Monica West, the aquatics director at Wildwood Athletics Club, gets her miles in no matter what the weather.
“She rides her bike in the winter and comes in looking like Nick of the North. Her helmet is covered and she looks like a space alien,” said Chris King, general manager of Wildwood Athletics Club. “I remember one time it was a blizzard, and she walked in and I said, ‘You actually did it today?’ and she said, ‘I’ve got to get my miles in.’”
Each week, West’s training schedule varies, but her goal stays the same: the Long Distance Triathlon World Championship in Perth, Australia, in October, where she will be one of 12 athletes representing the United States.
West said she is not thinking of her competition at the triathlon but going to represent the United States. and dedicating her race to all survivors – Sept. 11, 2001 survivors, the family of soldiers, the family of athletes who have died.
“When 9/11 happened, I sat there and watched the TV. I thought, ‘What am I going to do?’
I called friends and family and – you know – you make sure they know you love them. And then I went swimming.”
West qualified nationally at the 2008 Halfmax National Championship in Las Vegas and was invited to be a member of the Team USA at the world championship.
Amanda Duke, the Team USA coordinator at USA Triathlon, said Team USA was created by USA Triathlon and will represent the United States at the International Triathlon Union’s (ITU) world championships in Perth, where more than 50 countries will be represented.
“Being a member of Team USA is the highest honor an amateur multi-sport athlete can achieve,” Duke said in an e-mail to Toledo Free Press.
West, 35, said part of her inspiration for competing in triathlons comes from her work at Wildwood.
“My inspiration to do the best I could do ended up coming from watching my clients do the best they can do.”
Her inspiration to swim 1.2 miles, bike 56 and run 13.1, also stems from her fight to get her body in shape and healthy.
West worked as a pizza delivery person from 1993 to 2003. During that time she gained weight – she was 170 pounds and a size 16. In 1999, she tore the ligaments in both her ankles – she had been running incorrectly – yet continued training, hobbling to the side of the pool on crutches.
“I just wanted to be able to do my best,” West said of the time.
In 2000, she competed in a triathlon in Miami. Her body gave out; she finished dead last and in an ambulance with an oxygen tank.
“The triathlon changed my life because I became more diet and health conscience,” she said.
West graduated from the National Academy of Sports Medicine in 2002 and began working at Wildwood in 2003.
“Her first year, she kind of stepped back, kind of looked at the lay of the land,” King said. “After her first year, she just started blossoming and from that she started developing a rapport with people. She’s very respectful but at the same time very funny, which has helped her develop clients.”
West teaches 3-year-olds how to swim the butterfly stroke and has helped both children and adults overcome their fear of water. Her work also takes her on land, where she is a personal trainer. Her clients include a 10-year-old girl with Down syndrome and an 82-year-old man she coached to throw a pitch across the plate at Fifth Third Field.
“I’ve been able to use this journey to help people,” she said.
West said she needs to raise $7,000 to go to the world championship and launched a fundraising Web site, www.callittheroad.com.
Archive for April, 2009
Monica West, the aquatics director at Wildwood Athletics Club, gets her miles in no matter what the weather.
On the evening of September 20, 1948, NBC launched its Midwest TV Network with a gala 3 hour program originating from KSD-TV in St. Louis. Toledo’s WSPD-TV (now WTVG) was part of this six-station conglomerate.
By 1956 WSPD’s programs included Captain Kangaroo, Arthur Godfrey Time, Search for Tomorrow, Art Linkletter’s House Party, the Phil Silvers Show and ten minutes of news and weather at 11:00 p.m. followed by Les Paul & Mary Ford.
In the early, more thoughtful days of broadcasting a lot of attention was given to children’s programming. There was Romper Room, Miss France’s Ding Dong School, The Little Rascals, Soupy Sales and later the Mickey Mouse Club.
PBS now shoulders the responsibility of caring for our kids via television and they do a great job in my opinion. But is it coincidence or just my imagination that when main stream television walked away from its long-time commitment to serve the children in our communities that the moral landscape of our communities also changed?
Kids weren’t showing up at school with assault rifles back in the Howdy Doody days, but hey, maybe it’s just my imagination again telling me there just might be a connection.
In the gentle world of children’s programming, Jim Henson was a warrior who refused to stick with the status quo. Rejected by American television, he syndicated his work via Britain’s ACC group. His innovations connected new technology with the ancient art of puppetry and attracted a weekly audience of 235 million viewers at its peak. But for Henson, it was never about the money.
The biggest names in show business vied for guest appearances. Stars like Bob Hope, Steve Martin and Rudolf Nureyev who danced Swine Lake with Miss Piggy. U.S. network executives had said The Muppet Show was too-child oriented when they had turned Henson away.
Jim Henson didn’t just thumb his nose at “the system” that rejected his entrepreneurial vision, he chose to pursue value of content over money. And guess what? The money ultimately came to Henson, and rightly so.
In 1923, a small group of the world’s wealthiest and loneliest men gathered at the Edgewater Beach Hotel in Chicago. At the time, they collectively had more cash than the U.S. Treasury. But here’s what eventually happened to them.
Charles M. Schwab, head of America’s largest steel company died broke. Schwab became notorious for his “fast lane” lifestyle including opulent parties, high stakes gambling, and a string of extramarital affairs producing at least one illegitimate child.
The stock market crash of 1929 finished off what years of wanton spending had started. He spent his last years in a small apartment. He could no longer afford the taxes on “Riverside”, the most ambitious private house ever built in New York. It was seized by creditors. He had offered to sell the mansion at a huge loss but there were no takers.
At his death ten years later, Schwab’s holdings in Bethlehem Steel were virtually worthless, and he was over $300,000 in debt.
Also penniless at death’s door was wheat speculator Arthur Cutten. Richard Whitney, president of the New York Stock Exchange turned embezzler died in prison. Jess Livermore, Leon Fraser and Ivar Krueger, all Wall Street barons committed suicide.
The moral? Don’t confuse wealth with happiness. Always make things more enduring than money your first priority. Be a Jim Henson.
Listen to Limelight America on Fox Sports Radio 1230 WCWA, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday 5-6 pm and online at www.limelightamerica.com. You can e-mail Michael Drew Shaw at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A recent Gallup poll found that only 46 percent of Americans say their taxes are “too high.” Fifty-two percent of those earning between $30,000 and $75,000 said their taxes were “about right.” So why would more than half the people think that their taxes are ‘OK’? The IRS has the answer: those earning more than $388,806 in 2006, the top 1 percent of earners, paid about 40 percent of the taxes. The top 5 percent, those earning above $153,542, paid 60 percent of the taxes. And the top 10 percent, those earning more than $108,904, paid more than 70 percent of all taxes. The rest of the 90 percent of the population, those earning less than $108,904, only pay 30 percent of the tax burden. If you were 90 percent of the available group, but only paying 30 percent of the bill, wouldn’t you think your taxes were ‘about right’?
The problem with this is that so many of these individuals – and many government officials – believe that taxing “the rich” even more is the way to go. The question we should be asking is how much is enough? If paying more than 70 percent of the bill isn’t “enough,” why stop at 75 or 80 percent? Why not just say that everyone who makes more than $153,542 has to pay it all?
As it is, there are people who, instead of paying their “fair share,” end up getting money from the IRS – money they haven’t paid into the system, but that has been paid for by all those “rich” people. No wonder we’re having tea parties.
One of the best tax day tea party signs, which seems very relevant to Toledo: “You can’t fix stupid, but you can vote it out.”
I’m proud the government thinks I’m a right wing extremist. When believing in the Constitution, especially the 10th Amendment, gets a person labeled an “extremist,” we should wear that badge with honor – and then ask ourselves two questions: 1) Since when is a belief in the Constitution a prerequisite for being named an “extremist” and 2) Why isn’t everyone clamoring to be one?
Then there is the issue of immigration. If you, like me, believe that people should come into the country legally – following the laws duly established for such entry – you’re an extremist as well. Yes, the Department of Homeland Security thinks that people who support the laws of the nation and the “security” of our borders are “extremists.”
You just can’t make up this kind of stuff.
But not to worry – it’s not just those of us on the right-wing side of issues. You might be surprised to learn that many of our union brethren are also right-wing extremists. You see, if you are concerned about the loss of manufacturing jobs to foreign countries and are opposed to free trade, like NAFTA, you’re an extremist.
How many unions and their members have this opinion, especially in the Toledo area? I wonder what all the unions think of being a right-wing extremist.
With the push for “green jobs,” will anyone pay attention to what’s happened in Spain with its green job initative? President Barack Obama has used Spain’s green initiative as a blueprint for how the United States should use federal funds to stimulate the economy, and local politicians are falling all over themselves to jump on the bandwagon and spend even more money for the purpose.
But Gabriel Calzada, an economics professor at Juan Carlos University in Madrid, has done a study of the impact of Spain’s green job initiative.
Every green job created with government money in Spain over the past eight years came at the cost of 2.2 regular jobs, and only one in 10 of the newly created green jobs became a permanent job. Calzada said the United States can expect similar results.
“The arguments for Spain’s and Europe’s green jobs schemes are the same arguments now made in the U.S., principally that massive public support would produce large numbers of green jobs,” the report states. Contrary to intent, Calzada says the renewable jobs program hindered Spain’s attempts to emerge from its recession.
“The study’s results show how such green jobs policy clearly hinders Spain’s way out of the current economic crisis, even while U.S. politicians insist that rushing into such a scheme will ease their own emergence from the turmoil,” said Calzada. “This study marks the very first time a critical analysis of the actual performance and impact has been made.”
Will we ever learn?
Former Lucas County Commissioner Maggie Thurber blogs at http://thurbersthoughts.blogspot.com/.
Twelve nonprofit organizations in Toledo received grants as part of Toledo Community Foundation’s (TCF) Safety Net Grantmaking program. TCF announced April 22 that it awarded more than $145,000. TCF and United Way each designated $100,000 to the fund and matched every dollar donated with 50 cents, beginning March 2 until funds run out.
Joanne Olnhausen, TCF communications and scholarship officer, said 12 letters informing applicants of their grant were sent April 17. Donnajean Stockmaster received one of the letters.
Stockmaster, the administrative assistant for Toledo Area Ministries (TAM), said TAM received a grant for $25,000, which will go a considerable way in filling its cooperative of 13 food pantries. She said it typically spends between $6 to 10,000 a month for food and hopes this grant, which will go directly to purchasing food, will last three months.
“We’re afraid just like everybody else that our finances are going to run out and we want to make sure that we get every person possible who needs food,” she said.
Stockmaster said in 2007 TAM fed 62,000 people a three-day supply of food. In 2008, it went up to 73,000.
“It increased every month accordingly as the economy got worse and worse, and we are finding that same trend these first three months,” Stockmaster said.
Stockmaster said she asked for $25,000 but did not expect to receive it. Usually TAM receives grants for $2 or 3,000. Since September TAM, has received donations from church and individual food drives.
“Most people just have no idea what it’s like to go to the cupboard and not find anything there food-wise, especially if you have kids. So these are very trying times,” she said.
The other recipients are the American Red Cross, Greater Toledo Area Chapter, Beach House Family Shelter, the Campaign for Migrant Worker Justice, Feed Lucas County Children, Food for Thought, the Friendly Center, Lutheran Social Services, Monroe Street Neighborhood Center, Salvation Army NWO Area Services, Society of St. Vincent de Paul and the Toledo Lucas County Homelessness Board.
“We are thrilled with the response we’ve received to this fund so far, and hope to make an even bigger impact with additional distributions throughout the year,” said Keith Burwell, president of TCF.
Walt Churchill recently opened a second supermarket in a former Bassett’s store in Perrysburg.
Churchill opened Walt Churchill’s Market when he bought the store from Mike Bassett. Churchill is operating the Perrysburg store with minority partner Bob Carpenter, who worked at Churchill’s former store in Sylvania.
The Perrysburg location first opened as a Churchill’s store in 1991 and operated for 10 years until his father, Walter Churchill Sr. died. That store was sold to Farmer Jack, later purchased by Bassett and operated as Bassett’s Market.
“I bought the store from Mike Bassett and put my touch on it by incorporating our own improvements,” Churchill said.
They never closed the store after purchasing it because it contained a pharmacy and they felt an obligation to their many customers and 79 employees working there.
“People are very important to customer service,” Churchill said. “We built our business by listening to what our customers want. Demanding customers make good innovators.”
The Walt Churchill’s Market in Perrysburg is a 44,000-square-foot store with a full bakery, deli, fresh meats and produce, an extensive wine section and pharmacy.
“We’re resurrecting our bakery with our own ingredients and people,” Churchill said. “No one else in Toledo has a bakery where they make things from scratch. We make things from scratch with flour from King Arthur’s mill in Vermont.”
“It’s a competitive business so we try to stay on the cutting edge,” he said.
Darlene Carmona, manager of the Perrysburg market, began working for Churchill as a cashier when the store opened in 1991. She also worked there when it was Farmer Jack and Bassett’s Market and at other locations with during the past 20 years.
“We’re here to serve our customers and become a destination of choice for people in the community,” Carmona said. “We want the store to have a personality and give customers what they want to buy, not what we want to sell them.
“It’s like my home to me, so I want to treat them well and provide the service they want,” she said. “Walt is like the grandfather of the grocery business in this area, and I learned a lot from him over the years.”
Churchill said he doesn’t have plans to expand further at this time.
“We want to focus on our two stores, making it easy to shop at Churchill’s and to eat at home,” he said.
Churchill operates his other store near Fallen Timbers in Maumee, which he reopened in 2005. Churchill’s store on Central Avenue is owned and operated by the family trust since his father died and is not connected with the two new stores.
Churchill said the company has a management profit-sharing plan that could eventually become an employee ownership program. He said he believes it’s important to have a succession plan for the business.
Bassett, Carpenter and Churchill are partners in the Bassett’s Market located in Bellevue, according to Churchill.
I still remember the day it happened. I was up in Grand Rapids, Mich., studying to take the securities exam when I got the call. It was one of my dad’s friends. I was a bit confused as she told me, “It’s about your dad. We have a problem.” Thursday nights were always Dad’s night out for golfing and having fun with “The Boys.” At first, I thought he was in an accident.
It took awhile to sink in that Dad was gone; he had a heart attack and died that night in the garage. My brother Chris tried to save him by performing CPR in the driveway. The ambulance was called but was delayed by a road closed on the way to our house. We cried and cried, but Dad was still gone. It wasn’t until late that night that I stepped outside and saw one bright, shining star and realized my calling in life was to help others. Help them protect what they love and help them live for today while planning for tomorrow.
When someone thinks about life insurance, the first reaction might be, “Yuck!” or “I’ll look at that down the road.” Many times the thoughts of life insurance are negative for a variety of reasons. But we will all die. Set those ideas aside for a moment and consider the idea of life insurance being a powerful tool in the planning toolbox.
The power of insurance is the fact that it allows a policy owner the power to leverage dollars to ensure dreams and goals. Everyone’s wishes are different and unique. For Dad, his wish was that his children had enough money to go to college and provide for his family. For others, it could be family protection, as well as helping a church or a charity.
That’s the power of life insurance: It can ensure that dreams come true in the event of a premature death.
So what’s in it for you? Many would say that if I’m gone who cares, they get what’s left over. Many people plan on spending every dollar, and if the last check bounces, that is the perfect retirement. There is nothing wrong with that. But today, there are opportunities to build a tax-free retirement, provide a tax-free death benefit, and some policies include disability and long-term care insurance.
Imagine never having to worry about long-term care cost or being able to tap into a portion of your money and not worry about taxes. These features, along with many others, can provide substantial living benefits for the policy owner. Yep, all done through life insurance planning.
It was a blessing that Dad planned ahead. Dad, we did it. Rest assured, I have planned for my kids Andrew and Carter and my wife Karen. I have taken the advice of my colleague Mark and implemented a legal plan that matches my financial plan. Thanks, Dad, for thinking about me and helping me get a jumpstart in life. The loss still hurts, but the planning you did has made the journey a little easier.
Take time this week to review what’s important to you. Run a life insurance capital-needs analysis and make sure the numbers match. You may be surprised at the cost savings that is available today or how much additional coverage you can get for the same premium.
What if you’re not healthy enough to qualify? Many people can qualify, even though they think it is out of the question. Different insurance companies specialize in different risks. Some life insurance companies will issue policies on two people if one of them is reasonably healthy. So, if a legacy plan is your goal, it still may be possible to implement a plan.
For more information about today’s column and The Retirement Guys, tune in every Saturday at noon on 1230 WCWA and every Sunday at 11 a.m. on 1370 WSPD or visit www.retirementguysradio.com. Securities are offered through NEXT Financial Group Inc., Member FINRA / SIPC. The Retirement Guys are not an affiliate of NEXT Financial Group. Its office is at 1700 Woodlands Drive, Suite 100, Maumee, OH 43537.
Pulitzer Prizes were just announced this year and it struck a chord with me. These awards, which are given yearly for journalistic excellence, were given to a number of papers this year including the Las Vegas Sun, our own Detroit Free Press (along with the East Valley Tribune of Phoenix) for local reporting, and the Post-Star in Glen Falls, NY. Also winning in the state of New York, and probably of no surprise to anyone, was the New York Times, which won five of them. My congratulations to all of the winners (mentioned above or not).
Of these, The Times is probably no surprise to anyone in winning these awards because they have been long been recognized as the “paper of record” in the US. In fact, the Times has now won over 100 of these prizes administered by Columbia University in its history, a laudable achievement for any business. Of course The Times has invested a good bit of time and money in maintaining that journalistic reputation (real or imagined), which may account for some of the financial difficulties that it currently finds itself in.
In fact, “The Gray Lady”, a term of endearment given for its original stodgy appearance, and until recently its complete lack of color, is in serious financial trouble. Like many other major newspapers, recent expansions and equipment purchases, combined with advertising revenues that are down by as much as 40% across the country; have led it to reorganize, seek additional financing, and sell off assets. (The Tribune Corporation, owner of the Chicago paper of the same name, the LA Times, and other properties, has found itself in similar circumstances, as has our local daily newspaper.)
My personal experience with this goes back to a couple of recently attended newspaper conferences. Attendance was down at each of these events, with the national event being worst of all. And while those of us attending were commiserating about “Bowling Ball Days” (the ability to roll a bowling ball down the aisle of the convention hall without striking a customer), the discussion inevitably turned the industry’s future. While there is certainly doubt out there as to what it will be in the current economy, there is yet a belief that there is one (at least in the short term). Such survival however, will require a true paradigm shift. Like the auto industry, newspapers will need to face some dramatic re-thinking of the way in which they do business if they expect to continue to do so in the future. Because of the current backlash in the public over bailouts however, it is doubtful whether the newspaper industry will be able to count on one to help it.
I know that we are being told that the Internet has replaced the daily newspaper, but during one of these recent conferences, Chuck Moozakis of Newspaper and Technology pointed out to a receptive audience that newspapers are also a large part of that. If you don’t believe me, look at Google News after reading this and see how many of the articles posted are from newspaper web sites. Without those stories, and the accompanying ones from TV sites also based on newspaper reporting, there would be little to see in the Internet News.
Survival does not always seem to be the primary goal of these businesses. While many weekly newspapers, like their small and medium-sized daily counterparts, seem to have discovered a successful business model, their (so-called) more esteemed daily colleagues seem still to be struggling. It is the gratification of these prizes that seem more important to many publishers and editors of these major metropolitan newspapers. Ego seems to triumph over both good business and common sense in their rush to win prizes.
In the gatherings of production people that I was a part of however, there was the beginning of a common thread; adopted by many businesses that are today are already coming back in this challenging economy. If newspapers are to ultimately survive, they are going to need to become profitable organizations that occasionally win awards, and not award winning organizations who occasionally turn a profit.
(Something perhaps our city government might also wish to take note of.)
Taxation does not only affect homeowners and the rich of the American population. College students and recent graduates are also greatly impacted by severe and often unnecessary taxation by our government. This is why I chose to attend the Toledo Tax Day Tea Party, coordinated by Tricia Lyons and Steve Neiling. Increased government spending has in recent months become a common phrase in our nation’s media. President Obama has the economic stimulus package, the last half of the TARP legislation, and the omnibus spending bill at his disposal in his first three months on the job. Add to this his proposed new federal budget, and we are looking at the largest amount of spending that America has ever seen. This situation reminds me of a child who vies for his rich father’s love and respect. You can throw all the money you want at the problem, but in doing so you miss the root of the dilemma.
