(Author’s Note: Tom Hine is a Journalist, Columnist, and Investigator, best known for his weekly Sunday column writing as Tommy Wayne Kramer in the Ukiah Daily Journal.)
I grew up near Cleveland, Ohio in Seven Hills and received my Journalism Degree from Bowling Green University in Ohio, worked for the Plain Dealer as a reporter, but didn’t want to live in Cleveland, so I moved out here during the seventies and worked at the Santa Rosa New Herald, a weekly now gone… then the Cloverdale Reveille, which is still around… then the Mendocino Grapevine which some people remember. Then around 1984, a couple of local defense attorneys, George McClure and Norm Vroman, asked me to work on a death penalty case for them, doing in-depth interviews with family members of a guy who was going to be convicted of multiple murders. They wanted to prepare for the penalty phase, mitigating information about the guy who would persuade the jury not to give him the death penalty. He wound up on death row and committed suicide. That was what got me out of journalism into investigations… a few years doing private work and then 24 years with the county as a criminal defense investigator for the Public Defender’s office, recently retired.
Another one was The People vs. Richard Clark who killed a girl down on South State Street who is still on death row I think. So I spent a lot of time talking to old school teachers, neighbors, friends, ex-wives, children. Interesting work.
At the Grapevine, besides reporting, I started out reviewing bars, bar hopping. The reviews I was writing under the name Tommy Wayne Kramer (TWK), which I came up with to illustrate a character… southern, pretentious, and an idiot who fancied himself as very erudite and worldly. I kept my name, Tom Hine, for the regular reporting. Now, of course, writing for the Ukiah Daily Journal, they want it to be clear who is really writing because they don’t allow letters to the editor to be anonymous.
My first TWK article for the UDJ in 2006 was about the Sunday Concerts in the Park… “Jesus Christ, look at all these people out here, the way they’re dressed, the way they’re dancing, it’s an outrage… guys are running around with no shirts on, thrusting their pelvises at Grandma’s face, waving their arms around, it’s embarrassing!” It got a lot of negative responses by people I expected would be offended.
When I write a column my number one goal is to entertain the reader. If I can’t hook a reader in the first sentence or two, and drag him or her along with me through the next 15 paragraphs, then I’m not doing my job. They have to want to read it. I consider my style kind of punchy… and I like rhythmic writing, writing that has a cadence and a flow.
Less important is trying to deliver a message, as in “the city council needs to do this or that.” People want to write a column about global warming or reducing taxes and immediately they fall back on statistics and logic and academic studies. And by the middle of the third sentence readers have moved on to the sports section. You have to entertain readers. If they aren’t interested in what you’re saying, even if it’s about really, really important stuff, like the infringement on your right to bear arms, offshore drilling or the need for more money for education, you lose as a writer. Doesn’t matter how critical the issue is… if you can’t get them to read it you might as well not write it.
Everybody thinks they can write a column, and I agree with them: They can write A column. A column about the potholes on your street is a good start, and a column about how drivers aren’t using their turn signals often enough is another. And, umm, maybe another about the need for more money for education, or global warming. After that, they’re out of steam, out of subjects and need six months to come up with another topic.
That’s why the old guys, like Herb Caen, have always been heroes to me. Rain, shine, hung over or fight with your wife or your new editor hates you, and still the column appears every doggone day. With Caen it was six days a week. Try that. I sometimes think I could do it, if it was my only job 40 hours a week. Eight or ten hours a day to put together a column might be something I could have done, but instead I came to Ukiah.
Speaking of Ukiah, the single biggest mystery in my life, sort of, is that people around here think Ukiah is a cool place to live. That we’re lucky to be here, that this is a special place. Right. Like a desolate, broken downtown overrun with the worst people from Arkansas and Oklahoma and Ohio and Florida all coming here to cash in on the dope industry, and soaking up services from various public agencies while they wait for the trimming season to begin is a healthy community. They wander the streets with their dogs and stolen shopping carts and make everything worse for everybody who lives here.
