Sunday, December 31, 2017

Scott Gibson

I suppose Lexington's Scott Gibson will be as close to a Renaissance Man as I will ever know.

By that, I mean he was a person with a broad range of skills – in his case, primarily in the arts, and particularly with music – and whose philosophies on life were gentle, observant and rational, even if they came at you from perhaps a slightly shifted angle.

He could make you think about something profound even before you knew you were thinking about it. That was the artist in him. That's what artists do.

I can't remember exactly when I first met him – it might have been years ago after one of his gigs at Sandy Creek or High Rock Outfitters or some other local venue – and it struck me that I could have been talking with folk songwriter Woody Guthrie for what I considered to be his sharp perceptions of everyday living and the lives we lead.

Part of that experience for me included his actual physical appearance: long, whitish hair that touched his collar; a black derby hat, or perhaps a fedora, announcing the troubadour was in the house; a couple days worth of stubble that suggested endlessly riding the hard rails of life in a boxcar. And when he sang, it was with an earthy and gravelly voice that accented exactly the point he was trying to make.

He could play anything, it seemed: guitar, banjo, harmonica, autoharp. He'd occasionally wander into the local coffee shops, sometimes with ukulele in hand, and strum us a free concert. He might have been in the process of composing, for all I knew. You know: folk singer mingling with the folk.

It surprised me that he knew who I was before we even met. He read The Dispatch, and later, my blogs. That caught me off my guard. And it opened a door.

One evening, during an open mic night at HRO, I read a few poems I'd written back in my college days decades ago. Scott was in the audience. Afterwards, he told me I should resume my poetry. Coming from a songwriter of his merit, that meant something to me. Maybe I'll take him up on it.

Scott died on Friday after a long bout with illness, and his passing will leave a gaping void in the Lexington music scene. It will leave a void in many of us.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Christmas fire

In my daily slog through Facebook to find out what my friends are eating, or what restaurant they're going to eat in, or whose birthday it is and what they're going to eat to celebrate, I came across this interesting picture:

It's a photo of Dixie furniture company employees, taken in 1910. The picture is in the storefront window of the Lexington Home Brands Furniture Outlet store on Main Street and it offers a simple, understated tribute to the industry that was the heartbeat of Lexington for generations. Lexington Home Brands, of course, can trace its genealogy directly to Dixie. In the aftermath of Tuesday night's devastating inferno that brought down the 100-plus-year-old walls of the now vacant Plant No. 1, I found the historic picture to be particularly moving.

The iconic smokestack and dust collectors still stand near the main office.
 And it got me to thinking: Who would ever think the workplace could evoke such emotions? Don't we usually go around complaining about our jobs? Don't we always have better ideas about how to run the joint than management does? Aren't we always underpaid and underappreciated?

And yet...

Even while the debris was still smoldering, stories from former employees were rising out of the ashes. Some people spent nearly their entire adult lives with the company, becoming not only artisans in a world-class industry, but the flexible backbone of the local economy.

The plant — the building — was their world. It wasn't only their livelihood, but the center of their society. It's where people and friends gathered to labor over a common conception. When the walls collapsed it released not only long forgotten ghosts, but lingering memories as well. The hard work, the sweat, the routine of it all evolved into a source of pride. It was sad, they said, to see it burn up.

The destruction of Plant No. 1 was astounding.
 I never worked at the Dixie, but when I moved to Lexington in 1976, I lived in its shadow. I caught the tail end of the ride. I remember the iconic smokestack chugging dark clouds into the sky; the whistles that signaled shift changes and a brief spurt of traffic congestion as workers came and went; just the bustle of it all.

The fire that brought the building down is said to be one of the largest ever in Lexington, with flames leaping hundreds of feet into the night sky in front of thousands of spectators.

Nothing lasts forever. That lesson is brought to us every day. An era can go up in smoke, but a legacy is the thing that remains.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Christmas party

Saturday night kicked off our party week.

About 16 of us gathered at a neighbor's house to drink in the camaraderie and good cheer. The excuse was an Ugly Christmas Sweater party, but neither Kim nor I had an ugly sweater — actually, neither did about 10 others —but that little exception to the whole purpose of the party didn't disqualify us from attending. Or being allowed in the door.

Kim, usually calm and dignified, wore an item that made her look like she had been shot in the head with a candy cane arrow. She was Steve Martin on peppermint.

Small parties like this one are fun to watch. The dynamics are constantly changing: First, people collect in small knots around the buffet table, sampling the goodies. Then they spin off into conversation cliques (a couple here might catch up with a couple there, especially if they haven't seen each other in a while) to share some time. Occasionally, someone wanders around from room to room in the house, popping sausage balls and pretzels, looking for someone to talk to.

At one point I was aimlessly wandering around after hitting the buffet table to reload on Chex mix when I passed one room where all the men had gathered. Then I (being the outlier) peeked in the kitchen where all the women had assembled. It just happened that way. Amazing. It was as if we'd all received our internal alien messages to gather in separate rooms for gender processing.

Even more amazing was when we — without announcement — all showed up in the living room later in the evening. Happenstance? I don't know. But the best part was when the hostess pointed out that, at this stage in most of our lives, our friends are our family. My throat clenched, my eyes moistened, Kim grabbed my arm a little tighter. I think our hostess was right. I like Christmas parties like this with its understated message. It's when the not-so-obvious suddenly becomes obvious. That was cool.

On Monday Kim and I will be going to a local coffee shop for another party. This one is usually a catered affair primarily for the coffee club crowd that shows up most every morning. Generally, this is an older crowd where most of us are in our 70s or 80s. Or older. We get to let our hair down (if we have any). We'll basically have only one room to wander around in and we'll hear lots of stories about the good ol' days. It'll be local history broadcast live.

Later in the week we'll be attending the neighborhood party. I suspect there'll be something like 50-60 people at this one. I like this party because we each bring something to eat. It's a pot luck deal and the food tends to be exceptional, ranging from handmade cookies to cheese balls to ham biscuits to fancy hors d'oeuvres with fine wines and craft beers.

I don't think Kim will be wearing a candy cane arrow to this one.

Party on...

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Christmas presence

This was Kim's idea actually.

I didn't know what I wanted to write about for today's blog, but whatever it was, I wanted it to be seasonal.

"Why don't you write about the kind of toys you got for Christmas as a child compared to what kids are getting today?" she suggested.

Hmmm. Not bad. Seasonal. Nostalgic. Current. Kim has always been my best editor. This one had potential.

The funny thing about most of the Christmas toys I got as a kid...I don't remember asking for. Remember, we're talking mid-1950's here, so I was probably asking for things like Red Ryder BB rifles (I never got one for fear of shooting my eye out) or Hopalong Cassidy pistols and holsters (I did get a Lone Ranger set of cap pistols, including a really bad red cowboy hat with white stitching — but no chaps).

I vaguely remember going to Hess's Department Store in Allentown, going up to the third floor and sitting on Santa's lap (uh-oh). That's where I got to ask for stuff.

Remember Tinkertoys?
I think my first bicycle (with trainer wheels) showed up at Christmas, even though it was winter and there was likely snow on the ground. Curiously, I actually don't remember asking for a bicycle, but maybe I did.

Other toys I never asked for turned out to be classic. Santa brought Tinkertoys one year, and that was of some casual interest for me. I'd build these creations that had no resemblance to reality and then ask my parents how they liked the airplane I just made. Yeah. Tinkertoys.

In the same vein, there were Lincoln Logs. I can't tell you how many cabins I built. They all looked the same.

Slinkys. Play-doh. Super balls (these were the toys my dad got into). Turns out there was a limit to how many times I could watch my Slinky walk down the stairs. Or reproduce the newspaper comics on my Play-doh before I maniacally stretched them into absurdist art.

Or plastic cinder blocks?
There were also plastic snap-together building blocks — they may have been a variation of Legos — that looked like cinder blocks. I'd put together something that looked like a one-room house, deconstruct it, then put it back together again. That was fun. For a while.

 I think that was the year I got a battery powered Remco Bulldog army tank that shot plastic shells. I created war scenes with my building blocks, then have the tank crash through the war-torn house, just like in the news reels I saw of World War II, which had ended just a decade or so earlier.

I don't know if there was a theory of child rearing behind these diversions. Both the Tinkertoys and the building blocks suggest the development of imagination, hand-eye coordination and creativity.

It was all pretty vocational, looking back on it. Maybe I could have become a carpenter or a brick mason. But I became a sportswriter instead, even though I never asked for a typewriter. Clearly, something went horribly wrong.

