Sunday, February 19, 2017

I broke the law. Again

There were those pesky blue lights again, filling up my rearview mirror.

"What now?" I said to Kim as we were approaching the city limits of Asheville, our destination, Friday morning.

We soon found out what.

"Is this your vehicle?" asked the State Highway Patrolman.


"The reason I stopped you is because your license (at this moment I thought he was going to say our license plate had fallen off) tag has expired."


He was talking about the little sticker in the upper righthand corner of my license plate, which had not fallen off. The sticker was a year old. It was still a black sticker, not the current white one, which is no doubt how he spotted our illegal car in a pack of traffic moving at 60 miles per hour on I-240.

From his perspective, he was the exact right officer at the exact right location at the exact right moment in time to make the collar. A minute or two earlier or later and maybe I'm scot free.

I was dumbfounded, of course. I quickly sorted through the confusion in my confused mind.

"We never got a license renewal bill in the mail," I told the officer, pleading something resembling ignorance of the law.

That never works.

"It's still your responsibility to stay current," he said, essentially telling us it's not the DMV's fault for not sending us the bill as he walked back to his cruiser.

We've been billed annually — just like everybody else — for years, and have never missed updating our license tag.

Then the officer returned, with our citation. Our $190 citation. Kim calmly looked it over because I was a hot-wired mess.

"Sir," she said. "This isn't our address."

Good catch, Kim. I thought she might have found our way out. For some reason, despite years of sending our annual renewal to our correct address, the DMV apparently and suddenly reverted to sending our bill to our former address, where we haven't lived in 15 years. And our bill, of course, wasn't forwarded to our current address.

I asked the officer if he couldn't just issue a warning, pretty much feeling like none of this was our fault.

"It still doesn't matter, and not after a year," said the officer, who said he updated our current address with the DMV on his in-car computer (so there goes our proof of a wrong address). "You're still responsible for renewing your license."

The news did get slightly better. My court date is in June. If I show up in court — in Asheville — on that date with proof of renewing my license tag, the citation will be dismissed. So now I need to make a six-hour round trip to the mountains for a 15-minute court appearance ... never mind.

Back in November, we were pulled for a rolling stop at an isolated intersection near Sunset Beach. I think I'm developing a severe case of blue light syndrome. And I just thought I had a cold...

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Traveling down Rt. 66

Okay, I'm going to bring it right out front.

Today's my birthday. I'm 66 years old. Please hold your applause.

I look at that number and kind of wonder how I got here. When I was (by age) a single-digit child, back during those elementary Pennsylvania days on the playground, climbing jungle gyms and waxing down metal sliding boards without the hint of adult supervision, anybody older than my parents was just plain old.

(Spoiler alert: I suspect my parents knew what I was doing at every moment. The city playground was just across the street from our house, and Dad even spent one summer as the playground supervisor. But I was given — gifted, actually — an incredible sense of independence for a 6-year-old. Thank you for that.)

My parents were my frame of reference. Therefore, my grandparents were old. Grey haired. Blue haired. Wrinkled. Kindly, that's true enough. But that's because they were old.

Never figured I'd cross that threshold one day. And just which day did that happen? Was I asleep? Or daydreaming? Watching TV one night, eating pizza and drinking beer, and I got old?

Now that I'm here, 66 doesn't sound that old anymore. And I don't feel what I once imagined being 66 might feel like. I still work out at the Y (I'll have to remember to key in "66" as my age when I set the parameters on my machine Monday). I take a minimum of medications, primarily for my heart, so I reckon I'm probably lucid on most days.

I started Medicare last year and next month I receive my first Social Security deposit, which are sure signs that in the eyes of the government, I'm old.

Yet, I still have two parttime jobs, so I'm not wiling away wasted hours waiting for my wife to come home from work. If I wasn't working, I'd probably be doing one of two things: playing golf, or puttering around the yard. The yard, of course, is in constant demand. So is my golf game.

And I still like to write, which is the reason for my blog. To me, writing is like magic, where words and ideas take form on a blank sheet and — poof — suddenly appear as artistry, or a memory, or a smile. And if readers can relate to that, that's cool. I've done my job.

So today I start another trip around the sun. I'm looking forward to an unpredictable ride.

But first, cake. I gotta have cake...

Sunday, February 5, 2017

The Big Game

When the New England Patriots won their first Super Bowl in 2002, I think I was actually pulling for them back then.

They were playing the St. Louis Rams, for one thing, so it was easy for me to draw battle lines. Plus, the Patriots hadn't won a Super Bowl in their two previous attempts, they had great young quarterback in Tom Brady, and this game was just months after the 9/11 attacks. What could be more patriotic than the Patriots? It all seemed to fit.

And the game was a good one, with the Patriots winning 20-17.

