Canada Day Glob of Thought Update

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Happy Canada Day weekend everyone!

One of my “Canada Day Resolutions” (That is TOO a thing!) is to blog more and make a few more personal updates.

Don’t get me wrong. There will still be Track Talks and wrestling reviews, etc although I’d like to make a few more of them as well. My biggest issue with any of my blogs is I tend to want to write 1000-plus words and end up putting aside my articles mid-way through and then never get back to them. As much as I like to read (and obviously write) long articles, sometimes quick-and-dirty works better.

For my personal update blogs, that’s going to take on extra importance since I plan on making this my main way of keeping those who care updated. I won’t say I’ll always be able to update you on everything, there may or may not be a communication outage in mid-July and, as always, the more positive feedback I receive on these blogs, the more inclined I will be to keep writing them.

Okay, now that that’s out of the way, let me say that the first two-thirds of my Canada Day weekend have been pretty good. My folks and I went up yesterday to celebrate my nephew’s tenth birthday. (He’s actually a Canada Day kid but we had a special private party the day before.)

As always, I seem to come home from visiting my sister and nephew’s place addicted to something. (Okay, not THAT kind of addicted!) A while back it was Cheerios, last time it was Bob’s Burgers and this time it was Fuller House. I haven’t watched Bob’s Burgers or Fuller House yet but both are now on my “Must Watch” list.

Instead, I got watching the first season of Salvation on Netflix. I had watched the first couple of episodes when they aired but just got out of watching it and by the time I decided to go back to watching it, Rogers OnDemand had stopped showing the episodes I needed to watch to properly catch up.

Just as an aside, anyone else have a problem with that part of onDemand? Some shows the entire season is available while others only have the last couple of episodes. It makes it difficult to catch up if you’ve missed a few episodes and even more difficult to get into a series before the next season. What I mean is, if there is a show that you never watched because of scheduling or whathaveyou but have heard good things about it (or friends or co-workers are fans and you want to know the gist of their conversations), there’s really no way to go back and catch up.

I’ve had Salvation on my Netflix list for a while, then last Saturday decided to start watching it again. Somehow I managed to make it through the entire first season in about a week and then watched the Season Premiere onDemand (the only episode they had listed).

I find Salvation has some similarities to the 1996 film Deep Impact. There’s a scene in Deep Impact where the U.S President announces the U.S. has known about the impending collisions with an asteroid for a year, and used that time to create underground bunkers to protect their best and brightest, before telling the rest of the world about it, Salvation has a plot-line where 160 people are selected to be whisked away to colonize Mars in case the asteroid can’t be diverted from a collision course with the planet. While I am sure those 160 will be a very diverse group, there was never any mention of people from outside the United States being included.

However, that minor snit aside, Salvation is actually quite compelling and could be compared to The Walking Dead in that the show has evolved away from being centered around the asteroid and is more focused on just how people become complete @ss hats to each other in a time of crisis.

I still need to finish up the second (and, as it turned out, final) season of Timeless. I am still not 100% happy with how they handled the NASCAR-related episode.  (There was never a race called the Darlington 500 on the NASCAR schedule. It was always the Southern 500 with the TranSouth 500 as a second race on the NASCAR schedule from Darlington. I’m guessing I know why they felt they needed to change the name but anyways.)

One of the pluses of Timeless is, unlike most time travel movies or TV shows, not everything is reset by the end. History does change because of what actions the characters take.

I was surprised to hear it had been cancelled, especially since the story it was trying to tell seems to be one Hollywood wants to tell these days. (I won’t go into details but if you watch the show, you’ll understand.)

From TV talk to what else I’ve been up to, my folks and I went to the Embro Town-Wide Yard Sale. Considering we got our cat, Pepper, at one of the yard sales last year, the 2018 edition was a let-down. Overall, there wasn’t a heck of a lot to write home (or to a blog) about. I did pick up a couple of NASCAR related cars. (Three for a buck, the highlight being a Bill Elliott #94 McDonalds car.) Ironically, I think today was the best weather Embro has had for their yard sale in the last few years. Of course, maybe it was the heat or that it was a Sunday but I bet there wasn’t half the number of yard sales this time around. Oh well, next week is Ingersoll, which I think is a first, so that could be interesting.

Ok, will close off now after writing yet another near-1000 word entry. Hope everyone has a good weekend and survives the heat.

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Track Talk: How the All-Star Race Proved Me Right! (Maybe!)

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Every year, there is something a little different for NASCAR’s All-Star Race, For the 2018 NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series All-Star Race, a new rules package was employed that basically turned the race on the mile-and-a-half Charlotte Motor Speedway into a restrictor plate race.

You ever have a major brainwave and then have events fall into place that proves you were right all along? I never blogged about it or posted it on social media, but for the last year or so I’ve been thinking they need to turn all these mile-and-a-half races into restrictor plate races.

My reasoning was that I was getting sick and tired of watching the race leader, with the advantage of clean air, race off to a minimum of a several second lead, making the finish rather anti-climactic. I felt something needed to be done to ensure fans didn’t know, ten to twenty laps from the finish, who was going to Victory Lane and it was all just a matter of logging the last few laps.

Of course, when you watch a Daytona or Talladega, you have that uncertainty until the last moment thanks, in part, to restrictor plate racing. (Well, except for this past April’s race at Talladega where everyone was seemingly too worried about losing track position to stop playing follow the leader to the end of the race.) It makes for much more exciting racing and, for the ratings and attendance stats, ensures people are going to watch right up until the checkered flag waves.

I suppose the question everyone was afraid to ask was: Would restrictor plate racing work on the mile-and-a-halfs? It seems as if just about everyone who watched the Monster Energy Open and the All-Star Race itself would agree the answer is an astounding “Yes!” While I missed Segment 1 of the Open (ironically playing NASCAR ’09 with my nephew), the latter two segments of that race was filled with tight racing where the leader was never completely assured.

winner Kevin Harvick may be off to a dominating start to the season, he didn’t completely dominate the race. Seven different drivers took the lead during the race including Harvick, Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski, Martin Truex, Jr., Denny Hamlin, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Kyle Larson.

Matt Kenseth driving for what has become an underdog team of Roush Fenway Racing – and coming back after being kicked to the curb by Joe Gibbs Racing for the unforgivable sin of being too old (Wait! I thought that didn’t happen to guys!) – sat on the pole. Kenseth would fail to lead a lap and eventually finished fourteenth.

But amid the Harvicks and Buschs and Larsons, what drivers impressed me the most? How about Daniel Suarez who ran second and looked like he nearly had Harvicks number on the final restart? I mean, Suarez, a former XFINITY Champion has been battling Erik Jones for who is at the bottom of the pecking order at Joe Gibbs Racing over this past season and then, in a restrictor plate race, is battling the seemingly-inevitable 2018 Cup Champion.

