Airstream, Where Magic and Reality Collide….

We are relatively new to the recreational vehicle culture, having experienced a little over three years traveling from one RV park to the next. Along the way we have met many fascinating people, a few cranks and a smattering of eccentric types who are entertaining to say the least. The RV industry has exploded over the last five years as folks take advantage of a nomadic lifestyle that opens up America to a new level of exploration. In the course of this expansion, many manufacturers have set up shop and the industry offers a myriad of RV types for the eclectic crowd that participates in this pastime. Should you need to stimulate a lively conversation while sitting around a fire miles from home, bring up the topic of RV preference, or if your tastes include dramatic declarations of loyalty, throw in a preference for tow vehicles. These generalizations gel when the Airstream, a true RV legend , is the topic of conversation. Airstream addicts are tenacious, can be stuffy and tend to elevate their preference to the top of the travel trailer pyramid. We just sold our Airstream, still under factory warranty, to a very nice doctor in Mobile, Alabama. This is at least the second Airstream the doctor has owned so he is among those who understand the brand. We have managed to break our addiction to Airstream magic without the interventions that have become popular with so many other addictions. Let’s have a look.

Airstreams have “ramp presence”. No other brand of recreational vehicle will elicit the adoring commentary of a Airstream when it is properly set up in a park. Folks will invariably comment that an Airstream is their dream, and often ask to look inside your trailer. The aura that surrounds these sleek, aluminum tubes includes their low slung, tidy airplane look, replete with huge deeply tinted windows. Most folks understand that you will pay easily three times as much for an Airstream as other brands of trailers, and naturally assume their systems and construction merit this kind of cash outlay. They are meticulously constructed, relying on a labor intensive riveted system to join the equally expensive aluminum panels together, however the same appliances, HVAC systems and fixtures are now found in much of the industry’s offerings. The engineers who design Airstreams are geniuses at maximizing the use of the precious little space in them. Their profile is such that towing is easy, with little wind resistance and the solid aluminum underlay, just inches off the road surface, further guarantees ease of towing. Airstreams hold their value very, very well, comparatively speaking. If you take care of them, your children and grandchildren will enjoy “camping” in them for many years. The furnishings and upholstery are top tier and the fit and finish simply outstanding. Such is the magic of Airstream. Now for the rest of the story.

Airstreams are low slung, necessitating that you crawl on your belly to reach the low water drains that must be used to winterize the trailer. This low slung aspect also results in your sewer hose often being at or near the same height as the sewer drop, all gravity fed, and less efficient than a trailer that sits just a few inches higher. The tongue weights in Airstreams tend to run heavy, presenting a problem for the lighter tow vehicles popular today. (This was not a problem for us as we rely on a 3/4 ton diesel as a tow vehicle.) Airstreams are aluminum, inside and out which results in the direct transfer of heat and cold, as the case may be, from outside to inside. We were forced to rely on pillows to insulate us from contact with the walls on cold nights, unless you prefer cuddling with a cold slab of aluminum. Yes they are insulated, but the thin layer of insulation cannot possibly mitigate the cold transfer through the side of the unit, exacerbated by the aluminum ribs that form the framework. The roof of an airstream is virtually off limits. The roofs will easily bend if you do not carefully step on the ribs, assuming you somehow are able to execute the incredible gymnastic maneuver necessary to step over the curved portion of the roof. The ends of the roof will collapse if you step on them, thus precluding access from that angle. The roofs of RV’s are busy places and access is necessary for a variety of reasons. Speaking of the aluminum, Airstream owners spend inordinate amounts of time watching the weather, as the mention of hail in a forecast will send them scurrying for a bottle of Jack as they search their contacts for their insurance agent’s number. Airstream has done about all they can do to isolate the air conditioners from the trailer, however they are mounted on an aluminum roof, supported by aluminum ribs, which sits over an aluminum ceiling. The air conditioners are loud. The clever ceiling ducts for air exchange do help…a little.

