Saturday, July 20, 2019

That's One Small Step for Man, One Giant Leap for Monster Dad

I've already written about the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission in Apollo 11: T-Plus Fifty Years. But today is THE day. It's July 20, 2019--the 50th anniversary of the day when man first walked on the moon! It's certainly something that's worth revisiting.

Not too surprisingly, Google has put up a special Google Doodle to mark the occasion. There appear to have been a couple different Google home page images put up in honor of the anniversary, but today's Doodle--which is actually a four-and-a-half minute animated piece about the first lunar landing--is one of my favorite ones ever. It's a wonderful reflection on the mission that's narrated by none other than Apollo 11 crew member and command module pilot Michael Collins! The video is actually available on YouTube, so I'll share it here for anyone that wants to watch it I recommend doing so!). Hopefully this video will be around for a long time.

The funny thing is that I wasn't even born when the lunar module touched down and Neil Armstrong climbed down the ladder, stepped on the surface and declared "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind." But it's such a monumental moment in our history that I almost feel I WAS there. I was born exactly two months after that first excursion on the moon. I guess you could say that technically I WAS around when it happened--except for the fact that I was INSIDE of my mother at the time and not yet "fully cooked", as it were. It does make me wonder if my fetus-self heard any of the news coverage among all the sounds one would hear inside of a womb? Who knows? I'd like to think so. Even if I couldn't understand those sounds it would be nice to think that, in addition to all of my nutrients, some small portion of the excitement and wonder that my mother must have been feeling at that moment might have traveled down the umbilical cord and became a part of me.

I was born into a world where man had walked on the surface of the moon. That's kind of an amazing thing to think about. Of course it was also the beginning of a short window of time where quite a few men would walk on the moon. It got to the point where it almost became routine. Eventually that window of time closed, the Apollo missions ceased and the moon once again became a forbidding and faraway place that was hard to imagine being able to visit (despite the fact that we had ALREADY gotten there!).

I think the reason we WERE able to do it fifty years ago (and potentially COULDN'T do it today) had a lot to do with a particular set of circumstances and the fact that they occurred at just the right time. I think we've all heard how it's said that we all carry around a LOT more computing power in the smart phones we keep in our pockets than the roomfuls of computers that put man into space and on the moon. But there's no doubt that technology was indeed improving on a daily basis, even fifty years ago. Transistors and computers had finally gotten to a point where it was actually realistic to think about going into space. But, why would we want to? Well, that's the other part of the equation. It's called the Cold War. The Cold War was actually started (in some ways) by technology. The atomic bombs that ended World War II also ushered in a new age of technological advances and the Cold War between the U.S. and Russia. The Cold War, and the desire by both parties to outdo their opposition in all things military and technological, led to many more technological breakthroughs. I'm sure it probably sped up many scientific advances that might have taken much longer to develop if they didn't have an angle that could potentially be seen as a benefit to one side of the Cold War over the other. If it weren't for that "unfriendly competition" would we have ever (or at least by July 20, 1969) reached the moon? It's certainly debatable.

Not too long after the end of the Apollo program and missions to the moon the Space Shuttle program took center stage. Despite ideas that I'm sure were in the backs of some (many?) people's minds, the Space Shuttle was never destined to become a jetliner to the moon or other planets. The moon kind of became a "been there, done that" sort of thing. I'm not trying to take anything away from the importance and impressiveness of what was accomplished. It's just that once John F. Kennedy's 1961 vision and mission ("I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth") was accomplished there simply wasn't a real need to go there anymore--or to continue to spend the kind of money it would take to keep going there.

I certainly have no idea what the future holds as far as human space travel. Will we eventually get back to the moon? Will man someday walk on the surface of Mars? Will commercial space travel really become something truly viable? Will there actually be a market for such a thing? Who knows what will happen in this post-moon exploration, post-Space Shuttle world we find ourselves in? Not being a very scientific person I really can't answer any of those questions. I don't think I could even if I WAS a very scientific person. But what I can say is this; today we are celebrating the 50th anniversary of an extraordinary accomplishment by NASA, by the United States of America and by humanity itself. Half a century has passed since then, but time has not diminished the fact that something that had been seemingly impossible just a few years earlier was made possible. It's definitely a day to celebrate, regardless of what is happening today and what tomorrow may of may not bring.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Apollo 11: T-Plus Fifty Years

It was fifty years ago today (July 16, 1969) that Apollo 11 lifted off from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The real big anniversary that everyone's waiting for is July 20th, which is the date that the lunar module, with Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin aboard, landed on the moon. I have to say that this is an anniversary which has really been eagerly awaited by many people and has been covered heavily by mass media--and it actually makes me very happy. I'm glad to see that it really DOES seem to be a big deal to at least a chunk of the U.S. population and is getting the attention I feel it deserves.

It's STILL really kind of hard to comprehend just what was accomplished a half-century ago. While I'm no conspiracy theorist, I can actually understand where some of the rationale for people claiming the moon landing was faked. It was just such an incredible example of technology, smarts and willpower (among many other factors). To think that we were actually able to engineer a project that culminated with men walking on the moon! And it was done so often for a few years after that it almost became routine. Then it just stopped. And suddenly the idea of going to the moon seems like a pipe dream of fantasy now despite all the advances in technology AND the fact that it's already been done!

