That Old Time Rock And Roll

I liked the song when it played on the radio while I was a senior in high school, but I never knew anything about it, who wrote it, who sang it. I only began to  get a clue when the movie came out.

Thirty years on, and it’s time to take a look back at this one. Actually, it’s 60 years since the story unrolled. It’s La Bamba, about the short career of teen rock star Ritchie Valens. More than that, it’s about the peak of rock and roll  in the 1950s. The film is a tour de force of late ’50s rock and roll. La Bamba was distributed by Columbia Pictures, and is available for view this month on Hulu. I’m getting details from  Wikipedia.

The opening scene depicts an actual event. Children are playing in a schoolyard in Pacoima, north of Los Angeles. On 31 January 1957 two aircraft collided above the area, and debris from one of the planes landed in the schoolyard, killing three students.

Historical accuracy is lost right about here. The two aircraft shown in the film are not the two that collided and crashed.

But it’s only a dream. Richard Steven Valenzuela (Lou Diamond Phillips) was not at the school that day. He was at his grandfather’s funeral. He wakes from the nightmare in a migrant labor camp, where his mother, Connie Valenzuela (Rosanna DeSoto) is calling him to get up and get to work picking oranges.

It’s a dismal future for Ritchie, but his half brother Roberto “Bob” Morales (Esai Morales) comes riding up on an Indian motorcycle. He is lately out of prison on drug charges, and he brings money to get the family out of the migrant camp. He also moves in on Ritchie’s main squeeze, Rosie (Elizabeth Peña), gets her pregnant, and abuses her.

Back in high school, Ritchie meets Donna Ludwig (Danielle von Zerneck), inspiration for his big hit song named after her.

Yeah, that romance is not going anywhere. Donna’s father objects to the romance and is a perpetual roadblock to young love. Ritchie plays the guitar and joins a local band. However, the band’s leader keeps him in the background.

But Ritchie books a concert in the local VFW hall, and the band leader will have none of it. The band goes on with Ritchie playing lead, and it’s a huge success. One of those enjoying the music is Bob Keane (Joe Pantoliano), eager to record Ritchie’s music.

An early success has Ritchie being invited by the manager to sing at a cowboy bar. You have to think a Chicano kid playing at a redneck hangout is not going to fly, but Ritchie apparently knows his audience, and he opens belting out “Oh, Boy!” by Buddy Holly from Lubbock, Texas. By the time he’s finished the joint is jumping.

Signed to Del-Fi Records without the band and having his name changed to Ritchie Valens, he hits the big time, singing Donna on American Bandstand, his classmates, including Donna, back in Pacoima watching on TV. We see him hitting the big time in New York with famous headliners of the day.

His career is famously short. Just eight months after hitting the big time he is touring with Buddy Holly and catching a flight out of Clear Lake, Iowa. Despite his fear of flying, due to the Pacoima tragedy, he takes the offer.

The plane will only carry four, including the pilot. J.P. Richardson, Jr., The Big Bopper (Stephen Lee), is going, and Holly flips a coin to decide whether to take guitarist Tommy Allsup or Ritchie. Ritchie calls heads, it’s heads. Allsup loses the toss and is the only survivor of this scene. According to Allsup, Ritchie remarks it’s the only coin toss he ever won. Ritchie was only 17.

Take special note: Waylon Jennings gave up his seat to Richardson, because The Big Bopper had the flu.

February third, 1959, is known as The Day The Music Died, with three headliners of 1950s rock and roll gone in an instant. Thirteen years later  Don McLean‘s hit American Pie was tops in the charts.

The movie stresses the tension between Ritchie and his brother Bob. Bob is shown as continually resentful of Ritchie’s success while he continues to drive his own life into the toilet. Apparently we have Bob to thank for the song. He took Ritchie to a club in Tijuana, where the band was playing it.

La Bamba is a traditional Mexican folk song out of Veracruz. La Bamba is a wedding dance, and it’s the dance the song refers to:

Para bailar La Bamba
Para bailar La Bamba
Se necesita una poca de gracia

To dance La Bamba a little grace is necessary.

