An Open Letter to All of the Traumatized Clinton-Democrat College Students


Dear Clinton-Democrat College Students,

For the past 18 months, you enthusiastically proclaimed you were going to put an end to racism, sexism, bigotry, income inequality, animal cruelty, student debt, and poverty.  You were going to “heal” the climate and save the planet.  You were going to open America to all who simply wanted a better life, and enhance our country with inclusiveness, tolerance, and diversity.  You were going to give high-paying jobs, quality healthcare and free college educations to everyone.  You trumpeted your individual and collective strength, your commitment to your mission, your readiness to rise up and change the world!!!

Right up until about 3am on November 9th

Since then we have seen from you pretty much one thing, and that is just how incredibly FRAIL you are.  You need puppies, and crayons, and Play-Doh, and safe rooms to protect you from further “triggers” and micro-aggressions.  You need counselors, and private time, and unconditional empathy in order to cope with your collective fear and unprecedented disappointment.  You also seem to need public forums, and targets at whom to direct your outrage.  You don’t have the energy to attend class, much less take exams, but you do have the energy to yell in the face of anyone with whom you disagree, to attack police officers, and destroy public and private property.  One after another you seek out any microphone and camera in order to tell the world how you are sick to your stomach, unaccepting of reality, unable to sleep and absolutely afraid.  Aren’t you even the least bit embarrassed by all of this?  Weakened and afraid?  Come on.

Life is hard.  Period.  Successful, effective, independent and rewarding life is even harder.  And by the way, this is still, more than any other country in the world, the Land of Opportunity.  It was never supposed to be the Land of Entitlement, much less the Land of I Always Get My Way, especially if I threaten to yell a lot on social or mainstream media.

Boys and girls, ladies and gentlemen… grow up.  Understand the disparity between simply making a commotion, and actually making a difference.  Show America you are capable of being more than just victims.  Between the ages of 19 and 27, I “suffered” through three Presidential elections, standing on the losing side of every one.  In two of those elections our generations’ chosen candidates got CREAMED!!, the race being over before the 11 o’clock news.  We watched it, and bitched about it, and were totally bummed out.  We swore a little bit, and a few might have even hit the bottle or the bong.  And then the next day we got up and went to class and back to work, hoping for better in four years.  We disagreed with the opposition’s platform just as strongly as you do, but we weren’t afraid, much less incapacitated because we lost.  We believed we were strong enough and smart enough to persevere through whatever lay ahead, and together, we survived and even prospered despite our then-perceived impending doom.

So…, IF you are so damn right, and concerned, and noble, and smart, then stand up and get busy promoting your platform in a manner that at least garners some measure of respect, and maybe even acceptance.  Be confident, even courageous!  With integrity and civility, convince the majority of the electorate that your way is best for all, not just for you.  And if you encounter resistance, then either improve the quality and delivery of your message, or move on.

One final note: it’s just my opinion, but I think you are much more likely to get others to give your platform serious, respectful consideration if you were to spend less time and energy calling them racist, sexist, hateful, bigoted, radical, uncaring, clueless, homophobic, environmentally irresponsible, heartless, fascist, privileged, and/or deplorable.  Let’s just call each other “Americans,” better yet… Fellow Americans.  And if you are not comfortable with that characterization, then perhaps you should take it upon yourself to leave the USA and go to school elsewhere.  Unless of course, you are afraid…


Finally – November 8, 2016


Today we vote, FINALLY!  Yet truth be told, I’m not really looking forward to going to the voting booth.

If we’re to believe at least some of the “news” reports, for the first time in our adult lives, more Americans will be voting NOT for someone (and selecting their opponent by default), than voting FOR someone, because they genuinely believe that candidate will do a commendable job. This is the America we’ve collectively built? It’s as if I have to choose between two distasteful meals, neither of which I like, and, in fact, either one of which is likely to make me ill.

And yet, I have to eat…

If the past two years of political campaigns have taught us anything, it is that we must do better than this.  As long as we continue to act as though “my side has ALL of the right answers, and your side has NO right answers,” we will only prolong and increase our divisiveness, and subsequently fail to remain an exemplary Representative Republic. If We the People of varied heritage and ideology are to coexist and thrive, then we must remain open to the possibility of learning from each other for our mutual benefit. Look at it this way, though the Patriots are presently owning the AFC at 7-1, even the hapless 0-9 Cleveland Browns have scored 19 touchdowns, so even the Browns must know at least something of value sometimes :).

