Category Archives: Beyond

Looking Back at Some Columnists from the Golden Age of Column Writing Who Inspired Me to Always Write from the Heart and Strive to Make a Difference

The other day as I was pondering, “over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,” as Edgar Allan Poe would say, I was reminded of some of the columnists who inspired me to get into the column writing field.

Throughout my career as a journalist I have written from the features desk, the sports desk, the news desk, the opinion desk, and pretty much any other desk that could be found in a newsroom. While I have written stories of all types and interviewed countless people, columns have always held a special place in my heart ever since I wrote my first column for my high school newspaper. From an early age I dreamed of one day becoming a syndicated columnist whose words were read coast to coast.

Growing up in Orlando, FL in the days before the internet, my exposure to columnists mostly came in the form of the Orlando Sentinel. The two columnists I followed the most were Sentinel columnists Larry Guest and Bob Morris.

Thanks to the newspaper arriving at my parents’ house each morning, I was able to read their columns while eating breakfast and getting ready to head to school. Years later, despite the availability of electronic forms of news delivery, my parents still receive a physical newspaper each morning.

Throughout my career as a journalist I have written from the features desk, the sports desk, the news desk, the opinion desk, and pretty much any other desk that could be found in a newsroom. While I have written stories of all types and interviewed countless people, columns have always held a special place in my heart ever since I wrote my first column for my high school newspaper.
Photo R. Anderson

If I trusted my neighbors to not steal my newspaper each morning, I would likely get a physical newspaper delivered to the Gigaplex.

There is just something about the tactile feel of folding a physical newspaper and getting ink transfer on one’s fingers as they read the paper.

Speaking of neighbors, Larry Guest, the long-time Sentinel sports columnist would always end his column of observations with a witticism from his fictional neighbor, Wolfgang. One such entry that I still remember all these years later is, “My neighbor Wolfgang sez he’s in shape. Round is a shape.”

While I do not have a neighbor named Wolfgang, I do have a neighbor named Niko. The other day my neighbor Niko asked, “Why is it that people will spend hundreds of dollars a year on virus protection for their computers, phones, identifies, and other devices, yet they refuse to wear a $10 mask to protect themselves and others from a virus called COVID-19?”

Why indeed, neighbor Niko. Why indeed?

Sports, like most of the rest of the country, are in unfamiliar territory thanks to the COVID-19 virus and the wide path of destruction that has killed over 202,000 Americans.

In the past, sports have served as a distraction to world events when tragedy strikes. In fact, the coliseum in Rome was built in part as a distraction to prevent civil unrest within the empire.

While I agree that sports have served to soothe the nation in previous times of unrest, it seems like the rush to return sports to full stadiums in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic is an attempt to return false normalcy while Rome burns and a man tunes up his fiddle.

Many sports columnists are taught in sports school that sports and politics should never intermingle just like the fans of the Cubs and White Sox know to keep to their sides of Chicago. However, it has become clear in the course of human events that keeping sports and politics separate in 2020 results in a fan base equivalent of ostriches with their heads in the sand since there are people who only read the sports news and ignore the other news of the day.

How much news to include with the sports is something I have struggled with this year. I am from that generation of journalists who were told that news and sports needed to be treated with the same level of separation as church and state.

Although that may have been the case in the past, this year in the middle of a global health pandemic, economic uncertainty, and social justice movements, one cannot just say that sports and news are two separate things.

Sports, COVID-19, and all of the other challenges we are facing in 2020 are strands of the same rope. A slew of recent events are trying to separate those strands, but the more one tries to pull on the thread the tighter the knot gets.

I am a journalist first and foremost and I would be doing a disservice if I tried to pretend that college football conferences who had delayed the start of their seasons reversing course and now planning to play is a good thing.

Shortly after announcing that restaurants and bars in Florida would open up to full capacity, and masks ordinances will no longer be enforced, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis showed further disregard for the COVID-19 pandemic by stating that it was his desire that the Super Bowl in February be held in a full Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, FL. Sports writers have a duty to call out the foolishness of that statement in terms of public health instead of cheering the announcement as a return to sports as normal. Photo R. Anderson

I would also be remiss if I did not point out that opening all of the bars and restaurants in Florida to 100 percent capacity in the middle of a global pandemic is also an ill-advised idea.

Speaking of Florida, the tone-deaf remark the governor of Florida made about wanting a completely full Super Bowl in Tampa, FL is downright criminal.

Additionally, Major League Baseball appears to want to have fans in the stands when the World Series is played in Arlington, TX. Fans in the stands for the World Series basically cancels out any benefits the MLB gained by using neutral sites for playoff games.

To be clear, none of those things are good, and they all have the potential to make a bad situation even worse.

The COVID-19 virus thrives in large gatherings. As someone who was fortunate enough to cover a Super Bowl in person, I can attest that the Super Bowl is a week-long large gathering that would be the perfect storm for spreading COVID-19.

And a World Series with fans? Come on MLB you are better than that. Try to set an example of responsibility for once during your 2020 fly by night and make it up as you go 2020 season.

Going back to the question asked by my neighbor Niko, masks work. In fact, masks are one of the biggest defenses against the spread of COVID-19. Yet there are still people who refuse to wear masks because they think it infringes on their freedom.

As I have noted before, being dead because someone didn’t wear a mask infringes on freedom.

All of this is common sense, yet looking at some sports stories online some of the columnists are merely complaining about how much they miss full stadiums and how much the fans need to return. These same columnists also are cheering the aforementioned decisions of those college conferences deciding to play football despite no real improvement in the overall virus numbers that led to the postponement of fall sports to begin with. In fact, one could argue the situation is worse as many college campuses are having COVID-19 outbreaks which has led to the cancellation of many college football games.

Worse still, there are politicians who instead of trying to develop a national strategy for battling COVID-19 are doing victory laps for convincing sports leagues to return to action in an attempt to unfurl a “Mission Accomplished” banner.

No mission is accomplished. We are still very much in the thick of it. As bad as 2020 has been, unless people start taking things more seriously, 2021 will be just as bad. COVID-19 will not just magically disappear like a miracle when the ball drops in Times Square on New Year’s Eve.

Besides Guest and Morris, other journalists that helped shape my columnist world view, were Bob Verdi, Red Barber, Red Smith, and Dave Barry. While I had the opportunity to read Verdi and Barry while they were still writing, my exposure to Smith and Barber came through books of their collected works and on the radio.

The columnists I grew up reading are mostly retired now. Since they are not actively writing, I have to wonder how they would handle the current conflict of conscience within the world of sports writing. Would they tackle the issues of 2020 with the tenacity of a hard-hitting news reporter, or would they jump on the bandwagon of let them play and fill the stands consequences be damned?

I want to believe that they would shout from the rooftops that there are more important things in life than sports and that sports will return when the virus is under control. Since they are not here to answer that question, I will answer in my own way and say, there is a time and place for full arenas and stadiums. The middle of a global COIVD-19 pandemic is not that time and place.

I miss injecting humor into my writing, but COVID-19 is no laughing matter. It cannot be ignored no matter how much people try to sweep it under the rug, or drown it out with crowd noise piped into empty Ballparks.

Now if you’ll excuse me, my neighbor Niko needs some help installing virus software to stop all of those trolls on the other side of the world from trying to hack into his computer.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

COVID-19 Outbreaks at Colleges Nationwide Should Surprise Absolutely No One

It has been said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.

Perhaps nowhere is that statement truer in 2020 than in the world of college football.

Consider if you will, the University of Houston Cougars. The Cougars were set to kick off the 2020 season with a game against the Memphis Tigers, but the Tigers had a COVID-19 outbreak and had to cancel the battle of the big cats on the gridiron.

Never fear thought the intrepid Cougars, we will just schedule a game against the Baylor Bears to fill the slot left open by Memphis canceling. Come hell or high water we are going to play football this year the Cougars shouted confidently to their fans.

While the Cougars had managed to dodge one COVID-19 outbreak and find a new opponent, the other shoe dropped the day before kickoff when it was announced that the Baylor Bears also had to cancel the game since, like the Memphis Tigers before them, the Bears were also dealing with a COVID-19 outbreak within their ranks.

