Posts Tagged ‘College’
I will be cheering for the Philadelphia Phillies tonight in Game 6 of the World Series. Truth be told I won’t see much, if any, of the game because I will be at a school board meeting. But, I’ll still be cheering for the Phillies.
I’m not a Phillies fan. It still sticks in my craw the way Pete Rose interfered with a double play ball swinging momentum from the Kansas City Royals to the Phillies in game five of the 1980 World Series. The Phillies won in six.
I have been an avowed Yankees hater ever since first baseman Chris Chambliss hit a Mark Littell fastball over the right field fence in the bottom of the ninth inning of the decisive game 5 of the 1976 American League Champion Series. The Royals scored three runs in the eighth inning to tie the score. I felt confident that the Royals’ reliever, Littell, could take the game to extra innings. I sat on my mom’s lap and cried for at least thirty minutes when the Chambliss fly ball cleared the fence.
The Royals were at the center of my universe from 1976 to 1980. Those were the Royals’ glory years and I was eleven to fifteen years old. A perfect combination. I listened on the radio to at least part of all 162 Royals games for five straight seasons. My neighbor Mamo Hayden is the only other person I know who can make that claim.
We have cheering rules in our house. For college sports, the rules are to cheer for the Kansas Jayhawks first, the Big 12 second and never for Mizzou. The rules for baseball are similar. Cheer for the Kansas City Royals first, then the Orioles, Red Sox and Rockies (places we’ve lived) and never, ever, ever for the Yankees (I don’t care how nice a guy Joe Torre was when he was manager of the Yankees). The Royals losing to the Yankees three straight years in the play-offs etched that ethic in stone.
The Phillies can take heart. A three game to one World Series deficit can be overcome. I witnessed part of such a miracle when the Royals came back from a similar deficit against the St. Louis Cardinals in the 1985 World Series.
The Royals were lucky to be in the World Series that year. They lost three of the first four games of the 1985 American League Championship Series to the Toronto Blue Jays. It was the first year the champion series was extended to seven games. Any previous year, the Royals would have been done.
George Brett kept the Royals alive with two home runs in game three. I attended game four of the playoffs with my dad, the night after my 21st birthday. It was a tough night. The Blue Jays scored three in the ninth to put the Royals on the edge of elimination. And, I had to break the news to my dad about some poor choices I made the night before (for another post). But, the Royals somehow managed to win the next three games and set up the I-70 Series against the Cardinals.
I had a soft spot in my heart for the Cardinals. Long time Royals manager Whitey Herzog and catcher Darrell Porter were part of the Cardinals organization by 1985. I loved those guys. But, this affection didn’t temper my passion to see the Royals win.
The Royals dropped the first three of four in the World Series just like they did in the play-offs. My friend Matt Cunningham and I had tickets for game six of the Series and we were just hoping that game would be played. Fortunately, the Royals won decisively in game five to bring the series back to Kansas City.
Matt was already in the television business by 1985 and scored us fantastic seats up the right field line just beyond first base. They were the best tickets I’d ever had up to that time.
Charlie Leibrandt pitched a brilliant game six for the Royals but gave up the games’ only run in the eighth inning. The Royals’ bats were cold. The Cardinals’ Danny Cox was brilliant, too. The feeling in the stands was somber. A Royals’ victory seemed impossible with the team trailing 1-0 in the bottom of the ninth.
And, then, there was the call. A Royals batter was incorrectly called safe at first. Porter followed up the next few plays with a dropped pop foul and a missed tag on a bunt. The miscues set up the Royals for a ninth inning rally for the ages – for Royals fans at least. I will always consider this the greatest game I’ve ever witnessed.
Matt and I, along with thousands of other Royals fans, stood in the stadium and cheered for nearly an hour. We cheered even longer in the parking lot because we could not remember where we parked the car. We had to wait for the lots to clear out to find it. While we were waiting, Paul Hayden jumped out of a passing vehicle and gave us both a bear hug. It was that kind of night.
Game seven was not nearly so exciting. The Royals pounded the Cardinals 11-0. I was watching with about thirty members of my fraternity in the dining hall of our house. The outcome became clear early so we all piled into cars to drive to Westport in Kansas City to join the celebration.
