Thursday, July 31, 2008

On the subject of Hugs

"Daddy, I just wanna give you hug."

Welcome words to me, although when I hear them, I am usually translating it to "I want to stay up just a few seconds longer and this sounds like a good excuse."

I love hugs. I am one of those touchy-feeley guys. I am a hugger. It might not be politically correct, but I think it is a wonderful way to show affection.

While most people are logging on to hear about Karaoke from last night, I think the following will be a pleasant alternate look at the night.

Hugs received last night, with my own translations:

"Hey I have missed you." (this coming after I had to empty my hands of the plates I had.)
"How great is this?"
"Thanks for inviting me."
"It's not the same without you, happy to see you."
"Um, okay, how 'bout a hug - well now we're friends." 
"I only met you once, but I feel I know you well enough for a good hug."

After an amazing night of singing and dancing... my sweaty self still was a recipient of more hugs as people departed.

"This was nice, let's do it again sometime."
"Thanks for inviting me, and making me a part of a fun night."
"Grrrrrrrreat to see you."
Handshake - "I am just that kind of woman"
Right after - Handshake "I am still not sure about you yet."
"I don't want this evening to end."
"I feel like you are the big brother."
"Hope this one lasts till we meet again."

I know there was probably not a thought behind the hugs other than it was just a hug. However, I think you can speak volumes with how you hug... and I would rather remember them this way.

And I hope all of you that received hugs last night all received my message to you:
"I am so blessed to know you and appreciate you being a part of my life!"

The best hug was saved for long after the event, when I embraced my wife and thanked her for joining me on this special night. That translation was easy:
"I love you, but I still think you are a goofball."

Good night, Honey. I love you too.

Yours truly,
Johnny Blogger

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

On the subject of a Full Day

How can I have time to blog when there is real life to take care of?

Call it my Bloggee break.

I had my first extended meeting with a new motion graphics designer who is coming on to help my company with its growing portfolio of projects. It will be very nice to have a hungry, creative, cool individual to work with. It will also take some getting used to as I will be sharing the office I have held as a solo for so long. 

Design time for television this afternoon with authoring the look for some broadcasts my company is beginning this fall. I used to draw this exact kind of thing as a doodle when I was growing up.

SIDE NOTE: The only time I was disciplined in a major manner in high school was for doodling. A teacher threw me out of class after seeing I was doodling. Wow. I wonder where she is now. Last I heard of her, she was seen on an illicit affair with a Congressman (really)

Tonight, it's softball time where my company team vies for sole possession of first place. We are in a four way tie for first, with one of the teams being the team we are playing tonight.

Later - it's the night I have been waiting for literally for months. It's the Improv meets Karaoke night with a reunion of my old improv class. I have missed them all greatly, so it will be incredible seeing them again. I have some surprises for this performance in store.

Best of all, my better half will be making a rare appearance at one of these events as we have made arrangements for the kids to have sleepovers. I know the wife won't sing, but I hope she enjoys seeing the "unfiltered" me, as that is what she will get plenty of tonight.

One last note. Congratulations to one of my new classmates, who is now an old classmate. Rosie, who has always wanted to work full time in the theatre, has accepted a position in Austin, Texas. Yaaaay! I am sad she's leaving, and jealous that she's getting to go to Texas and I am not, but happy for her none the less!

I am sure Karaoke will be the highlight of the next blog... so until then.

Good night, Amy. Time to go to Rehab. No? No! NO?!?

Yours truly,
Johnny Blogger

Monday, July 28, 2008

On the subject of Silence

If I was literal, this blog would be blank.

As I am wanting to write, there will be words here.

The time is rare that my office is quiet. After all, I make television for a living. On those days when I am not making videos of some kind, I am planning for others. On those days, I put on my Capital Radio out of London.

Right now, I am getting set to head home, and the media player has been quit. All I hear are the rumblings of the air conditioning and the tapping on the keyboard - a sound only interrupted (many times I might add) by the pause of me finding the backspace button to correct a typo from trying to type too fast.

Silence is rare for me as I said. I sleep with the radio on. The television is on most all the time I am home. So, it is the exception for me to hear nothing.

The times when I hear nothing the best are those when I am tired, when every sound, no matter how small, resonates in my head.

I know it's a strange thing to blog about, but turn everything off for a minute and realize how interesting that moment truly is.

Now, it is time for me to hop in my car and crank up the radio for the drive home, where I will no doubt hear at least one honk, the noise from the road, and the air conditioning blasting.

Maybe one more moment of silence.

Good night. Shhhhhh.

Yours truly,
Johnny Blogger

Sunday, July 27, 2008

On the subject of Turning Left

Many of my friends don't get it. "Why would I want to watch a bunch of cars turn left for four hours?"

NASCAR is a sport that you get or you don't. If you think it is just turning left, you have missed the point. The strategy, the teamwork, the communication all has to come together to have any success in the sport.

And for me, a personal touch. I wrote two weeks ago about my incredible experience with my dear high school friend at the NASCAR race in Chicago. Now my friend has gone big league, with today's JTG Racing debut at the most famous track of them all - Indy.

(Update: Marcos Ambrose finished a respectable 22nd after having to start at the back of the pack after an engine change.)

As I travel cyberspace. I find more and more "converts" to the sport, but there are still those out there who just don't get it. That's okay. There are a lot of things I don't get either. Like fishing.

Can't say good night here... it's daytime!

Yours truly,
Johnny Blogger

Saturday, July 26, 2008

On the subject of Good Friends

There are Facebook friends. It's a town all unto itself. Through cyberspace, we share experiences and communicate.

