Tuesday, December 31, 2013

4 miles a day

I started 2013 with one goal for my running.  I wanted to average 4 miles a day.  I know it doesn't sound like much but given the run of injuries and surgeries over the last decade, it was an admirable goal.  I had my doubts, especially after my calf injury following the Naples half marathon in January.  I missed the better part of a month dealing with that one.

It was a slow slog to catch the average.  I didn't get their until a week ago.  A trio of 38 mile weeks followed by a 44 mile week did the trick.  The 5 miler I did this afternoon put me at 1475 for the year, a mere 15 miles over the goal.

The good news is that I'm starting to shed the pounds.  I hit 180 pounds for the first time since January.  If I can get to 175 in three weeks I think I can run Naples faster than I did last year.  The goal is 1:50, not fast, but certainly not awful.

The bigger question is whether I can push myself to get under 24 minutes for 5K by February and under 23 by April.  That one seems like a tall order.  But that's the goal for this year, a run to 22 minute plus 5K's!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Oh Mercy

Five years ago I started to listening to music when I ran.  Criticize it, ridicule it, and abuse me for caving in to this creature comfort when I run, but it helps with the alone time.  I hear things on songs that I never noticed while having discs blasted at me over the stereo.

I listen to a lot of Neil Young, Bruce Springsteen and The Grateful Dead.  But it was a run in the last week when I punched up Bob Dylan and just started to listening to album after album spanning the last 30 years of his work.  When "Oh Mercy" came on, it was like a bolt of lightning at hit me all over again.

When I first got this album in 1989 it was like an euphony.  Bob Dylan was still great.  He hadn't made a truly great album since 1979's "Slow Train Coming," the epic signaling of Dylan's full on embrace of Jesus Christ.  Despite the religiosity of Slow Train it is a great album.  But it still doesn't measure of to 1975's "Blood on the Track," arguably Dylan's masterpiece, which is saying a lot.

After Slow Train, Dylan showed flashes of brilliance throughout the 80's.  The first half of the decade was dedicated to his new found faith.  Truly great songs were few and far between.  "Every Grain of Sand" sticks out to me during this period. 

As he began to raise himself out of his religious haze with "Infidels" he had the material to match his best works of the 70's.  The opening tune "Jokerman" makes it worth the price of admission.  Yet, the songs Dylan left off is maddening.  Mark Knopfler had helped Dylan craft a masterpiece, but had to leave before the work was finished.  Inexplicably, incredible songs like "Blind Willie McTell" and "Foot of Pride" were left off the album.

Then the quality fell of precipitously.  "Empire Burlesque" has a couple of nice tunes but "Knocked Out Loaded" was a complete stinker.  "Down in the Grove" which followed, was horrendous.  Dylan had always rebounded from the occasional clinker but he was marching into irrelevancy.

He writes about hooking up with Daniel Lanois to produce his 26th studio album, "Oh Mercy."  It's worth the reading about the making of this record in his autobiography, "Chronicles, Volume 1."  The production value is first rate, the songs are even stronger.  Lanois whipped Dylan into shape.  Each of the 10 songs on this disc are a gem.  Some are instant classics.

Largely because everyone had written off Dylan, I don't believe this album got the just critical acclaim it deserved.  It didn't help that the work that followed, "Under a Red Sky" and the discs of covers, "Good as I've Been to You" and "World Gone Wrong," weren't "great." I think "Oh Mercy" was seen as a freak, a one-off, that Dylan had lost his mojo.

I challenge you to listen to "Oh Mercy."  It just comes at you in waves, from "Everything is Broken" to "Man in the Long Black Coat," to one of his greatest songs of longing, "What Good am I?"  It just rolls over you.

I don't know how or why Dylan lost his muse from 1990 to 1997.  I'd like to think the cover albums helped him re-discover his roots.  He then reconnected with Lanois and the classic "Time Out of Mind" rocked the world.  Dylan likes to discount Lanois layered, somewhat swampy technique, but I think Lanois helped him put him back on the path of making music in a way that suited his world weary voice. 

"Time Out of Mind" put Dylan firmly back on the road to relevancy.  You certainly can't argue with the quality of work that has followed over the last 16 years.  But that seed was planted in 1989's "Oh Mercy," perhaps the most important album of the last 30 years of his career.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Slow It Goes

Saturday morning I awoke and set off for Cape Coral for a decidedly humid 5K race.  Rotary Park was the setting for Florida's Senior Games, a race I have done twice before with less than stellar results.  The last time I ran this race was in 2008 on a bad hamstring.  I ran my slowest 5K ever in 25:13. 

Looking back through my running logs to research my past performances at this race I could see the slow, awful, efforts as I came back to running after a life threatening illness in 2004.  My mileage in 2005 was in the 600 mile range and 2006 wasn't much better.  2007 saw me nearly hit 1,000 miles and I ran my first Senior Games 5K that year in 22:47.

I went into this particular race knowing that breaking 24:00 would be a tough nut to crack.  The McMillan calculator showed that based on my 51 minute performance at 10K the week before, 24:33 would be the result.  I ran 24:30.
I wish I could say it was a hard run.  It wasn't.  I made it through the first mile in 7:37 feeling pretty good and thinking, maybe, just maybe I can hit 24.  But I couldn't reach down and force myself to hurt.  I slowly but surely allowed myself to fade.  The fact that the field was much smaller than previous years allowed my dawdling time to grab an age group 2nd.

As one of my blog followers pointed out, weight loss is the only thing that's going to return my speed.  10 pounds would be worth a good 90 seconds off my 5K time.  I've got a month before my next race.  I plan to keep my mileage in the 30 to 40 range and add some intensity.  I might even do some long intervals.  I want to break 23 minutes by February.  That's the goal at least. 

Sunday, December 15, 2013

My Favorite Year

I was late to the game when it came to the great Peter O'Toole.  There are a dozen or so actors that I absolutely adore, DeNiro, Pacino, Pitt, John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart, Spencer Tracy and on and on and on.  I had seen "Goodbye Mr. Chips."  It was a maudlin remake of a World War II classic.  O'Toole owns the movie.

But O'Toole never really endeared myself to his artistry until I saw "My Favorite Year."  I didn't even see it in a theatre but on AMC or something like it.  The movie is one of my guilty pleasures.  O'Toole owns this send up of a Errol Flynn type, set in the world of a parody of "Your Show of Shows," a live 1950's television comedy show.  Drunken and outrageous, Peter O'Toole steals your heart in this role.
 
It wasn't until the 1990's that I actually saw "Lawrence of Arabia" on TMC.  It's the best movie made in the 1960's, period, just as Godfather II is the best movie made in the 1970's.  It may be the best bit of acting on the big screen I've ever seen.  He was nominated for an Oscar, but he failed to win.  In fact O'Toole was nominated 8 times and never won a golden statue. 

Even little movies that he made later in life, like "Venus," is charming.  O'Toole plays a smarmy, aging actor, lusting after a young, hustling, nymphet.  In a lot of ways O'Toole was a lot like Clark Gable in that he could just play himself.  But he was so much more than that.  "Lawrence of Arabia," his first major role in a motion picture, spoke volumes to that.

I'm sad tonight that Peter O'Toole is gone.  He was part of the old Hollywood that gave us Olivier and Burton.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

The Incredible Running Doughboy

An old running compadre from Lawrence used to share a nickname with me.  Paul Boone and I would address each other as Doughboy.  I got the belly first, but Paul followed a couple of years later.  But even back then with the extra pounds we could still both run pretty darn fast.  The belly is beginning to take its toll.

I ran my first "serious" race in almost 11 months this morning.  It was a race I had run a couple of years ago and enjoyed, despite the fact you to traverse some pretty long, steep bridges, not once, but twice.  The River Run 10K is takes runners across the beautiful Calooshatchie River.  The price that comes with living in paradise is that it can be a little toasty, even in December.  Don't let the long sleeves full you, by race time at 8 a.m. it was getting warm and humid.

I tried the same tactic I used the last time I ran this race.  I went out carefully know we would hit the first bridge about 1.5 miles into the race.  I was about :20 slower for my first mile than I had been in 2011 and thought, okay, I can hold this.  I was fine going up the bridge the first time and proceeded to pick off people.  But I could feel my pace was lagging.  By the time I hit the bridge the second time I was one hurting puppy.  I was still catching people but I just couldn't get a good rhythm. 

I never looked at my watch after the first mile and was merely hoping to break 50 minutes.  I ran 51 flat, 4:30 slower than what I managed the last time I ran this race.  The lack of speed is due in part because I just haven't pushed myself in most of my runs.  The other problem is my weight.  I'm about 8 to 10 pounds heavier than I was in 2011.

