Friday, February 27, 2009

Model Citizen

It's the white man's burden
And it weighs a ton
I'm a family man
Model citizen"
Warren Zevon

The Czarina and I winged our way to St. Louis mid-week for an auspicious occasion. The Boy became a citizen of these United States. God knows this took long enough. He's lived in the U.S.A. for more than 11 years. It took his mother filling out all the necessary paperwork to turn this refugee from Riga, Latvia into a good member in standing of the Red, White, and Blue.

The Boy traveled by train from his new home of Springfield, Illinois. He's had a tough four months. He was a victim of this recession (ha, it's a depression, let's not kid ourselves) and lost a really good job with a TV station in Indianapolis. He was lucky to land another gig in less than a month just a couple of hundred miles to the west.

We all traveled by rental car to Terre Haute, Indiana. Oddly enough, despite doing all of his interviews while in Indianapolis, the Boy's naturalization ceremony was scheduled in Terre Haute. The only thing I know about the place is that it's home to the Indiana State Sycamores (which gave us Larry Bird) and the NCAA Cross Country Championships.

Unfortunately we got a little confused about the whole time change thing going from Central to Eastern zones and managed to arrive in front of the federal courthouse about five minutes late. I figured, despite a lot of recrimination going on in the rental car, that it would all be fine. While the Czarina and the Boy made the dash for the ceremony. I parked somewhere on the ISU campus across the street.

The courthouse was a beautiful example of WPA era architecture. When I made it to the ceremony, it was inside a gorgeous courtroom which sported a massive mural behind the judge's bench along with some beautiful art deco trimmings. The place was packed. Turned out we weren't late. In fact, one of the new citizens showed up about an hour after we did!

We actually became a part of history as this was the first naturalization ceremony in the history of Terre Haute. It was held on the anniversary of the opening of the grand old courthouse in 1935. A new one is being built and the university will take over the building. Federal Judge Craig McKee did a splendid job hosting the whole affair which ended up running more than 90 minutes. In all 55 people including the Boy raised their right hands and swore their allegiance to this great country. The Czarina, who herself became a citizen five years ago, was beaming with pride.

It was a very satisfying experience. It wasn't nearly as emotional for me as when the Czarina took her oath. That was in Tampa and more of a cattle call with more than 300 participants but it was a stirring ocassion nevertheless.

The drive back to St. Louis was a quiet one. The Czarina and the Boy both crashed out while I navigated I-70 the 180 or so miles back to our hotel. Because they are both ethnic Russians, the Latvian government never recognized them as citizens of that country, even though they were both born in Riga. As my wife used to say before becoming an American, she was a citizen of the world. As for me, I'm just proud to be a citizen of the greatest country on earth.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Crash on the Levee

I started running in 1970. A brief effort at track in the spring of my eighth grade year led me to Greg Morgenson. Greg was my neighbor and a junior at Abilene High School. He was eventually a state champion in the mile in Nebraska and now lives in Bismarck, North Dakota.

Greg started taking me out on his summer runs in preparation of the cross country season to come. It started with short one mile out, rest, then one mile back runs. Little did I know that it would lead to a lifetime of running.

The last four years have been indescribably tough. In the summer of 2004 I was in reasonably good shape, running four mile races in 27 minutes and 5K's in 20:30. I started getting sick, a lot. I had diverticulitis. That along with four hurricanes which compounded my physical illness took quite a toll. My fitness dwindled, until finally in December 2004 when my colon burst.

Two surgeries later and I was finally able to run a mile without stopping by March 2005. The training progressed rather slowly. A move, a new job, and tons of stressed really messed with my running. But by the summer of 2006 I could run a 5K in 21 minutes. Then I tore my achilles requiring surgery and just as I was bouncing back from that the other achilles needed the scalpel.

Finally, after four surgeries and a little more than four years later I'm just beginning to feel like a runner again. I noticed a real difference last night during a four mile run with my wife. Where as lately she simply runs away leaving me gasping to stay within a reasonable distance of her, last night I slowly caught up to her after a couple of miles. On the way home I continued the pressure until she fell off the back a mile from home. Progress, I thought.

