Generation Zero Now Available for Purchase

by Hal Phillips

Welcome to HalPhillips.net, where the headline news for 2022 remains the July publication of HP’s popular history, Generation Zero: Founding Fathers, Hidden Histories & The Making of Soccer in America. Click the graphic above to purchase via Amazon (or here for Barnes & Noble). Phillips and his publishers at Dickinson-Moses Press have also created a wicked companion site at www.genzero.halphillips.net. Do visit there for book news, excerpts, other recently published features and podcast relating to soccer, and all manner of GZ-centric blogging, pictures and testimonials.

Late-Nineties Flashback: The Great Maine Golf Course Binge

[Ed. This piece from 1998 was assigned and purchased by, but to my knowledge never appeared in, Downeast Magazine. At that time, the U.S. was opening 400 new golf facilities every year. When I moved to New Gloucester that same year, only Fairlawn GC and Poland Spring existed nearby. In 2-3 years, Fox Ridge in Auburn (pictured above), Spring Meadow in Gray, and Toddy Brook in North Yarmouth all opened for play. Heady times, as the story below relates. The correction arrived in 2008, when the U.S. golf course stock began to suffer a net loss of some 150 golf facilities each year. That annual trend slowed somewhat during Covid, but not much.]

Developers of water parks don’t venture into the amusement industry because they’re particularly enamored of sharing flume capsules shaped like giant logs with so many screaming adolescents. Nor do hoteliers invest in that business because they “have a thing” for walking down antiseptic hallways looking for ice machines. It’s understood these business decisions are calculated — based on demographics, market niches, the potential for profit and perhaps a paucity of existing competitors. Romantic notions don’t often enter into feasible commercial equations.

Golf is a different animal, an arena where the line between work and play has always been somewhat blurred. While “business” conducted on the golf course remains a genteel hybrid of recreation and vocation, data gatherers at the National Golf Foundation (NGF) — the industry’s research and information organization based in Jupiter, Fla. — are continually amazed at the scads of starry-eyed golf devotees who fund/build their own facilities because it’s always been their dream. “It’s sort of like, ‘What do I want to do when I grow up?’ ” said Barry Frank, a vice president at NGF. “Unfortunately, a great number of shirts have been lost in this process.”

Even so, new golf construction continues to boom nationally and Maine’s dreamers have proved no less fanciful in their ambitions. An astounding number of golf course projects, many spearheaded by first-time golf developers, are now underway here in Vacationland. A dozen new 18-hole layouts have just opened or remain in some phase of construction while another 10 facilities are adding nine. When Point Sebago Golf and Beach Resort opened for play in 1996, it was Maine’s first new 18-hole course since 1988. This sort of inactivity won’t characterize the next eight years.

“As a former banker, I know golf construction in Maine has lagged in past years, especially compared with national growth patterns,” said Arnold Roy, a Turner resident whose development syndicate, Fox Ridge Partners, will soon break ground on an 18-hole course in Harmon’s Corner, on Auburn’s south side. “We know there’s another golf course going in 15 miles down the road in Gray, but in the last 20 years there have been no new golf holes built within 20 miles of our site. And the interest in golfing has never been higher, as far as I can tell.”

Following another national trend, Fox Ridge will be laid out on former farm land — so will the Gray course [Spring Meadows], a project developed by the owners of Cole Farms Restaurant on a fallow parcel directly across the street. Agricultural pursuits have also given way to golf down in Berwick; father and son Tim and Tom Flynn obviously believe their 160-acre parcel will prove more fertile when Outlook Farm Golf Club opens for play there next summer.

“I think what we’re seeing is pent-up demand,” said Brian Silva, the course architect who designed Outlook Farm. “Maine has been underdeveloped, in terms of golf for some time now. And the state certainly has its share of farmland which has seen better, more productive days.”

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In Iceland, It Truly Is a Matter of Degree

While rounding a mountainous spit of land north of Husavik, my traveling companions and I reckoned we’d better stop the car and get a picture. We’re honestly not the selfie-taking types, but 66.201 degrees was as far north as any of us had ever traveled before — or were likely to travel again. So we smiled awkwardly, took the picture and pinned the exact spot via the magic of Google Earth.

