Monday, December 26, 2011

Music for the Ages?

The Czarina and I have been discussing popular music lately.  The concert featuring the Beatles tribute band a couple of weeks ago sparked this ongoing disagreement.  I believe that the songs created by The Beatles will be played in the decades and centuries to come.  Songs like "Yesterday, "Something," "Help," and even "She Loves You" have a polished quality and even joy that are difficult to shake.  The Czarina disagrees.

She maintains that The Beatles will never stay with us the way music created by Beethoven, Bach and Mozart has.  The Czarina believes that modern pop music is simply too simple to have the staying power that these giants of classical music created.  I understand where she's coming from.  A three minute pop song pales when you listen to the works of a master composer.  But I think she's missing the mark.

I think great popular music, whether it came from the 20's (Irving Berlin), the 30's (Benny Goodman or Glen Miller), the 50's (Hank Williams) and on through the years will always have a place in the musical lexicon that has yet to come.  The discussion gained added energy when because of one of my Christmas presents.  I received the box set of U2's "Achtung Baby", the Irish bands mind blowing album that opened the 1990's.

I hadn't cared much for U2 at all until I went to see them live on their Zoo TV tour in 1991 at Kansas City's Arrowhead Stadium.  It was one of the great concert moments of my live.  Not only was it an overwhelming experience for the eyes and ears but something about the band captured my heart.  In that massive stadium they managed to reach into my soul and connect in a way that I hadn't experienced musically except on very rare occasions. 

As much as I love Bob Dylan and I've seen him more than a dozen times he's never come close to doing what they did that night.  Neil Young's done it only once in the more than half dozen times I've seen him live.  I can only name four or five times where I've been completely blown away at a concert.

U2 is one of those bands like The Beatles that I think will survive the passage of time.  The Czarina disagrees.  Modern music, whether it's Dylan or Springsteen, Neil Young, or ABBA, lacks the complexity in her mind to reach across the years.  I don't know about you but I can't see going out on a run while listening to Beethoven's 9th.  But an hour or so on the roads with U2 is a completely different matter.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Black Hole That Is Thomas Robinson

Thomas Robinson is a great basketball player.  However, if he continues to play the way he is playing Kansas will lose a half dozen games or more before we even hit March Madness.  When he gets frustrated he saunters back on defense.  It's happened more times than I care to count this season.  On offense when the ball goes into the low post to him it disappears.  Time and again he misses the opportunity to hit the wing man for the three.  He's an incredibly selfish player.

It made me think back to another player who was the centerpiece of a Kansas team that lacked depth and complimentary players who could score.  I had to go back 40 years.  What I'm seeing this season reminds me a lot of another Kansas junior with All-American credentials.

The 1969-70 Jayhawks featured a slick shooting left hander from Illinois who could rebound all night long.  Dave Robisch reminds me a lot of Thomas Robinson.  Robisch was a better outside shooter but Robinson is a much more dominating interior player.  Robisch had ungodly stats his junior year.  He averaged more than 25 points a game and double digits in rebounds.  But that Kansas team was mediocre.  Part of it I think was because Robisch was selfish player.  Part of it was the lack of maturity on that team, a lot like this year's version of the Jayhawks.

Ironically in his senior year Robisch shot less and got a lot more support from his teammates.  Other than the addition of couple of pretty decent sophomores, big man Randy Canfield and long range bomber Mark Williams, Robisch had the same supporting cast.  But Bud Stallworth became a dynamic shooting small forward and center Roger Brown made major strides offensively.  That team went to the Final 4 losing only one game during until they ran into UCLA in the semi-finals.  Robisch went on to enjoy a long NBA career.

The best part of tonight's USC game was when Bill Self sat Robinson for about four minutes after he jogged down court letting his man slip free for an easy layup at the other end.  I'd rather watch Kevin Young flail around and hustle than watch T-Rob pout.  Granted, Robinson's endured more than any college junior should have to suffer with the loss of his mother and grandmother in the last year, but it's time for him to grow up on the court.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

A Night Out

With my birthday approaching it seemed that some fun was in order.  I pondered running in a Sunday marathon in Cape Coral but the thought of spending two or three days in complete misery wasn't all that appealing.  Then an email landed in my in box mid-week reminding me that Rain was playing at the Barbara B. Mann Performing Arts Hall on Saturday.
I figured it would be fun for the Czarina so I decided to surprise her with a night of Beatles music.  We had seen Strawberry Fields, another Beatles tribute band, in New York City three years ago.  She enjoyed that show but then again the Czarina loves live music of almost any kind.

The show brought back a flood of memories.  I can remember the Fab Four's first performance on The Ed Sullivan Show.  I was glued to the TV for each and everyone of their appearances.  I also remember their performance of "Hey Jude" on the Smothers Brothers Show. 

That song in particular brings back a flood of memories.  I can remember driving with my cousin Mike Hendon in the late summer of 1968.  We were in his Mustang heading out to another cousin's farm.  Mike was babbling along about the newest Beatles single "Hey Jude" when just outside of the tiny town of Enterprise it appeared as if by magic on the radio.  You have to understand hearing Beatles music over the radio in North Central Kansas was a rarity to begin with because the airwaves were dominated by country.  This stunning seven minute plus song was mind blowing.

Sitting in the concert hall hearing that song along with more than 90 minutes of magic caused my mind to drift to my family and the role this music had played in my life.  For the Czarina some of what we heard wasn't familiar to her.  Growing up in the Soviet Union she didn't hear much Beatles music until the band had already broken up.  It was the forbidden fruit that she would come across on the radio as she searched out foreign radio stations which could blast through the Soviet efforts to block the signals.

It was a great way to spend a Saturday night.  Plus it was a hell of a lot less painful than running a marathon.  The show was almost as good as Beatlemania which I saw almost 30 years ago in Kansas City's Uptown Theater.  But then again it's hard to go wrong with a night of Beatles music. 

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Child Abuse

The Czarina didn't watch much television at all during the first six years or so of our marriage.  Then she started watching American Idol and that sort of threw the barn door open.  Now she watches The Biggest Loser, The Amazing Race and the new FOX show XFactor.  I don't care that she watches these shows except for the fact that the Czarina expects me to watch them with her.

I must admit I like The Biggest Loser and The Amazing Race.  But I don't have much use for either of the FOX shows.  I don't like the idea of finding stars by letting TV audiences vote for singers, many with dubious talent.

Tonight only confirmed my worst feelings for these singing crap fests.  What happened to Rachel Crow tonight was akin to child abuse.  A 13 year old girl shouldn't be put up before a national television audience in that manner and made to suffer.  Watching Drew get voted off last week was painful enough but this week's spectacle topped that slice of television agony.

American Idol has an age limit and now I think so for good reason.  I'm not sure anyone under 16 is equipped to go through what Rachel Crow just experienced.  Adolescents shouldn't be exploited in this way.  But I have to admit, the end of XFactor made for some great television.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011


Getting older is not without consequences.  My legs on Sunday felt the way they used to after the first session of intervals on the track in spikes during high school cross country.  My calves were sore and my legs were just beat in general. 

My dearly departed coach Tom Dowling used to equate training to making a deposit in the bank.  Racing always required withdrawing some of those deposits. The difference is then I used to incorporate some speed work, whether it was repeat miles on the roads or 400's on the track during the course of that training along with some fast tempo runs.  After Saturday's race I've come to realize that I need change some things up if I want to keep racing because I'm still paying the price.

Monday's run wasn't much better than Sunday's with the calves still barking throughout the course of my five mile slog.  Today the leg's were no longer sore but certainly felt heavy.  During the seven plus miles I put in I pondered the necessity of time trials and tempo runs.  I have ruled out in interval training because this a guaranteed injury.  Besides my neighbor who started running about six months ago stopped by the house this evening to complain about a groin strain.  He was out running 100 meter sprints with his son.  This guy is just about six years younger than me.  I pointed out to him all out sprints at our age is a recipe for disaster. 

But I must point out that six months the neighbor's gone from a 29 minute 5K to mid-22's.  That's not bad for a novice master runner.  It looks like I've got a little competition just around the corner!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

River Run

I can’t remember the last time I went an entire year without running at least one race.  In fact, I’d be willing to bet that I’ve run at least one race every year since 1971 when I started running track at South Junior High.  I’ve had a couple of years where I ran only one or two races but I’ve always managed to sneak one in regardless of my conditioning.

