Monday, August 17, 2009

Notes on the departed

I visited all of you yesterday. None of you spoke, not aloud anyway.

Dad (1999)
I still can’t believe it’s been 10 years. One of the ways I describe you to people who never had the good fortune to meet you: Sure, he was short, but he was the tallest man I’ve ever known.
You taught by example. You were dedicated to your faith, to your family, to your career. You loved your friends. You were kind to a fault. You and Mom were an example that love born in childhood can last. You taught me how to play pool well enough to beat the guys and, bless you, tried to teach me how to do math. You sang and danced – and it didn’t matter to you that you were terrible at both.
Your last three words to me weren’t exactly words, more like three guttural sounds. I understood, Dad. And I love you, too.

Grandma and Grandpa P. (1998 and 1999)
Grandma: I took you up on your offer when I was 16. You asked the grandkids each year, and I was the first to say yes. And so we found ourselves on a plane headed for Rome, then Palermo, then your hometown of Villafrati, Sicily. We stayed with your nephew, next door to the house where you were born. We went to the church where you had been baptized. I celebrated my 17th birthday at a family wedding. It was unforgettable. But, grandma, what I will remember most about you is your kitchen table -- the hours we spent at that table playing cards. And I’m happy to report we still pull the equipment you used out of a box each year to make ravioli. It’s a tradition I hope never dies.
Grandpa: I remember taking walks with you as a kid. Without me knowing, you’d reach into your pocket, grab a quarter and throw it on the sidewalk just in front of us. I never wondered why I only found quarters while I was on walks with you. And you’d show up just about every afternoon (and on Sunday mornings) to roll the papers for our paper route. If we weren’t feeling well, you’d deliver them, too. And in the dead of winter, you’d follow us along the route in your Cadillac, giving us a place to warm up when we got too cold. You were a man of few words. But you didn’t need to say much. Your actions said it all.

Grandma O. and Aunt Pat (2005 and 2007)
Grandma: You were my other card-playing partner when I was a kid. I used to look forward to going to your apartment, walking up that spiral staircase, sitting at your dining room table and settling in for an afternoon of playing cards. I never thought about it when I was a kid, but I was one of 17 grandchildren. When we were together, you always made me feel like I was the most important person in the world. The angel figurine you gave me when I moved to D.C. continues to watch over me.
Aunt Pat: When you did something, you didn’t believe in doing it halfway. You cooked dinners that could feed armies. When you bluffed playing poker, you bluffed big. And when you laughed … God, there was such joy in your laugh. And even though we are not a family known for our singing ability (to put it nicely), when it was time to sing Christmas carols, you always demanded to hear us do “O Holy Night” just one more time. You treasured your family, and you were a big part of what kept us all together. I hate to see that end.

I love you all.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Thank you, Chicago

Here's what happens when you get Kat, Rick, Ricardo, Col, Meg and me to sign up for a little thing called the Great Urban Race.

Team Doppelganger:

Team Non Sequitur:

Team Commando Kilts:

Well, the six of us had decided beforehand that we would all work as a team. Good thing, too. Rick and Ricardo *know* Chicago. I know that if you go too far in one direction you'll end up in a really big lake.
We started with up to 500 two-person teams (don't know the final tally yet) in a light drizzle at the Cubby Bear. As soon as we got our envelopes containing the clues, our plan to take a few minutes to carefully map out the order in which we would complete the tasks went straight to hell.
Our first hurdle: choice of footwear. Kat, Rick, Ricardo and I all wore Converse All-Stars. One of the detours: Either find a *real* person wearing a tie-dye T-shirt and have team members pose with that person or have team members pose with a *real* person wearing ... you guessed it ... Converse All-Stars. We read that clue right at the beginning and didn't know if *real* person meant that we wouldn't count because we were participating in the race. Obviously, none of the other 10 billion teams around us knew, either, because we were swarmed with people wanting to pose with us and our shoes. After being stopped a few times before reaching our first task, I started telling other teams, "We are NOT real people."

On the way to Task No. 1, we solved the insanely simple riddle: Mr. Reynolds is odd. He likes balloons but doesn't like parties. He likes books but doesn't like reading. He likes weeds but doesn't like flowers. He likes swimming but doesn't like water. He likes letters but doesn't like words. He likes noodles but doesn't like pasta sauce. He likes apples but doesn't like plums. He likes coffee but doesn't like tea.