I was stressed out in 2011 because of my job or lack thereof.  The stress suppressed my appetite, plus I was training a lot better.  I can lose the weight.  And I am slowly adding more miles and plan to add some intensity.  The most important thing is I wasn't really tired when I finished.  That tells me I might be able to run the half marathon I have planned in January a minute or so faster than I did last year.

I have a 5K on tap next week.  I am going to try and take it out a lot harder than I did today and hold on for dear life.  I've got to learn to hurt again.  You know, no pain, no gain, and maybe I can ungain some of these lbs! 

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Politics As Usual

Somewhere along the line an old work colleague of mine decided to run for the United States Congress.  Trey Radel was a pretty good television news reporter with an upbeat attitude.  Somewhere along the line he decided that talk radio was his calling and he became a conservative firebrand.  He was good enough at selling his anti-Obama, Tea Party-esque message that he got himself elected to Florida's 19th District.

Then he became a national punchline when he got caught buying cocaine about a month ago.  Trey's sitting in a Naples rehab right now, probably  wondering what the hell happened.  Forget about his re-election chances, every Republican with a heartbeat in the state of Florida has told Radel to resign.  I don't care whether he stays or decides to go, I just want him to be clean and sober, period.

But that's not the real point of this particular blog.  Radel's indiscretion has dozen or so Republicans considering a run for the Congressional seat that Trey most certainly can't keep.  What grinds my guts is that voters here would consider any of the carpetbaggers eyeing the seat.  That includes Connie Mack, who used to hold the seat, before his ill-fated decision to run for the U.S. Senate in 2012.  I wonder if Mack even bothered to keep his sham apartment in Cape Coral after his loss last November. 

Even worse is all the talk about State Senator Lizbeth Benaquisto wanting to run for the seat.  She's from Florida's east coast.  She got redistricted out of her seat, but kept her job in the Florida Senate by carpetbagging her way to Fort Myers.  I'm not passing any judgment on Benaquito or her politics, but if she runs and voters elect her, get ready for the second coming of Connie Mack.

Mack somehow convinced the voters of Southwest Florida that he was from here when he actually called Miami home at the time.  Mack never visited his district.  He rarely dealt with the local media.  He was a complete ghost.  Mack even went so far to marry Congresswoman Mary Bono, so it's pretty clear where he spent most of his off time.  Palm Springs, California is a hell of a lot more fun that Cape Coral.  Mack's divorced now and sort of swinging in the wind now as a some sort of lobbyist in DC. 

Regardless, I don't know who should replace Trey Radel when the inevitable happens.  I just know that the voters of Southwest Florida deserve better.  They deserve somebody who actually has a home here, who actually cares about the community.  If Radel did one thing right during his time in office, it's that he stayed connected, he came home, he talked to reporters.  He wasn't a carpetbagger.

Monday, November 25, 2013

50 and 15

Almost anyone born in the 1950's remembers what happened on November 22, 1963.  The United States lost a President.  I was in the 2nd grade.  I was sort of a lost 7 year old at the time.  If anything was announced over the PA system at Garfield Elementary I certainly don't remember it.

What I do remember is the commotion on the steps of the school as we left for the day.  I clearly remember other kids talking about something bad happening to President Kennedy.  When I got home I came to the realization that Kennedy was dead, the nation seemed to be on lock down.  Honestly, my mother and step-father didn't seem too upset one way or the other.

I'm not going to lie.  I didn't think much of John F. Kennedy one way or the other as a 7 year old.  Outside of the Cuban Missile Crisis, I didn't think much of JFK except that I loved Vaughn Meador's album on the First Family which I listened to endlessly.  That was some funny stuff.

What would happen 35 years after Kennedy's assassination sticks with me a lot more.  That was the day my mother died.  Frances Longhofer died on a beautiful Sunday afternoon, November 22, 1998, after a battle with lung cancer.  My little sister woke me up with a panicked phone call that Sunday morning.  I thought then and there she had died.  But Mary was simply exasperated, asking me to come from Kansas City to Lawrence to stay with our mother so she could get away from a very cranky Frances.

I made it to Lawrence in 45 minutes.  I walked into the house at 1934 Emerald Drive and first saw my Aunt Anne.  The look on her face said it all and what it said wasn't good.  My mother was going through her death throes.  It was sometime around 11 a.m.  Soon my oldest sister and her husband would be there and the watching and waiting began.

I prayed for my mother.  I prayed for her suffering to end because she was clearly in agony.  My brother-in-law stayed in the living room, dealing with his own very deep feelings.  My oldest sister Dianne and little sister Mary kept an almost constant vigil.  I couldn't sit still in my mother's bedroom waiting for death.  It was heartbreaking and painful to watch.  I would go to the living room and back, seemingly countless times.

Finally, sometime around 3 p.m., Frances was gone.  We waited, Dianne broke the tension with a crack about who my mother would choose in heaven, my father or step-father.  We finally called the undertaker and it was over.

The three days leading up to my mother's funeral were the exact opposite of waiting for Kennedy's burial.  The day after Kennedy's murder the weather turned cruel and cold in Abilene, Kansas.  It forced me to stay inside and watch the unending national agony.  The newsmen repeated over and over again the same, scant details about what happened in Dallas.  Tens of thousands filed by Kennedy's casket in the Capitol Rotunda. 

Sunday's murder of Kennedy's assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, was merely a bizarre distraction.  It was a very grim and scary weekend.  JFK's funeral on Monday was a relief, the lighting of the eternal flame by Jackie signaling the end of four awful days.

The day after my mother's death I faced a dilemma.  My sisters and I had to go pick out a casket and make final arraignments for a funeral.  I didn't know if I should slip off to Rim Rock Farm where the University of Kansas was hosting the NCAA Cross Country Championships.  After selecting a coffin and spending a little time back at the house, my sisters insisted that I make the trek out to Rim Rock, where I arrived just in time to see the men's race.

It was as beautiful a late November day as one could hope for in Kansas.  I ran into so many friends.  I was sort of in a state of shock as I watched Adam Goucher run to a national championship.  I went into the press tent afterwards with our photographer Phil Maslin to listen to what reporters would ask Goucher. 

They asked the normal ignorant questions that sports reporters asked runners.  So I finally spoke up and asked Adam if he had thought about a teammate who had died during the season as he raced away to victory.  The reporters shot me some jaw-dropping looks.  None of them known about the horrible loss Goucher and his teammates had endured.  Goucher teared up and gave a brave response.  I can't remember what he said, but I had done my job as a journalist and gotten to the heart of what his victory had meant.

I do know his words helped me reflect on what I had been through over the last 24 hours, for the last six months watching my mother wither away.  Her death pulled me closer to my three sisters.  But worse was to come.  The death of my mother's only sister less than a month later and brain cancer for her only brother less than a month after that.

But for that moment on a crisp fall day on the world's most beautiful cross country course, I knew what peace was, I had watched triumph and I knew that I could continue on with my mother's memory woven deep in my heart.  We buried Frances on November 25, 1998, 35 years after a nation had buried JFK.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Slow It Goes

I've been meaning to write this blog for about the last three months.  It dawned on me in August that my running had descended into the 7th level of hell.  I was running slow, really slow.  I just don't care about going out for a run and pushing the pace.  Because of it I even went to a couple of group runs just to make myself run under 9 minute pace.  I didn't even want to think about racing.

I've been running injury free since March.  I've steadily piled up 30 to 35 very slow miles every week.  Even with the onset of cooler, less humid weather, the slow pace remains.  So I shocked the Czarina last night when I announced that I wanted to run a 5K this morning.  I wanted a race just to shake up the body and with prime racing season at hand I wanted something low-key before I start really trying to race in December.

I picked a 5K race at Koreshan State Park.  I looked at the park on Google Earth and saw paved roads and prayed the course would just loop through the park and maybe shoot out onto Corkscrew Road.  But I knew they also ran trail races at that park but I decided to go for it anyway.
It was a small affair with a nice mix of teens, 20 something's and geezers like me.  I could also see that there would be some trails but I was hoping it wouldn't be too big a part of the equation.  I put on my racing flats for the first time in more than a year and took it out fairly easy not knowing what lay ahead.

