MEXICO BEACH: “It gets worse from here, a lot worse.”

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MEXICO BEACH, FL [16 OCT 18]– I have no doubt, last week, in the immediate hours and days following Monster Storm Michael, the air here was filled with the competing sounds of chainsaws, branches cracking, and parts of centuries-old oaks falling to the ground with a sickening “thud” …

Today was different.

In storm-obliterated Mexico Beach (or “Mexico City Beach” as so many people are wont to say), it was mostly quiet. Serene, friendly … and hopeful. And heart-breaking in a deeply spirit-crushing sort of way.

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I left Santa Rosa Beach early, knowing it would likely be a slow drive into the latest Ground Zero, the last one being a few weeks back in the Carolinas after that bitch Florence blew through. Dense fog forced me off U.S. Highway 98 back onto Scenic Highway 30A which would typically be my last choice on a school drop-off morning.

The drive would be 55 miles so, eh, 90 minutes to get over there and donate a trunk-load of supplies that included toothpaste, toothbrushes, dental floss, deodorant (men’s and women’s), shampoo, shaving cream, razor blades, two boxes of pre-packaged snacks, 250 bottles of spring water and … toilet paper. There is but no other item more glorious and appreciated than toilet paper when the moment is nigh.

Take that, Viagra and Cialis.

Nope, three hours.

Three sickening hours that got worse as the odometer gained in age. Ten miles from home where Scenic Highway 30A meets U.S. Autobahn 98 on the east end, a toppled Texaco canopy was already under the surgeon-welder’s restorative touch. A few downed tree limbs here, a lot of palm fronds there, as I inched further east. Florida storms can be brutal, especially on the piney woods of the Panhandle, but so far this one seemed like it had been, well, sort of benign … until I reached the east side of Panama City Beach, a dichotomous neighborhood that blends sketchy sections with magnificent waterfront homes of a bygone era.

Then you see the oaks. Great,  glorious Live Oaks that stand tall and strong with arms that reach out to the world in a reassuring, I will always be here for you kinda way. They’re everywhere once you get to east Bay County. Old ones. Big ones. Spectacular ones meant to stand for centuries and centuries … and then a century more.

Now they stood stripped and shamed and twisted and gnarled; their dignity and majesty stolen by a blustery dude named Michael who blew through town six days earlier for, what, one, two, three hours on a Wednesday afternoon …? He definitely left his mark, his tattoo, his scar and his memory on what must’ve been, in more glorious days, a rather noble section of these parts.

Today, the ‘hood and the haute tôit stood shoulder to shoulder. In need. Humbled. On their knees.

Seeing that was the easy part …

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I crept ever more slowly east through Callaway and Parker and a town called Millville that I’d never heard of and, without thinking, turned the radio off to drive in silence. It was instinctive. This was serious. This was solemn. This was sickening. This was some serious shit. I knew it would be. I didn’t know how much it would be.

I stopped along 98 to shoot some images of something, I don’t know. I squeezed off more than 300 Nikon and cellphone moments today, knowing I’d have to cull them to a precious few with impact. They all had impact but I wanted real, soul-stirring, gut-wrenching impact to try and keep awareness alive for the extended period of time so many good folks are going to need to even dream of a normal day.

As I started back to my car, a voice called, “Hey!” I turned and a lady in a turquoise bikini who had no business being in a bikini of any color or size, waved to me in obvious need so I walked towards her.

“When you get to the guard shack, can you tell someone there are two water lines at the Bonita Bay Marina shooting fresh water in the air and we need to get them capped? I hate to see fresh water wasted when so many people need it.” I assured her I would.

