A columnist of heart and mind

A columnist of heart and mind
Interviewing the animals at Children's Fairyland in Oakland. L-R: Bobo the sheep, Gideon the miniature donkey, me, Tumbleweed Tommy the miniature donkey, Juan the alpaca, Coco the pony

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Those Were The Days

(Above: The Snake and an unidentified man on the right. Photo by Sports Illustrated)

I don't know about you, but I'm looking forward to Ken Stabler's induction into the NFL Hall of Fame on August 6 with mixed emotions.
Yes, I'm happy that he's finally getting recognized. But what took them so long? Why did they wait until after he died, when they knew how much it meant to him?
This isn't the first time the HOF has been a day late and a dollar short. They did the same thing to Les Richter, the great Cal and L.A. Rams linebacker, electing him six months after he died. And there are plenty of other deserving old timers waiting in line, including Jerry Kramer, Jim Marshall and the Mad Duck himself, Alex Karras.
But they're likely to wait a lot longer, as great younger players like Kurt Warner, Ray Lewis and Peyton Manning become eligible and elbow them aside. Kramer, the key player in the Green Bay power sweep, the most famous football play of all time, wasn't even nominated this year.
As more and more younger players retire and more and more Hall of Fame voters are too young to remember the old guys, many old timers will be lucky to get in at all, let alone in their own lifetime.
But don't let my grumpiness spoil the celebration. All hail The Snake, who was Joe Montana before Joe Montana. No amount of bureaucratic disrespect can diminish his glory or the pleasure he gave us.
It really was a golden age back in the 70s, with the Raiders, Warriors and A's all winning championships - the A's three years in a row. But the team that had the strongest hold on our hearts was the Raiders.
How much fun it was to attend a game at the Coliseum! Each section was a tiny community of its own, with many fans turning down the team's offer to move them to better seats as a reward for being longtime season ticket holders because they didn't want to move away from their friends in the section, who they had come to think of as family.
Each section seemed to have its own matriarch, usually called Mom, who adored the Raiders – especially Stabler and Marv Hubbard, who, sadly, also passed away last year – and despised the Broncos and Chiefs.
And Heaven help anyone who cussed in front of kids; the whole section would come down on him. The atmosphere was downright wholesome, in its own rowdy way.
And they were loyal, even when the team betrayed them by moving to Los Angeles. The most loyal of all was a group called the Bay Area Dirtballs, who flew down to L.A. for all the home games.
But within a year after the team returned to Oakland in 1995 most of the Dirtballs had given up their season tickets, preferring to watch games at sports bars like Ricky's, instead.
Why? Two words: Black Hole. They didn't like the new breed of fans the team brought back with it from L.A. They felt their team had been hijacked by a bunch of wild-eyed crazies they had nothing in common with, and it didn't feel like their team anymore.
So as a longtime Raiders fan, I know how a lot of Republicans are feeling these days.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

The Play's The Thing

(Above: Harriet Schlader, founder and Managing Director of the Woodminster Summer Musicals, poses with Daniel Barrington Rubio, who is playing the title role in Shrek The Musical, which will open the organization’s 50th season of musicals in Woodminster Amphitheater.  Photo by Kathy Kahn.)

Joaquin Miller Park in Oakland is one of the Eastbay's crowning glories, featuring cascades, a reflecting pool and the jewel in the crown, the Woodminster Amphitheater, a beautiful open-air facility with spectacular views and a woodsy environment that was built as a WPA project during the Great Depression.
For the last 50 years Harriet Schlader and her late husband Jim, who passed away in 2010, have been delighting local theater fans by presenting some of Broadway's best musicals under the stars at Woodminster. Their first production was South Pacific, followed by Paint Your Wagon, Kiss Me Kate and The Music Man. This year it starts with Shrek: The Musical, which opens July 8, followed by Chicago in August and La Cage Aux Folles in September.
For many East Bay families, it's a longstanding tradition to enjoy a picnic in the park and then see a musical at Woodminster. Some season ticket holders have been sitting in the same seats for three generations.
And they can always count on two things: a highly professional production and a fast-moving show that ends no later than 10:30.
For years, I heard different stories about the reason why. Some said it's the law in Oakland; others said it's in Woodminster's contract with the musicians' union. But Harriet says it's a lot simpler: concern for the audience's rear ends.
"It's stadium seating," she says. "That can be hard on your butt, so we keep the shows down to 2½ hours. As my Jim used to say, 'Get out before they catch on.'"
Jim and Harriet were already Broadway veterans when they began producing musicals at Woodminster. He was a singer whose opera-trained tenor voice made him a favorite with producers - he was never out of work longer than two months for more than 20 years - and she was a dancer who performed with the Radio City Music Hall corps de ballet and on The Jackie Gleason Show as a member of the June Taylor Dancers.
And while they always tried to choose shows for Woodminster that would entertain an audience, they chose shows that elevated the audience, too.
For instance, back in the 1970s segregation was still a way of life in Oakland, but the Schladers fought that attitude with art, presenting No Strings (about an interracial romance) and an Oklahoma with African American actors in the leading roles.
"When the curtain raised, you could see people in the audience elbowing each other, like the wave," says Harriet. "When Curly came out, they sat there with their arms folded. But within 15 minutes they forgot about it and were totally into the show.
"But we still got calls afterward. 'Are you going to do the next show the way you did with Oklahoma?' 'What do you mean?' 'You know, with black people in the cast?' It made me so mad! I mean, it's entertainment! And now here we are years later with Hamilton. It goes to show that anybody can play any role if you engage the audience. That's what theater is all about."
Happy anniversary, Woodminster. May it prosper for another 50 years. And it probably will, because waiting in the wings as Harriet's eventual successor is the Schladers' son Joel, who will direct all three shows this year. And they have lots of grandkids, too.