And what about A.J. Allmendinger? We never talk about the ‘Dinger except when he appears on Race Hub unless it’s at a road course. But on Saturday night at Charlotte, Allmendinger was turning heads, both in winning the Open and in coming up through the field to, at times, contend for the lead. While Allmendinger’s chances may have took a hit when he scrapped the wall during Stage 2 (I think?) he still managed to rebound for an eighth place finish. Harvick may be the dominant driver of the year, so far, but I think an Allmendinger win would have been a very popular one among fans of the underdog and even in the garage area.

Allmendinger? Suarez? Even Stenhouse? I’m guessing all three combined have warranted less discussion all year than Harvick does on any given race weekend. Great for those teams, great for those sponsors and overall, great for the sport.

And it’s not like these drivers gained or lost spots strictly on pit road or strategy, they were able to race their way to the front. As readers of Track Talk can probably perceive, my Dad and I are big fans of Chase Elliott (who contended for wins in the Open all night but ultimately needed the fan vote to get in). Once voted in to the All-Star Race, Elliott spent the entire night, seemingly, having to come from the back to the front. (His pit crew seemed to undo a lot of his gains, which is becoming a regular thing. Not that Chase complains, mind you, a trait Kyle Busch might want to learn about.) But come to the front he did. Under normal circumstances at a track like Charlotte, the deficits Chase found himself in might have meant the end of his chances for a decent finish but Chase battled back and finished the night with a hard-earned top 5.

Again, just goes to show that a restrictor plate race is full of the unexpected and, therefore, exciting racing!

But….

Before we start demanding NASCAR to actually make every mile-and-a-half a restrictor plate race, we need a couple more examples of this style of racing. It’s one thing to say “Okay, drivers, go out and race a mile and a half under this rules package.” when it’s a non-points race and basically you’ve got $1 million to gain and nothing to lose. Drivers will go out and take chances and make near-miss passes when they know that a wreck might mean an disappointing end of the race but not a disaster when it comes to their hopes for a championship season.

As I mentioned before, the April Talladega race wasn’t exactly a thriller, with Joey Logano leading a single file of cars, all of whom were too afraid to pull out and pass, for fear of losing at least a handful of spots and, therefore, championship points. As much as restrictor plate racing CAN lead to exciting, close, tight racing, it doesn’t mean that it WILL.

If NASCAR can determine this restrictor plate rules package will ensure the same exciting racing where the winner isn’t assured of victory until he/she crosses the finish line on the last lap while in a points race scenario, then we might just have the future of racing. A future where it’s not just a handful of drivers who have a chance to win, but anyone in the field, including the smaller teams and younger drivers who need a win to prove themselves at the Cup level.

Track Talk: In Defence of NASCAR

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The motorsports world has been abuzz  with the news that the France family was exploring the possibility of selling NASCAR, the organization they have owned since since Bill France, Sr. founded it in 1948.

While no one knows if, when or to whom such a sale could take place, it hasn’t stopped what the kids today might call “the haters” from coming out of the woodwork to complain about what they consider to be the sorry state of the sport of NASCAR, complaining about stage racing, playoff formats and wishing wistfully for the “Good Ol’ Days” of NASCAR.

I will be the first to say that there certainly are things I would change for NASCAR (no Cup guys in the XFINITY or Truck Series, and implementing ANYTHING that will prevent the leader from being five-to-six seconds out in front). I also will admit to a fondness to the racing in the late 1980s and early 1990s (when Dale Earnhardt, Davey Allison, Bill Elliott and others were in their prime).

However, for a sport whose “fans” immediately denounce it as “the WWE of motorsports” whenever something happens they don’t like, NASCAR seems to have a lot of fans who exhibit the exact kind of behaviour that reminds me of pro wrestling/sports entertainment.

Visit a wrestling website’s message board or any social media platform and you are immediately barraged with hundreds of supposedly witty (but really just sad and bitter) diatribes about how much they despite Roman Reigns, believe the current product is utter crap and long for the days of the “Attitude Era.”

Sounds familiar, NASCAR fans? Brian France has ruined our sport! Stage racing has ruined our sport! NASCAR died with Dale Earnhardt! One similar refrain with both NASCAR AND WWE fans? “I haven’t watched the product in years but I’ll still tell you how much I hate the product.”

If you’ve read previous issues of Track Talk, I am guilty of complaining about the things don’t like about NASCAR. However, I’m also in the minority because there are a couple of things I like about NASCAR that don’t seem to be too popular.

1. Stage Racing
I like stage racing. I like the fact we’re getting rid of random debris cautions. I like the fact the teams are able to pit at a certain time, rather than half the field pitting at one time and going a lap down for about half the race. I like the fact that a quarter of the way through the race, drivers are racing for position, rather than just logging laps. I like the fact that there are more opportunities to bunch up the field, rather than having one driver keep stretching out his lead.

While everyone likes to glorify the past (and hey, with NASCAR there is a lot to glorify), much like the WWE fans like to fawn over “The Attitude Era” yet forget for every Rock vs. Austin, we had to put up with the Oddities vs. the Truth Commission, NASCAR fans seem to forget just how many times in the 1960s and 1970s, Richard Petty won a race by over a lap. I don’t like seeing as many cars a lap down  – or so far back they have no chance of winning – by the end of the race as we have now (and listening to commentators basically concede the race with 20 laps to go and treat the remainder of the race as the post-game show), so I can imagine what it must have been like to try and build excitement with Petty being the only car on the lead lap.

Stage racing hasn’t completely solved the problem of only having close finishes when there’s a caution with 10-15 laps to go but it has at least provided a bit more mid-race excitement.

2. The Playoffs

Okay, so in a perfect world to NASCAR fans on the Internet, we would trash the entire points and playoff system and go back to the old points system of the 1980s and 1990s. I guess no one minds the risk of watching the championship being decided officially before we arrive in Homestead and really, if we’re being honest, probably by the time we leave the second Talladega race. It happened with Matt Kenseth in 2003, it happened with Jeff Gordon in 2001. Heck, all Dale Earnhardt had to do in 1991 was complete one lap of the season’s final race to clinch the championship. Even when Brad Keselowski won his championship in 2012 and Jimmie Johnson claimed his sixth in 2013, they only had to secure a mid-pack finish at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

I’m sorry but championships shouldn’t be decided by mid-pack finishes. While I will concede the original “Chase” format was really just the old points system but with only about -what? – ten guys participating, this new playoff format, with drivers eliminated in each round and coming down to a Final Four, has really elevated, at least, in my eyes, the hunt for the Cup (and now Xfinity and Trucks) championship.

Instead of limping to the finish of the season with one, maybe two guys battling for the win, you have sixteen…and four still in contention for the final race of the season.

It has made the regular season finale at Richmond in years past (Indianapolis, this year) one of the most Must-Watch races on the schedule, just to see who might be able to make the playoffs and who might find themselves on the outside looking in.

It has also provided race fans with the closest possibility they will get to ensuring NASCAR’s Cup Champion will have to win the final race of the year in order to win that championship. Although it hasn’t always happened with the XFINITY Series and the Camping World Truck Series, every Cup champion since the inception of this new playoff format has had to win the final race of the season…not complete a lap, not just show up for the race, not finish 25th or better.

