Sunday, December 18, 2016

Wacky Wakeyleaks

A week or so into this, I'm still trying to wrap my head around a Wake Forest radio sports analyst attempting — and apparently somewhat succeeding — in forwarding details of the Deacons' football game plans to several opposing teams.


C'mon. A leak? Wake Forest football? Those two concepts don't seem to go together.

It's not as if the Deacons are a traditional national football power (they are 432-633-33 overall in their history, and 6-4 in a mere 10 bowl appearances). The team is 6-6 this year and will play in the Military Bowl against Temple in a few days. The interesting thing here is that Wake Forest actually won enough games to be bowl eligible. It doesn't happen often, and when it does, it's generally cause for celebration.

And yet, the Atlantic Coast Conference is all in a dither (and rightfully so) after it's been revealed that former Wake Forest football player and assistant coach (and Wake Forest radio sports analyst before he was fired) Tommy Elrod allegedly provided team information to opponents Louisville, Virginia Tech and (say it ain't so) Army.

Apparently, Elrod did this over a three-year span. Holy moley.

To me, the real curiosity in this whole episode is that the benefiting schools involved (so far) didn't exactly jump off fieldhouse roofs to report Elrod's betrayal of his alma mater. To me, that's worse than the leak itself. It displays a serious lack of moral integrity (if not a lack of sportsmanship). And that should be troubling in a world of sports gambling, multi-million dollar booster- and corporate-endorsed sports programs and larger-than-life coaching contracts.

The ACC is so appalled that it's fined Louisville and Virginia Tech $25,000 each. Really? $25,000? I hope that doesn't break those schools' bank accounts. I guess this slap is meant to be an immediate, mostly cosmetic punishment, pending further investigation. Like from the NCAA.

Army, by the way, is not an ACC member (at least, I don't think so. I can't keep up with super conferences anymore. Things change...), so it hasn't been fined. But they are self-investigating their involvement in this sorry tale. That's something, I guess.

So far, the teams benefiting from Elrod's perfidy have been notified by Wake Forest that it's own investigation may or may not implicate those schools' involvement. I suppose it's for the best if you don't get a Christmas card from Wake Forest this year. You know. Season's greetings.

I also find it interesting that Wake Forest still became bowl eligible despite being compromised by the leaks. As one Deacon fan suggested, after all this, maybe the team is really better than its 6-6 record would indicate.

In a different sense, it's clear the team is already better than the ones who accepted Elrod's leaks.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Window shopping

I guess I'm still in voting mode.

The other night my wife and I walked to Uptown Lexington (we live just a few blocks away and it was a crisp night for walking) with the idea of looking at the Christmas window dressings that grace the shopping district.

In her hand, Kim held an official Uptown Lexington ballot to vote on the window display we liked the best.

Oh, my. It was an easier decision to vote for president of the United States.

Which display would you choose?
Now, I'm not going to go through each merchant's display, and I'm not going to tell you for whom we voted, but I have to say, this is a pretty nice little promotion by the 50 or so participating shop owners to bring people into the district.

Coupled with the lighted trees on Main Street, the mostly creative shop window displays make Uptown look incredibly festive.

This is a good thing. As I get older, and further away from my childhood, the Christmas season itself seems less magical.

I mean, I outgrew Santa Claus at least a couple years ago. Necessary diets limit the number of Christmas cookies I should eat (I can't remember the last time I had a real tollhouse cookie, and Kim hasn't baked a Moravian sugar cake in years). And I swear I'm going to strangle the next singing chipmunk I hear.

Don't get me wrong. I'm still moved by the Christmas message, especially when I'm tearing up in a meaningful candlelight service. Maybe it's just that I've become jaded over the years knowing that the Christmas message is usually just a distant memory by Dec. 26.

Anyway, I think the window displays help me unjade some of that cynicism. So as we walked through town, I marveled at the lighted wine bottles pyramided like Christmas trees at Sophie's Cork & Ale; I oooohhed at the tandem bicycle at Lanier's, and I awwwwed at Snapshot the cat resting in her basket (don't tap the window, Kim) at Travels Unlimited.

I chuckled at the neat Lexington-opoly display at High Rock Outfitters and laughed out loud at the vase-making Santa at Missions Pottery. I truly enjoyed the beautiful simplicity of The Travel Center, Conrad and Hinkle, and the Davidson County Museum.

The Candy Factory and The Backyard Retreat are always special. Those two businesses constantly provide us with wonderful windows all year long, always seasonal, always creative. They could put big city windows to shame.

So Kim and I finished our window inspection. We went to the Square, where we marked our ballot and dropped it in the "mailbox" there for tallying.

It was a good feeling. It was fun. It felt a whole lot like Christmas.

Monday, November 28, 2016

The hugs and tears tour

The last thing I wanted to do was drive 500 miles to Allentown, Pennsylvania, over the Thanksgiving weekend for a memorial service.

But the service was for my Aunt Bea, who passed away last month at the age of 102. I figured it was the least I could do because she was a really cool aunt. Besides, I thought this would be an opportunity to see some cousins I haven't seen in half a century — if ever.

So we went.

The evening we arrived I called Joann, one of Bea's daughters, to tell her we just pulled in. Our hotel was just 10 minutes away from her place, and she had a standing invitation for us to come to dinner when we got into town. But I hesitated, knowing that she's 82 years old and I didn't want to put her out.

Bea's daughters: (from left) Joann, Mary Lou and Kay.
 That fear ended with the phone call. I expected to hear a feeble voice saying "Huh?" or "What?" every other word, but instead I got on-point conversation sprinkled with hearty chuckles and guffaws.

The same thing happened when we got there. She was flitting about her wonderful kitchen in her 100-plus-year-old Pennsylvania Dutch farmhouse, preparing hors d'oeuvres while her husband, Curt, fixed us drinks. This is what 82 looks like? Helping her out with the pot roast meal was another cousin, Karin, who is an ordained Lutheran or Methodist or Moon Child minister (not quite sure which). Karin, it turns out, babysat me when I was, well, a baby. I had no memory of her. But I won't forget her now. I like a minister who doesn't make me feel like I'm constantly in the presence of a minister. By the same token, it's somewhat comforting to have someone who is ordained hanging around to perform a sacrament of the church, just in case. You just never know.

(From left) Cousins Mary Lou, Joann, Karin, Kay, me, Charmayne and Darcy.
 Anyway, we ended up spending four hours there, reveling in memories and stories, before Kim and I returned to our hotel room.

The next day, we gathered at an historic restaurant for the luncheon/service. About 30 or so family members showed up. Each time I spotted a cousin I hadn't seen in decades, my eyes welled up and my throat clenched and we hugged. There were Kay and Mary Lou, who are Joann's sisters; Karin, who was Aunt Myrtle's daughter; Darcy, who was Uncle Donald's daughter; and Charmayne, who was Uncle Eugene's daughter.

Even Kim was tearing up, and she's not even related to these people.

Then we started meeting some of my cousins' adult children, like Erin and Jody, whose names I remembered hearing from Aunt Bea.

Karin conducted an informal memorial service, we sang a hymn or a facsimile thereof, and we traded several fond memories of Bea.

For a while, I thought the only blood family I had left were my two brothers and their children, but it turns out the maternal family tree is strong and thriving, even if it is somewhat weighted by an overabundance of estrogen. But that's OK, too. I think it's why the tree is thriving.

Turns out, 500 miles is nothing. Not when family is calling.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

I broke the law

There's not much more that can give you a sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach than seeing blue lights flashing in your rear view mirror.

And you don't know why.

That happened to me about a week ago early one morning when we were at the beach. We were on a lonely stretch of road between Ocean Isle Beach and Sunset Beach, heading back to Calabash for breakfast. We'd just gone through a British-like traffic roundabout and made our right-hand turn toward a veggie omelet when...

Blue lights.

"Uh oh," I said as I pulled over. I really thought the officer was going to pass me on the way to some emergency. But, no. The blue lights followed me to a stop on the shoulder of the road.

Apparently, I was the emergency.

"What did you do?" asked my wife as she reached for my registration card in the glove compartment.

"I don't know. I can't imagine," I said as I lowered my window and shrank deeper into my seat.

Moments later, the officer came to my car door. He looked like he was about 15 years old. I could imagine that the ink on his officer certificate was still wet.

But he was pleasant enough. He asked for my registration and driver's license, and then explained that he stopped me because "you ran a stop sign at a four-way intersection back there." His exact words.

Wha...??? I thought that to myself. I didn't remember seeing a stop sign. Clearly, my driving skills after nearly 50 years of experience on the road were deteriorating.

The officer went back to his vehicle, where I assumed I was being checked by the computer for any priors. When he returned, he told me he wasn't going to ticket me and to please be more observant next time.

