Steel Wheels

The Tao Of Motorcycling

Steel Wheels, Steel Heels

The Hobbled Sport

Second only to Baseball as the most widely attended sport and way, way more than thoroughbred racing. Invented right along with the domestication of horses and the invention of the wheel around 4500 B.C.  Reinvented in America in the 1820s, when rural folks tired of racing up and down country roads. Reinvented again with the arrival of the pneumatic bicycle wheel in the 1890s. So they say.

Harness racetracks come in many sizes but the standard length of a race  is 1 mile. Rules exist to hobble the rider, horse, and pace but none are as effective as the hobble. A strip of leather fit loosely around the horse’s upper legs hobbles its gait to a trot. The rider sits on a “sulky” weighing a mere 25 pounds, and guides his horse with consummate skill on a harrowing ride that must be seen up close to appreciate in the fullest.

The Harness Race

Batavia Downs, New York
Saturday, July 28th 2018

All Good People

Today we all got together at Heights Cigar to remember our friend, Nick Puglin. He was an original. He had flair, style, and personality in abundance. If you didn’t know him well, you might say irascible, set in his ways, and loud. But if you saw how he treated a total stranger you saw sincerity, kindness, and generosity.

Time in Time with Your Time

I met Nick Puglin at Heights Cigar when it opened some 5 years ago. Many an afternoon was spent listening to Nick bitch and moan about the unlucky picks he’d made in fantasy football, baseball, basketball, and golf, or God-forbid, a loss by the Steelers. It was epic. Nick and a couple dozen of us regulars formed a bond over the years that may come only from clouds of aromatic cigar smoke. Or the field of battle. For us, that would be chess, backgammon, poker, and arguments over bourbon about ancient astronauts. Nick was a bourbon man. He would often set a new one in front of me, going-on-and-on about it as only Nick could: “FANtastic!” “SuPERB!” “The BEST!” I can still hear him.

But what drew us together more than anything was our love for progressive rock from the 70s – especially the English group, YES. In my life I’d never met anyone named Nick who wasn’t my father and I had only one other friend who loved YES. In November 2016, Nick, his wife, and I went to San Antonio to see the now elderly members of YES perform in a beautiful Art Deco theater. Before the show, we met-up for steak and fine wine – real fine wine – at the amazing Bohanan’s Steakhouse across from the theater. They ran into Rick Wakeman of all people, on the River Walk that day – and got a selfie with him! It made Nick’s day. He didn’t need anything after that. Wakeman, the YES keyboard wizard, was Nick’s hero. The song Nick chose for his funeral mass yesterday was “Amazing Grace,” the long version performed by Wakeman and his daughter. The priest, at Nick’s request, allowed the full song to be played. Unprecedented, and perfect.

Nick knew for some time that he was dying. But he never showed it to us and wouldn’t admit it to anyone. In true Nick form, he made all the arrangements that needed to be made so his friends and family could just get together and enjoy the memories, drink bourbon, smoke cigars, and send him on his way. He was good people and good people were all around him today. We shall miss him. Vaya con Dios, old friend. Rest In Peace.

March 11, 2018

Some Notes:
Nick and I had another thing in common – we both grew-up in Western Pennsylvania, he in Pittsburgh, me in The Allegheny Forest … it is surprising how many things we could talk about with that one commonality: the Steelers, the Pirates, the blessed Penguins, polka music, and Eastern European ethnic food, most importantly, kielbasa!