College students and recent graduates are faced with a unique situation in reference to taxation. Raising taxes on business results in decreased job opportunities and potential layoffs. Companies offset higher taxes by increasing the cost of goods and services rendered, which hits students right where it hurts. When a graduate finally lands a job, politicians like Toledo Mayor Carty Finkbeiner propose legislation to increase taxes on that person if he or she works outside the city but lives in its limits. Do you see a pattern? Nothing good comes from unnecessary taxation because it punishes those who work hard and spend wisely. It discourages businesses from investing in our region, and keeps the unemployment rate at its record high.
Headlines concerning the Tax Day Tea Parties are laden with phrases such as “right-wing extremism,” which, in my opinion, is quite the double standard. Protests in favor of things such as gay marriage and women’s choice are not affixed with the title of “left-wing extremism,” and are often displayed in the media as “understanding both sides of the issue.” I listened to an anchor on MSNBC recently take a ten minute block on his broadcast to ream the participants in the tea parties, using the argument that while no one likes to pay taxes, it is the “American” thing to do. This sounds vaguely reminiscent of a Joe Biden campaign quote.
Let me be clear: this is not a Republican or Democratic issue. We must form a unified front to combat the excess spending and taxation for the sake of future generations of Toledoans. Toledo is a great city, and to restore the faith of its citizens, our government must recognize the severity of its fiscal actions. The current budget problems that our mayor and city council are facing reflect poor financial decisions in previous years and an expanded city government, too big to provide the money essential to keep it afloat.
In a public administration class I attended as a UT undergrad, we researched and learned the different forms of municipal budgets and the pros and cons of each system. Toledo uses a version of the line-item system, comprised of lengthy deliberation over each aspect of the budget in order to cut or add funding where needed. Perhaps after this year’s apparent misjudgment of the funding needed to run our city, our government might try the performance-based approach to budgeting. This would review the effectiveness and efficiency of all government entities and make cuts where needed. It encourages competition in bids for goods and services purchased by the city, and shows our citizens that the government is using our tax money wisely. Most importantly, our elected officials must become familiar with the word “no.” We cannot continue to allow new programs to be created and publicly funded if no money exists to do so.
Toledoans are smart people. They do their job, often without complaint, and fork over their hard-earned money for politicians to use for city operation and maintenance. They, however, are not willing to keep politicians around who habitually waste their tax dollars. Perhaps the politicians of Toledo should take note.
Editor’s Note: Toledo Free Press and FOX Toledo are profiling, in random order, the top five vote-getters in the “Song of Toledo” contest. The winner will be revealed May 20.
Last summer, the phrase “won’t throw stones at Glass Cities” floated into her head, and Kyle White couldn’t get it out. She knew it represented an emotion she needed to express. At home on a June evening, White spent hours writing and recording – creating – the song “Glass Cities.”
“It’s really just something that I needed to get out, and it just came out. I’ve always been that way, even like painting or drawing. I will sit down and be completely focused and do it from beginning to end,” the Toledo songwriter said. “It’s not really that I wrote it as a song about Toledo. It is a song about how I feel about Toledo.”
White said she felt that she “had to” write the song – she needed to express her personal experiences.
“A lot of the reason I wrote it is that I’m always having to defend Toledo to people and explain to them why it’s such a great place and how we have it a lot better than other people and that they just don’t know what to look for, they’re only seeing the negative in things,” she said.
“Glass Cities” will appear on White’s new album, which she began recording in January and hopes to release in August. E.J. Wells, owner of Happyland Recording outside of Waterville, works with White and studio-recorded “Glass Cities.”
“Kyle’s song, while it is about Toledo, she didn’t write it for that purpose,” Wells said. “It’s not really about the town, it’s about sort of acceptance and not having to follow a trend of putting things down because they are not as hip as the next thing.”
White said the line before the chorus, “This is where my life was meant to be,” rings true for her.
“I do feel that way. I’ve had the opportunity to leave. I don’t have kids; I’m not married with kids – I could get up and go where I want – but I want to be here,” she said.
White said she enjoys Toledo, first of all, because of the people who are “genuine and nice.” She also loves the river and spends as much time as possible on her 18-foot ski boat. White is a self-described “travel bug” and has been to all but four states. Thus, she enjoys the city’s central location to Manhattan, Nashville, Tenn., and Chicago.