"Yessir. Thank you, sir."

"Have a nice day."

Well, the chances for a nice day had already plummeted. I was grateful that I wasn't cited, of course. But I suddenly started doubting my driving expertise. I couldn't remember a stop sign. Neither could Kim.

Later in the day, as we prepared to return to Calabash from Cherry Grove for a seafood dinner, Kim suggested we return to the scene of the crime to locate this mysterious stop sign.

And we did. We approached the intersection from the same direction we had that morning. And, sure enough, there was a four-way stop. However, there was also a dedicated right-hand turn lane in the direction we were headed, and to me, that made a huge difference.

Especially when I saw the three vehicles ahead of me make the right-hand turn without stopping.

"Oh, for crying out loud," I said. "I got stopped for this? Good grief."

OK, OK. Technically, and under the law, I need to come to a complete stop at every stop sign. There's no excuse. But I know me, and I know while I didn't come to a complete stop, I also know I slowed down and checked for opposing traffic, even though I was the only vehicle in sight. I didn't intentionally "run" a stop sign.

Kim smiled. "I didn't know I lived with a lawbreaker," she said. "I don't think I can go to dinner with you."

We laughed. And went to dinner. Conscience clear.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Exercising my franchise

For nearly two weeks I was trying to decide whether or not to vote early.

I mean, I can't remember an election in which I didn't vote, going back to 1972. I always figured it was the most American thing I could do without actually enlisting in the military. More American than watching a baseball game. More American than eating apple pie. Even more American than watching fireworks on the Fourth of July.

 I voted in presidential elections. I voted in off-year elections. I voted in primaries and for referendums. I voted because it made me feel good, even when my candidates lost.

So this year, with projections of high voter turnout, I considered voting early.

But every time I drove by the election office, it seemed there was a long line of voters snaking out the door. I'd heard from people who actually voted early that there were waiting periods of up to 45 minutes, an hour, even two hours, to vote.

So I resigned myself to voting on Election Day. That was fine. I'm a traditionalist anyway and early voting would only take me out of my natural comfort zone. I just resolved in my mind that I was going to go vote around 8 a.m., and if it took two hours or longer to punch my ballot, so be it.

I went to my polling place at the Lutheran Church on State Street. Surprisingly, there was no line out the door. I walked in, got ID'd by poll worker Ginger Briggs, and found myself in a short line of maybe five people, including my friend Cheryl Walser. Within five minutes, I was voting.

And 10 minutes after walking in, I was walking out, mission accomplished.

I later learned that nearly 40 percent of the registered voters in Davidson County had voted early, suggesting that my time waiting in line on Election Day would actually be brief. And so it was.

I actually spent more time in line afterwards at the Red Donut Shop (an Election Day treat to myself) this morning waiting to get my apple fritter than it took me to vote.

I also got my "I voted" sticker that I applied to the bill of my sweat-stained baseball cap, reminding me — and others — of just how American I am today.

I have to tell you, it's a pretty good feeling.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Bicycle memories, Part II

I don't know what got into me.

The year was 1974. I was 23 years old, a year out of college and working in the shipping department of American Olean Tile, where I loaded 18 wheelers and railroad cars with boxes of ceramic tile. I drove a forklift, feeling somewhat like a stranger in a strange land with my Bachelor's Degree in Liberal Arts English.

The year before, my friend George and I celebrated our graduation from college by going on a cross-country road trip in my 1965 Volkswagen Beetle. We were gone six weeks and traveled about 10,000 miles. Along the way we swam with barracuda in the Florida Keys, camped in the desert, hiked the Grand Canyon, crossed the Golden Gate Bridge, waited patiently for Old Faithful and then crossed the Mississippi River for the second time as we headed home.

So maybe I just had some wanderlust residue,  I don't know.

But I thought it would be neat to hop on my 10-speed bicycle and ride to the New Jersey coast from where I lived in Perkasie, PA (about 60 miles north of Philadelphia). Alone. Without a helmet or mirror, but invincible with my college education.

The plan was to pedal about 50-60 miles per day, camp in state parks or stay in motels, follow the Jersey coast from Perth Amboy to Cape May, then return home, all within a week.

My folks were horrified. I couldn't wait.

At the last minute, I was joined by a fellow named Joe, an acquaintance (and nothing more) who invited himself to ride with me. He was several years younger, but he'd just bought his own 10-speed, and he thought he was ready for the ride.

I packed my lightweight L.L. Bean saddlebags with several changes of clothes, toiletries and sleeping bag, and we were off. In August.

I have to tell you, 42 years later, I don't remember that much about the ride. I know we used mostly less traveled country roads. I know the terrain was mercifully flat. I know we pedaled into Princeton and saw the campus where Albert Einstein committed theory. And shortly thereafter, we reached Perth Amboy and the coast. The New York City skyline seemed so close that I could smell the delis.

I was amazed.

The following days we easily pedaled down the coast: Long Branch, Asbury Park, Toms River, and finally, Atlantic City by the third day. We hit the Boardwalk.

Mostly, the weather was good, although we had one day of rain that slowed us down and forced us to find a motel.

But the trip resumed, taking us eventually to Wildwood, and then to Cape May.

By this point, we'd pedaled nearly 300 miles.

Soon it was time to head home. We made a beeline for Pennsylvania, and when we finally got to the Delaware River opposite Philadelphia, we ran into a serious problem. The bridge crossing — I think it was the Walt Whitman Bridge — was a toll road, and no bicycles were allowed.


We pleaded our case to the bridge manager, who promptly loaded our bikes into a pickup truck and ferried us across the river, scolding us the whole time to plan our next trip with a little more forethought and care.

Yessir. Thank you, sir. May I have some more, sir?

Our next problem is that when we crossed the river, we were in downtown Philadelphia. But at least I knew where I was. We pedaled up Broad Street, a week's worth of salt air in my lungs being replaced by SEPTA exhaust fumes. But we eventually hit Route 309 and made our way home. Without helmets. Without mirrors.

In all, the trip took six days and covered nearly 450 miles. Joe, unused to all the exercise, complained nearly every mile of the way. I don't think I ever saw him again.

For me, it was one of those great adventures that I'm always glad that I took. It's a story I can tell, a memory that will last.

But I still can't tell you what got into me.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Yay Cubs!

I've decided that I'm living in a golden age of sports.

No, not THAT golden age. Not the one with Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jack Dempsey, Jackie Robinson, Jesse Owens, et al.

The one I'm talking about had players like Mickey Mantle, Chuck Bednarik, Joe Namath, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus, and Bob Cousy, Julius Erving and Mike Schmidt.

I've lived long enough to see my favorite team, the Philadelphia Phillies, win their first World Series in 1980, snapping a 77-year drought that made them the last of the mostly original 16 teams of the modern era (dating back to 1903) to win a Series title.

I also lived long enough to see the Boston Red Sox snap their own 86-year Babe Ruth Curse when they won a World Series in 2004.

And now, the 2016 Chicago Cubs. Wow. I mean, 108 years. Wow. Cars and airplanes and just gotten their baptismal certificates that last time the Cubs won a World Series.

What's kind of neat here is that Theo Epstein, the president of baseball operations for the Cubs, was the architect of the Red Sox 2004 championship when he was Boston's general manager.

This guy apparently knows how to end droughts.

I have to say that I didn't have a vested interest in either the Cubs or the Cleveland Indians (who see their own drought continue into its 69th year). I would have been just as pleased if the Indians had won last night as the Cubbies,

But now that it's over, now that the Cubs won in Game 7 and extra innings, it all seems so right.

And, Lord knows, in the dismal swamp of this political season, the Cubs gave us some much needed relief. I actually saw people smiling last night. With each other. I think we'd about forgotten what that was like.

I'm hoping I'm still around for other drought enders. There's still the Indians, of course. And the Philadelphia Eagles, who've never won a Super Bowl. I'd kinda like to see that happen.

But it's OK. I'm living in a golden age.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Bicycle memories

I guess it's a wonder that I'm still alive.

Years and years and years ago, in my other, more youthful and athletic lifetime, I pedaled my 10-speed bicycle all over the place. It was seemingly, for a while, my primary mode of transportation, even though I had a car and a driver's license.

I just loved to ride my bike.

A couple weeks ago, I covered the Tour de Pig for The Dispatch. This is the annual pre-Barbecue Festival event that offers a pleasant, scenic, noncompetitive bicycle ride through the back roads of Davidson County. It's usually held on the Old Greensboro Road behind Davidson County Community College on routes of varying distances.

My first 10-speed looked something like this. Except it was gold...
 But the Tour brought back some fond memories.

