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Oct
10

How I Spent My Weekend; It Was Different...In A Good Way

I don’t know if it will end up being a personal turning point, but the discovery of an old computer artifact got my attention this weekend when it comes to online priorities.

It started Friday morning. I tend to be on Twitter a lot for discussions involving sporting events we’re all watching, because I can access it on a computer and type my posts on a real keyboard. Being born with fat thumbs and fingers has always been an issue for me when it comes to texting on a tiny phone keyboard, and as a result it’s not my favorite way to communicate with friends.

But while looking for something else in the basement, I came across a small keyboard designed to connect to smaller devices made by a company called Targus. It’s about half the size of a regular computer keyboard, and when I found it, it was as dead as a certain local football team’s chances to play in the Super Bowl. But with a new battery, it easily connected to my phone via bluetooth, and problem solved. I put the phone on a little stand I had bought on Amazon so I could easily see what’s on it, and started texting people with the tiny keyboard.

As the baseball games started Friday, I did not immediately join in on the conversations on Twitter. No longer tethered to the computers in my office, I took my phone and keyboard out to the den and texted a few friends I knew were baseball fans. They responded, more friends jumped in, and for most of the day, I was discussing the game with 7 or 8 friends I’d actually met, had meals with, and would not call me some spawn of Satan if I said something they disagreed with.

Well, most of them wouldn’t.

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Jul
04

Work Can Wait: Here's To Wishing Everyone A Happy July 4th

It took 65 years, but I finally replicated the 4th of July cookout I grew up with.

The old man loved his holidays, and food was a big part of it. Christmas would see Southern Italian foods that you wouldn’t get a chance to taste at other times of the year; Thanksgiving was the same basic fare everyone else had, but he’d throw in his own twist with a fruit salad he’d had as a kid that I’ve never had anything similar to since.

Independence Day to him meant a cookout. Didn’t matter if it was 70 degrees or 170 degrees outside, we were grilling. If you didn’t fill every part of the grill with every kind of meat you could get, you weren’t trying. He had a platter that was about the size of a small boat that he would just stack up what he cooked throughout the afternoon, and when everything was done, he’d bring that surfboard of a plate inside, put it in the middle of the table, and we’d all eat.

My memory advises it was always hot, but growing up in Norfolk, there was always a cool breeze blowing, or as my Dad liked to say, in Norfolk if you don’t like the weather, wait an hour. It will change. These were the days before cable television and wall-to-wall sports on TV, so I’d occasionally have a transistor radio with a baseball game on.

The mood was relaxing, the pace was slow, and the smell of smoke and grilled burgers, hot dogs, sausages and chicken ended up being seared in your memory. That was the smell of the 4th of July.

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Apr
05

There Will Be Good. There Will Be Bad. There Will Be Ugly...

Spring Training has come to an end, which means it’s officially time for the first “rebuilding” season the Washington Nationals have experienced in more than a decade.

Joan Adon

Some recognizable franchise fixtures are still on the team, and others have rejoined it, but even more are new and perhaps inexperienced at the game’s highest level. The combination of young blood and veterans on the back nine of their careers should serve as a sign of where expectations of fans and the organization should be, as the 2022 campaign will be a far cry from Washington’s glory years of consistently being championship contenders.

Still, there should be some hope of better days to come. From a short-term perspective - although the spring wasn’t very kind to the Nationals - the offense in particular finished on a high note, scoring at least seven runs in four of their final five games.

More importantly, there’s an abundance of talent on the cusp of the major leagues – and in some cases, just recently reaching the majors – for the first time in quite awhile.

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Mar
14

Tonight We're Going To Party Like It's 1979...

I found myself this morning smiling at a moment from the past, all thanks to Virginia Tech winning the ACC Tournament in Brooklyn this weekend.

It was 1979. I had just recently met the executive assistant in the personnel department at the Roanoke Times over on Campbell Avenue, a wonderful lady named Debbie. I worked as a sportswriter, and up on the 4th floor, my desk was next to our Virginia beat writer, Doug Doughty.