A mile down the road, I stopped at the western-most guard shack to Tyndall Air Force Base on the south side of the road but nobody was there. Oh, well, I thought, I tried. But I really hadn’t. I continued east and found another Tyndall checkpoint, this one on the north side of 98, with a skinny young guy in camo and an AR-something over his shoulder wearing the look of a soldier who takes his gig seriously. I kept my hands in sight and looked him in the eye and explained the situation — ill-advised turquoise bikini and all. He looked a little befuddled. After all, the third largest meteorological monster had swept through less than a week earlier and there were bigger fish to fry in a part of America that likes to fry its seafood. He asked me to write down the issue, my name, and my phone number. I did.

I continued along the section of 98 that bisects Tyndall Air Force Base, home of the world’s largest Raptor squadron which I know is a big deal but, honestly, I’m not up on such things. And then reality started building in volume … and the car radio remained silent.

Mile after mile after Oh, Lordy… mile, there were tall, skinny pine trees, snapped uniformly like they’d been meticulously folded along an assembly line. The orderliness amid such chaos was weird. They were all angled downward in the exact same southwesterly direction at roughly the same height off the ground, maybe 12’-14’; no doubt the incriminating evidence of a counter-clockwise rotation of a cyclonic shithead like Michael.

I lost count at one million broken pines.

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There wasn’t much traffic aside from speeding, yellow/red/blue/green/orange flashing vehicles of all sorts – local cops, military, insurance adjusters, FEMA, Florida Highway Patrol, U.S. Forest Service, Florida Wildlife & Fish Commission, news van, tow trucks, and who knows what else —  along this dead-ass-straight stretch of east-west highway. I pulled off at one point to shoot some pictures, aware of the dude in the blue shirt with the logo patch a few hundred feet away and thinking he might be some type of law enforcement and likely not happy with my roadside dawdling.

“You a Buddhist?”, he asked, eying the chakra bracelet on my right wrist.

“No, I don’t identify as a Buddhist but I do like a lot of Buddha’s teachings.”

He was a Field Producer with The Weather Channel and a nice guy. Soft-spoken, friendly and sweaty … like everyone else. I resisted the urge to gush over Jim Cantore (I have long said I would love to write and field-produce for “the other JC” as a dream job because I’m fascinated with weather extremes). He warned me, “It gets worse from here, a lot worse. Be careful drivin’ in.”

He was right. Damn right.

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I rounded a bend thinking I was within a few miles of my destination and, boom, a Mexico Beach sign suddenly beckoned with “Welcome! Share the beauty we enjoy every day!”

Not today. The sign was broken on its crown with a backdrop of snapped pines.

There were National Guard checkpoints here and there and, surprisingly, not as restrictive as I’d expected. The Weather Channel guy had told me they’d stepped up their vetting in recent days but would likely let me through if they knew the trunk held relief. Truth be told, the Guardsman acted more like friendly traffic cops (AR-Somethings and all) as they routed vehicles around utility crews and disaster recovery operations. They waved and smiled as you passed by.

There was no barking or yelling, no sign of tensions running high (even in the 90-degree October heat) six days into this catastrophe. If anything, when people spoke, they did so in the manner of someone who had worked their way through the early shock and focused only on moving things along. The “To Do List” is long.

I asked a group of firefighters on break and eating lunch under side-by-side EZ-Up Tents where I could drop off the supplies. “City Hall will take ‘em. Keep going on 98 a little bit then turn left. You’ll see the signs, they’re spray-painted orange on pieces of plywood.”

I pulled up to “City Hall” – really just a smallish, one-story, boxy building – and the sweat-coated lady with sleeves rolled up to a set of beefy shoulders told me they’d run out of space inside and I could take the relief supplies to a larger, staging area. “Go to 386 then turn north and keep going ‘til it ends then take a left and you’ll see it. And, hey … thank you,” she said, that last part delivered heartfully and with purposeful eye-to-eye contact.

They don’t tell you there’s no 386 sign anywhere and it would take me passing by several times in both directions before I figured it out.

It was a big, open grassy field probably used for autumn fairs and carnival rides, happier times, for sure. There were more pop-up tents here than a dozen college football tailgate areas. The Guardsman at the entrance asked me what sort of supplies I had.