Finally, as I gather my thoughts in order to cast a sensible vote, I will try to focus on the important things that shape my beliefs and hopes, those substantive things about which I genuinely care:

I care more about what a soldier says than what a celebrity says.
I care more about what happens at the border than what is said on a bus.
I care more about the economy than emails.
I care more about solutions than blame.
I care more about gender-neutral boardrooms than gender-neutral bathrooms.
I care more about a raised Flag than a raised fist.
I care more about social maturity than social media.
I care more about integrity than victory.
I care more about children’s laughter than childish demands.
I care more about opportunities than entitlements.
I care more about Patriotism than politics.
I care more about character than color.
I care more about who is effective than who is offensive.

And I care more about the United States of America past present and future than any and every other country in the world. This is OUR HOME, me and you, those with whom I agree and those with whom I disagree. Let’s come together, figure this out, and get to work. It really is up to US.

The REAL Student Loan Debt Crisis

You read it here first: The student loan debt problem is NOT what you think it is.  Wait, check that, there’s some pretty smart people who read The 5×5.  Ok, the student loan debt problem is NOT what you are being told it is.  It is in fact, much worse!

I read an article today filled with misplaced sympathy, false tragedy, and more hand-wringing, nail-biting and genuine worry than the waiting room of the Free Clinic the week after Spring Break.  Politicians on all levels are getting involved, including the Presidential candidates.  The message being spread loud and clear is that one of the most pressing domestic issues facing the USA today is student loan debt, and more needs to be done to save these poor, exploited victims of modern predatory Capitalism.


Just for the heck of it, let’s consider these FACTS:

Like ALL other LOANS (mortgages, car loans, etc.), the terms of all student loans are clearly spelled out PRIOR to acceptance.  BEFORE they sign, it is the lendee’s responsibility to determine whether they will be able to repay the loan according to the expressed terms.  What is NEVER explicitly expressed in any of the terms, either from the lender or the educational institution, is that the borrower will graduate to a “high-paying” job that will make it easy, convenient and entirely painless for borrower to repay the money that the borrower asked to borrow.

Given these facts, can someone please explain to me how these individuals are being victimized or exploited?  They knew the deal going in, and when the time comes to start paying back, suddenly it’s just not fair????  Since when?

  • Did the student ask for the money? – YES
  • Was anyone forced to take the money against their free will? Were they somehow conscripted into borrowing? – NO, and NO
  • Are they being asked to pay back money they did not receive? – NO
  • Are the interest rates even close to being that of a credit card? – NO
  • Are the interest rates at, or even below market rates for unsecured loans at the time the money was borrowed? – Yes
  • Is the lender entitled to have THEIR MONEY returned to them under the terms of the agreement explicitly expressed prior to any money changing hands? – YES

So I ask again, where is the injustice?

I had student loans.  I could not have attended college without them, and I did not graduate to a “high-paying” job (whatever THAT means).  In fact, I was unable to find work in my chosen area of study, and ended up working in entirely different fields, changing careers now 5+ times.  Regardless, it was still my responsibility to pay the loans back (as promised), and it took me about 20 years to do that.  Ironically, my final payment was made right about the time MY children were entering college.  Yes, college now costs more, a LOT more.  As a result, WE now have loans (Parent loans and Student loans) to repay, which we are doing.  But again, like me, my children could not have attended college without them.  We each did what we needed to do in order to embark upon the path of our choosing.

There is indeed a student loan crisis, and that crisis is this:  There is a growing segment of our society that thinks they should be able to forsake their responsibilities the moment any aspect of a given situation starts to go against their liking.  What ever happened to that very simple premise, so simple that it is routinely invoked by toddlers, wide-eyed and disappointed, pleading… “But you PROMISED?!?!”

The REAL crisis is an amalgamation of labor law, government regulation, tax code, trade agreements, immigration enforcement, foreign policy, political ideology, and public perception.  The only reason student loans get dragged into this mix is because it’s a lot easier to show a sympathetic public the sad faces of poor, fearful, financially-strapped former students.  Note the use of the word “former.”  Why are we not seeing pictures of, or hearing from current students in the midst of enjoying their higher education experience?  For the same reason we don’t hear people bitching during the middle of a party.  The bitching starts when the party is over and one has somehow become obligated to stick around and help clean up the mess.  They would have much rather foreseen the future an hour earlier: “Thanks for the great time, but I gotta go!”

