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T. Buckingham Thomas:  A Personal Website


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A local furniture store is closed today.  They say they need the time to prepare for their “biggest sales event of the season!”

Let’s consider the implications of that phrase.

For there to be a “biggest event of the season,” the season must include at least three such events.  (If there were only two, the sale that starts tomorrow would be the “bigger” of the two, not the “biggest.”  I assume this business establishment scrupulously follows the rules of grammar.)

There are four seasons in a year.  In the retail world there might be a dozen, for all I know:  Halloween season, Thanksgiving season, Christmas season, President’s Day season, Valentine’s season, and so on.  But let’s say there are four.

So at a minimum, the store has 3 x 4 = 12 sales events per year, or one every month.  Rarely do they retail a recliner at regular price.  I’m reminded of those “going out of business” clearance sales that last a decade.


JULY 20, 2014

On private property like the Pittsburgh Mills mall, maybe the provisions of the Motor Vehicle Code don't apply.

Nevertheless, folks are still reluctant to use this parking space.



I must confess that I myself do not communicate via the Twitter.  Nevertheless, I have been covertly collecting comments from the Twitter.  Hee hee!

Specifically, I have been monitoring the remarks of one “Eric D. Snider,” humorist and film critic.

For example, after the host team Brazil was routed last week in the semifinals of the World Cup soccer tournament, losing to Germany 7-1, Eric joked insensitively:

You might say the expense of hosting the World Cup turned out to be a real hollow cost.

I mean, *I* wouldn't say that, but you might.

Brazil's newspapers give the impression that yesterday was their 9/11.  Brazil hasn't been this humiliated since the last time there was a news story about Brazil.  Good thing Brazil has all those other things they're great at besides soccer to fall back on.

In the summer edition of Snidely Tweeting, you can discover Eric’s opinions about living in Oregon, silly names, being Christian without obsessing over gays or evolution, and paying freelancers.  And more.  Peek, if you dare!



Publisher Charles Ollier (not shown here) wrote in 1855, “My son William has hit upon a new method of spelling ‘fish.’”

He explained that by taking advantage of the orthographical oddities of the English language, one can combine the gh sound from ‘enough,’ the o from ‘women,’ and the ti from ‘action’ to spell ‘ghoti.’  (This joke was later attributed to playwright George Bernard Shaw.)

It turns out the shushing sound can be spelled in even more ways than ti.  For example, in French-derived words like ‘Cheryl’ or ‘Chevrolet’ or ‘Chicago,’ we find ch.  And now I’ve discovered we can also use tr.

There’s a website for booking hotel rooms called Trivago.  In their commercials, spokesman Tim Williams inexplicably slurs it into Sheevago.  At least that’s what it sounds like to me — and to other online commentators.  It’s like ‘Chicago’ with the k sound in the middle replaced by a v.  Or it’s like ‘Dr. Zhivago’ without growlingly voicing the zh.

It’s the company name, Tim!  That word above all others should be distinctly enunciated.  Treetr!



Things I learned today:

I’ve more than once seen a film clip of Bob Dylan early in his career in which the interviewer asks whether we should refer to him as a folk singer or a protest singer or something else.  Having no definitive answer, after a pause Dylan jokingly replies, “I’m just a song-and-dance man.”

That makes no sense to me.  Dylan doesn't dance.  Then I discovered this morning that he was merely repeating a decades-old self-deprecating quote from Mr. Yankee Doodle Dandy himself, George M. Cohan.

Dillon could also have used this George M. Cohan quote:  “I don't care what you say about me, as long as you say something about me, and as long as you spell my name right.”  (See what I did there?)

Things I learned growing up:

Sixty years ago, Dwight Eisenhower surrendered our nation’s independence.  The President signed a bill subordinating the United States to God.

This was during the Cold War, of course.  The young evangelist Billy Graham had told the Altoona Mirror in 1949, “American guns cannot stop the philosophy of communism.  The only hope for America and the western world is an old-fashioned revival of religion.”  And many in Washington had come to agree.

Congress inserted “under God” into the Pledge of Allegiance.  This was a violation of the First Amendment, which says “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.”  So writes the former Human Rights Commissioner of Traverse City, Michigan, M’Lynn Hartwell.

“The point of the bill was to promote religion.  The legislative history of the 1954 act stated that the hope was to ‘acknowledge the dependence of our people and our Government upon ... the Creator ... [and] deny the atheistic and materialistic concept of communism.’