Cougars and Tigers and Bears, oh my!

So, while some teams have managed to cobble together enough healthy players to field a somewhat competitive team, other schools are yet to kickoff the season either due to their own outbreaks of COVID-19, or outbreaks on their opponent’s roster. The list of teams canceling games continues to grow as COVID-19 case counts rise from the east coast to the west coast and all points in between.

While the University of Houston Cougars had managed to dodge one COVID-19 outbreak and find a new opponent, the other shoe dropped the day before kickoff when it was announced that the Baylor Bears also had to cancel the game since, like the Memphis Tigers before them, they also were dealing with a COVID-19 outbreak within their ranks.
Photo R. Anderson

To think that there wouldn’t be outbreaks of COVID-19 on college campuses is completely idiotic, or if one prefers, insane.

From coast to coast colleges are having to place students on lock down as they try to get a handle on the virus that is sweeping the nation like an ear worm song of summer.

The reason for the outbreaks on college campuses can best be summed up as college kids being college kids. While some students are socially distancing and wearing masks, others are having large parties and foregoing the masks and social distancing. Apparently not even a global pandemic can stop the party for some students.

The reaction to COVID-19 on college campuses mirrors the overall reaction within American society. Some people are heeding the warnings and trying to stop the spread of the virus, and others just want to party like the virus does not exist and pack hangers at airports shoulder to shoulder.

This just in, COVID-19 doesn’t care if you don’t care about it. The virus will infect you whether you think it is a hoax or not.

And, it is not like college athletes are being sequestered from the regular student population on campus, so any outbreak on campus puts the athletes at risk. One could even go a step further and say that the fact that athletes are traveling from city to city to play games means that they could be bringing COVID-19 back to their campuses.

But, by all means, play that college football to earn those lucrative television dollars. For those who question whether money is the real reason behind the push to play college football in the middle of a global pandemic, I submit to you the Big 10 Conference.

The fact that college football games are being played in 2020 proves that not even a global pandemic can stop the quest to win the National Championship trophy. That statement is not a compliment.
Photo R. Anderson

The Big 10 Conference was one of the first leagues to say, “you know what? We care more about our students as human beings than we do about them as commodities. As such, we do not feel it is safe to play sports this year.”

I applauded the Big 10 when they made that decision. Unfortunately, soon after they announced they weren’t going to play, the bullies started harassing them and calling them wimps and losers. Parents threatened to sue if their kids couldn’t play. It quickly went downhill from there.

Instead of standing their ground against the bullying that reached all the way to the oval office in Washington D.C., the Big 10 reversed course and decided that they would play football after all to get their slice of the pie.

The bully in chief did a victory lap and claimed responsibility for bringing football back to the huddled masses of the Big 10 by shaming the schools into playing. I suppose people demanding the return of Big 10 football were afraid that they might actually have to talk to their families on Saturdays if there wasn’t any football to watch.

Don’t get me wrong, as I have said many times, I love watching college football and would like nothing more than to watch games in packed stadiums from the time I wake up until the time I go to bed each Saturday in the fall.

But this is not a normal fall, and pretending that it is a huge slap in the face to the friends and families of the 200,000 Americans who have died from COVID-19. It is also a slap in the face to the people who are still battling symptoms of the disease months after being deemed “cured.”

I love watching college football and would like nothing more than to watch games in packed stadiums from the time I wake up until the time I go to bed each Saturday in the fall. However, this is not the year for such things.
Photo R. Anderson

Finally, it is a slap in the face to the millions of front-line essential workers who are risking their lives every day to take care of the people with COVID-19, while also providing services like grocery pickup for people to help them avoid catching COVID-19.

Insisting on playing football in the middle of a pandemic is a lot like someone who insists on keeping a tee time at the golf course in the middle of a hurricane.

Much like our imaginary golfer who has to hit the links, the people determined to play football in the middle of a pandemic are hoping that they can stay in the eye of the storm where it is nice and calm while the rest of the world deals with the devastating wind and storm surge.

Hurricanes don’t work that way, and COVID-19 doesn’t work that way. In hurricanes and pandemics, things get worse before they get better and how much they impact people depends an awful lot on the steps they take before the storm hits. In short, neither disaster cares that you have a tee time.

College football is certainly not alone in the desire to bring live sports to the masses.

After insisting that teams be allowed to play in their own Ballparks for the regular season, I applauded Major League Baseball (MLB) for finally seeing the need to use bubbles for the postseason. With the expanded MLB playoffs taking place in four Ballparks in two states MLB finally is making wise decisions, even if they are coming a few months late.

Of course, football is not using bubbles, unless you are referring to a bubble screen pass to a tight end. Instead, football says, let some fans come and watch us play and we will entertain you like there isn’t a pandemic, five named storms in the Atlantic Ocean and wild fires raging uncontrolled in much of the west.

Speaking of those fires, the smoke and air quality in Seattle is so bad that the Mariners cannot even play in their home Ballpark and are being forced to have “home” series in other team’s Ballparks.

But go ahead and ignore the science related to how viruses are transmitted and how global warming is real. Saying a lie over and over again like “nobody could have reacted better,” and “it will cool down someday,” doesn’t make it real.

Yes, insanity definitely is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. You know what is not insane? Not playing sports in the middle of a pandemic and actually having a centralized plan for how to get a handle on the disease.

Instead of being so focused on the economy, elected officials should be doing everything in their power to end the disease by listening to the science and not the stock market.

What good is an economy if no one is alive to spend any money in it, or there are no workers left to do those essential jobs that keep the wheels of the country spinning.

There will be a time when sports can return. This is not that time.

Despite science and common sense telling them that playing sports during a pandemic is not wise, teams will continue to battle outbreaks as they hobble down the path to crown champions; because apparently that is what some leaders think the people want.

This is truly a let them eat cake moment, or in this case, a let them eat nachos as the world around them burns, floods, and gasps for air on ventilators.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I am off to place my guess in the office pool for what team the University of Houston tries to schedule next to start their ill-advised season.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

 

Pumpkin Spice Season has Arrived Bringing with it the Taste of Fall to Summer

For as long as I can recall, my favorite season has been Fall. While, thanks to daily heat advisories, it can be hard in this part of Texas to know when Fall arrives, after consulting a calendar I can confirm that Fall is just around the corner.

Why do I love Fall? Let me count the ways. First, there are the changing leaves. Second, fall brings the crisp smell in the air as one curls up with a hot cup of apple cider. Third, pumpkin spiced everything.

While some folks like things that are artisanal like pickles, I like things that are Autumnal like pumpkins.

Fall, or Autumn, as the fancy people call it, really is a tale of all seasons. By starting on September 22, and running to December 21, fall encompasses the summer like heat at the start, as well as the chill of winter at its climax. Of course, in Texas fall usually only has a few non summer like days during the march to winter.

Why do I love Fall? Let me count the ways. First, there are the changing leaves. Second, fall brings the crisp smell in the air as one curls up with a hot cup of apple cider. Third, pumpkin spiced everything. While some folks like things that are artisanal like pickles, I like things that are Autumnal.
Photo R. Anderson

As much as I love fall, having lived in mostly fall free climates for the majority of my life, I have often been forced to only see the leaves change color either on television, or on the rare trip to a fall filled environment.

And while I can still enjoy a warm cup of cider, it is hard to get in that festive fall mood when one is wearing shorts and battling the heat while sipping that cider.

While I am limited in my ability to fully embrace all that fall has to offer in terms of leaves and cider, I am able to embrace the seasonal tradition of pumpkin spice season.

Each year, like Linus in a pumpkin patch waiting for the Great Pumpkin to arrive, I count down the days until I can enjoy pumpkin spice pancakes, pumpkin spice cupcakes, pumpkin pie Blizzards, and pumpkin spice lattes, or PSLs. In fact, the only time I drink lattes is during PSL season. That is how much I love the pumpkin spice season.

Either because seasons are currently all a blur, or because marketing knows no boundaries, most of the pumpkin spice items arrived on September 1 this year. For those keeping track that means the tastes of fall debuted in the summer. At this rate, the tastes of the winter holidays will arrive by October 1 and summer time flavors will roll into town in February.

Can you say 4th of February Barbecue?

