June 3, 2017

This week in TV Guide: June 3, 1961

This is one of those issues that I find interesting on a number of levels, particularly since one of the main items this week is not only a reflection of the past, but a foretaste of the future.

It's the Vienna Summit between President Kennedy and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, and television coverage reflects the importance of the summit, with all three networks covering the President's arrival in Vienna on Saturday and continuing (through specials and regular news programs) with Sunday's final communique, and a wrap up of the weekend's events on Monday.

It's not the first presidential trip covered by the networks - there was extensive coverage of President Eisenhower's goodwill world tour in 1959, for example, as well as the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway that same year, and Vice President Nixon's "Kitchen Debate" with Khrushchev in Moscow - so what makes this one different besides being Kennedy's first European trip as President*? Well, it takes place in the shadow of the Bay of Pigs fiasco just six weeks earlier, and Kennedy's performance in the meeting with Khrushchev led not only to the Berlin Wall, but the Cuban Missile Crisis. Khrushchev sized up the young American President as a lightweight - JFK called it "the worst thing in my life," and told New York Times correspondent James Reston that Khrushchev “thought that anyone who was so young and inexperienced as to get into that mess could be taken. And anyone who got into it and didn’t see it through had no guts. So he just beat the hell out of me…I’ve got a real problem.”

*The trip started in Paris where Kennedy met with French President Charles de Gaulle, and concluded with a post-Vienna visit to England, and meetings with the Queen and British PM Harold Macmillan.

The emboldened Khrushchev did indeed try to "take" Kennedy, first with the August construction of the Berlin Wall, which the Russian Premier (correctly) calculated the United States would not oppose militarily, and then by moving missiles into Cuba in 1962. It's true that the Soviet action in Cuba was done surreptitiously (it's hard to build a wall without anyone noticing), but Khrushchev likely counted on Kennedy backing down again once the location of the missiles became known. This was precisely what Kennedy had feared in the wake of Vienna: "that Khrushchev, assuming that he was weak and indecisive, might engage in the sort of 'miscalculation' that could lead to the threat of nuclear war." It didn't, but as it unfolded, nobody knew that for sure. In the end, popular history holds that the result was a diplomatic triumph for Kennedy, although a minority opinion suggests that Khrushchev pulled a fast one by getting the U.S. to not only withdraw missiles in Turkey and Italy, but also promise not to invade Cuba in the future.* Ultimately, historians can hash this out.

*The U.S. didn't promise not to try and assassinate Castro, however, which means we might be able to add JFK's assassination to the fallout from Vienna as well.

All of this was in the future as viewers watched television coverage of the summit in June 1961, and as the networks poured forth their analysis, I wonder what their consensus was. Did they sense the danger Kennedy felt in the wake of his abysmal performance, or did they maintain positive coverage of the new president? It would be interesting to know, but that's for another issue.

Here's a recording of the first White House meeting regarding the Missile Crisis:

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Martin Scott has an interesting piece on Raymond Burr's threat to leave Perry Mason after four seasons. The article admits to friction between Burr and the show's producer, Gail Patrick Jackson, and while it doesn't cite any specific area in which the two have crossed swords, Scott does provide this quote from Burr, which tells us more about what he doesn't want than what he does: "I've informed them that I will not do the show next season. I don't want more money. I don't want part ownership. I don't want to produce or direct. All I want is what I've been asking for since the first six months of the show. Mrs. Jackson knows that. CBS has been trying to see Mrs. Jackson and has not been able to."

As to what it is exactly that Burr does want, "He wants some of the enormous burden of carrying the show all but singlehandedly taken off his broad shoulders. He wants better-written and more intelligent scripts. He wants some control over stories in which he must appear." Burr would seem to be negotiating from a position of strength, as Scott points out: he's won "innumerable" awards, including two Emmys and last year's TV Guide Award, and "has become perhaps the most popular actor in any dramatic series on television." Nobody really seems to think the impasse can continue; Scott concedes that the issue may be settled "by the time this magazine is in its readers' hands." But one thing seems certain: although replacing the lead actor is not unknown on television, "It is hard to think of another actor filling his shoes as Perry Mason." If you don't believe him, just ask Monte Markham.

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There's talk of a fourth television network, and while this was fairly common (until Fox came along), the end result of this discussion is a network that's not a network.