It was a good time to be a Royals fan.
The Kansas Jayhawks men’s basketball team is kicking off the official start to a new basketball season with the 25th Annual Late Night in the Phog. Hopes are running high this year with dreams of reaching Indianapolis for the Final Four. My brother-in-law, Phil Priebe, already is planning the trip.
Like all good fans I am beginning to sharpen my game, too. You might ask what preparation I have to do? It’s not too hard to sit on your butt and watch young men play basketball.
Oh, but the passionate fans know there is much that can be done in the stands or in front of the T.V. to turn the tide of close games in the favor of your team. So that I am prepared when I’m needed I have been refining my technique to deliver the most powerful hex that I know… The Pissy Rivers.
I learned this mysterious curse from my friend, eighteen year classmate (kindergarten through super senior year at KU) and fellow Greg Dreiling Fan Club member Scott Focke, aka Scooter. The Pissy Rivers is relatively easy to describe but extremely hard to execute.
The basic moves of the hex are simple. Cross the first and second fingers of your writing hand. Place your hand with crossed-fingers casually behind your back. Do not make fanfare of what you are doing. At the crucial moment in the game, quickly swing your hand and crossed fingers from behind your back as if you are throwing an underhand curve ball. Snap your wrist just before your arm fully extends. And, at the moment your hand jerks, whisper (or if you are alone in front of a T.V. shout) “Pissy Rivers.”
Sounds simple doesn’t it. Only the masters are consistently effective. There is a lot that can go wrong when casting a Pissy Rivers. The hex can even be reversed on your own team. Overuse is the surest way to ruin the Pissy Rivers. If someone sees or hears you throw the curse, it can kill the spell.
Some people believe a double Pissy Rivers – crossing all four fingers rather than just two – is more powerful than the traditional version of the curse. I’m not a believer in the double Pissy Rivers. I’ve seen it backfire just as often as I’ve seen it work.
Skeptical about all this? Think this is nothing but superstition and coincidence? Well I have evidence.
Scott Focke propelled the Jayhawks over Michigan State in the Sweet 16 of the 1986 NCAA tournament and on to the Final Four. Several members of the Dreiling gang scored tickets to the game in Kansas City’s Kemper arena. It was one of the most exciting games I’ve seen. It included controversy – a stopped clock for 15 seconds when KU was trailing – and role player heroics.
The Jayhawks were down by six points with just over one minute to go. I was a nervous wreck. Scott told me not to panic. I shouted back, “There’s only sixty seconds left in the whole *#%$@ season, don’t tell me not to panic.” But, Scott just gave me a look.
The Jayhawks began to foul the moment Michigan State touched the ball in a last ditch effort to close the seemingly insurmountable gap. That’s when Scott went to work from the top row of the arena.
Michigan State missed the front end of a one-and-one two consecutive times in the last minute of the game allowing KU to tie the score on an Archie Marshall tip-in with just a few seconds left. I still feel hoarse thinking how loud and long we screamed with joy.
KU’s best players, Danny Manning and Ron Kellogg, had fouled out of the game. But the momentum had already swung the way of the Jayhawks and fan favorite Calvin Thompson led the way to a 10 point victory in overtime.
I didn’t see it, of course. But, Scott told us later that he’d used the Pissy Rivers when the Michigan State players were shooting their clutch free throws. That’s the moment I became a believer.
I use it myself now when the moment is right. I’m not a master like Scott. But, occasionally I do my part to help out the ‘Hawks.
I don’t want to claim too much credit. But, I was in the stands in San Antonio when Mario Chalmers hit his miracle shot and the Jayhawks won the national title.
And, you might remember, the Memphis Tigers did miss a few key foul shots down the stretch…
* * *
I was part of an international community my first year of graduate school. I lived in the Cronkhite Center when I was a student at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. The housing dorm was originally part of Radcliffe College. It’s claim to fame at the time I lived there is that it was once the residence of Benazir Bhuto, the former Pakistani prime minister who was assassinated in 2007.
