Matt Hannafin
writer / editor / percussionist

It's all true. Every word.

Cool philosophy and hot discourse on miscellaneous topics.


SAMPLE 1 

The Man Who Would Be King: The Story of Outer Baldonia — How Russell Arundel Founded a Nation and Brought the Soviet Union to Its Knees, and Other Tall Tales

(Originally published in onboard publications for Holland America and Carnival Cruise Lines, 2011)

Listen, let me tell you a fish story . . .

Once upon a time, there was a man named Russell M. Arundel. Born in Wisconsin in 1902, Arundel spent the 1920s and 1930s working as a journalist and Capitol Hill staffer, serving on the Mount Rushmore Memorial Commission, and worming his way into the fabric of official Washington life. A decade later he was playing poker at the White House, working as a lobbyist for the Pepsi-Cola Co., and making dubious loans to a soon-to-be-infamous senator named Joe McCarthy.

An interesting life. A colorful life. But would you believe me if I told you that Arundel later became absolute ruler of his own independent country and head of a mighty navy, and that in 1952 he declared war on the Soviet Union?

True, all true. But I also told you it was a fish story — and that’s sort of the point.

Read on.

A Rock, a Refuge, a Mighty Nation

In or around 1949, Arundel — a fisherman of ferocious affection for the sport — was attending the International Tuna Cup Match in Nova Scotia when he happened upon an apparently unremarkable four-acre rock called Outer Bald Tusket Island: treeless, harsh, and unpopulated, but located smack in the midst of what were then some of the world’s best tuna fishing waters. Soon after, Arundel bought the island for $750 and built a 20- by 30-foot stone lodge at its crest, intending to use it as a fish camp and shelter — but then, one day, inspiration struck, and Arundel and his friends created their own country.

Legend says that rum may have been involved, but I prefer to credit sheer male idealism. Whatever the facts, the story remains both fuzzy and compelling: Gathered upon the island, woozy with camaraderie and drink, Arundel and his friends declared Outer Bald Tusket a separate and independent nation, a place where men could be men, fish could be fish, and society could finally assume its right and ideal form. Changing the island’s name to The Principality of Outer Baldonia, Arundel took for himself the title Prince of Princes and drafted a Declaration of Independence, which asserted in part:

That fishermen are a race alone. That fishermen are endowed with the following inalienable rights: The right to lie and be believed. The right of freedom from question, nagging, shaving, interruption, women, taxes, politics, war, monologues, care and inhibitions. The right to applause, vanity, flattery, praise and self-inflation. The right to swear, lie, drink, gamble and silence. The right to be noisy, boisterous, quiet, pensive, expensive and hilarious. The right to choose company and the right to be alone. The right to sleep all day and stay up all night.

The accompanying Charter of Outer Baldonia set forth the requirements and privileges of citizens (anyone who caught a bluefin tuna and forked over $50 was named a prince of the realm), established trade and industrial policy (the Principality’s primary export was listed as empty beer and rum bottles), created a hierarchy of the nation’s military leadership (69 admirals, and no one else), and established a national currency, the “tunar.” Women were banned from the island, but apparently none ever wanted to go anyway.

Introducing His Royal Highness, the Prince of Princes

Back home in Washington, Arundel set about the task of nation-building. He created a flag (a sea-green field with a tuna tail in a circle of white), talked Rand-McNally into putting Outer Baldonia on their maps, and listed the nation’s consulate in the Washington, D.C. phone book, its location matching that of his own offices.

And then a funny thing happened: People started to take Outer Baldonia seriously. Invitations to official Washington functions began to arrive, and Arundel found himself attended various soirees in his official diplomatic garb, which reportedly included medals fashioned from beer bottle caps.