The aluminum interiors look great, however; are not as attractive when condensation forms on them. All RV people know that moisture in their unit is not good, and this problem must be closely monitored. The disqualifying consideration for us is space. Many RV’s today rely on “slide rooms” to dramatically increase the living space within the unit. Airstream does not. In a word, they are tight inside necessitating clever maneuvering to pass one another when moving about. I am old and cranky, and insist on a recliner at the end of a day canoeing, and there is no room for recliners in all but the biggest (very expensive) Airstreams. The inside storage is compromised by the curved roof lines and lack of slide room space. You become clever at packing for an extended trip. The exterior doors on an Airstream are awful. I have yet to enter an Airstream through a door that operates smoothly, especially when closing it. We had ours adjusted at the factory in Ohio, involving a clever technique where the door is bent over a 2X4 wedged in the jamb! If I were the CEO of this company, I would find an engineering team to resolve this problem, cost be damned. You run the risk of waking everyone around you in the middle of the night, when on a dog run, as you forcibly slam the door upon your return. The outside storage is also a challenge especially when compared to the storage in conventional RV’s. I am a neat freak, necessitating the washing of my RV prior to every trip. The aluminum skin on an Airstream must be carefully washed with a soft brush or very clean mitt, as the soft, coated, metal will scratch very easily. Swirl marks are not becoming.

When we decided to buy an Airstream, the dealer who sold us our original Grand Design trailer suggested we would love Airstream quality, but would chafe at the size. He predicted that in three years or so, we would be back, wiser for the experience, but anxious to return to comfort as opposed to ramp presence. He was wrong, of course, as we will be in his office after only two years, hat in hand eating the crow that I talked about a week or so ago. Please note that I am not indicting Airstream, as their rabid following will insure their success for years to come, and my commentary will elevate me to the position of a deplorable traitor in their eyes. The magic of Airstream will guarantee their position in the RV industry. Below is our Airstream on our last trip.

That is the beauty of magic, a concept that defies reality. Long live Airstream…..just not in my garage!

Have a great weekend!

SR

Eating Crow……

We have all done it. Step onto the front porch and beat our chests with some nebulous declaration that “I’m gonna” or “I’m never gonna” usually in response to some issue that invokes more than a little emotion on a personal level. As an example, not too many years ago, I offered the declaration to Sharon that we were quickly running out of closet space as a result of her penchant for shoes. She smiled at my admonition, and as wives are want to do, responded by suggesting we adjourn to the closet and take inventory of each other’s shoe collections. I was brimming with confidence as we began our accounting and was deeply chagrined to note the final count revealed the shocking revelation that I owned more shoes than her. “How do you want your crow”, she asked, “boiled, fried or blackened”? Nice!

There have been other noteworthy crow buffets. The lack of factual reporting and abundance of editorializing in our local newspaper resulted in my cancelling our subscription mid year. A lifetime habit of reading a paper with coffee and ridiculously low subscription prices led me back a year later, though the offerings in the paper are still far more opinion than fact. Abandoning the NFL was easy. Players beating the daylights out of their women, drugs and a lack of respect for this country providing them with untold opportunity and riches, constituted the straw that broke the camel’s back. I found other entertainment opportunities on Sunday afternoon and was quite content. It was easy to ignore this league, that is until an upstart quarterback named Mahomes made his appearance. Would I love to go back and watch the Babe smack one out after a night of drinking and partying? Would I love to watch Koufax launch a curve ball that had the first baseman ducking? I remember the kid from Louisville named Clay that was the picture of grace and destruction in the ring. Looking back, I would have loved to watch him in his prime someplace besides pay for view. Several of my friends go back, way back and can tell of watching the greats play ball, counting themselves among those lucky enough to actually see it happen. Mahomes is that kind of talent. Quarterbacks that can thread a needle, casually tossing footballs with precision across their body, left handed are rare. Very rare. Especially when they are right handed!

My friend arthritis, Arty for short, has introduced me to a young, ripped pain management doctor named Chuckwudi Obiora Chiaghana, who strides into the procedure room to deliver a series of unpleasant injections into my lower spine. Dr. Chuks, as he is called, sports the New York Giants logo on his brilliant blue lead apron. He is animated and, as might be expected from a guy who routinely sticks long needles into your back, supremely confident. We talked a little football before he reached for a needle that looked like a piece of rebar. (Okay, I didn’t have my glasses on.) He stopped and smiled broadly at the mention of young Mahomes, and declared that should he stay healthy, he would blister the league like no other, ever. The doc wasn’t merely effusive, he was adoring. He is, of course, correct in his analysis. The question is, am I going to let a few over paid, wife beating substance abusers keep me from watching this kid on Sunday afternoons? I think not. Key the crow.