Cronkhite was the temporary home to students from every continent – except Antarctica of course. Next door to me was a woman from Korea; across the hall a man from China; a little further down the hall a man from the former Yugoslavia and a woman who became a close friend whose family was originally from India. In other parts of the housing complex were students from really exotic places such as southern California.
Conversations in the cafeteria one day turned to cultures and cuisine – what are our favorite dishes from our respective “homelands.” The conversation turned into an idea which turned into an event. It was decided that we would hold an international food night. A sort of Taste of the World potluck featuring everyone’s favorite cultural dish.
The day of the event was a time of much activity and many smells. Many of our dorm mates spent the entire day preparing complex dishes. Spices I’d never before smelled wafted through the halls. Traditional meals from across the globe were being created right before our eyes – when I peeked through the kitchen doors.
I spent most of that weekend day watching sports on T.V. with my friend Jim Macrae. Neither Jim nor I were much for cooking. His favorite meal, probably to this day, is a cheese sandwich. My palate was not much more sophisticated. Indeed, at age 24, our idea of a good meal was the one that took the least amount of preparation. We were eager to participate in the Taste of the World party but weren’t keen on a long day of preparing a meal.
We faced another dilemma, too. What do two twenty something guys from the Midwest (Jim was from St. Louis) bring to an event like this? What would be authentic? I claim Scottish heritage but I’ve never eaten or made haggis and I don’t intend to in the future.
I don’t know exactly when or how the light bulb went off but we came up with what we thought was a brilliant idea. About one hour before dinner was to be served, we ran to the market and purchased the three ingredients for the most authentic of all possible meals – by the standards of Midwestern, 20-something guys. It was with pride that we served an entire platter of some of the best eatin’ there is: Manwiches.
My heart aches for Tom Watson. I can imagine nothing quite as painful for a professional golfer as coming up a few inches short from a major championship. At 59, the pain might be worse. Opportunities like putting for a championship aren’t supposed to present themselves to people of that age. You hate to see the dream slip through the fingers.
On the other hand, I tip my hat to Mr. Watson. He rekindled in all of us for a moment that dreams are possible – at every age.
I was pulling hard for Mr. Watson to win the Open Championship (aka the British Open) like many across the nation and globe. But, my motives may be a little different than most.
Yes, I was caught up in the feel good story of a person well past their prime competing with people thirty years junior. I’ve reached the age that such stories hold more meaning.
I was cheering, too, because Mr. Watson’s been a favorite of mine for thirty years. He’s a Kansas City boy. And, when it comes to professional sports, I’m a fan of all things Kansas City.
But, my enthusiasm for a potential Watson victory was fueled by a different source of energy. I was hoping for personal redemption – my own! For 22 years, I’ve wondered if I played a role in Mr. Watson falling short of claiming his sixth Claret Jug.
I spent the summer of 1987 in the United Kingdom. I attended summer school classes at the University of Manchester four days a week. I was a student of pubs on evenings and weekends.
Two classmates and I headed for the British Open at Muirfield near Edinburg the moment class let out on Thursday afternoon. We traveled all night by train, celebrated our arrival in Edinburg most of the day Friday and scored tickets for the third round of the Open on Saturday.
My two favorite golfers – Tom Watson and Payne Stewart – were paired together. We followed them through the rain and mud most of the day. My kids still use the umbrella I bought at the Open to stay dry.
Mr. Watson and Mr. Stewart were both in the hunt for the championship – just a shot or two off the lead. It was my first time in a gallery at a golf tournament. I was ignorant of proper etiquette. Without thinking about it I snapped a picture – in the middle of Mr. Watson’s back swing.
Golfers don’t like noises such as camera clicks when they’re swinging a club, especially when the stakes are high. I know this is true because as soon as Mr. Watson struck the ball he took a few steps forward – glaring with anger – and searched the crowd for the jerk who broke his concentration.
I hid behind the man with the cigar, a sinking feeling in my stomach.
Mr. Watson shanked his ball into the high weeds – not unlike he did on number 17 in the playoff this year. He bogeyed the hole – perhaps he did worse. He was out of the chase. Visions of his sixth Open Championship blurred. At least, that’s how I remember it.