Nothing, however, can beat the real thing, and today, I had a rare day full of friends. A rare day.

This morning, it was writing time with Steve. We are working on a screenplay that we have been toiling on for years. Okay, toiling is not a good word, although a toilet plays a major role in the story, but I digress. We always seem to have a wonderful time when we get together as we have similar senses of humor, and when we get on a roll, it's phenomenal. Today, we had Bob Barker doing a PSA for abused show dogs (but not abused in the way you'd wince at!)

For lunch, it was the guy with whom I coach basketball, Ken. While he is a Duck and I am a Husky, we get along remarkably well, and always have something to discuss other than Ducks and Huskies. His son Joe is a great athlete, and he plays on two teams with my son, Drew. Both Ken and Joe are ultracompetitive, but Ken knows when to tone it down around me. I, on the other hand, will act as his "good angel" when it comes to him getting upset on the field or on the court. We compliment each other - that's what good friends do.

Tonight, the family went to a game night hosted by our longest running couple friends, Willie and Jen. Talk about some good grubbin' and a fun time. We played a card game called Buy, which seems to be for those ultracompetitive types (maybe Ken should come along next time.) I spent most of the time letting others chime in and BUY, but actually won a couple of rounds, much to my pleasant surprise.

The countdown is on for the biggest gathering of my friends, both real life and Facebook, as well as those who are both, for the Karaoke Spectacular this Wednesday. I can't wait, and it's not because I want to sing. It's because I love being around friends.

Good night friends!

Yours truly,
Johnny Blogger

Thursday, July 24, 2008

On the subject of A Good Night

Yesterday seemed a little peppier than usual. The muscles still sore from training the day before and dreading the next day. At work, the mind was actually working well after a technical glitch derailed progress for about and hour. A late meeting was the last thing on the business agenda.

She strode in with a smile on her face. She was a candidate for an internship with my company. JW as I will call her is a person who has established that she knows what she wants to do with her life. She wants to be a television cameraman (she dispensed with the person angle.) We talked about her goals and aspirations and I shared with her that I enjoy the energy of young people, especially those who know what they want.

I showed her some simple things from the work I had done for the Husky Gymnastics team last year. In the presentation, I pointed out a few things I looked for in a production, paying close attention to two shots that were throw aways that ended up as key shots in the piece. Both shots were extreme close ups of eyes. Both told their own story.

I said to JW, "don't ever think that you will have a shot that won't mean something to someone," or something profound like that. She smiled and said, "see, not even the first day and I am already learning from you."

A shot of my eyes would have shown a smile with a small tear. Yep, I get emotional when I believe I have helped someone see their dreams.

Later in the evening, I took the mound (or is it the rubber for softball - there is no mound, just dirt - but I digress) for my weekly softball game. We barely had enough players as Marilyn returned from her elopement. We were still shorthanded and playing against the top team in the league. For two innings, no runs by either team. Softball is a game where you are supposed to score, and we were stymieing each other. In the third, they didn't score, we did - seven to be exact. As I pitched in top of the fourth, no soup for them. Then we blasted off for three more runs. We were winning by 10 and I thought the game was over with the mercy rule. I was one inning early, and the other team has to score at least one run. So now I know.

The opponents scored two, then shut us out, then scored two more. We buckled down and scored three more runs to make it 13-4. One more run, and the game would be over. One more out, and they would have another chance.

Rewind to last season, when we faced the top team, and gave up 9 runs in the last inning to lost the game.

Back to the present and I am up. I had struck out once doing an Ichiro impersonation trying to save my shoulder and go left. I was back to the right, and should I say proper stance. Somewhere, a bolt of energy flew through my body and I smashed the ball, driving in the "game winning" run. My teammates gathered around me and gave me lots of congratulations. It was the single best sports moment of my competitive life. Nothing in high school ever matched it.

As I got into my car, I opened up my e-mail as I usually am compelled to do and there was an e-mail from my former colleague Tiffany. I had written her to send best wishes about her baby, and to let her know about a business lead.

I thought Tiffany had left her Seattle life behind, and me with it. She was the most talented person to ever work for me, and I have never been able to replace her. I thought she had gone on to her own life, and just moved on.

The note I got said something a lot different. She called me a mentor, although she taught me much more than I thought I taught her. She was extremely grateful, and had not left me behind. I had made an impact on someone who was looking to see her dreams. The same tear that had popped up earlier in the day came back.

Making a difference in people's lives is what I live my life for. So to have so many experiences in doing just that made it a good night, and one that I will put in my pocket for those days when life doesn't seem to make sense.

Good night, fellow players. I look forward to the next chapter.

Yours truly,
Johnny Blogger

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

On the subject of The Facebook News Flash

The Train of Thought Sketch Comedy people have nailed Facebook properly. Not with hammer and nails, but rather in their own comedic way.

John Boyle, Kaci Aitchison, and Ryan Miller are all members of Jet City Improv, and are talented comics as well. I wanted to share the old version and the new version that just debuted on current TV (Al Gore's cable network.)

The Facebook News Network
and the new and improved Facebook News Flash.

Thanks you guys for making me laugh again.

Good night, oh wait. I have been tagged in a photo!

Yours truly,
Johnny Blogger

Monday, July 21, 2008

On the subject of Listless Lists

My stomach is growling.

I have a list of things to do.

1. Make a list of things to do.
2. Remember to do the things on the list of things to do.
3. Keep to your list of things to do.
4. Do not under any circumstances forget items 1-3.

The fact that this list could be better is tempered by the fact that I seriously need to eat.

Okay, back to the list.

5. Eat.

Oh, now I see.