Ritchie did not speak Spanish but an aunt from Mexico taught him the words. And the rest was magic.  This is going to take some people way back. Are you one of them?

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Ryobi TEK4 Thermometer

Ten years back I was having A/C problems at my house, and I called in a repair company. It was one of those hot Texas summer days, and there didn’t be much cool coming out of the vents. The service tech walked around checking temperatures, and he had one of these things.

It’s a Ryobi TEK4 Professional Infrared Thermometer, and it’s cool as all get out. Here is a link.

It works like this. You point the snoot of the device at, for example, the A/C vent in your room, and you pull the trigger. A laser spot on the vent shows where you’re pointing, and a display on the back tells you the temperature. Read the details on their site. You can switch between degrees F and degrees C. Here’s what it looks like when you put the spot on a vent.

And this is the kind of information you need. You measure the temperature at a vent, where the cool air is coming out, and you measure the temperature at a return point, where the warm air is being sucked out of the room. If your A/C unit is working properly there should be a significant difference in temperature. One service guy told me it needs to be 15° F. Another said 10°. I’m thinking if it’s not at least 10°, then your unit is not up to snuff and needs to be serviced.

I bought mine at the local Home Depot, and the good news is the price doesn’t break the budget, especially if you are wondering whether to throw the dice and gamble on a service call. My model may have since been superseded. Check Home Depot or Lowe’s and see what they have.

TAKE NOTE. This is not a toy. The laser beam is nothing to messed with by children.

The unit has a lithium ion battery inside the handle, and a charger comes with it. Contact me for additional advice.

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Executive Action

It is only coincidence that I am posting this review of a show about the decapitation of the United States Government on the very day somebody had a go at such an abortive plan. In any event, this morning I completed viewing episode 12 of Designated Survivor, now available on Hulu. The plot concerns a member of the President’s cabinet designated to skip the annual State of the Union speech. This is an actual practice, because, the speech, held in the Capitol Building, is attended by the president, vice president, all other cabinet members, all Supreme Court justices, and all members of Congress. The idea is, should a calamity of massive scale take out all attending, somebody in the presidential line of succession will survive to take over.

The opening scene reminds viewers of that fact with a nighttime view of the Capitol complex and a caption explaining the setup. Next we see Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Thomas Adam “Tom” Kirkman watching the proceedings on TV, along with his lovely wife Alex (Natascha McElhone). We know he’s going to be the designated survivor, because he’s Kiefer Sutherland, and you know he’s going to have to be in all remaining episodes. It’s a pleasant evening, beer and popcorn, some quiet time with the wife.

Of course, we know what’s going to  happen. The president is going to be talking, and then the screen is going to go blank. We know that, because the only thing that can take out the entire United States government in a single strike is a massive bomb attack. We watch. Here it comes.

Here it is. And the screen goes blank.

First nit to pick is right here. When a bomb takes out a TV transmission, there is not any streaking. The screen just goes blank. Later on we learn about the nature of the bombing and realize even an instantaneous blank screen would not be expected. But more on that later. The Secret Service detail rushes in immediately, and Kirkman gets the word. He goes to the window and witnesses the horror, still unfolding.

Pushed into a Secret Service car, Kirkman and bride are rushed to another secure facility, could be somewhere besides the White House. There an appellate judge stands him up and issues the oath of office. He’s the President of the United States.

The realization hits him. Earlier in the day the president had told him he was going to be replaced as HUD secretary, and now his fortunes have reversed in the most spectacular way. He goes to the restroom to puke his beer and popcorn. In the next stall is a speech writer wondering loudly how a buffoon like Kirkman is going to be able to handle such a job. Emerging, speech writer Seth Wright (Kal Penn) realizes he has been talking to his new boss. Kirkman quickly makes him the new White House Press Secretary.

And the story continues from there, and I am not going to regurgitate the plot. However, if you have have not watched the series, then you might want to stop reading now, because what follows will be a massive spoiler. There are some issues I have with the plot.

Religious terrorists are immediately suspected. In fact, there is no other consideration besides a bunch of Muslims have waged an attack on the United States. This is going to be standard for this kind of story, because it is typical of our government’s reaction these days. Back in real life I am sure government intelligence has a better handle on these matters than the public at large and elected officials in general. They are going to be considering all possibilities and not be blinded by the “obvious.” In this story that rationality does not manifest, and all eyes are closed to the ultimate source of the attack. Makes the story more interesting.

Of course, American Muslims are targeted, with at least one person killed. Seth, who is the son of immigrants and does not look the least bit Western European, gets some hard looks early on. The governor of Michigan cracks down on Muslims in Dearborn, forcing President Kirkman to have him arrested, along with the general in charge of the Michigan national guard.

Next comes a critical plot development. A survivor is pulled from the rubble. He is Congressman Peter MacLeish (Ashley Zukerman), and he is quickly hailed as a hero (Hero of the Potomac). A decorated military veteran, he is quickly promoted as candidate to become the new vice president. Things look suspicious.

The FBI solves the case, and a main character is FBI Agent Hannah Wells (Maggie Q). She has an  FBI technician pull cell phone intercepts from the fatal night, and she observes uploaded snapshots made prior to the explosion. They show that the congressman left his seat in the chamber prior to the event. And here is a minor plot failure. The congressman previously told interrogators he was in his seat watching the speech when everything just went black. But nobody follows up on this inconsistency. Agent Wells goes to the MacLeish home to ask him about this, but he and his wife Beth (Lara Jean Chorostecki) explain his absence from his seat, but not the inconsistency of his account. Agent Wells takes the explanation and departs. My thinking is real FBI agents are more tenacious than that.

But Wells receives a phone call from out of nowhere. A female voice tells her to check room 105. Then she hangs up. Digging deeper, Wells pulls up classified Capitol Building renovation plans, plans which show that room 105 in the Capitol Building has been recently constructed. Reconstructed as a bomb-proof bunker. Further, this matches the location from where MacLeish was pulled from the debris. Things are beginning to add up.

Scenes show recovery workers digging at the remains of the building. Not all that realistic. I have seen video from, for example, the Murrah Building, the World Trade Towers, and the Pentagon. It really is a lot more messy than depicted in the show. Also, my guess is, suppose MacLeish were in  the 105 bunker when the balloon went up, so to speak. How did he get out? How come rescuers didn’t find him still inside the well-fortified room 105?

They find an unexploded bomb. It later develops that numerous such bombs were planted throughout the building. Examination reveals it is of a kind used by a known terrorist. What is suspicious is this one seemed to have designed not to explode. It was possibly a plant to throw suspicion on a specific operator.

Further, if the building has been taken down by a collection of dispersed charges, there would be some evidence of this in the TV broadcast. There would be flashes of light from off screen as the charges detonated, but before blast wave propagated.

MacLeish is immediately promoted to  the vice presidency. No no no. This is the American government, which pulls like a magnet to all and anybody having a lust for power. There would have been about 50 governors and numerous others clamoring for that job and presenting a much stronger case than being a war hero from Oregon who survived the attack. But, the plot must go on.

We see the FBI closing in. We see Deputy Director of the FBI Jason Atwood (Malik Yoba) being blackmailed by the conspirators. The suspected Muslim terrorist is tracked down and sucked out of his hiding hole in Algeria. He has previously claimed responsibility for the attack, but he has a history of false claims. Atwood and Wells interrogate him with some success, and he admits he was coaxed into taking the fall. Then he is murdered in his cell in a secure facility. Atwood’s young son is kidnapped, and Atwood succumbs to the demand he admit to killing the prisoner. Yeah, both you and I are thinking that FBI deputy directors are made of sterner stuff.

The plot continues to unravel, but Agent Wells is shown to be about the only person to exhibit a pragmatic approach. She carries the load to bring the initial stage of the master plot crashing down. She tracks down an assassin who has plans to shoot President Kirkman immediately after Vice President MacLeish is sworn in. I mean seconds. You want to raise suspicions? This is the way to do it. But Wells rushes to the scene of the inauguration (see In The Line Of Fire) and takes a shot at the gunman, deflecting his aim and saving the president.

Of course, Wells is arrested and charged with complicity, this despite obvious witnesses who saw her take a shot at the gunman. Any investigation of the shooter’s perch would reveal where Wells’ bullet struck and caused him to miss.

OK, President Kirkman is wounded, and must undergo surgery. That allows VP MacLeish to take charge of the government during a few crucial hours. One of his actions, when the gunman is tracked down to a hiding place, is to order he not be taken alive. On the president’s orders, government agents execute the fugitive with no attempt to arrest him for questioning. No. Absolutely not. The President of the United States does not have the authority to order the execution of a fugitive, script writers notwithstanding.

But the shooter is dead, and now Wells is able to tell  her story to the president. Plans are  laid to trap VP MacLeish and his Lady Macbeth squeeze. Tricked into a meeting at Arlington National Cemetery with an Army buddy who knows sensitive details, MacLeish is about to dump the goods when Lady Macbeth comes along and shoots him to silence him. Then she kills herself. The plot is obviously much deeper, and there is going to a lot more to unravel in future episodes.

Hulu reminds viewers the series will resume this fall.

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The Great Granbury Conflagration

DATELINE: 3 June 2016 – Granbury, Texas

I became aware of the drama that was about to unload upon this sleepy Texas county seat as I strolled along Houston Street, west of the town square. Sirens wailed, and a flashing of lights in the distance hailed the coming of emergency response. Tragedy was surely upon us.

Bidding my sweet wife adieu, “I’m going across the street for a while,” I unlimbered my trusty Canon 5D and headed toward the sound of battle. Rather, the sound of commotion.

Employees of a local restaurant were already standing outside, apprehensive and idle. At least idle.

All manner of emergency vehicles converged. First the police.

Then the fire fighters.

Then emergency medical rescue. It was a full court press of this small town’s rapid response assets.

Meanwhile, tourists on Houston street ogled the mayhem.

The action grew furious.

Desperate measures unfolded.

Having grown up in Granbury, I was neither surprised nor impressed that the town counts on mystical assistance.

In the end, it was a lot about a little. A smoky kitchen fire gave all an opportunity to unlimber their specialties and their preparedness.

Eventually it was time to pack up and call it a day.

A man on the phone said NBC News in  Fort Worth wanted some photos, so I sent three. I am guessing they were never used. Nobody got killed, not much of a story.

I will head back again next year and see what else is in store.

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Maravilla Condos Galveston

Down to Texas City for some photographs on the 20th anniversary of the 1947 disaster, we stayed over in Galveston two nights. We figured it would be neat to rent by the seawall, and Maravilla Condos had great appeal. Here’s the deal.

As advertised, this is not a hotel. It’s a condominium complex with individual owners of each space. Some put theirs out for rent. This one has a lot going for it, and you need to know some specifics of the place. The seawall was constructed in response to Galveston’s being wiped out by a hurricane in  1900. It’s about 17 feet high, and Seawall Boulevard runs the length, on top of a levee that backs it up.

Our rental was on the ground floor, which means it was level with the top of the seawall and maybe 17 feet above ground level  at the back. That meant our room looked out over the pool, a most pleasant view.


This rental sleeps four. There is a master bedroom, and alongside the entrance there are two bunk beds. The kitchen is modern and complete.


The complex is three stories, two rows of dwellings opening from a spacious atrium.


Parking is below the ground floor with some spaces beneath the building and some in the open. There is no assigned parking, but at least when we were there (a weekend) there were ample vacancies.


You could not hope for more seclusion on this island. Maravilla is a few blocks short of the end of the seawall (and the boulevard). A pleasant walk along the seawall or brings you to places to eat.


I have to  admit, it took two retired tech types 30 minutes to figure out the electronic door lock to our room. The critical requirement was to carefully read the directions and then to follow them absolutely. Once in we were expected to set our own pass code, for which we used my phone number.

Our big complaint was the noise, which we did not expect. Upstairs a family with some kids who seemed to never sleep. And when they were not sleeping they were jumping up and down on the floor. That was fun. The first night the people next door decided to party until 3 a.m.

Another thing to remember when renting a condo like this is the cleaning fee. At a hotel that’s included in the price. Here, as at most others, it’s a one-time charge, no matter how long you stay. So if you stay for one hight you can expect to pay a week’s cleaning fee, $92 in our case. We rented through, and the fee was listed, but in the fine print.

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Le Misanthrope

It’s a classic title, and it’s what popped into my brain after watching a few frames of this. But this movie has no resemblance to the Molière classic. It’s As Good as it Gets, starring Jack Nicholson as the only person who could have been cast as the misanthropic Melvin Udall. This came out 20 years ago and co-stars Helen Hunt as Carol Connelly, the foil to Udall’s misanthropy. I’m sure I once had the VHS, but no longer. When it showed up on Hulu earlier this month I took another look and captured some screen shots. Details are from Wikipedia.

You almost think Udall is normal as you snicker through the first scene. He encounters a neighbor’s miscreant toy dog in the hallway of his apartment building. The dog, named Verdell, is determined to piss on something, a prospect that’s about to send Udall up the wall. He corners the dog, which then proceeds to piss for the audience. Udall drops the pooch down the trash chute and returns to his apartment to work. He’s a best-selling author of steamy romance novels.

He’s also a poster for obsessive compulsive disorder. Washing his hands, he never uses the same bar of soap twice, chucking each bar after a single lather and unwrapping a fresh one from his stash.

Misanthropy rears its head when the Verdell’s owner, Simon Bishop (Greg Kinnear), comes to confront him over his sweet, lovable puppy discovered in the trash bin in the basement. Simon is an artist, sensitive, and gay. “Do you realize I work at home? Do you like to be interrupted when you are nancing around in your little garden?” Udall has a store of remarks relating to others of all stripe. Regarding Simon’s friend, Frank Sachs (Cuba Gooding Jr.), when Simon first asks about “Verdell,” Udall pretends to  misunderstand. “I thought it was the name of that colored man I’ve been seeing in the hall.”

Whoopee! Udall stands to  offend everybody.

He has a favorite restaurant. He gets there by stepping lightly over Manhattan sidewalks, careful not to step on any cracks. Speaking of which, viewers should crack up watching tough-guy Jack Nicholson prancing lightly along the streets of New York.

This time when he arrives two people are at his favorite table at his favorite restaurant. He becomes visibly perturbed.

He confronts his favorite waitress Carol and informs her, “I’ve got Jews at my table.”

He proceeds to tick off Carol, in the worst way possible. She is a single mother with a son who has chronic health issues, making a mountainous strain of her life. “We’re all going to die sometime. I will, you will, and it sure sounds like your son will.” Writers James L. Brooks and Mark Andrus have created what is arguably the worst excuse for humanity on this planet.

Udall knows he has problems. He is seeing a psychiatrists. He barges into the doctor’s office without an appointment, reminding the doctor that this is a manifestation of his disorder. Exiting through a group counseling session, he remarks, “What if this is as good as it gets.” Hence, the title.

Simon hires a model off the street, and gets inspiration to paint. But the model’s buddies rob Simon and beat him up, leaving him hospitalized and destitute. Udall has to take care of the dog while Simon is in the hospital. But the dog responds to Udall’s piano playing and to Udall. The two bond.

Carol takes a job at another restaurant, likely to get away from Udall. At his next visit to his favorite restaurant he blows up when the waitress is not as accommodating, and he gets barred forever by the management.

The “O” in OCD stands for “obsessive,” and Udall is obsessive. He tracks down Carol and sees how miserable she is, having to deal with her son’s illness. He goes to his publisher’s office and makes an arrangement, pissing his publisher off in the process. Not to be partial, he insults the publisher’s voluptuous receptionist, who gushes over Udall’s depiction of women in his books. How does he manage so well to write women, the sex pot breaths, her amble breasts throbbing with each beat of her enraptured heart. “I think of a man. And I take away all reason and accountability.”

His publisher’s husband is a doctor, a specialist. When Carol returns home she discovers the doctor visiting, prescribing treatment for her son. Udall is picking up the tab.