Watson finished seventh that year. Payne Steward finished fourth. They had more than 18 holes left to play when I exited their gallery. Surely, more than one hole and one errant photograph did Mr. Watson in. But, I always wondered how he remembered that hole and that Open of 1987.
As for dreams almost coming true, Mr. Watson should hold his head high. He kept many of us on the edge of our seats, watching him chase a dream, and thinking about our own dreams, too.
Thank you Mr. Watson. And, sorry about ’87.
Twenty five years ago this summer I had the easiest job of my life. I was an usher for the Texas Rangers Baseball Club.
I patrolled the center field bleachers in old Arlington Stadium – a minor league park expanded to be home to the Rangers. I stood in the Texas sun on metal bleachers in polyester pants (and a really nice belt).
The ’84 Rangers were an unremarkable team. Some might even call them bad. They posted a 69-92 record for the season. I worked 32 games in June and July at $18 per game. The Rangers were victorious a mere eleven times.
I spent the rest of my time that summer attending summer school at Texas Christian (TCU), babysitting for a family friend of my brother’s girlfriend, and hanging out at the apartment swimming pool. My parents were convinced I was just wasting my time.
I went to Fort Worth that summer to live with my brother who had just earned his undergraduate degree in radio and TV from TCU. He had a summer job with one of the Dallas-Fort Worth television stations. He might have been working for Highlands Electronics, too, but I really don’t remember.
I loved going to the ballpark the nights the Rangers were in town. I was a huge baseball fan in the late 70s and early 80s. The chance to see nine American League teams play ball was like a dream come true. The fact that the Rangers were bad actually made the job better – fewer fans.
Ushers had to be at the park 30 minutes before the first pitch. I seldom had much work to do. A typical night was six fans in my section. My supervisor checked in with the outfield ushers in the first or second inning. After that, we could relax and enjoy the game.
I bought a mini-helmet filled with soft serve ice cream (always chocolate and vanilla twist) between the second and third innings. Then, I’d settle in on the back row of my section and enjoy the rest of the game. My only responsibilities were to walk to the bottom of the aisle between half-innings and retrieve home run balls that fell between the outfield fence and the stands. This was pre-steroids era so I didn’t have to retrieve many balls.
I made an extra ten dollars one game. Two fans who’d had too much to drink were trying to settle a bet: In the song American Pie, who was Dan McLean referring to when he sang, “The day the music died.” Buddy Holly, of course. The winner of the bet tipped me ten dollars.
There were only two nights the entire summer that I wasn’t able to sit down and relax – July 4 and July 5. The Yankees were in town on the 4th. The Detroit Tigers played Texas on the 5th. There were fireworks after the game both nights.
The ’84 Tigers eventually went on to become World Champions. Texas, at that time, was home to many recent, former Michiganders due to the recession of the early ‘80s. The ballpark, and my section, was filled with Tigers fans that night. Tigers fans helped to popularize the wave in Detroit that same summer. They brought the wave to Texas that night to the point I felt dizzy watching it go ‘round.
A handful of well known players were on the ’84 Texas roster but they were mostly in the early or late years of their career. Buddy Bell played third base. Charlie Hough, Dave Stewart and Frank Tanana were part of the pitching rotation. Those were names that meant something to baseball fans in the ‘70s and ‘80s.
The player I remember best, Mickey Rivers, seldom if ever played. He hung out in center field shagging flies before the games. Sometimes he’d lean against the fence and occasionally toss me a ball to give to a fan.
Ushers were free to leave the moment the final out was made. Center field was close to the parking lots and I was the first one through the exit – except for the fans who left early, which was many.
I learned no life lessons working for the Rangers (except that polyester pants are hot in the Texas sun). It was just a lot of fun. Getting paid to eat ice cream and watch major league baseball… it doesn’t get much sweeter than that.
It would be nice if there was an easy way to share our personal setbacks with our children so they could benefit from our experience. Heck, I’d settle for a not so easy way if it was effective.
The reality is that the only way for our children to learn how to pick themselves up, dust themselves off and get back in the game is to get knocked down in the first place.
Last night, I told my daughter Emma about a setback I had my freshman year at the University of Kansas.
