Dave Holden had a pretty good idea of what the moment meant. Standing on stage at the Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival -- one of the most prestigious bluegrass events in the country -- was a dream come true. But sharing the stage with Jerry Douglas, Chris Thile and Tim O’Brien, playing one of his own songs, that was a different story. Holden and his band I Draw Slow, a five-piece from Dublin, Ireland were already in the middle of a successful American tour and Grey Fox was the exclamation point. “Grey Fox was incredible,” Holden said. “They were playing our songs, we really had to pinch ourselves.” Sharing the stage with bluegrass icons was a clear reflection of how far their music had come with American audiences and fellow musicians. They’ve made trips to the United States before, but this summer, with stops at Pickathon, RockyGrass, Grey Fox, and a handful of dates in Colorado and New Mexico, I Draw Slow is seemingly making their move.
Their exposure to American audiences traces back to their video for the song Goldmine, which was seen by Pinecastle Records, who promptly signed them, and brought them to Nashville for the 2012 IBMA World Of Bluegrass. The buzz they generated in Nashville led to this summer’s tour, and it’s been a rapid trajectory for them ever since. “When we got the call, we came over and spent a week at the IBMA’s, hanging out in Nashville, and once we did that, it was good for us,” Holden said. “It gave us a bit of a measure of how we’d go down in America.” And for now, they’ve gone down quite well. “The reaction has been incredible. We realized just from the reaction to the music, and the people who bought the album, it must be based on the music,” he said. “And we’re delighted.”
Holden and his sister Louise have played different types of music for years, but when the two started playing string band and folk music five years ago, they struck something that they couldn’t ignore. Dave had first been introduced to bluegrass when he was busking on the streets of Australia, and when he and his sister began writing together, there wasn’t any turning back. “Working with my sister is great. It’s natural, we’re much quicker at it,” he said. “We know exactly what to expect from each other, it’s great that way.” Clawhammer banjo player Colin Derham, fiddler Adrian Hart and bassist Konrad Liddy then joined the Holden siblings and I Draw Slow had come into full focus.
The sound of I Draw Slow is richly Irish, with fiddle-fused harmonies, and the haunting tone of Louise’s voice, which is naturally at home along the green hills of the Irish countryside. And while the string band sound is traced directly to Ireland, Holden and the group certainly recognize the Appalachian influence in their music. “It fascinates me, the Appalachian stuff, the mixture of old time, string band, Scottish, African, the way it all comes together,” he said.
The writing and recording process for I Draw Slow has evolved over the years, and Holden says that they are a little more disciplined now, as opposed to their earlier, freewheeling approach. “When we did our first album in 2008, we were living in the country,” Holden said of their first record, Downside. “And we recorded it in the bass player’s kitchen. We weren’t really putting much thought into it. And that album did really well, and we got a distribution deal with it.” Their second record, Redhills, is an eclectic collection of songs that don’t stray far from the Irish influence, but still pack crafty songwriting and sound. Holden says that’s not necessarily by design, but understands that people will always recognize their heritage in the music. “I think its great when we get over here people hear Irish music,” he said. “So we aren’t completely ignoring our roots.” As for another record, it’s coming own to time and resources, as they increase their time on the road. But they’re learning to adjust as their popularity and touring demands grow. “There are certain times I need to sit down and write something, and organize rehearsals, we’re trying to write a whole album, rather than just have songs,” he said. “It may not be as organic as it used to be because the time isn’t there, but I like to think we’re more efficient.”
Being a first timer at the Americana Music Conference, there was really one thing I had to learn, and I learned it quickly: You can’t see everything. You won’t hear everything you want to hear, and you can’t be in three places at once. So my strategy was simple: see something new and something you’re familiar with each day. And during the first two days, it worked out to be the perfect approach. With thousands of musicians, producers, publicists, record company reps and some just bona fide music junkies converging on downtown Nashville, there is one certainty: The music you do see will be good. Very good.
If The Bluegrass Situation’s Midnight Ramble (hosted by Ed Helms) was going to set the bar for the week’s performances, the city of Nashville would again prove that there is music here that just isn’t possible in other parts of the country. Having Jerry Douglas, David Bromberg, Larry Campbell, Jim Lauderdale, and The Infamous Stringdusters all on stage together will do that. It also proved to be but a precursor to the brilliance that unfolded the rest of the night. The Steep Canyon Rangers, Della Mae, The Milk Carton Kids, Black Prairie, Tim O’Brien, Aoife O’Donovan, Joy Kills Sorrow and a host of others worked through a night of music that in the tradition of midnight jams, continued long after the rest of the city had turned out the lights. If the goal of Midnight Windup was to make a musical statement, The Bluegrass Situation went above and beyond the call, establishing itself as an integral part of the Americana landscape. It was a celebration of everything that makes collaboration and the music so special: A tribute to heritage, the recognition of new artists, and musicians that capitalize on the spontaneity of the moment.
The next day, long after everyone had cleared their eyes and managed to get some sleep (for most of us, anyway) Communion Music hosted a showcase at Nashville’s 200-year-old Downtown Presbyterian Church. Communion-a record company and music collective founded by Ben Lovett of Mumford And Sons, hosted a strong roster of musicians, highlighting some of the music that has made England’s folk scene such a fast rising star. Bear’s Den, fresh off an opening slot on Mumford’s latest American tour, delivered a stirring set of music, the type that somehow keeps even the rudest of concertgoers from speaking, initiating a stunned silence. Black Prairie, a bluegrass band founded by Chris Funk and Nate Query of The Decemberists delivered a high energy set that was highlighted by the Kansas hit, Carry On Our Wayward Son. It proved again the long-standing theory (my theory, anyway) that any song anywhere, adapted for string bands, can sound great. The Lone Bellow, who are second only to the buzz that seemingly follows them everywhere, delivered a resounding set that had a few people dancing in the aisles, and fittingly, raising their hands to the ceiling. It was after all, a church. And TLB made believers out of just about everyone. Add a set from Willy Mason and Justin Townes Earle, and Communion proved to be a success.
Americana music can be tough to define, but make no mistake, there’s nothing more American than blues. And if you want dirty Delta blues, it’s hard to find anything that fits that description better than the North Mississippi All-Stars. With a Thursday night showcase at The Mercy Lounge, the blues was alive and well. And it was dirty. Luther Dickinson and his brother Cody, the foundation of the NMAS, deliver the sounds of the delta with a conviction that’s largely unheard in contemporary blues. They make the blues rock, but never stray far from the sharecropper sound of their home. Americana, indeed.
Being in Nashville, there is an endless list of musicians who embody the musical spirit here, but no two men do it more than Jim Lauderdale and Buddy Miller. They are musician’s musicians, and have worked with nearly everyone. This week, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone else who epitomizes Americana more. They’ve recorded albums together, toured together, and even host The Buddy and Jim Show on SiriusXM Radio. And for over an hour on Thursday night, they were the toast of the town during their turn at the showcase microphone. Old songs, new songs, with stories and jokes in between, they’re the portrait of this music in this town. It was a full first 48 hours. And there are 72 more to go. 1 Red Bull, please.
Friday night at 3rd & Lindsley was going to be a crowded house, with a pretty impressive lineup of acts. For a myriad of reasons, my late arrival meant missing the majority of Nora Jane Struthers And The Party Line. But what I did see led me to one certainty: the girl is going to be a star, and her band is airtight. The Party Line manages to straddle the classic country and bluegrass fence with equal brilliance.
