Sunday, October 21, 2018

Another stellar class

I'm a little reluctant to say this, because I am on its board of directors as well as an officer (secretary) and I don't want to jinx anything, but the Davidson County Sports Hall of Fame seems to be running pretty much like a well-oiled machine these days.

The 17th annual induction ceremony was held last night at the J. Smith Young YMCA Third Avenue Event Center with yet another spectacular class of inductees: legendary North Davidson softball pitching coach Billy "Chief" Gerald; North Davidson softball standout pitcher Danielle Glosson; East Davidson girls' basketball star Anna (Freeman) Healy; Thomasville's five-time state champion basketball coach Woody Huneycutt; Lexington tennis standout Varner Sink, and sensational Central Davidson state champion swimmer Caroline Smith.

George Feezor, a benefactor of West Davidson athletics and the creator of Fab Masters, perhaps one of the most dominant slow-pitch softball programs in the state, was inducted posthumously, and Lexington's Tim Holt, one of the most humble and sincere human beings you're ever likely to meet, was inducted as the "Unsung Hero", primarily for his volunteer work with Little League football programs.

This year's class brings a total of 128 inductees into the Hall over the past 17 years, which means we're averaging 7.5 inductees per year. I don't know who claims the one-half fraction – maybe that person gets an extra yeast roll at the ceremony banquet.

One of the best moments of the night was Glosson explaining how she first learned several months ago about her pending induction. Board member Dale Odom, who coaches the American Legion softball team of which Glosson assisted, asked Glosson if she would do him a favor and call Chief Gerald to inform him of his induction. It seemed appropriate because Gerald was her pitching coach at North Davidson. Glosson said she'd be delighted.

At the moment Glosson was dialing Gerald, Gerald was dialing her. They simultaneously informed each other of each's soon-to-be induction. That was cool. Very cool.

The Hall of Fame has come a long way in 17 years. The first induction ceremonies were too long. The very first year, the Hall inducted 14 inaugural members, and each inductee had a presenter. Consequently, patrons were lucky to get home before midnight.

Over the course of time, the Hall has tweaked and polished its program. There are no longer wordy presenters. Most inductees take less than 10 minutes – and usually only about five minutes – to say thank you.

Consequently, I was home by 8:30 p.m., in time to watch Purdue dismantle Ohio State, and then watch the Dodgers win the National League pennant.

It's good to be part of a well-oiled machine.
•   •   •
You can access the Davidson County Sports Hall of Fame Web page to nominate future candidates and to read the biographies of the current inductees at:

www.davidsoncountysportshalloffame.com


Saturday, October 20, 2018

Eleanor's home run

After following Americana string band Underhill Rose for the past five or six years, I found it a bit unusual to look up at the stage and see a lead guitar, a bass guitar, a drum kit and ... a banjo.

That's not a combination you see very often, I think. Yet Asheville's Eleanor Underhill (banjoist of the aforementioned Underhill Rose) easily made it work to satisfying proportions.

She was in town Friday night, performing at High Rock Outfitters for the Lexington release of her first solo CD, "Navigate the Madness". Backing her up were three talented musicians in their own right – Silas Durocher (lead), Matt Lane (bass) and Chris Pyle (drums) – whom she calls Eleanor & Friends and who play fairly regularly at 5 Walnut Wine Bar in Asheville.

Eleanor played five or six songs off of her new album, several Underhill Rose songs, an unpublished tune or two that could eventually show up in the UR catalogue and a bunch of covers ranging from Steve Miller to Prince.

It was kind of a revealing evening. I'm used to seeing Eleanor as one half of Underhill Rose (with Molly Rose Reed the other half) singing beautiful harmonies.

Interestingly, last night really wasn't about seeing Eleanor come out of her musical comfort zone. In my world, it was more about me coming out of mine.

It became abundantly clear to me that musicians like Eleanor are probably filled to overflowing with their art and consequently utilize other avenues of expression to get their musical exploration out there.

I was also impressed with how easily all the talent on the stage glided from one genre to another and how they seemingly enjoyed (eyes closed, brows furrowed) each tune they performed. Their solo bridges, as usual, highlighted their talents, as well as their love for what they do.

I can't do anything musical except listen to it. But even that, as a member of the audience, requires a subtle talent to discern and appreciate what you are hearing. I think that's a revelation that came to me last night. We are the artist's sounding board. They need us and we need them.

That's also why I wasn't sure what to expect from Eleanor last night when we walked into HRO, but when she was done with her show, we came away impressed and satisfied.

Well done, Eleanor.
•   •   •
On a side note, Eleanor's performance was highlighted by the arrival of her parents, Roy and Jane, who were on hand to celebrate Jane's birthday.

Roy, of course, is the host of the long running PBS program, The Woodwright's Shop. It was evident for all to see the obvious pride both Roy and Jane have for their daughter's accomplishments.


Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Eleanor's bold move

A couple of years ago, during a set break at an Underhill Rose performance in a small venue near Hickory, singer Eleanor Underhill and I sat at a table and had a casual little chitchat about writing – she about her music, and myself about the direction of my blogs.

We compared notes. The gist of our discussion centered around becoming a little more edgier. She confided then that she'd gotten some criticism for being "too light" or "too sunny" in her craft, although I'm not sure how edgy you can be while playing smile-inducing instruments like the banjo or the harmonica, both of which I think she is a virtuoso performer.

Eleanor Underhill makes her solo debut at High Rock Outfitters on Friday.*
 Eleanor is also a prolific songwriter and there's no way I could have known then that her unpub-lished catalogue no doubt included tunes that I didn't know about and that would never show up in an Underhill Rose concert, where she performs in the Americana genre with co-founder and friend Molly Rose Reed.

But a door has opened. Molly is in the final trimester of her and her husband Tyler's first child, due in November, and Underhill Rose currently is taking a break from touring.

So the timing is perfect for Eleanor to release her first solo CD, "Navigate the Madness." It's a collection of 12 tunes that she's birthed, tweaked, nourished and refined over time. Some of the songs were written years ago; others are of more current inspiration.

She will be performing Friday night at High Rock Outfitters, starting at 9 p.m., in the Lexington release show of her CD. She had her Asheville (where she lives) release show a couple of weeks ago, featuring five backup musicians. At HRO, she'll have three musicians behind her: Matt Lane on bass; Silas Durocher on guitar, and Chris Pyle on drums.

"I will structure the show a little differently than I did the Asheville show," Eleanor wrote in an email. "We play around here all the time so I felt compelled to do something that was a bit different. At High Rock, we won't be playing the album front to back but instead we'll play about 75 per cent of the songs mixed in with some unpublished originals, Underhill Rose songs that I penned, and fun covers."

This will be a different Eleanor than we know from the harmonies of Underhill Rose. She provided me digital access to her album for review and you can immediately see the artist in her exploring eclectic new avenues of thought and curiosity. The email came with hashtags marked #haunting, #psychedelic, #folksy, #fusion, #baroque-pop, #jazzy. It's all of that, and more.

The email did not come with lyrics or liner notes, so I don't know which musician contributed what, and I'm not always sure of what I heard in the voice tracks, so my review is, admittedly, incomplete. But some of the tunes I liked included "Never Meant to Say Goodbye," "Before I Head West Again," "Captured in Arms," and "You Know I Would." Pay attention.

It's good to see Eleanor step out like this. I don't know if she feels like she's out of her Americana comfort zone or not, but artists are often compelled to follow their muse and take us with them on the journey. Heck, I didn't know the banjo could sound like that. It's bold. It's fun. And, yes, it's edgy.

*Photo by Donnie Roberts


Sunday, October 14, 2018

Crossfire hurricanes

Before I write another word, let me make it clear that I understand the hurricane damage suffered by millions of people in this country in the past month or so is next to unbearable and that the loss of life is horrifying.

Even today, as I write this, isolated portions of Davidson County, located at least 200 miles inland from any hurricane landfall, are still without the incredible convenience offered by power, and there has been enough property damage to keep contractors busy for months.

But in point of fact, this area has been hit by the tropical storm residue of two hurricanes within four weeks: Hurricane Florence and Hurricane Michael.

We were literally in a hurricane crossfire. Florence came inland from the Atlantic coast in mid September, making landfall near New Bern and giving us here in the Piedmont plenty of rain and wind gusts close to 40 miles per hour as she made a crazy westward track against the jet stream before looping northeast.

We parked our cars in the treeless parking lots of nearby businesses.

