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Essay: Random Thoughts


Lake Effect essayist Jim Spangler wishes politicians would read more Shakespeare, especially the line in Richard III that goes, “When words are scarce, they are seldom wasted.”

Spangler himself tries to take that lesson to heart in covering three separate topics in the span of one essay, starting with the demise of the family reunion:

Does your family have family reunions? Last summer, for the first time since 1935, there was no family reunion of our clan. As a boy I remember 40 or 50 or more of our folks getting together, usually on somebody’s farm on one side or the other of the Mississippi River.

So what killed our family reunion? Geography mostly. Back then people stayed put and didn’t chase the economic crops across the country. With only a few exceptions. Dad’s sister married a guy from California and moved to Pasadena. Aunt Pat moved to Las Vegas, but in her case she was forgiven. You see her husband was gassed in World War I and the Iowa winters increasingly caused trouble with his gas-scarred lungs. That forced a move to the desert.

Certainly the weakening of the extended family is not news. Since so many of us live someplace other than where we were raised, we have a hard time re-enforcing those extended family ties. Baptisms, weddings, graduations and wedding anniversary celebrations are hard to make when it’s 500 miles each way on a weekend.

As a result, many of we corporate nomads, and our numbers increase with each generation, don’t really know our extended family members very well and we have little in common with them or they with us. We are as strangers to each other. How can you keep a family reunion going with a bunch of strangers?

Sad but true, fading family reunions are another unintended consequence of economic change.

Now, having dissected the demise of family reunions, let’s now turn to the tattooed generation.

Summer shows a lot more skin and last summer’s skin showed a lot more tattoos. But not for me. Even in the Marines I was always a couple of beers shy of thinking a tattoo was a good idea.

For those people who have tattoos, and we are talking about those whole arm or leg tattoos — the little butterflies are probably okay — I hope they really like the way they look because they will be looking at them when they are 70. And having passed that age milestone a few years ago, I have seen many trends and fads come and go. Mostly reversible thankfully. Blue hair, you can color it or just let it grow; long hair of the 70s gone, then short hair, now long hair again, at least on football players. Wide lapels or narrow, same for neckties; business casual or blue suits, white shirts and red ties, all that keeps the suit stores in business. But one thing is certain about any fad or trend, it’s only temporary. That means the tattoo fad will end and when the trend fades, the tattoo won’t. A generation, or less from now, when the next non-tattoo fad is well underway, will the folks then look at the inked-up people of today and say, “What in the world were they thinking?!”

Now that I have irritated the liberally tattooed among us, let me turn to the electrification of the auto industry.

I saw yet another Chevy Volt, the all-electric General Motors car the other day. They are becoming more common along with Tesla for the high rollers among us.

Carol and I could go to an all-electric car I guess. The federal government still has a nice rebate for buying one. Imagine, money flowing from Washington to our house for a change. The range between charges is getting longer and if this fellow Musk has his way, soon the miles between charges will be the same as the miles between fill-ups. So we would drive the electric car for errands around town during the day, congratulating ourselves about the gas we weren’t burning or the pollution we weren’t causing. Then we’d plug the car in at night so we’d all be recharged in the morning – us, even our dog, and the electric car.

But where is all this electricity coming from? Do we have the electrical generating capacity for a million Wisconsin electric cars in addition to all of our other electrical needs? I don’t know. But what I do know, or I should say what the U.S. Energy Information Administration knows, is that in 2016 52% of Wisconsin’s electricity was generated by – are you ready – coal, dirty old coal. So as my wife and I would kilowatt around in our electric car, every other mile will be powered by coal. A 21st century version of the 1900 Stanley Steamer, a steam boiler powered car fueled by you know what!

I’d tell you more, but my wife reminds me not to plug in her car but to go gas it up!

Lake Effect essayist Jim Spangler is a retired newspaperman who now lives in Brookfield.

Jim Spangler comments on the life experiences we all share, drawing on a 40-year newspaper career in Human Resources and labor relations, following a business degree from the University of Iowa and a stint in the Marines.