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  • World Series: Game 6 Observations

    With less than two hours to go before the all-important game 7 of the World Series, here are some observations and stats from the all-too-wild game 6:

    1. Well, my Astros in 6 prediction went bust. And I’m not displeased, although that may be the sleep deprivation talking.

    2. Last night’s bartender (there have been quite a few during this postseason) complained that he can’t get “Baby Shark” out of his head no matter how hard he tries. My guaranteed antidote (though not necessarily a better choice): the 1-877-Kars for Kids jingle.

    3. I’d like to thank the sportswriters of America for joining me in dubbing this series “weird.”

    4. The best example of how strange this series is: It is the first time in 1,420 best-of-seven postseason series across MLB, NBA and NHL in which the road team has won each of the first six contests. (And Houston had an unbelievable 65-22 home record through the regular season and two rounds prior to the start of this series.)

    5. Examples of Game 6 weirdness: The first base interference call on Turner in the 7th; Alex Bregman and Juan Soto suddenly becoming their own bat boys; Verlander remains winless in World Series starts. And those are just the things you know about.

    6. Stephen Strasburg tied six other pitchers with his fifth win in the postseason. Max Scherzer can join the list if he wins tonight. Strasburg also is the first starter to go 5-0 in a single postseason.

    7. Soto’s three World Series home runs are the most by a player at age 21 or younger in a single World Series.

    8. Leading into game 7, the Astros have 28 runs in the series to the Nationals’ 27, even though the only one-run game was the first one. This is only the third time teams were separated by one or no runs entering game 7 since 1967.

    9. Zach Greinke and Scherzer are the first pair of Cy Young winners to face off in a game 7 in World Series history.

    10. The last time the World Series went to a Game 7, the Astros beat the Dodgers in L.A. Now they’re trying to avoid a similar fate on their home turf.

    “Play ball,” he shouts while yawning.

  • World Series: Game 5 Observations

    World Series game 5 observations:

    1, The weekend comes down to this: The Nationals haven’t won a World Series home game since Oct. 5, 1933.

    2. Not sure if it was the after effect of the waterlogged Marine Corps marathon, but this was a weird night even by D.C. standards. You know it’s weird when the president gets booed by a majority of the masses (with chants of “Lock him up” for good measure) and people shrug their shoulders afterward. An elderly woman sitting next to us said it was the best thing she’d seen all night.

    3. Additional oddities: A rainy monsoon-type morning turned into a beautiful evening, with temperatures in the 70s at game time; Scherzer was scratched two hours before due to spasms; two women flash Gerritt Cole in a publicity stunt and are “indefinitely” banned from all MLB games; calls for robo umpires are rampant following several missed calls at the plate; and the visiting team has now won all five games in the Series.

    4. Credit to the Nationals and the Secret Service: The lines moved well going into the stadium. Getting in took only a couple of minutes longer than it did the night before.

    5. You have to feel bad for Joe Ross, who was thrown into a starting role with Scherzer’s injury and was victimized by one of those bad calls. He then gave up a two-run homer and turned it over to the bullpen down 4-0.

    6. By now, everyone should know the odds of a Nationals reliever getting three outs in the middle innings are the same as containing a bull in a pen made of cardboard.

    7. The Astros fans travel well. I saw a number of shirts and hats at the marathon, and there was a considerable amount of orange in the stadium Sunday night. Their loyalty was rewarded.

    8. Cole looked like the pitcher who entered the game with 363 regular and postseason strikeouts, but it can’t be discounted that the Nationals played with fungo bats throughout the three-game homestand.

    9. I’m so glad it’s a travel day — for them, not me.

    10. Game 6: Strasberg vs. Verlander, who remarkably has never won a World Series start. Will my Astros in 6 prediction — seemingly unrealistic when the weekend started —hold up?

  • World Series: Games 3 & 4 Observations

    Observations about World Series games 3 and 4 (with a few travel side roads added for good measure):

    1. Due to our bucket list, 23-hour trip to Nashville, we did not attend game 3, the first World Series contest hosted in Washington, D.C. since 1933. And it sounds like we didn't miss much.

    2. In fact, game 3 seemed to mirror the first two, except the teams exchanged uniforms. After the Astros left a ton of runners on base in games 1 and 2, the Nationals could not get a critical hit when it was needed.

    3. Seeing Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit was a great first trip to the legendary Ryman Auditorium, but the buckets of drizzle and gloomy skies in Nashville apparently were foreboding signs of things to come for Washington's baseball team. (No frogs, thank goodness.)

    4. Travel Observation #1: If you're going to describe yourself as a cosmopolitan city (and we love Nashville), closing your restaurant 45 minutes to an hour early because you "ran out of food" and saying that's "the way we've always done it" is no excuse. (This is especially true if you are the only restaurant within short walking distance from three new hotels.)

    5. Travel Observation #2: If said new hotel is going to charge full price rates, it should have the amenities you come to expect when you pay full price. Telling your customers that you can't provide room service because you haven't built the restaurant yet (but have made no mention of this on your reservations website) may be factually accurate, but it's not a good look.

    6. Back to baseball: As hard as this Series has been to watch for this Astros/Nationals fan, it was beyond cool to be in the stands for game 4. But in reality, the game was sort of a dud, a grind it out victory for the Astros to tie the series at two games each.

    7. If voting for Gold Gloves took place today, Anthony Rendon and Victor Robles surely would win. Both made spectacular defensive plays in the Nationals loss.

    8. Otherwise, the Nationals seemed tight throughout game 4. The pitching was meh and several hitters could not get untracked. It made for a long night.

    9. Case in point: When Wander Suero has the best results of any of your staff, that should tell you something. All series long, I’ve said that if Suero actually pitches in the World Series, something is dreadfully wrong.

    10. Case in point #2: Fernando Rodney, age 42, pitching to Alex Bregman (possible AL MVP) with the bases loaded. I turned to my friend Eric and said we should leave when Bergman hits a grand slam. Next pitch: Dinger.

    11. We stayed for the rest of the game.

    12. My daughter-in-law, Conner, is running the Marine Corps Marathon in the rain. Major props to her and to my son, Nick, who ran a half marathon last weekend. After the week we’ve had, I’m struggling to get out of bed.

    13. It’s a three-game series, folks. I’m hoping my Astros in 6 prediction doesn’t come true.

  • Photos: Dave Alvin & Lori McKenna

    After two months of not shooting concerts — the Stonewall 50 event was a proud exception — I had the opportunity to take photos of two of my favorite artists playing on back-to-back nights this week. The first was Dave Alvin in an acoustic show at The Birchmere on Tuesday with Greg Leisz and Christy McWilson in support of the 25th anniversary of "King of California."

    The second anniversary show was a performance by Lori McKenna, who kicked off her “Return to Bittertown” tour on Wednesday at City Winery to mark the 15th anniversary of the album “that changed everything.” The tour was accompanied by the vinyl release of two re-recorded “Bittertown” songs — “Bible Song” and “Stealing Kisses.”

    “Bittertown” was the album that helped break McKenna, a mother of five who lives with her childhood sweetheart in Stoughton, Mass. Since its release in 2004, she has become one of the most in-demand songwriters in Nashville, co-writing or writing hits for Tim McGraw, Faith Hill, Little Big Town, Miranda Lambert, George Strait, Carrie Underwood, and Alison Krauss. In 2016, she became the first woman to win the Country Music Association’s “Song of the Year” award two years in a row for “Girl Crush” and “Humble and Kind,” both of which won Grammys as Best Country Song.

    For more photos and an essay on the two shows, go to my music blog: http://glenncook.virb.com/music-live--otherwise

  • The Mystical Nature of Baseball

    Baseball fans know California Angels pitcher Tyler Scaggs died a couple of weeks ago at the age of 27. On Friday, in their first home game since Scaggs’ death, the Angels threw a combined no-hitter against the Seattle Mariners after Skaggs’ mother threw out the first pitch.

    The no-hitter is eerie enough, but then look at some other facts unearthed by The Atlantic and see if this does not give you pause.

    • This was the 11th no-hitter in Angels history. Skaggs wore No. 11 at Santa Monica High.

    * The Angels scored seven runs in the first inning and finished with 13. Skaggs’ birthday was 7/13.

    • The second combined no-hitter in Angels history was the first thrown in California since July 13, 1991 — the day Skaggs was born.

    • Mike Trout, one of Skaggs’ best friends, swings at the first pitch just 3.1 percent of the time. Since his debut in 2011, only nine players have done it less (and only four are still active). On Friday, with Skaggs’ No. 45 on his back, Trout smashed a first-pitch fastball 454 feet with an exit velocity of 111 mph. Wearing his friend’s jersey, he took 28 seconds to round the bases, the longest he ever has after hitting a home run.

    • Dee Gordon, the Mariners second baseman on Friday, played for the Florida Marlins in 2016 and hit a home run on the first pitch in the team’s first game after pitcher Jose Fernandez died in a tragic boating accident.

    “I got one thing to say, and I said it three years ago, and I’m going to be done with it,” Gordon said. “If you don’t believe in God, you might want to start. I said it three years ago when I hit the homer for José. They had a no-hitter today. Y’all better start. That’s all I got.”

    Works for me.

  • World Series: Game 2 Observations

    World Series Game 2 observations:
    1. First inning aside for both teams, this was the pitching duel we expected to see for most of the night.

    2. The Nats bullpen has been the definition of "It ain't over til it's over" all season, so I was just as shocked as anyone by the implosion of the Astros in the late innings.

    3. Understatement of the year from Joe Buck: The Nationals bullpen has "some question marks."

    4. In the eighth inning, I was texting with an Astros friend and made a reference to the Nationals as "we," for which I was summarily chided. I proceeded to explain that my other team "had gone wee, wee, wee 20 minutes earlier while still at home." He was not amused.

    5. The entire night felt like a flashback to 2017, but now it's the Astros who are the fat cows and the Nationals who are the underdogs with destiny on their side.

    6. Nerd Fact #1: Verlander has walked the opening batter of a game on four pitches only three times in his career. One of those three was on Wednesday.

    7: Nerd Fact #2: The Nationals have scored 30 runs with two outs during this post season. (See #5)

    8. Nerd Fact #3: Michael A. Taylor has more home runs during the playoffs than he did during the regular season. And that's why baseball is a great game.

    9. Interesting perspective I hadn't thought of: The AL was a case of haves and have nots this year. You were either great or dueling with the Tigers and Orioles for the first pick in the draft. The NL was far more balanced and battle tested, with regular season races going down to the final day. You have to wonder whether that has had an effect on this series, at least so far.

    10. I love aerial coverage of domed stadiums.

  • Places: Baltimore Cemetery

    Something I love to do, and don’t get to do often enough, is go out on random shoots with other photographers. I enjoy collaboration and learning how others approach this craft, and find that i gain something new from each experience.

    Which brings me to early Sunday morning. A longtime friend and fellow photographer, Gary Rubin, and I have tried to get together off and on for one of these shoots for almost a year. Trying to pick a site, we decided to hit the little-known Baltimore Cemetery.

    Founded in 1850, the 85-acre cemetery sits at the intersection of North Avenue and Bel Air Road in northeast Baltimore, a part of the city that has been largely abandoned by residents and industry. Information about the cemetery is limited; there is no website and no one is on the grounds on Sundays.

    What I did find is that the cemetery is home to much of Baltimore’s German population of the 19th and early 20th century. According to a Baltimore Sun article, many of the founders and workers in the city’s breweries from that time are represented at the cemetery, along with some prominent businessmen. One family plot near the front belongs to the Vonderhorsts, a family of brewers who also owned the Baltimore Orioles in the late 1800s.

    Sunday was a miserable weather day, but Gary and I were got to cemetery shortly after the grounds were opened and managed to get in a few shots. Plans to go to other sites were thwarted, but I hope it won’t be long before we can go out shooting again.

    To see more photos, go to my Facebook album here.

  • New Life for Old Buildings

    Last week, while teaching at the University of South Carolina’s School of Journalism and Mass Communications, a student asked If had ever been to the “lunatic asylum.”

    When I sought clarification — it was at the end of the morning lecture, after all — the student noted it was the site of the former South Carolina Lunatic Asylum, the 181-acre stretch of land about a mile from Columbia’s central business district.

    Built in the 1820s and gradually expanded throughout the 19th century, the sprawling site was closed and completely abandoned more than two decades ago. But like other adaptive reuse projects that have become popular in recent years, such as the former American Tobacco Company complex in Durham and the site of the D.C. prison in Lorton, this sprawling complex is going through a rebirth of its own.

    Now known as the BullStreet District, the still developing site houses Segra Park, a minor-league baseball stadium baseball park, as well as a 108,000-square-foot office building and space for various retail stores.

    The centerpiece of the project is the renovation of the Babcock Building, constructed in the mid 1880s and now in the decaying state you see here. The building, which is more than 200,000 square feet, eventually is scheduled to be converted in to more than 200 apartments.

    I wasn’t able to go into the building — no trespassing signs are everywhere and security is much tighter than it was in years past — but took these shots to provide another demonstration in visual storytelling for the students.

    Hope you enjoy them.

    To see more photos from this project, go to my Facebook album here.

  • Columbia Challenge

    This week, I am working with seniors at the University of South Carolina in Columbia as a Hearst Visiting Professional. The week-long program brings in a seasoned journalist at the start of the fall semester to provide perspective and work with students as they begin their final year of classes.

    My focus — probably not surprising to those who know me and/or follow this page — is on visual storytelling and resilience. I'm also emphasizing that you can find art in the ordinary.

    In an attempt to illustrate that last part, I walked around Columbia and took these photos on Monday. These are some of the photos I showed the class the next day, and you can see the rest in my Facebook album here.

    Hope you enjoy.

  • The Death of Elvis

    Forty-two years ago today, I was sitting in the lobby of a hospital in Tyler, Texas, swatting at flies. My grandfather was hospitalized with the emphysema that eventually would kill him, and my parents were in Los Angeles, looking again for a way to treat the chronic disorder that would contribute to my dad's death some three decades later.

    It was a typical, sweltering East Texas day in August, which was one reason the flies had moved indoors. I had ridden in the car some 30 miles from Longview with my grandmother and my aunt, hoping to see my grandfather. That was doubtful. Hospital rules prevented 12-year-olds from visiting patient rooms and he was not in any shape to come down to the lobby.

    So I sat there, bored out of my mind, killing flies.

    At some point late that afternoon, news started to spread that shook me to my adolescent core: Elvis Presley was dead at age 42.

    Adolescents in the mid to late 1970s were not supposed to be Elvis fans, and I certainly did not get any cool points from my peers. “Fat Elvis” had become a parody, a bloated yet hollow shell of himself even for those immersed in the 1950s Happy Days-Laverne & Shirley nostalgia of the time.

    But my peers didn’t understand what Elvis meant to me. At the time, I don’t think I understood why he meant so much.

    My dad and aunt were teenagers when my grandmother discovered Presley in his first appearance on the Louisiana Hayride. A year and a half later, on Dec. 15, 1956, my grandfather drove my grandmother (then 51) and my dad (then 16) the 60 miles east to Shreveport to see Elvis’ concert at the Hirsch Youth Center at the Louisiana Fairgrounds.

    I still have the program from that show, which remarkably was taped and released on one of the hundreds of Presley compilations in 2011. Listening to the low-fi affair still brings a smile to my face, knowing they were both there.

    My first rock and roll record was Elvis’ first album, bought by my dad in a record store on Ninth Avenue in Texas City. I remember sitting with my parents watching Aloha from Hawaii, the first show televised around the world via satellite. My first concert, at age 6, was an Elvis show at Hofheinz Pavilion. My second, at age 9, was his performance at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.

    In a weird way, Elvis felt like a member of my extended family, although I was woefully short on accurate information. I hadn’t liked his last few albums, not knowing they were cobbled together by his label because he no longer enjoyed recording. I didn’t understand why he had not been able to recover from his divorce, not realizing it was in large part because of guilt over self-inflicted wounds. I didn’t connect the dots when my parents returned from a trip to Las Vegas in 1975, having been disappointed in Presley’s concert because he looked and sounded “bad” — code, as it turns out, for overweight and stoned out of his mind.

    All I knew, at age 12, is that people aren’t supposed to die at 42 unless they are at war or in some type of accident. People don’t die while sitting on the toilet in their bathroom, especially when they’re only five years older than my dad and six years older than my mom.

    We left the hospital that day and went to Gibson’s, one of those catch-all department stores not far from my grandmother’s house. My grandmother bought me “Moody Blue,” Presley’s last studio album that came in blue vinyl, and I played it on my aunt’s turntable that night.

    Today, in the words of music writer Bill Holdship, Elvis has “now been gone as long as he was here.” And I have remained an Elvis fan, albeit one who — with the benefit of information — is more discerning and less a blind member of the cult. While I separate the schlock from the sublime, I remain in awe of his talent and charisma. I also am grateful for the way he brought my family together on a common subject for a lot of years.

    In retrospect, I also can thank Elvis for introducing me viscerally to the concept of mortality at what now seems like so young an age. I didn’t realize it then, but Presley’s death was the first time I understood life can be more fleeting than you imagine. And it taught me, not for the last time, that you just have to appreciate what you’ve got.

  • Catharsis

    Editor's note: I have only written a handful of sports stories and columns in my journalism career, but with the possibility of a Nationals/Astros World Series looming, I felt compelled to weigh in here. Skip if you'd like, but take a look at this photo I got following the Nationals Wild Card win two weeks ago. Its title: Catharsis.)

    Two years ago, I went to see the Nationals at spring training with a good friend. The Nats' new facility was just opening and, better yet, they shared it with the Houston Astros, the team that turned me into a baseball fan.

    Growing up in Houston, I'm a National League guy, and found it somewhat disconcerting when the Astros switched leagues almost a decade ago. That was when their teardown was imminent, and I suffered through the losses with many of my Texas friends and family. Becoming a fan of the National League's Nats was easy, given they local and starting to become a perennial playoff contender as my wife's interest in all things baseball emerged.