“Cases of water, toilet paper, hygiene products, things like that.”

“We’re good on the water, we got like eight truckloads in yesterday but we’ll take the hygiene products, especially the toilet paper,” he said.

They were good on water. There were cases and cases of bottled water stacked chest high and covering large areas of the grassy field. I’d hit Dollar Tree and Costco in Atlanta before driving down to Santa Rosa. I bought the most I could that would fit in the car. It had taken several hours last weekend but, within 90 seconds, it had been unloaded by a couple of National Guard guys who thanked me repeatedly.

I felt empty. I knew our contribution would be a trifle, given the enormous need, but I didn’t expect it to feel like such a trifle.

With all but the cases of bottled water now where they belong, I made my way back to the shore road, pulling over from time-to-time, to snap more pictures and see with my own eyes the horror that had occupied so much of the national news networks’ programming in recent days. Drone shots were the greatest story-tellers as you got a bird’s eye sense of what had really happened in Mexico Beach which, until last Wednesday, was one of the few remaining stretches of coastline clinging to its Olde Florida charm. When the town rebuilds – and it’s going to take year upon year – things will never quite be the same. Quaint will have to abide by current building codes, once-majestic trees will take decades to grow tall enough to once again clothe the region, and no doubt some property owners will say “The hell with it …” and sell to developers who will bull their way through local planning commissions to get approval on slick new condo developments then bulldoze any of the charm that gets in the way of their wallets.

It’s the Florida way.

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Now headed west back towards Santa Rosa Beach, I pulled over at Northstar Church along 98 … in Callaway, I think. There were spray-painted signs that said, “Free Supplies / Ice” and a long line of grateful takers snaking their way through the parking lot. The Costco bottled water I’d bought comes in 40-packs, not the usual 30 or 24, and those suckers are heavy, probably a good 35 pounds or so. A skinny little guy, maybe 10 years old, ran over to me and said, “I’ll take that for you!”

“It’s heavy, real heavy,” I warned, figuring the kid maybe weighed 75 pounds with heavy shoes on. His eyes widened and bulged as he took the load but he managed to get it over to the staging area … and left me to unload the rest. Which was fine with me, I don’t blame him for opting to ride on a pallet jack instead. Even catastrophe can’t get in the way of child’s play.

I took my time driving back, working my way out of Ground Zero to the fringes of the weather-whipped war zone, noticing things on the return trip that I hadn’t seen several hours earlier. Along the way, I heard on the radio that search and rescue teams had been able to search — but not rescue — two more souls whose bodies were found today in the destruction. Where I just was. The death toll was now at 29 … and counting, sure to climb higher. I shuddered.

Passing by Tyndall Air Force Base again, I was stunned at how much had been damaged or destroyed there – a huge hangar, nine zillion pine trees, cinderblock buildings, and a line of bright orange military drones like the one I saw one evening on the beach walkover across the street from us in Santa Rosa. That night, I’d heard a distant buzz, instinctively pointed my Nikon skyward, panned west to east, and was lucky to capture a shot of the drone that had to have been traveling at 200 MPH.

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Back in 2007, on the way to the beach from Atlanta on a late Thursday afternoon, I’d been trying to outrun a bad squall line ahead of a cold front. The threat of tornadoes was high and I wanted to get south of the system before it passed. The sky was purplish-black to my right as I rolled through the bright white cotton fields of southern Alabama. I made it through with about 45 minutes to spare.

Enterprise, Alabama wasn’t so lucky.

An EF-4 twister with 170MPH winds dropped from the skies onto Enterprise High School and took eight students with it. Fifty more were injured. Three days later, on my Sunday afternoon return drive to Atlanta, curiosity and an urge to donate some recovery money had me detour to the high school where cars were still flipped, trees were down and pink insulation hung in the branches of trees that had been luckier than others. I stopped by the First Baptist Church and wrote a check. I marveled at the alluring smell of barbecue chicken and pork and hamburgers and veggies that filled the air. There were boomboxes playing music and smiling folks seated around folding tables, sharing a meal and consuming the meat that would otherwise spoil if it wasn’t soon cooked.

I’d expected somberness but I saw something otherwise. A spirit of community, neighbors helping neighbors, laughter, warmth and gratitude to still be alive to work their way through the tough days, weeks and months ahead. Enterprise is known as the “City of Progress” – at least that’s what the water tower says – and it’s believed to be the only place on the planet with a statue of an agricultural insect on its Main Street. Nearly 100 years earlier, the boll weevil invaded Enterprise and wiped out its entire cotton crop, forcing local farmers to diversify their crops the next season – peanuts and other things – which brought a level of prosperity cotton never had provided. City leaders paid homage by commissioning a statue of the dastardly weevil for actually being a blessing in disguise.

Six days ago, Mexico Beach sustained the equivalent of a dozen EF-4 tornadoes, maybe 100, I don’t know. The devastation was just that great and widespread. And truly gut-wrenching. I have no doubt their story of rebuilding and reclaiming their lives and their little beach town will one day rival that of Enterprise. You could hear it in their tones today and see it in their grateful eyes. “FEMA Please Make Mexico Beach Great Again” read one spray-painted bedsheet hanging from a second-story balcony.

Mexico Beach (and Callaway and Parker and Youngstown and Blountstown and Marianna and Vernon and Chipley and …) will need FEMA and much, much more to make that happen. The road is long and it’s uphill. Steeply uphill. This success story will be written over years and, in some cases, decades since trees don’t grow tall overnight. There’ll no doubt be another disaster (they’re inevitable) and eyes and attention will move on to the next as Hurricane Michael did to that bitch Florence in the Carolinas. Before long, it will be left entirely up to the good folks of Mexico Beach to see it all through.

Pray. Donate. Volunteer. One day, the story might include a plot-twist and suddenly you’re the victim.

 

 

Olympian Mike Eruzione Once Told Me I Was from “Sack o’shit”, Massachusetts!

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FORTY YEARS LATER, I still vividly remember the U.S. Olympic Hockey Team’s run to gold at Lake Placid — an unlikely, improbable and seemingly impossible upset stunner against the Soviets, 4-3, in a Friday night semi-final followed two days later by a 4-2 U.S. win over Finland. Al Michael’s “Do you believe in miracles? YES!” call rings in my ears today. SI named the victory over the Soviets the greatest sports moment of the 20th century.

Indeed it was. Especially considering the Rooskies’ roster was chock-full of professionals while the U.S. team was entirely a rag-tag group of amateurs, most of whom hadn’t found the need to shave just yet. I listened to the shocker on the radio driving home after a date and watched the gold medal game on Sunday.

About three days later, I moved from Atlanta to West Palm Beach to start my first real job after college – sportswriting at The Palm Beach Post. I don’t remember the details of the conversation with my Sports Editor — a laid-back, shaggy-haired, chain-smoking guy named Larry Mlynczak who loved the local dog track — but about a week after I started, I convinced him to let me track down Mike Eruzione for a story.

Eruzione was the captain of that legendary team and united this group as well as any captain ever has. He was a spirited, talkative New Englander with Boston accent dripping from both corners of his mouth.

He scored the historic game-winner against the Soviets and despite being the hero, it was always about the team, not him. It’s ironic his initials are ME because there was no “me” in anything the captain did for that group. In fact, he rallied his teammates to join him on the medal stand, a platform built to accommodate the weight of three athletes, not an entire team. It was equally miraculous the stand didn’t collapse that day.

Eruzione was one of five “Miracle on Ice” team members that went undrafted by the NHL following the Olympics. He chose to hang up his skates despite an offer from the New York Rangers. [A Boston boy playing in New York … don’t think so.]