The last time I laced up my racing shoes was a year ago.  I ran a leg for a relay team at the California International Marathon.  I wasn’t in the best of shape then having been beaten up from the St. George Marathon which dampened my enthusiasm for training.  Despite my poor condition and 8 miles of rolling hills I managed to help my team to a victory.

With only four weeks of racing left I figured it was time to give it a go and a popular 10K this weekend seemed as good a time as any.  I had no idea where my fitness level stood.  Since moving back from California I had enjoyed five months of decent training.  Problem is out of those 800 or so miles of training less than a dozen of those miles clocked in under 8 minute per mile pace.  I had serious doubts as to whether I could even break 50 minutes for a 10K.

The Czarina who had shown an absolute lack of interest in racing helped seal the deal by deciding to join me in getting up at the crack of dawn to give it a go.  90 percent of the races around here are pancake flat.  This race traverses two of the bridges that span the Caloosahatchee River which meant we’d actually have to run up a couple of major hills.  Given my sketchy hip I had no idea how it or my right hamstring would react to the hills.

The gun went off at 8 a.m. and I decided to keep an eye on one particular runner in my age group who I always beat but is never very far behind me.  The year before he had run around 48 minutes so I figured it would be best to start out behind him and pace myself off of his effort.  He opened up about 30 yards on me in the first quarter mile but by 1 mile I was just 10 feet behind him rolling along at an easy feeling 7:30 pace.
Before we headed up the first bridge I scooted on by him and decided to concentrate on reeling in runners while making sure I stayed within my comfort zone.  Over the next 5 miles I caught 30 or so runners.  Two caught and passed me but one I reeled in over the last quarter mile. 
More importantly I ran an even pace throughout the entire race and even caught one of the top women masters competitors who I had never beaten before.  When all was said and done I hit the finish line in 46:45, a good minute or so faster than I thought I could run.  I feel one spot short of an age group award but I was a good 90 seconds behind him.
The Czarina came rolling in more than 10 minutes later looking no worse for wear.  Surprisingly she didn’t earn an age group award.  One of her rivals beat her to the finish line by a mere 30 yards but the Czarina was in good spirits just the same.  It was her first race since St. George, more than 14 months ago. So we’ve got one under the belt and a whole winter and spring of racing ahead.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Jim Hershberger

If you ever met Jim Hershberger, you'd never forget it.  Though small in stature, he was larger than life with an ability to take over a room through his sheer force of personality.  James Wayne Hershberger passed away a few days ago, ironically, not far from where I live now.  He was 80 years old.

I first met Jim Hershberger in 1971.  Everyone in Kansas knew who Jim Hershberger was.  He was an oil millionaire who loved track and field.  Hershberger loved to compete and was a great age group runner before the term was even invented.

I was at my first 10 mile road race with my friend Greg Morgenson.  It was in the tiny western Kansas town of LaCrosse.  It was a simple out and back affair with maybe 50 to 75 runners present.  There were no t-shirts, there were no age group awards and if you weren't in the top 10 you were out of the medals.  I remember seeing someone wearing track spikes clacking along the asphalt road, insanity I thought.  Most of the race was on a gravel road so the idiot in spikes probably didn't suffer too much but I remember the heat and struggling back the last four miles.

I finished somewhere near the top 10 in about 65 minutes but out of the medals.  Not long after I crossed the finish line I was approached by one Jim Hershberger who offered me a bit of sound advice.  He told me to stop running on my toes.  I had spent the previous winter learning to run on my toes at the insistence of my junior high coach.  Despite the words of wisdom from Hershberger I continued the practice until the following spring.  Of course as soon as I switched my times dropped dramatically.

Hershberger was a fixture at the Kansas Relays.  It amazed me that a man in his 40's could hammer 880 yards at close to 2 minutes flat.  He ponied up the money to build the synthetic track at Kansas and spent lavishly in other ways to support the Kansas track and field program. 

But he was polarizing.  His love of the limelight could be off putting to some people.  He made it to the pages of Sports Illustrated in 1981 when he created his own athletic challenge involving multiple sports at age 50.  The competition was something of a precursor to the sports crazes that athletes now compete in like cross fit.

It ended in the late 1980's for Hershberger in a fraud scandal.  I'm ambivalent about what happened.  Part of me wants to believe that Jim was a fall guy, done in by a subordinate looking to save his own hide.  Nevertheless, Jim Hershberger went to federal prison for his supposed crimes.  His family says prison changed him.  My friends who knew him say that he never showed that in public.

I last saw Jim about three years ago at a gathering of Kansas alums in Fort Myers.  I didn't know it but he was already suffering from Alzheimer's.  He was the same Jim Hershberger, smiling and ready to tell a story.  I write about it because Jim was a trailblazer for age group competitors.  He kept competing in his 40's and 50's until his body wouldn't let him anymore.  He certainly had the broken bones and surgeries to prove it.  In a sense I still run and compete because of what I saw from Jim Hershberger 40 years ago.  Thanks for the advice Jim and for daring to compete at the highest levels.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Tyshawn = Turnover

Tis the season to write about Kansas basketball.  After watching four of the Jayhawk's first five games I've come to one conclusion.  This team will only go as far as Tyshawn Taylor can take them. 

Kansas should have beaten Duke last night.  Taylor's 11 turnovers insured the Jayhawks wouldn't.  It was pretty much the same story in the loss to Kentucky.  Taylor and his back court cohort Elijah Johnson were very sloppy with the basketball.

This is going to be a very long and trying season for Kansas fans.  Oh, this team will get to 20 wins barring a major injury and it will make another visit to the NCAA tournament, but it won't be pretty.  This team will have to play scrappy, hard-nosed basketball, to win games.  Everyone knows that this team has no bench.  The starting five will have to carry the load.

The most pleasant surprise has been the arrival of Jeff Withey.  He's gone from being a poor man's Eric Chenowith to a reasonably good post player.  He's got the best hands I've seen on a Kansas big man in a long time and can rebound and block shots.  He can't finish worth a poot around the basket but I've got a feeling that by next year he'll be a double digit contributor in the paint on a regular basis.  Withey and sure to be All-American Thomas Robinson almost make the loss of the Morris twins bearable.

But back to Taylor.  He's as entertaining as he is frustrating.  Tyshawn is trying to grow into his role as the team leader.  If he does the Jayhawks will be a very, very tough team to deal with by the end of the year.  But if he continues to slip into his lackadaisical street ball style that gets him in trouble on the court not to mention his off the court antics, then Jayhawk land had better be prepared to deal with the bitter and the sweet.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Sail Away

Inspiration seems to have sailed away.  I've neglected my blogging while I've intensified my job search.  I caught a wisp of inspiration over the weekend when Randy Newman put in an appearance on Austin City Limits.  It took me back to the first time that I heard any of his music.

I was still a student at the University of Kansas and the gang of Ballpark baseball enthusiasts had gathered at Colin Gage's home which was then located just off K-10 between Lawrence and Eudora.  Colin was playing various music as we played the game and drank beer.  But he made a special point of having us listen to Newman's greatest album, "Sail Away."  On it is one of my all time favorite songs.  It is a beautiful composition, one that I can listen to over and over again.  "Louisiana 1927" is a jewel among an album full of great songs from the title track through such rollicking tunes "Rednecks" and "Kingfish."

Other than the music it's been a week of watching Kansas get manhandled by Kentucky.  It's going to be a long year for Jayhawk nation.  I've had fun watching my friend Max Ustler play baseball with his cadre of 60 plus buddies.  And I'm making progress in my efforts to learn Russian.  I always made my first run of 10 miles for the year.  It went surprisingly well.  The result may inspire to actually run a race sometime soon.  Maybe.   

Sunday, November 6, 2011

1000 miles continued

Anyway my Lauren Fleshman prediction didn't go too far afield.  I'll give her credit.  She must have suffered over the last few miles but she finished in just a shade under 2:38.  For a first time effort I'm pretty impressed.  The marathon overall was amazing.  The women's race featured a massive flame out with an relatively unknown Ethiopian Firehiwot Dado catching front running Kenyan Mary Keitany in the final 2 kilometers.  On the men's side Kenyan Geoffrey Mutai showed his earth shattering Boston win was no fluke smashing the field with 10 kilometers to go and blowing up the course record in the process.
More importantly on this Sunday the stench of big money that permeates college football found its way to Columbia, Missouri.  Mizzou decided to skate to the SEC.  Their departure from the Big 12 will bring an end to the oldest football rivalry west of the Mississippi.  Missouri fielded competitive teams in the Big 12 in both football and basketball.  They won't be able to compete in the SEC.  Their hoops team will continue to make it into the NCAA tournament but football will be a whole different story.  They'll be lapdogs like Kentucky and Vanderbilt.  I say good riddance.

