Thursday, November 25, 2010

The RKO years

It's impossible to watch the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade each year without thinking back to two years I wish I could do over.  The parade at that time went down Broadway, and I worked on the 5th floor of  1440 Broadway, at the RKO Radio Network. Thanksgiving was a good time for our families to come into the sports department and watch the balloons go by at eye level  (The image above is the 1985 parade from the vantage point). I was usually working in the windowless newsroom, so I never really got to see the parade.

It was 1984 when I moved to New York. The radio news business was different then. There was a "nuclear core" of the industry. If you worked in the news business, you wanted to get to New York. It's what motivated radio newspeople in small markets all across America.

I'd worked at WHDH in Boston, which was the only dream in broadcasting I ever really had -- Boston -- but much of the newsroom was laid off in May, even though we were the #1 station in the market.  My old boss, Ed Bell, helped me get a "summer relief" job at WCVB in Boston, which at the time was known as the best local TV station in America. It was an honor richly deserved.

But I never felt comfortable in TV; I couldn't understand the entire "write to the pictures" method of writing, and I never could figure out the union duties and who could do what. In radio, you controlled the story from the beginning all the way to the end. It doesn't work that way in TV.

So when RKO's managing editor, Harvey Nagler,  called -- presumably at the behest of my old WHDH pal Nick Young-- I jumped at the opportunity to fly down to New York and check out a "WGA" position (Writer's Guild of America). Basically, WGAs called people and interviewed them, sliced up the tape, and sent it out to the anchors. Also involved was an editor's shift or two. No heavy lifting, really.

I was hired and we moved to New York where we were immediately depressed by the apartment market. We were moving away from families and New York then seemed far away from Massachusetts. I wish I'd known then what I know now.

I loved taking the train into the city, I loved the Empire State Building at night,  I loved being around the best of the best, and  I loved reading some of the finest writing I've ever seen come out of an anchor's hands, but while I thought $43,000 was a lot of money, in New York it was chump change. We couldn't really afford to do anything to enjoy New York.

On the second day of work,  RKO was reported to have double-billed advertisers in its 1984 Olympics coverage. It would have to repay it and everyone knew that money had to come from somewhere. Its owner, General Tire, was already known as a corporation that wasn't qualified to own broadcast facilities in the country (this was back when the FCC gave a damn about the character of the people who ran broadcast stations). Over the summer that number grew into the millions.

Every week, another story came out about the future of the RKO Radio Networks, given the collapsing finances of General. And I liked job security (which is why my decision to get into radio wasn't that bright to begin with). The stench of death was in the air constantly and I don't deal with that well, not being that optimistic a guy for one. Being a stupid 30-year-old with a new baby at home for another. 

When the layoffs start happening, Nagler called me into his office. I thought it was the end. "Are you worried about losing your job?" he said.

"Yes," I said.

"Don't be," he said.

Still, I sent resumes out. I wanted to go work at ABC News, but nothing developed. At the same time, I was working with people I admired tremendously. They were professional. They were fun. It looked easy for them. And I was out of my league.

A year later, just before 5 on a Friday night, a memo was circulated. We'd been sold to Dick Clark and the Transtar Radio Network, which distributed syndicated music specials. I, and a lot of other people, knew that they weren't interested in running a news operation (which was renamed the United Stations Radio Network).  they were interested in the satellite transponders RKO owned, and the affiliate lists.

In the spring of 1986, my father-in-law asked me to come back to the Berkshires to help start an FM station in a license battle the company was involved in. For two years, I'd heard some frustrated RKO anchors say, "I'd like to go back to run a small-market radio station," and given the opportunity now, it seemed like a no-brainer (it's the hardest thing in the broadcating business, I know now, but that's another story).

After I gave my notice, ABC News called and the news director said, "I just now saw your resume and I think we need to talk." But it was too late.

As it turned out, leaving New York has worked out well, and yet I regret I wasn't smart enough, good enough, or adult enough to be better at it.

A year or so later, we had a reunion on Long Island.  It was great fun to see everyone again. As we were leaving, Ross Klavan, an anchor I was saying goodbye to laughed at one point and said, "We were glad to see you go."

I laughed too, even if it was the worst thing anyone has ever said to me.

And even though he was right.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Our disappearing lives

Yesterday, Netflix announced that it will begin to offer a lower-priced package for people who would rather stream movies than get a DVD in the mail. It's big news in tech circles today and judging by the number of blogs I've read today, people are switching their plans without giving it a thought.

I, however, did.


Netflix's announcement has spawned another panic attack that my family's analog -- and now, digital -- history is disappearing in a hurry and I probably shouldn't put off saving it any longer. But save it... to what?
Over the weekend, I crawled into the space under the stairs to get the Christmas tree and decorations (the earliest I've ever done that so I'm not completely losing the non-procrastinator war) and stumbled across this:




It's a Super 8 mm movie projector, still apparently in good shape after 20+ years of no use. Inside was this treasure:




A take-up reel (this was once an "every day expression"), a rusty shoe horn (beats me, but I think I've used the projector more recently than the shoe horn) and the only roll of film I ever shot of my oldest son, on his first days home from the hospital more than 25 years ago.

What would you do now? That's exactly what I did.



Unless I get around to finding some place that will convert Super 8mm film to digital, that history is gone. Forever. When I was growing up, my parents had a huge drawer of these films, documenting the lives of me and my four brothers and sisters. As far as I know, that's all gone now, too.

My house is full of disappearing history. In closets and cabinets all over the house, there are VHS cassettes -- unindexed -- occupying space. I didn't shoot a lot of video of the kids -- I didn't want to be that guy -- but what little I shot is around here somewhere.

vhs_nov23.jpg

And if I ever find it, this is the last remaining VHS player in the house: the old TV.


tv_dec_23.jpg

Another one died a month or so ago and has left us permanently. When this one goes, all that VHS history probably goes too, unless I get around to transferring it to another media -- perhaps DVD. Underneath the TV is a DVD player we bought when VHS started to disappear.

This week, an old desktop PC which has most of my digital images started dying. Of all the important data that's on it, my first action was to save the pictures -- our history. I burned them all onto a DVD.
And that will work fine, until DVD players disappear too. That will probably happen in my house, because last month we bought this:

netflix_nov_23.JPG

It's a home-entertainment system that connects to the Internet and allows us to stream video. No DVDs necessary. This is why Netflix did what it did yesterday. And this is why all the other media in the house is nearly obsolete.