I think the other amazing thing about the moon landing (and possibly even more fuel for the doubters) is the fact that they were able to pull it off with a mere five months left of 1969. Why? Well because that also means there were only five months left of the 1960s. John F. Kennedy had set a goal in 1961: "before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth." They couldn't have cut it much closer! I mean, one can only imagine all the factors, delays and setbacks that go into a project as huge as this. Even with tons of money from the government and a fervent desire to fulfill Kennedy's vision it would have been so simple to say "Well, we're pretty danged close, but...just to be safe we're going to set a new date for early in 1970. How does that sound?" It would still have been a monumental accomplishment, but it WOULDN'T have taken place in the 60s--which would have been a huge disappointment in many ways.

It's probably worth mentioning here that I wasn't actually born until after the moon landing. Technically I WAS around, as my mom was pregnant with me when it happened. But I didn't make my first appearance in the world (kind of like Armstrong jumping off the ladder onto the surface of the moon--well, maybe not) until two months later. Because of that fact I don't have first-hand memories or a real personal connection to the lunar landing that folks a few years older than me would have. But it's still certainly something that I can appreciate for what it was and is. It's an important moment in science and history that is still worth celebrating fifty years later and making a big deal out of.

And how is the world celebrating this anniversary? Well, in many ways it seems like it is THE event of 2019. I can't even begin to list all of the ways and places that it is being commemorated (how about the image of Apollo 11 projected onto the Washington Monument in Washington, DC?).

This humble blog post will be lost in a sea of more impressive and important retrospectives, accounts, stories and reflections of what happened in July of 1969. But, while this will probably seem extremely random (and possibly like a joke after all I've already written about how important I feel the anniversary is), I do want to highlight three of my favorite examples I've seen of fun and interesting ways to note the anniversary. They're all commercial product tie-ins and could probably be considered more like attempts to cash in on the excitement surrounding the anniversary than any sort of serious commemorations. But for whatever reason I really liked each of these when I randomly saw them in stores:


This was probably the first commercial tie-in to the moon landing anniversary that I saw in person. A few months ago I was walking through our local grocery store and I saw a display of Moon Pies. But something about it caught my eye. It was a large display that wasn't in an area where you'd normally find snack cakes like Moon Pies and Hostess or Drake's products. It was in the middle of the floor at the end of an aisle and the large display mentioned the fiftieth anniversary of the moon landing. Do Moon Pies have anything to do with NASA or the moon landing? Not that I'm aware. But the simple fact that they have the word "Moon" in their name makes them a perfect product to put the 50th anniversary designation on! Plus there's the nostalgic factor that Moon Pies are an old-timey snack food that was actually around in 1969 (and even much earlier than that)!

I just checked the website for Moon Pies and saw that they are in fact making a bigger deal out of the tie-in than simply putting 50th anniversary displays in grocery stores. Apparently they have actually teamed with NASA to put a lot of interesting information about the Apollo 11 mission on the site.

And now I see in the Wikipedia page for Moon Pies that they apparently ARE connected to the mission in some small way. I guess you really DO learn something new every day!


Another thing I spotted in the grocery store was a "Limited Edition" variety of Oreo cookies called "Marshmallow Moon" for the 50th anniversary of the moon landing. I've written before about both Halloween Oreos and the fact that there seems to be a mind-boggling number of new and different types and varieties of Oreos these days (going well beyond the early attempts to make something new out of Oreos with variants like Vanilla Oreos and "Double Stuf" Oreos). I still see new (and sometimes odd) varieties of Oreos popping up all the time and have been meaning to write a follow up to The Overwhelming Onslaught of Oreos for a few years. So I wasn't too surprised to see yet another new Limited Edition Oreo appear about a month ago. But I WAS surprised to see that it was yet another tie-in to the lunar landing anniversary. I still haven't actually bought or tried any of these "Marshmallow Moon" Oreos myself, but I do approve of this new variety! And, heck, the package even glows in the dark!


This one seems to be even more remotely related to the actual moon landing than the first two. But despite not REALLY seeming to have any real connection to the anniversary beyond trying to cash in on it (and apparently using an "archival recipe" from the same time period),  this "Limited Edition" version of Bud comes in those little throwback stubby bottles that I remember grown ups drinking from when I was a kid. And as I've mentioned many times before, if you want me to be interested in a product all you have to do is put it in some retro packaging. 1975 Narragansett Beer cans? I'll buy 'em! Throwback Pepsi and Mountain Dew cans? I'll but 'em! Old-school Doritos packaging? I'll buy it!

So, despite this one seeming to be a reach as far as having a legitimate connection to the moon landing, other than simply being "brewed to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Apollo moon landing", thanks to the little bottles I'm in!

I'd like to finish up with one more thought on the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission and another possible reason why it still reverberates with the world. One of the more serious and impressive commemorations has been the coverage that CBS has been giving the anniversary. In addition to stories on CBS News, 60 Minutes and their websites, this morning they actually livestreamed the original TV footage of the launch of Apollo 11, just as it was seen in 1969 (including the commercials!).