Somehow, with the help of Eruzione’s agent, I was able to score a phone interview that lasted about 30 minutes and had me scribbling notes madly to try and keep up with Eruzione’s wind-him-up personality.

Somewhere along the line, I managed to slip in a second question and Eruzione said, “I hear a bit of a Boston accent. Where you from?” When I told him Scituate, Mass [pronounced “Sit-chew-it”], he blurted out, “Scituate! You mean Sack o’shit! That’s where Davey Silk is from!”

Dave Silk was a winger and center on the Olympic team and at Boston University [where my Dad was a scholarshipped track & field/cross-country athlete] along with college teammates Jim Craig, Jack O’Callahan and Eruzione himself. Silk went on to play more than a dozen years in the NHL. Last I heard, he was long-retired one town up the coast from Scituate, in Cohasset, MA. I’ve told the “Sack o’shit” story many times over the years but always follow up with how much I cherished growing up in Scituate, still a wonderful New England harbor town.

More than three decades after the 1980 Olympics, I tried several times to get Eruzione booked as a motivational speaker for some of my corporate sales-group clients. Unfortunately, schedules never quite worked out. Eruzione is, to this day, an in-demand speaker; benefiting from his warm yet turbo-charged personality and his priceless insider’s perspective on one of the greatest moments in all of sports history.

I did get to speak with him once more about 10 years ago regarding a speaking opp and recounted our initial chat in 1980 and his “Sack o’shit” comments. He claimed he remembered the conversation.

Made me smile.

 

I Spent July 4, 1984 with President Reagan

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President Ronald Reagan on the call with MRN’s Ned Jarrett at Daytona International Speedway.    [July 4, 1984]

One of the final races I ever covered as a sportswriter was the 1984 Firecracker 400 at Daytona International Speedway.

It was a big day all-around.

About 10 days before the race, I received an engraved invitation from The White House to join President Reagan … Continue reading

A LUCKY DAY AT AUGUSTA NATIONAL GOLF CLUB

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(Photo courtesy of Getty Images.)

DAWN BROKE AND WITH IT, NEWS WE DIDN’T WANT – a low-ceiling, dark skies and a forecast peppered with intermittent heavy downpours.

Not exactly the type of weather you want or need for a chopper shoot of Augusta National Golf Club. Or any target from “the eye in the sky”, for that matter.

Careful planning had taken weeks and we were set to go except that we hadn’t counted on April showers arriving a few days ahead of schedule in late-March. Radar images that morning evoked memories of a childhood kaleidoscope. To say we were bummed would be like saying Roberto De Vicenzo didn’t like the Sunday scorecard he signed at Augusta back in 1968, thereby signing away his only shot at a Masters Championship. (“What a stupid I am!”, one of the great one-line quotes ever.)

Looking back, I was a lucky S.O.B. because I’d been assigned this Masters project 11 times during my 15-year fun run as a Creative Director/Senior Producer at The Coca-Cola Company. It wasn’t ‘til after The Company and I parted ways that I realized how lucky this S.O.B. truly was to have opportunities like this.

I digress …

Regardless of weather, our chopper had been chartered and paid for, cleared by the tower to fly that morning, and awaited us at PDK, as Atlantans call it (Peachtree-DeKalb Airport in Chamblee). We’d made arrangements to use the 96Rock traffic helicopter; at the time a sleek black bird with aviation-style racing stripes along the sides and a broken headset that turned out to be the one I would wear on the way over, arriving with a headache for the ages.

I hired the same shoot crew for many years and we’d shot “The National” nine ways to Sunday, so to speak.

We’d shot the glorious clubhouse from every conceivable angle. We’d shot the iconic flowerbed fashioned perfectly into the Masters Tournament logo in front of that pristine clubhouse. We’d shot from behind the azaleas bordering the back of No.12 tee box and we’d shot gurgling close-ups of “Rae’s Creek”.