I'm not recommending we go back to the old days. But as technology moves along at an ever-increasing pace, it makes it difficult for us to preserve our visual histories. Maybe today you'll upload your images to Picassa, or a blog, or Flickr, or Facebook, or leave them on your phone, not thinking that there's no guarantee Picassa, your blog, or Flickr, or Facebook, or your phone technology will be there 30 years from now, any more than there was a guarantee that my movie projector would work today. Maybe that doesn't matter to you now, but it'll matter in 30 years. Trust me on this.

Now here's the odd part: Of all the technology that exists and has existed to preserve our histories, this is still the one that seems to work the best over time in my house: a shoebox.

shoebox_nov_23.JPG

Beat that Netflix.

Monday, October 18, 2010

It was 25 years ago today

Today is my oldest son, Sean's, 25th birthday and just as I did on #21 and #23, I'm about to embarrass him again. Because I have an audience, Sean and Patrick get to have many of their secrets aired in public.

See this?


We had a lot of rocks in Sheffield, where we lived from the time Sean was six months old to the time he was 6. One day, he decided he would collect them, paint them, and sell them.

As with so many of the exploits of my children, I talked about this on the radio one day and when I went to get lunch at the local pizza joint, the owner said he wanted a couple of these well-painted rocks to "sell." So I delivered two of them, and gave Sean $1 each. If you're a parent, you know what this means: It means you're about to get a whole new crop of painted rocks, and a heightened expectation of riches.

I kept this one. I keep a lot of things from my kids' youth. I've got old hats they wore at baseball, old games, T-shirts and God knows what else. There isn't enough money in the world to pry this rock from my hands.

Like other parents, I look at all of these things and try to remember the kids that fit them. But I mostly can't. When Sean and his brother, Patrick, were very young, I remember holding them like footballs and thinking, "I've got to remember what this feeling is like." But while I remember doing it, I can't quite remember the moment. Few people can.

Our brains are not wired to be able to remember a snapshot like this. Our memories might be preserved but the feelings are not. As each one comes along, our brain rewrites the previous one until after 25 years, you have a composite feeling made of little pieces of 25 years. It's a good feeling -- a great feeling. But it's not the feeling of a singular moment.

On his 25th birthday, I want to believe that my oldest son had the best childhood a kid could have, that his memories of being the son of Bob and Carolie Collins are as joyful as his mother's and mine are, and that at 25, he realizes the great things that are still to come, and that they will be better than anything you can imagine.

Just like he is.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Video: A good case of the blues

During much of last night's Buddy Guy concert at the State Theater in Minneapolis, I kept thinking how I could get my kids to one of his shows. At 74, he remains one of the greatest bluesmen ever. Every time he comes to town, I'll be at the venue. He's backed up by a sensational group of musicians, especially guitarist Ric Hall (in the Orioles jersey). What must it be like to play with some of the greatest jazz artists ever? Check out Ric Hall's Web site.



Here's a better look at the two of them:



What were you doing when you were 8?

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

How I inspired Ira Glass and kept my job for another week

Welcome. You've just been sucked into clicking on a link because of a pretty misleading headline that included a big name. I feel dirty about that and now maybe you do, too. I apologize, but it's a dog-eat-dog world out here in blogville.

The trip down memory lane I took this week has got me thinking more about my long road of working in radio. My guess is my radio career peaked some years ago and each day I become "that guy" that most young radio people encountered on their way to a long radio career: the guy with the long radio career that peaked years earlier.

Whatever. I can hold on like most other men in their mid- to late 50s in this recession that's claimed a disproportionate number of them,  which is to say: holding on tight and hoping to survive to work another day. Besides, I'm used to it. It's the way I started every day in broadcasting since 1975. Scared.

Some years ago -- 1996 -- I was in San Diego covering the Republican National Convention. Earlier in the day, I was in Balboa Park where a "Faith and Freedom Rally" was held. It's no big deal now, but back then it was one of the first public displays that the religious right had gained control of the Republican Party. The moderates were left out.

I was voicing a piece I wrote, noting that the event  was a metaphor for the party as a whole. After I finished  sending it back to my organization, a man standing nearby, who overheard it said, "that's the best piece I've heard all week."

I was flattered, of course, but I had no idea who it was and it wasn't until years later that I was told it was Ira Glass, host of the Public Radio's "This American Life," who is widely considered a god among public radio employees.

I'm remembering  this because a week or so ago, a flurry of "tweets" appeared in my account. It was from colleagues of my company who were in Denver for the Public Radio Program Directors convention. They were surprised when the speaker at the "benediction" gave me something of a shout out. The speaker was Ira Glass.




(You people reading this on Facebook don't get the Flash player, so you'll have to click here.)

That sure surprised my colleagues. It surprised me, too. Frankly, there's something wrong with journalism when a 56-year-old man who's been doing it for 35 years is its "new face."  It's more than amusing, I think, that a group of colleagues went to Denver only to find out this "new face"  was the old face in a cubicle in the city they just left.

The reality, however, is that I'm not "the new journalism," I'm the old journalism I described in my previous post: just having a conversation with the audience rather than a sermon.  The "antique aesthetics" of journalism, as Ira Glass says, threatens to kill off broadcast journalism now. It's already killed off most of it in commercial media.

But, beyond that, there's a more disturbing reality: The "face of the new journalism" may well be the guy in a cubicle, working too long, and too hard, because he starts each day with the fear that this is the day he gets laid off.

The original posting that Ira Glass referred to can be found here.

Monday, October 04, 2010

It was 23 years ago today


It was a Sunday and I wasn't supposed to work. I was the program manager of WSBS in Great Barrington, still in the infant stages of trying to upgrade the role the station had in the community. I hadn't yet learned -- or proven -- that I make a lousy manager. I can do. I don't know how to make others do.

The leaves were just turning in the Berkshires, and the snow was just starting to fall. Snow on October 4th?

Like most small-market radio stations, we had a skeleton staff on duty on a Sunday morning. And by skeleton, I mean 1 person who wasn't a newsperson. So I went to work.

The snow got heavier, and soon, two other people, who lived just up the street, made it in to work to help out.

Then the branches started snapping, and the power went out all over the Berkshires, except at a small 1,000 watt daytime station. By now, I was on the air, using a model we'd used at WHDH in Boston years earlier. Open the phones and talk to people.