This was the golden era of Outer Baldonia, the time later generations would look back on with pride and wonder. Men wrote from around the world, hoping for citizenship. U.S. Vice President Alben W. Barkley reportedly wanted to be Outer Baldonia’s Treasury Secretary, seeing perfection in the chance to manage a treasury with neither assets nor debts. Meanwhile, the Baldonians matched the ancient Spartans in dedication to their nation’s founding ideals, fishing, drinking, and boasting like Nietzschean supermen. The order of their days was rigorous and totemic: “By 5:30 in the morning you’re out fishing,”  said Prince Arundel in a Time magazine profile. “You have breakfast on the way out, usually lobster stew, cooked on the boat, and masses of coffee. You sit in the rip tide, and some of you hope you get a tuna, and some hope you don’t.” Come night, “You find some convenient bar or table to collapse on.”

It was, for a while, Utopia. But then history came to crash the party.

An Enemy of the People

In 1952, deep in the heart of the Soviet Union, an apparatchik in the state-controlled media got hold of Outer Baldonia’s charter and saw in it proof positive of capitalist society’s decadence. Publishing in Moscow’s Literaturnaya Gazeta (Literary Gazette), the writer denounced Outer Baldonia and singled out Prince Arundel as an imperialist savage intent on decivilizing and dehumanizing his nation’s people.

History is replete with small offences that have sparked international incidents, and the Moskva Literaturnaya Gazeta affair proved no exception. When the magazine’s writer failed to heed an invitation to come (at her own expense) and observe the wholesome character of Baldonian life, Prince Arundel was left with little recourse. Grasping the reins of history, he stood tall — and declared war on the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

The tiny nation’s military and diplomatic corps sprang into action. The Baldonian Navy, with its 69 admirals and between 20 and 100 dories, smacks, and commercial fishing boats, was put on a war footing and sent to sea, where they immediately proved their superiority to the Soviet Navy in both offensive and defensive fishing. Halifax’s Armdale Yacht Club offered to commit its own fleet to the defense of the Principality, and the Nova Scotia legislature voted to officially recognize Outer Baldonia’s independence — as long as the Baldonians continued to pay their Nova Scotia real estate taxes.

In the face of this mighty, bellicose response, the Soviet Union chose not to commit its full military might to the Outer Baldonian War — a wise choice, as history would later prove. Forty years on, it was another confrontation with an apparently smaller and less organized military power, the Afghan Mujahedeen, that caused the Soviet Union to lose face and eventually collapse like a flan in a cupboard. Is it too much of a stretch to believe that, had the Soviets pursued war with Outer Baldonia, their end might have come much sooner?

I don’t think it is. But then, I like a good fish story.

The End of the Dream: Outer Baldonia Today

In the end, Outer Baldonia’s downfall came not due to war but due to overfishing in the vicinity of the Tusket Islands. As the tuna moved farther out to sea, Outer Baldonia’s princes and admirals followed and left their utopian nation behind. On December 28, 1973, Russell Arundel gave up both title and lands and sold Outer Baldonia for $1 to the Nova Society Bird Society, which now operates it as a breeding bird sanctuary. The island’s name has reverted to Outer Bald Tusket.

Arundel spent his last decades parlaying his Washington contacts and native smarts into a large fortune, owning a chain of Pepsi bottling plants and becoming a fixture on the Virginia fox-hunting scene.

Today, visitors to Outer Bald Tusket — of which there are a few, arriving by boat or occasionally sea kayak — can walk across a landscape of asters, grasses, and Queen Anne’s lace to see the simple lodge that once served as Outer Baldonia’s glorious capitol. Its roof and floors are long gone and its stone walls are crumbling, but if you look inside, you can still see, above the fireplace, a chiseled letter “A” for Russell Arundel, Prince of Princes, man among men, ruler of all he surveyed. It is up to us, now, to tell his tale. Go forth and spread the word, and feel free to exaggerate. The Prince wouldn’t have had it any other way.

 
SAMPLE 2 

Highway Robbery: Coping with the Great American Speed Trap

(Originally published on Frommers.com, March 2008)

Picture the scene: It’s a beautiful, mild weekend day on the southern Washington coast, and my wife and I are taking our new puppy to the beach for the first time. The sun in shining. Tony Bennett is on the iPod. We smile at each other out of sheer domestic bliss.

And then, passing through the town of Raymond on highway 101, flashing lights suddenly appear in the rearview and Barney Fife is asking me to roll down my window.

The charge: 35 miles per hour in a 25-mph zone.