Take a picture of team in front of a street sign that Mr. Reynolds would like:

Next up: Go to Comedy Sportz and play charades. I SUCK at charades, but Kat decided I'd be better at the guessing part. All three of our teams were doing this at the same time, and I could see Rick/Ricardo and Col/Meg on either side, all finishing before us. PANIC. The fear must've helped because I quickly guessed our word: ruler. Task finished and a stamp was affixed to our clue sheet. (Remember this stamp. It's going to be *crucial* later.)

On the way to our planned next task, I spot what we need for a detour. Either return to the finish line with a job application from a business in Chicago. Or have team pose in front of a "now hiring" or "help wanted" sign.

Up next: Make your way to Chicago's famous tattoo shop owned by Dale Grande. Take a custom rub-on tattoo from the box inside the door. Take a picture of team in front of the shop with the tattoo applied to one teammate's face. Sounds easy, right? This task cost us some serious time. No matter what we did, none of us could get the little buggers to stick to our faces. Yeah, the clue said to only take ONE tattoo from the box. We ended going through about 15 trying to get this to work.

On our way to the next clue, I spot a random guy getting on the train, and he's wearing ... Converse All-Stars! A *real* person, thank God. I think he was a bit taken aback by our enthusiasm in wanting to have our picture taken with him.

Next: A hot dog is waiting for you at Chicago's Dog House. Take a picture of one teammate feeding a hot dog to another teammate.

Our picture's OK, but the one of Rick and Ricardo is priceless:

Thank God there are no pictures of the next task: Make your way to Kingston Mines. All teammates must complete a short dance lesson. You will receive a business card from your dance instructor once you complete the lesson. This dance instructor, I think, enjoyed screwing with us. We would think, "OK, we're done." And then he'd start right back up again.

On to the next task (Seems like we walked about 15 miles to get there. I'm not prone to exaggeration or anything): There is a park in Chicago dedicated to a 1939 movie directed by Victor Fleming. Make your way to this park and take a picture of team in front of the statue of the character played by Jack Haley in the original movie. I have to admit, I never even knew there was an Oz Park in Chicago.

The bus ride. Pardon the phrase, but this is where the wheels began to fall off. It started off great. A couple of teams on the bus and a bunch of *real* people gawking at us. It was nice to relax, drink some water and look at the photos we'd taken so far. Plus, the bus ride allowed us to see the number of flags hanging in front of the Palmer House Hilton, which we needed to complete another clue. Sweet.
And there were a couple of pictures of Rick and Ricardo on the bus looking very ladylike (Part one of the rest of us saying, "It's a good thing they didn't *really* go commando."):

Disaster, part one: The bus ride ends, we get off and cross the street. The light turns and I realize I don't have my camera. Rick, my hero, leads me back across the street. Mind you, the traffic -- including the bus carrying my camera -- is starting to move. But how can traffic *not* stop when you have a 6-foot-7 dude in a kilt and a chick in pink pajama bottoms running wildly across the street, yelling at a driver to stop? Camera saved and first disaster averted.

Next clue: Find the restaurant owned by Herman Joseph _______, which is famous for its Dortmunder-style beer. Take a picture of 10 people (including teammates) under the restaurant's tall vertical sign doing Molly Shannon's "Superstar" pose.

Disaster, part two. On our way to the next task, I realized I'd lost Team Doppelganger's clue sheet. We NEED this sheet to finish because it has a stamp on it from the Comedy Sportz task. Feeling utter shame.

Crisis averted? OK. So we have no clue sheet, but ... BUT since there are 12 clues and we only need to complete 11, Kat and I figure we can just do the clue we intended to skip, finish the race and tell the check-in folks that we skipped the Comedy Sportz clue -- the one that required a stamp. Our goal: On our way to our last task, find a place that has what we need to complete the now, not-skipped one. We needed to buy one of the following four things: one pack of eight or markers and a coloring book; one miniature Matchbox car; one item of Barbie clothing or an accessory; or one hardcover children's book. Then we need to go to 30 E. Adams to donate the item to the Starlight Children's Foundation. Good cause. We can do this. And there's a Walgreens on our way. Unfortunately, it was the most crappy Walgreens on the face of the planet, and it didn't have any of the things we needed. Feeling defeated again, but pushing onward.