Each year, like Linus in a pumpkin patch waiting for the Great Pumpkin to arrive, I count down the days until I can enjoy Pumpkin spiced pancakes, pumpkin spiced cupcakes, and pumpkin spiced lattes, or PSLs. In fact, the only time I drink lattes is during PSL season. That is how much I love the pumpkin spice season.
Photo R. Anderson

Sadly, pumpkin spice season only lasts a few months of the year. As a result of the shortened season, each year I try to extend the smells of the season by stocking up on pumpkin spice scented air fresheners.

Sadly, I have yet to find the sweet balance of buying enough air fresheners in October to last me until they go on sale again when pumpkin spice season returns the following year.

I suppose that were pumpkin spice season to last all year, I might not appreciate it as much. By having a specific season each year, pumpkin spice season manages to come and go without over staying its welcome.

This year, as we grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic, the arrival of pumpkin spice season provides a brief reminder of what normal life entails. It also should serve as a reminder that if everyone does their part it can be that way again.

Sports have tried to return this year to give people a sense of normalcy, however, there is nothing normal about the way they are being played.

The NHL and the NBA are playing playoff games in bubbles, and the NFL is set to kick off their version of a season in the midst of a pandemic next week. College Football will also try to fill some Saturdays with gridiron action.

When fall rolls around each year, I am usually one of the first people to declare when asked, that “yes, I am ready for some football.” However, this year I really would have preferred that football stay on the sidelines instead of trying to cobble together a season.

When done right, sports can provide a temporary escape from daily life. However,  when down incorrectly, the escape can ring hollow.

Major League Baseball games look and sound like they have in the past, if one keeps their eyes closed. However, once you open your eyes and see that the fans are just cardboard cutouts, and the sounds are being piped in through the speakers, you become aware of the man behind the curtain. As a result, the great and powerful Oz seems just a little less magical.

In a pinch, I can always just sprinkle pumpkin spice flavoring on anything to get me through those pumpkin spice free dog days of summer and spring.
Photo R. Anderson

When baseball first returned this year, I caught a few games and tried to suspend reality and see the games for the pandemic distracting entertainment they were trying to provide.

But, after a few weeks of that, I realized that distraction was the last thing we need since it makes it too easy to buy into the myth that COVID-19 isn’t real, or that it is real and is totally under control.

Baseball is a sport full of statistics. Each year it seems like someone finds a new stat to track that no one had thought of before. Launch angles and exit velocity are now as much a part of the nomenclature of the game of baseball as balls and strikes.

With so many numbers to keep track of, it can be easy to lose track of the numbers that matter. The nearly 200,000 Americans who have died from COVID-19 over the past nine months or so are a statistic that each and every one of us should be ashamed of. It should also motivate us to do our part to make sure that number does not continue to rise.

To put COVID-19 into baseball terms consider the following. A baseball manager would not leave a pitcher in the game who was giving up home run after home run and say, “well, it is what it is, and Bob’s really got control of his fastball today.”  On the contrary, that manager would see that Bob’s control was not where it needed to be and would bring in a new pitcher to try to salvage a win.

America’s response to COVID-19 is a lot like Bob’s pitches. You know kind of all over the place, and hitting the Bull mascot, as well as anything else in the unfortunate path of one of his fast balls.

Instead of taking steps to correct the issue, our manager in chief is saying that a magical breakthrough will arrive just before the last out in the ninth inning and planning a World Series style parade, when there really is nothing to celebrate.

That would be like a baseball team sizing Championship rings for their players without ever taking the field. Sure, there is a chance that the other 29 teams could forfeit an entire season and allow the team that never took the field to be crowned champion.

I mean anything absurd that would never seem plausible in any other year can certainly happen in this wacky year called 2020. But, counting on winning a championship because the rest of the league forfeited is about as far-fetched as saying things like COVID-19 will just disappear.

Like the arrival of baseball before it, pumpkin spice season’s arrival is trying to allow us to act like we normally do in the fall. There is a temptation to just act like there is nothing to see and just sip that sweet pumpkin spice latte. But that would be the wrong approach to take.

Like the arrival of baseball before it, pumpkin spice season’s arrival is trying to allow us to act like we normally do in the fall. There is a temptation to just act like there is nothing to see and just sip that sweet pumpkin spiced latte like there is nothing to see here. But that would be the wrong approach to take.
Photo R. Anderson

I will still get my PSLs, and eat my pumpkin spice flavored foods just like I have in years past. But this year as I am partaking of the flavors of the season, I will be more aware of the essential workers behind the scenes who create all of those pumpkin flavored masterpieces.

Good Old Charlie Brown’s best friend Linus fell asleep in the pumpkin patch waiting for the arrival of the Great Pumpkin. We can not afford to fall asleep in the battle against COVID-19; unless we want to continue to have empty ballparks and restrictions on our movements.

It really is that simple. A little inconvenience now, like wearing a mask, and social distancing, will allow life to return to normal sooner than just ignoring the science and hoping that COVID-19 gets bored and decides to go away on its own. That is something we can all raise a pumpkin spiced latte to.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some flavors of fall to eat in the middle of a late summer heat wave.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

 

As Spring Turns to Summer and Summer Fades into Fall, COVID-19 is Still that Unwanted Pandemic that No One will Miss at All

In a year, where I have said things I never thought I would say before, I discovered yet another example of words that would never be uttered in any other year as 2020 rolls on like a Summer battle for Lord Stanley’s Cup.

Before this year, if you had told me that I would say “that Vancouver Canucks playoff game was great last night” in September, I would have never believed you.  But here we are as hockey is being played during the summer along with baseball and basketball in a year of sports like no other in recent memory.

Stand up if you had summer Zamboni rides on your 2020 Bingo Card. Thanks to COVID-19 a winter sport is now a summer sport as the NHL seeks to crown a Stanley Cup Champion from inside the bubble.
Photo R. Anderson

The reason for the shuffling of the sports calendar, and the introduction of sports bubbles, is the COVID-19 virus that is quickly approaching the 200,000-death mark in America.

Just let that sink in for a minute. Sometime before the end of September, over 200,000 Americans are likely to be dead as a result of COVID-19.

It didn’t need to be this way, but instead of looking back, it is time to look forward and figure out how to bring an end to this deadly disease.

Next week, Labor Day Weekend will provide another opportunity for people to either act responsibly, or to crowd the beaches like there is no pandemic.

While I used to look forward to extended holiday weekends, now each holiday brings the knowledge that cases are likely to spike two weeks after it as many people have given up trying to wrangle the virus that has a stranglehold on the country.

Despite that staggering death toll, there is still no unified plan coming out of Washington, D.C. on how to get a handle on the virus other than saying, “it is what it is.”

The other day as I was trying to wrap my mind around the latest wrinkles of 2020, it occurred to me that 2020 is like a mashup of Dixie Chicks songs.  Like many people, I had a musical experimental phase, and for reasons I do not understand to this day, my experimental phase took me to the world of country music.

As a result, I now have Forrest Gump like clarity, not about a life describing box of chocolates, but instead about life during a pandemic being like the songs of a country trio.

Of course, before going any further it should be said that the Dixie Chicks are now known as the Chicks. I guess if Prince had started with multiple words in his name, he could have shortened his name and saved us all the trouble of trying to figure out how to pronounce a symbol.

But while 2020 has offered a bit of everything, except for purple rain falling from the sky, for our example here let us focus on the Chicks. Also, there are still three months left for that purple rain to fall. After all, everything is possible in 2020.

In comparing 2020 to a Chicks song, we could do the easy route and say “Wide Open Spaces” perfectly describes the need for social distancing. I mean how can one not think that the lyric, “She needed wide open spaces, room to make her big mistakes, she needs new faces, she knows the highest stakes,” doesn’t perfectly address social distancing and face masks?

In comparing 2020 to a Chicks song, we could do the easy route and say “Wide Open Spaces” perfectly describes the need for social distancing. I mean how can one not think that the lyric, “She needed wide open spaces, room to make her big mistakes, she needs new faces, she knows the highest stakes,” doesn’t perfectly address social distancing and face masks?

There really is no higher stake right now than getting the virus under control so that people can roam free once more without fear of catching a virus rolling like a tumbleweed from coast to coast.