WIN.

THE.

RACE.

Instead of just playing it safe, to become champion, a driver must take chances, gamble, be aggressive and get as close to the front as he/she possibly can. In each year to date, that means winning the race. In an era where so much emphasis is put on winning races (although isn’t that every era?) I think it’s a good thing that one must win the race (or come the closest to it) to win a championship.

In closing, I’ll again admit there are things about NASCAR I would change. I don’t think you could find a NASCAR fan out there that doesn’t have some opinion about changes they’d like to make. And I’m sure the same could be said for NBA, NFL, MLB fans and so on. However, I think there’s a major difference between wishing for little tweaking and just watching it for ammunition for a bitch session on the Internet.

The Pitcher – A Short Story

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The chaw in his mouth had lost its flavor several minutes ago, but the pitcher, behind in the count, three and one, kept chewing. It was something he had to take his mind off the situation. Ninth inning, two out, game on the line.

He stood, on the clump of dirt that passed for a mound, in some sorry excuse for a mid-west town, the name he barely remembered and couldn’t find on a map if his life depended on it. The crowd was sparse, so sparse he could hear the individual voices. It wasn’t the harsh, impersonal vacuum of sound you heard when you made it to “the Show”, when you got to play in a big-league domed stadium. He’d been there once for his “cup of coffee”, two years ago. A half-inning stint in the bigs. The highlight: a sinking fastball that Tony Gwynn parked over the right field fence for a three run shot.

And now, here he was, playing in front of maybe a couple of hundred people, most of which seemed more interested in shouting obscenities at him, than the score.

“Go home, ya bum.”

The pitcher let that one pass. He cared little about the people in the stands, with one exception. The only person he was concerned about was sitting three rows up, just to the left of home plate. He was a scout for the Cardinals. He had come to take a look at the team’s prospects. The pitcher hoped that included him.

The pitcher got the sign- fastball- and went into his windup. He had hoped for something smooth, fast and inside to go to a full count, perhaps even, in a worse case scenario, a soft grounder to short.

What headed toward homeplate was wild and outside. The catcher scrambled to block it, less it rolled into the dugout.

The umpire’s ruling a foregone conclusion, the hitter was already jogging to first base. The pitcher watched him, then looked to the scout. The scout scribbled something down in his notebook then adjusted his radar gun for next offering. For a moment, the pitcher’s greatest wish was to know what the scout had written down. Within that small, ringed notebook lay perhaps the pitcher’s entire future.

The pitcher had confidence, (every ballplayer worth his jockstrap had to have confidence, or he might as well go home and sell insurance) but he wasn’t about to kid himself. He was a junkball pitcher with a just-fair curveball and a fastball that couldn’t get a ticket for speeding in some states. He joked that his ERA was only as good as his infield. During his career, he had seen more roadside cafes, cheap motels and small town ball diamonds than he had ever thought existed.

He knew he needed something special to impress this scout. And just maybe, the gods of baseball were shining on him. Here he was, pitching in the regional championships, as his team, the Tri-State Tigers took on what local sportswriters considered the best team in the league, the Border City Bandits.

He’d never had much use for sports writers, and he liked proving these armchair experts wrong. He was well on his way, as the Tigers lead the Bandits 2-0.

He snuck at peek at the Tiger’s bullpen, expecting to see the team’s stopper going through his warm-up, preparing to come on and close out the ballgame.

To the pitcher’s amazement, the bullpen was empty. The stopper, in fact, the team’s entire relief staff, was sitting by the edge of the bullpen, waiting to see how this game turned out.

Another quick look, this time into the dugout. The coach just sat there, staring back at him, his face expressionless. And then, the realization hit. It was his game. His game to win. His game to lose.

“So far, so good,” he thought to himself, wiping his brow. Nine innings and 109 pitches after he’d first walked to the mound that afternoon, he was still there. He had given up just three hits, a couple of singles and a rather scary triple in the fourth. Throw in a walk- no, make that two walks now, and he hadn’t done too badly.

Suddenly, though, the pitcher’s perspective changed. He recognized the batter striding toward the plate. It was the Bandits left fielder. He was a monster, 240 lbs. of muscle, more pro wrestler than baseball player. He was hitting .312 for the season, leading the league in home runs, RBIs, and slugging percentage. He was known as “The Frank Thomas” of the region. And he ate junkball pitchers for lunch.

Sweat started to spew from every pore on the pitcher’s body. And just as everything had been looking so good only moments before, now all the pitcher could see was what was wrong with the situation.

His arm suddenly felt as though he had thrown 1009 pitches. He looked toward home plate. It was a million miles away. The strike zone has shriveled up to the size of a pea, and the hitter’s bat has mushroomed to the size of the CN Tower.

His guts felt like he was sending them through the laundry with his sweat socks, and he was suddenly certain that he could pinpoint the exact location of that ham-on-rye that he’d had for lunch.

He couldn’t even look to his catcher for re-assurance. His regular catcher had hit the DL list during the last week of the regular season. This kid today was the back-up shortstop. Before the game, the coach handed him a catcher’s mitt and mask, and told him to go squat behind homeplate.

The “catcher” gave him a sign. Again with his fastball. The pitcher wondered if the catcher even knew what he was calling. It didn’t matter; there was no way he was going to throw anything down the middle, not to this guy.

He knew his curveball would someday fail him. He just had to hope today wasn’t that day. He went into his windup and followed through. The batter swung. The pitcher waited for the crack of the bat, but it never came. The pitch had nicked the outer edge of the plate. Strike One.

The pitcher breathed a sigh of relief. The catcher gave him another sign. The pitcher ignored it. Another tight curveball hugging the corner and it’d be all over but the shouting.

The wind-up and all at once the pitch was on the way. But instead of catching the edge of the plate, the pitch once again went wild. Only, unlike before, the catcher was unable to block the pitch. The baserunner slid into second base, well ahead of the catcher’s throw.

The pitcher uttered an obscenity that he hoped no one could hear. The second baseman tossed the ball back to the pitcher, giving him a “What can you do?” grin. The pitcher gloved the ball, and decided to answer his baseman’s unasked question: “Change my strategy.”

The pitcher hadn’t thrown a slider all season. In fact, he figured he could probably count the number of sliders he had thrown in his entire career on one hand. Still, he wasn’t entirely unsure about throwing one, and he was willing to bet the hitter wasn’t looking for it.

The windup, the pitch, and the sickening crack of the bat. The pitcher’s head snapped around to follow the path of the ball, as it rocketed down the first baseline, until finally it drifted into the bleachers.

“Foul” came the cry from the umpire. Relief washed over the pitcher, as if someone had doused him with a pail of water. He was ahead in the count, one more strike and the game was over.

But, at the same time, the batter had tagged him but good…and everybody knew it. But for a couple of inches, that last pitch would have ended up a game-tying home run.

