Note, this “Burger to Go” ran as an item on the Review & Opinion page in Jan. 17,2010 Patriot-News, Harrisburg, Pa. Part of the text was adapted from an earlier “Burger to Go.”

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. would be 81 this year, perhaps gone frail and a little dotty. Thinking back on his arc as firebrand and martyr, that is frankly hard to imagine.

Those of us who were around in his day remember him differently than younger folks do.

While he was alive he was, depending on where you stood, a visionary, a man of God who held his country’s collective feet to the fire of its own founding documents or a royal pain and a threat to the (white) American way of life. Some saw him as the devil himself.

Since his assassination in the spring of 1968, he has undergone a sort of apotheosis and elevation almost to a kind of deity. That’s too bad.

What was remarkable about King was that he was, in the end, an ordinary man who accomplished extraordinary things. His death by an assassin’s bullet was unusual only in that he was in the forefront of the national awareness when it happened.

The Ku Klux Klan and any number of groups and individuals scattered fear and death across the landscape in those years, indeed, for decades beforehand.

One of the most heinous Klan murders happened 15 minutes from the house where I grew up in Athens, Ga. I was 14. It was in the summer of 1964, just nine days after the Civil Rights Act was signed into law by President Lyndon Baines Johnson. The victim was Lt. Col. Lemuel Penn of the Army Reserve, and a Washington D.C.-area educator, husband and father.

He and two colleagues were on their way back from a Reserve event at Fort Benning, Ga., when three KKK members pulled up next to the out-of-state car and gave Penn blasts from a pair of 12-gauge shotguns, blowing off the back of his head.

That happened at home, MY home. This wasn’t a grim photo of a lynching in the rural South. This was now.

People I didn’t know, but knew by sight, had done this. The world looked just like it always had. People went about their business, shopped for groceries and did laundry. Adults talked about it in hushed tones, some fearful, some gleeful. Some of the kids at school joked about it. A good start, some said.

Years later, one of the Klansmen involved in that murder, though not one of those in the car, owned a greasy spoon called The Open House Cafe across from where I worked the night shift at a print shop.

I used to go there for coffee and watch him. If it was me the way I am now, after 20-plus years as a reporter, I’d have asked him what he was thinking that night, what they thought they’d accomplish. But I was 19 or 20 then and afraid.

It was a different time. Almost a different country.

I mean in the sense of “Whites Only” signs over water fountains, and public rest rooms labeled “Men,” “Women” and “Colored.”

Fast forward nearly 50 years. Things are different. Not perfect but different. Change has come to America, as President Obama said in his acceptance speech, if at a glacial pace. It wasn’t fanaticism we saw on those faces in Chicago’s Grant Park that election night, despite fearful comments to that effect.

To be sure, there were and are fanatics on all sides, some of whom would deify Obama and some of whom would gladly put him in his grave rather than see him succeed.

The light in those faces late on Election Night was not the deification of Obama, but that of people who have for centuries stood out in the cold of our nation’s further reaches, allowed only to look in the windows and dream. On Nov. 4, 2008, they suddenly saw the door to that house open and a hand beckon them to come in.

Yes, there is still racial hatred and violence. Witness the 2008 beating death of a Latino man in Shenandoah, not so far from where you probably sit reading this.

But I can tell you that in 1963 that story would likely have never made even the local news outside of a one-inch police blotter entry, if that.

Even if it had, nobody would have investigated to the point that five locals, including three cops, would have been indicted in the case.

Back then, it would have been a thing whispered in bars and in sitting rooms. Some might even have called it a shame.

We can only speculate as to what Dr. King’s take would be on the movement he helped spark.

On the one hand, the same nation that once enslaved African-Americans has elected one to its highest office.

On the other, well. Look deep into your own heart. What do you see?

(Note: I believe all four of the Klansmen are now dead. One of the triggermen was shot in the chest—by a shotgun, ironically—by a man with whom he had been arguing.

The last time I drove by The Open House Cafe, which had been closed for some years, it had become a church.)


© 2010 Marsh Creek Media, Gettysburg, Pa.

Burger to Go” is a product of me and my company, Marsh Creek Media and, as such, I am solely responsible for its content.

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The Bear

January 10, 2010

Inside this old farmhouse, the wood-burning stove roared like a jet, the heavy glass window casting a warm orange glow into the room. Monty the Springer spaniel laid in a snoring crescent not too far from the fire.

Good smells wafted from the kitchen.

It was Sunday night, the end of a visit to the farm from Sue’s kids who hail from, variously, Baltimore and Brussels.

The old house, well over two centuries old, rollicked with laughter, good food, good times. The kids and Monty explored the outdoors, skated, with assorted success, on the pond, and generally kept the rabbits and the family of red foxes on edge.

A couple of days ago, Sue’s youngest son discovered a bear track on the far side of the pond. He captured an image of it on his digital camera.

Last night I walked Monty along the lane gawking at the blazing stars, and kept telling myself that if the bear were nearby, the dog would surely bring it to my attention.

Monty was noncommittal.

Despite the cracking low temps, I kept Monty out for awhile after his errand was finished, just taking it all in.

It was cold, the coldest winter, so far, in a number of years. Hence the farm pond that will hold the weight of several rambunctious teens and a rollicking dog. And no, I didn’t try, though on last night’s walk, Monty was ready for another scramble on the ice.

Back inside, sexy Caribbean music rocked the old stones, and the smells from the kitchen intensified. It was almost time for supper, and leave-taking.

