Saturday, August 05, 2017

"Will write for food" - Thoughts on retiring

Aren't newsrooms supposed to be beehives of activity?
Here's the view from my desk before the start of work.

Retirement. It's not just for old people.

After all, I'm not old - I think.

Yet, here I am - retiring from a nearly 24-year stop at The Buffalo News. I gave my two-week notice on July 24. This is my last day.

It's quite a shock to type that in some ways. After all, I've had a lifelong relationship with newspapers in general, and I do mean lifelong. Let me tell you about the journey. I gave the short version of the story to some of my coworkers yesterday; you get the long one now.

Start with a family story: When I was four, I went to the hospital when I had my tonsils out. (I looked up the date in my "baby book" - May 27, 1960. Do they still have baby books?) My grandmother hired a private nurse for me in the hospital, because that's what grandmothers who liked to spoil the youngsters did. Mom got a phone call from the slightly panicked nurse.

"Budd says he wants me to bring him a newspaper," the nurse said. "I asked him why, and he said he wants to see how the Red Sox did. What should I do!?"

"I think you should buy him the newspaper," said Mom, realizing that not all four-year-olds could read box scores - but this one could.

I read box scores and stories through childhood, and provided a clue about my occupational dreams by becoming the editor of my junior high newspaper in Elmira. Do they have junior high newspapers any more? When we moved to Buffalo in 1970, my daily reading material jumped several notches in quality. Now I was reading Larry Felser, who was in the Sporting News every week for football, and columnist Steve Weller, who was close to Jim Murray-class when it came to funny. Farewell, Elmira Star-Gazette. Hello, Buffalo News. It was like I was called up to the majors.

Like six million other kids, I was the sports editor of my high school paper, and like several hundred other kids I went off to Syracuse in search of a career in journalism. I must have been the only student at Syracuse that subscribed to The Buffalo News for four years.

I sort of stumbled into radio after graduation, in part because I could write. I paid my dues as a reporter, covering 142 events in one memorable year. I got to know the reporters from the Courier-Express and The News in those press boxes, hoping I could figure out a way to join their ranks - if I could get good enough. People like Jim Kelley, Milt Northrop and bunches of others set the bar pretty high. For a moment, it looked like it might happen. The sports editor of the Courier-Express told me that he wanted to figure out a way to get me on the staff soon, and I told him I was ready when he was. But sadly, this was the late summer of 1982, about a month before the Courier started on the road to folding. No sale.

I plugged along, left radio for a job with the Sabres for a while, but was out of work in 1993. That's when I got a part-time, temporary job from the News. That turned into a full-time, short-term temporary job when Bob DiCesare went on paternity leave - thank you, Bob. When the buzzer sounded on that position, it was hinted that I might have a good chance to land a full-time position when one opened up. After a stay at the Cheektowaga Times in the summer/fall of 1994, a spot at The News opened up - I'll always remember you, Lowell Keller - and I got it.

I didn't do every possible job in the sports department in almost 24 years but it wasn't for lack of trying. I covered the Sabres, the Bandits, running and high schools on the outside, and did rewriting and editing as well as serving as the "slot man" and "night sports editor" in the office. I also wrote Buffalo's sports history one day at a time, book reviews for the features department, a couple of travel articles, and jokes for a feature called "Five Spot." Coworker Greg Connors used the baseball term "five-tool player" to describe my work, while editor Mike Connolly called me a "utilityman." That puts me somewhere between Willie Mays and Ben Zobrist. I did very little writing about my two favorite sports, baseball and basketball, but I hit almost everything else. No matter what the subject, it was always a thrill to see my byline in the paper, or to write a clever headline that made people smile and attracted attention to a story.

This business can take a toll, though, no matter how interesting it is. The work schedule changed with the sports calendar each week, so I couldn't plan anything that was more than a couple of weeks in advance. Lisa Wilson once told me that we spent more family birthdays, anniversaries and holidays with each other in the office than we did with our respective spouses. I must have set a Ripken-like record for most Healthy Choice frozen dinners consumed in a career - probably 2,500 or so. Plus, you may have heard that the newspaper business is a little different these days, with instant deadlines and few true days off. I asked co-worker Kevin Noonan once why he was retiring, and his answer was, "It's time." Now I know what he meant.

Luckily for me, writing is a skill that can be done on an occasional basis. I can write some more books and cover games, etc. as a freelance writer, and I will. But I don't have to do anything. "Gee, I'd love to cover that girls lacrosse game, but I'll be in Paris that week."

In the meantime, let me salute a few people. Sports editor Howard Smith changed my life for the better when he hired me. I went from a guy who just missed landing a civil service job at City Hall as a clerk/typist to a sports reporter/editor who was earning a good salary. I'll always be grateful for that. Howard was succeeded by Steve Jones, one of those bosses who was such a good guy that you'd run through a wall for him. Steve came up with the idea of writing a daily item on local sports history, which was amazingly popular by my standards and turned into a book. Steve also let me cover the Bandits when Tom Borrelli died - still miss you, Tom - and that turned out to be a great experience. For starters, the people were terrific - everyone in the league couldn't be more cooperative. Then, there were some bonuses. For example, I covered playoff games. I must tell our Bills and Sabres' reporters what that's like. And I just might be the only sportswriter in town who covered professional athletes who earned less money than I did. 