Like former students with acquired debt, and entry-level workers who do not yet earn enough money to buy the latest iPhone AND plasma television AND vacation in the Tropics, we continue to add more and more “classes” of people to the roster of the “oppressed.”  We even have political candidates promoting the notion that somehow we will be a much better society if we simply relieve everyone of their unpleasant responsibilities.  Really?  Will that premise also apply to firefighters and hospice workers?  Military personnel?  Pediatric Oncologists?  Sanitation workers?  And by the way, regardless of whether the topic is student loans, tuition, or healthcare costs, those politicians aren’t really erasing the responsibility, they’re just imposing it onto somebody else, feeding into the ever-growing premise of “I don’t care who takes care of that particular need of mine, as long as it’s NOT ME!”

With respect to this issue, it’s time that certain members of society grow up and face reality.  Students who borrowed money are legally and morally obligated to repay the debt.  They should stop the “not fair” whining, because the rules of the game were well known before the game began, and they still CHOSE to play.  They need to just figure it out, make a budget, have a plan, and buy only what they can afford.  They may need to work more than one job, even a job they don’t really like, and don’t tell me how hard it is, because I know exactly how hard it is.  I’ve worked as a substitute teacher, a door-to-door salesman, a private cab driver, a handyman, a telemarketer, and a janitor, all AFTER earning my Master’s degree.  Along the way, I managed to pay back every single dollar of my student loans, and if a near-sighted, follically-challenged product of the Flint Public Schools can do it, then anybody can.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. – An Every Day Man


It took me many years to finally understand and appreciate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I was 6 yrs. old when he gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. The following year he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. I was only 10 when he was killed in Memphis on April 4, 1968. During the ensuing years of junior high, high school and college we learned about him and his role in the struggle surrounding the American Civil Rights Movement.

Given the magnitude of his influence on our culture, it’s hard to believe he was only 39 when he died. However, along with his much-publicized efforts to guide America to a better place, there were also accounts of his (normal, typical) human flaws and failings. Initially, I chose to focus on the latter, not because I was white, but because I was lazy, and it was easier.

Dr. King challenged us, all of us, in ways that often made both his detractors and his supporters uncomfortable. He asked…, no, check that… he demanded that we look more closely at things that we either could not, or would not see, both in our culture, and in the mirror. This all seemed like it involved genuine dedication and even outright work, and at the time, I just couldn’t be bothered.

I had to grow up to appreciate him. I had to age, experience life, and thankfully along the way, learn. I had to mature, to even simply wise up in order to recognize the significance of this amazing man and his noble mission.

Growing up in Flint during the 60’s & 70’s, I experienced both the best, and the worst that Flint had to offer. However, many years later, after leaving Flint and living in too many places to count, there are aspects of that time in Flint about which I believe Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would have been pleased. LONG before the word “diversity” was even a small part of our vernacular, we had cultural diversity and acceptance for each other as individuals, especially within our age group.

That state of being was NOT in deference to political correctness, because that phrase didn’t even exist. The robust, blended milieu was absolutely real, not this watered-down, homogenized, sensitivity-laden drivel that we see misguided do-gooders trying to create today. We had respect for each other, and we also held each other accountable. We did it because we lived it every single day, and we didn’t need some clueless, pretentious bureaucrat showing up to “empower” us with some sort of vacuous “program.”

I think Dr. King would have liked much of what he saw in Flint, and even more of what he saw in us. I believe that had he lived to further his mission, we would certainly have at the very least, a much more clear understanding of what racism is, and what it is not. I believe that he would agree that much of what is now labeled as racism is simply opportunism on the part of the racism accusers. Dr. King would be angered that his Dream has been hijacked by people who have forgotten that his Dream was for ALL people.

Were he here today, I believe he would be disgusted by our constant bickering, finger-pointing, and self-righteous indignation. He would be angered by our use of diversity as fuel for divisiveness. He would admonish us to spend considerably less time being offended, and much more time being effective. His niece, Dr. Alveda King (author of the book The Spirit of a Dream) recently said “I really believe he would ask us to communicate without fear, without hate, without rancor. I believe we can still do that in America. I really do.”