On a highway.

In a car with (literally) the smallest production engine sold in the United States today.

After being handed my $120 ticket and told to have a nice day, I turn to my wife.

“Do you feel like we’ve just been mugged?” I ask.

The Great Small-Town Revenue Generator Strikes Again

The term “speed trap” generally connotes a place where (a) speed limits are set particularly low; (b) the police write an excessive number of tickets, often with the help of radar guns or lasers; and (c) enforcement seems to be for revenue generation rather than safety.

According to the 2006 study Are Traffic Tickets Countercyclical?, published by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, towns experiencing hard times are statistically more likely to up their issuance of traffic tickets — by about .38% for each 1% decrease in local government revenues.

Raymond, Washington, for instance, now has about half the population it had in 1913, and its unemployment and poverty rates are nearly double the national average. In one good day, according to my entirely unscientific calculation, Raymond’s own Barney Fife could probably write more than 30 tickets, adding at least $3,600 to the municipal coffers.

Draw your own conclusions.

A couple more facts about Raymond: According to Wikipedia, it once gave a speeding ticket to Microsoft founder Bill Gates. By sheer coincidence, “Raymond Washington” was also the name of the criminal who founded LA’s notorious Crips street gang in 1969.

High·way·man \-men\ n (1649) : a person who robs travelers on a road.

Some Legendary American Speed Traps

Some towns are so notorious for their speed traps that they’ve gone down in American legend. Take New Rome, Ohio, a 12-acre town with about a dozen cops, all of them so dedicated to ticket-writing that they could raise some $400,000 in a good year — almost all of which went to fund the department. The town was such an embarrassment that in 2004 it was dissolved by the state and absorbed into next-door Prairie Township. The website www.newromesucks.com remains as its testament.

Just this month, in Island Pond, Vermont, longtime constable Ted Miller was voted out of office after locals decided his alleged practice of targeting out-of-state drivers was costing the town potential visitor dollars. Last year, Miller wrote some 1,100 tickets, bringing in $100,000, about a tenth of the town’s total revenues.

The National Motorists Association has a list of The Worst Speed Trap Cities in the United States at www.motorists.org/blog/speed-traps/the-worst-speed-trap-cities-in-the-united-states.

Using Technology to Beat the Rackets

Robin Hood would have loved the internet, which offers about a gazillion user-created databases to help you fight the man.

  • www.copspy.com and www.speedtrap.org offer simple text listings of known speed traps throughout the USA, sorted by city and town name. The board for Raymond, Washington, for example, has this advice: “I'm a ‘townie’ and I can tell you: Beware of the entire Raymond-South Bend strip of Hwy. 101. The speed limit changes SEVEN times in the five or six mile stretch.” Speedtrap.org also offers advice on fighting speeding tickets and getting speed traps in your town shut down.
  • http://beartraps.com takes a slightly different geographical approach, its database broken down by interstate highway, then state, then proximity to an exit number.
  • http://njection.com/speedtrap goes more high-tech, with a Google Maps mashup that tracks speed traps worldwide. Hover your cursor over a little red dot to get details (location, speed limit, and type of speed detection), then zoom in to get the exact visual location of the trap, on a map or satellite image. Njection’s president, Shannon Atkinson, has posted a tutorial on how to use the site at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eGau0szf2C8.
  • www.speedtrapped.com is a similar system that map traps via the amazing Google Earth software, available for free download at http://earth.google.com.
  • www.trapster.com is a mobile phone application that alerts you when you’re approaching a trap listed in their database. Several other sites, including Pocket GPS World (http://www.pocketgpsworld.com/modules.php?name=Cameras), offer similar applications for mobile GPS devices.

Sniffing Out Speed Traps & Making Them Pay

Here are a few simple rules to help you stay under the radar, and fight back if you’re caught:

  • Rule #1: If you find yourself asking “How do people make a living in this town,” slow down. You’re their food, and there’s a big target on your chest.
  • Rule #2: If you have out-of-state plates, watch out. You’re a stranger in a strange land: You don’t know the roads, and you’re less likely to travel back to contest your ticket in court.
  • Rule #3: But if you can contest it in court, do: It may cost you time and money, but the point is that it costs them, too, and they hate that.
  • Rule #4: Plot your revenge. If nabbed and unable to fight the ticket, you still have a few options open to you. You could, for instance, pay your fine entirely in unwrapped pennies. Or, maybe you could write an article for the most popular travel website in the western world, making enough of a fee to pay for your ticket, your gas, and the picnic you had on the beach later that day. Insert Bronx cheer here.