Our desks were in the middle of the room, and up at the front toward the entrance was a glassed-in office, which belonged to the sports editor, Bill Brill. Doughty and Brill were good friends, and Doug had developed a great imitation of Brill, right down to pretending to remove an imaginary cigar from his mouth while spouting off some intense opinion.

Doug wasn’t the only one to do this, as several writers who covered the ACC also had their imitations (John Feinstein of the Washington Post also had an excellent rendition) but Doughty’s was the best, probably because he got to study his subject every single day.

If you’ve ever been in a newsroom, you realize there’s a lot of jovial banter going on, and the sports department probably enjoys such things more than any room in the building. Brill – as everyone knows – had an interesting relationship with Virginia Tech, as while he was an excellent journalist and teacher, he always seemed to find an angle on a Virginia Tech story that really rankled Hokie fans.

On this given day, Brill was sharing out loud how a number of Hokies fans were really fired up about the latest thing he wrote, and as he returned to his office, Doug – without missing a beat – does a perfect imitation of Brill saying “I hate Tech” several times. I guess you had to be there, but the quality of the imitation and the timing of when uttered just made me burst out laughing.

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Jan
04

Now If I Could Only Get My Apple Watch To Measure These...

A year ago, I wrote a story about my new year’s resolutions for 2021. To be honest, I had completely forgotten about it until the woman who owns all my stuff reminded me last week that I had listed a number of goals in that piece, but being nicer to her and being more receptive to what she wants was not in the top 3.

Do better this year, she gently suggested, as only a spouse of over 40 years can.

“Yeah, what she said, but for me too,” said a certain brown and white dog who answers to the name “Wonderbeagle.”

So there will be no goals or resolutions this year. In fact, the point of any resolution I might have made this year would be to avoid all the numbers and measurements that seem to have dominated my life these last 65 years.

It starts the first time anyone plays sports, as it is drilled into you to always strive to do better than you did the last time. You measure how long, how fast, how much, etc. and then next time out, see how you fare in pursuit of a “personal best.” It then progresses to your business life, where you compare previous performance in other months, quarters and years to determine success. If you can’t measure it, you find yourself saying, you can’t manage it.

Then at one point later in life you find yourself walking around in a circle in your living room at 11 PM on a Thursday night. Why? Because you’re 113 steps shy of 10,000 steps and you just can’t let that happen. Doesn’t really matter that 6 laps around the coffee table on carpet in your bare feet doesn’t have much of an impact on your overall fitness. But by then you’ve become a slave to the numbers.

The obsession ends up extending far beyond exercise. I like to read, but found myself looking up all the titles I’d consumed for the year in December to see how many books I’d read in 2021. Did it matter? No. But other people were posting on social media how many books they’d read, how many miles they walked, etc. And if you’re a competitive person, you HAVE to keep up with all these people on social media. That you’ve never met. And never will. And don’t even know their real names.

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Dec
23

Here's To Hoping This Holiday Season, Your Cup Runneth Over...

Tomorrow is Christmas Eve, and since every Christmas deserves a good story with a happy ending, allow me to tell my 2021 version of such a tale.

The adventure begins back in 1974, when in the first five minutes after I had moved into Pritchard Hall on the Virginia Tech campus, I met Doug. He was in the room next to mine, and after meeting each other, we became instant and lifelong friends.

We were both competitive sorts who enjoyed trash talking each other, but our skills were widely different, making competitions between us a bit interesting. When it came to sports, I was a 6-foot-4 white guy who couldn’t jump and had the quickness of a pregnant rhinoceros, but if left open, I could consistently hit an outside shot. This came in handy when Doug and I played either H-O-R-S-E or one-on-one, as I’d toy with him and let him get ahead, then drill three straight long jumpers to crush him.

Doug, conversely, was a table game wizard. On a foosball table, he could snap his wrists with no effort and score goals at will. I later in life bought a foosball table for my basement, trying to learn to be good enough to give him a run for his money. But every time he visited, he toyed with me in foosball the way I taunted him in basketball.

