We’re closing in on the end of 2006 … less than six hours to go.
New Year’s Day and my birthday form calendar bookends for January, the month I use each year to set goals for the coming year. The end of December would be a good time to reflect on the past year to see if I met those goals, but I was so busy last January that I barely planned a thing and certainly didn’t write down any goals.
As I look back at 2006 today, I don’t know if I achieved any goals, but I’ll share a few things that did happen along the way.
New job responsibilities – A year ago I began to produce and sometimes host Sunday morning community affairs radio programs that air on eight radio stations in DC. This was in addition to my existing job producing and voicing commercials and promos on those stations. Fortunately I have volunteer help from some very cool people like Diner Girl, K.J. and Mary. I have also met and interviewed some interesting leaders and opinion makers including executives from Goodwill, the Maryland Lottery, AAA as well as US Senators Mary Landrieu and Ben Nelson. In addition, I started a regular feature called Boomer Talk.
Atlanta – an interesting company meeting that helped improve my status. Learned a lot too and had face-to-face time with people I network with online.
My back – I was working out a couple of days a week during the summer. These were very light workouts, so I thought, but one day I apparently lifted a dumbbell incorrectly and hurt my back. I recovered weeks later, but I still struggle to exercise as much as I need to.
Katrina repairs – More than a year after Katrina, rehab work finally began on my sister’s house that had been flooded by the now-famous 17th Street Canal levee break in New Orleans. When complete, the house will be sitting several feet higher and will have all new interior walls.
New boss – she’s great, unique, knows her stuff.
OBX – spent Christmas weekend at Nags Head, North Carolina.
In a few hours, I begin my annual process. This time I plan to write down my goals. I’ll share some of it later.
Two famous people, well-known to older Boomers, died this week: former President Gerald Ford at age 93 and singer James Brown at age 73.
Gerald Ford is the only U.S. President to come to that office without being elected. Michigan voters sent Ford to Congress thirteen times, starting in 1948. He was appointed Vice President by President Richard Nixon in December, 1973 when Nixon’s VP Spiro Agnew resigned after pleading no contest to a tax evasion charge. Less than a year later, Nixon himself resigned and Ford became the 38th President.
Ford had a busy and unique presidency. He pardoned Nixon for crimes he “committed or may have committed” relating to the Watergate break-in, ended the Viet Nam War, signed a nuclear weapons test ban treaty with the Soviet Union, vetoed sixty-six bills, was the target of two attempted assassinations in the same month, fell down a flight of stairs in front of dignitaries and cameras while exiting Air Force One, was made fun of by comedian Chevy Chase, barely got the Republican nomination for President in the next election and lost that election to the relatively unknown Democratic candidate Jimmy Carter – all in less than three years.
Many pundits said on TV today that Gerald Ford was the right guy at the right time, and history seems to agree. He helped the country transition from a decade of turmoil and appears to have been a genuinely honest politician.
James Brown was called the Godfather of Soul. His dance moves inspired Michael Jackson and his hair style inspired Rev. Al Sharpton. Everybody knows who he is, but if you grew up in the white part of the segregated south in the 1960s, you only knew a few of his songs that made it onto the pop radio stations. But those are memorable songs like “Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag” and “I Got You (I Feel Good).”
Brown was noted for a few things outside of the music world too. He played manic preacher in the “Blues Brothers” movie in the early 1980s. He spent 15 months in jail after a drug-fueled car chase in the late 80s. In between those two milestones, he had a comeback mainstream hit song with “Living In America” and in 1992 he won a Lifetime Achievement Grammy.
James Brown didn’t do anything half-way. Rev. Jesse Jackson noted on the MSNBC web site that “He was dramatic to the end — dying on Christmas Day ... He’ll be all over the news all over the world today. He would have it no other way.”
If the goal of a great vacation includes doing some things you don’t get to do at home, I’ve achieved that goal on this trip.
I’ve walked on the beach with a loved one, photographed a lighthouse, shopped at a store that sells only dog-related items, turned the alarm clock OFF on a weekday, spent time in a hot tub with my wife sipping delicious red wine and watched a sunrise.
This might be the best thing, however: an hour ago I walked out to the beach alone, looked up at the clear sky and saw billions of stars. I identified the big dipper (without the help of my wife, who actually knows about this stuff). This is only the second time in my life I’ve seen this many stars. The other time was 20 miles north of here in a part of the Outer Banks with fewer tourists and less ambient light. I actually saw the Milky Way (according to my wife).
The soundtrack for tonight’s star-gazing was the pounding surf. I heard no people sounds, no cars on the nearby highway … just surf. What a beautiful night in the middle of a great vacation. I am one lucky man tonight.
For the first time in my f-f-fifty-something years, I’m spending Christmas at the beach.
I’m sure the holidays are different there. For one, Santa probably gives the reindeer a rest and so he can make his entrance towed by a 4x4 Suburban. There aren’t many chimneys, so the Big Guy just shows up on the deck. We’ll leave him beer and shrimp instead of milk and cookies. The Elves might wear bikinis and thongs (uhh, hope not). Instead of mistletoe we’ll stand under sea oats (with special permission from the National Park Service).
I’ve been visiting the Outer Banks for 20 years. I’ve stayed everywhere from Corolla to Ocracoke Island, sampling every type of accommodation from a tent to a 14-person rental house. My wife and I used to go there three or four times a year, but our last trip was to the First Flight Centennial at Kitty Hawk three years ago. We have serious beach withdrawal.
Our friends in the Raleigh area own a wonderful beach house less than a block from the ocean in Nags Head and they’re letting us use it for a few days. We’ll wake up early Christmas morning, photograph the sunrise, let the dogs run on the beach, eat breakfast and then open our presents. A friend is meeting us there and the three of us will eat dinner one night at our favorite restaurant.
(I shot these photos at Cape Hatteras a few years before they moved the lighthouse 2900 feet SW in the summer of 1999)
We’ll take nature hikes and go shopping at the outlet mall. We’ll photograph nearly every sunrise and sunset. We often climb the lighthouses at Corolla and Cape Hatteras, but they’re closed during winter, so we’ll photograph the exteriors … again. We never get tired of this. (Border Collies usually don’t like water, but don’t say that to ours)
We haven’t had a good vacation in years, so it will be extra special to spend Christmas on the beach in North Carolina.
The New Orleans Saints will turn 40 next year. They started out great - their very first play was a 94 yard opening kickoff return for a touchdown by John Gilliam. For the most part, they haven’t been that good since. They lost that game and the next six games of their first season. They didn’t play a post-season game till their 20th season, and they’ve only entered post-season five times in their whole existence (most recently in 2000).
But this year the Saints are on fire! Two weeks ago, they beat the Cowboys, a team that historically isn’t used to losing, especially to the Saints. Their timing couldn’t be better because 15 months after Hurricane Katrina roared through the region, New Orleans has barely begun to recover. Its citizens need something to raise their spirits, and a winning season seems to be doing the trick.
Yesterday they lost to my current local favorite Washington Redskins, but they are 9 and 5 and in the playoffs.
New Orleans fans have always supported their Saints in spite of the team’s perennially dismal performance, but there were strong indications last season that the team owner was ready to move the Saints to San Antonio, their temporary post-Katrina home. There were doubts the storm-damaged Superdome could be repaired by this season. Maybe it could never be fixed. The New Orleans area economy was in a shambles. Would the fans be able to afford to continue their support? Would anyone want to go to the games in the facility that came to symbolize disorganization, destruction and death resulting from the worst hurricane to ever hit the United States?
The first Saints home game this season stopped the skeptics, with a sold out crowd of 70,000 and a victory. And now near the end of maybe their best season ever, it appears that the beloved black and gold are saving New Orleans, or at least the spirit of New Orleans.
Often people ask why a city spends tax dollars on a sports team, especially when the teams make so much money and can easily afford to pay their own way. This is one of the answers: a pro sports team can be the centerpiece to a city’s pride and economy. A pro sports team can make a region feel good about itself, which can snowball into revitalization, increased business, employment, etc. A team can save a city.
This is one of those cases.
The Saints could just save New Orleans. At the very least, the team helps give residents and folks across the country a sense that the city that care forgot won’t be the city that the country forgot.
Wow, another one. Out here in the country, we see a lot more activity in the night sky than we did when we lived in the suburbs closer to DC. Our sky view isn’t perfect, however. As the population of the town to the south increases, so does the ambient light. But there is no town to the north.
Cool. Look at that.
And last night we counted at least ten streaks of light as we searched the night sky for the Geminid meteor shower. That's the most we've ever seen. We would have seen more, but it was 35 degrees - so we went back inside.
“Bernie, stop what you’re doing and get down here right now.” “OK, what’s up?” “Trust me; get down here now. You know Brian Mitchell, don’t you?” “I’ve never met him, but he’s a former Redskins player with his own show, right?” “Yes. And he’s from Louisiana, like you, and he’s a gourmet cook and he brought some home-made shrimp etouffee to the office today. Better get down here quick!” “Thanks, Mike, I’ll be right down.”
Ten minutes later, I’m standing in the producer area of the sports talk radio station that is part of the station group I work for. As I look at a cast-iron pot filled with this authentic-looking dish, Mike introduces me to Brian Mitchell.
“Nice to meet you.”
We chit-chat for a minute about his home town, Katrina, etc. Then I spoon some of his shrimp etouffee onto a plate. I’m still a bit skeptical. I know what really good shrimp etouffee tastes like and I’m finding it hard to believe a 38-year-old former pro football player with his own radio talk show can cook this like my Cajun relatives.
One bite. Another bite. Oh my God. A third bite.
“Man, this tastes exactly the way my Mother and her sisters made it. She was one of those Cajun-French Louisiana natives with an X at the end of her name.”
Brian laughed and thanked me. I kept eating.
This happened more than a week ago and I can still taste the shrimp etouffee. The color was perfect (a unique tan-brown color), the consistency just right (a little thicker than soup), and there was just the right amount of spice (enough cayenne pepper and Tabasco sauce to dance on your tongue without making your eyes water).
And he used the same kind of old-school cast-iron cooking pot Mom used.
It is amazing how much of my Boomer youth flashed through my head as I ate a plate of food cooked by a guy younger than my Mom’s cast-iron pot … a memory trip kick-started by a delicate mixture of butter, flour, rice, spices and shrimp.
When: 6:30, Saturday night Where: Sam Goody’s in Frederick, Maryland Who: two teen-aged counter clerks sporting blacker-than-natural-black hair in a bed head style, a twenty-something mom in line asking for Mortal Kombat for PlayStation and me buying a Barry Manilow CD.
I’ll pause here for a moment while you laugh at that last part.
OK, to continue … I used to practically live in “record” stores, but for several years I’ve mostly purchased CDs online or at Border’s. Tonight I went to the local mall to buy a birthday present for my sister, a brand new Barry Manilow CD filled with old songs from the 1960s. In the 60s, Barry would have been the same age as the mom and the original versions of the songs on this CD were released on records. CDs and Play Station hadn’t been invented yet. Mortal combat wasn’t a game for kids.
This odd combination of factors struck me as funny, but in a sad way.
The just slightly older than Boomer age Barry, whose career ain’t what it used to be, records songs from his youth, our youth. My 50-something sister likes these songs wants to hear Barry sing them. The music is on a format we could not have imagined in our youth, the CD. This media format that still seems new to many Boomers will be as rare as records in another five or ten years, replaced by another thing we couldn’t have imagined a decade ago: downloads.
Boomers may rule the world, but we sometimes do two things our parents did that we didn’t like – judge young people and dwell on our own youth. I’m doing a little of both tonight. For a moment I found myself judging the hair and clothing styles of the counter clerks, just as my parents judged mine at that age. Then I began to compare the music buying experience and it’s place in life to how I felt thirty years ago and wondered how the very private ear-bud listening iPod pattern of today’s youth could be nearly as important as the camaraderie resulting from the very public “whose got the best-sounding stereo and the newest album” music-sharing of our youth.
The irony of this whole scene makes me laugh. But I’m not sure it’s funny.