More recently, I've shared the high school beat for the last two years with Miguel Rodriguez. We haven't been Woodward and Bernstein on the job; more like Felix Unger and Oscar Madison. Yes, I'm Felix. If Miguel isn't the hardest working person in the building, he's in the top five. And he's always good for a food tip before you visit the concession stand at a high school football game. Then there's Jim Wojtanik, who arrived just after me and probably has worked with me more than anyone else. Day after day, Jim has concentrated on getting the section out on time and without mistakes. He's never failed to be a professional. Jim also was the unofficial morale officer, the guy who ran the office pool for the Kentucky Derby and bought pizza when staff birthdays came along. He's indispensable. Who knew I could respect a Yankee fan so much?

They are part of a larger group of sports department workers. You know some of them by their bylines. You don't know the clerks who take phone calls, the photographers who take such great pictures for stories, and the layout people who package everything to look so good. They all made my work better, and it was appreciated.

Getting back to financial matters for a moment, I probably wouldn't be ready to retire from The News without the fabulous work by the members of my union. I received $6 per hour from the Cheektowaga weekly. The negotiating team made sure that union members had a good salary through the years to go along with a lot of professional satisfaction. (Footnote: One longtime union leader and old friend, Phil Fairbanks, gets serious extra credit for introducing me to my wife.)

Finally, the whole editorial staff doesn't simply have writers, editors, photographers and layout specialists. They are miracle workers who make magic happen all the time. When I mentioned I was working for The Buffalo News to a stranger, he or she immediately assumed that I would be fair and professional. The reputation of the rest of the staff always preceded me. Allow me to tell a couple of stories about this group that are typical.

One night at 9:45, a story came on the wire about the Bills that was new and noteworthy. Remember, in this town, if the team's kicker gets athlete's foot, it goes on page one of the sports section above the fold. I called Vic Carucci, told him what was going on, and what our deadlines were. Ninety minutes later, he had confirmed and written the story clearly and fully - with quotes. I could tell that story about any other reporter on the staff, with just the subject switched.

There are heroes in the office too. One night I was monitoring Twitter on a Friday night when my feed exploded at 6:30 with the news that Ryan Miller hadn't taken the ice for the pregame skate a block away. Therefore, a trade seemed likely. Jim Wojtanik looked skyward for a moment, may have said a bad word, and tore apart the sports section to reflect the deal that was confirmed a short time later. The story was fully covered by our reporters at the game, who had to do it while keeping an eye on that contest that was taking place at the same time. We all came back the next night, and again I spoiled Jim's night at 5:30 p.m. by telling him there were reports that Pat LaFontaine had resigned from the Sabres' front office. Here we go again - same new layout, same great coverage. The Sabres should work so well together.

The point is that this sort of effort happens constantly at newspapers. It's not called "the daily miracle" for nothing. Reporters and editors like to complain, but they always come through when it is necessary - and it's always necessary. It was always a privilege to work with such people, and they often inspired me to at least try to go that extra mile.

No matter what happens to me in retirement, I'll admire the work of my now ex-co-workers at The Buffalo News from a distance. As you know, journalism matters now more than ever. Wherever the stories and photographs from The News are located - paper, tablet, phone, etc. - I'll find them and continue my 47-year reading streak.

It's been an interesting ride. I'm glad I was able to take it.    

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Monday, May 15, 2017

Past meets present

Was I ever this young? Apparently so. Say hello
to my third-grade class in Pines Lake. Wonder what
happened to everyone else over the years?

If you ever doubt that it's difficult to out-run your past life, I have some proof to convince you. It's an unlikely story spanning more than 50 years.

I received an email from a woman named Casey in Delaware last week. She had forgotten about the names of some of her elementary school teachers way back in the early 1960s. Casey did, however, remember a teacher she didn't have - Miss Bosland of Pines Lake Elementary School in Wayne, New Jersey. So she headed for the nearest search engine and tried her luck.

There, she found a link to a newspaper article. The beginning was this: My first-grade teacher, Miss Bosland of Pines Lake Elementary School in Wayne, N.J., once told my mother that I was a vast storehouse of worthless information.' Thursday night I will appear on the game show 'Jeopardy!' Still think the information is worthless, Miss Bosland?" This was how I started a preview for my appearance on the game show for the Buffalo News.

I assume Casey said "Eureka" or some similar thought. With my email address at the bottom of the story, she sent me a note. Casey explained that she had attended the same NJ school from 1960 to 1966, and wondered who my teachers were to see if they could jog her memory.

I wrote right back and said, "You've come to the right place." Heck, I've still got a couple of report cards from that school. I went over my teachers, including Miss Bosland - who I discovered in a visit to Wayne in 1996 or so had just retired. Casey and I figured out that we were in the same classroom and did indeed have the same fourth-grade teacher, Mrs. Link - but maybe not at the same time. Pines Lake had something called split session around the time, which meant one group went to school in the morning and another went in the afternoon. My guess is that attendance was done by geography, so kids in the same neighborhood stayed together, more or less. I'm not sure if that was the case in this particular year, but we do remember some of the same people. By the way, that classroom had the unforgettable advantage of having its very own bathroom; I don't think I ever heard the reason why.