The batter was confident. He knew he had the pitcher’s number, now more than ever. All he needed was one mistake. One opening, for the ball to hang one inch too far over the plate, for one second too long.

The pitcher cursed again, damning this catcher for not knowing what to call and his old catcher for getting injured and not being there for him, damning the batter for the arrogant smirk he wore on his face, damning the coach for not having the bullpen up, so that they could come in and finish the job, damning the scout for showing up on today of all days, when he had so much else on his mind. Finally, he swore at his curveball for failing him. He didn’t even want to think about his fastball…

His fastball. No one would expect it, not now and certainly not after the way it had gotten away from him during the last batter. The coach would have had a conniption fit if he knew, and the batter would have fallen over laughing.

But, the element of surprise was all he had left, that and whatever reserves his arm had left after 112 pitches. Hopefully, it had just enough for one more.

For a moment, he stood there, ignoring whatever signals this excuse for a catcher was giving him to the point where he would have been hard-pressed to say whether the catcher had even given him any.

The pitcher once again became aware of the sounds around him. The chatter of the infielders behind him, catcalls from the spectators, the shout of “red hots” from a hotdog vendor in the crowd, a threat from the batter about how he was taking this next one downtown, and finally the scrape of the scout’s pencil.

But the only sound the pitcher wanted to hear was the comforting thump of his fast ball against the catcher’s mitt. Right now, it seemed to be the most beautiful sound in the world. And then, there was the sound that the pitcher feared, the sound every pitcher feared, the sickening crack of wood against horsehide, the stomach-churning sound of a home run.

The pitcher took a deep breath. No sense prolonging the unknown. He went into his windup, and then the stretch. Finally the release. The wind whistled as the pitch hurtled toward homeplate. The pitch looked okay, as good as any he had thrown today, but who knew what twists and turns it might take in the next slit second.

The batter swung. It was a mighty swing, full of power and precision, like the ones they show in training films. The space between ball and bat seem to vanish in an instance.

And then, all at once came the sound.

 

The Fenian Raids – An Overview

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Some of you may ask: what is a Fenian? The name derives from the ancient Fianna Éireann, a legendary band of Irish warriors led by Finn MacCumhaill that roamed over ancient Ireland acting as a bodyguard for Ard Ri – the Irish High King. But the Fenians on which I will speak were the members of Fenian Brotherhood, whose mandate it was to create a free and independent Ireland and who, beginning in the late 1860s, set out to invade and conquer Canada.

The Potato Famine that devastated Ireland from 1845-1848 led thousands to leave their homes and travel to the New World. It also gave rise to the Young Ireland Movement, a militant group that wanted their country to be free of English rule. In the aftermath of the Young Ireland Uprising of 1848, which saw 6000 Irish men and boys use pitchforks and pikes to battle the British army, only to be quickly defeated, those thousands of Irish immigrants would come to include those leaders of the Uprising that escaped capture, including James Stephens and John O’Mahoney. Once they had found refuge in the United States, these Young Ireland leaders would join together to form the Fenian Movement in North America.

The Movement was launched as part of a ceremony in front of Tammany Hall in New York in October 1858. The movement attracted many volunteers from the large Irish immigrant populations in Boston, New York and the Northeast United States with many of its members gaining military experience while serving in the American Civil War. According to reports, 14000 dues-paying members of the Fenian Brotherhood served in the Union Army, while an almost equal number served the Confederacy. O’Mahoney himself served as a Colonel in the 69th New York of the Irish Brigade.

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With the end of the Civil War in the spring of 1865, the Fenian Brotherhood’s numbers continued to swell as many of those discharged from armies both north and south believed that another war was coming, one that would free their Irish homeland.

In October 1865, a Fenian Congress Convention was held in Philadelphia, to determine their course of action. O’Mahoney, who had been named President of the Brotherhood, wanted to land troops in Ireland and attack the British on their home soil.

But not all was going smoothly for the Fenians, as O’Mahoney’s leadership was challenged by a former New York Militia Colonel named William Randolph Roberts, who had been named Vice President. Roberts, had his own faction of supporters, and after another convention, this time in Cincinnati, advocated to make a series of coordinated raids against Canada.  The goal would be to capture Canada’s transportation network, with the hopes that they could use that for leverage against the British government, and, in doing so, gain independence for Ireland.

The American government took no active steps to stop the build up for these raids. In fact, they allowed T.W. Sweeney (commissioned as a Fenian general and Roberts’ Secretary of War) to leave the ranks of the American army from January to November 1866 to help organize the raids. In November 1865, Roberts met with U.S. President Andrew Johnson, who assured Roberts that should the Fenians succeed in capturing Canada, the American government would recognize their leaders as the Irish Republic in exile, proof that ill feelings between the American and British government remained.

The Fenian Raids were not to come as a total surprise to the military in Canada. On St Patrick’s Day in 1866, the Fenians held another massive meeting in New York and were already threatening to come north to invade Canada. Soon, as many as 10 000 Canadian militia were placed under arms as a precaution to an anticipated attack and ordered to patrol Canada’s southern boundaries. Indeed, many men from this area answered the call for volunteer militiamen and were posted along the Canadian-U.S. borders in Sarnia and Fort Erie.

For his part, O’Mahoney chose F.F. Millen for his secretary of war. Millen was a former Lieutenant Colonel in the Mexican Army’s Irish Legion of St. Patrick, which had battled the Americans during the Mexican War, and was sent to Ireland with the idea that he would lead a mutiny of the 8000 Fenians serving in the British Army of Occupation and the further 7000 Fenians in the British militia. However, such a mutiny never came about and in the 1950s, when British secret files were opened, it was revealed that Millen had been a British spy.

The initial Fenian Raid was as much a power play by John O’Mahoney to regain control of the movement as it was a serious attempt to begin the invasion of Canada.  Before Roberts’ faction could launch its attack, O’Mahoney decided to beat him to the punch. About 700 men under his command would attack Campobello Island, New Brunswick, .an island off the coast of Maine located at the mouth of the St. Croix River and at the entrance to Passamaquoddy Bay. The attack would come on April 19, 1866, in the first action of the Fenian Raids.

As I stated, the Island lay between New Brunswick and Maine, although it was closer to the United States than Canada. Because of this, the ownership of the island was the subject of some dispute between the United States and England. It was that dispute that O’Mahoney hoped to exploit, believing his actions might spark a clash between the two nations. O’Mahoney also hoped to use the Island as a future point of embarkation when the Fenians would cross the Atlantic and free Ireland.

On that April day, the 700-man force led by Bernard Doran Killian, left Calais and Eastport, Maine and headed north to New Brunswick. American and British gunboats did, in fact, converge on the Island. However, it was to turn back the Fenians, rather than battle each other. Thanks to the information gained by spies, both the British military in Halifax and the American government rushed troops, both regular and volunteer to New Brunswick.