    In 2017, the Astros and Nationals were slated to square off on the last day we were at spring training. Both teams were expected to do well, and some in the stands questioned if they would eventually meet in the biggest games of all.

    I sat there in my Nationals hat and Astros shirt, hoping for that scenario and secretly dreading that it actually could happen. The exhibition game between the two squads finished in a 9-9 tie, which represented — for me at least — the best of both worlds.

    The season, however, could not have gone more differently for the two teams. The Astros, the team I'd seen lose so many times in heartbreaking fashion, went on a magical run led by the trade deadline acquisition of Justin Verlander. In the ensuing weeks, as the region began to pick up the pieces from Hurricane Harvey, the Astros beat the Red Sox, Yankees and Dodgers in the playoffs to win the city's first-ever World Series title.

    The Nationals, a veteran club that never lacked characters but somehow lacked personality, ran through the regular season without a glitch, only to lose yet again in the NLDS in what previously could have been termed "Astros-esque" fashion. Dusty Baker's contract was not renewed as the manager. Jason Werth got old and retired. The next year, Bryce Harper, the supposed star of the franchise, ditched the team for Philadelphia.

    Last season was a disappointment for both teams. The Astros won more than 100 games, but were defeated by the Red Sox juggernaut. The Nationals struggled out of the gate and never found their footing.

    The same scenario played out for the first two months of this season. In late May, around the time the Metro closed, making it more challenging for us to get to games easily, the Nationals were 19-31. Between the team and the transportation, Jill and I were pleased we had downgraded from a half season to a quarter season. (At least my free subscription to MLB.TV, a perk of having a quarter season or more, meant I could easily follow the Astros, who again were on a pace to win 100 games.)

    We know what happened from there. The Astros easily won their division and added a dominant pitcher again at the trade deadline. They maneuvered past a stubborn Tampa Bay team in the ALDS and now are engaged in an epic battle with the Yankees to go to their second World Series in three years.

    Meanwhile, somehow, some way, baby sharks and conga lines formed and the Nationals started winning. The starting pitchers were dominant, led by Max Scherzer but especially thanks to Stephen Strasburg, the introvert found himself dancing and hugging his teammates as he went on to have his best season. Juan Soto and Victor Robles made Harper's divadom easy to forget, and Anthony Rendon — a Houston native — parked the free agency Brinks truck outside the stadium to cash in on his MVP-quality year.

    Even though they couldn't catch the Braves, they took hold of the Wild Card lead and never let go, winning the final eight games of the season — including a glorious five-game sweep of Harper's Phillies. In the Wild Card game, they defeated the Brewers in what is the most thrilling sporting event I've ever witnessed, then came back to defeat the Dodgers in the NLDS, advancing to the championship series for the first time.

    Last night, the Nationals finished a sweep of the Cardinals, coming out of the gate with seven runs in the bottom of the first. The Astros-Nationals-Oilers fan in me cautioned that it was not going to be easy, having seen my teams rush out to big leads only to have their hopes crushed in the end.

    But this Nationals team is, well, different. In many ways, the momentum they have reminds me of the 2017 Astros, who are two games away from the matchup I've always wanted and dreaded. They also remind me of the 2005 Astros, whose magical run included a similar comeback that ended with a sweep by the Chicago White Sox in that World Series.

    Who knows what will happen? Will the end result be like 2005 or 2017, or something in between? Will the Yankees make it all moot?

    Questions like that, my friends, are what makes baseball such an interesting journey. For several months each year, you never truly know from day to day and night to night what will take place.

    Off we go!

  • Lorton Prison: Part 1

    When our family moved to Northern Virginia in 2001, we bought a house in Lorton near the former District of Columbia prison. The sprawling facility, which includes what is now the Workhouse Arts Center, is finally being redeveloped as part of the adaptive reuse trend that is turning early 20th century structures into housing and businesses.

    For more than a decade, however, much of the 2,300-acre prison site remained as is, having been purchased from the federal government by Fairfax County. It wasn’t until 2014 that the Board of Supervisors approved a business plan to redevelop the site as a mixed-use community, and construction on Liberty Crest at Laurel Hill did not begin until early 2016.

    Today, the former prison buildings have been repurposed as apartments and office space, with plans for more retail in the other buildings. Construction has been ongoing now for three years, with a number of single-family homes being added as well.

    For several years, I was a member of the associate artists group at the Workhouse Arts Center, which itself was a separate piece of the prison. The Workhouse, which opened in 2004, was the first piece of the redevelopment that now includes three schools, a cross-country trail and golf course.

    On a cold, rainy morning in 2016, I was given an opportunity to roam much of the main prison site, which had just started to be redeveloped, with my camera. I was struck by how much had been left untouched for almost 15 years. Today, only remnants of what I saw that day remain on a site that has become a model for adaptive reuse.

  • Random Thoughts & Observations

    Five random thoughts from the past week:

    • Reminder of the day: The greatest investment you can make in your children is time.

    • I dip my toe back into the increasingly chilly swamp to quote my favorite political line of the last month: “At least the Watergate burglars had the good sense to wear gloves.”

    • One advantage to going to so many Nats postseason games is we’ve built a great collection of hand towels.

    • Ragweed, how I hate thee...

    • And my favorite of the past several days: Well I’ll be damned. We have baseball games to go to next week.

  • RIP to a Friend

    More than 5 years ago, I spent the day taking photos of Karen Loss. We had been teammates on a co-ed softball team for a number of years, and she had been diagnosed with Stage IV inoperable lung cancer.

    The day was so inspiring and memorable that I wrote a lengthy essay about it. I sent it to Karen, who wrote a beautiful note back to me.

    We continued to correspond via email as I and a host of others followed her journey. I sent her tickets to a couple of Nationals games that she was able to attend, receiving a couple of funny notes in return that our seats were "not lung patient friendly."

    Karen passed away yesterday, having fought long and valiantly against this horrible disease. RIP, my friend.

  • From NYC to Maine

    Two weeks ago, I embarked on a 600-mile one-way journey from Virginia to the mid-coast of Maine for a weeklong workshop titled “Art for the Heart.” As mentioned earlier this week, it was the first time I have taken one of these types of classes — or any professional training on photography, for that matter — and I am honored to have participated with such a great group of artists.

    The trip to Maine was broken into installments — a night in New York, a night in New Hampshire. Largely suppressing my ADD tendencies, I did not stop much along the way to take photos. But a few things did catch my eye.

    Here are a few photos from three stops — Yonkers, N.Y., outside Sturbridge, Mass., close to sunset, and finally at night in Portsmouth, N.H., where I stayed before driving on to Maine the next morning. Interested to see what you think.

  • Returning Home

    Home.

    Over the past six weeks, I've been away more than I've been in Virginia. My constant companion has been my camera, although for these past three days Jill was with me too.

    So what have the last six weeks brought? Here's a partial list:

    • A driving trip to North Carolina and an overnight train ride to Charleston (both for Amtrak).

    • A week teaching at the University of South Carolina.

    • An overnight trip to Eastern Pennsylvania, combined with day shoots in Raleigh, Maryland, and D.C. for another client.

    • A nine-day Northeast trip that included a week in Maine at a transformational photography workshop.

    • Another week driving from Jackson, Miss., to Louisville, Ky., in part to report a freelance magazine feature and in part for a small break.

    When the plane touched down this afternoon at Dulles, I saw one last photo opportunity as I rode down the escalator to baggage claim. In many ways, this photo is the end of a story that I'll be sharing over the coming weeks. It's just one of many stories I can't wait to tell.

    #ontheroad #travel #photographer #photography #storytelling #business #writing #northcarolina #southcarolina #pennsylvania #maryland #dc #newyork #massachusetts #newhampshire #maine #mississippi #tennessee #kentucky #summertravel #freelancer #gratitude #grateful

  • State of the Social State

    So... You might have noticed that I've chosen not to post political/social stuff on here in recent months. I could make a few statements about the state of the state/nation, but I won't, even though I reserve the right to resume a rant at any time. (It is likely my mom — and sister — will feel a slight sense of relief at that last statement.)

    Anyone who knows me knows how I feel about the person I shall not name (in large part because his ego feeds off people making references to him, good and bad). Instead, I'll limit this forum to posts about family and friends.

    After all, why shouldn't I bury my head in the sand and try to avoid someone challenging my beliefs/value system? That's what others have chosen to do on some of the most difficult issues our country has grappled with in the last 45 years. (If you're wondering what took place 45-46 years ago, look it up.)

    So here is to happy places and unicorns. I have a lot of positives to post about my wife and my four kids, and look forward to sharing those things with you. If you'd like to have a discussion/debate on things that go beyond that, feel free to do so.

    Thanks... And here's to the unicorns among us!

  • The Twilight Before Peak

    On Sunday evening, I had about an hour to kill between shooting a dance show in Northern Virginia and a concert in Washington, D.C. So, like the rest of the amateur and professional photographers and tourists who descend on our nation's capital each spring, I decided to visit the cherry blossoms.

    Despite the cold — temperatures in the 40s with gusty winds on the water — I knew this would be my best chance to visit the blossoms. (Peak, as it turns out, was Monday.)

    Between 6:30 and 7:15 p.m., the lighting changed rapidly several times. With the setting sun and the wind pushing the clouds through so quickly, the lighting and sky changed almost constantly, providing a challenge as I walked around.

    It really was a (chilly) delight.

  • Good Friday Reflection

    Here is a beautiful reflection for Good Friday, courtesy of Greg Garrett, an Episcopal priest and author who lives in Austin. He posted it to his Facebook page yesterday.

    “The central lesson of Good Friday is the central lesson of life: Things fall apart. Things get lost. Things get broken. But, when things fall apart, there is also the possibility that something unimaginably good can arise from that circumstance. It happens more often than we deserve.

    “That possibility of grace doesn't mean things go back to exactly the way they were, even if we think that's what we want. Life is about change and transformation. Including our change and transformation.

    “Wishing you grace, peace, and insight around the things that are broken.”

  • Places: Theodore Roosevelt Island

    Politics aside, Washington, D.C., was literally built on a swamp. And rising up from the swamp, in the middle of the Potomac River, is an island memorial named for the 26th president of the United States.

    Theodore Roosevelt Island is an 88.5-acre island that is part of our nation’s capital, even though it is only accessible by a footbridge from Virginia.

    Known by various names prior to being dedicated to Roosevelt, the island was acquired by George Mason III in 1724 and owned by the family for more than 100 years. In 1831, the Masons left the island when a causeway stagnated the water. It was owned by two other families and then Washington Gas Light Company before it was purchased by the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Association in 1931.

    Today, the island is maintained as a natural park, with a variety of trails and a plaza dedicated to Roosevelt. Architects designed a “real forest” to mimic what once covered the island in honor of a president known as a great outdoorsman and conservationist.

    On Easter Sunday, a perfect spring day, my wife and I took the family dog on a walk around the island and I snapped a few photos. Enjoy. 

    You can see more photos in my Facebook album here.

  • Short Story: The Commuter

    I wrote this short story several years ago. It came from watching and observing different people on a commuter train and fictionalizing their lives. A friend’s post on Facebook inspired me to dig it up and post it here. Interested to hear what you think.

    He ran.

    His loafers rubbed at the already thin socks on his feet, adding to the calluses on his little toes and pushing on his heels. His suit jacket flapped out, pants drooping under his belly a little more.

    Thirty feet to go, then the 22 stairs. The whistle blew. He had to make it or sit and wait for another hour.

    Tie slung over his shoulder, he turned the corner and took the stairs two at a time — 2, 4, 6, 8 … 18, 20, 22. He waved to the man in the funny little hat and shouted for him to hold the train. The conductor nodded, silently telling him to hurry.

    ••••••

    He started testing time a few months ago, more than anything to add some excitement back into his life. The commute to and from his office held little to no mystery, so he pushed back when he left his house or office for the train station.

    He regretted that now.

    He punched his ticket, took the steps up to the car marked “Coach Class,” noticed the other man’s funny little tie clip on the third button of his shirt, and started looking for a seat.

    His feet throbbed. He couldn’t stand the whole way. “Please let there be a seat,” he thought, almost aloud.

    A ball of sweat rolled down his nose, even though it was just January. His skin turned splotchy red from the desperate run.

    There was a place six rows up. And remarkably, someone wasn’t slouching in it, snoring away. He had the entire row of two all to himself. He sat, pulling up his pants as the train pulled away. He was exhausted.

    ••••••

    But he couldn’t sleep. That often happened on days like this. Mornings that started way too early and ran deep into the evening. He was lucky, and he knew it, because the man with the funny little hat and tie clip had recognized him and held things up. He wondered how, in the sea of faceless people, the man had remembered.

    The train jerked slightly to the right, then straightened. It did this every time it pulled away from the station, allowing him to tell the veterans from the rookie riders. The regulars rarely noticed; newbies cocked a half smile and made an offhand comment to the person sitting next to them.

    At least the newbies spoke. They and a couple of veteran riders who were trying to convert you in some way. Commuter converters, he called them. They made nice for the first couple of minutes, checking out your political leanings, whether you had a family, what your job was, asking if you had a church, and then they started on their agenda. The sound and the fury varied, as did the subject matter, but the dulling effect on his senses felt the same.

    The morning talkers were the worst. The previous week he had gotten stuck next to a newbie wearing too much perfume. She was heading to a job interview for a position she would never get because of her smell. It was worse than the strongest, fuzziest cup of coffee he had ever consumed, but he didn’t have the heart to say anything. By the time the train stopped at his station, he was too tired and woozy to work.

    That wouldn’t happen today. He was on his way home, for one, and no one dared to sit next to him. He looked down at his belly and thought to himself, “Who would want to?”

    ••••••

    He’d been on this train for 21 years, traveling up and down an hour each way into the city. His wife had wanted to live farther out, so they found a house that looked like every fourth house in their neighborhood and moved in. The kids — a daughter now in college and a son, now in high school — were bored suburbanites consumed by shopping and social media. His wife, the administrative assistant to the county judge, was looking at retirement soon.

    Travel to the first stop took eight minutes, four seconds. By this time, he had settled into his comfortable routine. Take out the laptop, open the reports and start to shuffle papers. By the third stop — 22 minutes and 19 seconds out, give or take — he had finished his task and started looking around. It was better than laptop Solitaire.

    Twenty-one years on this train, he thought, and what to show for it? No major injuries. No wrecks or derailments. No robberies. He had not been conned or converted. He had seen towns grow and decay at each stop, wondering what was happening in the lives of those around him.

    One morning, on the Amtrak, he met a woman with a scarf wrapped around her head and headphones poking out of her ears. Occasionally she shifted in her seat but remained still for most of the trip. He wondered where she was going and decided to ask. It wasn’t like him, but he couldn’t resist.

    “I’m going home,” she said.

    “Me, too. Where’re you headed?”

    She told him of the town up north. She had been home to bury her mother, leaving her husband and seven children behind. Her husband was self-employed and they couldn’t afford for everyone to go.

    “They didn’t like her much anyway,” she said by way of explanation.

    ••••••

    Usually, he didn’t talk, even though he wanted to on some days. In high school and college, he had acquaintances who seemed to appreciate his wit and playful nature. That’s one reason his wife was attracted to him. Or at least had been.

    He worked for a government agency, like most everyone on the train, sitting inside a cubicle with his family’s pictures on the desk. Mostly, he pushed paper from one stack to the next, then into the outbox. Some mornings he daydreamed, with thoughts of playing hooky and touring the museums.

    It wasn’t a bad life. Just dull, he thought, as he saw the next group get ready to disembark. It was the fourth stop, 31 minutes and 40 seconds out. The person opposite his seat had gotten off one stop before. A woman and her child walked down the row, holding hands, and sat next to him, their seat still warm.

    The child, who appeared to be 2 or 3, looked nervous. She was the newest newbie he had seen in a while. Occasionally a group of school children went into the city on a field trip, pissing off the commuter converters who didn’t like to be squeezed in on “their” train. A little man who rode the same route always asked the tie clip attendant, “What the hell is this?” as the school kids got on, followed by, “I hope you’ll make sure they stay in their car.” It was the only time the little man, as he had been dubbed, ever spoke.

    But this child seemed different. She was younger than the school kids, for one, and he saw something in her eyes.

    “Hi,” he said to the little girl, who buried her head in the woman’s chest. “It’ll be OK.”

    The woman looked down at her child and kissed her on top of the head. The little girl peered at him, a thousand questions hovering behind those big, innocent eyes.

    “Is this your first time on the train?” he asked.

    She nodded.

    “You’ll like it. Look out the window,” he said, pointing.

    She lifted her head and saw the river, then said something unintelligible to her mother.

    “Lift up your feet,” she said then, a little louder.

    Her mom pulled up her knees. The little girl motioned to him and said in a loud whisper, “Lift up your feet, or your toes will turn green.”

    ••••••

    He did as he was told. The little girl’s mother looked at him and said, “It’s a little game we play; it keeps her occupied when we are in the car.”

    He smiled and asked the woman where they were going. One stop beyond his, she replied. They would be on the train together for the rest of the route.

    The little girl looked out the window at the trees. “What’s that?” she asked repeatedly.

    Her mother patiently gave an answer every time she asked, occasionally looking over at him and rolling her eyes slightly. He was intrigued.

    After the sixth stop, 44 minutes and 31 seconds out, the little girl started to squirm. They had been forced to wait much longer than usual, because an elderly gentleman had trouble getting down the stairs. He noticed the train attendant with the tie clip patiently helping the elderly gentleman down.

    He thought of the two extremes, the little girl and the old man, that were on his train. And that’s the way he looked at it; after 21 years, it sort of was “his train.” If he had been the manager, he would have given the attendant high marks for his kindness. He would not permit perfume. He would add a beverage area, but with no alcohol. He would force people to speak to each other.

