By Kirby Neumann-Rea • Of the News-Register • 

Back, and Forth: Connectivity finds its most rustic roost

Kirby Neumann-Rea/News-Register##A modern Wi-Fi dish rests upon rustic, vegetation-crowded table in the Evergreen oak grove during the Walnut City Music Festival.
Kirby Neumann-Rea/News-Register##A modern Wi-Fi dish rests upon rustic, vegetation-crowded table in the Evergreen oak grove during the Walnut City Music Festival.

The last credits I earned for my Linfield degree in 1980 were from an internship at The Nation magazine in New York.

It was a fine experience. I met amazing people and learned a great deal.

Yet it was unpaid. So I had to make a living that summer through catering and serving gigs, and odd jobs such as running swag-bags and copies of the magazine to delegates at that summer’s Democratic National Convention.

One of my mentors at The Nation was Kai Bird, now author of numerous political books, including one I am now reading: “The Outlier,” a remarkable chronicle of the Jimmy Carter presidency.

Cool fact: The first person outside the family Carter told he planned to run for president: musician Gregg Allman.

Funds were slim that summer, so I got a job at Macy’s Herald Square in the men’s clothing department.

They called it “New Traditions.” I always loved that.

Those of you familiar with my sartorial splendor will find humor in the fact that I once sold shirts, coats and suits. I still find it funny myself.

My first idea was to parlay my Nick’s Italian Café experience into a job in one of Macy’s seven restaurants. But I got a clothes gig instead.

I sold ties, too.

Kai Bird taught me a valuable lesson in 1980. He disliked ties but had to wear one occasionally, so he kept a neutral-colored one always tied to the handle of the inside door of his office.

To this day, I keep a tie hanging there. My door, not Kai’s.

The Macy’s experience came back to me over the weekend as I found myself running credit card transactions for the first time in 42 years.

(Douglas Adams: 42 is “the answer to the universe and everything.”)

At Macy’s, we either ran cash transactions through the register, which required two days of training, or used the old countertop device.

Remember that thing?

It was a foot or so long. You laid the card in face up and hand-swiped a bar across a carbon-copy receipt, putting one copy in the drawer and handing the other to the customer.

No, it is not called the way-back machine. It was known as a manual credit card imprinter.

There were no sensors, strips or chips. But for this college kid in 1980, it was intimidating high-tech.

Sunday night in Evergreen Museum’s oak grove, I got to do 21st-century card transactions for the first time. The occasion was serving as a ticket gate volunteer for the Walnut City Music Festival, a fun event that featured great music.

Full disclosure: The founder and impresario is our assistant publisher, Ossie Bladine.

A couple of fellow volunteers showed Lorre and me the ropes on running the Square transaction, and checking pre-paid ticket-holders in via a computerized list by QR code.

In 1980, if I had heard the term QR Code, I’d probably have thought it was a minor character in “Star Wars.”

It was, again, intimidatingly high-tech. But we got the hang of it.

As a late-comer to cell phones around 10 years ago, and a famous dullard when it comes to social media and other web stuff, I’ve been called a Luddite. However, I prefer Luddite-lite.

For about 20 years now, I’ve had this quote posted at my computer: “Technology, while adding daily to our physical ease, throws daily another loop of fine wire around our souls.”

It’s from Adlai Stevenson — in 1956. I hang onto it for necessary perspective.

So handling Square and a modern tablet to digitally imprint a QR code ticket reservation was all like zipping into hyper-space there at the edge of the ancient oak grove.

But it was also quite a bit of fun, and served as a reminder of the basic goodness of people, when they showed such patience as I muffed a card swipe on my first, second or even third try. People are just plain in a good mood when arriving at a music festival.

As well as exploring new technology, I got to explore the oak grove itself and encounter a tableau that underscores, on several levels, the way society has adapted to technology.

Understand first that the grove, on the west side of the main parking lot at Evergreen, contains a looping asphalt path enclosing six or eight wooden benches and picnic tables that were probably built, well, about the time I was selling Izod shirts by the pound at Macy’s back in the Carter era.

Some tables are clear and usable, but others are returning to the earth. Grass, fledgling oak trees and other types of vegetation are growing up and over them.

Arriving at the concert site, at the west end of the grove, I spotted food trucks, lighting and sound booths, and, of course, the brightly lit stage. Much of it was fueled by generators that were amazingly non-intrusive to the music.

There were cords and cables and wires running everywhere. And there, a few feet in back of the food trucks, this Luddite-lite saw something that in that arboreal-meets-digital setting, took his breath away for the stark beauty of its juxtaposition.

One of those overgrown tables, crowded by oak and Queen Anne’s Lace, was decked out with red, blue, black and white wires connected by adapters and routers to a Wi-Fi dish sitting square on its dusty mid-section.

Tall grass poking up through gaps in the table. There was no separation between the legs of the dish and the splintered surface of the table.

Talk about splendor in the grass.

The table stood only about two feet off the ground, but it gave Walnut City just enough elevation to achieve connectivity. The tech people could have brought in a modern folding table, but instead used the platform that was provided, ferns and all.

I think Adlai Stevenson would have approved. And, yes, I’m going to post it on Instagram.

Unrelated but important:

Tim Marsh called me on a goof in a Sept. 7 article in the Sports section on Hawaiian teams visiting Wortman Stadium and the mini-reunion of Linfield alumni, including Wendell Say.

I wrote that fellow Linfield grad Mark Niebergall was longtime AD at Wilson High School, and “the forest green Aiea gear given to him by Say matched the Trojan colors.”

Marsh correctly noted, “Isn’t Portland’s Woodrow Wilson High School now Ida Wells-Barnett High School, and isn’t the name of the school’s teams the Guardians, no longer the Trojans?”

My thanks to Tim for gently pointing out my lack of attention to detail. In the haste to finish the story, I had completely forgotten about the name change to Ida B. Wells, which came two years ago.

Wells, 1862-1931, was an investigative journalist, educator and civil rights activist.

Contact Kirby Neumann-Rea at or 503-687-1291.


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