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Monthly Archives: August 2010

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CDT: Driving Forward Development

Before I stopped covering schools for the Columbia Daily Tribune, I wrote this piece, Driving Forward Development, one of my favorite stories I did at the Tribune. It’s a story about timing, panicking and bureaucracies. It’s also a story about a new high school for kids.

I now work as the night cops reporter at the Omaha World-Herald. I started Aug. 2. It’s a good gig.

Murray, the U.S. Open favorite?

Andy Murray, a point away from losing momentum in the Rogers Cup championship and losing his serve against the greatest player of all-time, cocked back his arm and whipped an ace out wide against Roger Federer on the quick, blue hard court in Toronto.

The next point, different spot – down the T on the deuce court – same result.

Three points later, Murray had beaten Federer in the final for the first time and in straight sets, 7-5, 7-5. It was the first time Murray had beaten Rafael Nadal and Federer in the same week, and Murray became the first man to defend his Rogers Cup title since Andre Agassi did it 15 years ago.

Maybe we all should go without formal coaches.

But as impressive as this week was for Murray, who played his best tennis of the year, what’s more astounding is how he dominated this week, how Murray pounced on the court, darting after balls and aggressively attacking instead of shrinking against the best in tennis.

Aggressive. The “a” word that always lingers by Murray. When he plays tentative, gets the ball in play and waits for his opponents to flop, they say, he should have tried more backhands down the line, been more aggressive. When he slaps approach shots deep into the corners, creates more angles and sneaks in more often, they say, maybe he should let his opponent hit a few more balls.

But with this week’s showing, has there ever been more reason to wonder why Murray doesn’t always take the swinging volley or why he doesn’t always string his opponent from side to side instead of waiting for his opponent to do the same to him?

Sure, Murray had fresher legs as Federer showed the effects of back-to-back three-set matches the last two nights. But these weren’t five-set marathons that took everything out of Federer, this wasn’t the U.S Open, where this summer will end.

Murray, 23, is still without a major championship. But, you wonder, after seeing what he did this week on the fast hard courts in Toronto, just two weeks before the lights shine on those quick, hard courts in New York, how long we’ll be able to introduce him as the best in the men’s game without a Grand Slam title.

iPod or handshake?

I remember my first few days at the University of Missouri.

I was a baby-faced 20-year-old with a white man’s afro. (I know; I haven’t changed much in the last four years.)

Every time I walked to class from my dorm room, 636 Schurz Hall, my eyes grew as I passed the leaves changing beautiful and the flowers staying gorgeous.

I saw thousands of students trampling across Speaker’s Circle, striding to Management 3000, chatting with friends on their cell phones or listening to Crazy by Gnarls Barkley on their iPod. They’d walk across the quad, doing similar things, engaging with gadgets rather than people, rarely looking up to even acknowledge the person passing them but always looking down, always staring into that four-inch square that somehow played music or produced a more-preferable voice.

And there was me, the new, friendly kid living away from home for the first time in a new city that was more than three times bigger than my old city, my hometown of Mason City, Iowa. There was me, somewhat disheartened.

This was a big school, yes – some 28,000 students at the time – and my old school, North Iowa Area Community College, was a small school, true – about 3,000 students back then. But at NIACC, we at least acknowledged, nodded or said hello to the person who sauntered past us in the opposite direction. I suppose it was the Iowa thing to do, or at least the right thing to do, the nice, courteous and friendly gesture.

Not here. Not then, at least. But I continued on, kept looking for moments to say hello, searching for times to offer at least a nod or a half smile to a fellow walker. I wondered why everyone was so hushed, why no one wanted to be polite.

I believed the smallest details in life make up the best moments of your day, such as when a person says hello and smiles when you’re having a rough day. It cheers you up, even if it’s just for a few hours. And that matters, those few hours help determine how your day went.

Then I thought some more, I wondered what all this meant, this keeping to yourself behavior. Why couldn’t people be more friendly? What did this say about us, the human race, that we weren’t into being kind to our neighbors?

Eventually, I slowly became one of them, because when people don’t raise their eyes from the iPod or set down the phone, it’s hard to say hello, even when you’re as idealistic as I was. I gradually stopped trying and became one of the non-friendly walkers who went to a big school and had so much on my mind I couldn’t stop being busy and start being friendly.

Then, in December 2008, I graduated from the University of Missouri, beaming proud of my school and my people. I loved it. Everything.

And now, I’ve left the place I loved, Mizzou, Columbia, Booche’s. And I’ve started again, heading down this path of friendliness and showing off my eagerness to be outgoing and happy. I don’t write this to prove my idealism; I know that I’m a dork. (Thanks, Gretchen.)

I write this to say I won’t stop this time when the guy down the street, sitting on his concrete stoop, smoking a cigarette before noon, just stares at me when I wave with my iPod buds in my ear. I’ll keep waving and nodding, saying hello and good morning to everyone I can, their reaction a non-factor. I’m happier that way, when I’m more outgoing and friendly to people.

I also do it to see people’s reactions. It’s as if no one has waved or said hello to them in the past 15 years. Some do a silent double take, thinking, Does he know me? Others say hello right back and quickly look away as if they don’t want to be caught being friendly in public, BFIP if you’re listening on the police scanner.

It’s been fun so far, this being outgoing and friendly thing. I hope you’ll join me.

If not, if you prefer the iPod instead of the hello, I know just the place for you to go.

Remembering George

I last saw George about two weeks ago.

On a muggy July afternoon in Columbia, Mo., George, a tall, slender man with gray hair, didn’t sit in his favorite brown, leather recliner – ALS had restricted his movement in his hips, making it tough for him to get out of comfortable recliners. Instead, George rolled across the living room’s wooden floors in a wheelchair. Marcia plopped down in the chair.

Our talk with George lasted about an hour. He chuckled about the year in which he was the one-man Fulton Sun sports department. He smiled about the new wheelchair ramp that had been installed in front of his home off N. Garth Ave. And he shook his head about all the stories he had been telling his visitors, including the one about the day that changed his life 16 years ago.

George was about 40 years old at the time, working as a cops reporter at the Columbia Daily Tribune. Jim Robertson, the paper’s managing editor, called George into his office. “Your attitude is poisoning the newsroom,” Robertson told him.

George admitted as much at his house. He always came up with a snarky response, but that’s what good reporters did, wasn’t it? Weren’t they always quick to respond? Or were they?

George thought about his life, about his attitude and about everything he had, such as his wonderful wife, his beautiful 1-year-old daughter and his great job. I’ve been blessed, George said he thought. It was time to count his blessings rather than tally his disappointments, he decided.

From that day on, George gave thanks to God for his family, for their ability to raise a child and for the home they could afford. “Count your blessings,” he told Marcia and I.

In this way, and in his life, George was old school. During the weekends I worked with him at the Tribune, he regretted the Internet’s affect on newspapers and the shortage of reporters in newsrooms everywhere. He favored the days of print products, of less video clips and more written words.

About two weeks ago, the best podmate ever and I had no idea we were seeing George for the last time. He, himself, expected to live another two years until the ripe age of 58. Age 29 is hardly middle-aged.

It’s strange seeing a man who is so close to death even though none of us knew it. George died on Saturday, a 56-year-old father of one and long-time newspaper reporter and editor.

His byline is above hundreds of stories and his editing pen marked up hundreds of others, but I will always remember George for the line that changed his life:

“Count your blessings.”