Unfortunately I didn't realize this was happening until about fifteen minutes before the 9:32 launch time. I tuned in in time to see Walter Cronkite interviewing Arthur C. Clarke and to watch the launch. It was a pretty cool thing to see, but since my computer is so ancient (not 50 years old, but ancient by modern technology standards) I can't watch more than a minute or two of a livestream without it getting all bogged down and choppy and my laptop overheating. So I had to put it on my iPhone. Suddenly I remembered how they always say that the little smart phones we carry with us every day to post to social media, play video games and navigate our cars actually has more computing power than all the equipment NASA had in 1969 when they sent the first man to the moon. Well, here's the lasting image I hope you take away from this post. It's me watching the 1969 launch of Apollo 11 ("livestreamed" by CBS at the exact moment of the original liftoff) on, yes, my smart phone. How far we've come (for better or worse) in fifty years. What will the next fifty bring?

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Happy Fourth of July! (aka Sparklers on the Fourth Part 4)

Today is July 4th. It's also called the Fourth of July. It's a holiday that has always held a special place in my heart--not only for its historical significance, but also because of all the great memories I have from Fourth of July celebrations of the past (especially from when I was a kid). This post is mainly meant to put out some past pieces I've written that have been related to the holiday, but there are also a few thoughts that I'd like to add too.

I've only written directly about this holiday three times before, and the posts have always had "Sparklers on the Fourth" as part of their titles. Hence the "aka" title of this one. The first two were way back in 2011 when I wrote about a memory I had from a Fourth of July celebration from my youth. That one was simply called "Sparklers on the Fourth of July!". After researching and writing that one I realized that my childhood memories were actually faulty and not quite historically accurate. It was a good lesson to learn and I was able to kind of make a new connection between my distant memories and reality. As a result I wrote "Sparklers on the Fourth: Upon Further Review" to kind of admit my mistake and set the record straight. The holiday didn't really make another appearance here until last year when I wrote what I suppose was the third installment of the "series", "Sparklers on the Fourth of July: The Next Generation". That one was written as a part of my attempt to get back into actively writing after a long stretch of inactivity. It was also a way to kind of get back to the roots of what I intended Monster Dad to be when it started--something akin to a "Mommy Blog" where I would write about the experience of being a stay-at-home dad trying to instill some of my love of old monster movies and such in the kids. While there have indeed been numerous such posts, I do tend to write more about MY own childhood memories and stuff like that. In that blog I was finally able to share news about The Little Monsters enjoying sparklers on the Fourth of July--just as I did as a kid way back when.

While the main point of this post was to put out the above list of previous July 4th blogs, I would also like to write a little more about the holiday and about today itself. I mentioned having many fond memories of past Fourth of July celebrations. But to be honest I don't really have a LOT of individual memories of those childhood celebrations. Instead it seems a bit more accurate to say that I have a kind of general feeling of what it was like to commemorate the 4th when I was a kid--and that general feeling is very good. I Recently wrote a similar account of my feelings about and memories of Memorial Day. Memorial Day was always special to me as a kid too. But, while it was a great time to have a three-day weekend as the weather was getting summer-like and we were nearing the end of the school year, there still WAS school that had to be attended for another few weeks. The Fourth of July occurs pretty close to the beginning of summer vacation (from school). So it really kind of felt like a huge celebration to welcome the true arrival of summer and all the wonderful and exciting possibilities that came with it. It was so close to the end of the school year that there was still a relatively long time before going back to school in September. Plenty of summer fun to be had! I think that has something to do with that "general overall feeling" about July 4th for me rather than a list of concrete memories.

I believe that The Little Monsters are big fans of July 4th, but am not really sure if it carries the same sentimental weight for them that it does for me. Perhaps that's something that develops later in life when childhood and all the magic associated with it starts to fade into the past. We (or at least I) tend to look back on those seemingly less complicated and simpler times and pine for "the good old days".

But every year the Fourth of July still rolls around, and we are given another chance to enjoy the holiday and create new memories. I think I'll finish this post with the most up to date information I can offer--what we're doing THIS Fourth of July. On Tuesday, the 2nd of July, we went into Boston to check out the Boston Harbor fireworks show (which we didn't realize also includes a boat parade on the harbor!). The photo at the top of this post is from that show. I believe this has been going on for many years, but it was our first time attending it. The Boston Pops orchestra puts on a VERY well-known concert on the Boston Esplanade every July 4th that concludes with a huge fireworks show over the Charles River. We've NEVER attended this show (as the crowds are gigantic and pretty daunting). But a couple years ago The Wife and I did attend the slightly less heavily attended rehearsal concert that they put on the night before the big show. It includes all of the concert elements of the show on the 4th, minus the fireworks. We went again last night. And today we are at The In-Laws' to celebrate the Fourth with family. We went to a very old-fashioned parade at a small town nearby, had hamburgers and BBQ chicken for lunch and dinner, and now are finishing up the holiday by watching the actual Boston Pops show live on TV, having a fire in the back yard, eating s'mores and letting the Little Monsters run around with, yes, Sparklers on the Fourth of July! Here's a few pics from the day...

