Monthly Archives: November 2010

Moving Experiences

Now Playing: Long Time Gone, by Crosby, Stills and Nash. “Speak out, you got to speak out against the madness, You got to speak your mind, If you dare. But don’t no don’t now try to get yourself elected. If you do you had better cut your hair.”

I’ve certainly had plenty of them. When we moved to Indian Trail in 2001, I figured that it was my 10th move since August 1979. Of course, we’ve been here since then, and I hope it’s where we stay forever. We made a pact with the neighbors a few years ago that none of us could move unless we all did. I plan to keep my end of the bargain – and trust me, it is a bargain for us. Better neighbors one could not have.

What brought this to mind was an article I read today about the state pressuring moving companies to follow a two-year-old ordinance requiring their owners and officers to have criminal background checks. Really? I wasn’t aware that his had been a problem.

Up until my last two moves, I’d always used the Friends and Family plan for moving. As in, get a bunch of friends and family together to do it.

I can still picture my parents taking me to college. I think we’d borrowed a pickup, and it and the car were packed full of stuff. We must have looked like The Beverly Hillbillies pulling up to the dorm at Carolina. Not that I cared. I was just so glad to get there.

After I graduated, I moved back to SoBo briefly while I found a job. It turned out to be in Jacksonville, on the coast. I got as cheap an apartment as I could find and we did the Hillbillies thing again and got me moved in. It wouldn’t be the last time I called on the family part of the equation.

But in J-ville, I’d move three more times. This time it was the friends who got the burden. There’d usually be some kind of party, with beer, pizza and whatever to entice the help. It usually wasn’t too hard to find help, and frankly, I’d been paring down my stuff over the years. The fact that the moves were all within a two or three mile radius didn’t hurt in recruiting, mostly from the motley crew that worked with me at the newspaper.

Then came a bigger move, from J-ville to Gastonia.  This one was tougher, because Karen and I were going across state this time. We rented a truck, called in some favors and recruited a bunch of bruisers from the paper to help out. It was hilarious. Ron and Paul worked in the sports department at the paper, and they competed to see who could carry the heaviest stuff with the least help. You should have seen them lugging the washer and dryer and other stuff. They and the other guys who helped got us packed in no time. But we had an obvious problem. We didn’t know a soul on the other end of the trip, and, of course, Karen and I had two cars and a truck to get to Gastonia.

But then again, we didn’t have a problem. We had a great friend. Paul Schmidt, whom we called Schmidthead and Schmidt for Brains and lots of other names – you get the idea, agreed to drive the truck to Gastonia. We didn’t really have much of an idea how we were going to get him back to J-ville, but he wasn’t worried. Paul didn’t worry about much, he lived in the moment. (You may remember I’ve written about Paul once before – he lived hard and died young when he choked on a fish bone at a restaurant.) He helped us unload and get settled in. I let him drive my car to Charlotte that Saturday night to look for trouble. We finally figured out that another friend, Bill, was in Charlotte visiting his girlfriend. We managed to arrange that Bill would take Paul back to J-ville when he went that Monday morning. So it all worked out.

The next big move came when we moved from Gastonia to Henderson. Again, this one was tough. My new boss in Henderson agreed to reimburse me for a moving truck, but I had to pack, load and unload it myself. And I really hadn’t gotten that close to the folks I worked with at the Gastonia paper. So I was pretty worried about things. I shouldn’t have been. Newspaper people are many things, and helpful is one of the best. A bunch of guys from the sports department agreed to help me load up. It was a rainy cold Saturday morning, but they all lived up to their promise. And a random resident of my townhouse development, a guy I might have spoken to once before, pitched in and helped out.

On the other end, my family showed up, with my brother and brother-in-law doing a bunch of the heavy lifting. That was one of the last time my brother would be capable of helping. His body has broken down since. But he really did me right then. We would move again in Henderson, and my friend Jackie Peoples, one of the biggest, baddest guys I’ve ever known, would do much of the work. He was press foreman at the newspaper. Other than the ruts he made in the yard driving the truck on wet ground, it worked out great.

The next two times, I hired movers. That was a different experience. I still feel bad about the first one. This huge guy named Jimbo ran a moving business in Henderson. He agreed to move us to Matthews after I told him we were on the bottom floor of the apartment complex there. What I didn’t tell him was that we were down a flight of steps. I don’t think he liked it, but he didn’t bitch about it.

