Wednesday, July 30, 2008

T. Boone in T. Town

If the energy in Heritage Hall could have been harnessed, it would have powered Topeka for a year.

T. Boone Pickens conducted the first of his dozen, nation-wide, town hall meetings to an overflow crowd Wednesday afternoon. By 3:30 (the meeting was scheduled for 4), Expocenter security guards were not admitting anyone else inside the brimming building. Folks whined and protested. The gentleman who walked with me from the parking lot, an engineer who had driven all the way from Kansas City, slipped to the other side of the building and tried that door. I don't think he got inside because I didn't see him again. A group pleaded vainly that they had driven from Oklahoma. I was grateful for a press card.

An elderly man in front of me wore overalls and a Tractor Supply cap. A tee shirt proclaimed, "Convert Now," and I thought the man was a fundamentalist-Christian until I realized the illustration was not a steeple but a windmill. Across the aisle sat former Congressman and Senate hopeful, Jim Slattery. It was definitely a cross-section of Kansas: young, old; working class, affluent; men, women; politicians (scads of politicians), voters.

The man-of-the-hour strode in beside Governor Kathleen Sebelius and stepped right to the middle of the stage, announcing, "What a great crowd!" Governor Sebelius nonchalantly explained that Rep. Annie Kuether would introduce her and she, in turn, would introduce him. He retreated a step or so and gave her the floor.

The governor was witty and upbeat, and Pickens is obviously impressed with her, later stating that one of the reasons Topeka was chosen for the town hall meeting was the governor's commitment to wind power.

Pickens (right) is comfortable in front of a crowd. He is folksy, matter-of-fact, direct, determined. Often overheard from the crowd was the term, "common sense." He said he wanted to raise an army. The throng was so eager that they might have stormed the Bastille if he had asked them. Later, I asked if he thought people were there to learn about energy or to just listen to someone who shoots straight.

He looked me right in the eye and replied, "I'm not really sure."
When Slattery stood up and asked if Pickens supported electric cars, the oil baron replied, "I'm for anything American." On several occasions, he reiterated this position, constantly referring to the $700 billion spent annually on oil. Natural gas, coal, wind--he is open to anything that keeps the country moving and the dollars here.

The applause was loud and immediate. Slattery also mentioned that a couple of guys he knows are looking for a running mate. The applause was immediate for that one as well but Pickens didn't take the bait.

Scrawling on a dry-erase board, Pickens laid out his plan: In ten years America could reduce its dependence on foreign oil by 38%. That's pretty impressive, he concluded, and the crowd was in general agreement.

The question that was asked and re-asked, however, is what individuals should do NOW. People were serious. One gentleman commented that he had bought a smaller car and was saving $200 a month on gas. "Where do I invest that money to make this plan work?" he asked.

Boone said simply, "I'm not sure." He instructed the audience to visit the website, fill out the information cards for updates, and await further instructions. It had the feel of disciples waiting for the Mother Ship.

A Pickens staffer talked with the hundreds of folks listening outside and gleaned questions from them. They were the same. What do I do? It was a crowd hungry for direction.

"We have been leaderless on energy for 40 years," Pickens said. "I can't believe we've been this stupid. . . . The French have been four times smarter than us," a hard pill to swallow, he added.

I asked what took him so long to come up with a plan. He grinned. "I tried in the early 90s but we had cheap oil and nobody listened."

The most interesting energy question for me was T. Boone himself. What an incredibly energetic, youthful man. He stresses physical fitness, though he didn't touch on that topic today. He also believes in loving what you do. He didn't mention either of these ideals. They were obvious. And those qualities moved people.

To learn more, visit the and listen to for the recording of our visit. For that matter, be sure to tune in every weekday morning at 8 a.m. for Topeka Talks with yours truly.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Dancin' and Fiddlin'

I'm listening to Buford Kegley, the morning DJ on WBRF in Galax, Virginia. (Isn't streaming audio the best thing ever?) The Fiddlers' Convention is coming up. It makes me wish I could click my ruby slippers three times and be there. While Galax is going on, there's no better party, no better entertainment, on God's green earth.

Happy Fiddlin.'