Finally 1000 miles means a lot.  I have run at least 1000 miles every year since I was 15 years old.  That's 40 years of at least 1000 miles.  I don't know how many lifetime miles I have.  I was never very good about keeping accurate logs until I hit 30.  But my lifetime total is probably in the neighborhood of 60,000 miles.  I'm no Craig Davidson that's for sure!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

1000 miles

Running hasn't been as much fun this year as it was last.  Training for the St. George Marathon was front and center.  I actually had to run more than 30 miles a week and do runs that lasted more than an hour.  I went to the track to do hard workouts.  For some reason that hasn't happened in the last 12 months.

I went through a four month case of the blahs after St. George.  The cold, rainy, winter in Sacramento didn't help.  Working in a difficult environment didn't help.  I didn't have any goals and I couldn't get excited about running save for the fact that I didn't want to weigh 200 pounds. 

So as the weather warmed I got back into the swing of things.  Moving back home got me to be more consistent about training.  The Czarina is always raring and ready to go so that helps on days when lacing up the shoes doesn't seem very important. 

But I need to start racing to at least break out of the lethargy that just doing training runs brings on.  The racing season is just about to go full tilt in Southwest Florida and I need to just do it.

And that leads me to tomorrow and the New York City marathon.  One of my favorite runners Lauren Fleshman will attempt her first marathon.  I'm really worried for her.  She's doing it coming off her track season with only two and a half months of proper marathon preparation.  From my perspective even if you're in shape, which Lauren undoubtedly is, you need a good six months to run a quality marathon.

She's not holding any illusions that she's going to go out and run some ridiculously fast time.  I think that will help her.  But honestly I won't be shocked if she drops out by 20 miles.  The NYC course is a bear and Lauren is a competitor.  Those competitive juices could get her into trouble if she tries to stay with the lead pack.  I hope I'm wrong.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Weekend Rambling

This has been a weekend of recovery.  The super fast trip to Russia left my mind and body feeling like it got lost in the Twilight Zone.  All the while the job search has now been ratcheted up to a new level.

By Monday my tooth with a temporary crown was back in pain mode.  It flared up about two weeks before the trip but the removal of the old crown seemed to do the trick.  Thank goodness it didn't start hurting while I was overseas.  Anyway the dentist recommended a root canal before putting in the permanent cap so that meant fun in the chair on Thursday.  The root canal wasn't nearly as painful as I expected, but tonight the temporary crown fell out.  Thank goodness I'm going back to the dentist on Monday.
A glimmer of light came earlier in the day via an email from Riga.  Some much anticipated pictures came from Masha's birthday party.  The celebration actually occurred back in September.  Masha, on the right, turned 5.  The shindig included a clown and plenty of face paint.  I think if I had gotten a clown on my 5th birthday I would have suffered nightmares for weeks.
I mean seriously, wouldn't you run the other way if you were a young child and saw this guy in the room?  But these little girls seemed to enjoy it.  The pictures brought a smile to the Czarina's face and that's what really matters after all.

By the way, did I mention that I can't wait to see Harold and Kumar's 3D Christmas?  Is that wrong?

Sunday, October 23, 2011

What I've Learned in the Last Week

I've learned that flying to Russia and back in less than a week isn't an easy thing to do.  Technically I left the house at 11:30 a.m. on Saturday and returned on Friday night at 10:15 p.m.  That's about 13,000 miles of air travel or 44 hours of fun time in less than a week.

I've learned that I don't want to make another trip to Russia without the Czarina.  As we looked through the pictures and the videos that I took during my whirlwind adventure I could sense her sadness at not getting to visit a city she desperately wants to see again.  The Czarina was last in Leningrad more than two decades ago.

I've learned that despite the fact that I'm not some sterling academic with a PhD or some world renowned journalist I can deliver a clear analysis of what works and what's important when it comes to practicing the profession.  The last two trips put me before students, TV journalists from small cities in Russia and one of the up and coming local TV operations in St. Petersburg.  This time was different.

This time I had to deliver to a room full of academics, top journalists from St. Petersburg and even a couple of journalists who had flown all the way from Kazakhstan just to hear what I had to say about the state of local TV news in America, the impact of social media on it, and the growing use of multimedia journalists.  I won't lie.  I was intimidated and nervous.  Thank God I had a practice run on Monday before a group of students before I went before the pros on Tuesday.  Each day I had to stand and deliver for six hours.  The journalists were happy, the academics were happy, and the people who sponsored the event were happy.  I even got a gift from the Kazaks, two nice fellows who didn't speak a word of English.
I've learned how lucky I am to meet people like Antonia, the lovely young woman who you see at the beginning of this video.  Her mother Vera works for the consulate and is responsible for bringing me to St. Petersburg.  Antonia has worked as my interpreter for the first and third trip.  I was showing the group how my flip camera worked as part of my demonstration.  As you can see I am not the steadiest of shooters but nevertheless, the gathering enjoyed my efforts at playing photographer.
I've learned that students are becoming more precocious.  I had three students at the two different colleges approach me about getting internships in the United States.  Too bad I can't get a commission for obtaining American internships for Russian journalists.

I've learned that I've barely touched on the beautiful spots that one needs to visit in St. Petersburg.  I still haven't made it to Peterhof with its amazing fountains and gardens.  This list of museums, churches and palaces worth visiting could fill a week.  I need to make the trip when the work load isn't quite so daunting.

I've learned that Russians have the same dreams and aspirations as Americans.  They want a government that's responsive to their needs.  They want to be able to practice their profession unfettered by censorship or threats.  They want to make a fair wage for doing a good day's work.  I go list the things that make us different, but Russians are a lot more like Americans than I would have ever dared dream.  

Saturday, October 22, 2011

French Fried

I think it was the four hours I spent lounging around the airport in Paris that put did me in  I got all of about four hours sleep before I left St. Petersburg for Florida.  I tried to get a full eight but I woke up at about 2:30 a.m. and rested fitfully until 4:15 a.m. when I got up and showered.  I then enjoyed my first Skype session with the Czarina since the previous Sunday and headed downstairs and to my awaiting taxi.

The streets of St. Petersburg where deserted at that hour.  I arrived at the airport at 5:30 a.m. and faced the prospect of a two hour wait in an airport with all the charm of a gulag.  A group of Americans fresh off two weeks of cruising through Russia were there waiting for the Air France flight that would take us to Paris.  They were all in the 70 plus crowd and were thrilled with what they had experienced.

7:30 came and we flew out of St. Petersburg and began our trip to France when "it" happened.  "It" was the single worse piece of turbulence I have ever experienced.  I really thought it was over.  About 20 minutes into our flight the plane took a sudden jolt.  I opened my eyes and felt the Airbus beginning to sharply rise and then suddenly the jet shuddered again and began a quick roll to the right and a sudden descent.  I was seated in an exit row and glance out the window.  The wing was pointed straight down to the ground and it felt as the the aircraft was going to do a complete flip.

I sensed at that point the pilots finally wrested control of the jet and gently stopped the roll and slowly brought the plane level as we still veered down toward the earth.  The woman who was sitting in my row on the aisle seat looked at me in horror.  I started saying my prayers and then realized the plane had stopped descending.  I've experienced plenty of roller coaster rides through big storms but never have experienced anything like this.  The pilots never said a word.  The crew only asked us to make sure our seat belts were fastened after the incident ended.  It lasted all of about 15 to 20 seconds.

My seat mate who has probably flown more miles than I can imagine said she had never experienced anything like it.  We were both pretty shaken as were the other passengers, mostly Russians.  When we landed two and a half hours later in Paris there was scattered applause among the passengers.

