Saturday, April 30, 2011

Longing for Larry, Thinking about Family

Larry is short for Lawrence.  Lawrence is my hometown.  While I tell most people that I'm from Kansas City (don't ask) I am proud to have been born in Lawrence.  It is a beautiful city of about 80,000 people  in the Kaw River Valley in eastern Kansas.  The University of Kansas sits prominently atop Mount Oread in the middle of this bustling community.  It is simply the best place to be if you're going to be in Kansas.

I haven't been back to my hometown for nearly a year and a half.  By my reckoning this is the longest stretch in my life that I haven't touched foot in Lawrence.  It's an itch that really needs to be scratched and for a variety of reasons.  But I'm caught between a rock and a hard place.

I wanted to go home for my sister Karen.  My oldest sister Dianne held a surprise birthday party for her this evening.  I won't say which one it is out of respect for her but let's just say it's a big one, one worth celebrating.  It breaks my heart that I'm not there.

As you get older, you realize more and more how important family is.  My world has always been dominated by women.  Besides my mother Frances, my three sisters, Dianne, Karen and Mary have all had an impact on my lives in ways so positive that I shudder to think where I would be without them.  And then there's the Czarina, my rock.  Her trip home to Riga this month has only reinforced the importance of family.  But that's fodder for another post tomorrow.

But back to Karen.  She's smart, caring, compassionate, and wildly fun.  My best memories are when she was in graduate school and I was finishing up high school.  I can remember hoisting a beer or two with her and then going with a bunch of friends to the Friday midnight soft core porno films they used to show at the Hillcrest Theatres in Lawrence.  I think cousin Nancy would take part in these escapades.  The audience would be in a general uproar during these movies with the crowd drunk or stoned and Karen would shout at the screen, things that I don't think I will repeat here.  Let's just say it would ruin her image that she so carefully crafted of the prim and proper school teacher.

But the best time was just three years ago or so when Karen and her wonderful husband Keith spent the week with the Czarina and me in Fort Myers.  I was so nervous about disappointing her and much to my joy it turned into a wonderful time that was all about family.  I long for the next reunion with my sisters.  Happy Birthday Karen!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

High Stakes in Sac Town

Three weeks ago I wrote about the impending departure of the Sacramento Kings to Anaheim.  A startling turn of events in the last week makes it look like the NBA is ready to say, not so fast.  Mayor Kevin Johnson pulled together an impressive financial package along with an a promise to build a new arena and that got the league's attention.

The NBA even sent a "fact-finding team" to Sacramento for a two day survey of what the city and the region as a hold is offering to keep the Maloof family from moving the Kings to Southern California.  But none of this matters until and unless work begins on a new arena, period.

Even if the Maloofs file for relocation by May 2nd I'm not so sure the NBA says no.  All signs point to the Kings staying in Sacramento for at least one more year while the league sorts this mess out.  The mess is two-fold, Sacramento's stumbling efforts at building an arena and the financial straits that face the Maloofs.

Mayor Johnson is playing a high stakes game.  If he fails to break ground on a new arena in the next 12 months, the NBA won't hesitate to move the team.  And as Sports Illustrated's Sam Amick pointed out in his latest column, Anaheim may not be the Kings new home.  Laker's owner Jerry Buss and Clipper's owner Donald Stirling don't want the company.  Anyway you slice it a third NBA team in the Los Angeles area will hurt their bottom line.

Amick points out that Kansas City could stand to benefit.  Could it be even remotely possible that the Kings could return to Kansas City?  It makes sense.  The Maloofs are in a financial squeeze.  I'm convinced even if they could move to Anaheim where more money awaits they'll be forced to sell the team inside of three years anyway.  Then there's the Burkle factor.  I don't think Ron Burkle cares if the team stays in Sacramento, I think he just wants a piece of the action and if that means owning a piece of the Kansas City Kings then he could live with that.

Nothing else makes sense to me because I don't see anyone in Kansas City stepping up to buy a team and bring it to the Sprint Center.  If this was going to happen the Hornets would already be on their way to KC.  And let's face it, financially the NBA is in a mess.  The league has to get its financial house in order.  Contraction awaits unless the U.S. economy comes back with a roar and unless the league's owners and players reign in their greed.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Owsley Died, Where was I?

If you have to ask who is Owsley, than you missed the 60's.  Stanley "Bear" Owsley personified the 60's.  Owsley made the best LSD you could find when it was legal in California.  Besides being a badass when it came to acid he was also closely associated with one of my favorite bands, The Grateful Dead.

I just saw an email from the Dead that Owsley died in a crash crash on March 13th in Australia.  He was 76.  I never met the man nor did I ever try his product.  But he is part of the myth that made up the Haight-Asbury experience that was San Francisco in 1966 and 67.