I won a Summerfield Scholarship from KU – awarded to “top graduates from Kansas high schools” – based mostly on my ACT scores. I received few letters from colleges or universities prior to taking the ACT. Once I received my scores, the letters arrived soon after.
I never seriously considered attending any school except KU. It was where I wanted to go. It was a family tradition.
My parents, both graduates of KU, were thrilled when I was invited to interview for the Summerfield Scholarship. They were more excited when I was named a Scholar. I was one of the few Atwood graduates to earn the award. I think Harry Wigner did before me. There may have been more Atwood grads to earn the award since, but I must confess I don’t know.
At the time, I did not understand or appreciate the significance of the award.
As happens to many college freshmen, I did not focus on my studies as I should. I was having too much fun being away from home, having the freedom to go out with friends when I chose. I spent too many Thursday nights and Wednesday nights at places like Louise’s and The Hawk.
My first semester grades reflected my lack of focus. Thirteen hours of B and three hours of A. Not bad, but not good enough for a Summerfield Scholar.
What’s more, five hours of B were a complete act of charity.
I went to see my calculus professor about my final exam. As she pointed out my errors, she noticed an error of her own. She had made an addition mistake when calculating my scores from the three part exam. I hadn’t earned a B. My test score was 76% not the 86% she marked on the paper. My overall grade was just over the cusp of 80%. A final exam score of C would knock my overall grade to C, too.
My professor sat at her desk in silence for well over a minute contemplating what to do. Finally, she said, “If you wouldn’t have come to see me, I would not have found my grading error. I’ll let you keep the B.”
I was grateful at the time. I didn’t realize how lucky I was until later.
Shortly after the semester came to a close, I received a letter notifying me that I would not receive the Summerfield Scholarship the next semester due to a low GPA. Losing the $500 dollars was a blow. (A semester’s tuition in those days was $496. The first time I paid, I received four dollars change.) Even tougher was breaking the news to my parents.
It’s not always fun having parents with high expectations.
My parents, perhaps not surprisingly, were supportive and encouraging. Dad made a typical, short and to the point comment. “Earn it back,” he said lightheartedly as if he had complete confidence that I would.
That’s what I did. It took two full semesters but I finally elevated my overall GPA to just over 3.5 – the mandatory minimum for a Summerfield Scholar (it’s even tougher today, the minimum is 3.65). That’s when I fully realized the generosity of my first semester calculus professor. If she had given me a C as I deserved, I would not have raised my GPA over 3.5. I would not have been eligible to be reinstated.
These are the types of lucky breaks and acts of kindness that can change lives.
I told Emma this story because she failed a Language Arts test this week. Her teacher, too, is giving her a second chance. She has the opportunity to take the test again next week. This exam was her first major setback as a student. Sure, there have been times she could have done better. But, on balance, she is a very good student.
It was hard for Emma to ask Joni to sign the letter from her teacher informing us of the failed exam. It was even harder for her to tell me.
It’s not always fun having parents with high expectations.
In a few weeks and certainly months, we all will have forgotten about this one exam. I have complete confidence Emma will do fine on her “redo.” My hope is that Emma’s lasting lesson will be learning to deal with setbacks in school.
As parents, we want to protect our children from heartaches and even minor setbacks. We know what it’s like to fail and we don’t want our children to endure the pain.
But, we can’t always protect our children nor should we try. Our kids can’t learn what they need to know by hearing stories of our skinned knees. The important lessons come from skinning their own.
I’m not a good driver. For years, I pretended to be a good driver who had a lot of bad luck. Over time, that story didn’t hold up.
The tone was set on my sixteenth birthday. I drove Matt Cunningham and Tim Yount to Pooch’s Pizza in Herndon to celebrate (we were crazy). On the way home, I slammed on the brakes for no apparent reason. Matt flew from the back to the front seat. His head cracked the rearview mirror.
I wrecked both my parents’ cars on consecutive Saturday nights. The first time really wasn’t my fault – really. Dean Carlson and I were cruising in Colby when the car was rear ended. Dean had to do several months of physical therapy to deal with the whiplash.
The second Saturday I had more explaining to do. I was giving Brad Leitner a ride home from a wedding dance.