If there’s such a thing as Americana music royalty, Darrell Scott and Tim O’Brien may be it. Their latest album, Memories And Moments, is one of the best albums of the year. An as high as my expectations were, they managed to eclipse them all. The irony though is that Lisa Marie Presley, who followed them, was even worse than I had imagined. She made it clear right from the get go that she didn’t have a lot of interest in being there, if her body language was any indication. She seemed only half interested in the crowd, and even less interested in her music. If a musician doesn’t seem passionate about their performance, I can’t be passionate about hearing it. I’d heard the buzz about Holly Williams, and about 3 minutes into her set, it was clear that it was all worth it. I’ve been seeing live music for a good while, and I can say without reservation that what I saw from her on this night was nothing I’d ever witnessed before. The audience was stunned in their silence, with people afraid to move in their chairs out of fear it would break the mood. Her songwriting is vivid and moving, and left a woman next to me in tears the entire night. If there was a flaw in her set, it was that she only got an hour.
I closed the week with a riveting performance from The White Buffalo, a virtual unknown to those of us east on the east coast. There’s a rugged sensitivity to his voice, perhaps that’s what turned on the producers of FX’s Sons Of Anarchy, who have enlisted him as a primary contributor to the show’s soundtrack. He’ll rock a biker bar, and woo the women in the same night. That’s a dangerous combination.
After four days of music, I had one performance left to see, and if there were a sure thing, it would be Mike Farris. And since the night was turning into Sunday morning, it was fitting that Farris would take me, and the rest of the people who had crowded in to see him, to church. His rocking, soulful, gospel driven sound is as close a thing there is to revival rock these days. And for someone who has teetered on the edge of destruction because of substance abuse, Farris sells what he is preaching incredibly well. When he talks about getting to the promised land, with a horn section and backup singers for added emphasis, you know he means it. It was a pretty good way to lower the curtain on AMA 2013. Walking back to my hotel that night, I realized two things: What I’d seen this week was the best music I’d ever seen. How great it would be, I wasn’t ready for. So what am I supposed to go see now?
Matt Kinman has always wanted to learn more. He wanted to learn more about
traditional old time music, and as a teenager he walked out of his house and
began a trek across the country. During his travels, in addition to the music
of old time fiddle and banjo, he learned a whole lot more. Between hopping
boxcars and hitching rides along the highways, he found people, stories and
communities far removed from the frenetic pace of modern day America. He met
artists, craftsman, farmers and storytellers. He communed musicians, fiddle makers, blacksmiths and
gunsmiths. Through his years
dotting the back roads of the country, the people and the stories stuck with
him. Now, for the first time,
Kinman and producer Ben Guzman of California-based Boxer Films are bringing
these stories to light in The Back Porch Of America, a new documentary series
set to premiere on The Bluegrass Situation next week.
Kinman and Guzman -- himself a musician, and one-third of LA-based old time trio Triple Chicken Foot -- met four years ago at the Appalachian String Band Festival in Clifftop, West Virginia where the idea for the series was hatched. After some discussion, a wildly successful Kickstarter campaign, and support from Boxer Films and BGS, the two set out on the road with a small production crew. And for Kinman, it was an opportunity to finally document and show the world the people and the cultures he’d experienced and grown to love. “The idea is to try and document as much stuff as I can,” Kinman said during a phone interview while driving through Kansas. “Saddle makers, boot makers, people that did things all their lives in their communities, and now you gotta go to them in order to find it. If you understand the way people live, you understand their music, their culture, everything.”
For Guzman, an editorial producer based in Los Angeles, the chance to preserve the stories of a real and often forgotten America was what compelled him to take on the project. “So much of what we’re looking at, is people that make things, do things, and live this old way of life,” he said. “There is storytelling that goes on, music that goes on, food that goes on with it, and all these things are a way of life that may be gone if people don’t carry it on.” The first episode in the series tells the story of the Newberry family, who for five generations has made chairs by hand from the trees grown on their farm in Macon County, Tennessee. Then there’s the story of Arthur Grimes, a traditional Appalachian clogger who learned to buck dance after watching Doc Watson play music on the streets of Boone, North Carolina.
Despite initial apprehension from some of the people who were filmed, their trust in Kinman, Guzman and the crew became paramount. “I went to a lot of people that had been approached before to be filmed, and they wouldn’t because they were afraid,” Kinman said. “I’d played music with these people, and been in and out of their lives, and their response was Matt, we believe you wont make us look like idiots, we’ll do it. I’ve gotta respect them to make sure its being done legitimately, and that they are respected and shown in a good light.” And for Guzman, letting the subjects be their guide made all the difference. “I love hearing about other peoples’ lives, so that’s my basic starting point,’ he said. “When we walk in, after they get used to the cameras-Its however they would like to show us their life, you let them do the talking and showing.”
During shooting, they interviewed Houston Harrison, a Tennessee gunsmith who has since been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Their interview became a chance to capture Harrison doing what he loved to do: making guns and playing music. And for Harrison’s son, the opportunity to see his dad the way he remembers him. “He said to us, that video you made of my dad, when he passes away, I’m gonna play that at his funeral. You captured him perfectly,” Guzman said. “This is stuff for the families. It’s spot on, and if we can hit it spot on with the families, we know that what we’re telling the rest of the world is what’s within the boundaries and what they are comfortable with.” While the series highlights the work, music and art of its subjects, there’s another theme that that Kinman hopes is evident: Relationships. “You’ve got all these people that know all this wonderful stuff, they want to share it with somebody and want to teach them,” he said. “When you actually learn from somebody, you make a friend and carry them through your life. And every time you do it, you’ll think about them.”
An essential element for any visit to Austin would be its world famous music scene. Rock and roll, country, blues. All the staples. Somewhat lost in the shuffle, however, is bluegrass, which isn’t necessarily the first genre you think of when it comes to the Texas capital. That didn’t deter the guys who make up MilkDrive, an Austin-based four-piece string band that traces its roots to Idaho, where three of the four members met at the National Old Time Fiddler’s Contest. It reads like a lot of musician’s one sheets-moved to Austin to pursue music, lived together, played together, and after some time in other bands, started moving ahead as MilkDrive, an homage to a country road back in Idaho. Three studio records and one live album later, MilkDrive is one of Austin’s most notable string bands.
The confounding and often frustrating question for any band though, is what exactly their music is. And for MilkDrive, with Beken on fiddle, Noah Jeffries on guitar, Dennis Ludiker on mandolin, and Matt Mefford on bass there is no question they know what their sound is. “We obviously play bluegrass instruments, but we always use the term jazz grass,” Beken said, a nod to their early instrumental style, and the influence jazz greats like Jean-Luc Ponty have had on them.
In their infancy, MilkDrive had stayed true to what they wanted to be-all instrumentals, no lyrics, and the freedom to go wherever they wanted with their instruments. But in order to maintain a substantial trajectory and be heard by wider audiences, they realized change might be in order. “It was extremely nerve-wracking,” fiddler/lead vocalist Brian Beken said. “We had these songs that sounded cool to us, then things started to become more serious, and people started telling us to sing, and we listened to them. We wanted to start playing bigger gigs.” The Saxon Pub in Austin is where they first started singing, the launching pad for MilkDrive’s foray into vocals. “I was a nervous wreck,” Becken said. “After the first song was over with, I took a deep breath and thought ok, we can actually, do this.”
In addition to their instrumental growth, they’ve seen growth in their writing as well. After early contributions from their songwriting friends in and around Austin, they’ve continued to hone the craft, and unexpectedly has become a focal point of their creative process.” The first record was-I leaned on some of my friends, and I’m glad I did, because some of those songs are pretty good,” Beken said. “It’s still weird talking about songwriting, it’s something so new and foreign to me, but probably what I get more enjoyment out of than anything.”