The first mile was mostly sugar sand.  The footing was awful and I just wanted to make sure I didn't trip on a root or fall.  I tucked in behind a guy about 10 years younger than me and tried to work off of him.  I was sitting in about 20th place by the mile when a guy about my age glided by me.  Up ahead, I could see a 20 something cross-fit dude start to walk.  When I caught him, he took off again and did this a couple of more times before I finally eased past him.  By 2 miles I had caught a couple of younger runners and started to key in on a 30 something cross fit dude who was walking.

It was the same act over the last mile.  The guy would take off and pass me and then start walking again.  I thought to myself, if you simply ran a sane pace you could run the entire way.  With about 400 meters to go he started walking again.  I caught him and thought to myself, with 200 to go I'm going to sprint my fat ass off because he's going to catch me if I don't.  I sprinted and I could hear him coming and I held him off.

I finished 2nd in my age group, a good 90 seconds back of the guy in first, 17th overall.  My time was awful, 24:20, but considering half the course was sugar sand I'll take it.  But it tells me I'm not even ready to break 23 minutes for a 5K. 

I need to try and do some more tempo runs.  I plan to run a 10K in three weeks and follow it up with another 5K.  My right hip is killing me and I'm getting an MRI in January, a pain doctor thinks the four years of pain I've endured (it doesn't hurt when I run) is a back issue.  He wants me to keep running.  All I know is getting old sucks, but at least I'm faster than those cross fit dudes!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Agony and the Ecstasy

This season will be a game changer in the direction of Kansas Jayhawk basketball.  The past three seasons K.U. has dipped its toe into the pool of players known as the one and dones.  Brandon Rush was supposed to be one.  Thank goodness he stuck around to win a national championship.

Xavier Henry beget Josh Selby, who beget Ben McLemore although Ben technically was in school for two years.  Now Kansas has a recruiting class that conceivably has three one and dones.  Move over Kentucky, that's Kansas moving up in your mirror.  I understand it, but I hate it.

I don't blame Andrew Wiggins for declaring his plans to play just one year.  As great as he is, he does not have an NBA body.  And he's not Kevin Durrant tall with unstoppable range either.  Wayne Selden's got a body ready for the NBA but his game lacks polish.  And Joel Embiid has great hands, but doesn't have a clue on the floor and lacks the strength needed to bang in the NBA.

Each one of these players could use two or three years in college.  I bet we'll be lucky to get two more out of Selden or Embiid.  What we can count on is the hidden jewel in the best recruiting class in Kansas history.  Frank Mason is a flat out baller.  And he'll need to be if Kansas is to make a run this year.

I fully expected Duke to spank Kansas Monday night by double digits.  Then, praise the Lord, Naadir Tharpe picked up 2 quick fouls and enter the freshman.  Frank Mason steadily gained confidence as the game progressed.  Kansas won because Mason didn't play like a freshman point guard and the real Perry Ellis showed up.  If Mason can play at this level Kansas will be a very tough team to beat this season. 

Honestly, this team will go only as far as Mason and Ellis can take this team.  Wiggins will get his 15 to 20 every night.  Selden will have rough patches, as most freshman do.  Embiid will simply help by eating up minutes in the paint.  And I haven't even mentioned Brannen Greene who can shoot with the best of them or Conner Frankamp who can outshoot Greene.

I never thought I would see another Kansas recruiting class as good as the 2005 group that produced Mario Chalmers, Micah Downs, Brandon Rush and Julian Wright.  Downs vanished after the first semester.  Wright after the second year, while Chalmers and Rush stuck around for a third year and a title.

This year's group of recruits makes this the deepest team in Kansas history.  Now think about it.  Not one starter is back from last year's Sweet 16 team and the Jayhawks are deeper this year than last year.  I weep for Frankamp and Landon Lucas, a redshirt freshman, who could start for half the teams in the Big 12 this season. 

Unless there is super cohesion with this group, I'm guessing one of these kids will leave at the semester or at the end of the year.  If I'm Greene, Frankamp, or Lucas, I look at the next recruiting class that Self is lining up and wonder where my minutes are coming from in 2014.  It's the same problem that Kentucky kids who decide to stick around as John Calipari brings in top 5 recruiting class year after year. 

The lack of continuity kills teams come tournament time.  Yes, you can win a national title with one and dones.  But more often than not come tournament time, experience is what gets you into the Final 4, even if you're talking about sophomores or juniors.  This Kansas team could win a national title, but the odds are stacked against it and unfortunately, most of the recruits in this class won't stick it out to do what Chalmers and Rush did.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Time for the FCC to Roll Back the Clock

Television is at a crossroads and the FCC is at the steering wheel looking the wrong way.  The issue is whether or not five or six companies are going to control 90 percent of the television stations in the United States or if the FCC is going to serve the public interest by reigning in these corporate behemoths.  There are growing calls for the FCC to take a second look at its lax rules for television ownership and management.

Sinclair's purchase of KOMO in Seattle has stirred a hornet's nest because of the companies typical handling of a newly acquired property.  Sinclair goes through its new stations with a meat cleaver cutting staffing to the bone.  In a hyper-competitive news market like Seattle, KOMO will have to play the news game from now on with one hand tied behind its back, or actually with that hand chopped off altogether.

Sinclair has been a station buying binge for the better part of 20 years.  The company has dangled perilously close to bankruptcy anytime the nation's economy takes a dive.  Sinclair has piled up more debt than a 30-year-old heroin addict.  If the economy takes another dump anytime soon, Sinclair will likely go bankrupt after its latest binge of buying. 

Sinclair owns or operates 162 television stations across the United States.  Let me repeat that, Sinclair owns or operates 162 television stations across the United States.  When I started in television the FCC had the 7-7-7 rules.  That was the number of TV ,along with AM and FM radio stations, any single group could own.  By the mid-80's that rule went to 12-12-12.  Now ownership is based on reach, meaning the percentage of the population your combined television signals reach.  It's supposed to be less than 40 percent. 

Also there are rules in place aimed at stopping duopolies and triopolies in any given market.  Companies like Sinclair work around these rules by setting up shadow companies to "own" stations it actually operates in many of its markets.  So you have a single staff running two or three stations.  Ah, deregulation, you've got to hand it to those job creating Republicans. 

Politics aside, the losers in all of this are the viewers.  It just means there are fewer local voices delivering them the news.  Let's take a look at my television market, for example.  For years, the NBC affiliate WBBH, has openly flouted FCC rules by running the ABC station, sharing staff, management, reporters, even anchors.  One of those pesky shadow owners allows Waterman Broadcasting to run both stations.

The CBS affiliate, WINK, railed against the Waterman operation for years.  That all ended when the power behind the throne at WINK picked up the CW affiliate.  Now WINK staffers do news for both stations. 

That leaves my station, WFTX the FOX affiliate, the lone soldier going it alone.  We're profitable, don't get me wrong, but WINK and Waterman are hyper-profitable.  Plus, we have about a third of the staff, but I digress.

Fort Myers television viewers can watch 5 different stations doing news, but in reality they are only hearing 3 different voices.  By the way, WINK also owns and operates a number of radio stations in the market to boot.  The next step will be for Gannett (which owns the Fort Myers newspaper) or Scripps (which owns the Naples newspaper) to scoop up one or more of the local television stations.  The way the FCC is operating right now, it's a real possibility.

 The FCC reportedly considering whether it needs to stop the monkey business practiced by companies like Sinclair, Linn, Hoak and Nexstar to name a view, to get around long standing rules regarding station ownership and operations.  My guess is that the FCC will stay mute on the whole issue.  With the economy thriving we're going to see more and more consolidation.  Smaller broadcasting companies, will slowly but surely disappear, while lousy operators like Sinclair will be bigger and bigger.

 Maybe less choice is better.  After all it only means fewer voices for the viewer to choose among, fewer jobs for aspiring journalists and a horrible environment for strong journalism.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Rock 'n' Roll Animal

I cringed when I saw the news.  Lou Reed, dead at 71.  It was if someone came up to me and told me that you can never be a teenage and, you can never love rock and roll music.  Lou Reed was an important figure in evolution of rock and roll.  I write this, even though I only own a handful of his albums. 

Yet, I dare you to find anything better on a live album than the opening guitar riffs on Reed's "Rock 'n' Roll Animal" which came out in 1974.  Dick Wagner and Steve Hunter wail on each other as they ramp up to the classic Reed ode' to heroin, "Sweet Jane."  That 90 seconds or so of blazing guitars would pretty much capture the best of 70's rock and roll to me.  The only thing that I loved more at that time was Eric Clapton's "Layla."  It's hard to compete with Eric and Duane Allman.

I never enveloped myself in Reed's early work with The Velvet Underground.  His passing may require that I spend a little coin and download their groundbreaking debut album.  The critics will talk about that and his second solo album "Transformer" as some of his most important work.
I would challenge you to download "New York" and give it a listen.  One listen will tell you what a great songwriter he was.  Lou Reed may not have generated the volumes of work of Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, or Neil Young, but he certainly merits the comparison when it comes to his best work.  He was no slouch.

I never saw him live.  The closest that I came to it was in 1992 when U2 on their Zoo TV tour.  It was the best rock and roll show I ever saw.  When Bono launched into "Satellite of Love" and Lou Reed flickered onto big screen to join him in a video duet I gasped.  It was just an amazing touch to an overwhelming visual spectacular that captured the music.  Even Lou Reed would have liked it, I think.

The Walk to Nowhere

In the battleground of television news, differentiation is a thing of the past.  Local news operations mirror each other by and large.  The number 2 station in any given market will try to outdo the strategy employed by the number 1 market and so on.  Staking out a different approach, a different path to success, has disappeared for the most part.

So it is in the Fort Myers news market.  The two long time news leaders used to take starkly different approaches to their newscasts.  WBBH took an in your face, aggressive approach, if it bleeds it leads approach to its story selection.  WINK was a little more thoughtful, a lot more conservative, more interested in the story than in sensationalism.

The FOX station, where I currently work, was an also ran.  The station lacked the staff and a clear vision of what it should try and be to be a real competitor.  I think I can speak to all three news operations because I've actually worked in all three.  

The economic downturn which strangled newsroom budgets hit Southwest Florida in 2007, a full year before it would hit the nation.  It marked two changes in the direction of WINK and WFTX.  Forrest Carr brought the In Your Corner concept to WFTX.  The FOX station now had a clear mission to advocate for the little guy and to hold public officials and institutions accountable.

WINK became less thoughtful and conservative and began to mirror WBBH.  As the years have passed WINK has become an exact imitation of their competitor at NBC, right down to the promotions.  About six months ago or so WBBH started running a promo showing their lead anchors on the street, walking to various offices, making pronouncements about what it takes to dig up a story.  Not long ago WINK started running a similar promo, the anchors on a walk to nowhere, spouting platitudes about what it takes to find a news story.  The anchor women look like their ready to go to a cocktail party, rather than dig up a news story.

FOX has stuck to its course of In Your Corner.  It works, and it differentiates us from the other guys.  And despite the fact that we have about half the staff of our competitors, we break our fair share of the stories.  I don't mean to imply that WINK and WBBH don't do good journalism, they do.  The point of this missive is to point out the lack of real choice for viewers.  I haven't mentioned the ABC station, WZVN, because it's part of a duopoly with WBBH and simply takes the scraps given it from their NBC brethern. 

News managers wonder why audiences have slipped away from their newscasts and the answer is simple.  The answer is dare to be different.  In this day and age, personalities are not enough to draw viewers into the tent.  Content remains king, but if it all looks the same than there really isn't a choice.  I don't have a simple answer as to what different would be, but I can say that copying your top competitor in terms of approach to coverage and even their promos isn't a way to do that.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Time Fades Away

40 years ago today Neil Young released a live album that to this day is misunderstood and at the time was widely panned.  From the moment I dropped the needle on the title track "Time Fades Away" and heard the jangly piano I was in love with the album.  Yes, the recording is a patch work mess of a boozed up, stoned out Neil, but it's as vibrant as anything he's ever recorded.

"Time Fades Away" is the only album in Neil's vast catalogue not available on CD or Blu-Ray.  He says it's because it doesn't sound right on CD.  Everyone knows that the disastrous tour that produced the record is an embarrassment to Young.  He went out on the road with a bad back and a huge pall hanging over him after the death of Crazy Horse guitarist Danny Whitten due to a drug overdose.

The album is part of Neil's legendary "ditch" trilogy.  The incredibly dark album that followed, "Tonight's the Night" and almost apocalyptic "On the Beach."  Remarkably in the midst of all of this gloom Young made the never released "Homegrown" which showed rays of light.  The few tunes that have surfaced from "Homegrown" over the years on other albums bare that out. 

If you search YouTube you can find "Time Fades Away" available for a listen.  It's worth the 37 minutes or so to catch an out of control Neil Young.  The angst of the biographical song, Don't Be Denied makes it worth the listen alone.  Hopefully TFA will surface when Neil gets around to releasing his next batch of archives.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Hoot

Long ago I professed my love of Sandy Koufax.  The tall Dodger lefthander is why I fell in love with baseball.  But it was a nasty righthander that sealed the deal for me when it came to a game that was still America's past time in 1965. 
Bob Gibson glowered at hitters.  He willed a team that honestly wasn't filled with stars, to two world titles.  It probably should have been three or four (yes the 63 Cards should have made it to October) but two is pretty damn good.  Gibson dominated hitters with an overpowering fastball.  Gibson first came to national prominence when he willed his Cardinals to a World Series victory by winning game 7 on short rest over an aging New York Yankees squad.

He led the Cardinals to another world title in 1967 over the Red Sox despite suffering a broken leg mid-season.  The Redbirds should have gone back to back in 68 against the Tigers but Mickey Lolich out dueled Gibby in a memorable game 7.

Gibson had ten straight years where he was just a complete beast on the mounds.  He ended his career with 251 wins and 7 more in the World Series.  I remember reading his biography as a kid and marveled at the fact that he was a standout college basketball star at Creighton.  I even remember a commercial he did for where he blasted a fastball at a pane of glass that was shatter proof.  Bob Gibson is the greatest righthander to ever pitch for the Cardinals and that's saying a lot for a team that had Dizzy Dean and Grover Cleveland Alexander.

Gibson's 1968 season is without a doubt one of the five greatest in baseball history.  Granted, pitchers had the upper hand that season, but Gibson's stellar 1.12 earned run average that year will never be approached again by a starting pitcher with more than 200 innings, never.

The reason I started this particular missive is there was a shot of Bob Gibson in the Cardinals' dugout tonight the telecast of their game against the Dodgers.  I was shocked by what I saw.  Gibson looked 45 to 50 at best.  He's  approaching 78.  I still think he could get guys out in the big leagues.  He was certainly one of my heroes as a boy growing up in small town Kansas and still is.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Stephen Stills vs. Neil Young

First off, I must admit, it's not even a real contest.  Neil Young's career as a musician stands way, way above Stephen Stills.  But I got to thinking back 40 years ago all because of Graham Nash's recent appearance on Howard Stern's radio program.  I can't wait to read Nash's new book, "Wild Tales." 

That interview got me to dig out my Crosby, Stills and Nash albums and of course the Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young discs as well.  I did some listening while out on my runs.  Stephen Stills helped bring out the best in Neil Young and vice-versa.  Anybody with any knowledge of rock and roll knows it. 

The chemistry started with Buffalo Springfield.  It's a band in which Stills was the much bigger star.  It can be argued that Neil wrote better songs on the whole with that band, "Mr. Soul" and "On the Way Home."  But Stephen Stills' anthem "For What It's Worth" is powerful stuff and "Bluebird" is an amazing tune.

Then Stills lit it up with David Crosby and Graham Nash.  CSN's debut album is one of the best first attempts any group has ever made, period.  "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes" is an incredible song.  The guitar playing, the vocals, the tune has it all.  Plus you toss in the solo stuff and Stills was light years ahead in terms of commercial rock and roll by 1970. 

"Deja Vu" is one of the best albums of the 70's.  Stills' work on the album shines through although Neil's contributions, namely "Helpless," certainly stand out.  Their guitar work on "Almost Cut My Hair" showed some of the fire those two could have as they played off one another.  But it's Stills' production of Joni Mitchell's "Woodstock" that stands out.  His guitar work is blazing.  Of course it bums me out when Neil told the story years ago of how Stills went in and erased his original guitar solo from the track which Young called epic.

So by the time I saw Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young live in Kansas City in 1974, I think it would be fair to say that Stills was considered the "biggest star" in the quartet, even though Neil had scored a number 1 single two years prior with "Heart of Gold."  But by the end of the 70's Neil's reputation had soared past that of Stills and it made me wonder what went wrong.

Stills is a much better guitar player and used to be a better vocalist.  But his song-writing paled as time passed to Neil's prolific output.  Plus I think Stills close association to CSN and the rapid deterioration of David Crosby hurt him and the group.  I also don't doubt that Stills himself had a pretty healthy drug habit which couldn't help.

I got to see him solo in 1988 at the Democratic National Convention in Atlanta.  He kicked ass for an hour for about 2,000 or so gathered journalists.  I didn't see him again until 2000 in Kansas City with CSN&Y.  By then his voice was pretty much shot.

I think Stephen Stills is under appreciated.  However, I think that once he became mega-rich and mega-famous I don't think he followed his muse with the serious passion that Neil Young did.  But take time to go back and listen to some Stephen Stills.  Whether it's the blues powered "Black Queen" or the poppy "Love the One You're With," the man had chops and knew how to write and produce some great music.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

The Greatness of The Grateful Dead

Stephen Stills once called The Grateful Dead the world's greatest garage band.  Stills is right in a lot of ways, but what he fails to note or refused to consider was something that most great rock and roll bands cannot do, play a half a dozen or so different styles.  The Dead could give you country, the blues, psychedelic, blue grass and some pretty amazing covers of some of the best songs written from greats like Hank Williams to Bob Dylan.

I was listening to "So Many Roads" on my iPod while out on a run tonight that was nearly strafed by lightning.  I have had the recordings for a long time but had not really given them a good listen as The Czarina really doesn't share my love of Jerry and the boys and my stereo is in storage.  Don't get me started.  As the music turned to this series of live recordings from early 90's, I began to think back how The Grateful Dead had morphed through its 30 years of existence.

Fans revel in the life experience of The Grateful Dead.  That's largely because you could see them five times in the course of a week and hear more than 100 different songs.  Their repertoire was endless.  The live experience could be a real disappointment depending on whether the band was in shape to play or often from the unreliable mix from Dan Healy, who was finally jettisoned by the Dead about a year before Garcia's death.

The Dead could sound amazing.  Out of the mere 16 shows I saw 4 were incredible, 4 were very good, and the rest, very uneven.  The band could sound amazingly thin and the loss of Brent Mydland showed that when I saw them in the early 90's.  Even with Bruce Hornsby sitting in with them, he couldn't and Vince Welnick couldn't deliver the depth and texture that Mydland did.  Although I will admit, some of the shows with Hornsby are incredible.

The band's best period was probably the two years before Mydland killed himself.  Some of the shows were mind blowing and Mydland was showing a confidence in having been with the band for the better part of a decade that was lacking in the late 70's and early 80's.  You can hear a lot of the soundboard and audience recordings from that period at archive.org.

The best studio album without a doubt is "American Beauty," recorded in 1970.  It is a great collection of songs that were delicately produced.  That album along with its predecessor "Workingman's Dead," show what they could do when they really put their collective hearts and souls into their studio work.  Right after those albums the band did some of its best live performances.  Listen to the full volumes of Europe 72 and you can begin to understand the magic that Pigpen brought to the band.  The band was tight and reveled in the new music that had created in the early 70's. 

I didn't catch the band live until 1977 and even then the live shows were still very good.  Still, when you listen to some of the live recordings a year later you could hear The Grateful Dead degenerating on stage.  Keith Godchaux's keyboard work was ordinary and his wife Donna's harmonies were pitchy and downright awful.  It's no wonder they were fired.

But wander back to when it was all new for Keith and Donna Jean in 1972.  Pigpen dying from liver disease was no longer a force.  The extended releases of the Europe 72 are mind-boggling and yes Pigpen showed glimpses of what used to be.  But it's a the long awaited release in the last week of a show shot in a field outside of Springfield, Oregon that simply amazes.

It's called "Sunshine Daydream," and if you want to invest in the three disc set along with a movie shot of this incredible concert, it's worth it.  Still, save the money, download the digital versions and give it a serious listen.  Jerry's playing is marvelous, Bob is driving force on rthym guitar, Phil is running up and down the bass like a wild man and his harmonies on songs like "Jack Straw" are a thing of beauty and finally, this band simply sounds tighter and better when Bill Kreutzmann was the only drummer.  I'm sorry Mickey, but it gets ragged sometimes when the two of you played.

Buy it, revel in it, and remember, this tour de force recorded more than 40 years ago sounds just as vital and just as important in 2013 as it did to the 20,000 or so hippies who gathered in the sweltering August heat to smoke pot, dance naked and let it all hang out with the good ole' Grateful Dead.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

I've Been Remiss

The urge to blog slipped away over the last week as we made our way back to Kansas for the wedding of my one and only nephew.  Fortunately, as weddings go, it was a quick and painless affair, although by poor sister Karen and her stoic husband Keith had to go through all sorts of non-sense to host the reception.  It was a stellar evening.  Better still, on the trip I got to see about 90 percent of the people I wanted to visit.  There never seems to be enough time to see everybody but we enjoyed ourselves.

The highlight was an unplanned trip to the new Kauffman Performing Arts Center where the Czarina and I saw the Kansas City Jazz Orchestra with Deborah Brown running through a tasty selection of American classics by some of our best composers.  I must embarrassingly admit I had never heard of Deborah Brown.  She's apparently all the rage of Europe.  Think Ella Fitzgerald with amazing range and you get the idea.  It was one of the best nights of music I can remember in a long, long time.

The main reason I wanted to blog is because I've headed by front page adding a couple of blogs that have become new favorites.  One is by running commentator Toni Reavis.  He's the king of announcing when it comes to the American road racing scene and he knows anybody that's anybody when it comes to running.

I also added Charlie Whitehead.  Charlie Who you might ask?  Charlie was a long time reporter for the Naples Daily News.  He's a bit of a curmudgeon, but he knows Southwest Florida politics about as well as anybody.  Since we're in the midst of a political scandal in Lee County right now, Charlie's launched his blog and I'm enjoying it so I thought you might too.  It seems County Commissioners in Southwest Florida can't avoid doing stupid shit.  I think we're in for an education over the next year or so with this political race and the upcoming Governor's showdown.  So sit back, relax and read.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Maggie Vaults over the Moon

The first time I was up close to a real pole vaulter I was 14, watching in awe as another boy my age, ran with a piece of fiberglass and made it bend in ways I didn’t think possible.  He looked at me and asked if I wouldn’t mind catching his pole while he practiced.  I couldn’t say no to Tad Scales.  Three years later Tad would run down that same runway in Allen Field House and break the Kansas High School record flying over 16 foot.

The beauty of the pole vault, is just like the beauty that you have learn to look for as you travel across the rolling prairie that makes up most of Kansas.  It is a beauty that is stirred by a heart-felt tale of a farm girl, learning to deal with life, along with the good and bad that it brings.  “Maggie Vaults over the Moon” instantly transported me back to my childhood.  I grew up around the combines, the wheat harvest, the cozy, the nosiness that living in small town Kansas brings.  I knew Maggie and the mythical town of Grain Valley where she went to high school.  I knew the jocks, that sense of community, where we all mourned losses collectively and together reveled in the triumphs.

The story of Maggie Steele is a celebration.  It’s a celebration in believing, of overcoming, and knowing that good people in the end, will help you overcome all the bad in this world.  Maggie’s world was shattered by the death of her older brother.  She found solace in the hayloft of their huge family barn, just like the one on my grandparent’s farm that once entertained myself, my siblings and my cousins, for countless hours, with adventures, real and imagined. 

Maggie finds herself and what she thought she had lost in that barn.  And along the way she finds a purpose to a life that seemed scary and without direction.  Author Grant Overstake takes us on Maggie’s year long journey from tragedy to triumph.  It’s an all too real journey, that defies imagination and tugs at your heartstrings. 

The story may be aimed at a younger audience, but it’s a story that will translate to anyone willing to allow themselves to be young at heart.


Thursday, September 5, 2013

Why Not The Moody Blues

I was out on a run the other night listening to The Moody Blues on my iPod and started to get really mad.  I'm mad because this much deserving band is not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  I suspect somewhere along the line, when the band was at its peak in their popularity in the early 70's, they did something to piss off Jan Wenner, the founder of Rolling Stone magazine and the man who pretty much decides who gets in and who gets left out of the Hall.

I have friends that loathe the band, yes I'm talking about you John Broholm.  I understand their psychedelic light approach to rock and roll might not sit well with purists.  But this band made seven outrageously good albums over a six year period, starting with the groundbreaking "Days of Future Passed."  Outside of The Beatles, they were my favorite British band.  It broke my heart when they stopped touring and making music in 1974.  And I couldn't wait to buy a ticket when they reformed and started touring again in 1979.

The band's story is amazing in and of itself.  After a one off hit with a cover of "Go Now" in 1964, the band hit a wall and fell apart.  Enter Justin Hayward and John Lodge and this blues based band changed direction.  The epic "Days of Future Passed" launched the band and the group was off and running.  The band's use of a full orchestra was groundbreaking.  Mike Pinder made full use of a melotron, which mimicked the strings, long before digital keyboards came along.  They had a unique sound and produced concept after concept album. 

The Moody Blues were still making great music up to 1972's Seventh Sojourn, launching a world tour, one that I had hoped to catch.  But then suddenly it all ended.  The band called it quits. I think the constant touring and a lot of excesses tore the band apart.

When you talk of the great British bands of the 60's and 70's, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Kinks, The Who and Led Zeppelin, The Moody Blues belongs in that discussion.  They weren't a pop band looking to produce hit singles.  They took a different path and made some arguably great music in the process. 

Even when the band reunited in 1978, keyboardist Mike Pinder begged off touring and The Moody Blues have soldiered on since without him.  I've seen them live more than a half dozen times, a couple of shows with full orchestra's backing them.  I had the pleasure of meeting John Lodge, Graham Edge and Justin Hayward in 2004 before they played a show in Fort Myers.  Outside of getting to meet someone like Bob Dylan, Neil Young or one of the remaining Beatles or Grateful Dead, I don't think of anybody I'd rather meet in the field of music.

The Moody Blues almost single-handedly invented progressive rock.  Yet they get no love for it.  They had a hit song, "Nights in White Satin," which first charted in Great Britain in 67 but didn't hit the charts in the U.S.A. until 1972.  Ironically, ever member of the 1967 lineup is alive and kicking, although flutist Ray Thomas stopped touring a decade ago.  They deserve entry into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  And by the way, so does Chicago.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Another Self Portrait

Slowly, but surely, Bob Dylan is opening his vault.  His 10th release of his remarkable bootleg series at first glance is a real head scratcher.  "Self Portrait" is one of the two or three worst albums Dylan has released over his unparalleled career.  It was so bad noted writer Greil Marcus wrote in Rolling Stone magazine back in 1970, "What is this shit?"

So along comes "Another Self Portrait."  Again, I say, what is this shit?  If you bite hard, which I did, and buy the massive box set of some 70 tunes or so, you come away stunned.  Dylan was in a musical no man's land at this time.  The original album came on the heels of the acclaimed "John Wesley Harding" and Dylan's foray into country, "Nashville Skyline."  At this point in his career you would have thought Bob would sit down and cut an album with The Band. 

The legendary collection of recordings made in Woodstock Dylan had made with Robbie Robertson and the boys were beginning to circulate, creating a whole industry of bootleg recordings.  Those sessions were so legendary a small piece of them would eventually be released as "The Basement Tapes."  But Dylan wouldn't record a real album with The Band until 1974 when they released "Planet Waves."

Instead Dylan fiddled and farted around in the studio doing a mix of cover songs and so-so original songs.  Then Columbia handed the mess over to Bob Johnston who tried to salvage the sessions by over producing a lot of the tracks.  What "Another Self Portrait" offers is the stripped down version of some pretty decent songs.  Some of the tracks are still complete shit, but there are some gems that deserved to be heard.

Two things caught my ears, songs that never appeared on the original album.  One of the outtakes features George Harrison doing his best Carl Perkins impression on guitar as Dylan rips through a song called "Working on a Guru."  The song is a send up but Harrison's muffled laugh at the end of the track is worth the price of admission.  Then, there are the live recordings from Dylan's appearance with The Band at the Isle of Wight festival.  It's simply amazing.

Dylan was still crooning in his syrupy "Nashville Skyline" voice as The Band delicately glides along with him through some of his new songs and some of his classics.  The outright joy of "Quinn the Eskimo," which appeared on the original "Self Portrait," makes me wish I could be transported back to 1969 when these songs were played before a live audience.  It was the first time Bob had faced a crowd in several years.  The live recordings stand in stark contrast to the "in your face" aspect of the 1974 tour that Dylan took with The Band which you can listen to on "Before the Flood."

Dylan's bootleg series is something to revel in.  The surprises he continues to serve up deserve our respect.  Undoubtedly, there is much more to come from America's greatest living songwriter, so much more indeed.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Corporate Running Hits a New Low

I've railed before against what I call corporate running.  Mostly I hate the Color Runs, Tough Mudders, and Spartan Runs, but now you can add the Rock N' Roll Marathon folks to my list.  You see, the greedy bastards who run the series decided to say screw the professional athlete.  Oh, they'll comp their entry and pay out some prize money, but plane tickets and appearance fees, forget about it.

Many of you may say, tough, who cares.  But for every Galen Rupp that has a fat contract from NIKE, there are 100 Will Leers just scraping by.  Most professional runners have to work real jobs in between the training.  The a-holes at Competitor Group which runs the Rock N' Roll series among other races decided they needed to fatten their bottom line. 

So excuse me if I won't donate to your charity fundraising run that's put on one of these corporate smucks.  I'm not going to give my hard earned cash to a bunch of corporate suits who are skimming a big chunk of your entry fee money for themselves.  All I can say is, support your local running clubs. 

Sunday, August 25, 2013

The Butler

The Czarina and I took in "The Butler" Sunday afternoon.  I had heard good things, it's well worth the price of admission.  As I watched the story unfold it only drove home just how far we have to go as a nation when it comes to race.

As I posted recently, I deal with subtle and not so subtle forms of racism on a near daily basis.  Most of it comes in the form of emails, from ill-informed people, who don't understand why African Americans have such a big chip on their shoulders.  Many of these people believe that the media deliberately under reports stories that involve Black on White crime.  The killing of the World Two vet and the ballplayer from Australia are their latest launching pad.

But I even get emails about a murder case that happened more than six years ago in which three black men killed a young white couple.  The idiots who send it in that it's a story that just happened.  I would like to know the bigots who are behind the cottage industry responsible for disseminating this garbage. 

I wish there was a way to force these morons that send their race baiting garbage into the station to watch "The Butler."  I think they would need to see it a half dozen times or more before they'd begin to realize that we're not that far removed from a time when Whites could beat and kill Blacks with impunity.  By the way it's a great movie with a really interesting cast.  I even liked Oprah.  Forrest Whitaker has come a long way since "Fast Times at Ridgemont High."

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Isi Dizzy

Undoubtedly, the star so far of this Track and Field World Championships in Moscow is Russian pole vaulter Yelena Isinbayeva, that is, until she opened her big mouth.  The world record setting Isi grabbed her third world championship gold medal on Wednesday.  Then she decided to take time to criticize her fellow competitors for showing support for the gay and lesbian community.

For those of you asleep at the switch, Russia recently passed some pretty stringent laws, aimed at gays and lesbians.  I have personally experienced the paranoia over homosexuality in Russia.  I was interviewed four years ago in St. Petersburg for a television program hosted by Vladimir Posner, yes, that Vladimir Posner, for an American's view on the issue.  Russians honestly believes that gay people are out to recruit children into their lifestyle.  It's a freakish kind of paranoia.

My take during the interview is that people fear what they don't understand.  I explained how my views have changed 180 degrees in the last 30 years and that the same thing is slowly happening in America.  We all know someone who is gay.  We all work with people who are gay and if you don't think you do it's only because the folks you're working with who are gay don't advertise it.

Isinbayeva is retiring after this competition.  It's a good thing because it's a safe bet that her major sponsors, namely Adidas, will probably walk away from this attractive track and field superstar.  I imagine if she planned to have any future in the IOC or IAAF, the ruling bodies for the Olympics and track and field, that bridge has been burned.  It was refreshing to listen to the BBC commentators at the event thoroughly rake Isi over the coals for her repugnant remarks.

The controversy wasn't enough to overshadow a great day of racing.  Jenny Simpson cemented her place as one of America's greatest distance runners by winning a silver medal in the 1500.  The Colorado grad ran a bold race from the front and forced Sweden's Abeba Agregawi to dig down deep for the victory.  The silver goes along with Simpson's Daegu gold won in 2011.

Nearly forgotten in 10th place was high school phenom Mary Cain.  The high school senior to be once again showed her lack of racing experience.  She allowed herself to get sucked into the slipstream of Simpson's tough early pace instead of racing off the back of the pack where she's enjoyed her best success.  The hard early pace left Cain without her patented kick.  She wouldn't have medaled had she run smarter but a top 5 finish was left on the track because of her poor tactics.

But in her defense, Cain ran to medal, she ran to win.  She simply lacked the stamina to handle the aggressive running.  In another year, an American record could well be within reach, unless Simpson gets there first.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Silver for Symmonds

As great as it was to see Rupp and Manzano claim silver medals in the 10000 and 1500 in London at the Olympics, Nick Symmond's silver medal at 800 at the World Championships in Moscow feels somewhat more satisfying.  Symmonds is to USA track and field what Jim Furyk is to professional golf, a grinder.  With his performance in Moscow, Symmonds stamped himself as one of America's greatest 800 meter runners ever.

Symmonds is a running everyman.  He went to a small college on Oregon where he somehow defied the odds to become a world class runner.  He fought the sport's archaic system on sponsorship for track and field athletes.  He even set an American record in the beer mile.

Symmonds had learned from past failures.  He always used a stunning kick to thrust himself into races, a tactic that he used to great effect to win national titles.  But his kick was never enough on the world stage because he would often dottle at the rear of the field too long to use it.

This race was different.  American Duane Solomon did his usual front running, but Symmonds, instead of falling to the rear as usual, sat in the middle of the field, slowly moving up on the home stretch of the first lap to latch onto the front.  From there he controlled the race roaring past Solomon with 200 meters to go, finding that extra gear with 100 to go, looking like the gold was his.  Unfortunately Ethiopia's Mohammed Aman came back from the dead and ran Symmonds down in the last 40 meters.  It didn't matter, because Symmonds had a medal that deep down inside he thought he could never win.

Unfortunately Solomon faded down the homestretch and finished out of the medals.  But it was a sweet day for U.S. track and field.  David Oliver took a much deserved gold medal in the hurdles and another long-time grinder, Ryan Wilson, grabbed the silver.  Only Jen Suhr fell short in the women's pole vault where the Russian crowd lifted her rival Yelena Isinbayeva to gold. 

Now if Nick will just stay away from Paris Hilton.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Missing Moscow

The Czarina and I wanted to attend the World Track and Field Championships in Moscow, Russia in the worst way.  Going to a world championship is on my bucket list.  The trip would have given the Czarina to visit family.  Alas, the stars did not align and we settled for the U.S. Nationals in Des Moines.

Thank God for the BBC.  We awoke 6 a.m. Saturday morning to watch a bootleg feed of the BBC coverage of the women's marathon.  It was a death march.  It was simply unfair to start the race at 2 p.m.  The BBC commentators said it was done for Japanese television, where the race would appear in prime time.  It was horribly hot and humid.

Top Ethiopian and Kenyan marathoners used the conditions as an excuse to drop out and save themselves for lucrative fall marathons.  Kudos though to defending champ Edna Kiplagat who stayed just off the tough pace set by Italy's Valeria Starneo.  The Kenyan took a well deserved gold while the Italian happily settled for silver.  The Japanese got their prime time bronze from Kayoko Fukushi who never gave up after getting dropped from the lead pack.

The weather made for miserable running later on Saturday for the men's 10K.  American Galen Rupp didn't stand a chance.  He doesn't possess the crackling finish that he had a year ago.  Great Britain's Mo Farah does and that gave him gold while Rupp just missed the podium.

The Czarina and I couldn't see getting up at 2:30 a.m. to watch the women's 1500 Sunday morning.  Instead we waited until 11 a.m. to watch the evening session and the women's 10,000 went the way I expected.  I had Americans Shalane Flanaghan, Jordan Hassay and Amy Hastings going 7th, 10th and 15th.  I wasn't to far off.  They went 8th, 12th and 15th.  

Flanaghan tried to front run her way to the podium but when it started to rain she seemed to wilt.  I don't know what's wrong with Hastings this year.  Her move to the east coast following last year's Olympics hasn't helped her.  Amy is not the same runner that she was a year ago.

The highlight of Sunday was the precision performance put in by Usain Bolt.  He took the 100 meters under the stormy skies of Moscow.  Justin Gatlin gave him a race.  It's a shame Mike Rodgers couldn't run the finals like he did the semi's or the U.S.A. might have grabbed a bronze.

Another week of track and field lies ahead.  I'm looking forward to three super races.  The men's 800 could see the USA taking not one, but two medals.  Duane Solomon and Nick Symmonds are fit and ready for battle.  Then both the men's and women's 1500 should be special. 

The women's rounds started on Sunday.  Prep phenom Mary Cain managed to advance thanks to her thunderous kick.  Jenny Simpson showed that she's ready to defend her title.  I may be a little distracted at work this week, trying to monitor the BBC while handling my other duties!

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Motorpsycho Visit

He's really not a psycho, but he was a hell of a high school pole vaulter.  He transformed himself into one of the best masters runner in Kansas history and I feel lucky to call him my friend.  I think I've blogged about Steve Riley before but I'm too lazy to look back through my old postings to see what's there.

I first knew of Steve while I was in high school.  He was the best high school pole vaulter in the nation his senior year at Wichita East.  Yeah, that's the same high school that Jim Ryun went to.  Steve set a state record that would last exactly one year.  My teammate Tad Scales would come along the next year and break it.

Steve and I became acquaintances my freshman year at Kansas.  By then he had pretty much flamed out in the world of track and field.  We both shared that, along with a love of Bob Dylan.  Thus an enduring friendship was born.

Steve, besides being a former pole vaulter and a great runner, also loves motorcycles and used to sky dive.  Marcia, his wonderful wife, finally but the kibosh on the sky diving.  Together they raised two incredible young men, Justin and Matt.  I like to think of them as my nephews.

When I was hitting some tough times in my life, Steve was there like a rock.  We ran together, played guitar together and talked a lot about Bob Dylan.  I think in some small way I helped Steve as well.

I miss the runs and I miss playing guitar with him.  We get together on the phone on a somewhat regular basis to discuss all things Bob.  It's amazing that our friendship has endured for nearly 40 years despite my wandering way.

Steve's on one of his legendary cross country motorcycle trips. He's passing through tomorrow night on his way to a wedding in Fort Lauderdale. In a house full of Russians, he may have to grab a spot on the couch, which is a shame because after all that riding, he really deserves a bed.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Lessons from London

The London Diamond League meet marks the last major get together for track and field before the World Championships in London.  I'm sure if I had a magic wand and could wave it the Czarina and I would be headed to Russia for the meet which starts on August 10.  But I digress, I want to write about the fortunes of U.S. track and field heading into the big meet.

The U.S.A. rocked the London Olympics.  It was a great despite some sprint woes, the men getting shutout of the medals at 200 meters and a 2nd place finish in the 4 X 400.  I think duplicating the successes of London in Moscow will be a stretch.

U.S. sprinting is in disarray.  Tyson Gay's positive drug test, Carmelita Jeter's injury plagued season, Sanya Richards out, Aries Merritt all over the map in the hurdles and Alyson Felix showing uncertain form, it could be a real mess.  It doesn't look much better in the distance races.  Matt Centrowitz and Leo Manzano have run like crap in Europe.  I highly doubt that Galen Rupp can duplicate his medal performance of London and Bernard Lagat is simply too old.

The best hopes are in the middle distances where Brenda Martinez has shined at 800 meters and the men boast two medal contenders in Nick Symmonds and Duane Solomon.  The men's 800 is wide open without David Rudisha's majestic presence.  The one racer I will watch with great interest is Mary Cain.  The high school phenom has shown she lacks the tactics needed on the world stage after a disappointing run in London.  But she has the kind of finishing speed that could put her in the final and dare I say it, in a slow enough race, a medal contender.

It's a shame the Czarina and I won't be in Moscow next month.  I guess we should start saving our pennies for London in 2017.  Now that sounds like a grand plan.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Good Til the Last Drop

I gave into air conditioning today.  I just couldn't take the heat and humidity anymore.  I walked over to the clubhouse and ran 5 miles on the treadmill.  Even with the AC assist at a cool 75 degrees I still laid a fine spray of sweat across the apparatus.
We had been so lucky this spring and through the early part of the summer.  Usually the humidity arrives sometime in late April or early May.  The dewpoints climb into the mid 70's and running anything over 10 miles is almost impossible.

But the weather was incredible through April and May.  Even into June it never got really bad.  The running was more than tolerable.  Part of it was the weather pattern of afternoon showers that was doing a pretty good job of clearing out the humidity for early evening runs.

In fact last Friday, July 19, was incredible.  I ran a wonderful 5 miles along the trail that borders a massive slough with a cool draft blowing in from a thunderstorm sitting about 20 miles to the east.  It marked the end of spring I guess because Saturday was complete hell.  The humidity hung in the air, completely choking every pour on my body. 

It stayed that way on Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, you get the idea.  It was awful.  I came home last night after running 4 miles and felt like throwing up.   I had run at a very slow pace, my hat was soaked all the way through.  Normally, it takes at least 6 to 7 miles on a hot, humid day for sweat to drip from the bill of my cap.

