Sunday, April 28, 2019

This Bud's for you

Every once in a while I'll see a complaint (usually on Facebook, where complaints thrive like bacteria in a Petri dish) coming from somebody who thinks they have a deeper insight or a more profound perspective than the rest of us that there is, in fact, nothing to do in Lexington.

Nothing ever happens in this one-horse town.

To which I say, "Pffft."

For a couple of hours each on Friday and Saturday, Lexington was an eight-horse (or more precisely, a 10-horse) town.

The famous Budweiser Clydesdales were here for the BBQ Capital Cook-Off weekend. They clopped their way down Main Street from where they were staying at the Davidson County Fairgrounds for the past few days, marching majestically to the Breeden Amphitheater site, where they patiently stood up close and personal for several hours of posing, posturing and picture-taking.

The magnificent Budweiser Clydesdales take their cue in Lexington.
 (Two signature Dalmatians, a mother and her pup, where also on board the beer wagon, along with the two snappily dressed teamsters. Cute, but the horses were the real stars here.)

What was amazing to me was that with little fanfare and pre-publicity, the Clydesdales drew a fairly large number of spectators, especially on Saturday, when the weather suddenly turned ... perfect.

The Clydesdales were also in Lexington a decade or so ago as part of the Barbecue Festival, which is held in October.

This time, I learned, the Clydesdales came to Lexington at the suggestion of R.H. Barringer, a local Anheuser-Busch beer distributorship. The distributor thought it would be cool to have the horses here for the Cook-Off, and A-B said, yes, we just happen to have an open date on the calendar at that time.

Presto. World-famous Clydesdales. In Lexington.

The Budweiser Studebaker beer wagon is a classic in its own right.
 While the horses were parked in neutral at the amphitheater site on Third Avenue Saturday, we got to ask one of the handlers, Nick ("You can't touch the horse, ma'am. Please take one step back."), a few questions.

We learned there are three teams of touring horses worldwide, each team complete with 10 horses, although only eight pull the wagon at a given time. Two horses are held in reserve on a rotating basis to provide vacation breaks for the others. Anheuser-Busch owns about 250 Clydesdales, said Nick, with each foal getting several years of training. The chosen usually start work when they are four or five years old, and haul the beer wagon around until they're 15 or so. Horses in retirement may end up in Super Bowl beer commercials or in other public appearance opportunities. The average Clydesdale lifespan is 20-25 years.

The wagon, said Nick (think of him as Nickipedia), is original and was made by Studebaker at the turn of the last century. The one that was in Lexington this week has a build-date of 1905.

Nick also said the Clydesdale support group actually enjoys visiting the smaller towns as opposed to the big cities. "People seem to appreciate seeing the horses more in a small town. They're friendlier. In a big city, it's almost as if we're in their way when we're going down the road. Smaller towns are different."

Think of it this way: There are three teams of Anheuser-Busch Clydesdales touring the world 10 months out of the year. Not one of them was in Charlotte this weekend. Or Greensboro. Or Raleigh. Or Winston-Salem.

But there was one in Lexington.

What did you do this weekend?

Saturday, April 20, 2019


When I first saw the alarming scenes of smoke rising from the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, I wasn't quite sure what I was seeing.

A few minutes later, and the place was ablaze. It was a startling visual.

I'm not Catholic, and I've never been to France, but I found myself deeply affected by the raging conflagration. More than 800 years of human endeavor, dating back to stone cutters working with hammers and chisels and laborers grunting with ropes and pulleys, was going up in smoke.

Not to mention the art. Or the culture. Or the architecture. Or the history.

I was saddened.

A few days later and I learned that donations for rebuilding the uninsured church (hopefully within five years, so sayeth the French government) were pouring in prodigiously from around the world. By the end of the week, it was estimated, more than 1 billion Euros (or a billion-plus dollars on the exchange rate) were pledged for the reconstruction of the building.

That's when the wheels and gears in my brain started lumbering into motion. A billion dollars? To rebuild a church? Wait a minute. Old Sunday School lessons started to kick in almost immediately. You know. The ones about feeding the poor and clothing the naked. A billion dollars sure would go a long way to staunch the suffering there, wouldn't it? Think Puerto Rico. Think droughts in Africa. Think floods in Indonesia. Think earthquakes on the Pacific rim.

Think a billion dollars. To ease the pain.