In addition to their four albums, including their live cut Drive ’09, and the latest effort,Waves, MilkDrive continues a vigorous touring schedule, something they’ve learned to adjust in order to maximize their time on the road. They’ve tried the aggressive/non-stop touring model, but have since adjusted their methods. Now they are using festivals as anchor dates, and touring around them accordingly. “Our ideal way we’d like to do it-a handful of festivals, we organize a tour around that, tour up to it and tour back,” Beken said. “Last year it was play every single place you possibly can. Luckily we don’t have to do that, because it was rough.” This summer alone, they’re playing sets at the famous Grey Fox Bluegrass festival in New York, the Northwest String Summit in Oregon and Kansas’ Walnut Valley Festival.
As for their home base of Austin, there’s been a noticeable sea change for Beken and the rest of the band in the bluegrass scene since they started. “It’s grown by leaps and bounds. In the past few years alone, I've been amazed in not only the bands in Austin, but the people going to those shows now,” Beken said. “I’m sure a lot of that has to do with the success of Mumford & Sons and acoustic music all over the world, but it’s taken me by surprise, the bluegrass and acoustic scene in Austin. “
And after four albums and tours that have taken them from one side of the country to the other, it looks like MilkDrive has that trajectory they were aiming for early on. “I feel pretty good, all of us do,” Beken said of where the band is now. “I really feel like we’re doing it the right way-laying down the foundation, paying our dues, meeting everybody. I think we’re doing fine.”
(CNN) -- Gillian Welch was trying too hard. After her 2003 release "Soul Journey," she and her musical partner Dave Rawlings, were at the forefront of the contemporary folk music movement. But as the public was clamoring for their next effort, the two were not happy with their latest material.
"It wasn't really writer's block -- there are notebooks full of songs," Welch said while she and Rawlings barrelled down the highway to their next show. "If I were going to explain how (the songs) failed, it's still a slight mystery to me. Because a bunch of them seemed really close, and yet we just gave up on them."
When they finally found the right songs in late 2010, they released "The Harrow and the Harvest."
"I think what was happening with this record in the microcosm is we had to stop trying so overtly hard," Rawlings said. "Because we'd done a lot of the mental work you have to do but we weren't ever relaxing enough to sort of let the thought come."
In order to stretch out and relieve some of that self-imposed pressure, Welch and Rawlings decided to slow things down. Instead of flying to shows, they started driving.
Welch said they realized that "the last thing we needed was this mode of travel that kind of does everything in its power to negate the fact you are moving."
"All the regimentation of it was kind of bad for our heads."
As their mode of travel slowed, their rate of musical output increased dramatically. In addition to "Harrow and the Harvest," Welch worked with Rawlings on his own album, "Friend of a Friend," and both contributed to the latest record from The Decemberists.
"Your thoughts gather weight as you travel on the ground, and see the country, as you see things go past you," Rawlings said. "And you actually have some experiences between point A and point B you take with you. In an odd way it feels like it gives you more time."
While all of the records Welch has released bare her name, Rawlings is just as much a part of the sound, be it from behind the microphone as a producer, or wielding his distinctive acoustic guitar chops.
After working with other musicians in a number of different capacities, the two were ready to get back to working as a duo.
"After the eight-year break, I feel like we had a certain amount of pent up ferocity for duets," Welch said."That was the first thing I feel like was absolutely settled about this record was, OK this is going to be just the two of us, you know, I feel like we respond very well to a certain amount of isolationism."
"Harvest" isn't a drastic departure from the folk sound that's made them such a staple in the Americana music community. They are still dealing with melancholy themes, and showcase lyrics that seem to have jumped off the pages of a John Steinbeck novel.
The lush acoustic sound that Welch and Rawlings have developed in the studio continues on this album.
"I'm so proud to have put this out into the world as a document of what acoustic guitars sound like. You know? Because at this point we've kind of devoted our lives to that sound," Welch said. "The sound waves are actually mixing in the air and going into the microphones" as opposed to using mics on the individual instruments and voices and recording them separately.
"It's a subtle difference, but to me it's a profound difference."
(CNN)-- Going on tour for a week with a band has risks. Sleep is scarce, comfort is extinct and hygiene is difficult to maintain, especially in a conversion van filled with banjos, mandolins and an upright bass. It was the risk I'd take spending a week on tour with The Fox Hunt.
The group isa four-piece string band with no bells or whistles. Fiddle player Ben Townsend is a native of Hampshire County, West Virginia, who talks with a Southern drawl and sports a baseball hat he refuses to part with. Matt Metz is a tall, brown-haired mandolin player from western Maryland. John Miller, one of the principal songwriters and guitar players in the band, is the Doppelganger of a young John Prine with his black hair and mustache. The newest addition, Darrin Hacquard, is a tall and fresh-faced southeastern Ohio native who wears his humble roots on his sleeve.
These four together, though they may not know it, are an ideal portrait of Americana string band music.
I met them in Charleston, West Virginia, a town that serves as the perfect backdrop for their songs of lost love, drinking and life that's a bit more difficult than it needs to be.
After two hours of music on the first night of the tour, Ben, John and Matt spent time with friends in the back of the bar. Darrin found himself in conversations with locals about what he was bringing to the band, a sound that many long-time fans were protective of. It would be a learning experience for Darrin on this tour, his first as an official member.
Night turned to morning, the crowd began dissipating, and I realized we hadn't found sleeping arrangements. That's how these guys roll: They wing it.
Through the kindness of two local musicians, we found an apartment a few blocks away to crash in for the night. I slept in a corner, wedged between the front door and the TV.
Falling asleep, the sound of Matt's mandolin accompanying our hostess was a fitting serenade. I'd survived the first night with five more to go.
Huntington, West Virginia, was our next stop. The Fox Hunt have long said they treat their shows with a back-porch-among-friends approach. Nowhere was it more apparent than here.
The crowd, full of friends, made for some great give-and-take with inebriated concertgoers. An old friend of John's stepped on stage for a beer chugging contest not once, but twice.
After the show, Ben spent the night playing with a local musician he knew. To the side of the stage with lights dimmed and the crowd emptied out, they played for hours. No words, just conversation weaved together by a banjo and the furious fiddling erupting from Ben's bow.
Midnight became 4 a.m., and John, after drinking beers with the crowd, passed out cold in the case normally reserved for the standup bass.
Leaving Huntington behind, the road continued into Richmond, Kentucky. The search for accommodations led us to an interstate motel that was dingy at best, and wouldn't be getting four stars on Trip Advisor any time soon. The veranda overlooking I-75 was less than picturesque.
Not every show on tour is a hit. Clearly, music wasn't the focal point at the venue in Richmond. The patrons were stashed away in cavernous corners, the bar was huge and centered in the middle of the room, and the band was on a corner stage, almost an afterthought. Twenty minutes into the second set, the amplifiers were blown and the sound was garbled and muddy.
The band stopped mid-set and shut it down. No point in playing if the sound is going to be awful, they figured. They never got off on the right foot in Richmond. They dealt with it by capitalizing on the free beer the house provided.
On the way to a post-show party, Matt and Ben began a beer-fueled fight over their GPS unit. It was promptly thrown out the window, an act both of them immediately regretted.
Maybe it was the rough show, or the beer, but the frustrations had hit a high point. Darrin stayed quiet and continued driving through the darkness. John was at the motel and had no knowledge of the fight until the next morning.
John serves as a leader in the band. He's got a quiet reluctance to the role, but accepts it all the same. He was more than willing to admonish Matt and Ben for their behavior. They had to dip into their funds for a new GPS. Daybreak allowed their frustrations to cool and all was forgiven.
