Wednesday, March 10, 2010

when pigs fly

One of the best things about Nashville International Airport is the live music that you may encounter as you walk to your gate. I saw a sign for a "melody guy" that confused me because the singer was obviously a woman. It turns out that her name is Melody Guy.

I was at the airport to drop off my son, who is on his Spring break from college. Normally I would let him out of the car in the white zone, which is for loading and unloading only, and drive off. However this time he was traveling with some high-priced bacon. We were almost 100% sure that TSA would have no problem with the breakfast meat but we devised a back-up plan just in case. I would wait by the x-ray machines, ready to accept the pork if the officers rejected it. It all turned out fine and my son and his friends will be enjoying Benton's bacon for breakfast during his visit.

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Monday, March 08, 2010

archie's place

They say that New Yorkers don't visit the Statue of Liberty. I never have, even though I grew up in the nearby suburbs. I try not to repeat that mistake when traveling, which is why I'm surprised it has taken me this long to make it to the top of the Gateway Arch. The Arch is the centerpiece of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial in St. Louis.

On our 3,000 mile road trip in the summer of 2007, my family had the bad luck of visiting the Arch two days after a power outage caused all sorts of havoc. I got some nice pictures from the base, but did not ascend. We thought about going to the Arch in January, but it was completely engulfed in fog.

This past weekend, my wife and I made a quick trip through St. Louis after picking up our son at college. We had enough time on Saturday to go up in the Arch and to see the excellent (although dated) movie, "Monument to the Dream." I just put the DVD on my wish list.

The documentary shows how the landmark was constructed in the early '60s. It made me wish I could go back and see television news coverage from the raising of the last piece on October 28, 1965. I did find a good YouTube video with some pre-Arch history. A model outside the theater shows the last piece being raised into place.

The land below the Arch looks like a quiet, grassy park. It conceals an underground complex with two theaters, gift shops, a museum and more. The Museum of Westward Expansion featured lots of information about the Louisiana Purchase and an interesting smaller exhibit about baseball teams moving and expanding to the West. The warning not to touch the taxidermied animals amused me. Apparently not everyone knows that dead bison grow no hair.

The view out the city side of the Arch was more interesting than the view out the river side. Looking toward the north I could see the Edward Jones Dome. Looking toward the south I could see Busch Stadium. I really want to attend a Cardinals game there some day.

Because our plan was to leave early enough on Sunday to get home to watch the Oscars (we made it with minutes to spare), we wanted to go to a vigil Mass on Saturday night. St. Louis has a plethora of Catholic parishes and we hadn't decided which one to visit. I even asked my friend Fr. Ragan Schriver for suggestions. Once we had seen the movie and looked at the Museum of Westward Expansion, it was after 5:00 p.m. and we didn't have time to get to either of the churches Fr. Ragan had mentioned. I was collecting some brochures from the ranger at the information desk when I realized the answer was on a flyer in my hands. In fact, two hours earlier, I had photographed The Old Cathedral from 630 feet up. We could easily walk there in time for the 5:30 Mass.

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Wednesday, March 03, 2010

stealers wheel

The preseason hype for the very funny "Modern Family" got me to create season passes for ABC's Wednesday comedy lineup but it is "The Middle" that has won me over. I'm not taking anything away from "Modern Family." It's got a great combination of clever dialogue, outrageous characters and uncomfortable Phil moments. I just find "The Middle" to be more relatable.

Sometimes it's as if the writers of "The Middle" have a hidden camera trained on my family. They had a Christmas episode about the mom's solo with the church choir that hit close to home. As my wife and I were watching "American Idol," I got a text message from my daughter that said, "make sure Mom watches 'The Middle' tonight!" I was recording both shows, so I paused "Idol" and switched to "The Middle."

For the first ten minutes or so, we wondered what had prompted my daughter's text message. The episode seemed to center on Brick's participation in a spelling bee and Sue's overlooked birthday. Once the Hecks began their road trip to Chicago, we knew.

A few years ago, at a big birthday party for my mother-in-law, my wife got our kids and all their cousins to sing the same song that the Hecks sang in tonight's show. It's something about an Austrian going yodeling. That wasn't all. Their side trip to the World's Largest Oak Tree Stump was slightly reminiscent of my family's side trip to the World's Largest Ball of Twine. I suspect that the writers based the oak stump on the World's Largest Sycamore Stump in Kokomo.