That “invasion” would result in the capture of a single customs officer, the burning of some government warehouses and the theft of a Union Jack flag from a customhouse. The customs officer, a Mr. Dixon, further burdened with a sick wife, in addition to facing the Irish onslaught, put up little resistance.

American President Andrew Johnston sent General George G. Meade, the victor at Gettysburg, and 20 artillerymen aboard an American warship to, it is believed, try and dissuade the Fenians in a peaceful manner.  The American government also seized the Ocean Spray, a former Confederate schooner that had been converted into a Fenian arms carrier. During the coming Fenian retreat, several officers would be detained by American officials.

Confronted by militia and regular troops, as well as naval forces from both sides of the border, and deprived of their supply of arms and ammunition (with the capture of the Ocean Spray), the Fenians quickly retreated back to the United States, their first attempt to capture Canada a complete disaster. While the Campo Bello Island raid may have been devastating to Fenian morale, it was a major factor in New Brunswick joining Confederation in 1867.

The focus of defending Canada shifted west to Upper Canada as in the early morning hours of June 1st, 1866, a group of about 800 men, led by former Union cavalry officer and Fenian general John O’Neill landed on the banks of the Niagara River just above Fort Erie. These were units of the Fenian Army including the 7th Buffalo (NY), 18th Ohio, 13th Tennessee, and 17th Kentucky Fenian Regiments, and an independent Company from Indiana.

O’Neill’s troops referred to themselves as the “Irish Republican Army”, believed to be the first use of the term. They were described as wearing elements of U.S. uniforms and green jackets. While 800 arrived, as many 3000 more had been prevented from leaving the U.S. by the arrival of an American gunboat, the U.S.S. Michigan.

By 5:00, the Fenians had occupied Fort Erie and were sending out patrols, and the bulk of that first day was spent trying to enlist the local citizens into the Fenian cause and gather supplies. In addition to tearing up telegraph and railway lines, they demanded food and horses, offering Fenian bonds as payment. But for all their success, the Fenian force was plagued by desertions, leaving O’Neill with perhaps 500 men by the end of the day.

Meanwhile, the alarm went out across Upper Canada, and the British forces mobilized both militia and regular troops to meet this challenge, rushing them to the scene by steamship and rail.

The troops were then divided, with 800 militia, including 2nd Militia Battalion, Queen’s Own Rifles, the 13th Battalion of Infantry (Hamilton), and the York and Caledonia rifle companies under Lt. Colonel Dennis being deployed at Port Colbourne, while a combined force of British regulars and Canadian militia including the 16th and 47th Regiments of Foot, numbering 1450 infantry, a 6-gun battery and 55 cavalry, formed at Chippawa under the command of Colonel Peacocke. The plan was for the two forces to move against the Fenians on June 2nd, joining forces just outside of Stevensville, to the northwest of Fort Erie.

However, when Dennis left with 80 men to undertake an independent (and unauthorized) amphibious operation against the Fenians at Fort Erie, Lt. Colonel Alfred Booker, an auctioneer from Hamilton, was left to lead the militia to Stevensville.

With the British and Canadian force not keeping their approach a secret, the Fenians marched through the night across Frenchman’s Creek to take up positions on Lime Ridge near what is now Ridgeway, Ontario.

It was there that the Fenians would collide with the Canadian militia (including the Queen’s Own Rifles of Toronto, the 13th Hamilton Battalion and rifle companies from Caledonia and York) under Booker’s command, resulting in the largest engagement of the Fenian Raids.

The first shots were fired around 7:30 am on June 2nd, with the 5th Company of the Queen’s Own Rifles getting the better of the Fenian skirmishers, due to the militia being equipped with Sharpe’s repeating rifles.

The battle began well for the Canadian defenders, although some began to run out of ammunition, until the militia mistook Fenian scouts (who had captured some local horses) for cavalry. They formed square to defend against a cavalry charge. The order was quickly countermanded, which only led to confusion. After a short battle (lasting between one and three hours), Booker ordered his militia to retreat. The Fenians responded with a bayonet charge and gave chase back to Ridgeway, but no further.

The Canadians would suffer casualties of nine killed and 37 wounded. O’Neill’s Fenians, which soon fell back to Fort Erie, claimed four or five dead, but six Fenian bodies were found on the battlefield afterwards.

By that afternoon, O’Neill and his troops had returned to Fort Erie, where they clashed with the Welland Canal Volunteer Artillery Regiment, the small force of Canadian troops led Lt. Colonel Dennis, who had landed and were rounding up stragglers. Expecting to face only defeated Fenians closely pursued by British and Canadian troops, Dennis’ contingent were quickly overwhelmed, with most of the landed militia being captured. Dennis himself evaded capture by shedding his uniform and hiding at a friend’s house and was later court-martialed (but acquitted).

As the gunboat and remaining militia fled to Port Colbourne, the Fenians retained their temporary control of Fort Erie. However, with Peacocke’s troops of British regulars and other Canadian militia converging on his position, O’Neill ordered a retreat back into New York, where most surrendered to a naval party from the USS Michigan.

A week later, on June 7th, 1866, another Fenian force, later numbered at anywhere between a few hundred to 2000 men, would crossed the border and headed towards Pigeon Hill in Missisquoi County in  Lower Canada, later known as Quebec.

These Fenian soldiers, part of the Right Wing of the Irish Republican Army’ had begun moving out from various locations across New England on the evening of May 31st, with their primary destination being St. Alban’s, Vermont. Perhaps the irony was lost on many of those Fenians that St. Albans had been the target of an 1864 Confederate raid, led by Rebel troops operating out of Canada. The troops that gathered at St. Albans were to be led by Fenian General Samuel Spier, with General Mahon, from Boston, acting as his chief of staff.

As Spier led his advance guard some six miles into Canadian territory, stopping at St. Armand, and planning a bright green flag into enemy soil, before he set up his headquarters at nearby Pigeon Hill.

The Canadian troops in the area consisted of three infantry companies, made up of nine officers and 110 non-commissioned officers and soldiers. This force of raw volunteers, mostly untrained, was led by Captain W. Carter of the 16th Regiment. When Carter saw of the Fenians’ approach, he led his troops in retreat, an action that led to a reprimand and the anger of those under his command.

With the departure of local defenders, Spier’s Fenians soon captured the nearby towns of Frelighsburg, Slab City and East Stanbridge. They plundered these villages, stealing chickens, pigs and liquor from farmers in the area.

But while the Fenians may have had success in this latest raid into Canada, word came that they would not be able to survive in enemy country for long. Back in Vermont, American officials had seized the Fenians supply of arms and ammunition, and no further reinforcements were forthcoming.

As the days progressed, Spier’s troops in Canada became restless and disheartened, leading to many desertions. Spier himself knew that, without reinforcement and further supplies, his troops would not be able to fend off the British counter attack that he knew must be coming.