There is more. Mahomes attracts talent. Fabulously gifted cornerbacks Bashad Breeland and Morris Claiborne, safety Tyrann Matthieu, and others are coming to play for the Chiefs. They sense this kid can take them to the big bowl. Players coach, Andy Reid, must be pinching himself hourly at the prospects of coaching these guys. This is starting to look like a very good year in the kingdom, and I intend to be along for the ride. I think I can hold my nose at the antics of the rest of the overpaid, egomaniacal, confused folks who are hell bent on squandering their physical gifts and buckets of money protesting matters they could not explain if their lives depended on it.

In short, I am all in. There is a box of Mahomes Magic Crunch on my bookshelf, acquired in a late night run by Sharon to HyVee. The Crunch is a little easier to choke down than crow, tasting exactly like the Frosted Flakes said to be Mahomes’ favorite cereal. Finally, my new connection with this young quarterback is much deeper than corn flakes. He owns over 180 pairs of shoes, something history has shown that I know something about……

Yes, I am back.

Have a great weekend.

SR

When Reality Sets In…..

This morning I enjoyed a conversation with an old and dear friend, retired Col. Ralph Biele. This conversation was prompted by a sale circular delivered in today’s Springfield paper detailing the latest and greatest offerings from my personal candy store, Bass Pro, also known as Cabela’s. This circular listed a number of rifles, ammunition and assorted outdoor gear that I no longer have a need for, courtesy of arthritis and the realization that immortality is the Provence of the Lord and only the Lord. If you have not already come to this same realization…..you will soon enough. Here is my take on this unavoidable consequence of living.

Police officers, especially those that are “blooded” by the tragedy they must confront develop a unique cloak of invincibility often referred to as “Image Armor”. It is this cloak that permits us to remain stoic in the face of unspeakable tragedy and remain calm when the breath of life has been sucked out of the scene we are charged with managing. Image Armor, of course, is a mental thing and creates a certain aura of invincibility, masking the reality that we are slowly approaching a day of reckoning that awaits us all. Police officers seldom consider their own mortality as we are often preoccupied with the immortality of those we deal with. Invincibility is stripped away by any number of considerations, most physical in nature, some involving the mind, which is perhaps the cruelest consideration of all. So how does this relate to a Bass pro add?

My beloved bass boat is reposing in a garage in St. Louis, owned and operated by a much younger couple in the pursuit of crappie. As I write, I am propped up in a chair with a pillow insulating my lower, arthritis plagued lumbar region from the chair back. Never mind this inconvenience, the discomfort is a stark reminder that launching a boat and dancing around the trolling motor on a tree lined arm of Truman lake isn’t going to happen until the medics can figure out how to stem the “discomfort”. The circular describes the latest aluminum boat package like those that elevated Johnny Morris from the days of selling terminal tackle out of a van to multi-billionaire. With decent credit, today’s crop of fishermen who have never given thought to the day when a boat will no longer be useful, can slip down one of my favorite banks and jerk the descendants of the fish that found their way into my live wells over the years. This same “discomfort”, read pain, has dispatched my Harley to the care of a younger man who I can guarantee is not thinking about the day he climbs off the bike for the last time. If you are one of my contemporaries and are still riding and fishing, God bless you. Do not, under any circumstance, take today for granted! The Master is not in the habit of telegraphing his intentions for us as we negotiate the life he has granted.

Below is a photograph of my 40th birthday roasting at the patrol Academy, many years ago! The picture is full of “Image Armor”……..

It has not been that many years ago that I stepped in front of rooms full of troopers, confident in my ability to disarm them and defend my handgun against disarming while teaching the art of handgun retention. Today, Sharon would stand a fair chance of disarming me by capitalizing on my sorry excuse for a back and thumbs weakened by surgeries. During this same time frame, I was tasked with discussing and conveying strategies to troopers designed to keep them alive in armed confrontations. I did so, often relying on a challenging, profane style designed to shock our officers into accepting the reality that death awaits the unprepared. I make no apologies for my approach, which was not designed to win points for decorum. When you are teaching police officers in a physical arena, you are going to be challenged. Losing when challenged is not in your best interest as an instructor. My number one asset during those days? An absolute reliance on image armor.

