May 21, 2017

Napa icon & journalist L. Pierce Carson passes away at 76

NAPA, Calif. - I landed in the Napa Register newsroom in April of 1973. The Watergate political pot was coming to a hard boil. L. Pierce Carson would run home at lunchtime all summer, watch part of the hearings  on television and come back, breathless about what was going on.

L. Pierce Carson
He ran home because he didn't drive, didn't own a car, and was the most skilled guy at bumming rides I have ever met.

He was also one of most skilled journalistic-style writers I have ever met, skilled in a low-key way.

My first encounter with Pierce came weeks after I started a quasi-internship in the newsroom. I had graduated with a degree in English and thought all paragraphs had to be looooooong affairs (300 words was a nice length), strewn liberally with semicolons and other grammatical flourishes.

After being shredded publicly numerous times by the late Harry Martin, then city editor of the Napa Register, Pierce secretly looked over a story I had typed, made some alterations and had me retype it before I turned it in.

It flew past Martin and into the newspaper - my very first byline.

With Margrit Monday
And so I started studying how Pierce would write stories about county government, stories that could have been so dull without his touch, but were as interesting as fiction I was reading. He had a bagful of writing tricks, plus he knew his stuff. I studied his style and learned well.

Several generations of students at CSU Chico and CSU Sacramento learned the LPC writing method in my journalism classes, not always knowing where it came from.

My favorite image of L. Pierce Carson is of him challenging someone in the Register advertising department to a duel right in the middle of the newsroom. They retired to their desks, returning with umbrellas, which they poked playfully at each other to the delight of the newspaper staff.

Pierce won the duel by making the ad salesman laugh so hard he couldn't hold his umbrella.

Rest in peace, L. Pierce Carson. And keeping 'hooking' paragraphs the way you taught me.

May 11, 2017

'Then Came Bronson' star Michael Parks pulls away for last time

   POINT RICHMOND, Calif. - I have television and film actor Michael Parks to thank for my moving to California in 1970.
     No, he didn't offer me a job, cash, or even talk me into to fleeing the Rust Belt Village of Lakewood, NY.
     What he did do was star in a television program called Then Came Bronson that probably launched thousands of guys like me on wandering trips around the country.
     I just happened to land in California.

     The opening episode actually begins in San Francisco - not that far from where I am writing this today.
     His character was emblematic of a generation of young men who were convinced that something out on the road was calling them. It certainly grabbed my attention from the first episode.
     But at the time the program was getting underway, so was my young family.
     Married with a three-month-old infant son, a motorcycle like the one driven by Michael Park's character was an unlikely vehicle for the three of us.

    So the compromise vehicle was another icon of the era - a beat up VW microbus, complete with a peace symbol painted on the front in place of the metal VW symbol. That peace symbol was painted over just before we left NY for points west.
    Watching the iconic film Easy Rider convinced me a slightly less 'in-your-face' vehicle might get me through some of places that sported signs in those days that said things like "NO HIPPIES ALLOWED" and "YOU WANT EAT HERE? GET A HAIRCUT."
     The details of that sojourn will take an entire book to tell.
     Michael Parks died earlier this week. He was 77 and had a fabulous film and television career acting in many great roles.
     But for me, he will always be Bronson on his motorcycle.
     In the video clip below (at about 1:12), a tired commuter driving a station wagon pulls alongside at a stoplight and asks Bronson where he's going.
     "Oh, I don't know," Bronson says. "Wherever I end up, I guess."
     The commuter responds, "Man, I wish I was you."
     "Really?" Bronson says. "Well, hang in there."
     Well, hang in there, Michael Parks, wherever your celestial motorcycle is taking you.
     I'll hang in here.
     Maybe someday we'll meet up going down that Long Lonesome Highway.