Technically, Iceland is one of only seven nations whose respective land masses are crossed by the Arctic Circle, a theoretical line of demarcation whose invisible shadow circles the globe at exactly 66.300 degrees north. Yet only two slivers of this country can claim truly Arctic coordinates: Grimsey Island, dead north of our pin, barely visible across 5.9 miles of open ocean; and small portions of the north-jutting spit immediately to our East, along an uninhabited stretch of Route 870 northeast of Blikalon.

Locals here don’t feel cheated by this near miss. At all. Their most chic sportswear company, 66°North, revels in it. Their cold-weather cred is built right into the country’s name. What’s more, no place on Earth — not the arctic bits of Russia, Norway, Finland, Sweden, Canada or the U.S. — can lay claim to such an astonishing landscape and climate. Because this giant hunk of volcanic lava is continually buffeted by the warm-water Gulf Stream, the weather here is pleasantly temperate marine. We spent eight July days in Iceland, and while the temps never crept into the 70s, the winters aren’t nearly so cold as one imagines. The most frigid month is January, which averages -3 degrees Celsius, or 26.6 Fahrenheit.

What does fluctuate wildly is sunlight. The orange orb simply never goes down in July. Come January and February, it never truly comes up, which, according to my new friend Ole, is why half the country decamps for Tenerife or Sarasota each winter. In the interest of self-care. 

It was our second full day in country when Ole and his wife played golf with me at Keilir GC, a pretty awesome, utterly treeless links half laid out on a pleasingly uneven bed of rock-strewn lava. Icelanders all speak excellent English but Ole’s was best, so I got the inside dope from him — not just where to hit the ball, but all manner of Icelandic information, the kind you won’t find in Lonely Planet.

For example, 58-year-old Ole and his wife Trina spend their winters in Florida. Anyone with the means similarly bugs out for all of January and February, lest they misplace the will to live during another season of perpetual darkness. When flying home, the plane often stops in Bangor, Maine to refuel: If the weather is poor upon approaching Reykjavik, Ole explained, there is no nearby place to divert a large plane; it must have enough juice to reach Glasgow, Scotland.

What about the Faroe Islands? I asked him. “Not practical,” Ole said with a shrug. “Landing even a small plane in the Faroes is a reminder of why we have seatbelts.” At which point he put down his $12 Gull beer and violently jerked his torso forward, as if air brakes had just been applied to his barstool, full bore, halfway down the adorable little runway serving Torshavn.

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Generation Zero: The modern Creation epic U.S. soccer didn’t know it had, available July 19

On the tarmac in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, October 1989 (Jon van Woerden photo)

Baseball has its Knickerbockers and the 19th century National League, while basketball traces its roots back to Dr. John Naismith and his peach baskets. With Generation Zero, the new sociological/sports history from author Hal Phillips, American soccer finally has a Creation story of its own — a modern one, befitting the extraordinary growth the game has undergone since 1970, after a full century in the wilderness.

Generation Zero: Founding Fathers, Hidden Histories & The Making of Soccer in America(Dickinson-Moses Press, 2022) is now available for purchase, via Amazon. Official launch date: July 19, 2022. 

The timing could not be more felicitous: With World Cup 2022 set to kick off Nov. 21 in Qatar, with Major League Soccer newly partnered up with Apple TV and preparing to welcome its 29th and 30th franchises, with the 2026 men’s World Cup to be contested in the United States, Mexico and Canada, American soccer is poised to assume an even bigger place in the sporting and cultural mainstream.

“I’m old enough to remember when U.S. soccer was something of a global punch-line, a sporting oxymoron akin to Jamaican bobsledding,” says Phillips (b. 1964). “No professional league post-1984, no Americans playing overseas, no World Cup qualifications since 1950. Americans born prior to 1985 grew up in a famously soccer-indifferent country. Well, we all live in a completely different country today, thanks to Generation Zero — the elite players and fans born in the mid-1960s and raised on soccer during the 1970s.”

Generation Zero profiles this epic transformation, starting with the Youth Soccer Revolution of the 1970s, and concluding with the U.S. Men’s National Team’s dramatic, watershed qualification for World Cup 1990, in Italy.

