Sunday, April 28, 2013


Branch Rickey is my hero.

Leo Durocher is my hero.

Eddie Stankey is my hero.

Those are names that I never figured would become heroic figures in my world view, but after watching the movie 42, I've shifted and elevated them in my catalogue of standards.

The film, in case you are unaware, is about Jackie Robinson and the integration of major league baseball during the summer of 1947. I've come to see that moment in time as perhaps one of the seminal events in America's Civil Rights movement, the place where America, in starts and fits, turned a corner — coming as it did just 82 years after the end of the Civil War, America's other seminal Civil Rights moment.

In my youth, my father told me about Jackie Robinson and the hell that Robinson had to endure while breaking baseball's color barrier. We lived in Pennsylvania then, just an hour from Philadelphia, and dad told me about the vile reaction of then Phillies manager Ben Chapman to Robinson's presence in the game.

The movie illustrates this moment until it has you squirming in your seat. You might find yourself thinking, yeah, well, this was a different time, a different era, and then you squirm that this could happen at all.

Isn't that the point of movies, to make you feel something?

What dad didn't tell me is why Branch Rickey, the owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers, picked that point in time to change attitudes (the movie suggests that Rickey, played with verve by a wonderfully aging Harrison Ford, missed an opportunity as a younger man to make a difference. He wasn't going to miss this one). What I never considered was how Rickey's decision affected so many others, whether they wanted social change to happen or not.

At least as it is depicted in the movie, Robinson (played spectacularly by relative unknown Chadwick Boseman) faces his trial with remarkable restraint and courage, while Rickey faces his with foresight and conviction. What a team.

Others come along for the ride. Leo Durocher, as manager of the Dodgers, is charged with quelling a potential mutiny in the Dodger locker room. A fed-up Eddie Stankey confronts Chapman in the middle of a ballgame. Kentucky-born Pee Wee Reese, in perhaps a moment of legend building, puts his arm around Robinson's shoulder between innings of a game in Cincinnati (there is some question about that. No photos exist of the moment, but some remember that picture in time actually occurring in 1948, not 1947, and in Boston, not Cincinnati. But it doesn't really matter.)

The movie, as a period piece, gets a lot of things right. Ebbetts Field and other fabled palaces of baseball get astounding CGI resurrection. The clothes, the uniforms, the cars, the baggy bases, the sweaty locker rooms are all there.

So are the heroes.

Not the least of whom is Jackie Robinson.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Piling on

Last week's news cycle was relentless and it felt a whole lot like deja vu.

Hadn't we been here before?

Of course we have. Four months earlier there was Newtown. Before that, a Sikh temple in Wisconsin. Before that a movie theater in Colorado. And that's just in the past year. Deja vu suddenly feels a whole lot more like piling on and it's coming at us at seemingly ever increasing intervals.

Throw in random events like fertilizer factory explosions in map-dot towns and just like that even the word "relentless" feels inadequate.

But West, Texas, appears to be a horrible accident (unless you consider the city planning that allows an anhydrous ammonia fertilizer factory in a residential district an accident). Boston isn't.

And so, for me at least, there is a sense of helplessness. How come, in the 21st century, with a world population that is surely growing ever more sophisticated, blowing up innocents to advance an agenda (or to defend a religion, of all things) somehow still seems like a good idea to some?

This is nothing new. World history is filled with examples like this, which can only make you realize that violence, unhappily, is part of the human condition. Maybe it is the human condition.

Maybe in some future world the violence gene will be excised from the species. Cro-Magnon neanderthals may have needed it to survive. Do we? (Did I just equate the bombers with Cro-Magnons? I apologize to the Cro-Magnons).

There is one curiosity: in the midst of this strange week of violence and mayhem there has emerged stories of incredible heroism and humanity. It's a juxtaposition that almost always seems to be present in stories like these. Maybe those black-and-white opposites are the yin and yang that actually distinguishes our species.

I don't know what the answer is, and I guess that's where my feeling of helplessness lies. There may be no solution.

There's only us.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Road construction ahead... and behind

You can't get there from here.

Not if you live in Lexington.

Suddenly, it seems, somebody is fiddling with Lexington's road map.

The still uncompleted bridge over Abbotts Creek. Be patient.
If you try to get out of town by going on East Center Street Extension (ECSE), you're primarily rerouted to Raleigh Road because of the construction of a new bridge over Abbotts Creek. I haven't quite figured this one out. I always thought the East Center Street Extension bridge was in pretty decent shape. It was the old, uncomfortably narrow bridge on Raleigh Road near the prison that needed immediate help.

If a car, or God forbid, an 18-wheeler, is coming in the opposite direction and reaches the Raleigh Road bridge at the same time you do, I bet you: a) physically hold you breath; b) mentally hold your breath; c) subconsciously hold your breath; d) close your eyes; e) all of the above.