I wrongly assumed that people who missed the show tonight could watch it online tomorrow. A message at says that full episodes are unavailable. The best I could find is a one-minute scene about the tree stump.

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Friday, January 29, 2010


The best piece of art I saw on my last trip to St. Louis was not in one of the city's famous museums but in a restaurant. To be fair, I didn't get to any museums this time but that shouldn't take anything away from the interesting wall hanging at the trendy pizza place π. They have a map of the 48 contiguous states made from pieces of license plates. Each state is represented by a plate from that state. Rhode Island is only the size of the letter R from its plate.

The map got me thinking about the seven states I haven't visited yet. I had tentatively planned to go to Mount Rushmore this year, however some news from the FBI Knoxville Citizens Academy Alumni Association has changed my mind. The group has rescheduled its annual field trip to Washington and Quantico. The new dates are in August, when I am allowed to take vacation.

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Saturday, November 21, 2009


For the second year in a row I bought a Christmas ornament sight unseen. My wife and I didn't get a souvenir from Lake Winnipesaukee during our trip there in July. We buy ornaments when we find ones we like but we don't go too far out of our way to look.

Last year I persuaded a sales clerk in Branson to describe some ornaments to me. I picked one and had it shipped here. Earlier this week I called The Christmas Loft and asked if they had what I wanted. The clerk described a porcelain piece made by Barlow Designs that sounded just about perfect. It arrived yesterday with plenty of time to spare before we begin decorating.

In other Lake Winnipesaukee news, I may finally get around to watching "What About Bob?" Although filmed in Virginia, the story is set at the New Hampshire lake. It will be shown on Starz Comedy this coming Friday. My DVR is set.

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Sunday, October 18, 2009

middle class

Two weeks ago, I did a little church sightseeing in Norfolk. Last Sunday I did the same thing in Middleburg. My wife and I went to Mass with our friend Maureen at St. Stephen the Martyr Catholic Church. The colonial style structure was built with some special accommodations for President John F. Kennedy. According to "The Middleburg Mystique," the church had a special room with a direct phone line to the White House.

The Kennedys would often spend weekends in Middleburg. JFK probably attended Mass at St. Stephen's only two or three times before his death. The church opened in the Spring of 1963. An Associated Press article from late October described the First Family's initial visit to the church, complete with details of the fidgety children and which pew they used. "The Middleburg Mystique" says they last went to Mass there twelve days before his death. Their pew is marked by a small plaque.

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Friday, October 16, 2009


During my most recent interview with Jon Jefferson and Dr. Bill Bass, I mentioned one of my family's favorite stories about our trip to Hawaii several years ago. We stayed on Molokai, which is where the Hawaiians go to vacation.

In addition to my wife and kids, my mother, my grandmother, my sister and her husband and his mother all made the trip. The whole group went on sightseeing expeditions to places like Tuddie Purdy's macadamia nut farm and a church built by Fr. Damien de Veuster. The older generation would stay back at the condo resort while my wife and I took our kids to the beach.

Fr. Damien was well on his way to sainthood during our visit. In fact, he was canonized by Pope Benedict XVI just this past Sunday. While we were off at the beach one day, my grandmother saw a news story about a relic of the holy man returning to the islands.

The hand of St. Damien was going to be somewhere in Honolulu on the same day that we would be flying home. Grandma wanted to see the hand before we left. Nowadays, it would be easy to Google the hand and find the news story Grandma had seen. Back then, I had no Internet access on vacation but I wasn't going to let Grandma down.

We flew from Molokai to Honolulu on a Sunday morning. We had gone to a vigil Mass the night before and had some time to kill before our flight to Los Angeles. I took the group to Hilo Hattie's and told Grandma that all I needed to find the hand was a phone and a roll of quarters. In those days, if you weren't at home and needed to make a phone call, you would look for a public phone and put coins into it to get it to work. Weird, huh?

The payphone had a phone book with it. I looked for listings that started with St. somebody or Our Lady of whatever. One church after another told me the same thing: the hand had been displayed there but had since moved to another church. I went through a bunch of quarters until I got confirmation that the hand was at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace.