By June 9th, in fact, a force of British and Canadian troops had begun their advance from St. Alexandre and so Spier ordered his men to retreat back to the United States. It was a very unorderly retreat, with many of the men downcast and angry at having to pull back from their positions. Some 200 stragglers were left behind breastworks at Pigeon Hill when 40 volunteer cavalrymen of the Royal Guides under Captain D. Lorne MacDougall came across them. The cavalrymen charged the enemy positions and captured sixteen Fenian soldiers, with no losses to the Canadian troops.

As the retreating Fenians crossed the American border, they were apprehended by U.S. troops, stationed along the roads leading to St. Albans, who confiscated weapons from those who had not already tossed away their rifles, etc, in their haste to retreat. General Spier and his staff surrendered to these troops as well, and were taken to St. Albans to await trial for violation of neutrality laws. Most of the rest were simply sent home.

In the continued pursuit of some of the retreating Fenians, the Royal Guides were given permission to continue the pursuit into St. Albans. When a local woman came out to see what was going on, she was inadvertently shot and killed by the advancing Guides. The American commander received a severe reprimand and no further pursuit was to be allowed.

On June 22nd, several of the Fenians that had remained in the area returned to Pigeon Hill, and engaged in a skirmish with a detachment of Richelieu Light Infantry stationed there. As the Fenians retreated, the Canadian troops gave chase but the Fenians fled into a nearby swamp and made good their escape.

Three years would pass before the Fenians would attempt to invade Canada. The American government actually purchased railway tickets for the Fenians to return to their homes if they promised not to take part in future invasions of Canada.

But despite the early losses and setbacks, the Fenian movement would not lose momentum. In 1868, another Fenian convention was held, this time in Philadelphia. 400 delegates attended while 6000 more uniformed Fenian soldiers paraded throughout the streets. It was determined that another invasion of Canada would be attempted. That attempt came in 1870.

But, in the same year that the Philadelphia convention was held, perhaps the most tragic consequence of the Fenian movement was played out. In the early morning hours of April 7th, 1868, Canadian politician Thomas D’Arcy McGee was shot in the doorway of his Ottawa rooming house. Patrick James Whelan was convicted of the crime and sentenced to hang. His execution was the last public hanging in Canada.

McGee, who had at one time been a leader in the Young Ireland Uprising, had moderated his views in the years prior to his assassination and  had been outspoken in his opposition to the Irish movement, denouncing the Fenians’ attempts of a violent and hostile takeover of Canada.

“Secret Societies are like what the farmers in Ireland used to say of scotch grass,” he wrote in the Montreal Gazette. “The only way to destroy it is to cut it out by the roots and burn it into powder.”

These words angered the Fenians, perhaps enough to conspire to kill McGee. Although never formally accused of being a Fenian, it has long been suspected that Whelan, an Irish immigrant tailor, was part of a Fenian conspiracy to assassinate McGee, although others believe that  Whelan was  unjustly condemned as a scapegoat for the murder.

On May 25th, 1870, approximately 600 Fenians assembled under the commands of John O’Neil and a freed Samuel Spier. As they did in 1866, the Fenians launched another invasion into Lower Canada, concentrating their raid again on Missisquoi County, returning to the site of the June 1866 raid.

This 1870 invasion was, seemingly, doomed from the start. O’Neil was apprehended by an American police patrol before ever crossing onto Canadian soil and even as Spier and the rest of the invading Fenians entered Canada, scouts were alerted to their presence and soon militia were rushed to the scene. This was due in part to the efforts of Thomas Billis Beach, an agent working against the Fenians from within their own organization.

As the Fenians approached Eccles Hill, near what is today known as Ormstown, Quebec, they were met by some 680 militia troops, known as the Red Sashes, based in Huntingdon.
The Battle of Eccles Hill was largely a series of small skirmishes until a battalion of volunteer cavalry charged the Fenian positions. This cavalry was led by Lt. Colonel William Smith, who would, from September 25th – October 17, 1873, serve as the first Acting Commissioner of the North West Mounted Police.

The charge was enough to convince Spier to order a retreat, leaving the Fenian’s lone artillery piece and their dead behind. The Fenian casualties were five dead and 18 wounded, but amazingly, the Canadian militia suffered no casualties.

Two days later, Spier would return, bringing 300 men back into Canada, and deployed his troops near Trout River, using a rail fence for cover. Not long after, a much larger force of Canadian militia and British troops emerged from a nearby woods.

Seeing the enemy emerge, Spier ordered his troops to keep up their fire for ten minutes. Before that ten minutes had elapsed, however, the Canadian militia made a move to outflank the Fenian positions, and Spier ordered his troops to retreat. The British troops pressed the retreating Fenians, who continued to fall back in good order to the United States border.

In 1871, with their invasions of Canada having failed at every turn, the Fenians tried to organize one more attempt at insurgence in Canada. This time, the Fenians traveled west where they hoped to join forces with Metis leader Louis Riel.

  1. B. O’Donoghue, one of the Fenian leaders, believed that the Metis might see enough similarities between the two groups to recognize allies in the Fenians. Certainly, the Fenians shared both a similar Roman Catholic background with the Metis, as well as the ordeal of being a minority within the British Empire.

O’Donoghue and Riel had been close friends, once, with O’Donoghue acting as treasurer for Riel’s Red River Rebellion. However, there had been a falling out between the two, with O’Donoghue accusing Riel of being too compromising to the British and unsuccessfully arguing that the American government should be asked to intervene on behalf of the Metis people. These difference would come into play as the Fenians launched their latest invasion attempt.

Lieutenant Governor Adams Archibald had been forewarned of the Fenian attack, by the American consul in Winnipeg, a Mr. Taylor, who informed him that there was large stores of arms stored near or at Fort Pembina in the Dakota Territory, and then, later, that Fenian leader John O’Neill was at Pembina with approximately 100 men. It is possible that Archibald was told about the possibility of the raid by Lois Riel himself. In the days before the raid, rumours flew that Manitoba was about to be invaded by 2000 Fenians.

Instead, on the morning of October 5, 1871, a small force of 40-80 Fenians (that figure given by U.S. Army Captain Lloyd Wheaton of Fort Pemberton) crossed the North Dakota-Manitoba border and occupied both the Dominion Customs House and the Hudson’s Bay Company post.

The Fenians had captured some twenty prisoners and were soon engaged in the removal of stores from the Hudson’s Bay Company post. One of the prisoners was an American citizen who demanded and received his release. As soon as he was released, the American rushed to Captain Wheaton’s post at Fort Pemberton. Wheaton and some 23 U.S. soldiers soon arrived on the scene and captured Fenian officers John O’Neil, Thomas Curley and J.J. Donnelly as well as 10 other Fenian soldiers and, according to reports of the day, 94 muskets, 11 sabres and 12 00 rounds of ammunition.

Instead of aligning himself with the Fenians, Riel actually helped to raise a force of 200 Metis to guard the Canadian border and even more ironically, it was the Metis that would capture O’Donoghue and turn him over to American authorities.

