“The Cue Ball” Holds History

You know the experience. You walk through a door and you think, “Am I in the right place?” That’s how I felt when Mike and I strolled into “The Cue Ball” in Salem, Oregon one afternoon on our “Great 2018 Pool Hall Road Tour.”.It looked like a pool hall as we stood in the doorway;  there were players at the tables.  But about a third of the way alongside the left wall was large opening and through the opening we could see from a sideways glance that some kind of furniture piled on top of each other. At first I thought I was in a pool hall slash furniture warehouse, but when we walked through the opening we could see that the large pieces of “furniture” were pool tables. You just don’t get to see that many legs in the air at one time unless you’re in the front row of the Rockettes in Radio City Music Hall, and I still couldn’t figure out why these tables were there. Mike must have realized right away because he left me standing there dumbfounded while he was already walking into the next room where other pool tables were doing what they’re supposed to do, standing up right with no other table on top of them.

A Room That Displays Things Is A ….

It wasn’t long before the owner, Jimmy came in. I think he was wondering what I was up to. Even I was wondering what we were up to!  I guess I was trying to figure out what exactly this place,”The Cue Ball,” was.  Was it a museum, a furniture warehouse, an assisted living program for old pool tables?  No. On closer look, the tables stacked in front of my eyes (there must have been 8 to 12 in that room) were all brand new, all different woods, different makes and different models.

This was a showroom!  I was standing in the middle of a pool table showroom! “People come in and pick out a model of table for their home,” Jimmy explained slowly so it would somehow sink through my head. “They can order their choice of pockets and special cloth.  They can order a 7, 8, or 9 ft table dependent on their room size.”

When you think about it, stacking up the tables on top of each other is the best solution for a pool table showroom. You can fit more models into your space and still get a pretty good idea of what the table beneath it looks like, so I was getting the picture.

Statues, Murals, and Memories

Jimmy probably figured out from the moment we walked in that we hadn’t come to buy a pool table, but I now felt compelled to explain exactly what we were doing at his pool hall/showroom.  I had no idea what Mike was doing. He’s pretty much a Lone Ranger when it comes to pool halls.  So Jimmy, being a kind and easy-going guy who has a lot of history burning a hole in his pocket, was quite willing to answer my questions as he showed me around.

I would have needed to have remembered my Shorthand class in high school much better to write down everything Jimmy explained to me about this unassuming space and the history of the objects in it.  Jimmy has been in the business for fifty-five years, so he has met with some of the great pool players of our time and has some artifacts from historic places around Oregon.  One or two of the murals on the back wall of “Cue Ball” is from an auction of articles from a famous hotel on the Columbia River in Portland. (Perhaps Jimmy said “The Red Line: or “The Red Lion,” I’m not sure.)  The life-size stature of the pool players are from a billiard club that went out of business.  I don’t think those guys are ever leaving “The Cue Ball.”  If you stop into “The Cue Ball” in Salem, be sure to check out the wall on the right.  There’ll you’ll find an old poster of “Cowboy” Jimmy Moore who put on a demonstration at “The Cue Ball” back in the day.  Any one who has been around pool players has heard the name Mosconi and apparently Jimmy Moore had beaten Mosconi at one point, and, Minnesota Fats.

But The Best…

But while you’re looking at the right wall, you’ll see a space saved for the memory of a special friend of Jimmy’s, Don Malarkey. There’s a painting signed by Don Malarkey who was a member of “the band of brothers,” one of the groups of paratroopers who landed on the beaches of Normandy on D-Day, 1944.  If I had had my wits about me, I would have told Jimmy about my former father-in-law, who had told me stories about that day – being pulled down into the sea because of the equipment they landed with – not finding their unit for days afterward.  However, American historian Stephen E Ambrose, compiled the story of that campaign from extensive interviews with veterans of the “Easy Company.” the Airborne’s 506th Regiment.J, and Don Malarkey was one of them. Spielberg’s movie with Tom Hanks was made following that book and the HBO series, Band of Brothers, is from that era.  Jimmy was proud of the large impressive slate carving of a pool hall on the wall which he told me, was a gift from his long-time friend, Don.

Time had slipped away from us that afternoon at “The Cue Ball,” but before we had to leave, it occurred to me that there must be a reason that Jimmy Lebold has kept this pool hall/pool table/pool equipment shop running all these 55 years.  I could guess what that reason might be, but I thought I’d ask to find out.  His answer was not what I expected.  I thought he might have said because he loves the game of billiards or that it’s been a nice living.  But he didn’t.  He didn’t have to stop long to answer either.  “The reason I keep doing this?” he reiterated.  And then he said, as if it was obvious, “That’s easy. It’s brought me hundreds of friends!”

