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November 18, 2010

Stephanie Salter: Inside today’s grab bag …: Stamps, bands and GOP $$$

TERRE HAUTE — It’s time for another roundup of items, little ideas that can’t grow big enough for a whole column, but just won’t go away from my field of focus.

• Let’s start with the post office. Since the sad demise of Cecil Tilford’s USPS postal unit in 12 Points earlier this year, Terre Haute has only three options for a post office that is staffed by human beings: the main unit on Margaret Avenue, the Rose Station on Schaal Avenue behind Kroger Plaza, and the North Station on Lafayette and Thomas avenues.

Downtown — that area in which public and private entities have invested millions for revitalization — must make do with a touch-screen machine in a deserted (and, often, creepy) corner of what’s becoming Indiana State University’s Scott College of Business. The irony, of course, is that handsome old 1934 building once housed the main U.S. Post Office for the city.

As I discovered the other day, you can’t even buy stamps in the so-called postal kiosk. You can mail envelopes and packages and purchase metered postage. But if you want a colorful stamp for a special card or a book of Forever, fixed-price, first-class stamps, you need wheels so you can head north, east or south.

The saving grace is, the people in those three staffed units are almost always nice, cheerful and efficient, despite cutbacks in their operations. They know their regular customers and — in my experience — go the extra distance more often than not to help make life a little easier. Naturally, I live in fear of hearing that USPS will close down one or more of them and advise customers to “go online for all your postal needs.”

A related thought: I wish the U.S. Postal Service would issue a specific stamp to put on bills, something that would lift the spirits of the sender but distinguish that kind of mail from the pleasurable kind that includes birthday cards and personal letters. I nominate Aldred E. Newman’s smiling, gap-toothed, what-me-worry visage.

• In a similar vein of officialdom, I recently ran across a disincentive for turning to a life of crime, going on the lam or joining a terrorist organization: BMV photos.

I figured no photograph of me could be any worse than my U.S. passport picture. (I was having a bad hair day and, apparently, a bad karma year when that one was taken.) But my new Indiana driver’s license photo makes the passport shot look as though it was taken by Vogue magazine’s Mario Testino.

Warned against smiling, now, for security reasons, everybody looks like a felon in her or his BMV photo. Mine makes me look like a member of the Bader-Meinhof gang that terrorized Germany in the 1960s. Just the thought of that photograph showing up in newspapers and on TV is enough to keep me on the straight and narrow until 2016, when my license expires.

• Totally unrelated thought: Sometimes, when I drive by the Terre Haute Regional Hospital waiting time billboard on North Third Street, and the illuminated ER wait time is 10 or 12 minutes, I feel like turning around and going down to the hospital just because I know I’ll get right in.

• Before the memory grows too distant, I need to publicly rhapsodize on the remarkable performance I witnessed late last month by the Artie Shaw Orchestra at the Indiana Theatre. Several hundred other Hauteans who were there know why.

People who don’t know or care about Big Band music can’t possibly understand the power of the drug-like rush that a live, hot collection of musicians can deliver. The 17-member Artie Shaw band, which tours the country paying homage to its namesake artist founder, came through with just that level of rush.

Taking its cues from conductor-clarinetist Rich Chiaraluce, the Shaw band did so much more than re-create signature hits such as “Moonglow” and “Begin the Beguine.” Any decent high school ensemble can do that. In two mostly upbeat sets, the Shaw group proved that great Big Band music is timeless, relevant and bursting with a kind of vitality that we associate with youth, but which throbs inside every human being until we breathe our last.

My litmus test for a top-notch Big Band performance has always been, “Did they knock my head off?” On Oct. 31 in Terre Haute, the Artie Shaw Orchestra knocked it off, through the ceiling to somewhere east of 13th Street. Many thanks to the Indiana Theatre and Chris and Rich Productions for making it  happen. 

• Somewhere in outer space, aliens are observing us and scratching their antennae as they try to make sense of a people who shatter the autumn silence  with cherry bombs and dummy gunshots at 6 a.m., sundown and near-midnight in a community effort to chase crows into someone else’s back yard.

• The 2010 election may be over, but the dissonant melody lingers. Two e-mails I received this week from the wildly victorious Republican Party struck a particularly clanging chord.

The first, a big “Thank You” from National Republican Senate Committee Chairman John Cornyn, reiterated the role of a key election element for all candidates — money.

Looking at the contrast between Nov. 2 and the 2008 election, Cornyn noted, “Over the last two years, we were successful in adding nearly 400,000 new, first-time donors to the NRSC, we strengthened relationships with our longtime supporters and ultimately raised over $100 million. In fact, just last month, the NRSC raised $14.2 million, which represented the highest monthly total since the passage of McCain-Feingold in 2002.”

Ah, yes, McCain-Feingold, that short-lived dream known as “campaign finance reform.”

GOP message No. 2 was from Guy Harrison, executive director of the National Republican Congressional Committee. His pitch also was about money; the Republicans need more of it. Referring to the handful of still-undecided congressional races, Harrison warned, “Make no mistake, Democrats will do whatever it takes to blunt their historic losses.”

Whatever it takes? Yikes.

Harrison urges NRCC supporters to visit the committee’s website and make “an immediate donation” to “make sure Democrats cannot steal these elections …”

I think that’s a wonderful idea. Republicans really should spend some more money on Election 2010. Here’s the address: nrcc.org/stillcounting. Be generous.

Stephanie Salter can be reached at (812) 231-4229 or stephanie.salter@tribstar.com.

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