Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Bobby Jean

Since I spend most of my day trolling the internet looking for jobs I've had a lot of time to listen to music. My stereo sits in the computer room so I've been digging through old CD's listening to music that's been ignored for way too long. One disc is Bruce Springsteen's underrated second album "The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle." Rosalita is the standout song on the album but a bunch of others are real jewels that come to life when Springsteen performs them live.

That brings me to a recent purchase I made. The only Springsteen discs I never purchased besides are the recent Pete Seeger Sessions and "Born in the USA." It was played to death and I just couldn't take hearing "Glory Days" or "Hungry Heart" or the title track, although I must admit a weakness for "Dancing in the Dark." I finally broke down and bought it and rediscovered a jewel that I can't get out of my head, "Bobby Jean."

The song has become especially poignant give the events of the last couple of weeks. It broke my heart that he played it in Tampa a couple of weeks ago. I wanted to go but because of my lack of employment I couldn't justify the cost. Then my good buddy Chris rubbed it in when he told me The Boss cranked it out again last week when he went to see him in Des Moines.

There aren't many bands or people that I will bother to go see live anymore. The crowds, the cost and the other hassles (mostly people talking through entire shows) don't make it worth it. But I think I could be persuaded to take in another Springsteen show.

Travelin On

In 48 hours I'll be winging my way from the heat and humidity that is Southwest Florida to Kansas City for a nice trip home. My oldest sister (I think out of boredom) offered me a free ticket to come for a week long visit. Given my current state of employment (or lack thereof) how could I resist?

My sister and I have a comfortable routine when I visit. She knows I don't care about the general lack of house keeping as long as I have a place to lay my head. She also knows that I love nothing more than sitting down in front of the tube, watching movies, and catching up on all things family. I'll also get a chance to attend my middle sister's annual family gathering over the weekend. I'll get to see a boatload of cousins and other family friends, some pushing age 90 or older. It's always a lively affair with a lot of good conversation.

The other part of the trip will involve catching up with good friends which will mean trips around Kansas City, a high school cross country race, and my first appearance at the Sand Rat Race in four years. I probably won't run but it will be great to see the Rats. Plus I plan to make the pilgrimage up to the KU campus and see my old professor friends. Hopefully I can do it without getting a parking ticket.

With any luck I might be able to snag a job interview while I'm in town. I'm not counting on it but one can always hope. The break from the routine of filling out endless job applications on the internet will be a welcome one.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Things Have Changed

Sometimes out of tragedy comes an impetus for change. I'm still dealing with my own emotional wreckage over Clay Kappelman's death. His funeral was yesterday. I wish I could have been there. Clay's passing has brought back a flood of memories which has been a very cathartic experience, in a very good way.

I am one for carrying guilt around like a one ton boulder in my back pocket. Guilt because I have let so many good friends come and go through the years. Part of it is because of the gypsy existence I have led as a journalist, the other part of it is from personal demons that I have had to deal with that were once part of my life.

I'm thinking about people that I became close to in my college years like Jim Carothers, an English professor at Kansas who is the greatest story teller I have ever spent an evening with and the father I never had, Mike Carothers his son who was the brother I never had, Walt Riker, a baseball fanatic and jazz buff who has an incredible heart and may be one of the smartest people I know, David Barnhart, every bit as smart as Walt, a man who showed me that all things are possible if you never give up and Tony Gauthier who shared my love of the Grateful Dead and a man who I probably have had some of my best times of my life with whether in his living room or at a concert.

I'm going home this weekend and there are two friends who I am going to go see who I haven't seen in a long time. Phil Wedge and I were about as close as you could get in college. I don't know how he put up with me. He's an English professor and he is one person who I suspect has lived his life remembering to stop and smell the roses as he has embraced it. And then there's Dale Culver. I hadn't seen him in over 20 years. He emailed me after Clay's passing and it really struck a chord.