Paris was a nightmare.  The line through security was monstrous.  It took forever to get through but then I had four hours plus to wait for my flight.  Had it gone quicker I might have been able to catch an earlier flight back through Atlanta but alas it wasn't in the cards.  I went up to the waiting area for our flight and finally fell to sleep for about half an hour until a baby started wailing.  That's when I realized they had changed our gate.  I went there looking forward to 90 more minutes of wait and asked the Delta employee if I could get my seat moved up closer to the front of the plane.  I was seated near the rear and much to my delight she moved me out of the middle row to a window seat closer to the front.

I then discovered at the front of the terminal an area where reclining couches were situated in the sun and cursed myself for not checking this spot sooner.  I went and laid down and waited for my 1:35 departure.  Much to my displeasure I couldn't fall back to sleep.

The rest of the journey home was much less exciting.  The plane was packed.  A young couple was flying with a howling newborn and they were seated near the rear of the plane right where my earlier seat assignment had been.  Where I was sitting I could barely hear the constant crying.  I don't know why people insist on taking babies on flights like this.  I could only imagine the torture for those sitting back there.

I managed to watch 3 movies during the 9 hour excursion.  My seatmate was a young woman just getting out of the Navy.  She was traveling to Georgia and we enjoyed some good conversation but neither one of us got much if any sleep.  Once on the ground in Atlanta I hustled through customs and arrived at my gate where a massive crowd was hoping to get aboard my flight.  Delta even switched to a larger aircraft because they had overbooked.  I landed in Fort Myers at 9:35 p.m. which technically would be 5:35 a.m. St. Petersburg time.  I was thus on the back end of 25 hours with less than two hours of sleep.

I'm fried, but the bags are unpacked and we've gone through all of the goodies, photos and videos I shot.  I don't know when or if I will ever return to St. Petersburg but if I ever do I know it won't be without the Czarina.  And I know I'm not doing it on such a compressed schedule.  It's going to take another 12 hours of sleep to get somewhere back to normal.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Time to Pack

I've got about 12 hours left in St. Petersburg.  The time has flown by.  I spent the morning speaking with a Russian journalist about American traffic laws.  The Russians are pretty serious about minor traffic violations and wondered why Americans don't get into more trouble for pulling illegal U turns.  I gave it my best try and the reporter seemed happy.

I then returned to the college in the heart of the city where I made my first visit more than three years ago.  I sat in front of about three dozen fresh faced Russian students.  It was wonderful to see more boys among the group of mostly female journalists in training.  After I gave them a ten minute sermon about why they are in the midst of a wonderful revolution in which a new form of journalism is being born.  I told them the Internet is taking over and that they needed the skills of a print and television reporter along with a lot of technical ability to survive.

The students then delivered more than 90 minutes of non-stop questions.  They wanted to know all about American journalism.  I was particularly impressed with one young man who asked me what I thought about the journalism practiced by Hunter Thompson.  After the session he proudly came up to me and exclaimed that he wanted to be a Gonzo Journalist.  I couldn't have been more pleased.

The real fun started after the class.  Vera, my Russian friend who works for the U.S. Consulate, and her lovely daughter Toni, who acts as my interpreter, were driving me back to the center part of the city so I could do a little sightseeing.  Traffic is beyond chaotic in old part of St. Petersburg.  Poor Toni got caught between traffic signals right in front of a police officer.  The officer calmly waived her over and began to ask her for every piece of paperwork imaginable.  I felt horrible.  Vera looked at me smiled and said, "this will take some time, you might as well get out and walk."  So I took this farewell snapshot, Toni in her red Ford Fusion with the police officer patiently waiting for her to find the right papers.  The cop didn't give me a second thought. 
Directly across the street from where we were stopped sits the Hermitage.  It was about 3 p.m. in the afternoon and I had a tough choice to make.  Do I tour the Hermitage again or do I check out another site that I wanted to see plus pick up some souvenirs. 

I opted for the Church of the Spilled Blood.  It was an inexpensive option and it was a moving experience.  The church is built on the spot where Czar Alexander II was assassinated.  It's domes are one of the most famous sites in the city.  Inside it's just as spectacular.  While the church is not as massive as St. Isaac's Cathedral, the beauty inside is something else.  The marble and the Icons are very impressive. 
Spot where Czar was murdered

Once I had spent a half hour or so inside I headed outside to the tourist market which sits just across the street.  I spent another half hour there finding the right items.  There was a painting I wanted to buy.  It was a unique collage of the city skyline but it was priced just beyond what I wanted to pay.  My guess is that it would have been worth it and it is probably a work that will only grow in value.

I then made the two mile hike back to my hotel and stopped for a quick meal along the way.  The weather while overcast and cool wasn't as biting as the previous day.  I watched tourists along the Neva take delight in a trained bear.  I'll post many of my pictures on Facebook.  But I've got to pack now and get some sleep.  5 a.m. will come way too soon.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Hello Russian Winter

Tuesday's sunshine was swept away by an arctic blast on Wednesday as snow flurries accompanied my walk to the seminar which I took part in along the Neva River.  The snow really got going once I was inside and I was too busy to grab my camera to take a snapshot.  One thing Russians believe in is decent heating so despite my Florida blood the cold temperatures really weren't a bother.

I somehow managed to survive the second day of my lectures in one piece.  I was worried today because I discussed a topic that I really wasn't qualified to discuss.  They wanted to know why Americans are so loathe to follow world news.  I delivered my gut instincts about the lack of international news on American television.  First, we are an isolated country, protected by two oceans and with two neighboring countries with stable governments.  Second,  Americans are self-absorbed.  They care about their neighbors and their community but our interests don't go much farther than that.  Most Americans are worried about making their house and car payments and making sure they can feed their families.

Later in the day I was joined by some other Russian journalists who discussed the current state of affairs in their country.  The government has become more and more heavy handed in its censorship of the media.  And much to my relief, Andrei Radin, the gentleman on the right, backed up my assertions about Americans lack of interest in world affairs.  I've met Andrei in my two previous trips to St. Petersburg.  He is one of the nation's top broadcast journalists, certainly on a level as Ted Koppel or maybe a younger version of Bob Schieffer.  Andrei's love of journalism led him to a difficult decision to leave  this job running the newsroom of one of St. Petersburg's fast rising local news channels.

Andrei is leading the first effort in St. Petersburg to create an Internet television news operation.  I believe this is the website.  What I love about him is his brutal honesty.  He's disgusting by the dumbing down of Russian media.  Andrei and his friend sitting in the middle are both heart-broken by the crassness that permeates much of Russian television.   He wants to create a place where intelligent and critical reporting can thrive.  Andrei's the first to admit that he has no idea where this bold experiment will go and whether or not it will survive.  But I agree with Andrei on this one thing, Internet will kill the television business much as it is doing newspapers.  It only makes economic sense.  Why pay for an expensive transmitter and tower when you go accomplish the same thing on the web.  Once the technical issues are overcome in the next decade or so Internet television will rule all media.

It was an honor to be sitting at the same table as three important figures in St. Petersburg.  I sometimes feel inadequate when it comes to the intellectual prowess that these men and women bring to our profession but I make up for it with my passion and for my ability to draw from my gut instincts about basic human wants and desires when it comes to journalism.

Tomorrow I wrap up my visit to a local television and film college, my favorite stop in this wonderful city.  My host has promised me that I will have a chance to do a little sight seeing in the afternoon.  Today confirmed something in my heart in light of all of my professional trials and travails of the last six months.  I am good at what I do.  I understand what I do.  Unfortunately I don't have the ruthless nature that most TV news operations mandate of their managers in this day and age.

I say this because today I learned that one of my all-time favorite co-workers was essentially forced out of her job at KVLY TV.  Robin Huebner was quite simply one of the best broadcast journalists I ever worked with.  She was North Dakota television news.  Smart, compassionate, insightful, a leader, and just a wonderful person to work with.  KVLY sent her packing, the latest in a dozen or so high profile departures in the last year or so from KVLY.  It's another instance of a media company with absolutely no ties to the community it is licensed to serve completely ignoring its customers.  Hoak Media represents the egregious corporate mentality that is destroying broadcasting.  They're not alone.  Even once great corporate companies that once espoused the very best that journalism had to offer, Gannett to name one, has fallen victim to this and is charting its own path to irrelevancy.