I recall one person who had a baby on a respirator,only the power was out. She called the radio station. Everyone was getting on the air. She told her story, a few minutes later, we had someone with a 4x4 and a generator on the phone, too.

At one point, Gene Shalit, then the NBC Today Show film reviewer, called from his home in Stockbridge. He had no other point, really, than anyone else who was calling. They were without power, trees were falling, and he wanted someone to talk to .

We continued into the night. When the sun went down, I kept the power up even though we were supposed to sign off at sunset. Nobody else was on the air. Eventually, I compromised and flipped on a smaller transmitter -- 3.9 watts, which -- because everyone was without power except for us -- boomed throughout the Berkshires.

It was radio the way it was meant to be, and the way it can never be again. It was the best day I ever spent in the radio business. It's why I still fume when the occasional public radio snob mockingly says "commercial radio."

My family -- Carolie and two-year old Sean (Carolie had yet to give birth to Patrick) -- were somewhere, but I didn't know where. Carolie is the daughter of a radio guy; she knew I had a job to do and she'd figure out how to survive. They huddled with some neighbors who had a wood stove.

It was 10 or 11 O'clock at night and the Berkshires were scared. And then, a power company truck came by the state highway out front, then another, and another, and another. They kept coming. The rest of Massachusetts had sent us some help. So I told southern Berkshire County that help was here.

As midnight approached, people were still calling. When they weren't, I pulled out the Old Farmer's Almanac and began reading stories. Finally, around 1 a.m., the Berkshires were asleep, and I signed the station off the air.

The next morning, I showed up at work, and there were flowers in the lobby from people, and I think people dropped baked goods by. They were still calling to say "thank you" to a small group of people who didn't let them down.

A newspaper in Pittsfield ran this commentary a few days later (written by Clarence Fanto):

Radio tends to be taken for granted by most listeners; they use it for hours every day but video usually occupies the spotlight.

Over the last few days, however, appreciation for public service provided by radio during an emergency has reached new heights in Berkshire County. For many residents on the day of the Great October Blizzard, the area's radio stations provided a lifeline for some, and the only link to the outside world for others isolated and marooned by the devastating storm.

With power out, phone service disrupted, TV sets disabled, those with the foresight to keep their portable radios powered with fresh batteries were able to gain reassurance from the knowledge that thousands of others share dtheir plight and, in many cases, were even worse off.

The surprise storm hit the region at a time (Sunday morning) when most radio stations are minimally staffed and are offering pre-taped syndicated, religious or ethnic programming.

Although most of Pittsfield's stations eventually rose to the occasion, Berkshire Broadcating Co. (WSBS in Great Barrington and WMNB in North Adams) deserves special recognition for quickly recognizing the severity of the storm and suspending normal programming in favor of continuous storm coverage.

As heard in an isolated South County cabin, WSBS provided what amounted to an emergency command post, taking calls from listeners who needed special help, interviewing utility officials, police, and others involved in the crisis, and providing invaluable updates on highway conditions, road closings, power failures and phone problems.

Although the Barrington station focused, and rightly so, on South County, it also offered information on North County via reports from its sister station WMNB and on the Pittsfield-Dalton area from its news director, Tom Jay, who happened to be in Dalton that morning.

The WSBS on-air team -- program director Bob Collins, Dick Lindsay, Tony Betros, Liz Chaffee, Nick Diller -- combined authoritative news gathering with just the right amount of folksiness and sorely needed comic relief. There were several phone calls from stranded New Yorkers who insisted they just had to reach the Taconic State Parkway Sunday afternoon. Collins and company gently coaxed them into the realization that any kind of highway travel would be folly.

Those who complain about Berkshire radio -- too many commercial, "conservative" music programming, an overly homespun approach -- must now realize that without the outstanding service provided by the county's station's since Sunday, more lives might have been lost, panic could have developed, and the sense of isolation experienced by many storm victims would have been genuinely overwhelming.


Stephen Fay, a reporter for the Berkshire Eagle, wrote this story:


Great Barrington -- Bob Collins was as blown away as anybody by the big snow, Oct. 4, which is a little odd since he had known it was coming and had planned for it six months ago.

Last May, in his capacity as program manager for radio station WSBS, he compiled a policy handbook, what he calls a "storm package," that established programming formats designed to serve listeners tuning in during any of four levels of meteorological disturbances ranging from rain-swollen rivers to, as he put it, "total paralysis."

Total paralysis is as good a description as any for the impact of the Oct. 4 blizzard. And through it all, from early morning to late at night, Collins' storm package (and voice) provided listeners in South and Central Berkshire County with information, weather updates, help, tips and, as the grateful Great Barrington Civil Defense director put it, comfort.

As a result of the station's fast and facile assumption of the role of storm-information center, it has become a candidate for canonization among the many listeners who lacked power, lights, phone, transportation and heat. It's not just that he station was broadcasting -- it was broadcasting valuable information in the form of itnerviews with utilities' spokesmen, current weather reports, cancellations, and sources of help and shelter.

"It may sound like nobility," Collins said, "but it was part of a plan."

Collins, 33, said he is no fan of what he calls "stream-of-consciousness radio." he likes to plan ahead and organize the station's day. When he first came on board last April, the station's music policy was DJ's choice.

"Lawrence Welk would be followed by Whitney Hosuton and then some old song by Walter Brennan," he recalled.

He worked at rationalizing the music menu, allocating so much time for oldies, so much time for contemporary. He weeded out some strange records ("the Ballad of the Green Berets" was an early casualty) and threw away all the elevator music.

Beyond that, he said, he has tried to make the station a part of the life of the community. Fundraisers for sick children, such as Jared's Jamboree and HUSTLE, the SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) auction, and the effort to raise money to bring a Spanish boy to the Berkshires received the station's cooperation in the form of live broadcasts and plenty of on-air promotions and public service announcements.

The news coverage got a little broader and more ambitious under Collins' direction. he's not exactly taking bows for that advance, because Collins, who gets his feelings hurt when criticized, has gotten his feelings hurt a lot by angry selectmen, irritated listeners and aggravated advertisers.

Interestingly, he's not all that comfortable with praise. The praise from many quarters that's been coming in since last Sunday ought to be shared with his colleagues, he said, and really should go to the electric company and telephone crews who worked without rest to restore service.

"We were just sitting in a warm room passing on information," he said.