The title of this homage is in honor of Nick … it comes from a famous YES song, “I’ve Seen All Good People” … it’s a two-piece composition starting with, “Your Move,”  a chess metaphor alluding to the complex mystery of interpersonal relationships … it could be the anthem for our little Paradiso on 19th Street

Nary a week went by that Nick didn’t stroll into Heights Cigar, plop an obscure YES CD in front of me and say, “Listen to THIS!”… I didn’t have the heart to tell him I had no CD player having switched to streaming 20 years ago … I truly enjoyed reading the liner notes though and always returned those CDs to him with rave reviews

I stopped listening to progressive rock long, long ago … I have Nick Puglin to thank for making me remember how much I loved that music when we were young

Wherever the hell Nick is now, I would not be surprised to find him drinking the BEST, most FANtastic bourbon, smoking a cigar, and moaning about his pathetic March Madness picks – rest in peace, my ass

The Kecksburg UFO & The Nazi Bell … Conspiracies and Mass Hysteria in Paradise

Easy Layup, Crash-Landing   … December 9, 1965, The Allegheny Forest in Pennsylvania

When I was 12, I saw a UFO. My friend Jeff, his father, and I were killing time before dinner in a game of 2-on-1. I was heading for an easy layup when Jeff’s dad began shouting and pointing at the sky behind me.

“Look! A UFO! There!”

The oldest trick in the book – I look, he steals the ball. So I ignored him, got the layup, turned, and saw a green glowing object with a long multicolored tail drifting low and quiet across the evening sky. In stunned silence we watched it sail slowly over the forest and disappear. The official explanation was meteor but even a twelve year old knows meteors don’t drift across the sky. I had a nagging suspicion it was something else. But what? Jeff’s father called it a UFO and thousands of people in Western Pennsylvania agreed – especially down the road in Kecksburg where the damn thing crash-landed a few minutes later.

From Little Acorns Great Conspiracies Grow

Within an hour Men in Black leading a small army of soldiers entered the small community of Kecksburg, commandeered a house, issued radiation warnings (radiation?) to keep curiosity-seekers away, dug-up the UFO, put it on a flatbed truck, and left as quickly as they came. Some who caught a glimpse of it said the alien craft was acorn-shaped and others saw a dead three-fingered alien with lizard-like skin lying beside it. Who the hell knows what they saw? But people saw something on that flatbed truck. Jeff, his father, and I saw something in the sky. Yet when it was all over, there were no photos, no alien autopsies, and no explanations – only mass hysteria. Kecksburg would become the most famous UFO incident next to Roswell. Entire episodes of Unsolved Mysteries, and Ancient Aliens are devoted to it even today. People saw something. The official explanation was absurd. A conspiracy theory was born. And conspiracy theories never die.

A Time Traveler from Nazi Germany

the bellThe Kecksburg UFO Incident eventually got incorporated into the legend of “The Nazi Bell.” The Nazi Bell is said by conspiracy theorists to have been a spaceship engineered by Nazis in WWII. Using anti-gravity, it created wormholes, traveled through time, was shaped like an acorn, disappeared without a trace in 1945, then reappeared in the sky behind my house in 1965, minutes before crash-landing in Kecksburg. Every year there’s an Acorn Festival at the Firehall in Kecksburg where hundreds of conspiracy theorists and UFO investigators gather to share information at the large foam Acorn left behind by the set crew of Unsolved Mysteries. Today millions of people all over the world believe the Nazis had an anti-gravity-time-traveling bell go missing in 1945 and was recovered 20 years later in Pennsylvania by Men in Black. You couldn’t make it up for all the tea in China. Yet …

The Russians … ?

the craftFor decades, a local researcher named Owen Eichler has been toiling-away in obscurity seeking a rational explanation for the Kecksburg UFO Incident. Eichler was 13 and playing baseball in a nearby town when he saw the same thing I saw while playing basketball. For years his leading theory was Cosmos 96, a Russian spy satellite which was finally debunked in 2003. NASA determined that yes, a Russian satellite crashed “coincidentally” on the same day as Kecksburg, but due North – in Canada. In any event, it wasn’t acorn-shaped. Enter the GE Mark 2 re-entry vehicle. Today Eichler believes he’s finally solved the mystery. It turns out the Mark 2 carried U.S. spy satellites, was acorn-shaped, and was operational in 1965. It was the height of the Cold War, so retrieving a spy satellite explains the rapid response team that descended upon the town of Kecksburg. Case closed? Maybe, but NASA and the Air Force flatly refuse to confirm, deny, or answer questions about it. Why? Owen thinks he knows but conspiracy theorists are more convinced than ever it was the Nazi Bell, we’ve reversed-engineered it, and well, you know the rest.