Of course, if “Wide Open Spaces” doesn’t do it, one could always point to the song “Long Time Gone” when recalling memories of life before the pandemic came to town. If we were to use that song our lyric of choice would be, “Oh, it’s been a long time gone. Long time, long time, long time gone.”

The 2020 rewrite would likely include the words, “Oh I ain’t sat inside a restaurant to eat since I don’t know when, and my hair hangs down to my shin.”

Of course, if “Wide Open Spaces” doesn’t do it, one could always point to the song “Long Time Gone” when recalling memories of life before the pandemic came to town. If we were to use that song our lyric of choice would be, “Oh, it’s been a long time gone. Long time, long time, long time gone.”

While it really does seem like pre-pandemic life is a long time gone, those days will return. So, no that isn’t the lyric that best sums up 2020.

For friends and families of the nearly 200,000 Americans who have died as a result of COVID-19 the song “Tonight the Heartache’s on Me” could sum up their feelings as they deal with the loss of loved ones.

The lyric that would address that situation from the Chicks catalog would be “Tonight, the heartache’s on me. Oh yes, tonight, the heartache’s on me.”

With so many people being impacted by COVID-19, the heartache is shared in nearly every household as more and more Americans become impacted by the relentlessness of COVID-19.

While that would have been a perfect lyric to also sum up the feelings parents have of sending their children back to school in the middle of a pandemic, those weren’t the lyrics that first came to mind either.

I could have also used the 2020 Chicks song “March, March” when describing 2020, with lyrics like, “Watchin’ our youth have to solve our problems. I’ll follow them, so who’s comin’ with me?” and “Lies are truth, and truth is fiction. Everybody’s talkin’, who’s gonna listen?”

While those lyrics perfectly describe the current climate of protests and misinformation surrounding issues of social justice and COVID-19, those also were not the Chicks lyrics that first made me think of 2020 being like one of their songs.

To be fair, all of the lyrics mentioned above prove the point of 2020 being like a mashup of Chicks songs. However, it was verse four of “Goodbye Earl” that convinced me that 2020 is like a Chicks song when I woke up on September 1.

For those unfamiliar with the song, and the fourth verse, it goes as such, “Well the weeks went by and spring turned to summer and summer faded into fall.”

If “Well the weeks went by and spring turned to summer and summer faded into fall,” from “Goodbye Earl” does not describe the blur of 2020, then I don’t know what does. The pandemic arrived in the winter, bloomed in spring, and now as summer prepares to make way for fall, it is still with us with little signs of slowing down.

If that does not describe the blur of 2020, then I don’t know what does. The pandemic arrived in the winter, bloomed in spring, and now as summer prepares to make way for fall, it is still with us with little signs of slowing down.

At this rate, perhaps we can pack a lunch and throw COVID-19 in the trunk by early next year when a vaccine becomes available.

Taking responsibility and social distancing from sea to shining sea to starve COVID-19 of energy certainly isn’t working thanks to stubborn pockets of ignorance and virus deniers.

As an aside, as a lifelong fan of Dennis Franz, his portrayal of Earl, in the star-studded video truly is some of his best work. The music video for “Earl had to Die” won both the Academy of Country Music and the Country Music Association Video of the Year Awards in 2000. Additionally, the video was ranked sixth on CMT’s 2004 ranking of the 100 Greatest Music Videos.

Franz may have earned a Golden Globe Award, three Screen Actors Guild Awards and four Primetime Emmy Awards for his work as detective Andy Sipowicz on NYPD Blue, but he really shone as Earl.

Although the seasons are rolling together like the lyrics of a song, there is one more Chicks song to help set the mood for 2020. I am referring to the song, “Some Days You Gotta Dance.”

Yes, COVID-19 is stressful, frustrating and deadly. People have turned the response into a messy tribal warfare complete with paint balls and finger pointing. To that I say, as the Chicks sang, “Some days you gotta dance. Live it up when you get the chance. Because when the world doesn’t make no sense. And you’re feeling just a little too tense. Gotta loosen up those chains and dance.”

In a year unlike any other, we can now add me saying, “2020 is like a bunch of Chicks songs” to things I never thought I would say, or let alone write about. But there you have it, a lyrical landslide that rolls 2020 up like a tarpaulin. Now we just need to trust the scientists to take it from there so we can all say goodbye to Mr. Heartbreak known as COVID-19.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I am off to find a roadside stand that sells Tennessee ham and strawberry jam.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

 

Hurricane Week Revisited Part 3: After the Storm

Editor’s Note: Back in 2013, I ran a three-part series on what to do when a hurricane was approaching. Seven years later, with two named storms actively churning it seemed like a good time to look back, while also looking ahead, with the three phases of the storm. The three phases are before a storm arrives, the event horizon of storm arrival, and the aftermath following a storm’s departure. While this information is mostly geared to residents of coastal states in the path of storms, we encourage all of our readers to learn about the three phases of the storm. Today let us turn our attention to what to do before the storm arrives.

Although it may seem to some that the worst is over once a hurricane makes landfall and moves away or rains itself out, that is not always the case.

In a best-case scenario, one is left with some well-watered grass and a few tree limbs down. In a worst-case scenario however, one can be left with no power and in some case no home.

And as is the case with hurricanes and tornadoes alike, sometimes the line between the best-case scenario and the worst-case scenario is visible from each side.

Finding your boat after a hurricane is a good thing. Finding your boat on dry land however can be a bad thing.
Photo R. Anderson

There seems to be no rhyme or reason for why certain homes are flattened and others a few feet away in some cases are spared.

That is just the unpredictability of weather and shows why everyone needs to prepare for the worst and hope for the best.  Solely hoping for the best with no preparation could leave one far from high and dry.

As mentioned before, Hurricane Ike was the closest I ever came to realizing the worst-case scenario of a direct hit from a major hurricane.

Thankfully, once the storm had passed and I returned home, I found no damage and also had power and air conditioning.

A few towns up the road however my parents were not as lucky. While their home was completely structurally sound, it had a forest of fallen tree limbs in the front and no power inside.

The power was out for about a week at my parents’ house.  Despite my invitations for them to come where there was power, they soldiered on in a nomadic tent fashion along with their neighbors until the lights were once again restored.

Tree limbs are a common casualty of hurricanes and can leave quite a mess when they fall.
Photo R. Anderson

In case you are ever faced with a similar situation, let us focus on some tips for what to do in a post hurricane world with no power.

The first step for restoring order after a storm is securing the property. This could include removing tree limbs or simply mending fences or placing tarps over holes in the roof. As storms can arrive one after the other it is crucial that one is as prepared as possible to avoid further damage from additional rain.  Calls to insurance adjusters will of course also need to be made during this phase.

The next phase of storm recovery, is to ensure that one has enough water and food to maintain proper hydration and caloric intake to accomplish and recover from the post storm cleanup.

Following Hurricane Ike, there were several areas set up where residents could pick up cases of water and Military grade Meals Ready-to-Eat (MRE).

When faced with no power after a storm a supply of MRE rations can come in handy.
Photo R. Anderson

Each day I would drive up from my comfortably air-conditioned residence and drive a few towns over to visit my parents in their self-imposed tent city. Upon arrival I would check the progress of the cleanup efforts and then take my mom to the park down the road where the ice, water and food was being handed out by relief workers.

It really was quite the operation to drive thru, pop open your trunk and have supplies loaded and then be sent on your way.  While I do not wish a storm to come and put anyone in that position it was nice to see how calm the recovery can be.

Once back at my parents’ house it was usually time to crack open some MREs in the backyard tent.   Of course, the first few days of meals consisted of neighbors grilling meat from their freezers as each level slowly defrosted. But once the meat was gone it was time for the MREs.

Now for anyone unfamiliar with a MRE, it is set up to allow troops out in the field to have a hot meal despite being far away from their base. This is accomplished through a chemical reaction that heats up the food to near boiling point without the need for open flame or anything not included in the MRE bag.

Of course, as a word of warning for anyone on a sodium restricted diet, MREs contain about 200 percent of the recommended sodium intake. These meals are purposely sodium heavy to replenish the salt lost by troops marching throughout the day.