Then, when we moved from Matthews to Indian Trail, things went real smoothly. The guys were professional, they took great care of our stuff and we didn’t have to give them beer, pizza, biscuits or any other bribes. Just a big old check.

I’m not sure what the state is trying to prove with the background checks. Is it looking for organized crime? Does it think movers are stealing customers’ stuff (if so, a background check of the owners and officers isn’t likely to help)? Or what?

Far as I’m concerned, they’d be better off doing background checks of lawmakers – including candidates for governor. That seems to be where the criminal element is these days.


“The great thing in the world is not so much where we stand, as in what direction we are moving.”
_ Oliver Wendell Holmes




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Taking Baby Steps

Now Playing: Wild One,  by Those Darlins. “If you don’t want a wild one, quit hanging ’round with me, You knew right from the start that’s my personality. If you can’t handle crazy, go ahead and leave. If you don’t want a wild one, quit hanging ’round with me.”

This is a sad story, but it’s not going to be maudlin. It’s main character wouldn’t like that.

I met Laura just before my sophomore year at Carolina. A lot of us had signed up to be orientation counselors that year. Out of character for me? Yeah. But we figured it would be a good way to meet chicks.

I can’t remember if she was in Greg’s group or not. But it didn’t matter one way or another. Once they met, it was on.

I’ve written about Greg before, in this post about the cadre of friends I joined at Carolina. Greg is the one college friend I’ve stayed in touch with since graduation. And Laura became a good friend too. Although many of us who’d hung with Greg freshman year sometimes were jealous that he now spent nearly all his time with her. We got over it once we saw how happy she made him, of course.

After she graduated, Laura went to work at the Wilmington newspaper. I worked in Jacksonville, and she and Greg invited me down many times just to hang out. I made friends with some of the reporters Laura worked with, and they tried to recruit me. Trouble was, I never liked the paper, though I liked Laura’s and others’ work in it. I still don’t like it very much.

Anyway, I once went with Laura and Greg to her parents’ house in Hyattsville, Md. Laura’s dad had been a journalism prof at Ohio University until he left to be a vice president at The Washington Post. We’d gone up to see the Carolina-Maryland football game, but we squeezed in a side trip to the Post offices that Saturday morning. It should have scared me off journalism right then and there that both publisher Katharine Graham and Bob Woodward were working that day. Mr. Anderson, Laura’s father, introduced us to them. Mrs. G, as she was known, was warm and seemed interested in us. (This is the same person of whom John Mitchell, Nixon’s henchman, once said during Watergate: “Katie Graham’s gonna get her tit caught in a big fat wringer if that’s published.” Yes, that was our attorney general in those days.) Woodward, on the other hand, could hardly have been more disinterested. He gave us a limp handshake and not much else. Still, it was a big thrill for a young journalist, and I’ve never forgotten it. The game – not so much. I think we lost on a late field goal. But what I know is that the hot dogs at Byrd Stadium – we called ’em Byrd dogs – were terrible.

I’d later go to Greg and Laura’s wedding and kept in touch once they moved to Charlotte. Greg was doing PR for a large Southern retailer at the time and Laura wound up at Price McNabb ad agency, now Eric Mower. When Karen and I moved to Gastonia in the ’90s, we’d occasionally run into them. Laura was smart and hard-working and she became a big-time exec there.

When we moved back to the Greater Charlotte area in 2000 after our three-year exile in Henderson, I renewed the friendship again, mostly with Greg. We’d go eat barbecue every month or so at Bill Spoon’s, and we always had a great time. He remains one of my favorite people, someone who is just as nuts about UNC as I am.

It was at one of those lunches in 2008 that he told me something that scared the crap out of me. Laura had an incident driving in Charlotte one day. Basically, she’d forgotten the way home. He was worried. So was I. The doctors couldn’t find anything wrong. I thought maybe she’d had a small stroke.

It happened a couple of other times. Later that year, she got the diagnosis: Early onset Alzheimer’s. She wasn’t even 50 years old.