His journey to that warm room at WSBS has been long and bumpy. Born in Fitchburg, the youngest of five children of an insurance agent father and housewife mother, he developed an interest in radio early on. He used to record records on a reel-to-reel tape recorder and then play the DFJ -- announcing the hits and providing patter between platters.

He earned a bachelor of science degree in mass communications from Boston's Emerson College and landing his first radio job right after graduation in 1972, selling advertising for a little station in Marlboro. He didn't like ad sales and wasn't any good at it, either. He lasted a week. He got a DJ job at a station in Southbridge -- a 90-mile round trip commute from Fitchburg -- working six days a week for $110 a week. Then he got a better offer from the Fitchburg station, WFGL, and had his baptism under snow during the big blizzard of 1978 when he was one of the only staff members to make it to the station. He learned the value of making the station accessible to listeners, he said, as he took calls and did what he could do to let people know what was going on.

That year, he took a newsman's job at WBEC in Pittsfield, covering City Council meetings and other events. It was a good period, he said, for he liked working with Bob Cudmore, George Bulgarelli and others associated with the station at that time.

But WBEC changed hands and job security became a questiion, he said, so he bailed out and landed at WUPE, another rewarding interval darkened only by the time he forgot to throw a switch while making a personal phone call, drowning out a Zayre's commercial with language that was somewhat unfortunate.

Opportunity, in the form of WHDH in Boston, knocked in 1981, and there he worked until WCVB-TV in Boston hired him to write TV news copy. He said he didn't mind the anonymity of the news writer -- "I've always been content to be Joe Nobody" -- but the caste system of the anchorman and on-air "news personalities" turned him off. He went on to New York City to work for RKO Broadcasting until his father-in-law, Donald Thurston, owner of Berkshire Broadcasting, called in August of 1985 and asked if he would like to bring his wife, Carolie, and 2-year-old son, Sean, back to the Berkshires. Thurston wanted Colling to try the new position of program manager at WSBS.

He took over last spring and, judging from the response to his "storm package," he's been doing OK. But there have been many tough moments -- an on-air retraction over a mix-up in the coverage of the covered-bridge hassle in Sheffield and complaints from listeners who say there's too much rock-and-roll, too many changes.

He takes the criticism the way he takes his responsibilities: to heart. Does he ever think about giving up and getting out?

"Yeah, all the time."

I sent the article to my mother. Her reaction? "You called me a housewife," she fumed.

Monday, September 27, 2010

The flying couple

It feels like years since I've made a decent landing in an airplane. I'm in a slump. I can't tell you for sure when it began, and now I can't tell you when it's going to end.

This is one of the problem with being a renter: It's too expensive to get out and keep one's skills sharp. Yesterday, Carolie and I flew along the Minnesota and Mississippi Rivers to check out flooding that hit last week after some areas got 10 or more inches of rain in 24 hours.

Carolie usually doesn't fly with me, so it was nice to have her along. It was a little bumpy down low and she probably drove up the stock of Benadryl a fair amount, but she's a trooper:


And before the flight, I perform the traditional toast to the airplane.


Actually, I'm checking the fuel sample I just took out of the wing tank.

Then we flew...



The actual flying skills were fine -- better than fine, actually. I held altitude at 1,000 feet AGL in steep turns over Pine Island. While filming.



What else went right? Situational awareness. We flew well, we spotted the traffic (including birds) we needed to find, we did a great job of communicating through some busy airspace around Mankato, keeping everyone alert for us, and helping them navigate around us. We got a great view of tow plane, cutting its tie to a Civil Air Patrol glider over Mankato, and then diving for the ground.

There's just this landing thing to overcome.

We headed over to Red Wing for a bathroom break and a check of the Vikings score. Red Wing is a huge runway (5,000 feet), along the Mississippi, below bluffs on the Wisconsin side. And, sure, it gets a little squirrely, but it shouldn't have been as poor a landing as it was, especially given an incredibly stabilized four mile final.

But it was a bad landing, partially because the size of the runway makes you think you're lower than you really are, and partly because I'm not focusing on the far end of the runway, I'm looking ahead of the nose. I know this is the problem, I'm just not getting out enough to practice it.

So as we bounced down the runway, I firewalled the throttle and executed a go-around, which couldn't have thrilled Carolie, who rarely flies with me and didn't know what I was doing.

The second landing was a little better, but I still dropped it the last 10 feet or so.

And back at Flying Cloud -- a more familiar runway -- I had a better landing, but still not great.

As the RV-7A project nears its conclusion, I always think immediately after landings, "What would have happened if you were flying an RV?" I don't like the answer.

(If you're reading this via Facebook, you'll have to go to the "original posting" to see the video and Flash slideshow)

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

A day at Target Field

The last time I can remember all four of us being together at a ballgame was 1994, the first year Jacobs' Field in Cleveland opened and we were on our way back to New England. As luck would have it, the Twins were in town. As skill would have it, the Indians toyed with them. Those were good days.

Carolie says we went to a Mother's Day at the old Metrodome, but I can't remember it. When it comes to indoor baseball, the mind blocks out trauma.

Jon McTaggart, the chief operating officer of Minnesota Public Radio, gave us his four seats to the Indians-Twins game at the new Target Field today. Before I tell you about our day, let me tell you a bit about Jon, who've I've known since the first week I started at MPR when he was running the station in Collegeville. He also ran the new media department and was the one who approached me about being MPR's first online news editor.

Some years later, after seeing an e-mail that announced I'd be gone for a few days because Patrick and I were going to Cincinnati to watch some baseball, he literally ran down the street to the parking garage where I was exiting, to give me $20 for a hot dog and beer. "You do good work," he said, "and I want you to have a good time."

I've told this story many times since that day, mostly to people who seem to think that some book, some class, some seminar will show them how to get their troops to run through a brick wall for them. Nonsense. All you have to do is give a rip enough to run down a street for them. Trust me. It works.

So we went to the game.


Of course, we had great seats, right in front of the Indians' broadcast booth. Patrick and I have spent many years listening to Tom Hamilton, the long-time play-by-play man for the Tribe. We heard his voice coming out of the booth, and we knew exactly who it was.

"Hey, Tom!" Patrick shouted between innings. And up popped Tom Hamilton:


"Hey, where are you guys from?" he said, after seeing me in my Indians hat and Patrick in his Grady Sizemore jersey (the origins of which can be found here).