I didn't know the victory was going to set off a Cowboys-like dynasty. The Patriots came back in 2004 and defeated Carolina 32-29 in another close game (the one where Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake made boobs out of all of us). Brady was the game's MVP for the second time and I'm starting to scowl.

The following year, the Pats defeated my beloved Philadelphia Eagles 24-21, and I can never pull for New England again. This was lead-in to the Spygate era, which, of course, was the precursor to the current Deflategate era. The Pats were (to me) cheaters, even though they didn't have to be because they were just so... so... darn good. Always looking for an edge...

A decade of winning (but no Super Bowl titles) went by until 2015, when a bonehead call by Seattle coach Pete Carroll resulted in an interception in the end zone as time ran down, giving the Patriots a 28-24 victory.

That one still rankles. Bonehead.

And now, here we are. Brady started the season with a four-game suspension as a result of Deflategate and Patriot fans are livid. I'm not sure why. The team still rolled through the regular season with a 14-2 record. It seems to me that missing the first four games of the season probably kept Brady fresher than most QBs for the playoff run.

In any event, Brady's stats are spectacular. He's thrown for 3,500 yards, 28 touchdowns and has just two interceptions in 12 games. He's 39 years old, has four Super Bowl rings, is married to a super model, and he's a genuinely nice guy who signs autographs and visits kids who are seriously ill. He'll be in the Hall of Fame before his uniform is out of the laundry. What's not to like? Except for all that winning, I mean.

The Atlanta Falcons, by contrast, are in the Super Bowl for only the second time in their history. They're coming into the game with an 11-5 record and not much national recognition. Most people probably know who their quarterback is (Matt Ryan) and wide receiver Julio Jones (1,400 yards in receptions, and who just might be the player player in the NFL). Everybody else is a shadow.

But the Falcons have a high-powered offense. If they aren't awed by their surroundings and play their game, it could be an interesting evening. To me, it's all a toss-up anyway, although I'll have a slight lean toward the Falcons.

Pass the chips and dip, please.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Talk politics, lose weight

I was in the fitness center, mindlessly pedaling away on the recumbent bicycle machine, as I do every morning.

My earbuds were firmly in place, tuned into one of the 24/7 news outlets that helps me stay current as well as pass the time as I burn calorie after calorie. If I close my eyes, time seems to go faster.

Then I heard a muffled voice coming from the machine next to me. It was my exercise buddy/nemesis.

"Mifflewhapda mizzou odernable ants?" she asked.

"What?" I asked, pulling out my left earbud.

"What do you think of the ban on immigrants?"

Uh-oh. Danger, Will Robinson. I briefly saw my life flash before my eyes. Even though I knew we'd probably end up wrestling on the fitness center floor before this was over, I answered anyway.

"I don't like it," I said. "I think it goes against American values. It's not who we are as a country. What do you think?"

"I think it's tremendous," she said, and so the volleying began.

We bantered like this for a few minutes, each stating our case. I'm not a good real-time debater. I usually think of my best retorts about an hour or two after the discussion has ended. But this was an informal collision between friends.

"It's only vetting for three months," she said. "That's not long. Why not try it and see?"

"There's already a vetting process in place that can take up to two years," I said. "Why add to it?"

At this point, I happened to glance at the digital readout numbers on my machine. I usually pedal about 85 revolutions per minute. I was up to 89.

"How do you know terrorists aren't coming through in spite of the vetting now?" she asked. I didn't have an answer and said nothing, although I'm not sure 90 days of extra vetting will make any difference. I tend to think this is all about optics anyway.

I was cranking out 93 rpms.

Then she hit me with a good one, the kind that buries a liberal persuasion with a sense of guilt. "Well, are you going to take in any of the refugees?"

I'm at 95 rpms.

"Isn't that what churches are for?" I asked. I was thinking of the Montagnard refugees that came to the Piedmont in the 1980s through church sponsorship, and a friend of mine later reminded me of some Serbian refugees who were sponsored by churches during the same era.

"Lookit," I said. "You got me pedaling up to 98 rpms. I never go that fast."

"Me, too," she said. "Look at my heart rate. It's really up there. This is great."

"Maybe we should make this part of our exercise program," I said.

"Yeah, aggressive exercise. I'll talk to the director about it. This is wonderful."

"Same time tomorrow?"

"OK. See you then."

If the machine can be believed, I burned 787 calories in 70 minutes, although I suppose it could be giving me alternative facts.

But when I got home and stepped on the scale, I was down another pound. Not bad for a Monday.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Our heritage

The New Colossus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

Emma Lazarus (November 2, 1883)

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Movie jag, Part II

Four silver screen movies in a month. This just never happens in our house. For Kim and me, going to the movies is our special treat to ourselves. It requires that we block off at least five hours on a Saturday afternoon, earmarking it as a "date."

We usually end up going for a meal some place afterwards, which really makes our five hours together special.

So when we go to the movies, the movie better be worth our while.