So as a rule, if one is not doing massive amounts of physical exertion then a diet heavy in MREs would probably not be advised. It should also be noted that the chemical reaction that takes place in an MRE is banned on commercial airliners due to the potential explosive risk.

But during a post hurricane time of moving tree limbs, MREs can be and very much are a lifesaver and one tries to not think of the fact that they are basically cooking with explosives; albeit low grade ones.

Beer companies also pitch in and send relief water after a storm.
Photo R. Anderson

Regarding the post storm cleanup, it should be noted that there are out of state contractors who will enter an area hit by a storm and offer to help areas recover. While most of these outfits are well intended, caution is certainly advised when dealing with out of state workers who do not have a brick and mortar office to bring any complaints to.

A good rule of thumb being if the price seems too good to be true, the bulk of it is required to be paid before any work is done, and the base of operations is the Motel 6, odds are it is not as good of a deal as it sounds like at first look.

Hurricane season is here and while the bulk of people will only have to deal with the before the storm phase, if at all, there will be a select few who experience all three phases of the storm this season.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a hankering for some MRE’s for some odd reason. I wonder how long they stay good for?

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

Dr Pepper Shortage Shows 2020 Loves to Give Until it Hurts Before Giving a Little More

If the year 2020 were a gift, it would be the type of gift that was so hideous that you wouldn’t even regift it to your worst enemy.

From COVID-19 running wild across the globe like a herd of Chincoteague ponies, to toilet paper shortages, disinfectant wipe shortages, distance learning for all, social distancing, sports played in bubbles, as well as sports played outside of bubbles; 2020 has had a little of everything.

We also cannot forget the invasion of murder hornets, attacks on the United States Postal Service, masks becoming a political statement, and oh yeah, the potential of two hurricanes churning in the Gulf of Mexico at the same time for the first time since the Great Depression.

For years, the late Hugh Downs and Barbara Walters told viewers every Friday night that, “This is 20/20.” Maybe they were trying to warn us that 2020 would be something that would be studied with the hindsight of 20/20 vision once it is over.

The band Green Day famously sang, “Wake me up when September ends.” We have not even gotten to September yet, and many people are likely singing wake me up when 2020 ends.

As a side note, I was supposed to see Green Day, Weezer and Fall Out Boy earlier this month. But thanks to COVID-19, that concert, like so many other things this year was cancelled.

On top of all of the other things that have made 2020 the type of year one would like to be done with; we can now add a Dr Pepper shortage to the list of things that could only happen in 2020. Take away my toilet paper, fine. But take away my Dr Pepper and I will likely have serious withdrawal symptoms.
Photo R. Anderson

On top of all of the other things that have made 2020 the type of year one would like to be done with, we can now add a Dr Pepper shortage to the list of things that could only happen in 2020.

Take away my toilet paper, fine. But take away my Dr Pepper and I will likely have serious withdrawal symptoms.

To be clear, I choose Dr Pepper over toilet paper because, one can always find alternatives to use when the toilet paper runs out, but there is only one Dr Pepper. I have tried all of the store brand colas that claim to be just as good as Dr Pepper, but none has come close to replicating that perfect blend of 23 flavors.

A few years ago, I even tried making my own Dr Pepper in an experiment that can be called a disaster at best.

So how much do I love Dr Pepper? Let me count the ways.

I have tried Dr Pepper in milkshake form.

So how much do I love Dr Pepper? Let me count the ways.
Photo R. Anderson

I have tried Dr Pepper flavored Jelly Beans.

I have tried Dr Pepper flavored baked beans.

I have tried Dr Pepper flavored barbecue sauce.

I have been known to wear Dr Pepper clothing.

I have classic glass Dr Pepper bottles as my kitchen backsplash.

When I want an extra authentic feel, I drink my Dr Pepper out of an antique Dr Pepper glass.

Lastly, three years ago I dressed up as Larry Culpepper, the fictional Dr Pepper stadium worker, made famous through a series of ads shown during college football games.

So, it is fair to say that when it comes to Dr Pepper, I celebrate the entire catalog.

That is not to say that the only thing I drink is Dr Pepper. Iced tea and Dr Pepper are my go-to get the day started beverages, as well as my keep the day going refreshments.

I also drink about a gallon of water a day as well, so I do not want it to sound like I have Dr Pepper and iced tea running through my veins with an IV drip. I tried that, but my doctor said that my insurance didn’t cover it.

Despite the lack of an IV drip, go-go juice and punga punga juice, as younger me called Dr Pepper and iced tea, respectively, are never far from my grasp.

That was until 2020 when the Dr Pepper supply dried up faster than a lake bed in the desert and I suddenly found my grasp on securing the sweet nectar slipping.

According to a tweet from the powers that be at Dr Pepper, the shortage is due in part to higher than anticipated product demand in the form of cans and bottles. As noted a few weeks ago, one of the other gifts COVID-19 gave us was a shortage of aluminum cans.
Photo R. Anderson

According to a tweet from the powers that be at Dr Pepper, the shortage is due in part to higher than anticipated product demand in the form of cans and bottles.

As noted a few weeks ago, one of the other gifts COVID-19 gave us was a shortage of aluminum cans.

It is unclear what role, if any, the can shortage is having on the supply of Dr Pepper, since it is sold out in bottle form as well.

While I am sure that Dr Pepper will return to shelves in the not too distant future, the current disruption in the availability in stores, is yet another reminder of how fragile our supply chains are.

That is not to say that there are not hard-working men and women involved in the logistics business. But it does suggest that with supply chains spread out across the globe just one ripple can cause huge waves down the line.

I still shake my head at the fact that one of the key ingredients in disinfectant wipes manufactured in Wuhan, China, ground zero for COVID-19; leading to a scenario where certain cleaning products are expected to be in short supply until next year.

I know that companies move production overseas to keep costs down and to maximize profit, however, I think there will be a lot more legs of supply chain chicken coming back home to roost.

Of course, we need to contain the wildfires both real, and biological, that are raging within our shores before any roosting can happen.

Dr Pepper was born in Texas, so of course there is a Texas barbecue joint in the state capital that makes a Dr Pepper infused sauce. Barbecue and Dr Pepper is second only to a Ballpark view and a Dr Pepper. Of course, eating barbecue sauce and barbecue beans infused with Dr Pepper, at Dr Pepper Ballpark while drinking a Dr Pepper would be the Holy Grail of demonstrating that one was a Pepper.

At the end of the day, not being able to buy Dr Pepper really is as they say, “a first world problem.” Containing a global virus named COVID-19 in the world’s richest nation should not be as hard as people are making it out to be.

As a first world nation, America’s COVID-19 response should have led to a first world solution.

Instead, the United States’ COVID-19 response turned into a doctoral course in how not to run a pandemic response that was run by a man whose university was shut down.

Finding a solution to COVID-19 used to be the type of problem Americans would unite to defeat.

Then again, in the current climate where half of Americans are Coke, and the other half are Pepsi, it really shouldn’t be a surprise that six months into the pandemic there is still no national strategy to combat it.

At least the cola wars didn’t kill anybody. Contrast that to the over 170,000 Americans who have died from COVID-19 while some leaders stick their head in the sand, or worse try to distract with conspiracy theories, and blaming the people who live rent free in their head.

So instead of getting a handle on the virus, the virus is handling us like a coast to coast game of Whac-A-Mole.

One of my favorite Ballpark beverages is Dr Pepper. One of my favorite Minor League Ballparks is Dr Pepper Ballpark in Frisco, TX. Put them together, and it means an ice-cold Dr Pepper is always available with a side of baseball.
Photo R. Anderson

Before the world was shut down for COVID-19, I had planned to visit Dr Pepper Ballpark in Frisco, TX home of the Frisco Rough Riders for the first time in years to score a Ballpark triple play of Dr Pepper, Hot Dog, and ball game. Hopefully, I can do that next year.

Of course, my trip to Frisco, TX, like many other things, is on hold until COIVD-19 is defeated. So far, COVID-19 is hitting most of the pitches thrown at it into the empty grandstands.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I am off to slowly sip one of my rationed cans of Dr Pepper while looking at spaghetti models of the two tropical systems heading my way. Is it 2021 yet?