Today, my readers are either confronting the inevitable decline in ability that awaits us all or are basking in the glow of an existence that has, thus far, spared them the inconvenience of a significant decline in physical or cognitive ability. Memories are priceless, especially when the likelihood of creating new, similar, memories isn’t in the cards. My image armor has long since been replaced with the necessity to develop new pastimes and adventures that make room for a weak back and challenged hands and I am enjoying life aided by a wife who gets it and a dog who demands little beyond honesty and exercise.

Have you given any thought to the subtle changes and challenges that are emerging in your life? Has the reality of adjusting to these set in? It is never too early to consciously contemplate a strategy to manage the hills and curves in our lives. Attorneys live by the axiom that preparation is everything when going to trial. Life, my good friends, is the biggest trial of all.

Enjoy the rest of the weekend!

SR

The Secret to Staying Competitive…..

Lately, we have become enamored with the television series, “Yellowstone” starring Kevin Costner as the patriarch of a beautifully dysfunctional ranch family in Montana. This is the latest offering on Amazon and is captivating in far more ways than the twisted and fascinating story line, the least of which is Kevin Costner’s ability to manage a galloping horse at the age of 64. We are horse lovers and have managed to own a couple over the years and I can assure you that staying mounted on a horse, or anything for that matter, is much easier at 24 than 64, (or 69 in my case)! (For those of you with wicked minds, I was thinking motorcycles…😉). Let’s have a look at the consequences of aging and the magic formula needed to counter the advantages of youth.

Professional athletes hit their peak at about 25. That is when the balance between physical stamina and tactical skill is most apparent. There are, of course, exceptions to this rule, but they are rare. In most sports, atheletes are no longer competitive as they enter their 40’s, with obvious exceptions being such sports as competitive shooting. sailing and fencing. To illustrate this point, there are only two NFL players currently playing football in their 40’s, Sav Rocca of the Redskins and Adam Vinatieri of the Colts. Both are kickers, protected from physical decimation by a page or two of rules that generally prevent them from being hit. For those into water sports, swimmers hit their peak somewhere around 19 or 20 before hanging up their speedos and towels. What we, as spectators, don’t see is the absolute dominance of older athletes on the training tables and in the whirlpools after a competition. Owners in the NFL expend large sums of money on ice in the name of numbing the so called “twitch muscles” of their older players after a game. Some of the old guys have more time reposing in ice water than aged polar bears in the Arctic. Again, it is important to note that freaks of nature do exist, thankfully, as in the case of Nolan Ryan, who pitched for 27 years and recorded a paltry 5,714 strikeouts. ( I met a ServPro employee after one of my monumental lapses of consciousness who played a little minor league ball. The high point of his short baseball career was standing in against Nolan Ryan in the grapefruit league, which he deemed as a wildly successful appearance. He said he looked at 4 pitches, three of which he didn’t even see and one of which he swung at wildly and fouled off. Imagine that, he said. I put wood on a Nolan Ryan pitch!). As a final illustration of the inevitable decline in physical ability, think a minute about the great duffer, Tiger Woods. The kids in the PGA these days can slap a golf ball in to the next county and there are a number of them. I wish Tiger the best, but he needs to relax a bit and start spending his fortune. Okay, we have now determined that we lose our “fastball” at around 40, give or take, and are subject to being humiliated by younger folks at the peak of their games, so what is the answer? Do we give up, become a shrinking violet, destined to stand in the crowd muttering at the prowess of the younger set? Hell no. We have two tools left, age and treachery.

When the Master crafted human beings, with our intrinsic qualities, he knew that we would eventually time out. Rather than design us to simply fold mid-swing, he engineered us to emulate all things in nature, that is we fade physically but benefit from wisdom gained through living. Age is comprised of expended time and experience. There is little we can do about time, however; experience is a commodity that can be put to use to offset the prowess of youth.