Greg and I still meet for lunch occasionally, though not as often now that I’m not in Charlotte everyday, thanks to my unfortunate job situation. It takes a little more planning, and that’s not one of my strengths. He gives me updates on how she’s doing. Pretty well most days, though there obviously are episodes when she can’t remember things.

But remember, I said this wasn’t going to be a maudlin story. And it isn’t. In addition to be smart and driven, Laura is courageous. She doesn’t complain about her fate, indeed she blogs about it. Without an ounce of self-pity. Her energies these days, and much of Greg’s, are devoted to working on behalf of Alzheimer’s. Her blog urges everyone to live life to the fullest. (By the way, she’s in a clinical trial right now for a drug that’s designed to help rejuvenate brain cells.)

All of which brings me to this weekend. Greg and Laura are the honorary chairpersons for this year’s Charlotte  Memory Walk fund-raiser. It’ll be Saturday morning in SouthPark. Karen and I are walking with them, and we made an all-too-small contribution to the cause. (Click here if you want to know more about the walk.) In addition to raising money, the event is designed to focus attention on a disease that sometimes gets overlooked in the research-funding tug-of-war at the national level. In the coming budget battle, I hope funding for research on it can survive, if not thrive. At worst, by walking, we hope we’re taking baby steps toward a cure.

If you want to donate, send a check here: Attn: Becca Carpenter, WNC Alzheimer’s Association/CLT Memory Walk, 3800 Shamrock Drive, Charlotte, NC, 28215.

I know there are a zillion causes out there, and I don’t want to denigrate any of them. But this one is special to me, because of my long friendship with one of the nicest people I’ve ever known. Please keep Laura in your thoughts, and for those of you who pray, please consider her situation. And for all of you, please live life to the fullest.


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Red Sky in Morning

Now Playing: Into the Mystic, by Van Morrison. “We were born before the wind, Also younger than the sun, Ere the bonnie boat was won as we sailed into the mystic. Hark, now hear the sailors cry, Smell the sea and feel the sky, Let your soul and spirit fly into the mystic.”

I’d planned today to write about something else – a pattern that had developed at the three newspapers where I’ve worked (that’s all I’m going to say, I’ll tackle that topic another time. And as they used to say in the pro wrasslin’ promos: You won’t want to miss it).

The reason for the change. When I got up this a.m., I read that Sparky Anderson, the former manager of the Cincinnati Reds and Detroit Tigers, had died. He suffered from severe dementia.

I’m not much of a baseball fan these days. I didn’t watch a pitch of this year’s World Series. The combination of the DH, steroids and an inherent unfairness that favors the richer teams – pretty much stripped my interest in the sport that might have been my favorite as a child.

Even then, I wasn’t a Reds fan. But my Dad was.

The Quiet Man was a big-time baseball fan. He pulled for the American League in general, the Yankees in particular. Though he also pulled for the Cardinals when Enos Slaughter played for them. He loved Enos for many reasons: Slaughter was from Roxboro, near where my dad grew up. And he hustled constantly, running everywhere he went on a baseball field, including to first base after a walk.

But he switched allegiances to the Cincinnati Reds. He loved Johnny Bench. Pete Rose (who also ran to first base after a walk). Joe Morgan. Davey Concepcion. And he really loved Sparky Anderson. He loved his bluntness, his humor, his lack of slickness, his unapologetic skewering of the language.

Not me. I hated the Big Red Machine. Especially Pete Rose (and this was long before he bet on baseball). But I liked watching games with my dad, and in those days there was only one game a week on TV. And the Reds played an awful lot of those. The first major-league game I ever saw came during a family car trip to Houston. It was in the Astrodome. The Reds sucked that year, but I think they won that game. And to a country boy like me, the Astrodome was way cool. To my mom, it was way cold.

Anyway, Sparky brought my dad a lot of pleasure, and the memories of that bring me a lot, too. So I couldn’t let today go without a nod to a guy that always seemed to know it was about the players and not him. When he had good ones, he won. When he didn’t, he didn’t. But he was also a man of character. He got fired in Cincinnati when he refused to fire some coaches. He got pushed out in Detroit in part because he refused to manage replacement players during one of baseball’s strikes.

During the obit this morning on SportsCenter, the sportsreader said ESPN had looked long and hard to find someone to say something bad about Sparky. Couldn’t do it.

Which also reminds me of my Dad.