"We're from here," Pat said, telling him that we've been listening to him online for years. We didn't bother to tell him we were originally from Massachusetts, that my parents both have Ohio ties, but we otherwise have no reasonable explanation for why we're both huge Cleveland Indians fans.

Patrick got his autograph.



I'd love it if the Twins fans could have a play-by-play guy like Hamilton. Baseball is a great sport and it's worth a guy who can get truly excited about a game, even though it's the last week of the season, your team is 27 games out of first, and is about to turn in back-to-back 97-loss seasons for the first time in its awful history. And by "excited," I mean really interested and excited, not that phony nonsense.

Here, hear for yourself. Here's the only run the Indians scored in the game. It was in the first inning. No sense making it out to be more than it was. And then he got right back to his story:



Great stuff. By the way, Twins fans, Hamilton said, "It's hard to believe Ron Gardenhire has never been manager of the year, which goes to show you how much those awards mean."

Meanwhile, in the second inning, Indians manager Manny Acta decided to blow the game up to mean more than it did, by bunting. Second inning. A bunt. It didn't work. His runner on second got thrown out at third.

Manny Acta is a horrible manager. You know who should manage the Indians? Jon McTaggart.

We love baseball at the Collins house. We always will. More than that, of course, we love being all together when we can. And I love watching my two young men laugh and chat with each other at the game, reminding me again that I was right when I told them during the fights they had as kids, that they'd be each other's best friends later in life. It's later in life.


Target Field is a lovely ball park. A lot of people think it's the best park in baseball and I guess I can't disagree with that. Still, it feels a bit like the Twins tried too hard to have the best park in baseball. There are the usual luxury suites and the restaurants and all, and there are plenty of opportunities to go inside and therein lies the oddity. After complaining about having to go indoors to watch baseball for a few decades, the new facility provides plenty of opportunity to go inside.


But I may be getting an improper perspective. Both games I've been to this year -- both Indians games -- were free tickets. One was the Champion's Club behind the plate and the other was the Legend's Club. I'm probably viewing the park from the high end. I'm not complaining, though, because it's an unbelievably comfortable facility. And I love going to ballgames. And though they've broken my heart for more than 45 years, and I'll never experience the thrill of their winning a championship, I still love the Tribe.


I love acknowledging a local guy who joined the Navy and went to war in 1942 and became one of Minnesota's most decorated soldiers. (by the way, Minnesotans don't show up on time for noon starts)


Is there anything better than a seventh-inning stretch with 40,000 people singing, Take Me Out to the Ballgame? No. No, there's not.


By the way, I know it's Minnesota and everything, but do these look like people who just clinched the Central Division and are on their way to a possible world championship?

You better get your game faces on soon, Minnesota.

The kids

Having kids is like playing fantasy sports, except it's real.

Yesterday, I got big points. Son #1 got a promotion, a new pay grade, and an acknowledgment of his good work at his place of employment, which also happens to be my place of employment. He's well on his way. Good for him.

Son #2 got himself on television to talk about being the newest member of the White Bear Lake Fire Department. Scroll to 14:00.

Lake Area Beat-September 2010 from Lake Area Beat on Vimeo.


I'm in first place!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The empty nest project

By now, thousands of people within the sound of my blog are probably suffering a bad case of empty nest syndrome. The last of the brood has gone off to college. Maybe someday they'll come back home to live, but it'll never be quite the same. I think about this as I watch the geese -- they were just little critters a few months ago -- get ready to leave the Twin Cities.

Dona Schwartz knows the feeling. She's working on a photographic portrait project about empty nesters. "I am interested in this moment in time because I think it's a significant transitional period in people's lives," she says. "I photograph parents in the vacated bedrooms their kids have left behind. Sometimes the bedrooms have been left as is, and sometimes parents repossess the space--both scenarios say a lot about the nature of the transition to life without children at home and the different ways parents approach it."

Schwartz has raised six children and stepchildren; the last is almost ready to fly. Leading up to this point, she thought she'd enjoy the coming solitude. Now, she's not so sure.

"One day I was overwhelmed by the teenage energy and drama (and angst) and I thought, 'I'm tired of the transitions in teenagers' lives! Adults go through transitions too and someone should pay attention to adults' lives!' she says. 'An empty nest! That's a transition I can relate to!' It was a eureka moment and the project came into being. The project is called On the Nest and it has two parts. I have been photographing people who are expecting their first child in the space they have prepared for the child's arrival, so part one is the transition to parenthood. Part two is empty nesters photographed in the vacated bedrooms of their children -- parents who are now transitioning to life without day-to-day responsibility for the care of children -- adults who are again on the threshold of a new identity and way of living."



If you'd like to be part of the project, contact her at dona@umn.edu.

Monday, September 20, 2010

A little bit country

Carolie and I went on a short road trip to Zumbrota, Minnesota on Saturday. It's farm country. The first annual Minnesota Testicle Festival was being held at the Goodhue County Fairgrounds. We didn't stay for the rodeo, or the fashion show, or the concerts. We only stayed long enough to ask, "what the hell?"



Afterwards, we took the back roads up to Red Wing and had a nice lunch at the old St. James Hotel.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Better than Oshkosh


Hate to say it but hanging around the MPR booth for a week at State Fair time has replaced Oshkosh as the highlight of my summer.

Friday, August 27, 2010

The old man and the remote



Last winter, I started the long process of turning the old family room into the new family room. It's a finished basement which, for the most part, was the kids' play area.

The carpet, an emerald green, was here when we bought the place in 1993. And over time there came to be dried-up glue on it (from when I tried to repair a couch that the kids used to jump from), various dumped-soda stains, and God knows what from the dogs that have lived here over the years.

I've always liked the room. It's one of the cozier spaces in the house, but had become unused.

It also had this "pink" wall that wasn't supposed to be a pink wall, but the paint we chose -- I think it was supposed to be "peach" -- came out pink.

I repainted it last January to a two-color tan (since it's in the basement, we went with a "warm" color), and Carolie has done a great job since.

We still have more work to do; we need curtains on the windows and we'd still like to add a gas fireplace. But it should also be a nice, private space for people who visit and stay in the guest room, which is nearby. Yes, that's a hint. Take it.

Carolie has added a great new couch, which arrived Saturday, and last week she bought a home theater system, which was installed Wednesday.




Since then, I've looked at two giant remotes that are more complicated than any plane's instrument panel I've ever flown. I can't figure out how to connect the TV to the Internet, which is supposed to allow us to view things online.

