Sunday, June 24, 2007

Transcending Tragedy

Surviving a Tornado's Devastation
By Carol Bogart

Reading recently about the lives lost in a little Kansas farming community of 1400 with homes, businesses, churches and schools scattered like kindling across the plains, I was reminded of the tornado I experienced not long ago in Ohio.

Kansas is known as "tornado alley" – but Ohio has its fair share as well. When a wag quipped, "May the earth stay still" upon learning of my plan to move to California, it crossed my mind that the destruction I'd witnessed after that tornado looked pretty much like the pictures I'd seen after California's Loma Prieta earthquake in '89.

Nature's power is hard to fathom until you witness it first hand.

I remember exiting a supermarket, following the young man who would load my groceries into my trunk, when I noticed that the air seemed unusually balmy for Ohio. "Nice weather," the young man remarked. "Not," I remember saying, "if it's a tornado." I somehow had a sense of the change in air pressure.

As soon as I had the groceries put away, I went out on my deck and looked at the sky. The clouds had converged to form a dense, low, angry black solid line.

It seemed headed in the direction of the county in which I had a farm for sale.

Sure enough, that's where those clouds swirled themselves into a funnel and turned into an F4 tornado. F4s are bad.

My farm was spared. Other "century" (100 year old or older) farmhouses and barns were not. One elderly man, worried about his herd of cows, stood in the doorway of his big, built-by-hand barn and watched as it collapsed around him. Tops were ripped out of the many large trees around his Victorian brick farm house. Forty years earlier, he'd planted each tree as a small sapling. All of it … gone in an instant.

Mennonites from Pennsylvania came and rebuilt his barn. They would comment that they'd never seen anyone control a herd of cows with a whistle.

Another family made it into their storm cellar – and for a long three minutes – the tornado passing over them sucked out every breath of air.

One young couple thought their cat was gone for good, only to find it weeks later, still huddled inside what was left of a single wall.

Most amazing, perhaps, was the young boy – 9 – home alone who remembered what the mother he'd just lost to cancer told him to do during a tornado. Putting his small dog in a carrier, he pulled all the cushions from the couch and covered himself with them when he lay down in the bathtub, far from windows that could implode and turn into hundreds of missiles of shredded glass. When his frantic father finally made it through mountains of neighborhood debris in search of his son, his house had but one room left standing: the bathroom where boy and dog were cowering.

People mourned the loss of their family photos. They wondered how they would do their taxes with all their records gone. One grandma shed tears thinking about the antique cookie cutters the tornado swept away. That year, the grandkids would not be making Christmas cookies.

Despite the loss of so many precious things, each told me the same thing: "We're alive. We're safe. We have each other."

It was all that mattered.

Carol Bogart is a freelance writer. Read her columns at Contact her at

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Life Lessons in Everyday Places

Supermarkets: A Good Place to Study People
By Carol Bogart

Being a journalist, I am, as you may know, a trained observer. Each week (or every other), my big outing, generally, is going to the grocery store. During these outings I've noticed something: who else is there shopping depends on the day of the week and time of day.

For example, I try to avoid Saturdays unless I'm in a mood to be social.

On Saturdays, harried parents with one to three kids in tow do their grocery shopping. Aisles are often crammed with carts designed to look like cars.

You will also find shoppers who don't understand supermarket etiquette, such as, no, it's not OK to park your cart squarely in the middle of the aisle while you bend over scrutinizing which of seven types of soup to buy.

This is called being an aisle hog.

Other shoppers don't like it.

The correct etiquette is, when you know you need a minute on a busy day, squeeze your cart flush to the shelving and load from the front, not the side.

This is called courtesy.

Anyway, if I'm in an all-the-time-in-the-world sort of mood, occasionally I shop on Saturdays on purpose just because I like people.

Shopping on Friday evenings is a favorite – provided I get to the store by 8:30 or 9. Not too many people shop on Friday night. You're in, you're out, you're done.

I try not to, however, shop on Fridays after 10 p.m.
Friday night, 10 p.m. or later, is when you're most likely to find unsavory characters roaming otherwise deserted aisles.

They may or may not have a cart.

And then there's the parking lot issue.

Studies show parking garages, public restrooms, elevators and parking lots are where you're most likely to encounter your local ax murderer.

One time when I was at the store I noticed a girl, maybe 7 or 8, by herself admiring the roses in the plant section next to produce. Just as I started scanning around looking for her parents, an irate dad came charging up and gave her a swat. She was startled, embarrassed and offended.

I was shocked. He'd slapped her hard on the back of her bare leg before even speaking to her.

As they turned to go, he loudly berated her for all the time he'd spent looking for her. I wondered whether he would tell her the story of Adam Walsh, son of America's Most Wanted host John Walsh. Six-year-old Adam wandered away from his mother in a Florida store. His head was found floating in a canal.