It's National Educational Television, and with 51 such stations throughout the United States in cities such as Boston, San Francisco, Minneapolis, Chicago, Denver, and Pittsburgh (but not New York City), there would seem to be good reason to expect success. We're talking about a potential audience of 26 million people here. The typical educational channel carries local classroom programming throughout the school day, followed by NET children's programs, shows of local interest, and then NET network programming, of which NET currently provides ten hours a week. According to John White, NET's president, NET shows are intended "to provide for the special interests of the public in the arts, sciences, humanities and public affairs" but not to compete with the big three networks. All of the programs are, of course, aired without commercial interruption.

As an example, the article cites the schedule of Boston's famed WGBH. "Wednesday night viewers this season could have watched a concert-lecture by Pablo Casals or a two-hour classical drama produced in England and televised without interruptions for commercials. The next Wednesday it might have been a ballet program featuring outstanding dancers and comments by distinguished critics."

Now, let's fast-forward to today, and see how that mission statement of White is going. I'd say you could sum it up in one word: poorly. There are no regularly scheduled programs on dance or classical music, and classical drama has for the most part been replaced by British soap operas. Pledge-week broadcasts, made up in great part by concerts from aging pop and folk singers*, show that the network is indeed in competition with commercial - and cable - broadcasters. Perhaps we should have known when the word "educational" was removed from the network's name, as NET morphed into PBS.

*And shown over and over and over - and over - again.

You could make the argument that the lack of government funding has forced PBS into this position of competition; when you depend on contributions by Viewers Like You, the first thing you need are Viewers. On the other hand, others might respond, if the network had remained true to its mission in the first place instead of veering into programming that advocated liberal political viewpoints and avant-garde "art," taxpayers might have been more willing to cough up their dollars via the government. Whatever the answer, it's brutal to look at what NET (and the first few years of PBS) aspired to, and compare it to what it has become.

◊ ◊ ◊

I've written several times about my enjoyment of the series Naked City, so naturally I'm going to touch on Richard Gehman's discussion of the series. You may recall a few weeks ago I mentioned a review of the series that was critical of the show's emphasis on New York City as the main character, but as Gehman points out, this is the very point - "A great metropolis, despite its seamy face, emerges as the star of an exciting TV series." For if you take the real New York out of Naked City, you're left with - well, I'm not quite sure what you're left with. A studio-bound series, for certain. Perhaps even a good series. But not Naked City.

Lileks calls shows like this "inadvertent documentaries" - in other words, those who watch these period pieces today are treated to a story within a story, that of the city or country in which the action takes place. You get to see it unadorned, without the retrospective consideration that mars shows such as Mad Men. As even the greatest documentarians have discovered, you can never completely replicate the past; no matter how hard you try, you're never able to divorce yourself from what you already know. Route 66 is a prime example of this on a large scale, as though the course of four seasons we're treated to an intimate look at an American that no longer exists. That's not a political statement, just a fact; nearly 60 years on, great swaths of this country are virtually unrecognizable compared to what they are now. And if Route 66 provided a macro look at America, Naked City did the same on a micro scale, looking at one city among hundreds of thousands.* That it was the nation's biggest city didn't hurt, for as the closing narration reminds us each week, there are eight million stories in the Naked City.

Gehman details the various ways that producers and directors make their way around the city, and the different faces that it's captured, and that's very interesting, if not almost poetic. What I find most interesting in Gehman's article, though, is his stunning description of New York: "It sits dying of urban cancer, wracked by the violence that festers and explodes inside it. In the eyes of some there are elements of interest, even of beauty, in extreme ugliness." What this means for Naked City is simple: "if [New York] fails as a city, it succeeds spectacularly as a television personality."

If you're of a certain age, you can remember when New York nearly went bankrupt, when garbage piled up on street corners for what seemed like weeks at a time, when Times Square was one of the most depraved areas that anyone could find in the entire country. This condition reached its peak (or valley) during the hapless administration of John Lindsay, mayor and wannabe-president. But Lindsay didn't become mayor until 1966, nearly five years after this article was written. What we're seeing and reading, therefore, is a contemporaneous view of the city in the midst of a nervous breakdown, no longer great but not nearly as bad as it will become. Granted, we're looking backward at this, with that hindsight of which I wrote earlier, and so we're no more immune to contextual distortion than those who attempt to recreate the past with the knowledge of the present.

