Ralph Higgins

Ralph Higgins
color pencil sketch by Gayle Higgins

Quotes I Like

“Everyone is a genius, but if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

-Albert Einstein


Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Another Glimpse of Europe From My Triumph

Leaving Copenhagen on my new bike

     Several people emailed me and wanted me to add more about my motorcycle trip through Europe in 1969.  Trying to remember that far back in time is a challenge, so I’ll just hit on a couple of things briefly in this blog. 

            As I said, the plan was to meet a friend in Munich, but he met a German girl and was busy making the “beast with two backs.”  Needless to say, he didn’t show up.  So after drinking 150 gallons of beer and waiting for him for many hours in the famous Hofbrauhous, I left and began the journey on my own.  I had no plan and chose my course as I went along. 

Two Austrian children
I had landed in Frankfurt then went to Copenhagen to buy the bike. While waiting for some modifications for the U.S., I went to Sweden.  Then I came back from Sweden to Denmark, where I picked up the bike, then through northern Germany down to Munich.  This trip was an adventure in itself.  I may talk about that in another blog.  My idea was to go south because of cold weather.

            I mentioned the contrast between Austria and Yugoslavia previously, so I’ve attached a couple of photos.  The beautiful colors and typical dress of the two Austrian children were in contrast to the drab environment when I crossed into Yugoslavia.  Ox carts were common, as were women working in fields.

Typical scene upon entering Yugoslavia
We have friends from the former Yugoslavia who say that this wasn’t typical of where they lived.  But our friend Mike Mesaros was a very famous soccer player and lived like a king, so they may have been isolated from the rural areas I traveled.  He is close to eighty now, but is immediately recognize and interviewed on TV when he and his wife travel in Europe even today.  Mike was literally the Joe DiMaggio of Yugoslavia.

            Interestingly, Yugoslavia and Austria were my two favorite places.  The rolling, green hills of Salzburg, where they made “The Sound of Music,” were in contrast to the rugged beauty of the coastline in Yugoslavia.

            There’s an island off the coast of Yugoslavia called Krk.  I have no idea how to pronounce that, but it was a German nudist resort that my curious nature drove me to visit.  It was all for research, you understand. I was going to study how long I could keep my pants on.  

Taking a break
The only way to get to the island was by boat.  I’m basically modest and really did try to get away with keeping my pants on until the stares from the mostly college-age nudists became embarrassing. “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.”  So I did as the nudists do and no one stared anymore.  I’m not sure if that’s good or bad.

            The thing I remember most about that weekend is the pain when I left the island and began my ten hour ride around the coast of the Adriatic on my way to Spain or somewhere. Every bump in the road and the impact on my sunburned rear end reminded me of my folly.

I have to say that each country had its own personality in those days.  Along with the tribulations there was much to be enjoyed and experienced.  I’ll admit that I was happy to get home.  I was married within weeks of my return.

            That trip was an interesting adventure, but it was more of a “problem-solving” exercise than a pleasure trip.  There were a lot of challenges, but a real adventure isn’t all fun. I treasure the memories of those many weeks of rumbling through the beautiful countryside, riding through the Alps in Switzerland, bouncing over coble-stone roads, fighting traffic in Rome, and drinking Slivovitz in Zagreb.  It was well worth the effort. 

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Evidently I'm Not Alone

My blog gets relatively few comments, due to the “hoops” that are evidently required to post a comment. I think comments can be easily left under “anonymous,” but a name can be included.  
I do, however, get responses to blogs on my email.
I recently got the following email from an old friend and former high school teaching colleague, Dave Nelson.  Dave is responding to my previous post entitled, “Shopping with the Missus.” 
You have to go back and review that particular post to understand Dave’s email to me. 
I’ll bet a lot of us have similar stories.  I got a kick out of Dave’s story, so I didn’t change a single word of it.  Here’s his entire email in Dave’s own words:

*   *   *

“Hi Ralph,

            “I just got finished reading all your Blogs that you sent recently.  I enjoyed ALL of them!  I particularly enjoyed "Shopping with the Missus." 
“Because it is some distance from our home (as opposed to the corner grocery store), I often go with Lisa to the Beale Air Force Base Commissary about a one half hour drive from our home.  We're often on a tight schedule and usually make two to three stops at various places on the base. One of those is always the gas station for cheaper gas prices than on the ‘outside.’ 
“There must be something in the air when we drive on base because Lisa seems to get that ‘military feeling’ whatever the heck that is!  I too find myself pushing the cart just like the guy in your story; of course, always about 2-3 steps behind. 
“The fun begins at check out time.  She NEVER EVER lets me unload the cart!  Why, you ask? Because I do it wrong.  This is true, just ask her.  Some years ago I did ask, "How can you unload a shopping cart "wrong" at check out?” 
“Her answer, ‘Because I want items of a certain category to be checked out and bagged together.’
“I said, ‘The bag boy takes care of proper bagging procedures.’ 
“No matter.  There is only one way to do it and of course this subject is not negotiable. 
            “Then the grocery loading is the next adventure.  I head to the car while Lisa finds the bathroom.  Because we do live 30 minutes from the base, certain items HAVE to be in the trunk and other items may be placed in the back seat.  ‘Don't you dare get that mixed up!’ 
“Everything is now loaded correctly.  Nothing can possibly tip over because she has checked and double checked that everything is blocked and braced in the trunk to avoid such a calamity. 
“Once the engine is on, it is home we go and it better be at or slightly above the speed limit- can't allow the ice cream to get soft or the milk to lose too much of the cold temperature.  It is a team effort to get the groceries into the kitchen without delay.  The task is done.  I go back to the car and put it in the garage, Lisa goes to the bathroom.
            “From time to time, I go to the base commissary alone.  Do you think ‘her system’ is at the forefront of my mind?  Not a chance!  The only downside of me shopping alone is when I come home and there is often an item or two on the counter that was not on ‘the list.’ 
"’Why did you buy that?’  Or, ‘Now we have FOUR boxes of that.  Who is going to eat all of that before it gets old or spoils?’  
“Quick thinking me, ‘The item(s) were on sale’ (I think). 
“Keeping that ‘military bearing’ that may be lingering in her system since her last visit to the base, I usually get a retort of some kind indicating a goof up of some magnitude, in a loving way of course.
“If Lisa had been in the military, there is no doubt that she would out rank me!  In others words, she would be ‘Sarge’ and I would be ‘Beatle Bailey’.
            “On the sobering side of life, I am most grateful that we can go to the store together.  There are more than just a few of my fishing and golf buddies who are widowers - they always shop alone. 
“I am looking forward to future blogs.  I am sure there will be another good one waiting for us when we return from Sweden.
“Hope to see you this summer!  Take good care, each of you!”


Thursday, May 17, 2012

Just My Triumph and Me Cruising Europe

On my original 1969 Triumph somewhere in Yugoslavia
I ran across an old photo of my International Drivers License and another of my 1969 Triumph motorcycle and me while touring Yugoslavia.  Of course, it’s not Yugoslavia anymore, but this picture was taken in 1969 when the country was still under Tito, who was considered a “benevolent dictator” until his death in 1980.  Yugoslavia was dissolved in 1992, but I will admit that when I traveled there in ’69, it was one of the most interesting places I visited.
Part of my International Drivers License
            In those days, if you wanted to rent a room for the night, you would go to the train station and look for rooms advertised on pieces of paper tacked up by people trying to make a buck on the side.  I found a room for one night at a member of the communist party’s home.  The woman who rented me the room may have been a widow, but we couldn’t communicate well, so I don’t know for certain.  All I remember is that she slept on the floor in the kitchen so that I could have the bed.  I didn’t know this until the following day, when a girl traveler in the next room told me.  I felt guilty after I learned that, but this poor woman made some money for that particular night anyway.
            After riding through Austria, where people wore the old fashioned styles of  lederhosen and colorful dresses, I was struck by the fact that everyone wore black when I crossed into Yugoslavia.  It was a dramatic contrast.  
           There were no cars on the road where I traveled, but there were ox carts and people walking.  There were also men and women working in fields, stacking hay on wagons pulled by horses or oxen.  As I recall, there were more women forking hay onto wagons than men.
            I was also struck by the fact that stores only carried one make of each item, whether it was shoes or food.  I guess shopping was easy.  If you wanted shoes, you bought what the government provided.  No ambiguity or confusion there.            
There were nine countries I visited on my motorcycle, including Italy, Spain, Switzerland, France, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Austria and Yugoslavia.  Since my friend, who had planned to meet me at the Hofbrau House in Munich, couldn’t leave his new German girlfriend, I ended up traveling alone for weeks on end.  I traveled through interesting countries back when each was unique with their own currency and customs.  Sadly, it’s not like that anymore.
It should be added that I bought my motorcycle in Copenhagen, Denmark, where their tax was 100% on purchases for the Danes under socialism.  Imagine paying 100% sales tax in this country. Since I was exporting the bike, I could avoid the tax and I paid half-price for a 1969 Triumph 650 motorcycle.  If you look in my garage there is a 1969 Triumph 650 bike sitting next to its progeny, a newer Triumph, more recently purchased in Reno, Nevada.
I could write a book on that trip, but I’ll spare you.  The photos I found were just reminders of a great adventure a very long time ago.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