Good luck Robin, you deserve the very best, I am so thankful that I had a chance to work with you, Charley, Tom, Daron, Dave, Julie, Mick, Jerimiah, Pam, Petey, Sean, Lynn, Doug, Dave Erickson, Dan, Andrea, Tracy, Carol, Heather, Sarah and Roxana in one of the best teams I've ever had the privilege to work with.  Fargo deserves better.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Big Show

Slowly but surely they filed in.  Russian journalists and academics who had come from across the country to listen to what I had to say about American television news.  I didn't paint a pretty picture.  Let's face it, the economy has really hurt the business.  No, television isn't dying like newspapers but anyone working in TV knows to get by these days you have to learn to do more with less.

The message rang true with my Russian colleagues.  I could tell that the American way of doing things is beginning to infiltrate their lives.  They see that the practices being introduced in American news, MMJ's and the like will one day come to their country.  These professionals want to know how to adapt and survive. 

It was a long day.  I spent about six hours talking and answering questions.  It's a draining experience.  It makes me appreciate the hard work American teachers put in every day dealing with a bunch of crazy kids.  I don't know how they find the energy to do it.

I finally got away after the lecture to enjoy a decent meal at a decent restaurant.  This is the view a mere two blocks from my hotel room and about two blocks from the restaurant.  This city is one picture postcard after another.  The setting sun glistened across the city.  I took more pictures, a few which I will post to Facebook later.  St. Petersburg never ceases to amaze.

I ended my day holding forth with a Russian Facebook friend of mine, Anastasia Tulchinskaya and two of her work colleagues from Channel 5.  It was a more intimate version of the seminar that I had conducted earlier in the day.  I can't help but admire the honest desire on the part of Russian journalists to learn all they can about the news business.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Silence of the Lambs

It took 12 hours of sleeping but I left the jet lag behind ready for business in St. Petersburg.  Anyone that knows me at all knows that I am a picky eater.  The free breakfast at my hotel offered some culinary challenges.  I'm not much on carrot juice or eggs or the weird hash that was waiting me.  But I did manage something resembling scrambled eggs, some toast and believe or not cucumbers.  It was the first real food I had enjoyed in 24 hours.

Then it was off to St. Petersburg State which is a very prestigious institution of higher education in Russian.  This lecture had not been included on my original list so the State Department was getting a freebee out of me.  I was told the class understood English so no translator would be needed.  That left me a little worried that I would be short on material because having to translate everything helps fill the time.

I stumbled my way through 45 minutes talking about why Americans aren't big consumers of international news and the students stared back blankly.  I tried getting them to ask questions and I was met mostly by silence until finally a couple of students, both Germans started asking very good and pointed questions.  I made it through the first 90 minutes wondering what in the heck I would do for the last 90.

I went with the tried and true and showed them videos of some very good television stories.  That finally got the questions coming.  I think they were mostly stunned by the quick, tight shots and the frequent use of natural sound.  Most Russian television news is completely lacking in pace and energy.  The storytelling is lethargic.

My host Vera Savko later explained to me that Russian students are usually reluctant to ask questions in class.  These two were Germans who want to come to tomorrow's lectures.  I guess they are gluttons for punishment.  Russian students apparently like to wait until after class and ask any questions in private, which did happen.  It was three hours of what I thought felt like sheer boredom but Vera and the school's dean liked it in fact the dean asked that I come back on Thursday.  Fortunately I am going to another school that I have been before and where the professor there always makes me feel like a superstar.

I declined a drive from Vera and her driver back to the hotel and took the one mile or so walk back to my hotel.  Vera's directions really didn't help a lot but as soon as I got across the river I began to recognize landmarks and found my way back to the hotel with nary a problem.  After I refreshed myself I went on another long walk, about two miles, to The Hermitage.  It was too late in the afternoon to bother paying to tour the place but it felt good to see this beautiful city again.
Right now I'm watching some weird Russian MTV show that is a combination of the Dating Game and stripping.  I'm not sure what to think.  Tomorrow I'm going to make it over to one of the tourists markets and go through one of the historic churches.  I'm just glad I don't feel completely crapped out from the lack of sleep.  Besides, I just have three more days to enjoy this wonderful adventure.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Major Road Trip that is Flying from Fort Myers

The major road trip that is flying from Fort Myers, Florida to St. Petersburg Russia, got off to a spectacular on Saturday.  Our 12:45 p.m. flight carried me and a couple of hundred other souls to the city of Cincinnati where the airport bars close at 5 p.m. on Saturday.

Our scheduled departure for 5:50 seemed in doubt when none of the pilots were on hand for general boarding at 5:05. I spent an hour so with a young man headed to Vegas and working over his iPAD like a dog with a bone.  Man this those things must be fun.

The Pilots stated strolling in about 15 minutes late and boarding began.  It all made me a little nervous because I had 90 minutes to run the gauntlet this customs and made it on to my next flight.

The trip from Cincinnati to Paris was uneventful.  The six foot three inch Frenchman jammed in our middle for a better spot where he could stretch out.  That left an FAA inspector and me with plenty of room for the seven hour plus the food was decent. This plane didn't have the individual monitors where you get to pick and choose what you want, but I degree.  The highlight of the entertainment evening was X-Men First Class and it went pretty much downhill from there.  The      problems involved a epic fat guy snorer and an old Chinese man who spoke in a very loud voice at very early hour. 

Coming off the flight that arrived on time I was worried about my checked bag.  I was reassured twice over my bag would make.  The Paris Charles DeGaulle Airports had some interesting smells which I won't dwell but I do want to say that the customs, security folks, and gate agents were all super nice and super helpful an made this American feel good about his trip.

Loading the plane for St. Petersburg was something of an adventure. It was first come first serve so it triggered a mild case of pandemonium which actually led a rather quick loading of the aircraft.  The Air France crew had to keep tabs on the rather rowdy Russian passengers who don't like following rules.  They served an interesting breakfast, cold chicken, which down right decent.  The gentleman next to me drank red wine with his, the flight attendants seemed shock at my lack of interest in alcohol.

The attendents fill out our visa paperwork on the plane which saved a major hazzle for customs.  I flew through there in record time and my bag rolled out on the carousel not five minutes later and my driver Sergey and I renewed our acquaintance for began in 2008.  Gone was the Amercan Ford beater that he had been driving for a much nicer Sonota.  I was toast so the sites of the city whiz but one can't stop to help think about the massive parks between the airport and downtown that hold the mass graves of the siege of the city of Leningrad in World War II.

They've highjacked my day off, Monday, and I was talk to a group of University students.  I'm going to try to be entertaining as possible.  You know me, I can spin yarns about newsroom activities all day.  Time for some more sleep so I'm human in the morning.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Monsoon City

The beautiful thing about Florida weather is that it rarely rains all day.  You can almost always count on an appearance from the sun.  But as fate would have it the rains came and never dissipated this weekend in Orlando.  We made the trip to catch up with Mike and Katherine Bloemker.  Mike brought his cross country teams from Johnson County Community College hoping his squads could catch some good weather and run some fast times.

Mother nature did not cooperate.  First I want to take a well-deserved shot at Disney.  They charged $14.50 to get into the venue to watch the meet.  I could see charging 5 dollars to get into the meet but this kind of price gouging is embarrassing.  When we arrived at 7 a.m. it was overcast with a hint of rain.  By the time the gun sounded at 7:45 a.m. for the men's race a steady downpour was underway.  At times it rained buckets.  The course quickly turned to slop.

Mike's men did a remarkable job considering the conditions and finished 3rd in the team race.  Poor Mike had to scramble around in the nasty conditions while the Czarina and I hid out in some nearby stands.  By the time the women's race got going the rain started to ease up as the course got muddier and muddier.  JCCC's women executed some nice pack running and beat their main junior college competitors.

The drier conditions allowed us to get a good look at the finish.  The wet conditions slowed down the men's and women's winner by a good minute at least.  But the main purpose was to catch up with Mike, Katherine, and their bruising son Griffin.  The precocious 30-month-old was in his element, rain and all.  He enjoyed running like a wild child around the Disney complex.  It's a wonder Mike and Katherine can keep up with him.

Within 30 minutes of the women's race ending the skies opened up again and it poured non-stop.  That put a crimp in our plans to check out Sea World and it shortened our shopping expedition to Downtown Disney and a nearby outlet mall.  We were relieved to return to Fort Myers on Sunday where the sun was putting in an appearance.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Where Has the Year Gone

The blog has been ignored with a mountain of writing and preparation.  I've always done okay with Power Point but the whole video thing has been a pain in the backside.  The workload kept me from writing about the year that has passed since the 2010 St. George Marathon.  Last year the Czarina and I ventured to Utah to join my friend Craig Davidson as he ran his 200th marathon.