It doesn’t really matter what your career path is as it relates to the concept of experience. I once worked with a professional carry out “boy” at a large military grocery store. He easily doubled the earnings of most of us through his experience in that environment. He recognized the good tippers, could manage to find himself on their lanes and was charming when handling the groceries of the lonely military wives whose husbands were off defending our country. He was cunning, worked hard and exacted every advantage in the pursuit of profitability. This man was 50 years old, could not lift as much as the rest of us, and was not as fast, but through experience, could out earn any two of us on a given day. He was skillful in maneuvering the rest of us to lanes that were far less productive and even arranged signals with the big tippers to alert him to their approach to the check out. He was treacherous, in a friendly sort of way, and I studied him carefully. I had no idea at the time that his skill set would be advantageous to emulate as I began to decline physically. Age and treachery is at work in every occupation known to man, with those who employ it masterfully often referred to as ruthless.

Here is the take away. Age (experience) and treachery trump youth and enthusiasm every day of the week. The sooner you learn this lesson, the sooner you can hone the skills necessary to compete at this level. I may not mount things (horses and motorcycles…you folks are so bad) as gracefully or as often, but I ride more slowly and am easier on the horse. Still doubt the validity of this hypothesis?

Watch the action and commentary in this political season.

Have a great weekend!

SR

Looking and Seeing…..

I have become increasingly disenchanted with newspapers, which have evolved from the business of reporting the news of the day to making the news of the day. That being said, I do enjoy the section in USA Today where they offer a sound bite from each of the states in America. This past week, after reviewing this section, I was struck by how little I remembered from this review, which in turn reminded me of a consideration that often has tragic consequences. I am writing today to remind my readers that looking and seeing are two entirely different concepts. Let’s have a look at the differences.

One of the tenants of good airmanship when you are a pilot, licensed or not, is the pre-flight inspection of the airplane you are about to fly. A conscientious pilot conducts this examination each time he or she is preparing for a flight, however short the flight may be. This inspection encompasses checking many things, from oil levels to the condition of the propeller and control surfaces. You check to see if water has somehow worked it’s way into your fuel tanks, the tires are inflated, and that birds have not constructed a bird-mansion on top of your engine….among many other things. This examination is relatively easy and is often taken for granted, which can have dire consequences if you approach it from the standpoint of looking but not seeing potential problems. It happens.

Another example of the disconnect between seeing and looking happens often in the case of automobile crashes. Assuming the drivers in a crash survive and are able to talk, it is astounding how many times an investigating officer is told by a driver that he or she “looked but did not see” the other car. This usually occurs at intersections familiar to the driver and taken for granted. I am sure that in most cases, the driver did “look” but it is obvious by the result they did not see an approaching vehicle. You see, looking is a function of the eyes, while seeing requires the brain to be working in conjunction with the eyes. Traffic officers are all too familiar with the disconnect between the eyes and the brain, resulting in bent metal or worse, broken people.

In the case of airplanes, conscientious airmen rely on a printed checklist of items to review before we throttle up and blast off. These checklists are time consuming, however critical to the safe operation of an airplane. In the commercial flying world, where checklists are viewed with the same sanctity as the word of God, missing a checklist item in a flight review is sure to gain you time with the chief pilot in a conversation you would rather avoid. In the automobile world, looking and not seeing can result in a plethora of consequences ranging from simply embarrassing to tragic. The seeing/looking concept is the reason we have stop signs, as they offer a driver a precious moment or two to connect the brain to the eyes, of which the benefits are obvious.

A mental exercise that I now employ when reviewing the USA Today state review is to recount the news from Missouri and the surrounding states from memory. I use this simple review process to remind me that is is not enough to simply look at something, although the news is often of no value to me. Before this mental exercise, it was surprising how often that I could not recall the news from Missouri alone!

As a final thought on this topic, police officers are trained to look and see as an occupational necessity. You absolutely must look and see if you are going to recall, accurately, details such as colors, dress, hairstyles and numbers as in the case of license plates. The next time you walk through your supermarket, try and recall the individuals you saw in the previous aisle. You will then grasp this concept in it’s entirety.

I suspect we all could benefit from tuning up the connection between brain and eye. This tune up is of particular value to those of us who have lived long enough let our minds go to sleep. Are you doing more looking than seeing? Think about it……

Have a great weekend.

SR

Courtois Creek, A Gift From God…..