“That achievement flipped the switch,” explains the Maine-based author, a veteran journalist and media executive. “Conventional wisdom assigns American soccer progress largely to a single event, World Cup ’94. But history shows the tipping point arrived five years earlier. Even then, the famous Shot Heard ‘Round the World — Paul Caligiuri’s goal that qualified the U.S. for Italia ’90 — was the culmination of a 20-year evolution.

“Those youth leagues that spread like wildfire across suburbia during the Nixon Era — they were the bellwether. American boys and girls had never before grown up with soccer, as they did with baseball or football, for example. Very quickly, starting circa 1970, millions of young boys and girls were exposed to the game. Those kids are 50somethings today and they still love soccer. In fact, their support for U.S. national teams, men’s and women’s, starting in 1990, proved critical: Their attendance and viewing habits made a success of World Cup USA, in 1994, then Major League Soccer starting in 1996.”

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Forty-Eight Years Late: Celts, Dubs Redeem an NBA Final That Never Was…

Coach Al Attles chats up Clifford Ray (center) and his back-up, the immortal George Johnson.

[Ed. It’s rare for the brain trust here at halphillips.net to yield the floor. It’s rare for anyone to request such a thing, frankly. But Stephen McDermott Myers isn’t just anyone. He is my former Wesleyan University soccer teammate and the man who, over the course of 15 months, helped edit “Generation Zero: Founding Fathers, Hidden Histories and the Making of Soccer in America,” available for purchase July 1. He’s also the Bay Area native who has maintained, since February 2022, that a Celts-Warriors NBA Final would provide us the NBA finale we should have enjoyed in June 1976. And here we are, poised to watch Game 5 and Garfield Heard is nowhere to be found. Esteban, the floor is yours.]

By STEPHEN MCDERMOTT MYERS
The Celtics’ meritorious, take-it-to-the-brink, close-out victory in Miami over the much-compromised Heat set the Summer’s stage and has gifted to the Hoops World and its attendant Faithful an NBA Finals “for the ages.” What’s more, the way-it-played-out timing of Hal’s triumph with Generation Zero, due for splash-like publication at the end of June, coming after the still-warm success and enjoyment of collaboration across the arc of that project’s second half~ the Senator had composed and constructed the sea-worthy hulk, bulk of his book, complete with rigging, sails, captain, crew, before my role evolved “on the natural” (as intuitively-inclined old-timers put it)~ allows me this-here one-of-a-kind invitation-dime-welcome onto his enduring web-site

Good Deal, Roundball Wheel

We played Springfield College every season at Wes, somehow a match that carried extra oomph, meaning, what with that Massachusetts town being the renowned birthplace of basketball, and home to its Hall of Fame. One year, in a cold, heavy rain on their fast and slick astroturf (only field of that kind we ever dealt with), I badly botched a sudden, real chance at an open-goal, and some righteous midfield glory. Even-Stephen could have, should have, opted for a smart, first-time, behind-the-heel flick, to set up an on-running teammate and striker… one Hal Phillips~ who played right behind me at centerback (aka “stopper”), and who might very well have finished from those momentarily-makeble forty meters. Alas, I failed in the keep calm, be creative, and quick-witted Depts., too, in that moment. The mathematics of those bald, once-in-my-footy-career errors bother me without cease to this damn day. But, “we were never as good as we thought we were.” (That’s for sure.)

Sho’ hope I don’t blow this one. (See, Anderson, Nick.) A one-off, rare-air, ripest opportunity to mix up a Berkeley home-brew batch, write poetic, talk-smack, crack-wise on thatfavorite of the very many, fecund, crazy-fun athletic corners of SportsWorld. The one faaan-fucking-tastic. (To rudely employ the league’s superb, propagandistic slogan that Bluto and I grew up with, that spot-on phrase more fulfilling than a Mars bar.) NBA Ballers are the greatest athletes in the World.

We talkin’ here, Friends, ’bout the hardwood, Time-has-come, take-home-the-Goods, make-ones’-Names intersection of Boston/New England & San Francisco-Oakland’s Bay Area/NorCal; unbridled Public Lore (of The Commons, say); and the National Basketball Association. It is on.  (Like the frickin’ Autobahn.) 