Good night, Mr. Simons. DO IT!

Yours truly,
Johnny Blogger.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

On the subject of Love and Passion... sports style

Watching a major league home town team can be about as frustrating as anything, especially when they don't look very major league.

Just a little over a week ago, I witnessed a home town team team that looked very major league. So what is the difference?

The Seattle Mariners are a high salary, high class organization that has a fan base that jumps on and off the bandwagon as fast as they can. Their loyal fan base, and I will repeat LOYAL fan base is made up of those baseball fans who understand the meaning of team. I saw more senior citizens with their Mariners gear and discussing how they love their team than any of the beer drinking younger fans.

The Chicago Cubs, the lovable losers for years on end, have become one of baseball's best. Their fans always have been, and it comes with a loyalty factor that is easy to understand. Cubbies fans root for the name on the front, not the name on the back.

It seems like so many of today's players play for the name on the back. They get paid very well to do so. When you witness a team come together like the Cubs have, what is not to love.

On those summer afternoons in South Carolina, I loved watching Harry Caray and Steve Stone on WGN, and loved watching the Cubs. Seeing them in person made that love grow, in the same eyes of the person who watched them over 20 years ago.

I wore a Mariners jersey to the game today, hoping to get that feeling for my home team, but I could not wear it with the passion that I would of a Nationals jersey (my true hometown team - or more accurately the team that represents my home town) or the new found, but old school passion of my new Cubs jersey.

What I miss is the passion. What I miss is the love. It's what I imagine being an ex-husband might feel like after a sad divorce from a wife who just didn't care.

I want to care. I want to feel like my team does.

Good night, Brooks. You understood the passion long ago.

Yours truly,
Johnny Blogger

Saturday, July 19, 2008

On the subject of Sharing

With your faithful blogger being in an nutritional adjustment period, going out to dinner isn't all that fun anymore. Can't just walk in and order the steak and potato with Caesar salad. (I could, but why would I be paying so much for a personal trainer if I just did that?)

It does have one very great benefit though. I share all my meals with my wife. We have gotten into a habit lately of ordering and sharing. Tonight, it was a soup (chili) and salad combination with a crabcake appetizer. Half for her, half for me. In addition to creating a constant repartee with my wonderful honey, it allows us to save a little dough. And we don't overeat.

When it came to double dipping, my wife said to me "honey, we're married," so I guess that is another benefit. 

Sharing is fun. Conversation is created, and the benefits abound.

Goon night, dessert menu. Nice to have known you.

Yours truly,
Johnny Blogger

Friday, July 18, 2008

On the subject of Writing

Laughter is by far the only thing that keeps me sane. Writing something that makes me laugh is the only prescription that is better than more cowbell. (I got a feavah.)

My friend Steve and I have been writing a screenplay for many years, and we are in the clubhouse turn of finishing it. Real life has interrupted our flow, but every time we regroup, we find something else to recharge the batteries of creativity.

The story is about someone in television whose reality is more entertaining than the reality show she produces. It was an idea borne of the days when I thought I would leave sports to make a run in other kinds of programming. I still just do sports, but if there is anything that has a real chance of ever being sold, this script would be it. 

Okay, I will brag a little. (I'm entitled.) Some of the scenes in this script are easily the most outrageous things you would ever see in a movie. There is one sexy scene where the moans come from a place one would never guess. It's not something sick, just very very clever in these days. And the commercial takeoff that begins the movie is so real, it would scare you into believing that someone would be crass enough to introduce a product like that. 

My love for writing began with my Dad, who could write letter like no one else I have ever known. I have been told that I inherited his knack for the written  word, and for that, I will be forever thankful.

The turning point in my love for comedy writing came in 1992 when Scott Hudson (former WCW announcer) and Steve Prazak joined me in a venture called the Shenanumake Post. Simply stated, the Post was the Mad Magazine for the insider's world of professional wrestling. I believe we may have had maybe 40-60 paid readers, but the number of people who have told us they read it number in the hundreds. It was the kind of publication that would be copied and passed around locker rooms and rent-a-cars by the wrestlers themselves as they went from town to town.

For example, our year end issue was in June. We had results from all over the independent wrestling world, where the name of every promotion, arena and 80 percent of the wrestlers were made up in the spot. One of the promotions: They've come to kill the Rooster. The arenas: The Hermione Gingold Arena, The Larry Storch Sports Porch, and the Donnie Most Pavillion. Some of my favorite wrestlers: Clamidia Randolph, The Preverbal Pharton Hurle.

Our writing sessions were, and still are, among the best times of my life. The laughs we shared, the emotions we transcribed, the jokes we told, would be best kept in a treasure chest of memories. 

We were far from done with our creativity when my life took a turn and I moved from Atlanta to Seattle, thus ending the run of the Post. Every time there is a conversation between any two of us, we always come up with something that would be great "for the January Issue," which if ever published with all those thoughts from the last decade+ would fill many volumes. One of these days, I might have to see if I could figure out a way to republish them as they are as fresh today as they were back then.

So if you ever wondered why I write this blog, now you know. I just live to type until my carpal tunnel acts up. With no idea of how many people actually read these, I might just be typing to myself, but the joy I get out of the process is very nourishing. 

Now as long as my personal trainer says it's not part of the foods to avoid, I'll keep going. And even if he does, screw it, I am not giving this one up!

Good night, Pepsi. I miss you!

Yours truly,
Johnny Blogger

Thursday, July 17, 2008

On the subject of Motivation

Looking around my office.

There's a library of 19 CD's waiting for me on that shelf over there on the subject of motivation.

There's a list of things that I need to get done before the football and volleyball season begins.

