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Hard for me to get up

If you have not seen my Instagram or Facebook accounts in the last 30 hours, you may not know I stopped on top of Interstate 435 at the Kansas-Missouri state line yesterday between Wyandotte County and Platte County.

Here are a couple of pictures I took:

It took a bit of courage for me to get out of my car and take those photos. I am afraid of heights.

Very afraid.

There were so many things I missed out on when I was a child because I was too scared to go up.

Now I did ride a gondola suspended over the Mississippi River with my father and brother during the 1984 Louisiana World Exposition in New Orleans. How I convinced myself to go, I still don’t know. Of course, the only cameras around back in 1984 used film, and most were quite bulky, so it wasn’t practical to take photos. Too bad, because they would have been breathtaking.

A few months after hovering over the Mississippi, my family made the infamous trip to Disney World, one which I’ve discussed ad nauseam in this blog. I had no desire to go on any roller coasters or other dangerous rides, even though I met the height requirement.

Four years later, the Steinle family went to Astroworld in Houston. My father and brother went on a few high-rise rides, but my mother and I wussed out and stayed on the ground.

In 1992, again, my father and brother went to the top of the Gateway Arch in St. Louis. My mother and I were not having it. I was very tempted to go up in the Arch when I was in the area for Lisa’s wedding last October, but since I was staying in St. Peters, 35 miles west of downtown, I didn’t do it. If Lisa and Jeff would like to take me up in the arch, I’m game.

I could not stand sitting in high seats at outdoor sports stadiums. I was just fine sitting at the top of the Superdome, simply because there was a roof and I had no idea the sky was above. But outdoors? Forget it.

In 1992, my father, brother and I went to two St. Louis Cardinals games at the old Busch Stadium. The first night, we sat in the outfield bleachers, about 440 feet from home plate. The second night, my father bought tickets in the upper deck behind home plate. I couldn’t do it. I walked around the concourse all night while my brother watched the game. My father stayed with me much of the time, and I feel terrible. Really terrible.

My fear of heights was a reason we sat in the ridiculously hot bleachers at the Texas Rangers’ old Arlington Stadium instead of the upper deck behind home plate. I feel bad for making my family accommodate my fear of heights.

I am very glad I never sat in the upper decks of LSU’s football stadium. I went up there one Saturday morning a few hours before a game, but I got scared. Really scared. I ran down the ramps as fast as I could.

Some of the high school football stadiums I covered games were harrowing.

University High, a laboratory school on the east side of the LSU campus, played its home games on one of the fields at LSU’s practice facility when I was covering games in Baton Rouge. The “press box” was actually an open-air shelter which was only accessible by a rickety old ladder. While some could climb the thing in 30 seconds, it took me more than one minute, sometimes two or three, to make it all the way up there. I was shaking like a leaf every time I was up there.

If I had to do it all over again, I would have covered the games from the field. I proved I could do it just fine when I moved to Kansas, writing down the information then feeding it to the computer. But I was on a deadline in Baton Rouge, and doing stuff on the field would have cost me 20-30 minutes, which could have been very bad if a game ran late.

Today, University High plays at a modern stadium with a real press box nowhere near as high.

Memorial Stadium is Baton Rouge’s largest high school stadium, seating over 20,000. It was once a home for Southern University’s football team, and hosted many small college bowl games and playoffs. It was once home to numerous teams in Baton Rouge, but now only a handful of teams use it, since the rental fees charged by the Baton Rouge Recreation Commission (BREC) are too high for most schools to afford. Many of the public schools, especially those in more economically depressed areas, can’t make enough off ticket sales to pay the rent, plus officials and security.

In November 1999, I covered a high school football playoff game at Memorial Stadium between Eunice and Capitol, which is about a mile from Memorial Stadium. I was also asked by the local cable company to provide color commentary for its tape-delayed broadcast in place of Rob Musemeche, the usual color man who could not be there that night due to a family commitment.

About 45 minutes prior to kickoff, the play-by-play man, Dennis McCain, and myself went to the top of Memorial Stadium’s press box.

I did not fare well.

I was very unsteady, and I could feel my knees quaking. Dennis was very patient with me and helped me a lot, and we made it through the opening spiel before returning to the press box for the game.

I wish I had a camera to take a picture from the top of the Memorial Stadium press box. You can get a great shot of the Louisiana capitol, the tallest in the United States, as well as traffic flowing on nearby Interstate 110 and other state government buildings.

My biggest fear of driving in Louisiana was breaking down and/or getting into an accident on one of the numerous bridges over the Mississippi River between New Orleans and Baton Rouge. The I-435 bridge in western Kansas City is high, yes, but nowhere near as high as the structures in Louisiana, most of which are more than 100 feet over “Old Man River”.