Sparklers on the Fourth of July!

Monday, July 1, 2019

Where's Monster Dad? (aka: 2019 State of the Blog Address)

Okay, so this kind of feels more like a social media post or update than a real blog post, but I just felt like I needed to put this out there--even if it's not the standard kind of fare I would prefer to be writing and posting.

Anyway, I seem to keep intending to write more often and more consistently. And then the posts just seem to grind to a halt. About a year ago I really thought I was committing myself to write more. And the second half of 2018 was indeed the most "successful" era of Monster Dad in about five or six years. 2019 started off the right way. I was still putting out a couple posts per month (not the four or so I'd LIKE to be putting out there, but still kinda-sorta okay). And the ideas and intention are still there. I think about writing nearly every day. Old ideas keep bubbling up from the past and new ones still pop into my head on a regular basis. I just don't seem to be able to find the time to sit down and make them real.

A big part of the reason for this is the same old story about how I'm "suffering" from the success of my YouTube channel (gschultz9) where I mostly review military rations. It's a VERY different format than what is featured on this blog, but the simple fact that there are a lot more viewers and subscribers on that channel, there is a lot more opportunity to interact with the subscribers and, well, that channel actually generates a little bit of income by making a modest amount of money via the ads that run on the videos causes that "creative outlet" to demand more of my time and energy.

I get caught up with all that's involved with keeping the YouTube channel current and relevant. Next thing I know I look at Monster Dad and realize that a WHOLE MONTH has passed since my last post! Despite the amount of time, energy and work that goes into filming, editing, posting and tracking the performance of a new video on the YouTube channel, I actually seem to find it easier to do all of that than it is to simply sit down at the keyboard and pound out a new blog post. Last year I mentioned that I was going to try to put out more content here by (even if only occasionally) posting quick and short posts that would look more like social media posts than full blog posts. There's nothing saying I CAN'T do that (a lot of others do, and it's certainly the flavor of the day in this short-attention-span-theater world we're living in). But when it got right down to it, I simply couldn't seem to get myself to throw quick and short posts up here (stuff like a photo I saw online with just a caption or something to that effect). I'm certainly not a professional writer, but whether it shows or not I've always put a lot of thought into my posts here. I always want to tell a story while hopefully being coherent and making some sense. That leads to some lengthy posts that I could certainly get away with making a LOT shorter and possibly still getting the point across, but it's just not my style. And in the end this IS my blog, right?

In addition to the envious "problem" of having to deal with a somewhat successful YouTube channel I'm also still having to deal with some other "life stuff" that also ends up taking precedence over blog writing. I don't want to bore the reader with all the details of all of this "life stuff", but a lot of it has to do with my continuing search for a new job after my extended time spent raising our Little Monsters for the past number of years. It's actually something that I think might be worth writing about itself--even if some aspects of it are kind of on the depressing side.

Obviously I'm writing this because this continuing difficulty I'm finding in getting more posts out there is bothering me. But I do want to ensure anyone who might happen to be a faithful reader (a pretty endangered species here as I've lost most of my Google cache over the past five or six years due to my lack of regular writing) that I'm STILL here and I STILL have a lot of ideas for posts that (I feel) are good and worth writing. And, yes, I'm STILL planning on writing more often...eventually. If you've stuck around this long, please continue to be patient with me. I truly do see myself as a regular blog writer (even if being a blog writer isn't as much of a "thing" as it used to be when I started doing this). I'm realizing that even just writing this little update feels like a positive thing. It still feels good to write and post something. I want to have that feeling with more worthy posts on a more regular basis. We shall see what the second half of 2019 brings to the Monster Dad world...

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Memorial Day Memories

I do know what the actual meaning of Memorial Day is supposed to be. As a veteran of the military myself I definitely take that meaning (remembering all those that made the ultimate sacrifice for our country) seriously. At the same time I realize that changing Memorial Day from May 30th to the last Monday in May back in 1971 changed the perception and observation of the holiday. It went from being a day of somber remembrance to being the basis of a three-day weekend. The timing of that three-day weekend right at the end of May caused Memorial Day weekend to become looked at as the unofficial start of summer.

I mentioned my awareness of the true meaning of Memorial Day because now I'm going to share some of my memories of Memorial Day weekends from my youth--and those memories have little to do with the true meaning of the holiday and a lot more to do with enjoying a three-day weekend. I kind of feel bad about some of these memories and the fact that I wasn't really honoring the memory of fallen soldiers as much as I should have been. But at the same time I WAS a kid. And I WAS growing up in a time when it was still a relatively new thing to experience Memorial Day as a three-day weekend rather than a single day of remembrance.