The road back (pardon the pun) started October 2008 after several setbacks and it has been an agonizingly slow process due mainly to a major weight gain. When I moved to Fort Myers in 2003 I weighed 170 pounds. I was pushing 210 at the end of last summer. The weight is slowly melting away. My breathing, which used to sound like an ailing asthmatic is beginning to sound more like the relaxed runner that I used to be. Give me another six months of decent training and watch out. The old bald fat man will be ready to kick some ass.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry

"Well, if I die
On top of the hill
And if I don't make it,
You know my baby will."

I think about the thing I love to do most these Bob Dylan lyrics pop into my mind. It takes me back to the many enjoyable and sometimes miserable runs I've shared with Steve Riley. Running is by and large an individual pursuit. But sometimes you find people that are running soul mates. Steve is/was that for me. We would have a great time discussing Dylan, Steve's love of motorcycles, skydiving, or the hells of teaching (Steve's profession) or television (my profession).

The only other person that could top Steve in the running category was Tom Dowling. He was my coach and a very special individual. Tom had that unique gift of making you feel that you were the most important person in his life whenever you spent time with him. Just about everybody I know that was coached by Tom would attest to that. Getting to spend an hour with him on the trails of Overland Park was a treat. Tom would tell delightful stories about his high school running triumphs or discuss his love of eastern philosophy. To give an idea of how we felt about Tom a group of us would refer to him as "The Lord" when speaking about him.

Tom left us all too early in 1995. It left a large void in a lot of lives. But thanks to Tom there are two men in my life with whom I share special bonds. Tom introduced me to them long ago. They both live in Kansas City and keep my ties to the place I consider home strong. They will be lifelong friends, just like Steve Riley. Hopefully the time will come when I can return to that place in the Midwest and share a few runs with my friends and hopefully I won't die when I reach the top of the hill.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Positively 4th Street

I sit aghast at what took place this week in Washington. What happened to the Republican Party? It's like they all swallowed the Kool-Aid at the same time. Senator Arlen Specter spilled the beans pointing out that many of his Republican colleagues in the Senate support the stimulus package, but have chosen instead to play politics.

The risk-reward for the GOP is frightening. If the economy starts to turn around by the mid-term in 2010 Republicans could lose another five seats in the Senate. It could take them a quarter century to regain the losses. I don't think it can get much worse in the House because the districts are structured in such a way to keep them safely in the hands of Republicans. It just shocks my senses that these clowns can put party ahead of country.

I can't imagine men like Everett Dirksen or Barry Goldwater playing politics like this or even the Republican Congressman from where I grew up Larry Winn. But these men are dead, ghosts of the past of true conservatism. It's just mind boggling that Republicans have taken this all or nothing approach. Even if Obama fails, I think voters will remember their obstructioness attitude to trying to turn the country around.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009


I giggle every time I hear Fred Norris play the stinger "Obama!" when talk turns to our new President on the Howard Stern Show. It's silly but it makes me laugh. But on Tuesday I was like a little kid when President Obama visited Fort Myers. We watched Air Force One fly into Southwest Florida International Airport from outside our offices. I forced my co-worker to walk with me a quarter mile down to the old airport entrance to see the motorcade and take a few pictures. We just missed getting there on time by 200 feet.

I watched most of his speech and town hall. I gave up on it when the goofball who works at McDonald's got up. That guy is a complete dingbat. He's a perfect fit for the new world of media.

As for our President, what a stark contrast from what we just endured for the last eight years. The cocksure cowboy who didn't have a clue is no longer roaming the halls of the White House. Instead, we have a deliberative man, who isn't afraid to admit that he may not have all of the answers. Change is here. I just hope that Barack Obama's predecessor hasn't left such a mess behind that our President can't help but fail.