Crisis averted? Part two: Go to the tennis courts at Daley Bicentennial Plaza. All teammates must complete the three challenges given to you there, including a crab walk, a leap frog and the wheelbarrow. After completing this challenge, you MUST receive a stamp on your clue sheet (uh, which my team no longer has) to receive credit for this clue. Kat and I, knowing we're out of the race, decide to just take pictures of Rick/Ricardo and Col/Meg making fools of themselves. And then ... Col comes through ... She walks up to me, in drug-dealer fashion, and says, "Here, take this." I look at her hand and it's a crumbled-up clue sheet. It's not OUR clue sheet, but it's a clue sheet. Back in business. Screw the poor losers who dropped their clue sheet! So Kat and I start doing the crab walk. It was brutal. Kat looks at me and says, "You wanna quit? We've done almost everything, we've had a great time ..." I say, "Aren't you going to feel disappointed if we don't ACTUALLY do this?" A resounding "Eff that." So we started taking pictures ... (Part two of us saying, "Thank God they didn't *really* go commando.")

So, those four finish the task and receive their stamp. And I thought, "Well, what's the harm in asking the guy to stamp our sheet?" Worst he can say is no, right? Kat refused to do it and handed me "our" clue sheet to give the guy. Whaddya know? He stamped it. Booyah! Walking out of the park, I say, "Well, we still have to go buy something and go donate it." Kat: "No we don't. Col, hand me your clue sheet." And the sneaky little woman LICKS the stamp we need from Col's clue sheet and rubs it on ours. It's a blurry mess that barely looks like a stamp, but what the hell? It's a good thing Meg was doing the race with us. She learned a very valuable lesson right before heading off to college: Lie, cheat and steal your way through life. God, I'm a great aunt.

Last stop (we're idiots): Now we have to go to a certain Chicago landmark and pose in front of it holding up the number of fingers representing the number of flags we saw outside the Palmer House Hilton. Where did we go? The Art Institute lions. WRONG. Had any of us paid attention, the clue said: Count the number of Olympic flags hanging in the south-facing window at 22 W. Washington street. Then take a picture of team in front of the lion pictured (on clue sheet) to the right. OR Count the number of flags at the Palmer House Hilton, then take a picture of team in front of brown statue pictured (on clue sheet) to the left. Freakin' Picasso statue, NOT the lion.

The train ride back to Cubby Bear: God bless transvestites, but the one we rode with on the train was not convincing us with "her" stories about "her" "husband," "kids" and "grandkids." We also got to hear about "her" MIT-educated daughter who's addicted to heroin, how "she" escaped New Orleans just before Katrina and about "her" house, which had just burned down. But we were treated to "her" extremely masculine features, "her" mustache, the incessant brushing of "her" hair and the track marks on "her" arms and legs. Jamie, wherever you are -- good luck, man (or woman, whatever.)

The finish line (otherwise known as the moment of truth): We crossed the finish line in a not-too-respectable time of about three hours. We'll find out in a day or two how we ranked, but I'm sure it won't be pretty. Didn't really matter in the end, though. We had a great time. That's what matters, right? And were we "officially" disqualified for our faked stamp? Nope. We had to show our pictures and our clue sheets at check-in. The man checking "our" clue sheet looked at the blue smudge and started to question it. Kat chimes in, "Yeah, that's from Comedy Sportz. Sorry, it got kind of blurred in the drizzle." "No problem," he says. Seriously, who says lying, cheating and stealing don't pay off?

Update: The results are in. I think I counted 528 teams. Teams Non Sequitur, Doppelganger and Commando Kilts finished 291, 292, 293. No medals for us, but I'm sure we had much more fun than those losers who finished first.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

So much the same, so much ... not

As a kid, summer meant playing softball, riding bikes with friends, hanging out at Highland Custard Shop and the annual canoe trip. We had a great group of family friends growing up and each year, the dads would load up the kids and head to the campground at Lake Waveland. Meticulous planning went into these trips. OK, in my family it wasn't so meticulous. Mom basically bought whatever beer was on sale for my dad, hot dogs for dinner, a box of doughnuts for breakfast and some generic soda. (We all mocked a certain family for arriving in a camper and then dining on pancakes, eggs and sausages for breakfast. But really, we were just jealous because all we had was our soggy doughnuts.)
Sometimes it would rain and we would all have to sleep in the car. And June Cleaver, if you're reading this, I know you remember the time it rained and we all loaded into your dad's blue and white van for a not-so-restful night of sleep. (I think I can still hear our dads snoring.)
Looking back on it now, us kids pretty much had a free-for-all weekend: Our dads sat around camp drinking beer and the kids, well ... we pretty much did whatever we wanted to do. We'd wander down to the camp store and buy candy. We'd go swimming in the lake and see who could make it out to the diving board/raft first. We'd build huge campfires and see who could stay up the latest. On Sundays, our dads would drive us to the "modern" camping section and we'd all shower and then we did what you always do on camping trips: head to church.
When it came time for the canoe trip, we'd drive to the canoe rental place. From there, we'd load onto a bus in what seemingly was always 100 degree weather and travel the 15 miles upstream to our starting point. All the dads carried full-size coolers filled with beer (and maybe a sandwich for the kids to eat for lunch).
If it was your first year canoeing, you'd get stuck in the canoe with your dad. That wasn't fun for the kid or the dad. (The kid had no idea how long 15 miles actually is. And the dad got stuck steering and paddling 14.9 miles on his own.) Rest assured, the trips became more enjoyable after that first year.

So last weekend, I went canoeing with my sister, my sister-in-law and my two nieces. We met at the place where, as kids, we always stopped on the way to Lake Waveland: Short Stop in Attica. It was exactly how I remembered it. The only difference was that we seemed to fill up a booth a lot easier than when we were kids.

Then we headed to our old stomping grounds: Lake Waveland. We set up camp not far from the spot where we always did as kids. The shelter there looked a little worse for wear. And the playground where we spent a lot of time as kids had definitely seen better days. The tennis court had no nets. We went to the camp store to buy ice and I was sad to see that the store no longer existed. We went to the lake for a swim and realized the lifeguard stand we used to climb was gone. The diving board/raft was gone, too. The lake bottom was still covered with seaweed (small comfort). The "bathroom" was exactly as I remembered it, although I'm happy to report the smell was not so bad. There was actually toilet paper in the stalls (how posh).
We set up our tents, one to sleep in and one to change in (or an "exile" island, if necessary). I got to experience once again the joy of changing clothes in a tent. Then going to sleep and hearing the buzz of that single, annoying insect that had made its way inside the tent. I got to wake up, look at the roof of the tent and see the dreaded daddy long legs. I could see the look on that spider's face and it was taunting me, I swear.
In the morning, it was time for canoeing. Well, for two of us. My sister and I chose to go old-school canoeing. The other three opted for kayaks. The canoe disadvantage: We were the "carriers of the crap." (You want something to eat? Something to drink? Well, I guess we have to carry it because you have no room in your kayaks.)
The river was high this year after so much rain, and we finished 11-1/2 miles in hardly any time at all. When I saw the bridge where our trip was supposed to end, I groaned. I wanted to paddle back upstream and do it all over again. Maybe next year, maybe next year ...

Monday, March 23, 2009

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

When in doubt, go random

* Why does 68 degrees feel great outside but cold inside my apartment?
* I can't decide which is more annoying: the commercials or the Hillshire Farms "Go meat!" commercials.
* Why must muscle weigh more than fat?
* Why did I ever need to learn calculus?
* Those people who don't own a TV? I wonder about them.
* Ever stop to look at all the cereal choices in the grocery store and feel guilty about the excesses of America?
* How grossed out would we all be if we could *actually* see dust mites?

Friday, March 13, 2009

Thank you, John Lennon

Instant Karma's gonna get you,
Gonna knock you right on the head,
You better get yourself together,
Pretty soon you're gonna be dead,
What in the world you thinking of,
Laughing in the face of love,
What on earth you tryin' to do,
It's up to you, yeah you.

Instant Karma's gonna get you,
Gonna look you right in the face,
Better get yourself together darlin',
Join the human race,
How in the world you gonna see,
Laughin' at fools like me,
Who on earth d'you think you are,
A super star,
Well, right you are.

Well we all shine on,
Like the moon and the stars and the sun,
Well we all shine on,
Ev'ryone come on.

Instant Karma's gonna get you,
Gonna knock you off your feet,
Better recognize your brothers,
Ev'ryone you meet,
Why in the world are we here,
Surely not to live in pain and fear,
Why on earth are you there,
When you're ev'rywhere,
Come and get your share.

Well we all shine on,
Like the moon and the stars and the sun,
Yeah we all shine on,
Come on and on and on on on,
Yeah yeah, alright, uh huh, ah-.

Well we all shine on,
Like the moon and the stars and the sun,
Yeah we all shine on,
On and on and on on and on.