A tree in our neighborhood fell and took out the power for a few hours.
 Then, this past Wednesday morning, Michael came up through the Florida Gulf coast, still a Category 2 hurricane when he hit Georgia.

By the time Michael reached Davidson County on Thursday, he was a tropical storm. And for one hour, at least, he was packing wind gusts of 55 miles per hour right outside my house. He was going from west to northeast, urged along by the jet stream. Go figure.

I was a little nervous. I can't remember the last time I saw rain come in horizontally. Does rain ever hit the ground if it falls sideways?

A tree in our neighborhood fell over, blocking a road and taking some power lines with it. I could tell that my neighbors across the street were suddenly powerless. No lights. They had nothing to do except go to their front porch. That's how you can tell the neighbors have no power. They come out and stand on their porch.

Strangely enough, I saw this event happen in real time from my dining room window. I saw the sparks fly as the wires broke free from the pole. I called the utilities department, got a live voice, and within 10 minutes a fire truck was on the scene, barricading the road. An hour later, an utilities crew was working in the storm, which had abated significantly. And less than three hours from my call, power was restored.

That was amazing.

Natural disasters and their impact are relative, of course. The damage in Lexington is nothing compared to what happened in Mexico Beach, Fla., which has been virtually obliterated. And yet, there's been flooding and ponding in the streets of Denton. Hampton Road, the shortcut between Davidson County and Clemmons, was under Muddy Creek.

All we can do is cope and make our way the best we can.

Until the next disaster.






.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

My first food recall

The voicemail was a little disheartening.

And a little late.

The phone rang the other day while I was watching TV, and the caller ID that pops up on my TV screen gave me a number that I didn't recognize. So I didn't jump to answer the land line phone located two rooms away. If I don't know the number, I'm not answering. So there.

But whomever called left a message. I eventually listened to the message a couple hours later, after Kim got home from work. It was from Harris Teeter, where we do our grocery shopping. We usually do our shopping on Sundays. The voicemail arrived late Monday afternoon.

A pleasant sounding feminine voice, recorded and without showing any sense of alarm or urgency, politely informed me that their records indicated that we had recently purchased the store brand Low Fat Cookies and Cream Frozen Yogurt. They were calling to tell me that the product was being recalled.

"Recalled" was the only word I think I heard, if I recall. That rattles your cage a little bit, especially when it's about a food product. I thought they only recalled cars. I started thinking in terms of e coli or salmonella and started wondering if I'd live to see the next sunset.

And to think I was worried about my AFib.

So we listened to the message again. The voice ticked off the numbers on the yogurt's bar code: 7, 2, 0, 3, 6, 9, 8, 1...

Yep. That's me. Every number matched. Wouldn't you know it? This is the only lottery I've ever won.

Then it hit me – I'd already eaten half of the yogurt. I'm a goner.

The message continued. The product was being recalled because apparently it might contain some peanut agent. If anyone in our house had a peanut allergy, I should return the product ASAP.

Whew. That was close. Kim and I eat peanuts (and peanut butter) like it's the last food on earth. No allergy here. We had dodged a peanut.

But all of this got me to wondering. How did Harris Teeter know I'd purchased their yogurt? How did they know my home phone number? How'd they get peanuts in their cookies and cream yogurt?

I guess all the information is located in the store's nerve center, which for us is the check-out lane. The cash registers are basically computers, just like everything else we own: our cars, our TVs (our TVs are watching us, you know), everything.

I actually took comfort in that knowledge, realizing the store's cash register had the potential to save my life. Knowing that, I happily finished off the rest of my cookies and cream frozen yogurt.



Sunday, September 23, 2018

Bug off

Not too long ago I wrote a blog piece about the marvels of WD-40, an industrial lubricant which apparently can be used for everything from removing chewing gum from your hair to acting as a primer to start jet engines (I'm making that last one up right there. But you get the point.)

So the other day, as I was getting ready to mow the lawn, I was wondering what I could do to reduce my chances of getting eaten alive by mosquitoes, which seem to be in overabundance this year.

No, I didn't cover myself in WD-40.

But I was getting a little leery of spraying myself with Off! or Repel or anything else that contained deet. You know. Because of the chemicals.

Why should I worry about chemicals now, you may ask. After all, back in the 1950s, I was part of the neighborhood band of kids that frolicked behind the city DDT truck as it slowly drove down the street spraying clouds of carcinogenic chemicals into the air. It was almost as much fun as chasing after the Mister Softee ice cream truck.

We also did Duck and Cover exercises in school in case of nuclear attack. Ahhh, the 1950s.

Anyway, I recently tried this one organic spray called Repel Natural, which does not contain deet. It was more of a liquid than an aerosol, and as far as I was concerned, it didn't work for me. The 32 mosquitoes that landed on me after my application showed me that.

Then Kim remembered something.

"I think I read once that if you take a fabric softener sheet and put it in your pocket, it keeps the mosquitoes away," she said.

"Yeah, right," I thought, and tried it anyway.

I took a sheet of fabric softener, rubbed it on my exposed arms and legs, stuck the sheet in my pocket and happily went to mow the yard.

I only got bit once.

Wow. This stuff really works.

I told Kim about it, and she tried it when she went out to water her garden. She came back into the house a half hour later complaining about all the mosquitoes that bit her.

I don't know what happened. The only difference between us is that I'm male and she's female. I hate to think that there's a gender bias involved, but maybe fabric softeners don't work well when mingled with estrogen. I don't know.

It got me to thinking what chemicals were hidden in the fabric softener. So I looked at the ingredients and it told me a sheet "contains fabric softening agents (cationic types)..."

Uh-oh. What does "cationic" mean? It's not a word that comes up in sports writing very often.

I googled it: "An ion or group of ions having a positive charge and characteristically moving toward the negative electrode in electrolysis."

Well, that certainly cleared that up. I could see mosquitoes dying by the millions. Probably of laughter.

I told Kim. Her backup plan is to spray herself with Avon's Skin So Soft, which she also heard is a good mosquito repellent.

Hmm, maybe. I wonder how it mingles with testosterone?




Sunday, September 16, 2018

Slo-mo Flo

Hurricane Florence just might be one of the strangest storms that I can remember.

What I do remember is Hugo.

Hugo was back in 1989. I was a sports writer for The Dispatch and a 13-year resident of Lexington by that time. Having originally moved in from Pennsylvania, I'd never really been in a hurricane before.

But Hugo scared the bejeezus out of me. Kim and I lived in a wooded parcel at the south end of town with tall trees looming everywhere. It's amazing how much bigger 100-foot tall trees get when they're swaying over your house.

Hugo, if I recall, made landfall near Charleston, then traveled inland up through Charlotte. I don't know if it was still technically a hurricane at that point, or downgraded to a tropical storm, but it brought fierce winds and wind gusts as it skirted through Lexington.

Trees toppled. Power was lost. We still put out a paper, but it had to be printed at The Salisbury Post.

Florence, by comparison, looked to be a similar threat. It was huge. And it was tracking straight for our house.

But not before hitting our beach house in Cherry Grove, SC, first. Man, a double whammy.

Then strange stuff started happening. Further north, Wrightsville Beach became ground zero. New Bern took a horrible hit. Wilmington was in the cross hairs.

Our beach house is on the left. Did we dodge a bullet?
And then Florence curiously went from a wind event (100+ mph winds to 70 mph) to a rain event. It's traveling velocity slowed to three miles per hour, indicating this hurricane perhaps really was in no hurry at all. It headed south along the coast before going inland. Huh? Against the grain? Against the gulf stream? Against the jet stream? How does that happen?

For some reason, Cherry Grove seems to have dodged a bullet, if not an artillery shell. A random photographic image taken by the City of North Myrtle Beach and posted on Facebook Saturday shows our beach house with water perhaps ankle deep in the streets, but not much debris floating around. It's not raining. Lucky?

The rain is supposed to continue today as the storm, now a tropical depression, heads northwest around Charlotte before looping northeast into Pennsylvania. Around here, the winds have abated somewhat, although I don't think they were ever Hugo-like in the first place. We never lost power at our house. We even went out to eat Saturday evening.

According to the forecast, rain will fall all day today as Florence continues her slow trek through the Piedmont. Maybe I should have seeded my lawn?

Anyway, those tall trees in my neighborhood seem to be looming less as the storm passes through. Let's hope so. There's still a lot of rain to come.








Sunday, September 9, 2018

Bank on it

About a month or so ago, I was purging my mailbox of all my spam emails for the day.

There were quite a few. Click, click, click, whoosh...