In a way, though, it is the knowledge of what is to come that makes the images of New York as seen in Naked City that much more powerful; we look for the buildings that fell victim to Robert Moses and his wrecking ball, we search for what we think of as a simpler time, even though the people of that time might look at us today and scoff.

◊ ◊ ◊

As we move into the summer months, it always becomes a little harder to go through the programming section and find anything new and different; the reruns are already upon us. But let's see what's on anyway.

Once again, the sports story of the week is horse racing, this time Saturday's running of the third and final jewel of the Triple Crown, the Belmont Stakes. (3:30 p.m. CT, CBS) Carry Back,winner of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, is a "strong favorite" to become the first Triple Crown winner since Citation in 1948, and a huge crowd (including former President Eisenhower) turns out to see history made. However, following the Preakness there were reports that Carry Back had suffered an injury; although these reports were denied by the New York Racing Association, it turns out that the horse is in fact dealing with a left front ankle injury, and he is never a factor in the Belmont, which is won by long shot Sherluck.

Interesting episode of Camera Three on Sunday morning (10:30 a.m., CBS) - Patricia Neway stars in the one-act, one-woman opera "The Accused," about the Salem witch trials. I'd never heard of this opera*, but its composer, John Strauss, did go on to some degree of success - he wrote the music for the movie Amadeus. Meanwhile, Channel 4's matinee movie is The Lady-Killers, the delightful Alec Guinness comedy; the Tom Hanks remake just reminds one of how good the original is.

*When I Googled the opera, I discovered that most websites mistakenly claimed it was broadcast on NBC Opera Theatre. Other than getting the network and the title of the program wrong, that pretty much covers it. It goes to show that this TV expert business isn't as easy as it looks. Don't try it at home.

Monday, between updates on President Kennedy's trip, KDAL runs an episode of The Twilight Zone (10:15 p.m.) that I've always liked - "The Obsolete Man," starring Burgess Meredith as a librarian in a world in which books have been banned, who goes on trial before chancellor Fritz Weaver. Some might see it as a bit heavy-handed, but Meredith makes it work (as always), and the message remains a powerful one.* I like to think of this as the flip-side of Meredith's most famous TZ episode, that of the bookworm in "Time Enough At Last" who survives a nuclear blast and can now read all the books he wants, only to have his glasses break. Seems that books and Burgess don't mix very well, do they?

*Sounds like today's college campuses, doesn't it?

An episode of Amos 'n' Andy caught my eye on Tuesday afternoon (3:30 p.m., WTCN), just because of the description: "The Kingfish tries to raise money by palming off a pair of cheap rabbits as rare chinchillas." Now, I know how controversial this series is, and while I'm not going to go down that rabbit hole (no pun intended) right now, I'll just say that this could have been an episode of any old-time radio show or TV sitcom. I can see Phil Harris and Remley doing this, or Duffy of Duffy's Tavern, or even Bob and Bing if they were desperate enough for money. What's funny is funny, no matter who does it.
Wednesday evening continues the trend of looking at local shows - in this case it's the 7:00 p.m. movie on WTCN, one of the greatest film noirs of all time: Out of the Past, starring Robert Mitchum, Jane Greer, and Kirk Douglas. It hadn't even been out for 15 years when it airs tonight; I wonder if it was as heralded then as it is today? Otherwise, check out Naked City at 9:00 p.m. on ABC, as the detectives investigate the theft of industrial diamonds from a factory not long after a man vows revenge against the company for firing him.

Looking at Thursday's listings, it's fun to see shows that we get all excited about today because they've come out on DVD - and yet they were just syndicated reruns back then, filling up space. There's State Trooper on WEAU at 9:00 p.m. and Coronado 9 on KDAL at 10:15 p.m., both of which star Rod Cameron. There's Manhunt, starring Victor Jory, on WKBT at 9:00 p.m. and KSTP at 9:30 p.m. ("17 Rare Episodes!" on DVD, says one website, none of which are "The Gopher," which KSTP airs. And then there's The Third Man on KGLO at 11:00 p.m. - that stars Michael Rennie in the Orson Welles role of Harry Lime, only this time Lime's gone legit. Have I written about this before? If not, remind me to do that sometime.