There's a picture of me when I was nine years old and I still cared about who wins and who loses.

There are seven golden ladies named Emmy that might need company.

There are four really cool art boards on the wall, all with faded pictures on them, and a box of blank photo paper on my desk.

There is my favorite team picture of the Husky Gymnastics team with that funny guy in the front on the computer. I miss them.

There is a certificate of award for Service to Sports, unselfishly rendered, from my school. I need to get in touch with some classmates especially after last week's experience with my high school best friend.

There's a white board with out of date projects on it.

There's a poster for Studio 60, the last show I watched for the writing, which reminds me that Steve and I have to finish the script we've been working on.

There's an artistic sculpture of a Dad with a kid on his shoulders, which reminds me to spend more time with my kids. But do they want to spend time with me?

There's a bottle of water that is half empty and another in the refrigerator, both of which I need to finish by the end of the day.

There's so much to do, and seemingly so little time.

Time to get some motivation. Is there a store where I can pick some up?

Good night, calendar. I see you sneaking up on me.

Yours truly,
Johnny Blogger

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

On the subject of the Nutritional Adjustment Day 2 and other short takes

I just finished logging in my food intake for the day and I can go splurge on 747 calories if I want. "La de fricking dah" as my mentor, Matt Foley (motivational speaker) would say.

It's a little better today. Personal trainer workout number one is tomorrow. Yikes.

Improv class - 201 Part 2. Oh my gawd. You have to meet Science. A one of a kind. She is going to steal every scene.

Karaoke - just two weeks away!

That's it. That's all. Time to Hassle the Hoff on Tivo.

Good night Piers, don't buzz me plea BUZZZZZZ. Fine.

Yours truly,
Johnny Blogger

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

On the subject of a Difficult Start

(Note before I start... if you want to see the pictures to go with the NASCAR and Chicago journals, I have links and entire album links on the posts... now, back to the show.)

I have a headache.

I think I am hungry, in need of caffeine, in need of a Pepsi, and in need of comfort food.

In an effort to attempt to at least live until my kids can get married, I began trying to take care of myself again, in tandem with my honey. We hired a personal trainer for five sessions, and today was our preliminary meeting.

Here's what I can eat... things that are good for me.

Here's what I can't have... my intake of Pepsis that I have basically had since I was a kid. Okay, I can have one or two, but it would make more sense if I just switched to Diet. Except I HATE DIET! I HATE IT! I HATE IT!

My love is taking this very seriously, complete with a body monitor to help her understand her calorie intake/burning. She seems to be more ready for this than I am, which is ironic as I was the one that pushed her into it.

As I sat at the desk hearing from Leo, our trainer, I was holding back tears. I didn't know if I could do this, still don't. I can handle the physical workouts... bring em on. It's just changing my habits, and that scares the hell out of me.

But as I said, I'd like to be old someday.

I'll let you know how I am doing, but right now, I have to go to the WC as the W that I am supposed to drink a lot of is going right through me.

God, I want a Pepsi!

Good afternoon scale. I hate you already!

Yours truly,
Johnny Blogger

Sunday, July 13, 2008

On the subject of a Vroom with a View

The story of Chicago continues.. if you have not read part one... click here!

Thursday morning, I left the Hilton Chicago and boarded a train south to recapture the past and zoom into the present and future. The Rock Island Line traverses through neighborhoods that range from those that look like they need some love to those right out of a John Hughes movie (Uncle Buck, Ferris Buehler). The hour and 25 minute ride was not on the express route, so I saw every little detail.

About 15 years ago, when making a connection in Charlotte, I made a phone call to one of my closest friends from high school, Tad. At the time, he was working for Proctor and Gamble. When I made that same connection with my new family in tow 10 years ago, Tad had moved into a new venture, and invited me to his new office. The catch was that we kept missing each other in person, as he was always traveling on business.

Tad’s “new venture” is now matured into a full fledged NASCAR operation, with two teams in the Nationwide Series, preparing for a Sprint Cup run next year. During an e-mail conversation a few years ago, Tad invited me to a race, and with the IDEA Conference happening the same week, finally the stars had aligned.

As I set foot off the train, bags in hand, there was Tad, looking pretty much like he did in high school. Okay, we both had matured (gained a little weight – he less than I) but still, it was as though time had stood still. He was in the middle of his business day, which meant there was no time to stand still. The destination was my home for the weekend – Chicagoland Speedway.

As soon as we reached the infield and picked up my credentials, I dropped my bags at the RV. Tad tosses me a Kingsford Racing hat and we headed right over to the garage where he introduced me to everyone. Right and left, handshakes… Greg, Scott, Turtle, and dozens of others… and then Kelly Bires and Marcos Ambrose, the drivers of the 47 and 59. 

Airguns were whirring, jacks were going up and down, engines were starting. The atmosphere was electric. As we sat in the hauler, which serves as part storage, part shop, part team headquarters, a very tall man comes in and sits down next to me. I recognized him immediately, although he introduced himself right away. 

“Brad Daugherty, nice to meet you.”

The former NBA and UNC hoops star is now with ESPN and involved with NASCAR, and he and Tad have been long time friends. Business was being spoken all around me from sponsorships to tech talk, I was being immersed in the world of racing in a big way. He handed me a headset and said, it’s time for practice, whereby we headed up for the spotters’ tower.

Marcos Ambrose can read a car like most people read a classic novel. With every turn, he knows where one act ends and the next scene begins. Unlike most books, this one is being written just words before being read, and through the headsets, I heard perfect comprehension.

