On Monday, August 15, TV personality and author Mike McCardell visited White Rock. I learned that he actually spent his first days in British Columbia living in a tent here. There was a housing crisis when he and his young family arrived in 1973. Sound familiar? Earlier, I had been in touch with the White Rock Library about possibly filming Mike’s presentation.
I started filming local authors this year for a local writers’ club. Although I love filming, it is a lot of work. Sometimes I just want to sit and enjoy, and I was in that frame of mind. But the library wrote that Mike had agreed, so I figured I had better proceed. I’m glad I did.
I saw the email fifteen minutes before the event would start. I like to be at a venue a half hour early to set up the equipment and meet the speaker, but that wasn’t happening. I gathered my tripod, camera, iPad and iPad mounting device as a backup, and headed out.
The room was packed, but there were seats in the front row, my preferred place for filming. Mike was friendly as I shook hands with him. I asked what he planned to read, but he said he never reads. He can’t. Well, he clarified later, if he’s interested, he will read very slowly, but mainly he avoids it. That was a remarkable part of his story. I said he must have an excellent memory to work without reading, but he shied away from any praise.
Mike launched into a scandalous story about the first American president to visit Canada, Warren Harding. “He’s a real sleazebag, holy mackerel, before Trump,” he said as the audience laughed. Harding “was supposedly the worst president ever in the history of the country. Not only did he steal the oil from the U.S. Navy … but he had drunken parties inside the White House during prohibition.” And more jaw-dropping details. “But because he was the first president to come here, there’s now a statue and a monument to him in the Malcolm Bowl [in Vancouver’s Stanley Park]. So history is fascinating!”
Mike’s history is also fascinating. He talked about growing up in a rough New York neighbourhood in a school system that ranked students by ability. He was in the class at the bottom, the same class that inspired “Welcome Back, Kotter,” only with less actual instruction. But one of the teachers brought in tabloids that were intended for slow readers, with gripping stories and excellent photos. Seeing those stories made him want to be a reporter.
And what a reporter! Mike's account of that journey was mesmerizing. “Cardboard Ocean” is a fascinating childhood adventure in New York. “How I became a reporter” talks about overcoming incredible obstacles. All videos from that evening are now compiled in a Mike McCardell playlist.
Most touching was "What inspires me." Mike was moved by Reilly, a little boy in Trout Lake, who believed he could catch a fish with a homemade rod and safety pin. With halting words, Reilly said that you can do anything if you believe. That mantra stayed with Mike throughout life. It helped him write stories when he was ready to give up. It helped him with his marriage, with his health. Maybe it will help me too. I’m sure it will help a lot more people, as Mike continues to share his remarkable story.
- Irene Plett
Topics: writing, reporters, faith, filmmaking, Mike McCardell, Welcome Back, Kotter, White Rock, New York, Warren Harding, inspiration