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

Way back Wednesday: Remembering the Lost Art of the Postcard

Editor’s Note: I wrote this column on the lost art of sending postcards back in March 2013. During the current climate of COVID-19, as well as the attempt by some to disrupt the United States Postal Service’s mission to ensure that, “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds,” it seems appropriate to reflect on the connection people can feel through the mail.

It is also important to remember the old AT&T telephone jingle to “Reach out, reach out and touch someone,” during this time of COVID-19 to let people know you are thinking about them.

Of course, in the current COVID-19 climate, any reaching out should be done from a safe social distance.  In the meantime, please enjoy this column as part of our occasional Way Back Wednesday feature.

In this age of instant messaging, e-mail, Twitter, and other ways to communicate at the speed of light, it may come as a shock to some of the younger readers that there was once a time when correspondence was not handled as quickly.

Before the days of Facebook, it was not possible to post a status while on vacation to all of your friends to let them know that you were “Having a great time exploring the world’s largest ball of twine.”

Instead, when you were at that ball of twine, and you wanted to let your friends know how much fun it was before seeing them again in person, you had to buy a postcard and actually place it in something called a mailbox.  Your friends would than receive the postcard, and your thoughts on the ball of twine in a few days.

Yes, I know mailboxes still exist, and based on what comes in mine they tend to be a conduit for junk mail and bills alone.

As such I now only check my mail a couple times a month; since there really isn’t anything worth reading that would require me to check it any more frequently.

Once upon a time mailboxes served as a window to communicate with the world. Today, mine mostly serves as a place for junk mail and bills.
Photo R. Anderson

I have made a career out of writing. I was able to made the transition from writing for print publications, to writing for electronic platforms.

For the most part, writing is writing. There will always be a need for clear content to be communicated regardless of the changing platforms as technology moves forward.

While I know that the ways people communicate has changed, sometimes I find myself feeling a bit of nostalgia for the written word and the simple act of receiving a post card through the mail.

Part of this nostalgia was the result of looking through my postcard collection the other day to help remember the name of somewhere that I went on vacation many years ago.

I ended up finding that postcard and my memory was jogged.  Looking through the box, other memories were set free as well.

Many of the postcards in my collection were sent to other family members before I was born and were just passed down to me; but several are actually addressed to me. One particular series of cards was the result of a chance encounter on an airplane.

When I was in third grade, my mom and I were on a flight from Washington D.C. to Orlando, FL. There was an older gentleman in the row with us (of course when I was that age everyone was older, so my memory of how old he really was may be warped).

As it was a relatively long flight, we ended up making conversation. Over the course of the conversation, he mentioned that he did a lot of traveling as part of his work with the Army.

I do not recall the whole scenario of how it occurred, but addresses were exchanged and he mentioned that he would write me from his travels.

The postcards did not always include a message but this is typical of the type of message when they did.

In this more jaded world that we find ourselves in now, the chances of a stranger getting the address of a young child under the guise of sending correspondence would probably be less likely to occur.

I for one have become way more suspicious of people’s intentions the older I get.

While it is certainly good to be skeptical, and careful of one’s surroundings, and those that enter them, I sometimes wish that I could see the world through younger me’s eyes when the world was a far less scary place. Back then, the only things I needed to worry about were which pair of pajamas to wear, and how many days until I could ride my bike to the 7-Eleven to check out the latest comic books, or buy a pack of baseball cards.

A few weeks after returning home, I got my first postcard from the man on the plane.  The postcards continued for several years, and always included a short note about the destination included on the front.

One of the postcards my pen pal from the plane sent me.

The cards stopped one day, which could have been the result of many factors including the forwarding address feature no longer working, or perhaps the man behind them was no longer able to send the cards for whatever reason.

While I do not remember his name, I do remember the simple act of sharing postcards with a wide-eyed child and the effect that had and continues to have.  I have no way of knowing if that man on the plane is even still with us.

If he is, I hope that he is well and is still able to take those wonderful trips that sparked my imagination so many years ago.

But those postcards, as well as the others I received from friends and family, helped me see parts of the world that were harder to see in the pre-internet days and certainly helped nurture my love of traveling.

Some 30 years later I still fondly recall the postcards from my pen pal. Tweets and e-mails will not hold up as well through the decades I imagine.

Today, thanks to the internet, if I want to see a picture of something I need only type it into a search bar and before long I will have more pictures to look at than I could ever hope for.

The Internet has opened the world up to us but in some ways it has also made us more alone than ever before.

I often think about other chance encounters and people who come into our lives for a brief moment and the impact that they have on us.  Had my mom and I been seated in any other row on that airplane, I would not have received the postcards.

When I was in Journalism School, one semester my professor assigned the class a project to go to the food court at the mall and observe people.  The point behind the assignment was to make note of the various interactions of people coming and going in order to imagine various scenarios as to what brought them there. To this day, I still enjoy people watching.

The next week, the same professor assigned us to go back to the same food court and find a stranger to interview. The point of the exercise being that everyone of us has a story to tell.  The trick is to know the right questions to ask to get the ball rolling.

While the memory of the man on the plane will probably not make me any less cautious than I am, since the world today is so much different than it was all those decades ago it is still a nice memory and shows that we all do have stories to tell. The key is to just be open to hear them.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I think I am going to find a food court and see if my interview skills are still as sharp as they once were.

Copyright 2020 R Anderson

Hockey in the Summer is a Small Silver Lining in an Upside Down Sports Year

If anything can be said of the 2020 sports landscape, let it be said that 2020 has been a season like no other.

From fan-free stadiums and Ballparks, to playing sports in a bubble, sports fans are truly seeing things they likely never thought they would see. Of course, due to social distancing they are seeing it from a safe distance which most likely means from their couch.

One of the biggest treats I have discovered during this upside-down season is summer bubble hockey.

Normally I would be fully engaged in the Major League Baseball (MLB) season this time of year. However, thanks to COVID-19 taking a sledge hammer to the schedules of the major sports leagues, the National Hockey League (NHL) is fully engaged in the quest to crown a team worthy of hoisting Lord Stanley’s Cup meaning the “Boys of Winter” are now the “Boys of Summer,” at least for this season.

Washington Capitals Captain Alex Ovechkin is seeking his second Stanley Cup Finals victory. Unlike previous years, thanks to COVID-19 The Capitals and the rest of the Stanley Cup eligible teams are playing hockey during the summer while quarantined in either Toronto, or Edmonton.
Photo R. Anderson

To say that I am enjoying summer hockey would be the same type of understatement as saying that I enjoy breathing.

While breathing is a mostly automatic factor that I take for granted, I had no idea how much breath I would get out of four hockey games a day.

With teams safely quarantined in either Toronto, Ontario or Edmonton, Alberta, there are literally back to back to back to back hockey games on almost every day.

That is like a hat trick of hockey plus an overtime period. Or stated in a more Canadian way, it would be like ordering poutine and learning that the chef made too much, and, instead of throwing away the extra he is giving it to you at no extra cost.

The Vancouver Canucks have given their mascot, Fin, something to cheer about; albeit from a social distance and outside of the Edmonton bubble. The Canucks have a two games to one lead over the defending Stanley Cup Champion St. Louis Blues.
Photo R. Anderson

It should be said that I am totally sorry that it took a global pandemic to create summer hockey. COVID-19 is a horrible disease that I am ashamed to say the United States government has not done enough about.

Over 170,000 Americans have died from COVID-19 at the time of this writing. That is unacceptable. Each and every one of us should be holding our elected officials accountable for the way it was mismanaged.

Also, the rush to reopen schools, with zero coordinated effort, is already generating the type of results that anyone paying attention to the way germs spread could have told you would happen.

A week after returning to on campus classes, the University of North Carolina is shutting down in person learning and going back to online instruction due to outbreaks of COVID-19. Of course, UNC was quick to point out that even with students learning remotely have no fear the Tar Heels are still on track to play football in the fall, and travel from city to city with the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC).

Unfortunately, instead of focusing on the important things, the bulk of the country has seemed to embrace a “let them eat cake” philosophy. Although instead of cake as the tone-deaf refrain, it is let them play football.