It matters not for now. You'd think after 30 years or so in TV news that stuff like this wouldn't get me excited. I've been part of covering more than a half dozen Presidential visits and covered two national political conventions. But I wasn't about to miss the man's return trip to the airport. I got my partner in crime to camp out with me on a side road to get some video and pictures of the motorcade. We got checked out a couple of times. First a sheriff's deputy wanted to know what we were up to and then a Florida Highway Patrolman stopped to warn us that the Secret Service was heavily armed and that we should move our vehicle. I wanted to laugh but we complied.

The moment came about 10 minutes later and I started taking pictures. I stopped to wave like a complete dork as his limo rolled by, even with the tinted glass, you could see the outline of his figure in the backseat. We headed back to the office and I got one decent shot of the motorcade. The video will be put to good use at work.

Here's hoping to stimulus. I hope that six months to a year from now we can all smile knowingly and see how a deliberate approach to our nation's affair beats six-shooters ablazin'.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Don't Bogart that Joint

Dope, not that kind of dope. The kind you shoot in your ass or the kind your rub on your skin as a cream or that little drop you put under your tongue. I'm talking Marion Jones, Alex Rodriguez, Ben Johnson, get you pumped up, juiced up, shriveled up (guess Marion didn't have to worry about that side-effect) kind of doping that is so prevalent in sports.

Alex Rodriguez is a great baseball player, steroids or not. So was Barry Bonds. Even Marion Jones was a budding superstar in track and field before deciding to turn to chemically enhanced running. What is the lesson here? The lesson is that by and large the best of the best in many sports use performance enhancing drugs. I think it's safe to say the number of baseball players who doped during the steroid era was well above the 25 percent mark. We all know that football players love the stuff. And unfortunately, the sport I love most, track and field, is infested with athletes who experiment with everything from steroids, to human growth hormones, to EPO. The lesson is that as hard as we might try to catch the cheats, or at least make a show of trying to catch them, the chemists are one step ahead of the tests.

It's vexing because sports like football and baseball by and large get a pass from fans when it comes to PED's while cycling and track and field get hammered for cheats. I wish I could explain the double standard. It's an issue that track and field has completely botched for the last quarter century. During that time track has seen its fan base whither and die on the vine.

The sport has a complete lack of understanding of public relations and marketing. USATF needs a David Stern type figure to shake it out of its doldrums. I fear that will never happen. It all comes down to dollars and they simply aren't there to fix much less save the sport. A new report out this week took an in-depth look at ails the sports. It goes back to what I've said for years. Track and field is a professional sport still tied to its amateur roots. In the quarter century that athletes have gotten paid for their efforts, the promoters, the coaches, and the athletes still act like it's amateur hour. There's nothing professional about track, except the drugs.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Of Punks, Politics, and Cold Weather

We'll start with the good news. My friend and blues man extraordinaire Lew Jetton and his lovely wife Bridget finally got power back after ten days. They were among the tens of thousands caught in that nasty ice storm that swept through Western Kentucky and Northwestern Tennessee. How don't know how they survived it. Those Tennessee boy's are hardy souls.

As for the punks, it's with great amusement I've read the debate about ESPN's Doug Gottlieb's commentary about the excitable Cookie Miller. The pint sized guard from Nebraska dove ontop of a KU player about twice his size a week ago and tried to wrestle the ball away from him. Then he put on a display of bravado that would have made Ocho Cinco proud. Gottlieb was right, Miller acted like a punk. And if the officials had been doing their job they would have T'd his ass up.

Finally on the subject of punks, how bout those Congressional Republicans. Is the stimulus package full of "pork?" Yes it is. And I'm hoping the Senate will put together a more reasonable piece of legislation which will give the country the kind of infrastructure makeover it desperately needs. But President Obama is right about one thing. The country tried doing it the GOP way for the last eight years and it didn't work. The country resoundingly voted for a change of direction three months ago. Rush Limbaugh and his syncophants in the Congress can go all Taliban if they want. It simply means that the Republicans risk being the party of irrelavancy. That's the what it became for the better part of 40 plus years in the later part of the 20th century.