Then I came across one from Chase that sounded pretty official, warning me that it looked like some unusual activity had been detected in my online statement.

Uh oh. I hate when that happens. It usually means passwords need to be changed. Phone calls need to be made. Anxiety needs to be abated. I'm not a computer nerd. When anything out of the ordinary shows up, like spinning beach balls or popup alerts, I start to sweat (see my recent 'No sweat' blog).

I wondered what I should do.

Then it occurred to me: I don't have an account with Chase. What the heck? How can there be unusual activity in an account that I don't have?

Click. Whoosh.

A few days later, I got an email from Wells Fargo, warning me that there had been some unusual activity detected in my online account.

Uh oh. How did that hap... Oh, wait a minute. I don't have an account with Wells Fargo. What the heck?

Click. Whoosh.

 A few days later, I received another email from yet another financial corporation. As soon as I read "Unusual activity," I hit click. Whoosh.

All through this, I'm pretty sure none of these emails had corresponding corporation logos on them. Not that a logo on the email would be a qualifier for me, but it does send something of a shiver through you if you think your finances have been tampered with.

Getting all these emails reminds of the good ol' days when I used to get emails from third world royalty, telling me that I qualified for massive sums of money from their dead uncle if only I would make contact with them.

Click. Whoosh.

Even this morning, I got an email from an address that read "stergios3," claiming he was a physician in Sydney, Australia, and he was looking for nurses, doctors, laboratory managers, engineers, etc, willing to relocate for the duration of a three-year contract.

Not sure how the scam works on this one, but, c'mon. Do your due diligence, buddy. I don't even speak Australian.

And then there's this: Lately I've gotten phone calls on my land line from somebody that is using my phone number to call me. Huh? I know this because of the caller ID feature I have that tells me I'm calling myself. I'm pretty sure that I'm not so bored that I have to call myself for entertainment.

Kim, out of curiosity, answered one of those calls, and she got a recorded message that suggested our licensing with Microsoft had expired.

We don't use Microsoft.

Hang up. Bzzzzzz.



Sunday, September 2, 2018

On service

When I was a young child, I once thought about about joining the military. I'd been reading books on the Civil War, and later, on World War II, and they had my attention. I was entranced by the pictures and news reels of shiny military machines without much considering why they were needed in the first place, or what they could do when utilized.

By the time I was in junior high school (we didn't have middle schools then), I kept hearing about a war in a place called Vietnam. By the time I graduated from high school in 1969, the war was still going on. And escalating. People my age were being drafted to fight in steamy, forgotten jungles, and for what? To protect the Constitution? To staunch communism? To feed the military-industrial complex? I don't know.

So I went to college. And guess what? Four years later, the war is still raging. People my age were dying. Somehow, I'd lucked out with a ridiculously high lottery number that kept me out of the draft. I didn't have to burn my draft card. I didn't have to run off to Canada.

So I never made the decision to enlist, and didn't think much about it afterwards.

The family tree doesn't show much in the way of military service anyway. I had some great uncles who served in the Union Army in the Civil War, along with a great, great grandfather. There was an uncle who saw combat in World War II. And one of my brothers, David, enlisted when he came of age. Although he was stationed mostly in the icicle jungles of Alaska, he is considered a Vietnam-era vet, having volunteered before the war ended in 1975. If there are other family members who served, I don't know about them.

The way I see it, once you make the decision to enlist and wear the uniform, you're a hero. I've had some debates about this. Some think heroism is defined by physical sacrifice and honor, and while I agree, I think the moment you put on that uniform and have your picture made with the American flag behind you, you've already made a life-altering decision. You sacrifice certain rights (especially in basic training) that you've taken an oath to protect and defend.

Even clerk-typists, or cooks, or support troops, might be called upon to take up arms at any moment. You never know. Enlisting is an amazing step to take.

But not all of us are meant to be warriors. That needs to be understood, too.

I thought about this a lot this weekend, watching the memorial services for Senator John McCain, and the sacrifices he made. Could I have endured what he endured as a prisoner of war? Made the decisions he made? Unlikely.

As the years passed, as I read my Civil War books, or watched World War II on the History Channel, or, significantly in my lifetime, videos of Vietnam, what it means to be military takes on its own clarity and sense of purpose.

Sometimes it's good to get a refresher course on what it all means. And requires.




Sunday, August 26, 2018

No sweat

I think I have a sweat gland directly over my left eyebrow.

Well, maybe not. I don't know for sure where the sweat glands in my head are located. All I know is that when I'm working out at the YMCA, or going for a walk with my wife on a humid summer evening, a rivulet of sweat inevitably appears over my left eyebrow and drips into my left eye.

Sweat beads up all over my forehead, but it only seems to flow into my eye. Without fail.

It's pretty annoying.

I mentioned this to Kim the other night while we were walking through town and I was wiping the sweat from my eye with the shoulder of my T-shirt.

"I'm getting tired of this," I said.

"Get a do-rag," she said, not missing a beat.

Hmmm. I hadn't considered that. I usually wear a baseball hat, thinking that should be enough to staunch the flow of sweat. But it doesn't. All I end up doing is staining the inside of my hats with my sweat. I usually have to put my hats in the dishwasher afterwards to get them clean again.

But a do-rag? Hmmm.

I briefly considered a sweat band, and then a bandana. I'd worn a sweat band in my younger days when I played tennis, but I was never happy with the sensation that I was wearing a vice on my head.

I wore a bandana once when I was in elementary school. Mom dressed me up as a scarecrow for Halloween. I wore the paisley bandana around my neck, not my forehead, thus totally missing my sweat gland. I probably looked incredibly cute back then, but I'm pretty certain I'm long past cute now. Function is what I'm looking for.

So a couple days go, I began my do-rag reconnaissance.

Maybe a do-rag isn't the answer...
 It wasn't as easy as you would think. A couple of the area big box stores didn't have any, nor did the smaller dollar stores. I was thinking I might have to go to a Harley-Davidson outlet, where I was sure I could get a pretty menacing looking do-rag, if menacing was what I was after.

We ended up at a mall in Winston-Salem, where I walked into a baseball hat store. The guy behind the counter told me he didn't have any do-rags, but I should go to a cosmetics store, like Sally's. They usually carry some there, he said. So it was back to Lexington, where I found a do-rag at Sally's for $2.99, including tax. (Who knew?) The cashier there dutifully asked me if I had my Sally's membership card with me. You know. For the discount.

Nope. Sorry. This was my first purchase at Sally's. Ever.

When I got home, I tried on my new do-rag (It's spelled "Du Rag" on the packaging). I was surprised by how lightweight it is, like I'm not wearing anything at all. That's good. No vice on my head.

I went to find Kim, who was working in the yard. I think she snickered when she first saw me, with my do-rag tails and ties all askew.

She fixed me up, and we took a picture. I tried my best to look menacing, thinking nobody's going to give me crap the next time I interview them for a story.

But I don't think it's working. The picture makes me look like a cute bald guy dealing with a bout of constipation.

I'm not sure what the answer is. Maybe I should get the bandana after all, and keep it in my hip pocket until I need it to wipe the sweat from my eyes.






Sunday, August 19, 2018

Eliquism

It was inevitable.

Sooner or later, I was going to have to come off my aspirin regimen and switch to a drug more target specific as a blood thinner to treat my atrial fibrillation (a-fib).

That change happened this past week. But not without a little adventure.

This all started seven years ago, when I was first diagnosed with a-fib. Apparently, one of the atrium's in my heart goes Boom-biddly-yop-de-whoop instead of a more rhythmic Boom, boom, boom. That's a-fib. Blood can clot in that chamber and then possibly move on the the brain, where it can cause a stroke.

When my cardiologist (yes, I can now say 'my cardiologist'), Dr. Katie Twomley, discovered this, she put me on 325 mg aspirin tablets as my blood thinner. Thin blood apparently lessens the risk of stroke.

But two years ago, when I turned 65, she told me it was time to consider something more precise than aspirin. We let that year pass because I was feeling pretty good. To this day, I don't feel any symptoms of a-fib, whatever they may be. If Twomley didn't let me know I had a-fib, I'd never know that I had a-fib.

Anyway, after last year's annual visit to 'my cardiologist', Twomley was more assertive, insisting that I switch to Eliquis, which I guess is pretty much the Cadillac of blood thinners for people with a-fib.

I was all for it until I found out that Eliquis retails for about $430 per month.

Gulp.