I would like to stop on the Kit Bond Bridge in Kansas City and get a shot, but there is too much traffic to do it safely.

As for high places in Kansas City, I have gone to the top of Kauffman Stadium to take pictures. I have considered watching a game from there.

We all have our fears. Maybe I need to conquer some. Heck, I’m going to be 42 later this year. Gotta start sometime.

Day of disasters

The first two October 20ths of my life were very tragic.

The first, exactly one week after I was born, came on the Mississippi River in St. Charles Parish, about 25 miles west of downtown New Orleans.

A passenger ferry, the MV George Prince, was carrying 95 passengers, most of them in automobiles, from Destrehan on the east bank (actually north) of the river to Luling on the west bank (south). At the time, there was no bridge over the Mississippi between the Huey P. Long between Harahan and Westwego, and the Sunshine between Convent and Donaldsonville, so the only way across the river in St. Charles, St. John and St. James parishes was via ferry.

There is also a ferry running between Chalmette and the Algiers section of New Orleans. I absolutely HATED the ferry. I was scared to death every time, because I feared the boat would capsize and everyone would drown. My parents often took the ferry to avoid traffic on the Greater New Orleans Bridge, which at the time had only two lanes of traffic in each direction. They stopped using the ferry in October 1988 when the second span of the GNO Bridge, now the Crescent City Connection, opened, allowing for four lanes to flow in each direction.

Fortunately, the nightmare I feared never happened on one of the ferries I was forced to ride on by my parents, but on October 20, 1976, it happened to the poor people on the MV George Prince.

It was all the fault of an intoxicated captain, Edigio “Gene” Auletta. Auletta and his crew passed around a pint of Seagram’s whiskey throughout their shift, which began late the previous evening and ran into the morning of the disaster.

If Auletta were sober, he would have easily been able to steer clear of the Frosta, a huge Norwegian tanker which was making its way up the Mississippi from New Orleans to Baton Rouge. The captain of the Frosta tried time and time again to warn the ferry to yield the right of way, but Auletta was too drunk to hear the warning horn.

What happened next was straight out of a disaster movie: a collision overturned the ferry and sent cars and people tumbling into the Mississippi. A total of 78 people died. How the other 17 survived is a miracle.

New Orleans coroner Dr. Frank Minyard determined Auletta had a .09 blood alcohol content. He was not legally drunk under the laws in effect at the time–.10 was the legal limit–but under today’s law, he would have been considered drunk, since the threshold has been lowered to .08, and even lower for ship captains.

I realize the Coast Guard found the captain of the Frosta negligent, but I put all of the blame on Auletta. I hope his family has been ostracized and is living with the shame of knowing he and his crew caused the deaths of 72 innocent people, people who did not deserve to die because of their total stupidity.

A memorial to the victims of the disaster now stands in Destrehan near the former ferry landing. The names of the crew are inscribed on the memorial, and that fact seriously pisses me off. The crew was fully responsible and they should be not be there, like the hijackers of the planes which caused the death and devastation on September 11, 2001.

One year later, October 20, 1977, the music world was shaken by yet another untimely death of one of its brightest lights.

A small airplane carrying the rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd ran out of fuel and crashed into a heavily wooded area of Amite County, Mississippi, only a few miles north of the Louisiana state line. The band was flying from Greenville, South Carolina to Baton Rouge, where they were scheduled to perform the next night at the LSU Assembly Center (now the Pete Maravich Assembly Center). Eight people perished in the crash, including lead singer Ronnie Van Zant, guiatrist Steve Gaines and his sister, backup singer Cassie Gaines.

The band probably should not have used the plane in the first place. It was reported earlier in 1977 Aerosmith considered leasing the plane for its travel, but the band’s road manager rejected the idea when he inspected the plane and found major mechanical flaws, as well as the crew passing a bottle of Jack Daniels back and forth before a flight. The two big names of Aerosmith, Steven Tyler and Joe Perry, were begging to lease the plane, but everyone else in the traveling party thought it a bad idea.

Sadly, the Lynyrd Skynyrd crash was the latest in a long line of air tragedies in the music industry. The most famous, of course, was the 1959 Iowa plane crash which claimed Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson, aka The Day the Music Died. Pasty Cline died in a 1963 crash, and in 1973, Jim Croce was killed when the plane he was riding in crashed just after takeoff from the airport in Natchitoches, La.

Small plane crashes also took the lives of LSU football coach Bo Rein in 1980 before he ever coached a game for the Bayou Bengals, and golfer Payne Stewart in 1999.

Small planes are not safe. You couldn’t get me to fly on one.