Matt Hannafin is a very responsible driver and travel writer who currently makes his home in Portland, Oregon. Oh, and his puppy really enjoyed the beach, in case you were wondering.


SAMPLE 3 

An Ode to Dad Beer

(2010)

 

As my family and friends know all too well, my soul is pretty firmly anchored within 20 miles of the George Washington Bridge: born in Manhattan, raised in Yorkville and suburban Jersey, then back to live in Manhattan and, briefly, Brooklyn and Queens. Now, though, I’m in the Pacific Northwest, and have come to appreciate some things about it, particularly Douglas firs, humidity-free summers, excellent coffee, and ridiculously good beer — hoppy IPAs and imperial IPAs a specialty. Until recently, I partook of the latter regularly, keeping the fridge stocked with 22-ounce bottles of local standouts, each of which clocked in at a cool $4 or $5. Now, though, being a relatively new dad, and carrying the first mortgage of my life, and it being year two of the Great Recession and all, I find myself reliving a bit of my childhood — or, more accurately, reliving a bit of my father’s experiences during my childhood.

 

That is, I find myself drinking cheap beer out of cans.

 

I’m talking old-school here: Thin, pale brews that, until the craft brew revolution of the last couple decades, were really the only kind of beers you could get in America. They’re the kind I grew up with, gifted with the occasional single sip from my father’s can while watching Mary Tyler Moore, All in the Family, and The Jeffersons in our New Jersey living room. They’re so different from the robust Northwest ales I’ve grown used to that they’re almost a different species, but they do cost under $5 a six-pack — and with my personal climate having undergone such radical change, I can’t argue with those economics.

 

In truth, though, I’m sort of enjoying it, primarily from the nostalgia angle. I’ve been thinking about the many brands of cheap beer I remember my father drinking back in that ’70s Jersey living room — and in the yard, and at our relatives’ homes in Long Island, and floating after work in an inner-tube in the above-ground pool we had for a few summers, bought from a friend who (if memory serves) had moved up/down to an in-ground model.

 

Here then, is my tribute to Cheap Dad Beer, circa 1967–1980 in the New Jersey ’burbs. It may have been thin, it may have lacked mojo, but it was cheap, and it was cold, and it did the trick.