St. George was my 20th marathon and I'm guessing my last.  I detailed the race last year in my blog.  Breaking four hours isn't my idea of running a good marathon but one never knows.

I've only run one race since then participating in a team marathon relay last December running an 8 mile leg in Sacramento's California International Marathon.  Without race goals to motivate me my training really went slack after St. George.  I really didn't get back into the swing of running more than 20 miles a week until April of this year.

Returning to Fort Myers certainly helped in terms of running almost everyday.  But I haven't done anything fast and not a single run of more than 8 miles.  With the soreness in my right hip speed and mileage just don't seem very inviting right now.  Regardless, I'm looking forward to doing some fall racing even if it means barely running under 8 minute mile pace.

The joy of running remains with me.  The weather finally turned in the last week and the humidity suddenly vanished making it even more inviting to lace up the shoes.  I'm sure Craig would have liked to have had some of our weather last weekend when he ran St. George completing his 207th marathon.  It was another hot year at St. George which is unusual.  Craig made it to the finish line in 4:27 and change.  That's more than a half hour slower than last year's run.  Needless to say, there are things about getting older that stink!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Quick Trip to the Land of Czars

The job search went on hold about three weeks ago.  I received an invitation to visit St. Petersburg, Russia in October.  I'm going to visit with Russian journalists to speak about the changing landscape of local American television news. 

This will mark my third visit since 2008 to St. Petersburg.  The picture on the left was taken during my first visit during Russia's Christmas season.  It was an incredible experience.  It was my first trip overseas and a first class experience all the way around.

The second trip came about 15 months after the first.  I made even more friends and became even more familiar with everyday life in Russia living in an neighborhood apartment, learning to navigate my way around the city without getting too lost.  Unfortunately I didn't do the kind of sightseeing I did on the first trip.

This time around I plan to make better use of my free time.  I want to make it to Peterhof which is just outside the city.  I also want to take another walk through The Hermitage.  There's so much to see in this one-time palace that it's overwhelming.

I've even started taking Russian classes.  It's ridiculous that it's taken me this long to make a real effort at learning the language.  It is a ridiculously difficult language to learn.  Sometimes I feel like my head is going to explode.  But I'm enjoying the challenge.  It's like puzzle solving taken to the nth degree.

Sadly my Russian will be sorely lacking when I step off the plane in three weeks.  But I'm hoping that with a lot of studying in the next few months I might be able to actually hold a short conversation with The Czarina.  Now that would be something!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

A Concert I May Never See

I've seen every band or singer live that I've wanted to except for a handful.  Obviously when it comes to bands The Beatles would be on that list along with The Band.  I'll never get to see either thanks to the passing of some great performers.  Also on that list is REM, which shocked fans by announcing it's the end today.

REM helped ignite the genre of college or alternative music in the early 1980's.  I didn't pay much attention just like I pretty much ignored U2 for most of the 80's.  But along came a music video on MTV that grabbed me probably more than any video I ever saw, period.  "Losing My Religion" made REM a hugely popular band starting a ride of three very successful albums, "Out of Time," "Automatic for the People," and "Monster."

By the late 90's the band was running out of steam.  "New Adventures in Hi-Fi" was just okay and the albums that followed had moments but lacked the power of the aforementioned trio.  Actually REM's early albums like "Murmur," "Life's Rich Pageant," and "Green" are outstanding in their own right.

When I first saw today's news of REM's retirement on Facebook my guts told me this was about selling records or their inability to do so in today's crazy world where music is stolen left and right.  An article on the band in "Rolling Stone" party confirmed my suspicions.

REM's only choice to make money was to tour.  I'm not sure Michael Stipe, Mike Mills and Peter Buck wanted to grind it out for dollars that way.  They've made a ton of dough already and the lure of touring probably doesn't appeal to the group, especially Stipe, the band's lead singer.  My hope is that a few years down the road someone will pile up enough cash in front of REM to lure them back out for one more go.  In the meantime I'll have to be satisfied with videos like this of my favorite REM song.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Mockingbird Time

Next Tuesday a musical resurrection comes to fruition when one of my favorite bands releases their first new music in eight years.  "Mockingbird Time" marks the reunion of the song writing duo of Mark Olson and Gary Louris making their first album as The Jayhawks in more than a decade.

Olson left the group in 1995, partly out of frustration I suspect.  The band had produced two critically acclaimed albums yet failed to catch on with the main stream.  Louris soldiered on for another six years putting out three more albums including the fabulous "Rainy Day Music" before calling it quits.

The Internet killed bands like The Jayhawks, who had survived on the edge before the rampant theft of music destroyed music sales.  That left touring as the only way to make money and although they had a loyal following I suspect the band didn't see a future for itself.

But that loyal following kept buzz about the band alive, mostly on the Internet.  And then the occasional reunions only added fuel to the fire.  Finally Louris and Olson put out a duet album setting them on a path for a full blown reunion.

I had the pleasure of watching them perform live on a web stream this week from their home base in Minneapolis.  They played a large batch of their new songs and some old favorites for one of the NPR stations in the Twin Cities.  One of those selections is a gem from one of their earlier albums.  It's a song I overlooked until recently and it's certainly one of their best.  Enjoy "Red's Song."

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Czarina Takes Vegas

The Czarina likes to travel.  She enjoys getting up and going just about anywhere.  So it didn't take much persuading when I suggested she go see the boy since she hadn't seen her son since Christmas.  Then this crafty Russian saw an opportunity to make something more out her trip to Riverside, California by mixing pleasure with business. 

After booking her mid-September trip she realized that a major convention for SAP was taking place in Las Vegas.  SAP is a business software and the Czarina something of a wiz at it.  The Czarina talked her bosses into paying for her trip home with a one week stop in Vegas and the convention.  Given my lack of unemployment I quickly ruled out making the trip out west.  The recipe for financial disaster seemed ripe between my ability at the black jack table and the Czarina's luck at the slots.

So the Czarina is enjoying Las Vegas on her own, staying at Harrah's (which she loathes) and attending her convention next door at the Venetian.  She's been stunned by all of the free food and other goodies available at the convention.  The Czarina is a strong believer in free and finds it difficult to control herself whenever that particular word finds its way into the equation.  Her phone calls from Vegas have been like listening to a 5-year-old on Christmas morning.

The Czarina has a couple of more days to go and she's fully enjoying the classes.  Then she has to take a red-eye back home Friday night.  I can't wait for her to come home and hear more about this great adventure. 

Sunday, September 11, 2011


On September 11th, on this 10th anniversary of one this country's darkest moment, it seems appropriate to write about a book I finished reading this week.  The book is about a man who is emblematic of the American spirit.  He's a man who rose from meager circumstances to know success, survived the unimaginable at the hands of unbelievable cruelty, then found a way to heal himself and his damaged psyche after he returned home a hero.

"Unbroken" is the story of Louie Zamperini.  I pride myself on my knowledge of history regarding the sport of track and field.  Zamperini's name had somehow eluded me, but that's largely due to the fact that he was denied a chance at Olympic glory because of World War II.  Zamperini held the high school record for the mile run for nearly two decades.  He was an Olympian in 1936 at 19.

The war did much more than take away Zamperini's hopes of Olympic gold, but I will leave that story for you to read in Laura Hillenbrand's fabulous book about the pride of Torrence, California.  It's a great read given to me from my wonderful workmates in Sacramento.  Most importantly, the book gives in graphic detail the incredibly high cost of freedom. 

Saturday, September 10, 2011

10 Years Ago Today

I know exactly what I was doing ten years ago today at this very moment.  On the evening of September 10th 2001 I was driving through central Illinois trying to make it to Champaign.  I would spend a good 12 hours behind the wheel that day trying to make a big dent on a trip to Nashville for the Radio, Television, News Directors Association annual convention.

I was thinking about the stop I would make in Paducah, Kentucky where I would get a chance to touch base with old friends.  I was thinking about the stop I would make in Clarksville, Tennessee where I would see my sister and brother-in-law.  Mostly I was thinking about the seminars I would attend where I might learn something to help my newsroom climb the ratings ladder.