Following the rained out second practice, Marcos shared another talent with me. He cooked dinner! Nothing like having a dinner cooked by someone you will watch on TV for the next many weeks.

Following the great spaghetti caserole, Tad and I spent the evening in the RV recapturing the last 27 years. We had spoken many times, but this was the first time we had actually had the chance to see each other.

You know the people that you see at a reunion that haven’t changed. Tad is one of those people. Every bit of intelligence, humor, and calmness was still there. He always looked like he was tired, but this was a focused man, with a million things on his mind, and challenges too numerous to mention. 

That night, we ventured out to see the fan festival that is NASCAR. Gretchen Wilson was set to perform, and we took a golf cart out to the party zone. As we were walking around, and Gretchen was taking the stage, a wall of black the likes of which I had never seen approached. We rushed back to the golf cart, and it hit. A severe thunderstorm swept through the area. Thousands scampered, and we were in a golf cart trying to get back to the RV that was our weekend home. We were drenched by the time we made it back. Record rainfall hit the area, and I thought we were going to end up in Kansas. Tad just laughed. He said this is about an every night occurrence in the south and midwest. I had forgotten.

We woke up. The RV was still there, and so were we. It was a fantastically beautiful, but sweltering. Race day was upon us. Tad spent the day in meetings. I spent the day going behind the scenes. Stops included the ESPN studio with Brad Daugherty, the tech meetings, garage adjustments, tech inspection, pit road, and the air conditioned comfort of the RV. Okay, that last one was just for survival.

At 5 pm, the drivers and sponsors arrived at the RV for dinner. Roy and the crew had cooked up a great BBQ with burgers and hot dogs. Pictures with Tad and both drivers were part of the festivities and I picked up some autographs for the kids. It was about that time that Tad asked me what I wanted to do for the race. My choices… be a member of the Pit Crew as a tire catcher or help him be a spotter high above the race. I said “pit crew? Are you kidding me? What happens if I mess up?”

Calmly he said it would be a one lap penalty if I missed the tire, and I said calmly, I think I will go up with you and spot. The thrill of just being asked was enough, but my heart couldn’t take the possibility of messing up catching a red hot tire that weighs about 85 pounds.

Seeing the race from the spotters’ perch is a different experience. You don’t watch a race like you would on tv. You concentrate on one driver, examining his every move, being his eyes for what surrounds him and what is approaching. Listening to the communications between Tad and Marcos sounded so simple, yet so important. As Marcus would prepare to pass a driver, the verbiage was short and sweet.

“Outside. Outside. Got him. Door. Quarter. Bumper. Clear, Clear.” 

I always laughed at the repitition of Clear Clear, but it is just the way it’s done.

As the 59 prepares to pit, Tad counts down the pit stalls to where Marcos has to stop.

“3700, entering, 3, 2, 1 your in.”

The Kingsford team finished 15th. Marcos was running the same time or better than the leader for the last half of the race, but track position was not on his side. 100 laps, and not a wreck, and only one spin. It looked more like a parade, but with all the strategy, it had its drama.

Following the race, we went down on the track, then to the garage area where the teams packed up faster than you could imagine. Within an hour after the race, nearly everything was loaded in the hauler with military precision. And with it, my friend Tad said his goodbye.

Some of you might be wondering why my friend would be leaving after his friend who traveled 2000 miles to see him. It was his wife’s birthday, and he wanted to be home. It is one of the things I like the most about Tad – his unwavering loyalty. He was very apologetic. I said, please think nothing of it… in this business, family time the exception, not the rule.

I slept by myself in the RV… and again, a gully washer hit. Not as bad, but pretty big.

Cup day, and there was not much to do but relax. Tad did not have a driver in the race, so it was laid back. However, the Air Force Car, the 21, driven by Bill Elliott, was marketed by Tad’s company.

About two pm or should I say 1400 hours, the men in blue arrived, including a 3 Star General. Many “Sirs” were exchanged, and everyone was incredibly nice, especially Lt Col. Traughber, who talked helped guide me through who was whom. I was introduced to everyone as “Tad’s friend.” It seemed to make a lot of sense to everyone. I did not feel like I was out of place, as everyone greeted me and treated me like a VIP.

One problem though made things interesting. I was there on a Nationwide pass, which meant for all intents and purposes I should have not been there. Since I was living in the RV, they weren’t going to check for anything, but it also meant that the Driver/Owner lot was like my country, with no passport. If I left, I might not have returned. I was very comfortable with my surroundings and they fed me well again so it was all great. My seat for the race would be on top of the RV, and that was perfect for me.

All the others were shuttled off to the pits and garage for tours and pictures and tons of autographs. My son had asked me all weekend if I had seen Jimmie Johnson, his favorite driver. The group had that opportunity. I was in Nationwideville with no visa out. Until Troy came along.

Troy is one of the sponsorship people for JTG Racing, Tad’s company. It was his job to take care of the sponsors to make them feel like they had the most incredible experience at every race. He led the garage tours (along with two others) and shook a lot of hands. He came up to me and said “I’m trying.” I asked him what he was trying. He said, “I’m working on it.”

Unbeknownst to me, he was working on a pass for me to go to the garage and pits. He borrowed one and said, “Let’s go!” Off we went to the garages, but he said to follow him closely. There we were, on pit road and he asked me who I wanted to see. So I had my picture taken with some of the cars… until there is was – the 48. It was not Jimmie himself, but the car! I thought my son would at least be impressed.

Back to the RV for the race. I stood on top of the RV and had the perfect 360 degree view of the race. I could see everything on the track except the actual pit stops. Happily, the RV below me had their TV tuned to the race. Roy, the driver of the RV and one of the nicest people I have ever met, set me up with a scanner to hear all the communications. I was ready.

The vroom of the race and the prerace flyover was pretty deafening (still not as loud as the Cubby Bear, or so it seemed.) I listened to different drivers and spotters channels, but I felt lost. I was able to find the MRN radio broadcast, and suddenly, I knew just where to look. There was another benefit as well.

Brook, my new friend from Sprint Vision at the IDEA conference, had told me that listening to MRN on the scanner meant hearing the backhaul. Instead of commercials, I could hear the banter between commentators. She said it would be amazing. It was. If anyone is looking for a cast for a comedy show, look no further than these guys.

As soon as Amanda, the producer, said “clear,” the action began.

“I ate 5 of the Jim Beam chap sticks, and didn’t feel a thing! I guarantee you my intestines will never get chapped!”

“Did you sign an affadavit?... No, but I will happily have one of those with an extra shot after the race.”

Kyle Busch and Jimmie Johnson raced side by side for the final laps including the Green, White, Checkered finish, when Busch (who I might add is waaaaay more unpopular than his Presidential namesake – I’m not kidding) pulled away for the win.

After the race, I was glowing… and worn out. Roy would be my roomie for the final evening, and we had a nice chat. With Roy, you never have to search for a topic, and that’s a good thing. About midnight, with fireworks popping from the revelers who still wanted to party, it was time to call it a night.

Sunday morning, and the crew got some news. The track manager told the RV drivers unexpectedly that they needed to vacate the premises by three. They all thought they were not going to leave until Monday as their next destination was St. Louis, but they couldn’t pull in there until later in the week. So my ride to the train station by Roy was now going to be two hours early.

There is nothing open in Downtown Joliet on Sunday. So I had nothing to do, until I heard music playing from the beautiful ball park across the street from the station. Silver Cross Field is the home to the minor league Joliet Jackhammers, but on this day, it was American Legion ball. It gave me the opportunity to raise the number of facilities I toured on my trip to 6, and give my customary phone call to my best friend.

So now, it’s time to go home. As I am typing this, I am on the train from Joliet to Chicago (we are leaving Oak Park now and the doors are about to close!) From there, I will catch a CTA L to O’Hare and have about a 3 hour wait for my plane. I will take the time to have a big meal before getting on the plane to head home. From start to finish, it will be about a 14 hour journey.

I’ll be happy to hit my own bed tonight (my pillow took the trip with me so we don’t need to be reintroduced.) The nicest part though will be seeing my wife and kids after being gone for eight days.

Chicago will hold a very dear place in my heart forever. I’ll admit it, I am getting a little teary as I write these words. There are times you rediscover why it is you enjoy life so much, and this was one of those moments. From the new friends I made, to the new experiences I shared, to catching up with one of my dearest friends after 27 years… I will carry this inside my soul and cherish it.

Good night, Windy City. You’re my kind of town!

Yours truly,

Johnny Blogger

The full album for the race is available now on Picasa Web Albums, and on my Facebook page.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

On the subject of Chicago and the IDEA Family

Greetings from Turn One…Saturday afternoon… from the infield at Chicagoland Speedway, where the Sprint Cup race will take place in just a few hours. It is just the opportunity to bring you up to speed on the past week... or at least start.

Life is a series of experiences. If that be true, I have lived a lifetime over the past week.

I arrived in Chicago last Sunday, and moved straight to experience one. Instead of taking the taxi to the hotel, I chose to ride the L – the CTA train from O’Hare to downtown. I was told it would let me off a couple of blocks from the hotel. I had taken many a trip on the Washington DC Metro growing up. This trip was old time subway and elevated. Interesting, until the two blocks walk turned to about 10 wheeling a 50 pound bag and a briefcase.

The IDEA Conference, a gathering of all the people who bring you the big screen shows at your arenas and stadiums, was an educational experience. People who do their jobs very well, shared their knowledge and experience with veterans and novices alike. Last season, I was the novice, this year, the sophomore. There was lots to learn, but this year, I could teach as well.

The conference was the reason for the trip. The people I met, and the things we did after the work was done is the basis for a compendium of memories.

Upon arriving, I missed the opening reception, (thanks to not taking a taxi like I should have.) Thankfully Pete from NC State and the Carolina Hurricanes recognized me from last year, and invited me to join a group at Bar Louie. Famished, I enjoyed the Italian Beef Sandwich. On my own, I was happy to have company… and lots of it as our small group turned to be a table for 10, then 20.

You never know whom you will click with as friends. Most people were at the conference as part of a big group. For me, it was just little ol’ me. (Okay, I am not little.) One other traveling solo was Owen from UT-Chattanooga. We came from similar backgrounds, and were guys who had to play multiple roles to be successful in our jobs. We arrived as strangers, we left as friends.

Night one of the conference meant a trip to the United Center and Soldier Field. Most of the night was spent looking at other peoples work, voting for the best. The rest of the night was open bar, which for someone who has not had a drink since the early nineties, meant I was going to spend a lot of time people watching.

Owen and I were in awe of the facilities, seeing massive and multiple screens where we each have smaller and a lot less screens to work with. We admired the work that went into the presentations, and silently wished we had more to do, but were happy with what we have.

We headed back on the bus. Me, sitting next to a very well inebriated member of the college sports community. Long bus ride, no problems though.

On day two, the university breakout was dedicated to judging the best video board in College Sports. Being my first year, I was not thinking I had a shot. Seeing the others, I didn’t, but following the presentations, many of my counterparts were extremely complimentary of my work. It was a rewarding moment.

Following a busy day, it was off to fulfill a childhood dream. I finally got to go to Wrigley Field.

The aroma of brats wafted through the air. Fans streamed through the streets, stopping at the neighborhood taverns, bursting with people, and amazing energy. It was the stuff of legend… Waveland Avenue. Cubbies fans shouting from the rooftops, and the game was ninety minutes away.

Time stood still. Actually, it was moving backwards. In the years I have worked in sports, I have lost the passion of having a love for one team. In front of my eyes, I stood in the midst of people who still had theirs, and I was caught up in it full force. So much so, I went into Wrigleyville Sports and proceeded to purchase a genuine Cubs Jersey and gameday cap. I looked like Mr. Cub, which was the nickname I earned as I walked into the stadium and into our section. Others had t-shirts and hats; I had the full meal deal... and heard it from everyone in our group.

As the game went on, my friend Owen and I sat next to each other scoring the game, just as I had done as a kid. I was seeing the game as a man of forty-five through the eyes of a boy of nine. Baseball seemed innocent again. The aura of Wrigley was working its magic.

During one inning break, the old TV’s in the rafters displayed an advertisement for Big Red gum. The screen said, “Slim as the chance you will see a Jumbotron replay.” How ironic… a group of Jumbotron operators enjoying a game where there was very little technology in sight.

William Petersen of CSI fame sang “Take me out to the Ballgame,” and I sang it out like Harry Caray would have wanted me to. I even added the customary “let’s get some runs!” Cubs won 7-1 in a game full of web gems. A perfect night.

After the game, Owen and I went over to the legendary watering hole known as the “Cubby Bear.” A very loud cover band provided the soundtrack, and my ears were in a losing battle. After a victory though, “Mr. Cub” was getting high fives from many a drunken stranger… and it was a good thing.

About 11, we took the L back to the hotel. My mind was in the most peaceful place it had been in months.

The final day of the conference put me front and center as a seminar panelist. Mr. Small Production Company sitting next to one of the biggest content providers in the industry. It was a case of big corporation vs. small business. In the court of audience opinion, I was told people liked my style.

We had about 90 minutes before our final event of the conference, and I realized I had not seen any of the real Chicago. I was staying at the Hilton, which had Grant Park, as it’s front yard. So I went zooming out the door, camera in hand, inspired by the funny photos that my improv group takes when they are on a road trip. This one from the Buckingham Fountain (a/k/a the Married with Children fountain). 

On the final night, we went to US Cellular Field, and it was there that I enjoyed the company of Brook and Eric from Sprint Vision. Brook is the kind of woman you could enjoy being around at any time, and it turned out that we had a lot in common when it came to our relationship with our spouses. She seems to be one lucky lady. Eric is a walking encyclopedia of everything. You name it, he knows it, and he exudes the joy of knowing it at every turn. He’s the kind of guy you would never beat at trivia, but he also is someone that you would want working next to you, as he is amazing at noticing details.

The White Sox let us on the field, and I mean on the field. Here, Brook and I decided to cut it up a bit, and then Todd (from Flying Spot in Seattle) and I engaged in a game of you taking a picture of me taking a picture of me you taking a picture of you. Everyone thought we were nuts. (We are.)

It was time to judge the final awards, and my Pac-10 counterpart at Arizona, Greg, and I paid close attention to every one's work, hoping desperately that we could have our shows reach that pinnacle someday.

The evening ended with Karaoke, and after 3 night of sponsor led open bars at the conference, the teetotaler led off the festivities by dedicating Rehab to the group. Brook and Eric kept the night interesting, with Brook doing the “Humpty Dance” (it’s a rap song – get your mind out of the gutter!) and Eric doing a song that looked 180 degrees from his personality. Then there were the highlights from the other singers, like John Adams (not that one) doing the Bee Gee's Tragedy better than Barry F'in Gibb, and leading one regular to the bar to ask "where in the hell did these people come from." And then there were the Backstreet Hokies, who dedicated a song to me, which was very nice and very scary all at the same time.

We all cabbed it back to the conference, and said our goodbyes.

Owen, Brook, Eric, and family of IDEA… they are people I will miss dearly, and hope that we will cross paths again. They are people I could see having over for a barbeque,  or catching an improv show or catching a ball game with,  but most live very far away. I have to be happy with e-mail, or Facebooking with them. And thankfully for me, another journey into cyberspace will allow me to keep being their friends… and not just Facebook friends!.

Tomorrow… Adventures from Turn One, and the Chicagoland Speedway.

Click here for the IDEA Chicago Album or go to my Facebook page.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

On the subject of Late Night part two

I have to catch a flight... and can't get to sleep.

I hate it when that happens. A full Ambien and I still can't settle down. 

So many things to think about... and a big trip.

Off to Chicago for a convention, with no doubt lots of stories to blog about.

But as you know.... late nights for me can be a bitch!

Let's just hope it's not too late.

By the way, the Karaoke hit of the night was me doing both parts of "Paradise by the Dashboard Light."

Good night. I hope.

Yours truly,
Johnny Blogger

Saturday, July 5, 2008

On the subject of the Fourth

Another Fourth of July has arrived and gone... well, actually the Fourth always goes into the Fifth... way into the Fifth... at least that is what I heard this morning.

In some ways I hate the Fourth of July. It brings back some very bad memories and makes new ones each year. Happily, this year was an exception, for the most part.

As someone who grew up just outside of Washington, DC, the holiday should be like New Year's to a person from NYC. It's just not.

I love our country, not as much as my Dad, but I sometimes can't stand the people. Now I might get some comments here, but hear me out first. What is it about the Fourth that makes people forget what the definition of "legal" is? 