The dynastic Warriors, who badly fucking want it~ that’s killer Steph/Chef Curry, Game Six Klay, story of the league, all-time Alpha Dawg Dray-Dray;with a Poole party, Andrew Wiggins coming-out party, plus Looney tunes from one no-longer the team’s “unsung” hero; a handful of well-picked, contented reserves at-the-ready, a true team (see, two-time award-winning Exec, Myers); and Steve Kerr chaser (Coach cum conscience-of-the-Nation)…. in imperial San Francisco [that’s Gray Brechin’s masterpiece, with tell-all title, from the esteemed UC Press; the author a long-time friend + ally, hereabouts], The City at last fittingly, properly debuting its spankin’ brand-new, billion-dollar price-tag, privately-financed, water-side, sports-and-circuses palace (the pure power of mamon and the decisive post-modern realities of “real-estate”~ location location location~ having usurped Oakland’s half-century plus place and pride as home to the Dubs; “and a date next week in San Francisco”, the previous network’s facemen never tired of stating, obnoxiously, during the latter half of the Eastern Conference finals~ as everyone East Bay-relatedout here noticed) ….   

versus  

…. the absolutely badass, top-to-bottom, time-is-now excellent, shut-down Celtics, “team-of-destiny” writ all over ’em; with Udoka, Jason, and Jaylen nothing less than ascendant; plus award-winning point-guard Smart, heart + soul of the team; exemplary, record-breaking, peakHorford (riding a rare-air career-apex that may yield him the full Hall pass); an inspired, game-changing big-man, who boasts the best nickname heard in the league since Chocolate Thunder (bequeathed by Stevie Wonder, that, no less)~ [I am obliged to give a for-the-record nod to The Big Aristotle here~ but that wuz a Shaq-Daddy self-baptism, the Diesel’s auto-exceptionalism; at best, an asterisk]~ also, no small thing, he’s flying the playoff’s best hair style, Big Rob. (That ain’t the nickname. Hell, no. Hoops is better than horse-racing, and more than historic, bucolic baseball’s equal~ as befits “the city game.”) The Time Lord. Now that is a fuckin’ nickname. (Straight out of the Geeorge Lucas magic + special-effects shops, circa 1977 and their upcoming jumps-to-lightspeed shortly ahead, found to the north in Marin across the Golden Gate Bridge, embedded underground by the acre.) 

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Observations on visiting, pronouncing Bremen, Vienna, Rome, Madrid, Troy, Denmark, Calais, Peru, Palermo & Paris — while never leaving the 207

Prior to the smartphone era, when folks still read in analog fashion upon porcelain thrones, a great many Maine residents kept a Maine Atlas and Gazetteer in the privy. Published by Yarmouth-based mapmaker DeLorme, this oversized, soft-cover booklet neatly divided the Great State of Maine into 96 pages, or quadrants, each of which depicted a specific 16-by-11-inch detail at remarkable scale. Some of the best bathroom reading in captivity, and not completely idle diversion: We studied The Gazetteer so as to better familiarize ourselves with the state’s baroque topographies and place names, in addition to those potential routes that might traverse and connect them. The conditional nature of these journeys is critical to Maine’s particular mythos, of course. The unofficial state motto, offered to folks from away seeking directions, spells this out pretty clearly: You can’t get there from hee-yah.

GPS titan Garmin purchased DeLorme back in 2016, along with Eartha, the massive, slowly rotating globe that still occupies three full stories inside the former company headquarters. GPS-enabled mapping applications have certainly reduced the need for physical maps of all kinds. However, the need to better know and understand this place we call Maine remains undiminished.

I’ve live here since 1992, for example, but the myriad places and oddball municipal naming conventions continue to fascinate. I’m a Masshole born, bred and proud — the Oxford English Dictionary added “Masshole” in 2015 (How do you like them apples!?). Until 1820, Maine was part of Massachusetts, where homages to a multitude of British place names remains common. This makes sense: Winchester and Boston and Middlesex were the very towns, cities, counties and regions from whence a great many 17th and 18th century settlers hailed.