    A northbound train zoomed past on the other track, scaring the little girl. She buried her face in her mother’s chest again and started to whimper softly. At least she didn’t scream.

    “Would you like to sit over here?” he asked in a kind voice, motioning to the two-thirds of a seat he had remaining.

    The little girl looked at him with the big eyes. She looked up at her mother, speaking to her silently, and her mother nodded her approval. As the train left the station, she squeezed in next to him, her legs just extending past the seat’s edge.

    They rode together for two more stops. She moved onto his knee, again with her mother’s silent approval. She asked about the trees, the silver door with the big red lettering that opened and shut. She pointed at a woman two rows up and asked if she was his mother. That made him laugh. She noticed the ripples in the second river they crossed together and made him lift up his feet again.

    His stop, 61 minutes and 34 seconds out because of the earlier delay, came quickly, and he didn’t want to leave. But he motioned to the girl’s mother that he had to stand up, that this was his stop, and she told her daughter to move away.

    The little girl complied, then turned and hugged him around the leg as he stood.

    “Thank you,” she said in a sweet little voice, pronouncing “Thank” as “Tank.”

    “No, thank you,” he said, smiling. “I hope to see you again.”

    She smiled back, an innocent.

    It had not been a bad ride after all.

  • And Then There Were Five...

    The story of "And then there were five..."

    I've always said I never would get a tattoo unless the ink I was putting into my body meant something that showed a commitment to my family. I got my first shortly after being laid off almost six years ago. It is an infinity symbol that matches the one Jill has on her foot. My second was a set of arrows around the symbol, each replicating the ones my children had gotten.

    The third is "create." on my right wrist. It is one Ben has, and it serves as a reminder daily to take risks, to never lose the desire to find ways to challenge, support, entertain and occasionally inspire others. It also ends with a period that serves as a declarative statement.

    Number four is a semicolon on my left wrist. This type of tattoo is used as a message of affirmation and solidarity against suicide, depression, addiction, and other mental health issues.

    So, if this is my fourth tattoo, why have I dubbed this story, "And then there were five..."? Because tonight, while on a brief empty nest getaway, Jill and I became the 4th and 5th people in the family to do this, joining Kate, Emma and Ben in showing our support for an all-too-important cause.

    Tattoos are a personal choice, one now much less frowned upon than when I was growing up. Like anything, some like them and some don't. It's whatever floats your boat.

    That said, I'm proud of my kids for leading the way, and of Jill for joining them and bringing me with her in the process. Building upon that unity and togetherness is, to me, what family is all about.

  • Concerts: Innings Festival

    Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder made waves in music circles when he performed "Maybe It's Time" from Bradley Cooper's "A Star Is Born" during a solo concert at the Innings Festival in Tempe, Ariz. And my wife and I were there to witness it.

    I shot the entire day Sunday and have written a review as well for Americana Highways, the website I contribute to regularly. Another way to read my essay/review of the show — and why Vedder's performance of the Jason Isbell-written song means so much to Jill and me — is by visiting my Music: Live & Otherwise blog.

  • Places: Puerto Rico

    Over a five-day weekend that included my wife’s birthday, I had a chance to take photos in Puerto Rico, the U.S. territory still struggling to recover from the effects of a devastating 2017 hurricane that has claimed almost 3,000 lives.

    Most of our time was spent in the capital city of San Juan, which has rebounded faster than other areas because of the tourism dollars it brings in. Like New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina, hotels, retail, and restaurants were the first to be rebuilt and are mostly back in operation.

    But off the main streets, many buildings that once housed smaller non-franchised businesses are vacant and covered in graffiti. The primary city park still has not reopened due to lack of running water. Blue tarps still cover roofs of homes in many areas east of San Juan.

    Puerto Rico, which has petitioned repeatedly to become the 51st state, has been a U.S. territory since 1898. Its residents have been granted U.S. citizenship since 1917. However, the territory has been in a freefall financially, and its recovery efforts have become part of an ongoing political battle at the federal level.

    The beauty, culture and artistry that are hallmarks of the island cannot be denied. The people we interacted with, almost to a fault, were unfailingly nice and grateful for those who were putting money into the economy. Hundreds of thousands have moved to the states rather than rebuild, however, and despite the resilience of those still remaining, vulnerability can be seen at every turn.

  • A Honeymoon That Never Ended

    You might consider me a honeymoon child, given that I was born nine months and 20 days after my parents got married on March 27, 1964.

    Except there was no official honeymoon. My dad moved from Longview to La Marque after my parents got married on Good Friday and my mom went back to work teaching school on the following Monday.

    It's hard to believe that was 55 years ago, or that this photo of Mom and Dad was taken 15 years ago. It's hard for me to believe my father died almost 12 years ago.

    It's easy to believe their honeymoon, while never "real" in the sense of a vacation, never really ended either. All you had to do was see how they looked at each other.

  • Segregation's Legacy

    More than 15 years ago, I embarked on one of the most ambitious projects of my pre-freelance career: Coordinating, researching and writing a variety of pieces for what became a 50-page special report on Brown v. Board of Education.

    As the son of a history teacher and a lifelong history buff, having the opportunity to take a deep dive into one of the most — if not the most — significant U.S. Supreme Court decisions was a dream come true. Over several months, I interviewed Walter Cronkite, former Education Secretary Richard Riley, civil rights scholar John Hope Franklin, and Richard Kluger, the Pulitzer Prize winning author of Simple Justice, the definitive book on the Brown decision.

    But just as, if not even more significant, was the opportunity to visit and write about Summerton, S.C., the small town where the first of five lawsuits that led to Brown was filed. Working with my longtime friend Cecile Holmes, a University of South Carolina journalism professor, and her students, we looked at a variety of angles: the role of the church in desegregation battles as well as the lasting effects on the public schools and generations of children in Clarendon District No. 1.

    My story, “From First to Footnote,” led off the special report in the April 2004 American School Board Journal and helped bring attention to families who stood up to an entrenched system of segregation in this small Southern town. McGraw-Hill, the textbook company, later purchased 50,000 reprints of the issue and distributed them to history clients in schools it served.

    Earlier this year, I went back to Summerton to see what — if anything — had changed. Were the schools still segregated, thanks to a mostly silent but still entrenched resistance to integration? Are those connected to the original Briggs v. Elliot case — many of them in their late 70s and 80s — still carrying the torch?

    What I found and what I saw has just been published in this month’s American School Board Journal. Unlike any other magazine piece I’ve written, it blends first-person narrative with updated reporting as well as photographs I took.

    Sadly, this story does not have a happy ending. Fifteen years later, another generation of students has been deprived of an opportunity to be part of well-funded, integrated schools where the focus is on learning for the future, not trying to hold on to the past.

    I hope you’ll take a few minutes to read “Segregation’s Legacy.” You also can download a copy of my 2004 article here and read the Q&As here.

    All thoughts and comments are welcome.

  • Parkland: One Year Later

    One year ago today, 14 students and three teachers were killed at their high school in Parkland, Florida, in the deadliest school shooting since Sandy Hook. Three months and four days later, a 17-year-old gunman killed 10 people and wounded 13 at Santa Fe High School only a few miles from my hometown in Texas.

    As a freelance writer and photographer, I’ve written two cover stories for magazines on the aftermath of these horrific events. Published just days before the Santa Fe shooting, “Generation Why” focused on the March for Our Lives movement started by Parkland survivors that spurred student walkouts and protests all over the U.S.

    The second story, “After It All Falls Apart,” looked at the slow recovery that is ongoing in Santa Fe, a small school district forced to cope with the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey and the school shooting within a nine-month period.

    The stories were written for the school board and administrator audience but provide interesting perspectives for noneducators as well. If you haven’t had a chance to read them, I’ve provided links to text versions in the comments below. I’m interested in hearing what you think.

  • The Oldest's Nuptials: T-Minus 2 Days

    It's Thursday afternoon. I'm sitting in a coffee shop working on a couple of freelance projects. Just like any other day, except... It's not just any other day.

    FIrst, it's two days before my first born gets married, so the coffee shop I'm sitting in is in Durham, not Alexandria. Second, it's also the first anniversary of the Parkland High School shooting, a sobering reminder in the midst of the celebration to be (see below).

    Finally, it's Valentine's Day. That is reason enough to make anyone pause, because it's a natural opportunity to reflect on your relationship (or lack thereof) with your significant other, even when candy/flowers/adult beverages are not involved.

    As I think about the life Jill and I have established (reflecting that is not exclusive to a Hallmark holiday), I'm eternally grateful to have her as my partner. She is living proof that soulmates do exist, that love can endure and ultimately triumph. I don't know what I'd do without her.

    Back to the wedding: Ben and I drove down yesterday, and he now is bachelor partying it with Nick and the rest of the groomsmen in Asheville. Since we're (voluntarily) down to one car, Kate and Jill are coming down today on a slow moving Amtrak. Emma arrives from Pittsburgh tomorrow, as do my mom and sister from Texas.

    As parents of the groom, our primary role in all this is the rehearsal dinner tomorrow night, which is when the true festivities begin. By Sunday, it will all be over.

    For Nick and Conner, that's when the rest of the story begins. #lovewins

  • Parkland: One Year Later

    One year ago today, 14 students and three teachers were killed at their high school in Parkland, Florida, in the deadliest school shooting since Sandy Hook. Three months and four days later, a 17-year-old gunman killed 10 people and wounded 13 at Santa Fe High School only a few miles from my hometown in Texas.

    As a freelance writer and photographer, I’ve written two cover stories for magazines on the aftermath of these horrific events. Published just days before the Santa Fe shooting, “Generation Why” focused on the March for Our Lives movement started by Parkland survivors that spurred student walkouts and protests all over the U.S.

    The second story, “After It All Falls Apart,” looked at the slow recovery that is ongoing in Santa Fe, a small school district forced to cope with the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey and the school shooting within a nine-month period.

    The stories were written for the school board and administrator audience but provide interesting perspectives for noneducators as well. If you haven’t had a chance to read them, I’ve provided links to text versions in the comments below. I’m interested in hearing what you think.

  • Random Thoughts & Observations

    • This weekend I saw the headline, “Mystery man buys $540 in Girl Scout cookies to get girls out of the cold,” which gives new meaning to the phrase “I want ALL of the Thin Mints.” Of course, given that no story seems to have a happy ending these days, the man was arrested the next by the DEA in a massive drug bust.

    • Favorite comment I've seen about the performance by Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper at the Oscars: "I watched their performance, and I’m pretty sure I’m now pregnant. With twins. ... And I’m a guy."

    • One of the best headlines on the “blackface” scandal currently roiling the state where we live: “State Capitol Janitor Frank Surprised to Find He’s Virginia’s New Governor.” It’s actual “fake news” that’s both funny and sad at the same time.

    • Nothing brings out the dumbassery in human kind quite like driving in the snow. Sadly, the intended recipients of this post won't see it unless they're texting while driving in the snow, therefore qualifying them for PhD's in said dumbassery.

    • I watch this everytime it pops up.

     

    This column is a month old now, but it remains relevant. When I start nodding my head and agreeing with George Will, you know one of two things: 1. We are in far worse shape than anyone thinks. 2. Sanity has a remote chance of prevailing.

    Alas...

  • Race & Politics in Virginia

    Last night I was at Jill's School Counselor of the Year event, a wonderful evening that showcased the work of a great group of professionals who are dedicated to helping students across this nation. What I appreciate about ASCA (and my wife, for that matter) is its ongoing message of inclusivity. Hearing, living and breathing that message has helped me to (I hope) be a better husband, father, and human being.

    Afterward, I saw a TV tuned to CNN and its coverage of the Virginiagovernor, Ralph Northam, who was falling all over himself to apologize for a 1984 yearbook photo that showed him and another man at a medical school party. One was in blackface; another was in a KKK outfit.

    My heart sank. I couldn't hear the audio, but the message was clear: Northam should resign.

    Later, driving home, I heard coverage of the story on WTOP, our local news station. Northam was saying he won't quit.

    I hope, after he's had what surely was a sleepless night, that he reconsiders and does what is right. Yes, he's a Democrat. Yes, like others, I supported him without knowing what had happened 35 years ago. And yes, I believe people should be given second chances.

    But my political affiliation (or anyone's for that matter) should not matter when you have something like this. We have too much division in this country as is, and my biggest problem with politics is we don't hold our elected leaders accountable for morally reprehensible actions, even those that occurred decades ago.

    To me, it's simple: If Northam believes in doing the right thing, as he says he does, he should quit. Simple as that.

  • Give Me Back That Hour!

    So it is 8:38 a.m. on Sunday, March 10. (Or by my body clock, 7:38.) Some genius decided that springing forward before it is actually spring was a good idea. I respectfully disagree.

    It is 40 degrees, gray and drizzly outside. Supposedly, this sludge will move on and it will be more "spring-like" today.

    Supposedly. I want my hour back.

  • 'Rent: (Sort of) Live'

    So, "Rent: Live" ... (I promise this is not a rant.)

    As with any live Broadway show on TV, things get lost in translation. The viewing audience is used to that, and it happened here.

    The same viewing audience also is used to understudies going on in case one of the cast members can’t show up. Where are the understudies? "Rent: Tape Delayed" just doesn’t have the same effect.

    Stunt casting? I get it. Sometimes it works; sometimes it doesn’t. And if you watched it, you saw both. We can’t all win. Same goes for making cuts and tweaking the original text. Sometimes it works; sometimes it doesn’t.

    Chances are if you grew up on the OBC or the movie, you’re pissed about tonight. I get that too.

    But think about this: For one night, Fox (of all networks) ran a show that focused on identity, gender, gentrification, tolerance, and the scourge that was AIDS. And the overall message was about the beauty of love amid life and death circumstances.

    So yes, you can quibble about the quality (or lack thereof) of the performances or the cuts due to profanity, et al. They’re all legitimate complaints/critiques that — with exceptions — I shared up until the last 15 minutes.

    And then I asked myself: “How do you measure a life in love?” And I was heartened that new generations will get to ask the same question.

    #rentlive #RentonFox

  • Every Story: Two Sides. Sometimes More

    Sometimes you have to admit you may have made a mistake, jumped to a conclusion without all the facts. As if, in today’s world, we even know what a fact is anymore.

    You should know I don’t like the current administration that is “leading” our country. (When you refer to the president as our toddler in chief, I consider that a dead giveaway.)

    My reasons, in case you’re interested, are clear and simple. I believe Trump is an abhorrent human being with no redeeming qualities. He is a narcissist who has only his — and not our country’s — best interests in mind. I also believe the Republican Party has become so power hungry that it compromised its values by throwing their support behind this morally reprehensible human being.

    That’s my opinion, and shy of the tablets appearing and frogs falling from the sky, I don’t think it’s gonna change any time soon. Sadly, I think the same would be true for folks who are ideologically opposite of me as well.

    I recognize every story has two sides, and hate it when I’m bombarded by reports from online media that defines itself by the ideological slant it takes. The “fake news” debates sicken me, because they show our nation’s growing lack of trust in what were once sacred institutions, as well as how many of those institutions have been gutted to the point where they have no more staff than a person sitting at his/her computer. They also echo our country’s seeming lack of interest in civil debate.

    We believe what we want to believe. And if you don’t believe as I do, well, then you’re just wrong. How does that attitude benefit anyone?

    All of these things said, I allowed the anger and disgust I feel toward this administration to influence a rush to judgment when I should have waited to weigh in on the story about conflict between the Native American elder, the Black Israelites, and the students from an all-boys Catholic high school. That rush to judgment was, by most appearances, not the correct one.

    I still have questions — “Where were the students' chaperones, and why didn’t they try to help defuse this?” Is chief among them — that likely will never be answered to anyone’s satisfaction. I still think both sides were wrong in their approach to the situation. That involves adults, who should know better, and children, who don’t know better and believe what they’re taught by the adult influences in their lives. But if my rush to judgment added fuel to the fire in some small way, I’ll take the hit for that.

    Fear and uncertainty do strange things to people. Circumstances that lead to boulders on our shoulders also put rocks in our collective heads. This constant game of “I’m right. You’re wrong” is both annoying and tiresome. And it shows no signs of abating.

    The prospect of a president who can unite our divided country is, at best, a pipe dream. That saddens me terribly. I hope it saddens you as well.

    So this is my mea culpa, my apology for jumping the gun. Tomorrow morning, I will get up and put on my pants one leg at a time like the rest of you. And I hope — despite my pessimism about the prospects — that tomorrow will be a little less strident and angry than today and the past two years have been.

  • 'Communications 101' Column Published

    Communications 101 is my latest column published in American School Board Journal. Given the turnover that school boards see each winter following an election cycle, it’s a a good time to look at the do’s and don’ts of communications. Consider this a how to help your board become educated about the norms and protocols of your governance team.

  • 'History Lessons' Feature Published

    History Lessons, my timely feature focusing on the challenges of teaching U.S. history in volatile times, appears in the new issue of American School Board Journal. Read it in HTML form here or download a PDF of the story here.

  • Places: Stuckey's

    When I was a kid, we traveled back and forth from Texas City to Longview quite a bit to see my grandparents. It was the early to mid 1970s, and I always wanted to stop at one of the Stuckey’s that dotted parts of U.S. 59 as well as many highways in the South.

    My mom, who did the driving because of my father’s illness, refused to go because she didn’t want to have a battle with her children over the thousands of tchotchkes, sweets, and knickknacks that we would want and beg her to buy. (And to be honest, she probably would have had the same battle with my dad, too.)

    Now that I’m an adult and a parent, I get it. But I still have a thing for these places and have wondered how they’ve managed to survive all these years. (Buckee’s, the supersized stores that have popped up all over Texas, feel like Stuckey’s on steroids, but they don’t have the same dated charm.)

    The company started in the early 1930s as a lean-to roadside shed in Eastman, Ga., as a way for founder W.S. Stuckey Sr. to sell his pecans. According to a history of the company, Florida-bound tourists on U.S. Route 23 stopped to buy the pecans, and Stuckey’s wife Ethel created a number of homemade candies to sell at the stand.

    As travel on the nation’s highways became popular post-World War II, Stuckey’s expanded, eventually growing to more than 350 franchises across the nation. They frequently were paired with gas stations, restaurants, and nice clean restrooms.

    By the late 1970s, the company had declined to more fewer than 75 stores, but it has slowly grown back to just over 100 franchises.

    Earlier this week, I drove to South Carolina to work on a freelance feature story and saw a Stuckey’s on Interstate 95. While this little franchise was dwarfed by places like South of the Border, the familiar gas pumps and Dairy Queen were still inside. And the bathrooms were pretty clean too.

  • Life on a Saturday When You're

    Several years ago, I decided to confront something that was inevitable: I am the source of my kids' ADD.

    I've always sort of known I had it, even when I was a child. I enjoy multi-tasking, which is helpful when your thoughts drift like the winter wind. I also enjoy the occasional benefit of hyperfocus, which allows me to tune out everything around me while I work to complete a specific task.

    Still, as I've gotten older, my ability to pay attention to things for sustained periods of time — aka when the deadline is not on top of me — has become progressively compromised, so much so that I'm taking meds to combat it. For the most part, the meds work pretty well, but sadly, as with anything pharmaceutical, some days it feels like I took a placebo.

    And that, my friends, is incredibly frustrating. Today is one of those days.

    Instead of being completely unproductive, I thought I'd give you a look into "The Saturday Morning of a Middle-Aged Man with ADD." 

    Hope you enjoy it. 

    TIme: 8 a.m.

    “Which story should I work on today?”

    • One of the three freelance assignments due next week.

    • The essay I want to write about childhood trips and Stuckey’s.

    “Hey, I’ve got laundry to do.” 

    “Maybe I should work on...”

    • The essay on taking in an older foster dog, incorporating how that relates to my grandmother’s cats and my sibling’s inability to “check the tail” before assigning names.

    • The book proposal I’m working on about parenting lessons learned, most of them the hard way.

    “I can do Jill’s laundry and my laundry. She'll appreciate that.”

    Time: 8:30 a.m.

    Said older foster dog, who is deaf and mostly blind, needs to go outside.

    Standing outside in the cold while serpantining with said dog so he doesn't hurt himself:

    “Of course, there are photos I could edit.”

    • The photos from our visit to Hamilton Pool in Texas last month.

    • The ones from Nutcracker now that I’ve got MSA’s selections.

    • The photos from Summerton, S.C., the place where I’m writing one of my features on this month.

    • The photos shot during the 1,000-miles of driving from Virginia into and around South Carolina.

    • The photos I took this week at the Library of Congress.

    "I wish we had a dog like Doug. We have a lot of squirrels."

    Time: 8:40 a.m.

    “I haven’t heard this Jack Ingram concert from 2005 yet. Should I play it?” 

    “If I play it, then I might not be able to concentrate on writing.”

    “I’ll play it anyway. After all, I’m doing laundry.”

    “I’ll tweak the parenting lessons for a minute. Maybe start editing some photos.”

    "Which ones?"

    Time: 9:30 a.m.

    “Wait, what about that line for the Summerton story that I thought of in the middle of the night?” 

    Middle of the night: Another middle-age male reality.

    “I need to send out a few emails for the third freelance piece.” 

    “Did I take my meds this morning?”

    “Well, shit, I did.”

    “I really should update my website.”

    Time: 10 a.m.

    “What do you mean the dog needs to go out again? OK. I know I heard him bark. That’s a sign that something is about to happen either way.” 

    Second outside serpentine with said dog so he doesn’t fall into the bushes. Back inside.

    “Boy it’s cold out there. Should I get some coffee to warm up? "

    Time: 10:15 a.m. 

    Ingram concert over. “That wasn’t bad. Not great, but I'm not a fan of his more popular stuff."

    "Now I can move from photo edits to the freelance writing.”

    “But wait, I can do Stuckey’s research. After all, that place was iconic when I was a kid.”

    Time: 10:30 a.m. 

    “Time to put the first load of wash in the dryer. Hold on the Stuckey’s research.”

    Time: 10:40 a.m.

    “What do you know? I didn’t find any change that fell out of my pockets in that load. Wonder how that happened?"

    Time: 11 a.m.

    “I really should be writing.” 

    Time: 11:30 a.m.

    “Wait, did I put the second load of laundry in the wash?” 

    “Well, shit, I didn’t. I wonder if there will be any loose change in this load.”

    Time: Noon

    “The meds aren’t working. Maybe I need to get some lunch."

    "Perhaps I should take a nap. I’m tired. Maybe that will allow me to reboot.”

    “Or not.”

    Postscript: I finally finished the Stuckey's around 9 p.m.

  • A Beautiful, Cold Sunrise

    Our family — all seven of us — went to a frigid New York City for Thanksgiving this year, the first time we’ve been there for the parade since 2011. (Our son, Ben, was performing in the parade for the first time as part of the cast of Mean Girls.)

    Before sunrise on Thursday, with temperatures in the low 20s, we trekked down to midtown Manhattan to grab a spot close by and catch some of the action.

    Streets were closed off, so my daughter Emma and I had to wind our way to meet other family members on the parade route. We walked in zig-zag fashion from 8th Avenue and 34th Street to 6th Avenue and 37th as the sun rose.

    Once we found our spot, I didn’t take many photos of the parade because the temperature dropped to 19 degrees with a cold and bitter wind. We later learned it was the coldest parade on record.

    Soon, I will post photos from the parade and from the blowing up of the balloons just west of Central Park. For now, enjoy these images of a stunningly beautiful sunrise.

  • Macy's Parade: A Different Take

    Over the years, I’ve shot a number of parades, from small-town community events to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day spectacle in New York. But I’ve never been part of something like last week.

    Looking back at what I shot in New York, I decided the best way to display it was to combine the two events — the balloons being blown up and the parade itself. It's an attempt to provide a different view on the spectacle many of us know only on television.

    Thursday’s parade in Manhattan was the coldest in the history of the Macy’s event, as temperatures plunged into the upper teens with a biting wind. Despite multiple layers of clothing, I could not take more than a handful of photos — it was THAT cold — because I simply could not grip the camera.

    It was warmer, but not much, on Wednesday afternoon, when I walked through the Upper West Side area with my oldest son and his fiancee to see the balloons being inflated.

    If you’ve never been to the parade and plan to go, get there a day early and go see the balloons being blown up in the area near the Museum of Natural History. Viewing winds around Columbus Avenue, 77th Street, Central Park South and 81st Streets.

    The best part is that it’s all free. But be sure to take hand warmers.

    To see more photos, go to my Facebook album here.

  • Charles Brown, Christmas and Friendship

    For 8+ years, I was friends with a member of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame who grew up in my hometown.

    Charles Brown is responsible for two holiday standards — "Merry Christmas Baby" and "Please Come Home for Christmas" — that you've probably heard or will hear between now and Dec. 25. Between his versions, and the many, more famous covers of both, the songs are American classics.

    A feature-length blog entry on my friendship with Charles is now up, along with a sidebar on the songs' slightly murky origins. The entries are on a new blog — "Music: Live & Otherwise" — that I've started on my website. The goal is to compile everything I've written and will write about songwriters, songs, shows, and the effect they have on our lives.

    Take a look and let me know what you think. I'm quite proud of it.

  • A Tree Where Houses Used to Be

    Background: This photo, which I first posted seven years ago today, is from a trip I took to Joplin to report on the schools' efforts to reopen following a devastating tornado. At the time, my then-supervisor did not see "the point" in my going to Missouri to write the piece, because she thought it was not a good use of time and resources.

    Obviously (and respectfully), I disagreed. At the time, I had not written a feature in two-plus years, and felt an urgent need to keep my skills sharp. I also thought the story presented an important lesson that bears repeating no matter how many times you hear it: The best leaders are those who are the most resilient in tough times.

    Resiliency has since become a recurring theme in much of my work, and I point back to this trip as the true start of that.

    To see the piece, go to http://glenncook.virb.com/joplin.

  • RIP , Dr. Z

    When I was a kid, my uncle would let me read or give me his old copies of Sports Illustrated, a magazine I devoured because of the quality of its writing. Paul Zimmerman, aka Dr. Z, was one of SI's best — that's saying a lot — and one of the first bylines I looked for while dog earing a back issue.

    Zimmerman died yesterday at age 86, so I thought I'd share a sample of his work and humor by quoting from a piece on quarterback Dan Pastorini, the former quarterback of then woeful Houston Oilers.

    "A bright young quarterback on the worst team in the NFL. He’d get sacked five or six times a game, get his nose broken, teeth knocked out and wrists and fingers mangled—and the crowd would boo him.

    “It’s like being in a street fight with six guys," Pastorini said, "and everybody’s rooting for the six.”

    RIP, Dr. Z.

  • Eulogy for a Writer

    “As a writer I believe that all the basic human truths are known. And what we try to do as best we can is come at those truths from our own unique angle, to re-illuminate those truths in a hopefully different way.” — William Goldman

    If you took away all the writers I’ve met and seen over the years, all the novelists, essayists, screenwriters and playwrights I’ve admired, and left me with just the work of William Goldman, I probably would be OK with that.

    Goldman died today. He was 87, with a six-decade career that saw him pen acclaimed novels and essay collections, win two Academy Awards, and have his plays produced on Broadway. To sum up, his life was not a bad gig.

    He may not be a household name, but chances are you’ve seen or read his work — the original screenplay to “Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid”; the adaptations of “All the President’s Men” and “Misery”; the novels and screenplays for “Magic,” “Marathon Man,” and “The Princess Bride.” His books on writing for the movies — “Adventures in the Screen Trade” and “Which Lie Did I Tell?” — are indispensable.

    This is where the professional summation ends and the personal one begins. What I liked most about Goldman was his sense of humor, in large part because it was so similar to my dad’s and (hopefully) my own.

    I distinctly remember seeing “Butch Cassidy” with my father when I was a kid. One of his favorites, he could quote many of the punchlines, and “Think you used enough dynamite there Butch?” always brought a smile to his face. This was in the pre-cable days of mid-1970s, and network censors failed to fully take out Robert Redford’s “Ohhhhh … shiiiiiit!” during the waterfall scene.

    I turned to my father with the, "Did you just hear what I just heard?" look and he smiled. It's the first time I remember hearing profanity in a movie.

    In 1999, a special edition came out on DVD for the movie’s 30th anniversary. Even though I didn’t have a DVD player at the time, I bought it and watched it on my computer. It took me back to those days of sitting on my couch late at night with my dad, and I called him the next day to excitedly tell him about the “extras” on the DVD. 

    Several years later, when Ben was 8 or 9 and just getting into acting, the first “adult” movie I showed him was “Butch Cassidy.” The mix of humor and action helped turn him into a third-generation movie fan.

    Another memory: Ninth-grade World History class, taught by Mrs. Selman. At the start of the year, she told us she would read a book to us on Fridays. Many in the class rolled their eyes as she opened Chapter One of “The Princess Bride” and started acting out all the parts of Goldman’s cheeky fairytale; by the end of class, we could hardly wait until the next Friday.

    Years later, I don’t remember a thing about World History, but I will never forget Mrs. Selman reading that book, or seeing the tagline on the back jacket of her tattered paperback: “What happens when the most beautiful woman in the world meets the handsomest prince in the world, and he turns out to be a son-of-a-bitch?”

    It still is one of my best memories of high school.

    As these things can do, the news of Goldman’s death sucker punched me as Jill and I drove to Pittsburgh to see Emma. Our youngest daughter is performing this evening in an unofficial kickoff — or continuation, depending on your opinion — of the professional and familial tilt-a-whirl that doesn’t slow down until Nicholas gets married next February.

    With our kids now (almost) fully grown, we’ve been trying to simplify. We’ve gotten rid of or stored most of the things from our old house in moving into our empty nest. Kate, now a big movie fan herself, has most of the posters that were up in our old basement.

    The one movie poster in the new house — “The Princess Bride.”

  • Lyle Lovett/Robert Earl Keen

    Photos from an acoustic evening with Lyle Lovett and Robert Earl Keen at The Birchmere last week. For a review of the show, go to my new Music: Live & Otherwise blog here.

  • Random Thoughts: Politics & Pop Culture

    I haven't said anything about much of anything for the past month or so, even as one outrageous event after another pervades the news cycle and feeds the partisan frenzy. So here goes, in a series of bullet points no less:

    • In some ways, I can't help but feel like we're living in The Princess Bride's "Pit of Despair" (sans the cheeky satire) and that our fragile democracy is, if not dead, then mostly dead.

    • At the risk of repeating myself (the child of a first-grade teacher is nothing if not redundant), I do know our nation has a serious case of pronoun trouble. "We the People" has become "You People," and it starts with leaders on both sides.

    • This morning, I read an excellent column on the "fake news" phenomenon and what it can teach you about event marketing. Much of the column isn't relevant to many of my friends in Facebook land, but this part is worth sharing in a broader context:

    "People are drawn to fake news because it caters to their biases. ... Want proof? Look at the Facebook news feed of a friend who holds opposite political ideologies than you do. You will quickly discover their feed looks nothing like your own because the news sources and articles will be skewed to show them what they want to see."

    • On that note, I'll leave you with one last pop culture reference. Since when did our country's theme song become, "Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better"? Isn't there something wrong with that?

    • Pop Culture Addendum: Irving Berlin wrote “Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better.” He also wrote “God Bless America.” Which is our nation’s theme song?

    ••••••

    Given that it’s social media we’re dealing with, my political musings resulted in a number of comments. Before I knew it, I found myself going down the Facebook wormhole to make what I hope are a few salient points about the current state of the state. Here are the highlights:

    • We are so divided as a country right now that one side could say the sky is blue and the other side would disagree.

    • There's no question that the working class have been ignored in this country for the past three decades, an era that covers the Bush-Clinton-Bush-Obama years. I wish the Democrats had come up with a better candidate in 2016, but the current shit show we are living in is far worse than I imagined.

    • As a longtime journalist, the problem I have is that anyone can write anything, say they are a "news service," and if the content matches what you want to hear, then you'll share it. It doesn't matter if the commentary/news is legit or not, people share it. And as long as that continues, then unity is elusive at best.

    • Trump frightens me on a lot of levels, starting with the fact that he is incapable of telling the truth and showing genuine compassion for others. Instead, he has taken advantage of an already divided electorate and made the divide even larger. He is being forgiven now because the economy is booming (at least in his words), but his inflammatory rhetoric and inability to see that true leadership is about trying to do better by everyone — not just one admittedly ignored faction — is disastrous for us in the long-term.

    • What bothers me the most is the GOP was so desperate for a win so they could advance their agenda that they have attached themselves to someone who, ideologically speaking, represents the exact opposite of what they stand for. That is hypocrisy at its worst.

    ••••••

    Finally, after a person pointed to an editorial cartoon that said the Democrats’ only agenda is “I Hate Trump” and listed a number of things the Republicans are touting with the upcoming midterms, I decided to respond to that too. (After all, when you’re buried deep in the wormhole…)

    • What did Obama do? Here’s my list, for starters: Bailed U.S. out of 2008 financial crisis (worst since Great Depression); got Bin Laden; stood up to Russia. (And that's without the divisive pieces on health care and gay marriage.)

    • Obama wasn't perfect. He made a number of decisions that I disagreed with, especially with regard to education and border security. But all we heard was "I Hate Obama." At least he didn't treat the presidency like Pee-Wee's Playhouse.

  • Embracing the Unexpected

    Embrace the unexpected. Be thankful for friends and family who allow you to make those twists and turns, or those who sometimes join you on the adventure.

    Case in point: A series of unexpected challenges/heartbreaks/joys/pleasures on a 10-day business/family/work adventure that just ended last night.

    I can and likely will elaborate at some point, because the experience was loaded with lessons. But suffice it to say, I'm grateful to everyone I encountered over the past week plus.

    And now it's time for ... Monday.

  • Smugglers Notch

    A true highlight of a 10-day trip that covered large parts of New England was spending an afternoon with one of my best friends seeing sites in his home state of Vermont.

    Throughout the trip, the weather was decidedly unpredictable, a mashup of sun, clouds, fog, drizzle and rain. It was all three last Sunday, especially as my friend Eric Kleppinger and I approached Smugglers Notch.

    Referred to as “the notch” by Vermonters, this mountain pass separates Mount Mansfield — the highest peak of the Green Mountains — from Spruce Peak and the Sterling Range. Its name comes from Thomas Jefferson’s Embargo Act of 1807, which prevented the U.S. from taking part in trade with Great Britain and Canada.

    Vermont’s proximity to Montreal made the state a convenient trade partner, and Jefferson’s embargo — an attempt to prevent American involvement in the Napoleonic Wars — caused great hardship. Smugglers Notch was a way to carry goods and herd livestock illegally.

    Over time, Smugglers Notch was used by fugitive slaves as an escape route to Canada. When the one-lane road at the peak was created for automobile traffic in 1922, it became a convenient way to smuggle liquor into the U.S. from Canada during prohibition.

    Eric told me these stories as we approached the summit on an overcast Sunday morning. Fog and mist rolled in as we moved toward the notch itself. We parked and got out — the area is popular for hikers — and I took these photos.

    To see more from my "Smugglers Notch" album, go  here.

  • Collecting Experiences

    As I see it, a person’s life is a collection of experiences, big and small. What I love about this work are the types of experiences it brings to my daily life. Each job — whether it’s a photography assignment or a freelance story — provides new opportunities for learning. Each trip to another place represents another chance to be creative, and then share what I see with my eyes.

    Hectic? Yes.

    Chaotic juggling at times? Certainly.

    Scary to be out on a creative and financial limb? Definitely.

    Blessed? Absolutely.

    I would not be able to do this work without the support of Jill, my wife and partner in this life, and my family, friends, and clients. I am eternally grateful to each and every one of you who takes the time to look at my work, show me what you like, and help me in the search for ways to improve.

    I hope you enjoy my collections.

  • Daily Photos and Happy Birthdays

    While shooting at a conference earlier this week, one of the attendees sat next to me at lunch and asked, “How long have you been doing photography?”

    This question usually comes up at least once or twice when photographing a multiple-day event, and my standard explanation is pretty simple: When I was working in newspapers and school communications, I had to know my way around a camera, but I became really interested in it about a decade ago. After getting laid off in 2013, I turned it into a business to supplement freelance writing income and it’s taken off from there.

    The attendee, like me a middle-aged man, nodded and asked several more questions about the subjects I like to shoot, the types of equipment I use, etc. As the conversation wound down, he asked, “What was the one thing that really spurred your interest in this type of work?

    That answer, too, is relatively simple: My dad.

    My father was a middle school art and history teacher for most of his career, but his first love — besides my mom — was visual arts. Drawing, painting, sculpture — he could do it all and make it look easy.

    Conversely, I can’t draw a straight line while using a ruler. My painting skills are such that I usually have to bring in a hazmat team to clean up while I go buy new clothes. And my sculptures all look like the mashed potatoes that Richard Dreyfuss used to visualize the mountain in “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” (If you want that visual, I’m sure it’s on YouTube.)

    Nine years ago this month, I was spending several days a week in New York with our youngest son, who was in rehearsals for a show, and found myself navigating a series of two and three-hour gaps. Sometimes I’d go back to the apartment or find a Starbucks to work, but two or three times a week there just wouldn’t be enough time to get back or to be truly productive, so I picked up my camera and explored.

    I had never taken “fine art” pictures before, but soon found myself looking for the types of things that would attract my dad’s eye. A year-plus after his death, I thought it would be a neat way to pay tribute to him and found that it kept him closer to me. Soon I posted photos online and folks said I had a good eye for it, so I pursued it further.

    Why tell this story now? Consider it a late birthday present.

    As I returned to the task of editing conference photos this morning and realized how it’s been some time since I’ve updated the blog, I went to my “Daily Photos” folder from this month to assemble the picture you see here.

    On almost every photo, I see my dad’s influence, whether it was in capturing something he would like, or in photographing the lines I cannot draw or the paintings I can’t paint.

    In those times, I realize my eye is his and through my eyes (and others) he lives on.

    My father would have turned 78 yesterday. Happy belated, Dad.

  • More on McCain, SImon

    Two more notes with regard to Neil Simon and John McCain:

    • And now for the latest segment of ESPN's "C'mon Man!" Or, as the White House calls it — Monday.

    If you feel like the Toddler in Charge has been correct in his classless handling of McCain's death, feel free to unfollow me now. I disagreed with McCain politically on many issues, but his status as a hero who fought for his country and his beliefs should not be questioned, let alone stepped on.

    • In my view, Neil Simon was peerless when it came to the punch line. Example #1: In "The Odd Couple," Oscar criticizes Felix for his endless notes.

    "'We're all out of corn flakes. F.U.'" (Pause.) "Took me three hours to figure out F.U. was Felix Ungar!"

  • Monday's Random Thoughts

    Random thoughts on music, the weather, and the power of the young and old:

    • You know Mother Nature is confused when September impersonates July and fall allergies start early.

    • I was in Texas earlier last week to work on a story and see my family briefly. They’ve had so much rain down there that the state’s leash laws need to be amended to include mosquitoes.

    • Last week marked four years since The Replacements performed in a transcendent show at Forest Hills Stadium in New York. See highlights from the show here and read my blog on the night here.

    • Agree with this statement wholeheartedly: Some days I need the music and some days I need the lyrics.

    ••••••

    Thought-provoking and interesting quotes I’ve read recently:

    • From comedienne Robin Fox on getting paid to do what she loves: “Know your worth ... If you’ll work for free why should someone pay you? It is the very definition of being a pro. If you’ll do a free weekend show at a restaurant that won’t even pay you with a sandwich and the place is packed selling food and drinks week after week year after year ... and you’re still willing to perform there ... you’re part of the problem. Being a pro means being paid.”

    • About our list obsessions, from David Cantwell in a New Yorker essay on rock critic Greil Marcus: “The List is an essay in enumerated disguise … That click-baiting scourge of our online age, the all-pronouncement-but-no-argument “listicle,” is a different animal.”

    ••••••

    And finally…

    If you haven’t had the chance, read these two stories that I saw recently. The first is about an 8-year-old who noticed a boy holding back tears at a football game, so he offered him a seat until his dad arrived. The second is about a 99-year-old man who walks 6 miles a day to visit his wife in the hospital. Both give you hope.

  • Playing Catch Up

    "When it rains, it really pours... "

    Two weeks ago: Headshots for the MSA Academy, Nutcracker promo shoot, photography for Motion X Dance DC, corporate headshots and a two-plus day retreat on the Pennsylvania-Maryland border.

    Last week: Washington-Indianapolis game, three-day trip to Texas for a magazine feature, day-long conference photography in DC, engagement party for Nick and Conner in NC.

    This week: Writing, editing and catching up.

    Oh my. Feeling blessed.

  • Scanning The Headlines

    Scanning today's headlines is enough to make anyone's head spin, and for once, I'm not talking about the current administration or the ongoing crisis in the Catholic Church.

    Just wrap your mind around this: John McCain and Neil Simon died the same weekend, a half century after the release of The Beatles’ “Hey Jude” and the start of the disastrous Democratic National Convention in Chicago. When the latter two things took place, McCain was a POW in Vietnam and Simon had multiple plays on Broadway at the same time.

    I spent the majority of the day on a train (see "Notes from the Empty Nest" post below) and did a deep dive into those four topics. Here are some of the memorable quotes from the day.

    • “He served his country, and not always right — made a lot of mistakes, made a lot of errors — but served his country, and, I hope we could add, honorably."

    — Arizona Sen. John McCain, in a CNN interview in which he was asked how he would like to be remembered.

    • “Mr. Simon ruled Broadway when Broadway was still worth ruling. From 1965 to 1980, his plays and musicals racked up more than 9,000 performances, a record not even remotely touched by any other playwright of the era. In 1966 alone, he had four Broadway shows running simultaneously.”

    — Charles Isherwood in the New York Times story announcing Neil Simon’s death at age 91.

    • “Chicago 1968 is the political equivalent of Woodstock or Stonewall — a discrete moment that embodies the questions and forces of an entire age. It’s also a reminder that life is almost always more complicated than we tend to remember, given that the Democratic Party, often thought to tend to the radical in the postwar era, was in many ways the target of the protests.’

    — Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer Jon Meacham, on the 1968 Democratic National Convention, in a fascinating story in the Boston Globe

    • “The pain in “Hey Jude” resonated in 1968, in a world reeling from wars, riots and assassinations. And it’s why it sounds timely in the summer of  2018, as our world keeps getting colder. After 50 years, “Hey Jude” remains a source of sustenance in difficult times.”

    — Rolling Stone columnist Rob Sheffield, on The Beatles’ biggest hit.

  • Notes from the Empty Nest: U-Haul Edition

    On Thursday, I left Alexandria to help my wife’s cousin, Brian Hodges, move his family’s things from Chicago to Charlotte, where he starts a new job this week. Today, I’m riding the train home from Durham and have been — in an effort to avoid work of any significance — scanning the headlines on my phone to see what I’ve missed.

    Apparently, a lot has happened in the past four days, and not just on my planes, trains and automobiles journey. But more about the headlines In another post.

    With minor exceptions, I’ll spare you the minutiae of this circular odyssey — flying to Chicago; loading a 15-foot U-Haul and driving 720 miles to Charlotte over two days; unloading the van and driving with Brian’s dad to Durham, where I stayed last night with Nick and Conner; and the ongoing slow trek home on an Amtrak that is being passed by both snails and turtles as we jog in place.

    But here are some random details that are sticking with me from the trip:

    • I’m very fortunate that my schedule allows me to do things like this for members of our ever-growing extended family. Jill and I are the godparents of Brian’s 3-year-old son, Parker, and it means a lot to be able to help them out as they make this transition.

    • Over 36 hours, we traveled through six states in a U-Haul with non-existent shock absorbers and omnipresent wind noise. Musically speaking, it was like hearing the “Theme from Bonanza” on an endless loop.

    • I brought my camera and took few to no photos, except for one at O’Hare and a couple at a truck stop in rural Ohio, where you can get a mobile home on two acres of mostly cleared land for a measly $45,000. Strange, yes, but we were busy.

    • If you don’t understand why America is in the midst of an obesity epidemic, I challenge you to find anything resembling vegetables in the vast majority of the restaurants and stops along state highways and interstates.

    • In a desperate effort to find some greens, Brian and I stopped at a restaurant in Beckley, W.Va., where our waiter was an on-hiatus cruise ship performer. Now he works four part-time jobs for 80 hours a week and makes half the money he did on the ship. No wonder he can’t wait to return to the boat.

    • Fortunately, I no longer have the “Bonanza” theme stuck in my head. Unfortunately, it’s been replaced by Bob Dylan’s “Slow Train Coming.”

  • Places: Washington National Cathedral

    As a photographer who loves architecture, I’ve long been fascinated by the imagery you can find in churches, so it is somewhat surprising that — until last weekend — I had only been once to the Washington National Cathedral.

    Gary Rubin, a photographer friend, and I shot photos of the cathedral on a weekend excursion in 2016, but most of the photos were outside and in the Bishop’s Garden. Time and circumstances prevented us from truly exploring the inside — the cathedral is the second largest church in the U.S. — and I vowed to return at some point.

    Last Sunday, another longtime friend (Cecile Holmes) was in town for a journalism educators conference. Cecile and I have known each other for more than 30 years since our days at the Houston Chronicle, where she was the religion editor and I briefly worked on the features copy desk.

    Cecile, now a professor at the University of South Carolina, had arranged a tour for the journalism educators group with Kevin Eckstrom, one of her colleagues who now works as the cathedral’s chief communications officer. She invited me to come along, and I jumped at the chance to learn more about this fascinating structure and take some photos.

    You can see the results here, including several photos taken during a quick 5-minute visit to the seventh-floor overlook at the back of the chapel. With limited time and lighting coming from all sides, the photos from up top — scattered throughout the album — were a challenge to get, but I’m pleased with the result.

    For those of you interested in history, here are some facts we learned during the 90-minute tour:

    • Formal name: The Cathedral Church of St. Peter and St. Paul in the City and Diocese of Washington.

    • Affiliation: Episcopal

    • The longest ongoing construction project in Washington, D.C.’s history, work on the building started in 1907 and ended in 1990.

    • Designated by Congress as the “National House of Prayer,” the cathedral is funded entirely from private sources. Fundraising has been ongoing for operations and maintenance, as well as repairs following the 2011 earthquake that damaged parts of the facility.

    • State funerals have been held at the cathedral for three American presidents — Eisenhower, Reagan, and Ford. Woodrow Wilson, the only U.S. president buried in Washington, D.C., is entombed in the cathedral. (Also buried in the cathedral: the ashes of Helen Keller and her tutor, Anne Sullivan.)

    • The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., delivered his last Sunday sermon on March 31, 1968 from the cathedral’s “Canterbury Pulpit.” He was assassinated the following week in Memphis.

    • Based on various Gothic architectural styles from the Middle Ages, the cathedral has more than 200 stained glass windows. One, which honors the landing on the Moon, includes a fragment of lunar rock in the center.

    • Befitting a national memorial, the cathedral has a mix of religious and secular decorations. It includes statues of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, tributes to America’s war veteran, and state seals that are embedded in the floor of the narthex.

    Thanks to Cecile, Kevin and the group for allowing me to join them on the tour. I highly recommend taking some time to see the cathedral if you have the chance. For more photos, go to my Facebook album here.

  • A Historic Laugher for the Nats

    Last July, Jill and I were at the game when the Washington Nationals hit eight home runs — including four consecutive and five overall in the third inning — in a 15-2 rout of the Milwaukee Brewers.

    This year has been an exercise in frustration for Nats fans, as the team has struggled throughout the season. But last night, against the even more hapless New York Mets, the tide turned briefly in a 25-4 rout that we attended.

    How bad was it? Here are some real-time observations I posted during the contest:

    • The Nationals have 17 hits and 16 runs and the 4th inning isn't over yet. For a moment, they're playing up to their potential. But, with apologies to my New York friends, the Mets coming to town is a salve to anyone's season.

    • It's 19-0 in the bottom of the 5th. Rain may prove to be God's version of the mercy rule.

    • The guy wearing a Yankees jacket just left after pitcher Tanner Roark got his second hit. Even he couldn't take it anymore.

    In the eighth inning, the Mets put infielder Jose Reyes on the mound. He threw 48 pitches, more than the Mets’ starter, and gave up six runs to make it 25-1. Shawn Kelley, one of the Nats’ disappointing relievers, gave up three runs in the top of the ninth inning. He was demoted to the minor leagues after throwing his glove to the ground in frustration after giving up a home run.

    Yes, it’s one game. And yes, the Nationals have dug themselves into a hole that they can — but probably won’t — climb out of this year. Still, as someone who intensely dislikes the Mets dating back to their 1986 NLCS win over the Astros, I reveled in the coverage of the game this morning.

    A few more facts:

    • It was the worst loss by a National Leage team since July 1929, when the Cardinals beat the Phillies 28-6. It also was the worst loss in the Mets’ history.

    • Because they (mercifully) didn’t bat in the ninth, the Nationals ended the game with more hits (26) and runs (25) than outs (24).

    • The 21-run margin was the largest in Nationals/Expos history, and Elias Sports Research noted that Washington was just the 10th team since 1900 to score 25 or more runs in a home game.

    Fortunately, there is humor to be found in baseball. At one point, Mets announcers Keith Hernandez, Ron Darling and Gary Cohen stopped calling the game and read verbatim from the team’s media guide while the theme from “Masterpiece Theatre” played in the background. And even the Mets social media person got in on the joke:

  • Five Years Online

    This weekend marks 5 years since I started this website and my Facebook page to share my photos and writing. The goal — then and now — was to tell stories through words and images while building a business that focuses on creative expression. Thanks to all who have supported this journey. Tell your friends to join in, and enjoy the work!

  • Near Miss & A Newsroom Tragedy

    When I was in Reidsville, an angry and grieving man walked into our newsroom, came into my tiny office without warning, and shut the door behind him. His teenaged niece had died in a car accident.

    The Review, like many small-town community newspapers, had covered the fatality in extensive detail. And the man was angry about the story we had published, which quoted the police report that said his niece was at fault. He believed the story had left a “black stain” on his niece and on his family.

    Anxious to take out his anger and grief on someone, the man threatened multiple times to punch me, even as I tried to listen and calmly talk him down. Finally, I said, "Go ahead," with the stipulation that as soon as the punch was thrown I would throw him through the plate glass window that separated my office from the rest of the newsroom.

    Given that I was 5 inches taller and 40 pounds (at least) heavier, he opened my door and left.

    The police were called.

    I was lucky. He never came back.

    This afternoon, at the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Md., five employees were killed when a man with a shotgun opened fire in the newsroom. Details remain sketchy, even though a suspect is in custody and has been identified. A few minutes ago, police said the man had filed a defamation claim against the paper in 2012, but the case was dismissed in 2015.

    Threats and physical violence against journalists have risen in recent years, which comes as no surprise given the shouting over “fake news” and the fragmented nature of our society. When I saw reports of this latest gun-related tragedy, I immediately flashed back to that day in Reidsville, and to my career as a newspaper journalist.

    I worked for community papers in Texas and North Carolina for more than a decade. It is hard, grueling labor, the only constants being long hours and low pay. (You sure as hell don’t do it for the money, the quality of life, or the fame.)

    You do it because you love to write and be part of the community in which you live. You publish, despite what others may think, more good stories than bad ones.

    This horrible news is now up on the Capital Gazette website, and reporters say there will be a print edition tomorrow. Because even in the face of tragedy, that’s what good journalists do.

    Godspeed.

  • Children & Immigration: Be Kind

    Not a sermon, just a thought:

    Growing up in Texas, I learned very early on that being a Democrat doesn’t necessarily mean you’re liberal. And despite what you may think you know about me from reading my posts, I’ve taken some of my heritage to heart.

    Where I draw the line, however, is when people who are traditionally marginalized by society are being taken advantage of, just because those in power feel like they can do so. And power, in this case, can mean policies, economics, or violence.

    My blood boils when I see children, the elderly and the infirm being taken advantage of by those in power. If you think about true democratic principles, these three are the ones we expressly elect our officials to protect.

    And yet it is not happening, especially with regard to kids.

    The “My Way” attitude of our current administration is one that could give two shits about anyone who does not provide service to ego or wallet. Anyone who is elected to office in this country should represent their constituents and do whatever they can to help those who are in greatest need.

    And yet it is not happening.

    Children, whether they are in the U.S. legally or not, are taken advantage of daily. Think about this: We don’t talk about kids who live in poverty, educated in schools that are overwhelmed and under-resourced, dealing with daily violence in their homes and neighborhoods.

    Those conversations certainly are not happening and, if they are, little to nothing is being done.

    Our current leadership is showing no compassion to the children at Casa Padre. They are too busy helping — either through action or inaction — build the walls around the king’s castle. And the heartbreaking imagery has overtones that almost are too disturbing to consider in our supposedly civilized nation.

    Almost. But you shouldn’t look away. Instead, look at those images and then go look at yourself in the mirror. Is this what you want for your country?

  • 10+1 Photos & Moving All Over

    It's been a busy past few days, with two shoots, a large D.C. banquet, family visits, a mini-reunion with longtime friends from North Carolina, and wrapping up our move from Lorton to Old Town Alexandria.

    This week brings trips to New York (for another shoot) and Pittsburgh (for another family move) before returning home to take photos of Metropolitan School of the Arts' production of "Snow White."

    More photos coming soon, I promise, but for now I'll leave you with a few from MSA's "10+1" show earlier this month.

  • Barbara Bush: Balls and Class

    Things have been so busy over the past week that I haven’t had the opportunity to properly say something about Barbara Bush.

    I had the opportunity to meet Mrs. Bush when she toured NASA’s Johnson Space Center with her husband and India Prime Minister Rajiv Gahndi in June 1985. It was just a brief handshake and eye contact; security was extremely tight because Gandhi was under constant death threats. (His mother was assassinated in 1984; he would be killed by a suicide bomber in 1991.)

    Thirty-three years later, what I remember is that her handshake was firm, as you would expect. I remember telling someone it was firmer than her husband’s. And I appreciated that she looked me in the eyes.

    Today, reading Peter King’s Monday Morning Quarterback column while waiting for some work to be done on our soon-to-close house, I saw this anecdote that brought me back to that day:

    When their son, George W. Bush, was visiting his parents during his presidency, he put his feet up on a coffee table at their home, and his mom sternly told him: “George, get your feet off my table!” George Bush the elder said: “The guy is president of the United States! Give him a break!” She said, “No! He knows better!”

    Finally, surfing pages on Facebook, I saw the image below on a page devoted to Jason Isbell, one of my favorite songwriters. Isbell won a Grammy this year for “If We Were Vampires,” one of the most devastatingly beautiful songs about love and mortality I’ve ever heard. The person who posted the photo noted that it was truly a “Vampires” moment, and I could not agree more. (Photo from the Associated Press.)

    RIP, Mrs. Bush, and deepest sympathies to your husband and family. The tributes over the past week have served as a reminder that we were once kinder and gentler toward people we disagreed with, and I appreciate the chance to pay respects to a woman who had both balls and class.

  • RIP, Tom Wolfe

    As one of the founders of New Journalism, Tom Wolfe was one of those writers who managed to enthrall, entertain, and generally annoy the hell out of anybody who was in his line of sight (or pen/typewriter/computer). If you put a group of journalists together in a room (or a bar), the mere mention of his name brought equal amounts of praise and scorn.

    Wolfe’s death, yesterday at 88, was the same type of blow felt by previous generations when Hemingway, Faulkner, Steinbeck, Kerouac, or pick ‘em passed away. Literary giants, the ones whose published works resulted others spilling mass amounts of ink and type across multiple forums, just don’t come along that often.

    You can say you were a fan — or not — of Wolfe, described aptly in a New York Times appreciation as “a kind of label-maker on wheels.” But chances are you’ve used one of the phrases he coined: The Me Decade. The Right Stuff. Masters of the Universe. Radical Chic. Social X-rays. Pushing the Envelope.

    And my personal favorite: Good Old Boy. Here’s hoping, in this fractured forum we call writing, that Wolfe is not the last of his kind. Although I wouldn’t be surprised if he is. #tomwolfe

  • The Story of Generation Why

    My oldest son received his master’s degree on Thursday. Less than 24 hours later, a 17-year-old gunman killed eight of his classmates and two teachers in a high school only 16 miles from my childhood home.

    The shooting at Santa Fe High School was and is disturbing for all the reasons you can imagine: Another senseless loss of lives. Another incident of gun violence in a country marred by decades of it. Another realization that, no matter how many steps local districts take, preventing someone determined to come into a classroom with a firearm is perhaps just … not … possible?

    My four children are 25, 21, 20 and 20. Ben and Emma were 16 months old when Columbine occurred. Kate was 2 and Nicholas was in first grade. We count ourselves lucky that nothing like this happened to them when they were in school.

    What does that say about our society?

    ••••••

    This school shooting was the third in eight days and the 22nd since the start of the year in the U.S. It occurred just three months and four days after 17 were slain at Florida’s Stoneman Douglas High School, which led to two student walkouts and the March for Our Lives events across the nation.

    I was at the March in Washington, D.C., taking photos and working on a freelance story about youth who were galvanized by the movement started by Stoneman Douglas students. I didn’t write the headline for the story, which looked at whether the Florida shooting could lead to a new era of civic engagement, but believe it is perfect.

    It reads: Generation Why.

    “Why?”

    That’s the burning question asked first and most often when something like this happens. We are on an endless search for motive, a trend that will be the path to answers. Camps form within minutes, if not seconds, on social media. The phrase “thoughts and prayers,” no matter how sincere in intent, now is considered a synonym for doing nothing.

    At the March, I interviewed more than 20 students and adults for a series of portraits that would accompany the story. (Some are in the magazine article; you can find the portraits in expanded form here.) I was struck by the kids’ determination not to go through life afraid of going to school.

    Despite our need to understand why something happens, we are stubbornly resistant to one-size-fits-all answers, which leads to an endless round robin of he-said, she-said rhetoric that does no one any good. It’s not guns; it’s people. It’s not people; it’s guns.

    Grieving quickly turns to shouting. Nothing happens. And we wait, knowing that it likely — inevitably — will happen again.

  • Places: National Civil Rights Museum

    The 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s assassination prompted me to revisit photos from my 2012 tour of the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis. The museum, which opened in 1991, is located in the Lorraine Motel — where King was shot on April 4, 1968 — and various historically significant buildings in the neighborhood.

    The museum chronicles the history of the Civil Rights Movement from the 17th century to the present. An exhibit that runs through this December, for example, looks at how events in 1968 are connected to today. Examples include sections looking at how King’s Poor People’s Campaign compares to Occupy Wall Street and how the Memphis sanitation worker’s strike is connected to today’s Fight for $15 minimum wage protest.

    King was shot while standing on the balcony outside his hotel room, located one block off Main Street. He had come to Memphis to lead a nonviolent march that supported the sanitation worker’s strike. The hotel, which is located one block from Main Street, was long one of the top destinations for African-Americans to stay in segregated Memphis.

    While I’m certain the photos in this album no longer truly capture the site today, you can see the visceral power and emotion that a tour of the National Civil Rights Museum generates. As we look at King’s legacy and struggles that remain relevant today, it is an essential place to visit if you’re ever in Memphis.

    To see more, go to my Facebook album here and look for a new "Places" album coming soon.

  • Notes From the 'Empty Nesters' File

    This past week, I realized something I knew deep down but had never articulated: I like exercise as long as it’s organic.

    Faced with a walk-first mentality, I’m happy to stroll around or bike until my feet want to fall off, using trains or cars only as necessary. Put in a drive-first situation, my embedded laziness takes over. The only exercise I seem to get then is typing on my laptop or phone or clicking the camera shutter. After 17 years in the suburbs, all I'm left with are really strong hands.

    Over the past two-plus months, Jill and I moved ourselves from Lorton to Alexandria, with help on a couple of occasions from friends and family. Although I’ve never been in the military, I’m pretty sure it was a 53-year-old’s version of boot camp: several weeks of hell followed by a big reward.

    On Sunday, we drove to Springfield Mall to shop in an actual store and see a movie for Mother’s Day. It was the first time I’ve been in a car in five days — one of the longest “no automobile” stretches of my life since my teens —and I haven’t missed it at all. Not one bit.

    That might seem strange given that I grew up in Texas, where public transportation is defined in the state Constitution as “build another loop,” and have driven back and forth to North Carolina, Pennsylvania and New York numerous times over the years to see our kids. (By my estimate, I’ve easily driven more than 1 million miles since getting my driver’s license in — gulp! — 1981.)

    Since the move to Old Town, I’ve walked at least 3 to 4 miles daily and have gone on three bike rides in the past 10 days. The exercise has been good for the mind and soul, not to mention the waistline.

    For that, I’m grateful.

    Additional observations from the “recently moved empty nesters” file:

    • My most recent bike ride was 21 miles, the longest I’ve ridden in at least five years. I enjoyed all but the last three miles of it, which is when my body’s hashtag became #hipsdontlie. Two days later, I’m ready to go out again.

    • Commuter transportation is not perfect. I thought Metro was underselling itself with its marketing theme, “Back to Good,” then realized while traveling into D.C. this week that the tagline might be a tad ambitious. Still, there’s a lot to be said for walking to the Metro and not having to deal with the car/train/car commute. (Or worse, just the car commute.)

    • Surviving the sale of one house and the purchase of another within a two-month period is a great litmus test for your marriage/friendship/partnership. What I appreciate most about Jill is that our differences mostly compliment each other. It's OK to divide as long as you can conquer in the long run, and we've managed to do that. 

    • Moving inputs and outputs: Six days a week, UPS, FedEx, and Amazon have a love-hate relationship with our front porch. On the seventh day, the City of Alexandria’s sanitation/recycling departments dread coming to our backyard to scoop up the remains.

    • Styrofoam pieces and peanuts are like glitter: No matter how much you sweep, you can never completely rid yourself of either one.

    • We are the sole reason cardboard sales were at an all-time high in the second quarter of 2018.

    • “Some assembly required” remain the three dirtiest words in the English language.

  • Random Thoughts and Meanderings

    A few random thoughts that have been floating around in my head recently:

    • Question: Does asking the Starbucks barista to turn down the loud music have a certain "get off of my lawn" quality to it? #cancelthenoise #thisismysatelliteoffice #ADDanyway #hiphopisnohelp

    • I really wish creativity had an off/on switch.

    • Passing by a TV, I recently saw the headline, “Trump ‘very unhappy’ with press secretary’s response to porn star.” I can’t even dignify that with a sigh.

    • Speaking of which, how can our First Lady be sincere about her cyber bullying platform when she lives with the biggest Twitter bully of all time?

  • After the Town Hall

    So I watched the CNN Town Hall as part of research for a story I’m writing on school shootings. In many respects, it had the feel of a community wake and the start of a larger conversation that is 20+ years too late.

    You can’t help but be moved by the raw words and visceral responses of a community traumatized by yet another horrific incident on one our nation’s campuses. Kudos to those who went into this knowing they would be roasted, such as Rubio.

    Most of all, kudos to those who said the time for talk is over. Don’t say something; do something.

    It’s worth noting those who were conspicuous by their absence. Why did the governor and the FBI not show? Why won’t state leaders engage these kids in public?

    Why? That’s the lingering question no one seems to be able to answer. But the tide could be turning.

  • Places #15: Nashville Morning

    It's a question I ask often: What happens during those in-between hours in cities that rarely sleep?

    Even though I'm a night owl by nature, I find most of my best shoots take place early in the morning. There's something about getting up before everything that surrounds us starts moving again.

    Last week, I was in Nashville for the second time in four months. The first was to photograph a conference, which combined with the bitter early December temperatures, gave me little time or inclination to roam around downtown.

    Working on a freelance story, I didn't have much time on this trip and Mother Nature again was not cooperative. But I managed to sneak out just before 7 a.m. on a cloudy morning, just before rush hour and the rain arrived, and capture these photos on and around the strip known as Broadway.

    Hope you enjoy these. To see more from this series, go to http://glenncook.virb.com/places.

  • New Freelance Articles Published

    Two freelance articles — one a feature on the state of the student press — appear in the new issue of American School Board Journal. To read the pieces, click on the links below.

    Student Press (February 2018): Student journalists in 13 states have press freedoms and protections, but administrators in the rest continue to review and censor school-sponsored publications under a 29-year-old U.S. Supreme Court decision. But officials say the tide appears to be turning, at least in some areas.

    Public Comments (February 2018): The public comment portion of any school board meeting can turn quickly into a communications debacle for the board and district. Over time, however, courts have ruled consistently that the public has a right to raise and air complaints during an open meeting, even when individual employees are named.

  • New/Recent Freelance Stories Posted

    Over the past six months, I've had six freelance stories published in magazines, with more in the cue for 2018. Here's what I've been writing about:

    Smooth Transition (January-February 2018): First-year interest groups, commonly known as FIGS, are designed to help college freshmen make a smooth transition into university life through a combination of classroom work and personalization. For international students, most of whom arrive on campus just prior to the start of classes, FIGs can help them learn to navigate the sometimes tricky transitions they encounter when moving to a new country. Written for International Educator.

    Lone Star Strong (December 2017): An 11-page spread in American School Board Journal featuring more than 30 of my photographs and reporting on school district recovery efforts in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. The package also includes a 3-minute slideshow with a separate behind-the-scenes narrative about the story.  

    Clearing a Path (November-December 2017): As growth in the number of international applications to U.S. colleges and universities falls, institutions are widening their recruitment efforts to include more students who may lack advanced English language proficiency. Many have turned to pathway programs to help ease the language transition and create opportunities for students to be successful. Published in International Educator.

    Health Tracker (December 2017): Schools searching for ways to curb child obesity rates are turning to wearable devices and software that provide data on student health and fitness. And when the technology is used appropriately, it is working. Published in American School Board Journal.

    Federal Shifts (October 2017): As districts become more invested and reliant on high-speed networks and Wi-Fi access to educate students, school board members need to be aware of how shifts at the federal level could affect the funding and long-term effectiveness of their technology programs. Published in American School Board Journal.

    Supporting Staffing Success (July-August 2017): For small and midsize staffing companies that work with large numbers of temporary and contract employees, contracting with an outside provider to provide backend support ensures payroll is accurate, on time, and in compliance with local, state, and federal regulations. Published in Staffing Success.

  • Happy 25 to Nicholas!

    On this day last year, I surprised my oldest son Nicholas on his birthday in Durham. Unfortunately I’m away in Nashville and can’t do so again as he turns 25.

    25? How did that happen? I’m not sure, but I know how grateful I am to have developed such a solid, loving give-and-take relationship with this terrific young man. He’s undertaken a lot of changes over the past 365 days (engagement, working on a master’s degree, reclaiming his muse) and we have bonded in this past year like never before.

    I love you, my son, and am so proud of you.

  • Holiday Traditions

    Since 2002, the year after we moved into our house, I've taken an annual Christmas morning photo of the kids. In the early years, the rule was we had to get it taken before they could make the run at the stockings and the tree. When they got older and started sleeping in the basement on Christmas Eve, we took it on those stairs.

    So we have two photos to share, one from the first year and one from this morning. In the first, the kids were 10, 5, 5, and 5. (For those doing the math, Kate's birthday is on Wednesday, giving her the leg up on Ben and Emma again.) The second is of our three 20-year-olds; Nicholas and Conner will be here later this week.

    Here's to celebrating with family and friends on this most blessed of holidays, plus the holiday card we (barely) sent out this year.

  • RIP, Fats Domino

    Since I was out of town yesterday, I didn't get a chance to pay homage to Fats Domino, one of the pioneers of rock and roll who died yesterday at age 89.

    Like many people my age, I grew up on "Happy Days," and my first exposure to Fats' music was seeing Ron Howard do "I found my thrill..." on the show. Soon after, my dad played me the "real Fats" on one of his treasured, beaten up 45s that were stacked in the giant home stereo that could have doubled as a buffet stand.

    Reading through various tributes this morning, a Facebook friend noted Fats' connection to Elvis Presley, which led to an interesting discussion on race and music. Presley was never a songwriter, but an interpreter of "all kinds" of music — white and black.

    Because the music charts were segregated (like everything else in the 50s), white musicians such as Pat Boone, Fabian and Ricky Nelson (among others) covered songs that were moving up the R&B charts. A long list of black musicians who wrote these hits (Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Fats) were often screwed out of royalties — and other things — that should have been given to a song's author.

    Presley, however, was different. He was quick to point to his many influences, especially black artists, and Domino was at the top of the list. I picked up the following quotes in reading the tributes to Domino.

    “A lot of people seem to think I started this business,” Presley told Jet magazine in 1957. “But rock ’n’ roll was here a long time before I came along. Nobody can sing that music like colored people. Let’s face it: I can’t sing it like Fats Domino can. I know that.”

    In 1969, at a news conference to announce the resumption of Presley's live concerts in Las Vegas, Elvis interrupted a reporter who called him “the king.” He pointed to Mr. Domino, who was in the room, and said, “There’s the real king of rock ’n’ roll.”

  • Two Random Thoughts

    • Love this quote: "The great thing about writing and creating is, time disappears. You are in the moment, and the moment can go for eight hours or for two minutes, or whatever, until the phone rings, or you know, you have to go get something to eat." — Stephen Sondheim

    • Happy birthday, Dad. Wish you were with us in body, not just in spirit, so we could celebrate with cake and a VHS movie of your choice.

  • ALCS: Is Fate With the Astros?

    The baseball gods seemingly want a Yankees-Dodgers World Series for the first time since I was a teenager. Of course, I remember my heart being broken by the Astros of the late 1970s/early 80s as this happened.

    The 1980 NLCS was a larger heartbreak than any teenage girl. (Not that many teenage girls gave me the time of day, but still...)

    So, to borrow the words of a famous Yankee, I hope and pray that it’s not “deja vu all over again.”

    But the baseball gods have proven over and over that the Marvel universe has nothing on them, so I’m not optimistic...

    Still, go Astros!

  • Random Thoughts: Harvey's Aftermath

    Random thoughts about Hurricane Harvey in the wake of the devastating storm:

    • Tonight, Jill noted a common link to Harvey and Irma: The Washington Nationals, who played against the Astros in the final series at Minute Maid and are in Miami playing the Marlins through Wednesday.

    • Dear Looters: In case you're looking for a place to stay during the post-hurricane cleanup, I'm sure a number of people will be happy to reserve you a spot in eternal hell.

    • Non-Texans, give this a read. It's the best explanation I've seen yet about the evacuate/don't evacuate aspect of the storm.

    • I wish someone could write "Texas on My Mind" and capture some of the thoughts rolling through my head. Seeing the photos and reading the stories, I just can't find the words.

    My thoughts are with all of you.

  • Places #13: Gatsby's Grave

    One of America’s literary icons, the person responsible for high school students around the world learning about the Jazz Age, is buried in a cemetery next to a busy intersection in a Washington, D.C., suburb.

    F. Scott Fitzgerald’s path to the cemetery of St. Mary’s Catholic Church was as troubled, in some ways, as his life. It took 35 years for “The Great Gatsby” author, who died in 1940 at age 44, to be buried in the Fitzgerald family plot in Rockville, Md.

    Fitzgerald, whose life, marriage and work have been the subject of countless books, films, and TV shows, was a notorious drinker and raconteur. But the reason he initially could not be buried in the family plot was because he was a lapsed Catholic. A parish priest said Fitzgerald’s failure to go to confession and take communion regularly was enough to keep him from being buried in “consecrated ground.”

    His wife, Zelda, paid to bury Fitzgerald at the Rockville Cemetery, which is a mile from St. Mary’s. Then in a sanitarium in Asheville, N.C., Zelda did not attend the funeral. When she died 8 years later, Zelda’s casket was placed on top of her husband’s because she had only paid for one space.

    In the mid 1970s, members of the Rockville Civic Improvement Advisory Commission contacted the Fitzgeralds’ only daughter, Scottie, who was living in Georgetown. Fitzgerald’s posthumous fame had grown to the point that visitors had started flocking to the cemetery and were creating a ruckus.

    Scottie said her parents were meant to be buried at St. Mary’s, which by this time was happy to accept the graves. The bodies of the Fitzgeralds were moved to the family plot at the church cemetery in 1975. Zelda’s casket was again put on top of her husband’s.

    A stone covering the grave has one of Gatsby’s most famous lines: “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

    For more photos, go to my Facebook album here.

  • Places #12: Elvis’ Memphis

    Forty years ago today, I was sitting in the lobby of Scott White Hospital in Tyler when I heard the news: Elvis Presley was dead.

    I’ve written about my family’s history with the King of Rock and Roll, but this Places entry is related to Graceland and Sun Studios in Memphis, where more than 100,000 visitors have descended to mark the annual Elvis Presley Week. I made the pilgrimage in September 2012 and took these (and countless more) images while basking in the city’s musical history.

    Elvis-related tourism is worth an estimated $600 million annually to Memphis’ economy. Graceland is second only to the White House as the most visited home in the U.S. Sun Records, where Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny Cash (among others) made their first singles, draws 160,000 visitors a year.

    As Mojo Nixon once said, Elvis is everywhere. Go here to see my 2013 essay, “My Grandmother, Dad, and Elvis,” and here to see the rest of the album.

  • Places #14: Houston’s Blast of Color

    While reporting and taking photos for a future story on how schools in the Greater Houston area are recovering in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, I decided to go to the George R. Brown Convention Center, the primary shelter site for the American Red Cross. Three weeks after Harvey made landfall, then dumped more than 50 inches of rain on the city and surrounding areas, the shelter still houses more than 1,000 people.

    Driving down the Avenida de las Americas, the street in front of the convention center, I was struck by the colorful strips of table cloths, shower curtains and painters drop cloth that are part of Arcade, three separate installations designed by Texas artists Sunny Sliger and Marianne Newsom of The Color Condition.

    The streamer sculptures, dubbed Hopscotch, Double Dutch, and Red Rover, were installed prior to Harvey and will remain up through mid-November. They provide a welcome respite from talk about the hurricane, as visitors can see them create new colors as the light changes and the wind gusts.

    On a hot and extremely humid afternoon, as reporters from Houston’s TV stations prepared to go live with stories on the status of the shelter, I saw a small child ignoring her mother’s admonitions to leave. I talked to another photographer (Mickey Lawrence of Urban Exposure Media) who was taking a break from storm coverage and had brought someone along to photograph the strips of colors and light.

    To see more of what I captured, go to the Places section on this website, or visit my Facebook album here.

  • Following Harvey's Trail

    Earlier this month, I spent a week taking photos and reporting a story on Hurricane Harvey for an upcoming issue of American School Board Journal, the National School Boards Association’s magazine. Having written on the aftermath of natural disasters before, I wanted to understand Harvey’s far-reaching impact on communities and schools in the wake of the late August storm.

    Being there from Sept. 11 to Sept. 18 gave me the chance to follow Harvey along much of its 300-mile path from Rockport, near Corpus Christi, to the Louisiana border. At this point, cleanup was kicking into gear and schools were just resuming in many of the impacted communities, although it will be some time before those near the storm’s eye will be open again.

    In the hardest hit areas, the loss was overwhelming. Contents of family life spilled out into yard after yard and neighborhood after neighborhood, mixed with swollen sheetrock and the growing presence of mold. “Strong” was the byword used in many communities as they demonstrated an unheard of level of resilience in the face of an economic and environmental tragedy. The generosity of others — some fellow community members, some total strangers — was constantly on display.

    The story will appear in the November issue of the magazine, and I’ll be sure to share it here. For now, follow my camera on a day-by-day journey through a state that is injured, but not broken. And check out more photos on my Facebook photography page here.

  • Marking A Milestone

    Four years ago today, I formally started my business with this photo, which was taken during a Memorial Day trip to New York City. Clicking the shutter that day, in May 2013, I did not know I would be unemployed in a week.

    After 30 years in journalism and communications, moving from job to job and seeing professional growth with each position, being laid off left me — and my family — adrift. I knew I had to do something, but prospects in an ever-changing publishing world were limited. Also, having worked for the same company for 12 years, I had seen a once vigorous operation slowly succumb to financial and organizational erosion, and I wasn't sure I wanted to face that prospect again.

    Being on your own has its downsides. You rarely know what the next day will bring. Stability is elusive. You can work 24-7 without batting an eye. You have to rely on the faith of others (especially family and close friends) and word of mouth. And you have to hope that your work is not just good, but good enough, so clients will pass along your name.

    Knowing these things, I formally launched this photography and freelance writing business five weeks after losing my job. Working on this website over the Fourth of July holiday, I launched my Facebook page on July 7, 2013.

    And here we are, four years and more than 12,000 photos later, having slowly but steadily built a client base that I can only hope will continue to grow. Thankfully, I've had the opportunity to branch off into all sorts of things, meet a wide range of new (and usually fascinating) people, and have the types of experiences I dreamed about while sitting at an office desk all those years.

    The creative malaise I dealt with for 2+ years in my previous position — an apt visual analogy is 1,000 small but painful paper cuts — has never returned. If anything, I feel more creative and engaged than ever.

    As a storyteller, one who uses images and words to tell his tales, these last four years have been a lifeline. And I know, without question, I could not do this if it weren't for my wife, Jill, and my families (biological and otherwise).

    I'm eternally grateful for your help, support, comments and feedback along the way. Thank you, and I hope you'll keep coming back to visit/use my services. 

  • RoboCallers, Meet RoboCop

    Dear RoboCallers from "Autumn Hills, Mich.," "Arlington, Va.," and "Chicago":

    I'm not interested in refinancing my house, getting government-sponsored forgiveness on student debt, adding to my home's security system, or extending the warranty on my car. And despite what you may think, I've been on the West Coast this week, so I sure as hell don't appreciate the fact that you're calling from wherever the hell you are at 4:30 am PST.*

    I wish I could petition our government to get rid of all of you, but my sources on the East Coast tell me they're busy trying to screw up things other things families actually need in their lives, like health care. And because getting rid of all the robocalls is something everyone can get behind, it won't happen. They're too busy in their partisan closets to actually agree on something.

    Why don't you spend time calling their cellphones instead? I'm sure the Russians can help with that one.

    Sincerely, The Masses

    (* Of course, I was up already, but that's a different story.)

  • 'March for Science'

    Soggy conditions did not dampen the enthusiasm of thousands of supporters who came to the National Mall in Washington, D.C., on Saturday to advocate for environmental causes and science research on Earth Day.

    The set up for the March for Science was similar to the Women’s March on Washington, held just three months and one day earlier. I was hired by the Entomological Society of America, one of numerous science organizations that took part in the event, to shoot members getting ready for and participating in the rally.

    Throughout the rally, a broad range of speakers were supported by entertainment and a series of short films and clips. Questlove, whose Grammy Award-winning group The Roots serves as the in-house band for The Tonight Show, was one of the co-hosts. Jon Batiste, music director and bandleader for The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, led the house band.

    The steady drizzle turned into a downpour by late morning, and I left before seeing Bill Nye (“The Science Guy”) speak or Thomas Dolby perform. These photos, however, capture some of the spirit of the day, which was mirrored in more than 600 cities on more than six continents.

    To see more photos from the March, go to my Facebook page here.

  • Frustration & Gratitude

    One challenging week: Computer craps out, Internet goes down (not related), and this year's post-50 doctoral round robin continues with with a hernia repair. So I'm behind, sore (not in the behind, fortunately), and frustrated.

    On the good news front, the Internet is back up and the hernia is fixed, which means I can start (gingerly for the next day or so) to catch back up. My twins are loving their time together in NYC, Nick saw Oprah yesterday and Kate has a variety of exciting things coming over the next week. Oh, and my wife is a rock star.

    All in all, despite the frustrations, it could be much worse.

  • Emma's Birthday Tribute

    This is Emma's birthday tribute to her mom. There is no disputing who the best writer in the family is...

    Back in the beginning of December, I was a few months into my freshmen year of college. While I love Point Park, some things were inevitably hard to cope with. Throughout my time here I have received care packages from my parents, always accompanied by an encouraging message (which I could tell my mom had written). These packages are sent out through the school, with all of the notes prewritten back in August.

    It was during this time in which I was struggling with a few things that I decided to get a tattoo with the quote "This too shall pass." I told my mom about this idea, and she loved it. A few days later, I received another care package. When I opened it the first words on it were "This too shall pass."

    My dad has always said that my mom and I are very similar, but it wasn't until reading that message that I truly knew how much. I'm beginning to realize that she probably understands me better than I understand myself. Everything she does is to protect and support the people she loves. She is so hardworking and strong, and it inspires me to do the same and always work to be a better person.

    As I grow up I'm more and more grateful for my parents, and everything they have provided for my siblings and me. I love you so much mom. I hope you and dad have an amazing time in Venice. Happy Birthday.

  • Places: Gruene Hall

    For some time, I’ve had this idea to do short visual stories on the places I visit across the U.S. I’ve been fortunate to travel quite a bit over the past few years, and find that I’m drawn to places that are a little off the beaten path. In most cases, unless you’re a local, you pass by them on the road without a glance.

    This new series of stories starts with a visit last fall to Texas’ Gruene Hall, where I saw Charlie Robison play the second night of his annual weekend Labor Day bash. It had been some time since I had been to Gruene Hall, located near New Braunfels in the Hill Country, and I wanted to showcase this unique Central Texas institution.

    Built in 1878, the 8,000-square-foot dance hall was designed to give tenant farmers a way to socialize on the weekends. George Strait got his start there, playing once a month while beginning his career, and the hall has hosted a who’s who of Texas artists, including Willie Nelson, the Dixie Chicks, Townes Van Zandt, Lyle Lovett, Robert Earl Keen, and Jerry Jeff Walker. Robison is a regular, as is his brother, Bruce, and they occasionally play as a trio with Jack Ingram.

    Gruene Hall bills itself as the oldest dance hall still operating in Texas, a claim disputed by some, and it’s charm comes from how little about it has changed. It has a high-pitched tent roof with a bar in front and a small lighted stage in the back. Signs from the 1930s and ‘40s still surround the stage and hang in the hall, which has side flaps that are used for open air dancing.

    This photos in this album were taken in real-time, so you can see how the evening started slowly and progressively got more full once Robison took the stage. If you ever get the chance to go to Gruene Hall, do so. It’s a piece of history you won’t soon forget.

  • Cold War Flashbacks & '80s Music

    I’ve always enjoyed the music of X, which straddled the world between punk and country and remains incredibly relevant. They were part of the great Sire Records roster in the 1980s that also included Lou Reed, Talking Heads, The Replacements, The Blasters, and Los Lobos, among others, and X’s first four albums are considered classics.

    As much as I like those albums, which featured the original lineup, I’ve always had a soft spot for “See How We Are,” the 1987 album that includes Dave Alvin’s “Fourth of July” and the terrific title track. In the wake of the election, “See How We Are” has become my earworm.

    Recently, on Facebook, I decided to ask my friends which hit song best describes the Cold War flashbacks we’ve been having since January 20. My suggestions were R.E.M.’s “It’s the End of the World as We Know It” and Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” but they came up with a fascinating playlist that includes:

    • Sting: “Russians”

    • Billy Joel: “You May Be Right” and “Big Shot”

    • Gary Jules: “Mad World”

    • Gus Black: “Today is Not the Day to F--- With Me”

    • Eurythmics: “Sex Crime”

    • The Clash: “Rock the Casbah”

    • Nena: “99 Red Balloons”

    • Tears for Fears: “Everbody Wants to Rule the World”

    • David Bowie: “This is Not America”

    • Talking Heads: “Life During Wartime”

    The more I thought about it, I realized X had another appropriately titled song — “I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts.”

  • John Glenn: Not My Namesake

    The death of astronaut and former U.S. Senator John Glenn brought attention to the fact that my legal name is the same as his. Born three years after Glenn's space flight, I've spent much of my life explaining that I'm named after my dad and grandfather, not the astronaut.

    Here, I went into more detail...

  • Becoming CareerWise in Switzerland

    CareerWise Colorado, a statewide initiative that aims to place 20,000 high school students in apprenticeships by 2027, led a delegation of educators, state government and nonprofit leaders, and workforce development officials on a five-day tour to Zurich, Switzerland, last week to study the country’s apprenticeship programs.

    Led by officials from CEMETS, a division of the KOF Swiss Economic Institute, the tour included site visits to Libs, CYP, Zurich Business School, Swisscom, and EWH-Zurich, which provide a variety of training programs to Swiss students. In Switzerland, 70 percent of students choose to do apprenticeships in more than 200 occupations.

    CareerWise, a nonprofit that formally launched in September with the support of the state’s governor and several large Colorado companies, is inspired by the Swiss model for connecting employers and educational institutions.

    CareerWise Colorado’s goal is to serve about 10 percent of eligible high school students in the state within 10 years. Starting in 2017-18, businesses and corporations in the fields of information technology, financial and professional services, advanced manufacturing, and hospitality will offer high school juniors and seniors paid, on-the-job learning experiences in high-demand fields.

    One highlight of the trip was a visit to the Bern home of U.S. Ambassador Suzi Levine, a leader in the initiative to implement Swiss-style apprenticeship programs in the U.S.

    Ambassador Levine and her husband, Eric, were gracious hosts and described in detail their passion for bringing the model to K-12 schools and community colleges in the U.S.

    To see more photos, go to my Facebook albums here and here. For more information, visit the CareerWise website at www.careerwisecolorado.org or the CEMETS website at www.cemets.ethz.ch.

  • Happy 75, Mom!

    "So my Mom turns 75 today. Not sure how that happened, because she always says she was just so young when she had me."

    Pause. Punchline. Followed by, "Of course, calling your mom a liar in public is not polite."

    She's not really fibbing. Mom and dad were 23 and 24 when they had me. But this is the type of humor we share, a back and forth that has been a never-ending game of ping pong for years.

    I wish I could put into words the influence my mom has had on me. Perhaps the best way is to describe her as "my first, best teacher," who has shared her talent with countless school children, friends, and family for her entire life.

    I love you, Mom. Happy birthday. And may the ribbing continue for a long, long time.

  • Feature in MCCA Magazine

    For much of the past year, I have been profiling winners of the LMJ Scholarship for one of my clients, the Washington, D.C.-based Minority Corporate Counsel Association. My newest piece, “The Future of the Legal Profession,” focuses on the 2015-16 scholarship winners and is featured in the current issue of MCCA's magazine, "Diversity & The Bar."

    You can access the feature by visiting the New/Recent Articles section of my website at http://glenncook.virb.com/freelance.

  • Making K-12 Ed Regulations Interesting

    How do you make the regulatory process surrounding the nation’s largest education law interesting? Take a look at my story in the Summer 2016 issue of ASCD’s "Policy Priorities," which focuses on the development of regulations for the Every Student Succeeds Act, the long-awaited successor to No Child Left Behind.

    In addition to the main story, you can also read a sidebar that includes a step-by-step breakdown of the process. (And it really is interesting, too.)

    For more recently published articles, visit http://glenncook.virb.com/freelance.

  • Family Posts

    Two posts related to people I'm closest to in this life...

    I get a little quiet and contemplative every year around this time. My thoughts tend to get scattered — even more than usual — and I forget little things when a memory of him pops into my head, like I did last night when I realized the anniversary was today.

    No question, the simple passage of time has helped. So do the memories. I still have questions and wonder what he would think about so many things involving our lives and family.

    Today marks nine years. Where has the time gone?

    I miss you, Dad.

    I've been tagged twice in the "Love Your Spouse Challenge," in which you're supposed to post photos for seven days in a row to keep the Celebration of Love and the Promotion of Marriage going. Unfortunately, I'm not the most consistent when it comes to these types of things, so I thought I'd just do 7 photos in one day instead.

    Chances are pretty good that you've seen one or more of these over time. And if you know me at all, chances are pretty good you know how I feel about the woman I've spent the last 20 years of my life with.

    I love you Jill. Always have. Always will. ‪#‎loveyourspouse

  • Tech Columns Appear in ASBJ

    One of my freelance jobs is serving as a technology columnist/contributing editor to American School Board Journal, the magazine where I worked for 13 years. The technology column, which started in January 2015 and appears six times a year, looks at trends and issues of relevance to school board members and top-level administrators.

