I replied to a Facebook post by a friend the other day. Now and then someone asks a good question or begins a discussion on a juicy topic and I'll join the crowd to offer an opinion. I always think about my reply before my fingers are allowed to tickle the keys. Years of experience and lessons from long e-mail chains taught me that. Sometimes the dialogue on FB is interesting and I learn a thing or two and hope I impart a jewel of wisdom once in a while.
The other day a friend started a topic about college education and attached an article suggesting the Government pick up the tab since costs are too high and only the very rich can afford a degree. Good topic. I read a few replies as I thought about my feelings. I opted to go with a bit of history and opined that I put myself through college through hard work, grants and loans that were paid back long ago. I did not envy the "rich kids" and wondered if perhaps I appreciated my degree more than those that didn't have to earn their way. I sat back and waited for more views. Then it hit like a 5 iron to the head. Boom! I was accused of 'stereotyping' because I didn't think rich kids worked for it. Wow. Of course that's not what I said but it doesn't matter. Someone attacked me rather than opining about the topic and I was angry for being attacked and felt foolish for being honest and opening myself up to strangers.
I let the anger drive my behavior and dug into the person who attacked me. I found out he went to Texas A&M and knew he would be such an easy target as I readied my salvo. Fortunately my head got back in the game and stopped the madness before I sunk down to his level. Instead I waited it out and someone else replied to my post with a thoughtful opinion. We were back in discussion mode, Aggie be damned! (Apologies to Aggie's but when you live in Austin ...)
The FB back and fro reminds me of the upcoming presidential election and how too often candidates attack each other rather than the issues. Or worse, reporters who ask set-up questions with an angle to put the candidate on the defensive and off message. I am tired of "gotcha" questions and personal attacks and will be on the lookout for that behavior on FB and during the campaigns. When I see it, I'll call it out and move on. No need to stoop down to a lower level. I'll stay on issue rather than the person and so will my vote.
After two books with Coach Bob as the main character I decided to pack it in and move on to something else. It wasn't easy to say good-bye to those wonderful characters, many were influenced by old buddies - both guys and gals. I figured they would still be around if I missed them. I could always read the stories again. That's what I said to myself. So, I said good-bye and moved on down the road. But something wasn't quite right. I wasn't afraid of the blank sheet of paper daring me to dig out a new story with different characters. I'd been there before and conquered that fear ... not once but twice. I could certainly do it again. But the story didn't come or rather the new story would not reveal itself. I kept returning to Coach Bob and the other familiar characters. They didn't want things to end either. There was another story with a positive message about earning it in life. That's what they told me or I thought they told me. Is it weird to hear thoughts and feelings from characters you invent? I don't know, perhaps it is a bit strange. What the heck, it's my oddity and if Bob and the others want to hang around and have a few more beers together ... then who am I to say no.
There you have it folks. There just might be one more Coach Bob story, if I can dig it out and bring it to life. I choose not to write for the sake of writing. Rather, I want each story to have something meaningful to say. I want to impact others, make them think, laugh and cry. That's what I have been searching for these past few months. A meaningful story that makes readers feel real emotion. I penned a few words the other week to test drive an idea in my head. There might be something there. I let a few people read my jottings which I have not done before - not this early when the story is raw and I have no idea where it's going yet. It's a different twist, at least for me and it will allow me to say good-bye.
Ok, I think I might be ready to start writing again. The engines are tuned, the batteries rested and there's plenty of cold beer in the refrigerator.
I have been moving slow the past two months because I was moving too fast. You see, it was a beautiful day in Austin in mid March so I went for a bike ride. SXSW was in town but that did not deter me. Streets were full of cars, people, beer cans from the prior night and numerous other obstacles. That did not deter me either. I was on my way to the water, the Colorado river known as "Lady Bird Lake" and the Hike & Bike Trail. It's a great loop, about 10 miles around town and another 6 miles there and back. It's a good workout especially on the trail where the gravel grabs tires and makes you peddle a bit harder. The people watching is terrific though I'd prefer the ladies with strollers not walk three across. Ah, what the heck they earned it so I always slow down and tip my helmet, as I skirt around the edges.