I first heard of Owsley through the Mothers of Invention, his name mentioned in one of the songs on their classic album "We're In It Only for the Money."  But I had no idea what the hell the Mothers were singing about in 1967 when they talked of crashing at Owsley's.  It would take a few years for the drug culture to catch up to me.

He was partly immortalized in Thomas Wolfe's classic, "The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test."  If you haven't read it do so at once.  The book best explains the hippie experience and lends texture to "On the Road" legend Neal Cassady and writing great Ken Kesey.  The antics of Kesey and his Merry Pranksters are the stuff of legend. 

Owsley was much more than a legendary producer of acid.  He also created one of the first modern PA's systems for the Grateful Dead which help make stadium rock concerts possible.  His passing is sad and it certainly brings back some memories about others I've known who used his product.  But that's for another time.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

4 Dollar Gas

More than 55 years of living and 40 years of driving and for the first time in my life I paid more than $4 a gallon for gasoline.  It was $4.03 to be exact.  I guess I shouldn't be surprised living in California.  Fortunately I only had to pump half a tank at a tad over $30.  The higher price at the pump has me thinking twice about any trips for fun.

I don't go out of my way to find cheaper gasoline but I have stumbled upon a station not far from my home which is generally 10 to 15 cents a gallon cheaper than what you can usually find in Sacramento.  It's mildly disturbing because the increase in prices has nothing to do with demand and everything to do with speculation. 

I can recall a time in my youth seeing the price for a gallon of gasoline at under 20 cents a gallon.  Heck, when we first moved to Florida you could find gas under $2 a gallon still.  But I think the days are approaching when $4 dollar gas will be the norm. 

Now the government find itself with a growing dilemma as people drive less and search for vehicles that run on alternative fuels like electricity and natural gas.  It's costing Uncle Sam and the state's precious tax dollars.  Gasoline taxes go to maintain our highways.  The government has to figure out a way to make people pay for simply driving or our fabulous system of interstate highways will become a complete mess.  Anyone who's driven between Sacramento and Reno can tell you just how awful an interstate can be when it's not properly maintained.

My guess is that at some point our vehicles will come with transponders that account for our mileage or freeways will simply become toll roads.  It's an awful dilemma.  $5 here we come.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Another Treat from Neil

Neil Young spent much of the 1980's whip-sawing through musical styles.  Much of what he created  wasn't very good.  He went from country to hard rock to computer rock to rock-a-billy back to country then more rock and rock backed with horns before he finding traction at the end of the decade with the epic "Freedom."

I saw Neil a couple of times during the 80's.  I saw his computer driven efforts backed by the Shocking Pinks in the early 80's and again in the mid-80's when he was playing country with the International Harvesters.  Neither shows were that memorable though they had their moments.  But when you cull through his work with the International Harvesters there were more bright spots than clunkers.

Neil has decided to release a CD of his live work with this band in the late spring.  I looked anxiously at the track listing but was disappointed to see that he didn't include the haunting "Interstate" on the disc.  Nevertheless there are several gems I'm looking forward to hearing come June.  Nor will you hear this classic "Comes A Time" that originally appeared on the album with the same name.  Enjoy Neil with the International Harvesters appearing on Austin City Limits in 1984.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

My First Sports Hero

Given the title my bet is that most of the people that know me would guess Jim Ryun.  That guess would be wrong.  My passion for sports came late as a boy.  I could be wrong but I think most little boys develop an awareness of sports and the men that play them by age four or five, certainly no later than six.

I can clearly remember when that part of my being awakened.  It was in the spring of 1965.  I was nine years old but fairly obliviously to college and professional sports.  The first sports event I actually watched from beginning to end on television was a basketball game.  Kansas hosted Nebraska at Allen Field House and the Jayhawks hit triple digits against the Huskers that night.  That team may have been the best one Ted Owens coached during his tenure at K.U.

The squad was talented with All American Walt Wesley and Jo Jo White. That same team lost to eventual NCAA champions Texas Western in double overtime 81 to 80.  I remember sitting in front of the TV set crying.  I was hooked on sports.

But it took another six months for an individual athlete to completely capture my imagination.  It was because he was left handed like me.  But it was what he did for his team during the 1965 World Series that made him my hero.
Sandy Koufax led his team, the Los Angeles Dodgers, to victory in the 1965 World Series over the Minnesota Twins.  He did it with an overpowering fastball and a nasty curveball and in this day and age of pitch counts, he did it on two days rest.  There's more to this part of his legacy but I'll let you look it up for yourself.