Marko in Portland

As if our 2018 Pool Hall Road Trip didn’t confirm my suspicions about pool hall players, we met Marko. 

League play was going on at Sam’s Family Billiard’s when we walked in, and a young man was just ready to give up his table to the league players when Mike walked over.  “Wanna shoot?” Mike asked. The young man was hesitant, obviously considerate of the league needs.  The league director, though said “Sure go ahead. Use the table. You have time.”

Game on. “Hi, I’m Marko,” and he shook Mike’s hand. Meanwhile I just sat at a table close by drinking a vodka tonic reading a book on my cell phone. I was close enough to hear Mike and Marko talking a bit while they were playing.  I detected a very slight accent and thought maybe Marko was from Canada! At the end of the game I heard Mike say,  “I hear a little accent.  Are you from Croatia?”

Now I know Mike has a good ear, but I’m thinking to myself, “How in the world did Mike pick Croatia? Marko might have wondered too because at that very moment, he told Mike, “No one has ever guessed my accent correctly before.  You’re the first.” For some reason I felt proud of Mike.  It seemed like he was a some kind of bon vivant who traveled the world somehow without my knowing.

As Mike and Marko finished putting their cues back in the cases, Mike brought Marko over to the table to introduce him to me. Mike explained a little about our road trip visiting pool halls on the West Coast and Marko seemed interested. I hadn’t intended to interview anyone at Sam’s and didn’t even bring my notebook.  But sometimes you meet people that just radiate openness, even kindness, so I asked Marko if we could chat for a few minutes.  Mike went to the bar to order a beer.

I started our chat with my usual question about work. Given my interview with Christina at Fast Eddie’s in Santa Cruz and Brian at Hard Times in Sacramento, I was not at all surprised when Marko told me that he was a Storage and Data Protection Administrator in Computing Infrastructure Services at Portland State University.  (I swear if I ever go back to grad school, I’m going to do research on the correlation of billiard players to computer technology and other sciences.  Strong and Campbell were right on way back in the 70’s devising a test*** that would guide you into a career based on your outside interests, but I digress.)

When Mike came back with his beer, I told him what Marko did for a living. That’s when my eyes started to glaze over as the two of them began speaking in another language – not Croatian of course – but “Computer-ese.” When they finally got back to words I could understand, I found out that Marko is doing graduate work at Portland State. (That’s one of the reasons he doesn’t actually belong to a league at “Sam’s Family Billiards’ – studying takes precedence over shooting pool.)

I asked Marko how he got interested in shooting pool. It seems there are not a lot of pool or billiard halls in Croatia, but he told me he was always fascinated watching the game on TV.  “That’s how I learned,” he said.  “From watching it on TV!”  Now I was the one who was fascinated!

Of course when you’re a seventy-something interviewing a thirty-something the “mom gene” kicks in and you feel you have permission to ask questions that normally you wouldn’t just blurt out.  So of course, as you might guess, I just went ahead sans boundaries, “Do you have a girlfriend?” Marko’s face lit up.  When he told me that his girlfriend’s major was in the area of Linguistics I was intrigued. We started to talk about the phenomenon of right brain people being attracted to left brain people and vice versa.  Because Marko is such an affable young man I could share with him some of the idiosyncrasies of Mike and my relationship.  I think I might have thrown in a commercial for my app, “The Perfect Husband App”, but since I wasn’t taking notes, I’m not sure.

The most exciting outcome of my interview with Marko is that he plans to take a trip down to Orange County, California when his parents come to visit.  I told him about my article with a one-day itinerary, “What to See in the OC,” and being the open-minded agreeable guy he seems to be, I’m pretty sure he’ll check it out.  Most of all I hope he sends us a text message if he happens to go to Balboa Island.  We’d love to have lunch with him and his parents.  And as always, the best part of interviewing people on road trips; you might meet them again along your path!

*** More about the Strong Interest Inventory

A Sister on the Fly

Mike’s Sister/Aunt Sue, is one of those generous-hearted people who finds fascinating pictures and video to post on Facebook.  (The reason I call her sister/aunt is because Sue is my husband Mike’s aunt, but she’s his same age.  I simply can’t bring myself to refer to her as Mike’s Aunt! However, if I use my term she’d technically be my sister/aunt-in-law, and that has just way too many keyboard symbols in it.  Let’s just call her Sue.)

Sue is like a Facebook Ellen DeGeneres. Everyday she features some wonderful gift for the audience to take home. It might be a picture or a video or a story that makes you laugh, or cry, or just plain informs you. It’s a calling of sorts, I think. So on July 22 Sue posted a perky video like the one above of women who belong to “Sisters on the Fly.” Apparently this group of women campers has been around for a while, (1999 according to their website) but this was the first I had ever heard of them!