What always strikes me about this event is the riders themselves, many who come fully outfitted in complete bicycle riding paraphernalia, including helmet, biking tights and jersey.

Say what?

Okay, I understand wearing the helmet. But why do you need riding tights and jersey?

Back in my day (I never thought I'd live long enough love to utter that phrase), my summer riding gear included a T-shirt and casual shorts, socks and sneakers. Ta dahh. Helmet was optional, and I opted not to wear one.

Hey, I was 21 years old and bullet proof.

Most of my bicycling happened in the mid-to-late 1970s. A friend of mine had just purchased a 10-speed bicycle and talked me into getting one. It was cutting edge technology back then, featuring a derailleur that shifted the bicycle chain from one gearing sprocket to another.

The 10-speed (mine was a Schwinn Varsity) was a great advance over the three-speed bikes (we called them "English" bicycles because we thought this was what Mary Poppins used in England), whose gearing cable on the handlebar mysteriously ran into the rear axle, where the gears were supposed to be. I took that on faith, because you could never see the gears, since they were inside the axle. Also, you really could never feel the change in gears when you operated the fragile looking gear lever.

Ahh, but the 10 speed was different. First of all, the bike was built on a lightweight frame. You could lift the bike with one hand. And the gears (sprockets) were visible. The derailleur levers were usually mounted on the main support frame, and when you operated the lever, you could actually see the chain move from one sprocket to the other.

That was awesome.

The bike also featured an uncomfortable seat that actually put callouses on my glutes (or so it seemed). But the seat was adjustable and usually you rode with your butt in the air, with your torso bent forward and slightly downward for streamlining.

And then there were the handlebars. Now these were cool. They were the racing kind, with curved downward grips and where the hand brake levers were located.

And there were those incredibly thin tires. Wow.

You couldn't help but feel special. Or cosmopolitan. Or, at least, English.

Anyway, I quickly learned helmetless bicycle safety. I was always careful at intersections, usually waiting for no traffic at all before proceeding. My head was constantly on a swivel, because I had no mirrors. And in the countryside, I always rode on the white border stripe marking the shoulder. You know. Because of cars.

My biggest nemesis were dogs. Unchained dogs, sleeping peacefully on front porches, somehow assumed that the passing bicyclist was a rabbit extraordinaire and would give chase. I had two choices: I could pedal as fast as I could and try to outrace the incisors bearing down on me, or I could dismount and put the bicycle between me and the dog as a barrier. Sometimes it worked. I think I got nipped just once in my riding career.

It's a wonder I'm still alive.

(Coming up shortly: Part II - The best bicycle ride I ever had.)

Sunday, October 23, 2016

The Snyder Family Band

It was, perhaps, about five or six Barbecue Festivals ago that Kim and I first heard The Snyder Family Band perform.

We were walking along Main Street when we heard some fast-paced bluegrass music rising up from one of the performance stages that dot the festival map. This one was the "local" stage on First Avenue.

We were curious. We made our way through the crowd and there, on the stage, was this girl who looked to be about 10 years old furiously putting the fiddle through its paces. The instrument had no choice but to submit. Her stage presence and confidence were in total command.

There was another kid on stage, a young teenage boy, who was playing the guitar as if it were his best friend.

Behind them, on the upright bass, was a guy who looked like he could be their daddy. (He is.)

So we stayed a while and listened, and were duly impressed. The little girl, of course, was the attraction. Kids who perform as good, if not better, than adults are always something to see.

Best of all, these folks actually were local, coming from the west Davidson part of the county. Whoa. They can eat barbecue whenever they want.

Skip forward to this year. Come to learn that the fiddle player, Samantha, is 17 years old now. She's more confident than ever, writing a lot of her own stuff about relationships, whaling ships and performing as a minstrel on the road. She's got a strong, mature singing voice with subtle range that just carries you into the lyrics. She first picked up the fiddle when she was three years old and hasn't let go. That's attention span for you.

Zeb, her brother, is 21 now and studying mathematics, or science, or some abstract big bang theory that's way beyond me at High Point University (he serves as his sister's calculus tutor). Zeb first learned the guitar classically, then drifted to the Americana genre. He sings with a country baritone voice but he can soar when in harmony with his sister. His musicianship is spectacular as you watch his fingers seemingly fly across the strings and frets of his guitars and mandolins.

Oh, yes. Both kids are mutli-instrumentalists. Samantha can put down her fiddle and pick up a guitar without missing a beat. Zeb apparently can play anything with strings, so hide your yo-yos.

A little brother, Owen, is 11 years old and he brings a banjo to the party. During the set we saw, he played just one tune, but he was captivating in that way that Samantha was when she was younger. It's all out there for him, too. C'mon, give him two tunes to play.

Where does family DNA like this come from?

 It seems like we don't hear much from this family, even though they record in Asheville and have a couple of CDs out there. But local appearances seem to be limited. Part of that may have to do with the fact that the kids are still in school, which really cuts down on touring time. And part of it may just be me, waiting once every five years to catch them again.

I promise to do better.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

To the rescue

Almost without fail, you can usually depend on a teacher to come to the rescue.

Literally hours before the 15th annual Davidson County Sports Hall of Fame banquet was to take place at the J. Smith Young YMCA Saturday night, chairman Jim Lippard learned that designated keynote speaker, emcee and fellow board member Lee Jessup was suddenly bed-ridden with a bronchial infection.

Jessup, of course, is perhaps one of the most engaging speakers in Davidson County. He's emceed the opening ceremony of the Barbecue Festival forever. He speaks motivationally to almost any group that will listen. He's inspiring, with both grace and humor lacing his messages. Always. Without fail.

But not this night.

Uh-oh. Now what?

Lippard immediately went to his list of potential rescuers. It was a short list of one.

Vinnon Williams, a former teacher and coach at Lexington Senior High School, answered Lippard's call for help.

And what a save it turned out to be. Displaying the confidence of a time-tested public speaker (or perhaps as a teacher), Williams gave a brief message, without any notes in sight, suggesting that all of us are probably in somebody's debt. It was a thoughtful moment, ushered along with grace and humor.

Williams then, in turn, introduced each inductee, giving each one a brief preface saluting their remarkable Hall-of-Fame-worthy careers. The inductees — Joe "Jitter" Yarbrough, Lisa Ward, Lamont Pegues, Madison Hedgecock, Hugo Crigler III and Curtis Ingram (accepting the posthumous induction of his sister, sportswriter Sarah Sue Ingram) — all tied into what turned out to be a common theme of thanking coaches, teammates, friends and family for their success. In other words, recognizing a debt owed to others.

That was kind of a "wow" epiphany right there.

 With all that could have gone wrong, the evening went off without a hitch. It was something to see.

And as a member of the board of directors myself, I feel compelled to say that, Vinnon, we are in your debt. Thank you.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Robert's chicken salad

Whenever we go grocery shopping — usually once a week at a Harris-Teeter in Clemmons — I make it a point to pick up a container of Robert's Chicken Salad.

I started doing this about a year or so ago. I don't know what prompted me to do this in the first place. Usually, grocery store chicken salad is too mayonaissy for my taste, and sometimes, too salty.

Good stuff
 But Kim pointed out that this chicken salad came from a store in Wrightsville Beach, Robert's Market, which was famous for its chicken salad.

Well, kinda famous. I'd never heard of it before this. But I thought I'd give it a try.


It was great. Just the right consistency, with fresh, crunchy bits of celery, shredded chicken, eggs and just enough mayo to hold everything together without being overwhelming. The only trouble is that it's pretty expensive: $8.99 for a 14-ounce container. Robert, apparently, knows he makes good stuff and can charge whatever he wants for it.

Anyway, last weekend we took a long-needed vacation to Cherry Grove beach (pre-Matthew, mind you), and we reserved Sunday for a jaunt up to Wilmington. Kim and I decided that as long as we're there, we'd take a side trip to nearby Wrightsville Beach and check out Robert's.

I'd never been to Wrigthsville and the last time Kim had been there, she was a little girl. While I wanted some chicken salad, Kim wanted to resurrect some childhood memories.

Because I didn't have my road atlas, and we don't have an active GPS in the car, we approached Wrightsville by intuition. Road signs helped, as did driving by the seat of my pants. My inner compass was telling me we were close, and that by following the North star (even though it was 10 a.m.), I sensed the ocean was off to my right.

Ta-dahh. We entered Wrightsville. Kim couldn't remember a thing about it. Somehow, it had become upscale over the years. Millennials everywhere. Joggers. Bicycle riders. Dog walkers. Beach goers.

We found it
"We'll never find Robert's," said Kim, barely finishing her sentence before I said, "Look, there's Robert's," pointing to the right. Indeed, there it was. And despite being Sunday morning, it was open for business.