The tour continued to Cincinnati for a show that Darrin had circled on the itinerary. As the newest member he was excited because his parents would be in the crowd, their first chance to see him as a member of The Fox Hunt.
With the night before proving to be a failure, the band was looking for redemption.
Darrin's family was waiting for him as the band walked into The Crow's Nest, a small corner bar in the southern part of town. As the show started, they found new energy, and Darrin stepped to the front, leading a raucous 90-minute set.
His mother, Marilyn, was beaming. "I thought I knew why he did what he does," she said. "I did not know until tonight that he does it because he must."
Afterward, Darrin said goodbye to his parents and like a kid at camp, his mom kissed him, handed him some extra pillows, and they were gone. The tour won't stop for anyone. Not even family.
Matt decided he would be the driver for the night and had trouble finding a motel that met the cheap specs. We came to a stop in the parking lot of a truck stop, under the neon glow of a trucker's chapel. Tired, I nodded off between the two back seats at 5 a.m.
The next day's show was a late afternoon set at a pizza joint outside Louisville, Kentucky. For Darrin, the glow of playing for his family had faded. He was tired, and frankly, the band seemed a bit worn. It was the last show I'd see with them, but it was a limp across the finish line. They were tired, and tomorrow was a day off.
As we rolled on to Nashville the next day, my five days drew to a close. I thought of the two different directions we'd be headed -- me to a warm bed and my home, and The Fox Hunt to another town and another show. And maybe a bed.
(HLNtv.com) -- For 72 hours, there's been a number of attempts to really capture what happened in the halls of Sandy Hook Elementary School last Friday. Tragic, terrible, horrific. It's all of these things. It's all of these things combined. But as the days and hours have passed and our lens of perspective has widened, clarity has shown us that sometimes there just aren't words. The level of horror that was thrust into our lives Friday morning grabbed us all, shook us, shook us again and again,and it will be a while before it stops.
There's something about an elementary school that makes us all nostalgic. Kids laughing in the hallways, the pandemonium of a cafeteria with one hundred 6-9 year olds caffeinated with Christmas season jitters. The lines of cars outside when the bell rings, parents waiting to pick up their children, taking them to piano lessons, soccer practice. That was all destroyed Friday. The nostalgic images we all know were stolen and then replaced in our minds with the haunting details that played out in reality for parents and children in Newtown. And for that, we're all changed. We're all different now. Wrapped up in our own lives, as the pre-Christmas hustle and bustle peaks, the senseless murders of 26 people, 20 of them children, brought us to a hard, jolting stop. The green and yellow lights of our lives changed instantly to red with no warning. And now we all stand here, not really sure how to proceed. Or if it's ok to proceed.
The holiday season is the foundation with which family memories are built. And now the contrast of such shock and horror will forever change this time of year for an entire town, and people across the country. As we all find our own method of coping, there's many that never will. Parents are left with Christmas gifts that will never be opened, children who won't sleep for months or years. And perhaps one of the worst ripple effects, there will likely be children who wont step inside a school ever again. The last icon left of youth and innocence-an elementary school-has been stolen. That's not tragic, it's unthinkable. Until now.
(HLNtv.com) - When the Casey Anthony trial began, all the adjectives were there. Trial of the decade. Trial of the century. First trial of the social media age. It appeared the buildup to trial was actually outrunning the case itself. Sure, it would be of huge interest to people all across the country, but what has transpired in the six weeks since opening statements began could never have been predicted. This trial has met those expectations and it appears has outrun them. It is by all accounts the most fascinating trial the American public has ever witnessed. OJ? Sure, it was huge. The iconic images of people gathered around the radio on the street corner to hear the Simpson verdict has been pushed aside for the inevitable pictures of people watching the verdict on their phones. The public interest in Casey Anthony and this family that has far exceeded what any of us thought. It’s gripped the pop culture conversation, and is showing no signs of letting go.
Throughout all the weeks of the trial, the one question that hasn’t been answered is why. Why have people become immersed in the story of an American family whose lives are reduced to rubble seemingly caused by a daughter who couldn’t accept her own life changes? We’re fascinated because we know Casey.
In our own towns and neighborhoods, Casey is the girl who lives four doors down and had a child before she was ready. She’s the girl who wore something a bit inappropriate at your brother’s wedding prompting all the elders to raise an eyebrow. Casey is the girl we were all worried about and if she would be able to accept the responsibility of a child. George is the grandfather we know at church, who we’ve looked at more than once and been prompted to ask: Why do bad things happen to good people? And Cindy is the mom who we’ve all wondered about, and whether she’ll ever truly see what everyone else sees.
Casey Anthony isn’t watercooler talk. It’s our daily dialogue. The tragic story of Caylee’s death and the destruction of her family is our national discourse this summer. In a time that’s normally reserved for vacations and things a little bit lighter, we’re riveted by the Casey Anthony story. Riveted because we know it already.
I’m not going to explain how horrible training for a half marathon was. I won’t tell you all about how I’ve never run much, am completely out of shape, and had no business running 13.1 miles on Thanksgiving morning, in sub-freeing temperatures. I won’t lament, I won’t complain. But to understand, I’m going to have to come clean here. I have a hard time sticking to things. I’m easily distracted. I’m all in, all for it, until a new shiny thing comes along. Sign me up. Let’s do this. Until of course, the next thing. It’s a vicious cycle. So committing to running a half marathon was going to take some diligence.
Five months ago my sister Emmalee, who had a half-marathon under her belt, and my wife Jessica who had a number of races, a triathalon, and some half marathons on her running resume decided the Atlanta Half-Marathon on Thanksgiving Day would be ours. We’d run the 13.1 partly because of the weather of the training season, and mostly because we wanted a plate full of sweet potatoes later without feeling guilty about it. Yeah, that’s it. The date was circled, and we stepped off into the great running yonder. I was apprehensive, and worried I’d fail miserably, being led off the path by that next shiny thing to come along. I realized early on the importance of running with Jessica and Emmalee. At the first signs of slow-down, they’d push me. And push me again.
The early runs weren’t difficult, but it wasn’t lost on me that this was going to get harder. And it got harder quick. 3 miles was relatively mild. 4 miles wasn’t insurmountable, but about the time we started five-mile runs, things were getting difficult. 6 miles turned into 7, 9 turned into 10. The strange thing about running is the evolution. The jog to the stop sign turns into the jog to the mailbox, which becomes the run to the intersection, and then becomes the run to the post office.
Our strategy was simple: don’t speak much during the week, save all your discussion topics for the run. I never said much, I was to busy gasping for breath. But I’d run, listen to them, and before long, our weekly runs became a thing. It completed the weekend. It actually became something I looked forward to. I’d kick and scream about it the entire time, but deep down I had some excitement about it. And soon I realized our runs were a little less about the run, and more about us. It’s one thing to run, but it’s another thing to run together. The miles go by faster, and the pain isn’t as bad when you’re all sore from top to bottom.
Once race day came, and we stood at the starting line, I had some nerves-I’d never actually gone 13 miles. We’d topped out at 12, just like the training schedule said, but I figured hey, 12, 13, at that point, it’s all the same, right? Wrong. Very wrong. But we treated it like any other run, it just so happened there were 14 thousand other people running that morning. Oh, and it was 22 degrees at the start. And I had snot frozen on my face. Totally normal. Until the last two miles.
Passing the 11 mile marker, I was sore. I was tired. And I had blown off my wife’s advice to not chug water. I chugged, and gasped, and paid the price. The water shot through my calves, locking them up like a jail cell door. I should have listened. But I didn’t. And she knew it. You were right, Jessica. You were right.