Playing hockey in two arenas where players are quarantined, is a completely different matter than allowing college football teams to go from town to town to bring people enjoyment on the weekend.

MLB has shown that playing outside of a bubble and traveling is a perfect recipe for catching and spreading COVID-19.

Stand up if you had summer Zamboni rides on your 2020 Bingo Card. Thanks to COVID-19 a winter sport is now a summer sport as the NHL seeks to crown a Stanley Cup Champion from inside the bubble.
Photo R. Anderson

Of course, the proponents of playing college football are likely to say that there is way less physical contact in football than there is in baseball. So the ability for the virus to spread won’t be as high, oh wait…

As I have said many times, I love college football. I would love to be watching college football when September rolls around. However, we are not in a position where that would be wise to do.

I also don’t see us magically getting the case count of COVID-19 to a low enough level in the next four weeks where playing college football is a wise thing to do.

Dr. Deborah Birx, the head of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, said that she wished that the United States had shut down and managed the virus in the same way that Italy did. Perhaps if the task force she is in charge of had made a stronger case for that, people would have listened.

Instead, America did a halfhearted shutdown before opening things wide open in time for Memorial Day. I mean why let a global pandemic get in the way of a three-day weekend, right?

As anyone who pays attention to how trends work could tell you, the levels of COVID-19 went up faster than a high stick in a hockey rink; and all of the gains made during the brief shutdown were lost.

Instead of a unified approach to the virus, some Americans wore masks and socially distanced, while others called the virus a hoax and said wearing a mask infringed on their civil liberties. Seriously?

When did doing what is right for the greater good become a political statement?

It looks like COVID-19 will continue to rage until there is a vaccine since some people cannot bring themselves to wear a mask. As a result, I will continue to enjoy bubble hockey from the safety of the Gigaplex.

I would love to be back out in the world doing the things I did before March of 2020. However, with around 1 in 4 people around here infected with COVID-19, and with so many unknowns about the long-term impacts of the disease, I am choosing to stay safe by limiting the number of things I do outside the Gigaplex. And when I do venture forth, I wear a mask and keep a safe social distance from those around me.

In Texas, very few people seem to be wearing masks. I guess they are still thinking they are immune. Either that, or they enjoy playing an extended game of Russian roulette. After all, I believe one of the conspiracy theories being spread on the misinformation superhighway is that wearing a mask takes away your Second Amendment rights.

That would be so worthy of a face palm, although as part of being COVID-19 aware we are not supposed to touch our faces. So, a virtual face palm will have to do.

The next NHL season is supposed to begin in October. Whether that season begins in two bubbles in Canada pretty much rests on what we do over the next two months to take COVID-19 seriously.

As much as I love bubble hockey in the summer, I really would like to attend sporting events in person again.

I am wearing a mask and doing my part to make that happen. What about you?

Now if you’ll excuse me, my Kraft Dinner is waiting.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

Five Tribune Newsrooms going Fully Remote as COVID-19 Continues to Impact the Newspaper Industry

Last week I noted that many journalists are working remotely from bookcase filled mini newsrooms as a result of COVID-19.

For some print journalists, those remote at home locations will turn into their permanent bureaus as some newspapers look to jettison their brick and mortar holdings in favor of an all remote workforce.

This week, Tribune Publishing announced that the physical offices of five newspapers it owns will be closed permanently in response to COVID-19, as well as a changing newspaper climate.

In making the announcement Tribune Publishing noted in a statement that, “Out of an abundance of caution we do not anticipate having employees that can work remotely coming back into the office for the remainder of the year and into 2021. With no clear path forward in terms of returning to work, and as the company evaluates its real estate needs in light of health and economic conditions brought about by the pandemic, we have made the difficult decision to permanently close these offices.”

The five newspapers going fully remote are the Daily News in New York City, The Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Maryland, the Orlando Sentinel in Orlando Florida, The Morning Call in Allentown, Pennsylvania, and the Carroll County Times in Maryland. The papers join a growing list of newspapers that are rethinking their business model.

At a time when solid journalism is needed more than ever to bring facts to the masses and debunk false claims from people in power, more than 50 local newsrooms in the United States have closed since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the journalism think tank the Poynter Institute.

For years the Orlando Sentinel has had a remote newsroom at Kennedy Space Center’s Press Site. With the announcement that the Sentinel’s parent company is moving out of the main headquarters, one has to wonder whether a move out of remote bureaus like the one at KSC can be far behind.
Photo R. Anderson

Additionally, a UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media report discovered that, “since 2004, the United States has lost one-fourth, or 2100, of its newspapers.”

The study went on to state that these resulting “news deserts” mean that “more than 200 of the nation’s 3,143 counties and equivalents now have no newspaper and no alternative source of credible and comprehensive information on critical issues.”

Consider that fact as people try to figure out whether schools are safe enough to send their kids back to, or if the COVID-19 virus is getting corralled, or is still raging out of control.

Granted, there are still television networks and online news sources to fill some of the void, but for many people the local newspaper is their lifeblood for getting the news that matters to them.

The newspaper industry is far from the only business segment that is likely to consider the cost benefits of shedding their real estate holdings in favor of a remote workforce. However, the announcement that newsrooms would be closing permanently hit me particularly hard.

I grew up reading the Orlando Sentinel, and at one point thought I might work there. Although to be fair, I totally preferred reading Florida Today and the Tampa Tribune over the Orlando Sentinel.

Still, the Sentinel building was a beacon of First Amendment freedom whenever I would drive by it. It was empowering to think of all of the journalists inside those walls working hard night in, and night out, to deliver the truth.

When I was growing up my dream journalism job was to be on the space beat for Florida Today and work out of their press site at KSC. In 2015, the building that I had wanted to work at for so long no longer bore the newspaper’s name on it.
Photo R. Anderson

I even worked with, and competed against, many of the members of the Sentinel’s Sports Staff in my years covering high school and college athletics in and around Orlando.

So although I was never an employee of the Sentinel, I knew many people who were, and still are.

The mighty offset presses inside the Sentinel building went silent about three years ago. Like many papers, the Sentinel outsourced their printing to third parties as a way to cut costs. For the Sentinel, that meant a switch to a printing press about an hour away from downtown Orlando.

I know that the heart of a newsroom is made up of people, and not a building. However, it was the proximity of the people in that building that created the buzz and collaboration that makes journalism work.

When I was 16-years-old, I got my first professional newspaper job as a sports stringer for the Sanford Herald. For an aspiring journalist such as myself, the Herald newsroom was like walking into Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory without all of the chocolate and the singing.

Most of the reporters had already gone home by the time I got to the newsroom to write my stories, but the building was still alive with the sports staff, the photographer, and the team that ran the presses.

All these years later, I can still picture the cluttered desk of my first editor and the stacks of paper and other things that he had accumulated through the years surrounding it.

Looking around the cluttered desk I am sitting at while writing this, I suppose I subconsciously picked up that trait.

Aside from memories of cluttered desks stacked high with newspapers, I can still close my eyes and smell the unmistakable odor of newsprint and ink that filled the air. If the First Amendment was a cologne, to me it would smell like newsprint and ink.

The hands-on instruction I received from at the Herald proved invaluable to me in my writing career. Aside from learning the craft of writing on deadline, thanks to those Friday nights in the newsroom I also cannot listen to Edie Brickell & New Bohemians without thinking of the deep thought meditation quote taped on the wall above the editor’s computer.

Through my own years as an editor, from press box to press box, and newsroom to newsroom, I have sought to impart knowledge the same way to the reporters and other people I have managed as the way it was imparted to me all those years ago in a dusty and cramped newsroom in Sanford, Florida.

While I am all for the ability to file stories from the press box to avoid a long cross county drive back to the newsroom, there are definitely times when meeting face to face in a newsroom is critical to honing one’s craft.

It is hard to think of remote video calls having the same impact as actually seeing one’s colleagues face to face.

Of course, I realize that sounds somewhat hypocritical of me to say since I have been basically working remotely for years, and have loved every minute of it.

If the rate of newspaper closures continues at the current pace, it is quite possible that soon the only newspaper boxes one sees will be in Christmas villages and old movies about the glory days of print journalism.
Photo R. Anderson

Still, it is different to work from home and know there is an office to go to from time to time, versus having the office sold and knowing that working from home is the only option.