There have been many great Americans throughout history who have, by example, shown us that we as a people do indeed have a great deal of work to do, and though it will not be at all easy, it will most certainly be worth it. Though the third Monday in January has become the day we set aside in his honor, to truly give honor, we should strive every day to remember that Integrity is more important than intellect, that Responsibility is more important than riches, and Character is more important than color.

It took me a while to come to appreciate the man we now know as MLK, and I can only hope that more and more of America will eventually get there as well. Rest in peace Dr. King, may we one day be so very fortunate as to properly understand, embrace, and ultimately achieve your Dream.

Ballenger Park Ice Rink – 1969-1973


Every winter, Ballenger Park was the place to be, so much so that our anticipation and excitement would start building just after Halloween. In our neighborhood, Thanksgiving Day had dual significance; Northern and Central squared off down at Atwood Stadium, and there was ice at Ballenger Park. As an adult I’m overwhelmed with the strong memories of all the things that took place on that simple sheet of ice spread across three tennis courts.

The memories are as diverse as they are endless. I was actually in Flint a couple of years ago and drove to the Park. I immediately saw that the tennis courts, the fence, the buildings, the sidewalk… they are all gone, the entire area now covered with grass. No matter, getting out of the car and venturing onto the grass was like stepping into a time machine. Closing my eyes, I “saw” the green boxes near the street, I heard the music, I smelled the popcorn. Looking through the fence I saw (and even heard) the hundreds of kids, young and old, circling the rink, laughing, playing tag, standing in the middle. I recalled the smiling face of a beautiful young blond girl named Brenda whom I absolutely adored, yet to whom I probably never spoke more than a single word in four years. I think I might have stammered out “Hi” to her a couple of times (we fellas learn young that some girls are simply unapproachable because they are just too pretty, or more accurately, we are just too nervous).

Turning, I heard the announcement to clear the ice, and saw many of the “regulars” lining up at the gate by the small brick building and grabbing snow shovels to help clear the snow from the surface of the rink. Then came the Ice Monitors using special shovels, the “fine-scrapers” to remove the last bits of ice shavings. Of course now the REAL show would begin. All of us kids watched with rapt amazement as a man wearing unbuckled goulashes pushed the small, red “Zamboni” with steam coming out of the front around the rink, resurfacing the ice to a brand new shine. We were never able to figure out just how in the heck did hot water make cold ice??? So many powerful memories.

Never did you get to know so many people so well. It was almost like going to a junior high dance every night for four months. Though I don’t remember anyone ever getting hurt, I do remember experiencing just about every emotion possible: joy, fear, happiness, anguish, elation, grief, rejoicing, sorrow, euphoria, torment, relief, exuberance, tension, love, hate, lust, sorrow, confusion and delight, often all on the same day.

Ballenger Park during this time holds an almost magical place in my memory. As a teenager it was the premier social experience, complicated by the fact that too much of our time was devoted to the pursuit of two of the most important adolescent objectives; look cool and avoid embarrassment. Spare no expense, and go to any lengths necessary. I sincerely believe that if teenagers back then were asked to rewrite the Ten Commandments, we would have shortened them to just those two, look cool and avoid embarrassment, that’s it. And yet, being teenagers, we could never understand why something that seemed so simple would be so incredibly difficult.

All day long we skated, and laughed, and chased each other around the ice. The Park regulars were there almost every Friday, Saturday and Sunday for the entire winter. And though the temperature occasionally dropped below zero, I don’t remember ever being terribly cold. That is, until the end of the night when it came time to venture out onto the Dupont sidewalk for the long walk home, with my sister Nancy either two steps in front, or two steps behind me.

At that time in her life, my sister wasn’t much of an athlete, but she sure could skate. Looking back, I recall secretly admiring the way that it seemed to come to her so naturally. She had long hair then, and I remember it flowing behind her as she skated around in her windbreaker. Regardless of the temperature conditions, it seemed like she always wore a windbreaker. Windbreakers were cool, and she was cool. In my big heavy winter coat, I was not. Every winter at the Park we made lots of new friends, fell in and out of love a few dozen times (not with each other of course), had lots of fun, and learned absolutely nothing that might someday benefit us as adults. Given the chance to do it all over again, I wouldn’t change a thing.

I would imagine that everyone from that time has their own collection of special memories about Ballenger Park. In addition, I also believe that the Park I remember may be quite different from the one many others remember, and that’s absolutely fine. These are my memories, and I have very much enjoyed exploring and sharing them after more than 45 years. It is my sincere hope that by publishing this collection of memories, I will help others to re-visit their own special (hopefully good) memories about Ballenger Park during that time in THEIR lives.