I got everybody to the cathedral before the next Mass started and eagerly went inside to see the hand. An usher pointed us toward a side altar where it was displayed. We were told that Fr. Damien wanted to be buried among the lepers he served on Molokai but that his superiors arranged for his body to be returned to his home country of Belgium. Many years later as a compromise, his body had been exhumed and his "healing hand" removed and sent to Hawaii. I guess I had been expecting to see something that looked like a mummified Thing from the Addams Family. I was disappointed that all I saw was a box, which they called a coffin.

Another relic will be touring the islands for the remainder of October. The Pope presented a bone from St. Damien's heel to Bishop Larry Silva. It was briefly on display in Detroit, San Francisco and Oakland this past week.

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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

mallow inn

Middleburg is in the heart of Virginia's "hunt country." Riders on horseback and their hounds hunt foxes the way they did in the cartoons we watched as kids. On Sunday, my wife and I met some relatives for a delicious brunch at the Hunter's Head Tavern in nearby Upperville. I had heard that the restaurant's owner was not a fan of fox hunting and designed a logo in which the fox gets the upper hand. There's even a comical mounted head near the bar.

If I had been eating alone, I probably would have gone to a shop called Mello Out, despite their inability to spell marshmallow. They specialize in handmade marshmellos [sic] but have other menu items too. I would have ordered the Adam's Apple, which is apple, peanut butter, bacon and honey on brioche.

My wife and I did stop in to get a package of their marshmallows. Our friend Maureen from Fox Chase Farm was with us. While we were there, the staff was taking some Cosmic Cupcakes out of the refrigerator and putting them on display for the day. Fortunately for us, the frosting on one of the cupcakes had gotten stuck to the container. Since it was unsuitable for sale, the manager gave it to the three of us to split. The frosting was rich and tasty and the cake was exceptionally moist. It was the best cupcake I have had in quite some time.

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Sunday, October 11, 2009

bean counter

The more you pay for a hotel room, the less you get. After my vasovagal syncope, we stayed in a Holiday Inn Express. We had free WiFi and a big free breakfast the next morning that included custom-made omelets.

Last weekend, we stayed in a regular Holiday Inn in Charlottesville that cost more than an Express. We still had free WiFi but breakfast was only available in the full-service restaurant. If I hadn't made coffee in the room, I could have taken advantage of free coffee in the hotel lobby.

The next night we stayed in a nice Marriott in downtown Norfolk. The hotel charged $9.95 per day for Internet access, the restaurant in the lobby was a Shula's 347 Grill and the coffee in the lobby was not free, in fact it was Starbucks. I did make a pot of coffee in the room but it didn't taste very good. Still, I brought home the remaining pouches of coffee and had occasion to brew one last Thursday before going to the FBI Citizens Academy. It tasted just as bad as the coffee I made in the hotel room, if not worse.

Although I am not a long time coffee drinker, I think I am discerning enough to know a bad cup when I taste one. The stuff from the Marriott was gross. Since picking up the caffeine habit, I found that I especially like the taste of the Javarama coffee at work, the Kona coffee at Weigel's and the dark roast at Panera Bread.

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Saturday, October 10, 2009

mini haha

An unusual vehicle got our attention when my wife and I stopped for dinner on our way home last Sunday. We were at Chipotle near the Hanes Mall in Winston-Salem. A minivan festooned with Mickey Mouse heads pulled into a parking space outside. I had finished eating, so I went to my own car and got the camera. The shapes reflected the camera flash, creating an unusual image.

The man with the van said he was a fan of all things Disney. His family visits Walt Disney World every year. He got the idea for his van's decorations when he had some excess reflective material from the ambulance he drives. He designed the bubbling Mickey heads on his computer and had a friend at an auto signage shop cut the pieces by using the design. The man likes being noticed. Before owning a minivan, he used to have a truck with the most neon in North Carolina. At least that's what he said.

When I got back to our table inside the restaurant, my wife commented that things like this happen to me often. She said we can go just about anywhere and a blog topic will fall into my lap. I think my natural curiosity helps me to take notice of things that interest me. When my wife and I went to see the World's Largest Rocking Chair, I saw a man with a welding torch and asked him what was going on. If we had merely taken a quick picture and gotten back in our car, we would have missed seeing the one and only time the chair actually rocked. It was worth waiting a few minutes to experience kitsch history. It's also possible that I am somewhat more approachable than most people. I feel that people often ask me for directions at a traffic light or for help in a store. In all fairness, I'm just as likely to be the one asking someone else for help.