  • Schmidt’s: In memory, this is the one with the most personal resonance, in that my family is part Schmidt. Like all the other beers here, it came (to our house at least) in pop-top cans — not the kind we have now, where the top levers cleanly into the can, but the kind where you can rip off the little tabs and make chains out of them. I also remember a lot of those Schmidt’s specialty cans that featured hunting and sporting scenes, but this might’ve been less to do with Dad and more to do with my beer-can-collecting phase, circa 1977–79 or so. Oh, yes, I was very ’70s in the ’70s.
  • Carling Black Label: Somehow this one always seemed dangerous to me — like it had an edgy urban menace. Where did I get that idea? Dunno, but now I’m surprised to learn (via heymabelblacklabel.com) that the beer has its roots in Canada, which is hardly a place I associate with urban menace. Go figure.
  • Schaefer: No particular memories associated with this one, only that it’s the one beer to have when you’re having more than one — and that in 1973 they did a TV spot where some guy named Edd Kalehoff played the Schaefer jingle on a Moog synthesizer (view here). I don’t think this was a very frequent visitor to our fridge, but it’s in my memory anyhow. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L3QBcrliFNk
  • P&B: This is my personal favorite, nostalgically speaking — not because I remember the individual tastes of any of these beers, but because it’s the most “My New Jersey” of the bunch. Sure, it was brewed by Horlacher Brewing Co. in Allentown, PA, but they were brewing it as a store brand for Packard-Bamberger, a food and general merchandise retailer in Hackensack, New Jersey. Dad used to get it at a liquor store at our local strip mall, which leads me to believe that that store might’ve been a little PB itself, or at least related. Years later, I lived in Hackensack for about 18 months and would buy my food at a big old Packard-Bamberger grocery that had a century-old wooden-slat floor and wooden produce bins. I kick myself that I didn’t look to see if they still sold PB Beer — because, y’know, as the label said, “The Taste Tells the Story.”
  • Blatz: Blatz resonates most in my memory of all the beers I’ve discussed here, primarily because of one incident. I believe it was summer, and Dad had bought a six-pack of Blatz in bottles rather than cans, which was fairly rare but, as it turned out, fortuitous. We were sitting at the dinner table, and he’d just popped the top off a bottle and was raising it to his lips, when I yelled “STOP!!!!!” Because there, floating in the foam at the top of the bottle, I’d spotted AN ENORMOUS DEAD MOTH!!!! No kidding: There was a huge dead moth in the bottle, and that’s not the kind of thing you forget. Of course, I also remember Blatz fondly because it was called “Blatz,” and that’s the kind of name a kid just loves. Coincidentally, I found a Blatz beer tray in my grandfather’s basement when I was helping him clean it out in the late ’70s, and I still have that tray. It lives in my office closet, in a canvas bag with a bunch of spare drum heads. Why, I don’t know. I put it in there years ago, and that’s where it still is. Maybe I’ll take it out and display it, and remember that long-dead moth.

Those are the major labels I remember from childhood, though I’m sure there were others. I have a vague memory of Stroh’s, though that might have been vacation-related, or possibly from a family party — it feels foreign and unusual in my recollection. I also feel pretty confident there was the occasional Pabst Blue Ribbon and Reingold around.

 

Now, I don’t want to give the impression that my father was a man without dreams. He knew there were better beers out there, and he longed for them. Anchor Steam Beer was a kind of totem — a beer brewed way out in San Francisco, using a special alchemical method. I remember him buying some once, and really, truly savoring it. But that was a rarity: To put food on the table, gas in the tank, and me and my brother through school, Dad drank the cheap stuff.

 

These days, perhaps inspired by the two-week trip we took to Ireland in 2003, Dad drinks Harp, whose Dundalk brewery I toured in 1984 while doing a semester abroad in Dublin. He’s also enjoyed some Pacific Northwest greats while visiting us out here in Portland — because even though I’m drinking the cheap stuff now at home, Dad deserves the best when he comes to visit, and by the best I mean brews like Laurelwood’s Workhorse IPA, Lompoc’s C-Note, Bridgeport’s Hop Czar, Ninkasi’s Total Domination IPA, Columbia River Brewing’s War Elephant, and Hopworks’ Ace of Spades. Yum-yum, every one.

 

For myself, my current cheap beer of choice is Old German Premium Lager, brewed apparently by Iron City Brewing Co. in Pittsburg, PA. It’s a beer that at least one other Portland beer-lover and I have agreed “really doesn’t suck, and you can’t argue with the price”: $4.49 for a six-pack of 16-ounce cans! My friend Dan, a Pennsylvania resident, tells me that out there it’s sold in “little barrel bottles,” which is something I’ll have to seek out next time I visit — though actually, if I’m on the East Coast, I suspect I’ll want to seek out instead an old cheap favorite that I just can’t get here: Ballantine XXX Ale. Back in the early ’90s, when I was just starting to make my way in the world and didn’t have two nickels to rub together, I’d sometimes dig in my backpack and seat cushions to find a few of those nickels, then walk to the bodega around the corner for a nice 40-ounce bottle of Ballantine, which I believe cost $2.25. Wikipedia tells me that Ballantine is one of the oldest beer brands in the U.S. New York radio host John Schaefer also informs me, via his article in William Duckworth’s excellent Sound and Light anthology (Bucknell Review, 1996), that Ballantine India Pale Ale was the longtime favorite of my musical idol and onetime teacher, La Monte Young. Ballantine no longer brews that IPA, which I feel as a real, true, and personal loss.