You see I feel this deep narly guilt because I don't reach out to these old friends. I think of people these people listed above and a whole host of others more often then they probably would ever guess. These friends, scattered across the country, gave me so many good memories and good times.

That's why I cling so fiercely to the trio of good friends I have left back in Lawrence and Kansas City. Steve, Chris and Mike are my life line to sanity. They remind of where I once was and how far I've come.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Time Out of Mind

This picture appeared in one of my earlier blogs a few months back. I have retrieved it because I want to talk about youth and friendships. When I came to Lawrence High and went out for cross country there was a large group of talented runners in that sophomore class. We were good enough that we should have gone to state as seniors but sometimes things don't work out the way they are supposed to, kind of like life. Between illnesses and a lack of focus we never lived up to our own expectations as a team.

The guys I remember, Phil Wedge, Barney McCoy, Ed Tubby, Keith Armitage, Vince Miller, Dave Roush and Clay Kappelman, were great teammates and friends. Clay is the young man in the middle in the photo above, standing between myself and then senior Tom Schmittendorf. Clay died last Friday. He follows Dave Roush who passed away a few years ago after struggling for years following a horrible car crash.

The thing is this, we form these great friendships in high school and then college and life come along. Thankfully the internet makes it easier to keep in touch with those friends. Clay was a great teammate and a better friend. We had sort of a rivalry I think due in large part to his father. Clay was a much better athlete than I was but he didn't have a lot of luck beating me, although he did a few times. But the undertension that was there never got in the way of our friendship. He wouldn't let it and looking back I don't think I fully appreciated that.

Unfortunately by college and after we had gone our separate ways. Clay had married a beautiful girl and started a family. I'd see him from time to time in adult life. We kind of landed in the same profession. He worked a lot as a freelance cameraman and he would wander through WDAF TV from time to time. It was always great to see him as he always had a smile and a laid back way about him.

I'm going to miss him, just like I miss Barney, Phil, Keith. Ed, Vince and a lot of other great friends from high school, that I don't get to see or talk to often enough. Forgive me, but that's part of life and growing up I guess.

Monday, September 21, 2009

For the Gamblers

A little over a year ago my portfolio took a major hit. I know a lot of us lost a lot of savings when the stock market took a nose dive, but I was particularly upset when the FDIC seized Washington Mutual. I had a rather large position in that particular savings and loan. My broker had dutifully dollar cost averaged my position as the stock sank which only magnified my losses.

I was angry. The FDIC seized WAMU just a few days before Congress finally passed TARP. And I was doubly surprised when they took WAMU on a Thursday. Normally the FDIC will seize a failing financial institution on a Friday.

I started doing some research. Basically I hit the stock chat rooms and I soon became convinced that something was fishy with the whole deal. WAMU had hired a top bankruptcy firm to handle its case and it immediately became clear that the FDIC had screwed up royally.

WAMU was a wholly owned subsidiary of a company called WMI. Besides owning WAMU, WMI owned a couple of credit card companies including Providian. WMI also owned a lot of the property that WAMU used as banking facilities etc; The FDIC had not only seized WAMU's deposits, but it also sold the credit companies and property WAMU didn't own to JP Morgan for 1.9 billion dollars. The credit card companies alone were worth several billion.

I became convinced that there was some gold in this bankrupt company. Not soon after a group in Texas sued the FDIC for fraudulent conveyance. Basically the suit says the FDIC gave JP Morgan property that didn't belong to WAMU. So the whole shooting match became a double whammy. The final straw was a 4 billion dollar deposit WMI had made in JP Morgan several weeks before the seizure, money WMI wanted back but JP Morgan was refusing to turn over.

There are a lot of smoking guns in all of this and if you like conspiracies it's pretty apparent that the seizure was a sweetheart deal for JP Morgan which had made a bid for WAMU earlier in the summer of 2008 that was rejected. The FDIC wanted to put the fear of God in Congress to get TARP passed and the WAMU seizure did the trick.