Looks real, huh? I refought World War II with this toy.
 The army tank could have sent me into a military career and the Lone Ranger pistols could have directed me into law enforcement (or cattle herding). I don't know.

Kim and I don't have children of our own, so our gift buying is limited to a couple of nieces. That usually has meant jewelry or personal grooming items. Girl stuff. Hard for me to relate.

But just looking around me, it appears kids today are getting iPhones and computers and other electronics that I could have never imagined back in my childhood. The skills needed to operate these devices are the skills they'll need in the real world, so in the end, I guess nothing has really changed.

We're still getting lost in the fun of it all.

What gifts didn't you ask for?

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Fitness phase

For the longest time, I had it in my head that the only two places in town to get some serious exercise done was the J. Smith Young YMCA and Accelerate Fitness (previously Forum Fitness) on Talbert Boulevard.

When I say "serious," I mean the works: the weight machines, the free weights, the exercise machines (like treadmills, recumbent bicycles, etc), Zumba and yoga rooms and personalized service.

I was actually a sporadic member of The Forum for a while. I even bought a book to show me how to use the machines and chart my progress. I wasn't intent on becoming muscle bound — I just wanted to be able to open ketchup bottles. 

I'm sure there might have been other places around, but I just never saw them. The Y and the Forum were the high profile outlets. I'm sure somebody could have been working out in a small cubby hole in some strip mall or in a church basement or perhaps even pumping iron on their front porch.

Then, two years ago, I turned 65 and that made me eligible to join Silver Sneakers, a program offered by the Y along with my health care provider. I don't pay a penny out of pocket. Just sign your name and start sweating. It's a great deal.

Almost as soon as I joined the Y, things started happening around town (I'm not implying that I had anything to do with that). The old Farmers' Co-op on First Street was being updated to house the state-of-the-art City Fitness and that was causing some excitement with the workout crowd.

About the same time (maybe earlier), CrossFit Hog Town opened (I get the idea behind identifying Lexington with hogs, but it still paints a picture for me of overly corpulent people roaming the streets looking for barbecue). Anyway, CrossFit was operating out of a small facility on Church Street and is now in the process of moving to its brand new building on South Main, which no doubt will increase its exposure.

A few months ago a rumor floated around town that a Planet Fitness was coming. And, indeed, work is underway at its Plaza Parkway location just off Highway 8. In fact, I got a flyer in the mail yesterday letting me know that I could join Planet Fitness for 25 cents down and $10 per month. Wow.

Suddenly, Lexington was becoming the capital of straining grunts and groans. Not bad for a city with a population (according to the 2010 census) of 18,931. The rapid appearance of all these calorie burners would suggest that not only about 17,000 of us need to be doing jumping jacks, but there's a real market for it.

Curiously enough, about the same time all these exercise meccas are going up, so are some new bakeries. Huh?

We already had iconic Fancy Pastry, but within the last two years — about the time of Lexington's fitness explosion  — we not only got a Bagel Shop, but Red Donuts. We also picked up a bakery called Sinfully Delicious, which is almost directly next to Fancy Pastry. And now I see where there's another bakery getting ready to open on North Main Street, opposite a convenience store/gas station that offers Dunkin Donuts.

That's not to forget the near frenzy we had in Lexington of finally getting a Chick-Fil-A a month ago.

 I don't know. Maybe Hog Town works after all.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

The Beatles

When Ron Howard's "The Beatles: Eight Days a Week - The Touring Years" first came out in theaters a year ago, I had every intention of seeing it.

But for some reason, I never did.

Then a friend on Facebook issued a general alert to make sure not to miss "Eight Days a Week" on PBS last night. I set my DVR, but even in the middle of my college football frenzy, I ended up watching the program in real time as it aired.

Oh my gosh. It was like shedding 50 years. I was suddenly 13 again and back in the seventh grade.

And almost immediately, I was astounded by the footage, much of which I'd never seen before. As a longtime Beatles fanatic, that's not an easy thing for me to say. I've read most of the books. I've seen most of the documentaries. I've got the Beatles on vinyl and on CDs.

But this was different. Much of the footage was in color (colour?). The audio coming out of my TV was surprisingly sensational. The commentary was fresh and new.

If the truth be told, I almost missed the original Beatles party. Yeah (yeah, yeah), our family watched their highly hyped debut on The Ed Sullivan Show that cold February night, and laughed at their hair and wondered what the world was coming to. Dad was into barbershop quartets and mom was into show tunes. I was in transition.

But when I went to school the next day, my world had changed. Girls (I was just discovering them) could talk of nothing else. I think I was jealous. Clearly, the Beatles were a girl thing. I didn't know it yet, but this was a looming paradigm shift in my life.

Then it turned out that a girl I liked liked the Beatles, too. So we listened to them on her record player. My toes kept time. I listened to the lyrics. The seed had been planted. They were all over the (transistor) radio anyway, so I was hearing their new material as it was being released. By high school, I was no longer buying Herb Alpert and Tijuana Brass albums. The first Beatles album I bought for myself was the White Album. I spent the next year or so catching up and hoping that no one would notice.

"Eight Days a Week" made me feel like I was still catching up, but it also brought back some great memories. I think I spent most of the night with a silly smile on my face, keeping time with my toes and listening to the lyrics. Again.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Here Comes the Sun

This one is just for fun:

The other day I was scrolling through Facebook when I noticed one of my friends had posted a picture of George Harrison's original lyrics for "Here Comes the Sun," which happens to be one of my all time favorite Beatle tunes.

"Cool," I said to myself, having never seen that picture of the lyrics before. It looked like it had been written on personalized stationery — even though I knew full well that it had been written in Eric Clapton's garden — and I was amazed by how few crossed out words there were.

It looks like this:

(Click on picture to enlarge)
 Sometimes inspiration is just nearly perfect, I guess.

I was also surprised by how simple the lyrics were. It's amazing how something so uncomplicated can translate into such a great song.

Anyway, I went ahead and googled "Here Comes the Sun" to find out anything else I could about the tune. I was led to Wikipedia.

Yes, it was written in Clapton's garden. Yes, it was written in April, 1969, after a particularly harsh English winter. Yes, the song helped establish Harrison as an accomplished songwriter, right up there with Lennon and McCartney.

Then I got to the part about the song's musical structure.

Holy smokes.

It read something like this:

"The song is in the key of A major. The main refrain uses a IV (D chord) to V-of-V (B chord) progression (the reverse of that used in "Eight Days a Week" and "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band"). The melody in the verse and refrain basically follows the pentatonic scale from E up to C♯ (scale steps 5, 6, 1, 2, 3).

"One feature is the increasing syncopation in the vocal parts. Another feature is the guitar flat-picking that embellishes the E7 (V7) chord from 2:03 to 2:11, creating tension for resolution on the tonic A chord at "Little darlin' ". The bridge involves a ♭III-♭VII-IV-I-V7 triple descending 4th (or Tri-Plagal) progression (with an extra V7) as the vocals move from "Sun" (♭III or C chord) to "sun" (♭VII or G chord) to "sun" (IV or D chord) to "comes" (I or A chord) and the additional 4th descent to a V7 (E7) chord. The lyric here ("Sun, sun, sun, here it comes") has been described as taking "on the quality of a meditator's mantra". The song also features extreme 4/4 (in the verse) and a sequence of 11/8 + 4/4 + 7/8 (which can also be transcribed as 11/8 + 15/8) in the bridge, phrasing interludes which Harrison drew from Indian music influences. In the second verse (0:59–1:13) the Moog synthesizer doubles the solo guitar line and in the third verse the Moog adds an obbligato line an octave above. The last four bars (2:54–3:04) juxtapose the guitar break with a repeat of the bridge."

Suddenly, I'm wondering if that's what was really running through Harrison's head as he was writing the tune. It reads more like a scientific equation for a trip to Alpha Centauri. I always figured a composer strummed guitars or pounded keyboards to coax the song out of his head until he found what sounded good. What do I know?

Maybe the Beatles really were geniuses after all.

Although I know next to nothing about music except how to listen to it, I've often been fascinated by the songwriting process and how songs are created and arranged. One of these days I may ask one of my songwriter friends about this and how the process works for them. I hope it involves guitar frets and not logarithms.

In the meantime:

Sunday, November 12, 2017

LSB reunion

The best thing about any reunion is seeing the people that you interacted with all those X number of years ago.

Ahh, there's Martha. My goodness, how her hair has changed. And there's George. He's put on a few pounds over the years. And remember Paul? He was always so quiet, but he sure tore the place up last night. Didn't know he could dance like that.

