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.