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Friday, October 09, 2009

maid of the misty eyes

Last night's episode of "The Office" got me choked up for the first time since the movie "Up." Like most viewers, I have become invested in the relationship between Pam and Jim. It was emotionally fulfilling when they found a way to steal back some privacy and romance from their annoying co-workers.

The suspense built as we waited for Michael Scott to be the first to put his foot in his mouth. They caught us off guard when it was Jim who did it instead. Of course Michael proceeded to ram it in up to the knee. Almost every episode makes me think of the quote that Steve Carell paraphrased from Ricky Gervais, "if you don't know a Michael Scott, you are a Michael Scott."

Entertainment Weekly reported that the rehearsal dinner scene was filmed at the Smokehouse in Burbank. My family and I went there with friends for a few celebratory dinners after various events with our kids at St. Finbar School. I also had a few business lunches there with radio executives from Emmis Communications and a nice dinner there with Billy Bush when he was first thinking about moving to Los Angeles.

I recognized the exterior of the hotel from my trip to Niagara Falls in 2007. In fact, I took a picture of the Red Coach Inn because it had the same name as a restaurant my parents used to take us to in Yonkers. It's right next to a totem-like building that could be partially seen on last night's show.

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Monday, October 05, 2009

Goren piece

A big fan of Vincent D'Onofrio is making an heroic attempt to keep him on "Law & Order Criminal Intent." Her exhaustive attempt to reach all corners of the Internet has even brought her as far as contacting Frank Murphy Dot Com. Why? Because I love Marshmallow Fluff.
My name is Nantz and I wanted to make you aware of a massive writing campaign that the fans of LOCI have been involved with. We have been sending postcards, emails, snail mail, tweets and posting everywhere we can to get our message out there of our displeasure at the dumping of Vincent D'Onofrio, Katie Erbe and Eric Bogosian. In answer to USA Network's trending towards "lighter fare" and "fluff" I have come up with the idea to send jars and jars of "Fluff" (that's the marshmallow crème) to the execs to let them know they can "stuff their fluff." As soon as the season premiere airs and all the aforementioned actors are gone, so are we, and long with us the ratings will go too. Not such good news for a cable network that is currently #1 and the reason they have such high ratings is because of shows like LOCI in the first place. Our voices have been heard as we have been highlighted in twice now. Soon cases of Fluff, cotton balls, Polyfill will arrive and right now they are being inundated with thousands of letters and postcards. WE control the numbers and if it's all about the almighty dollar in cutting these actors because of their salaries then they will find out what exactly numbers really mean.
Nantz is using her blog dedicated to D'Onofrio to spread the word about saving her favorite characters. The blog links to a Twitter account called saveGorenEames. They are hoping other Twitter users will copy and paste their "tweets."

I am curious to learn more about a site called On Location Vacations. They are encouraging "Law & Order" fans to bring Marshmallow Fluff to the set in New York on October 16. I'm interested in checking the site before I take my sightseeing trips next year just in case somebody happens to be filming in Iowa or South Dakota. It will be especially helpful when I can get around to visiting L.A. again.

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Sunday, October 04, 2009

holy spirituals

The bellman said that the Catholic church nearest to our downtown Norfolk hotel was the Basilica of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception. He wanted to make sure I knew that it was a Black Catholic church and that the liturgy would have a Baptist feel to it. I've joked that my home parish in Knoxville, All Saints, is very Baptist-friendly because of all the converts in our congregation. Besides, how Baptist could it be if the church is named after the Virgin Mary? As it turned out, the experience of worshiping at St. Mary's was rather different from All Saints.

Besides the obvious reversal of the race ratio, I noticed that the last seven pews at St. Mary's were elevated on risers. My daughter noted the absence of a center aisle and my wife pointed out that there were no kneelers in the pews. The cover of the hymnals was designed with an African feel to it. "Lead Me, Guide Me" is from GIA Publications and had several informative essays about Black Catholic worship.

One of the terms I picked up from the hymnal was "dialogical preaching." During the homily by Deacon Calvin Bailey there were some exclamations of "amen" and the like. The congregation applauded after the sermon, as they did after most of the hymns. The choir swooped and swayed in their robes while they sang "I've Decided to Follow Jesus," "Amazing Grace" and "Let Us Break Bread Together" among others. My wife, who knew that last hymn, found it ironic that they sang "let us break bread together on our knees" in a church with no kneelers.