Up until now, my heart meds cost next to nothing. I could refill my metoprolol and lovastatin with a $10 bill and still have enough change to buy a refreshing vanilla-chocolate-strawberry cholesterol cone.

This was different. This was my first real brush with the cost of health care. There's no generic for Eliquis, which still has a year left on its patent before it can be considered for a cost reducing generic. Twomley kept me on aspirin for a little bit longer while we investigated pricing, and just what was going on with my health insurance anyway?

To make a long, boring story shorter (if not less boring), I called the customer service number on the back of my Plan D prescription card. My insurance did indeed knock the price down – to $212.44.

Yikes. There goes dinner.

I asked further questions. It took me two associates on the other end of the line, and 20 minutes into the conversation, before they told me that if/when I met my deductible of $256, my monthly cost for Eliquis would be $40 per month.

Well, geez, why didn't you tell me that 20 minutes ago?

I rushed to my pharmacy, where I gave my pharmacist a heads up about my impending Eliquis prescription, which Twomley had already called in. I'd pick it up tomorrow.

"Oh," he said, "do you have your free coupon?"

Whuuuut?

So I rushed back to my cardiologist, where an associate did indeed give me a coupon for a month's free trial of Eliquis. I called the activation number, and after about 15 minutes of dial-tone prompts, I was told that I now had a free month's supply.

All the while I'm wondering about the logic of a $430 drug being given away for free. How does that work again?

I'm also wondering about Medicare Plan F, where everything is free after the monthly premium. I think.

I also know my story is basically insignificant. There are other people who rely on life-saving medications that can cost upwards of four figures per month (if not more), making me wonder about the morality of a health care system that is based on for-profit capitalism and not humanity.

Meanwhile, the Eliquis is busy working, I guess, keeping my blood thin. We'll see how that goes. I have a dentist appointment next month, where they poke at my teeth with sharp metal instruments and make my gums bleed.

Could be another blog in there somewhere.




Monday, August 13, 2018

A tree grows in Blowing Rock

About a week before our annual three-day getaway to Blowing Rock, I heard this distressing news from one of my friends:

They cut down the trees in the town's Memorial Park.

Whoosh.

That was the sound of the vacuum sucking the air out of my lungs.

Say it ain't so.

But, sadly, the news was real. When we pulled into Blowing Rock late Friday afternoon, there they weren't – a total of 12 fully mature red maples had been chopped down because of some kind of internal rot or blight (see here.)

In their place were young black gum trees, a species said to be resistant to the disease that felled the maples. It'll only take about 50 years to get the park to where it once was. If it works, the place will be beautiful, especially in the fall. Black gum trees usually become bright red when the leaves turn, so it should be something to see.

I can't wait. I'll be 125.

Black gum trees take the place of the felled red maples in Blowing Rock.
Still, it was a tough sight to absorb.

We talked with a local or two, who said when the diseased trees came down that some year-round residents had a difficult time with it.

I can only imagine, although after reading the stories about the trees, it appears the town is taking the reasonable and responsible path.

First off, I was surprised to learn the maples were less than 100 years old: most had been planted in the 1940s.

Secondly, the disease apparently had been discovered some 25 years ago, so town council had been aware of the problem for decades. Something had to be done. It would not be a good thing for dead tree limbs to fall on tourists licking their Kilwin's ice cream cones.

In many ways, Memorial Park is your prototypical small-town green space: there's a gazebo, tennis courts, basketball courts, strolling paths and a playground, not to mention crisp mountain air. You halfway expect Prof. Harold Hill to show up with up 76 trombones and a barber shop quartet for the town social.

There's also Art in the Park, which is why we were there to begin with. Kim and I usually do this in August to escape the heat of the Piedmont for temperatures that might be at least 10 degrees cooler.

This year, we seemed to get caught in a series of annoying pop-up rain showers. But that was OK, too. Because on Saturday evening, there was this:




Sunday, August 5, 2018

Air and Space

Whenever the five roommates go to Gettysburg (I did an approximate trip count in my mind's Texas Instruments calculator: This year's outing to the battlefield was somewhere close to my 40th visit in the past 35 years, and I have to tell you, the Yankees win every single time), we also try to make room for a side excursion.

This year, we took the time to spend several hours at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center – otherwise known as the companion site to the National Air and Space Museum – located next to Dulles International Airport in Chantilly, Va. It's just a little more than an hour away from Gettysburg.

The Enola Gay is a featured attraction.
One member of our group had never been to the museum before, so that made it a no-brainer to go there this year. For me, it was my third visit, and each time I've gone, it's been a wonderment.

The first thing that strikes you is just how humongous this place is. It has to be in order to display hundreds (maybe thousands) of rare aircraft, including some of the largest the world has ever seen. Some of those very big vehicles include the space shuttle Discovery, the Concorde and the Enola Gay. They are all resting comfortably in the same building, under the same roof.

That's a big wow.

There are, in fact, several featured aircraft: Everyone, it seems, wants to see the Enola Gay, which dropped the world's first atomic bomb that helped bring World War II to an end. The space shuttle is also a huge (literally) attraction. But the plane that fascinates me the most is the sleek SR-71 Blackbird strategic reconnaissance plane that practically sits in the museum's front door.

The SR-71 spy plane is looking for you...
This plane was designed to be the next step beyond the U-2. What amazes me is that development began by the Skunk Works in the 1960s – yes, the 1960s – and features technology that is still said to be classified to this day.

Like just how fast is it? A total of 32 of these things were built, and none were ever shot down because they could outrun the missiles fired at them. The plane was designed for Mach 3 speed – three times the speed of sound – which puts it somewhere in the 2,000 mph range. But there is speculation it could go even faster.

The Blackbirds were supposedly decommissioned in the 1990s, replaced by spy satellites that were much more fuel efficient and didn't put human lives at risk. But I've read where some folks think at least a few of these planes still are doing Skunk Work work for the deep state. Hmm.

The technology behind the space shuttle is also mind boggling, but the most compelling moment for me was seeing the scorched heat resistant tiles that decorated the vehicle.

You can see clearly the scorched tiles on the nose of the shuttle.
And seeing those tiles made me realize that we were/are capable of putting men in space. It left me wondering why we aren't doing more of this stuff. I mean, how are we going to become the Star Trek generation if exploration sits idle?

The history of flight unfolds in this building almost from the very beginning. I say almost, because the original Wright Flyer remains hanging in the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum at the Mall in Washington DC. So is The Spirit of St. Louis. I find it interesting that two of the most iconic aircraft in history are not located with their cousins in Chantilly. I don't know the reason for that. I guess the museum on the Mall can't give away all of its good stuff.

I have a special fascination for World War II aircraft, and there's a bunch of familiar mixed in with the rare. There's a P-38 Lightning, a P-40 Flying Tiger, an F4U Corsair, and F6F Hellcat, a P-47 Thunderbolt, along with a Hawker Hurricane, a German FW-190 and several Japanese planes. Not on display are ME-109s, B-17s or B-24s. I'm guessing they're somewhere on site, in storage or restoration, waiting for their turn in the rotation. Or a bigger building.

There's never enough time to see all of the things you want to see in a place like this, and that's a dilemma for future side trips.

I was hoping we could go to the Tastykake Bakery next year.




Sunday, July 29, 2018

Philly Dilly

There's a huge part of me that doesn't want to jinx this, but I'm going to write about it anyway.

Here it is: When I summoned up the National League East standings this morning, there were my Philadelphia Phillies still in first place, 2 1/2 games in front of Atlanta.

Whoa. It's now the end of July. The Phillies have 58 games left in the regular season, so now it's a race against time to see if they can hold on long enough to clinch a division title.

It's oh-so unexpected. The Phillies are generally regarded to be one of the youngest – if not the youngest – team in major league baseball. They were not picked by most experts to do this well this soon. And, indeed, there's still enough time for the bottom to fall out.

Most of us Phillies fans still remember – vividly – the collapse of 1964. The Phillies held a 6 1/2 game lead with 12 games left to play.

And lost 10 straight. St. Louis won the pennant that year.

These old hats of mine are not a prediction, but rather, just a predilection...
 Believe it or not, 1964 was the year I became a Phillies fan. We'd just moved back down to Bethlehem, PA, after a four-year residency in New Hampshire and Connecticut. I was 13 years old and baseball was a big part of my summer tapestry. The Phillies were an hour away and in first place. I became a fan. Jim Bunning. Chris Short. Tony Taylor. Cookie Rojas. Clay Dalrymple. Richie Allen. Johnny Callison. They're still like family members to me.