Construction on the ECSE bridge is expected to be completed sometime in May. Then work can begin on the Raleigh Road bridge.

Meanwhile, there is no bridge at the other end of town. Be patient.
Meanwhile, if you try to get out of town on West Center Street, forget it. They've knocked down the old curvy bridge (Highway 64 west, otherwise known as Mocksville Road) that spanned Business I-85, so now you're rerouted to either the service road in front of Lexington Barbecue — is that Smokehouse Lane? — or to West Center Street Extension to Forest Hill Road before you can track your way back to Parkway Ford, Food Lion and Rite Aid.

Another option is to go out Fifth Avenue to approach Forest Hill Road from that direction. More on that in a moment.

That area definitely needed work. The whole package of merges, egresses and yields there needed some serious rethinking. For now, at least, I'm not too enamored with the thought process. And who knows how long this construction will take? I suspect I may not see its completion in my lifetime, and I plan on being here for a least another decade or two.

There's probably a five-mile stretch between the two Center Street bridge constructions. It just strikes me as a little odd that both these projects would be going on at the same time while tying knots at both ends of town.

But wait, there's more. Remember Fifth Avenue? It's usually a significant artery in town anyway. And now, with the bridge construction over Business I-85, it's a major detour route into and out of Lexington.

Or rather, it was. On Monday, they start resurfacing Fifth Avenue, from Business I-85 to Main Street.

Brilliant, right?

Oh, wait. Shorty after that, they'll be resurfacing Main Street.

Making a left-hand turn at the Square. Be careful.
And, of course, Main Street intersects Center Street at the Square, where you can now make left-hand turns for the first time — in what, ever? Or at least for the first time in most of our memories.

Some folks are excited about this development, others not so much. I'm approaching all of this cautiously and with some reservations. These left turns are still an experiment being conducted by NCDOT to test its feasibility (All of these simultaneous ongoing projects are NCDOT efforts, by the way). As it stands right now, there is no dedicated left-turn lane, and no left-turn arrows on the stoplights. I think there's already been at least one accident there. In an era that features way too many roadway distractions, not the least of which is texting while driving, messing with left-hand turns at the Square is like messing with Satan — who apparently is working for NCDOT.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Motorcycle mama: Who knew?

More than a week after the camera shutter clicked, I'm still trying to make some sense of this picture:

My wife begins her career as a leader of the pack. Who knew?
Holy smokes. I took the shot. You'd think I'd know something about it.

And yet, I'm completely in the dark.

This is my wife, Kim. She's sitting astride a Harley-Davidson, a huge smile creasing her face.

I mean, we've been married for 32 years and we've done a lot of interesting things together, not the least of which is cruising Alaska's Prince William Sound in a catamaran. We've eaten splendid seafood dinners all along the Atlantic coast from Camden, Maine, to Savannah, Georgia. We've hiked in the mountains and relaxed in historic 200-year-old inns.

Not once has a Harley-Davidson come into play.

Maybe that's why she's smiling so broadly now. I don't know.

Okay, okay. Full disclosure: Kim works part time for the financial consultant firm of Edward Jones, and her office was planning to create new birthday cards to give to their clients. This year, the theme was motorcycles.

So on the day of the photo shoot, and a little unsure of how to get there, Kim asked me to drive her to Tilley Harley-Davidson in Salisbury, where she was to meet her colleagues Kendra Smith, Megan Lane and Steve Jackson. I thought my duties would begin and end as chauffeur, but shortly after we arrived, I was handed a small, digital camera.

"Here, will you take the pictures?" I was asked.


So I gradually put myself in a frame of mind to do this. While I was psyching myself up for this job, Kim and her colleagues were being accessorized by one of Tilley's female attendants. When it came to Kim's turn, the clerk asked Kim if she preferred to wear "fabric or leath..."

"Leather," I said, perhaps a little too quickly and a little too loudly. The clerk nodded her approval, a smile creasing her face. Why is everybody smiling?

Thankfully, nobody mentioned tattoos or body piercings.

I conjured up everything I knew about taking pictures, especially anything I might have learned while taking pictures as a sports writer for The Dispatch. It wasn't much. We took some shots inside, but just as I feared, it was a little too dark and the flash was a little too weak. I didn't have light reflecting umbrellas, light meters or even a decent camera. So we went outside to the parking lot.

I tried to keep the sun behind me. I asked for a three-step ladder to give me some elevation. I kept looking at the background to make sure nothing inappropriate was lurking there. I never asked my models to say "Cheese." I just said, "Okay, look at me," or "Here we go," and started clicking away.

We were done in less than an hour, and I guess so was Kim's career as a Harley-Davidson fashion model as well as my career as a commercial photographer.

But we'll always have the pictures.

Here is a finished portrait. Did we capture the essence of speed and danger?