Because the Hudson’s Bay post was in territory that was “south of the boundary claimed by the United States and north of that approved by the Dominion”, according to one report, little controversy arose between the U.S. and Canada about the American troops crossing the 49th Parallel to capture the Fenians. In fact, the closest that the two countries came to an international incident over the affair was when the Canadian troops did not vacate the area in a timely manner.

While what became known as the Pembina Raid of 1871 would be the last major Fenian  action in North America, the Fenian Brotherhood continued to organize and recruit openly in the Pacific Northwest well into the 1870s and 1880s. An invasion of British Columbia was widely rumoured, leading to the British posting warships in Vancouver for some time.

Overall, the Fenian Raids did little to further the cause of Irish independence at least in terms of capturing a bargaining tool against the British. The raids, many of which were doomed from the start it would seem, lasted for a few hours and resulted in the Fenians retreating back across the United States border.

Could the Fenian Raids have succeeded? I would suggest not. With the combined forces of British regular troops and Canadian militia outnumbering them greatly, and the American government cutting them off from reinforcements and supplies, the Fenians could not have hoped to exploit what little success they might have achieved on the battlefields.

It can certainly be argued that the Fenian Raids did more for Canada than it ever did for Ireland While the Fenians failed to capture Canada, what the raids did accomplish was to unite the people of Canada, vastly diverse in their religious and ethnic backgrounds. The Irish and Catholic people of Canada, of whom Fenian leaders expected would welcome them with open arms, mostly remained loyal to their new homes. The Metis, whom O’Donoghue believed would unite with the Fenians, in turn organized to drive the invaders from Canada. The raids also pointed out the need for a strong united country that could come together in times of defence, especially when an invasion from our neighbours from the south was still a distinct possibility. Historians continue to point to the Fenian raids as a major factor to the success of Confederation in 1867.

Thank you.

Top 25 NASCAR Crew Chiefs of All Time – My Take

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Recently Fox Sports Racing’s Race Hub compiled and counted down the Top 50 NASCAR drivers of all time. You can see the entire list here. To say there was controversy with the list would be an understatement. (EARNHARDT – 5th???) Prior to the unveiling of the drivers list, I thought to myself that, to the history of NASCAR, crew chiefs are often just as important to a car getting to Victory Lane as the driver, so why not have a list of the top crew chiefs of all time? I don’t have the knowledge to compile a Top 50 list but I did come up with a Top 25 list. Much like my own Top 50 drivers list (which I need to go back and update at some point), my list may be coloured by some personal favourites and a lack of knowledge of those crew chiefs from pre-1980s (although a few did make the list). As with any such list, I’m sure if you have any knowledge of NASCAR, you’re not going to agree with every inclusion, exclusion and ranking. However, here is my list of the Top 25 Crew Chiefs of all time.

  1. Dale Inman
  2. Chad Knaus
  3. Larry McReynolds
  4. Ray Evernham
  5. Smokey Yunick
  6. Andy Petree
  7. Leonard Wood
  8. Bud Moore
  9. Jeff Hammond
  10. Tim Brewer
  11. Ernie Elliott
  12. Harry Hyde
  13. Kirk Shelmerdine
  14. Greg Zipadelli
  15. Jake Elder
  16. Todd Parrott
  17. Jimmy Fennig
  18. Darian Grubb
  19. Steve Letarte
  20. Cole Pearn
  21. Paul Wolfe
  22. Tony Gibson
  23. Alan Gustafson
  24. Tony Eury, Jr.
  25. Waddell Wilson

The Bench – A Short Story

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For nearly seven years, as long as I’ve been working at McAllen and McAlester, I’ve taken my lunch break at around 1:30. Sometimes it’s earlier if the office has been slow going and I’ve managed to get a lot of work done during the morning. On other days, when the phone’s been ringing off the hook and I’ve got work backed up from here to next Wednesday, I’ll usually get so busy that I’m shocked to see it’s heading towards mid-afternoon. It’s then that I realize that I better take the first free moment to grab a bite to eat or I won’t have a chance.

But it doesn’t really matter to me when I take my lunch, I always go to the same spot. There’s a small park right across from the building, and a park bench that’s underneath the nicest oak tree I’ve ever seen. And for seven years, that’s where you’re able to find me at some point during weekday afternoons.

And so it was there, on that park bench that I learned something, something I should have known all along, but I guess I needed to be reminded of.

The day of which I write wasn’t going very well. It was one of those busy days. Mr. Daniel McAllen, one-half of our founding fathers, was due in for an inspection tour. About every six months, it was his way to announce that he would be stopping by. Of course, the mere mention of such an event was enough to put the entire staff on edge, and things were no different this time around. I heard raised voices no matter where I went and was practically run over on several occasions as people scurried to get whatever duties they were responsible for up to date.

As for myself, I always maintained that if I were doing something wrong to the point where I would be fired, I would have been let go before this. And so, I decided to act as if everything was status quo and continued on with my assigned tasks.

By the noon hour, with Mr. McAllen due in any moment, according to the latest scuttlebutt, I was moving along at my usual steady pace when a shadow fell across my desk.

“Monroe,” came the voice from behind me. “Have you got those mid-year reports done yet? Why aren’t they on my desk?”

I turned to see Mr. Brewster, my supervisor and usually the picture of calmness, standing over me. His shirt and tie were in disarray and tiny beads of sweat formed on his brow. I knew he was upset and, was dismayed to deduce, had decided to take at least a small fraction of his frustration out on me.

“I am just up to October,” I explained. “I should be done in another half-hour. I thought they weren’t due in until tomorrow.”

This explanation (and the fact that I would have the reports in a full day ahead of schedule) didn’t seem to please Mr. Brewster.

He shook his head frantically. “The deadline’s been moved up by 24 hours. I thought you knew that. Listen, get moving and have those reports in, pronto.”

With that, Mr. Brewster rushed off in search of, I thought cynically, another victim.

I sat at my desk, staring after him for a brief moment. I quickly noticed that most of the other employees, at least those within listening distance, were staring at me. Some with a look of pity, others conveying the feeling of “better you than me”. I took a deep breath and sighed as I turned my attention back to the task at hand. It was certainly not the worst dressing down that I had ever seen someone received but it still stung.

My fingers flew across the keyboard of my computer. I had told Mr. Brewster that I expected to finish the mid-year reports done in a half an hour. I beat my own estimate by ten minutes. As I printed the last of the report out, I realized that I shouldn’t expect any thanks or an apology.

I was not disappointed. I walked into Mr. Brewster’s office, carrying the mid-year report in a manila folder. Mr. Brewster was on the phone, talking in a worried tone to someone or other. He nodded at me to put the folder down on the desk and took no more notice of me.

I walked slowly out of Mr. Brewster’s office and made my way back to my desk. I sat down at my desk and stared vacantly at my computer screen for several moments. Then, I forced myself to snap out of it. Staring off into space wasn’t going to accomplish anything, I told myself, and it would just get me more heat from Mr. Brewster.

