretty thin.

When the weather turned cold and snowy, so did the hearts of the members of the Town Board of Reading and the elected town supervisor who said the courtroom would remain open, but the balance of the spacious, taxpayer-funding building would be remain off limits.

Thus anyone who couldn't fit into the courtroom had to stand outside. I did my best to embarrass the town in a column last week in the Finger Lakes Times.

Wednesday Sandra Steingraber spoke again about the movement, the arrests, the obnoxiousness (and dangerous aspects) of the lockout and also gave a knot of shivering arrestees and their supporters some words of encouragement - and news that the ACLU was stepping in. Of course, given the mindset of the people running the Town of Reading, the ACLU carries very little weight.

The two county sheriff's deputies on court duty continued to enforce the town's new policy of keeping the public out in the cold. But it was pretty clear neither of the deputies liked doing so.

And in the courtroom, I observed that Judge Raymond P. Berry - the same judge hearing most of the arraignments for the 200 people who have been arrested - has become more adept at reading the mandated state script about defendant's rights to counsel, rights to contact someone and the other assorted legalities.

He also now reads the script with the same enthusiasm as a flight attendant explaining how to buckle your seat belt on a commuter airline.


The sun is shining, the snow is falling and I want to stay inside

WATKINS GLEN, New York - This phenomenon I don't remember from my years growing up in Lakewood, NY.

The sun is out (albeit low on the horizon) and it is snowing - fairly heavily with swirling winds and snow accumulating fast enough that the village snowplow has roared past twice in the past hour.

Outside my office window, between snow squalls

I wouldn't be quite so winter sensitive today if I didn't have to bundle up in every piece of clothing I own and go out. With the temperature down at 10 degrees (probably zero with the wind chill) the sensible thing to do would be to stay indoors, get my exercise by bouncing on my mini-trampoline and eat some of Adm. Sylvia Fox's excellent minestrone soup.

But nooooo.

The Town of Reading court has called a special 2 p.m. session that I need to attend to shoot some photos for the Finger Lakes Times newspaper of Geneva. A 1:30 p.m. rally will precede the court - held outside!

But mostly I need to get the skinny on whether the town officials will let people into the town building (those persons not required to go into court) to stay warm while court is in session. In recent weeks the town officials have not let people in, except to go directly to the small courtroom. But those times were in the evening when the building is normally closed. Today's session is, well, during the day. And logic would indicate the public building would be open to, well, the public.

But this is the Town of Reading, New York.

Will the Reading officials do the right thing and let people in the town hall. Or make them shiver outside in subzero temperatures?

My already cold feet are rooting that they do let people in. If they don't, my Ugg boots will have to work overtime, again.


The Captain's Blog six-month sabbatical has ended

WATKINS GLEN, New York - After a six-month hiatus to chase other writing projects (including the novel, Fracking Justice) The Captain's Blog is up and running again.

In this era of Facebook and Twitter, blogging in some ways seems waaaay too slow and cumbersome. Ironically, blogging has become the equivalent of long-form journalism in the social-media sphere.

Noting that, this post will be brief.

Hans and Franz, or is it Franz and Hans?
Adm. Sylvia Fox and I (as the dateline indicates) are in Watkins Glen, not Puerto Vallarta (or even California) where we would normally be this time of the year. Instead, we are wearing Ugg boots, long underwear, covering up our faces with balaclavas and stuffing ourselves into enough clothing to resemble "Hans and Franz" from an old Saturday Night Live skit.

Our Toyota Tundra is sporting aggressive-looking snow tires on the rear wheels and sandbags in pickup's bed. And my red Nissan truck has been living most of its days at a local auto shop getting minor repairs done.

It doesn't seem to like the zero-degree temperatures and blowing snow.

But we are foregoing  sub-tropical and tropical climes to help in a regional effort to stop a Texas corporation named Crestwood from turning the shore of Seneca Lake into an sprawling industrial wasteland of natural gas and liquid propane gas storage.

Sometimes this fight seems like a Don-Quixote/Sancho-Panza-like endeavor, other times not, such as when NY Governor Andrew Cuomo banned hydrofracking for natural gas in December.

When he made his announcement it clearly felt like a windmill had been toppled in a crash that still has hydrofracking supporters stunned.

If you read Cervantes' novel, you know that even Don Quixote gets a good shot in once in awhile.

That why I believe Crestwood of Houston will be the next to fall.

Sancho! Hand me my sword!


A two-court tango for anti-salt cavern propane storage activist

SCHUYLER COUNTY, New York - Local anti-hydrofracking, anti-propane storage activist Jeremy Alderson of Hector, NY had double court dates Wednesday June 18, the first in the Town of Reading, the second in the Town of Dix.

Reading is where a Houston, Texas-based gas company wants to put in an 88-million gallon propane storage facility, using old salt caverns. It also is using the project as Phase One of a massive industrial complex to serve the propane and natural gas needs of the entire northeastern United States. Gas from hydrofracked gas wells in Pennsylvania is also likely to find its way into the proposed facility before being shipped to export terminals for overseas sales.

Alderson has been arrested twice for protesting at the gates of the Town of Reading Crestwood facility.