If you happen to wear one of those colorful plastic bracelets to occasionally jog your memory when your memory needs jogging, What Would Jesus Do? What would God do?

What if the shell of Notre Dame Cathedral remains as it is, I thought, and stands as a reminder of man's smallness and fragility (even when we think we're big and strong)? Wouldn't that be the better Gospel lesson? I don't know.

I'm not a particularly religious person, which might be a little odd for the son of a Moravian minister to reveal. I mean, I am moved to my Moravian roots with every Christmas love feast I attend, and tomorrow we plan to take in the Easter sunrise service at God's Acre in Old Salem. Both services are where I get my booster shot of Christian humility. I'm sure I need it.

Sometimes I think we don't need a church building to salve the soul. We have the world. For me, the South Rim of the Grand Canyon can be my cathedral; a silent mountain overlook can be my chapel, the surf repeatedly kissing the beach is often my sanctuary. If need be, I can talk to God in those places, and for me, it can be as intensely personal as I want it to be. Or as God wants it to be.

I don't mean to be judgmental about this, just contemplative.

Happy Easter...

Monday, April 15, 2019

Can't hold that Tiger

I was thinking about this earlier today. I'm not aware of anyone else mentioning this, although it could have been part of a conversation that I haven't heard yet. But the only golfer who has an opportunity to win professional golf's vaunted Grand Slam this year is ... (wait for it) ... Tiger Woods.

Who would have thought that a couple of days ago?

But after his remarkable victory in The Masters on Sunday, earning his fifth green jacket (or is it Green Jacket?), Woods can now take aim at the PGA Championship at Bethpage, NY, in May; the U.S. Open Championship at Pebble Beach, CA, in June, and The Open Championship (or The British Open, if you must) at Royal Portrush, Northern Ireland, in July.

Those are the three remaining majors on the PGA Tour's redesigned schedule. Only Tiger has a shot to win all of them. Wouldn't that be something?

Even a day later, I'm still trying to process what we just saw at Augusta National on Sunday. A 43-year-old golfer who's had four serious back surgeries since 2014 (including a spinal fusion) and who hadn't won a major tournament in 11 years is, what? Jumping through time portals? Defying logic? Writing history? Messing with our minds?

A broken body could have ended his career at any moment. His incredible work ethic, drive and will to succeed have kept him going. We don't see the hard work; we only see the par saves and birdies on the golf course that come as a result of that hard work.

I've always been a Tiger fan and to this day I still savor some of the shots only he could have pulled off: the incredible chip on No. 16 at the 2005 Masters that falls for a birdie on its last-gasp roll; the shot in the dark that he stiffed from 167 yards out in the fading light of the Bridgestone Invitational in 2000, and the 6-iron out of a bunker in the 2000 Bell Canadian Open at Glen Abbey that carried water and landed just off the green 218 yards away.

It was talent like that that kept me watching. It was talent like that that drove the debate whether or not Tiger is the greatest golfer of all time. Usually that debate includes Jack Nicklaus, because Jack has 18 career majors, and Tiger now has 15. But Tiger also has 81 career Tour victories, second only to Sam Snead's 82.

Now I'm thinking those are just numbers and they don't really even matter, except for fun. I will say that Tiger, who is just seven years away from competing on the Senior Tour, is playing in a much more competitive era. To keep it in perspective, Jack's primary competition came from the United States, England and Ireland with outposts in Mexico, South Africa and Australia. Tiger's competition is truly global, from Japan to Indonesia to Scandinavia and with a larger field of players playing the game than ever before. That fact has to be factored into any silly conversation about GOATs (greatest of all time).

Tiger changed the game not only with his physical strength (remember when everybody was trying to Tiger-proof their courses?) but his mental strength as well. He has, I think, an unparalleled laser-like focus.

Even now, with age serving as another one of his competitors, Woods is changing his game again, finding ways to win.

And he comes with a postscript: Never give up.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

A moment with Phil Ford

Who would ever have thought that Phil Ford, a true icon of Tar Heel college basketball and the 1978 player of the year, would one day show up at North Davidson's Pete Jones Gymnasium?

It happened. That day was Thursday.

Ford, now 63, was acting as the nominal "coach" of a collection of college all-stars, mostly from the Atlantic Coast Conference, on the first date of their eight-site barnstorming tour though North Carolina.