In fact, I know the 1964 roster better than I know the 2018 roster. After Rhys Hoskins, Ceasar Hernandez and Carlos Santana, I'm pretty much lost. Go Phillies.

Although I must say, since the team has been doing relatively well this year, I've followed them with more than passing interest. I actually check the standings most mornings now.

Something is going on in Philadelphia, though. I mean, first the Eagles win the Super Bowl. And then Villanova, a smallish Catholic school in the suburbs, wins the NCAA championship. And now the Phillies? It's too good to be true.

Time for a cheese steak.

I do have a back-up plan in case the Phillies falter. I still follow the Boston Red Sox. This is a love affair that's actually deeper than my fandom of the Phillies. Because, you know, we lived in New England during my formative baseball years. Ted Williams. Pumpsie Green. Vic Wertz. Frank Malzone. Tracy Stallard. Bill Monbouquette.

I've always been fascinated with Fenway Park, and no doubt, that's part of the Boston allure for me. Old School. Green Monster. Bunker Hill.

This year, the Red Sox might be the best team in baseball. They are 40 games over .500 with a wowzer 73-33 record and showing no signs of stopping. They are 5 1/2 games ahead of the New York Yankees, but anything can happen as we make the turn into the stretch drive.

But for now, I think I'll just sit back and enjoy seeing my two favorite teams playing good baseball at the same time. How often does that happen?

Not often enough.


Sunday, July 22, 2018

Spiders and snakes

Is it me, or have the spiders arrived early and in force this year?

I spent a good part of my day yesterday with broom in hand trying to clean away spider webs. And not just a few spider webs. A ton of spider webs. The balusters on my front porch are clearly woven together with silky webs.

The mailbox attached to the front of my house appears to be particularly attractive to spiders. So do the corners of most of the windows on my house.

Spiders have done their work everywhere, including our flower boxes. Some of our geraniums are now connected to the siding of our house, and the steps leading up to my back porch are also webbed.

It's amazing.

I try to clear away the webs as often as I can, but spiders apparently are insistent. I can remove a web one day and it'll be back the next.

Caught in the act: This spider is already at work this morning...
I'm not a big fans of spiders – I don't screech "Eeek" when I see one; I emit more more like a groaning "Yuck" – but every once in a while, like early in the morning when it's still dark and I head to my car in the driveway as I prepare to go to the YMCA, I'll walk face-first into an unseen web that was spun overnight. That's a "yuck" moment.

The back of my mind keeps whispering "recluse" or "black widow," but what can I do beyond setting up Klieg lights?

I started noticing the spiders in early June and thought to myself that this might be unusual. Don't spiders usually show up en masse around September and October? Isn't that why they're so popular around Halloween? I don't know.

Spider webs are all over my front porch...
Snakes haven't been much of a problem in our neigh-borhood, although some of my friends on Facebook are posting pictures of the black snakes and occasional copperheads that show up in their garages and driveways. Nice. Thank you for that.

Still, I keep a wary eye out whenever I'm doing yard work. Shortly after we moved here about 15 years ago, one of our neighbors was bitten by a snake while clearing his backyard. Thus the lane behind us has been known as "Copperhead Alley" ever since. Local lore there.

The good news is that we live in a neighborhood where there are a couple of free-ranging cats, who happen to be natural foes of snakes. We've been told the cats have been bitten so often that they are now immune to the copperheads. Consequently, now and then we might see a baby snake carcass lying belly-up in the yard. Good cats. Kim occasionally puts a bowl of cat food out for them. I don't know if she's rewarding them or enticing them to stay. Maybe both.

Spiders and snakes. I don't know. We share the planet with them, so I guess we just have to cope.

And hope we don't live near a road named Sharknado Alley.










Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Underhill Rose, minus one, plus two

For my wife Kim and myself, the anticipation level had reached a different plane. Not higher. Not lower. Just different.

We always look forward to hearing Underhill Rose perform at High Rock Outfitters, but on Saturday, for the first time in the six years or so that we have been following them, we would see them as a duo instead of a trio.

Salley Williamson, the upright bassist who provided a third part of near angelic harmony to the group, left the band last October to reclaim something like a normal life beyond plucking strings and touring down Interstate highways every weekend.

We didn't know what to expect.

We shouldn't have worried.

Guitarist Molly Rose Reed and banjoist Eleanor Underhill, who began life as Underhill Rose about 10 years ago as a duo, were back to their roots. They met while attending Warren Wilson College near Asheville, and then soon after became part of a well-regarded local female string band, the Barrel House Mamas. When that group eventually dissolved, Molly and Eleanor decided to strike out on their own.

That decision makes the rest of us who follow them very, very lucky. Their harmonies have almost always seemed effortless, and to make things just right, they are both accomplished musicians. Eleanor, in fact, can accompany herself with the harmonica while at the same time bringing her banjo to its knees. It's truly something to see. And hear.

On this particular night, Gary Oliver – who's traveled off and on with the band before –  was playing upright bass (he can also play drums), providing the girls a steady, bold and confident bass line.

And drummer Michael Rhodes was also there, giving Molly and Eleanor one less thing to worry about (he said) while establishing rhythm and beat.

They played two sets Saturday night, tossing in a couple tunes now and then that we hadn't heard before in their show. Molly served up "Dublin Days," a wistful song she penned about their tour to Ireland last year. I wanted to hop on a plane and go.

Eleanor gave us her "Captured in Arms," inspired by the massacre at the Bataclan Theater in Paris in 2015. It's an unlikely tune for Underhill Rose to perform, but I'd heard her sing it before in a solo performance in Asheville last year. This time, with Molly, Gary and Michael backing her, it was an amazingly moving song. The line "Please don't kill my friends anymore" is a hard one to let go. (Listen here )

During the first set, Eleanor told the audience to feel free to ask for requests. About five or six were suggested (including "Freebird." Sigh), and consequently, about half of the songs planned for the second set were bumped by the requests. That was cool.

I asked for two cover tunes: Jamey Johnson's "In Color," and John Prine's "Long Monday." I love both of these songs in any case, but Molly and Eleanor have somehow made them their own. Johnson and Prine ought to pay them performance fees. "Long Monday," a plaintive but thoughtful love song from a master lyricist is special, especially with Eleanor's melancholy harmonica bridge and soulful vocal interpretation. It's an earworm that is still with me days after the concert. The difference is I don't want it to go away. (Listen here).

Changes are possibly on the horizon for Underhill Rose. They are still negotiating a landscape without a third voice. Duo or trio – which way will they go? Meanwhile, Molly is pregnant with her and her husband's (Tyler Housholder of The Broadcast) first child. How will parenthood affect band dynamics? And Eleanor is preparing for her first solo CD release.

I'm a selfish guy when it comes to Underhill Rose. I just want them to continue on for as long as they can. The harmony. The talent. The personalities.

It just all adds up.








Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Jeepers

I just completed a bucket list item that I didn't even know was on my bucket list.

My neighbor, Perry Leonard, gave me a ride in his 1952 Willeys CJ-3A Jeep. I was both excited and hesitant at the same time. I was excited because I enjoy classic vehicles, and what could be more classic than a vehicle that looks like it could have landed at Omaha Beach?

But I was hesitant because, you know, there are no airbags. No doors. No roof. No rollbar. Perry's wife, Jeanne, refuses to ride in it because she figures there are only two viable options for her: (a) getting thrown out of it, or (b) getting crushed by it. Maybe both.

Perry Leonard stands over his 1952 Willeys Jeep.
I decided to suck it up. When Perry came by to pick me up, I eagerly hopped in the passenger seat and buckled my seatbelt, the only concession to safety in sight. Unless, of course, you factor in Perry's driving ability. I was counting on that.

I actually thought my chances for survival were pretty decent because, according to Perry, the vehicle rarely goes faster than 35 miles per hour. I think the gearing must be really low because when he motors down the road, the engine almost screams and it sounds like it's ready to pop off its mountings.

Cool.

He took me across town. We drove out to Lexington Golf Club, and then through Twin Acres before doubling back into town and up Main Street. I noticed people were looking at us. I remembered that exact same sensation when Kim and I drove our 1966 Mustang convertible around town. Those were the days.

The Willeys four-cylinder engine provides incredible power, not speed.
 But the Jeep was somehow different. All I had to do was glance to my right and see the road passing under us. I loved the wind blowing through the two hairs left on my bald head. I loved that I could barely hear myself think against the straining of the engine. Plus, I felt every bump in the road.

Ahhhhh.