That's how most reunions go, it seems.

But last night was a little different when nearly 100 former employees of Lexington State Bank gathered upstairs in the main dining hall of Yarborough's Restaurant for no other reason than to get together again.

Some reminders of what once was.*
 The primary focus was to celebrate and remember the LSB years (1949 to 2007), when the local business was truly a local institution, helping to drive and grow a predominantly blue collar community. So mostly former LSB employees, like my wife, who worked there 31 years, filled the hall. A few NewBridge Bankers like me — I worked there six years as a part-timer — managed to sneak in for some beef tenderloin and fried mushrooms, as well as the memories. (LSB became NewBridge Bank after a merger with Greensboro-based FNB Southeast in 2007).

So for an hour or so, people mingled and reminisced, laughed and cried, hugged and embraced. It was pretty cool.

Bob Lowe, the longtime chairman and CEO (for whom my wife was the administrative assistant), then gave a few opening remarks. He pointed out that very few people could have foreseen how much banking has changed in the last five years compared to the previous 50 years, and it was a point well taken.

Then former bank president Frank Sherron followed with a few remarks, highlighting what it was that made LSB so special to the local furniture-making community.

"Some people say LSB is gone," said Sherron, whose father, Haynes, was the well-respected chairman and CEO prior to Lowe. "But I take exception to that."

Sherron then went on not only to recall some of the highlights of the good ol' days, but to suggest that LSB's legacy still lingers. He reached deep into the past, pointing out the bank, founded by Dr. J. A. Smith, was first located on the square next to Conrad & Hinkle. Dr. Smith, it turned out, gave away Life Savers to children as a way to promote "saving" money.

The LSB reunion brought a large turnout of former employees.*
 Then there were the stair steps at the teller line for children to climb so they could conduct their banking. The memories started to cascade: all those joyful Christmas parades; creating Christmas club savings accounts "which allowed many people to have Christmas," said Sherron; or equity lines, "which helped people start businesses, or buy homes or cars or put their children through school." Sherron also noted that LSB was the pacesetter in several United Way campaigns and that the bank also contributed to the J. Smith Young YMCA as well as other organizations for the benefit of the community.

He hit the nail on the head. Yes, LSB is long gone. What exists now is a corporate entity that has virtually consumed itself in identity-stealing mergers and loss of connection.

What remains — as evident last night — is a sense of self. A sense of family.

*Photos by Angela Sams.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Help me, I'm shrinkingggg

I had my annual physical examination on Friday, and I'm happy to report that everything checked out A-OK.

(A-OK? Who says that anymore? I guess that's a time-warp burp there. Excuse me).

Pulse? Check.

Weight? Yep.

Temperature? I'm still cool after all these years. Or hot. Depends on your point of view.

A-fib?  Constantly.

There was one disconcerting moment, though, as the assistant was putting me through my pre-physical paces. She had me step on the scale, not only to weigh me, but to measure me.

I'm 65 inches tall. That translates to 5-foot-5.


Apparently, I'm shrinking. I clearly remember that back in high school, when I was 18 years old, I was 5-7.

Look, being under the national height average for men (which I think was around 5-8 or so back in 1969) never bothered me. A non-issue. The only time I can remember being short as a liability was during my sports writing days while conducting post-game interviews in cramped ACC locker rooms. I tended to be squeezed out of the way by the shuffling gaggle of burly cameramen from local news stations, who needed to get those up close and personal shots.

Being 5-7 also kept me about three inches taller than my wife — not that it means anything. I just happen to think the difference in height is good eye appeal for a married couple. But I am an inch shorter now. Maybe that just means we're closer to seeing things eye to eye.

I asked my doctor if losing two inches in height from 18 years old to 66 years old is normal, and he suggested that it's within the realm of acceptance.

But I figure I'm doomed to shrinkage by my very DNA. My grandmother on my father's side — Charlotte — lived to be 98 years old. Over the last 10 years of her life or so, she lived in the Phoebe Home (an assisted care facility) in Allentown, PA. Every time we headed north on vacation, Kim and I would stop to pay her a visit.

And every year, she seemed to get shorter. It was an amazing thing to see.

I'm aware of the effects of gravity over the course of time, and spinal compression and any other factors that might be out there acting like a trash compactor on us, but I swear to you just as I (barely) stand here, she was less than five feet tall the last time we saw here. I bet she lost three or four inches over time.

I once kidded her that she was never going to die. Instead, one day she would just simply disappear. I think it really was a close call at the end.

So I'll just accept the cards dealt to me. There are no plans for spinal inversion therapy or hanging from my ankles in the closet. I'll just sit back, relax, and let the world come to me.

It'll be a shorter trip these days.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

So long, Salley

Maybe it's because I'm retired and had nothing else productive to do with my free time, but I became something in my old age I never thought would happen:

I became a band groupie.

My wife and I have been following Underhill Rose, a remarkably talented female Americana trio out of Asheville, since 2011.

Coincidentally, that was the year Molly Rose Reed and Eleanor Underhill — the group's founders — became a trio when they added Salley Williamson to the mix. Salley brought her harmonious third voice to the band, along with her upright bass named "Pearl", and bingo, the girls were blazing new horizons.

They made beautiful music together, what with Molly on guitar, Eleanor on banjo and harmonica (Sometimes at the same time. I still don't know how she does that) and Salley providing a steady and reliable bass line.

From left: Molly, Kim, myself, Eleanor and Salley. Sigh...
 Better yet, even though we'd see them perhaps just two or three times a year, we became friends. They knew us by name, occasionally dedicate a song to us, and once, Kim and I gladly opened our home to one of the girls for a night's lodging.

It was great times and we thought it would last forever.

But unless you are the Rolling Stones, nothing lasts forever. I knew that. Life steps in. Touring is difficult, the hours are insufferable. In addition to playing in a band, Salley is also the development and communications manager for Open Hearts Arts Center for differently-abled adults in Asheville. She also runs an active farm, raising sheep and hogs, so clearly her plate is overflowing. How she managed to play in a traveling band for six years is actually pretty mind-boggling when you think about it.

So I shouldn't have been surprised when Underhill Rose announced about a week or so ago that Salley was leaving. Their show Friday night at the acoustically perfect Muddy Creek Music Hall in Winston-Salem would be Salley's last with the band. Bring Kleenex.

Nothing was going to keep Kim and myself from this concert. The girls played for two hours without a set break, effortlessly gliding from one tune to the next, stopping only to tell stories about Salley and what she meant to the team. Just before the encore, I handed Salley a long-stem red rose from Kim and myself in gratitude for the six years of joy she brought to us. I hope we were representing all of her fans.

There's one other thing to note here. About two thirds of the way through the show, the girls put down their instruments, stepped up to their mics, and sang the old blues ballad "Trouble in Mind" strictly a cappella, except for snapping their fingers to the downbeat (which also got the audience involved). I'd been wanting to hear them sing something a cappella for years simply because their hallmark harmonies are so gorgeous. And indeed, I felt like I was standing at the gates of heaven as they sang. Angels, maybe.

For the encore, they performed "Something Real," but they did it unplugged. No amps. No monitors. No soundboard. It was like sitting around the campfire. What an awesome moment. I can only hope they incorporate some of this experience in future shows for their fans to enjoy as we did that night.

It also occurred to me this would be the last time we'd hear three-part harmony like this for a while. It's not like Molly and Eleanor are putting an ad in the paper looking for an upright bassist. Underhill Rose performed as a duo two years before Salley joined, and now Molly and Eleanor will go back to their roots for the foreseeable future.

In the meantime, we'll wish Salley all the best. She gave depth and breadth to the group's sound, and we'll miss her.

Where's my Kleenex?

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Another nifty night

Not that Phil Rapp ever needs a bodyguard — he's a strapping individual in his own right — but he may have found what he was looking for while emceeing the 16h Annual Davidson County Sports Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony and Banquet last night at the 119 West Third Event Center (otherwise known, in simpler days, as the J. Smith Young YMCA).

There in the crowd of spectators, as a guest of inductee Bruce Hayes — and recognized by an inspired Rapp — was former world heavyweight champion James 'Bonecrusher' Smith.

Yikes. The man who once fought Mike Tyson and Larry Holmes and dropped Tim Witherspoon in a single round, and held the WBA heavyweight title from 1986 to 1987, still looks like he could do some serious damage at age 64.