Players like North Carolina's Luke Maye, Kenny Williams and Cam Johnson, Wake Forest's Anthony Bilas, and N.C. State's Torin Dorn and UNC Greensboro's Francis Alonso delighted the nearly-packed gymnasium with a jaw-dropping assortment of mid-court 3-pointers and slam dunks while taking on a Davidson County team of prep all-stars in an exhibition game where the score never mattered.

Prior to the exhibition, I had a chance to ask Ford – who served as an assistant coach to Dean Smith and then Bill Guthridge at UNC from 1988 to 2000 – if he ever considered head coaching at the collegiate level.

"As an old coach once said, you never say never," said Ford. "I have to say, I enjoy what I'm doing now. I'm on the speaker's tour and I work with a lot of non-profits. I also give individual lessons. I'm really having a lot of fun.

"This is my seventh year with the barnstorming tour," said Ford. "It's not really coaching. I'm just trying to make sure that nobody gets hurt.

"But you know, you never say never."

I couldn't resist telling Ford that I actually "met" him for the first time more than 40 years ago. I was a newly-minted journalist fresh from Pennsylvania, where my beat was exclusively borough council meetings mixed in with a dash of prep sports.

But on this particular night, now in North Carolina and working as a sports writer for The Dispatch, I was covering the UNC-Clemson game that was being played on a neutral site at the Greensboro Coliseum.

"I remember that game," said Ford, beaming. "That's where coach Smith got ejected with two technical fouls."

Wow. Absolutely correct. Good memory.

Then I told him of our meeting. I was sitting on press row, perhaps covering my first ACC basketball game ever. Suddenly, there was a loose ball, bouncing out of bounds and in my direction. Right behind the rogue ball was a looming Phil Ford in his classic hell-for-leather attempt to save it.


Ford eventually ended up leaping into press row, between me and another writer. To this day, I stake my claim to fame that Ford jumped over me (a slightly exaggerated claim, I confess) on press row. Ford was almost as famous for chasing down loose balls into the stands as he was running the Four Corners.

He gave a hearty laugh to my memory, which made me feel pretty good.

Here we were, two greybeards from a different era, sharing our past.

Glory days. Sweet.

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Mmmmm, chicken pie

As far as I'm concerned, my wife, Kim, makes the best chicken pie I've ever had.

She follows the K&W style recipe, which basically means she uses peas and carrots, along with some potatoes and perhaps another ingredient or two that I'm not aware of.

It doesn't matter. All I know is that I like it, and when we have guests over, or perhaps when we make a neighborly Welcome Wagon call or a condolence call, others pretty much like it, too. It also usually gets gone fairly quickly at family reunions or covered dish events. I never get leftovers.

Mmmm, good. It's comfort food at its best.

So the other day, Kim wanted to know if we should try the chicken pie meal at Friedberg Moravian Church, put on by that church's Women's Fellowship.

Moravian chicken pies are different from Kim's in that they don't include vegetables. There's mostly shredded white meat chicken (Kim prepares hers with white meat chunks), gravy and with plenty of crust: crust on the top, crust on the sides and crust on the bottom.

I usually refer to chicken pies without vegetables as Moravian chicken pies, even if they were made by Baptists or Methodists or Presbyterians. It's just a way for me to distinguish between chicken pies with vegetables and those without.

Anyway, we decided to go to Friedberg on Saturday to pick up a couple of Moravian chicken pie meals to take home. It sounded like a good deal: you could get a wedge of chicken pie, and/or a slice of country ham, green beans and corn, potato salad, slaw, roll, applesauce, choice of dessert and a drink for $10.

We thought we'd get there early – it started at 4 p.m. – to beat the rush, but when we arrived at 4:02, the ginormous parking lot was already packed. Folks were walking through the doors in droves. Uh-oh.

I should have known. This was the 101st anniversary of the Friedberg Women's Fellowship chicken pie meal. They've been offering this dinner since 1918; they should know what they're doing.

And they do. There's a separate line for those who want to eat in the Fellowship Hall; there's a separate line for those who want to purchase a frozen pie, and there's a separate line for takeout.

We got in the takeout line, placed our order and got our meals. It took me longer to decide what I wanted for dessert than it did to get the entree.

When we got home, we settled in and began to eat.

Mmmm. Chicken pie. We were greatly comforted.