I have lived in Missouri since 1964, having moved here from Okinawa, an island now belonging to Japan. During this time I have managed to float a good number of Missouri’s fine float streams from the wide and slow to the narrow and fast, almost all of which are located in southern Missouri. In the deep recesses of a mind that has few deep recesses left, I store a number of life’s regrets and from time to time will resurrect one in an attempt to move it from the regret column to the accomplishment column. This weekend, for the first time, we found ourselves floating Courtois Creek in Crawford County, we being son Stephen and his two boys, daughter Stacey, with husband Tom and her two children, Sharon, Tazzy and me. Not floating the Courtois is no longer a regret.

Our outfitter, Bass’ River Resort, advised that conditions on the creek were near perfect and the weather WAS perfect as we pushed off some 6 miles from the resort. With Tazzy at the helm and Sharon behind him in an effort to keep him in the boat, we began the float.

The water was beautiful, gin clear and cold and the Old Town livery canoe the perfect place for Miss Sharon to rest her legs (😏)as she contributed a canoe stroke here and there. A perfect start that, incredibly, only got better.

Predictably. We stopped frequently the first mile or so to let Tazzy swim. There were few other floaters on the creek and Tazzy enjoyed swimming toward them to offer an enthusiastic Labrador welcome before being recalled and loaded up for the continuation of the trip.

We are not a nuclear family. Steve owns a contracting business in Colorado where he is the chief craftsman, overseeing projects that require the utmost detail. His medium is various woods, some exotic, designed for customers that, well, can easily afford his services. Time is what he has very little of and scheduling time together with a daughter who rarely looks up from her business on the LOZ this time of the year, and who is married to a service manager for a huge marina, is exceedingly tough to do. The Courtois is a superb float stream fully capable of draining the tension out of the existence folks establish for themselves these days. I am told that weekends on this stream offer anything but serenity and I can see why. The photos below are of Steve, grandsons Justus and Sig as well as grandson Lucas and granddaughter Kaelin. We were enjoying shore lunch at the “Log”. 😏

For the most part, floating the Courtois (pronounced coort-a-way) is going to require a capital outlay. Even if you bring your own boat, there is a charge to put in and take out and the campground will charge for just about everything from air for water toys to showers, (50 cents for 5 minutes). RV fees are based on the number of occupants on your site and there is a charge for each individual in the livery boats as well as a boat rental fee. This campground is well thought out with a section for normal folks and a separate section for the “loud” crowd, with their own quiet time between 2:30 AM to 6:00 AM. I am too damned old for the party side of things. There was a day though……

I feel sorry for kids who know nothing outside of concrete and asphalt. I watched a cicada emerge from the ground, saw many fish in the clear creek and enjoyed the thrill of navigating gnarly class 2 rapids with kids whooping and hollering as the spray hit them. Creek gravel in your water shoes and the occasional horsefly are experiences not found while gaming on a personal electronic device. As a matter of fact, there was no cell coverage at Bass’ River Resort and not enough WiFi to register on your phone. Our meals were simple; fat all beef hotdogs over a grill one night and terrific beef “sliders” the next with s’mores, (not my cup of tea). Fresh strawberries, fat pancakes and plenty of bacon made for a hearty breakfast. Stacey, Justus and Lucas ended the trip with a long ride on the outstanding mountain bike trail that has a stop in the campground. Stacey celebrated her 49th birthday on this trip and is seen with Tom over the beginnings of a camp breakfast in the photo below.

There are a number of take always here. You say you don’t know a gunnel from a sponson or a j-stroke from a keel? No problem, rent a raft that requires little more than staying awake as you float down the creek. Don’t have a RV, no problem, bring a tent, many of which you can easily erect while blind folded and under the influence. Don’t like tents, again no problem as they have nice cabins. You don’t need the skills of Meriwether Lewis to enjoy a trip down a float stream, cook over a small grill or camp stove or navigate a roller. You don’t need anything but the wisdom to gather your family together and enjoy time as you recall the experiences that are a part of what you are. Courtois Creek, a gift from God, is the perfect place to gather.

Below you see Lucas in one of the more intense parts of our float. Does that help you frame the benefits of a float trip?

Have a great weekend.