The very next day after seeing Sue’s video – really, I’m not kidding – the very next day, Mike and I met Valerie. We had stopped for gas at a Shell station in Corning, CA.  We might never have thought a thing about the little camper at the other pump; it’s is pretty a common sight on a road trip.  But then we noticed the pink hubcaps and the bike on the back, just one – a girl’s bike. I turned to Mike, “Do you think she’s ….”
He finished my sentence,  “…a member of that group?”
And then we both said simultaneously, “What’s its name again?”

So Mike, never being shy talking to women, went over to ask this stranger if she belonged to that group “something or other.” Sure enough, she did!  He was actually talking to Sister 4957 of “Sisters on the Fly”.  Her name is Valerie, she told us. Mike asked if he look through the windows into her sweet vintage camper while I asked if she had time for some quick questions. (The “on the fly” part was flashing in my mind, and I sensed this cheerful woman with “Happy Camper” on her T-shirt was anxious to get back on the road to meet up with her sisters.) But she saw the “BloggingOnWheels” sign on our car and was happy to chat a bit.

“I can’t believer it.  I never heard of your group and just yesterday saw a video on Facebook! I think this is so cool, but I’m not much of a joiner,” I said. It’s then, that Valerie started explaining more about the group and why she loved it.

“You can participate as little or as much as you like. It doesn’t matter if you’re more of a loner or a joiner. There’s room for everyone.”

She went on to reiterate the points made in the video on Facebook. Aside from their love of the outdoors, the interests of these women are as varied as the interiors of the campers they decorate.  I then thought I heard Valerie say something about having meals catered in on their trips so no one has to cook (?) Mike confirmed that fact when we got home. I thought, joiner or no, these are my people! Valerie mentioned the variety of classes that are held during their various outings and later when I went to the website I found information about becoming a vendor and some amazing service work they do when other sisters are in need.

People were lining up at the pump behind us, so we waved good-bye and let Sister 4957 get back on the road. Mike then told me about the inside of Valerie’s camper. “No bathroom, but it’s got a stove with an oven, refrigerator, and sink.” The sink seemed very important to Mike and his sales pitch made me wonder if he was looking forward to the day when I would take off for the week with the good sisters. He probably had visions of taking a blanket over to Danny K’s pool hall in Anaheim, sneak under a table when they locked up, and be there in the morning to shoot pool the next day.

As for me, I’m starting, just starting, to wonder just how could get my hands on a cute vintage camper and what kind of theme I’d chose for decorating the inside. The founders of Sisters on the Fly, Becky and Maurrie had a an adventurous role model in their mother who taught the two how to enjoy the outdoors and become capable, independent women.  My mom had other gifts, more indoors-y kind of gifts..But all this make me think.  Maybe I could become that kind of adventurous mother for my daughter, Bethany.  You know the old saying, “You only regret the vintage camper you didn’t buy.”

If it hadn’t been for Sue’s video, I probably wouldn’t have found out about about this fascinating group.  I probably wouldn’t be figuring out the possibility of taking off by myself for a week or two and meet up with the sisters. So thank you to Sue for another of your Facebook gifts. I feel like I’ve been to the Ellen show and just won something really nice!

The Woman in the Turquoise Bandanna

We’ve all experienced it – that feeling when you’re traveling in a strange town, and you meet someone with a connection to something familiar.  I don’t know the name for it.  It’s serendipitous when it happens, yes, but what is the feeling? Maybe there’s word for it in a different language.  I don’t know.

The best I can describe it right now is the “unexpected joy of connection”. That’s how I felt when I started talking to the woman in a turquoise bandanna and her husband sitting in front of the Chart Room Restaurant in Crescent City, CA waiting for a table. Mike was inside putting his name on the list.  I don’t often start a conversation with people in recent years. When I was young, I used to strike up conversations with everyone I met, but now Mike is usually the one much better at that than I am. But I struck up a conversation with this woman.  Maybe it was the turquoise bandanna she wore that made her seem so accessible. It’s lucky I wasn’t wearing my own favorite green or red scarf that I like to fold in a triangle and tie under my hair in the back. I would have worried that the people in the restaurant Continue reading The Woman in the Turquoise Bandanna

Our First Drive-by Smile

imageInterrupting the sequence of this blog (STAY TUNED FOR “The Woman in the Turquoise Bandanna) to bring you late, breaking news.  We received our first drive-by smile about an hour ago on US 101 north of Cloverdale.  How sweet!  The girl in the car waved at our “Smile, blogging on wheels!” sign.  Here’s to you, sweet young girl.