Here's a video of the first arrest Thursday, Sept. 6, 2012:

In the Town of Reading trial, and again last night in the Town of Dix, he was unsuccessful in getting the judges to let him use what's called a justification defense. That defense is based on the accused's  belief that there is a clear and present danger.

Both judges disallowed the defense, saying it had nothing to do with his trespassing on property owned by the Crestwood Corporation. Crestwood bought the property, along with U.S. Salt and a development plan from the Inergy Corporation of Missouri. Alderson has argued - unsuccessfully - that it has everything to do with not only his defense, but having the community understand what it will be like if the project is approved.

In addition to additional truck traffic and likely water and air pollution, no safety plan has been draw in the eventuality of any major explosions, fires or spills at the company site.

Here's what Alderson had to say outside of court Wednesday:

And here is a video of Alderson's second arrest, June 28, 2013:

Ten days ago the Schuyler County Legislature narrowly passed a resolution in favor of the project, but only over the objections of nearly 300 local residents who came to a meeting to protest. Representatives of Crestwood and U.S. Salt attended. The pro-project attendees (most of whom worked directly for Crestwood) were provided with company t-shirts if they agreed to speak in favor of the project. Local opponents said only a handful of the 48 people in T-shirts were actually local residents. The rest were bussed in and/or came from out of state.

A request to Crestwood to confirm - or deny - that it provided t-shirts, lodging at the Watkins Glen Harbor Hotel, and food for a cadre of out-of-town, paid supporters was answered by this email from Debbie Hagen, a Crestwood spokesperson:

"We encouraged project supporters to attend Monday’s meeting 
but we have no way of knowing how many supporters 
attended on their own.  
That said, we are grateful for those who attended 
and showed support for the project."

Here's a video of the  Schuyler County Legislature meeting:

In the second court hearing, the judge was briskly efficient, rendering a guilty verdict on the trespassing charge in just under two hours. Repeated objections from defense counsel Jerry Kinchey of Sayre, PA were generally brushed aside quickly. The same thing happened with the contention by Alderson that the entire question of trespassing and property lines has never been established.

The district attorney and Crestwood have never produced legal documents showing property demarcations at either of his trials.

Alderson will go back into the Town of Reading court sometime later this summer. The Town of Dix court however will see Alderson July 9 for sentencing.

In the meantime, local activists opposed to the project are burning up social media with various conversations about issues related to Crestwood's project, other propane and gas-related issues nationally and internationally and continuing a simmering resentment over the Schuyler County Legislature's 5-3 vote to support the project.

The five members of the legislature who voted in favor of the Houston, Texas company's plan even found themselves featured on a wanted poster. From left to right, Stewart Field, Phil Barnes, Dennis Fagan (chair of the legislature) Van Harp and Thomas Gifford.

Barnes is up for re-election in November and will likely run unopposed.


A big week for 'The Fracking War' - and it's only Monday

WATKINS GLEN, New York - Just a few days after Adm. Fox and I returned to our upstate NY zip code, our son Dustin Fox put the finishing touches on an author website for me - something that looks more professional than my hacking on websites like these.

He and his friend (professional web designer Kimberly Paternoster) did a very nice job. And they promise there can be more neat things to come. LINK: Michael J. Fitzgerald, Author.

The feature that took a little extra care was an order form so that people could request a book directly from me, avoiding the Amazon.com or Barnes & Noble online stores.

We added it so anyone who wanted to get an inscribed copy of the book can do so. And they can also have it sent directly to someone as a gift, too. (LINK: The Fracking War, inscribed)

More big news came in an hour ago from Sylvia. She arranged it so that Saturday afternoon I will join with other local author types at the Barnes & Noble store in Ithaca, NY to give a brief presentation about my novel and do an honest-to-God bookstore book-signing.

I signed about 25 books at an anti-fracking rally in Sacramento, Calif. then more in Flagstaff at an informal Sunday afternoon gathering at Beth and Mel Tucker's mansion.

But this is a bookstore! And believe me, bookstores are getting quite rare. I know because I'm contacting them to see if they want to carry The Fracking War.

And then there is the Finger Lakes Times, the newspaper for which I write a weekly column titled Write On. (LINK: Write On, Finger Lakes Times)

Executive Editor Mike Cutillo told me today that the newspaper is planning on publishing a story about the book coming out in print, wants to do a video interview with me for the newspaper's website - and also will proudly display The Fracking War on sale in the newspaper's lobby.

Sounds like the war is on!


The Fracking War is out in print - and some life updates

SACRAMENTO, Calif., USA - Since sometime in December, my brain has been totally focused on getting The Fracking War novel out the door.

Thus, no blogs. None, nada, zip, zilch, zero...

But now the book has gone out the door, and is back in, this time as a published paperback novel, with its own Library of Congress designation and everything. Imagine, a book with my name on it in the Library of Congress.

Of course, my name is likely already all over all kinds of NSA documents but that's another issue.

Admiral Fox and I returned from Mexico just a few days ago where we had our usual adventurous moments both in Nuevo Vallarta and Arroyo Seco.