No Cure

May 11, 2017 – Houston, Texas. My part in this story is true. The Nazi Bell? You decide. But I was playing 2-on-1 with Jeff and his dad when something flew over us on December 9th 1965. It crash-landed in Kecksburg. Men dressed in black suits actually rolled into town with soldiers, dug it up, and left. And today millions of people all over the world believe it was a time-traveling Nazi Bell from 1945 with an anti-gravity propulsion engine that makes wormholes. After half a century of investigations, alien autopsies, television shows, Acorn Festivals, and Owen Eichler’s discovery the Kecksburg UFO Incident is more shrouded in conspiracy than ever. There is no cure.

Author Notes – Update January 7th 2018:
Recently, Owen Eichler saw this post and reached-out to me … we’ve talked at length on a few occasions and what a treat … at times he’ll go right into his interview protocol that help’s him gather accurate information about visual contacts with the object he’s identified as the GE Mark 2 … he’s persistent, nimble, thorough, and reminds me a little of Caroll’s Hatter who murdered time

A local reporter in Western Pennsylvania who covers Owen’s research has also contacted me … I warned him confirmation with NASA, the DoD, and MIBs requires an investment too large for a small publication … he admitted wryly that his publisher had already come to that conclusion … we went on to have a wonderful chat about Owen and that was that

For me, Owen Eichler is the real story here – a lone person devotes a lifetime pursuing the true story behind the Kecksburg UFO Incident … Owen told me what his latest research implies about the true purpose of the GE Mark 2 re-entry vehicle … I warned him that to go public may bring down the wrath of intel agencies in at least two countries so best to remain silent … after looking into Owen’s theory, I’ve concluded he is correct and am convinced more than ever we should remain silent … but Owen is on a mission … we shall see

Recounting my conversations with Owen to my father he let-out excitedly that he and my mother saw the object that evening while they were driving home from a visit with relatives … strangely, we hadn’t spoken about it until now … after all these years our description of the “Nazi Bell” and its flight path concurred … but why hadn’t we talked about it that night when they got home?! … why didn’t Jeff, his father, my parents, or I ever once talk about what we saw? … a mystery wrapped in an enigma

Jeff is the real name of my childhood friend … his father’s name was Jim … I have no idea where they are now … we lived in a tiny horseshoe-shaped community of 6 homes in the Allegheny Forest … the homes are long gone and the land today shows no signs that anyone lived there except for a faint indentation in the earth where our basketball court used to be … the court became our ice-skating rink every Winter when our dads laid a perimeter of forms, stretched vinyl across the court, and filled it with water … I’m pretty sure I grew-up in paradise but I have no evidence to prove it save for that indentation … it can actually be seen on Google Earth and for Owen Eichler, that was worth a thousand words

The following Spring, I turned 13 and by Summer we’d moved to Kentucky where I came of age on the banks of the Ohio River … I’ll never forget The Allegheny Forest and the rich experiences growing-up there … finding Owen after all these years triggered so many memories of my life in Paradiso, I can hardly keep-up

In the Sixties, adults could find a Russian behind every strange thing that happened – for kids, that kind of thing is weird and scary … it may be no accident a generation that marinated in Russia-phobia is acting-out the same bizarre drama today that we observed in our parents when we were kids … hopefully, our kids and grand-kids are paying no attention

There are just enough breadcrumbs in this post for you to figure out how to begin researching the truth behind the Kecksburg UFO Incident – I assure you, it’s astonishing … should you find it, I suggest you keep quiet