So we've turned the room into a great new space. And it's turned me into that guy -- the old man with the VCR flashing midnight, who keeps calling his children to come figure this out.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Video: Over Chicago

I drive back East fairly often, although I haven't done it this year. It's about a 23 hour drive over two days, and in addition to remember to factor in the time change, you have to factor in the 2 1/2 hours it takes to get through about 20 miles of Chicago.

Which is why this video shot by an RVer on his way to Oshkosh this year is high motivation to get my RV finished.

Suck on it, I-90!

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Oshkosh Diary: Doesn't anyone want to fly anymore?

At the tail end of a segment on our being a nation of dreamers on MPR's Midmorning yesterday, I did a short interview with host Kerri Miller on the week at Oshkosh. It starts at 45:48.

Kerri asked whether kids are still interested in flying and so I relayed an anecdote from a friend who flies Young Eagle flights at Oshkosh (Young Eagles takes kids for their first airplane ride to try to get them interested in flying). He called me Thursday because he had a seat available and wanted to know if I'd like it. I couldn't because I had an interview scheduled but how is it with so many kids around Oshkosh this week, no enough wanted to go flying? And what does that say about the future of general aviation?




My interview was with Ray LaHood, the U.S. secretary of transportation. He was giving me the usual rote answers that were uninspiring, if not borderline patronizing.

"Did you ever want to learn how to fly?" I finally asked.

"Me?" he said. "Oh no!" He then relayed all of the aspects of general aviation that are stereotypes of why we shouldn't fly -- he was too old, too risky etc. All of them, of course, are wrong. But it's hard to have confidence in a transportation vision and a secretary who says "the administration is 100% behind general aviation" who has never harbored the dream to take flight and look down.

Kerri also asked about the DC3s at Oshkosh. A lot of them didn't show up, I told her, because of the conditions of the field. But look at this beauty that was at Aeroshell Square. This is why I bought a little aluminum polish at Oshkosh (I spent a total of about $20 on airplane stuff this week, a record low for me, even for me).

 Click on the image for a larger and more beautiful view. There are reasons not to go with polished aluminum on my RV airplane -- paint hides mistakes, they say -- but when you look at a plane like this, it's hard not to think about the option.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Oshkosh Diary: Ardy and Ed's


It's not really Oshkosh until we've stopped at Ardy and Ed's drive-in for lunch, which was today's mission. That's Darwin Barrie and me. Glenn Brasch took the photo. I don't know why son, Michael, isn't in this.

Ardy and Ed's sits on the approach end of runway 27 at Oshkosh. As we waited for our food, sitting outside, we saw a B-17 approaching from a distance and it went directly over us.

There is, probably, no place else in the world where people today waited for their root beer floats while a B-17 passed directly over head.

Tonight we had the annual RV gathering. It was great to see Mario Nolte from Germany, and Linda and Terry Frazier from Nevada, and Bob Kelly and his wife from Indiana, and Ben Schneider did a great job putting it on. Also attending was Brad Oliver (who took some unbelievable night shots which I'll get a link to soon), and Chad Jensen and his dad, Jeff. And Bill Wightman of Terminal Tool fame. And Jeff Pointe, Darwin, Glenn, Michael, Don Hall, Rich Emery, and it's always great to see Larry Frey, who's coming up to Minneapolis after Oshkosh for some transition training with my pal, Tom Berge.

Tomorrow, I have an interview with Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, and then it's probably time to come home.

Oshkosh Diary: A wedding in the North 40

I've seen some cool things in the years I've been coming to Oshkosh, but I haven't seen anything as outstanding as tonight's wedding in the North 40 of Michael Regen and Karen Benitez.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Oshkosh Diary: Meeting the neighbors

So far, this has been an "uncomfortable" Oshkosh, not in the sense that there's a lot of mud and all, but that it feels like it does when someone has moved the furniture around. While the AirVenture grounds feature the usual "been there, done that" vibe (I'm seeing very little I'd describe as remarkable for the homebuilder), out here in Camp Scholler, things are chaotic.

The grounds have dried out fine, but if you come here for years at a time, you usually end up in the same spot. It's comfortable. You know where to find people and people know where to find you. Not this year.

Fortunately, I've been able to connect with buddy Glenn Brasch and his son, Michael, and RV pal Darwin Barrie, who I'm pretty sure is now convinced I'm building a ghetto RV-7A. He's probably right, which is one reason I've decided never to fly it over here.But lots of other people I usually visit with are scattered to the wind.

In the meantime, Camp Scholler always offers an opportunity to meet the neighbors. This morning, for example, I met Alex and Benny, who are from "west of St. Cloud." Benny is a homemade wine afficianado so I've been invited to stop over this evening for a glass of his 2008 vintage. We'll see.

HEY BUDDY, WANT TO BUY AN RV?


I'm not sure what the significance of this is, but I passed a display in one of the exhibit halls of beautifully carved airplanes of every model. The only one that's been cut to rock-bottom, is the RV line. The RV-8 models were also on sale.

RVs EVERYWHERE

There was a time when if you ran into someone wearing a Van's shirt or some other signal that they've built an RV airplane, you could instantly strike up a conversation. There weren't that many of them. Now, because of their popularity, they're everywhere. And the RV community -- singular -- has got pretty fractured. The RV-10 is for the monied, family crowd (not that there's anything wrong with that), the RV-12 seems to be for the older gen (getting there), and the RV-9s and RV-7s and RV-8s in between are for a very diverse crowd.

In other words, there really isn't an RV community anymore. It's no longer unusual to run into someone else building their own RV airplane and when you do, it isn't any more (or less) special than if you run into any of the other hundreds of thousands of people who live here for a week. What the community has in common -- building RV airplanes -- isn't really that significant as it once was. Sure, it's great to put faces to names of people you run across online; no doubt about that. And it's always great to see old friends, but there's 6,000 flying RVs now and probably another 20,000 under construction somewhere. As any city that grows past a certain point knows, larger communities split into smaller ones, and it becomes more and more difficult to maintain the larger group.

WHERE DID I PUT THAT?

I'm using my son's old bike during Oshkosh. Fortunately, it's a mountain bike so it's good in mud. But here's a tip: Keep a detailed note of where you parked your bike at Oshkosh.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Oshkosh: Top signs you haven't left your real world


You not only bring a lawnmower, you use it to mow the grass around your campsite.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Oshkosh Diary - Back to normal?