When I first heard the news of the Sentinel closing their offices, I did what any good reporter would do and researched whether any of the newsrooms I had worked in were still in the same buildings that they were when I worked there.

I already knew that one of the newsrooms I worked in was gone. That newspaper merged with another paper and closed. As a result, I was laid off since the merger made me a redundant employee.

The paper I worked at before the one that merged is still in their same building. That led me to dig deeper and explore the weekly newspapers I worked for at another community chain.

Much to my surprise the entire 20 newspaper chain went from having newsrooms in each of the communities it served, to having one office and half the staff. They also sold the building that had the only printing press in the chain and joined the outsourcing trend.

That brought me back to the Herald, where my professional newspaper career began. Like so many of the other papers I had worked for, the Herald also left their long time building for a smaller facility that did not have a printing press attached to it.

The results of my research revealed that only one of the six newsrooms I worked in is still in operation at the same location it was in when I worked there.

The consolidation of the newspaper industry, and the media in general, will have long lasting effects on the ability to deliver impactful stories that make a difference in communities both small and large.

I know I am biased towards the need for a free and independent press to perform the duty of the Fourth Estate and hold leaders accountable, while also printing the scores of the local youth sports leagues.

COVID-19 has taught us that the need for clear and honest journalism is needed now more than ever. Unfortunately, with so many local newsrooms counting on funding from local businesses to operate, many more newsrooms are likely to go dark in the weeks, months and years to come as advertising revenue shrinks.

I can take solace in the fact that although Tribune Publishing closed five newsrooms, they did not fully shutter the newspapers altogether. Unfortunately, not all newspapers will be as lucky.

COVID-19 did not create all of the funding issues for local print journalism, but it definitely didn’t help slow the spread of the demise of independent voices.

Now if you’ll excuse me, in honor of that quote on the wall in the first newsroom I worked in, I am off to ponder whether what I am is what I am, and whether you are what you are or what.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

Dinosaurs can Teach Us a Lot About Sports and Pandemic Response

Like many other kids, when I was growing up, I loved dinosaurs.

Show me a picture of a dinosaur and I could tell you the name of the species in question, as well as whether it was a plant loving herbivore, or a meat loving carnivore.

Although my favorite dinosaurs were the Stegosaurus and the Triceratops, I celebrated the entire catalog when it came to the world of dinosaurs.

Although my favorite dinosaurs were the Stegosaurus and the Triceratops, I celebrated the entire catalog when it came to the world of dinosaurs.
Photo R. Anderson

In turns out that my fascination with dinosaurs was not limited to my youth.

I recently completed an online course called Dino 101: Dinosaur Paleobiology, that was offered by the University of Alberta. If the course taught me anything, it is that I still like dinosaurs as much as I did growing up.

It also taught me that a lot has changed in dino science since I was a kid.

So, why do I bring up dinosaurs you may ask?

As we all know, dinosaurs are no longer with us. While scientists may argue about the specifics of how it happened, they all agree that except for fantasies portrayed in cinematic parks of a Jurassic nature, dinosaurs are very much extinct in this day and age.

That got me thinking about the ongoing debates related to the wisdom of playing sports in the middle of the global COVID-19 pandemic.

As we all know, dinosaurs are no longer with us. While scientists may argue about the specifics of how it happened, they all agree that except for fantasies portrayed in cinematic parks of a Jurassic nature, dinosaurs are very much extinct in this day and age.
Photo R. Anderson

Thankfully, we are likely to have a vaccine, therapeutic treatments, or at the worst herd immunity against COVID-19 before things would reach an extinction event level scenario.

However, the fact remains some people are ignoring the virus, and trying to act as if there isn’t a huge asteroid heading towards them.

Major League Baseball (MLB) ignored the science, and is paying the price through player and staff outbreaks in their non bubble approach to the season. Recently, it was noted that MLB may look into a modified bubble approach for the postseason.

The NHL and NBA are just two of the leagues that have shown bubbles work. The MLB and the rest of society could learn a lot from their example.

Of course, despite the growing evidence, and the growing COVID-19 outbreak, some sports are appearing to be as dense as a dinosaurs armor plating when it comes to evolving their thought process on the reality of the disease.

Consider the world of college football as the next battleground in the “to play or not to play” debate. While some college football conferences are canceling their fall seasons, there are others that are either waiting until the last possible minute to cancel, or are somewhat convinced that a miracle will occur and the heavens will open up to allow them to play football.

Of course, despite the growing evidence, and the growing COVID-19 outbreak, some sports are appearing to be as dense as a dinosaurs armor plating when it comes to evolving their thought process on the reality of the disease.
Photo R. Anderson

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy football. I especially enjoy college football.

As mentioned previously, one of my favorite things to do on Saturdays in the fall is to get up and watch College GameDay followed by watching football games until late into the night.

The idea of a fall without football is certainly a tough thing for me to consider, but as the late Wilfred Brimley would say when he was selling oatmeal on TV, canceling college football is “the right thing to do.”

To be clear, football, even limited conference schedule only football, has no business being played in the middle of a global pandemic.

Of course, since college football is more business than educational endeavor, that is exactly the argument being made for why college football must be played.

Put bluntly, the argument for why some schools are determined to play is because there is too much money involved to just walk away.

Lost in all of the noise about needing to play college football in order to make all of that sweet, sweet cash, is the fact that college athletes are not paid. Also, college athletes do not have the same protections as professional athletes when it comes to negotiating their rights to opt out of the season without penalty.

Talk about a prehistoric concept.

I spent several years of my career working in collegiate sports information offices. As such, I have a bit of an idea of the inner workings of a college athletic department.

When the COVID-19 pandemic began to surge like a tidal wave heading towards an unsuspecting beach, my first thought was there is no way that any college athletics program will want to risk the lives of their students just to make a few bucks.

Yes, there are college athletes who want to play football. However, there are also athletes who are worried that playing football this season will result in long-term health effects, or even death. I figured the adults in the room would choose athlete safety over profit.

Oh, how wrong I was.

Although some conferences have done the right thing and delayed and/or cancelled their seasons, The Big 12 and Southeastern Conferences (SEC) are promoting an “ignore the rising death count, we are here to play ball” approach.

It is likely not a coincidence that the Big 12 and SEC schools are mostly located in cities and states that are treating COVID-19 like a hoax. Many people in those areas are refusing to wear masks, or social distance and are promoting wild conspiracy theories that might even make the writers of the X-Files say, “That’s some crazy stuff right there.”

Perhaps if the athletic departments at those schools left their multimillion dollar facilities and walked to the science departments on the other side of campus, they might get a better idea of why playing football in the middle of COVID-19 is not really a good idea.

The sad thing is, that if everyone had just buckled down in March and not prematurely reopened for Memorial Day the spread of COVID-19 would likely be contained to a level where playing college sports could be handled safely.

Perhaps if the athletic departments at those schools left their multimillion dollar facilities and walked to the science departments on the other side of campus, they might get a better idea of why playing football in the middle of COVID-19 is not really a good idea.
Photo R. Anderson

Of course, that is not what happened, and so we are worse off now than we were back in March.

Going back to our dinosaur example, some scientists have hypothesized that had the asteroid that hit near the Yucatan Peninsula, resulting in the death of 75 percent of the earth’s species, hit almost anywhere else on the planet the dinosaurs likely would have survived.

While we can’t bring back the dinosaurs, it isn’t too late to get a handle on containing COVID-19. That is where the focus should be. We should not be worrying about what to do on Saturdays if there is no college football to watch.

The Chicxulub asteroid didn’t stop to ask the dinosaurs what they ate. It wiped out both the herbivores, and the carnivores with equal reckless abandon.

Likewise, COVID-19 attacks the people in blue states, as well as the people in red states.

Or, to put it in college football terms, COIVD-19 doesn’t care if you want the Tide to roll, or if you think that it is time for someone else to build a dynasty on the gridiron.

There will be a time to play college spots again, but first we really should get the raging wildfire under control. That should be something that even the most bitter of college rivals can agree on.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I am off to see if I can extract some DNA from this mosquito I found in a block of amber.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson