In the parking lot

Before I moved to Orange County four years ago, I really had no idea that there was so much money floating around here, except perhaps in my neighborhood. I mean our little hacienda is sweet and comfortable, but it hardly suggests that we’re part of the one percent.

On the other hand, when I take my daily drive up to the gym where I religiously endeavor to keep the pounds and the advancing years at bay, I’m constantly — and I do mean every day — amazed at the bucks on four wheels. Back in the San Fernando Valley you’d see the occasional Mercedes or BMW, but down here the majority of cars is way up on the pricing scale. Case in point: this morning I parked Kermit beside a McLaren sports car (as if there are any other kind). Double wow. Making sure the owner was not then advancing to his steed, I did the quick once around, being careful not to drool. When I got home I checked out the price on-line…$239,000! Or roughly the cost for a fleet of Honda Accords. Ten of America’s favorite car. One for every garage on our side of the street.

So, just as you’d ask the driver of this one — or any of the Ferraris or Accura NSXs or Jags or Maseratis that frequent the gym parking lot — where in a city of this size are you going to find a road where you can stretch the beauty out? Just how many traffic citations can you bear? And, of course, what you’d also like to ask the owner: How on earth can you afford to buy something like this, to say nothing of keeping it alive and happy? A car that shares a price setting with a lot of houses? And speaking of that, does it sleep in a pristine garage with a carpeted floor?

Well, who knows? Does it matter, apart from the person who carries the pink slip? The story goes that people who can afford and have such a beast don’t sweat the practicalities. It’s more of being able to handle such a price tag and easily winning the envy games among your friends. I like to think the value of a car that hits nearly a quarter-million dollars is akin to being in the possession of a rolling work of art that only has to sit in silence in the garage. You come out just before going to bed and give it a kiss on the hood and smile, maybe just a little smugly.

A bit jealous? Well sure. Any gear-head would be. The stuff of dreams. But still, there’s that business of care and feeding, which, for the thoroughbreds of the automotive world, can be significant. Among other things, if you’re not very handy with a wrench, there’s the constant problem of finding someone who is and has a friendly disposition toward the exotic under your responsibility. Just getting your car washed can be pricey: I talked to the owner of a Ferrari in said parking lot recently and he said he has a guy come by his house to do the job. Never a trip to the local car wash. Scratches? Don’t even think about it, especially if the perp remains anonymous. And fillling up the tank? Well at least “regular” is not an issue.

Cool cars. And I’d never refuse an opportunity to take the McLaren for a spin — figuratively speaking. But selling the house to get one in the garage? Very doubtful. Still, wouldn’t it be fun to just once say, with obvious pride, “Oh, you mean that one? The one that looks like it could fly? Oh sure. That’s mine.”

Gentlemen, start…

A couple of days ago, my brother Billy e-mailed me an article from classic auto racing Motor Sport magazine that detailed the actions in the 1955 Mille Miglia — from the point of view of the winning team. One of the members of the team was a veteran writer, who for the race served as the navigator.

Let me explain.

The “Mille Miglia” — or “thousand mile” — race was run annually in Italy back in mid-century involving a course that went from Brescia, a northern city on the “boot,” down one side to Rome, and then back up the other to finish at the starting point. It was a true road race, using public highways throughout, including railroad crossings, even blazing passages through the middle of small towns. On the day of the race you were well advised to take great care with family outings.

Really amazing stuff, and remember, the event that the story described was held back when Dwight Eisenhower was president of the United States. And it was important that the navigator was completely prepared to advise the driver of every twist and turn in the course, oftentimes mere seconds before that sharp right-hand turn came up. After some deadly accidents in 1957 it was all over but the history. These days, the only European race that could be considered comparable — and isn’t, really — is the Le Mans race in the south of France in the spring, perhaps because of its marathon character and the participation of different classes of cars.

In a way, the story took me back, given that the winner was one Stirling Moss, an English driver of particular skill and success. Ten years later I saw Moss in the flesh at Watkins Glen in upstate New York where I witnessed big time racing for the first time. The occasion was the United States Formula 1 Gran Prix, which, over the succeeding years, has been renewed in this country off and on at several different tracks. Last year, the U.S. race, one of 20 F1 races that are held all over the world, was at a new track in Austin. Back at the Glen, Moss was not a driver, but he certainly did hold forth as an easily recognized personality; his hairless head — save eyebrows — was exactly like the pictures I had seen.

Those who did make up the grid were a who’s who of motor racing royalty at the time: among them, Jimmy Clark, Graham Hill, Jack Brabham, Dan Gurney and the Scotsman, Jackie Stewart, who continues to be a presence in the sport. Also in the running was Richie Ginther, who drove a white car that was powered via an engine from a then fairly unknown Japanese company called Honda.

But the Mille Miglia of more than a half-century ago is gone and nothing like it remains. The Long Beach Gran Prix, which is scheduled for April 21st, will be run on a temporary course made up of city streets, but it will be a closed circuit for race weekend. And the desert marathons are hardly the same thing. Over the decades since brutal Ferrari’s and Mercedes roared down country roads in Italy at, yes, speeds of 170 miles per hour, no country has countenanced, let alone sponsored, such an endeavor. Which is a shame for an aspiring gear head like me. I can absolutely envision a gaggle of Audi prototypes going at it with Ferrari’s, Porches and ‘Vettes et al as they haul ass up challenging roads from, say, San Diego, through the outskirts of L.A., and on up to the edges of San Francisco.

Or not. But it did happen once, long ago, as all of Italy looked on and cheered.

Keep talking

A bit more on my January 16th post…

It’s hard to say just why this is, but somehow there are widespread conversations now going on regarding more than just guns. We’re also talking about immigration reform as well. And climate change.

These are all good things, and as I suggested earlier as it applies to guns, this is very much what needs to happen. The idea is to air as many ideas as possible, and if they begin emerging from our state and national leaders, so much the better; it is an amazing change from the way issues have been handled in the past. In recent years it has become so tiresome to see people simply throw up their hands in dismissal and say nothing can be done — and you name the issue and the doubters.

It may be that people have found their collective voice via the ease of electronic media. I read a number of pundits every day in several newspapers on-line and I’m impressed by the numbers of comments by readers, some in the hundreds for a particularly hot column. And those opinions can range from the obviously dumb to the profound, but they are there, and they often continue to accumulate even as you begin to review them. Most important, in so many cases you get a sense that people do have reasons for their views; perhaps not always what you might agree with, but sincere, nonetheless.

And that is real progress, both in openness and a desire to join the dialog, and in an earnestness and a willingness to listen. This is the way important issues get aired, and in the end, resolved.

Back to the guns, I was watching an early discussion on NBC soon after Sandy Hook, and was at least surprised to hear a commentator speak of the need to hear the concerns of gun owners as well as people who were appalled at the availability of military-style weapons. Surprised, but then in accord with the approach, because consensus, no matter how strong opinions are on both sides of an issue, is essential.

It goes along with the business of “perfect is the enemy of good” — and you can make that “very” good. Mr. Obama has applied that to political goals in asserting that you can’t always get what you want, so aim for most of it. Or according to Mr. Jagger: “You can’t always get what you want, you get what you need.”

Again, we’re now starting to see some of that, and it is definitely encouraging, especially on the political front. To a degree, it may signal the erosion of the kinds of ideology that have been strangling an arrival of “the good” in recent years. Or, if you like, progress.

We, as Americans, have forever been a contentious people, and we have a reputation for being ready to argue over almost anything. But we also have a reputation for being able to resolve all kinds of questions, from the simple to the horrific, the easy stuff to the heartfelt. And when we stop talking about things, when the volume gets altogether too loud, and one side or the other storms out of the room, both parties lose,  as they — we — have more than once, big time.

So when you hear politicians and your neighbors going on and on about the big questions of the day, be glad. It’s the way it should be. Because as long as we’re face to face and talking, there’s a much better chance that we can reach that wonderful state called agreement.

Not Stonewall Jackson

It threw me, until I had a chance to fire up my computer and see what the man was talking about.

Remember the line? It was from the President’s address yesterday: “…that all of us are created equal – is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall.”

And I was sitting there, trying to get a fix on who or what was “Stonewall,” and what it had in relation to Seneca Falls and Selma, which I knew were landmarks for women’s rights and black rights, respectively.

So as I say, I looked it up.

Gay rights. Stonewall — the Stonewall Inn down in Greenwich Village — was where the entire gay movement came out of a very large closet. Where a crowd of 200 gay people who were being arrested because they were gay exploded into a violent crowd of 2,000 which struck back with a vengeance. It’s quite a story. And I had no idea.

In a single sentence the President referenced the three major civil rights issues of the nation and the progress that’s been made in the past century — at least, so far. Yet movement on the last two has only occurred in the last forty years, and even that has been incremental, at best.

Back when I was a kid growing up in a small town — in the northeast, no less — the two black families lived at the outskirts of the village and we were advised that all was fine so long as “they” knew their place — whatever that was. I assumed they would be aware of that, and if not, they would be properly informed of the details. I only recall seeing one boy from one the families who was perhaps five or six years older than me. He decided at one point to play basketball for the high school, showed for a single game in uniform, complained of racial intolerance — I was told — and quit. By contrast, the team bus was driven by a black man and everyone thought that was just fine.

Even the northeast, in those times, was hardly a paragon of tolerance. And as people began to work the voting rights efforts in the south, there was virtually no discussion in the college classrooms that I sat in. It was, here and there, a news item, nothing more. African-Americans — when you heard the term — were dismissed as pushy and unreasonable. I was all of 27 before the light bulb came on with real finality.

Equality for gay people — we called them homosexuals, or worse, “homos” in the 1950s and 1960s — has taken even longer. Whether their road has been tougher depends on who you talk to; I once made the mistake of weighing the differences to a black friend who made a vigorous effort to set me straight (no pun intended). The difficulty there is the presumption of choice, where — we now know — there is none.

I like to think that over the years we as a people have agreed to grow up, that our oh-so-generous feelings of tolerance has been replaced by adult acceptance of each other the way we are, nothing more and nothing less. Interesting that after more than two centuries we still have to work at qualifying for the notion of being a melting pot.

So good for the President for bringing that once more to the fore. We need the periodic reminders of where we all come from, minus, as he also said, the ease of name-calling. We need to be reminded that such is the way this whole thing works.

Keep the conversation going

Monday night on MSNBC a reporter spoke with the parents of a six-year-old who was slain at the school in Newtown, Conn., and it was, as you can only imagine, a wrenching moment in time. But I was impressed with the decency of the questioner and the thoughtful responses of the parents, who, in the company of the other parents were required to endure the tragedy, and who now offer this question: “What do you think is now worth doing?” Reflecting the consensus of their friends, the Millers urged Americans to keep the conversation about the mass shooting going, ostensibly in order to somehow arrive at means to preclude future repeats in other places, in other times.

I completely agree with that, of course, and fervently hope that this time real action will be taken, which will only occur if the heat of the moment will not be allowed to cool. Back on July 31st of last year I wrote about this (see “Guns and the easy kill”) and find that my sentiments remain the same now, and further, that the obstinacy of the gun lobby has also stayed on exactly the same page. The pitch from the NRA and Gun Owners of American is one of consistent support for people who own guns, despite fact that their clients are really gun manufacturers.

(Madness, along with the inexplicable reverence for the 2nd Amendment, an 18th Century nugget that desperately needs to be looked at in the context of the 21st.)

And here’s a real irony: The weapon of choice of the killers of the innocent, the “Bushmaster,” a gun that only should be in the hands of genuine combatants, is actually constructed — according to Yahoo! news — in one of my home towns, a place called Ilion, New York. More irony: I had a summer job there right after I graduated from high school. Remington Arms, in those days, was equipping hunters with weapons to rid the countryside of errant deer and the like. Better…if you didn’t ask the deer.

Historically, however, the Arms fell on some hard times in the decades that followed, but with some credit going to new and greater demand for the Bushmaster, the coffers are filling up once again. The 1,000-odd employees are grateful.

Anyhow, the conversation, now with a life of its own, does go on. For the first time in a couple of generations we’re beginning to address the issue — or more accurately, if you don’t live in Ilion, the problem — at a much higher volume. Politicians on both sides of the fence are being required, albeit reluctantly, to see what can be done to the satisfaction of the many, and it is pretty crazy. Heat-packing teachers! Assault weapons banned to the trash bin! New and angry recognition of the nut cases! Legislative ploys! But hopefully, above it all, the quieter voices of reason.

We really should see all of it as an opportunity that’s rarely in front of us. It’s a chance for many, many voices to be heard, to advance new ideas in the place of the tired rhetoric of the people in power, the people who bend in the direction of money. It’s a chance to clean up the image of Americans seen as a people who currently have a fondness for violence in any number of ways to be newly recognized as admirably civil; resolute, to be sure, but civil in a manner that engenders imitators, not wonder and the shaking of heads. You’d like to think that we’re better than Arizona swagger with a 9 mm on our hip.

Smoke and fire sale

A couple of days ago there was a story on the news that detailed the sell-off of large portions of NASA’s facilities in Florida. According to the story, if you’d like to mount your own space agency and roar into space from the launch pads there on the beach of the Atlantic — and of course have the funds to do so — you can place your own bid, winner, I guess, taking all.

As an old rocket boy myself, I found it truly sad. As I’ve written in the past, the ultimate success of the manned space flight program was a series of voyages to the moon, but in the decades since that epic program made front page news, humans have never gone farther. The follow-up has been a collection of circles around the globe, with no new steps to go on to the other planets. But even at that, the Kennedy Space Center was one exciting place to be and the technology on display and in action was something to see.

I got lucky enough to be standing less than two miles from the pad on several occasions to watch those brutes lift slowly into the sky and finally fade from view with a roar that was un-earthly on its own account. But it’s all gone now, all of it, with the silent towers rusting away, eventual victims of the salt air. Indeed, you can drive south from the launch pads that were used for the Space Shuttle missions and cruise past the old stands that were used for the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs and get a sense of the fate that awaits their successors.

It’s something of a complicated issue as to just why public interest evaporated so completely. I’ve never been convinced it was the money. In the final years, the NASA budget hovered around 15 billion dollars annually, which as compared to the grander aspects of the federal budget was pocket change. Working some of the promotion for Boeing on behalf of NASA, we used to characterize tax-payer contributions at about one-and-a-half cents on the dollar. Before that, back in the days of the race to the moon, the spigot was pretty much open: we simply had to set foot on the lunar surface before the Rooskies.

We completed 17 missions and then it was over, largely due to political indifference, and the struggle for an equally dramatic motivation ensued. Promises were made and not really kept; and oversized aspirations quickly became lost in now public indifference (why on the earth would anyone want to look at the moons of Uranus?).

There is interest on the part of private enterprises like SpaceX, holed up in a warehouse down the freeway from the airport, and they have seen some progress in the launch of rockets from a small facility at Cape Canaveral, a couple of which have reached low earth orbit. But even they admit that practical use is on the order of a decade away.

So at the languishing Kennedy Space Center, prospects for a new tenant are dubious. Very dubious. The problem being money. Large piles of money. The kinds of cash that only a government can scare up. Like the Russian government. Like the Chinese government. By the time the Space Shuttle reached its final launches, the price for putting the bird into orbit had run to over $400 million per mission, counting hardware and the support facilities — remembering that the orbiters and all involved parts were re-usable.

Any serious takers? None has been heard from yet, at least none with pockets that are anywhere deep enough to put up a sign. Call the Kennedy Space Center a remarkable place where history was made, but with a future that may be a matter of decay.

As I said, sad. Perhaps another time, another place, a new or continuing dream. Just one caution: The next time, please pick a place that is not the electrical storm capital of the world!

Lucky xx13

Don’t pay the ransom! I got away!

The cliché notwithstanding, I am back, and with good news, too: Christmas and New Years are over. You can take down the lights on the front of the house, carry the tree out to the street, and put the decorations back in the garage. And you can bury that awful sweater your relatives sent you at the bottom of the closet. Here in L.A., you can also enjoy not hearing that radio station that insisted on playing Christmas music ad nausea 24/7.

Don’t get me wrong: I like Christmas and New Years. I’m just not sure either needs to be an annual event. I can flip the calendar just like the next guy; I just don’t require a nativity scene and auld lang syne to remind me that 2013 has arrived. The IRS can handle that quite effectively.

Remember back when you were a kid and the grownups told you that Christmas was just for youngsters like you, and you thought, Who are they kidding? They get bigger presents than I do! If only you had known. Or maybe it’s just as well that you didn’t. It’s only when you had kids of your own that you became aware of how simple and cheap it is to wrap a bunch of toys for the tots, and foster greed in them at an early age. Toys for adults, you’ve come to realize, require serious money and actual thought.

So it is for the kids. The anticipation, the excitement, and the birth of lines like “Is that it?”

Well, and I think this year in particular the events have inadvertently revealed a perplexing truth: What’s all this about a recession? How come merchants this year opened their doors at midnight before Black Friday? You got up as soon as Thanksgiving dinner was done and hopped in the car to get to the mall early so you could be in line one step ahead of the crowds.

I guess that’s one of several reasons why I slept like a baby as Congress went through the theatrics of the “financial cliff.” I mean how can you take stuff like this seriously when the speaker of the House confronts the leader of the Senate in the corridor of the Capitol and suggests he perform self-fornication? It happened, or at least it does happen.

Anyhow, we can bid a very fond farewell to the holiday season, and give yet another new year a heartfelt effort. We now turn toward the best parts of the year when the days grow longer, fresh leaves return to the trees, we close the door on the ridiculously violent game of football, and you can leave the windows open in the house. Walks around the block begin to make sense again. And for us, sunsets from the pier in San Clemente are on the agenda.

No question, that old feeling of renewal will soon be with us. It’s a time when you really do feel younger and more purposeful, as well more optimistic. So I would suggest that the holidays, conclusive as they are, can be seen as the needed setup. You get the emotional conclusion, shut the door and open another one. Even as a kid you could see that.

Beach town

I can only imagine what the town looks like now in the wake of Sandy, given that the entire New Jersey coast was effectively torn apart. Cape May Point, a miniscule community that sits at the very southern tip of the state, must have seen the worst of it and could never have been adequately prepared. The event took me back. When I was a kid, we spent a couple of weeks on two successive years at the Point and it was one of those experiences that stay with you for a lifetime.

Just by chance, I had recalled those days several months ago in a book I’m now in the midst of writing that takes a look at the 1950s. Below is a small portion of that section that offers a view of the better days of a time and place that are surely gone.

*

In August of 1954 my dad took advantage of an offer made to clergy and rented part of a beach house at Cape May Point, and on the heels of a six-hour drive from a small town in upstate New York, the family moved in for a two-week stay. We did this on two summers, and on a third we spent a like amount of time in Ventnor, another beach town that was literally within walking distance of the Atlantic City boardwalk.

Cape May Point was and is a classic small-town-on-the-beach that lives and dies on tourism. On both occasions we stayed in a three-story clapboard house that was back from a narrow asphalt street and a sand dune from the beach itself. We were on a flat on the second floor, while my grandparents were on the ground floor. On the living room table was Mom’s book for the stay, “The Caine Mutiny.”

The uniform of the day and every day was a T-shirt and a pair of swimming trunks, whether or not we actually went into the water – which required parental supervision. We could all swim, but our experience in Atlantic surf was non-existent for all practical purposes. Shoes remained in the closet.

We did not spend a lot of time in the water proper, thanks largely to the floor of the ocean being rough and necessarily shapeless, with the result that you couldn’t reliably gain a sense of depth and where you were. For the most part, it was a matter of going in up to your waist, and then retreating to dry sand, which was notably coarse. Farther back and nearer the street the sand was of a finer grade.

More to our liking was the opportunity to explore. Still remaining from World War II were concrete structures that were used for observation and a modicum of defense against U-boats and the always-feared enemy landings. Now a decade after the war, those decaying structures that were left were ideal for our own battles where we could rebuff imagined attacks on the homeland.

But there was an unexpected problem. Being 12, I didn’t have a clue what poison ivy looked like, but into the second week, Mauri (my older brother)  and I saw the results on our feet and ankles. Those trips to the bunkers had taken us into fields of the stuff. Even then, we found that “you’re gonna need an ocean, of calamine lotion,” as the Coasters’ song of the ‘50s suggested. The itching blisters did not go away over night, and we considered ourselves suitably cautioned to avoid the area with the red and green leaves along the ground.

Concrete was also the material used in an amazing ship that lay in sections a quarter-mile from the shore. Called the S.S. Atlantus – that was the spelling that was used – the ship had been used to ferry troops back from Europe following World War I and had broken free from its moorings up the coast in Cape May (proper) in 1926. It had ran aground and the hull was fractured.

“Could we take a small boat out to the ship and check it out?” we asked. Not hardly.

One of the towns up the coast was called Wildwood, which we assumed was deliberately named because we were not allowed to go there. A half-dozen years ago I met a woman in a local bar who had lived there and she said the reputation – or our assumptions – was well-founded. Had I been in the area, say a number of years later, I’m betting I would have loved the place.

In that environment of sand, baseball continued, both in the street and in the words of my grandfather. We played on the two-lane road in front of the house, with bases that were obscure, at best. In those limited conditions we settled for just two, plus an imaginary home plate. There was a neighbor kid who hailed who had come down from the New York area, and whose specialty was calling each game, crying out, “And now, for the New York Giants, Number 24, Willie Ma-a-a-a-a-y-y-y-y-y-s-s-s-s-s!!” He did not seem to be familiar with heroes of the Brooklyn Dodgers – my favorites – but it was O.K., and the fans weren’t complaining.

My grandfather, who did not play, talked a great game instead.

Like my dad, Harry Shimp was a career preacher who had served a series of churches in western Pennsylvania, all of them in small villages, with the exception of a church in a suburb of Pittsburgh. I always found it comfortable that he was a “man of the cloth,” after my dad’s calling (a word or expression that has a significantly deeper value in the religious context).

He was an easy guy to love, and I did, especially after those marvelous talks – which he did the most of – on the front porch of the first-floor flat. Grandpa Shimp shared my love of the game and shared my pleasure in simply talking about it in the most vivid terms possible.

He was a life-long fan of the Pittsburgh Pirates and could recall in great detail the actions and players of the team for decades before I was born. And that meant that he had, well, vigorous opinions on how the game was played, the decisions of managers, unnecessary errors (if any are), down to how broadcasters called a game. And this was shaded with a hint of racial bias that would on occasion surface: He wasn’t so sure about the then current Dodgers’ phenom, Jackie Robinson – the “colored players” tended to perform with less energy in the summer heat, he said; an up-and-coming second baseman for the Pirates had “ape-like” arms.

No excuses, but it was the 1950s and we all had a lot to learn, including one of the kindest men I have ever known.

We talked – again, I mostly listened – about how to run the bases: Indian-style, he said, with your toes pointed inward. He showed me the scars on his leg that he claimed were the result getting in the way of a sliding base-runner. He lamented that the Pirates could win it all if it weren’t for that fumbling manager. The announcer for the Pirates, Bob Prince — who I rather enjoyed — was hardly a match, he said, against his predecessor, Rosey Rowswell. Rowswell, according to Grandpa, would dramatize a home-run (hit by the Pirates, of course) as “Open the back window, Aunt Millie!” – then there was the sound of breaking glass — “Too late, Aunt Millie!”

Later on, he taught me how to score games: You wrote down the numbers “6-3” in the appropriate box if the batter grounded to the shortstop, who subsequently threw him out at first.

Nights at the beach were like that, and I could never get enough. Harry Shimp had an adoring and rapt audience of one, and I know he enjoyed it as much as I did.

In fact, that was best of it after the sun sank over the western side of Delaware Bay. As darkness began to prevail, the Point seemed even more remote, with the breeze and the surf on the other side of the dunes the only real sounds. A reality show was what you saw and felt through the screen door.

*

But it’s gone now. All of it. Or at least it’s in the huge process of being revived and re-built. Over the years I’ve often thought about going back for a nostalgic look; now I’ll just have to wait a little longer. But the memories? Indestructible.

The opposite of me

When President Obama took Gov.Chris Christie for a chopper ride over New Jersey to view the aftermath of Sandy, both men said there would be no politics discussed. But given that Christie has made it his key focus in the last year to lose no opportunity to launch a few zingers at Obama, you have to wonder what they talked about as the New Jersey beach — what’s left of it — drifted below them. Especially since Christie has been so effusive in his praise of the Commander-in-Chief over the last couple of days.

But this much is certain: All of the forecasts for a real doosey to hit the northeast were on the money. Then again, New Yorkers are a tough bunch and they will rebound. And what’s really encouraging is the amount of help they’ve been getting from politicians who have not been acting the part. I cannot recall a time when bitterly opposed people have been in such accord, and it does make you wonder how much could be accomplished if our leaders could just get along on a more regular basis.

The past year has been exhausting, to the point where normalcy is now one guy finding fault with the other each and every day, where something called the truth is hopelessly buried beneath a barrage of rhetoric, and where the slightest wrong choice of words is seized upon. Gone is the day where one can say, “Let me re-phrase that,” and given the chance to clarify a position.

There’s no question that there are smart people out there who can lead effectively, but even they fall victim to a public that has an appetite for clear winners and clear losers, in a manner that brings to mind the crowd lust for horrific crashes and injuries in a car race, as opposed to demonstrations of skill.

So it was refreshing today to see demonstrations of the latter. Today, for the first time in recent memory, we witnessed a genuine interest in the public good, backed up with real assurances of worthwhile action — on the heels of great beginnings. Today, there was no looking for someone to blame; there was an honest reaching out for assent. Today, at least in this one time of obvious need, the adults took charge, and it was definitely cool.