Amtrak’s Southwest Chief Ripe For Mutiny

If you’ve been out West for enough years or enjoy Western novels, you know being snakebit may not mean a snake actually sank its fangs into you. Just ask Amtrak, snakebit from the get-go this travel season.

Train No. 4, the Southwest Chief, usually runs close to on time from Los Angeles to Chicago. And Amtrak tries hard to mimic the travel experience from the days when the Santa Fe Railway sped the Super Chief across the desert and plains on blazing schedules at speeds occasionally topping 100 mph.

But that was then, and this is now: Continue reading

Say It Ain’t So, Lou Brock!

Curse you, Internet, for destroying a precious childhood memory: Lou Brock’s inside-the-park home run. Oh, the devastation, humiliation and lamentation despite the often-hapless Cubs sweeping the vaunted San Francisco Giants in five games at Wrigley Field all those decades ago.

Topps 274: Lou Brock 1963. © Topps Chewing Gum, Inc.

Topps 274: Lou Brock 1963. © Topps Chewing Gum, Inc.

It was June 5, 1963, when Dad, brother Chuck and I rode the Burlington’s Morning Zephyr into Chicago and took a cab from Union Station to the hallowed ballpark on the North Side. The Cubbies thumped the Giants on Tuesday, and on this Wednesday we settled in for an afternoon double-header (there were no lights at Wrigley then, so every game was a day game). Continue reading

D-Day’s Barely Recorded Landing

There’s a reason you only see the same few still and movie images from the D-Day landing on Omaha Beach over and over: That’s all there is.

Nineteen photographers in the first waves joined U.S. troops hitting that sector of the Normandy coast on June 6, 1944. Of the five sectors, the worst death and dismemberment happened here. It’s also the retelling of what happened at Omaha Beach that leads some to forget Canadian and U.K. forces suffered, some grievously, in the other sectors as did the U.S. and U.K. airborne units landing by parachute and glider. Continue reading

Sniping At Our Newest National Monument

The negative spin on the new Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument suggests we’ve thrown the door open wide to terrorists and narcotraficantes while stomping all over New Mexico’s already abused cattle ranchers. That’s easy to believe, too, if you see no good in anything Barack Obama does or only watched the Fox network covering the story.

The moon rises at sunset over the Organ Mountains and Las Cruces, N.M. © William P. Diven

The moon rises at sunset over the Organ Mountains and Las Cruces, N.M. © William P. Diven

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Planet News Spins Through Space

It used to be said you only enjoyed freedom of the press if you owned one. Those times vanished with the last millennium as the Internet and outlets like Twitter, Facebook and WordPress spread faster than a Grumpy Cat video. Now anyone — from press-card and citizen journalists to neighborhood activists, would-be writers, hacks and shills — can beat an online drum to attract your attention and say anything they please. This is one revolution that actually handed power to the people but with little guidance for spotting honest information brokers among the misguided, misinformed and routinely deceitful.

Do you really know the source of your information? © William P. Diven

Do you really know the source of your information? © William P. Diven

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Dead and Not Dead


(Click to enlarge)

See yourself in this guy riding the pole flying a Grateful Dead flag when the band played Santa Fe? Maybe if you launched your acid trip in the 1970s with no landing field in sight as the ’80s slipped in.

Or maybe you’re reminded of a free-spirited friend or the uncle about whom your parents stayed cagey, the one who “took a trip to Taos, and then we lost track.” No matter. Even without LSD, music can do this to you.

It’s a wonder more of Pharrell Williams’ fans aren’t locked up. Or John Philip Sousa’s. Continue reading

Reforming the Impossible

Justin Weddell arrived in New York City as a newly minted graduate of the New Mexico College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts Class of 1908. No Aggie hayseed, Weddell sprang from Chicago and came of age in the rowdy Progressive Era replete with yellow journalism and muckrakers stirring up scandal and busting monopolistic and rapacious corporations.

NMCA&MA Class of 1908. Justin Weddell far right second from top.

NMCA&MA Class of 1908. Justin Weddell far right second from top. (The Round Up, June 2, 1908, New Mexico State University Library, Archives and Special Collections.)

At the time New Yorkers read about 20 daily newspapers, not all in English. Feuding news barons like Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst battled for readership creating their own headlines and perhaps their own wars, if you credit Hearst’s Morning Journal and its million-a-day circulation with pushing the McKinley administration into the Spanish-American War.

Weddell took all that in as he wrote back to A&M Professor Elmer Ottis Wooton in June 1908 describing his new surroundings:

I find everything and everyone in the East concerned in some form of reform. I’ve read so much of it, and heard so much of it that almost am I persuaded to be an ardent foe of any reform movement. One can’t turn around without encountering a new graft and its attendant muckrake. I prefer the spotless Southwest–where reform is almost impossible. — Justin R. Weddell, Ballston Spa, N.Y., June 15, 1908. Courtesy Hobson-Huntington University Archives, New Mexico State University.

A lot has changed in New York City since then. Too bad the same can’t be said for New Mexico.

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Amtrak’s Last Scotch

When fire turned Albuquerque’s railroad station into smoking rubble on a January night, the blame variously fell to homeless folk lighting a fire to stay warm or trouble in the electrical system of the 91-year-old building. Call it another hard-luck episode in the history of Amtrak in New Mexico.

Albuquerque firefighters hose down the smoldering wreckage of the Amtrak station. January 4, 1993. © William P. Diven

Albuquerque firefighters hose down the smoldering wreckage of the Amtrak station. January 4, 1993. © William P. Diven (Click to enlarge)

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Death and the Newsroom

John Cleveland didn’t die at the assignment desk in the KRQE newsroom although I feared he might given the health issues he mentioned from time to time. Instead we are told he died in his sleep, a peaceful end for a larger-than-life character who boosted the game and noise level of an already frantic place. He wasn’t much past 50 and leaves behind a wife and young son.

John Cleveland. Photo by Rebecca Valdez.

John Cleveland. Photo by Rebecca Valdez.

For those of you who don’t know TV newsrooms, the assignment desk occupies the high ground at the center of the maelstrom. It’s where police scanner chatter merges into ringing phones while competing with a two-way radio base and shouts from all directions. The manager assigns photographers to reporters and live trucks to photographers, dispatches the helicopter, updates all on fresh developments and constantly calls contacts for information and confirmation. Continue reading