Maine has its share of similarly UK-derived place names among its 23 cities, 430 towns, and 30 plantations. But the naming conventions here are more varied and bizarre. Way more. It’s possible, for example, that the founders of Lebanon, Norway, Poland, Mexico, Sweden, Smyrna, Stockholm, Moscow, Carthage, Monticello, Bremen, Rome, Athens, Troy, Denmark, Peru, Palermo, Dresden, Paris, West Paris and South Paris all hailed from these original locations. But I doubt it.

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Taking the Food-Truck Ethos Indoors

Believe it or not, this gas station/convenience store in Lewiston is home to some of Maine’s finest Mexican cuisine.

Before we ever moved to Lewiston-Auburn — Sharon and I officially arrived here Sept. 1, 2021 — we’d heard tell of El Pocho’s Mexican Grill. Maine remains the most white-bread state in the Union, and so we have long endured an acute Mexican-food problem: not enough Mexicans. Or Central Americans, for that matter. The situation has improved somewhat over the last 10-15 years, but no one was prepared for the Covid-era appearance of El Pocho’s, a killer burrito shop that just happens to operate from one half of a gas station/convenience store, on outer Lisbon Street in Lewiston.

Intrigued, I sampled a carne asada model straightaway: superb, and they press-grill the final product to create a sort of South of the Border panini effect. Great enchiladas, too. The menu is small but they do everything on it very well. It’s not practical to just show up at El Pocho’s. It’s a tiny space. There’s a bar where 3-4 folks can sit and eat, but take-out is strongly encouraged, especially in Covid times. Last month, when I was out running errands, I not-so-cleverly resolved to stop in at 11:30 a.m., when the place opened. There were already a half-dozen guys standing around, waiting for their baby chimichangas. The woman behind the counter advised me — in no uncertain terms — to go outside, call in my order, and don’t come back for half an hour.

A mile away, at the foot of College Street, a similar operation has sprouted inside Dave’s Place, a pretty grimy gas station and convenience store where another pop-up kitchen, Tina’s Thai, has similarly colonized one corner of the indoor premises. The fare isn’t quite so revelatory here, though I can vouch for the tom kha gai (the cuisine’s signature chicken/lime/ginger/coconut-cream soup) and massaman curry. A more formal Thai restaurant sits right across the street. I’m willing to speculate that a kitchen employee named Tina got into a pissing match with the owner, stalked out, and set up competitive enterprise 30 yards away.

Lewiston-Auburn, Maine’s second-largest metropolitan area (combined population: 60,000), cannot compete with the celebrated food culture in Greater Portland, home to all manner of nationally recognized eateries, including, starting in 2010, some first-rate, upscale taco establishments. But I know of no gas stations down there serving up such high-quality enchiladas or satay. And let me be clear: The burritos at El Pocho’s are without peer in all of Vacationland. I was marveling at this bizarre, down-market L-A food trend, alongside the admirable edible diversity & ferment in our new place of residence, when Sharon pointed out that these are basically food truck operations: “It’s too cold in Maine to be outside on some street corner all year round,” she posited. “So they’ve gone inside.” I think she nailed it. El Pocho’s remains so informal, it doesn’t even maintain a proper website.

•••

One the bands I play in, Bald Hill, has enjoyed a sort of monthly residence this winter at the Side By Each Brewery, across the Androscoggin River from Lewiston, in Auburn. Opened in 2020, SBE serves outstanding beer, but the canny owners there have essentially ceded the food operation to a third party: a food truck specializing in poutine. This type of relationship isn’t so unique. We play at another brewery, Fore River in South Portland, where, every time we’ve been there, a different food truck has conducted business from the parking lot. At New Gloucester’s Nu Brewery, a superb if pricy food truck, Yolk, is permanently ensconced there.

Pinky D’s still operates a mobile business; in 2021, Downeast magazine listed it among Maine’s top 5 food trucks. However, at Side By Each, the owners invited Pinky D’s to integrate one of its boxy vehicles directly into one of the brewery’s interior walls! A spectacular visual conceit that further buttresses Sharon’s observation. Through the small order window, one can spy an entire kitchen operation whipping up inventive takes on this Quebecois standard. Try the Korean BBQ poutine, and consider pairing it with a pint of Kuriro, SBE’s lovely Japanese rice lager.