I sincerely appreciate your taking the time to read this, I hope you enjoy!

This is dedicated to Mom & Dad, Benji, Hobbie, Brenda, Clifford, Danny, Danny Ray, Donnie, Jeff, Kathy, Nancy, and Sue. My deepest thanks to all of you for helping to shape that period of my life.

Brown Skates

Ballenger Park was surrounded by traditional blue-collar neighborhoods, and practically everyone who learned to skate at the Park started out by renting skates. Figure skates. 75 cents for brown, $1.00 for black or white. For an additional 25 cents, you could be spared the ridicule that was common to the wearers of the horrible brown skates. Before I earned my own skates, I remember spending the first 10 minutes of many days looking around the clubhouse hoping that nobody cool was there that day so I could save a quarter. Of course then you spent the entire day worrying that somebody cool might show up, and you’d be standing there looking stupid in your brown skates. This in fact happened every day.

HOT Chocolate

At the Concession Stand hot chocolate was 15 cents. Even during the most trying economic times, most kids would try to make sure to always arrive at the Park with at least an extra 30 cents in their pockets. Sadly, since our parents never really explained to us that just because your hands are cold, and your face is cold, and your feet are cold, that doesn’t mean the inside of your mouth is cold. As a result, by arriving at the park with 30 cents, you effectively doubled your chances of scalding your tongue. The burns usually healed by Wednesday.


No matter who you were (even the cool people) you spent the month of December with blisters on your heels. To avoid embarrassment, some of us would put on our Band-Aids at home, only to find them nicely pressed flat in the bottom of our shoes after the walk to the Park. Otherwise, your only option was to put them on while balancing on one foot in the Clubhouse bathroom. For some unknown reason, if your blisters became public knowledge you were not cool. However, there was one exception to this: If your blisters got really bad and started to bleed and you continued to skate as though nothing was wrong, even shrugging your shoulders like “Hey, no big deal” well… you were really cool. Except of course if the blisters became infected and you had to go to the school nurse on Tuesday, then you were just plain stupid.

The Transition Area

The Park is located at the corner of Dupont and Flushing, two busy streets, potentially a dangerous place. However, the MOST dangerous place in the entire Park wasn’t near the street, it wasn’t even out on the ice. It was the Transition Area, where the rubber runners from the Clubhouse met the ice. In order to get on or off the ice you had to navigate the dreaded Transition Area. This was often complicated by the fact that there were usually anywhere from five to fifteen people (most wearing brown skates) either standing around or moving about on a dark wet rubber surface which sloped downhill away from the edge of the rink. I think more people fell in the Transition Area than fell on the ice. The worst part was that no matter what happened, whether anyone was around or not, whether you totally wiped out and fell on your face, or just slipped a little and grabbed onto the railing or the fencepost, by the time you made it into the Clubhouse, everyone inside had somehow already heard about it and was laughing at you.

Falling Down

Though falling down was bad, falling down in front of someone that you had hoped to make out with someday was even worse. However, the embarrassment of falling down was inversely proportional to whatever it was you were doing that led to you falling down. Fall during a double axle toe loop, no problem (except that NOBODY ever even tried that in all the years there was ice at the Park). Fall while walking around in the clubhouse carrying a full box of popcorn, big problem! Fall while skating around trying to impress your idiot friends, small problem. BUT… as a guy, falling down while skating, holding hands with the girl of your dreams… right, HUGE PROBLEM. In fact, if that happened you should just call it a year and wait until next winter to come skating again. Who knows, maybe you’ll change a lot in nine months and nobody will recognize you. Better yet, maybe over the summer your family will move to another state where they don’t have skating, like Brazil.

Tricks – Jokes – Fool Your Friends

As previously mentioned, like all adolescents we spent great amounts of energy trying to “look good.” Of course, as enterprising young Park Kids we quickly discovered that the most expedient way to look good was to make somebody else nearby look… bad. After all, if anyone else around you looked really stupid, you could just stand there doing absolutely nothing, and by comparison, look great!