 

Anyway, that’s about it for my trip down the refrigerated aisle of memory lane — a trip prompted in part by nostalgia, in part by my abiding wish to be a paid beer writer (someday . . .), and in part by my Dad’s birthday, which was yesterday. I’d hoped to finish this note in time so I could send it to him with his present, but the baby was teething — which, I’m sure, is something I did too. And when I did, and kept him and Mom up late, and made them both exhausted, I’m sure Dad sometimes slouched to the fridge and dug out a can of Blatz, P&B, Schmidt’s, or Carling, and sipped a sip of cold, inexpensive relaxation — a thing to which I can now say, “I can relate.”

 

Cheers!

 


SAMPLE 4

 
Hot Meals, Cool Decor, and a Waitress Named Jeannie: New Jersey’s Classic Diners

(Original version; edited version published in 1,000 Places to See in the USA & Canada Before You Die, 2007)

The diner is probably the quintessential New Jersey icon, keeping the tradition of greasy burgers, any-hour breakfast, and home-baked pies alive in the face of McDonald’s über alles. First appearing on the scene as horse-drawn lunch wagons that made the rounds of factories in the 1870s, diners eventually grew roots in working-class neighborhoods nationwide. Soon after the turn of the century, companies started manufacturing them in prefabricated kits that could be shipped nationwide and set up in no time. In the thirties, you could pick your diner out of a catalog, send a check, and get the whole thing delivered to you — stools, stoves, dishes and all — in about three months.

Of the ten major diner manufacturers, six were based in New Jersey, making the state the unofficial diner capital of America. But what is it that makes a diner a diner, by which I mean a really classic diner? Opinions vary, but here’s a working definition: It should ideally be prefab; it should be long and narrow like a railroad dining car (after which they were originally patterned); it should have a counter with stools (with leatherette booths optional); it should serve comfort food, preferably 24 hours a day; and it should be old, with as much of its original décor intact as possible.

The industrial areas of northern New Jersey, beginning just west of lower Manhattan and Staten Island and spreading inland for about ten miles, are a diner lover’s mecca. Begin at the White Mana in Jersey City, which began life at the 1939 World’s Fair and claims to be the original fast-food restaurant. It’s round, with a circular counter and tile floor, and serves legendarily greasy burgers. A second White Manna — this one squarishly shaped and retaining the old chain’s original spelling — survives to the north in Hackensack, with room for a dozen or so patrons at its horseshoe counter.

Not far from Manna and flanked by highways on all sides, the Bendix Diner dates from 1947 and is a regular stop for Jerseyites returning from Manhattan after a night out. A steel rectangle with a fantastic neon sign, it’s essentially unchanged since the day it opened. The same can’t be said for the nearby Tick Tock Diner, which is regularly named as Jersey’s best although some years ago its original 1949 exterior was covered in ugly chrome. The huge menu remains, though, as does the clock on the roof, surrounded by the diner’s classic motto: “Eat Heavy.”

To the south, in East Orange, the Harris Diner represents the move into the 1950s. A large, double-size diner manufactured by Jerry O'Mahony, Inc., of Elizabeth, NJ, it wins plaudits for its original steel-and-chrome exterior, its food, its booths with their individual juke boxes, and its old-school diner waitresses. Another O’Mahony diner — this one a 1927 model (earning it the “oldest in Jersey” award) — lives on as Max's Grill in Harrison, to the east. A serious time-warp, it’s train-car shaped, with a fireplug-red exterior, barrel-shaped roof, and classic diner sign out front. Though it changed hands from its original owner a few years back, it retains its classic diner appeal.

Back in Jersey City, the Miss America Diner is another 50’s-era chrome-and-steel classic with a block-lettered neon sign on top and good, solid food within. For a last treat on your tour, head inland about fifteen miles to the Summit Diner, built in 1938 in its namesake town and sporting an interior straight out of a Frank Capra movie. It’s got a railroad-car exterior, deco lettering, and a wood-paneled interior with booths on one side and a long counter on the other. It’s no great stretch to imagine some east-coast Tom Joad sitting here during the Depression, having donuts and coffee before hopping a freighter west.


 

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