It's worth mentioning that I wasn't a huge fan of school back in those days. I wouldn't go so far as to say that I "hated" it, but at the same time I never really WANTED to go to school. Like so many other kids throughout the years, I knew that I was supposed to go to school and didn't really have any choice or say in the matter. So I went. As a pre-schooler I'm sure each of the seven days of the week seemed pretty similar. But once I started attending school it didn't take me long to realize the importance of the weekend! The best way to put this is to mention that my absolute favorite moment of the week was usually when the bell rang at the end of the school day on Friday. Why? Well, it was because that moment marked the longest possible time before I had to go back to school! It's certainly true that Friday night and pretty much all of Saturday offered a lot of opportunities to take advantage of while NOT being in school, but that moment school got out on Friday was the most full of potential. Many (most?) weekends never actually lived up to that potential, but it always felt possible as I was heading out of the school on Friday afternoon.

So, as was the case with most people, I really liked weekends. A few more factors went into Memorial Day weekend to make it that much more special to me. First off, and most obviously, it was a THREE-DAY WEEKEND! I was guilty of not really enjoying most Sundays because I saw them as "church day" and as the day before Monday (the most hated day of the week).  Now I look back and can't believe that I would sacrifice a complete day of my precious weekend by faulting it for being the day before Monday. But that wasn't the case on a three-day weekend. Sunday became kind of like a second Saturday on those weekends. And then Monday lost its sting as the worst day of the week because there was no school. All of that set up one more interesting bonus of the three-day weekend--the fact that there were only FOUR more school days until the next Friday instead of the usual five. That's a lot of good reasons to really appreciate getting a three-day weekend.

But there's still more! That whole "unofficial start of summer" thing meant a lot to me too. The weather was generally getting REALLY nice by the end of May. New England has pretty long, and sometimes pretty tough winters. It can take a while for spring to really take hold. But by Memorial Day you can definitely tell that you're getting quite close to summer and all that it has to offer a student who can't wait for it to start. At school the windows would frequently be open on very warm days. You could see, feel, smell and hear summer right outside the classroom. It became harder and harder to remain studious and pay attention as the weather got nicer and nicer. By the time Memorial Day rolled around you knew that the end was near. It would be the last scheduled day off from school and you knew that there were only a couple (or at most a few) more weeks before it would officially be the end of the school year and the beginning of summer vacation.

We now have the parameters of what made Memorial Day so special for me: it was a weekend, it was a three-day weekend, it was generally a summer-like three-day weekend. But the true reason for me to be writing about my Memorial Day memories, and why they remain so special to me all these years later comes in some of the specific details that filled in the framework of the three-day weekend. Let's go over some of these details (some large and some on the small side) that really made Memorial day so special and memorable.

First off was something that happened at school on Friday. Before that awesome feeling triggered by the ringing of the bell on Friday afternoon we would have the annual Memorial Day assembly. While I might not have gotten quite as much of the true meaning of the holiday as maybe I should have, there were two parts of the weekend (one at the beginning and one at the end) that did remind me of the true meaning. The first was that assembly.  It was actually special for two reasons: it helped give me at least SOME appreciation for the real meaning of the holiday, AND it meant that I didn't have to go to the final class or two at the end of the last day of the week before the three-day weekend. In a way this seemed to extend the weekend just a little bit longer! Sure, I was still in the school building until the normal time of release. But during that time I was sitting in the auditorium being meaningfully entertained instead of sitting in a classroom wishing the clock would move faster and the final bell would ring.

Once I finally was free from school I do have to admit to not really having too many memories of the Fridays and Saturdays of most of the Memorial Days of my youth. I'm sure I enjoyed them just as much as any other Fridays and Saturdays (maybe even a bit more than usual because of the knowledge that the weekend wouldn't end after Sunday). But the most special memories of that weekend come from Sunday and Monday. I've written before about the strange phenomenon of having my family do something possibly only once or twice, but feeling like it was a long-standing "tradition" that we'd ALWAYS do (like New Year's Eve parties and vacations on Cape Cod that it seemed like we would do every year, but they may only have happened a couple of times in reality). Well, one of those things that to me felt like a long-standing tradition was a Memorial Day weekend cookout at the home of my sister and brother-in-law. There probably isn't a more stereotypical way to NOT honor the memory of the fallen on Memorial Day weekend than a nice cookout with family and friends. But at the same time it certainly is a great way to welcome summer.

The cookout was always great, but there was another thing that beckoned on those Sundays before Memorial Day. I was never a big sports fan as a kid (which I'm sure would come to a pretty big surprise to people that have only known me as an adult). I was not very interested in cars either. But that didn't stop me from really enjoying another traditional part of Memorial Day weekend--The Indianapolis 500! My sister's house was close enough to ours that once I was old enough I could walk or ride my bike between the two. I recall leaving the cookout a little early to get home in time to watch the Indy 500 (or at least a chunk of it). As I mentioned, I wasn't really into sports or cars. So why was the Indy 500 so important to me? Well, it's time for another confession. Just as I didn't really celebrate the true meaning of Memorial Day as a kid, I also didn't really watch the Indy 500 for the race itself. As wrong as it might sound, I was more interested in seeing the crashes. The reason I can admit that is the fact that I know that I wasn't the only one who watched for that reason. I mean, unless you're a REAL racing fan, watching cars zoom around a track for a few hours (and 500 miles) can get a bit boring. The start of the race, the end of the race and a couple moments of drama in the middle as leaders pass each other and jockey for position are really the most interesting parts. But the sometimes spectacular crashes made it REALLY interesting! Of course I didn't hope for any of the drivers to get maimed or killed or anything like that. I knew there were drivers inside the vehicles, but I suppose I kind of tried to think of it as just machines careening into each other.

