What a delightfully wonderful day

September 9, 2010 § Leave a comment

Some good midweek time with the kids, an enjoyable evening out and great conversation followed one of the most productive (and stressful) work days I’ve had in months. I very much like all of that, a lot. Even the “stressful” part. I wish I had a “Save As” option on days like today.

Things have changed, continued

August 31, 2010 § Leave a comment

Might as well get straight to the point: After almost 20 years, three children, many smiles, many heartaches, countless accomplishments, and moments big and small that I’ll treasure forever, I am one signature away from being divorced.

At some point soon, she’ll write 13 very familiar characters on a piece of paper. The last six characters spell out my last name, the one she took on Oct. 6, 1990. It’ll still be her name, because it’s the name of her children. But it won’t be our name anymore.

The reasons are only relevant to her and me. The damage is done. The anger and hurt remain, but they’re slowly being replaced by hope and rebuilding. The fear is largely gone; the thing that I was afraid of, the thing that I first started seeing signs of 10 months ago, well, it happened. We both gave it our best. Our best wasn’t good enough. And we’re finding our ways to move on.

Her way is to start nursing school, in which she’s currently kicking ass. In two years, she’ll be a professional healer, a role she has been playing for years for no pay and a role for which she is tailor-made.

Over the last several months, I’ve had the support of some of the best people on the planet, my friends and extended family. I’ll never be able to repay that, but I’ll spend the rest of my life trying.

Our focus now is on the three living breathing symbols of our love. Our children are doing well, and we’re doing the best we can for them as parenting partners. She and I agree on all of the things that matter going forward, and the only thing that really matters is that when in doubt, our children come first.

It’s impossible to sum up our life together in a few words, a few paragraphs, a few gigabytes. The last nine years are chronicled in this forum, and remain available for when I want to relive the good and remember the otherwise.

It was a wonderful ride, and except for the end, it was everything for which I had hoped. I’ll leave it at that for now.

A guy walks into a bar …

August 28, 2010 § Leave a comment

HOUSTON — I’m sitting at yet another airport bar with yet another 25-ounce mug of Shiner Bock before I board yet another plane. A very, very big man walks in, carrying a blue duffel bag. He rests the duffel on the stool next to me and slowly sits down in the chair to the left of the bag.

He’s a big, big man, maybe 55, blonde hair, about 6-foot-7. He has an eye patch. He looks like something out of central casting for an apocalypse movie, the guy who brandishes the big flamethrower Uzi and grimly protects us all from doom.

Bartender asks him what he wants. “Gimme a Shahner Bock,” he says, in a big, booming, slow drawl, like thunder rolling across the post-apocalyptic plain. Bartender asks if he wants a small or a large mug. “Gimme the biggun. I ain’t had one o’ those in years.”

The bartender brings him his beer. He takes a large pull and puts the mug down. He looks over in my general direction. “How you doin’, buddy?” he says.

I start to answer. Then I realize he’s not talking to me.

He’s talking to the duffel bag – in which resides the froofiest, fluffiest little Maltese you’ve ever seen. I probably would have been less surprised if he had been talking to an empty bag.

Things have changed

August 28, 2010 § Leave a comment

So many things. I’ll explain soon.

Up in smoke

June 30, 2009 § Leave a comment

Worth a minute or two of reading time:

http://www.tampabay.com/features/humaninterest/article1013738.ece

This story would be no more or less sad if its subject had been a factory worker, or investment banker, or the dancer or actor she had originally wanted to be. It strikes me only because she had been a newspaper reporter before she had gone over the edge, and that’s the profession with which I most closely identify.

The story does not identify the reporter, nor the reasons she was let go from her newspaper. I don’t know if she had already been taking peeks behind the black door before she was fired.

It’s a reminder that society’s safety net can be awfully porous, especially these days, and becomes even more so when we as individuals actively make efforts to permeate it.

A letter to my hometown

May 21, 2009 § 2 Comments

OMAHA, Neb. — Dear Springfield, Mo.:

It’s been a while, certainly, since I found myself in the Ozarks. I’m in Nebraska on business for a couple of weeks, and I had a chance to drop by and see you for the first time since 2007. It’s always good to be in your familiar embrace, to watch familiar sights fill in as Missouri 13 becomes Kansas Expressway, to tune the radio to 94.7 and hear Need-to-Know News on the Ozarks’ Best, KTTS.

This trip was extra special because I was able to carve out time to hang out not only with family, but with some good friends with whom I share a lot of memories. That part warmed my heart almost enough to help me get past the sentiment I’m about to express.

Springfield, here’s the thing: You look like shit.

Time has not treated you well, at least not the part of you that’s north of Battlefield Road — which, despite all that southern prosperity, is still well more than half the city.

I have fond memories of hanging out on Kearney Street in the mid-1980s, and if I want to relive them, all I have to do is go back. You’ve changed nothing, certainly nothing for the better. A few of the businesses that were there in 1988 have closed, but their empty shells remain.

From your interminable traffic light at Glenstone Ave. and Battlefield Road, the mall — once your showpiece, the gleaming shopping palace that made downtown unnecessary all those years — looks like the set of a post-apocalypse thriller. The sign’s rusted, the parking lot is mostly empty at noon on a Saturday.