I read everything I could find about Koufax.  It lead to my purchase of a 1964 baseball All Star baseball book that opened my eyes to other greats like Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, and Mickey Mantle.  It was an incredible awakening. 

Much to my anguish, I got to follow my hero for only one more season.  His left elbow couldn't take the punishment of 300 innings a year anymore and so following the 1966 season the great Koufax retired at age 32.  But Koufax had opened my eyes to the world of sports.  And a Christmas gift in 1966 in the form of a subscription to Sports Illustrated only widened my view.

Sandy Koufax is still a hero of mine.  There are several biographies about him but read Jane Leavy's book written in 2003 called, Sandy Koufax:  A Lefty's Legacy.  He's what a sports hero should be, a good man, a man with principles.  And he's certainly one of the greatest pitchers to ever toe the mound.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Things I Miss

Running up Daisy Hill with the Sand Rats
Riding on a combine during the wheat harvest
Sitting in my grandmother's lap
Hearing my aunt and mother laughing together
Going to movies with my sister Dianne
Drinking beer with my sister Karen
Making hysterically nasty tape recordings with my sister Mary
Playing cards with my cousins Nancy and Bob
Listening to my cousin Mike sing and play guitar
Playing guitar and singing for my wife while she works at the computer
Listening to the incredibly loud arguments my wife has with Andrei in Russian
Playing ping pong with my granddaughter Masha
Playing ping pong with Mark Booth in his basement
Sitting in Phil Wedge's frigid dining room in the winter playing a college football board game
Summer training runs with Kent McDonald and Doug Schreve
Barney McCoy tearing through the gears of his Datsun
Sitting at mid court at Allen Field House watching Tom Kivisto hit a jumper from the top of the key
Watching Jim Ryun race
Watching Don Rickles on "The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson"
The constant zip of the AP wire printers in the newsroom
Feature reporting at local TV stations
Working with Bob Thill and Doug Sudoff
Tom Dowling
Living in Kansas City and the friends that live there
Kissing my wife goodnight

Monday, April 4, 2011

Kingdom Crumbles

The very first NBA game I attended was in 1978.  I was an intern at KMBC and armed with a Scoopic (that's a silent 16mm film camera) I went to shoot highlights of the Kansas City Kings playing the Philadelphia 76er's.  I was excited because because Philadelphia featured the incredible Darrell Dawkins, Chocolate Thunder.  He was one of the first high school players to go straight to the pros.

I don't remember much about the game.  I remember seeing Dawkins and being awestruck.  What a physical specimen.  Anyway, I wasn't much of an NBA fan to begin with, so I rarely ventured to the Kemper to check out the hometown team.

Pretty soon it became apparent that many Kansas Citians shared my apathy for the Kings.  They were a fair to middlin' team.  I remember Sam Lacey, Scott Wedman, and Otis Birdsong, but the team was rarely in the playoffs and suddenly along came an indoor soccer team that somehow created a lot more buzz. 

Meanwhile by 1984 the Kings had new owners who through their teeth about keeping the Kings in Kansas City.  The general response I recall from the community was apathy.  Sure, there was anger that we had been hoodwinked in a sense, but Kansas City had the Royals who were still winning back then, the Chiefs, who weren't, and an exciting indoor soccer team.  My God how the Leikewe Brother's knew how to market a product.

Amazingly the Kansas City Comets consistently outdrew the Kings and by 1985 NBA basketball abandoned Kemper Arena.  I've tried hard to remember the coverage we gave the saga while I worked at WDAF.  I remember sports director Frank Boal doing a standup from Sacramento from a vast plain explaining that a warehouse planned for the area could be quickly converted to an arena.  But it was a story that didn't generate a ton of buzz.

Now 26 years later and I'm here in Sacramento watching a similar drama play out.  The owners fought long and hard for a new arena.  I have not been to Arco, sorry, the Power Balance Pavillion, but I've heard it's a dump.  I have no plan to catch one of the three remaining Kings games before their presumptive move to Anaheim.  I chuckle because the team will likely take the nickname Royals if they move there.  Hello?!?

It's a different story in Sacramento.  The newspaper, TV and radio stations are knocking themselves out covering the Kings departure.  It's the city's only major league team.  We have a mayor who was an NBA all-star.  How could this happen?

Sacramento has only itself to blame for the predicament.  I don't blame the taxpayers for cutting their nose off despite their face.  They didn't want to pony up for a new arena.  I blame city leaders who a half dozen years ago failed to articulate what really was at stake.

In two weeks the NBA will make its decision about whether the team will move.  It seems like a sure bet they'll be in Anaheim next season.  But two weeks ago who would have guessed that UConn would beat Butler to win the NCAA hoops title?