SR

Hats Do A lot of Talking For Us………

Yesterday, I ran into a frail gentleman in a local eatery, escorted by his wife. He was sporting creased khaki pants, an ironed shirt and clean but worn footwear. He was the picture of gentlemanly conduct, soft spoken and observant as he smiled at the greeter recording his name for a table. He wore a ball cap that proclaimed his status as a World War II veteran, specifically in the European theater. His hat was telling a story even before I spoke to him thanking him for our ability to enjoy lunch on a blistering day in Springfield, Mo. There was a certain reverence about him and I am glad that I was able to enjoy a short conversation with this hero of days gone by. I am not sure why, but as we concluded our conversation he returned my appreciation for my military service, a keen observation as my past was not the topic of conversation. I suppose my query as to his unit in Europe triggered his confirmation as to my status as a veteran. His hat was the catalyst for a couple of vets to share a moment. This happening stimulated this musing about the unspoken words that hats convey.

Back around 2000, then Army chief of Staff, Gen. Eric Shinseki, made the decision to place soldiers in the US Army in black berets as opposed to the more traditional headgear. The General was not a fan of elite units within the Army and sought to water down the significance of the Green Beret for Special Forces troopers and Tan Berets for our Rangers. It is rumored that President Kennedy was stirring under his eternal flame as he was a devout admirer of the Army’s Special Forces trained at the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School at Ft. Bragg, NC. As warriors go, the Green Beret denotes a special kind of warrior that has earned his headgear much as a Seal earns the coveted trident insignia. The decision by Shinseki was subsequently reversed some ten years later. Another coveted hat in the military is the venerable brown campaign hat denoting drill instructors. Folks with a military background all know full well the aura that surrounds this hard earned headgear, specifically the conveyance of expectations that you WILL meet.

A good number of police organizations today wear a campaign hat, particularly state police organizations. Police officers endure many hours of training to earn the hat privilege and generally are considered to be “out” of uniform when they are not wearing their hats while in uniform. There exists much controversy within police ranks relative to the merits or demerits of wearing this headgear, but few can argue the professional bearing conveyed by the presence of a uniformed officer while “under” his hat. Hats that speak are not limited to the uniformed services…

One of my “trophies” is a simple flat brim straw hat that I bought while on an RV trip in Amish country in Ohio. The good Amish people are seldom seen without a covering on their heads, and these utilitarian hats are favored when outdoors working. For most of us, the appearance of one of these hats instantly conveys an impression related to a strong work ethic as well as an appreciation and adherence to Christian principle. You will seldom have occasion to question the Christian ethic of a person under this straw hat.

No treatise on hats would be complete without mentioning the venerable ball cap, which has been around a long time. Today, the brim of the hat conveys many identities, but one needs to be careful here. A flat brimmed cap, in certain colors might signify something entirely different for a flats fisherman as opposed to a young man in the inner city. Ball caps are intended to be utilitarian, but are often used to confirm one’s identification with a particular group or, as in the veteran above, a military past. A worn, red Dekalb seed cap, with sweat stains and an oil mark where it is grabbed each time it is picked up, worn by a denim and flannel clad man wearing dusty boots, is likely indicative of an individual who knows something about the farming industry.

Folks who are around emergency services recognize the venerable hat worn by firemen as a “leatherhead” now replaced by newer composite helmets offering better protection. Still the shape of this headgear immediately identifies someone associated with the fire services. The same can be said of the helmets worn by motorcyclists. If you think a bit, you can identify folks who value freedom and comfort (minimal skull cap helmets) over safety (full face helmets that are hot and confining). I am not moralizing here, merely pointing out the obvious. I have noticed a direct correlation between motorcyclists who wear minimalist helmets and the use of gloves when they ride. Full face guys are more likely to wear gloves than the minimalist riders, and hands are particularly vulnerable in even the most mundane of crashes. Check this out for yourself.

In summary, hats do a lot of talking about the wearer. A ball cap is almost always resting on my head, usually brightly colored denoting some place I’ve travelled to. My propensity to wear a cap is the result of many years wearing a campaign hat and…….honestly….to cover a head that is hair challenged. Removing the cap to sit down for lunch ages me instantly. 🥴

As you move about in the next few days, watch and see if the hats don’t talk to you!

Have a good weekend.

SR