For those of you who like to gamble I suggest taking a hard look at WAMU. I purchased its preferred stock worth 1000 dollars a share for a little over four bucks, its symbol is WAMPQ. It's up 800 percent. I also increased my stake in the common stock at nine cents a share, its symbol is WAMUQ. It's up 300 percent. I will remind you that this is a bankrupt company waging a major legal battle to make the shareholders whole. I only spent what I could afford to lose, but I believe that JP Morgan is going to either pay up or do a stock swap.

Do some research and check it out. The common which is at 40 cents a share could end up being worth between 8 to 24 dollars a share. That's not a bad bet. The preferreds have gotten pricey at 40 dollars a share but it if its made whole, cha-ching! BTW... as it stands right now, I'm almost even on what I lost a year ago.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Where do I begin?

In the words of Dan Akroyd's immortal SNL character Leonard Pinth-Garnell tonight's high school football game was "Perfectly awful, exquisitly terrible, couldn't be worse." I covered my first football game as a working journalist in the fall of 1974. It was a low-tech, cable offering from Sunflower Cable in Lawrence, Kansas featuring Central Junior High and West Junior High. It was excruciating, a 6-0 final in a game I believe Central won.

Just as bad was the technology we used to record the game, a two camera set up with a bang box and one mic fed into a reel-to-reel video tape recorder. God bless Rich Bailey for trotting me out there with him. I'm not sure what was worse, the game or my color commentary. But that video taped abortion clinic was finally surpassed tonight in Fort Myers.

Fast forward to tonight, Friday September 17 and I think I covered a game that surpassed that 1974 classic in all its hideousness. It pitted two small Christian high schools. Temple Christian from Jacksonville had made the horrendous bus ride to Fort Myers to play Florida Christian Institute. The game started promisingly enough, a couple of turnovers leading to quick scores and a 6-6 tie at the end of the first quarter.

Then the game turned into this debauchery of botched snaps, moronic officiating, and kids who seemed utterly lost on a football field. Two plays stand out in this game. First was a 27 yard field goal attempt by Temple Christian in the 3rd quarter that would have given them the lead and probably the game. It sailed right down the middle of the upright but the referee called it wide right. I could see the official directly under the goal post shaking his head but apparently he couldn't overrule the call even though he was stationed directly beneath the right goal post. He later said it was his job to judge if it was over or under the bar. It only got better in the third quarter with penalty after penalty and dropped pass after dropped pass. It took 50 minutes to play.

The coup-de-gras came in the 4th quarter, another 50 minute gem, when on a 4th and 14 from Florida Christian's 16 Temple decided to punt and play field position. The punt went off (all of six yards) but the punter was run into, not roughed. The flag went up and I thought good call. Then the referee placed the ball at the 30 where the ball had landed and called Florida Christian's offense out on the field. I was apoplectic, Temple's coach could barely contain himself. It should have been a 5 yard penalty and given it was 4th and 22 at the time of the kick Temple would certainly punt again. It took almost 10 minutes to hort out the play and the dimwits masquerading as officials finally had Temple repunt from its 36 rather than give them the 5 yard penalty.

The game was an officiating travesty with 25 penalties in all 4 fumbles and two interceptions. It ended up in overtime with Florida Christian scoring first and Temple Christian fumbling on a first and goal from the five. A fitting end to an horrific game. 50 dollars for three and a half hours of torture.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Guilty Pleasures of the Cinema

Patrick Swayze's death and a blog at The Big Lead got me to thinking about a topic I've wanted to blog about for sometime. Movie's that were critically lambasted but I really, really like. "Road House" is one of those movies that Swayze starred in along with "Red Dawn." If they're on the tube I'll sit through a few minutes every time.

Other such movies include Kevin Costner's epic flops "Water World" and "The Postman." I really love seeing Tom Petty in "The Postman." Another are the Bruce Willis flicks "Hudson Hawk" and "The Fifth Element." I think "Hudson Hawk" was just too clever for the critics and I can watch "The Fifth Element" endlessly, just ask the Czarina.