As we turned the corner, Emmalee ahead and Jessica running shotgun with me, I realized that the finish line wasn’t really what this was all about. It wasn’t the end. The hard part was actually over, and it wasn’t about the race. It was about the 8am morning runs, when it was just the three of us in August and the temps were already in the 90’s . It was about us running, having coffee after, and bestowing our grossness on the customers at Einstein’s. That’s what this was about. And it was about the text messages the night before training runs that said “do we HAVE to run tomorrow?” Yes, you guys, we do. And yes, we did.
I’ve got a few fears. Some may argue I’ve got too many fears. But #1 is snakes, and #1A is heights. Being afraid of heights is a bit complicated. Those who don’t share the fear are mystified at understanding it, and those who are cursed with it haven’t got the words to really convey what it feels like. Knees rattle, chests tighten, and throats swell. And flying doesn’t really count. Being enclosed in a massive tube powered by jet engines 20 thousand feet off the ground doesn’t necessarily pack the same fright-induced punch as standing on an observation deck, or dangling from a tree with a climbing harness on. (Did it once. Won’t ever do it again.) And for those who share this fear, you know what I’m saying. Those who don’t, well, you just won’t understand. I’ve spent 25 harrowing minutes inside the London Eye. I’d come dangerously close-no, really, all kidding aside-to passing out on the Stone Mountain cable gondola. And once, battling a fit of insanity, I’d ridden the glass elevator at the Downtown Atlanta Westin.
This past week I found myself alone at Disney World. My wife was working in Orlando, and with the opportunity to dip my toe in the Disney World waters for the first time, I wandered through the Animal Kingdom theme park solo. Once I got past the bizarre and very creepy feeling of being a grown man alone in a theme park with at least 6 million children, I stood at the entrance to the park’s largest roller coaster, Expedition Everest. I hadn’t ridden a roller coaster in easily 20 years, and as I contemplated getting in this rolling metal chamber of death, I realized that at the age of 33, maybe it was time to take this fear on. I had enjoyed roller coasters in the past, primarily because they go to fast and are over to soon to even worry about heights, but this time it was different. Hearing the blood curdling screams of its passengers certainly didn’t help matters. And while the lines for rides at Disney World can stretch just north of 3 miles long, I noticed the line for single riders was claiming a five minute wait. And before I had time to dwell on it, I found myself in line, with just four people between me and the peril that awaited me on the other side. Four people became three, three became two, and then I was up. Gulp.
Seriously, when was the last safety inspection? Why is no one asking these things?
Climbing into the car, I pulled down the safety bar, and couldn’t help but have a little worry when the 16 year old kid who was working for 7 dollars an hour walked by during his safety check and said “that should be fine.” Right. Thanks, Tommy. Glad your concern for my safety is paramount here. The guy seated next to me said if I was going to get back into roller coasters then this was the one to do it. Thanks bud, but I’m not in the mood to chat. His sage advice meant one thing to me: time to change my pants. And in mid thought, the cars lurched forward, ripped us around a turn, where it began the slow, torturous climb up the first hill. It’s the hill all roller coasters have, just long enough to allow riders like me to contemplate the little things, like what we’ve done with our lives, who will get all our worldly possessions. Creeping up the hill, Disney World’s Animal Kingdom grew smaller and smaller below me, with each hair raising click of the tracks. And as we crested the hill, we were thrust into a lightning fast series of turns, curves, and stomach shredding falls. And as we got through the first half of the ride, something weird happened to me. I was alive, my heart hadn’t stopped, the cars were still attached to the tracks (i figured) and as we were tossed from one side of the ride to the other, I smiled. I’d been thrashed with fear, but with each turn, I couldn’t help but laugh. The safety bar across my lap stayed intact, the tracks hadn’t collapsed, and the bolts holding the ride together hadn’t rattled loose-all things I was sure would happen. I realized this was not in fact the certain death I thought it would be. I’d live. I wouldn’t need to find a home for all my possessions, and I wouldn’t have to change my pants. As the cars came to a screeching halt at the end of the ride, I turned to my partner, and laughed. I’d learned to let go a little bit. 16 year old Tommy, who was responsible for hitting the ride’s start button every two minutes hadn’t let anything happen to me. He cared. I think.
As I climbed out of the car, I got back in line for another go. And then another. And another. And then two more. 7 runs in 40 minutes. And just as I was beginning to accept the change that had come to me, on the 7th run, the cars stopped on that first hill. A complete standstill. Seated, with just a silver bar between me and the park 13 stories below, the panic was coming back. A malfunction? I was sure of it. Waiting for the other riders to finish? Maybe. After all, I hadn’t considered a mid-ride collision with another set of riders. And sitting there, for what seemed like ages, i shut my eyes, and started counting. And just like that, the ride was off again. As long as this thing was moving I was aces, and my stomach was returning to it’s normal state. Expedition Everest certainly didn’t rid me of acrophobia. It’s still there, and in a very big way. But its possible it got me one smaller step towards getting on this thing one day.
In the 7th grade, I was obsessed with baseball. Like all the other 7th grade boys that have ever existed in the world, I was less interested in my math homework and more concerned with the batting average of Juan Gonzalez. (.310 in 1993 with 46 home runs-the guy could RAKE it.) I was a Baltimore Orioles fan, and there wasn’t anything that looked more regal to me than the Orioles uniforms. White jerseys, with Orioles written in script across the front, they were stop-traffic awesome to me. And specifically, #8. Cal. Ripken. Junior. There were posters on my wall, Wheaties boxes on my dresser, and to that point, I’d managed to get every Cal Ripken baseball card that existed. There were hundreds of them. I woke up in the morning wondering what he had done the night before, since I was usually in bed by the time the games ended. In my house, he was just Cal.
I’m over it now. Really.
There was no way I’d get control of the main television in the house, so I holed up in my parents room watching games on a small television, with my baseball glove on. This was my existence. Some time around the winter of 1993, I managed to get an address for Cal Ripken’s home after a trip to the library. And as soon as I realized the wonders of the US postal system, I put a 1991 Topps Cal Ripken baseball card in an envelope, sent it off with an autograph request, convinced it would return in a week. My parents tried hiding their skepticism, but I knew. They were encouraging, telling me that of course Cal will sign the card, and that of course it will come back in a week. But they knew. They didn’t say it, but I knew. Good luck with that, son. My plan was foolproof though, because after all, it was the offseason. What else did Cal Ripken have to do but sit around and field autograph requests from 7th graders all over the country? My timing was everything. I’ll show them.
Weeks passed. Winter turned to spring. Spring training began and I checked the mail every day finding only coupons, flyers, and mail not addressed to me. With each passing day, my hope began to diminish, but it never disappeared. And every night I watched those same Orioles, and I watched Cal, wondering if he’d gotten my card, with his address scrawled on the front in pencil. And whenever I began to give up hope, he’d hit a home run or go 3 for 4 with two RBI’s, I’d forget about it, and all would be right with my 7th grade world.
One afternoon in the middle of the school year, I came home, and before I started my homework, my mom pointed to an envelope on the table. I never got mail. 7th graders don’t get mail. But this afternoon, it was different. It was simply addressed “Andrew Iden” with my address written out on the front. And as I opened the envelope, there was a feeling of euphoria that I hadn’t experienced before. There in the envelope was the baseball card I’d sent away months ago. And in blue marker, splashed across the front of the card, was the name. The signature. Oh, the signature. Cal. Ripken. Junior. It was otherworldly. There was no note, no accompanying letter, nothing. There was a certain beauty in that, because the signature said everything. I’m not sure what happened the rest of the evening, but the card never left my sight. My parents didn’t say it, but I think they were as shocked as I was. Good luck with that, son.
