24 September 2020

The Onion Dance

You know how you go into a fast-food restaurant, order and walk away with your custom-made food in about a minute? It wasn’t always like that. Case in point: in the late 1960s, when I was a kid, we would go to McDonald’s on rare occasions as a very special treat. You might remember, back then, burgers were made, wrapped and slipped down a slot – all day, all night, non-stop. The cashier would grab the first burger in line and give it to the customer – but not when it was a “custom order.”

I have never been able to digest onions; it’s something like an allergy. So, when my mom would order my cheeseburger, she had to ask for it without onions. That seems really simple doesn’t it? It’s easy now; but when my mother uttered those words, “No onions on the cheeseburger,” you could almost hear the food-production line come to a screeching halt.

She paid, and we were directed to stand at the side of the counter. We would wait, and wait, for what must have been five minutes for them to go slaughter a cow, butcher it, grind up some part of it, form it into a patty and then grill it without onions.

My mother stood in the corner, fuming. She wasn’t angry at the delay; she was angry at me for being the only person in the family with food allergies. Gee, sorry mom!

For a long time into adulthood, I resisted going to a fast-food restaurant knowing I would have to do the onion dance. I preferred places like Kentucky Fried Chicken (no onions) Taco Bell (lots of their menu items don’t have onions). Now, however, it seems like a new law has been passed that says every food item has to be made with onions. So, I ask every food-server, every time, if a certain something does or not have onions. It’s very annoying, but I have to do it or risk getting sick.

Just imagine how fun it is when I order it without onions, and it comes with onions, and I ask to have it made over. The production line comes to a screeching halt again while the cook goes out to find a fresh cow.

06 September 2020

Rushing to Judgement

Everyone thinks the life of a theater critic is mostly a bowl of cherries. Generally, it is; but here are two examples (excerpts from my personal journal) where I had to go above and beyond to make sure to get to the theater on time. At the time of these incidents, I was working for "The Phoenix Gazette" afternoon newspaper, which has since been closed. 

25 November 1991 – Monday

Just talked with press woman at Phoenix Little Theatre. We talked about how I arrived nearly late [for “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill”]. She told me that the stage manager contacted her at about 7:58 p.m. telling her "We're ready to go," and that she replied "Christopher McPherson's not here yet! We can't start until he gets here! Something's happened to him! He's not here yet!" In telling me this, she then laughed and said, "What other critic has had the curtain held for him?" Also, she told me that on Friday, when my review of the show came out, "the phones rang off the hook like ape-shit. People say no one reads the Gazette, and then something like this happens. I don't know."

And again, eight months later.

29 July 1992 – Wednesday

Yesterday, I got a flat tire en route to the theater (it was a nail) which is normally not a bad thing; however, as I was attempting to change the tire, and the winds and rain of our usual freak summer storms began, I got to the part when you take the lug nuts off the tire and, guess what?!, NO LUG NUT WRENCH! So, I called the auto service which sent this very nice man who changed the tire for me (the rain was coming down in buckets, by the way) and I zoomed downtown, parked just down the street from the theater, grabbed my folder, vaulted the oleander hedge on the side of the lot, raced to the theater, zipped up to the box office, grabbed my ticket -- and got there JUST before the show, Donna McKechnie in “I'm Getting My Act Together and Taking it on the Road,” started. (I had called the theater to tell them I might be late. I suspect they held the curtain for me. I don't know, but it has happened before.…)

In the nearly ten years I reviewed theater in Phoenix, these are the only two examples where I was almost late.

24 August 2020

The Life and Death of an Arizona Pottery

The La Solana company was operated by owner George Bergstrom and vice president Dean Gehlbach. Over the past two years, I have been in correspondence with Kurt and Richard Gehlbach. Dean Gehlbach is the grandfather of Kurt and Richard. Kurt and Richard's father, also named Richard, eventually took over the company after serving as foreman. The sons were slated to take over La Solana next, but the company ended up going out of business. Richard (the son) has recently shared with me a little background on how the company worked and how it went out of business. Here, with a little editing for brevity, is what he had to say:

La Solana Potteries [was located] in California and moved to [Scottsdale] Arizona sometime between May 1952 and March of 1954. My father was the foreman. He was married in California but his first daughter was born in Phoenix (Az). The reason [for the move] was probably economics. California is and has always been an expensive place to live and build a business. La Solana Potteries did a good business at times but they were basically month to month and year to year. Their primary market was the mid-west of the United States. Their products were very popular because grocery stores were buying Solana Ware and giving [it] away as rewards to attract shoppers. Solana Ware was good quality, stood up to heat, and had pleasant colors. [Its] one major downfall was [that it was] breakable if dropped [and] chipped if not careful.

Scottsdale is now a ritzy, expensive town but in the early 1950's it was a town looking for an identity and begging businesses to locate there. La Solana potteries was lured there with some promises I am sure. They took over an old Coca Cola bottling plant; I believe it was about Main and 2nd Street. Upon moving to Scottsdale the whole town was happy they were part of the community. If the pottery needed a loan they simply walked down the street to the Arizona Bank, told them how much they needed, and with a hand shake the deal was done. Scottsdale promoted itself as "The West's Most Western Town" with rodeos, staged shootouts, parades, a great climate, and lots of land for sale. Growth exploded.

[Three things began to work against the company:] the development of Corning Ware, a heat resistant [material] that was lighter and non-breakable; the oil embargo and the sky rocketing natural gas prices of the early '70s; and the city's transition from a western themed town to the glitzy, artsy, wealthy place to move. The company they lured and loved in the '50s was no longer needed and since they were doing business in a plain cement manufacturing building, they were now an eyesore. Scottsdale demanded that they renovate the outside of their building to better represent an artsy city.

By this time Mr. Bergstrom had retired as did Dean Gehlbach. Richard Gehlbach became president of the business and he was the one facing [the three threats]. These were the start of the plant's downfall.

I literally came home from high school to see my father lying on his bed with a chest pain shooting down his left arm. We all know that is a sign of a heart attack but he refused to go to the doctor as we had no money. Half the time he did not bring home a pay check because he had to pay the bills and his employees.

I worked at the plant for a few months in 1973 but he had to lay people off. He tried to find a buyer for the business and that was successful. They were the ones who wanted the business moved to Mesa near Falcon Airfield. The move did take place, after the sale, I believe it did not stay in business long [and they] eventually just liquidated assets.

La Solana Potteries never had the capital to compete with other businesses but most importantly they did not have the capital to change so they could keep competitive. They did dabble in a couple of ideas, one that you mentioned white pieces of ware with aqua utensil designs, which are somewhat rare. Even more rare was a line of items with Native American designs from a local artist. They also created a dated set of plates, also with Native American Designs.

-- Richard Gehlbach, August 2020

Read more about "La Solana" pottery here.

01 August 2020

Summer Reading

I've gone through some of the books I've written and put together a little sampling that you might enjoy to get your mind off all the (shall we say) interesting events going on in the world. These are perfect for the beaches (most of which are closed), reading with friends (groups of which are discouraged) or snuggled in a chair with your favorite cat or dog on your lap.

Click on an image to find the Amazon listing.

I've written other books. You can see them all listed on the right-hand-side navigation pane.