We last played Side By Each in late January. Between sets I ran into Everton, a Jamaican fellow I’d met before. His brother, Jefferyton, owns an honest-to-goodness Jamaican food truck. He parks it more or less permanently beside the Caribbean Life grocery he owns with his wife at 940 Lisbon Street. To my dismay, the food-truck operation has been closed since December. When I saw him at SBE, Everton explained his father had recently passed away; he and Jefferyton had only just returned from Jamaica, where they laid him to rest. I offered my condolences — along with my hopes that the truck would reopen sometime soon.

“Not till the spring, mate,” Everton informed me. “Jefferyton closes the food truck each winter. Can you imagine standing in there all day, with the window open — in January? Not practical, mon!” We did agree there are plenty of Lewiston-Auburn breweries that would likely be eager to serve curried mutton and bone-out jerk chicken plates to young hipsters and Gen X fogies alike. Everton smiled: “It’s being discussed.”

Sitting Down with False Shepherds, over Seven Courses

Three summer’s ago, my wife and I found ourselves at loose ends for the July 4 holiday. We’d been meaning to visit Quebec’s Gaspé Peninsula, but upon cursory investigation, Google Maps informed us that the most accessible, southern tip of this region — where the mighty St. Lawrence River meets the North Atlantic — sits fully 12 hours north of south/central Maine. Um, Quebec City is nice, I pivoted, and a plan was hatched. We left after work, sped north, saw a moose outside Jackman, Maine, and were sipping drinks in the Hotel Frontenac bar well before last call.

After two lovely days in the Old Town, we headed further north, up the St. Lawrence to the Charlevoix Region, where we lodged at another Fairmont Hotel property, the estimable Manoir Richelieu. We gambled in the casino, played golf, and ogled a massive south Asian wedding where the bride floated in on a swing more or less supported, in flight, by hundreds of helium balloons. Honestly. That happened. We got lost in the hotel that morning and stumbled upon the ballroom where all these white balloons were being filled for the occasion.

In any case, someone at the Manoir suggested dinner at Les Faux Bergers (False Shepherds), a fromagerie, working sheep farm and locavore restaurant that serves up expensive but exquisite seven-course meals. There is but one seating each night.

Our group first assembled for drinks and mise en bouche outside, on a beautiful patio overlooking a sheep pasture. The crowd numbered a couple dozen and judging from the entirely French welcomes and introductions, we were the only English speakers there. Halfway through the meal, our outlier status became clear to our hosts. Thereafter, the chef, Maurice Dufour, kindly visited our table to personally explain each course, in great detail, en Anglais, after doing so for the rest of those assembled, en Francais.

It proved an extraordinary, if surprisingly lengthy, thoroughly Quebecois experience.

First Course
Unless we missed one — which is entirely possible, considering our deteriorative mental, physical and immunological states following nearly four hours of fine dining — our drinks and apps there on the patio constituted the opening course. The cocktail was pretty memorable: a simple-but-bracing concoction of fresh basil, cucumber, brown sugar and vodka. The appetizers: a small cut of whitefish sprinkled with sunflower seeds and cassis powder, followed by lamb mousse paté with mustard and gherkin — served on a stone. Naturellement.

Second Course
After moving into the dining room and taking our places, Sharon and I were each presented a gorgeous salad of fresh cuke, tomato, crunchy puffed rice thingies and a purple flower we took to be nasturtium (which the French call pensee, we think; after a few days in France or Quebec, I’m good to comprehend about every fourth word). All of this was served on a bed of salty caviar that had been whipped into a mayonnaise-type consistency. Fabulous. Combined with the apps, two courses would have left us perfectly satisfied. We could have gone home right then.
Wine pairing: the first, an effectively dry Sancerre rosé

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Chasing the Double-Double, from HKG to LAX and Points North

When one hears the Mission Bell on California freeways, it’s likely to be the dinner bell.

The trip had been months in the making but it began, for me — this Great Father-Son Sampling of West Coast golf, fast food and prospective institutions of higher learning — on the outdoor deck at Trafalgar, a British-themed pub perched high above the heart of Hong Kong’s Central district.