The congregation remained standing during the parts of the Mass when most American Catholics are kneeling. The sign of peace differed somewhat too as altar servers and congregants left their places to walk around the church and embrace their friends and loved ones. The readings and prayers were right out of the Roman Missal. No liberties were taken, which I've heard may happen at some other parishes in the Diocese of Richmond.

After Mass, a parishioner who introduced herself as Carol Swank approached us. Being white and all it was fairly apparent that we were visitors. She told us a little about the history of the building and took us to three areas of interest. From the choir loft we got a good view of the whole sanctuary and saw the area where African Americans had to sit in the 19th century. The old pre-Vatican 2 altar was turned 180° and moved forward, creating a space for a Blessed Sacrament chapel. Two pieces of the old marble altar rail were saved from the trash pile and placed there also.

The most interesting thing Carol showed us was something the hotel bellman had also suggested I see. The first church that stood on the adjacent plot of land was torched in 1856 possibly as a hate crime against Black Catholics. Only one thing was pulled from the flames of the burning building: a huge, hand-carved wooden crucifix. Next to it is a framed news article from the Virginian-Pilot telling the story of the crucifix.

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Friday, October 02, 2009


Part of the fun of my new coffee habit is my goal to never pay for it. Obviously the coffee at work is paid for by the company, not me. On Tuesday, I got a free cup at Patrick Sullivan's because I perform there regularly. I could have had a soda instead if I wanted. On Wednesday, Kurt Weigel gave me a cup of Kona coffee.

This weekend my wife and I are traveling to my cousin's wedding in Virginia. Tomorrow morning, for the first time in my life, I will use the coffee maker in a hotel room to brew some Chez Parisien French Roast just because it's available at no extra charge. My wife discovered that I can also go to Starbucks for a free sample of their new instant coffee this weekend. Just for trying Via, I will get a coupon for a cup of their regular Pike Place brewed coffee. If I repeat the process on Sunday, that's two coupons for future use.

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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

tick tock tober

In a way, I'm glad I got the flu when I did. It was a shame to miss several events over the weekend but it would have been worse if I had gotten sick a week or a month later. My October will be exceptionally busy.

The excitement starts later this week when I start an eight-week class at the FBI Citizens Academy. On one October weekend, we will take a field trip to the firing range. My uncle served in the FBI for many years. He and I will have a lot to talk about when I travel to Norfolk for a family wedding on another October weekend.

I was happy that my work schedule will allow me to emcee a great event in Virginia on October 10th. My friend Maureen is organizing the Ride for the Cure at her horse farm in Middleburg. Three celebrities I know have donated items to the silent auction. Thanks go to Jimmy Kimmel, Susan Olsen and Richard Cheese. By the way, Susan tells me that she already mailed off an autographed book to the auction before her son's cat used her last four books (including my copy) as a litter box.

I've already written about my plans to attend the screening of "Fish Bait" at Flat Hollow Marina & Resort on October 24. We are also going to attempt to participate in "Thrill the World," the worldwide "Thriller" dance. Director Jeff Joslin emailed me today to say that he is working on lining up a venue for a screening and party in Knoxville on Friday the 23rd.

With all this activity, there has to be something I will miss. Because of my commitment to the FBI Citizens Academy and because my wife will be singing at a wedding, we cannot attend her college reunion weekend at James Madison University. One of our favorite bands from our college days is reuniting for the event. The Skip Castro Band is playing a gig called "Boogie at Midlife."

But wait, there's more. I'm still undecided about whether or not I will attend the Knoxville Snuggie Pub Crawl on October 17th. What do you think? Obviously, I have the uniform of the day.

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Saturday, August 22, 2009

smile and grin at the change

A morning radio bit bummed me out on Friday. My wife and I had each taken the day off from work to bring our son back to college. We left Knoxville early enough that I was able to hear several different morning shows as we drove through Tennessee and into Kentucky. One of the shows did a segment that was either fake or illegal.

Because of the current climate in radio, I am reasonably sure that the bit I heard was faked. I can't imagine that any morning team would risk the FCC fine for a true phone scam. Pretending to be a police officer, one of the deejays placed a call to a man at work. Supposedly his wife suspected him of cheating on her. The fake cop told the man that his co-worker (and suspected girlfriend) was being investigated for theft. The girl's alibi was that she was out with the married man. The mark confirmed that he and she were at a Daughtry concert together on the night in question. Since I was convinced it wasn't real, I lost interest and changed the station.

