RANDY’S EARLY YEARS
Randy was known for exaggerating. From an early age, he had trouble distinguishing truth from fiction. And that was true. It might seem like he was lying when he tickled his great-grandmother by telling her and his Oklahoma cousins that he had a lawnmower at home in Texas that could cut down a tree, but he could tell a “whopper” and believe it.
Everything about him, however, wasn’t exaggeration. He may not have owned the real Lassie as he told a friend; but when he told someone something like that, he was hardly aware of it. And such things waited inside him, until out of boredom, he started writing dialogue in high school.
Since he couldn’t read very well, he chose writing plays over other literary forms because plays had fewer words.
In back to back study halls his senior year, he had his first audience. A teacher caught him one day distributing copies of his dialogues and confiscated them, admitting that she didn’t know what to do with them. To her credit, she sent Randy to the Dallas Theater Center, where as a high school student, he attended an adult playwriting class. The teacher of that class was Eugene McKinney, who became a life-long friend and mentor of the playwright.
Randy started out in the theater by first studying drama under Dr. Paul Baker at Baylor University and at Trinity University, after Baylor made national news by closing Long Days Journey into Night and its drama department resigned in mass. If Randy had not made that fateful move from Baylor to Trinity with the drama department, he wouldn’t have met his wife Peggy and have one son by her.
RANDY FINDS EARLY SUCCESS
While still at Trinity, Randy first had one of his plays produced professionally at the Dallas Theater Center. Henry Hewes, then a widely know drama critic of the Saturday Review of Literature, called the play “most impressive” and wrote “it quite successfully catches the drag racing, girl-chasing flavor of two hotrodders who emulate and idolize the late James Dean.” Randy went on to have two other plays and a reading of another one performed at Dallas Theater Center. One of the playwright’s greatest honors was to have one of those plays, R.U. Hungry (Specialty, Short Orders), directed by Dr. Baker, the managing director of the theater.
AN ADVENTURER’S LIFE
Randy never attempted to stay in the theater and, as a playwright, feels that was a wise choice. After studying and working at Dallas Theater Center for only two years, he and his wife chose to join the Peace Corps. In the Philippines–apart from being extremely busy teaching drama and working in the theater–he got this ridiculous notion that he could somehow bring about world peace by crossing borders and used the idea as an excuse for becoming an adventurer. Ironically, one of the few books Randy read in high school was “I Married Adventure,” and that was what Peggy unwittingly signed on for when she married the writer. She has since said that instead of an adventurer she thought she was marrying a playwright who would someday be rich and famous. They are still waiting for that to happen.
On Bongao, an island situated near the tip of the Sulu Archipelago, Randy and his wife met a British world traveler who fueled the writer’s imagination with a description of his trek across Borneo. Peggy soon found herself somewhat reluctantly tagging along on a trip that would last for three years and take the couple the rest of the way around the world.
MANILA EARTHQUAKE (Peace Corps experience}
School was in full swing for both of us. Peggy returned to the elementary school in Malate, and I was teaching two classes, one at the University of the Philippines and one at Assumption College. Assumption is/was probably the most exclusive girls’ school in the Philippines. Peace Corps didn’t generally encourage us to work in such high-class places. But I justified it (to myself at least) by saying that these girls would soon be leaders of their country, which meant they should have Peace Corps help as much as anybody else should. Because of the background of these girls, they spoke English very well, but more important, they had been encouraged to think and to be at least somewhat creative. Many of them had drama experience, and they all seemed eager and willing to learn. Also, I was pleased because I was finally going to get to direct three one act plays.
It was now rainy season, and it rained every day and every night. Frequently the wind blew so hard that an umbrella just got in the way. Peggy turned one pair of her sandals into her “swimming shoes,” so that she could keep from ruining them all … it was impossible to keep our feet dry. Classes were even cancelled because some schools were flooded. It seemed rather strange to have no school because of wind and rain, but we had no say-so in the matter.
An earthquake struck Manila on August 2, causing a terrible disaster. Our whole house shook, and we were sure it would collapse, but it didn’t. Peggy said that she didn’t think that she had ever been so scared as she was for a few minutes. But nothing in our apartment was damaged, and we were no worse off except for a few minutes fright. Some people, however, did not fair so well. The worst disaster was in a large apartment building in downtown Manila.