But back to Swayze, he also happened to star in one of the best movies ever made, "The Outsiders." I think it's one of the most under appreciated films from Francis Ford Coppola's considerable cataloge. Like a lot of Coppola movie's it is beautifully shot and the story is classic. There are so many talented young stars in that movie. Go to IMBD and check out the list of actors and if you've never seen it, rent it, it's well worth the watch.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Banner Year for Red, White & Blue Distance Runners

2009 has to go down as the best year for American distance running in more than 30 years. The United States had a pretty good stretch of producing incredible distance and middle distance runners starting in 1964 with Billy Mills and Bob Schul to Jim Ryun, Frank Shorter, Marty Liquori, Rick Wohlhuter, Bill Rodgers, Craig Virgin, Steve Prefontaine, Dave Wottle, Steve Scott and Alberto Salazar. But Americans started to fade by the 1980's with the emergence of the Africans.

The year started with a bang. Galen Rupp put together the finest season of collegiate distance running since Henry Rono was setting world records at Washington State. Wunderkind German Fernandez clocked some incredible miles and finished the year out with a national junior record at 5000.

Bernard Lagat was Bernard Lagat. He battled for two medals at the World Championships and put a scare into Kenesia Bekele this weekend in Greece in an epic battle over 3000 meters. But he's not alone anymore at the ranks of the elite 1500/5000 ranks. Dathan Ritzenheim stamped his presence on the 5000 with an American Record and Matt Tegenkamp quickly followed him under 13 minutes. Leo Manzano continues to show improvement wrapping his season up with an incredible charge at the finish in the 1500 of the World Athletics Final to grab second place in a field of great runners. I'm not meaning to ignore Lopez Lomong but just think what could happen next year if Alan Webb blossoms under the guidance of Alberto Salazar. We could have five men capable of breaking 3:50 in mile.

And let's not ignore the American women. My favorite is Jennifer Barringer. She's tough as nails and blew the drawers off the collegiate record for 1500 meters and blasted the American steeplechase record. She could well become the best American distance runner since Mary Decker.

Barringer has a host of people to push her. Anna Willard appears to have turned away from the steeple, an event in which she has shown undeniable greatness, in favor of the 1500 and 800. Willard went four for four in big meet 800's capping her season with a win in Greece. Then there's the blue collar Christin Wurth-Thomas. She runs with a reckless abandon and has shown that she's not afraid to mix it up at either 1500 or 800 meters. The best 1500 meter of the bunch thus far of course is Shannon Rowbury who captured at bronze medal at 1500 in the World Championships.

The longer distances suffered this year but Kara Goucher showed that she will be a major player in the marathon and lets hope Shalane Flanagan can recapture the brilliance that she showed in Beijing last year.

The best story for the women has to be Maggie Vescey, a runner who loves to leave it late but who scored some amazing wins and big times this season. Vescey was an unknown at 800 meters until late charge at the Prefontaine meet in June stamped her as someone to reckon with. She proved her potential with a Golden League win and despite a poor performance at the World Championships, ended her season with a respectable showing in Greece taking second to Willard.

The Americans are back! I think next year we could see records at 800 and 1500 for the women, another steeple record, plus the men could take down the 1500, 5000 and 10000 records. Wow!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Kansas City's 10 Greatest Distance Runners

The whole Matt Tegenkamp versus Joe Falcon thing caused me to think back to an article I wrote many years ago for a website Greg Hall ran about 10 years ago. Greg's site was a blog before we even knew what blogging was. I wrote blog about the ten best distance runners to ever come out of the Kansas City metro area. I did a list of men and a list for women. I'm going to give it a shot again, but this time we'll make the list co-ed.

The only criteria is that the runner must have graduated from a Kansas City area high school. I'll consider times, list of high school, collegiate and post collegiate achievements.

