Saturday, January 20, 2018

If You Were Still Programming, What Software Would You Like To Engineer?

Answering the questions people have
asked (or I have asked myself) about
my past, present, or future.
I would love to design a newsroom computer system that's more producer-friendly and built for speed. I can type faster than my work computers can keep up with. I don't know if it's a software issue or a hardware issue, but it's still an issue.

Any system I would design would have to come with these specifications:

  • I need a way to put in graphics quickly, without having to open some other window or program to put them in.  I would like to just type some special character followed by a short instruction, and then the graphic:  "-CG 2line:  John Doe/Resident."  The more things I can do on the keyboard, without having to drag something with a mouse, the faster I work.
  • I need a system that will let me track changes on a story coming in over the wires without me having to search several times a day.  I would like to be able to put the headline up in the corner of my screen and have it change colors if the AP, CNN, CBS or Fox sends out an update.
  • I want to customize the way I type in scripts so I can see how they're going to look on paper as I put them in.
  • I want to have multiple rundowns open without the system slowing down.
  • I want to be able to merge Twitter and Facebook feeds into the system like they're a wire source.
  • I want the system to intelligently scrape websites for information and put them in like a wire source.
Generally, I need one integrated system to be even more integrated and flexible.  But it can't be so heavy it weighs things down.  I once told a college professor about my vision of designing newsroom software.  She said:  "Go for it!"  But, for better or for worse, that dream had to go on the back burner while I started my career.  

I did some amateur IT work every so often at KRGV after we got our first computer system, and somebody suggested I could do it for real, full-time.  It sounded too good to be true and too above what I knew, and I didn't even have an A+ certificate or anything resembling a Computer Science degree except for minoring at it at Mizzou.  That meant I had to keep my hands to myself on the tough problems and let our engineering crew solve them -- even if they couldn't solve a few problems.  That's where I came in.  I was able to fix an issue with one of our servers by testing a theory on one of the machines without wrecking the system, with the permission of management.

That was back in 1999, when it seemed IT support was less critical in a newsroom.  Now with internet and all sorts of other nets, the system is your lifeline.  And heaven help you if it crashes.  So your software needs to be great, not merely good.

Friday, January 19, 2018

What Was The Best Part Of Living In The Rio Grande Valley?

Answering the questions people have
asked (or I have asked myself) about
my past, present, or future.
I only miss one thing about it, besides the people I worked with. I lived only one hour's drive from South Padre Island. I could jump in the car in the morning from McAllen and be on the beach sooner than you might imagine.

I made my first trek out there shortly after starting my KRGV job in August of 1994. That's when I learned Los Fresnos is a notorious speed trap. I couldn't figure out why people were plodding along on the road until I got pulled over by the local fuzz. The officer cut me a break since this was my first time rolling through.

I remember looking out over the water and thinking of my future. I'd come so far. What was ahead of me?

I'd return to SPI several times over the years -- by myself, with my brother and his wife, with my family, and as part of a work assignment. That last visit, in August of 1999, was the most memorable for all the wrong reasons.

KRGV was producing its annual half-hour show on the Texas International Fishing Tournament. I went out there to learn the ropes of producing it in the field, with the understanding I would take the reins next year. (Little did anyone know at the time -- including myself -- that plan would go sideways. I left the station four months later.) I joined the crew in the truck and watched how the producer operated and worked with everyone to get the results and commentary and late-arriving fish on the air. We had to troubleshoot various problems with cameras and wires and the like. But we pulled it off, like we did every year.

After we wrapped, I said my goodbyes to the cast and crew and told them I was headed to Blackbeard's down the road for dinner. They had this great BBQ sandwich I liked called "Hot Stuff," and it was good stuff. But my system didn't seem to cope well with the stuff.

I don't know if it was the heat, or the slimy fish, or too much soda, but something disrupted my digestive process. So while I was enjoying a sunset stroll through the surf, I experienced a blast of what I will politely call "Tenacious D."

Now I'm in trouble. My first instinct was to wade deeper into the water and let the waves wash away the foulness from my unmentionables. That didn't work very well. I had to find a stall -- quickly. As things would have it though, this public beach had no public facilities as I wandered around awkwardly, a walking Immodium A-D commerical.

I got back in the car and scouted out the nearest Circle K. That's where I was able to clean myself up and control the biohazard in my shorts, which I was glad were brown. And fortunately, so was the interior of my car. The hour-long drive home seemed a lot longer with my undies full of paper towels and an embarrassed countenance -- kind of like having to deal with that obnoxious redhead in the Viberzi commercials:

Thursday, January 18, 2018

What Is Your Favorite TV Show?

Answering the questions people have
asked (or I have asked myself) about
my past, present, or future.
I watch very little television outside of work at the station, which may surprise you. It goes back to wanting a life outside of the business. So I'm not following Game Of Thrones, among other things.