We parked the car about three blocks away (parking was abysmal) and walked into the store. We were surprised by how small it was, but then, it's been a beach-side market since 1919. What did we expect?

Nevertheless, we found the cooler which was stocked with containers of chicken salad — and only 50 cents less than Harris-Teeter.

We didn't want to buy a tub, because we had no way to keep it fresh and we still had the rest of the day ahead of us. So we bought a chicken salad sandwich (on rye), walked to the beach, split the sandwich in two, shared it and washed it down with a bottle of water.

We decided that the chicken salad from Harris-Teeter was somehow better. I don't know how this could be. Maybe the sandwich we bought was a couple days old. Maybe it was made differently than the mass-produced variety sold to H-T. Maybe there really was sand in my sandwich. I don't know.

We continued with a short walk up the beach to the Johnnie Mercer fishing pier, which Kim remembered from her youth. Johnnie Mercer is not to be confused with Johnny Mercer, the famous lyricist who founded Capital Records. Johnnie, however, was apparently famous for his pier and today it's still the only concrete pier on the North Carolina coast.

We're all famous for something, I guess.

Anyway, having fulfilled our Wrightsville bucket list, we hopped in the car, turned on our internal GPS's, and moved on.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Aunt Bea

For some reason that's beyond me, longevity seems to run in my family.

Grandpa Paul Wehrle lived to be 91 years old, and his wife, Charlotte, knocked out 98 years. Grandpa, a gentle soul, was hobbled by a stroke in his final decade, which ultimately changed his personality, but Charlotte was a pistol pretty much to the day she died. We were kind of pulling for her to make it to 100, but I think she just wore out in the end.

It amazed me, when I thought about it, that Charlotte was born four months after the Wright brothers first took to the air, and lived to see men walk on the moon.

On my mother's side, Grandpa Harry Kessler lived to be 92 years old, while his wife, Grace, truly graced the planet for 83 years. Harry was a tool inventor for Bethlehem Steel while Grace was, either by avocation or compulsion, a baker extraordinaire.

My parents, unfortunately, somehow misplaced the longevity gene. Dad died when he was only 58 years old, felled by prostate cancer that eventually traveled to his bones. Mom made it to 63 before breast cancer claimed her.

Given the family history, I've not been able to figure out this particular genealogical anomaly. If their genomes hadn't faltered and followed bloodline history, Mom would be 88 now, and Dad would be 87. Mere youngsters in the family tree.

Bea Clewell about 10 years ago.
 But earlier this week, we were informed that Mom's oldest sister, Beatrice — my Aunt Bea — passed away on Tuesday at the age of 102 in Allentown, PA.

So we have a centurion in the family after all.

We were told that Bea decided to donate her body to science, which I think is pretty remarkable. Maybe they'll locate that longevity gene somewhere and clone it for the rest of us. Who knows?

At any rate, Bea was a Kessler through and through. Whenever my wife, Kim, and I traveled north, we'd make a stop to visit her, first in her home in Emmaus, and in later years, at her assisted living condo in Allentown.

Bea was always sharp and gracious, and we spent most of our time simply catching up, trying to pin down where the remainder of our scattered family was and how each of us was doing.

She always had coffee and a homemade snack (like cherry pie) waiting on us. She inherited her mother's bakery skills (as did her sister), which made us feel incredibly comfortable. It also made me feel incredibly connected, somehow, to Mom.

I'm trying to put Bea's longevity into perspective. She was born in 1914 — 10 years after Charlotte — but in the very year that World War I began. I guess it says something that she avoided the great flu pandemic that ravaged the world four years later, the state of medicine being what it was back then. Lucky for her. Lucky for us.

Bea's husband, Ed, was 18 years older than she. I didn't know it when Ed was alive (he died in 1985 at the age of 89. Apparently, you also can marry into longevity), but his father, William, fought in the Civil War. He's my great uncle. William served with the 153rd Pennsylvania Volunteers, 11th Corps, and saw action at Chancellorsville and Gettysburg before he mustered out.

 What I didn't know until today was that Ed served in the U.S. Navy during World War I as a Fireman, third class. Just like that, now I have more research to pursue: What ship did he serve? Did he see action? What was his battle station?

Bea knew of my interest in history and several years ago gave me some of Ed's books about the Civil War, including a worm-eaten 1863 regimental of the 153rd Pennsylvania which lists the Clewells as "Clowells." Oh, well.

When Ed died in 1985, Bea was 71 years old. She spent the next 31 years — think about that for a moment — as a fiercely independent and capable woman devoted to her three daughters (who are still living). She met life head on and on her own terms. Simply remarkable.

I'm not sure what all this longevity means for me, or even if it applies. I'm about four months shy of my 66th birthday and take meds to regulate my A-fib. On the one hand, it's nice to think I might still be writing blogs 30 years from now. On the other hand, that's a lot of taxes to still be paying.

What I do know is that another branch of the family tree is gone. And it's an empty feeling.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Harold Bowen

It's no exaggeration to suggest that Lexington has a deep hole in its heart today.

When the sad news first broke that Harold Bowen had died on Tuesday at the age of 95, you could almost sense the town shifting slightly on its axis. And the news, aided by the winds of Facebook, became its own swirling force of nature.

It's impact seemed to hit many of us.

Harold Bowen
 I guess that's because Harold himself made such a significant impact. A quick glance at his obituary tells you that the Salisbury native came to Lexington in 1948 (after serving with the Marines on Saipan during World War II and then, postwar, graduating from Catawba College) where he became an educator for the next 33 years — much of that time as the principal of Pickett Elementary School, but also as a high school basketball and football coach as well as athletic director.

Then, in 1986 — five years into his retirement from education — he became a two-term mayor of Lexington. So you can see, between his years in education and his years of civic service, he was positioned to provide guidance, direction, assurance and life lessons to many of us.

I came to Lexington in 1976 as a rookie sportswriter for The Dispatch. Harold was one of the first people I met who helped make me feel comfortable in my new surroundings. He was already doing sports broadcasts on the radio for WLXN, in the middle of what would eventually become more than 50 years as the Voice of the Yellow Jackets.

I actually made it a point whenever I covered Friday night football games in the press box to sit as close to the radio booth as I could, so I could hear Harold on the air. Without the commercials.

He was not a natural. His voice wasn't particularly rich in the way that you would think a radio voice should be. And he'd get excitable on the air, sometimes losing sight of himself. He once told me a story about the time he was covering a Lexington football game, broadcasting with the desk-mounted microphone. Lexington's Joe McIntosh had just broken free for a 62-yard TD pass reception at a critical moment, and Harold jumped to his feet.

"I stood up and kept broadcasting," Harold said, "but that only put me further from the mic. Joe scored and the Jackets won, but I don't think anybody heard me because I was so far away from the mic. Now we have headsets."

But that was OK. In fact, it was more than OK. I always thought Harold was the epitome of the small town Southern radio sports announcer, which gave those Friday night games its own sense of richness — and humor.

Harold, a man who could laugh at himself, was more than that, of course. Like many others, I could tell you stories of his kindness, of his welcoming smile, and of his friendship, of his faith, of his going out of his way to help. And they'd all be true.

And it's why, as a community, we're trying to stitch the gaping hole in our hearts today.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

My past finally catches me

File this last week under "You just can't make this stuff up."

A few days earlier, my cousin — whom I'll call Deb — posted a throwback Tuesday picture of herself on Facebook from nearly 50 years ago. It was an image of her as a flautist in the Liberty (Bethlehem, Pa.) High School marching band. The Grenadier Band.

Standing with her in the photograph was a bandmate, whom I'll call Nanette. I didn't think twice about the picture for a while because, you know, it was pretty innocuous: just a couple of high school chums smiling for the camera. Cute.

Until a little bell started ringing in my head. Wait a minute, it chimed. You went to school with a Nanette. Elementary school. Stevens School, in Fountain Hill. First grade.

Nah. Not possible. So I private messaged Deb, asking her if Nanette ever lived in Fountain Hill, a neighboring community of Bethlehem where I grew up.

Why, yes she did, replied Deb, who is still in contact with Nanette. You're kidding me. The chime became a gong. The only reason that Nanette popped up in my mind at all is that she's perhaps the only person named Nanette that I ever knew.

And I knew her way back in first grade. Sixty years ago.

Consequently, my memories of her are kind of spotty. They might be the first memories that ever took hold in my brain, which explains why they now linger somewhere in the shadows of my synapses and neurons. What I do remember is going to a birthday party at her house. I think. It might have been the first social function I ever attended that included girls. And there was chocolate cake. Why do I remember that detail? I know why. Chocolate cake was important to me then.

Still is. Holy cow.