“In signing the bill on June 14, 1954, Flag Day, Eisenhower delighted in the fact that from then on, ‘millions of our schoolchildren will daily proclaim in every city and town ... the dedication of our nation and our people to the Almighty.’  It seemed to escape the president that the nation, constitutionally speaking, was in fact dedicated to the opposite proposition.”

My 2002 comments on the Pledge of Allegiance are in this month’s “100 Moons” article.


JULY 2, 2014     NIGHT WATCH

Alongside the alley near my apartment, there's a little enclosure where the neighbors and I deposit our refuse.  It's collected when the sanitation trucks come around before dawn on Thursday mornings.  Today was a muggy Wednesday, so I waited to take out my trash after sundown.

It's dark back there by the alley.  I recognized an opportunity to use my lantern, which looks something like this.  It's a decorative reproduction of the kerosene-powered lamp that my grandparents would have used a century ago, except this one uses battery power and LEDs.

With the lantern swinging from my belt, I wasn't sure what the neighbors thought, but I felt like Granddad Buckingham going out to the barn to check on the animals before bedtime.


JUNE 28, 2014     STILL NIL-NIL?

Soccer is far from my favorite sport, but I have been tuning in to parts of the FIFA World Cup being played in Brazil.  As a TV graphics operator, I like the compact “score bug” that ESPN has been using. 

Notice the red block on the left, which tells us that the red jerseys are being worn by the Russians, and the white block on the right, which indicates that the white jerseys are being worn by the Koreans.  Nice and simple.

There’s no need to squeeze in logos or flags, and the viewer can quickly determine which players belong to which team.

On most basketball telecasts, depending on the network, we also try to use the team colors on the score bug.  But we complicate the issue.  Suppose Notre Dame is visiting Pitt.  Both teams have blue and gold as their colors.  We could use blue for one team and gold for the other, but there’s an added problem:  the white letters ND and PITT are supposed to appear on top of the team colors, and white letters on a gold background don’t show up well.  (Nor would black letters on a blue background.)  So after some debate, we decide to use blue backgrounds for both schools.  It would be better if we could simply use a generic background plus jersey blocks like this:  blue for Notre Dame, white for Pitt.

In this year’s World Cup, the United States unexpectedly won their first game, tied the next, and on Thursday lost the third but by only one goal.  That stellar 1-1-1 record has entitled the USA to advance.  We’re in the Round of 16!  Hurray, us!  You and I had absolutely nothing to do with it, of course, but that doesn’t stop you and me from feeling pride in our national accomplishment.

Some Americans aren’t happy, however.  They still deride soccer as a “communist sport.”  This is despite the fact that none of the 32 competing nations has a communist government.  Russia and Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina may have been communist once, but they aren’t now, and none of them made it through to the Round of 16.  Communist Cuba and China and Vietnam and North Korea aren’t even in the tournament. 

For the Americans who dislike soccer, excuses have to be invented.  Soccer is socialist, they say, with all the players working together toward a single goal.  (Isn’t that true of most sports?)  Because it’s low-scoring, the team that loses 1-0 doesn’t get its feelings hurt too badly.  (Tell that to the losing team, except the USA on Thursday.)  Games can end in an unsatisfying tie.  (Until recently, all of these arguments could also be applied to the National Hockey League.)  The game is somehow for sissies.  (Jim Rome was quoted in The Guardian: “My son is not playing soccer.  I will hand him ice skates and a shimmering sequined blouse before I hand him a soccer ball.”)

I suspect the disparagement of soccer as a “communist sport” began around 1948.  Then as now in America, the Do-Nothing Congress and the Party of No resisted all changes.  After all, America was exceptional.  We were already the greatest nation in the world, so nothing new was needed.  Certainly we shouldn’t import alien ideas from other so-called nations.  Here in the United States, the only legitimate “football” was the violent full-contact version.  Also, the blacks knew their place, the gays stayed in the closet, and everybody in town went to the same church.  Some people today feel the “Real America” should still be like this.

In Joe McCarthy’s day, the right wing looked with suspicion on any foreign concepts originating outside this country, including soccer.  Congress actually formed a committee to suppress Un-American Activities, labeling the Un-American Activists as communists.