The Labor Pains of a Writer

I’ve been remiss in keeping up with blogs this week.  It’s usually not a problem and I can dash something off pretty quickly, but I’m in the process of formatting a book for publication.

            I’m ghost writing an autobiography for a former professional baseball player and 4-sport college star at San Jose State College back in the ‘40s.  He was my football coach in high school and has been a friend since.  In fact, I went to work for him after college managing one of his clubs and moving into real estate.   His name is Pietro “Pete” Denevi and he has as much energy now in his eighties as he had back when he owned and operated more tennis clubs and golf courses than anyone in the nation.

            It’s an interesting project following his family from Italy to the U. S. and Pete’s career as an athlete, but one of the things that make it interesting for me is the people he knew and the athletes he played with professionally and in college.

            The great Billy Wilson was his best friend and roommate in college.  Billy, who died recently, was also his primary receiver when Pete was All-League quarterback at State.  Later Pete would celebrate 49er games with Y. A. Tittle, Hugh McElhenny, Billy Wilson, John Brodie and other buddies, along with their wives.

            When Pete was a kid his cousin Frankie Crosetti would take him around San Francisco with Joe DiMaggio, while Joe would leap on trolley cars for free rides around town.  Both played for the Yankees. Later Joe introduced Pete to Marilyn Monroe, who gave Pete a kiss he still hasn’t completely recovered from.  Lucille Ball kissed him with those big lips once too and it took Pete a week to get the lipstick off his face. 

            Pete also had business dealings with Howard Hughes, Bob Hope, and Bill Cosby.  Stories of making spaghetti sauce at Frank Sinatra’s home and accidently knocking over the Pope in Rome add spice to his life story.

            Since I’ve spent the last several days putting the manuscript together, this explanation seemed like an easy way to write a blog this week.  I guess at this point in the production process, I get tunnel vision.  I’ll let you know when the book will be available, in case you have an interest.

            I think the process of writing a book can be compared to a woman giving birth.  The gestation process seems to never end and then the labor begins.  I guess I’ve gotten behind on blogging because of these lousy contractions, but once the book rolls off the press, the birth is complete.  There it is!  The cutest little book you ever saw.  Isn't that what all parents say?

I just hope to hell I don’t start lactating. 

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Free Corn?

Wanna know how to catch wild pigs?  Here’s how it’s done.

First, you toss corn in an open area every day until the wild pigs learn where to find it.  If you don’t scare them off, they will come back as long as you provide the corn.

Next, you put one side of a fence close to the corn.  At first the pigs may be apprehensive, but they quickly accept the fence and come back for the corn.

Next, you connect another side at right angles to the first piece of fence.  When the pigs accept that, you continue with the other two sides.  Then you add a gate.

Once the pigs all come in for the free corn, which doesn’t require all the work of finding and foraging, you slam the gate shut.  Now you have bacon for all your friends.

That’s how you catch a pig.     

How many people will take the time to look objectively and honestly at what we are witnessing in our country and in Europe today?  We can witness the process and we can see what happens when countries run out of corn.    

It doesn’t require a crystal ball or the gift of prescience to predict our future, if things don’t change.  Too many people enjoy the free corn and don’t seem to mind the fence.  They’re comfortable, secure, distracted and oblivious to what is happening outside the fence.  As long as there is food on the shelves and football on Sunday, who cares?

John Adams said, “Those who trade liberty for security have neither.”

America was founded on a concept of freedom and liberty, but freedom requires responsibility and the price of liberty, according to Andrew Jackson, is eternal vigilance.

Those who prefer freedom and the risks and challenges that come with it seem to be outnumbered by those who are happy with free corn. Unfortunately, we are all in the same cage.  And the corn is running out.