And so far, January has been remarkable.

A couple weeks ago, within a 48 hour time frame, we saw "Manchester by the Sea," quickly followed by "La La Land."

We added two more flicks this week. On Wednesday evening, we saw "Jackie," and then yesterday we were amazed by "Hidden Figures."

All these movies have elements of Oscar greatness in them, and when the Academy Awards come up next month, that could be something special, too. Expect Oscars all over the map. Maybe even shared Oscars.

First, "Hidden Figures."

If you don't know the synopsis already, the flick is the true story of three female African-American mathematicians/engineers (Katherine Johnson, played by Taraji Henson; Dorothy Vaughan, played by the omnipresent Octavia Spencer; and Mary Jackson, played by Janelle Monae; and these women were called "computers" back in the 1960s) who helped get NASA launched back in the Project Mercury days, a timeline which just happened to parallel the rising civil rights activism of the era.

I was a teen-ager in that era. I was captivated by America's drive to put men in space. It never occurred to me that women might be involved. It never occurred to me that African-Americans might be involved. I just didn't know. Most of us probably didn't. Hence, the real-time beauty of this movie.

Henson, Spencer and Monae all turn in remarkable performances, but two solid supporting roles comes from Kevin Costner (as composite character Dr. Al Harrison, who headed up NASA's Space Task Group) and Jim Parsons (Sheldon in TV's "Big Bang Theory") perhaps typecast as head engineer Paul Stafford, who is also a composite character in the flick.

I love period-piece movies because for me it's like time traveling. I especially like it when they make you feel good, and they make you feel good because it actually happened. Kim and I left the theater wiping our eyes.

I wasn't particularly interested in seeing "Jackie." It was Kim's turn to pick the movie we were going to see, and this was her choice. It's a curious choice, because Kim was born in 1960, and the movie, of course, takes place in 1963. But Kim has almost always had a post-era fascination for Jackie Kennedy, as I guess many people do.

The movie mostly centers around Jackie Kennedy's life in the week following the assassination of her husband, President John F. Kennedy. The title role is played with incredible skill by Natalie Portman, even to the point of Jackie's sometimes breathless-sounding speech patterns.

At the core of the movie's story is the assassination. About three-quarters of the way through the picture, we are there, riding in the limousine with Jackie, facing her. The rifle shot rings out in a surround-sound scream. We know it's coming but we still jump in our seats. It's graphic and it's horrifying. But it also explains exactly Jackie's life from that moment on. And in that light, it shows just how incredible Portman's tour de force here really is. Wow.

I'm not sure what's up next, although I think "The Founder," the story of Ray Kroc and the McDonald's empire, looks intriguing. Another period piece, for sure.

Pass the French fires. And stay tuned.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Fake news

As a retired journalist, I'm having a hard time wrapping my head around the concept of "fake news."

I guess I shouldn't, though. Fake news has always been around. It's simply an old concept with a new name, and maybe a new nuance. It's sometimes known as propaganda, or yellow journalism, or bias, or perhaps spin. The nuance is how politicized the conveying of news has become.

In my 40-plus years behind a keyboard and a press credential, the idea of spin was always anathema to me. I always took my role as a journalist — specifically, a sports writer — as seriously as I could. I always tried to quote my subjects as accurately as possible so they could get their story (not mine) out to the public, trusting their confidence in my ability to do that.

It's hard work because you are constantly dealing with points of view. What my subjects saw isn't necessarily what I saw, even though we were both looking at the same thing. It doesn't mean either of us was wrong, or trying for an advantage. It just means that an element of trust is involved, and on both sides.

Nearly all the journalists I know work this way. They are professionals. They are committed to the dispensing of truth as best as they can.

Trust is journalism's incredibly thin connective tissue, linking the originator to the audience. Trust has to be strong, but flexible. Like elastic, perhaps. Otherwise, if it breaks, everything tumbles.

I never studied journalism in college, because the school I went to didn't offer it. I never worked for school newspapers because up until my junior year in college, I wasn't sure what I wanted to do. At one point, I thought I might become a history teacher.

Somehow, I was steered into journalism, I guess because I loved to write and I loved sports, and so my first professional job was for a small family-owned newspaper in Quakertown, PA. Initially, I covered borough council meetings, school board meetings, car wrecks and fires, with sports coming on weekends.

This was on-the-job training for me, as I see it now but probably didn't know it at the time. I learned to listen and observe, to cover events in real time and then ask questions in detail.

Always, the goal was to be as accurate as possible, without any intentional slant.

Now comes fake news. What to believe? Thanks, in part, to the 24/7 news cycle, we are assaulted by information not only from reputable news organizations, but from Internet sources and social media as well. It's confusing. It challenges our trust.

And now, more than ever, it seems, it's up to the consumer to decide what is fake and what is real.

Sometime, it takes a little research.

And sometimes, it just takes a little common sense.