1. My childhood experience in The Allegheny Forest in Western Pennsylvania
2. Unsolved Mysteries – The Kecksburg UFO Incident
3. Ancient Aliens – The Kecksburg UFO (multiple episodes)
4. YouTube
5. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

1. In August 2016, I returned to The Allegheny Forest, found the exact location my childhood home once stood and shot this photo in the direction we saw the The Nazi Bell drifting silently over the forest on its way to Kecksburg … my sisters were with me and can be seen in the photo looking for their bedrooms … the giant tree on the left is just outside my bedroom window – the first thing I did every morning was peak through the blinds to make sure I was still in Paradiso
2. The giant foam acorn was created by the producers of Unsolved Mysteries who left it behind where it sits to this day outside the Fire Department Hall in Kecksburg, PA
3. The photo of the GE Mark 2 re-entry vehicle was dug-up by Owen Eichler – it was on a display at a trade show for buyers from the Department of Defense


The Emergency

George was 77, going on 78 when we met. He owned a firm that rather suddenly had become my client due to an emergency failure in their IT network – an emergency that lasted 20 years. A protégé of George’s at the firm would end-up becoming one of my best friends – a relationship that will last forever.

George was remarkable: full-bird Colonel on General Patton’s staff, DoD project manager for the implementation of the world’s first mainframe computer, editor of a military journal for decades, college teacher, business owner, founder of the Pachyderms – a group of folks with thick skins, a sense of humor, and a keen interest in politics and bourbon. But the thing I remember most about George was his gentle humble laugh. We sat for many conversations over the years in his glass office on Kirby Drive – always quiet, private, and interesting. Until just a couple years ago, George came to the office every day wearing a tie and a smile, with a pipe in one hand and a newspaper in the other. He was a classic gentleman, old school. Every time we talked I learned something about life, the military, history, WWII, women, politics, the original mainframes, bourbon, or pipe tobacco. Occasionally, we talked business. But he had other things on his mind and I was interested in hearing about them. Making George laugh was a special treat for me – I’ll always remember that gentle sound.

George's Caisson


In my life I’ve met a ridiculous number of remarkable people – there’s really no accounting for it. They make you say things about them long after they’re gone. George was one of the remarkables. He passed-away on Saturday and was laid to rest at Veterans Cemetery yesterday in a misty parade of friends walking behind his horse-drawn caisson through hallowed ground. He was 103. I hope all the remarkables will live to 103, continue to sit and converse with me, drink bourbon, and laugh. Requiesce In Pace, George McDowell.

VA Cemetary grounds
Veterans Cemetery in Houston, Texas – April 26th 2017

If you want to know more detail about George – the things he wouldn’t tell you – then you should read this entry in The Congressional Record of the U.S. Congress:

This piece is called “George” because he was known to his friends simply, as George

Military funerals with the horse-drawn caisson, the parade of mourners, the 18-gun-three-volley salute, the preparation and presentation of the flag are simply overwhelming. The ceremony leaves you with a strange mix of emotions: pride, sadness, emptiness, and immense gratitude

Cindi Ortiz and Me

Baseball Mysteries

The things I remember most about the game are the smell of leather, infield chatter, and the sweet taste of RED MAN chew. What I can’t remember is what happened after the pitcher released the ball – it just completely disappeared. I’d not see it again ’til it was bouncing in the outfield or sailing over the right-field fence. After hitting a baseball you can never recall how you did it. Everyone can tell you how it feels, no one can tell you the secret to doing it. One thing I can tell you for sure – I could never keep my eye on the ball. I didn’t even try.

The Secret

Later in life after taking up golf, I came upon a quote from Ben Hogan in which he may have actually revealed the secret to hitting a golf ball so well. Legend had it that Hogan had a secret in his swing and people never gave up asking him about it. The quote struck home with me and went something like this: “Well, at the top of my backswing the ball just completely disappears and that’s all I can remember.” Hogan was utterly humorless but as soon as I read it, I smiled.

