Steve Gehrlein, in memoriam

April 11, 2017 Leave a comment

Steve Gehrlein

For those of us in San Antonio, Steve Gehrlein needed no introduction. He owned Cambridge Auto Center and had a car talk show on AM 550 KTSA on Saturday mornings. When not talking cars on the air, he was testifying in court about them. That man knew everything about engines.

And if you think I’m exaggerating, you would be badly mistaken.

Before moving to Michigan in 2004 for what would be a nine-year sojourn, I spent a few months screening calls for Steve at KTSA. Being the son of a mechanic, I loved being around him.

Steve was indeed a unique person. Born in Brooklyn, New York, he moved to Texas as a youth and had a strong Texas twang. He was colorful when not on the air, but he could take it as easily as he dished it out. When I counter-teased him about finding his toupee on Eharmony, he didn’t get upset in the slightest.

I remember once needing caffeine one morning and seeing him in the breakroom. I asked him if I could borrow 50 cents from him. He pulled a dollar out of his thick wallet and gave it to me and then shook off my promise to pay it back. “I have plenty of money, Richard,” he said. “Don’t worry about it.”

On the air, Steve would also make jokes about his intelligence in all issues unrelated to cars. He was actually very sharp. Politics, social issues, common sense, he mastered them all. I often thought that if Ricci or Trey Ware ever needed the day off from their talk show, Steve could’ve filled in and easily held his own on any topic.

Steve also talked about his faith also, and I thought that in Michigan in 2013 when I was making plans to return home. I googled him to see how he and his show were doing. As it turned, out, he’d passed away in 2011 of a heart attack.

Until perfection is restored to the world, there will be tears and heartache in heaven. For Steve Gehrlein, there will also be boredom, as there are no more cars to repair.

R.I.P., Steve. See you someday on the other side.

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Speaking Chinese in Fredericksburg, Texas

March 30, 2017 Leave a comment

In one of my recent assignments for the Fredericksburg Standard-Radio Post, I spent time reporting on a group of Chinese tourists who were in town recently. Having spent eight months from 1996-1997 studying the Chinese Basic Course at Defense Language Institute (Mandarin Chinese, specifically), it was a thrilling assignment.

As I took pictures, I listened to them talk. My Mandarin is very rusty, even much more so than my Russian, but I could pick up words here and there as they tried on cowboy hats. I would learn during the interview that cowboy hats aren’t common in China. They’re mostly worn for fashion purposes by women, and among men, they’re more popular among the artistic types. Surely, there are cattle in China. It makes me wonder what the niu zai in China wear, and, looking back, I regret not asking. Interviews tend to be quick and to the point when you’re doing it mostly through a translator.

Still, a few times I got to show off what Chinese I can still speak — much to the group’s satisfaction:


How you’d say hello to a group of people. They immediately smiled and responded back, “你好!”

They sounded pleasantly surprised that an American could speak Chinese.

So, I decided to introduce myself…

“我叫 Richard.”

Later, they wanted me to tell them how I could speak Chinese, but they wanted me to speak in Chinese.

Here’s what I said, for better or worse:


It’s supposed to mean: “I studied Chinese at Defense Language Institute in 1996.”

And they sounded like they understood it.

“What’s your favorite Chinese phrase to say in America?” the translator asked me.

I said: “请你给我筷子.”

They all laughed. Heartily. It’s a phrase you say to a waiter in a Chines restaurant when you’d like to have chopsticks.

Finally, I wrote down the name I was assigned when I studied Chinese. My given first and last name is Richard Zowie, and in Chinese, I was known as Zuo Ruicha. Or:


Side note: one of my teachers at DLI at the Presidio of Monterey, California, was Wang Lao Shi (Lao Shi means “teacher.”) Her full given name, last name then first name, was Wang Manglin. She would probably be in her sixties now. If anyone knows where she is, please let me know. I’d love to chat with her again.

Richard Zowie studied Mandarin Chinese at DLI from 1996-1997, before transferring into the Russian Basic Course. Post comments here or email

Missing people and unsolved mysteries

March 19, 2017 Leave a comment

I recently wrote a story about a filmmaker who made a documentary about a 90-year-old cold case. In 1927, a young girl’s body was found in Fredericksburg, Texas. Ten days later, after nobody claimed the body, she was buried in a local cemetery. Boy Scouts went door to door to collect funds.

In 15-plus years I’ve been a journalist, it was one of the toughest stories to write. The young girl was murdered, and her assailant has never been found, nor does anyone know why she was murdered. Her name remains a mystery. She never grew up, never got to live a life, get married, have kids, grow old. She remains a young girl, frozen in time.

Her story reminded me of some creepy stories I’ve heard over the years from friends and acquaintances…

…The lady whose aunt, in 1982 in Los Angeles, walked to a grocery store. She never returned home. I first heard the story in 2002, and after 20 years, police still had absolutely no clues…

…An actor friend who acted in a horror movie based an abandoned car on a California highway. The car was registered to a woman, who had disappeared. She was never found.

The case gets especially heartbreaking when you go to the FBI website and look up missing persons reports. You will drown in the results.

Lord willing, that little girl’s mystery will be solved.

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Adventures in geocaching

It’s been tough to geocache lately, since I’ve gotten most of them where I live in Fredericksburg, Texas. The most recent one was fun: you had to find the sun and planets and use the numbers on each planet to solve a puzzle that revealed the coordinates for the geocache. The person who created that was kind enough to include Pluto among the planets.

After finding one in Falls City, Texas on Saturday, I noted with dismay of all the towns in the Slavic corridor of Highway 181 in South Texas, only Poth has no geocaches. One friend, a lover of puns, called it, “Pothetic.”

I’ve found several in Beeville, Texas (where I grew up) to take my total to 131.

One I’ve not been able to find is somewhere in downtown Beeville near a store that has since closed. The description includes a staircase that leads somewhere unknown. Perhaps it was muggled.

What to do with Tony Romo?

November 24, 2016 Leave a comment

2016 might go down as one of the Dallas Cowboys’ best drafts. How often do you draft a running back and quarterback and have both tearing up the league? Most rookie quarterbacks spend their first season on the sideline with a clipboard. In five years, many of them are out of football. As for running backs, many spend their first year enduring the brutal reality that the NFL defensive linemen and linebackers are far bigger, meaner, faster and stronger than their college counterparts.

Let’s face it: Dak Prescott isn’t just the future of the Cowboys, he’s also the now. Originally intended to back up Tony Romo for a few seasons and then step in and start as quarterback, Prescott was forced into the starter role when Romo went down in preseason with a shoulder injury. Prescott’s touchdown-to-interception ratio is mind boggling (currently 17 TD passes, two interceptions), and he set the record for most passes to start an NFL career without an interception. He’s poised and is a rookie who acts like a veteran who craves pressure.

Prescott is doing so well that Romo is currently serving as a backup.

What to do with Tony Romo?

Word is, he wants a trade to the Denver Broncos. Other teams are said to be interested. Romo is 36, and if he is traded, he’ll want to go to a team with a shot at the Super Bowl.

I’d love to see Dallas keep Romo for this reason: the team needs two solid, reliable quarterbacks. Romo knows the system and has shown that if given decent protection, he’s almost unstoppable. If he’s traded and Prescott goes down with an injury, then Dallas would probably be stuck with another Brandon Weeden Problem–having a terrible quarterback who’s not cut out to lead a team and move the ball, much less win football games.

A co-worker said Romo will probably have to be traded or cut at sometime. He signed a huge contract a year or so ago, and it probably doesn’t make sense to the Cowboys to have a high-priced backup quarterback.

Regardless, I’ll say this: Tony Romo belongs not only in Dallas’ Ring of Honor, but also someday in the NFL Hall of Fame. He’s had an awfully good career for an undrafted free agent who’s had no help for most of his tenure. Yes, he’s a gunslinger who can throw frustrating interceptions, but that often happens when you have no help on defense and know you have to do it all yourself. Yes, he’s had a lot of injuries. That often happens when you absorb a lot of heavy hits.

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Remembering my drill sergeants

November 24, 2016 Leave a comment

Veterans Day is gone, but I’d like to make a belated post about the topic. For our newspaper, we did a special section of various stories on veterans. One was where the vets reminisced about their drill sergeants.

So, I thought I’d reminisce about three I remember well. Alas, I have pics of only two…

Drill Sergeant Richard Kenner


I went through basic training at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, from February to April 1996. It began cool, became cold enough for snow, then ended with temperatures that almost hit 90. That’s probably typical for the Show Me State.

My company was Alpha Company, 5th Battalion, 10th Infantry Regiment. We were the last to pass through, as 5-10 was reclassified as 2-47.

Sgt. Kenner (a few cycles after us, he would become Staff Sgt. Kenner), had this steel, blue-eyed gaze you could see from about 500 meters away. We were all afraid of him at first as he seemed very no-nonsense and sarcastic. One soldier complained about him to a female cashier at the commissary, not knowing the cashier was MRS. Kenner. Thankfully for them, Sgt. Kenner found it too funny to get angry.

He made us do pushups and other punishment and had no tolerance for mottos yelled wrong, cadences out of step, rifles not taken care of, barracks not kept neat. Whenever he’d have us do pushups as punishment, he’d always yell, “Just freakin’ DROP!”

I tried to avoid getting his attention, but once on the rifle range, he looked at me firing a rifle and said, “Private Zowie, are you a WRONG hander?!”

He’d seen I was a lefty, but before I could get too indignant, a left-handed drill sergeant interjected and made it clear there was nothing wrong with being a southpaw.

Towards the end, of course, we could see that Sgt. Kenner really cared for us, and I grew to where I actually looked forward to having him around.

Before graduation, he came up on his off-day as he somehow knew many of us wanted him to sign our yearbooks. He signed mine as well. “Be hard or be gone. No room for wimps.”

That phrase has helped me get through some rough patches in my life.

Drill Sergeant William Thompson

Sgt. First Class William Thompson was my drill sergeant when I was at AIT at Goodfellow Air Force Base in San Angelo, Texas, from February to April 1998. Like Fort Lost-in-the-woods, it was bitterly cold and then became scorching hot. I’ve often thought if a person wanted to invest in wind energy, they should set up those towers in San Angelo. Each day, it seemed, it was windy enough to blow off Burt Reynolds’ toupee.

I expected to have a sadist for a drill sergeant, but Drill Sergeant Thompson was fair. He was tough, but he made it clear: don’t give me a reason to be hard on you, and I won’t. He had a family that he loved to spend time with, and he made it clear he’d rather spend weekends with them than having to babysit us due to some punishment.

The first time I met him, he saw my wedding ring and asked about my family. I told him my wife (now my ex-wife) was pregnant.

“Is she having a boy or girl?”

“A boy, drill sergeant,” I said, noting it was best to address them at least every third sentence.

“Outstanding, PFC Zowie,” Thompson said, smiling. “I told my wife she wouldn’t be able to quit child bearing until she gave me a son, and now I have three!”

When we did PT, Thompson encouraged us to use proper form on pushups. “If you do pushups incorrectly, you will become an expert at doing pushups the wrong way, and on the day of your APFT, you will be one very sorry soldier!” he said.

Thompson’s PT sessions often left me tired, but I easily passed my APFTs and I even lost more weight while at Goodfellow: I went there at 165 pounds and left at 158.

When the day came that I finished AIT and was able to exchange my generic U.S. Army brass pin for a military intelligence pin to officially become a careerist, I chose Thompson to pin me on.

Drill Sergeant Larry Gilman


How does Sgt. First Class Larry Gilman look in the picture? No smile, mean, you say?

He was 6’4″, around 220 pounds, deep, gravelly voice, used profanity in almost every sentence and seemed well-read about the world from a military perspective.

One day, he looked at us while we were in formation. He saw my nametag, which read ZOWIE.

His dark brown eyes had this look that seemed to say, “I’d thought I’d seen it all.”

“You’ve gotta be [EXPLETIVE] me!” he said, almost as if trying not to laugh. “Is that really your last name, private?!”

I assured him it was and offered to let him look at my driver’s license.

Shortly after that, Gilman was reassigned to be an interim first sergeant at another company. “They gave me a big pile of [EXPLETIVE] and told me to make it smell nice!” he told one soldier.

The last I heard of Gilman was from a copy of Army Times. He’d been promoted to master sergeant. I’d love to meet him again someday, as I’d often think he probably had a million stories to tell.

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Visiting a Normal Rockwell exhibit

October 22, 2016 Leave a comment

Yesterday, I went to the National Museum of the Pacific War here in Fredericksburg, Texas to see their Norman Rockwell exhibit. This one focused on select Saturday Evening Post covers during the World War II era. Each cover tells a different picture, including chronicling the life of fictitious WWII serviceman Willie Gillis.

Here’s one of my favorites, of a soldier returning home near the end of the war. I’m guessing he lived somewhere in New York City, judging by the diversity of the people…


Amid all the people welcoming him home is a shy, red-headed girl who seems to be very attracted in him. I imagine they eventually fell in love, married and had kids.

I’m not an art expert, but I often find it amazing at how prolific Mr. Rockwell was–especially given that it took around 10 years for Leonardo da Vinci to complete Mona Lisa.

Other pictures I loved included a weary Army cook after cooking and serving Thanksgiving dinner, Gillis’ girlfriend sleeping on New’s Eve (there’s a hilarious story behind that pic–send me an email if you’d like to hear it), a veteran sailor getting his latest girlfriend’s name tattooed on his arm and, of course, Gillis at college hitting the books, in a peaceful environment.

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