(top photo made at last year's event by Tom Jones)

Friday, July 18, 2008

Mary Washington College

I have spent the last hour on the phone with someone I haven't seen since the summer of 1975. Heather Palmer and I attended Governor's School for the Gifted and Talented at Mary Washington College, Fredericksburg, Virginia. (Don't laugh!!! It's a big deal!!!!) She was encouraging a friend's child to apply and googled our year--1975--to find others willing to offer testimonials. I was blown away to hear from her, especially when I discovered that she, too, is an historian of the 19th century. We promised to keep in touch, exchange books, and to visit each other this fall. She has a book coming out in November and we're speaking in Boston and Providence in October. Hopefully, we can make our paths cross again.

Above, the entry to Mary Ball Hall where Heather and I spent that magnolia-scented summer. My roomie, Lisa Hardy, would sneak down with me and "decorate" the lovely marble statue of the grandmother of our country. Heather did not have, as I recall, such evil inclinations.
What wonderful memories.

I called home and my uncle, Charles, was down at the Willis Gap Community Center listening to the weekly jam session. It made me homesick. Which reminds me. . . if you haven't looked at the Free State of Patrick lately, Tom Perry has some great stuff. Link to the right.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008


If we had enjoyed ourselves more in Atwood, Kansas, over the weekend, they would have had to bury us there.

We had visited before, and looked longingly into the windows of the Aberdeen Steakhouse (above). On Friday night, we spoke there. More importantly, they fed us. And fed us. And fed us.

Jeff and Alice Hill own this turn-of-the-century landmark in this small northwestern Kansas town. The Shirley Opera House, upstairs, is under renovation. Jeff and Alice are the hardest workingest people I've seen since my Mama and Daddy. I felt like a slug by comparison.

After our presentation, we were escorted back to their ranch (below and far below)--roughly, 30 miles from town. It was glorious. There was a thunderhead over us and we stood on their porch and watched the lightening. We slept soundly in their hunting lodge.

The next morning, Jeff gave us the grand tour and as if on cue, a doe and her fawn appeared next to the road and stood while we fumbled for the camera.

While Alice hoed vegetables, we returned to town for lunch with the Cabrinas. Peggy is a major domo with the town's Jayhawk Theater, and a more gracious couple just couldn't be found. After stuffing ourselves yet again (thanks in part to the homemade cherry and rhubarb crisps made by Roger Pirodeaux) we went to the Jayhawk for the showing of Bloody Dawn, the documentary by Ken Spurgeon based on Tom's book by the same title. The theater hosted two showings, nearly full each time. We were joined by other cast members, including Russell and Judy Miller and Mark Berry, not to mention Ken's family and board member Vicki Houk.

On Sunday, Roger Pirodeaux toured Indian war sites with us. He drove his dad's pickup through fields and furrows and we were treated to incredible scenery and history.

The hospitality virtually spilled from the tiny town. We loved every minute of the companionship and can't wait to return.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Happy Birthday, Wyoming!

On July 10, 1890, Wyoming became the 44th state admitted to the Union.

To celebrate, they're giving away this '57 Chevy. . . sort of . . . .

The newsletter came from the Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Cody today, and it included the announcement of their annual Patrons Ball. Held the last weekend in September, this is absolutely the coolest event in the West! Tom and I were there three or four years ago, and I'm dying to get back. That's when they're giving away the '57 Chevy! Visit for info.

While Steve Forman and I were doing the promo for my radio show the other day, DJ Joey Baggz from our rock station popped in and asked if I would look at his project. He has set a goal of visiting 200 Kansas towns and photographing the not-so-obvious sites. His photos to date are displayed on his Facebook page (A sample of Joey's work is displayed below). Joey calls this his Kansas Project, and I urge you to take the time to enjoy and drop Joey a line saying Deb sent you.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Flag Waving

The 4th of July is coming up which means the annual Collins Park parade. Kids and dogs, bagpipes and calliope, flags and ribbons--it is all-American and a real spectacle.

The flags and banners are as pervasive as dandelions. I have always wanted to display the above Revolutionary era flag, but Tom won't let me. I have always liked this image. It's honest. While looking online for the photo, I came across information posted by Chris Whitten on the history of the various snake image flags. The one above is called the Gadsden flag for Col. Christopher Gadsden. Visit

Another interesting week in radioland. For those of you who have commented that you're having trouble with the webfeed, I've passed along the comments to management and we hope to have it fixed. Thanks for listening, online or on the airwaves, and please, call in with your questions.