Every Fourth is like a war zone in my neighborhood, and I think I live in a pretty nice place. The citizens of my neighborhood have fireworks stands available to them at nearly every corner. There are more fireworks stands than there are Starbucks... and this is Seattle! (Okay - a suburb - but you get the idea.)

It is illegal in our county to have any firework that propels itself into the air. Firecrackers. OK. Roman Candles. OK. Small gauge noise makers. OK. But every year, without fail, it seems like everyone has gone to a Reservation and bought fireworks that are illegal every where except the reservation. Thus, there are very loud booms and the remnants of the rockets red glare end up on my wooden shingle roof. When it does not rain, we have to water our roof to avoid a fire that will burn down our house... and we've seen it happen to others.

I am all for celebrating, but like many things in this country, there is a sense of entitlement. People think they can just take the rules and regulations and use them when they find it convenient. Want to fund a sports arena? Have cops stand busy intersections and ticket people who don't understand it's a right turn on red AFTER a stop. Want to cut the state deficit? Send some patrols around on the Fourth and hand out tickets for illegal fireworks violations. Want to lose a basketball team, live in Seattle and trust your elected officials and a robberbarren Okie. (I digress.)

Okay, call me a party pooper. (Thousands scream in unison... "Hey, Jon, you're a party pooper!") I just believe in what is just. 

Did I always follow the rules? Speed limits... probably not, but I don't weave. Drinking age? Admittedly no, but I was never so drunk that I could not take care of my friends. Otherwise, I try... I TRY to do what is right. Not perfect, never will be, but I will always try to be a good example for my children and my contemporaries.

I'll admit I am a prejudiced person. I hate stupid people. I mean people who have a choice to be stupid, and take it. It's like I say to my kids all the time... what part of NO don't you understand.

Alright, time to step off my soapbox... and return you to your country already in progress.

Good night, my fellow Americans.

Yours truly,
Johnny Blogger

Thursday, July 3, 2008

On the subject of Life's Challenges

Sometimes, we have no idea how lucky we are.

In the past 24 hours, I have been floored by things I have read about people with whom I have shared a significant part of my life. In both cases, we have not kept in touch, merrily walking down our own paths, not seeing what challenges the others have faced, or are facing. Then, we take a glimpse onto their road and simply say, oh my God.

The first was an e-mail I received from a close friend from college. We had dated in my freshman year, but were always more friends, but very deep soultouching friends. A heart condition took her away from school and took her back home, so our friendship was lost to the battle of distance, but her place in my life remains.

Now to that e-mail. She shared details with me of her life since college, and while I will not public ally share her thoughts, I can say this. The courage to share true feelings with someone so many years later is truly a gift from above, especially when those words can be fraught with unknowing territory that could easily alienate even the closest of friends. Before I moved to Atlanta and expanded my circle of friends, the words I received last night would have made me run away, with a lack of knowledge and compassion sending me in that direction. Now, I believe her choices have made her even stronger and a better person.

One remarkable story she did share, and that I will share with you is one of a journey none of us would ever want to take, but one she feels is a lucky blessing. My friend drowned and died a couple of years ago.

Let that sit with you for a moment. She died.

For some reason that is known only to her, she was revived and lived on, but for those moments, she had passed, and was given a pass back. She shares with me now that everything, from even watching an ant on a blade of grass, is an adventure. She learned that life was not something that should ever be taken for granted, and passed on those words to me as I look at my life. Those words rank among the most powerful I have read in my lifetime.

One e-mail had me searching my soul, and exploring my own thoughts... incredible enough if it ended there.

Fast forward to this afternoon, I was surfing around the net, seeing if Tiffany Verzal, a former editor for my company, was going to be at a convention I am attending next week. I had given her an opportunity right out of college, and now, because of her great talent, is working at a University with her husband, making great videos and television.

Tiff had made the choice to leave her Seattle life behind and has not kept in touch. I was saddened by her choice, but people have a reason for moving on, and while I love to rekindle connections, some people want to cut and move on. There is no right or wrong about it... it's just personal choice.

Casually, I went to the school's website, where the athletic director blogs about his staff. My hopes were to see what my former colleague was up to, and if she and her husband were going to be at the conference - one they attend every year. They had missed last year's though, as Tiffany had just given birth to a beautiful daughter.

So off I went to the blog, expecting something that would be good and allow me to catch up with a friend. That is when I read the following...

The last month and a half have been quite a challenge for two of our 12th Man Productions staffers Brandon and Tiffany Verzal. Their 14-month old daughter Alexis is undergoing rehab related to a serious brain trauma. It's a heart wrenching story which has captured the heart of our entire Athletic Department family, and also touched people around the country who have read about Alexis on the internet.

The outpouring of support for the Verzal family continues. Our soccer coach G. Guerrieri is dedicating his foundation's fund raising efforts this year in support of Alexis' medical expenses. You can learn more about this special child on

Floored. No other way to put it. Hours after being uplifted by a message of hope, the world seems to drop an anvil straight out of a Looney Tunes cartoon. Floored.

I will eventually write her a note, but realize she has a lot more to do than read e-mails from people she may or may not want to hear from. What I can do is try to spiritually give her some support from others. I urge you to click on the article above and read about their struggles, and if you can... put them in your thoughts and prayers.

Yes, we all face life's challenges. We can be empowered by their results. We can be devastated by them as well. If it were not for being lost in this cyberspace, I would have gleefully walked down my own path and not known either of these stories. Never have I been so privileged to have been lost.

Good night, baby Alexis... we're thinking about you!

Yours truly,
Johnny Blogger