Perhaps thankfully, Smith is now an ordained minister who is committed to helping youth steer clear of crime and drugs. He founded the non-profit Champion for Kids, Inc. in 2004 and now supports programs designed to help people in need.

It would be easy to suggest that Smith was the big draw last night that brought an overflow crowd of about 150 people to the banquet, except that it was never advertised that Smith would be there. I prefer to think the large turnout (usually, about 100 people or so show up for these things) was because this was a strong class of inductees.

How could it not be with David Fritts, everybody's favorite professional bass fisherman, on hand? Fritts, in his folksy manner, told how his father tried to get him to be serious about the family tire business. That is, until Fritts won the Bassmaster Classic in 1993, launching him to a lucrative career in outdoors sales and sponsorship. "I guess you might be able to make a living at this," Fritts recalled his father telling him.

Two boxers — Hayes and Jimmy Hester — were inducted. A lot of people know Hayes as a sponsor of NASCAR modified racing at Winston-Salem's Bowman Gray Stadium, but few might know that he was also a Golden Gloves boxer who won more than 100 amateur bouts.

Hester, an early protegee of Hayes, had a promising future as a boxer, but died in Vietnam on Christmas Eve in 1968, in a helicopter mishap, at the age of 22.

Chelsea Leonard Martin was perhaps the most dominant softball pitcher in Davidson County in an area — and an era — rich with softball talent. She hurled Central Davidson to three consecutive 2-A state titles in 2007-2009. In a fitting moment that somehow seemed to complete the circle, Chelsea thanked North Davidson softball coach Mike Lambros for submitting her name to the Hall of Fame board for consideration. Lambros recently passed away a few weeks ago after fighting pancreatic cancer.

Debbie Pope is the cheerleader coach at Ledford and as such, she is constantly bumping into the debate of whether or not cheerleaders are athletes. She knows occasionally there is resistance. She told the story of when she was informed she would be inducted into the county Hall of Fame, her initial response was disbelief. "That's not going to happen. Are you out of your mind?" she asked. Nope. Not at all. Under Pope's guidance, Ledford's cheerleading squad has a gym full of banners, including five national titles.

Jimmy Snyder is regarded as one  of the best basketball players to come through Lexington who later signed a four-year grant-in-aid to play for Wake Forest. A 6-foot-6 post player who averaged 17 points per game, Snyder still holds the Lexington school record of 37 points scored in a single game in 1962.

Billy Epley is a familiar face on the county sports scene, doing much of the grunt work behind the scenes while also coaching youth programs. For his service he was recognized as the board's "Unsung Hero."

The Davidson County Sports Hall of Fame ceremony is often inspiring, sometimes moving and occasionally humorous. That's because these people are our friends. They are our neighbors. They are teachers, coaches and role models. And they are us.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Whoa, wait a minute

Our weekend actually began Wednesday morning.

That's when we hopped in the Volvo to run an errand in Winston-Salem, but when I pressed the ignition button, the car battery said, "Whoa, wait a minute. Not so fast."

Back in the day, (say, 1966) changing out a car battery wasn't much of an issue for me. But now, with cars resembling something close to computers on wheels, it's a different story (see here. Simple, right?), we opted to have the car towed to the dealership, where the battery was replaced (for a nifty fee). Easy peasy.

OK, OK. So we got that issue out of the way. On to Phase 2, which was a relaxing trip to the beach for two days.

I did say relaxing, right? When we got to the place where we were staying, the first thing we noticed was that it was rather warm. Like 90 degrees warm in the house. So I turned on the air.

"Whoa, wait a minute. Not so fast," said the thermostat. No air. Nada. Not even a hum from the heat pump.

We called our reliable beach handyman, who was on another job. He told me to check the connector box to see if the switches had tripped. I had no clue what he was talking about, but I found the box, reset the switches, turned on the electricity to the house once again, and presto! Air. That was close.

So I went to the kitchen to wash my hands and noticed we had no hot water. Cold water, yes. Hot water, no. Hmm.

Meanwhile, Kim wanted to go to the laundry room to check on the new washing machine that had been installed after the last one was ruined by flooding from Hurricane Matthew. We opened the laundry room door and instantly heard water running. There, in the corner, one of the feeder lines to the washing machine was gushing water, and probably had been for about an hour or so. I tried to shut it off, but the grip was already rusted in the on position. So I shut off the main water valve to the house.

We called the handyman again. He said he'd be there as soon as he could, maybe within an hour.

Meanwhile, we decided to go to the laundromat to take care of a few items. When we got there, only two other people were inside. One of them was leaving, holding a paper towel over his nose.

"What happened?" I asked the other patron. He said the guy that left told him he'd recently had nasal surgery and suddenly, it had all gone wrong. There was a trail of blood drops heading out the door. The other end of the trail led to the unisex restroom (remember, we're in South Carolina, which was once said to be too small to be a republic, but too big to be an asylum). Kim peeked her head in the doorway.

Whoa, wait a minute...

"It looks like somebody's been murdered in there," said Kim. "There's blood everywhere."

We couldn't wash our stuff fast enough. About an hour later, we were done. We headed back to the house and, fortunately, the handyman was already there.

The good news, he said, is that he put a new seal on the line leading to the washing machine. The bad news is that we needed a new water heater, because the heater we bought three years ago had been ruined by Matthew. He'd install a new one tomorrow.

Look, I'm not really complaining. Not after Las Vegas. Not after Hurricanes H through N. But life goes on. Our disasters are relative to the moment, big or small. We simply carry on. There's no choice.

Even if it's our 37th wedding anniversary...

Friday, September 29, 2017

Mike Lambros

About 11 years ago or so, I had the bright idea that I'd like to take a few batting practice swings against North Davidson softball pitcher Danielle Glosson.

I was the sports editor of The Dispatch at the time, 55 years old, as rusty as an old door hinge, and Glosson was perhaps the premier pitcher in Davidson County. I thought I could get a good column out of the moment, so I asked coach Mike Lambros if I could take a few cuts against her 62 mph deliveries.

"Sure," he chuckled loud enough for me to hear. "You sure you want to?"

Mike Lambros
I came out the next day, took my 15 whiffs (well, I did put one weak pop-up into play) and wrote a cute, light-hearted piece about the experience. It was part of a package that included a lengthy feature on Glosson and a sidebar about her three catchers that season, Danielle Reese, Whitney Clodfelter and Tatum Hargett.

A few days after the feature package ran, I got an email from Lambros. I had forgotten about it all these years later, but fortunately I rediscovered it again while rifling through my archives for other stories I had written about him or the Knights.

I reprint his email not for its content, but for its tone. In part, he wrote, "That was the most awesome article I believe I have ever read in all the years I have been reading The Dispatch. You truly have a great gift. The way you create stories of these kids is amazing. You have such a passion for what you do, I would hate to coach against you because I know you would give it your all... Again, awesome article and, by the way, Danielle says she is ready for round 2."

Thanks Mike (Click on photo to enlarge)
Mike passed away early this morning after a 14-month struggle with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer, so coming across this note, on this day of days, was an unexpected gift for me. He didn't have to write anything, of course, but there it was: heart, thoughtfulness, humor, encouragement. Eleven years later, I think I see now that he actually might have been coaching ... me.

 This past softball season was a gift for us, too. Somehow, Mike managed to take a less-than-perfect team to the 4-A state championship, all the while treating his cancer and defying the odds of a 5 percent survival rate. Somehow, he coaxed the Knights to a two-game sweep over Cape Fear for his second state title in a 38-year career that saw him post an incredible 878-110 record. Nobody, but nobody, in North Carolina has won more high school softball games.

A few days later, there was a picture of him on Facebook, smiling, but looking very tired. I shuddered. I was afraid of the last day of the season. I didn't want it to end. I wanted another game for him to coach. And another. And another...

Facebook is lighting up like a Christmas tree today, filled with testimonials from former and current students, players, friends. And sports writers.

There's going to be a lot written about his legacy in the next few days. The way I see it, in 38 years of coaching, probably about 1,000 players passed through his softball program — women who may have gained a measure of self-esteem and confidence because of this man. He also coached wrestling for a while, so there's another substantial group of kids. And he taught phys ed. How many people there?

Influence. Guidance. Lives touched. Lives changed. Think what it means to be a teacher. Think what it means to be a coach.

There's the legacy.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Olde Well Tavern

We'd never been invited to a "soft opening" before.

We were excited. Going to a "soft opening" fulfilled a bucket list item we didn't even know we had. Plus, it made us feel kinda special.