Anyway, watching the Indy 500 introduces another element of my youth that I probably should mention here. It would be easy enough for me to deny this, but let's be honest...TV was kind of an important part of my life as a kid. The fact that Memorial Day weekend generally coincided with really nice weather did mean that I was likely to be spending a lot of my free time outside--riding my bike, going to the Town Park, hanging out in the woods behind my house... But there's no doubt that I'd also find the time to watch TV at some point during the weekend. The most obvious time to be watching would be Sunday night. At the time when I'd normally be getting ready to go to bed so I could get up for school Monday morning I would be likely to be checking out one of the big networks' (ABC, NBC, CBS) Sunday Night Movie. Since it was Memorial Day weekend, that movie would probably be worth watching. It was a nice option to switch to if the latter part of the Indy 500 was getting kind of boring. While I can't say I have too many specific memories of watching a Sunday Night Movie on a Memorial Day weekend, there is definitely one. It's tough to know what year it was, but I do recall watching the Chevy Chase/Goldie Hawn film "Foul Play" (1978) in the early 1980s. The memory of the cookout in the afternoon and then watching the Indy 500 and "Foul Play" is kind of etched into my memory.

The final special thing about my childhood Memorial Day weekend memories was on Memorial Day itself. And, like the assembly at school that started off the weekend three days before, this was one of the few examples of me actually observing the real reason for Memorial Day. Of course, simply not having to be at school on a Monday was pretty exciting in itself. But since it was finally Memorial Day that meant I could walk down to our town Common to watch the Memorial Day parade! Man, that sounds so 1950s small town, doesn't it? But it was reality. That was something I really looked forward to. And it's kind of nice to think that the long weekend would end with something that actually had to do with the real reason we were having a three-day weekend in the first place. At the end of the parade, which featured the high school band and a number of veterans (including a few World War I veterans in my earliest memories), there would be a ceremony on the Common that included some speeches, some patriotic music and a firing squad shooting off a salute with their rifles followed by the playing of Taps. It was a great way to finish up the weekend the right way, in the true spirit of Memorial Day. I remember at least one year when I was able to grab one of the empty blank shells after the salute as a souvenir.

That's pretty much what I wanted to share as far as my childhood memories of Memorial Day, but there is still one more thing that I always enjoyed about that weekend. You could kind of call this the "soundtrack" of the holiday. Back in the early 1980s (possibly earlier as well, but I mostly remember it from the 80s) radio stations would mark the weekend by playing what they dubbed "The Memorial Day 500" (a la the Indianapolis 500). Starting on Friday they would play what they decided were the top 500 Rock and or Pop songs of all time. The list was very subjective of course, and would vary greatly depending on which channel you chose to listen to. I remember hearing it on channels like 92 Pro-FM out of Providence and 103.3 WHTT out of Boston. There was a part of me that kind of wanted to hear the whole 500 song countdown (and I believe some of the channels that played it would send you a list if you sent thm a SASE). Obviously I never heard the entire countdown (it ran 24 hours a day during the long weekend) and I don't even know if they were actually able to play ALL 500 of the songs. Either way, during our family cookout and throughout the rest of my adventures during those Memorial Day weekends I always enjoyed hearing the countdown whenever I could and tried to keep track of it as best I could. While I consider the Memorial Day 500 to be a part of the past, a little research online seems to show that there are STILL channels around the country that have continued the traditional countdown of the 500 greatest songs of all time every year!

Memorial Day is indeed an important holiday. It carries a much heavier message than many others that we celebrate. But it also does act as a great way to welcome the beginning of summer (even if that's not SUPPOSED to be the reason for it). It really did mean a lot to me as a kid for a lot of reasons. Heck, just look at how long this post ended up being. Seems like I could have said what I wanted to say in a few paragraphs, but there were just too many details that went together to make up the whole experience. I could have probably written at least a few more paragraphs, but for the sake of (relative) brevity let's end it here. I hope everyone had a great Memorial Day weekend and that you were able to take a moment to remember those who have made the ultimate sacrifice to ensure that you have the right to enjoy the weekend however you want!

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Star Wars Day 2019: R.I.P. Peter Mayhew

May 4th has become known as Star Wars Day in recent years. The date seems to be a bit arbitrary, especially considering that Star Wars premiered on May 25, 1977. But there is a very entertaining reason for it to be on May 4. Basically it allows one to say "May the fourth be with you" (as in a play on "May the Force be with you").

I've written about the day once before, in 2017, and as embarrassing as it might be to admit it, at the time I actually thought that it WAS the date of the anniversary. After writing the post May the 4th be With You I realized my mistake and now I'm fully onboard with the celebration.

There are all kinds of nods and references to Star Wars Day both online and offline. Many stores, companies and websites celebrate it in all sorts of clever ways--from promotions and big sales to tie-ins and parodies. I generally get quite a few Star Wars Day-related items in my email inbox around this time of year. In 2017 I took advantage of 80s Tees' ( "May The One-Fourth Be With You" sale--where nearly all of their Star Wars shirts and other items were 75% off (one-fourth of regular price)! That sale was simply too good miss, and I DID make a few purchases that day.

This year, my favorite example of a non-Star Wars site hopping on the Star Wars Day bandwagon would probably have to be Kellyco Metal Detectors (I used to be kind of into metal detectors, and despite the fact that I had to sell mine a number of years ago when we moved I still get emails from Kellyco). One of the manufacturers of metal detectors they sell is Nokta/Makro, and that company has a line of detectors called FORS. So, yes, Kellyco is having a "May the FORS be with You" sale! Might be tough to beat that one this year!

I've decided to write about Star Wars Day again this year for a couple of reasons (not that you really NEED a reason to celebrate Star Wars any day of the year, of course!). The first reason is a rather somber one. This Star Wars Day is kind of overshadowed by the recent death of Peter Mayhew, the actor who portrayed Chewbacca in all of the Star Wars movies between the original ("A Hew Hope") in 1977 right through "The Force Awakens" in 2015. And that also includes most of the peripheral Star Wars-related productions and appearances from that period--including the infamous "The Star Wars Holiday Special" in 1978. He only recently retired and handed the reins of Chewie over to Joonas Suotamo for the past few Disney-produced Star Wars films.

There's no denying that, despite the fact that we never really saw Peter Mayhew himself, he was indeed a very important and integral part of the Star Wars legend, and will be greatly missed. Here are some quotes from about Peter:

My second major reason for writing about Star Wars Day once again is a happier one, and actually doesn't really even have anything to do with Star Wars itself. May 4th falls on a Saturday this year. It's the first Saturday in May, and the the first Saturday of May also just happens to be the date of Free Comic Book Day!

The two days are pretty much unrelated, but either one of them on their own is a good reason for a grown-up Monster Kid like myself to celebrate. Having them both occur on the same day makes it just that much more special. I took the Little Monsters to our local comic book store for the occasion, and one of the free comics I was able to pick up seemed very apropos of the day (Free Comic Book Day, Star Wars AND Chewie all in one image!):

May The Fourth (and The Force) Be With You!

Thursday, April 25, 2019

The Mahoning Drive-In Opens for the 2019 Season!

***Note: some photos in this post are shared without permission from the Mahoning's website and Facebook page (but hopefully they won't mind!)***

The Mahoning Drive-In Theater in Lehighton, PA opens for the 2019 season on Friday, April 26. There are many reasons that this fact is a good thing, an amazing thing and even kind of an historical thing. Please allow me to explain.

The Mahoning was built in 1948. That would seem to indicate that LAST year was a year to celebrate (being the 70th anniversary and all). And, in fact, I DID write a post about the theater last year for that precise reason (The Mahoning Drive-In Theater), but then was subsequently schooled about the fact that, while the drive-in was BUILT in 1948, it actually OPENED for its first season in 1949. So NOW we can finally celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Mahoning as an operating drive-in! It's also worth mentioning that it has been in CONTINUOUS operation for that entire time (and still uses the same 35mm projectors that were installed when it opened)! Of course, the fact that it opened in 1949 means that 2019 marks it's 71st season in operation, but we'll stick with focusing on the 70th anniversary for this post...

In a time when drive-ins have become an endangered species this survival story is very impressive. In the 1950s there were over 4,000 drive-in theaters in the United States. Today there are only about 300 left. Keeping the remaining theaters alive is really a labor of love. A number of years back Hollywood announced that all theaters (including drive-ins) would have to convert from 35mm projectors to digital projectors if they wanted to continue getting the latest films--which would no longer be produced on film and only be available in a digital format. The decline of drive-ins really sped up with this ultimatum. Many drive-ins are seasonal and are only open for six months a year at most. Very few were in a position to suddenly shovel out the $50,000-$70,000 or so that it would take to convert them to digital projection (which includes not only new, expensive projectors, but also costly upgrades to the projection booth). For many theaters this was the final nail in the coffin and the excuse for the owners to finally throw in the towel.

The Mahoning was in the exact same position as hundreds of other drive-ins. There was no realistic way for them to raise the funds necessary to stay in business. That could have easily been the end of the story. The drive-in could have closed and the land could have been sold off to make another strip mall or housing development--both of which would undoubtedly be much more profitable options for the land. But the people behind the Mahoning made a bold and daring decision. They passed on buying the digital projectors and instead switched to an all-retro format featuring older 35mm prints of movies rather than the latest Hollywood blockbusters. Instead of projecting digital images onto the screen the Mahoning would continue to project 35mm film images from the same projectors that have been in the projection booth since it was built in 1948! This was a very exciting prospect for old movie fans (by "old movie fans" I'm referring to fans of old movies, but I suppose it also applies to old people, like myself, who happen to be fans of movies too). But it's also something that might be just a bit tough to sell to the average drive-in customer who is used to seeing the latest releases up on the screen rather than old movies that they could throw on the DVD player and watch at home.