I do have a few shows I'm hooked on. At the top of the list is The Profit on CNBC. Camping World CEO and venture capitalist Marcus Lemonis puts his own money and wisdom into struggling small businesses to turn them around. It's part MBA class, part reality show.



Marcus breaks down a business into three components: people, process and product. From there he can diagnose problems. Usually, the product isn't the problem; it's the process or the people. Marcus will find great workers with inept leadership or lousy work environments. From here, The Profit treads the line between a business-oriented reality show and a soap opera. Sometimes it spends too much time on personal issues and not enough time on business fundamentals, which is what attracted me to it in the first place. I want hear more of Marcus the business coach and less of Marcus the life coach.

Another favorite of mine is Bar Rescue. Each week, Jon Taffer renovates a failing bar while trying to shout some sense into its failing management. Not every rescue is successful, and many rescued bars have closed their doors because their operators didn't learn from their mistakes. It's brutal and profane at times. But Jon keeps coming up with fun concepts and exposing nightmarish owners. According to what I have read about him, he told the Spike network to give him the absolute worst bars they could find, knowing it would make great TV. Seeing how the program has become the biggest hit on Spike (now Paramount Network), he was right.



I've also read Jon's book, Raise The Bar. It's primarily for those in the restaurant, bar and hospitality business, but I gleaned a lot of business insights from reading it. One is that you're not just selling booze -- you're selling an experience. Another is that most job resumes are worthless in the bar industry. Jon says he can teach people how to tend bar; he can't teach people personality. I can think of so many jobs like that, where people who need personality on the job are hired mostly for what's on a piece of paper.

My other favourites include Hell's Kitchen, and American Chopper (which is coming back to TV in 2018).

Do you notice a thread through all these shows, other than they're all reality shows? They all deal with people either fixing or creating things. One of my best friends has told me that I'm a "fixer." Another has told me that I'm an "artist" -- a type of creator. Is it any surprise these shows should suit me so well?

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

After All These Years In The News Business, Why Aren't You A News Director Or Executive Producer By Now?

Answering the questions people have
asked (or I have asked myself) about
my past, present, or future.
Because I don't want to be. That's the short answer.

Here's the longer one: I have seen what these jobs do the people who work them, and it's not pretty. I have seen their shoulders burdened with more work and worry and responsibility, some of which they shouldn't have. You might think this job would come with more control and ability to delegate. That's only partially true.

Let's take the News Director position. As I have learned and observed from others who have held this job, it involves more management than journalism. You get to set editorial policy and guide the newsroom's direction, but you're also dealing with budgets (which are never as much as you want), hiring and firing decisions (which are more frequent than you would probably like to make), and corporate types who are in the picture to make sure you are executing their strategy and not just yours. That last one leads to decisions you don't make but are made for you from High Command, whether they serve the purpose of better news coverage or not.

Executive producers have not just one newscast to oversee, but several for one daypart -- either morning or night. They are tweaking, correcting and making sure the programs get on the air not just technically clean but journalistically solid. They get to step back and ask, "are we doing enough on this?" or "are we finding the real story in this story?" or "are we really getting to why people should care about this?" They are focused on the big picture. At the same time, they are taking directives from the news director. And they do jump in and help write and arrange like a line producer does, sometimes more often than expected. I got a taste of what an EP does when I helped train an EP on line producing at our station some years ago. We essentially reversed roles. I was the seasoned producer, and this person was the rookie who knew how to put a newscast together -- just not on our computer system or with our equipment. I gave pointers where I needed, but I stepped back and let this person quickly get familiarized with everything. I found the role boring and a little unsettling. I didn't feel hands-on enough.

I remember The Peter Principle: everybody eventually rises to the level of their incompetence. I decided I would throw humility into that principle and realize where my boundaries were instead of trying to always push them. Some folks out there believe you're a failure in the news business if you don't make it to New York or Los Angeles or the networks. What garbage. I have told aspiring journalists not to let conventional wisdom and careerism guide their paths: if you're happy doing news in Kearney, Nebraska, by all means enjoy it and put down roots!

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

What Is Your Favorite Encounter With A Celebrity?

Answering the questions people have
asked (or I have asked myself) about
my past, present, or future.
Number one on the list would be meeting Drew Carey on The Price Is Right just a few weeks after began his hosting job. He was real where he didn't need to be, and honest in ways that surprised me. He's going to have a long run on the show, and with good reason.

Second on my list is a chance encounter I had at 2005 at the Palms casino in Las Vegas. I had gone up there for a long weekend, and the Palms was my first stop because it had a reputation for loose slots. After several hours on the road, I ended up pulling slot handles around 11am.

Gaming companies are continuously coming out with new variants of computerized one-armed bandits, ones with multiple reels and paylines and bonus rounds. They're more like arcade games than gambling games. One such slot was themed around the classic TV game show Password. I sat down at one and gave it a try. It felt eerie to hear Allen Ludden's voice come through that machine, knowing he's been gone for 20 years at that point.