So there we were Saturday evening, 7 p.m. sharp, along with about 50 or 60 other invitees to check out Olde Well Tavern and see what they had to offer.

Awww, man. The Grand Opening isn't even until Tuesday, and I'm already a regular. It's that good.

Here's what's happening: When Big Rock Tavern (located on National Boulevard just off Business 85, and which used to be Avery's in a previous life, and Heritage House before that, and probably a Howard Johnson's before that) unexpectedly closed down several months ago, Kim and I thought that was that. It was unfortunate, because we'd just discovered the place (even though it had been open for nearly a decade) and the hand-pattied burgers were some of the best I'd ever had. You could thank kitchen manager James "Koozie" Thomason for that. (See here).

But then Mandy Barker and her husband, JT, came along, bought the place, and put their hearts and souls into refurbishing the business.

They made seemingly minor changes to the building, which still retains a sports pub atmosphere with a dozen TVs dotting the walls. There's a new kitchen floor, a new ceiling, about 10 taps at the bar for craft beers on draught, and several standup coolers, also filled with craft brews.

Koozie's back!
It's all good. But to me, the best thing the new owners did was track down Koozie and convince him to run their kitchen. He agreed. Koozie is back, doing what he does best. And that's a good thing.

So, back to the soft opening.

Soft openings, by design, are usually invitation only events. It gives the ownership an opportunity to see how its staff performs prior to the grand opening, and it's usually a stressful event. Soft openings are generally filled with friends and family, so complaints are at a minimum.

From what I could tell, the wait staff (although harried, since all the guests basically ordered at once) is experienced and friendly. And despite 50 or 60 orders rolling into the kitchen at the same time, the food arrived in good order. I had the half-pound cheeseburger with lettuce and tomato on a Kaiser roll, with onion rings. Kim had the grilled chicken salad and an order of fried mushrooms for both of us.

I opted for a beer I hadn't had since my days in Pennsylvania more than 40 years ago: a draught of Narraganset lager. That brought back some pleasant memories...

It was great. We were back home about 90 minutes later, satisfied and content.

You can't ask for much more than that.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Hurricane force

If everything goes as planned — if there are no more hurricanes, if they don't take a spur-of-the-moment side trip to Disney World, if traffic is simply normal — my friend Debra Brinkman Clarin and her husband, Paul, will go home tomorrow.

On the surface, that sounds benign enough. Except that for the Clarins, home is Cudjoe Key, Florida.

You know, Ground Zero when Hurricane Irma made its first landfall in the continental United States last Sunday. The island, with a population of around 1,600 people, was clobbered by Category 4 winds and a damaging tidal surge deeper than most basketball players are tall.

Debra and Paul Clarin
 The Clarins sought refuge from the storm by evacuating to Milton, Fla., on the Florida Panhandle about 50 miles from Mobile, Ala., where Debra's brother has a fraternity brother who offered them his hospitality.

"We wanted to get as far away as possible," said Debra, noting in a cell phone conversation on Wednesday that they hit the road on Friday. "We were actually thinking about riding out the hurricane, maybe go to Key West. But when it got to be Category 4, we thought, 'Hmmm. Maybe Key West isn't far enough away.'"

Years ago, Debra was our Human Resources guru when we worked at The Dispatch together. She was the person I always annoyed when I had a question about my health insurance or my pension. I always trusted her judgment, so it's no surprise they made the right call to get out of town when the getting was good.

It still wasn't much fun. A 12-hour drive took more than 17 hours to make, and finding an open gas station that still had fuel was like rolling the dice in a rigged craps game. Even if you found one, the lines to get gas were long.

"We drove the entire 17 hours," said Debra. "It was tough."

Making the trip with them were a dog, Mika, and a cat, Dixie. Mika enjoyed the ride and the lower temperatures of northern Florida. Dixie, well, remained a cat. "I think she's still mad," said Deb.

Hurricane damage to the Clarin house could have been worse.
 But they were safe. When the storm came, they experienced nothing more than 20 mile per-hour winds and a light rain.

After the hurricane hit and early damage reports came in, the Clarins wondered if their house survived. Cudjoe Key, after all, is just four feet above sea level at its highest point. Even today, estimates have it that at least 25 percent of the homes in the Lower Keys have been destroyed.

"Paul has a friend who is a sheriff's detective," said Deb. "He drove by and took some pictures of our house and sent them to us. And from what I can see, there's not much damage. Our house was built in the 1970s. It has a flat roof and it's made of concrete block construction. And, it sits lower than most houses. It's built like a fortress."

The real concern is water damage, but even with that, Clarin is optimistic.

"The water doesn't appear to be too bad," said Debra. "If that's true, we're hoping everything is OK."

Debra left North Carolina in 2001. She currently works for Historic Tours of America as, well, as one of their Human Resources people. Paul is the publisher of The Key West Citizen.

"It's been a challenge to get out a newspaper without power," said Debra. "We have a sister paper in Greenville (NC) and they've been a big help getting the online paper up and running."

Living in the Keys is generally said to be an idyllic lifestyle. Just ask Jimmy Buffet. Hurricanes, actually, aren't that big of a concern.

"The last hurricane we had here was Wilma in 2005," said Debra. "And there were several before that one that we stayed through. When you get hurricane warnings, you have time to prepare. The big adventure wasn't evacuating. It was getting the house ready, putting up shutters and things like that. We were preparing for a 10- to 15-foot surge.

"People here don't like to evacuate because of black mold, which can grow fast in the Keys," said Deb. "They want to stay and take care of their homes.

"But this time, it was a little different."

If everything goes as planned, recovery still will take time. Certainly months, maybe years. Time is what is needed.

And yet, out there in the Atlantic, right this minute, Maria and Lee are taking shape. Some early models have Maria following in Irma's wake. Hurricane season is not over.

Neither are our prayers.

Sunday, September 10, 2017


I'm exhausted.

There are something like 60 significant wildfires scorching the western states (see here), which already have cost the lives of seven firefighters. We haven't heard much about those disasters because we're currently enduring the second 500-year hurricane in about as many weeks (anybody remember Harvey?), with another one lurking. That's pretty phenomenal. This is not just going to cost us billions of dollars. It's going to cost us billions and billions of dollars.

Meanwhile, an 8.1 earthquake recently rattled through Mexico. That horror itself would activate humanitarians all over the United States to provide aid to our neighbor, but I don't know, we seem to be pretty distracted right now.

And, of course, there's a nutcase in Asia juggling his nuclear weapons while his people starve. I hope he doesn't drop one.

We seem to be caught in a chain of events that's pretty much out of our control. I dare say that some folks, who have misplaced their corrective lenses, (WARNING: Theory approaching) suggest that we deserve these calamities in our lives because apparently we are a godless people who don't support the President. Or maybe it's because we do support the President. To me, that's a really odd cause-and-effect connection, either way. I can't believe the deaths of first responders or otherwise innocent people (or children) caught up in natural disasters is deserved.

In my view, disasters are a part of life in the same way that lazy, balmy September days are a part of life. They always have been. They always will be. Every day we climb out of bed, we're rolling the dice and taking our chances. To me, living is not a rewards and punishment system. Living is just, well, living. We acquire knowledge, we make our decisions, we go with it. That's all we can do.

Some decisions are better than others, of course. Riding out a Cat 4 hurricane while on a three-foot high island probably isn't one of them.

Other decisions just won't matter. Where do we go when that 100-mile diameter meteor is hurtling toward us...

Tuesday, September 5, 2017


In our never-ending quest to search for good, live music, Kim and I stumbled upon GrayMatter at Muddy Creek Cafe in Bethania about a year ago.

It was an accident. We were there to see the Blue Eyed Bettys perform that particular evening at the Muddy Creek Music Hall, but we arrived early to get a bite to eat. And there, performing on the connecting outdoor patio in a free show, was GrayMatter.

We caught only a few songs on their playlist, but we liked what we heard. It turns out that they're two brothers, a sister and a brother-in-law from Burlington, so the DNA runs deep and familiar (they've been playing together, off and on, since the 1980s). They specialize in acoustic music, complete with tight harmonies and a playlist heavy with tunes from the 1960s and 1970s. Beatles. Stones. Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. Dylan. John Prine. Grateful Dead. Cat Stevens. Peter, Paul and Mary. And more. So much more.

Oh, my. An aural arrow straight to my musical heart.

Anyway, after we got home, Kim went on an Internet search. She found out they were coming back to Muddy Creek on Sunday, the final act in a day-long deluge of tunes from five different bands.