The FCC's rules on the outgoing phone calls placed by radio stations are quite clear. The radio station must obtain permission to broadcast or record the voice of someone they call. The permission must be obtained before the person's voice is ever recorded or aired. Obviously, this rule makes it nearly impossible for a deejay to place a call and pretend to be someone else. It is not okay to record a prank phone call and then get permission to broadcast it once the joke has been revealed.

During my brief visit to Morning Show Bootcamp earlier this month, I spoke with the representatives from several showprep services. In exchange for running daily commercials, the services provide radio stations with jokes, celebrity news, audio clips and interviews. One of the pitchmen told me that his service now offers a cast of actors to interact with the deejays. The fake listeners are available in a variety of regional dialects. They were pitched to me as "phone starters," opinionated callers who can inspire real listeners to call in. I suppose you could also hire the actors to be on the receiving end of a "Candid Phone" scam.

Ultimately, I changed the station because I felt like the deejays were trying to fool me and the other listeners instead of trying to fool the husband on the phone. Audiences who like phone scams want to feel like they are in on the prank, not on the receiving end of it.

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Thursday, August 20, 2009

people pile

After every trip, I have some unused photos left on the memory chips in my phone and camera. Sometimes I remember why I took the picture, sometimes not. All I recall about seeing a bucket of Good Luck Mini Babies is that they freaked me out. They were in the gift shop at Clark's Trading Post in Lincoln, New Hampshire. I found out later that the same company makes a whole line of animal replicas, which I understand. But what are you supposed to do with tiny rubbery infants?

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Monday, August 03, 2009

what happens in vagus…

Now that it's a month later, it's obvious that there were no lasting side effects. However three-and-a-half hours into our road trip, we almost called off our vacation to New England. I was riding in the back seat of our CR-V with my feet up on a cooler. When I shifted positions, my left leg cramped up. The pain was so bad that I couldn't speak. There wasn't much room for me to stretch my calf muscle. When the pain eased some, I told my wife and son that I felt lightheaded.

The next thing I knew, my son was saying "Dad, Dad can you hear me?" It was like he was trying to wake me from a deep sleep. I had passed out. By this point, my wife had already taken the next exit on I-81. We were somewhere in the vicinity of Radford, Virginia.

In addition to being lightheaded, I now felt nauseous . My wife called GOOG-411 to find the closest hospital. She couldn't tell them where to look because we didn't know exactly where we were. She had pulled into the parking lot of an office building with no visible landmarks. She called her brother, who was able to access the Internet and give her directions to the New River Valley Medical Center in Christiansburg.

While my wife was on the phone, I laid down on the back seat with both doors open. The cool air felt refreshing and I didn't want to get up. The late David Bloom was on our minds although I thought I had walked around enough at our last bathroom stop to prevent a deep vein thrombosis. I silently said a bunch of Hail Marys, with an emphasis on the line "now and at the hour of our death," just in case.

When we got to the hospital, I got into a wheelchair and was pushed into the emergency room. I was tired and thirsty and honestly thought I might get out of there with a diagnosis of "dehydration and exhaustion." They eventually gave me a bag of saline solution and some anti-nausea medicine that they normally give to chemo patients. The nurse didn't get it when I joked, "you don't mess with the Zofran."

They asked my wife and son if I looked pale when I fainted. It was hard to tell because I had gone to Sun Tan City the night before to get a VersaSpa treatment. Later, when they peeled the EKG electrodes off my chest, a layer of tan came off too.

When the doctor asked me what day it was, I confidently replied "Friday." Wrong. It was Thursday. In my defense, the last thing I did before leaving work on Thursday was to voice-track Friday’s midday shift. I recorded several announcements saying it was Friday and to meet the station staff "today" at a contest registration event.

The doctor diagnosed my incident as a vasovagal syncope. The intense pain caused my heartbeat to slow down. I wasn't getting enough blood to my brain and I passed out. Apparently something, possibly my swimming, has lowered my resting heart rate. The pulse oximeter showed my heart rate to be around 58 beats per minute. Reclining in the hospital must have gotten the blood flowing back to my brain because I thought of the title for this blog post while lying on the bed.