A few blocks to the north, Sunshine Street lay basically in ruins. Ever since U.S. 60 was re-routed to the James River freeway, the once-businesslike road has drifted into abandonment. I counted three title-loan establishments, two adult video stores, and a big pawn shop as I lurched from traffic light to traffic light. I remember listening to people gush about the downtown revival several years ago; to my jaded eye, it looked like little more than a row of coffee shops and bars. Coffee shop, bar, coffee shop, bar, little restaurant serving “down-home American food,” bar, coffee shop. Everybody in Springfield was thirsty. Now, apparently, everyone in Springfield is thirsty and broke.

My old neighborhood was on its way down from lower-middle-class when we left in 1987. Two decades later, its descent is complete. I wouldn’t want to be on Madison Street after dark. All the old ladies that had lived in their houses since the Depression are long since dead, and the current homeowners have probably never set their SUVs’ tires anywhere near Madison Street; they just wait for the rent checks to come in and send a maintenance person out, apparently very occasionally, to make sure their houses haven’t completely fallen down around the hapless tenants.

Commercial Street has been an embarrassment to you since 1970. There was an effort in the early ’90s to gentrify it, to at least contain and try to help the homeless population while preserving the area’s historic significance commemorating the city’s heyday as a railroad hub. You gave up.

I’ve been to a lot of cities since I left Springfield in 1993. I lived in one of the United States’ great cesspools, the Kentucky suburbs of Cincinnati. Newport and Bellevue and Covington, Ky., have gone from gawdawful, sleazy blight to the pride of the Ohio River in a little more than 10 years, thanks to the efforts of preservationists and money from developers. I see places like Omaha, which has done a wonderful job preserving its history alongside an ultramodern downtown. I see places like Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and Rockford, Ill., two cities almost exactly your size, who have managed to not give their city over completely to TGI Friday’s and Chili’s and Target and Walgreen’s and neglect.

Springfield, you once had a thriving working class, powered by the Frisco railroad, Zenith, Dayco, Kraft Foods, Solo Cup, and other industries. They’re all gone now, or mostly gone, or shadows of their former selves. In their place you have Bass Pro Shops, credit-card call centers, and convenience stores. You ballyhoo the arrival of yet another credit-card call center offering hundreds of jobs, and leave out the fact that those jobs pay 60 percent or less, in today’s dollars, of what those factory jobs paid. That’s not progress, folks.

The city has many things to be proud of. Missouri State University is growing and thriving, even without the “Southwest” in front of its name. The neighborhoods around the university are mostly still beautiful. The crime rate has decreased somewhat since the peak of the meth years. Mexican Villa’s still there.

But really: If it wasn’t for the wonderful people that I came to see this weekend, I wouldn’t have any reason to give you a second look, Springfield. You need a sprucing up. You need to find a way to get businesses that aren’t coffee shops or bars. You need to find a way to get the rusting hulk that was Springfield Lincoln-Mercury off of Glenstone Ave. Tear it down and replace it with a park, for Pete’s sake. Anything. Get the Country Club Plaza shopping center to either repaint or replace that sign. Get some life in areas that aren’t south of Battlefield or on campus. Restore the Tower Theatre the way you restored the Gillioz, or lose it. Some things are classic; some things, as Bob Walkenhorst once sang, are just old.

I loved my city once, Springfield. I don’t necessarily miss the way you were; I miss the way you could have been, back when we thought the population would pass 200,000 and the promise seemed infinite. You’re never going to be a metropolis, and that’s fine.

Find a way to be what you could be, the best city of your size in all the land.

Disappointing day in Denver

February 26, 2009 § Leave a comment

We all pretty much knew how the story was going to end. Those of us who observe the U.S. media industry know that two-newspaper towns are a thing of the past. We saw that trend start almost 20 years ago, when all the big cities in Texas lost their second newspapers.

The new round started Thursday in Denver, where the Rocky Mountain News is, as I type this, in the process of producing its final edition. More than 150 years and four Pulitzer Prizes weren’t enough to keep the E.W. Scripps Co. from shutting down the paper.

The Rocky was the “failing partner” in that strange concoction known as a Joint Operating Agreement — an exemption from the antitrust laws, created by the Nixon Administration in 1970, to “protect editorial voices” in communities. The act allows two competing newspapers to share business operations in order to keep publishing both newspapers.

The idea hasn’t been particularly successful; as these agreements have started to expire in the last few years, so have the papers they were meant to prop up. This little economic blip, of course, isn’t helping.

I fear this signals the beginning of a trend. Hearst Corp. has put the Seattle Post-Intelligencer up for sale. Nobody’s buying. It will likely cease to exist soon. Hearst has also threatened to close the San Francisco Chronicle. The McClatchy Co., whose stock has tumbled from $80 to 50 cents, give or take, over the last five years, has put the Miami Herald up for sale. Nobody’s buying.

The fact that we saw this coming doesn’t make it any easier to accept. I left newspapers five years ago, but my livelihood remains closely tied to the industry. It’s a scary thing to watch, wondering if my company is going to have any customers in a couple of years. I worry somewhat less about that; I think there’ll always be a market for news, and as such, there’ll be a market for technology to manage that content delivery.

I don’t think Nixon had any particular passion for journalism. He was a savvy politician who knew about keeping his friends close and his enemies closer, at least until he sent those guys over to that hotel in Foggy Bottom. He got the newspapers on his side by signing the Newspaper Preservation Act, and they helped him get re-elected by a landslide in 1972.

But somewhere underneath that devious heart, I’d like to think that Nixon understood the importance of strong oversight to a healthy democracy. That oversight is weakening. That weakness does not bode well for our society.

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