But she doesn’t look at Toledo through rose-colored glasses, either. With springtime comes potholes, she said. Two years ago, while driving down Glendale, she got two flat tires on the same night.
White said she was happy she was able to submit the song into the contest, but admitted that she doesn’t write music to win contests. She was happy to find out other people think positively of her city and were inspired to write a song about it.
“So, whatever comes of it, I’m happy living here and playing music for a living.”
OBAN (Western Scotland) – A Force Nine gale was blowing up in The Minch and Caledonian MacBrayne Ferries – CalMac to its friends – had canceled all sailings for the day. So Matthew, from Inverness, who has a girlfriend on the Outer Hebridean island of Barra, was in a bit of a quandry.
Should he carry on with his journey and trust that the weather would improve sooner rather than later – or simply abandon hope and holiday – and return to home base?
With the meteorological office forecasting two more bad and blustery days for Malin and The Hebrides, things didn’t look too good. But then that’s the price you probably have to pay for dating a beautician on a wee island four hours out on a ferry boat-bucking sea.
We remembered Barra only as a short ferry stop from several years before, but after hearing Matthew’s stories of white sandy beaches and a tiny population of 1,000 souls, crofters mostly (plus a beautician), we made a note to try and visit it again some day.
We had joined up with Matthew – and the CityLink bus that would take us to Oban via Fort William – at the bus station in Inverness. And on that early morning in March, the skies were as bright as the prospects for some magnificent views over Loch Ness and Loch Linnhe further down the road.
“Sit on the left side of the bus,” said Sheran, the helpful clerk who sold us our one-way tickets.
She was correct. And for the better part of an hour, we happily rolled along the banks of Loch Ness. Past castles, ruined and restored. Down narrow two-lane roads bordered by dry stone walls and sheep-filled fields, all the time admiring the views across this always-beautiful if mysterious 23-mile-long lake.
But, as we traveled further south, the weather began to unfurl. Dramatically. This was Scotland after all.
Heavy black clouds rolled in.
Strong winds whipped up whitecaps on the dark, brooding waters. And Nessie, keeping her head down, was nowhere to be seen.
By the time the bus reached Fort William, base camp for Ben Nevis, Britain’s highest mountain, the predicted storm was raging in earnest. And Matthew’s chances of making Barra looked dim indeed. We switched out ball caps for woolen hats. Wind breakers for heavier Goretex jackets. And found seats on the waiting bus that would take us to Oban.
The normally spectacular sights along this stretch of Argyll were now viewed through raindrops on windows and obscure at best. And it was only during brief breaks in the mist that we caught glimpses of the reddish brown moors and mountains, cascading waterfalls, patches of golden broom, cream-colored cottages with slate roofs, long haired highland cattle … and all the cairns and broken castles that bear witness to the storied history of this part of the Southern Highlands.
In Oban, the storm had seriously solidified. And we were happy when the bus deposited us right in front of our quayside hotel, The Royal Caledonian. Oban in the summertime is jammed with tourists and traffic waiting to board ferries out to the islands. To Mull. And Harris. Lewis. And Barra. And beyond. But on a wet and windy day in March, we had the place to ourselves as we set out to reacquaint ourselves with the sights.
The harbor, with its ferry terminal, bus and train station all conveniently grouped together, was eerily empty. Just a couple of firmly anchored fishing boats. Some skyward-blown seagulls. And nary a ferryboat in sight. While the tourist office, located in a redundant church nearby, and happy to see tourists, eagerly provided bags of brochures, booklets and posters announcing Scotland’s 2009 homecoming promotion.
It was while looking at the town’s main attractions, McCaig’s Tower, a coliseum-like folly built on a hill, and the Oban Whisky Distillery, that we bumped into Matthew once again who was on his way to a backpackers hostel properly fortified, he said, with three wee drams.
As our favorite pub, The Oban Inn, built in 1790, had fallen on hard times and closed its doors, we passed a pleasant evening instead at Aulay’s Pub, where old ferry and fishing boat photos filled the walls, a darts team tested their skills and pints of Belhaven’s Best Bitter went down very smoothly on a wet and windy March night in the Scottish Highlands.
E-mail travel columnists Roger Holliday and Claudia Fischer at RogerHolliday@wcnet.org.