Recently C. Edmund Wright ranted, “At its heart, soccer is the perfect socialist sport.  ...When the World Cup rolls around, that's where the arrogance of soccer folks meets up with the one-world feeling and the can't-we-all-just-get-along crowd and all sorts of international bodies that want to treat the U.S. like just another country like Cuba or Iran.”

Now I happen to believe that we are one world.

I tuned in the USA-Portugal match last Sunday.  I was in my car at the time, so I listed on ESPN Radio.  With the relative lack of action, soccer on radio was an interesting novelty.  The game was described by ESPN Radio’s lead soccer announcers, JP Dellacamera and Tommy Smyth.

That brought back a memory.  Nearly 30 years ago, JP and I shared a car for 70 miles on Interstate 70.

John Paul Dellacamera had been announcing telecasts for the Pittsburgh Spirit of indoor soccer.  Here’s a link to an old tape.

In this case he was headed for a college basketball game — as was I, the graphics operator.  It was 1986, give or take a year.  My company, TCS, put the two of us on a plane from Pittsburgh to Indianapolis.  There we were to rent a car and drive west to Indiana State University.

I introduced myself to John Paul.  He told me he preferred to be called JP.  He suggested that I should do the driving, since he had no idea where Terre Haute was and I had at least been in Indiana before.  He also warned me that he had a special requirement, I forget what, something like having to drink some water at least once an hour.

During the trip, JP expressed frustration about his professional difficulty of getting assignments to broadcast soccer, his specialty.  I guess he’s been doing all right over the ensuing decades.



On the outskirts of Livermore, Kentucky, my grandfather H.F. Thomas once sold D-X gasoline.  His gas station was located on the back road out of town, which we usually called “the Calhoun road” because it led to the county seat of Calhoun ten miles away.

Many towns have streets labeled with the distant destinations to which they would eventually take you, if you followed them far enough.

When I worked in Marion, Ohio, I traveled on Delaware Avenue and Mount Vernon Avenue and Bellefontaine Avenue.  Each was oriented towards a county seat in a neighboring county.

Here in Pennsylvania, the Pittsburgh area has Washington Pike and Freeport Road and Butler Street, among numerous others.

But the nearby city of Indiana takes a longer view.  Its main thoroughfare is Philadelphia Street, named for a well-known settlement nearly 300 miles to the east.  If we’re no longer limited to towns within easy driving distance, I think we should rename my street Anchorage Avenue.



One gadget my new car doesn’t have is a GPS navigation system.  I don’t use GPS.  But it’s not that I’m avoiding computers.  I simply prefer to use Google Earth, in order to know in advance where I’m going.

Last winter I got a flyer from a new restaurant at “3231 Leechburg Road.”  I’m familiar with that road, but it’s a couple of miles long.  Where exactly is 3231?  I fired up Google Earth on my desktop computer and typed in the address.  The program immediately showed me where it is:  the former Quizno’s sandwich shop.  Set back from the other buildings and therefore easy to miss, Quizno’s is no longer in business at that location.  I may or may not decide to go to the new place.

When I’m assigned to work at, for example, Hometown High School, I’m given an address several days in advance.  So when I have the opportunity, I ask Google to plot a course to “225 White House Road, 15163.”  Then I examine the map in detail, paying special attention to the turns.  For the tricky parts, I use Street View and memorize the terrain.

“Okay, I’ll come up to a stop sign with a Sunoco station on my left.  There's a big blue-and-yellow sign.  I’ll make a right turn, then immediately get in the left-hand lane to make a left turn at the traffic light, just before the golf course.  I’ll follow that road for 2.6 miles.  Soon after passing Truman Road — there should be a green sign on the right — I’ll turn right onto Eisenhower Road, which is rather narrow.”

Now when I actually make the trip, I’m not driving in unfamiliar terrain.  I’ve been there, seen that!  Virtually, that is.


JUNE 10, 2014     FIRE!

It all started with a little spilled gasoline.

Exactly 50 years ago today, a spectacular fire.destroyed my father's auto dealership in Richwood, Ohio.

The 500-foot plume of black smoke could be seen in the next county, 12 miles away.

The damage (in today's dollars) was nearly $12,000,000.

But we had insurance, and we had the will to go on.  "This will not stop us," my father told his employees with tears in his eyes.  "You guys that can, report to work tonight.  Tomorrow, there's work to be done."

The rubble and the burned cars were cleared away, and plans were made to rebuild.