And finally, here's a story I don't even want to think about: On Way Out (Friday, 8:30 p.m., CBS), Charlotte "The Facts of Life" Rae stars in "Death Wish." "Hazel Atterbury lives and breathes TV. She watches and talks about it all the time. When she asks her husband George what his favorite show was, he tells her it's the one on which the man murdered his wife because she talked too much."

At least he didn't say she talked too much about TV. TV  


  1. I believe "The Chinchilla Business" was actually the last AMOS N' ANDY episode produced, the last of 13 produced for the syndication package after CBS cancelled the show in 1953.

  2. At long last, an issue that I've got!

    - Twilight Zone was still in its network first-run in '61; "The Obsolete Man" was the final first-run show of that season, so KDAL was delaying it from the previous Friday.
    This coming Friday, Twilight Zone starts its summer
    reruns with the '59 premiere, "Where Is Everybody?"
    CBS didn't rerun any of the second season shows that summer (nobody knows why).

    - Amos 'n' Andy:
    Did you know that the "showrunners" of the TV A&A were Joe Connelly and Bob Mosher, who went on to fill the same function on Leave it To Beaver and The Munsters?
    Those were just the hits; Connelly and Mosher had several other shows on the networks during this period - and Connelly (solo) produced the Going My Way series with Gene Kelly and Leo G. Carroll in '62.
    Maybe you can see the pattern here ...

    - 'Way Out:
    Admit it, Mitch - you watched this one.
    And if you did, you no doubt noticed that the sinister mortician was played by Heywood Hale Broun, years away from his tenure as a CBS Sports feature man (with the biggest collection of who-shot-the-couch sport jackets in the USA).
    It was Roald Dahl's custom in his role as host to mention the writer of the week's episode by name; in this case it was Irving Gaynor Neiman, a TV veteran since the earliest days.
    What you might not ave noticed is that Mr. Neiman had another show on, earlier in the week.
    This was The Shirley Temple Show's "digest" version of Hawthorne's "House of The Seven Gables".Shirley had the female lead; others in the cast were Robert Culp, Agnes Moorehead, Martin Landau, and Jonathan Harris.
    FWIW, I've got this one on DVD, along with a number of other productions from this series. NBC put a lot of money into this, but Shirley couldn't beat Lassie and Dennis The Menace on CBS - or Walt Disney and Maverick on ABC.

    - Local note:
    On Wednesday night, WBKB-channel 7, the ABC station in Chicago, is pre-empting its 10 pm movie for a two-and-a-half-hour special called A Primer Of Soviet Propaganda.
    The host-moderator is Norman Ross, who put the show together independently of any news department; his main backer here was channel 7's general manager, Sterling "Red" Quinlan (the nickname refers to Quinlan's hair, in case you were thinking about being "clever" - and everybody in Chicago called him Red).
    The listing for Primer is the longest one in this week's Chicago Guide; Ross's panel has at least eight (possibly more) guests, more than a few from the USSR - not what the viewers of RKO programmers in that time slot were accustomed to - plus, two-and-a-half hours is a powerful lot of time to ask of a late night audience.
    But this was something that Chicago came to expect from Red Quinlan - since ABC was Number 3 nationwide, the network gave its stations somewhat more freedom than the other nets did ... then, anyway.

    - Local note #2:
    On Tuesday at 10:30 pm, Channel 9 had Inside Baseball, hosted by Bill Veeck and his partner in the White Sox, Hank Greenberg.
    1961 was the year that the Cubs introduced the "College of Coaches", to the acclaim and delight of no one; the Cubs were going nowhere, and everybody in Chicago knew it.
    The White Sox were dong well by the standards of the time - this was when the Stengel Yankees had the AL locked up early every year, and second place was considered a "moral victory".
    But 1961 was the year that Bill Veeck's health took a bad turn, forcing him to sell the Sox before the season ended. The Inside Baseball show ended not long after this.

    I think I may be out of characters by now; I might come back later.
    Stay tuned ...

    1. Part II:

      - Correction from last time: 1961 was the year Ralph Houk took over from Casey Stengel as Yankee manager; but the Yanks remained essentially the same team until the franchise collapsed in mid-decade (details elsewhere).