I did not make it to the trail. On a downhill slope with cars parked on both sides and all lanes filled there was no room for a bike. I was forced onto the sidewalk and saw a path back to the streets but the sidewalk dipped and the front tire hit a 45 degree angle bump. Boom! The bike made a complete stop but the rider continued on. I was airborne, flying through the air. But is was a short trip as gravity did it's job and I fell quickly back to earth or rather onto the sidewalk, headfirst. I lost my fight with concrete and must have been out for 10 seconds, maybe longer. I was wearing a helmet but my face took most of the hit along with a knee, wrist and shoulder. A few passersby stopped giggling and ran to aid the old white guy. My only question was "where is the blood coming from"? They dialed 911 but I made them hang up. Cars passed by and I saw a Mercedes, BMW and other expensive vehicles. None stopped. Then an old beat-up car, I think it was a Chevy of some kind, stopped and a young Spanish gent got out and brought me a towel to stop the bleeding. He did not stay long and I did not get his name. As he got back in the car, I rose and hopped to the street to yell "thanks". He turned and smiled at me then waved goodbye. I could not make out the plates, the blood was coming from above my eyes and made everything cloudy. One thought struck me at that moment - the poorest among us was the first to offer help.
I don't mean to make this a rich white guy and poor Spanish dude thing but that's what I was thinking. I was thankful and wish there was time to meet the man and shake his hand. I am ever so grateful to the stranger that helped me. He must have just finished the laundry because the towel was a large bath towel and it was clean and smelled fresh. I can't help but think it cost him to help another but he did not hesitate, not one bit. I guess the Mercedes and BMW drivers did not see me or perhaps their laundry was being cleaned by their maids. I don't know. I drive a Beemer myself so that's a bit unfair.
Ok, I will pay this forward. It's the best I can do and certainly the right thing. Bikers in Austin, a warning to you all. If you fall or get hurt and I am in the area, I will stop and help. I put a fresh, clean towel in my car so I am equipped to come to your aid.
I am looking for the next story to write and find myself wondering if it's in my backyard. We moved 18 months ago to the east side of Austin, close to town but not too close. We live near a park in a cluster of single family homes and duplexes, some built at the turn of the 20th century (and remodeled) like ours others brand new. I like to say we have 100 year old wood floors and 7 year old plumbing :-). It's a terrific place with proximity to restaurants, bars, music, sporting events and the feel of a neighborhood, without the noise of busy downtown streets. The neighbors are terrific, some are retired, most work and many participate in the community meetings. The word bliss comes to mind ...
But ... yeah there's a but as you expected there would be ... our peace in the "hood" has been disrupted. One of the neighbors is unhappy. It's a bit hard to explain. Basically the unhappy neighbor is not following the rules, partly because the city made some mistakes. The unhappy neighbor wants special treatment, exemption from rules and laws and they are not getting it, so they hired a lawyer. A very expensive lawyer. Actually a team of lawyers - they always show up in pairs or groups of three. The lawyers have been very busy issuing "cease and desist" notices to various neighbors to prevent them from speaking to the city. The lawyers have also slapped lawsuits on other neighbors and the unhappy neighbor has been sued themselves in return. It's a mess, a complete mess that has impacted our happy place.
Perhaps there is positive side of things. You see, if there's a story here with villains and heroes and plot twists and back door deals with city leaders ... it could be an opportunity. Maybe a great opportunity for a writer looking for a good story. Hmm ... if I added some rifles and a shooting or even a murder ... and it wasn't clear who done it ... and perhaps a sneaky romance between a few married neighbors ... hmm this might be good. It could be a Texas version of Peyton Place. Now we're talking.
What makes a good coach? I have been thinking about this question a lot the past two years as I wrote two books with Coach Bob as the hero. In my life there have been many coaches who influenced me, taught me
and showed me how to be better. Some coaches worked in athletics - football, basketball, hockey and baseball were the passions of my youth. Other coaches had business careers and some were friends from school or work, and a long time ago the Catholic Church. Each of them left an impression on me when I listened and heeded their advice, whether spoken or shown.
There are many common traits in a good coach. He (or she) commands respect, teaches through behaviors more than words and instills discipline, humility and character in students. A good coach brings diverse talents together into a team with common goals. A great coach inspires his pupils to achieve more than they thought possible. The best coaches impact the trajectory of a student’s life whether they realize it or not, at the time.