I have since submitted Nanette a friend request on Facebook, but she has yet to respond. She probably thinks I'm a stalker, but that's OK. I understand. I'd be leery of me, too.

The fact that my cousin is a conduit for all this makes this story even stranger because Deb and I pretty much have just reconnected our own family ties after nearly 50 years or so of invisibility. After my parents and grandparents passed away, I thought all I had left from my family were my brothers.

Not even close. Now I've learned there's a whole extended family of cousins and their children floating around out there. It's a comforting epiphany.

The story would be amazing enough if it ended here, but no. There's more.

On Friday, I was playing around on Facebook when I noticed that I had a friend request — not Nanette — from a guy I'll call Richard. Clear out of the blue. I thought and thought hard about this until it occurred to me that I had gone to school with a guy named Richard back when our family lived in East Hartford, Conn.

Fifth grade. Get outta here.

Richard and I lived just a block or two away from each other. Richard introduced me to Avalon Hill war gaming, and we'd spend countless hours at his house defeating Hitler's Fortress Europa or Napoleon's Waterloo with dice and elimination charts. You know. Normal kid stuff.

To this day, I still have several Avalon Hill war games collecting dust in my closet, now replaced by computer games.

Anyway, I accepted his request and we are friends again.

I asked him how he came to find me and he explained that he somehow tripped across a blog I had written that's hiding out there in Internet land. He knew almost right away that I was me (a concept that I'm still exploring) and put in his request.

So now I'm trying to put this week into perspective. It's hard to get past the "Wow" factor here, but when two blasts from the past rise up out of the mist in the same week, it kind of makes you think. Karma? Kismet? Koincidence?

I don't know. I'm kind of hoping there's not that many long-ago girlfriends out there...

Sunday, September 11, 2016

A moment

The other day one of my colleagues at work pointed out to me that the high school class of 2019 — this year's freshmen — is more or less the first class of students not yet to have been born when the brutal horror that is Sept. 11 occurred in 2001.

I let that one rattle around in my head for a moment. It was for me, at once, both a profound and an obvious thought.

I guess the thing that knocked me off stride was the fact that 9/11 happened 15 years ago. Really? It seems like yesterday.
It was a gorgeous Tuesday morning. Autumn was coming. I was already in my work station at The Dispatch, and had been for several hours. The clear blue September sky that we saw in North Carolina that day enhanced the entire eastern seaboard, reaching to lower Manhattan as well.

Then a fellow worker, reading off the Associated Press wire, announced that an airplane apparently had flown into one of the World Trade Center towers.

I didn't think much about it at the time. I thought maybe a little Piper Cub or something like that had clipped the building, and went on with my job. There was precedent: I remembered hearing stories about a B-25 that flew into the Empire State Building in a heavy fog during World War II. It was all just very odd and didn't seem to make any sense.

But as the morning stretched on, the news worsened. When the second tower was struck, it was immediately clear this was no accident. There was video: a jet passenger plane dissolving into a ball of flame upon impact. Instant death.

Then the Pentagon was attacked. The morning was never going to end. We learned the plane had been hijacked. Yet a fourth plane, also hijacked, had crashed in Pennsylvania, headed to Washington DC and perhaps either the White House or the Capitol.

No more flights were allowed to enter the country. There was speculation that any suspiciously rogue aircraft still in the sky would be shot down. With their passengers.

 Oh my God.

The one image (of many) that's seared into my brain came later that morning. We'd finished deadline and most of the reporters were gathered around the television in the editor's office. We were watching the chaos of the burning buildings when suddenly, but as if in slow motion, one of the towers collapsed in on itself. Where a majestic building once had been there was now a pillar of smoke and debris.

I have come to regard this day as our generation's Pearl Harbor. Like the Class of 2019 in relation to 9/11 now, I wasn't yet born when the Japanese attacked. But I have depended on the oral, written and photographed history of that event to build my understanding of the moment.

Understanding the moment. It was a challenge for us then. And it's a challenge for us now.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

My ear for music

In a couple weeks Underhill Rose will be in Lexington, where they will perform at High Rock Outfitters, one of their favorite venues.

This time, when they sing, they'll be recording tunes for a live CD album. Awesome.

I'm going to have to find a way to contain myself. I usually like to sit on the front row where I can let their music envelop me like some kind of a comfortable blanket. Who ever thought a banjo and a harmonica could be so evocative? Or that an upright bass could be so foundational? Or a guitar so sweet?

Or harmonies so heavenly?

So I'm going to have to shut up. Sometimes, sitting up front, I can catch their eye, or point to them after a nifty riff, or applaud, or shout out "You go girl!" as I once did as Eleanor weaved her way through a solo banjo bit.

The last thing anybody wants to hear is me croaking something on their CD.

With that in mind, I just hope I don't feel compelled to sing along. That's because somewhere along the way, I've been cursed. I love music. I love the way an instrument can reach into your soul and stimulate the fibers of your being. I love lyrics wrought with thought and meaning, or that can create a picture with the palette of colors within your mind.

The curse is that I can't sing. I can't sing a lick. I can't sing a note. At least, not in tune with anything musical.

Nor can I play an instrument.

I don't know how this curse came to be. My dad played both the piano and the trumpet. Mom had a wonderful alto voice. When I was young, around kindergarten, my parents tried piano lessons on me, but the discipline of learning music never took hold. I tried the trumpet a few years later and that was an even worse experience. I was, figuratively, shedding my musical scales.

Clearly, I didn't inherit the Play Music gene. I inherited the Play Games gene.

Then came the Sixties and suddenly transistor radios where bringing us great music everywhere. I tried to sing along, but as I learned, one note only goes so far. So I hummed. Try humming to Sgt. Pepper.

To this day, with Sirius in our car radio and tuned in to Sixties on Six, I am swept overboard by great music. Just yesterday, while Kim was in the post office, I was singing along with Chad & Jeremy's "A Summer Song." It's a tune that evokes a mystic chord within me, transporting me back to 1966 and high school and girl friends and all that is good in my nostalgia.

But when Kim returned to the car, she turned the volume up. You know, to drown me out.

I hate sitting on my hands when live performances put my entire being in rhythm. But the women of Underhill Rose are also my friends, and I don't want to offend them. So if sitting on my hands is what it takes, then sitting on my hands is what it is.

At least I can hum.

•  •  •

Underhill Rose will perform at High Rock Outfitters, located at 13 S. Main Street, Lexington, on Sept. 17, starting at 7 p.m. Admission is $10.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Closed captioning

I've probably never depended on the closed captioning runners on my television screen more than I do now during this political season.

No, it's not because I've learned how to turn down/off the sound whenever a candidate speaks (although doing that might save my sanity).

But every morning, when I work out at the YMCA, I'm occasionally in front of a muted television screen. And there, before my very eyes, were the actual words allegedly coming out of the speakers' mouths running across the bottom of the monitor.

Sometimes I wonder how this technology works, because it's not always perfect.

For example, one day I was reading "leg is later" when I realized the intended word was "legislature." Well, did the auto correct suddenly cut in? Or cut off? I don't know.

The other day, I was watching a story about the earthquake in Italy when the CC crawler told me rescuers were "pourless to do anything." Hmm. I can almost see the logic in that one, except that I'm powerless to explain how.

Even this morning, I was watching a story about a Southwest passenger jet that lost one of its two engines. Because of the skill of the pilots, the plane landed safely, with the passengers giving the pilots "aorund of applause." Well, that was a simple spelling error. I've managed thousands of typos like that in my journalism career.

Then came a story about the immigration issue, especially that part where one of the candidates wants to remove "thousands of illegal grimmigrants." Well, no wonder they're grim. They're threatened with removal.

Sometimes you just don't know where the CC is going. Somebody was telling one of the candidates to "stake out your volalues." What? Do you mean values? Volatiles? Valuables? What?

I'm not quite sure how closed captioning works. Not that long ago I had an image of some guy sitting in front of a television screen in some broadcast booth furiously typing away the spoken transcript he was hearing into some kind of encoding device. Presto, seconds later, we can read (sort of) what the speaker is saying on our TV screens.

I thought this because sometimes, on the monitor, as the closed captioning is being typed out, it will erase a word — like "leg is later" — letter by letter and start over until it gets it right. Surely only a human can recognize their own error, right?

Then I thought, No, we live in an incredibly technological era. Surely the closed captioning device is voice activated. That's why we get all those synonymic typos.

But then I read this after a Google search: "Most programs are captioned in advance of transmission, but the nature of some programs, such as live news broadcasts, requires real time captioning. For real time captioning, a stenographer listens to the broadcast and types a shorthand version into a program that converts the shorthand into captions and adds that data to the television signal."

Yikes. So there really is a guy locked in a room somewhere furiously typing away, like a court stenographer, on some kind of an Ultra Secret Enigma machine.

Jeez. Makes me wonder if he's a former journalist.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Games of summer

The 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio will end today, and presumably the United States will earn another gold medal in men's basketball if it can defeat Serbia.

As I write this blog early this morning, the United States has currently hauled down 43 gold medals and a total of 116 gold, silver and bronze, making it one of the more spectacular hauls in recent Games.

Amazingly, Sports Illustrated predicted two weeks ago that the U.S. would end up with 45 golds and 118 total medals. Wow.

Out of curiosity, I did a quick glance of previous medal counts to see how this year stacks up. In the 2012 London games, the U.S. brought in 46 golds and 103 total medals, with China in second place with 38 gold and 88 total totems.

In the Beijing Games in 2008, China led the way with 51 gold and 100 total medals, while the U.S. followed with 36 gold and 110 total charms.

And in the Athens Games in 2004, the United States had 36 gold and 101 total medals, while China had 32 gold and 63 total medals.

I think the thing that surprised me the most about those numbers was how consistent they were over the years. This year, it felt like the United States was minting gold medals left and right. But as we go into the last day of the 2016 Games, the U.S. still hasn't quite reached its 2012 gold strike total.

I've watched the Games off and on for the past two weeks, even stealing a few minutes of TV time at work to watch water polo, rhythmic ribbon dancing or synchronized swimming, which are sports you would never catch me watching if I was in my right mind (then again, I'm inexplicably a big curling fan whenever the Winter Games are on). Late one afternoon, I watched someone named Helen Louise Maroulis win a gold medal in freestyle bantamweight wrestling. She defeated somebody who'd lost like three times in the previous 14 years. I didn't even know there were women wrestlers. Didn't matter. Yay, I thought, because the USA had another gold.

There were a few down moments, of course. U.S. women's soccer goalie Hope Solo irrationally called the Swedes "cowards" after Sweden eliminated the U.S. in a shootout. Shut up, Hope. You lost. Get over it. Geez. And swimmer Ryan Lochte showing us what an Ugly American looks like after drunkenly vandalizing a public restroom and then basically blaming the host country for his actions. Shut up, Ryan. You're an idiot. Get over it. Geez.

There's other stuff outside the Olympics going on, too.

I really enjoy watching the Little League World Series because it's fun to see pint-sized ball players play the game so well.

Did I say pint-sized? One team has a 12-year-old pitcher who stands 6 feet tall and chucks a 75 mph fastball 46 feet away from home plate. I'm 5-6 and can't even see a fastball. I admire their youth as they stand on the verge of adulthood. I like their panache. I like their talent. And I love their boundless joy in victory and their humility in defeat while still in their formative years, when all of that really means something.

All in all, it's been a pretty good summer.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

My Russia problem

About the same week that the Democratic National Committee determined that Russia was likely lurking behind its email hack, I found something interesting right here on my very own blog site.

There's a page on my blog platform devoted to statistics. If the numbers are to be believed, I get to see how many readers I have at this very minute, or on any given day, or any given week, or any given month, and for all time.

The numbers page even lets me know from which country the page views originate. It does that by coloring in a country in deep green on a world map on the page. I assume the minute a viewer from a country looks at my blog, that country turns green.

I have some suspicion about the accuracy of this worldwide viewer count, but, hey, I'm an old sports writer and statistics fascinate me. I'm horrible in anything mathematical — the right side of my brain just doesn't compute this stuff — but I love calculating batting averages, points per game, or yards per carry. That's about the only math I really understand. I get it, as they say.

But a week or so ago, I was looking over the statistics page on my blog platform. For some reason, I was getting a big bump in viewership. Best as I can remember, this came about the time I wrote about my air conditioner conking out.

So I looked on the statistical map. There it was: Russia was green. And not just green, but deep green. See for yourself:

What do the Russians want?
For that week, I had something like 300 page views from Russia, and 1,175 page views from Russia for the month.

I was getting more views from Russia than I was from the United States.


The last time I had a country seriously interested in my blog, it was France, and I had written about trying to lose some weight.

Now Russia. Interested in my air conditioning?

Because this happened about the time of the DNC hack revelation, it made me wonder if I'd been hacked by Ivan. Coincidence? I mean, do I really have a serious readership in Moscow? I have no friends or relatives that I know of currently in Russia (although I do have a brother who lives in Alaska. He can see Russia from his back porch). What else can it be? Do the Russians really want to read about my 1966 Mustang, Underhill Rose or the Blue Eyed Bettys? What other conclusion can I draw from this?

Maybe the Russians somehow are using my blog as a conduit for hacking other organizations. Now that I think about it, they might be the ones sending me text messages on my cell phone saying "How quickly can u get here. He gone now." (That would actually make me feel better if it was indeed the Russians behind it. It might be code).

Or maybe I'm being just a little paranoid about this. Maybe there's nothing more behind this than some guy in Kiev accidentally came across my blog, read it, enjoyed it, and told 1,174 of his friends about it. Yeah, that's it.

What else could it be?

Sunday, August 7, 2016

My friends put on a play

I just saw something that I can't believe my eyes just saw.

I saw something resembling muppets playing a fiddle, a banjo and a guitar.

No, really.

It all happened in a musical play called "The Tourist Trap," sponsored by The Peppercorn Theater at the Children's Museum of Winston-Salem and it was held in the cozy Hanesbrands Theatre on Spruce Street.

So it's off, off, off, off, way off Broadway.

But that doesn't mean it isn't worth your consideration.

The musical performers in this production are The Blue Eyed Bettys, who wrote the music for the hourish-long performance. The Bettys, as I call them, are a trio of talented actors/musicians who include Ben Mackel on guitar, Daniel Emond on banjo and Sarah Hund on fiddle (see here).

Without revealing the storyline too much, it's about a couple who gets waylaid by car trouble, possibly in ultrarural Georgia. The rest requires suspending — or, as I like to think, expanding— belief.

What is truly astounding about the play is the incredible logistics behind it. The three musicians play their own instruments, but do so with muppet-type puppets attached to their hands and arms. And in order to make the puppets seem real — to open and close their mouths or shake their heads — they are manipulated by humans who might as well have been attached to the Bettys at birth.

The Blue Eyed Bettys, their puppet characters, and their puppeteers.
 The puppeteers are essentially human shadows. It's constricting, it's constraining, it's claus-trophobic — and it's amazing.

"It wasn't easy and it's taken a lot of practice," understated Sarah, whose puppeteer was Bailey Gray Smith. Maria Ortiz shadowed Ben, and Cameron Newton was glued to Daniel.

I saw what I saw and I still can't believe it. How could the Bettys play their instruments? How could they sing in character? How could they move from here to there without tripping over their own personal puppeteer?

How come we don't see this type of stuff on the real Broadway?

There were other marvels. The stage sets were mobile and imaginative. The very fact that the sets were moved into position as the play continued was fascinating. It's actually a very physical production.

And the music was wonderful. If you are familiar with the original work of The Blue Eyed Bettys, the kind they perform in bars, bistros and backyards, you'd have no trouble recognizing the musicianship or the tight harmonies here. It doesn't take much for The Bettys to have their way with you once they get into your head. Literally and figuratively.

(Click here to see the puppets play instruments).

I don't mean to get too carried away by what I saw today. It is, after all, a show geared to children (although Sarah did say that it seems the adults in the audience appear to come away with more of an appreciation for the performance than the kids).

But it is worth an hour of your time. It's a lot of fun. And you won't believe what you just saw.

The play is based on the book and lyrics by John Bowhers and is directed by Harry Poster. The puppet direction is by Scottie Rowell. Other performers in the show include Karen Neitz, Andre Minkins, Hana Kristofferson, J. Andrew Speas and Simone Pommels.

The production continues until Aug. 14, with shows at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. on weekdays and Saturday, and at 3 p.m. on Sunday. The cost is pay as you can.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

My email problem

Sometimes it's amazing how life imitates ... life.

The other day my flip phone (I'm a dinosaur) buzzed, and I answered it.

It was a text message.

I usually don't do text messages, figuring it's a lot more efficient just to talk into the damn phone instead of thumbing alphabet characters in some kind of pseudo shorthand that denigrates everything I've been taught about grammar and spelling.

But, hey. That's just me.

Still, I occasionally get excited by receiving text messages, which I figure are something akin to emails from my cell phone. Most of the texts I get are from our young family neighbors across the street who are inviting us dinosaurs over for another porch party.

Oh, boy.

But this particular text was different. It wasn't from our neighbors. In fact, I think it was a wrong number text, because this is what it said:

"How quick can u get here. He gone now"

Holy crap.

I had to read it twice before I read it a third time. I didn't recognize the phone number of the sender. Whaa...? I read the message to Kim.

Then I deleted it. I deleted it as fast as I could. Gone. Trash can.

Except, in a sense, I couldn't delete this one. It stayed in my mind. Who was that calling? Is there some kind of an affair going on, or is it something perfectly innocent, like, I'm late, I've got a flat tire, so hurry. I decided there was nothing innocent about it at all. In fact, it sounded incredibly urgent.

The fact that the text came to me instead of its intended target is also a bit troubling. I'm assuming the intended never got the message. How does that bode for that relationship, especially if the intended doesn't get there quick enough ... if at all? The fact that I got the message might suggest the sender was overly eager and carelessly misdialed. Why wasn't the intended on speed dial? Well, that won't work because if the cell phone is found by the partner, then what is this unfamiliar-but-incriminating speed dial number about?

Man, this is complicated.

Sounds like government work.

I'd like to say this whole episode is precisely why I don't do texting because of the unintended consequences that hide camouflaged in the ether, but I'm not that smart.

Mostly, I'm just lazy. And maybe that's good enough.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Cool it

Bear with me as I write this blog post. I might be a little crazy with the heat.

All day Friday I was looking forward to coming home from work. That's because the five-story building in which I'm employed was having its air-conditioning chillers, located on the roof, under maintenance.

And that meant our portion of the building — the "new" building — was more than just a little uncomfortable as nearly the entire country swelters under an unmoving high pressure heat dome during the third week of July.

Uncomfortable? Workers on several floors had their overhead lights turned off in an effort to reduce ambient heat. It was like a ghost town where even the ghosts were trying to cool off. Fans popped up in every cubicle or aisle.

One of my colleagues was wearing shorts and a golf shirt. Can you imagine, ever, a banker wearing shorts to work? Even PGA golfers don't wear shorts when they work. But a professional banker? "Come into my office," he explained. "It's 93 degrees in there."

Several departments were thankfully dismissed to go home around mid afternoon.

I happen to work in the windowless basement of the building. Most of my lights were off. I had two fans blowing on me all afternoon. It was survivable. But I still looked forward to going home.

But when I walked through the front door of my house, I could tell something wasn't right.

It was warm. Toasty, even.

"Oh, no," I thought to myself, and went to check the thermostat. It was 81 degrees in the house. The central air fan was running, but it wasn't cooling.


There could be several things going on here. Our system is probably about 20 years old and not necessarily energy efficient for our quaint two-story house, which is approaching 100 years old. I think our system is probably too small to properly heat or cool the 1,700-square foot building.

Or it could be that we simply need a new (flux?) capacitor. Or belt.

Or maybe there's something expensively wrong.

I'll call the repair specialists tomorrow, which means we'll be somewhere around No. 100 on their list of service calls and they might get to us by Thursday. That's fine. Kim and I have a 16-inch oscillating fan we used back in the early years of our un-air conditioned marriage, so sweating profusely in our own home will be kind of nostalgic for us (See? I am crazy with the heat). Several of our rooms also have ceiling fans, which do a good job of simulating a breeze and moving the hot air around from here to there.

So we'll make do, just like people in the South did 100 years ago before Willis Carrier changed the world: Accordion fans from the funeral parlor. Mint juleps. A damp handkerchief to wipe our brows.

Ahh, that's the life...

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Weight, weight, don't tell me

The day after I turned 65 years old I joined the YMCA, having learned that I just became eligible for the Silver Sneakers exercise program.

I needed it. I'm only 5-foot-6, but I checked in at well over 200 pounds.

Not good.

So I started my own unsupervised exercise regimen, mostly working out on two different types of low impact bicycle machines each morning.

The machines are computerized (for the lack of a better term), and before you begin each session, you enter your weight and age on the touch pad. I assume this somehow calibrates the machine to determine how many calories or how much mileage you personally burn during each workout.

On some machines, the hand grips are sensitively designed to capture your heart rate, if you need that information.

I don't know how the machines know this stuff. And maybe they really don't, but I'm believing the readouts are somewhat accurate because it's good for my psyche while I'm pedaling my butt off and the sweat drips into my eyes.

When I first started on the machines, I was tickled to burn 300 total calories in a session, which usually lasts about 90 minutes. But over time, as I got used to the exercise, I significantly increased my pedal resistance and thus my calorie burn.

On Saturday, I reached a new personal goal. I burned off 1,000 calories in about two hours. Between the two machines, I pedaled 22 miles, which might be the equivalent of riding a real bicycle to Thomasville and back again.

I cool down after each workout with 10 minutes in the whirlpool and 10 minutes in the sauna, of which the sauna, for some reason, makes me feel like I'm in Norway. Norwegian wood, I guess. Hey, I have an active imagination.

Anyway, I'm starting to get results where you can't deny the numbers. I now weigh in the 180s (which means I'm about halfway to where I want to be), and I've dropped at least one pants size.

I've coupled this daily exercise with a reasonable diet, thanks to my wife. Kim has been following her own diet plan through Slim Solutions, and while I don't do the supplements, my meals are the healthy meals that Kim prepares.

It all seems to be working.

There was a time when I once weighed 155 pounds (I was also 5-7 back then, before gravity and spinal compression got me) and wore 32s. I may never see those numbers again, but at least I feel like I'm headed in the right direction.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

1966 Mustang redux

The email startled me because it was so unexpected.

After my wife, Kim, and I finally sold our beloved 1966 Mustang convertible a little more than a year ago, we thought that was that. I mean, the car had been a good friend. We'd had it 19 years and we slowly brought it back to near factory specifications — we rebuilt the eight cylinder 289 engine, rebuilt the transmission, put on a new ragtop, rechromed the bumpers, and basically gave it a complete frame-up restoration and high quality paint job.

It was a beautiful car. So beautiful, in fact, that we were reluctant to put it on the road for fear of getting it damaged.

Consequently, it was doing no good sitting undriven in storage. So, as we entered our silver years, we made the difficult decision to downsize and sell it. We shipped it to Streetside Classic in Charlotte, an auto consignment operation who finally sold it to a buyer in ... Maidstone, Kent, England. (Please see here).

Our old 1966 Mustang, in Newcastle, with its UK license plate. Sigh.
Wow! That was cool. I never really considered it going overseas. But, clearly, it was going to have a good home. It could still speak English.

And we really thought that was the end of the story.

Until Friday morning, when I woke up and checked my emails. There was a message from a fellow named Phil, who said he'd just purchased my old Mustang from a guy in Kent and was about to drive it 340 miles north, about the length of England, to Newcastle Upon Tyne.


Usually, I'm a little bit leery about unexpected emails. Most of the ones I get are unsolicited and they tell me they are from some financially strapped royalty languishing in some third-world nation and I can have a percentage of their embargoed treasure if I give them my checking account number.

But as Phil explained to me in his email, he purchased the car when it was put up for sale because the guy in Maidstone had hip problems and couldn't drive it.

Oh, my.

And Phil, as it turns out, owns a business called Northumbria Classic Car Hire (see here, click on "Our Cars" and then click on "1966 Ford Mustang Convertible"). He bought the Mustang (I still have to fight the urge to call it "our" Mustang) to add to his collection of 10 or so European classics that he hires out for special occasions, like weddings, parades, etc).

The Mustang now shares garage time with Jaguar E-Types, an Austin Healy, MGB's and who knows what else.

 Just to make sure of all this, I looked up Northumbria Classic Car Hire on Facebook and, presto, there were several pictures of our ... I mean, the old Mustang, already on display at a streetside car show in Newcastle. It is surrounded by happy faces who appreciate American metal.

Somebody over there has already written a blog about the car, complete with pictures (Please select "July 9" here).

Holy smokes.

I even checked out Phil on Facebook, found him, wrote him a message and put in a friend request, which he accepted. Phil is now my first overseas friend. He's already trying to lure me to England by allowing me a free day of driving in my old Mustang (Well, I did drive it for 19 years. If we go, I might ask to motor a right-handed drive Jaguar XKE instead).

My only concern in all of this is that Newcastle Upon Tyne (which is close to the border with Scotland and boasts of nearby Hadrian's Wall) is a seacoast town heavy with salt air. Mustangs were notorious for rusting (Rustangs), but I suspect Phil knows this and the car no doubt rests in climate controlled comfort.

All in all, I feel really good about all of this. The car has found an incredible new life in its iconic status, still drawing admiring glances when it hits the road, and I know it will be treated with care. It makes me smile and a little bit proud.

Kim and I celebrated its latest resurrection with a six-pack of Newcastle Brown Ale, which I'd never had before. To me, it's kind of like a little brother to Guinness. I liked it.

So cheers. Here's to the unexpected.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Well, that was pretty good

Sometimes I surprise even myself by how late I can come to the party.

On Saturday my wife, myself and a friend decided to open the July Fourth holiday weekend with a visit to the Junius Lindsay Vineyard in Welcome to take in a little music by Allison Crowell and her husband, Lee.

I'd heard of her before, of course. I just had never heard her in concert.

I hate admitting things like that.

Lee and Allison Crowell perform a tune.
Anyway, as we parked the car and headed over to the open air tasting room, we could hear Allison performing "Landslide," which is a favorite tune of ours. I immediately sensed we were in for a treat. So we settled in for the next two hours or so being serenaded through one familiar tune after another.

Allison, as most of you know, won the Childress Idol competition in 2009. She can coax and prod and soothe and caress her way through a song with a wide-ranging voice that surreptitiously entices you to come along for the aural ride. You don't even know you're in motion until you're already down that road.

As talented as she clearly is, I also enjoyed watching/listening to her husband play. He doesn't sing (at least, he didn't on Saturday). But he's a finger magician with a rhythm guitar, giving Allison some unassuming background and depth to her own acoustic guitar. Somehow he was providing her with a subtle bass line, or some gentle wah-wah, or some fuzz, or whatever was required.

Consequently, we walked hand-in-hand with Fleetwood Mac, or Patsy Cline, or Aretha Franklin, or Otis Redding, or even the Beatles (emboldened by my viognier, I requested 'Here Comes the Sun' during a set break, and they responded with 'Hey Jude' when they returned) through the afternoon.

It was a pretty good show. OK, OK. So I was a little late for the party.

Better late than never.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Cat tale

One thing I swore that I would never do was cut my cat's fur — especially into a poodle cut.

But Halo turned out to be something different.

Halo, you see, is a Ragdoll, and Ragdolls are, by nature, docile, blue-eyed, long-haired cats.

The devil cat, with fire in her eyes, pre-grooming...
We had a Ragdoll once before, Do-Little, who was as sweet as they come. When you picked her up, she'd go limp in your arms (like a ragdoll, hence the name of the breed). She'd brush against your legs as you walked by, and purr contentedly when you stroked her fur.

After Do-Little passed away, we thought we'd get another Ragdoll. And in anticipation of similar Do-Little attributes, we named her Halo.


Turns out, Halo has yet to read the Ragdoll manual. Now a year old, she still nips at your ankles, swipes bare-clawed at your hands and wriggles out of your arms if you try to hold her  for more than 15 seconds.

We've considered renaming her Pitchfork.

One of the things Halo/Pitchfork won't let you do is groom her. If you approach her with a comb, she takes a defensive karate stance and dares you to even think about combing her.

So we don't.

Consequently, her incredibly fine silk-like fur gets easily matted, especially on her belly and haunches. We tried to comb them out — even cut them off with scissors — only to have Halo disagree.

So we decided to have her professionally groomed to have the mats removed.

We took her to the vet where I dropped her off, but within the hour we got a phone call telling us to get our cat because she was hissing and scratching and generally making a nuisance of herself. The only solution was to try again, but they'd have to sedate her first.

So a week later, we tried again. I'm not a fan of sedating pets, but something had to be done. We suggested a lion cut for Halo and wondered how that would work out.

Halo shows off her new lion cut, which we think she likes. We think.
 A few hours later, the vet called and said Halo had done fine. My wife picked her up after work, and when I got home from my job, I was eager to see the results.

And, you know, it wasn't half bad.

Halo was still a little groggy from the sedation. She had been given a buzz cut all along her torso, from tail to neck, but the mats were gone. Fur still remained on her legs below the knees (making her look like she was wearing boots) and her fluffy tail was untouched. I think her new lion cut somehow appeals to her feline DNA.

She looked, well, kinda cute.

And there seemed to be another benefit from all of this. I'm not going to say that she'd gone through a personality change — you still can't hold her for more than 15 seconds — but she does seem to be a little more personable. She gets underfoot and loyally follows us everywhere through the house. She purrs when you stroke her. As the heat of summer descends upon us, I think she somehow appreciates her new look.

We figure it'll take about three months for her fur to grow back — just in time for winter. In the meantime, we plan to comb her buzz cut daily, just to get her used to the idea. So far, she hasn't resisted.

We'll see.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Dad's decision

A member of my extended family recently asked, via Facebook, if anyone in the Wehrle clan could explain why my father, Charles, gave up a career as a secondary education English teacher to enter the ministry, eventually to become a Moravian minister.

Good question.

I'll try my best to answer it. All I can do is replay snippets of conversations that I heard, or remembered from more than 50 years ago, as I spin this tale. I invite my brothers to join in and add anything further that they might know.

By the late 1950s, Dad had already shown a predilection for professional antsyness. He'd resigned his position as a teacher at Fountain High High School (near Bethlehem, PA) to join the American Red Cross.

Dad in his church office, probably working on a sermon...
 He'd been a teacher for nearly 10 years, so I can't really explain why he chose to go in such a different direction. A clue might be that his mother, Charlotte, served as a volunteer in the American Red Cross' Gray Lady Service in a local hospital in Allentown, PA, so maybe that was a factor.

That was an exciting time for me. It meant a weekend visit to Washington, DC, as Dad took care of some clerical business while at the same time giving me a real dose of American history. I was about 8 or 9 years old and saw all the sights — the White House, the Capitol, the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial. It was great stuff.

Dad shortly thereafter got stationed to Pease Air Force Base in Portsmouth, NH. More history. John Paul Jones lived in that town for a while. New England foliage. The ocean. B-52s and F-100s. Woo hoo.

But all that lasted less than a year. Dad was afraid he'd eventually end up being stationed in some remote outpost, like Guam, where he wouldn't be able to bring his family (as the story goes). So he quit and went back to teaching high school — this time, in East Hartford, CT.

We stayed two years. Somewhere in this span, Dad was wrestling with another decision he was about to make — whether or not to enter the ministry.

I have it in the back of my mind somewhere that Dad had often considered the ministry during his life up to this point. Plus, I think Charlotte might have been a factor in that, too. Dad was her only child, and the ministry would be so ... so ... well, so virtuous (as if teaching was not).

I do remember him telling me that he "heard a calling" to become a minister, which made me wonder if he actually heard voices. I never investigated that with him and I'm really not sure he actually heard anything. But I think it's more likely that he felt something.

I don't know if there was anything that pushed him into his ultimate decision — I wasn't privy to his conversations with Charlotte, or with Mom, or with God, that might have led to his decision (Kim remembers hearing from somewhere that Nana actually wanted him to be a doctor) — but it was back to Bethlehem for three years of seminary at Moravian College.

After receiving his Divinity degree  — he loved to impress us with his limited knowledge of Hebrew — he was assigned his first church. This one was in Coopersburg, PA, just south of Allentown. It was a neat little church whose congregation was sharply divided about the direction the church should take.

Ah, yes. Church politics. I'm not sure that was a course offered in seminary, but I think the experience had Dad thoroughly disillusioned. So after a year or so, it was back to teaching high school English at Palisades in Bucks County, PA.

So we moved again, this time to a place called Perkasie, about an hour out of Philadelphia. That is, until Dad heard the calling yet again. I wasn't kidding about his professional antsyness.

By this time, I'm in college and not at home very much. I remember moving yet again, this time to Center Valley, PA, although I don't know why. It was the last time I lived with my folks before I moved to North Carolina. That was 40 years ago.

In the meantime, Dad reentered the ministry (hotly pursued by his church demons, I guess), first taking a Moravian church in Dover, OH, for several years, and then following that with a church in Sister Bay, WI, not far from Green Bay. This somewhat explains why I am a closet Packers fan.

Dad seemed happiest in Wisconsin. As far as I know, he loved his church, he loved his congregation, and he loved his location. He played golf whenever seasonal, and then used snow skis to get from here to there in the heavy winters.

I'd love to say that Dad could have lived out his life in Wisconsin, but not the way I had in mind. One day he called us to say he had prostate cancer that somehow got into his bones. It was lethal. He died when he was only 58 years old. He is buried in the church cemetery there.

So the rest of MY life with him is through memories. Based on what I knew of him, he was a great teacher, full of life and personality. He was a great counselor through his work with the Red Cross, dealing with military personnel incarcerated in the Portsmouth Naval Prison or perhaps struggling with PTSD. He was a great pastor, not just delivering meaningful sermons, but dropping everything to visit someone in need of his services.

He was a pretty good friend, too, still offering guidance and counseling to his three sons, of whom he was quite proud. He told me that one time.

And so, today, I simply say thanks, Dad. Thanks for the life you lived.