The rivalry went up a notch during my sophomore year at Virginia Tech, where I received at Christmas a gift that became the focal point of our competitions for years to come: It was an NHL Hockey game (the one where the players were connected to long thin rods that you’d push or pull to move your player, and twist the knobs connected to those rods to make the players shoot). After the holidays, I bought it back to the dorm, and Doug and I ended up playing this game all the time (this was before video games, cell phones, the internet, and a bunch of other stuff my daughter can’t believe we did without).

We knew nothing about hockey, but it provided everything we needed: a game you could play that allowed for constant trash talking, required no electricity or special equipment, was portable, and could be set up just about anywhere.

The game came with a miniature Stanley Cup, and whoever won that day’s game took it back to their room, as the trophy’s presence in your living area afforded you bragging and trash-talking rights until the next game. It went back and forth between us until for some reason, momentum shifted squarely to my side.

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Sep
11

20 Years Ago, In A Parking Garage At Tyson's Corner...

It’s a moment in time I don’t think I’ll ever forget.

Twenty years ago at this exact moment, I was pulling into the company parking garage and had no earthly idea how the world was about to change in just the next few hours.

We had just moved to Ashburn 18 months prior, and my new office was in Tyson’s Corner, overlooking the Galleria Mall. Most of that time wasn’t spent in that office, but was instead used flying back and forth to Los Angeles to oversee a division my company had in Carson. Half those flights were on American Airlines, the other half on United, as I usually left on a Monday or Tuesday if there were meetings scheduled on Mondays at our offices, I used those two because they were the only direct flights out of Dulles to LAX.

I was sitting in my office on a phone call that morning when someone walked down the hall and said a plane had hit the Twin Towers. My first instinct was they were describing a small private plane that had gone off course and collided with the building, so after my call, I walked down to the conference room where a television was on to see what was going on. It seemed like half our staff was watching.

I arrived just in time to see the second plane hit the World Trade Center.

Stunned would not adequately describe my reaction. This was like Hollywood movie special effects I was watching, but it was playing out in real life. What in the world was happening, we all thought.

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Sep
06

Exactly Seven Years Ago Today, In Norfolk and Columbus...

When you get to be an old geezer like me, you look back, and at times remember really special occasions you did not expect to end up being so special.

Like what I experienced exactly 7 years ago.

That’s because September 6, 2014 was the date of my 40th high school reunion in Norfolk. That alone should have made the night special enough, because unlike earlier reunions where people try to impress their classmates with their success, 40th reunions don’t have such drama. The number one thing people are impressed with is that we all survived and are still standing. Nothing else really much matters.

But while I was reeling in the years hearing story after story from my friends, something else was going on. Virginia Tech was in the Horseshoe in Columbus playing Ohio State, and as anyone who knows me understands, my blood types are Type Orange and Type Maroon. I didn’t have great expectations for the Hokies, so it was being DVR’d back at my house in Ashburn, and I was going to get up early the next morning, drive home, and then watch what I thought would be athletic carnage.

But as I was donating my drink tickets to old friend Wendy Rieger (of NBC 4 fame here in the DC market), my phone started buzzing. Texts from multiple people – who happened to be in Columbus – filled my phone. Whatever I was doing, they all said, I needed to extract myself from what was going on and find a television.

The Hokies were beating the eventual National Champion Buckeyes.

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Jul
15

Sometimes, A Favorite Place Is More Than Just A Restaurant

Tuesday, I found myself in a restaurant, something I can’t say I’ve done much of in the last 16 months.

The reason was because 65 years prior, I was born. My wife decreed that on such a milestone occasion, it didn’t matter if I wanted to stay home and eat a bologna and swiss cheese sandwich. I even offered to microwave it and add pickle, but she said no. On a 65th birthday, something more special was in order.

So after 24 hours of diplomatic negotiations, I finally agreed on going for lunch to a place called Ford’s Fish Shack. They have several locations here in Loudoun County, but the first one was in Ashburn, and it’s special to me. It’s the smallest of their locations, but that weakness is also its strength. The place has personality.