By the next spring, a new building had opened on the opposite side of Oak Street.

Vernon M. Thomas Chevrolet was back, bigger and better than before.

I first told the story on this website in 2001, and now I've upgraded the quality of several of the pictures.  It's this month's "100 Moons" article.



It’s after midnight on a starlit Wednesday night in Las Vegas, Nevada, so the temperature has cooled to 86° on the far northwest side of the city.

You’re Victor Thompson, a captain in the local fire department.  You’re sleeping peacefully in your modern home in your quiet gated community.

Suddenly your wife wakes you.  Someone is insistently ringing the doorbell!  You get out of bed to find out what’s going on.

Two young men are banging on the front door.  They’re shouting things like “Hey, open up, stupid!  We’ve got the beer, but this #$% door is locked!  We’re locked out!  Let us in, you #$%!”  You argue with them, but they become belligerent and won’t stop knocking.  You fear a home invasion.  You take steps to defend your family.  You grab the firearm you keep nearby.  You shoot through the door.  You hit one man in the chest.

I’ve augmented the story by inventing details and dialogue, but the basic facts are there.  According to this article last week in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, the supposed intruders “were at the door after confusing the home with another in the neighborhood.  They had been celebrating a birthday with another person at a nearby house.  They left for a short time and thought they were returning to the same house.  They did not understand why they weren’t being let back in.”

How could they mistake one house for another?  “Residents who live nearby,” the article explained, “described the neighborhood as quiet, yet easy to get lost in.  Keith Patton, who lives on the street behind where the shooting happened, said he and his mother have confused the houses by driving or walking up to the wrong driveway several times.”

How confoundingly alike could these little boxes be?  On Friday afternoon, I decided to see for myself.  I took a quick trip to Las Vegas.  Yes, I did!  I used my preferred mode of transportation for such exploration, Google Earth.  It’s much cheaper and faster than an airplane ticket, and I returned with these pictures in half an hour.

I found that the houses are indeed similar and very closely spaced, though they’re hardly identical —  unless it’s 2:00 in the morning and you’re drunk.  That’s Captain Thompson’s home on the left, distinguished by a luxurious 300 square feet of grass in the front lawn.

And the streets are indeed easy to get lost in.  Captain Thompson’s community is a compact square only a quarter of a mile on a side.  Several such squares have been carved out of the beige flatness of the surrounding desert.  One example is the square shown below, ironically named Vista Verde (Green View).  Construction has been completed on almost all of the houses.

The area of this square is forty acres.  Now you young folks don't remember this, but back in my great-grandfather’s day, forty acres was the ideal size for a single-family farm.  When Vista Verde is finished its forty acres will contain not one but 170 single-family homes.  (A few of those structures might be for general community use.)

Notice the efficient maze of streets, designed to slow speeders.  There are only two ways in and out, through the gates in the middle of the north and south sides of the square.  In the interior it’s left, right, right, left, left, right, right, left, left, right; and if you get caught in a dead end, you need to use the cul-de-sac to turn around.

Las Vegas is growing by 50,000 new residents a year, and they keep building developments like this.  I wouldn’t want to live in such a cramped residential area, crawling over the other workers’ cells to find an exit from the hive.  The West boasts its wide-open spaces, but back here in the East there really are green views.  It's almost heaven.

Google Earth,
Take me home
To the place I belong,



It's commencement season once again!

In the past, this website has featured pictures of five different graduation ceremonies at Oberlin College's leafy Tappan Square.

However, I've kept a dozen additional photos stored away since I shot them in 1968.  They're attractive angles, so I digitally enhanced them (the one on the left required a lot of processing) and inserted them into this letter I wrote about my own graduation in 1969.

Those aren't the only recent improvements.  Other existing articles have also been augmented as other historical images have become available.

Here is a century-old postcard view of Varuna Park in my old hometown.

Here is the Oldsmobile curved-dash runabout that was brought to mind by the musical Oklahoma!  For the first picture, I composited a modern photo from a vintage-car exhibition with an old black-and-white image of a driver at the tiller of the Olds. 

Here's the Oberlin College “marching band” straggling across the football field a year before I matriculated at Oberlin.  Meanwhile at the campus radio station, here we see an engineer doing some soldering in a equipment rack while an announcer prepares to announce.

Finally, I've illustrated my account of the college president's encounter with sit-in protestors by adding this photo of a similar confrontation two years before.































































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