      - This morning (Sunday the 4th of June), TCM ran Out Of The Past on its weekly showcase, Noir Alley hosted by Eddie Muller.
      The whole Film Buff Business didn't even start in a small way in France until the late Sixties at the earliest; it took at least half a decade longer to catch on in the USA.

      - Presenting a Fun Quiz!
      what follows are some shows that you should find in this week's listings: I'm assuming that Central Daylight time applies here.
      Just look these listings up and comment on what you read.
      I'll just list the show; I won't tell you what you'll be seeing or how to react to it.
      Here are the Mystery Shows: Have Fun!

      Saturday, 8:30 pm, CBS: Have Gun - Will Travel

      Sunday, 5:30 pm, ABC: Walt Disney Presents

      Wednesday, 6:30, NBC: Wagon Train

      Thursday, 7:30 pm, CBS: Zane Grey Theater

      Friday, 8:00 pm: 77 Sunset Strip

      Those should do for starters.

      - Meanwhile, in the color section, these two pieces:
      (1) Thoughts From A Fur-Lined Rut, a two-page rant by Henry Morgan.
      (2) He Can't Get Over Errol Flynn, a delightful interview with character actor Richard Erdman, whom you should recognize almost immediately (and once you see his face, you'll hear his voice).
      I promise you that you'll laugh all the way through both pieces.

    2. Ah, a challenge! And I can't think of anyone better to issue it!

      OK, on Have Gun, I'm going to guess that we're talking about Werner Klemperer as the killer. (It couldn't be Pippa Scott, who underwhelmed me in Mr. Lucky - but then YMMV.)

      For Disney, it's got to be Leslie Nielsen as The Swamp Fox, Francis Marion, right?

      Wagon Train - Don Rickles, who "plays a dramatic role in this episode" (and from what I've read as well as seen, he was a very good dramatic actor), though I do like seeing Hal "Cannonball Run" Needham in the credits as "Warrior."

      Zane Grey is an embarrassment of riches, isn't it? Danny and Marlo Thomas, Ed Nelson (Peyton Place), and Grace Lee Whitney (Star Trek). If only the actor David Bond's name had been James instead, we'd really have it made, wouldn't we?

      And on 77 Sunset Strip - hmm. OK, Richard Long is the lead this week instead of Efrem Zimbalist - could it be Richard Conte? Or am I overlooking someone?

      I thought the article by Morgan was very funny - especially the start. And you're right; wouldn't have recognized Richard Erdman's name, but the voice is instant. What a raconteur!

      See, even though I don't always comment, that's why I always appreciate your contributions. It's impossible for me to mention everything I read, and your comments always help fill in the gaps! Great, great stuff!

    3. 85% on the quiz:

      You get partial credit on 77 Sunset Strip.
      Richard Conte isn't in this - but John Conte (no relation) is.
      And it's not him exactly I'm referring to - it's his character (look it up again).

      Sidebar: MeTV is running 77 Sunset Strip at 3 am Central time weeknights - also known as DVR Heaven.
      Warners (or somebody) is doing a standout restoration job on these, which means (I hope) that an official DVD release is in the offing.
      MeTV is running 77SS in original broadcast order, and as I've been watching I've noticed something interesting - this show is FUN.
      By that I mean every episode is different: sometimes it's a tough PI show, sometimes it's a drawing-room whodunit, sometimes it's an all-out comedy, sometimes it's international intrigue - different each show.
      In the early going, 77 did "digest" remakes of old Warner features, like Strangers On A Train or Dial 'M' For Murder (plus a couple of others that weren't Hitchcock). These two that I've mentioned were Richard Long's introduction to WBTV, before they "reformed" him.
      Also on view are the episodes written by Roger Smith, including "The Silent Caper" (in which no dialog is spoken for the whole hour), and the hilarious "Once Upon A Caper", in which Rex Randolph listens to three different accounts of how Bailey & Spencer (and Kookie) came to be detective partners (if you only remember Efrem Zimbalist Jr. as the stern FBI man, you've got to see his three comic performances here).
      Mention should also be made of Jacqueline Beer (Suzanne the switchboard Mam'selle) and Louis Quinn (Roscoe the horseplayer), who were allowed to be more than comic relief as the occasion demanded.
      Also the resident cop Lt. Gilmore, Byron Keith, who ultimately became Mayor of Gotham City.
      I'm hoping that MeTV keeps 77 Sunset Strip around for another round of reruns - and if they decide to bring back Bourbon Street Beat, Hawaiian Eye, SurfSide 6, The Roaring 20s - I wouldn't have a problem with that either ... (They seem to be doing well with the Westerns on H&I.)