The Glory of Baseball

I still love baseball. I love having it on the radio in the house. I love going to games, though I hardly pay attention – I just bask in the sounds of the ballpark. But the glory of baseball is anybody can play. You don’t have to be six foot ten, run the 40 in 4.4, or be thin, or great, or young, or old – none of that stuff is required in baseball. My Mom used to pitch to me. You don’t have to be a boy and you don’t have to be a girl. It’s America’s finest game. But the next time someone tells you to keep your eye on the ball, don’t listen. And if you see Cindi Ortiz, let her know her HOLDSTER is between pitchers mound and home plate at Stude Park – I’m sure she’s missing it. She’s a lefty, and in baseball that’s an advantage. Trust me.

Cindi Ortiz' Ball glove


Growing-up in rural Western Pennsylvania and Northern Kentucky, everybody played ball – in open pastures on makeshift diamonds with paper plates for bases … it was gender and generational neutral

I got to see the Pirates play once at the old Forbes Field – what a treat

In Pony League, High School, and American Legion ball in Greenup County, Kentucky in the late ’60s, we were fortunate to be coached by ex-professional ball players who lived in the area, and to have played in old minor league parks, learn to hit major league homers, and have lefty Don Gullet as one of our starting pitchers … we learned the fundamentals of baseball from real pros, our teams would go to post-season, and Gullet would go right to the majors, play on 6 World Series teams in 8 years – 4 of them in consecutive years on two different teams, ending-up with 3 Championship rings and all of it in the ’70s – never has anyone crammed so much glory into one decade … another of our teammates, Terry Craft, went on to a long career as a major league umpire … it was a golden age for young men and boys who loved baseball in Northern Kentucky – there’s never been a time like it before, or since … it was great luck to have been there and no accounting for any of it

“Ben Hogan’s Five Lessons” is short, ancient, and still the most influential book ever written on the art of hitting a golf ball and maybe any kind of ball … when I first read it, I was amazed how applicable it was to the art of hitting a baseball … in Five Lessons you can learn the fundamentals of the grip, the stance, the swing, and the follow-through and within 6 months that damn Hogan expects you to break par … but nobody ever does … people think he left something out and to this day Hogan is believed to have taken “the secret” to his grave in Fort Worth’s Greenwood Memorial Park

In recent years it was discovered good hitters don’t keep their eye on the ball – somehow they divine where it’s going to be and swing there … I believe Ben Hogan, at the top of his backswing, visualized the ball going down the fairway and that’s why it disappeared

Anybody can play baseball – anybody can be taught the fundamentals of how to grip the bat and the ball, how to stand in the batter’s box, how to bend at the knees fielding a grounder, how to bunt, steal a base, and even throw a curve, but nobody can teach you how to make the ball disappear

Once in awhile, I pull one of the homeruns from my sock drawer, grip it, smell the leather, and shake my head in disbelief … and smile

I’ve never met Cindi Ortiz but her HOLDSTER really is lying between pitchers mound and home plate at Stude Park in The Heights here in Houston


April 19th 2017

The Peaceful Transfer of Power

Washington Avenue as seen from El Rey

Everything is included…

Eigel Street 3

Everyone must go…

Gentrify 3

Eigel Street

Eigel Street 2


Going low, to go high. The Lower Heights – 12/29/16.

Building Bridges

Worker on the Yale Street Bridge

Yale Street Bridge in The Heights

Workers on Yale Street Bridge

Yale Street Bridge project in The Heights – October 22nd 2016

Estimated time of completion – December 2017

Historic Yale Street RR Bridge

Historic Yale Street RR Bridge (right next to the new bridge) will be left standing

Estimated time of completion – early 1900s

Nico at the Yale St Bridge project

A Work-in-Progress …

Estimated time of completion – ?

