Saigon has fallen!

It was April 29, 1975. Bonnie Raitt was playing the Capitol Theatre. Between songs, someone came out on stage and whispered in her ear. She nodded and went on to play the song she was going to play anyway. After that song she announced to the crowd, “Saigon has fallen!” A cheer erupted and the concert kicked into another gear.

We all saw this image of people scrambling to board helicopters to escape Saigon.

The concert crowd spilled onto the street at the end for an impromptu party, which moved to a nearby street to go long into the night.

I’ve just read Bich Minh Nguyen’s memoir “Stealing Buddha’s Dinner”, the chronicle of a 1980s childhood spent trying to be a “Real American”. She ate the foods and adopted the fads that I had spent my youth rejecting. She embraced the myths that unfolded before her. It is only the privilege of belonging that affords us the luxury of rejection. What does it mean to “be an American”?

To those of us who had opposed that war, the fall of Saigon meant the hope that the Vietnamese could find a new life out from under the thumb of the US, and France before us. To some who had fought in that war, the aftermath was a time to help the country rebuild after a generation of occupation. To those like Ms Nguyen, it was a bewildering time, a childhood escape (with her father but not her mother) and an embrace of middle class US life in a town that was not ready to accept her.

But that night, it was first and foremost a celebration of spring. It was the cultural event of the season, an annual rite that we weren’t always aware of until looking back.

45 years after she first recorded this, she’s still got it.

Bonnie Raitt was schooled in the blues, playing with Muddy Waters (with whom I saw her in 1978), Junior Wells, Fred McDowell, and John Lee Hooker. She recorded the work of Sippie Wallace and appeared in concert with her. When commercial success eluded her, she also played with the likes of James Taylor, Sheryl Crow, Norah Jones, Delbert McClinton, and anyone else you might care to name. Her duets with John Prine on “Angel from Montgomery” are the stuff of legend.

She became an overnight success nearly 20 years in, with a single on the charts in John Hiatt’s “Thing Called Love”, a Grammy for a duet with John Lee Hooker (“I’m in the Mood”) and three other Grammys for that album and her title song “Nick of Time”. 2022 brought a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Grammys.

She’s not done yet, having just completed a sold out tour of the northeast (with NRBQ), with a run through the south in May and continuing east in June (with Lucinda Williams), followed by the rest of the country with Mavis Staples.

And now for something completely different

Back in the saddle again

Tonight was my first Wednesday night ride since the tour ended. My bike arrived back from Massachusetts last week and I cleaned and rebuilt it Monday (except for the new chain, which I installed Tuesday).

After riding my city bikes, it felt great to be back on this bike again. Ten miles into the ride I felt my rear tire losing pressure. A prior patch had failed. A woman walking her dog to the mailbox offered assistance. After 4400 miles and double digit punctures, this felt pretty routine. I changed the tube and went on my way.

Thirty two miles felt like a warm up. I think I’ll be able to handle a century in a week and a half. The post-ride pizza felt like a snack. I think I’ll need to adjust my eating to keep from regaining the weight I lost. While riding your bike 80 miles/day for 9 weeks seems like a pretty effective weight loss program, I doubt it will catch on.

Flood

My basement windows are sandbagged. The river is out of its banks and we are currently ½ block outside of the high risk area for flooding. I live on an isthmus between two lakes separated by a lock and dam. They are releasing water from the dam today so the river should rise again. I live on 100 year old landfill. What was once a meandering creek through marshland is now a straight cut from lake to lake. It is dry today so we’ll see what happens.

TNS

You may have noticed that old people tend to reminisce. Truth be told, that doesn’t seem to be limited to old people.

Since I am officially old (Emery, you didn’t see that here), allow me to reminisce.

I was thinking about war the other day, which reminded me of my old friend Francis Hole. He was an agronomist (soil scientist in plain English) and always signed his name “Francis Hole, TNS”, which stood for “temporarily not soil”. Alas, Professor Hole is now PS (“permanently soil”). Aside: It is due to Professor Hole that Wisconsin has a State Soil (Antigo Silt Loam, if you wanted to know).

He was also my draft counselor. Professor Hole was a Conscientious Objector during WW II. I was a CO during the Vietnam War (the American War to the folks whose country we invaded).

from the Francis Hole Memorial webpage

Dr. Hole taught me about the process of applying for CO status and we also talked about our views toward war. He let me know that CO status was very hard to get without the backing of a church. Personal morals didn’t carry much weight with the US government. Dr. Hole was a Quaker, one of few religions with a firm anti-war stance. He asked about my church.

Having the backing of a church seemed like a Catch-22. Since many (if not most) wars arise from religious conflicts (especially if said religion has an imperialistic bent), since the dominant religion in the US is Christianity, and since Christianity is among the more imperialistic religions (imperialism and evangelism seem pretty closely linked, both historically and philosophically), it seemed pretty hard to convince the government that I was firmly opposed to war and a Christian (remember the Crusades?).

Dr Hole sent me to the minister of the church in which I was raised, and of which I was a member (that’s another story). The minister asked me what I knew of the church’s position. Not much, I said. He asked me about my convictions. About that, I knew more.

After we talked for awhile, he let me know that our church (Congregational, now part of the United Church of Christ), taught that each member has a personal relationship with God; that he as a minister was not a go-between, and that he as a minister could not tell me what to believe. (Another aside: you may have noticed that religions, and other belief systems, tend to fragment over time. New sects arise and folks bicker over smaller and smaller differences. UCC is unusual, in that it arose from sects actually joining together.)

He followed that by telling me that he would testify on my behalf before the draft board. My lottery number was high enough that that never came to pass.