You can see in the picture above I can work up a pretty good sweat on a hot day.  This was from a race in July in Sacramento, about 4 miles into a 5 mile effort.  It was probably 7 a.m. and hot as hell but trust me, I don't miss Sacramento or its weather.

I'll adjust to this sudden increase in summer's wrath.  I may have to cut back the runs and accept the fact that age 57, I can't handle the heat like I did at 47 or 37. 

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

America is Full of Racists

I'm tired of racism.  The election of a Black President 5 years ago brought to the surface things I hadn't seen since the 1960's.  Forget Rodney King, America it's getting really ugly.  The murder, yes murder of Trayvon Martin, only shows to serve how bad it really is.

White America feels incredibly threatened by Black America.  The Zimmerman case is classic.  Read Zimmerman's old MySpace posts, even his comments the night when he shot Martin show what was thinking.  He saw a black thug scoping out his neighborhood and he was going to make sure he kept a good watch on this threatening figure.  We all know how it ended. 

I will say this.  If Trayvon had worried more about getting home than worrying about the cracker following him then none of this would have happened.  However, Zimmerman had no business getting out of his vehicle, especially after the 911 operator told him not to. 

But enough of this.  I want to talk about this garbage I've been receiving for the better part of a year at work in my email.  This picture keeps coming in, about every week or so.  Our outraged viewers want to know why we don't so this picture of Trayvon Martin.  It's obvious this thug was no, slight, non-threatening teenager. 

What these crackers sending this crap in don't realize is that it's a picture of a rapper called The Game.  I would give anything to find out how this Internet legend got started and personally see to it this redneck serves the prison sentence George Zimmerman should be serving. 

Even when you explain to them that the picture isn't Trayvon they still want to know why his youthful indiscretions aren't mentioned during our coverage of the events surrounding the case.  Zimmerman had a criminal past.  One in fact that makes me question how he could even be qualified to carry a handgun.  But that's another story. 

I'm frustrated.  George Zimmerman had a right to defend himself.  We'll never know who threw the first punch and what triggered the deadly brawl.  But the picture that this is the picture these bigots should remember of Trayvon Martin.  A young boy, cut down in the prime of his life, by a wanna-be cop, a grown adult who couldn't defend himself again, a tall, but slight, teenager.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Black Sunday for Sprinters

I love distance running.  But watching a great sprinter is something special.  It kills me to read the news today about Tyson Gay and the Jamaican sprinters caught doping.  My belief has always been that elite athletes cheat.  I say that even about distance runners. 
But seeing someone as likeable as Gay get nailed just makes my heart sink.  He looked incredible in Des Moines.  Tyson Gay would have given Usain Bolt all that he could handle.  The World Championships in Moscow will be hollow without Gay, Asafa Powell and Nesta Carter.

The Czarina and I have long talked about what the Jamaicans are taking.  The island nation has produced quality sprinters for years but the last 8 years certainly brings to question what's going on there.  This emergence led by Bolt, creates a nagging doubt. 

Don't get me wrong, Usain Bolt was a sprinting wunderkind.  If he had broken world records by hundredths of seconds, not tenths, I could believe it.  It's a lot like the myriad of distance running world records set in the 1990's.  Drugs certainly played a role in a lot of those times.  And I'm not just talking about the Chinese women either.

I love track and field.  I love sprinting, despite its blemishes.  A picture of Justin Gatlin hangs in our living room.  It was taken by my stepson at the Kansas Relays, the same meet where he was caught doping.  They cheat, don't kid yourself, most of them cheat.  It saddens my heart.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Facing Fear, Finding Freedom: One Friend's Journey

The name Tim Tays first came to my attention sometime in 1977.  It was probably in an article that I read in the Lawrence Journal-World about recruits joining the University of Kansas track and field team.  I remember two things, Albuquerque and 2 mile.  He had run a 9:20 2 mile or maybe a couple of ticks faster and I was surprised.  When it comes to distance runners, Bob Timmons only recruited studs.  I was used to seeing guys who had run faster than 4:15 in the mile coming to K.U.  Tays wasn’t a sub 4:15 high school miler.  But then I thought, this guy is running pretty good times at altitude, so he must be a horse.

Tim came to Kansas during my last year in school.  By then most of my ties to the cross country team were long gone.  Guys I had run with had moved on, All-Americans like Kent McDonald, George Mason, and Bill Lundberg.  My only ties to the team were Tad Scales, my high school teammate, one of the best pole vaulters in the Big 8 and my neighbor, Stan Narewski, was the team’s sprint coach.  I wasn’t very connected to the guys running at Kansas. 
Fast forward to 1982.  I knew who Tim Tays was and so did a lot of people.  He was one of the best distance runners in the Big 8 and had set a couple of school records at K.U. in the process.  I spent one of the best nights of my life with Tim and a handful of other runners in late July in Atwood, Kansas drinking beers.  We sat for hours swapping stories with Tays who had just won a 10 mile race besting a pretty impressive list of distance studs.  The stories flowed just as easily as the beer.  I knew two things after that night, Tim Tays was a great guy and a great runner.

I’m not sure why, but I was even invited to Tim’s wedding a few years later in Albuquerque.  Tim had put away his running shoes and seemed content to live the life of a high school teacher and coach.  To me it seemed like the end of the story, it even struck me as a somewhat unsatisfying end as well.

Turns out I wasn’t alone in that feeling.  It turns out that I didn’t know Tim Tays very well.  We reconnected a year or so ago on Facebook.  Then came word that Tim had written an autobiography and he was sending me a copy.  When it arrived in the mail, I had no idea what to expect.
I was taken aback by the title, “Wannabe Distance God:  The Thirst, Angst and Passion of Running in the Chase Pack.”  Reading the first 20 to 30 was like a hard slap to the face.  Tim, like a lot of people, struggled with a way to fit in and yet find a way to stand out.  He did it through running.  When he made a commitment to the sport, he went whole hog. 

That’s what I found fascinating.  I ran just enough to be good.  Tim was willing to do whatever it took to be great.  He did it despite a laundry list of obstacles that would make an ordinary person shutter.  The barriers ran the gamut from religion to a college coach who over trained his athletes.  But he didn’t complain or say why me out loud when things didn’t go his way.  But he thought it, he wrestled with it and as he grew as an adult, he figured out how to come to terms with it.  The best part is he realizes it’s an ongoing process, part of the journey we all share in life.  
I don’t want to give away the whole journey.  I think it’s a story that will appeal not just to runners, but anyone looking to come to terms with life’s injustices, perceived or real.   You can find the book at Amazon.  Give it a read.

 

 

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

No Love for Leo

He is undoubtedly one of the three greatest milers in American history.  He belongs in the same sentence as Jim Ryun and Steve Scott.  Yet Leo Manzano gets very little love.  This Mexican born American who came to running prominence while at the University of Texas, finds himself in a strange situation.  Leo has no shoe contract.

Elite track and field stars get a lot of their compensation from lucrative shoe contracts from companies like NIKE and Adidas.  After winning an Olympic silver medal in London, the first American to medal at 1500 meters since the great Jim Ryun, Leo has no shoe deal.  NIKE severed its ties with Manzano when the two couldn't agree on a new deal.  It seems Olympic medals don't mean much to "The Swoosh."

My guess is that Manzano was shooting for a deal that would put him on a par with NIKE's love child Galen Rupp.  Rupp scored Olympic silver in London as well in the 10000.  But Rupp is a blonde haired Oregonian who fits the NIKE profile perfectly.  While the short, dark skinned Manzano, wrapped himself in not just the Stars and Stripes last August after his stunning performance in London, he grabbed the flag of Mexico as well.  Leo's name doesn't sell shoes like Rupp.

Manzano is the blue collar success story of American distance running.  He doesn't have any American records like Alan Webb or Steve Scott, or set world records like Jim Ryun.  All he's done is be eerily consistent over the last 8 years beginning with his first NCAA title in the 1500 at Texas.  He's placed in the top 3 the United States outdoor nationals at 1500 8 years in a row.

The Czarina loves Leo, all 5 feet 5 inches of him.  We both watched in shock and awe as he somehow eluded a group of runners that boxed him in with 200 meters to go at last week's Nationals and nearly caught Matt Centrowitz, Jr. for his second national title.  His 2nd place finish marks Leo's 8th consecutive national team for the USA.  Yet he still has no shoe contract.

Leo says he's confident something will be worked out.  It would serve NIKE right if Leo snags another medal in Moscow without their shoes on his feet.  He's more like Pre than the Oregon golden boy that has one.