Udall also picks up the tab to take Simon to visit his parents in Baltimore, where Simon hopes to grovel for money. He takes Carol along as a chaperon, because he doesn’t want to be alone on the trip with a queer man.

Taking Carol out to dine at a fine restaurant, Udall almost connects with Carol. Then he lets fly that he was thinking if Carol screwed Simon, then Simon might straighten out. Udall dines alone while Carol goes back to the room she’s sharing with Simon. Watching Carol prepare for bath inspires Simon to begin sketching again, and he figures he can now resume painting, and he doesn’t need money from his parents.

They go back to New York, and Carol and Udall hook up. But Udall’s issues remain, ensuring he manages to piss off Carol at least one more time. We know he is on the road forward as he walks with Carol, ignoring he is stepping on brick pavement.

And that’s about as good as it gets.

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The World Outside

It’s a story about brutal murder and police corruption, and at the same time it’s one of the most beautifully-photographed movies I’ve reviewed. It came out in 1985, and it’s Witness, starring Harrison Ford and Kelly McGillis. It’s currently available to watch on Hulu, where I obtained these screen shots. Details are from  Wikipedia.

I was here, over 50 years ago. It’s Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, and thereabouts, the traditional home of America’s Amish community. The movie opens with scenes evoking their simple way of life. Here, members of a local community tread among waves of ripe wheat. They are in mourning, but you can’t guess it from the way they dress. They are going to the funeral of Jacob Lapp, a farmer.

Eschewing modern methods, many arrive by horse-drawn carriage.

The view of an empty field erupts with people, as though rising from the very Earth, walking solemnly to  the house of Jacob Lapp.

Women sit with the grieving Rachel Lapp (McGillis). Another farmer, Daniel Hochleitner (Alexander Godunov) comes to  pay condolences. He is unmarried, and his attention turns to Rachel, now available.

The Amish are of Swiss German origin, and speak a form of German at home. When they speak of outsiders they call them The English.

Following the funeral, Rachel and her young son Samuel board a train for a visit to her sister in Baltimore. Daniel is there to see them off.

Forced by a train delay to lay over for hours in the Philadelphia station, young Samuel witnesses a brutal  murder in the station restroom. An undercover police detective is killed by two men. Daniel skillfully avoids being seen by the men and reports the crime. He is a witness. Hence the title, but with a double meaning.

Police Captain John Book (Ford) scoops up Daniel and  his mother as material witnesses in hopes of identifying the killer. While lingering at the police station, Samuel spies a photo of Police Lieutenant James McFee (Danny Glover). He is the killer.

Book figures the Lapp family needs protection, and he hustles them out of the police station. He only tells his boss, Chief Paul Schaeffer (Josef Sommer). It is a near fatal mistake, as Schaeffer is part of the police corruption and informs McFee. Book and McFee engage in a gun battle when McFee attempts to kill him. Book, wounded, escapes and borrows his sister’s car. He takes Rachel and Samuel back to the Lapp farm, and collapses from his wound.

Book is taken  in by the Lapps, including patriarch Eli Lapp (Jan Rubeš). He must remain hidden. If the crooks find him, they will find the witness.

Rachel tends the wounded Book. An attachment grows.

The attachment is strained when Hochleitner sees competition. However, the two men experience a common ground as they team up in a barn raising fest.

In town, some smart ass tourists taunt Hochleitner, who they know will not fight back. Not so for Book, wearing his Amish disguise. He punches out the interloper. This draws attention from the world outside.

Shortly the headlights of a car from Philadelphia appear over a crest on the road to the Lapp farm. It contains three crooked cops, including McFee and Schaeffer. They have come to silence the witness.

Book defeats the attackers, killing McFee and another. Samuel rings the large alarm bell outside the farmhouse, and Amish neighbors from nearby farms appear to confront the surviving Schaeffer. It’s the end of the road for Schaeffer. There are now too many witnesses.

Book leaves the Lapp farm to return to his life outside, and Hochleitner gives him a short wave as he comes to  pay a visit on Rachel.

It’s a well-crafted story, masterfully directed and photographed. Worth a see anytime. The Pennsylvania Amish setting ensures its timelessness.

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