1. Matt Tegenkamp - Lee's Summit High School
Yes I flip flopped. Matt was a Footlocker cross country finalist in high school and a multiple state champion. He wasn't quite as fast in high school or college as the #2 runner on this list but what he's accomplished after college is tough to beat. He set the American Record for two miles, he's one of only four Americans under 13 minutes for 5000, he finished 4th at the World Championships in 2007 at the 5000 and made last year's Olympic finals and this year's World Championship finals again.

2. Joe Falcon - Belton High School
Joe is the fastest miler to ever come out of Kansas City. He was better than Tegenkamp at the high school level and may an impressive career at Arkansas where he won six individual NCAA titles in track and cross country. His pinnacle came in 1990 when he broke 3:50 (3:49.31) and won the Dream Mile in Oslo. After that his injuries forced him into early retirement. I placed him behind Tegenkamp because he never made an Olympic or World Championship team. His best chance was in 1988 and he ran a terrible race in the 1500 Olympic Trials final.

3. Amy Hastings - Leavenworth High School
Another state champion who has the second fastest 5000 in Kansas high school history and the seventh fastest 3200. She went on to have a stellar career at Arizona State where she was multiple All American and a conference champion as well. She earned an indoor NCAA title at 5000 in 2006 and played a critical role in the Sun Devils 2007 indoor title scoring in both the 5000 and 3000. Hastings is still competing and has made a national team in cross country.

4. John Lawson - Wyandotte High School
John was the NCAA cross country champion while running at Kansas in 1965. He continued his track career after leaving KU and became the 31st American to break 4 minutes in the mile in 1969. His 3.59.5 made him the first area athlete under 4 and one of only five to break that barrier.

5. Steve Fein - Shawnee Mission Northwest High School
Steve was a dominating high school runner and a Footlocker cross country finalist. He started his career at Wisconsin but moved on to Oregon when his coach Martin Smith took the job there. He was an All-American with the Ducks finishing 3rd in 1999 at the NCAA cross country championships. He too broke four minutes in the mile.

6. Amanda Pape - Olathe South High School
The only two time Footlocker finalist from the metro area. She also took the national junior 5000 following her senior year of high school running the fastest time in Kansas prep history. She went on to have a productive career at Georgetown but never reached the heights of Hastings and left competitive running after leaving college.

7. Charlie Gray - Shawnee Mission South
Charlie is the only person on this list I actually competed against. He won only one state championship taking the 2 mile his senior year. He enjoyed an outstanding career at Central Missouri State where he won a small college national championship in the steeplechase. Following college he became a the dominant road racer in the Kansas City area for the next 15 years.

8. Adam Perkins - Liberty High School
A dominant miler in high school, second in ability only to Falcon. He gave up his senior year of track because of Missouri's restrictions on competing outside the state. Perkins went on to Arkansas where he enjoyed a solid career and earned All American honors in the 1500. He's run the equivalent of a 3:56 mile at 1500 meters and is still competing.

9. Heather Burroughs - Pembroke Hill High School
She was a wunderkind winning national championships before she was a teenager and setting just about every distance record imaginable before hitting high school. Burroughs had a stellar career at Pembroke Hills before moving onto Colorado where she was a three time All American in cross country and an All American in cross country. She still holds the national record she set as a 12 year old for 3000 meters of 10:03. That's a time most high school girls would die to run.

10. Brent Steiner - Shawnee Mission South
He ran the fastest 2 mile/3200 (8:46.99) in Kansas high school history. I was lucky enough to witness that race. He was off to an outstanding career at Arizona State when the NCAA tried to derail his career. Steiner ended up at Kansas where an injury filled career couldn't stop him from becoming the first cross country All-American since John Lawson. He turned to biathlons after college where he was one of the nation's best in the late 80's and early 90's.