We’d shot the Par-3 course (another story for another day) and “The Crow’s Nest” against royal blue skies unlike what we had today. We’d shot reverent, teary-eyed “Masters Patrons” (as fans are politely called) visiting the hallowed grounds for the first time. We’d shot “The Veranda”, the “Eisenhower Tree” on No.17, and we’d shot beneath “The Big Oak Tree” (everything has an understood name at Augusta National). We’d shot golfers playfully skipping balls across the pond fronting No.16 green. We’d even shot slow-mo of fans sipping Coca-Cola from branded cups in the gallery. (Outside trademarks are a non-no at Augusta National, I learned.)

What was left?

That’s when aerials came to mind.

Mind you, this was a quarter-century ago, long before drones and Sony GoPros and HD imagery were even in play. Our Director of Photography — a tall, cool lanky guy name Brian who tolerated my wisecracks — worked diligently to prepare a shoot rig that allowed him to mount his camera outside the nose of the chopper while he sat right of the pilot and operated the camera with a joystick. At the time, it was pretty ingenious. Today, a $500 Costco drone and HD cam could pull off the same task in less time, for far less money, and with remarkably better results.

But this is now, and that was then …

I’d contacted the Federal Aviation Administration at Bush Field in Augusta to find out what our minimum altitude would be over the grounds of Augusta National and was told told 500 feet. Out of respect, I also contacted the club’s Communications Director at the time and asked him what he preferred. He said, “We’ll have members on the grounds that day. Please, no lower than 1,000 feet.” Shoulda kept my mouth shut!

Chopper blades whirling and decibels soaring, we lifted off for the 59-minute trip through thick clouds, rain and the occasional splash of brightness that temporarily lifted our spirits … only to dash them minutes later. We knew when we left, we had Vegas odds of capturing anything remotely beautiful on such a bad-weather day and this would probably be a mission of futility. But as I said, payments had been made and, who knows, maybe one of us had a good karma chit that could be cashed in that day.

It wasn’t me but it was someone on the crew, thankfully.

Just as we approached Augusta National and prepared to ease down in the grassy Patrons parking lot, a brilliant slash of sunlight broke through the clouds and, with it, glorious patches of blue appeared. Soon, the last of the dark skies gave way to bright, white puffs that make for great images. The rain and sudden sunburst had turned Augusta National into a spectacular shade of emerald-green that would look absolutely amazing on motion film.

There IS a God, I thought … and he probably plays golf at Augusta National!

It took an hour or so for Brian, our DP, to mount the camera, test the joystick, and review the “shot sheet” one last time. Damn near giddy with our good weather fortune, we lifted off again, blades of shiny green grass flattening against the ground from the blades above creating a powerful “prop wash”.

We journeyed about a mile beyond Washington Road, away from Augusta National, and made a slow bank back towards the club, moving in a northwest-to-southeast direction so we had the perfect shot that would open with a glorious overhead of the magnolias that line both sides of, well, Magnolia Lane. From there, we’d pass above the flowerbed logo, the clubhouse, “The Veranda” and its classic green and white umbrellas, and “The Big Oak Tree” before veering slightly left down No.10 fairway southeast towards “Amen Corner” – the most iconic of the Masters icons, in my opinion — before banking west and following Rae’s Creek along No.13 fairway. In post-production, the 27 frames-per-second would be slowed down dramatically so the viewer could take in the majesty of the grounds as seen from the Heavens.

We made at least a half-dozen passes on this route, keeping to a respectful 1,000-foot altitude, and even got a shot of several golfers on the putting green behind the clubhouse waving to us as we made our third or fourth pass. The rest of the day was spent shooting other parts of the course and we got lucky and captured a brilliant lens flare as the late-day sun reflected off the lake that separates No.16 tee box and green.

Knowing we were about done for the day and had what we needed, we decided to make one final pass along the original route, just for shits and giggles; along Magnolia Lane, over the clubhouse and down through Amen Corner.

This time at 500 feet. I mean, the FAA said it was OK.