It was a Monday and the weather was beautiful.  I got into Champaign very late and didn't get to bed until just before Midnight.  I slept like a rock, rousing myself just early enough knowing that I needed to hit Paducah around noon.  I literally stumbled out of bed hitting the TV remote and NBC expecting to catch the end of "The Today Show."  I blinked a couple of times.  It was a shot of a smouldering World Trade Center.  What the fuck I thought, how did it catch fire?  Then just as I was comprehending the picture it went crashing down.  It was the South Tower going down.  Then I began to listen.  What I heard left me stunned and scrambling for my cell phone.

I called my newsroom and they were already hitting the streets sending crews to key locations such as the federal building in Fargo and the air force base in Grand Forks.  I gave a couple of quick suggestions which were hardly needed and told them I would get back as quickly as possible.  I was so lucky that I had decided against flying to Nashville.

I headed into the shower where I broke down and cried.  I realized that our lives, the lives of my country, the lives of my family, the lives of my friends, were changed forever.  I cried for my sister Karen and her husband Keith in Clarksville.  Keith was serving in the Army and I feared that this coming war could put him in harms way.  I composed myself and got my things together and hit the road to retrace my 12 hour journey of the previous day.

I was stuck listening to radio reports from Chicago for the first three hours of my trip.  It was frustrating not being able to see what was happening.  I pushed the speed limit driving between 80 to 85 miles an hour knowing that state troopers had other, more pressing matters to consider than a speeder.  The interstates were strangely devoid of traffic.

As I drove I soaked in what I could from the radio and called every couple of hours to talk with my newsroom.  The team at KVLY had everything in hand.  The operations was in the more than capable hands of General Manager Charley Johnson who had served as news director long before my arrival. 

I remember coming into Minneapolis as evening fell and seeing American flags draped over bridges.  I made my final pit stop there just as cars began to pile into fill up on gasoline fearing there would be major shortages.  By the time I did make it to Fargo and my newsroom just before 10 p.m. there were long lines at the service station next to our building.  I completed my trip home in 10 hours, 2 hours quicker than the previous day.  The sense of quiet shock permeated the newsroom and my presence was an afterthought.  But I was there and it felt good to see everyone working together telling such a big story that touched Fargo/Moorhead deeply just as it did communities across our great nation.

By a stroke of luck we actually had a reporter in Washington, D.C. that day.  Roxana Saberi was at NPR taking part in some sort of seminar.  She quickly switched gears and rounded up key members of our Congressional delegation for interviews and live reports.  A handful of people with direct ties to our community had lost their lives on September 11th and we did our best to tell their stories.  It was a heartbreaking day that stretched out for weeks.

I got home shortly after 11 p.m. and watched television with the Czarina.  Exhausted, I watched the horrific imagines with the one fear that these acts would bring a loss of freedom that Americans had so savored.  My worst fears were eventually realized with the formation of the Department of Homeland Security along with laws that helped our government circumvent our rights in the name of protecting lives.  I understand it but that doesn't mean I have to approve of it.

Worst of all we are locked in a war that will never really end.  President Bush failed so miserably using the attacks as a pretext to invade Iraq, a war that should have never been fought.  Instead of a laser focus on Afghanistan we created a morass that will only help foster more Jihadists there and in other countries filled with Islamic zealots like Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen.  

The last 10 years have felt more like 20.  The attacks of September 11th helped wreck our economy.  But I believe it will inevitably make this country stronger and greater.  I think the new One World Trade Center and the 9/11 memorial that sits in its shadow is testimony to that.  God Bless America.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Obama and the GOP Crazy Train

I don't blogging about politics.  I think writing about politics is a lot like writing about religion.  You usually end up pissing somebody off.  I think that's why the founders of our country did their best to keep religion out of government.  But I digress.

Barack Obama has been a huge disappointment as President.  His style, which is to build consensus among disparate groups, simply doesn't work in the face of the Tea Party antics of the Republican Party.  Thus he's been backed into a corner to come up with a real plan with real goals toward kick starting the economy.

The stimulus of 2009 didn't work because of Senator Harry Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.  It was a bill that was Washington politics as usual filled with pork which didn't deliver the kind of infrastructure jobs that would have gone a long way to building a better future.  I loathe Reid and Pelosi, just as I loathe Representative Eric Cantor and his ilk.  But again, I digress.

Tonight Barack Obama sounded like the President of the United States.  He threw down the gauntlet with a jobs plan that makes sense.  President Obama backed Republicans into a corner when he pleaded for keeping the payroll tax cut, "I know some of you have sworn oaths to never raise any taxes on anyone for as long as you live.  Now is not the time to carve out an exception and raise middle-class taxes, which is why you should pass this bill right away."  Of course none of what he suggested, fixing the corporate tax code, raising taxes on the richest Americans, is ever going to happen.  The President won't fight as mean and dirty as his opponents will to win this battle.

But juxtaposed against what I watched last night when the gang of 8 running as Republicans for President, Barack Obama sounded and looked presidential.  Only two of the GOP I heard from last night came remotely close.  Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman made the most sense.  I loved Huntsman for calling out the wack-a-do's Perry, Bachmann and Santorum.  Anyone conservative with a lick of common sense has to see that Romney is the only hope the party has to unseat Obama.

By the way, if Rick Perry does become President, get ready for George Bush on steroids.  That might be enough to get the Czarina and I packing for Riga.  I better start brushing up on my Russian! 

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Rolling Stone on The Beatles

I went out on Labor Day and hunted down a copy of a special edition "Rolling Stone" which covers The Beatles album by album.  "Morning Joe," simply the best morning news program out chatted up the magazine for a good five minutes on Friday.

For all of the great rock and roll bands over the last 50 years The Beatles are still the gold standard.  The Rolling Stones had their day, Led Zeppelin, The Who, U2, Queen, Aerosmith, the list is endless.  Yet everyone of the aforementioned bands and the dozens of great ones I didn't list were in some way, shape or form influenced by The Beatles.

I can still remember that night in February 1964 when the Fab Four first appeared on "The Ed Sullivan Show."  It stood out in part due to the reaction by my two older sisters who were in their early teens at the time plus it didn't hurt that they offered up catchy melodies and outrageous hair cuts.  It was such an event that it prompted a quick post telecast gathering outside in the winter chill with the Wehling girls who lived next door where I felt the first rumbles of what was to be Beatlemania. 

I haven't opened the magazine yet to start devouring the stories because I'm trying to finish up a great book I am currently reading.  I'll blog about that book soon.  As I was trolling through the web I came across a wonderful cover of what arguably is the greatest song The Beatles ever produced.  It came from a performance at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  Stick around to the end or you'll miss out on  some guitar playing fireworks.  Oh, and though I don't own any of his music, Prince is a genius, his Super Bowl performance a few years back is one of the best live shows I've ever witnessed.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Death of the Big 12

The Big 12 Conference is as good as dead.  The defections of Nebraska to the Big 10 and Colorado to the PAC 12 left the conference on life support.  Texas A&M has thrown itself at the SEC and Oklahoma and Oklahoma State are reportedly taking a good hard look at the PAC 12.  Texas holds the keys to the kingdom and only the good Lord knows what the Longhorns will do.

The sad part of all this is that the old Big 8 saved A&M and Texas when it agreed to expand the conference with the disgraced remnants of the old Southwest Conference.  I remember when the Big 12 was created we were told nothing would change.  As quick as a hick-up the conference headquarters was moved from Kansas City and as soon as they could they pried another Kansas City staple, the post-season basketball tournament, away from the city.  Bitter, you bet I'm bitter.

The mess leaves Kansas in a quandary.  Jayhawk fans don't want to lose their traditional rivalry with Missouri.  As much as it pains me to write this, Kansas needs Mizzou, much more than it needs cross state rival Kansas State.  Missouri would seem a natural fit for the Big 10 but something in my guts tells me that it wouldn't make room for the Jayhawks.

The rumors have Kansas going to the PAC 12 or even the Big East.  With schools like Louisville and Cincinnati in the Big East, this move geographically would make a lot more sense than endless trips to the west coast.  I'd vote for the Big East if that meant Mizzou going too.

I blame the state of Texas for this mess.  Specifically, I blame the Texas Longhorns.  Colorado and Nebraska flew the coop because it's impossible to compete financially with Texas.  The Longhorns can outspend any three school in the Big 12 combined.  It's a losing proposition and will remain so because the NCAA does not have the will or the ability to stop this escalation in athletics spending that in the end, will cause its demise.  Yes, the NCAA is facing its own extinction.  It's lost complete control of college football.  Super conferences here we come.  