Honorable mentions: Kristi Kloster - Bishop Meige High School,
A national champion at Kansas and an absolute stud in high school. Injuries took a toll on her career.
Dwight Davis - St. Thomas Aquinas High School
A state champion at Aquinas and an All-American at Tulsa and a sub-four minute miler. Gave up competitive running after college.

Jim Scott - Shawnee Mission North High School
A dominant miler in high school without the flashy times. He had a very good career at Pittsburg State and was a top flight road racer in the late 70's and early 80's.

Brad Hawthorne - Lee's Summit High School
Another high school stud who became a national class marathoner in the 1980's.

One final note - if you were to include Lawrence as part of the KC metro area then Kent McDonald from Lawrence High leap into the top 5. An All-American steepler at Kansas he still holds the school record.

Friday, September 4, 2009

KC's Greatest Distance Ace?

As the fabulous season for American distance runners winds down Matt Tegenkamp did his best tonight in Brussels to stake his claim as the greatest distance runner to ever come out of the Kansas City area. Tegenkamp blasted a 12:58.56 5000 meter to become only the third American under the 13 minute barrier. A week ago Matt's time would have been earthshattering for an American were it not for Dathan Ritzenheim's American record 12:56.27 last week in Zurich.

But back to the debate about Kansas City's greatest. Tegenkamp went to Lee's Summit high school in the eastern section of the metro area. He was a high school stud winning multiple state titles before heading to Wisconsin where injuries seemed to plague him in Badgerland. Once out of college he began to show the promise that had eluded him scoring an American record for two miles in 2006. He followed that with a heart breaking fourth place finish in Osaka in the 2007 World Championship 5000 meter race. He had missed out on a bronze medal by four-hundredths of a second.

By breaking 13 minutes in Belgium Tegenkamp fulfilled the promise many had been waiting for over the last three years. It wouldn't be surprising to see him take down Ritzenheim's 5000 record next year.

But until Tegenkamp does that I think he still falls short of Joe Falcon of Belton. Falcon is still the fastest high school miler to ever come out of the Kansas City metro area. He went to Arkansas where he captured six national titles at various distances, something that eluded Tegenkamp in college.

The pinnacle of his career came when Falcon won the Dream Mile in Oslo in 1990 in 3:49.31. Unfortunately a few weeks later the first of many injuries occurred and within three years his career was at an end. I have no doubt had Falcon stayed healthy he would have been the first American under 13 minutes for 5000 meters.

The remarkable thing that joins these two great runners is their high school coach. Dave Denney coached both while they were in high school.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Black Muddy River

Part of growing old is losing friends. I found out today that an old acquaintance suffered a heart attack on Sunday and they took her off life support yesterday. I think Bev was about 58.

I got to know her and her husband Joe through one of my high school teachers who became a life long friend the night I graduated high school. Tony, Joe, Bev and I shared a love of the Grateful Dead. Joe had actually promoted some Dead shows back in the early 70's in Iowa City. Some of the best moments of my life were spent in their company.

I could write an entire blog just on Joe's antics alone and I will at some later date. Bev was just a lot of fun to be around. I can remember sharing an Ecstacy tab with her at a Bob Dylan show in Lake Geneva. The next two nights we saw the Dead. That weekend Bev coined the term "Find the feeling," because she thought my companion and I on that particular trip were having sex at every opportunity.

My favorite Joe and Bev story involved a late winter trip to Chicago which I was not a part of. They had driven in Bev's red Volvo from Iowa City to the concert and were making the return trip on a bitterly cold night when they pulled into a rest stop for use the facilities. About an hour or so after the pit stop Bev who was behind the wheel realized that someone was missing. It seemed they had departed the rest area without Joe. They turned around and found Joe hanging hiding out in the restroom using the electric hand dryers to keep himself from freezing to death. I'm sure the copious quantities of alcohol, pot, and god knows what else had contributed to the situation.

Anyway, thanks for all the good memories Bev. Tony sent this along to me today and I'm sure if she saw this, it would have brought a smile to her face.