The Music

Inside the Clubhouse near the fireplace there was a door. Behind the door was the “secret” office. Inside (a place were only royalty ventured) there was a reel-to-reel tape player that played the same music every day and every night, a mixture of 60’s rock and Motown. The same tapes, in the same sequence, over and over and over again. Nowadays they call this mind control. You could always tell who the serious skaters were, because by Christmas, they knew all of the words to all of the songs all day long. You even got to know their order and it became sort of a way of telling time: “Hey man, we’re gonna leave around Sugar Pie Honey Bunch or Cherry Hill Park, but don’t worry, we’ll be back by Incense and Peppermints.”

The Sidewalk

There was often as much action on the sidewalk between the Clubhouse and Dupont Street as there was on the ice. People coming and going, throwing snowballs, checking out who was there, and saying hi and bye. The sidewalk also tested one’s ability early on in life to make tough choices. Suppose your “girlfriend” had to leave early, would you go in to take off your skates and put on your shoes just to walk her from the Clubhouse to the street? Or would you settle for a goodbye through the fence? (Of course goodbye through the fence meant risking being seen in the Beginner Area – more on that later.) For a thirteen-year-old these are tough choices! I mean, you came to skate, not to walk. And besides, usually her parents were waiting for her, and you had to sort of try to sneak in a quick kiss about halfway there, hoping they wouldn’t see you. This was especially a problem if you were glad she was leaving. However, the nightmare really spun out of control if the person that maybe you were hoping to skate with later on (or her friends) just happened to be on the ice and looking toward the sidewalk at that time. Your night came to an end in more ways than one.

The Beginner Area

Along one side of the ice rink was an area separated from the main rink by a rope tied to metal poles set inside metal rims mounted with tires. (Sidenote: this set-up would not exist today since it would generate an OSHA fine equivalent to the entire city operating budget.) This area was the Beginner Skater Area. One was simply not seen in the Beginner Area for any reason! Heaven forbid you should fall while skating near or toward the Beginner Area. Regardless of how you twisted, turned and clawed at the slippery ice, your own momentum carried you underneath the rope and into the Beginner Area. Moments ago you were the fastest, coolest, most styling guy around. Now you’re just a pitiful dork, laying on the ice, in the Beginner Area. Standing over you is some goofy seven-year-old kid wearing 30 pounds of mismatched winter clothing (and brown skates) looking down at you and saying “What’s the matter, can’t you skate?”

Speed Skates

For months I suffered through brown skate anxiety. I didn’t want to be a committed figure-skater, learning jumps and spins (and I really didn’t want to wear pastels and sequins). I had hockey skates for a while, and those were pretty cool, but a hockey skater who isn’t a hockey player is a hockey poser (poser = not cool). So… I decided I just had to have speed skates. Fast, sleek, distinctive… cool! My Dad and I went downtown to All Sports and bought a new pair of Planert Winners for $21. Of course then I had to have skaverts, and a skate sharpening jig. If you’ve ever seen a speed skate sharpening jig then you know it was designed by the same guy who later invented Rubik’s Cube. However, the jig puzzle was only the beginning. I also needed two sharpening stones, and a burr stone, and Three-in-One oil. And rags, lots of rags. Then I needed a gym bag in which to carry around all of this stuff. You’ll recall the original objective of looking cool? Well… while anyone who showed up at the Park with speed skates was sort of cool, if you showed up with speed skates and a jig, AND could put it together right there in front of everyone, well, you instantly became the Teen Idol of that era. Sadly, I have to admit that for some reason it never quite worked out that way for me – I think maybe it was the Longfellow gym bag. Anyway, I thought all this equipment would result in me going faster, which was partially correct. This also enabled me to spend hundreds of hours at home, alone in the basement, sharpening my speed skates.


There eventually came a time when everybody, and I mean everybody who was anybody (even the macho hockey guys) had fluffy colored balls (with bells in the center) tied to their skates. I think then they were called pom-poms. Now they’re called cat toys, and mine were orange and black. Each Ice Monitor had their own distinct color combination, and all of us minions demonstrated allegiance by wearing our idols’ “colors.” Back then our proud parents were happy that we were “fitting in.” However, I’m reasonably confident that today local social services workers would express their alarm at this, calling it “ritual gang behavior.”

“Its Race Time at Ballenger Park Race Track!!”