    Here are two of my latest efforts. Click on the link to read them:

    Security Goes High-Tech: Technology and security are inextricably linked in K-12 schools. From dealing with crisis situations to safeguarding student and staff data, how you use the tools at your disposal is critical. (July-August 2016)

    Online Learning 2.0: Educators nationwide continue to search for ways to meld traditional and digital learning for all students. It’s a combination that has proven full of promise, with more than a few lessons—and potholes—along the way for school boards, administrators, teachers, and communities. (May-June 2016)

  • Random Thoughts: Early Summer Edition

    Random thoughts from the past few days. The first one is serious and deserves serious debate. The rest? Not so much...

    • After the shootings in Louisiana, Minnesota and Texas involving police officers and African-American men, I scanned my Facebook feed and had this thought: “Summer vacations. Anger. Beach trips. Grief. Family birthdays. Shouting and rage. Tears of sadness and joy. TBTs and FBFs. A stark reminder that life matters. All lives matter. ALL.”

    • If Opus and Bill don't get on the ticket, then here is a logical alternative...

    • That moment when your cat sounds like he's chewing his dry food a little too loudly, then you realize he's just trying to bathe himself. Ick...

    • How someone can use the phrase "getaway" with regard to holiday traffic is beyond me.

    • Start of summer exchange heard in households around the world...

    — Child: "But nothing bad happened!"

    — Parent Auto-Reply: "This time..."

  • Random Thoughts, Oh My...

    When you know you shouldn't click on the link, only to find yourself drawn like a moth to the light. And the light turns out to be a bug zapper. Dear Lord... (Feel free to fill in the rest.)

    ••••••

    Regarding the Stanford University athlete that received a slap on the wrist for a rape conviction, this tweet was the best response I've seen, courtesy of @LaurenDeStefano: "If someone's a rapist and an athlete, they're not an athlete who made a mistake, they're a criminal who can swim."

    I can sympathize with the father's heartbreak, but not with his words/actions or the judge's.

    ••••••

    Given all the negatives in this post, I thought I'd end with a nicer thought: You don't have to be smart or talented, handsome or pretty. You just need to be kind.

  • 20 Years

    20 years. Where has the time gone? It has flown by so fast, and today, our last child finishes her last day of high school and goes to prom.

    20 years of memories, travels, adventures, happy times and (a few) heartbreaks. Four young adults we've worked to raise.

    20 years. Happy anniversary to the great love of my life. Here's to many more adventures together.

  • Weather & Random Thoughts

    Weather and other unrelated random thoughts from a waterlogged brain....

    Dear Mother Nature:

    Shrek called. He wants his swamp back.

    Sincerely, Donkey

    p.s. Please stop being such a pain in the ass.

    ••••••

    • It's been so wet and rainy here that I thought briefly about building an ark. Then I quickly realized Trump would want the naming rights and ditched that plan.

    • Mixing politics and Broadway: Sondheim should write a sequel to "Assassins" and call it "Casting Stones," featuring characters playing Dennis Hastert, Newt Gingrich and Kenneth Starr.

    • At what point does ambition segue into nostalgia?

  • A Mother Nature PSA

    Dear Mother Nature:

    Your ongoing three-week decision to drizzle and mist all over the Eastern Seaboard may be a response to the ongoing presidential debacle. Could it be your attempt to show voters that life is not black and white, but really overwhelmingly gray?

    Perhaps it is a perverse desire to boost the fortunes of over-the-counter drug companies everywhere. Or could it be a slow protest of the fact that Hamilton will sweep the Tonys?

    Whatever the reason, the undersigned allergy sufferers of the world would like to politely ask you to PLEASE STOP THE MADNESS NOW. Or better yet, let the sunshine in.

    Sincerely,
    Everyone.

  • Back to Summerton

    Note: Today is the 62nd anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling that led to the desegregation of America's schools. For the 50th anniversary, I made several trips to Summerton, S.C., where the first of the five cases that led to Brown was filed. Last month, for the first time in more than a decade, I returned to Summerton. This is what I observed.

    If you would prefer to read this report in PDF form, download it here. To see the previous stories I filed for the Brown v. Board anniversary, go to my Award-Winning Stories section.

    For someone who doesn’t like cars much, I spend a lot of time behind the wheel.

    Between commuting and long rides to far-flung places, the miles are starting to add up. I have to take my wallet out of my pocket, just like my dad did, or my back starts to hurt. I need to get out and stretch more often, even though that adds time to the drive.

    I was thinking about these and many other things as I moved our daughter’s things home from Florida to Northern Virginia — a 900-plus mile commute — last month in a Budget rental van. Because the van’s top speed was 70 mph, no matter what the law allowed, common sense dictated that the ride needed to be broken up into two longish days.

    The advantage was that I had time to think and ponder. I also could stop to take pictures at several places along the way.

    One such place was a return visit to Summerton, S.C.

    First to Footnote

    Sixty-six years ago, a group of black residents from South Carolina’s Low Country filed a lawsuit that eventually would change history. Four years and one day later, on May 17, 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court made sure of that.

    The court decision in Brown v. Board of Education led to the eventual desegregation of our nation’s public schools and helped spark for the Civil Rights Movement. The roots of Brown, however, started in Summerton, a fact that is better known now than it was when I first went there in the fall of 2003, if only slightly.

    I was collaborating with a longtime friend, Cecile Holmes, and a group of her journalism students from the University of South Carolina. Cecile grew up in Columbia, about an hour from Summerton, and as a longtime religion editor, was interested in the role of African-American pastors in the fight against segregation. I was interested in the history and in the effect it had on education in the Clarendon District 1.

    Working with Cecile’s students, we went to Summerton seven times between September and December 2003 to learn about the community, its schools and what led to the lawsuit. The results of our collaboration were published in my magazine, American School Board Journal, as part of a 50-page special report marking the Brown anniversary.

    My story, “From First to Footnote,” looked at events before and after Briggs v. Elliott, the first of the five cases that eventually became Brown. The legal action started in 1947, when petitioners led by the Rev. Joseph A. DeLaine sought a bus so black children would not have to walk as many as nine miles each way to school.

    A subsequent lawsuit, filed by farmer Levi Pearson, was dismissed, but service station attendant Harry Briggs and his wife, Eliza, sued to challenge the “separate but equal” status of blacks. They were represented by Thurgood Marshall, who later became the first African-American justice on the U.S. Supreme Court.

    For the story, we conducted extensive interviews with DeLaine’s children as well as current Clarendon officials and Joe Elliott, the grandson of the school board chairman named in the lawsuit. At the end, Joseph DeLaine Jr. — the torch bearer for his father and the lawsuit — said he might have to reach out to Elliott, who found himself ostracized when he started speaking in favor of integration.

    It was a small sign of hope at the end of a long and tortuous saga, one that saw families lose their jobs and homes. DeLaine Sr.’s church was burned by segregationists; he fled the state and never returned. U.S. District Judge Walter Waring, who supported the plaintiffs, was forced to resign his position and leave South Carolina altogether.

    Kill ‘Em and Leave

    The year after the Brown v. Board decision, a man from Barnwell, S.C., released the first of his many hit singles and embarked on a fractured version of the American dream. James Brown’s “Please Please Please,” released in 1955, started a six-decade career that saw him crowned as the “Godfather of Soul,” the father of funk and the forefather of hip-hop. He is the most sampled artist of all time.

    Brown’s childhood — he was born to a teenage mother in a small wooden shack near the Georgia border, about 100 miles northwest of Summerton — was not unlike many black children in the South. Growing up in extreme poverty, moving from town to town and house to house, he left school after the sixth grade, had a brief career as a boxer, and spent time in a juvenile detention center after a robbery conviction.

    “Nothing is simple when you’re poor,” author James McBride writes in Kill ‘Em and Leave: Searching for James Brown and the American Soul. “Poverty, for example is very loud. It’s full of traffic, cussing, drinking, fisticuffs, wrong sex, anguish, embarrassments, and psychic wounds that feed all sorts of inner ailments and create lots of loose ends.”

    What makes McBride’s book, released this spring, such a fascinating and gripping read is that it’s not a traditional biography, but a series of profiles of the people who played a role in Brown’s life. What emerges from the book is a man full of contradictions, driven by such an unshakable fear of loss that he trusted no one.

    “Behind the looking glass, behind the bluff and the ranting, the rages, the hollering, and the shouting, was a man so torn by conflict that he snuck off to smoke cigarettes so that no one would see him,” McBride writes. “Here was a man who rarely drank or cursed or let down his guard in public — which meant in front of people, in front of anyone, period; an incredibly lonely, overwrought, and sensitive man. A man who lived alone inside himself.”

    On one hand, Brown valued the promise of education for poor children — black and white — and helped calm communities inflamed by violence during the Civil Rights Movement. On the other, he treated his band members, wives, and children terribly and distrusted banks so that he left gigs with paper bags stuffed with cash.

    “If you want to keep your money,” he told one of his band members, “bury it in your yard.”

    No Outsiders

    I was in a rental car with Illinois plates the first time I drove through Summerton in the fall of 2003. We were just starting our reporting, and I wanted to get a feel for the place before we met with DeLaine’s children. I quickly found that outsiders weren’t welcome.

    As I drove down U.S. 301 and then onto Main Street, a police car pulled in behind me. I was heading toward the old Scott’s Branch High School, where there’s a small marker honoring the original plaintiffs, and had moved into the “other side of town.”

    The patrol car’s lights flickered and I pulled over. The officer checked my driver’s license and asked what I was doing. I explained and then was allowed to leave, but the random check shook me. The officer looked me in the eye and told me to “be careful”; I wasn’t sure what he meant.

    This past April, no one stopped me as I drove down the same street in the moving van. I’m not sure if folks weren’t paying attention, or whether the fact that the van had Georgia plates on it was a sign.

    Eventually, I found my way to Liberty AME Church, the site where the original petition that became Briggs v. Elliott was signed. I had to navigate around roads that were partially or fully closed due to floods last fall that devastated the Low Country. Even though 19 people died statewide in what was described as a 1,000 year flood, no one from Clarendon County perished. Many lost homes and property, however.

    As several men worked in and around the church, I introduced myself to the Rev. Robert China, who became Liberty Hill’s pastor in November 2014. China, a South Carolina native who is not from Clarendon County, showed me around the church and talked about the hardships of his parishoners. He showed me with pride the original petition, which was framed and hanging on the wall.

    “There are a bunch of roads still out, even though it’s been six months,” he said, referring to the flooding. “You’d think they could have done something to fix them and help our folks get back on their feet, but that’s not how it seems to work around here.”

    China talked about the church members attending a play In Charleston on the case, and how a museum in nearby Sumter is featuring an exhibit on Briggs v. Elliott. Later, when I mentioned that Joe DeLaine Jr. and Joe Elliott appeared on a panel together after the play, one of the church members shook his head.

    “Well, what do you know? I guess time does change some things.”

    Words, Context Matter

    In May 2004, after my magazine story was published, Cecile invited me to speak at a Brown v. Board panel in Columbia. Also on the panel was Edwin Darden, a longtime friend and colleague who has taught me more about race and race relations than I would have imagined possible.

    Ed, who was raised in New York City, has worked with schools for years, helping to ensure that boards, administrators and teachers look at education through an equity lens. We don’t always agree, in part I’m sure due to our backgrounds and past experiences, but my trust and respect for his opinion is paramount.

    I took Ed to the Summerton Diner, the white restaurant in the middle of town. Despite the mid-May humidity, there was a palpable chill in the room. The waitress was polite, but like the officer I had met months before, it was obvious that Ed — who is African American — and I weren’t necessarily welcome. When we left, he was visibly shaken; at the time, I’m not sure I fully understood why.

    You could say that children of my generation don’t know what it’s like to be part of a segregated education system. At 51, I’m part of the first group of students who went to integrated public schools starting in the late 1960s and early 1970s, so if you’re threading the needle of the truth, you would not necessarily be inaccurate.

    But as one of my first editors reminded me: “Words matter.” More important, as Ed likes to say, “Context matters.”

    Race and Power

    Naively, I grew up thinking that integration was how things worked, that segregation and overt racism were going away. After all, wasn’t that the law?

    My hometown district was racially mixed, increasingly so as I moved from grade to grade. The prism I used to evaluate people was not based on skin color, but on attitudes, work ethic, and the like. As a kid, I had no frame of reference or understanding about the deep, ingrained attitudes and beliefs of the people around me.

    I was reminded of that again that day with Ed at the Summerton Diner.

    Even though institutionalized racism was no longer legal, the institution had not been taken away completely. Far from it, in fact. And all it takes is one look at the many regressive practices and policies of the past two decades to see what should have been obvious all along.

    Racism, at its very core, is about power.

    It’s about holding on to power and using it to control others. It’s about dictating movement in the status quo on your terms, a distorted version of “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away.” And when that power is threatened, when the shifts in the status quo go against our beliefs and values, we fight rather than adapt. At that point, power matters more than words or context ever could.

    Thank God some people — in Clarendon County, in Topeka, Kansas, and in other places across the U.S. — chose to fight the power.

    POSTSCRIPT:

    Thirteen years after my first visit, Summerton remains the best example of time moving slowly in small Southern towns. If you read my story, “From First to Footnote,” about the Briggs v. Elliott case, you might be interested to know what has happened to many of the sources mentioned in the piece.

    • In September 2004, Congressional Gold Medals of Honor were awarded posthumously to Harry and Eliza Briggs, the Rev. Joseph A. DeLaine, and Levi Pearson.

    • DeLaine’s children — Joseph Jr., Ophelia, and Brumit — spent years talking about the case and its impact on their family. Joe DeLaine Jr., 82, who served on the presidential commission that oversaw the 50th anniversary commemoration of Brown, lives in Charlotte and remains active with the BDP Foundation, the nonprofit that is working to help educate Clarendon school children about the case and improve opportunities for the district’s students. Ophelia DeLaine, now 79 and living in Florida, wrote a book on her father and the case. Dawn of Desegregation was published by the University of South Carolina Press in December 2011 and remains in print. Brumit, also known as B.B., died in 2012 after several years of poor health.

    • The Levine Museum of the New South’s interactive exhibit, “Courage: The Vision to End Segregation, The Guts to Fight for It” debuted in Charlotte in 2004 and was shown in New York, Baltimore, Los Angeles and other locations before returning to Charlotte again in 2011. It is on display now at a museum in Sumter, S.C.

    • U.S. District Judge J. Waties Waring, whose dissent in the original Briggs v. Elliott lawsuit was the first against “separate but equal” schools and served as the foundation for Brown, was honored with a life-sized statue at the federal courthouse in Charleston, S.C., in 2014.

    • Sadly, it’s no surprise that desegregation failed miserably. Today, signs in Summerton point you to Clarendon Hall, a private, almost all-white school promoting “Excellence in Education in a Christian Environment.” No mention of Briggs v. Elliott is found on the Summerton website, although you can read about it on the Clarendon County website. 

    • The public school district, Clarendon 1, is all but ignored. But thanks to the efforts of Rose Wilder, who was recognized as South Carolina’s Superintendent of the Year in 2014, Clarendon 1 now is the second highest performing among South Carolina’s high poverty schools.

    The ongoing challenge for the district, in addition to the high poverty rates of many of its students, is to increase enrollment. Because Clarendon County's overall population has declined, so has enrollment, which is down by more than 30 percent over the past decade and now stands at just under 900 students. 

    The district has started advertising with billboards along Interstate 95, using the theme “Come Grow With Us.” Ironically, a majority of the children on the advertisements are white.

  • I Am Not Homeless, or a Guitar Player

    Willie Nelson joke: "You know what they call a guitar player without a girlfriend? Homeless."

    Fortunately, this is not (NOT) a RIP message for Willie, just something I picked up while waiting for my daughter's brakes to be fixed on a Saturday afternoon of never-ending errands. I'm thankful that I'm not writing another tribute to someone who has died because there have been way too many instances of that already this year.

    I'm also thankful that I have someone I can call my spouse/girlfriend/best friend (all the same person, in case you want to make a snarky remark). 20 years into this, she overlooks those moments when I'm tone deaf and encourages me to pursue my quirky dreams.

    Thanks my dear Jill for all of the above, and doing everything you do to keep a roof over our heads. I love you.

  • Recap or Night Cap? You Decide...

    I know why they call it March Madness, especially when March bleeds into April.

    Yep, it must be spring, that great period in life when Mother Nature looks you square in the eye, laughs, and does whatever the heck she wants. Little winter here, little heat there, lots of pollen and watery eyes everywhere.

    Why, you ask, can’t everything be spread out a little more instead of being bunched together and packed so tightly? I don’t really know. If I did, I’d bottle and sell it to you cheap.

    I’m not complaining, especially on the business end, where thankfully things seem to be opening up in recent weeks. Also, my ability to write a cogent sentence that went beyond tweet-length seems to have returned, thank goodness. It’s nice that the muse has decided to push its way past whatever was blocking my crowded brain.

    Here’s a brief summary of what’s happened over the past three weeks alone:

    • Met a series of deadlines for freelance clients. More still to do, but getting there.

    • Published the Q&A series I did with a teenager about photography.

    • Shot events on consecutive days that could not have been more different — a Strongman competition in Northern Virginia and a book signing in New York. 

    • Saw Ben in a preview of Broadway’s “Tuck Everlasting” with Jill and then another show at NYU to support one of his “Billy Elliot” friends (the outstanding Casey Whyland).

    • Embarked on a trip to Tampa to get Kate’s stuff from her apartment and truck it back to Northern Virginia.

    • Celebrated as Emma was accepted into Point Park University in Pittsburgh for the dance program.

    • Followed that up with headshots of a young girl and a family shoot in a neighboring county this past weekend.

    • Written blogs on the trip, on the deaths of a childhood friend’s son, Merle Haggard, Patty Duke, and Ken Howard (too much of that this year). Also wrote about World Bipolar Day and the current political process (which seems to have its own hints of mental illness about it).

    Whew...