This was April 2013. In less than 8 hours’ time, I would board a plane bound for Los Angeles, where, after 12 more hours in the air, I would meet my son, Silas, and set out for the hinterlands of California. Accordingly, I had arranged to conclude the business portion of my journey among several colleagues at Trafalgar, all of us indulging in several of the Brit-derived pleasures for which modern Canton is famous. These centered on pints of Boddington’s, Scotch eggs and Premier League football — beamed to us live from London, Sunderland and Liverpool via satellite, then projected in turn onto the walls of neighboring buildings on Lockhart Street, in images 10 feet tall.

At approximately 23:00 local time, this night before my departure, a text came through from my wife, the fair Sharon, with whom I had been trading mildly anxious communications all evening. This was to be expected. She was poised to put her first-born on a plane, by himself, from one coast to the other where, God willing and stars aligned, I would meet up with the 16-year-old man/child and resume custodial responsibilities.

However, this particular text brought to the fore a new, altogether different level of anxiety. It read, “I’ve been reading our son’s phone…”

I put my pint glass down. Reflexively, I shared this introductory snippet with my mates at Trafalgar, one of whom, quite rightly, remarked that nothing particularly good is liable to follow that sort of opener.

•••

The essay here shares the details of a trip taken almost 10 years ago, and so it’s a modest exercise in nostalgia — for the teenage son who is today fully grown, and for the international travel we could once undertake without a second thought. Leaving Hong Kong on a plane used to be the most seamless, worry-free exercise on Planet Earth. The Central district of Hong Kong was once equipped with a train station that didn’t merely whisk travelers 30 minutes out of town to the city’s gleaming-new, island airport, one of the busiest in the world. Hong Kongers had also been so canny as to install airline check-in counters at the train station, in Central HK, so that travel to said airport might be conducted only with the luggage one carries on. The idea of this practical technology being deployed in an American city, even now, remains as far-fetched as Utah state senators forfeiting their right to carry concealed weapons on the floor of their legislature.

Today, the check-in apparatus at Central station sits dormant and, according to my HK friends, a bit ghostly. Beijing’s 2019 anti-democratic crackdown, then a pandemic, changed everything. Hong Kong’s famous bar district at Lan Kwai Fong has been shuttered, the entire Special Administrative Region utterly isolated. In 2019, HKG — one of the most efficient, elegant and busy airports in the world — witnessed 71.3 million arrivals. In 2021, the total was 1.3 million. On a single day in January 2022, an HK friend reported to me, 139 people arrived there.

Back in 2013, not even the legacy of so many smooth, creamy pints of Boddington’s got in the way of my orderly egress from Hong Kong. After passing through Central, leaving my bags to the fates there, and stopping for a bite in the United Club before boarding, I slept like a baby on the 12-hour flight to L.A. Because there is nothing that two Ambien and a glass of wine won’t cure, dull, and slip gently into a time-shrinking simulacrum of sleep.

I could see the boy sauntering in my direction from a great distance away, down the endless, straightaway sidewalk outside the International Terminal at LAX. We had traded texts upon our near-simultaneous landings, so I knew to expect him — and where. Even so, it’s disarming to view one’s full-grown son slowly walking one’s way, in such an out-of-context location, slowly magnifying in size with every step he takes, like a blond, gangly, clean-shaven, unseated Omar Sharif slowly traveling toward me from a far-off urban-desert horizon.

Could this be the fresh-faced kid my wife had outed the night before as a sex and drug fiend?

That’s not fair, not to him nor her. But the information she’d gleaned from his phone, rightly or wrongly, had included various and sundry information re. his high school girlfriend, their expressions of love/lust, and directions to iniquitous party hideaways in around our small southern Maine community. Was this boy still a virgin? If not, was he practicing safer sex than his dad had at the same tender age? Was he (to paraphrase my own betrothed) respecting this young woman?

“You need to have a long talk with your son about responsibility,” Sharon had texted me, in conclusion, that night on the deck at Trafalgar. With six days, four rounds of golf, five college visits and several hundred miles in the car together, she was right in declaring, “You should have plenty of opportunity.”