Well we all shine on,
Like the moon and the stars and the sun.
Well we all shine on,
Like the moon and the stars and the sun.
Well we all shine on,
Like the moon and the stars and the sun.
Yeah we all shine on,
Like the moon and the stars and the sun.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Friday, February 27, 2009

The future is now, and it's petrifying

Click on this picture. If the Web site still exists when you see this post, go to and look at the slideshow. This is the future of my industry. The Rocky Mountain News has been around for 150 years. It covered the Civil War. It covered Colorado gaining statehood. As of Friday, it will exist no more.

If you think you don't need newspapers, think again. All the blogs and cable TV stations in the world can't replace the paper that arrives on your doorstep each morning. (And if a newspaper doesn't arrive on your doorstep every day, please get a subscription. You might just help save someone's career, someone's calling, someone's lifeblood.)

There was a time when the thought of newspapers fading into oblivion would have never occurred to me. That time was not all that long ago. Now, the industry is in crisis. Each day brings worries about layoffs, about unpaid furloughs or word that another newspaper has declared bankruptcy. Or, in the case of The Rocky Mountain News, an announcement to employees on Thursday that the next day will be the final day.

I'm 15 years and three newspapers into my career, and I can't fathom working anywhere but in a newsroom.

I wish I didn't have to think of a life after newspapers.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Migraine misery

This is how I've felt the past few days, minus the flowing hair, sparkly purple top and gleaming blue eyes.
I remember when I was a kid and happily migraine free. I hated that I had to tiptoe around the house when my sister had a migraine. Then I started to get them and I understood.
I spent most of Thursday hidden away in my walk-in closet. It was too bright anywhere else in my apartment. On Friday, I still had what I call the dregs, not as bad as a migraine, but still a small, nagging pain. On Saturday, the throbbing pain had returned to the right side of my head. Pain in the right side of my head is always a bad sign. Pain like my head is in a vise. Pain that makes me vomit. Pain making me think I'm going to have an aneurysm at any moment. Pain that brings the sweats and then the chills. Pain that I fear is never going to leave me. It's now Sunday night and, thankfully, I'm back to the dregs. It's weird to be thankful that I just have a "regular" headache, but I am. Here's hoping I wake up tomorrow with a brain that's not bursting.

Monday evening: Still have a headache. Curses.
Tuesday evening. Still have a headache. Curses.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Reminiscing about the campaign trail

I guess since the election is over, it's about time I posted pictures from the time I spent on the campaign trail. Have I mentioned it was a great year to move back to Indiana? Hopefully it's not another 40 years before we matter again. Here we go, in no particular order:

Photo courtesy of Zbigniew Bzdak, a friend at The Chicago Tribune who had a knack for spotting me in the crowd and getting a shot. This was shot in Plainfield, the first time I saw Obama in person.

Photo courtesy of Zbigniew Bzdak. This one's from the Indiana State Fairgrounds.

Me with Chelsea Clinton in Indianapolis. I was struck by how much she resembles her mother.

Me with Joe Biden in Zanesville, Ohio. A pretty sizeable road trip to meet Biden. Well worth it.

Joe Biden in Zanesville, Ohio.

Me with Obama's "body man," Reggie Love, at the Indiana State Fairgrounds. Reggie helped me get a lot of things autographed, so thanks to him.

Obama at the Indiana State Fairgrounds.

Former Sen. Birch Bayh, Rep. Andre Carson and former Indiana first lady Judy O'Bannon at Obama rally at the Indiana State Fairgrounds.

Barack Obama on primary eve in Indianapolis.

Stevie Wonder warming up the crowd on primary eve in Indianapolis.

Me with Tim Russert after "Meet the Press" taping in Indianapolis. A little more than a month later, Russert died.
RIP Tim.

Barack Obama after his appearance on "Meet the Press" in Indianapolis.

Me with Bill Clinton in Carmel.

Bill Clinton in Carmel.

The day Barack Obama came to The Indianapolis Star.

Me with CNN's Jim Acosta at Obama rally in Anderson.

Person next to me trying, and not succeeding, to get a good picture of me with Obama in Anderson.

Barack Obama in Anderson.

John Mellencamp at Obama rally in Evansville. The dude is really short.

Me with CNN's Suzanne Malveaux at Obama rally in Evansville. She had just finished her live shot.

Barack Obama in Evansville.

Chelsea Clinton in Indianapolis.

Hillary Rodham Clinton in Indianapolis.

Barack Obama shaking my hand.

Former Indiana first lady Judy O'Bannon introducing Bill Clinton in Columbus.

Bill Clinton in Richmond.

Me with Hillary Rodham Clinton in Indianapolis.

Me with Sen. Evan Bayh at the Indiana State Fairgrounds.