The next morning, I woke up and looked to make sure the card hadn’t been taken overnight. And as I packed for school, I faced a moment that would haunt me for years. Of course I had to take the card to school. Of course the entire 7th grade class needed to know what I possessed. I was IT. I put the card in the front pocket of my backpack, headed off to school with what was and would still be, my most prized possession. You’ll notice the past tense. This is one of those stories.
Billy Harper wasn’t a good kid. A daily discipline problem, he spent most of his time in detention, and looking back now, he almost certainly had a tough time at home. It explains why he lacked any moral compass and in one swift act, pulled the card from my backpack when my back was turned, slid it into his pocket, and took off with it during recess. As I turned around, and caught him in mid-act, I knew what he’d done. I knew what he’d stolen, and in a split second, overcome with confusion, heartbreak and anger, I did what any 12-year-old would do. I told the teacher. Clearly annoyed, Mr. Thompson asked Billy if he took the card, Billy denied it, and that was the end of it. Billy was a rough kid, and I certainly wasn’t going to take things into my own hands. The scales of justice were certainly not tipped in my favor. In fact, there were no scales of justice here at all. I stood on the playground dumbfounded and confused. And there, in big bright shiny lights, was my first indication that life is in fact, not fair. As I walked to my mother’s office after school, heartbroken and in an unconscionable state of despair, I began to cry. I’d held it together throughout the day, but the weight had become to great. For a fleeting moment, I owned the holiest of grails in my 12-year-old world. And like that, it was gone. Poof. Billy Harper had ripped me of happiness, stripped me of pride, and most importantly, made me feel like a fool.
I rehashed the story to my mom through a foggy haze of heartbreak, tears, and snot. As she looked at me with equal parts sorrow and sternness, she explained to me that my decision to take the card to school was a choice rife with consequence. And now, I’d have to live with that consequence. She was against me, I was sure of it. I stood sobbing, and as far as I was concerned, my mom had failed to see the true tragedy here. She was of course, right. As she always is.
11 years later, I still wasn’t over The Theft. I know, I know. Get over it, Andrew. I was a grown man, and the thought of what happened that day still would give me an uneasy feeling when it crossed my mind. Through circumstances of my job, I was blessed with the opportunity to meet Cal Ripken. I thought a lot about that day in 7th grade, and whether meeting Cal Ripken would be the antidote that would allow me to shut the door on Billy Harper. As I stood there shaking Cal’s hand, I realized that indeed life is fair. Because somewhere, Billy Harper was probably struggling. I’m not sure how, or where, but Billy was likely having a rough go of it in his adult life. The playground injustice had gnawed at me for over a decade, and I’d found closure. I told Cal what he had meant to me as a kid, and he looked me right in the eye and simply said “Thanks Andrew.” Was it his standard, canned answer to the thousands of 30-year-old men who have said the same thing? Probably. But it seemed genuine to me. 11 years later, I’d gotten the note that he hadn’t written in that envelope. This moment was mine. And it wasn’t Billy Harper’s.
I’m not really sure when it was, sometime in the mid to late 1990’s I suppose. The Redskins were playing the Steelers in Pittsburgh, and sitting in my family room with my dad, we were watching yet another meaningless game, at the end of a meaningless season, with any number of meaningless players. Players I don’t even remember, because frankly, no one remembers them. The details of the game, I don’t recall, other than the Redskins lost. What did stand out to me that afternoon was one particular play-the only thing I remember from the game-that encapsulated just how bad things were for the Redskins over the last 14 years. Quarterback Brad Johnson dropped back to pass, and in a moment of confusion, threw the ball towards tight end Stephen Alexander, where the ball promptly hit Alexander in the butt, and fell to the turf.
That play, at the time, was the worst I’d seen from this team in their years of futility which unbeknownst to me, would last another 11 years. The quarterback was confused, the receiver had no idea what the play was, the offensive line had collapsed, and for 12 years after, that one play would be the symbol to me of what it’s like being a fan of this team. Last weekend, that all changed.
When the Redskins made the trade for the chance to draft Robert Griffin III, I was ecstatic, but hesitant, even though I wouldn’t admit it. When he was drafted, I was again ecstatic, and again hesitant. Still afraid to admit it. I’d been down this road before. When he and the rest of the team took out the Saints in week one of the 2012 season, I was all but convinced the past was over. Then, last Sunday night happened. I stood on the top deck of FedEx Field with my wife, dad and brother, and looked down at the field as Robert Griffin III ran onto the field for warmups. As he he trotted out, the crowd’s chant grew to a crescendo, and as the noise grew, so did my willingness to let the years of frustration go. No more “same old Redskins” refrains, no more typical 4th quarter fumbles leading to a loss, no more assumptions that they would find a way to lose. This crowd and this fan base was eady to run towards optimism, not away from it. We were cleansing ourselves of the negativity that shrouded our Sundays for the last 13 years. Watching the Redskins that night allowed me to shake the names of Sanders, Haynesworth, Stubblefield, Carrier and Spurrier. I forgave quarterbacks like Shuler, Frerotte, Banks, Matthews, George, Campbell and Grossman.
With a home playoff game this weekend, the Redskins have-and I almost hold my breath when I say this-turned the corner. This is a team that matters. This is a team that people will consider in August, when they jot down the predictions that every football outlet in the world feels compelled to do. This is a team that will be in the A-block segments of NFL Live, ESPN Sunday Countdown, and all the other NFL shows. This is a team where coaching assistants are considered for head jobs around the league, a place where free agents will consider because there’s something going on here.
Alot has changed since that play in Pittsburgh. 12 years, hundreds of games, a handful of head coaches, and the roster has turned over at least 6 times. There was one thing that had to change: the culture. And even though it’s taken a while, and the road was long to get here, I looked around at the crowd last Sunday standing for hours in frigid winds, and realized that yes, it has. Is this team championship caliber? Possibly. Are Redskins fans afraid to embrace that? Nope. We’ve grown up.
Look, I understand this blog has been dormant for a good couple of months. Mostly because I come up with fantastic ideas to write when I’m sitting in traffic, waiting in line at Target, or standing outside the auto shop getting an oil change. I can’t help it, my muse is fickle. I also dont write things down when they come to me, and before I know it, three months has elapsed between posts. Or four. But who’s counting. Coupled with writer’s block, well, i’m a terrible blogger.
What this blog is or will become, that’s still something yet to be determined. It may get some direction, it may never have any at all. I suppose that’s what is great about it. Sometimes I’m raving about the ridiculousness of everyday life, like the time a three legged cat almost caused me to rear end a school bus. (No, really, that happened.) Sometimes I’ll rant about sports, most of the time I’ll have something to say that in the grand scheme of things, isn’t that important. It will largely go unnoticed, but the fact I’m putting it down on paper (or, well, a computer screen for the sake of this exercise) is really the important part.
I began writing as a kid. My mother got a job as a newspaper reporter, and in an attempt to get me to shut-up while she worked on deadline, she threw me a pen and a reporters notebook. A few days later, I’d filled the notebook with The Fire Of Doom-my first foray into the written word. I know…I’m still trying to find time for the second book in the series, The Flames Of Ruin. My mother, god love her, still threatens to pull that gem from the attic when i least expect it. This wasn’t long before I entered a school Christmas writing contest, where a story about Santa Claus and a jet powered sleigh garnered me a second place ribbon. I’ll never forget hearing my name over the loudspeaker, as they announced the winners. Take that Tommy Baldwin. (Hated that guy. Dude won everything. And clearly, his name has been changed….for the sake of this exercise.)