I understood the father's worry, but not how he'd expressed it. The child's body language said it would be awhile before she forgave him that public humiliation.

A recent supermarket excursion brought me in contact with a young man who, the first time I noticed him, sort of scared me. I think maybe he has Tourettes. It's not that he spews profanities. He just sort of – barks. Off and on. Once in awhile. Not on purpose.

As I parked my car that Saturday (I was feeling sociable), I heard him barking while he collected carts.

Some time back I'd concluded he was harmless so just ignored him.

As I checked out, he was bagging.

The cashier asked me if I wanted help.

Since I'd loaded up on Purina-on-sale for Pumpkin, the world's fattest cat, and my arthritis was bothering me, I said, "Sure."
The young man followed where I pointed. With nary a bark, he loaded my groceries into my trunk and told me, "Have a nice day."

I looked up to thank him, and in his eyes, saw the sort of guile-free friendliness you often find in those with Down Syndrome.

After that, whenever I saw him, I stopped and talked with him a bit. If he made involuntary sounds, I heard them as reminders to not be so judgmental.

Carol Bogart is a freelance writer. Read her columns at and her articles at Contact her at

Sunday, June 10, 2007

The Night a Hooker Hijacked My Son

No, It's Not Paranoid to Lock Your Car Doors

The other night I rescued my son from a crack whore who jumped into his car at the gas station just after he paid for his gas.

He totally didn't know what to do. He was supposed to bring me back the credit card and the gas station's only five minutes away. When he'd been gone a half hour, I called him on his cell phone – and could hear what was clearly a young-ish female refusing to get out of his car and refusing to let him drop her off anywhere but some bad neighborhood where, no doubt, her pimp would have jumped in the car with a gun and robbed or killed him.

Luckily he wasn't very far away. I said, "Mike, you're in a very dangerous situation there. Just come back here."

So he told her he was going to take her to his "parents" house because they'd know what to do, and he didn't. He'd already told her his "dad" was a "cop." In fact, I am a single mom and I live alone.

I heard him ask her if she wanted him to take her to the police station. (When she'd unlocked his car door through the open window and jumped in the car, she'd been all frantic and said her boyfriend was after her and was going to hurt her. "C'mon baby," she berated my bewildered son. "We gotta go go go!"). No, she told him. She had no interest in being dropped off at the police station.

After I instructed him to come back to my place, I went outside to wait on the back steps to my apartment building, cell phone in hand. On two wheels, he came screeching into the parking lot next door. From inside his car, I could hear this hooker carrying on. I was in Mama Rambo mode. Charging across the parking lot behind my apartment building, I headed for his car. Mike leaped out, putting some distance between himself and whatever was about to happen.

As I got to within about a foot of the car, I could see that the window on her passenger side was still down. Cold and clipped, I ordered her to, "Get out of his car!" She didn't budge. "Ah'm sorry," she began, gesticulating wildly, "I took some f_ _ _ed up sh_ _ … ."

I cut her off.

"RIGHT NOW!!" I said, a threat implicit in my tone. The cell phone in my hand made it clear I could easily call 9-1-1.

The door swung open and she stepped out, in her stiletto heels, tiny tight skirt and great big hair.

She stopped, and acted lost. I pointed toward the corner. With zero sympathy, I said, "Turn right at that stop sign. Keep walking. You'll end up back at Chevron." She tottered away with one backward glance – but saw my crossed arms and kept on walking. And we didn't hear another peep – after all that noise she'd been making in the car with Mike!

Mike, meanwhile, was about as rattled as I've ever seen him. He told me, "Good job, mom. You were scary!" "Car doors," I said. "Lock them. Always."

Carol Bogart is a freelance writer. Read her columns at and her articles at Contact her at

Thursday, June 7, 2007

When Ronald Reagan Died, I Cried

He Once Took Pity on a Rooky Reporter
By Carol Bogart

Turns out former President Ronald Reagan kept a diary throughout his two terms in office, a daily diary that notated his thoughts on everything from world leaders to his occasional belief that we tottered on the brink of Armageddon. Excerpts are now published in Vanity Fair magazine.

Even had I not had a personal encounter with then-presidential candidate Reagan in the late '70s, I would have felt an affinity for the man who would later openly announce he suffered from Alzheimer's – just about the time I was losing my dad to the mind-robbing disease.

My experience with Reagan began when the assignment desk at the TV station I worked for in Atlanta sent me to cover his scheduled news conference at Peachtree Plaza. Our assignment editors tended to be Johnny-Come-Latelies – and the joke at our station was, "If it's news today, it's news to us."

This track record held true when I entered the ballroom in which Reagan had been scheduled to speak, only to learn the news conference had ended 10 minutes earlier. Radioing the desk, I said simply, "We missed it."