I started backing out before he closed the door. The door didn’t like that too much.
I even had “bad luck” from the passenger side. Riding around with Denise McMillan one night I shifted her truck from drive to reverse. We were already moving. The transmission didn’t like that too much. I think that was expensive.
It may seem strange with all that bad luck I had two driver jobs. I drove a wheat truck for Bill Lewis one summer. It worked out well. I never rolled a truck – though I had it up on two wheels a couple of times. And, I quickly learned you need to dump your load slowly. It took Tracy Buford and me at least 20 minutes to scoop out the back of the truck once so I could put the hoist back down.
I drove Mike Hayden during the ’86 Campaign for governor. I mostly did okay. There was no body damage on any of the vehicles we used. I did back over a telephone box with a mobile home in Mark Frame’s front yard while touring southwest Kansas. And, there was the time I knocked over several cones along a construction site. But, only once the whole summer did Mike say, “I think I’ll drive.”
My dad helped me buy a Dodge Daytona my sophomore year of college. That was good news for Scott Focke. I quit asking to borrow his Charger. I had a lot of trouble with Scott’s car. I was used to driving a stick shift. Scott’s car had no clutch but a really big brake pedal. My left foot hit that more than once. Apparently, you push down on a clutch a lot harder than on a brake. My passengers were luckiest if their seatbelts were fastened.
The Daytona got its share of scrapes – but mostly on the undercarriage, so it didn’t really show. I was driving a gal home from a date one night near Glenn Frame’s apartment. It was a winding road. I thought I’d show her what the Daytona could do. We went right over the curbs. Twice. The new CV joint set me back a bit. And, I didn’t have a second date.
I was only embarrassed once. I called a tow truck to help me out one day because I’d stalled on my way to Clinton Lake near Lawrence. I’d over heated or something. The tow truck driver put a little gas in the tank and said, “That should help.”
I was beginning to think it was more than bad luck when Joni and I moved to Washington, DC. We were taking Tim Fitzgibbon, a grad school friend, home. We were driving south toward Lafayette Square. That’s the big park right across the street from the White House. It was dark. I didn’t realize my speed. I didn’t realize the park was so close. We went right over the sidewalk and on to the grass.
I did a quick u-turn, squeezed between a utility box and pole and was right back on the street. No harm. No foul. Tim turned to me a little ashen and said, “That’s some of the best and worst driving I’ve ever seen.”
I finally gave in and admitted I was a bad driver when Emma was one year old. Joni and I took Emma to Ireland. We rented a car and drove all over the country. Many of the roads were barely two lanes wide with thick hedges lining both sides. I drove. Joni and Emma rode in back.
One afternoon, Emma’s bottle fell off the front seat and onto the floor. I tried to grab it. I sat back up and saw a bus coming straight toward us. The hedge seemed like our best option.
Joni and Emma stayed at a bed and breakfast while I traveled with a tow truck to get a new car. The rental agent asked me what happened. “Apparently, I’m not a very good driver,” I said.
“I’ve never heard that one before,” she replied and then dutifully noted my comment in her notes.
The first time my Honda civic was nearly totaled was good luck – for me. A woman hit me at 10 miles an hour in a parking lot. She hit the car just right to wrinkle every quarter panel. Got to take out several years of door dings.
The second time I totaled my Honda civic was just dumb. I was driving when I shouldn’t have – late after being up many hours. I fell asleep and ran a red light. I injured a woman. Fortunately, she recovered. But it was wrong and unnecessary.
In the interest of time, I’ll spare the story of my most recent trip into the ditch. Let me just say a few words. East bound. Ice. Guard rail. Median. Guard rail. West bound. Really lucky. New truck.
It’s worked out for the best, really. Joni gets motion sickness very easily. She does best in a car best when she drives. She does. And, I get more time to read when we travel. Everyone’s happy.
Perhaps especially our insurance company.
A spring break trip was a foreign concept to me. I had never heard of such a thing until people started talking about it my freshman year at KU.
In high school, I don’t even remember the phrase “spring break.” We had Easter break. I can’t remember if it was a full week or just a few days. It didn’t really matter. We had track practice during the break and we weren’t encouraged to miss that.