Writing started for me early. It continued in high school and college when I cut my teeth as a reporter, serving as the primary sports reporter (and by primary, I mean one and only) at the local newspaper. Suddenly, what I said was in print, people read it, and sometimes, wrote me mail. Once I even ruffled some feathers when I blamed the lack of athletic success at the local high school on talent and desire, instead of a lack of funding and facilities, which was the popular scapegoat for being the league doormat.
Clearly I’ve wandered off the beaten path a bit, but all this is to say that I’m writing things down now. I’m being a better blogger, in hopes that I can become a better writer. After all, the world needs the written word, and even more so, they need The Fire Of Doom. We all do. Don’t we?
I told myself I wouldn’t do it this year. I told myself that unlike the 26 or so other opening days since I began rooting for the Baltimore Orioles, I wouldn’t get caught up in the optimism of spring. I refused to let the fresh start and hope-filled dreams of a new season take over my normally tempered expectations of what the Orioles could do in 2012. And you know why? Because I did it last year. And the year before that. And the year before that, too. In fact, going back to say, 1987, to the infancy of my Orioles allegiance, I was plagued with eternal optimism for this club. I really, really don’t want to expect anything out of this gang of kids, who manager Buck Showalter has convinced me could somehow compete with the likes of the Boston Red Sox and New Yankees in the afternoons of late August and early September. Dammit Buck, you’ve done it. You’ve got me hoping.
Save for a three-year run in the late 90’s, being a fan of the Orioles hasn’t necessarily been filled with memorable moments. They’ve cycled through managers at a blinding rate of 12 in the last 26 years. They’ve shuffled general managers almost as frequently and during this off-season turned to a man who had been out of the league for 9 years to right the ship. But every year that begins, with it begins a hope that finally they will stand up and let the rest of the league notice there’s someone else at the party aside from the Yankees and Red Sox. But still, no one else is listening. This is, after all, the team that lost to a community college team yesterday, no matter how you spin it.
I woke up today as I did every year previously. I knew it was the start of a new season, a very long season in fact-yet somehow had convinced myself that they could win it all on opening day. Things will change. Foul balls down the line will bounce the other way and become triples in the corner. Young starting pitchers are all Cy Young Award candidates on a day like this, and will go seven innings instead of four. And what was once a fly ball caught at the warning track will find just a little more it to get over the left field wall.
Cal Ripken, Roberto Alomar, Mike Mussina and the mid 90′s are all long gone. Brady Anderson is back, but this time as an assistant coach. What used to be a hope for a 100 win season is now the hope of avoiding a 100 loss season. The Orioles used to be the hottest ticket in town, they were the penthouse apartment with a skyline view. Now, the tickets are virtually free, and they’re a burned out house across the tracks. Except today. They’ll likely spend the next 161 games toiling in mediocrity at best, futility at worst. But for today, at least, they are contenders.
I know, this isn’t a blog about working out. It just so happens that i’ve been pretty focused on that area of things for the last few months, and what can I say, it makes for good copy. I’ve never been a runner. In fact, my lack of exercise for the first 30 years of my life is well documented, and truthfully, the running thing was never something that appealed to me. Exercise, sure, I’d give the gym a go here and there. But running? Ummm…..no. No thanks. That’s not really what I “do.” My wife, prior to our meeting, had always been a runner and had run 5/10K’s, half marathons, and even a finished a triathlon. She’ll swear it wasn’t a real triathlon and downplay it but i say if you do anything with running, swimming and biking in the same day, you’ve earned your badass card. And for that, I’m envious of her. She is a card-wielding badass.
Once we jumped back into the daily exercise regimen, for whatever reason, I began to supplement our morning exercise with runs with her in the evening. And when it was I decided that yes, I would in fact run, I’m not sure. Call it a whim, or maybe the momentum of our morning workouts, but the idea of pounding the pavement 30 minutes at a time suddenly wasn’t so bad. And then I started running. And the moment i put one foot in front of the other, i realized this wasn’t a great idea. The difference between a needing to stop and catch my breath and an oncoming heart attack was blurred. I was clearly not a runner, but a walker who decided to trot every now and then. This. Sucked.
That was two months ago. Since then, with the help of my wife, my sister who also runs, and two dogs who pull incessantly and make running more of a chase than anything, I’ve reached a bit of a milestone. Jessica and I set out on a run on Monday, a modest two mile loop that we’ve done a number of times in the past, but still involves a stop along the way for me to catch my breath and ward off the potential complete shutdown of my respiratory system. It was also a day i which the pollen count hit over 8,000 so running outside felt akin to jogging while smoking a cigarette. I’m not sure if that’s actually ever been done, but if so, it has to feel like yesterday.
Halfway through our run my mind was drifting to weird places-wondering what exactly concrete is made of, if the people grilling on their porch were REALLY going to call 911, their faces were drenched with a look of concern. No, no, I got this, I waved. As I turned the corner to the last half mile stretch of the run, I thought about all the times I’d heard runners talk about “runners high”, or breaking through the “wall” and finding a place on the run where you aren’t necessarily thinking about the act of running. Cute, I thought. That’s not something I’m going to reach, that’s reserved for the folks who put in 8-10 miles a day. As I kept going things got a little easier with each step, and i realized that I in fact, was there. I wasn’t thinking about the run. I wasn’t worried about trying to make it to the next landmark. It was almost as if I took my hands of the steering wheel, and the car was still going straight. This was what they were talking about. This is why people run. This I can sign up for.
I crested the hill that marks the final push of our route and as I hit the finish line, my wife was just a few steps behind me, equal parts happy for the run, and mad at me for pushing past her a mile back. Having a badass card usually means a competitive card, and she’s got one of those, too.
It’s entirely possible-actually, likely-the next run will be completely devoid of any kind of runner’s high. I’ve been given a taste of it, and now I’ll expect it every time. But it’s alright. Just once was enough, and for now, i’ll keep trying for it. I’m laced up. I’m just hoping that at some point, stopping to catch my breath isn’t an actual heart attack.
Yup. Tim Tebow. Because that’s what the world needs. Another blog writing another entry about another take on the man who can do no wrong. He hasn’t grabbed the nation’s attention per se, I’d say he’s walked up, kicked it in the crotch, wrapped his hands round it’s neck, and screamed YOU WILL LISTEN TO ME. In the nicest, most wholesome way possible, of course. And as someone who for the last four years has been a bit worn out with the Tebow love, i’m ready to admit it: I’ve converted. And I’d like to apologize for even using the religious metaphor, It seems anything anyone writes about #15 is compelled to litter their words with church and religion based hyperbole, But in this case, it’s the only thing that fits. I grew tired of him not because of Tebow himself but the insistence from every blue and orange laden Gator freak who insisted he was the second coming. Dammit, I did it again.
When he was was drafted, I assumed his train had come to it’s final stop, and he would fall into line with the rest of the rookies who wind up stringing together a few average years, make a boatload of cash, and then retire and wind up starting a business, or on Tebow’s case, continuing his ministry. Fair enough. Thanks for your time Timmy, it was a pleasure having you.
Then he became the starter in Denver. And again, like most, I assumed he would be quickly weeded out, show that he in fact can’t play at the pro level and return to the bottom of the depth chart, allowing the Broncos to get him out of their system. Ho hum.
Then he started winning. And like most, I figured it was a combination of good luck, matchups, and a whole bunch of mojo that enabled him to lead the Broncos on their mid-season surge that landed them in the postseason. He kept winning, the drumbeat was getting louder and louder, until the Tebow-mania was consuming our daily lives. And I was choking on it. I needed air.