We pulled it off, fingers crossed we’d gotten away with this, ahem, transgression.

After landing in the grassy parking lot, we climbed out of the chopper and began packing gear. About that time, a green golf cart from the direction of the clubhouse came speeding across the parking lot towards us. The driver’s green-and-yellow Augusta National tie whipped back over one shoulder and flapped angrily in the wind.

We’re screwed, I thought. It’s my project. My crew. My bad.

As he drew closer, I realized it was the club’s Communications Director. I approached the cart and greeted him as cheerfully as I could, anticipating an earful and a lifetime ban from the grounds of Augusta National.

“Y’all get everything you need?” he asked.

Fearing this was just an opening line before the tongue-lashing and eternal banishment, I fired a pre-emptive strike.

Hey, (name redacted), have you ever been up in a chopper?”

“No, never.”

“Want to ..?”

“Sure!”, he said, smiling like a kid about to ride his first roller-coaster.

While the crew continued packing gear, the two of us climbed in the bird. Once aloft, he asked if we could fly over his childhood home a few miles from Augusta National. We did, he marveled, and after a quick pass over the club’s grounds and about 15 minutes later, we landed.

Handshakes and smiles all around, hearty goodbyes, and “thanks for everything” send-offs, we took off on our return trip to PDK.

Crisis averted and, along with our amazing aerial footage, another personal Masters memory was safely “in the can”.

The Art of a Friendship (not what you’re probably thinking)

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While in the basement the other day, I came across a mildewed pencil sketch of me done by the great Jack Sneiderman. Jack was among a handful of men and women who traveled with the PGA TOUR and hand-calligraphed scores, tediously, hole-by-hole, player-by-player, on the scoreboard at the front of the Press Room and on the outdoor scoreboard adjacent to the clubhouse.

He was a tall, fit man, about 70 at the time we met (45 years older than me), and I was fascinated with how expertly and beautifully he hand-crafted scores, names, even the periodic cartoon vignette calling attention to a hole-in-one or a course record. And he did this while standing on milk crates to reach the top line of the oversized scorecard.

His printing was machine-like in its preciseness and as elegant as the finest font you can find on your laptop. In the rare event of a slip of the hand or an incorrect spelling or number, Jack would carefully cut out a patch of matching cardstock, glue it over the “oops”, and right the wrong. From the front row of the Press Room, you couldn’t see even a hint of imperfection.

These days, scoreboards are dynamic and digital and completely devoid of personality and style. We didn’t have online, real-time scoring back then so denizens of the press den would wait in anticipation when a score came in — would Jack reach for the red marker (below par) or black marker (par or above)? He was an integral part of the tournament excitement, not just the old dude with a fistful of Magic Markers and slick handwriting.

I would always make a point to seek Jack out if he was working a tournament I was covering and a friendship developed. I enjoyed his company and loved listening to him as he shared tales of other tournaments and TOUR players who’d commissioned him to do pencil sketches or watercolors. Amazingly, he was never formally trained as an artist. It was simply something he did periodically on the side while he was still working a traditional job and nearly full-time in retirement.

Jack had a deep voice and a strong Massachusetts accent (he was a long-time member of legendary Pleasant Valley Country Club in Sutton, MA) but he always spoke slowly and politely. He was a true “Nawth’n” gentleman and polite as the day is long.

Jack had been a widower for several years before he was introduced to Skeeter, a slightly younger tournament volunteer at The Texas Open in San Antonio. She’d been told to “Go see the old geezer on the scoreboard,” he used to say. Not too long afterward, the widower married the widow and they traveled together from tournament to tournament. Skeeter was blond and as Texas-kind and friendly as Jack was gentlemanly. Their eyes lit up when the other was around and their second-time-around love affair was obvious and enviable.