Every Saturday and Sunday afternoon, it was Race Time.  The music would abruptly stop, Mrs. Benjamin would make the announcement over the PA and four things would simultaneously unfold:  The regular race “fans” would head for the green boxes; the non-fans would collectively groan and head inside for popcorn and hot chocolate; the ice monitors would start setting up the “track;” and the “racers” would instantly start warming up by tearing around the rink as fast as they could while everyone else was screaming and trying to get the hell out of the way.  This “warming-up” was really just posturing and showing off, but the immediate result was basically an on-ice Chinese Fire Drill.  Fortunately, after a minute or two of dangerous pre-race chaos, things calmed down and you ended up with a bunch of people standing around waiting for Mrs. B to call the first race.

There were all manner of races, beginner’s race, boy’s race, girl’s race, different age groups, etc., and races were anywhere from 1-6 laps.  However, be advised this was NOT the sleek pace-line racing we see today on TV.  No, this was more like roller derby on ice, without the helmets.  I think the sports term “full-contact” was originally coined at the Ballenger Park Race Track.  There was even a backwards skating race, and to the best of my memory, that category was OWNED by a guy named Mark, who eventually left the ice to go onto liquid water fame and fortune.

Anyway, after a while the hockey skaters got tired of always losing to the speed skaters.  Since most of the Ice Monitors were hockey skaters, they changed the race course from the typical 4-cornered oval to the 6-cornered “Christmas Tree.”  For a while, no speed skater won a race, but that was ok because we got to stand around and watch all the hockey skaters crash head-on into each other trying to negotiate around the inside cones.  Once the number of hockey skate racers declined due to bruised knees and concussions, the 4 corner oval returned.  All this effort for the hope of winning so you could proudly swagger inside the Clubhouse to collect your Grand Prize: A free small box of popcorn (with extra salt).

Footnote:  Even though no race “participation ribbons” were EVER given, we all somehow managed to cope with our psyches no worse off than before.  I guess we were just a lot tougher than kids nowadays, which, as Park Kids, we already knew!

Going Steady

I will use the word “relationship” with some trepidation. On any given Saturday, it was not unusual to start a relationship at lunchtime, break up later that afternoon, and have a new relationship that night. Well, for me it would’ve been unusual, in fact having any relationship would’ve been unusual, but for the normal kids it wasn’t that unusual at all. But truth be told, we really didn’t have relationships back then. If you were lucky, you were “going with” someone. Again, in many cases, these relationships often lasted mere hours, or at best, days.

“Hi there, I was wondering if you would like to skate with me?”

“I don’t know, aren’t you going with so-and-so?”

“What? That was yesterday!”

A long-term relationship was one that lasted from one weekend to the next. And if, for some miraculous reason, you managed to sustain a relationship for two consecutive weekends, you were no longer going together, you were married.

Even more interesting was the way these relationships began and ended. Early one evening, you’re just skating around minding your own business when out of the corner of your eye you noticed three or four girls huddled together looking at you and giggling (“oh great, they’ve seen my brown skates!”). You try to smile back, but due to your 2nd degree hot chocolate burns, you’re only able to manage a grimace. Finally, one or more of them comes over to you and says “so-and-so likes you.” By simply saying “OK” you and so-and-so were now “going together” and could avail yourself to all of the associated benefits (and anxiety). That is, of course, until later that night when those very same friends came up to you and said “so-and-so doesn’t like you anymore.” I’m quite certain that each of these “friends” grew up to become attorneys.

Out Back

One of the anticipated benefits of “going together” was that maybe, just maybe, the two of you might go out back! Out Back. Two words that set every hormone-laden male teenage heart racing into the triple digits. Sadly, I was never fortunate enough to get out back. Oh I heard a lot about it, and there were many rumors and unconfirmed reports of how so-and-so went out back with so-and-so and what happened. In fact, one of my buddies said his older brother knew a guy who had pictures! It seemed that by the end of January, everyone had been out back at least once. Everyone that is, except me. That’s OK though, because I’m sure that had I ever attempted to take someone out back, I would’ve been the one person that winter who got caught, or even worse, I would have somehow managed to hurt myself.

Battle of the Bands

Next to the ice rink was a small enclosed structure made of plywood with two picture windows facing the ice rink. Occasionally this “room” would house that night’s contestants in Ballenger Park’s “Battle of the Bands.” Two local rock bands jammed into an unheated wooden box the size of your kitchen. The “bands” would take turns playing “songs,” usually trying to see who could commit the least amount of three-chord malpractice. The winner was determined by whichever band collected the most “votes” from that night’s skaters, votes being that evening’s ticket stub. You voted by giving your ticket stub to one of the two girls standing with a coffee can outside the box in front of each band. As such, the quality of music didn’t really matter much. Regardless of which band played the best (or least worst), the band that had the prettiest girl collecting their votes ALWAYS won. This phenomenon continues to occur today, although it’s no longer called “Battle of the Bands,” now it’s called “politics.”