This season, however, for the first time in at least four or five years, I caught a cold. Not just a booger-filled, sneezing, I feel-like-crap cold. No, this was a headbanger with a fever, enough deep-lung coughing for a roomful of cigarette smokers and such low energy I could barely walk up and down the stairs of our condo at Bahia del Sol.

It only lasted about a month, though.

A month. Kee-rist!

All that is just so much water in the sand though as Adm. Fox and I get ready to catch 400 copies of The Fracking War this week, coming via UPS. More than 100 books are destined to be mailed to Kickstar.com supporters. Some will be sold at a March 15 anti-fracking demonstration at the state capitol here. Others will go to various potential reviewers locally.

And on our driving trip back to the east coast, we will be stopping in towns to chat with newspaper editors and radio stations to see if they have any interest in the book.

The book popped up for sale on Amazon.com Sunday night, 48 hours after I gave the nod for Mill City Press of Minneapolis to fire up the machine and start cranking out copies of The Fracking War. Barnes & Noble shows the book for sale now, too.

Can a call from The Daily Show be far behind?

In the meantime, we continue watch the weather in Northeast carefully, comparing it to our Sacramento experiences. Seems like heading east too early means a repeat of some of the foul weather we traveled in getting west in December.

Admiral Fox does have her snow boots with her, but says if she has to don them, there will be trouble.

I believe her.


Sun is up, waiting for the highway to clear...

FAIRFIELD INN, Tehachapi, California - One of the benefits of being stuck here in Tehachapi has been that I finally can spell the name of this small burg.
Tehachapi in summer, much nicer

Others are that the highway is still closed which means we are sitting in a cozy hotel, breakfast is just being served and we didn't sit alongside the road all night in a snowdrift.

Or worse.

Adm. Fox and I will head out when Highway 58 opens and make our way down the mountain, then north to San Francisco and Sacramento where it has been cold, but the likelihood of 100 mph wind gusts and black ice is considerably less.



Black ice, tractor-trailers and a guardian angel helps out

FAIRFIELD INN, Tehachapi, California - Admiral Sylvia Fox and I were breezing along in our Prius on California Highway 58, crossing through the Tehachapi Mountains on our way from Flagstaff to San Francisco, when we ran into a weather phenomenon I haven't seen in years.

A snow whiteout.

10 minutes before the whiteout
We were driving about 15 miles per hour and within a few miles of the summit in blowing snow when suddenly the tractor trailer 100 feet in front of us disappeared in the snowstorm.


And when I glanced in my rear-view mirror, the tractor trailer who was tailgating us disappeared also.

We will get back to that tailgating in a minute.

In maybe 15-20 seconds, the visibility cleared slightly, then lifted more, revealing a freeway littered with cars that had probably slammed on their brakes when the visibility went to zero.

And they were on black ice.

I am sure about that black ice because as soon as I saw the cars in the ditch, cars off the side of the road, cars in the median and lots of people with totally stunned looks on their faces, I gently tapped my brakes to avoid colliding with the semi in front which was shuddering to a stop.

We did a really neat skid, but stayed straight. And I thanked all those years of skidding and sliding in upstate New York growing up.

Then I looked in the rear view mirror and saw that the semi behind me - the one tailgating, remember? - had gone into a locked-wheel skid and his trailer was starting to pass him, very slowly, but definitely swinging around.

I don't think I would have been more terrified to see a platoon of zombies from World War Z closing in.

I didn't mention this little problem to Adm. Fox who was marveling at all the people in their cars and commenting on how fast some people were still driving.

But the guardian angel who travels with me most days decided to goose the semi in front of us just enough forward  so I could give our Prius gas to keep the semi behind from turning us into a Prius pancake.

It was close, but we proceeded on the black ice, making between 5-10 mph between skids.

We got off at the Tehachapi exit just as the California Highway Patrol was closing the highway's west bound land, a sure sign that things were unraveling. Within a half-hour they closed highway completely.

And as I write this, we are ensconced in a comfortable suite at the Fairfield Inn with quite a few other pilgrims who decided that with the sun going down and snow blowing hard a warm bed and cold wine was good alternative to black ice and cars in the ditch.
Pool at the Fairfield Inn

Oh! And this Fairfield Inn has a nice Jacuzzi and swimming pool which we have already tested out.

And the wine is chilling in the ice bucket.


Snowstorm slows progress towards California...

SANTA FE, New Mexico - Admiral Fox and I spent a great afternoon and evening in Santa Fe, New Mexico capped by an excellent dinner at a restaurant called The Shed with amigos Randy and Karin, California transplants who own a fabulous casa near a Santa Fe college.

We are getting to know their casa well as we wait out a raging snowstorm that has snarled traffic on the interstate highways.

Just like upstate New York

Today we expected to arrive in Flagstaff, Arizona this afternoon.

But given that it is snowing horizontally and the snow is supposed to continue into the night, Randy and Karin have put out the welcome mat.

Santa Fe is a very interesting town with museums, artists, and restaurants of all shapes and sizes. You could drop a lot of money here - pretty fast - on some beautiful handmade items.

Seeing the city covered in a mantle of snow is apparently a rare thing. We hope that mantle lifts by morning