So we went. We were not disappointed. Although the patio stage was cramped and the sound board was erratic, the band was clearly having fun. Consequently, so was the audience. The familiarity of the music of our youth made us feel like we were back in college. Or maybe Woodstock, in case we missed that one. Maybe it was the tie-dyed T-shirts and jeans. I don't know. But I felt transported.

They played for more than two hours straight, without a break. Whoa.

Afterward, as the moon crept across the evening sky, we got to talk with them a bit.

Barry Gray and Brad Gray are the brothers, and both play guitar. Bev Gray Gude is the sister who plays a high strung guitar, a flute, a recorder, and some hand percussion instruments (Gray? Gray? Oh, I get it now. GrayMatter. Clever. Heh heh). Dave Gude, who dated Bev when they were teenagers and then ended up marrying her (he says he feels like he's still auditioning for the band) plays guitar, banjo, mandolin and harmonica.

They all sing pretty Gude together. Even if the DNA ever fails them, it's apparent they can still depend on band telepathy after all these years together to bind their harmonies, timing and stage presence. Despite their gray hair (Uh-oh. That kind of GrayMatter? Heh heh), they clearly know how to have fun.

One example was Barry starting out on 'Peace Train' with his nearly identical Cat Stevens' voice. Half the audience got up, formed a line, and pretended they were part of a train, then tracked their way across the patio, into the cafe's front door, out the cafe's side door, and back onto the patio with everyone spontaneously singing along. Smiles everywhere.

Although they performed mostly covers on Sunday, they do offer some original material, too. Which means they're creative. And smart (Oh, I get it. That kind of GrayMatter).

But this is just me identifying with people of my own generation, of my own era. You can check them out for yourselves right here.

Sunday, September 3, 2017


The images on the television screen were overwhelming.

Water everywhere. Brackish water. People in boats. People on roofs, literally stranded on shingled islands. People in metal baskets being lifted into helicopters. People crying. People clinging. People helping. Children.

The immensity of the flooding of the Texas coastal plain — and of Houston in particular — was at once both spectacular and heart rending. It took me more than a few moments to absorb what I was seeing.

The first thing I think of when I see people wading through waist-deep water — especially in the South — is snakes. I suppose if there's a current, snakes (Rattlers? Cottonmouths? Copperheads?) might not be such an issue, but I don't know. Alligators, too. Where do these creatures go when there's Biblical flooding?

But that only touched the surface of my awareness. When pictures of first responders started showing up on the TV monitor, many rescuers were wearing hazmat gear. Oh, yeah. All the crap in the water. Chemicals. Fecal matter. Gas and oil. E coli virus. An alphabet list of hepatitis and who knows what else?

The oddest of images were the ones showing buildings on fire in the middle of all that water. Or maybe it was of sharks swimming up the waterlogged Interstate.

My awareness came to something like a full circle a day or two later when it was pointed out that all that standing water is prime breeding ground for mosquitoes. Mosquitoes? Zika. Malaria. Dengue fever. I hadn't thought at all about mosquitoes.

It all got me to wondering about the recovery process. There are estimates that it could take years, and I don't doubt it. The people of the Gulf will be recovering from Harvey long after other natural disasters distract us: hurricanes on the Atlantic coast, mudslides in the Northwest, or tornadoes that level small Midwest farm towns seem inevitable.

If you need perspective, just ask the folks in eastern North Carolina how they're doing in the wake of Hurricane Matthew, just a year ago. You know, where North Carolina requested $900 million in government relief and got $6.1 million instead.

I prefer not to see national leaders show up for their obligatory photo ops in situations like this, popping up like so many politicians at the county fair. "Brownie, you're doing a heckuva job" quickly comes to mind. I'd much rather see and hear from the local leaders, who are much more attuned to the crisis at hand and know what's needed.

One of the more interesting stories coming out of this calamity is sports related. Houston Texan defensive end J.J. Watt was moved to start his own relief fund late last week with the goal of raising $200,000. He's reached $17 million in pledges so far (almost three times what North Carolina got from the government). I'm not quite sure what this means. Do people trust their NFL heroes more than they trust mainstream relief agencies like the Red Cross or the United Way?

Natural disasters are all around us, from grass fires to volcanoes, from earthquakes to hurricanes. How we respond is how we are defined as human beings. Living on the planet makes us "beings." Finding our heart is what makes us "human."

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Back in the swing

There was only a moment's hesitation.

I mean, it had been six years since I last picked up my golf clubs. That's because as much as I enjoy playing golf, I had a part-time job where I worked four hours every weekday afternoon.

Prime time tee-off time. By the time I got off work, there was either not enough daylight left in the sky, or I was too exhausted, or it was too hot, or I was just too disinterested to hit the links.

I had a list of reasons not to play longer than my unused stand-up putter, so my clubs sat in the closet. For six years.

Until Thursday, when I went to the driving range.

Kim said it was time. What was I waiting for? My part-time job had ended. For years, I'd told her I was going to play golf in my retirement. Well, here it was. In fact, here's $20. No excuses. Buy a bucket of balls.

Whenever I take a lengthy break from playing golf, I make sure I go to the driving range as a way to get my timing back. I remember a decade or so ago, when I had taken a brief respite from mass producing bogeys, I'd walked up to the tee, waggled my driver, took my swing ... and completely missed the ball.

That was never going to happen to me again. A trip to the driving range for me is always a precursor to a trip to the links.

And Thursday was it.

I bought a large bucket of balls with the money Kim had given me. I walked up to the tee box just a couple of paces from two pre-teens, who were practicing hitting hooks and slices all over the place with their grandfather. Hmm. I was pretty sure I didn't want them to see me completely whiff on my first swing of the day, but there was nowhere else to go.

They were the source of my hesitation.

I chose my 8-iron to start off. It's a club I usually have great confidence in, so I took my first ball and put it on the AstroTurf mat. I gripped my club. I relaxed my shoulders. I took a deep breath, set my feet, kept my head down, slowly began my back swing, and then, whack! Contact. I hit the ball.

It rose into the air, tracing a trajectory that was developing into a work of art. I couldn't believe it. I followed the flight of the ball until it landed near the 100-yard marker, straight ahead of me. Wha...? Did I do that?

I hit about 10 more balls, with maybe one or two mis-hits. Most went straight. Most went past the 100-yard marker. Oh, my.

Then I went with a 5-iron, an inconsistent club for me. But each ball I hit went mostly straight, landing near the 150-yard marker. It was like old times.

Then I pulled out my driver. I had a gentle hook that I couldn't get rid of, no matter how many cures popped into my head (open your stance; close your stance; move closer to the ball; mover further back, etc. It's amazing how much thinking you do standing over a golf ball). But each drive was approaching the 200-yard marker. I'll take that.

I finished up with my 7-iron. I was getting a little tired and a little less focused, but overall, I was pleased. Hitting a golf ball mostly straight and into the air was still part of my game. It was kind of like riding a bicycle, you just never forget how to do it. I think it took me a little over an hour to go through the bucket.

I don't want to give myself a false sense of accomplishment here. I know driving ranges are totally different than golf courses. A plastic mat in the tee box is a big advantage over a ball sitting on natural grass. The driving range is designed to hone your skills, not to brag on them.

But I'm thinking of playing on a little executive golf course next week. My putter will be a challenge for me because, you know,  I haven't read a putt in six years. But at least I'm pretty sure I can get to the green in two or three strokes.

Bogeys never sounded so good.

Kiiiiiim! I need $20...

Monday, August 21, 2017


I want to say "Wow."

I'm not sure I'm there.

Like nearly everybody else in the path of today's solar eclipse, I waited with great expectation. At times, I watched the NASA streaming of the phenomenon on Facebook, which showed spectacular images of totality— even to the point of near mystical inspiration for me — from one location to the next.

Halo sees the sunlight dimming out, then wants something to eat.
 The corona. Bailey's Beads. Sun spots. The diamond ring.

Television was how I was going to view this thing anyway, and I saw it all.

So when the real thing finally made its way to North Carolina around 2:40 p.m., this is what I experienced:

• There was some cloud cover, but even so it still was evident something greater was blotting out the sun. We were never going to reach totality in our area — I think we were close to 95 percent of total — but there was a weird kind of sunlight out there at the peak moment. It wasn't quite dawn. It wasn't quite dusk. It was somehow muted sunlight, if ever there could be such a thing. Or maybe distilled sunlight. Or diluted. Unusual. But it was never dark. My backyard motion-sensor security light never cut on even while I was doing jumping jacks in front of it.