    4. ...And in one of Life's Little Ironies ...

      First thing I see online this morning is an obit for Roger Smith.
      He was 84, and had just marked his 50th wedding anniversary with Ann-Margret.
      The 77 Sunset Strip reruns on MeTV are just showing me what a talented guy he really was.
      Note to MeTV: put 77SS on in prime time ASAP.

      While I'm here, I also note that my friend Max Allan Collins and his writer/wife Barb are marking their 49th wedding anniversary.
      This past year or so has been a bit of a patch for them - MAC had major heart surgery which sidetracked him for a while - but he and Barb became first-time grandparents, so there's that.
      ... and then Cinemax cancelled the Quarry series, so once again MAC has just missed another possible breakthrough to the Fame & Fortune that he truly deserves, so there's that ...
      ... but there's still the MWA Grand Master Award, so there's that too.

      And so Life goes on ..

    5. 77 Sunset Strip also streams fairly frequently on Warner Archive Instant, as does Hawaiian Eye and Surfside Six. I'm really enjoying the latter.

    6. I remember Richard Erdman most from his S5 TZ ep, "A Kind of Stopwatch", where he played a bore who got a watch that could stop time. I've seen him also on DVD Show, and he was just on Me-TV's Perry Mason rerun a couple hours ago. I've seen him on Wings as well. He's still living past age 90.

    7. Having given up on Warner putting out 77 Sunset Strip, I've gotten a set at Mid Atlantic via the brown market, and it's been a lot of fun. I might well be tempted to look at a couple of the other WB ones in the future.

    8. By the way, Mike, my best to MAC although he wouldn't have a clue as to who I am. Tell him I've really enjoyed what he's done with those partial Mickey Spillane stories, and hopefully things will continue to look up.

  3. I will not be reading your blog in the future. You're attack on liberal values and ideas is revolting. PBS has become what it is BECAUSE of lack of funding that was so readily forthcoming in the '60s and '70s.

    1. Ray, Ray, Ray. As I mentioned on Facebook, even if I were attacking liberal values and ideas (which I'm not), it wouldn't discredit the discussion on classic television. Note in at PBS section that I specifically said:

      "You could make the argument that the lack of government funding has forced PBS into this position of competition; when you depend on contributions by Viewers Like You, the first thing you need are Viewers. On the other hand, others might respond, if the network had remained true to its mission in the first place instead of veering into programming that advocated liberal political viewpoints and avant-garde 'art,' taxpayers might have been more willing to cough up their dollars via the government.

      Note that I said "You could make the case" either way, but I didn't offer an opinion as to which of the two cases I favored. You might be able to intuit it from other pieces I've written, but I didn't really take off on PBS here. I think its failure is a loss for all Americans, but I do think it abrogated its mission long before the '80s. As I recall, President Johnson had some harsh things to say about it when they criticized his Vietnam policy; last time I looked, LBJ wasn't a conservative.

      I do hope you read this, and that you'll come back to the site. But if not, thanks for playing, and of course you'll be receiving the home version of the "It's About TV" game.

  4. • Five Stars for bringing up Richard Erdman.
    • It is almost jarring….no, it is jarring, to see a color photo from Naked City.
    • There were many who saw what was to happen to NYC and gave warning. The answer was always “It will cost too much.” Sound familiar?
    • Nice recap on Vienna and Cuba.
    • I haven’t seen “Missiles of October” since it aired. I’ll have
    to watch next rainy day.

    1. Naked City doesn't look right in color, does it? Given the choice, I think that's a story that has to be told in glorious B&W. And you're right about the cost of stopping the decline of NYC - what was that old Midas muffler commercial back in the day? "You can pay me now, or pay me later."

      Missiles of October works particularly well if you see it in the original videotape rather than the film version I've seen pop up occasionally. It really does have the sense of one of the old studio dramas of the Golden Age when you see it that way.


Thanks for writing! Drive safely!