I wrote an article about Jack and Skeeter that ran in the USGA’s member magazine sometime in the early ’80s and, not too long afterward, ran into them at the 1984 Tournament Players Championship (now called The Players) at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, FL where I lived at the time. It was Wednesday of tournament week, Pro-Am Day, so things were loose and easy in the TPC Press Room. Jack and I were talking when he said, “Pete, pull up a chair.” Fifteen minutes later, he presented me the sketch.

As you can see by the other sketch, he generally dealt with people of slightly greater prominence than me.

I doubt Jack, or even Skeeter, are still with us since he would be 101 years old and she right behind him. But I still treasure that sketch (despite allowing it to deteriorate over the past 32 years) and even more deeply treasure the memories of conversations with my friend, Jack Sneiderman.

He Never Misses a Day … But He Misses Her

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“You like it?” he barked in a deep, raspy voice that screamed Southern-born and Southern-bred. It startled me a bit since he’d walked up from behind.

“Absolutely,” I responded. “It’s a beauty!”

“Twenty-nine Ford woodie,” he said proudly. He wore a Caterpillar hat and managed to make denim and flannel look smart on a crisp Saturday morning. He’d seen me down on one knee in the parking lot, snapping an iPhone picture of the license plate and came out to chat a spell. I’m guessing he was probably about as old as his 86-year-old classic.

“Found it in a barn up in Blairsville and had to have it. Here, let me show you something. You’ll like this …” Continue reading

A Nod to Furman Bisher, a Celebration of Thanksgiving

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The late, great Furman Bisher, a truly Shakespearian sports columnist for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution for more than six decades, used to bless my Thanksgiving mornings with a  delightful column that was a lovely, meandering mélange of things he was grateful for — large and small, heartfelt and humorous, simple and sentimental. His points of gratitude ranged from “My styptic pencil for when I need it … but I feel for the poor fella who invented it because I still have the one I bought 20 years ago” to poignant, warm expressions of love and appreciation for his wife, Linda.

This will be the fourth Turkey Day since Furman’s passing at the age of 94. I miss reading his prose, especially on Thanksgiving morning. So here’s my feeble stab at honoring his legacy.

I’m thankful for … Continue reading

Tempus Fugit … Way too Fast!

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It’s not uncommon to see it on the faces of grandfather clocks or other timepieces, and it’s one of perhaps a handful of Latin phrases I know since I opted for French in high school and college. (I wasn’t interested in trying to master an ancient language that has little use in today’s world outside of juris prudence.)

Tempus Fugit.

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In the afterglow of Saturday night’s 40th high school reunion, my mind kept landing on Tempus Fugit – time flies. (Or as originally written by Virgil, “it escapes, irretrievable time”.) It was apparent to me – and to many more, I’m sure — on Saturday night that time flew on three different levels.

The first is obvious, that being the relentless march of days, weeks … Continue reading

RECALLING UGA-BAMA 1977 AND BEAR BRYANT’S ACADEMY AWARD-WORTHY PERFORMANCE

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bear-bryant-alabama-football-secjpg-f8c0058d52e1ed66 Coach Dooley
As the hours wind down before kickoff of what’s being billed as a monumental tilt in AthensTown this Saturday between my beloved Georgia BullDawgs (4-0, ranked #8 in the latest Coaches Poll) and the oft-crowned Alabama Crimson Tide (3-1, inexplicably ranked too low at #13, IMHO), I can’t help but look back at one of my two most memorable UGA-Bama experiences.

A few of the details are a bit hazy 38 years later and I hope I haven’t embellished the story as the years have passed but enough details are still razor-sharp to make me believe this account is pretty darn close to 100% accurate.

Here ya go … Continue reading

A (Hopefully) Civil Discourse on Incivility

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civility

I remember reading a 1997 speech by the late, great Roberto Goizueta, legendary CEO of The Coca-Cola Company during its rock & roll years of the 1980s and ‘90s. It had been delivered a weekend or two before at a commencement exercise on some campus in some state somewhere, I don’t recall. The topic was “civility” and that intrigued me because Continue reading