I looked over at my In box to find it empty. About the same time, I glanced at my watch and realized, with a start that it was now going on about a quarter to one. It was still the better part of three-quarters of an hour before my usual break time, but today, I felt the walls closing in.

Gathering my things, I got up from my desk and walked over to Grace, one of the senior people in my department at McAllen and McAlester. Grace has been there since before any of us and has never let any of the office tension get to her. I hoped today would be no different.

“Grace,” I said when I reached her desk. “I’m going to scoot out for lunch if that’s okay.”

Grace looked up from her work and smiled at me. “Sure, go ahead,” she said. Then, looking down the aisle to Mr. Brewster’s office, she added, “Better get while the getting’s good.”

I thanked her and headed out. After grabbing a Coke from the machines, I soon found myself sitting on my bench. As I took the first bite of the sandwich my wife had packed for me, I reveled in the fresh air of the park, a far cry from the tension-filled situation I had just left.

“Or rather, escaped from,” I thought with a laugh. By this time, I had eaten my sandwich and was taking sips of Coke to wash it down with. One thing I had to say for my wife, she made a great salmon sandwich. One of her many virtues.

I still had a bit of time left, so I took out my paper and began to read it. I perused through stories on the government’s overspending, thoughts about the upcoming election and the latest crisis in Kosova. I spent more time reading about last night’s Jays game, where Wells had pitched a shutout against the Devil Rays and about what movies were opening this weekend.

The more pessimistic part of me was about to scan the want ads to see if there were any other (and better) jobs out there when arguing began to intrude on my quiet respite from the world. A couple of hundred yards away, a young couple, looking to be no more than high school age, was arguing.

I glanced over at them. The young girl was sitting on the bench while the boy was pacing around in front of her. The young girl never took her tear-stained eyes off the boy, while he barely looked at her.

“I can’t believe this, Kim. You’re just breaking up with me, after everything we’ve been through,” the young boy exclaimed.

“I’m sorry, Sam, it’s not that I want to…It’s just, it’s just,” Kimberly started.

Sam wouldn’t let her finish, however, interrupting her. “It’s just what? It’s your mother, isn’t it? She hasn’t like me from day one!”

“So much for peace and quiet,” I muttered to myself. All I had wanted was to get away from arguing and instead, I had some teenage melodrama playing itself in front of me. I glanced around the park. There were about a half dozen people sitting on nearby benches, just like I was. All of them were watching this young couple. Some were annoyed at the disturbance the two of them were causing. Others were clearly watching this as some sort of crude entertainment.

Well, I certainly would not be some Peeping Tom. I thought of heading back to work early. I glanced at my watch and I realized I still had approximately ten minutes until I was due back and I’d be darned if I was going to let some noisy teenagers drive me from my park bench. I quickly found an article in my paper worth my interest and tried to lose myself in my reading.

However, the saga of Kim and Sam was seemingly, not to be denied. Try as I might to read my newspaper, I found myself listening in on their argument. Oh well, at least I could take solace in the fact that I wasn’t out and out gawking at them.

“Come off it, Kim, you know your mother never liked me,” Sam was stating. “She never thought I was good enough for you.”
“That’s not it,” Kim protested, “Mother is over-protective of me and it takes her a while for her to get to know people. You didn’t exactly do much to change her views on you. One time, one time you came in to say hello, all the other times you sat out in the car, like some anti-social whatever you are. No wonder she never trusted you, you didn’t give her a chance.”

“So, that’s it, she got it into her head that I’m no good for you,” Sam replied, “and so, like the Mommy’s girl that you are, you’re dumping you.”

Kim shook her head vigorously.  “No, that’s not it at all.”

At this point, I knew I had to sneak a peak, pretending to turn the page of the newspaper, I looked over in time to see that Sam had stopped his pacing, but only briefly. He stood in front of her, demanding an explanation. “What is it, then?” he asked. “Why are you breaking up with me?”

Before Kim could answer, Sam had resumed his pacing, for he had come up with his own theory and proceeded to inform Kim of his suspicions. “It’s another guy, isn’t it? I get it; you’ve met someone else. He’s in one of those art classes that you’re always taking, isn’t it? So, you meet some artist wanna-be and it’s in with the new and out with the old. That’s it, isn’t it? I may not know the difference between Michelangelo and Whistler’s Mother, but I can sure figure out when I’m being played for a sucker.”

“Why are you doing this to me,” Kim asked, her voice breaking. I took one quick look over the newspaper and saw that Kim was sobbing quite uncontrollably. Tears streaked down her face as she looked up at Sam. As Sam spoke, I went back to pretending to read a cookbook review.

“Why?” Sam replied. “Why? Because I loved you Kim, you have been the best thing that has ever happened to me. You and I, well, I thought we had something special together, something different from everyone else. And now, you call me here and tell me that you can’t see me anymore.”

As Sam had spoken, his voice had broken as well. He paused for a moment. I couldn’t see him, but I realized that he needed some time to compose himself and was taking the time to do it.

Before he could speak again, Kim had found her voice.

“Don’t you think this is hard for me, too,” she exclaimed. “Ever since I was fourteen years old, you’ve been my whole life. You’re the only person I’ve ever wanted to be with. You’re the only person I’ve danced with, you’re the only person I’ve ever kissed, you’re the only person I’ve ever slept with. And to think of life without you, it’s just killing me inside.”

“Then, tell me what I’ve done, tell me what I can do to make this up to you,” Sam cried. “Whatever is going on, let’s work it out.”

Kim didn’t say anything for a moment. After a moment of thick, heavy silence, I heard her sobbing. And then, finally, she said, “It’s not something we can work out.”

“It’s cancer,” she said, her voice just loud enough to be heard. “I’ve got cancer. The doctor told me this morning.”

At that, I knew I had to drop the newspaper and watch what only a moment before had been an annoying teenage melodrama play itself out. As I did so, I noticed that everyone else within listening distance was doing the same.

I quickly dismissed how the others were responding to this. I could only assume that they too were battling back tears. I watched as Kim collapsed into Sam’s arms, sobbing as he tried to comfort her, his own pain etched on his face.

All at once, I knew that I shouldn’t be there. That this news shared between two lovers was not for my ears. I felt like a leech, like some busybody who derived great joy out of the misery and suffering of others.

Immediately, I gathered up my things and went back to the office, casting a last glance over my shoulder at Kim and Sam, still holding each other, as if as long as they were together, the cancer that had infested Kim would be like just a bad dream.

The sadness I felt for Kim and Sam would haunt me for some time to come. I never saw them again, even though I look for them every day.

I still work at McAllen and McAlester and I still take my lunch every day at around 1:30, earlier if it’s been slow and later if we’ve been busy. What has lingered most from that day in the park, however, is the sense that no matter how hectic things may get at the office, no matter what kind of mood Mr. Brewster may be in, or how much work may be piled up on my desk, there are more important things in life and that the petty, trivial worries of the day are insignificant compared to the troubles that could be. I think about that when the world is seemingly at its worst and I thank God for my blessings.