I'm not going to say that this process was easy, or that it was an overnight success. While they didn't have to hand over all that money for the digital projectors, they did lose the opportunity to get all the new movies that would allow for a steady, predictable cash flow. They also lost the relatively automatic pipeline that those movies would come through. The old 35mm movies might seem like a cheaper option, but they still need to be tracked down, found, rented and acquired before a show could go on. This is NOT an easy process by any means. But the Mahoning was all in. Starting with the 2015 season they began screening retro shows. It wasn't just random films from the old days though. They put a lot of work and thought into producing themed shows that made the experience something special. They started a new tradition that year by opening the season with a double feature of "The Wizard of Oz" (1939) and "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory" (1971). This Friday those same beloved classics will open up the 2019 season as well.

Business wasn't "great" for the first couple of seasons and the operators actually didn't even pay themselves. All of the money generated was put right back into the drive-in and the movies. But they began to develop a following of fans who spread the word. Now people come from all over the country to attend the great themed shows and see films they may love but have never had the opportunity to see on a giant screen. And that screen IS huge. It's actually the largest one in Pennsylvania and one of the largest remaining in the whole country!

Some of the themes from over the past few years have included the Vampyrty (vampire movies), Zombiefest (zombies, duh!), Bite Night ("Jaws" and "Jurassic Park"), Drive-In VHS Fest (which features, yes, old VHS tapes projected onto the screen rather than 35mm films!) and retrospectives of the works of some great directors and actors like John Carpenter, Martin Scorsese and Bill Murray. There are also double-, triple- and sometimes quadruple-features of films from series like "Ghostbusters", "Indiana Jones" and "Harry Potter".

A flyer from the 2018 season

After the traditional opening weekend some of the shows already lined up for this year include: 90's Action Party (with "The Last Action Hero" and "Demolition Man"), Killer Klown Double Down ("Killer Klowns from Outer Space" and "IT"), Turtle Power! (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles), Zombie Fest V (NINE classic zombie films over three nights!), Lost in the Labyrinth ("Labyrinth" and "Pan's Labyrinth"), Vampyrty ("Buffy the Vampire Slayer", "Fright Night" and "Fright Night II"), Bite Night, Godzilla-Palooza! (featuring SIX classic Godzilla movies), Harry Potter and the 8 Movie Marathon, Christmas in July ("Home Alone" and "Home Alone 2") and Universal Monster Mash (four classic Universal monster movies). And that's only the list through early August! Check out the theater's website and Facebook page for a LOT more information on the shows and the Mahoning than I could ever hope to share here.

This is really just the tip of the iceberg. The theme weekends also include special custom posters featuring great artwork specific to that show, special menu items, special displays of memorabilia and props from many of the films being shown, vendors, special guests, director Q&As, contests, promotions and giveaways. It all makes for a great experience for the film fan!

As if all this weren't enough (a drive-in celebrating its 70th anniversary AND a great story of a successful rebranding and rebirth as an all-retro theater) there's one more thing to celebrate as the Mahoning opens up for another season. A few years ago a team of filmmakers was looking to create a documentary on drive-ins. Once they found the Mahoning they decided to focus on it and its story for the film. The final product is the documentary "At The Drive-In", and after some wait and a number of premieres around the country it has finally been released and is available for purchase on DVD and in digital format (rental or purchase)! You can get it at Amazon, Amazon Prime and iTunes.

Here's the trailer for the film:

I can't finish this story without sharing yet another hardship that the Mahoning has had to face in its journey recently. I mentioned earlier that all of the money from the first few seasons went directly back into the drive-in rather than paying the people who run it. That's a difficult way to run a business, but it's just what they had to do in order to keep the Mahoning alive. If that weren't hard enough, the past couple seasons have given them even MORE opportunities to spend money they really don't have. In the winter of 2018 a storm heavily damaged the theater's marquee sign. It had to be repaired and restored in time for last season. And then this past winter brought another expensive repair challenge to the Mahoning. A wind storm heavily damaged another of the property's few structural features. And this time it was THE most important one--the screen! A GoFundMe page has been set up to help pay for the repairs.

I've only been able to attend a few of the Mahoning's shows, but consider myself very lucky to have been able to go whenever possible. I live in Massachusetts, so it's a bit of a long ride to go all the way to Pennsylvania to go to a drive-in. Luckily I have a friend who lives even further away (New Hampshire) who goes nearly every weekend and has become part of the Mahoning's extended family. He has brought me along when time and circumstance has allowed me to attend. I've seen three shows over the course of the first four seasons of the Mahoning's new format: an Indiana Jones double feature in 2015, an awesome show called Bigfoot Weekend that featured SIX old Bigfoot films mostly from the 1970s in 2017 (which I wrote about in this post and this post) and VHS Fest II in 2018. I would LOVE to get to a couple more shows this year (Godzilla-Palooza is VERY high on the wish list), but time will tell. The good news is that the Mahoning has continuously increased its audience and reach. As far as I know it's THE all-retro drive-in theater at this point. Other places put on occasional shows and special events, but mostly still feature the latest Hollywood releases (not that there's anything wrong with that!).