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Cultural Adventures in Historiography

Let’s get to know Charles Beard, whose intellectual connection to 1619 principal Nikole Hannah-Jones may tar him with some people, but whose story still has much to teach us. Born in 1874, Beard was perhaps the most influential American historian of the first half of the 20th century. We’re obliged to segment his heyday in this fashion because a historian’s work is famously ephemeral. Beard’s most notable work, An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States, prompted much academic pearl-clutching upon its release in 1913, before forming the spine of an historical consensus that lasted more than 40 years. By the 1960s, his views on colonial America were quickly falling from grace.

This waning/waxing of historical reputations, among historical figures and the academics who study them, is de rigueur. Views are routinely raised up, then built upon or debunked as new scholarship amplifies or moots competing points of view. I’d have thought the ongoing 1619 controversies would, by now, have summoned more mention of Beard, whose work similarly challenged an existing consensus re. America’s revolutionary period. It remains to be seen whether The 1619 Project — a multimedia series from The New York Times Magazine that re-examines the legacy of slavery in the United States — will experience a similar evolution. The NYT published its 1619 package in book form back in November.

This much already seems clear: No work of U.S. history has ever been so swiftly, widely and cynically politicized. Right-wingers especially have perceived electoral advantage in portraying this work of pop scholarship as a “radical left-wing” cousin to another all-purpose bogeyman, Critical Race Theory. Even the Trotskyites who manage the World Socialist Web Site have joined the fray, on the side of Trumpists, Republican state legislators, and Fox News. This potent propagandistic cocktail (whipped up by such strange bedfellows) has resulted in spitting-mad parents showing up at school committee meetings eager to wage cultural warfare. Just in time for the mid-term elections. We should emphasize that otherwise reputable historians have also objected to aspects of The 1619 Project, while carefully praising the ambitious sweep of it. That such distinguished mainstream scholars as Sean Wilentz and Gordon Wood have seen fit to kick up such a public fuss illustrates still more politicization — from the normally left-leaning ivory tower.

But what exactly is everyone so angry about? The story of Beard’s rise and fall should help us understand what’s really going on here.

Between 1865 and the First World War, historical consensus bathed America’s founding — and the so-called framers themselves — in extraordinarily gauzy light. Beard’s scholarship changed all that, for a time. An Economic Interpretation introduced the jolting idea that our patrician colonial forebears, in particular, acted not merely out of high-minded Enlightenment principals, but in their economic self-interest as well.

To cite just one example: Beard’s scholarship reminded us that many founders were active land speculators, including George Washington. We all know the British tripled taxes following the French and Indian War, in order to pay for said war: the taxation without representation we’ve all read about. To avoid another costly military conflict, Parliament also barred land speculation in the west or “back” country, across a “Proclamation Line” designed to separate colonials from indigenous peoples. The founding class, all of them wealthy white men, objected to the massive tax increase, the famous Stamp Act of 1765. But they also took great exception to this hamstringing of their land-speculation activities. 

Beard’s work, like The 1619 Project, landed like a bombshell. The founders had never before been presented to the American public as hewing to such work-a-day, bourgeois imperatives. Eventually the demonstrable truth and rigor of Beard’s perspective, vetted over the course of decades, gained significant purchase. It became central to the U.S. historical canon. Indeed, its more clear-eyed, humanistic take on the founders and their motivations also allowed future American academics, politicians and citizens to see Washington, Jefferson and Hamilton et al. more as men of flesh, blood and standard human foibles, and less as flawless, heroic icons chiseled from marble.

This shift in American historiography, this trend in writing about the revolutionary period less sentimentally, has been slow-moving. Or rather, such a process doesn’t always bend in one direction, without interruption, toward objectivity or justice. Beard’s work fell from significant favor starting in the 1950s, when a gathering Cold War induced a great many Americans — academics, politicians, bureaucrats and citizens — to band together ideologically before a looming Red menace. In the face of what was perceived to be an existential threat, many felt our historical consensus required more spotless founders to rally around. Beard’s scholarship didn’t fit so well under that sort of jingoist cultural rubric, as that of Hannah-Jones does not today.

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