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A Jim Dandy Tale From a Reporter’s Notebook

Now Playing: Night Flight, by Led Zeppelin (a really underappreciated song). “I received a message from my brother across the water. He sat laughin’ as he wrote the end’s in sight. So I said goodbye to all my friends, And packed my hopes inside a matchbox, ‘Cause I know it’s time to fly.”

Once again, this one stems from my days in Jacksonville, where I started as a reporter and soon became the No. 2 guy in the newsroom, way before I was probably ready for it. It was sometime in 1980, as best I can place it, though it could have been in 1981.

Anyway, the co-conspirator in this one is my old friend, Carole. A little background. Carole had red hair – in every sense of the word. She was really nice for the most part, but she could explode at a second’s notice. I mostly escaped this wrath. Anyway, she decided it would be fun to be a reporter, and she hit the ground running as a damn good one. She was fearless. She later left the newspaper biz for TV, and damned if she wasn’t good at that, too. She was weekend anchor, and I went once or twice with her to watch her do the 11 o’clock broadcast. It’s an experience, seeing how they do live TV. If I wore a hat, it would be off to them.

After a few years in that biz, she made another career change. She’d always liked crime stories the best, both in print and on TV. Sure enough, she dropped the TV gig to become a cop, and she spent many years on the force after that, later marrying a fellow cop. Through it all, we remained good friends – which happens more than you might think between cops and journalists. These days, she’s writing books, she’s got one called The Last Place You’d Look: True Stories of Missing Persons and the People Who Search for Them in March, and I’ll bet anything it’ll be a great read.

All this is to let you know is that Carole is no shrinking violet. She is tough as nails.

Which is why it was kinda funny that she asked me to accompany her on one of her assignments. She’d landed an interview with the guys from Black Oak Arkansas, a rock band that had experienced some fame in the early 1970s. They’d had two songs I’d heard of, Hot and Nasty (about what you’d think) and Jim Dandy (which as it turns out was a remake of a song from 1957, though I didn’t know it at the time). Anyway the group’s singer had taken the name Jim Dandy (his real name was James Mangrum), probably in part because of the song. Like I said, the band was popular for a short while. It played the famous California Jam in Ontario, Calif., in 1974. About 200,000 people attended to hear Black Oak and such major stars as the Eagles, Deep Purple, Black Sabbath and Earth, Wind and Fire, among others.

Here’s what they had come to in 1980 (or 1981). They were playing in a small music hall/bar, next door to a laundromat, in front of a shopping center in Jacksonville, N.C. It held maybe 200 people in addition to the band.

Anyway, she’d asked me to come along, for company and cover, from the probably 195 or so Marines in the audience. So I did. The show was fun. Jim Dandy sounded liked Ronnie Van Zant, acted like a redneck David Lee Roth and, frankly, was pretty damn entertaining.  There really was no reason to talk to anyone in the band but Jim Dandy.

So we went backstage while the roadies were packing up. The guys offered us beers and food – they’d been supplied a cold cut and cheese tray from the local Big Star (defunct).

Jim Dandy never really abandoned his onstage persona for the interview, despite Carole’s efforts. Of course, she spent much of the interview fending him off. He was a rock star, after all. Again, I was there to provide some cover for her, but she was probably tougher than me in the first place. Anyway, we got out of there, having had a good time but with a marginal story – it wasn’t easy to quote somebody who spoke mostly in expletives.

But the lasting impression was of a band that had tasted the champagne but never would again. Kinda like Brett Favre. They’d moved way down on the rock-band life cycle, all the way to beer – Pabst Blue Ribbon, even. Black Oak is still playing, and Jim Dandy, at 62, is still fronting the band, probably still making love to his washboard on stage. I’m not sure where they moved down from bar next door to the laundromat – a county fair, maybe? Whatever, it’s the equivalent of 20-ounce bottles of The Bull. Don’t know that there’s any further to fall.

But I’ll bet old Jim Dandy still puts on a good show. Go Jim Dandy, go Jim Dandy!

“What is fame? The advantage of being known by people of whom you yourself know nothing, and for whom you care as little.” _ Lord Byron

“Fame is a bee. It has a song. It has a sting. Ah, too, it has a wing.” _ Emily Dickinson

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