Reflections On Car Culture

Cars, Culture, and Craftsmen

When I went out for a ride this morning, car culture was not on my mind. But when I saw this gathering at Stude Park, I had to stop. These guys are artists who love re-crafting old cars. If you show genuine interest they’ll offer you some food and conversation. A couple hours later I left with an education, a full stomach, and huge respect. I’ve seen great art in the finest museums all over the world – these guys are every bit as good. It was my lucky day.

Reflection in rear door window

'55 Chevrolet

Car culture is a family affair

Old Black '52 Chevy


Green Olds

Old Chevy reflection

Club members
These guys were walking encyclopedias of cars from the 40s, 50s, 60s, and 70s
Old '53 Chevy Pickup
I had a ’53 Chevy pickup – it couldn’t do tricks but it had a Ram Dass sticker in the window … it was cosmic

Old Yellow Chevy

Row of Chevys


Man in a Monte Carlo

de Koonig

Stude Park in The Heights, September 11, 2016

The Franciscan

How Many Angels Can Dance In A Rooftop Garden?

The earliest memory I have of The Franciscan was when I was 5. She was standing in the doorway twirling a set of car keys on her slender fingers looking sooo cool to a little boy. Strawberry blonde, tall, thin, with her little brother Tommy standing behind her, eyes fastened on the keys. Uncle Tom would go on to become iconic for me in the Tao of cars, Lucky Strikes, boogie woogie, the aesthetic beauty in great design, motorcycles, and women. The Franciscan would always be a mystery wrapped in an enigma. Until now.

The last leg of The Lost Trip started with a visit to St Anthony of Padua School in Greenville, South Carolina – our Aunt Sister Catherine’s legacy to children, faith, and the unforgettable fire in her soul. Cath saved St Anthony’s from closure with a stubborn unwavering refusal to allow it. On the “eve of destruction” arose the drive to make St Anthony’s bigger, better, and more sustainable than before inspiring neighborhood renewal, uplifting architecture, and fine art. A sanctuary for kids to become, and become. Beware of stubborn women – you never know what might happen when they are present in your life.

The Neighborhood
View of neighborhood renewal and the Rooftop Garden from the second floor

The Pastoral World Above the Rim

As we walked the lot that afternoon capturing every angle, a woman approached us from within to find out what we were doing…wearing a smile on her face. Of course. When she found out who we were she shrieked with joy, gathered us all up, and pulled us inside to see Sister Catherine’s world and its fine citizens shaping the next generation. For the next couple hours we were toured, tutored, and introduced to each and every teacher, administrator, coach, and countless numbers of young children who possessed the remarkable demeanor of the child we all wanted to be. They are Catherine’s kids. And they’re proof that her vision was right. When we asked Coach why all the backboards where pointing at the ceiling he said simply it was the only way Sister Catherine knew how to play.

Above the rim

Now We Know

That afternoon solved the mystery of why a young woman suddenly dropped her car keys one day and left us all to join the Franciscans. People just didn’t do things like that. But she did, and we never knew why. Now we do.

Sister Catherine’s work in Puerto Rico and South Carolina devoted to the education of young children was a legend that updated itself over the course of our lives. But seeing the children, shaking their hands, walking through the school, and feeling the love was another level of knowing. St Anthony’s, the kids, the administrators, and the teachers will always be Cath’s. They adore her as if she was still there and in a way she is.

The Library
This carpet is perfect – even in a Library
Staircase at St Anthony of Padua
The staircase makes taking the elevator unthinkable
The Office
Still her office according to everyone we met


The Bell at St Anthony of Padua

St Anthony of Padua School in Greenville with Marie, Diane, & Dad
August 17th 2016

Cath likes to say she had plenty of angels helping her with this project … people at the school said it was her tireless never-ending effort

St Anthony’s and Cath are living testaments to the power of vision

Cath is retired now but the people of St Anthony’s long for her to visit … I’d like to be there when that happens

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