Thursday, July 31, 2008
Wednesday, July 30, 2008
Monday, July 28, 2008
Sunday, July 27, 2008
Saturday, July 26, 2008
Thursday, July 24, 2008
Tuesday, July 22, 2008
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!
Monday, July 21, 2008
Sunday, July 20, 2008
Saturday, July 19, 2008
Friday, July 18, 2008
Thursday, July 17, 2008
Wednesday, July 16, 2008
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.
Tuesday, July 15, 2008
Sunday, July 13, 2008
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.
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.
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!
The full album for the race is available now on Picasa Web Albums, and on my Facebook page.
Saturday, July 12, 2008
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
Saturday, July 5, 2008
Thursday, July 3, 2008
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 CoachG.com.
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!