Our freshman year at KU, the idea came up to go skiing. I spent most of my time on Scott Focke’s floor at Ellsworth Dorm. Five people on his floor, plus Scott, me and a friend of mine from a history class decided to go. We drove as far as Atwood the first night.
Phil Priebe was one of the five from Scott’s floor. It would be his first trip to Atwood. Little did we know at the time he’d make many more.
One in our crew was from the East Bank of Israel. He claimed he’d been a member of the PLO. He spoke very little English so we had trouble asking questions to verify if his claim was true. He made us all a little nervous but he seemed like a nice enough guy.
One person traveling with us, Rob, was surprised by Dad’s grey hair. “I didn’t know your dad would be so old,” he said to me after Dad left the room.
My friend from history class, Brandon, spent his time in eastern Colorado looking for a place you could only see plains and no trees. It kept him entertained for over an hour.
The ski trip involved most of the activities you would expect of 19 year-old boys. There were a couple of pratfalls. Phil and a few others did not heed Scott’s and my advice to wear sunscreen. They spent our last day at the slopes sleeping in cars with badly burned faces.
A few of us spent our last day skiing the back bowls of Copper Mountain. I hot dogged on a green slope as we approached the bottom of our last run and broke my leg. I didn’t realize I had the stress fracture until several weeks later.
We skied through mid-week and then returned home. Phil stayed with me in Atwood. The others went on to Lawrence. Phil’s and my adventure continued when we rode back to Lawrence in Bill Beamgard’s Dodge Dart (at least, I think that’s what it was).
Bill, with our blessing, decided to take Highway 36 rather than go down to I-70 for reasons I can’t explain. We had not yet reached Oberlin when it started to snow. It came down fast, wet and heavy. A typical spring snow.
We topped a hill just west of Norton. There was nothing Bill could do. He slammed into a Trans-Am that had just rear-ended a stalled car in front. The Trans-Am fiberglass shattered and scattered. The Dodge Dart seemed just fine.
Inside the broken car was Brian Moore of Oberlin and Dawn Tonguish of Herndon. Brian was a sports rival from high school. Dawn was a fellow KU student who would go on to become an accomplished broadcaster. We made sure they had help before we pressed on.
The snow came and went but the progress was slow. We saw no other cars the rest of the day. As we approached a hill near Belleville, the Dart took a rest. It stalled. Bill tried in vain to start it again.
We climbed out of the car contemplating what to do. No farm houses in sight. No cars. Just snow. Phil captured the moment singing out, “Ahh Ahh, Kansas!” The state’s marketing song of the time.
To our great relief the Dart started again. We continued thirty to forty miles an hour. We reached Ellsworth Dorm thirteen hours after leaving Atwood – twice the normal time.
We had no cell phones. No one knew where we were. We learned that the highways were being closed right behind the whole time we drove. It was a major blizzard. We were crazy to be where we were.
Even Mark Frame, my roommate at the time, was worried. That’s when I knew it was bad.
There is no lesson from this story except that nineteen and twenty year-old boys are seldom the best decision makers.
I have thought a lot about my multi-great Uncle Edmund since joining school board. I receive many articles discussing what students should do after high school.
Uncle Edmund is a man I met only a few times in my life. He also gave me advice that changed the course of my life.
I began college as many people do with a utilitarian mindset. What major will lead me to a good job at a good salary? I began with plans to be an engineer. By the end of my freshman year, I knew that wasn’t for me. I enjoyed finance and statistics so I turned next to the business school. I was cruising along through my sophmore year satisfied with my choice. Then, out of the blue, I received a letter from Uncle Edmund.
Uncle Edmund was a former business school professor, teaching in a prominent MBA program. Seems he heard through the family grapevine that I was in business school as an undergraduate. He was not impressed.
His letter was short and to the point. It went something like this: What are you doing? If you are going to be a professional of any note, you will have to go to graduate school. Why in the world are you pursuing a professional degree at this time in your life. You are missing your last opportunity for a liberal arts education.
Uncle Edmund’s opinion carried weight in our family. I took his advice to heart and I looked into what it would take to switch to a liberal arts major. It was the best thing I ever did. I fell in love with economics, which led me toward public policy. I took classes in South African History and learned about a part of the world I’d barely heard of before, gleaning lessons of human tenacity I still think about today. I took literature classes and Western Civilization, which gave me the opportunity to read classics I would have completely missed. I had the chance to study with a history professor who ripped my essays to shreds and motivated me to stretch myself. I entered subject areas that were far outside my comfort zone. And, for the first time in my life I experience the joy of serendipitous learning – discovering things I did not know existed.
Liberal Arts is not for everyone. And, there is a need to be a bit utilitarian when it comes to investing in college. I understand that. And, thank goodness we have people who stick with the engineering. But, I also learned that it’s easy to get caught up on a practical track and miss out on a lot that education and the world has to offer.
I still earned a business degree. I was far enough along that with an extra semester I earned two degrees. I also left college with with an education I never imagined was possible because it didn’t seem the sensible thing to do.
I appreciate my Uncle Edmund.
* * *
My town is so small… How small is it?
Didn’t that type of joke become popular on the Gong Show?
* * *
I am spending the week with a group of people from all parts of the country – Washington, DC; Las Vegas; Cincinnati; Louisville, KY; Detroit and Battle Creek, Michigan.
As tends to happen when you spend an extended period of time with people, small talk turns to hometowns. Some people in the group believe that they are from small towns. Battle Creek, after all, has a population of just over 50,000. The city folk certainly think that’s small.
In this group, only I know the “truth.”
I pepper people with Atwood facts to give them perspective about a real small town. (Even casual acquaintances in Longmont will tell you I’m always at the ready to talk – bore people with? – Atwood stats).
· Population 1,300 give or take. About 3,000 in the county.
· More people lived in my college dorm than in my town.
· 44 in my high school graduating class – though Natalie Ruda has been able to boost those numbers with her effective networking with former classmates.
· The town is roughly 8 blocks by 16 blocks – plus the lake and the golf course.
· My dad would round the circumference of two or three times on his morning run.
· The nearest town of 10,000 was more than two hours away – Hays. Remember, I lived in Atwood when the speed limit was 55.
· Denver is the closest town with a population of more than 50,000. At this point in the conversation, I sometimes have to remind people from the coasts that Kansas and Colorado are boarder states.
· It took me seven hours to drive to the state college – again, the 55 mile an hour speed limit.
· I only had to make three left turns from my house in Atwood to reach my fraternity house in Lawrence – okay, that’s not really relevant but I think it’s kind of cool.
All of this begs the question, why? Why do I want people to understand Atwood’s size? It’s remoteness?
It’s a point of pride. I like people to know I’m from a place that is unique. A place some people can’t even imagine.
I confess, my pride is stoked in part by a small chip that’s been sitting on my shoulder for nearly twenty years.
When I attended grad school, I perceived and experienced a disdain for people from rural America. Not all of my classmates to be sure. But, the disdain – or perhaps disregard is a better word – for rural Americans popped up from time to time. (It’s a good reminder to me that even small, unintended insults can have a lasting impact. I know I’m guilty, too.)
One experience to which I took mild offense was unintended. The person thought she was offering a compliment. “You’re pretty smart for a person from such a small town,” she remarked.
“Did you really say that,” I asked? She’s a good person and we’re still friends.
On another occasion, I was in a campaigns and politics class. Our professor showed commercials from a variety of candidate and issue campaigns. One ad featured a man from rural Tennessee. He stood in a thicket , wearing overalls. He belted out the punch line of the ad in a thick southern drawl, “They can have my gun when they pry off my cold, dead finger.”
Many of my classmates burst out in laughter. The professor, chuckling himself, had to intervene to restore order. I overheard classmates mock the man in the ad doing very bad southern impersonations.
A classmate who grew up in rural Wisconsin was so offended he picked up his books and left. “I’m outta this place (the class not the school),” he whispered to me as he exited the room. I understood.
The chip on my shoulder is almost gone. I rarely feel its weight. But, the pride in Atwood remains.
Very few people grow up in and are shaped by a town like Atwood. I’m proud to let people know. I do so every time I have the slightest opportunity.