My friends at Mountcastle can't resist...
• The rabbits and squirrels in my yard disappeared, but maybe that's because a lawn service was running its commercial mower at neighboring Mountcastle Insurance during all of this. Or maybe those creatures really were confused. I don't know.

Birds briefly disappeared. Crickets and cicadas sounded off, although it could have been weed whackers. But I'll go with the crickets.

By 3 p.m., the squirrels and rabbits were back. But the mowers were gone. Correlation? You decide.

• I did feel a drop in temperature, but only slightly. It was a humid afternoon to begin with and it was already warm, so the dip in Farenheit was only minimal, I thought. From the high 80s to the mid 80s, I'd guess.

All in all, I enjoyed the experience, if not overwhelmed by it. When I watched it on TV, I marveled at the natural precision it takes for a total eclipse — the moon is in the exact right location, the exact right mile from the earth and the exact right mile from the sun, to make both spheres appear to be the same size in the sky as they merge. Awesome stuff. Enough to make me an astronomer in a different life, if only all that galactic mathematics didn't get in the way.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Sun spots

The last time that I can remember a solar eclipse was in 1979, I think. Or maybe it was 1984, I'm not absolutely sure. Eclipses could be seen in North Carolina both years, although only partially. But the path of the eclipse was closer to North Carolina in 1984, so....

Adding to my confusion was a quick check on Wikipedia, which told me 1979 was total and 1984 was annular.

Huh? I never heard of an annular solar eclipse. To me, eclipses were either partial or total. Turns out, an annular eclipse occurs when the moon is farther away from the earth, looks smaller, and therefore doesn't completely cover the sun on their respective journeys across the sky (see here). Or something like that.

Anyway, I'm sure I was excited during one of those years about an eclipse. They're rare celestial events (although not as rare as, say, Halley's Comet, which appears once every 76 years) and who wants to miss that?

Which brings me to tomorrow.

The great temptation, of course, is to steal a quick glimpse of an eclipse without permanently damaging the only set of eyes you'll ever own. Solar eclipse eyewear is out there (if you can find some), but they better be ISO 12312-2 approved, whatever that means.

The trouble for me is that a lot of these glasses look like the 3D viewers you can pick up in a movie theater. Hmm. Maybe not. Other glasses have seemingly transparent lenses that look like they can't filter out moonlight, much less ultraviolet light. Hmm. Maybe not.

And the Internet is filled with Boy Scout projects featuring shoeboxes, scissors and Scotch tape, which might be the safe way to go except I'm too lazy to find the materials I need to make such a viewer.

So I'm going hi-tech. I'm going to watch the eclipse on television. I can sit down. I don't have to crane my neck. I can pet my cat and eat banana chips and sesame sticks. Presumably, I won't damage my eyes.

Even if I can't remember what year I experienced my last eclipse, I do remember where I was. I was  on the way to Denton to do an athlete of the week story for The Dispatch. On the way, I noticed the sky getting eerily darker, so I pulled over to an athletic field in Southmont.

I think I recall hearing birds chirp a little more loudly, maybe a few rabbits and squirrels running around wondering what was going on with their circadian rhythms. If I can pull myself out of my recliner, I might step outside to see just how dark it gets at mid-day, to see whether birds seek shelter or if squirrels and rabbits start scratching their heads.

Heck, I might could get another blog out of this.

I guess we'll see...

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

To ponder

nat·u·ral law
a body of unchanging moral principles regarded as a basis for all human conduct.

I'm not a lawyer, although I occasionally need one for my random traffic transgressions. And I'm not a historian, although I have a personal library in my house with more than 150 history books bending the shelves. I do enjoy American history. Not a bad diversion, I figure, for a guy who spent 40 years as a sports writer for the local newspaper.

So after the unbelievable events in Charlottesville, VA, last weekend, I put my brain into some free-wheeling silent running. I did that because my brain had reached critical mass and was about to explode.

I mean, c'mon, neo-Nazis in Charlottesville? Torchlight parades snaking through Thomas Jefferson's university? Stiff-armed salutes and chants of "Jews will not replace us" and "Blood and soil"?

And then, tragically, a young woman is dead.

Can this really be happening in the United States of America in 2017? When did we make that turn? Who, in 2017, makes a conscious decision to become a Nazi? I thought Naziism died with a bullet in its brain back in 1945. Do they think Eisenhower, the great defeater of Nazis, is a villain?

But 70 years later, here we are.

From where does that kind of hate arise in a nation that, defined by its very creation, supposedly embraces all?

I'm also baffled by how their reliance on Christianity comes into play here. Do some of these golf shirted, loafer wearing misanthropes wear those WWJD bracelets? OK. What would Jesus do? Tell me. I don't understand...

So the thoughts in my head swirled freely.

The ultimate aim of the neo-Nazis and other haters, as I understand it, is to transform the nation into something that is solely Christian and solely white. It echoes Hitler's Aryan philosophy, I guess, but runs counter to the natural law that guided our Founding Fathers, whose astonishing vision constructed this:

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

Wow. There it is. All men are created equal. All men have certain inalienable rights, which I guess is a nod to natural law. And those rights were given to us by a higher power. To all men. Naturally.

A remarkable Constitution came later to protect and guarantee those natural rights.

So who decides to become a neo-Nazi in a nation where men are (supposedly) equal? How is it that torchlight parades and funny salutes are a recruiting tool? How does resentment of others fuel racism, even in a land of opportunity? When is a woman's death her own fault? Who decides to join the wrong side of history?

I don't understand...

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Big Pharma

This could get a little complicated, so please bear with me as I unwind my way through my pharmaceutical experience from a couple days ago.

I'm kinda hoping this is a cathartic moment for me, but we'll see.

It all began with my annual visit to my cardiologist (Even now I can't believe I can say "My cardiologist." Holy moly. That's what old guys say.) I am being treated for atrial fibrillation, a heart condition we discovered that I had about six or seven years ago. It's where one of the atrium's in my heart beats out of sinus rhythm.

I may have had this condition forever, especially since I never suffered from any known symptoms — no fatigue, no palpitations, etc. If doctors didn't tell me I have it, I wouldn't know I have it.

But if left untreated, my chances for a stroke increase five-fold, or something like that. That's because the blood in that particular atrium isn't being pumped efficiently, could pool, clot and move to my brain. Thanks, heart.

Nationwide, this is actually a fairly common condition. Apparently, millions of us have A-fib. I am not alone.

I'm being treated with pills, including daily doses of a beta blocker called Metoprolol and a cholesterol tamer called Lovastatin. I use a 325 mg aspirin as my blood thinner. And that's it. Both drugs together (not the aspirin) cost me a total of about $5 a month. Thanks, Part D.

Here's where we go a little crazy.

Last week, my cardiologist (there I go again) told me that it's time to think about changing my blood thinner, and she suggested either Xarelto or Eliquis. It's not so much because the aspirin isn't working as it is my body is simply getting older. It's not imperative that I switch right now, but she wants me to ditch the aspirin before I'm 70. I'm currently 66.

I actually find it encouraging that we are seriously talking about being 70. 

Anyway, neither of us knew how much the new thinner would cost (I elected Eliquis) with insurance, so she made out a prescription. Go to the pharmacy in a couple days, she said, and see how much it costs.

But a day or two later I got a notice in the mail that my Eliquis request was denied because "...your Medicare Advantage plan does not cover outpatient prescription drugs."

Whaa??? Something wasn't right. To make a long story short, I flew back to my cardiologist's (ahem) office and talked to the nice woman behind the glass window named Angie, who had now morphed into my HR go-to person. She looked a little confused, too. "We took care of this yesterday," she said. "There was no denial. I don't know why they mailed you this."

Angie promptly got on the phone. She immediately talked with an office colleague. A few minutes later, she told me to go to the pharmacy.

So I did. I told them I had a prescription for Eliquis and could they tell me how much it costs?

The nice pharmacist got on the computer, banged out a few keystrokes. "It's expensive," he said. "It looks like it's about $300."

"Gulp," I replied. "With insurance?"


"Per month?"


I didn't need anymore yesses. I went home and called my cardiologist (never mind). I told Angie what the pharmacist said. She told me she'd get back to me.

In the meantime, I got on the laptop and typed in "Cost of Eliquis."

Holy smokes. Even with coupons, even at Wal*Mart, it's still in the high $300s. Some vendors were $400. It's about the same for Xarelto. My insurance actually was the low-ball price. The whole experience is enough to put me into heart failure.

Even more discouraging, neither drug has a generic. Not yet, anyway.