Friday, September 2, 2011

Jenny, Jenny

Two days remain of World Championship Track and Field and unless something mind-boggling happens, Jenny is the story of the meet for the good old USA.  That's Jenny Simpson to the uninitiated.

Simpson had shown a great deal of promise more than 3 years ago establishing herself as a world class steeplechaser and a damn fine 1500 meter runner.  Last year with her epic college career at Colorado over, she changed coaches, got married and disappeared.  Injuries ended her season causing a lot of people to write her off.

A slow start to this season kicked off by a bout with flu created even more doubters.  Many wondered why she had abandoned the steeple, the event she set an American Record in back in 2008.  Thursday silenced her critics taking America's first 1500 meter gold in 28 years.  The only bummer from that race came when another favorite, Morgan Uceny of the United States, took a tumble 550 meters from the finish in a bit of racing bad luck not of her making.  Otherwise I think we would have seen two Americans on the podium.

The excitement of Simpson's epic win roused me from bed early this morning so I could watch the women's 5000 live this morning.  I was hoping against hope that Lauren Fleshman could steal a medal or at the very least take a top 5 finish.  Plus there was Amy Hastings, the Leavenworth High grad who was making her World Championship debut.

The race went about as I expected with a pack of Kenyans and Ethopians ratcheting up the pace with 600 meters to go.  Hastings had disappeared from the pack early on but Fleshman was hanging on for dear life.  Within 150 meters the pack pulled away from Lauren who fought bravely all the way to the finish to grab a respectable 7th place.

For those of you who don't realize that track and field is a contact sport check out Fleshman's leg following her qualifying heat.  The pushing and shoving in both the men and women's races this year have been brutal.  Uceny's fall is one of a half dozen I've seen in just one week of racing. 

The IAAF needs to look at thinning out the fields.  15 plus runners are way too many to stick out on a track.  The grabbing, pushing, shoving and spiking makes for pathetic racing.

Editor's note:  I strongly urge you to read Lauren's blog she posted about her experience leading up and running in the finals.  It's a fabulous read.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

A Day of Rest

The World Track and Field Championships has reached its halfway point with Wednesday marking a day without any major competition.  The meet thus far has produced a mixed bag of results for the United States.  Gold medals by Trey Hardee in the Decathlon, Carmelita Jeter in the 100, and Brittney Reese in the Long Jump were hardly unexpected.  The surprises came from Jason Richardson's gold in the 110 Hurdles thanks to a miscue by Dayron Robles and the failure of LaShawn Merritt in the 400, the defending champion taken down by a precocious 18-year-old from Grenada. 

My love primarily is for the distance races.  I can hardly wait for Friday's final in the women's 5000.  Leavenworth High grad Amy Hastings continued her outstanding season of running making it into the finals as did another American favorite Lauren Fleshmann, who has resurrected her injury plagued career.  If the Kenyans and Ethiopians fail to push the pace in Daegu, Fleshmann could find herself in a position to put herself on the podium.  Regardless a top 5 finish would be a real coup.

Despite a lot of criticism I thought Galen Rupp acquitted himself well in the men's 10K.  His 7th place finish showed progress whereas 800 veteran Nick Symmonds ran like a rookie in last night's final.  He hesitated at a critical moment 200 meters from the finish letting a Polish runner rattle him in a fight for position and sprinted to a disappointing 5th place.  Symmonds should have been on the podium and the head slap that he gave himself as he crossed the finish line confirmed the costly mistake.  Hopefully it's a lesson he can take with him to London next year.

Also remaining to be decided are the men's and women's 1500 meters.  Leo Manzano and Matthew Centrowitz have outside shots to make the finals.  On the women's side Jenny Simpson and Morgan Uceny have both shown themselves capable of getting a medal when they line up for Thursday's final.

Finally the ageless Bernard Lagat will begin his quest for another medal on Thursday in the men's 5000.  Galen Rupp will join Lagat as both men along with another American Andrew Bumbalough will try to race their way into Sunday's final.  An American distance running medal should come from either Lagat, Uceny. or Simpson barring some bad luck.

Hopefully Universal Sports can talk the ignoramuses producing the televised feed for the IAAF into showing the complete races.  The televised coverage has been nonsensical when compared to what the Czarina and I enjoyed two years ago on the Internet from Berlin.  Here's to four more days of outstanding track and field.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Bolt a Dolt

Sprinting's mega-super star Usain Bolt shit the bed Sunday at the World Track and Field Championships in Daegu, South Korea.  The world record holder false started in the finals of the 100 meter.  A lot of so-called fans are bellyaching about it because of a new rule instituted this year by the sport's governning body, the IAAF.

For years the first false start of any race counted against the field.  It took a second false start to get you kicked out of the race.  But this led to a lot of game playing and false starts on purpose which wrecked meet schedules and more importantly made the sport almost unwatchable on television.  This year the IAAF woke up and finally instituted a no-false start rule, one that's been around in the United States at the high school and collegiate level for decades.

The outrage over Bolt's dismissal is palpable.  I could care a less.  I've gone to dozens of high school and college track meets in this country and watched with dismay when athletes got the boot for jumping the gun.  I hate it that the sport's biggest star blew it.  But I think the rule is a good rule.  For the last dozen years I hated watching the false start games being played at the world class level, especially by the hurdlers.

Television is the fuel that runs the engine that powers professional track and field.  The sport has been in its death throws for years because it had become almost unwatchable.  The false start rule will help alleviate the decline.

Now if the IAAF could only get a producer and director that understands how to cover the world championships.  So far the production of the 2011 Championships sucks compared to what we watched online from Berlin in 2009.  But that's another matter.  We've got seven days of world class track and field to go!

Editor's note:  Bolt had a big assist in his false start.  New video of the start shows that his fellow countryman Yohan Blake flinched before the gun and likely caused Bolt to jump.  The officials dropped the ball on that.  They have more than a dozen set of officials watching those athletes.  The IAAF is too blame for this calamity every bit as much as the great Usain Bolt.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Hello Irene

The first squall just blew through our neighborhood from Hurricane Irene.  Consider that Fort Myers is more than 300 miles away from the eye of this storm and it should give you an idea of the massive size of Irene.  In fact last night the local meteorologists suggested the rain wouldn't reach us at all but we would feel more wind.

Any kind of a breeze is a rare thing during the summer.  That was the first thing I noticed this morning.  The palm trees were rustling from the nice breeze produced because of Irene's approach.  I can only imagine what it's like along Florida's east coast and the battering that this big hurricane is delivering to the Bahamas.

It's been seven years since my colleagues at WINK TV and I endured a summer filled with hurricanes.  It started with the worst of it when Charley came ashore about 20 miles from my home on August 13th.  Then came Frances about two weeks later which clipped the northern edge of WINK's viewing area.  Ivan followed but skirted our coast before slamming into Florida's panhandle.  It's a good thing too because it came along the same week as a personal trip to Tampa to watch the Czarina take the oath to become a U.S. citizen.

Jeanne hit a couple of weeks after that on September 25th following roughly the same path as Hurricane Frances.  Jeanne came as something of a surprise.  The storm was expected to take a turn to the north.  The staff was pretty much used up by that point.  Something in my guts made me stop by the newsroom that Saturday afternoon.  Within an hour of intense study of the weather data and talking to our meteorologists it became painfully clear that Jeanne wasn't going to cooperate.

I spent the next couple of hours calling in weary anchors, reporters, photographers and producers.  If Jeanne cut across Florida it would have rolled right through Fort Myers.  Again like Frances, it staggered to the north a bit and dealt a glancing blow to the northern part of our viewing area.

The worst part of that night was calling a worn out Jim McLaughlin at 2:30 in the morning to beg him to come in and help out on the anchor desk.  A sleep-deprived Jim crashed his vehicle about two blocks away from the station.  I felt terrible.  I don't doubt that it played a role in his decision to retire from WINK the following year. It certainly played a role in my decision to take a news director's job in Kansas 11 months later.

18 hours after I arrived in the newsroom on a whim I was allowed to go home.  Our news team which was running on empty had done a remarkable job on its third hurricane in six weeks.  Those six weeks will stay with me forever.