The assignment editor – probably fearing for his job – informed me that if I didn't interview Ronald Reagan, my employment would be terminated. I'd been a TV news reporter for exactly 15 months – 13 of them sentenced to Scranton, Pennsylvania. Now there's nothing wrong with Scranton. It sits within easy driving distance of the Big Apple and the lovely Pocono Mountains. However, back then (and perhaps now), this old coal mining town rolled up its sidewalks at 10 p.m. Not many fun things to do for a fun loving anchorette just out of college.

So, I was pretty darned excited when I landed a job in the "New York of the South." Atlanta was oh-so-cosmopolitan. So what if every damn street was named Peachtree this and Peachtree that and I spent my first months there in utter confusion – particularly since the native tongue sounded nothing like the English I'd grown up with in Ohio. It took awhile for me to understand that PO-leese meant police, and that Pontsduleeun was Atlanta-speak for Ponce de Leon – a major thoroughfare nicknamed "PDL" (which is easier to say than Pontsduleeun).

I'd had that Atlanta dream job for all of two months when the assignment editor threatened my livelihood should I fail to land the Reagan interview.

What to do.

Desperate, I approached the clerk at the front desk and asked him for the phone number in Reagan's room. Going to a house phone by the elevators, filled with trepidation, I dialed it.

Mr. Reagan answered on the second ring, sounding rushed and impatient. I explained who I was, and just told him the truth. I was a new reporter, we'd arrived late for his news conference and, swallowing tears, I said, "If I don't interview you, I'll lose my job."

He told me he was about to leave for Hartsfield Airport, headed to another campaign stop, but that if I promised I wouldn't take more than 5 minutes, he would come down.

I promised; he did; I turned in the taped interview – and not only did I not lose my job, the following year other stories I'd done were awarded double Emmys.

Throughout the years of Ronald Reagan's presidency, all politics aside, I always remembered his act of kindness toward a scared, green kid – when he needed to catch a plane.

Carol Bogart is a freelance writer. Read her articles at and her columns at

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Off-Roading in the Rockies

"Take a mental picture - you'll never see this again"
By Carol Bogart

Some years back when I won the inheritance lottery, I promptly invested in a Range Rover. It was a great deal. The Denver dealership was selling 10 "at cost." As the Colorado dealership supplying Aspen movie stars, it had won top sales honors nationwide. The $29,000 Rovers were the prize.

Soon after, the new owners were offered an opportunity to go offroading – a smart move on the dealership's part, designed to hook the owners on Range Rovers for life. It involved a caravan of 8-10 new Rover owners offroading to the top of a 14-footer - no roads, just trails through the forest, driving up over boulders, fording a creek, crossing fallen trees. It was remarkable what that car could do.

They lined us up with me and the two 4-year-olds sandwiched between all the other SUVs - with a grandfather and his 6-year-old directly behind us. The rest of the drivers seemed to be guys in their 30s.

As we neared the peak, all the forest fell away - and we were high enough to look out across snow-covered peaks that were down below us. By that time, I was just about paralyzed with terror. I told the two boys: Take a mental picture, because you will never see this again.

Even skiing, I'd never been up that high.

They'd outfitted everyone with walkie talkies so as to "talk us down" the steep, rock-strewn backside of the peak. When it was my turn, the guy downslope said, "Are you ready?" Strangled with fear, I gurgled, "No." Meantime, all these other SUVs were backed up behind me.

He said, "There's no other way down. You have to do it."

As I remember I put it in first, as instructed, and started down, and it felt as though that rover was vertical. I stopped breathing and edged my way past and around the rocks as he told me, "A little bit to your left. Now cut it right!" and so on. The angle was such that I couldn't see what was in front of me at all.

Meantime, in the back seat, Nicky - Mike's best friend - moaned, "I want my mom." Mike, also 4, whispered, "I want my mom, and she's RIGHT HERE!" Then we all stopped breathing again for a few minutes. Pretty soon, though, Nicky burst out, "I'm scared as a pig." Big pause. "I'm scared as a living hell." If I hadn't been busy having an aneurism, I'd've had to laugh.

Finally the trail leveled out a little and eventually we got to a narrow hardpack dirt road that wound around the mountain, headed down. It was so narrow that you had to drive with your passenger side wheels up the slope a little, with the car tilted to the left. The view from my window was open air, out over an abyss. No guardrails of course. We were petrified.

About halfway down there was a clearing where we stopped and had our box lunches.

The grandfather came up to my window and said, "Have you ever done anything like this before?" Still in semi-shock, I shook my head no. "Ever plan to do anything like this again?" he asked.

I looked at him like he'd lost his mind.

Carol Bogart is a columnist at Contact her at