I was having a blast. I thought we were nearly through with the ride when Perry headed us over to Northside before coming back on Winston road, and then we made an encore appearance down Main Street again. We might have been gone a half hour to cover what normally takes about 10 minutes.

Along the way, Perry told me he bought the Jeep about three years ago from Chip Ward. The vehicle was resting comfortably in the tree line near the lake there and had been idle among the foliage for about six years, but Perry made an offer and it was his.

He thinks it's an old Navy Jeep, because Navy Jeeps didn't have tailgates and this one is tailgate free. It's also painted kind of a hideous Forest Green (Perry thinks it even might have been purple at one time), but he's hoping to paint it Navy grey at some point and throw in some military serial numbers on the hood for authenticity. But first he has to recover from having the transmission refurbished ("Some of the gears were missing teeth") before he goes any further.

It may not even be military. If it truly is a CJ-3A, the CJ stands for "Civilian Jeep" (according to Wikipedia). But I think it's close enough.

Some of the gauges on the dash still work – on occasion. The speedometer worked a couple days ago, and Perry's still guessing how much gas is in the tank, which is located directly under the driver's seat. It holds 10 gallons, which I guess minimizes the risk of an explosive fire. There are no windshield wipers right now, and the steering wheel is incorrect to the vehicle. He's been caught in a sudden downpour more than once.

Mere trivialities.

The whole point of this thing, of course, is in taking some history to the road. Dwight Eisenhower, the supreme commander of Allied forces on D-Day and thereafter, said the Jeep was essential to winning World War II. And even though Perry's Jeep is Korean War vintage, you can appreciate the lineage.

As long as you don't get thrown out.








Sunday, July 8, 2018

Vinyl

The other day I went into our guest bedroom to search for a book I keep in the shelving there.

It was then my eye caught the bottom shelf of the bookcase: at least 100 record albums were sitting there, upright, out of sight, out of mind, forgotten, and yet, at the same time, a valuable vinyl diary of my youth.

I forgot about the book I was looking for; I started flipping through some memorable album covers. The Beatles were there, of course, from start to finish, as well as most of their solo work (to this day, I am a Beatles-phile. Not only do I have their complete catalogue on vinyl, but on cassettes and CDs as well. I am prepared).

It was my collection of records after the Beatles that tickled me, some of which I'd forgotten. Some I wished I'd never remembered. My taste in music virtually jumped the scales.

 There was the good stuff, of course. There was the fabulous farewell by The Band, "The Last Waltz." I listened to that one over and over back in the day. Then there was some Dave Mason, Simon and Garfunkel (four albums), James Taylor (2), Bruce Springsteen (3), Jackson Browne, Don McLean, Eagles (3), Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young (2), Fleetwood Mac (4), Doobie Brothers (3), Carole King (2) and Carly Simon (2). (Carly's "No Secrets" album cover held no secrets. As did Herb Alpert's (5) "Whipped Cream and Other Delights" cover before that, which seemed somehow a coming of age for me. Hey, I was only 14 at the time.)

I kept flipping through the albums. For some reason, I bought Richard Harris' "A Tramp Shining," possibly for "MacArthur Park." Don't ask. I also found three Harpers Bizarre albums because I like tight harmony, but having said that, I don't own a single Beach Boys on vinyl. Go figure. God Only Knows.

Back in my college days in Pennsylvania, I detoured into progressive rock and jazz and I faithfully listened to a radio station out of Philadelphia, WMMR. Consequently, I have "The Use of Ashes" album by Pearls Before Swine, featuring a song called "Rocket Man," which has no connection at all to Elton John's (2) "Rocket Man."

I also dug Yes (4) and listened to Yessongs ad nasuem. Yours is No Disgrace, after all.

I also have two Weather Report albums ("Black Market" and "Heavy Weather", of which I had long forgotten. I also got into Chuck Mangione for a while, but he was never Herb Alpert. He never had a compelling album cover.

There were some familiar names whose albums I bought, but to this day, I don't know why. I have The Kinks "Muswell Hillbillies," but I don't recognize a single song title. I have John Klemmer's "Waterfalls," but here I shrug my shoulders. There's the Moody Blues, but I'm not sure "To Our Children's Children's Children" was a real biggie. Watching and Waiting, I guess.

Then there's Starland Vocal Band. Two words: "Afternoon Delight." But no Stones. Hey, I'm a Beatles guy. (I do have the Stones on CDs, so calm down).

There are some one-time purchases I do appreciate, like Melanie, Janis Ian, Pure Prairie League (for "Aime"), Boston and Genesis.

But what are Dr. Hook, Captain & Tenille and the disco Bee Gees doing there? Oh, yeah. After I got married, some of Kim's records merged into my collection. That's also where some of the beach music filters in. Beach music was a good addition.

Some artists I didn't realize I liked so much: I have four Cat Stevens albums, which must have come from my metaphysical period. There are three Billy Joels, three Steely Dans, three Rod Stewarts and two Associations.

The Sixties and early Seventies was not my country period. Again, I had to get married before I learned to appreciate Johnny Cash, Patty Loveless, Willie Nelson, Patsy Cline, et al. None of them appear on any records I own.

Looking back, it's great to have all these vinyl albums. It's like a scrapbook of my life, bringing back all these memories in the way that only music can do.

If only I had a turntable that still worked.










Sunday, July 1, 2018

Put the damn paper out

After watching the news in real time on Thursday about the deadly shooting of five employees of The Capital Gazette newspaper in Annapolis, MD, a sad shudder shivered through my spine.

Dead reporters. In the United States of America. One of them, John McNamara, was a sportswriter.

A sportswriter.

I'm a sportswriter. That's what I've done for more than 40 years, for more than two-thirds of my life on this planet. I can't imagine going to work one day, wondering if I can still make deadline if the American Legion baseball game I'm covering goes into extra innings, only to end up murdered at my keyboard because some psychopath had a grudge against my workplace.

As a result of my job, I've gotten to know a lot of sportswriters over the years. Many are my friends. I didn't know John (who covered the University of Maryland), but maybe we were on press row together covering an ACC Tournament years ago. Maybe we sat side by side in a postgame interview, or bumped shoulders loading up on potato salad and barbecue during the pregame buffet. Who knows? I kind of hope maybe we did. I hope I crossed his path.

Dead reporters. It's part of a sorry refrain now: dead reporters, dead students, dead theater patrons, dead church-goers.

Because the gunman (armed with smoke grenades? How does that happen?) was carrying out his own warped sense of justice, it's unlikely the killings were politically motivated. But maybe he felt he had license to kill: After all, we're told over and over again, the news is fake. The press is the enemy of the people.

Listen, the news is not fake (unless we're talking about those tabloids at the checkout lane telling us about aliens from Mars impregnating Bigfoot). Most news gathering organizations utilize lawyers, ombudsmen and time-proven policy before – and sometimes after – publication to strive for accuracy. Does the media get it wrong? Sure, sometimes. Journalism is a human endeavor with all the  imperfection that implies.

If you believe the news is fake, it's probably because you don't agree with the view of the truth being offered. That's OK. But that doesn't mean the news is fake. It just means you don't agree with it. There's a difference.

A good way to tell if the news is fake is if it involves Martians and Bigfoot. I'm serious.

And the press is not the enemy of the people. It says so in the First Amendment of The Constitution, guaranteeing freedom of the press – which, by the way, was written by the people, for the people.

Which also explains why, even while mourning our slain brothers and sisters in journalism, "We're putting out a damn paper tomorrow." (Quote from Chris Cook, reporter for The Capital Gazette, on the day of the shootings).


Sunday, June 24, 2018

Sidewalks, alleys and porches

Kim and I moved to Lexington's historic Park Place neighborhood about 15 years ago and it's a decision we've never regretted.

It's not as if we moved in from another state (well, I did, but that was more than 40 years ago). We moved from across town, maybe less than two miles as the crow flies, from a house and a neighborhood that we lived in for 21 years.

There were two subtle features about the Park Place neighborhood that our old neighborhood did not have: sidewalks and alleys.

I am not a sociologist by profession, but I can say I am a sociologist by life experience (thus, are we all), and while sidewalks and alleys might not sound like much on the surface, I think they are precisely the fabric you need to knit a strong neighborhood together.

It didn't hurt that when we moved in that we already knew many of the people who were about to be our neighbors. What the sidewalks and alleys did was bring us closer together. I mean, look at the purpose of a sidewalk – its very existence is an invitation to take you from one place to another. People jog on them; they walk their dogs on them; they do chalk folk art on them; many times, people meet serendipitously on them and simply communicate (Aha! See?).