Watching the Broncos beat the Steelers last week turned the tide. Sometime Saturday night, somewhere in the first half, I learned to love Tim Tebow. It was the storied Pittsburgh Steelers, against the Broncos, who weren’t even supposed to be there, with a guy who wasn’t even supposed to be starting. I put my chips down, pushed them to the middle of the green-I was going all in on the Tebow poker table. When he hit Demariyus Thomas for the game winning touchdown in overtime, my conversion was complete. I’d accepted Tebow into my sports life. And dammit, it felt good.
Are the constant references to his faith a little off-putting? Perhaps. Will he have to, at some pojnt, explain that something other than his faIth was instrumental in throwing 3 touchdown passes? Probably. But for now, I’ll take it. Because he, and the rest of the Broncos, are writing a script that we’re all watching, whether we like it or not. So you might as well embrace it. It’s just easier in the long run. Oh, and for the sake of clarification, let’s get real on another issue. God doesn’t care about football games.
I’m not going to spend alot of time explaining why I’ve made the decision to join a crossfit class with my wife. That’s a whole other blog. I needed something to do physically, and the gym wasn’t cutting it. So there.
Waking up at 5:30 am, going out into the frigid cold to work out with 25 strangers in a crossfit class isn’t exactly a blast. But it’s what I’m doing. My wife did it as a pre-wedding weight purge plan, and it worked. And it worked well. Meanwhile, my pre-wedding workouts at the gym were less a workout and more a couple of routines I probably comparable to bringing in big bags of groceries. I wasn’t exactly pushing it.
I’ve never exactly pursued physical fitness. It was always one of those things i figured I would get around to at some point. I’ve never gotten around to it. I was the fat kid in gym class. And to understand what that’s like, well, it’s a little difficult to put into words, but try this on for size: When you’re at your must fragile in the self conscience department, when kids are really at their nothing-is-off-limits meanest, gym teachers would do the annual weigh-ins for physical fitness testing. They’d start telling the class about it a week ahead of time, and it was the most horrific day of the school year for me. When you’re the biggest kid in class, getting up on a scale in front of 35 of your classmates was like going to school naked. Looking back, it was probably the worst possible way to do it, but i don’t think the fragile psyche of an overweight 12 year old was at the forefront of gym teachers’ minds.
So here I am, at 32 years old, 20 years removed from that trauma, and I’ve consciously decided to join a group of strangers for exercise 4 days a week first thing in the morning. There are what they call burpees, an unholy little exercise that on the surface, looks harmless. It involves dropping to the floor, doing a pushup, and lifting yourself back up and ending the whole thing by clapping your hands above your head. Despite it’s non-threatening look, it is absolutely as painful as it sounds, and as looks just as ridiculous.
Burpees. The root of all evil.
There is of course, running. Which, even those who run marathons will say isn’t exactly an “enjoyable” exercise. I’ve never understood the appeal, and my wife has tried relentlessly to explain it to me. And here we are……..running. Great. I’m 15 yards behind everyone. I’d done what i had always done, which was scan the group beforehand and try desperately to find someone I thought I’d finish ahead of. I’d found him, and we’ll call him Marcus. And now Marcus was 15 yards ahead of me. I was last. It was 1992, and I was in 6th grade all over again. It’s ok though. There’s a difference this time, it seems.
In years past, I may have bailed out. I’d have done a few laps, found a reason i needed to quit-you know, because it’s getting cold-but here there’s some sort of push from the trainers that kept me moving. This isn’t boot camp, and there’s no screaming. It’s a positive, methodical approach that I realized is why so many of these people have come back. It’s why my wife has been raving about it for months, and telling me that going to the gym after crossfit just wasn’t the same. These trainers are as encouraging to me as they are to the first person to finish the warm up run. So this, this might be the environment I’ve needed for so long. It’s an even playing field for everyone, at every level. I think I speak for most of the big kids in gym class-that’s really all we’ve ever wanted.
I hate Halloween. There, I said it. And I won’t apologize for it. I’ve accepted it, I’m prepared for the ridicule, and you won’t change my mind. I have heard all of the “but it’s so fun” and “you can be anything you want” and “dogs dressed as cats are cute” excuses I can take. Because frankly, it’s not fun for everyone, I can be anything I want anytime I want, and my dog has no desire to be dressed as a cat. It’s why he is a dog. And after years of asking myself why it is I’ve become a Halloween hater, I think it’s time for me to admit to myself why. When I was 12 years old, in a fit of Hallow’s Eve desperation, I dressed as a girl for a Halloween party.
I’ve always been a bit of a procrastinator. And this particular year, I had put exactly zero thought into what I’d be for the neighborhood Halloween party. The day arrived, time was becoming a factor, and I was trying to scrounge something up for the candy fueled sugar-rager. My parents were helping me out, but nothing we had in the house was able to cross that costume threshold, the one you need to strike a balance between comfort and looking like you made an effort.
As I scrambled throughout the house, somewhere in the other room my older brother said in a snarky tone-the only language 14-year-old boys speak-that I should dress up as a girl. Truthfully, I can’t confirm if it was my brother or not, but looking back it he’s the most likely culprit.
What happened next was a bit of a blur, but having a sister two years older meant that the pieces needed for the costume were more readily available. And with that, before I even had time to object, there was an eyeliner pencil in my face, and somehow mascara and lipstick became part of the equation. Being the youngest of three also lends itself to being told what to do without the ability to object, and this was no exception. In my head I was wallowing in anxiety but I was powerless. I was being transformed from Andrew to Andrea and it was too late.
Being 12 years old is the pinnacle of the awkward pre-teen years. Being a 12-year-old boy dressed as a girl for Halloween brings with it a whole new level of awkwardness. Walking into the party, I was brimming with anxiety, but as I looked around the room, it became clear to me that no one really recognized me. Whether that was a compliment or not, I wasn’t sure. But as the night went on, I was just some kid dressed as a girl. There was still a lingering fear as I saw kids I knew from school that I’d be called out. The jig would be up. But as the party wrapped up, I was in the clear. My parents were on the way to pick me up, and I’d managed to navigate the absurd bobbing for apples, the ridiculous cake walk, and all the other games and activities in complete anonymity. Until I saw Kenny. Kenny lived down the street from me and as we walked out to wait for our rides, he looked at me, completely confused.
I froze. I wasn’t sure if I should own up to it or not. And in a split second, I panicked, and blew the top off the whole thing.
“Hey Kenny,” I said. He looked at me perplexed again, and the confusion shifted to hysterical laughter. Here. It. Comes. They are all gonna laugh at me. But it never came. I was saved by my mother, who for the first time ever, was right on time to pick me up. (That’s a whole different blog, trust me.) I’d made it through a night as a 12-year-old drag queen intact. (That’s a sentence I never imagined I would write.) And the next day at school, not a word was spoken. Kenny was in a different class, so I managed to side step his inevitable cruelty. And all the other kids had been to hyped up on sugar to even notice.
Halloween hasn’t been the same since. That was pretty much the last year I ever dressed in a costume, save for the occasional college Halloween party where I had costumes that were 90 percent convenience and 10 percent creativity. And it isn’t just the year i dressed as a girl that forever poisoned Halloween for me. It’s the ungrateful kids who ask for more candy, or when the kid who has a mask and a grocery bag and is clearly too old to be trick or treating. Or my absolute favorite, the parent who says his kid is in the car and she’s getting his candy for him. So you can take Halloween, I’ll eat myself stupid on Thanksgiving. Comfortably. In my own clothes.