This all prompted a furious exchange of emails between us for the next couple of days. We both remembered Mrs. Rodda, the school principal. Her biggest impression came during school lunches, when she walked into the cafeteria with a scowl on her face because there was too much noise. (Seven-year-olds making noise at lunch? I'm shocked.) Casey had another memory of the usually sour-faced principal. When President Kennedy was shot and killed in 1963, a sobbing Mrs. Rodda came into each classroom personally to tell the children about it. (Me, I was home after school, eating lunch as my mother watched "As the World Turns.")

Casey mentioned that she was in some sort of Christmas pageant as a singer. I responded with a distant memory of being "the funny elf" in some sort of similar activity. Maybe we were costars. I had just rediscovered the picture shown above and sent it to her. She sent me a shot of her third-grade class on the same auditorium stage, along with some memories of the people that I had identified in my photo. Where have you gone, Elizabeth Cleary (bottom row left) and Terry Spivak (next to Elizabeth)? I'm in the top middle of the photo, wearing a red bow tie and sport coat. Pretty snappy, I'd say, for eight.

A few other memories popped up as well. Like everyone other kid in that area, we both loved to go to the Old Barn Milk Bar for burgers and onion rings at dinner and/or ice cream. Especially ice cream. A cone was a quarter. Yum. One of my Police Athletic League baseball teams was sponsored by the Old Barn, and we received a free cone after wins. Too bad we didn't win more games; it was a much better sponsor than T-Bowl Drugs. The Old Barn itself was eventually sold to a car dealer. Sigh.

Casey filled me in on the name of the junior high school, Schuyler-Colfax, which apparently had nothing to do with the crooked vice president of the 1870s but with his ancestors. We both played the harmonica in elementary school, which may have been my last first-hand exposure to a musical instrument. And I thought about my speech teacher, Miss McCullough, at school. Not only did she teach me to say "leaf" and not "weaf," thus enabling me to go on to a brief career in radio, but she was the first African-American I ever met. There sure weren't any in the student body.

Wayne was a place back then where the truck would come down the street at dusk and spray pesticides in the air to cut down on the bugs. I'm surprised everyone hasn't gotten cancer by now. It was where Chicken Delight ("Don't cook tonight!") and Charles Chips were, not to mention the Good Humor Man. My neighborhood was filled with young businessmen who were on their way up and had plenty of kids. I'm sure all sorts of things went on there that I didn't know about and may not want to know about now, but - with a playmate at almost every house and a beach on the lake down the hill - it was a happy spot for the youngsters to grow up - swimming in the summer, skating in the winter.

Casey, by the way, did ask how I did on Jeopardy, so I scanned a three-page note about the experience that I had sent friends at the time and fired it off to her. We ran out of stories after a while, so we agreed to save the others' email. Since she was from Delaware, I told her to drop in on my Syracuse U. friend at the Delaware Historical Society for the greatest tour ever of the area. Some day, I hope, robin will get an unexpected visitor who knows a lot about where one of her college friends went to elementary school.

My memories of that time (we moved there in the summer of 1961, and moved out four years later) are mostly snapshots, but it was nice to have a few more such thoughts "developed" from my new and unexpected friend.

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Thursday, May 04, 2017

Character

From the Buffalo Sabres' 1970-71 media guide
If you follow the world of fun and games long enough, you'll know that every coach will say at some point that sports build character. Me, I'm more out of the school that sports reveal character. But, more to the point here, they create characters.

And if they ever get around to building a Hall of Fame of Memorable Characters, Paul Wieland should be in it.

Paul finally and allegedly is retiring from the working world. "Professor Wieland" has been teaching communications at St. Bonaventure for the past several years. While I'm sure he was a wonderful teacher who cared about his students deeply - I've heard about some of the great feedback that those students have offered - in some ways Paul is still the Merry Prankster that probably terrified and delighted all those he encountered throughout his life.

In other words, he may have grown older, but he never completely grew up. 

Wieland's long list of professional stories begin for me when he was at The Buffalo News in the 1960s.  I remember him telling me about the time the phone rang one day at the News office. The person who answered the phone yelled out, "Does anyone know what the world's longest river is?" Paul said, "Transfer that to me," and answered the phone, "River Desk." The caller repeated the question, and Paul quietly had someone get an almanac while he stalled. "It's really nice of you to call us today. I don't get too many calls about the length of rivers here at the River Desk. The Missouri, of course, is the longest American river ..." For the record, that job at The News has gone unfilled since Paul left.

From The News, it was on to General Motors. I'm no business major, but if there's a better example of straight-laced organization and structure in a corporation than General Motors in the 1960s, I can't think of it. In hindsight, Paul was either the one breath of fresh air in the entire corporate structure, or an outsider who the guys in the red ties and blue suits just couldn't understand. It must have been an odd fit.

But the hockey business - that was different. Paul was an amateur goalie and loved the game, and had the chance to jump to the Buffalo Sabres when they were just getting started in 1970. Get in on the ground floor of a pro sports franchise? How could he resist? The photo above is from the first Sabres' media guide for the 1970-71 season. Not only does it display the young and good-looking assistant public relations director (I think he used that photo for the next 25 years in the annual guide, thus becoming ageless), but it also has him above comptroller Bob Pickel on the page. That probably wasn't a wry statement on the front office, but it should have been / could have been.

That first year offered a couple of unique attractions for a young business professional/goalie. The Sabres had a veteran in the nets in Roger Crozier who was good when he was healthy, but he frequently wasn't healthy. It was always handy to have an extra goalie around the office who could be the equivalent of a tackling dummy in practice when needed. Paul even made a save or two on Gil Perreault every once in a while. Besides, as Paul pointed out, the early Sabres weren't too good ... but they sure could drink after practice. "How was work today, honey?" "Same old, same old."

You've heard about some of the stunts that Paul pulled. He had a willing partner in general manager Punch Imlach, who would go along with anything as long as he had a little notice. When the 1974 Entry Draft threatened to go so long that it would delay the start of the regular season, Wieland helped create a fictional player, Taro Tsujimoto, who was drafted by the team. The Sabres even set up a locker for him in training camp. Interestingly, a couple of decent NHL players were drafted after Taro - Dave Lumley and Stefan Persson. You still see people wearing jerseys with Tsujimoto on the back.

I stole this image from a Sports on Earth article,
which stole it from Time magazine.
Then there were the April Fools' jokes, planned better than some military maneuvers - and more successful. Thus the Sabres were involved in Sliderex (plastic ice), the purchase of a battleship as a training vessel, and the naming of the Sabres as "America's Team" by the White House. Later I heard about when the Sabres' hockey department was acting, um, defensively toward everyone in the rest organization, Paul bought toy plastic soldiers that were placed on the top of the hockey department's office dividers - with the rifles aiming out at the rest of the staff. By the early 1980s, I had figured out that Paul was a kindred spirit, and got to know him a little bit in my days as a radio reporter.

Besides all the laughter, though, there was a rather sharp businessman lurking in Paul's head. When the Sabres were selling out their building every night, he and vice president Dave Foreman worked on bringing the home games to cable television. It worked, and it could be said that their actions helped to revolutionize professional sports. Think of what a revenue stream that single idea created. It probably should be in the first paragraph of his obituary, whenever that day comes - it really changed the industry. Paul's responsibilities concerning the television seemed to grow by the year.

By 1986, I had more or less figured out that the radio business was not going to work for me, and Paul threw me a life preserver with a job offer in public relations. There were even benefits to the position - such as health insurance and working with Paul every day. Who could resist a job where you couldn't take calls because you were giving a presentation about the next April Fools stunt? Who else would order you to leave work early to fill out a doubles tennis match in Snyder? But around the office, Paul was always willing to listen to an idea, support it when appropriate, and give you the credit when it succeeded. You couldn't ask for more from a boss.

Paul didn't always laugh at everything. When annoyed by something that went against his principles, Paul could argue with the best of them. For example ... there was the time he was ordered to dump out of a Sabres' broadcast early so that Channel 49 could join a showing of "Gomer Pyle" already in progress. That was the moment when WNYB-TV forever became "The Gomer" around the office.

(Tangent: I was put in charge of the Sabres media guide, which always included some sort of joke on the media information page. One year featured this line: "Press box seats will be filled on an as-available basis. Gate crashers in the press box will be forced to watch reruns of 'Gomer Pyle' for four hours.")

You never knew what might happen in that office, which also featured another memorable character in John Gurtler. One time Paul was sitting at his desk when Seymour Knox III walked in. "What are you doing, Paul?" "Planning the parade, Seymour." "What parade?" "Well, if we win the Stanley Cup, we'll have a parade, right?" "Right." "And if we have a parade, we need to plan for it." "Good work, Paul."

By the late 1980s, Paul spent more time in the television business, having little oversight on the rest of the communications department. Our loss, as others like to stick their noses into the operation for better or for worse.

And by the early 1990s, he was starting to become a little unhappy at times. He grew to enjoy the TV business, but he was the first person I know to recognize that professional sports was losing its sense of humor. His stunts, such as making up a "Buffalo Sabres Universally" car sticker, had only improved the Sabres' image in the community. But by then the money had gotten more serious, and so the people took themselves seriously. Too seriously.  I remember how Paul talked to a Sabre marketing person once who couldn't understand why the fans went home unhappy after a game, even though the team lost that night.

And so, after I left the team, he was off to Massachusetts for several years to work in cable television, where he learned to understand my affection for all things Boston Red Sox, and then he returned to Western New York to work at St. Bonaventure. I have been to the house in Great Valley once, and I have no confidence that I could find the place again with a dogsled armed with a GPS unit. We try to get together once in a great while for a leisurely lunch - two old friends discussing a variety of subjects old and new. It's the best possible conversation. I'm the one trying to age gracefully; he's the one who still sounds like a fired-up junior in college when discussing the latest bizarre development in politics.

It's always good to see someone reach the finish line of a professional career like this, even if he did take a few extra laps than most. The thought of Paul with no work duties, however, is an interesting one. How will he get into mischief? Luckily, our professional sports teams don't seem to have lost their ability to self-destruct in spectacular and imaginative ways. He'll have plenty of bubbles to burst with his mouth and his keyboard, and we'll have plenty to discuss over lunch.

Sports really did reveal a character in Paul Wieland. I'm so glad I got to come along for part of the ride. May he have a long and happy retirement.

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Sunday, April 02, 2017

Two planets

If Scott Brown had a baseball card, this certainly
would be a good pose. By the way, the shirts were so
cheap that after games we had sunburns on our back - 

except where the numbers were located.
Sometimes the planets in the solar system line up just right, and you find yourself orbiting with a similar object for a while.

That might be the oddest way anyone has described a friendship, but it comes to mind when I think back on my friendship with Scott Brown. He passed away on Friday after a long illness.

Scott showed up at WEBR Radio in Buffalo in 1979, shortly after I did. We quickly found ourselves to be relatively kindred spirits. The two of us were just getting by financially, since it was rare in those days to get a raise until Congress boosted the minimum wage. We were thinking that better days were ahead, and we couldn't wait to get there. That made us a little rebellious and brash at times. But we also were determined to have some fun along the way.

It didn't take long for us to click. Scott was a good-natured presence in the newsroom. He wasn't above the cheap laugh - such as putting a microphone screen over his nose, and lapsing into a Karl Malden/American Express ad imitation. "Lost your wallet? What will you do? What ... will ... you ... do?" But he was obviously smart and knew his stuff.

There are a variety of "you had to be there" stories that come to mind. One time Scott was working on the writer-reporter's desk when protestors at Love Canal took a couple of state workers "hostage" in a symbolic act. Scott knew someone in the protest group and called her up, asking how the hostages were doing. "Oh, you want to talk to one of them?" the woman answered. Scott said OK, and she handed the phone to him. "Hi, Scott, how are you?" he asked. Scott answered, "How am I? You're the hostage! How are you?!"

For whatever reason, I remember the time he stopped in the sports office on his way out the door. Scott had to cover some event, and told me he had to stop at the bank or something on the way back to do some personal business. In my best snarky tone, I jokingly said, "Well, don't forget to punch out." He replied in fake horror, "Punch out? What is this, Two Guys?" And then we both laughed loudly.

Naturally, more fun came after hours. Snapshots of those moments come back every so often.

That's Scott at the writer-reporter's desk in the main newsroom
at WEBR in August 1979, with Dennis Keefe on the left of the
photograph. Kids, that object in front of Scott was called
a typewriter. Ask your parents about it some day.
* Athletics. The WEBR slo-pitch softball team was usually mediocre, mostly because we didn't have enough people on the staff to have a deep roster. We had to rely on pitching and defense. I can say that here because I was the usual starting pitcher, and Scott was the backup. Our strategy was to try to have people hit the ball toward center fielder Steve Tawa, who could catch anything hit in the area code. Occasionally, someone would hit the ball over Steve's head and off a house on the other side of a fence. Scott would come over from second base with some comforting words. "Don't throw him that pitch again," he snorted. We all spent several Saturday afternoons together as a team, drowning our sorrows or celebrating our wins at Wiechec's in Buffalo.

I probably had an edge on the softball field over Scott, especially at the plate, but he was a better basketball player. Those guys from New Jersey always loved to take the ball to the hoop. But neither of us took to roller skating, as we discovered one frigid February night.

Reporter Mark Charlton used to have "Blue February" parties, saying that by that time everyone in Buffalo is depressed that winter is still going on and on by that month. Therefore, he'd have a party featuring blue mixed drinks. Around 11:30 p.m., someone remembered that the group from Channel 17, a business partner of WEBR, had rented out a roller-skating rink in Amherst. So off we all went, a bit overserved at the time. Scott grabbed on to "instructor" Pam Benson for support and lessons, which was a less-than-subtle but wise move on his part. Pam quickly regretted it, I'm sure, upon realizing that Scott was on shaky legs and didn't know how to skate. When he fell down, she fell down. The noise of falling bodies always drew a stare even with the loud disco music in the hall, and it was followed by Scott's distinctive high-pitched giggle. Scott reported a day later that, "Boy, is my ass sore, and I can't remember why."

* Poker. Scott fit in pretty quickly with my high school pals for the odd game of poker. One time I had invited some of them to my house for a little gambling, followed by a movie on the newly-invented and just-purchased VCR. The idea of watching a film on video tape at home was a exciting novelty then. Still, whenever Scott lost a hand, he'd mournfully look at his shrinking pile of chips and say grimly, "No movies!" We never did see that Woody Allen film.

One game that we used to play was called "Garbage." It was a seven-card game with a ton of wild-cards. The catch was that a pair of natural sevens beat everything. In one game, Scott seemed sure to win a nice pot, because he had about six aces. But someone came up with the two sevens, turning sure victory into defeat. Scott didn't take it well, since $15 was big money at that point in our lives. On the very next hand, featuring a different type of seven-card stud game, someone got two straight sevens face up. "Two sevens - you win!" Scott shouted with mock enthusiasm and he started pushing things at the other player. "You win all the chips in the pot, and all of the chips in my pile, and all of the potato chips in the bowl, and my beer, and all the money in my wallet, and my credit cards, and (dramatically reaching into his pocket for keys) my car!" The set-up and timing were so good that Glenn Locke nearly spit his beer out on to the table when the car keys came out.

Fan Kim Dehlinger, Scott and Bill Rosinski go over a
softball game at Wiechec's in South Buffalo. We needed
lessons on how to wear our baseball caps.
* Music. I believe Scott and I went to the relatively famous Who concert at Memorial Auditorium together. That was the one right after the show in Cincinnati that featured a stampede caused by festival seating, and a few people died. We also saw Bruce Springsteen at the Aud. The Boss played "Thunder Road" at the end of the first set, and we talked at intermission. "I can go home now," Scott said. "That's what I came to hear."

You more than get the idea. Alas, the good times usually don't last forever. WEBR had a lot of talented people at the time who moved on to better things when they got the chance. Scott got one of those offers, and soon he was off to do television news for Channel 2. He roomed with Glenn for three years in that era, so we still saw each other quite a bit. But clearly, Scott had moved into a different orbit. It happens.

Eventually, Scott left broadcasting for a stint in County Executive Gorski's office. There he got to know my wife, so she saw him more than I did for a while. We'd bump into him somewhere, and he was always chatty and friendly. Then Scott took a job for District Attorney Eliot Spitzer in the New York City area and was gone ... until he came back somewhat unexpectedly to WGRZ. Our paths crossed once in a great while, such as when mutual friends like Mark Hamrick came back to Buffalo to visit. He seemed happy and content, which was great, and he did his job very well. But we were still in separate orbits.

Then Scott more or less disappeared from on-air work without explanation. I think I sent him an email message to check in, but never heard back. Hmmm. Then a mutual friend said he spotted Scott at Roswell Park. Well, at least that explained things a bit. Scott certainly had a private side. When I asked a friend at the television station about the situation, he said I knew more than he did. I was heartened by Scott's return to the air at one point, but then saddened by his disappearance again after a short stint.

You put a few miles on the odometer, and you are bound to come across situations where you know bad news is coming but you don't know when. Such was the case here, so I was shocked but not surprised by the announcement of his passing.

Scott and I developed one habit when there was mutual good news, like a run scored in softball or a split pot in poker. We'd try to give each other a "high five," except miss on purpose as if we were total nerds. No comments, please. I would have liked to have tried it one more time, except that we'd actually complete the gesture for once to mark the good times we had together. But since I can't, I'll just be happy that our paths, er, orbits once crossed.

(Those interested can make a donation here. Feel free to share a fun story about Scott in the comments section.)

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Answering the question

It's been quite a weekend on social media, as the Trump Administration begins its term in office. A day after the inauguration ceremony, a few million people - mostly but not exclusively women - took part in protest marches and rallies in all 50 states and in several major cities throughout the world. 

Here's one such comment I saw that drew a little reaction from others.

"Can anyone clarify what they are protesting about? These very aggressive women are bitching about what? Cool down, have a drink with your husband, have sex and laugh. Enough said!"

All right, a lot of reaction. Here's a serious answer.

Admittedly, it's difficult to narrow down the motives of millions of people. I'm sure some just went along with friends, and others are still upset about the Presidential election and wanted to vent a bit.

But I think it's fair to say that there are a lot of people out there who are scared.

If they are part of the 20 million people or so who have health insurance through the ACA, they are scared that the members of the federal government have vowed to cancel the program without coming up over the past few years with any hint of the details of a replacement plan. And some of those who are scared are sick.

If they are people of color, they are scared that states will continue to make it more difficult to vote by closing polling stations in rural areas. And they are scared that the potential Attorney General was rejected as a judicial candidate in the 1980s because he was judged to be a racist by both sides of the aisle. 

If they are immigrants, they are scared of being targeted for harassment and hate crimes, and in some cases they are scared that they could be deported or that their families won't be allowed to join them in this country.

If they care about climate change, they are scared that the new head of the EPA will choose the economy over ecology every time - no matter what scientific data says. 

If they are part of the LGBT community, they are scared that they will be subject to more discrimination from this day forward and not less. Because there are people in government who think it matters who they love and where they go the bathroom. 

If they are interested in protecting reproductive rights, they know that the new President said that he would punish women who had an abortion. And they probably know someone - a relative or a friend - who could be affected by that. 

If they have children, they are scared that the only qualification that a Cabinet nominee appears to have to oversee their public education is that she can sign checks made out to political parties, candidates or causes .

If they prefer honesty from their government, they are scared about a chief executive who is willing to lie about whether it rains on his inaugural speech and the size of the crowd in front of him - and if he'll lie about that, he'll lie about anything.  

And if they are part of the general American population, they are scared of government workers who used the word "enemies" to describe their political opponents. Because they know what happened when Richard Nixon used such descriptions. 

Some of these views are oversimplifications. A much more narrow focus on the particular issue is necessary in order to have a rational discussion on it. Some of these fears won't come close to being realized.

But the protestors' feelings are real and legitimate. They demonstrated that fact, rather loudly, and they deserved to be taken seriously.

If you don't, it says much more about you than it says about them.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Quick story about The King

It's been a tough year for legends in sports, with Gordie Howe, Muhammad Ali and Arnold Palmer all gone, I've only been to a few golf tournaments over the years, but I do remember being part of Arnie's Army at the U.S. Open in Oak Hill in the late 1960s. He was always my favorite golfer.

I played golf with a guy who had a really funny story about Arnie. Let's call the person Mike.

Mike had the most unusual swing I've ever seen on a golf course. He turned the clubhead 90 degrees inward on address, so that a normal swing would have resulted in hitting the ball with the top of the club. Somehow, he went through various motions that make Jim Furyk's swing look like Ernie Els', and smacked the ball long distances. I have no idea how he did it, but it was impressive.

Mike was a businessman, and some time ago he played in the Milwaukee Open's pro-am. He's on a tee, getting ready to hit, but looks over to the next fairway and sees Arnold Palmer looking his way. Talk about pressure! In spite of that, Mike takes his normal swing and clobbers the ball, and then moves quickly down the fairway.

After the round, Mike went to a reception for all the players. And who comes up to him but ... Arnold Palmer. Mike thought to himself, "Oh, boy, he's going to give it to me for my swing." Sure enough, Arnie says, "Were you the guy I saw hitting the ball on the fifth tee today?" Mike says sheepishly that yes, he was the one.

Arnie smiles and says, "That was one helluva drive," and patted him on the shoulder with a smile.

There will never be another Arnold Palmer - he made the sport cool, and he made it much more popular with his personal magnetism.

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Saturday, July 02, 2016

Post Card from Iceland

"We come from the land of the ice and snow, from the midnight sun where the hot springs flow."
- "Immigrant Song," Led Zeppelin

It was always difficult to say where you were in Iceland.


We came out of the Reykjavik airport (actually located 45 minutes away, in Keflavik) shortly before 1 a.m after a 5-1/2 hour flight from Toronto and the usual wait for customs and luggage. The sky looked like twilight - dark enough to put on car headlights, but light enough so that objects could still be seen in the distance.

It took some time for the bus to fill up with fellow visitors, and then the vehicle dropped off a few people along the way before arriving in Reykjavik at about 2:15. Along the way, we came to the realization that it was getting lighter outside.

Welcome to Iceland, late June edition.

Whenever we mentioned that we were headed to the North Atlantic country, the first question from others centered on the midnight sun. Yes, we did not see darkness for the entire nine-day trip. The day we were in Akureyri on the north coast, sunset was at 12:50 a.m., and sunrise was at 1:25 a.m. So it never became completely dark. That made it important to make sure the curtains in hotel rooms covered up as much of the windows as possible. On the other hand, walking down a fully lit street after 10 p.m. is a unique experience.

We took a bus tour of Iceland with 19 others that covered more than 2,000 kilometers over the course of a week, seeing a couple of cities, a few towns or villages, waterfalls, deserts, glaciers, mountains, hot springs. and sheep - lots of sheep. I will post notes on individual locations (with pictures) on my travel blog when I get to them. Here are some observations, with the help of some members of the group who turned from strangers to friends in much less than a week:

 * One of the odd parts of a trip to Iceland is that a look at the words of an Icelandic location provided no clue to English-speaking people on how to say it. There are 36 letters in their alphabet, and some combinations of letters produce unknown sounds to English speakers. When we were in Egilsstaoir (missing a squiggle under the o), no one had much of an idea about how to say it - so we didn't. The volcano that blew up in 2010, causing air travel problems for the world, is called Eyjafjallaokull. There are YouTube videos with instructions on how to say that one. T-shirts spell it out phonetically - AY-uh-fyat-luh-YOE-kuuti-uh. And good luck.

Names are no better. Our bus tour guide said her name once, but she thankfully said to just call her Steffi. The bus driver's name was the same story but he provided no snappy nickname. After he introduced himself on the bus, I let out a stage whisper, "Let's call him Skip." It got a good laugh, and the name stuck for some through the trip.

* We figured the bus tour would be tiring, as we had to change hotels every night for five straight nights, and it was. It led to a feeling of "If it's Sunday, it must be Reykjahlio" at times. But there were plenty of stops along the way to break up the drives, so we saw a lot and no one collapsed. No complaints here.

* Looking for a trip to a foreign country where communicating is easy? Iceland is your place. Just about everyone speaks English. All of the major signs that tourists see have both languages printed on them - along the lines of Canada's use of English and French. However, all of the television outlets from Iceland used Islandic, and a daily English newspaper didn't seem to be available anywhere. Therefore, it was tough to keep up with the latest news of the host country. Interestingly, a  Presidential election took place early in our stay, and we had no idea who won until an Internet search produced a result. (There were no roadside signs for candidates, either, come to think of it.)

* We did happen to be visiting when Iceland had its "Miracle on Grass" moment. The national soccer team had qualified for the Euro soccer tournament for the first time, causing a bit of a frenzy, and then advanced to the round of 16. There mighty England awaited, but Iceland came through with a 2-1 win. England's population - 51 million; Iceland's - 330,000. We could hear fireworks from our hotel in East Iceland. How embarrassing was the loss? The coach of the English national team immediately resigned after the game. Soccer has grown in popularity in Iceland as more and more fields have added artificial turf.

* There were English stations on cable television - mostly from the BBC. They devoted much air time to the Brexit vote. That result dismayed our new British friends who were traveling on our tour, and not just because they had to watch the trip become more expensive by the day as the pound suffered a beating in international currency trading. 

* A quick note on weather is required. It rained a little every day, but usually only for a short time. Temperatures were in the low 50s under mostly cloudy skies. Apparently that rare 70-degree day sends everyone running to the beaches (just to relax, not to swim in the freezing waters), but none of that took place while we were there.

* The hotel rooms were on the small side by American standards. They were missing top sheets, meaning we slept directly under a nice quilt, and clocks. The showers were a little claustrophobic, which was surprising in a place where people shower naked together (men and women are in separate rooms, for the record) before heading into the hot springs. One of our rooms did not have a bar on the floor to prevent shower water from flowing all over the bathroom - causing a small flood. The room did come with a squeegee, though, which was a first.

A native gives me advice on what to see in Iceland. He was a little stiff.
* Speaking of missing, there are no good sweatshirts in all of Iceland. Anywhere. I looked. There are a few clever t-shirts, including one that used the quote at the top of the story. But sweatshirts didn't get more witty than the one that read "Iceland." There were no long-sleeve t-shirts, either. Say, isn't this country right below the Arctic Circle? We told Steffi that she should quit the tour business and sell sweatshirts and flower seeds (none of those around either). "Steffi's Shirts and Seeds" would clean up.

* Iceland is an expensive country to visit. Just about everything but wool (remember, lots of sheep) has to be imported, which adds up after a while. Lunch for two was in the range of $35 unless you had a couple of tasty Icelandic hot dogs (they add a bit of lamb to them). A small soft drink was at least $3. Salads were relatively scarce on menus, and pricey when found. A 1,000-krona note is worth $8.16, at least as of this writing, which caused some mental mathematics whenever we looked at prices. One other point about prices - tipping is more or less not allowed in Iceland. Natives consider it a handout, so it is included in the price. You'd be surprised how helpful that is for tourists.  

* Driving can be an adventure in Iceland, as few roads outside of Reykjavik have more than two lanes and the rural areas feature many dirt roads. As a result, collision shop owners do well there. We had thought about renting a car and driving around Iceland outselves, but letting Skip do the driving proved to be a good decision. If you are interested, the country is slightly smaller than Kentucky.

* Iceland is a place for serious photographers. We saw several people at the major attractions with large cameras and plenty of extra equipment, such as tripods. Last year on our European cruise, we saw a far greater percentage people using tablets - which, at least to me, shouts out "amateur." I will say, though, that some phone cameras are good enough to take quality photographs these days. 

* Someone asked about the lack of wildlife on display in parks, shorelines, etc. Then we all realized that most animals never could migrate to Iceland. There are plenty of birds, though, including the cute-as-can-be puffins. The island also is home to about 100,000 horses - one for every three people, more or less.

* For what it's worth, there was a surprising amount of graffiti in Reykjavik - more than you'd think in an area with less than 250,000 people. We asked a few people about it, and we got answers ranging from drugs to immigrants.

* The "Buffalo is the center of the universe theory" was proven a couple of times on the trip in casual conversation. (As you may know, there's always some connection to Buffalo, no matter where you go.) We were chatting with a couple of Americans when I mentioned I was from Buffalo. "Oh, one of my best friends works for the Buffalo News." After a few stories about co-worker Sue Schulman, we became pals in no time. And Steffi trained at Roswell Park Cancer Institute during the 1970s, spending several years in Buffalo. Amazing.

Iceland has plenty of natural wonders scattered around the country, and people - native and visiting - are welcoming and friendly. It made for a fine vacation.

It's always nice to return home - or at least to the Toronto airport.
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Sunday, June 12, 2016

Lunch with Gordie

If my Twitter feed was any indication, every single sports reporter who was working in the 1960s through 1980s did some sort of story with Muhammad Ali. There were all sorts of accounts of encounters with The Greatest Of All Time bouncing around after Ali's death.

Except from me. I missed out. I think the only time Ali and I were in the same building was when Don King promoted a boxing card at Memorial Auditorium, and Ali showed up.

But as for Gordie Howe, who died last week, well, that was another story. I had a regular lunch date with Gordie once a year for a few years. That deserves a bit of an explanation.

The Sabres used to have a media luncheon once a month during the hockey season in the mid-1980s. It was a chance to have steak for lunch on the team, and talk to team management. Once a year, Howe would come in to town to promote the Emery Edge Award, which went to the plus-minus award winner.

I'm not even sure what the company did, and why it sponsored an NHL award, but no one really cared. Howe turned up, had a nice lunch, and told stories about hockey. It must have been a nice way to make a few dollars. I know I sure enjoyed his visits, and everyone else did too.

My best memory of Howe came at one of those sessions. Gordie had just finished lunch when he went to get a pitcher of water for a refill. After filling up his own glass, he asked the group if anyone else wanted water. A few said yes, and Howe started refilling glasses.

At that point, Sabres' public relations director Gerry Helper got up to start the more formal part of the ceremony. He thanked everyone for coming and then said: "Let me introduce a few people to start. First is your waiter, Gordie Howe." Everyone laughed hard, including Gordie.

I covered Gordie's last game in Buffalo, on March 6, 1980 (it was Bobby Hull's last game in Buffalo as well, as he was a Whaler then), and I probably stuck a microphone in Howe's face after the game. It struck me that it was like interviewing my father, since he was 52.

The lunches were better. Let me assure you from personal experience that Gordie Howe really was as nice as everyone has said he was. I've got an autographed copy of his autobiography on my bookshelf, and it's not going anywhere.

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