Anybody who has ever brought their little kids to Oshkosh recognizes this picture. It's Oshkosh in the campground. Kids doing what kids to; parents doing what parents do. Sure, the adults -- some of them -- are kvetching about the conditions here, but they're actually getting back to normal.

The main roads around the campground are now in pretty good shape, and the side roads -- through the fields actually -- no longer present a squishy "I'm crossing the Delaware" sound. True, they're still a mud bog, but all those pictures you've been seeing are starting to create a somewhat exaggerated pictures. Yes, there are still long lines of campers that can't get in. Yes, there are still rich people's toys who are camping on the roads. But there was a goodly amount of dust being generated around the campground today.

You watch, in a few days, some people will be complaining about that.

I have no idea -- and don't care that much -- what the situation is with people flying in. Jeff Point, who handles parking for RV airplanes, has been doing a great job of keeping people up to date on that on Van's Air Force.

My good friend, Warren, was supposed to fly over here from Minneapolis today. But the information about who can land here and who can't has been wildly inconsistent. He says he listened to the controllers at Fisk telling people nobody was landing. So he landed in Necedah and called me. I told him "you don't want to be here." Not with an airplane, and not sitting on the ground somewhere with the sun going down.

So he's opted to fly back and spend the evening with better company and a bottle of wine. Good choice.

THE WIFI SITUATION

The EAA has wisely -- in my opinion -- given up on the idea of providing roaming wiFi around the campground. Instead, it's built small shacks all around AirVenture where people can connect. This is a good thing. Yes, it's a bit of a pain in the neck -- in a 2010 way of thinking -- to ride a bike to a hotspot. But I admit to being discomforted by seeing so many people last year sitting in their tent in the evening, playing on the computer. The place to be is outside meeting people.

EAA RADIO

The radio broadcasts began this evening and continue through AirVenture. My guess is more people listen around the world than at Oshkosh. It seems like a great group of people, all of whom could be my son or daughter. Many are students at St. Cloud State.

I've done a few interviews, as previous posts have shown, and for the most part I'm opting to dump them onto the kids, so they can write and produce the material. That's what they're hear for. I don't need my name plastered on a piece, although I do intend to do one or two.



The young journalists are part of a class at St. Cloud State University. It's nice to see that people are still interested in the art and the sooner they can get into the business, and the sooner the people predicted its demise can get out of it, the better off the world will be. I'm just glad they're letting me play along with them for a few days.

As I type this, they're one minute away from beginning the broadcast of tonight's program at Theater of the Woods. Throughout AirVenture -- and beyond -- you can listen here.

NO CAMERAS

Canon, the camera company, has lent out huge cameras to just plain folk in recent years. It was a great promotion, and the cameras the size of Montana are the only way just plain folk will ever take great pictures. A sign on their building door today, however, said something like "due to worldwide demand, we're not handing out cameras this year." This, of course, is the type of gibberish that earns a public relations student a good grade.

Brazil to Oshkosh

Three RV-10s are sitting at show center at this year's  Oshkosh. Their pilots have earned the honor. They flew from Brazil to attend their first AirVenture.  It took eight stops and six days, according to Victor Yancovitz, right, a former airline pilot.




None of the airplanes was made by the pilots. In Brazil, companies are allowed to make kit aircraft, and then sell them to customers, Yancovitz says.  "Brazil is very strict about homebuilding. In the United States, you can make your aircraft, and go fly. There (Brazil),  it's very restrictive. You must be approved by an engineer."

Antonio Nallin's RV-10, which was made in Sao Paulo,  features extended fuel tanks. Three 150-liter tanks

Extended range tanks installed increased the size. Three 150-liter tanks (about 39 gallons) give the RV-10s a range of about 6 hours and 30 minutes.

Nallin says he likes to upgrade airplanes but doesn't like the idea of flying a light-sport category plane. He previously owned an RV-9 which is considered an ultralight in Brazil.  He was the first Brazilian pilot to cruise over  the Andes Mountains in an ultra-light five years ago. "It was a great adventure," said Nallin.

"He's a crazy man," counters Yancovitz.

Yancovitz says he's excited about the RV-12 and other light airplanes. "I've flown for  45 years," he said. "Boeings, DC8 , Airbus, everything. I love flying. When I retired I stopped flying commercial in 2001.  I have to keep my medical every six months. With the ultralight, it's every two years. All of my licenses have expired -- commercial, ATP, private, they've all expired. Now we have a license to fly ultralights. For me, the smaller aircraft is enough."

Love and the airplane builder

All love starts in France. Or aboard the Ford TriMotor.

Just ask RV-7 builder and RV-4 owner Michael Regen of Maryland, who proposed to Karen Benitez a year ago on a flight aboard the Ford TriMotor at AirVenture 2009 in Oshkosh. "As we took off and I was able to get out of my seat, and propose to Karen."

She said yes. "I was actually looking out the window when all of this was going on, because I was somewhat irritated with him before we got on the Ford Trimotor and it almost didn't happen. I was staring out the window, grumbling to myself. I turned around, and there he was."



The two actually met as kids, thanks to their parents. "Our parents were stationed together in France before we were born, and they always kept in touch," Karen says. "We always saw pictures and what everyone is doing. I come from a family of three girls and he comes from a family of three boys."

"We always used to fight over who got to sit next to Karen when we were kids," says Michael.

The two will be married in the North 40 on Tuesday under a tent put up by the Bonanza airplane group.

"It's vacation time. It's relaxed, and you can't be around a greater group of (mostly) guys," according to Karen, who had the idea of getting married at Oshkosh. She figured most of the couple's friends are in the area, although when we talked on Sunday, Michael was trying to find a workaround to a canceled Delta Airlines flight that was to bring two of his children to Oshkosh. They'll fly to Appleton instead.

"We've been sweating for the last few days because there was a chance the Bonanza people weren't going to be able to fly in," Michael said. "Fortunately, things worked out."

Regen built an RV-7 a few years ago but has sold it in favor of an RV-4. "They both have their little nuances, but I couldn't pick which one I like better. The 7A was a great airplane."

But he says his soon-to-be bride tops any plane. "Karen's wearing half an RV-7 on her finger," he said.

Sloshkosh

I awoke fairly early this morning, looked out the tent and saw this...

 The line from yesterday afternoon was gone; I don't know where it went, I've seen no indication anyone was allowed into the campground at AirVenture. But it was replaced by another line that stretches about a mile down the road. It's not moving and it doesn't appear it's going to move anything soon.