When the sun went down the floodlights came on. Depending upon how many were burned out, there were anywhere from 12 to 18 colored lights spread around the perimeter of the ice rink. Orange, red, green and blue. The result was that at nighttime on the ice it was DARK! Hundreds of crazy kids careening around on ice wearing sharp metal blades on their feet, in the dark. What a great idea. This must’ve been prior to the creation of Child Endangerment laws. Of course, if you stuck around until the end of the night, there was enough light for you to either get a good start on your Spring Break tan or possibly develop cataracts. Directly overhead hung what had to be six or seven hundred thousand watts of bright white lights. When these lights were turned on at the end of the night, everybody screamed, and, the Ballenger Park ice rink could be seen from outer space.

The Worst Possible Thing

As with all good things, we must recognize that no fun endeavor is without risk. Among the Park regulars, it was generally accepted that THE worst possible thing that could possibly happen to any poor, unsuspecting, innocent teenager was… to have one’s parents appear on the ice… wearing skates! OMG! Even now just the thought of it still sends shivers down my spine. You’re only salvation was that, in time (like over the summer) everyone usually forgot about it… and, well… almost everyone.

Finally, at the end of night, you go into clubhouse and while taking off your skates, you make the mistake of putting your foot down onto the clubhouse floor. Congratulations! You now get to experience the joy of walking all the way home wearing a cold wet sock.

See you next weekend, you’ll all be here….right?

David M Wilson, November 17, 1998                                Copyright 1998, 2016, 2017.

The Ongoing Crises in Flint

Preface – As many of you know, I was born and raised in Flint, and lived nearly half of my life there. My Father (in fact, almost all of my family) lived and worked there most of his life. When it comes to Flint I’m reasonably confident that I know what I’m talking about.

I have mixed feelings about my Hometown.  For those of us in my generation, and perhaps older, Flint was a GREAT, and I do mean GREAT! place to grow up. We had city pools in the summer, and city ice rinks in the winter. We had youth sports programs second to none. Every weeknight there was at least one school gym within walking distance open for us to play basketball, floor hockey, dodgeball, kickball, or just enjoy an open gym. The school system was filled with people who challenged, inspired and ultimately educated us. In my MLK piece I talk about the greatness that was Flint.  And then along came the early 70’s and things started to change, and not for the better.  Since then, Flint has been subject to four decades of disappointment, disintegration and despair, all of which, in my opinion was entirely preventable.

January 2016 – My hometown is in the national news AGAIN. It’s been there before for leading the US in unemployment. It’s been there more than once for being one of the top ten US cities for violent crime. Now it’s the water. What’s most distressing about this, and all the prior challenges is… there are a significant number of horribly misguided people who do NOT want this problem solved anytime soon, especially while Rick Snyder is Governor. There are those that are willing to sacrifice others, even children, for perceived political gain. They want the attention, they want their 30 seconds on the news, they want to proudly stand up and flaunt their self-righteous indignation… all the while not doing one damn substantive thing to actually SOLVE the problem.

Their role models are people like Jesse Jackson, Jerry Brown, Al Sharpton, and Michael Moore; guys who show up in their limos, gather up a bunch of cameras and microphones, proclaim their utter outrage, and cast blame, and express even more outrage, and cast more blame, and call for drastic changes, resignations, firings and indictments, and cast even more blame. And as soon as the cameras and mics are turned off, they get back into their limos and speed away, leaving the “real” work to everyone else, or more accurately, anyone else but them. That very attention-gathering, yet very useless cycle has been taking place in Flint since the mid 70’s, and for the most part, the problems have gone unfixed, and my Hometown is now a mere shell of the great successful city it once was.

Perhaps one thing to be learned from this entirely man-made crisis is this: when more energy is put into posturing and assigning blame than actually fixing the problem, what you end up with is, well…, Flint since 1972.  Back then I thought we deserved better from our elected officials, and especially from the people who were popular and influential like those named above.  Sadly, it’s clear that still today, they too often confuse making a commotion with making a difference.