Password, as you will recall, featured numerous celebrity players -- Betty White (who later became Ludden's wife), Carol Burnett, Lucille Ball, Elizabeth Montgomery, Jamie Farr, Marty Allen, and scores of others.

A young lady comes over to me while I'm playing and says, "You remember Marty Allen from Password? Well here he is!"

Well, Hello 'Dere!



Sure enough, it was him, older and a little wrinkled, but proudly wearing a 9/11 tribute cap. I only had a faint memory of him, but it didn't matter -- I was excited to meet a celebrity in Vegas. He was happy to find somebody who could explain a slot machine based on a game he'd played but never seen in a slot version.

So for the next 45 minutes, I’m helped Marty understand video slots. He got three of himself on the reels his first play and four of himself in a little while. But he still had trouble understanding the paylines -- and the concept.

"I thought Password was about words," he puzzled.

In the end, he let me keep $4 on the machine he didn’t play. I never thought to ask him about his time on Password. I was just glad to meet a star.

Happily, Marty is still with us, and he's still making people laugh.

Monday, January 15, 2018

What's The Biggest Mistake You've Ever Made In Your Work?

Answering the questions people have
asked (or I have asked myself) about
my past, present, or future.
A job recruiter asked me this question as she quizzed me on my work experience. She had an offer. I heard her out. I ended up giving her an oral resume. I had rehearsed my answers to the obvious trap-door questions people like to ask, such as "Why should we hire you?" But this one caught me slightly vulnerable.

I can't give you any one big mistake. I've made lots of little to moderate ones on the job. We all do. I consider myself blessed not to have made some potentially career-ending blunder that would end up getting somebody killed or sued.

So what did I tell this recruiter? I hearkened back to my days at that station in Texas, where I got caught in too much drama and didn't know how to handle it. My mistake wasn't managing enough. Or I let people manage me. Either way, I didn't learn how to get control of the situation. That's an answer my previous boss would have probably called "namby-pamby," but it ultimately led to my departure -- on my own terms, not anybody else's.

I'm not haunted by that mistake, so I don't consider it big. I'm haunted by other worries in the future, but not my past. When I left the Texas station, I had absolutely no regrets. I left for the right reasons and the right money. I left on good terms with the rest of the newsroom and the mentor who helped me get ready to leave the nest. I had grown up as a journalist and producer over five years, learning all sorts of things I should've learned in college. That's the learning curve of the real world. It comes with mistakes, big and little.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

What Is Your Favorite Disco Album?

Answering the questions people have
asked (or I have asked myself) about
my past, present, or future.
This question came from Princess Sherri, obviously because she's seen a chunk of disco as part of my playlist (some of which I featured last summer here on 30/30). I don't have a favorite disco album. In fact, I don't have one period. But if you're talking singles, let me vote for this smash by Yvonne Elliman. Here she is performing it on "American Bandstand" in 1977.



Of course, it turned up in the epic movie Saturday Night Fever, penned by the Bee Gees. Originally, the Brothers Gibb were going to record it with Elliman singing "How Deep Is Your Love." But RSO records topper Robert Stigwood insisted on switching things up -- resulting in a smash for the Bee Gees and the biggest hit of Elliman's career.

If you insist on something more disco-y, I gotta go with this smash from The Trammps. Here's the promotional film for "Disco Inferno."



Watching this, I can't help but roll my eyes back at least a tinge. We wore that? The 18th Century fop didn't vanish; he just reinvented himself about 200 years later.

I also have to give honourable mention to this scene in Saturday Night Fever, set to the Bee Gees' "You Should Be Dancing." John Travolta just owns the floor, and he gets bonus points for Cossack moves.



According to Hollywood legend, director John Badham originally put this sequence in the film with tighter shots. Travolta was upset you couldn't see his feet -- as he would be after having to run and dance for several hours a day to train for the picture. He told the editor to stay on the wide shots, emulating the style of the Fred Astaire pictures, and the result is classic.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Are You A Morning Person?

Answering the questions people have
asked (or I have asked myself) about
my past, present, or future.
Ask me after I have my coffee. For as long as I can remember, I have never been one eager to rise early and often. I relish those times when I can sleep in, not having to get up by the clock. That didn't help me in my grade-school years, when the Queen Mother used to complain about how I piddled around and didn't get up and at 'em.

When I started working nights and weekends in my first TV job, sleeping in wasn't a problem. Neither was getting up. Getting to sleep could be challenging, though, with my adrenaline still pumping from getting a newscast on the air. I would get done with work at 10:30, get home around 11, and not really get to bed until after midnight. Having an internet connection only made my night-owl habits worse. I could spend hours in front of the computer screen, reading all sorts of things online before finally going to bed. It went on this way for nearly two decades.