But since the town and county are run by leaders with a progressive mindset, and have been for 30 years, we’re screwed. Libs are uniquely incapable of dealing with this for a bunch of reasons. Libs love dope because, y’understand, it’s this victimless thingie. And they love handouts to those less fortunate, regardless of the pesky details. And liberals don’t like Blue Meanies, which means the cops have to pretend they’re therapists. Lefties don’t want to be judgmental… it’s in their pathetic DNA. They want all their friends to think they’re one of the Nice People and just want to do things that help. It’s a toxic mixture, and Ukiah is the petri dish where you see the results.
If you don’t believe me, read the law enforcement synopsis in the Daily Journal every day. Some woman defecating in somebody’s front yard… a pair having sex under a bridge two blocks from my house… naked guy taking a bath on the fountain in front of city hall. And all the usual unacceptable thuggery among druggies and bums and losers and boozers. Liberals can’t cope with it, so they ban plastic bags and electric signs in front of churches, and completely freak out over the American flag being flown in some guy’s front yard. The American flag always bothers progressives. They can shrug off the other stuff.
The column has certainly evolved over the years as I have myself. Back in the eighties I hadn’t yet cast off the reptilian scales of being a hippie liberal. I still had the idea that that was the right political posture to have like most people are around here. I had been a hippie, an advocate of pot… and I lampooned the people on the Ukiah City Council who were conservatives. But it is now a 180 degree turn, which is why a lot of us boomers say “What was I thinking? Dressing like that? That was the best solution for the world’s problems? I was out of my mind!” So Tommy Wayne Kramer is a brand name, but it is just me… exaggerated somewhat, hopefully humorous sometimes, but it’s me. I’m pretty much a middle of the road conservative now.
And I completely acknowledge I’ve migrated some from the left to the right over the past three or four decades, but you also have to take into consideration that just by standing still, you wind up further on the right. By that I mean the left keeps changing, and the things a liberal believed back in the 1960s are not the same things a liberal believes today. There isn’t a whole lot that I believed in 1966 that I don’t believe now… except that Democrats no longer believe them. I didn’t change my views but the Democrats did, and that means I’m suddenly a right winger?
In the ‘60s I thought you shouldn’t judge people by the color of their skin. Today, a good liberal thinks that’s precisely the best way to judge someone. Today, libs categorize everybody either by the color of their skin or their sexual orientation. I didn’t believe that 50 years ago and I still don’t. Or freedom of speech. The idea has always been that it’s a free country, you can say whatever you want, sticks-and-stones and all that. The other cat says what he wants and you get to answer. That seems right to me… not to today’s Democrat, though.
Remember the Free Speech Movement? Today, lefties don’t believe in free speech. When a conservative is invited to address the average university graduation class, progressives organize boycotts and protest that Condoleezza Rice shouldn’t be allowed to share her thoughts and opinions and life story with the graduates. Rice was Secretary of State and has had an amazing life. It’s worth hearing about. A 21 year old graduating from Fresno State might benefit from her insights… but no: It’s hate speech or she’s a war criminal or No Blood for Oil or whatever. Not allowing Condi Rice to speak, or others you might disagree with, is dangerous and un-American. Typical tyranny from the left… very illiberal.
But college is the place to go if you want to hear the same people scream about diversity, which to a progressive only means people of different color who are 100% liberal. They certainly don’t want diversity of opinion. They think diversity means queer studies are on a par with American history and deserve the same status. They sneer at ‘dead white males’ and Western Civilization, or allowing traditional values to be promoted. But that’s just the way it is with progressives. College campuses are dominated and controlled by liberals. I’d bet there are a lot more Marxists than Republicans on the faculty of the average university. I’d bet Chairman Mao could be named head of the Sociology Department, and that John McCain would be banned from the school. Anyone think Jack Kennedy or Hubert Humphrey or George McGovern would agree with this crap?
Same with major media. Go through the newsroom of the 20 biggest papers or networks and poll the news staffs. What percentage voted for Obama versus Romney? Bush versus Gore? How many support the right to bear arms? How many go to church? Where do they stand on abortion and Israel? My guess is 95% take the progressive line. Yet they produce balanced, objective, unbiased journalism every day. Darn right they do.
I’m just saying that my views aren’t far right and they aren’t far out. But we should talk about something more interesting than politics or my opinions, like the weather or the Cleveland Indians or my lousy cat.
(Coming Up: Scott Cratty of the Mendocino Farmers Markets, Renaissance Market, and Mendocino Made.)