And I know I'm not alone. Other people have similar cost-of-drug stories, no doubt worse than mine. It was just culture shock for me to suddenly go from $5 to $305. That'll take a bite out of my Social Security. Thanks, Martin Shkreli.

Later in the day, I got a phone call from Angie.

"For the time being," said Angie, "the doctor said to keep you on aspirin."

For the time being, that's cathartic enough.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Gettysburg reunion

The plan was to get the five original Civil War Institute roommates back together again.

The last time all five of us were together was 22 years ago. That was back in 1995, so long ago that it seems like a different lifetime.

We didn't know then that it would be the last time all five of us would get together for another week of rather intense Civil War studies on the campus of Gettysburg College. But Jay was starting a young family and it was evident even then that he couldn't drop everything to go away for a week.

From left, Paul, Jay, Rich, myself and Chris storm the Gettysburg battlefield.
 Well, he could have. But to his credit, he didn't. That tuition money helped raise and educate a couple of kids instead. Chris and myself still came up each summer from Lexington in early July to attend the CWI, while Paul, from Chicago, and Rich, from New Jersey, would converge with us. We always asked to be the same roommates year after year.

Over the years, Paul from Chicago became Paul from Arkansas, while Rich from New Jersey became Rich from Pennsylvania, but the friendships never diminished. Several years ago, when the Davidson County Civil War Round Table took an extended weekend to Chickamauga and Chattanooga, Paul met up with us. Last year, Jay and Rich made it to Gettysburg with us while Paul stayed home.

But this year was different. This year, the five roommates finally got their calendars to sync. We blocked off four days last week, made our plans, and finally assembled in the hotel by Thursday afternoon. Amazingly, everybody looked pretty much themselves, even though ages ran the gamut from late 50s to mid 70s. If nothing else, we are well preserved.

The highlight of our weekend was Friday morning, when we hired out Licensed Gettysburg Battlefield Guide Charlie Fennel. We've known Charlie for years. We actually met him when he gave a tour for the CWI all those 20 or 30 years ago, and have almost always made arrangements for him to give us personal tours ever since.

Consequently, we end up studying portions of the battlefield not as well known to the general public. This year, we followed Anderson's Division, wondering why Posey and Mahone didn't provide support for Wright's near breakthrough on the second day. That's all I'm going to say about that. Take your own tour to form an answer.

Anyway, we were on the field for more than three hours before the tour ended. Then, in the afternoon, as a heavy rain fell, we took in the movie "Dunkirk." We can never get enough history.

As it turned out, we had such a great time that we decided to make this an annual thing. We decided that we can do just as good a job as the CWI in studying the field, just as long as we have Charlie with us. So we're already making plans for next summer.

Next summer can't get here fast enough.

Sunday, July 23, 2017


Earlier this week we celebrated the 48th anniversary of a human being setting foot on the moon.

I thought that was at once both peculiar and amazing. I mean, a 48th anniversary isn't exactly a milestone commemoration, like, say, a 50th would be. Wait two more years and see what I mean.

On the other hand, it was the first moon landing. Apollo 11. Neil Armstrong. Tranquility Base. The Eagle has landed.

Why not celebrate?

I was 18 years old at the time. This is what I think I remember: It was late at night, approaching 11 p.m. Pennsylvania time. I'd been curious about space travel ever since Sputnik scared the beejeezus out of us, so I wasn't going to miss this moment. It was going to be on TV. I'd invested too much time following the Mercury, Gemini and now the Apollo programs. I'd watched all those Wonderful World of Disney's concerning the future.

Telstar, Teflon, Tang and AstroTurf were byproducts of space research. We were so moving forward as a species. Star Trek was real.

We were gathered around the TV, a grainy black-and-white picture that was positively amazing. We were watching live pictures from the moon. Hey, I was still getting used to watching live baseball broadcasts from San Francisco. Are you kidding me?

When Armstrong purposefully came down Eagle's steps I was praying that he wouldn't accidentally rip his space suit on something sharp and go spinning crazily off into space like a burst balloon. That was an actual concern of mine, as if the project scientists had never considered this possibility. OSHA was still two years away, for crying out loud. Anything could have happened.

But Armstrong successfully took his giant leap for mankind (I held my breath) and I was thrilled. I think I stayed up for another hour or so before going to bed, content with American exceptionalism.

Now, 48 years later, I can't believe this all happened 48 years ago. Two months later the Beatles were singing "Here Comes the Sun." Go figure.

The moon is about to come into play again. We're all getting primed for a potentially spectacular solar eclipse on Aug. 21, 90 percent of it to be total right here in North Carolina (if it doesn't rain).

The moon. Again. I feel like I'm being followed:

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Up and running

I don't know why it took us so long to get this thing done.

I think basically it's because, as a board of directors, we're probably dinosaurs. At least one of us still uses a flip phone. Another one of us doesn't have a personal email account (meaning he's the only person on the planet who's never been hacked). One or two of us might not use debit cards. Yikes.

But here we are, the board members for the Davidson County Sports Hall of Fame (I am the board's secretary) — and we just walked into the 21st century.

We finally created a Web site. Or, more precisely, Deb Watson of Business Marketplace in Sapona, created and maintains the site for us. Here it is: (see here)

It's finally up and running. And it's easy to find. Isn't it great? Thanks, Deb.

As a board, we came to the conclusion that a Web site was necessary because we physically don't have a place to display 15 years of information about our inductees. No wall to hang pictures. No place to store documents or biographies. The only thing we had prior to the site was a plaque full of names hanging in a dusty corner of the Old Davidson County Court House. It wasn't sufficient.

In essence, we didn't have a hall for our Hall.

The Web site takes care of all of that. Right there on the home page is a list of all the inductees, grouped by the year in which they were inducted. All you have to do is click (I find it amusing that "click" is such an ancient word for such a modern function) on an inductee's highlighted name and, Presto!, that person's biography is right there for you to read, complete with pictures.

It's a cyber Hall of Fame. It's a virtual hall that extends from here to infinity. For eternity.

Another great feature on the home page is a link to an inductee nomination form that anybody can fill out and submit. This means if the average citizen has a name he wants the board to consider for induction, all he has to do is fill out the form and "click." Instructions are included. Easy.

We actually considered taking this step years ago and had an exploratory meeting or two with potential site developers, but noting came of it until Watson entered the picture. Then we somehow moved with warp speed.

It's no doubt that other halls of fame are cyber connected. But I wonder. Maybe it's only us. Maybe we're the trend setters now.

Dinosaurs indeed.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

WD-40 to the rescue

We weren't having a great day.

Little things kept popping up unexpectedly just enough times to be annoying. We'd no sooner resolve one issue and then another would appear to take its place. Ever have days like that?

But it was getting to be late afternoon. We'd gone, what, five, 10 minutes without a problem? I thought we'd finally turned a corner.

Until Kim wailed "Bruuuuuuce."

Uh-oh. I know that wail. It's not good.

Kim was in the kitchen working on a hashbrown casserole to take to the annual family reunion. I'd been playing a mindless computer game on our laptop in the next room, because I needed to do something mindlessly for a few minutes. But I got up and went into the kitchen.

"I messed up," said Kim. I thought she meant the casserole. But then she pointed to the stove.

"I put the (plastic) bag of hasbrowns on the burner and forgot that it was still hot," she said.

One of the burners on the ceramic range was covered in melted plastic. Kim was beside herself.

"I don't have time for this," she said. "I still have to make the baked beans. Check the computer and find out how to clean this up."

That was a great idea. I googled "melted plastic on glasstop stove" and found any number of possibilities. One was to take a butter knife and carefully scrape off the plastic. Tried it. Nope. Another was to take baking soda and pour vinegar over it. So we did. I liked the reaction that resulted. It looked like it would take paint off a battleship when it bubbled up. But in the end, no dice.

Then I tried WD-40. I knew this stuff had a lot more uses than quieting squeaky hinges. You can use it to slide rings off swollen fingers or to take gum out of your hair (how does that happen?), among other things. So after cleaning off the baking soda/vinegar science project, we tried the WD-40.

After a few minutes to soak, I took a sharp knife and began edging the melted plastic off the flattop burner. It was working.

"Go fix your baked beans," I said. "I got this."

Within 15 minutes, the burner was clean, although it smelled a little bit like an oily bicycle repair shop. And as far as I could tell, I hadn't scratched the surface of the stove or done any collateral damage. So I went back to my computer game.

About 10 minutes later, I heard, "Bruuuuce."

Now what?

"The cat missed her litter box..."