I don’t like to wait in line for much of anything, so I called ahead to ask if I needed reservations, even mentioning I wanted to come when it was least crowded, as there are two booths on each side of the restaurant that are my favorite ones. Part of it is these booths are big and comfortable, and part of it is I’ve had many special memories there, almost always in those two locations.

The young lady on the other end of the phone said they don’t usually reserve a specific table, but to come over around 2 PM and they would work everything out. That’s the thing about Ford’s I enjoy so much. I know none of them by name, am not friends with the owner, and am just a nameless, faceless person who eats there several times a year.

But when it comes to service, my experience has been they have always had a “if we CAN do it to make you happy, we WILL” attitude. And of course, their food is every bit as good the 15th time you’ve eaten there as it is the first. I once had a meal that wasn’t exceptional, mentioned it in passing on the way out the door, and soon found myself getting a visit for someone who ran the place before I could get to my car.

They’re just good people.

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Jul
02

At 27, Don't Be A Knucklehead...But DO Chase Your Dreams

As my wife will tell you, I have a knack for remembering obscure dates. Can’t remember when my next doctor’s appointment is, but I can tell you the date of a memorable sporting event and every detail of it.

Today, there is a convergence of two dates that are bringing back warm memories. One was yesterday, when Ricky LaBlue celebrated his 27th birthday. As is always the case between two people at the two ends of the age spectrum, Ricky thinks turning 27 means he’s too old. I think at 27 he’s still way too young.

It’s why we get along so well. Yeah, I edit his stories and drive him crazy by rewriting every lead he’s ever put on paper (I confess I kind of do that to everyone), but it’s more than that. He also graciously allows me to bore him with stories of when I was his age, as I try to prevent him from doing the same knucklehead things I – and just about every other guy on the planet – did at that age.

His turning 27 reminded me yesterday of what I was doing in my 27th year, which leads me to the second date. Once out of college, I went into the field of journalism, working as a sportswriter for a relatively large daily called the Roanoke Times. I met my wife there and was doing OK, but then foolishly decided to leave and go to a newspaper that was about a tenth the size for no more money than I was making at the time.

Why? Because I wanted to cover ACC basketball. I couldn’t in Roanoke. I could in Martinsville.

“So,” my Dad said when I told him this. “You’re leaving going from one place to a smaller place for no raise in pay just so you can watch a basketball game that's on television any way? For less money than you could make driving a truck? What are you, some kind of chadrool?”

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Jun
20

You'd Be Proud, Pops. Happy Father's Day...

My Dad has been gone 15 years in August, but on this Father’s Day, I still see his presence in who I turned out to be.

I’d like to tell you we had this Ward Cleaver-like father-son relationship, but we didn’t. He only saw me play sports once in his life, never came to any events I was involved in, and pretty much viewed his role growing up as providing a roof over our head, food on the table, and making sure I went to college.

Like all Dads of that generation, he was similar to the way Brett Favre described his father the night he learned he had passed away: Never said he loved you, never gave you a lot of credit for what you did, always scoffed when you asked him for money, but was always there. We could watch entire sporting events together and never talk about anything other than "that was a great play." Same was true playing golf together. We would talk during those times without actually saying anything.

It’s a stark contrast to how I acted when I became a Dad, and I’ll be honest, there were times I struggled with that. It wasn’t until he was in his 70s he decided he wanted to be friends and we talked about this sort of thing. The more we talked, the more I understood.

Like many of us, he learned how to be a father from watching his own father, an Italian immigrant who came to America in 1917, married, had 8 children, but then lost his wife (my grandmother) when my Dad was only 18. Because of that, my grandfather was angry at life and took it out on his sons, who as soon as they could, joined the military to get away from all of that. I got to talk to my last surviving uncle last week, and at 91, he still confirms growing up in that house wasn’t a lot of fun.

But despite all that, my Dad – like every Dad whether he wants to or not – taught me how to be a father by his actions. Yeah, he talked about the Depression way too often – you learned not ask for money from him lest you wanted to hear stories of only having dirt to eat for dinner and being thankful you had even that – but there was another message he communicated I have only recently understood.

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