In talking with the doctor, we realized that this had happened to me once before. Several years ago I was trying to help my father-in-law replace the InSinkErator in our Dale City townhouse. We were about to put the house on the market for our move to Burbank. While trying to remove the old disposal, a shard of plastic broke off and punctured my right palm. There was very little blood but a lot of pain. I felt lightheaded and nauseous so I went into the bathroom to throw up. Instead I passed out. I woke up to the upside-down sight of Aunt Dee headed toward me on her walker to take my pulse.

By the time we left the hospital, it was too late to continue driving to my mother's house in Northern Virginia as planned. We went to a Denny's but I was nauseous again and had no appetite. A full night's sleep at the nearby Holiday Inn Express cured me and I was able to enjoy their complimentary continental breakfast. We re-routed our trip from there directly to Saugerties, with a stop for lunch in Hershey.

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Wednesday, July 29, 2009


A recent movie reminded me of the trip that is responsible for my quest to visit all fifty states. My wife and I saw "The Proposal" after it had been out for a couple of weeks. I really liked it and was pleasantly surprised that the trailer didn't give too much away. Most of the film is set in Sitka, Alaska, although the credits indicate that it was actually filmed in Massachusetts. The beautiful mountains in the background were added by a special effects company in Boston.

When my mother and my sister invited me to meet them in Anchorage, I had nothing but time on my hands. The Comedy World Radio Network had gone bankrupt and I had not yet landed my first job in Knoxville. I arranged my flights from Burbank to Anchorage with a 24 hour layover in Seattle so I could visit my friend Bean and his wife Donna.

My mother had a Sony Mavica camera at the time. Before the trip, I bought a package of 3.5 inch disks to use as "film" in case I saw a moose. The only moose I saw was a baby at the Big Game Alaska Wildlife Center, which now has the more politically correct name Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center. I remember buying two Christmas ornaments in their gift shop.

We saw some animals in their natural habitat during a wildlife cruise through the Kenai Fjords. The ship sailed past some cool-looking glaciers, pardon the pun, and a Dall's porpoise swam alongside.

The best part of the vacation was a Denali (that's Mt. McKinley to the non-Alaskans) "flightseeing trip" aboard a Talkeetna Air Taxi. The little Cessna landed on a glacier with a good view of the mountain. We got out of the plane and walked around. I used the opportunity to eat the "portable birthday cake" that my wife and kids had put in my luggage.

I didn't know it at the time, but on the way to Talkeetna, we passed right by Wasilla. Unfortunately, it is not possible to see Russia from there, no matter what Tina Fey says.

By the time I got home, I had been to 25 states, including the two hardest-to-reach ones. I set a personal goal to visit the rest within ten years. When my wife and kids were ready to move from California to Tennessee, we routed our trip mostly along I-70 instead of I-40 so I could add Utah, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri and Kentucky to my list. As you probably know, my current tally is 43 down, 7 to go.

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Saturday, July 25, 2009

Christmas in July

To remember our travels, my wife and I like to collect Christmas ornaments from the places we visit. They make perfect souvenirs because the memories are refreshed each year when the ornaments are unpacked. Sometimes it's difficult to find holiday decorations during our summer trips. Last year Byron Chesney helped me track down an ornament from Hot Springs, Arkansas.

We assumed there would be plenty of New Hampshire ornaments at Clark's Trading Post but didn't see any while we were there. Somebody working in the gift shop suggested it was the wrong time of year to be looking. Yeah, I know.

We did not find one at Lake Winnipesaukee either because we were too busy looking for a place to change out of our wet bathing suits. I'll have to contact some of the gift shops at Weirs Beach to see if I can order one over the phone or Internet since the lake was my wife's favorite part of the trip.

It was easy to find an ornament at our first stop in Vermont, Sugarbush Farm. At the time I thought it unusual that they would sell Virginia Tech magnets up there. Oh, wait.

It was a little harder to find one in Maine. We stopped at a few stores before finding Moody’s Giftshop, where we bought a miniature lobster trap that could easily be hung on the tree.

My wife found a brass ornament she liked at the Lexington visitors center. Its shiny surface made it as hard to photograph as a mirror. Eventually I got the idea to position so it would reflect some leaves. It is from the Lexington Battle Green after all.

At Hershey's Chocolate World, we bought a heavily discounted Kurt Adler ornament. Years from now we may find it confusing that the ornament says we went to Hershey a year earlier than we actually did.

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