Porch crawl brings friends, neighborhood together...
 Alleys are the same way. Alleys are the back roads of a city. They tend to be less traveled, but they can reveal beautiful yards and gardens you might not otherwise see, if you accept their option.

I bring all this up because Saturday our neighborhood hosted its First Ever Park Place Progressive Porch Crawl (upper case, proper name, impressive alliteration). This was the brainchild of one of our neighbors, Kristi Thornhill, whose idea incorporated another key social element of our 100-year-old neighborhood: front porches (Think about it: front porches are where sidewalks end – or begin. Porches are the sanctuaries that sidewalks take you to).

Everyone was having a good time. (Photo by Scott Hoffmann)
 Anyway, since this was the first ever, it was experimental. Six families combined to host gatherings on three porches in a two-block area. Each porch was responsible for a theme (sort of) with each porch providing beverages and finger food for a 40-minute stint (or so) before moving on to the next host porch. That's where the sidewalks and alleys came into play.

There were about 30 people who showed up to commune, play cornhole, tell stories and strengthen friendships. None of us, apparently, ever met a party we didn't like. The first porch opened at 5 p.m.,with the last porch shutting down fairly deep into the evening.

In the beginning, when Kristi first broached her idea almost two years ago, I wasn't sure how the logistics would work out. It sounded like it could get complicated. But I'd forgotten about the sidewalks and alleys. Everything went smoothly. I don't know if there's any tweaks to be made for future crawls, but this one gave us a good start.

We have no plans to move from this neighborhood.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Paul Simon in concert

OK, here's how it all went down:

Somewhere around noontime on Tuesday we got a private message from a friend of ours on Facebook with an unexpected question:

Would we like tickets to the Paul Simon concert that night at the Greensboro Coliseum?

Hmm. Let me think about that for a min... OK. Sure.

Who gives away tickets to a Paul Simon concert? Turns out, my friend got them from a friend who couldn't go. My friend also couldn't go. So after a few more Facebook PMs to nail down the details, she came to our house after lunch, and we had the tickets in hand.

For free. OMG, as they say.

Can you imagine...???
It had been years since we've been to a concert that didn't feature Underhill Rose or the Blue Eyed Bettys. So we weren't quite sure how to act.

Earlier in the day, I consulted the coliseum seating chart online and learned we were in the upper level, far end. Armed with that knowledge, I dug up my mini binoculars that I use to cover high school football games.

We were set to go.

We arrived at the coliseum about an hour or so before the scheduled starting time and promptly looked for our seats. The last time I was in the coliseum for a main event was probably about 10 years ago, when I last covered an ACC Tournament. The place has been renovated since then, but one thing that remained the same was the steep climb in the upper deck. We really were in the nosebleed section in Row R.

But, hey. Free tickets. Not complaining. The one concern we had was watching some of the other geriatric fans more geriatric than us struggle to get to their seats while climbing the steps. (Geriatric? Paul Simon is 76 years old. Let that one sink in). Some stopped to catch their breath along the way because, you know, we were 15,000 feet above sea level (Or see level, if I must).

An hour before start time, our line of sight at 15,000 feet above see level.
 While waiting for the concert to start and watching the crowd amble in, it occurred to me how lucky we were to be there. We were going to be in the same building, sharing the same HVAC as Paul Simon, perhaps (arguably) one of the four most iconic songwriters of my generation (in my mind, the others are Lennon & McCartney and Bob Dylan). Songs with titles like "America," "Homeward Bound," "Scarborough Fair," "Mrs. Robinson" and "The Sound of Silence" are indelibly planted in my brain (sorry).

And then the concert began. Simon opened with "America", backed by a remarkable 16-piece band that helped support him through the numerous genres of music he explores. The 25-song setlist included some Louisiana zydeco ("That Was Your Mother"), reggae ("Mother and Child Reunion"), eclectic ("Rene and Georgette Magritte with their Dog After the War"), South African influence ("You Can Call Me Al") and soft folk rock ("Bridge Over Troubled Water," which had a totally different instrumental intro so that I didn't recognize the song until he started singing it).

His voice, at times, lacked some of the depth of his youth, but the familiar timbre was there and you could never mistake who was singing.

Only five songs were from the Simon and Garfunkel catalogue ("America", "Bridge Over Troubled Water", "Homeward Bound", "The Boxer" and "The Sound of Silence", and the last three were in the encore, along with "Kodachrome"). So if you climbed all those steps in the cheap seats for some S & G, you might have been slightly disappointed. Truth be told, I kinda missed Artie not being there and I hate that their feud continues at this point in their lives. Seems silly.

This is Simon's farewell tour. He seems remarkably fit for his age and vocation (he even did a little zydeco shuffle dance move) and he performed for nearly three hours without a set break.

I was glad I brought my binoculars because even though there was a huge TV screen behind him for those who couldn't see the stage well, our seats were situated precisely where our line of sight to the screen was obstructed by the huge drop-down speakers mounted above the stage. Standing in at only 5-foot-3, Simon is already hard enough to see even when you're up close.

But, hey. Free tickets. Not complaining.

In October, Billy Joel, 69, will be appearing at BB&T Field in Winston-Salem. I'm available for free tickets for that one, too.



Sunday, June 17, 2018

Uh-oh. Talking in my sleep...

Most mornings, somewhere between my deepest REM sleep and early consciousness, my cat, Halo, jumps up on the bed, and then settles onto my chest. She kicks in her soft purr motor.

She wants to be fed. It's how she brings me out of my best sleep of the night and into reality.

Or near reality.

Because apparently, the other morning when she was on my chest, I started petting her. And talking to her.

"Awww, how are you Debbie?" I said. "Awwww, Debbie, are you a good girl? You want some food? Awww, Debbie..."

I'm in bed-head consciousness. I know there's a 15-pound cat on my chest. It doesn't quite filter that I'm calling her Debbie. Yet.

"Who's Debbie?" asked my wife, wide awake at 3:45 in the morning.

"What? Huh?"

Well, that woke me up. This is how I found out I was talking in my sleep.

OK, OK. Time to give you some deep background here.

Yes, there once was a Debbie in my life. But that was 43 years ago. She was the girl I was dating at the time. I thought I was in love. I thought we might get married. We even looked at rings. I think she liked the diamond that looked like a heart, although it might have been pear shaped. I can't remember. Maybe it'll come to me in a dream some night.

Anyway, the relationship never panned out. She ended it. She's the reason why I left Pennsylvania with a broken heart. She's the reason I'm in North Carolina.

But why was I calling my cat Debbie 40 years later?

I don't know. Maybe it's how the subliminal mind of a 67-year-old male works when in sleep mode, and a long suppressed Debbie finally bubbled to the surface, like swamp gas. I don't know.

Kim said that she didn't wake me because she wanted to hear more, but apparently, my conversation with Halo/Debbie ended when I offered Halo/Debbie cat food for breakfast. So there are no ghosts in my closet.

Conversely, I keep hoping to catch Kim in mid-dream some night, but all she does is snore.









Sunday, June 10, 2018

My Southern belle

While I was watching television the other day, Kim purposefully came into the den with a card for me to sign.

Usually, these are birthday cards (more on that in a moment). But this was a Thank You card. She writes a pleasant, sincere and well-constructed note in them and signs it "(blank) & Kim" whenever we need to thank somebody for showing us a kindness they committed toward us. It's my job to fill in the blank with my own name, in my own handwriting.

"You are just sooo Southern," I tell her, not paying much attention to the words falling out of my very mouth. And sending Thank You notes may not even be a Southern thing as much as it is the correct thing to do. It just feels what I think is Southern to me. Maybe it's because this is the second Thank You note I've signed this week.

And it feels Southern to me because Kim is a Southern girl, born and bred right here in Lexington, and this simple act of correct etiquette, Southern or not, is how she was raised. She sends out Thank You notes for parties we've been invited to and attended, for gifts that have shown up on our porch, for dishes and desserts that have been given to us for no particular reason.

Sooo Southern.

"Well," Kim tells this Yankee from Pennsylvania, who surreptitiously steals the silverware when nobody is looking, "You didn't have to move 500 miles if you didn't want to marry a Southern girl."

I could go in several different directions here, but suffice it to say, point well taken. She occasionally tells me off like this with a soft, lilting and compelling accent that makes me smile.

"Ah don't hay-ave an ak-say-ent," she argues, adding all those extra syllables along the way, and I melt.