Within seconds after the first large tremor, Ruby Towers apartment building (housing around 600 people) collapsed. A few occupants managed to escape, and some were rescued later. But more than half of the residents were killed. The last to be rescued were two small girls, unburied 125 hours (5 ½ days) after the disaster. Rescue operations officially ended 12 days after the quake, but there was still lots of rubble that had to be cleared..
The earthquake badly damaged several buildings, but the Ruby Towers was the only one that collapsed. Some of the American soldiers who helped with rescue work said that they had never seen cement shatter like glass like it did. Some of the building’s permit records disappeared, and all sorts of people were accused of constructing a faulty building. Some German experts discovered that a large fault lied directly under where the Ruby Towers used to stand, but it seemed strange that no other building on this same fault line crumbled.
During the day of the quake there were many radio appeals for volunteer workers, for food, and for all sorts of equipment. We heard the appeals, but didn’t immediately respond because we were tired and had spent too much at a big American-type supermarket. But while we were eating lunch the following day, the news really got to us. So Linda (our maid), Peggy and I went to the high school across from the disaster site, where a rescue center had been set up. There they said that what was most needed was coffee and sandwiches, since there were lots of working volunteers. So I went to the Peace Corps office to borrow a coffee urn, and Linda and Peggy bought 30 loaves of bread, 30 cans of sandwich meat, a large jar of sandwich spread, and a package of napkins (which were much cheaper for wrapping sandwiches than wax paper).
Once home, we recruited the help of one of the maids of our next-door-neighbor, and the three women made sandwiches like fury while I bought sugar, milk (Filipinos use gobs of sugar and milk in their coffee), coffee, and hot cups. (Poor Linda: we paid her July salary to her late and then borrowed it back to buy supplies.)
Finally, we set out about 4:00 p.m. for the high school. We each had two full shopping bags; it was raining, and the bus was crowed. But we got there without anything being ruined.
Nobody seemed to know where we should set up the coffee urn, and it turned out that the urn was 110 and the school was 220. But with the help of a very nice man and many boy scouts, we finally got a table in a fairly clear area. There were several fires going (in the courtyard) because rice and soup were being cooked. I managed to get a spot for us at one of the fires to boil water. This was a slow process, but it went faster when some men from a bottle-gas company came with some fuel and several burners.
Once in business, Linda and Peggy made coffee and filled cups, and I delivered it to workers … both those doing the actual rescue work and those helping them. At one point we had three people delivering coffee (as well as people stopping by), and Linda and Peggy were making coffee and filling cups as fast as they could. Our meager supplies didn’t last long, but the Social Welfare Administration, which was handling various donations, was able to keep us well supplied. The three of us worked until about 4:00 a.m. The following night Peggy and I went back and worked from 7:00 p.m. until 3:00 a.m., but our efforts then were hampered because of a lack of hot cups. Sometimes I got so close to the rescue work that my hands shook and I spilled the coffee.
Manila had more than 300 aftershocks following the primary and secondary shocks. Many of the shocks were strong enough to be felt, and because of some of the “bad-sized” ones people panicked.
From distant lands to the United States, Randy never gave up bicycle touring until after in 1976 when he, Peggy and their three-year-old son moved from Maine to Arizona by bicycle; and Randy soon after led a bicycle trip from Phoenix to Washington D.C. with a group of disabled people. By then, necessity had led him into the field of social work (in preference to eviscerating turkeys), and he became a social activist. As such, his accomplishments have made a significant difference.
RANDY’S LIFE NOW
Now Randy has come full circle. In March of 2005, he retired from Child Protective Services in Arizona, a state agency for which he served as an investigator for sixteen years. Since then, he has continued his career as a writer and has also written several novels and short stories Randy still lives in Tucson, Arizona, with his wife Peggy and four animals. He enjoys spending time with his son, his daughter-in-law, and two grandchildren. He has also written an opera, three unpublished novels, short stories and a short travel piece about Muko Muko.
The playwright was a member of The Dramatists Guild of America, Inc, The Authors League of America and The Society of Southwestern Authors.
Randy keeps pretty busy writing, but blogging is a way to keep his eye on the literary world.
Randy has written recently about his battle with Parkinson’s Disease. His wry sense of humor and daily bicycle regimen are his weapons along with the loving support of his beloved Peggy. It is now that Randy has returned to daily writing, keeping up his blog and giving theater workshops, often biking home in the evenings or taking the bus. Actively seeking historical designation for the site of the original “El Ojito Springs” in downtown Tucson, he had had it pointed out to him that he was the busiest retired man in Arizona.
Black snow? Was this real or not? People in Wien (Vienna), after all, used coal to heat their homes; and Wien, though beautiful and ugly, a city bewitched by history and music, magnificent buildings and wide boulevards, had streets lined with tenements that were anything but picturesque. It seems at least possible then that when it snowed it turned black as it came down. This is another example of how I have trouble separating what was true and what was not . In this case, I distinctively remember black snow; I had an explanation; and I was the one there. Who can dispute what I saw?
Now back to what we know for sure: there were certain recorded facts. We know that year (1972) the second snow in Wien didn’t occur until the end of January. We also know what such a mild winter meant, that the seeds of the winter crop froze because there was no snow to protect them. But what made us experts about crops? We didn’t grow up on farms.
There are things we know and things we don’t; what is true is more than likely logical; what is false is more than likely not (or illogical). Given that, we know then that the scarcity of snow hurt the ski business, which usually attracted a lot of foreigners. (Now wait a minute, what about snow making machines? The ski business would still be hurting, wouldn’t it?) Now about that black snow. You sort of have to take what I say as true until you run across a contradictory statement such as this from a letter written that winter from Wien: “Even Randy and I are pleased to see it turning white. If it’s going to be cold and grey anyway, we might as well have some snow.” It was cold.
To follow what was going on at home while we were traveling overseas was not always easy. And to me there was something particularly disheartening about a divorce in the family. Life on the road can be unsettling enough. Today I sometimes get a sense of what we missed when a movie comes up of that era that I haven’t heard of. We know we missed the campus demonstrations and riots in the US of the late sixties and early seventies, as well as the Democratic Convention in Chicago. But with family, there was personal history that we were not a part of and that will never be a part of us. A sister’s wedding (I don’t know about her divorce of her first husband), and the birth of a nephew (the son of my other sister) do not exist in my head because we weren’t around. That year the Dallas Cowboys won the Super Bowl. We got the news third hand from English newspapers. But, really, it didn’t mean much to us (remember my hometown was Irving Texas, then home of the Dallas Cowboys), and any excitement I had came from dredging up memories of Thanksgiving at my parents’ home (they had moved from the home I grew up in) watching the Cowboys.
We didn’t know my sister’s new husband’s last name. We were always lacking a lot of details about such things. And whatever news we got was always limited to what would fit on a single page and, if my mother wrote the letter, to a short jumble of misspelled words. My father’s handwriting was perfect, but he only wrote about business matters, or when details were essential.
In January of 1972, when we still lived in Vienna, Peg’s mother sent us pictures of the family taken at Christmas. It was not the same family we left behind. Her mother still looked young; her father had gotten a little heavier; but all of the rest seemed to have been from somewhere else. You have to imagine that by then we had been away for almost five years. Well, with the pictures it meant we no longer had to rely on our imagination. To see how much a baby brother (Alan) had grown, for him to be as tall as Peg, if not taller, you must realize that we didn’t see these changes evolve slowly over time. When Peg saw a picture of her baby sister, she said, “Susie isn’t a thin Puckett (Peg’s maiden name)…in fact she’s definitely a little plump. But she’s a Puckett in that she now wears glasses.” We had been warned that Peg’s oldest brother Mike had grown a beard, so that wasn’t too shocking. “It wasn’t a heavy beard and looked nice on him.” But her middle brother… Well, Steve’s appearance was the most shocking: he had hair down to his shoulders…and it was wavy! Nobody had warned us of that!
“Shock” hardly expresses the feelings we had then, as we thought of our families and home, definite emotions effected us when we least expected it, but they were conflicted and never simple, but how long we stayed in Austria depended more on how well we were treated there.
RANDY Ford: What does MAPLESS mean to me?
Mapless to Randy means living without planning and means he gets to live. It has led him to the DALLAS THEATER CENTER, BAYLOR UNIVERSITY, TRINITY UNIVERSITY, THE PEACE CORPS, and to the idea of a trip around the world by bicycle. It has led him and his wife to many different places, to many different experiences, and to the many different places they have lived. It continues to be how Randy lives. He knows he does not have a choice about it. Sometimes he has been the engine and sometimes Peggy, his wife, has been the engine. They have traded places. Sometimes it has worked for him and sometimes not. Randy has always sought attention and fame. Sometimes it has worked for him, sometimes not. This could go on and on. And it has in Randy’s mind. Therefore if anyone tries to write a book about him a suggested title would be MAPLESS.
This site is an attempt to tell this story. It has been MAPLESS.