I decided to build Coach Bob around these themes and chose two attributes to define him. Coach Bob shows others how to “earn it” and he helps players define a “path in life” after the last whistle has blown. These two attributes are my best attempt at describing what constitutes a good coach and they are drawn from the many men and women who have helped shape the person I have become. To all you coaches who have impacted me, I say thank you!
Today the one week countdown begins. In seven days our oldest daughter will marry her sweetheart and begin a new life chapter. Let's see, how goes the checklist? The wedding dress is gorgeous and fits, check. The venue is booked, check. The band plays a good tune, check. The food, cake and liquor are ordered, check. Kim's (wife) dress looks stunning, check. The tux fits and the cowboy boots arrived today, check. Hair, make-up and nails are all scheduled, check. Family and close friends are flying into town, check. The transportation plan took a while but is now set in stone, check. I talked to the photographer yesterday and she is terrific, check. The wedding coordinator has a detailed game plan, check. The seating arrangements are in flux but it will all be worked out. I have faith that we can solve easy problems ... check?
My credit card and checkbook have gone through their paces the past few weeks ... ok, months. Yet, each time a bill must be paid or a surprise cost not in the budget arises, I gladly pay it. I'm usually not very good at milestone events, you know those once in a lifetime moments that you and everyone close to you will remember ... forever. I have decided to be good for this one. I made the call months ago to rally for this day and make it meaningful for my wife, our daughter, her fiancé ... and all those attending, including me. It's actually not that hard to gear up for a significant milestone. You just have to want it and adopt the right attitude. For example, lately I have become very good at saying "Yes". No matter how small or large the request. Just say yes and wear a smile. That sounds fake but it's not. It turns out I love saying yes. It's so much easier than No or Maybe or the deadly Silence. That's the worst ... silence. I can be very good at that trick but left it in the bag for this occasion.
I wrote my toast a few weeks ago. It's good, I think. There's a bit of humor mixed with emotion. It begins with a tune played by an old friend, who also played a song at our wedding more than 32 years ago. Then I take it from there and work without a net. It's not short but not too long. It might be smart to write it on paper and tuck it safely away in my jacket pocket. But I'm not going with safe. It will be more fun to take some risk and operate without that net. After all, it is a milestone moment and I am here to entertain. Seven days. Tick Tock. Tick Tock. I can feel it coming around the corner. It's almost here.
What? Yes dear, I'll get more champagne. Gotta go folks ... there's so much to do and so many requests that require a yes. It's good to be needed :-).
Music is a constant in our house. We play a good tune at mealtime, work time, just about any old time. There's always something playing on the stereo, the laptop or on my headphones. I feel more alive when the notes bounce off the wall and fill the room. My go to sound is from the B&W speakers connected to the McIntosh Labs equipment which was purchased in a weak moment. I listened over my budget and the salesman had me. It was a good deal though not a steal. I bought the gear anyway. Late at night after a good meal and drinks with family and friends I enjoy a moment with the lights low and the volume high. If I put the chair at the optimum distance and close my eyes ... the musician(s) are in the room with me.
Some songs elicit memories of course. Don Mclean and American Pie will always be 6th grade and spin the bottle. You just have to laugh some of these memories away. Elton John and Crocodile Rock is 8th grade basketball warm-ups. Bob Seger and Night Moves is Senior Year in High School, no more need be said about that one. Jackson Browne and the Running On Empty Album takes me back to Delta Chi and the "lounge" where we played pop shot (yes it's a drinking game). Those are just a few examples.
I like to buy CD's rather than stream. They say it sounds better and I believe it. My collection is filled with 60's, 70's and 80's rock but over time I have diversified with BB King, Curtis Salgado, Keb Mo and Catherine Russell to name a few. I'm a huge fan of Van Morrison, Mark Knopfler, Eric Clapton, Steely Dan, Boz Scaggs and the Eagles who played the greatest concert I ever saw. Lately I have purchased more Ruthie Foster and most recently a guy named Darden Smith and his Love Calling CD. It's terrific.
I am toying with the idea of learning to play guitar. My voice will fight the urge since it fails to deliver a good tune but I might want to write a song someday and strum it on my own guitar. I have a lot more stories to write first, but it's good to have another dream out there, something else to chase, something creative. I enjoy being a content creator not just a consumer. Why not create some new music next?
I used to love watching baseball. It was always a better game in person yet I watched the Cubs on TV in the afternoons after school whenever I could. I even kept score like we did in little league. But baseball got less interesting along the way and I stopped watching. If I'm lucky, I catch one game each summer at Wrigley when I visit Chicago. I love that field, the team not so much.
Like most sports fans I spend more time watching football, especially the NFL. It's "King of The Hill" of all sports in the United States, a well deserved throne. The games are wide open with ample scoring yet I still enjoy a defensive struggle and love watching a pick six or punt return. Da Bears are my team but I'll also watch other teams whenever it's a "good game". The NFL is a better product on TV than in person a big reason for its popularity. I do fear the NFL has peaked though I hope its not true. It's starting to tear apart at the seams, much like the Roman Empire before it. The NFL will not lose its throne to another sport there is none that could take it away. No, sadly I fear the NFL will cede its throne of its own accord. There is too much money, too many big egos, too much grandiose everything and too many important people who believe they are better than everyone else. I hope that image is not true yet we see it everywhere. The trash talking, show boating, clap for me attitude is over the top. The rap sheets, drug charges, and worse, the sexual assaults are signs of a system that could be broken and headed down hill. Maybe Peyton and a few stalwarts will save the league from itself .. maybe.
So who gets next? Who is in position for the throne? My bet is on hockey. Yep, pro hockey is the game to watch. It's fast paced action especially at the end of games will stop your heart. Quite the opposite of NBA Basketball and the endless fouls and time-outs that destroy a good game. Get yourself to Chicago or Boston or Montreal or Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and the many other towns that understand the game on ice. Real fans don't watch a hockey game alone, they go to the game or a neighborhood bar and watch with their buddies. Hockey is a community experience, the game and the players invite you into their world, buckle you in for a great ride and dare you to leave even for a bathroom break. Da Hawks are my team and I love watching them even from Austin, Tx where I live. Though I am planning a few trips this winter to see them the right way. In a bar with family and friends, a cold glass of beer in hand and a great pizza on the table. And maybe I'll get a jersey too. Go Hawks!!
The San Antonio Spurs have set the example for more than a decade for how a sports team should be managed. Everyone in the organization represents the brand in a positive way - the players, the coaches, the administration, the ball boys ... everyone. It's a first class group. Recently the Spurs made a move that will surprise and even amaze people who follow the NBA and professional sports. They hired a girl to be a coach in a man's game. What were they thinking?
Heads are shaking in San Antonio and around the league with many asking why the best run sports franchise would take this risk. It's an unnecessary move with more questions than answers. It could cause some trouble, embarrass the team, create a distraction, and even cause the Spurs to lose a few games. What were they thinking?
My head is shaking too and it won't stop. It's moving up and its moving down. You see, the Spurs did not hire a girl. That's not the way they see it. The Spurs hired a coach. A coach who knows how to play ball and has proven herself on and off the court. They hired someone with smarts, with talent and with a ton of experience and passion for the game. The Spurs made a move to improve their team, to win more games, to win another championship. If it takes a girl to stay at the top, so be it.
It's the heads moving sideways that don't know what's going on. You know, those people that don't believe a girl has some game. What are they thinking?
What does it mean to 'earn it' these days and who is getting it done? Too often we see, hear or read about people taking handouts or taking advantage of the system, their neighbor or the goodwill of others. Why are there so many people in our communities and our country who are not earning it? What happened to our culture of going for it, taking a risk, or exploring the unknown? When did we shift from winner takes all to anyone that competes receives a trophy?
I'd like to see more celebrations of those who do earn it. You know, the high school athlete with limited skills who won't give up, dives for the loose ball, skins his knees and cheers for her mates when not on the field or court. I'd like to see more politicians debate a topic with good argument and real facts to persuade others rather than spew vitriol at an opponent to get better press coverage. I'd like to celebrate the neighbor who performs a good deed without being noticed or taking credit. I'd love to give a high five to the grade school kids that play in the yard or the park rather than sit inside with the TV, play station or xbox.
Culture is a hard thing to change and can take years or decades to shift and is heavily influenced by what we read, see and hear. Maybe, just maybe, the right behaviors are out there all around us but we don't notice. Perhaps we are blinded by the negative story, by the greed and laziness all around. I for one will do my best to tune out those who aren't earning it and celebrate those that do. If more people did the same, maybe we will begin to slowly change back to the country that sets the example for others to follow.
I like to read and write stories that dig deep into characters and how they respond to challenges.