After breakfast, I went out and talked to some of the people. Unfortunately I've left everyone's names on a notepad back in the card, but I'll update the post later. I also am having difficulty getting the audio off a Compact Flash card, so I can't provide that right now, either. Really, what good am I?

I do know that this is Nate, he's from Worthington, Mass., and he flies for Continental. He and a couple of friends from the Berkshires (who didn't want to be identified but we exchanged some Berkshire County connections) drove all night from Massachusetts, and pulled into line at 5:30 this morning.


Nate was in pretty good spirits; he's been coming here since the '80s and didn't seem to mind waiting in line much. His colleagues are on their first trip to Oshkosh.

This gentleman is from my neck of the woods -- Oakdale, Minnesota. He's ex-Army where he flew helicopters and he's looking forward to evaluating some of the kit helicopters. He says EAA could've done a better job of posting signs that say "go home." As he understands it, EAA is going to organize a caravan to the parking lot at at the University of Wisconsin Duluth, where they'll drop their trailers. What happens after that, I don't know, and this isn't official so don't quote me.


This group is from St. Louis, the president and vice president of EAA Chapter 32 in St. Louis (on the right). David Doherty and his son, William Doherty. David proudly points out he was born on the day the EAA was formed in the basement of Paul Poberezny's Wisconsin home.

The people on the left are all from Australia. David and Rae (again, I'll get the particulars on the names later), are here for his 60th birthday. They've been traveling in the states for seven weeks and are now taking in Oshkosh and all its, at least for now, inaction.


I asked David -- Aussie David -- for his favorite flying experience and he reports that it came just a few weeks ago when he flew over the desert in Australia and found everything to be green, which apparently rarely happens. Everything's green in Wisconsin, too.  I told him if he got tired of making camp on a frontage road, the biggest ball of twine in the world is but a few hours away. He seemed appropriately unimpressed.

Last night, I had dinner with Darwin Barrie, and Glenn and Michael Brasch, and the pal I know only as "Tom the Camp Locator Shack Guy," and Jeff Point, who is the master parker of RV aircraft.  Jeff says the "phrase that pays" this week is, "I've never seen anything like this before," and describes the situation as a "Biblical flood." He says at this point, organizers are just "making it up as we go." There's no long-term plan, because people are just trying to figure out what to do in the short term.

They can't even park cars for people coming in today (although AirVenture officially opens tomorrow) because the fields they use for the parking lot are too wet.

EAA officials have fanned out around Camp Scholler, telling people they can't drive their cars once they set up camp; they have to walk the half mile or so to a shower or the store or wherever. The cars are simply carving up the field.

That wouldn't be such a  bad thing if the camp shuttle buses were running, but I haven't seen them yet and if they are running, they're going to have a difficult time because of all the big land yachts parked along the road.

And the owners of those rigs aren't sacrificing much. Even though people need to use the road, those that have living rooms that extend out the side, are deploying them, carving up more of the road. Thanks for taking one for the team, rich folks. Stay classy.

I did hear this morning from my favorite vendors -- Jerry Hansen and the gang from Trio Avionics, who were driving in to set up their shop. Hopefully, we'll be able to get together for dinner as we always try to do.

My friend, Warren Starkebaum, is due to fly over from Crystal Airport (Minneapolis) today. I left him a message saying "you don't want to be here."

Normally on Sunday, one can pass the time pulling up a chair by the runway and watching the mass arrivals. But there are no mass arrivals because there's simply no place to park them. There will be soon, Jeff hopes, but there are going to be large sections that simply won't hold the weight of airplanes this week.

The big fly-in of DC-3s has been canceled. They take up too much parking space on the ramp, space that has to be reserved for smaller planes.

(Click on the images to see larger ones and to see what's cut off from the smaller ones posted here.)

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Oshkosh Diary - July 24, 2010

It's a lovely evening in Camp Scholler at AirVenture 2010 in Oshkosh... as long as you're looking up. Glance anywhere else, and you're looking at a looming disaster, at least for a few days until things dry out.
They've had over 10 inches of rain here since the beginning of the month and it shows. The little creek where I usually camp is running like the Mississippi.

Out on the frontage road, at least a mile long line of RVs (the kind on wheels) are stalled. They're not letting them in and some EAA people are going RV to RV handing out water. Inside Camp Scholler, only tenters are setting up. The RVs and other big units are mostly parking on the roadways and setting up there. It's a nightmare.


I looked at the EAA Radio compound where I was going to set up and decided that -- at least for tonight -- I'd head for high ground. I'm out on Second Street, which is a healthy stone's throw from the highway. But it's not standing water and my standards for comfort got lowered considerably. Tomorrow, perhaps, I'll move in with my broadcasting friends.

As for airplanes, I've seen very few fly in. Michael Regen is here. I'll be doing a story on him and his soon-to-be bride. He's parked his RV on the tarmac near the FBO until they start parking planes on grass.

His wedding on Tuesday will be in the North 40. Here's what the North 40 looks like right now.


And here's what it looks like in the campground:


The spot I'm at is working out fine for now. I'm half-deaf so maybe the truckers blowing their horns in the middle of the night won't bother me as much. But I come over here mostly to socialize and there isn't much of that out here. People don't walk by on their way to somewhere else. Out here, you've got a golf cart or a car to get where you need to go.


Glenn Brasch, his son Michael, and Darwin Barrie were setting up their site across from where they used to be near the camp locator shack. I almost got the car stuck when I stopped to say "hello." I now have a generous coating of mud on it.

There's no working wiFi yet. This year, EAA has built small buildings around the area as wiFi hotspots, which I presume means you won't be able to sit in your tent and watch Hulu this year. Good. But it doesn't appear to be turned on yet.

So I'm down at Starbuck's where a barrista who used to live on St. Paul's East Side asked me if I'm in town for the air show. "Do I scream 'air show'?" I asked. 
"No," she said, "it was your TCF Bank card. But, you know, you fly people are pretty well dressed. Usually we get beer guts and sandals in here. I was wearing muddy sneakers and a T-shirt. I chose not to show here my beer gut.

I suppose I could've pursued it and ended up at the point I dread ("you pilots are all rich."), but I'm tired and I still have to work up the energy get over to WalMart and navigate around the -- apparently -- Starbucks customers.

Drop a note if you have questions or comments and we'll be conversing here during the week.