Now that I'm back to a dayside shift, I have to draw some lines on my night surfing. That line sometimes looks like a curve, and I'll break my deadline more times than I would like to admit. I'm told the blue light from LCD screens doesn't help with sleep. But I get rested enough, and the coffee takes care of what the sleep didn't.

I don't miss working nights. Nights came with other challenges and fears. I'm not working banker's hours, but a 9 to 6 job is about the closest I'll get. Just keep that coffee coming.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Have You Ever Considered Forming Your Own Historic Dance Troupe?

Answering the questions people have
asked (or I have asked myself) about
my past, present, or future.
It sounds fun at first glance. You might think getting to be a colonial dancing master in present day would fulfill one of my fantasies. To tell you the truth, it's not something I'm interested in.

I have a day job, one that consumes most of my day, leaving me little slack to deal with other things. When I get home from work, the last thing I want to do most nights is work some more. Running an organization is work, especially if you decided to run it yourself.

A historic dance troupe -- at least my idea of one -- involves performances and balls and educational functions. It involves planning and practicing and procuring time and space. It involves money for rentals and insurance and travel and music. It's not something I would like to handle by myself.

"Then delegate! Get a board of directors!"

Easier said than done. Finding people who can share your vision and bring new ideas that fit with it can be a demanding task. Again, it goes back to time -- not just my time putting everybody together, but everybody else's time as well. Sometimes groups evolve organically, just from being together so much they decide to get more organized and raise the bar. That's the way I would like it to work. I know I'm asking a lot.

I would rather focus on the one part I think I do well: instructing and demonstrating the actual dances rather than planning the event containing them. I have found it more enjoyable to team up with homeschooling groups, educational organizations and other folks who have wanted to put on a ball. I don't consider myself very skilled at promotion or managing ticket sales.

I have told people that their dreams and their abilities have to meet up in the middle. I'm following that guideline out of necessity and reality.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

What Is Your Favorite Car That You've Owned?

Answering the questions people have
asked (or I have asked myself) about
my past, present, or future.
I would name my present ride: a 2009 Kia Spectra, mainly because it has had the lowest cost of ownership among the three cars I've owned. I've only had one major repair job on it that wasn't covered by a warranty: an air-conditioner compressor replacement. Everything else has been either standard maintenance or low-cost fixes -- even including batteries, which always seem to go bad here in Arizona after two years of intense summers, no matter what kind you buy. Fortunately, I get the replacements at a pro-rated rate. I get my oil changes for free as long as I own the car, thanks to a perk from the dealer. I think I've cost them at least $500 worth of oil changes over the years.

The Spectra came at the right time, after my 2001 Kia Rio bit the dust nearly 10 years after I bought it new off the lot. After putting about 174,000 miles on it (which was probably double its lifespan), the Rio threw the timing belt, leading to a broken piston and all sorts of nastiness inside the motor. The garage wanted $3000 to fix it, but I figured for that kind of money, I might as well buy a new car -- or some nice pre-owned model. That's when I came across the Spectra after going by a dealer on a whim one night after work, while driving a rental and doing some casual car-shopping. The Spectra was a Manager's Special, with only about 40,000 miles, and it was going for about $11,000. After some haggling with the salesperson, we made the deal.

"What will it take for you to drive off with this car tonight?" he asked.

I knew exactly what it would take: I quoted my down payment, my interest rate, and no longer than a 3-year note. I didn't want to get hosed on the deal like I did with the Rio, where the salespeople used "money factor" instead of a percentage to do the financing, which stuck me with an 11 percent loan. Fortunately, I found a way to pay off the car quickly without the interest taking too much bite. I did it again with the Spectra. That 3-year note was burned in about a year and a half. The auto finance companies have to hate me because they don't make enough interest off my business.

On my first ride, I let the Royal Father do most of the talking. Through his efforts in 1993, I bought a used 1989 Chevy Celebrity from a private owner in the St. Louis area. It already had several thousand miles on it, but we got it for around $3000. This would have to be my second-favorite ride, as it made the long trip from St. Louis to the Rio Grande Valley in 1994, and the trip from there to Tucson in 1999. The car had a knack for going the distance and then some. It originally came from Elliott-Roberts Motors in Plattsmouth, Nebraska.

I'm not completely sure, but I think the place is under a new name and ownership:



The Chevy ran like a tank, but I ended up replacing the mass airflow sensor, some belts and hoses. The air conditioning went in for work several times, and the job became trickier each time because it used refrigerant being phased out by the EPA -- unless I wanted to find some shadetree mechanic who could sneak it in from Mexico. The paint started peeling. The lining on ceiling started caving in. The knob on the shift lever came off. The tape deck in the radio died, along with the fuse on the radio itself when I plugged a power cord for a CD player into the cigarette lighter. It already had a patch on the grille from where a bird flew into it -- at least that was what I was told. The car was turning into My Hooptie.



When the air conditioning died again, I finally decided it was time to move on up to the Rio. Kia made it for about as cheaply as they could, and I knew it when plastic parts on the interior started to break. Then hoses started wearing. At least the ceiling stayed up.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Do You Still Sing Karaoke?

Answering the questions people have
asked (or I have asked myself) about
my past, present, or future.
The answer is: not as much as I used to, which translates to hardly ever now. It's not that I don't like it, it's that times have changed considerably from the first time I rocked the mic, back on January 2, 2000. I had just completed my first weekend shift at KOLD, and the producer who was showing me the ropes decided we should all go down the street to one of her favorite watering holes: The Old Father Inn on Ina Road. A few newfound friends and colleagues joined us, including the anchors.

We walked in around 11pm on a Sunday night, where the beer was still flowing and people were belting out tunes.

"I forgot to tell you," my producer mentor said, "It's bad karaoke night here."

Bad, good, whatever. I was just relieved to have gotten through the first weekend at the new station with a lot of expectations riding on me. A previous producer had flopped. I had reason enough to celebrate -- and being off of work on a Monday and Tuesday wasn't bad, either.

That night I decided to try out my voicebox on Earth, Wind And Fire's "September."



It's not an easy song to sing. I don't know how I hit the falsetto notes. Maybe I had help from beer. I really hope I was on key. But I managed to pull it off.

Thus began a nearly-weekly ritual where we'd wind down after the Sunday night shows with beer and singing. I sunk my vocal cords into dozens of soul and rock classics, including bringing down the house with versions of James Brown's "Get Up," and AC/DC's "Dirty Deeds." I threw my back out performing the latter one time, fortunately not enough to leave me flat on the floor.

Times changed. My schedule changed, as did the schedules of others, and those get-togethers ended. I remember singing David Lee Roth's rendition of "Just A Gigolo" on New Year's Eve of 2015 -- but that's it. And I was wearing a kilt at the time.

When another opportunity comes around, I can't rule it out. But absent a group of singing friends surrounding me, I don't see myself going to karaoke nights anymore. Maybe it's one of those things I'm comfortable having left mostly behind after getting right with GOD and exploring other interests. Or maybe we just gotta put the band back together.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

When You Close Your Eyes, Do You Dream About Me?

Answering the questions people have
asked (or I have asked myself) about
my past, present, or future.
Okay, that's not a question. That's a song by Night Ranger. But let me go ahead and answer it anyway.

I find myself remembering fewer and fewer of my dreams, although I don't know why. I think it's the pressure of a job that gives me few opportunities to truly relax. But when a dream truly reaches into the crevices of my soul, I'll never forget it.

Recently I had this creepy dream where I saw this gigantic hairy cross between a housefly and a hornet that blew green bubbles out of its trumpet-like nose. The next thing I know, that creature has littered the air with bubbles and it's flying right for me. That's when I woke up. I called it the "bombfly." It has no real-world equivalent I can find.

Occasionally I'll dream I'm back in college at Mizzou and I've missed a class or test or assignment. Nearly 25 years after graduation, it's still haunting me.

I really wish I could dream my way into some gigantic 18th Century European ball. I can't program my brain to make that happen, unfortunately.

It's called "lucid dreaming" when you become aware you're in a dream and you figure out how to manipulate it to your desire. I've never found a way to make that happen regularly and effectively, even though I've seen special light-signaling glasses that claim to help.

However, If I'm listening to news while I'm snoozing in the morning, it has a way of manipulating my dreams. My subconscious will supply its own video to the anchor's words, and it can get peculiar. One time I was dozing on a Saturday morning with the radio on, tuned to a gardening talk show. I dreamed of waving a hose over my front lawn in Kansas City and turning the brown, crabgrass-infested turf into something green and lovely.

I tend to think of my dreams as my brain playing a free-association game, sticking things together from the crevices of my mind and seeing what comes out. I don't try to interpret anything. I just let the results play out and try to understand it later.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Have You Ever Considered Running For Office?

Answering the questions people have
asked (or I have asked myself) about
my past, present, or future.
Somebody once said I should because I looked the part of a patriot: tricorn, breeches, long coat. If only it were that simple, and if only people's hearts were in the right places.

I am not going to go into another one of my lectures about how we have to take ownership of the current political morass and change the way we vote. I will tell you that having a political life requires much more than just having a heart of service. You have to be above it all, but not out of touch with any of it. You have to know the price of gas, the price of a house, the price of a tax law, and the price of freedom. You must know the law but not be a lawyer. You have to know the issues but not be hamstrung by convention. You have to work in Washington but not be inside the beltway. You have to love GOD... but not too much.

My vision of a politician's life is this parade of contrasts and contradictions, doing and saying different things not because you're (necessarily) a slimeball, but because the job pulls you in different directions while you're wanting to pull your own way. People complain about the so-called ruling class, but it takes a certain kind of person to be able to handle all this. Some do it well, and some botch it. Some do their homework and understand the issues, and others dump it onto staff and let lobbyists hold their hands. I would also like to be able to actually read the bills I vote up and down on, but nobody seems to do that. And it's no secret that they don't, as voluminous as some of them are.

Something smaller, you ask? Like school board? Er, no. I resent how these governing bodies have become the training wheels for those who want a political career. I don't see myself getting along very well with people who use kids as pawns. Ideology has no place on a school board. If you're not there to help children learn as effectively as possible, get the heck out and leave it to those who still care.

I currently hold leadership positions in two organizations: Sons of the American Revolution and the Seven Pipers Scottish Society here in Tucson. Neither of them are political, and that's exactly how I want it. We're all united in our purposes, we can all work together to make decisions, and nobody is left holding the short end. If only some of that attitude made it into the places that mattered...

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Did You Ever Get Into Trouble At School?

Answering the questions people have
asked (or I have asked myself) about
my past, present, or future.
Back in middle school, I got suspended for one day for belting a bully across the lip with my clarinet case. He ended up getting three days. The write-up officially and politely said: "bumped him with a horn case." When both of us were sitting in the office, the principal pulled out our files. My was empty. His wasn't.

"This sheds a little bit more light on the situation," the head guy said, as he looked down the bully's rap sheet. I forget the specifics, but the other guy had a documented record of pestering, harassing, annoying and generally being a posterior orifice. The principal had sympathy on me. He had scorn for the other guy, and he made sure that other guy knew it before we both left.

Mostly though, I had a big problem in elementary school with daydreaming.



I used to get written up a lot for "not paying attention." Maybe I was bored. Maybe the lessons were boring. Maybe I wasn't being sufficiently intellectually stimulated. Who knows?

Back then, the teachers complained to my parents, and the Queen Mother and Royal Father complained to me about being off in a "world of my own." One teacher used to call me "Lucy," after a girl in a story we read called "Lucy Didn't Listen."

What I couldn't say then, but I can say now is this: Did anybody ever consider that maybe I would do better working on my own, instead of in a classroom setting? Where I could focus?

Nowadays, if this same problem surfaced, the faculty would likely be strongarming my parents to put me on Ritalin, Prozac or Lithium. They would've diagnosed me with Attention Deficit Disorder and compartmentalized me in a way that would have let them wash their hands of diagnosing the real problem while putting their great hope on drug therapy. And under the influence, I probably would've been off in that other world again -- better living through chemistry.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

What Is The Biggest Regret You Ever Had In Your Life?

Answering the questions people have
asked (or I have asked myself) about
my past, present, or future.
I consider myself blessed not to have made one gigantic awful, life-shattering bad decision leading to regret. I've made lots of smaller bad decision. However, I think about one decision I made when I was working in Texas that has forever altered the way I talk to my parents. And it did not involve my parents.

Back in October 1995, I was producing weekends at KRGV-TV in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas when one of the reporters I worked with, Roy Pena, died on the job. A train smashed into the station car he and photographer Joe Davila were riding in. They had gone through a nearly-blind crossing in Brownsville and didn't even see it until it was too late to get out of the way. Roy died after a few hours in the hospital. Joe survived with injuries and survivors' guilt.

Just about an hour or so before that, I remember Roy calling the station because he was having problems with the computer system in the bureau. I didn't answer the phone directly, but I gave advice to the person who answered the phone to pass on to Roy. I could've talked to him myself, and I probably should have. But at that moment, I was frustrated with the continuing computer problems we seemed to be having with that bureau, and I didn't want him to hear my frustration. I thought I was doing him a favor by getting my emotion out of the equation. I never thought that would be the last time I would hear from him alive.

After Roy's death, I began making sure I told my parents I loved them each and every time I talked to them on the phone. I took my regret of not being able to say goodbye to Roy and channeled it into preventing future regrets.

I did the same for the times I talked with my grandparents, and that commitment paid off in 2003, when my Grandmother Lawson died. She was in the hospital, and a nurse answered the phone for her. The nurse relayed my words to her, and I heard her voice clearly for the last time.

"I love you too."

I think I wept for about all of 15 minutes on the plane back to Kansas City for her funeral -- and then I was done. I had no regrets. We both knew we loved each other. I had nothing more to say.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Where Is Your Favorite Place To Eat?

Answering the questions people have
asked (or I have asked myself) about
my past, present, or future.
This question comes from Princess Sherri, who has shared many a dinner date with your servant. The answer is In-N-Out, but not for the reason you're thinking.

They have great burgers. I like their fries, even though a lot of people say they taste like cardboard. Before they came to Tucson, I remember taking a few road trips up to Phoenix just to get lunch there in conjunction with doing some other shopping and fooling around.

But In-N-Out has a special place in my heart because the one on Stapley Road in the Phoenix area is the one where I asked my friends for spiritual help and made the commitment towards getting right with GOD.



As I have recounted before, it happened on a Saturday night in 2007, right after a Civil War ball with We Make History, and a few weeks after a horrible experience during a Civil War re-enactment at Picacho Peak, where I fell ill with heat exhaustion and others said they were praying for me. As I wrote more than a decade ago...
Praying for me? I was worthy of prayer? Me, the rookie who could barely get the drill right? I could not comprehend it. In a camp church service the next day, I learned General Robert E. Lee had also fallen into tears upon hearing others had prayed for him. "I am just a poor sinner," he said. When the service ended, tears had streamed down my cheek as well.

A friend of mine who led this service saw the cry for help. After I explained it all to him in an e-mail, he gave reassurance: looking out for me was "simply who we are." He posed a question: "Why has GOD brought you here?"

I already knew the answer, but I still felt the void. Stresses of work still pressed on me and confusion about my purpose gnawed from within. I didn't know where I stood with God and I was afraid of the answer. I remember looking at a knife while making lunch one day and thinking, I don't think I should be holding this.

Several weeks later, after another wonderful ball and a post-dance feast, our commander came to my spiritual aid in a place I least expected: outside an In-N-Out in Phoenix.

"I feel comfortable asking you this because I've known you for awhile. If you're uncomfortable with anything, just say so and I'll immediately back off. Have you asked Jesus to come into your heart?"

"Probably," I said, "but not in exactly those words."

He said he noticed I was being drawn back to GOD, especially after that sermon at Picacho. The truth came out of me then, first in a few drops, then in a cascading waterfall of nervous admissions about the emptiness within me and how journeys into the past were helping me deal with the present. With a few friends by my side, our commander prayed with me as I asked CHRIST to come into my heart -- another poor sinner wanting to get right with GOD and heal.

On Easter weekend, I went back to church on my own for the first time in more than a decade.
My We Make History friends and I still eat there every so often after balls. It's our place -- a place to share a meal and memories, along with prayers. That's food for the soul.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Have You Ever Smoked Marijuana?

Answering the questions people have
asked (or I have asked myself) about
my past, present, or future.
The Queen Mother recently asked me this question with California's new recreational pot law dominating the new year's headlines. I had a simple answer: "No. The stuff smells horrible."

I told the truth. She knows, however, about that college dorm neighbor who openly lit up and put tape on the door so the smoke wouldn't escape. I also hung out after hours with a couple of guys from work back in my Texas days, when they lit up some reefer in a room and passed it back and forth. I didn't inhale. Honestly, I didn't. I also know a co-worker who used to actively smoke pot.

I have good reasons for not wanting to go near weed. First, besides the smell, I'm afraid of what it's going to do to my brain. I don't want to end up like Sean Penn. I want my brain to remain in this galaxy.



Second, you never know when an employer or somebody else might require a drug test. I have had to have them at both TV jobs I have worked.

I will acknowledge smoking the occasional cigarette from time to time at a party or at a bar after hours, along with a few cigars. I wrote about that in a previous edition of "30/30," which you can view here.

The drug legalization revolution can leave me behind. I don't care. I will, however, if that revolution means I end up having to deal with a disproportionate number of stoners.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Do You Still See A Lot Of Movies?

Answering the questions people have
asked (or I have asked myself) about
my past, present, or future.
You may be wondering this because I've largely stepped back from doing my "Reel To Reel" reviews on this blog. I still see movies -- just not as many, and not for the same reasons as in the past.

Back in 1999, the last year I lived in Texas and the last year at my previous job, seeing movies was a form of therapy for your servant. I wasn't plugged into a life outside of work. And I know I wasn't connected to GOD. Movies became my way of escaping and coping, especially as things at work became progressively harder and full of drama. I knew within three weeks of getting promoted off weekends I had just inherited a new mess of problems, and I couldn't do anything to fix them.

I remember going to the Hollywood U.S.A. multiplex down the street from me in McAllen every Saturday afternoon. It didn't even matter what movies were playing; if it looked halfway decent, I was in. That's how I ended up seeing Music Of The Heart and The Story of Us, two titles I don't think I'd see in a theater nowadays. McAllen got a lot of sneak previews paired with a bonus feature. That's how I saw October Sky paired with Patch Adams and the remake of The Thomas Crown Affair paired with another movie I forget right now.



I remember one week, I was so depressed I saw two movies in one Saturday. I went for a matinee, went home, felt lonely and went back for another film. That's when I think I saw The Story Of Us. Doing this was not solving anything, I know, but this was the best therapy I had at the time. During 1999, I estimate I saw at least 52 movies -- at least one or two a weekend. And I reviewed most of them, in capsule form, on my old-school, do-it-yourself, rudimentary HTML-based website, back in the days before blogs existed.

Writing was the other half of that therapy. I could see a film, take it all in, and write about it with a lot of focus and depth because hardly anything else was competing for my attention back then. I could spend several hours on a long-form review and not worry about having time for something else. That was my lack of a life back then outside the newsroom. I don't miss it at all.

Gradually, after moving to Tucson and changing jobs, I began seeing fewer and fewer films in the theater. That should tell you how my mental state improved. I can still remember the first film I saw after I moved: Anna And The King at the Foothills Mall cinema. This was before a major remodeling, before they got stadium seating and all the auditoriums had that ugly bluish southwestern art vibe to them. The 1970's deposited their old screens there. Then I discovered the El Con cinemas. But they won't take that place in my stressed-out heart of the Hollywood U.S.A. in McAllen.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Why Do You Love Colonial Dancing?

Answering the questions people have
asked (or I have asked myself) about
my past, present, or future.
In a word, it's beautiful. All right, that's two words. Let your servant go further than that.

Eighteenth-century attire and dancing are great equalizers. The gentlemen can adorn themselves with fancy flourishes, bright colours, buttons and bows and lace and prettiness, hoping to match the beautiful ladies in their gowns and nobody will accuse them of being sissified beyond all recognition. If it's foppy and floppy, it's period correct. I love having that freedom.

I remember the very first time I put on a Revolutionary War outfit: Halloween of 2001, barely a month and a half after the 9/11 attacks, when your servant and just about everybody else was re-connecting with their patriotism.

That first outfit was less than period-correct, but I loved wearing it. If clothes maketh the man, that uniform started to liberate my inner 18th Century Gentleman. I had never felt so much warmth inside of me from wearing a tricorn, knee breeches, and a long coat. I had no problem bowing to people. I felt a tremendous inner peace. Then came a trip to Williamsburg, Virginia in 2004. Then in 2006, I attended my first colonial ball. The rest -- pardon the cliche -- is history. That colonial gentleman inside me was free at last, free to influence my thoughts and attitudes and leave me dreaming of the next ball... and above all, bring me back to GOD.

Since that time, I've learned how to teach the steps as well as carry them out. You don't have to be fancy; you just have to know how to walk and follow figures.
You can start out simply and build from there. I compare it to learning how to program a computer as you build in loops, branching statements, if/then procedures and fun, of course. Others have called your servant a Colonial Dancing "Master." That sometimes can be a bit of a stretch, as I am still learning even as I try my best to be beautiful.

I think the Minuet is my favourite of all Colonial dances -- at least the way I perform it. The basic form is set, but I can add a few flourishes here and there and people won't mind at all. Below is one I performed with a young lady at the George Washington Ball in Williamsburg, Virginia. She wasn't sure she could do it right, and I wasn't sure either. So I told her just to follow me, not worry about her feet, and enjoy the beauty of the moment. I think it turned out all right.



Somebody once asked me if I thought I was born in the wrong time. Of course not. If I say that, then I say GOD made a mistake, and HE doesn't make mistakes. He uses us where we are right now to do HIS work in this world, sinful as we are. What kind of work did GOD intend for me as a colonial dancer?

Again, I say, it's beautiful.

Monday, January 1, 2018

When Did You Know You Wanted To Go Into Broadcasting?

Answering the questions people have
asked (or I have asked myself) about
my past, present, or future.
I started watching TV local TV news when I was probably around five or six years old, back when I was growing up in Kansas City, and Larry Moore anchored the news on KMBC-TV, Channel 9. Some of my earliest memories of local news are from the 1977 Brush Creek floods, and fortunately, Channel 9 archived a newscast from their coverage.



The research tells us weather is the number one thing that drives people to TV news. It certainly did for me. The Queen Mother will unhesitatingly tell you that I loved it when we were under a severe weather watch because the weathercasters would break in all over the dial with warnings. She always thought I would go into the meteorological side of the news biz.



Other things came along to divert my interests -- namely, personal computers. I learned how to write programs, and I thought I would end up working for Microsoft. That was, until I learned the challenges of programming a Macintosh. Journalism and broadcasting started pulling me back.

But I still can't understand, sometimes, why I chose the news business. I remember talking with a freelance newspaper writer back in high school and telling him I wasn't thrilled about doing work on a deadline. Conversely, he thought deadlines made his product better.

Still, I had my boyhood fantasies: playing reporter and broadcaster in my bedroom using an old, cheap, broken Realistic microphone; doing parody newscasts with my best friends into an audio tape recorder, doing the afternoon announcements over the intercom in high school. I couldn't walk away from the drive. I sometimes don't know if I still have it, some 25 years after I started down the path in college. So much has changed, some for the better, some awful.

If I had to make the same choices again, I don't know if I would choose TV news again. Perhaps I'd get more into the technical side, like directing, audio, or editing. I get to do some of that on the side. But back in 1992, I wasn't really sure where I wanted to end up. I think producing worked out all right, although I still wonder how I would have done as a software engineer.

Even though I love living history, I probably wouldn't have cut it as a historian. Too much reading -- not enough doing. And I never had a desire to teach.