History is fascination, with Mike McCardell

A visit with an inspirational author who won’t read

Last month, on Aug, 15, TV personality and author Mike McCardell visited White Rock as part of the library’s Canada 150 celebrations.

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 from New York in 1973. Does that sound familiar?

Before the event, I had spoken with Connie Chapman, White Rock’s head librarian, about possibly filming McCardell’s presentation. I started filming local authors this year for the White Rock and Surrey 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 Chapman wrote that McCardell had agreed, so I figured I had better proceed. I’m glad I did.

I saw Chapman’s email 15 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 meeting room was packed, but there were seats in the front row, my preferred place for filming.

McCardell was friendly as I shook hands with him. I asked what he planned to read, but he said, “I never read. I can’t.” Well, he clarified later, if he’s interested in something, 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 just laughed.

McCardell 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 (Stanley Park’s) Malkin Bowl. So history is fascinating!”

McCardell’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.

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! McCardell’s account of that journey was mesmerizing. I released a series of videos, including “Cardboard Ocean,” a childhood adventure in New York; “How I became a reporter;” and “I was a hostage.”

Most touching was what inspires him.

McCardell was moved by Reilly, a little boy at 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 McCardell 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 McCardell continues to share his remarkable story.

There was a long lineup for signed copies of his memoir, None of This Was Planned, published in 2016.

I’m enjoying my copy. He wrote in it, “Dear Irene, Thank you so much! You made my day. 🙂 Love, Mike McCardell.” It’s the kindest inscription I’ve received, and I have a few.

McCardell now works for CTV, continuing to tell stories that make viewers feel good.

Irene Plett (www.ireneplett.weebly.com) is vice-president of the White Rock and Surrey Writers Club. She won Semiahmoo Arts’ Double Exposure Poetry challenge this year and read her poetry at White Rock City Hall.