She never met a birthday she didn't like (except her own), so I am constantly signing birthday cards, too. Whenever we go shopping, we have to stop somewhere to buy a birthday card or two. She knows when everybody's birthday is, including the birthdays of my friends, much less her own. I don't know how she does it. I think she has a Rolodex in her brain.

The other Southern thing she does is fix meals for friends in distress. I mean, the other day a friend of ours recently had knee replacement surgery, and Kim whipped up a Key Lime pie for him. Several years go, one of our neighbors had an extended hospital stay, and he got a chicken pie. Another neighbor brought our cable and wifi back to life, and he got a lasagne.

The thing is, these are all the comfort foods that I enjoy but can't have because we're on never-ending diets. I'm seriously considering doing bodily harm to myself to see if I can wrassle up some of her world-class lasagna. Haven't had any of that in years. (Although, back when we were dating, I suffered a high ankle sprain while playing basketball. I was treated to Dagwood sandwiches for a week. I milked that one for all that it was worth. I think that's when I asked her to marry me).

Like I said, I'm not sure Thank You notes and comfort meals are exclusively Southern. I don't remember us Yankees running around when I was a kid doing nice things for each other, although I'm guessing we probably did. We were, after all, good church-going Moravians.

But there's something about the way Kim goes about all this that just feels right, that's taken decades to hone – no, a culture to hone.

And she's making me put the silverware back.

Signed:

(blank) & Kim









Sunday, June 3, 2018

Foul ball?

With a career in sports writing spanning more than 40 years, I like to think I know a little something about the rules of the games we play.

Well, sure. I grew up watching baseball, football and basketball, so I'm more familiar with those sports than, say, for example, soccer or lacrosse.

And to be sure, I'm particularly familiar with baseball. Growing up, that was THE sport. When I first started writing for The Dispatch, I even carried around a handbook-size copy of the official rules of baseball, published by Wilson sporting goods. I was ready.

Consequently, I thought I knew the game – until Friday night.

I was covering the HiToms at Finch Field in Thomasville. A member of the wooden bat Coastal Plain League (CPL) designed specifically for scholarship college freshmen and sophomores, the HiToms were playing a doubleheader against Gastonia. I was to cover the second game. Both games were scheduled to go seven innings instead of nine, a nod to speeding up a long night when doubleheaders are involved and teams have to travel by bus to get to their next game the next day. Almost all minor leagues observe 7-inning doubleheaders. It makes sense.

Anyway, I arrived at the ballpark at a time when I figured the opener would be close to finished. The trouble was, the first game was delayed an hour by a passing thunderstorm, so when I settled into my seat, the game was tied at 1-1 in the sixth inning.

The HiToms scored three runs in the bottom of the sixth, which I figured would be enough to win. But, baseball being baseball, Gastonia tied the game with three runs in the top of the seventh.

And Thomasville failed to score in the bottom of the seventh, forcing the game to extra innings. Oh, boy. A long night just got longer. My 11 p.m. deadline was in jeopardy.

Except that the game turned to the international baseball rule book, which has a provision for a tiebreaker when a game goes to extra innings.

Huh?

According to the rule, the team at bat starts an extra inning with runners on first and second base, with no outs. They are considered to have reached base on error, but the so-called "errors" do not count against a pitcher's earned run average, which I guess makes sense. I guess.

As it turned out, the HiToms got out of the eighth inning with no damage, and then scored the winning run in the bottom of the eighth when Gastonia screwed up on fielding a sacrifice bunt. The HiToms won 5-4.

But I'd just seen something I've never seen before. A tiebreaker in baseball. It was like watching sudden death in slow-motion. Let that one sink in for a minute.

On the one hand, this was a good thing. An extra inning game in a doubleheader can have you eating hot dogs in the ballpark at 3 a.m. In theory, you could be be playing a baseball game until tomorrow.

I know. It happened to me. I once covered an American Legion game between Lexington and Concord that went 21 innings.

On the other hand, I think my baseball sensibilities were highly offended. More than 48 hours later, I'm still shouting to myself, there's no tiebreaker in baseball. There's no crying in baseball. C'mon.

I guess I'm just an old baseball purist. My baseball sensibilities have been under assault for decades, starting with expansion (to my mind, there should be only 16 major league teams, eight in each league. More teams just dilute the talent pool. Oh, wait. The talent pool is now worldwide), and continuing with AstroTurf, domed stadiums, interleague play and the designated hitter rule.

There's a lot that's happened to baseball since 1955. I'm not sure all of it is good. Meanwhile, we're playing three-hour games because batters constantly step out of the box after every pitch to scratch themselves, adjust themselves, or admire themselves. Nobody's seriously addressed those issues yet.

On the other other hand (I have three hands), I guess I should applaud the CPL for trying to be innovative. The international league tiebreaker rule (does it apply to Olympic baseball, I wonder?) does speed up the game. The CPL also allows only five warm-up pitches for relievers when entering a game, five warm-up pitches for all pitchers during the two-minute between-inning breaks, and coaches are allowed only six visits to the mound per game. So the CPL is actually a great platform to experiment with improvements.

I'm just not sure a tiebreaker is one of them.




Sunday, May 20, 2018

Far out, man

Back in 1969, the closest I ever got to Woodstock was to think about it. I mean, I was 18 years old at the time, fresh out of high school, and the idea of going to a live, outdoor music festival with 100,000 like-minded people was compelling. I lived in Pennsylvania at the time, and Yazgur's farm was only a couple of hours away.

But I never went. Although I was pretty much immersed in the hippie lifestyle at the time (or so I thought – I had shoulder-length hair and wore bell-bottom jeans with button flies), I couldn't quite bring myself to go.

Me graduating from Hippie College, 1973. Note hair.
 It was just as well. As it turned out, more than 400,000 people showed up to sleep in their cars, or on beds of straw, sometimes in the rain, hiking miles through impossible traffic jams to listen to great music. I would have been eaten alive.

 But all these years later, I still carry a tinge of regret for missing out on a definitive (and reachable) moment of popular culture for my generation.

Until yesterday, that is, when Kim and I went to Hippie Fest at the Rowan County Fairgrounds in Salisbury.

All right, all right. Please contain the giggles. Instead of 400,000  people, there might have been 4,000. Great music was performed by people you never heard of. Plenty of people who were in their 60's and 70s strolled the grounds, popping into boutique tents to consider buying love beads, mood rings or tie-dyed T-shirts in an effort to recapture a faded past – or lost regrets.

Flower power...
 There was some cool stuff to see, including about 20-25 iconic VW Beetles and buses. One guy was selling electric guitars he made out of gas cans (or anything else he could find). Going Up Country, I guess.

There were performers on stilts; a bubble machine kept the kids mesmerized (me, too, for that matter); food trucks scented the air with grilled onions and funnel cakes, thus taking on something of a Barbecue Festival atmosphere (Food trucks, I'm sure, would have been greatly welcomed at Woodstock).

There was a small performance stage where musicians who were not even gleams in their yet-to-be parents' eyes back in 1969 sang songs from the era, and that was cool. Made me think there was some legacy being passed on, even if it was on a small plot of muddy grass in Salisbury.

Bailey Rogers belts out 'Me and Bobby McGee.' Wow.
 (Side note: I took a picture of the stage, not knowing that former Lexington resident Bailey Rogers was performing an a cappella version of "Me and Bobby McGee" at the time. She was fantastic. We'd just met her several weeks earlier when her family was in town to visit friends in our neighborhood. We had no clue she had this kind of talent. Like, wow, man).

And speaking of muddy grass, I have to point out there was no hint of reefer to be sniffed anywhere, just in case you were wondering. There were no marijuana tents, no LSD depots. I'm guessing the only pills that were popped with this crowd were probably Ibuprofen.

I did have a little concern about the weather. We've been having rain day after day for more than a week, with more in the forecast. And, indeed, the skies were overcast once again as we left Lexington and headed to Salisbury.

I kind of wondered if we were caught in a shower if we'd throw our clothes off, like in some of the pictures I saw of the Woodstock generation, where scores of people unabashedly bathed in cow ponds. But naked septuagenarians is probably not a good visual. In any case, it never rained in the 90 or so minutes we were there. You can only take your memories so far, I guess.

In the end, we had a pretty good time.  The ebb-and-flow crowd was manageable; people were courteous to each other; music of several genres (including eastern Indian and Native American Indian) were on display. It was nostalgic.

I saw what I came to see, and it put a smile on my face.

Far out.

Kim leaves Hippie Fest in her VW bus...