In the starry dark outside, I thought of the bear, an older citizen of these woods by far than this old farm, pacing the fields, the re-frozen snow crunching underfoot.

© 2010 Marsh Creek Media, Gettysburg, Pa.
Burger to Go” is a product of me and my company, Marsh Creek Media and, as such, I am solely responsible for its content.
Check out the two “Burger to Go” blogsites:

Happy New Year!

For those of us of a certain age, writing “2010” is a real adventure.

I write for a newspaper for most of my living, a trade that seems to be fairly precarious these days. I’ve stopped reading articles in the trade journals. They made me feel like a sword-swallower with hand tremors.

So. 2010 is the sort of date we all saw written in science fiction stories when we were kids. Years beginning with the digit 2 were the Years of The Future.

And here we are. Funny, it doesn’t look all that much the way the sci-fi writers thought it would.

I distinctly remember we were supposed to have colonies on the moon, and probably on Mars. Every home would have a car that would fly. People would wear form-fitting clothing that looked like it was made out of spandex.

Energy mostly came from safe nuclear fusion reactors.

Look around.

Obviously, we missed a step, here and there.

The closest thing we have to a space colony – outside of Congress — is the International Space Station. Think of an Airstream trailer with solar panels.

Our cars? Well, except for some hybrid vehicles, the basic technology of the automobile is the same as it was in Henry Ford’s day, with sexier bodywork. Today’s cars don’t go airborne unless something has gone terribly wrong.

Some people wear form-fitting spandex clothing. Few of them look good in it.

Our energy still comes from old-fashioned sources, hydro-electric, coal, and a few generation plants powered by nuclear fission. Fusion reactors cannot maintain a nuclear reaction and so will not melt-down, and produce little or no nuclear waste. No more TMI nonsense.

Naturally, nobody has been able to figure out how to make a fusion reactor yet that didn’t take more energy to run than it produced.

So, we’ve still got poverty, as always, wars everywhere, as always, and a nation that seems to have no sense of adventure, certainly nothing like it had 40 years ago when humans left their first footprints – and their first junk – on the face of the moon.

This is not to say that I’m one of those old crabs who think nothing has turned out right.

Well, not much has turned out right, but I’m not all that crabby about it.

Today is my 25th anniversary as a newspaper reporter. That much time in these trenches teaches you that few things turn out as planned, usually cost more than they were supposed to, and are usually late to boot.

I come from an era of party lines and rotary-dial phones, black-and white TV, from a time when everything in the world was far away and a long distance call was a marvel, even if filled with hisses and odd acoustical events. And it seemed as though everybody read the newspaper.

Earlier this week, I watched a TV program on my iPod.

I regularly check the weather, read and send email, and take photos and video on my cell phone.

Sometimes I even talk on it.

Attending government meetings or court hearings, my colleagues and I often write stories and file them on-line…while the meeting or court business is still going on.

Every news story and most of the contacts I have made in the past quarter century exist as a pattern of electrons on my laptop or an external hard-drive. A few years back, I ditched four file cabinet drawers full of files, because almost everything that was in them is available on-line in less time than it would take me to walk over and find the file.

And, to be honest, I usually read my own paper online in the morning before I make the 50 mile trek to work where I can get my hands on a dead-tree version.

Yeah, the news industry is going through a lot of changes right now. I have no idea what will happen next. That’s scary, especially for those of us on the shady side of 60 with pesky things like mortgage payments to keep up with.

Even so, it’s also exciting. When the dust settles, there will still need to be people who can sort fact from conjecture and rhetoric and tell a good story.

I hope I’m still one of them, partly because I can’t afford to retire in this economy anyway, and because reporting has GOT to be more fun than shuffleboard.

I think of the opening of this new decade the way a novice skydiver looks at the open door of the airplane on his first jump.

Enough talk. Let’s get to it.


This is just something to think about.

On Christmas Day, independent singer-songwriter Vic Chesnutt died in Athens, Ga.

He was 45.

He died from an overdose of muscle-relaxants.

Chesnutt was partially paralyzed from a car crash when he was 18.  He got around by wheelchair.

He was facing a lawsuit filed by the local regional hospital following surgeries that left him owing about $70,000.

Chesnutt, who was signed to a Canadian record label, often worked with musicians from there. In an earlier interview with the Athens Banner-Herald, Chesnutt said his band mates were stunned by his situation.

“…It’s something that blows their minds; there’s nowhere else in the world that I’d be facing the situation I’m in right now. They cannot understand what kind of society would inflict that on their population. It’s terrifying…I’ve been nearly suicidal over it,” he said.
In other news, CNN reported just last week that tests performed on conservative talk-show guru Rush Limbaugh after he was admitted to a hospital for chest pains found nothing wrong.

The network reported that Limbaugh praised the work of the medical staff.

“The treatment I received here was the best that the world has to offer….I don’t think there’s one thing wrong with the American health care system. It is working just fine.”

I would like to note two things.

1.    The health care debate has not been about the quality of health care available to Americans. If they can pay for it. It has been about who can pay for it. Meaning, who can get, afford, and keep health insurance.

2.    In the summer of 2008, Rush Limbaugh signed an eight-year deal to stick with his radio show. The deal is reportedly worth $400 million, with a $100 million signing bonus.

3.    Vic Chesnutt may have committed suicide because he was being sued for as much money as Limbaugh makes in about three hours.

Just something to think about.

© 2010 Marsh Creek Media, Gettysburg, Pa.
Burger to Go” is a product of me and my company, Marsh Creek Media and, as such, I am solely responsible for its content.
Check out the two “Burger to Go” blogsites: