We held the last critique meeting of the school year for the newspaper. The newsroom closes down for the summer. Some people graduate, others take a deep breath. I thanked them for their hard work. I bragged on them, despite the huge error in the headline of the lead story.
Class was held. Things were discussed. Everyone’s mind is outside because the beautiful spring weather has shown up and it all feels very real and, finally, incontrovertibly here.
The newsroom folks gave me two doughnuts. That’s how you end a Wednesday:
Made it home in time to see the last half of the baseball game. Auburn hosted Samford. Everyone wanted to know who I would cheer for. Samford pays me so …
Auburn won 9-3, in yet another comeback. Both teams are in their respective conference post-season hunts. The two teams have almost identical conference records. Samford hits for power, Auburn has lately been looking for any hits that drive in runs. They’ve spent their conference schedule getting beaten up by the baseball teams in the country. Auburn has won both of the two mid-week games this season.
The last time Samford beat Auburn was March of last year, at Samford, and it was dramatic:
Here’s a mystery: After tonight’s game The Yankee, Adam and I caught dinner at Mellow Mushroom. I don’t think I’ve ever noticed this on the ground next to the door. I’ve boosted the contrast so we can see it a bit more clearly:
It says “Heard & Swope 1905.” A quick search of the genealogy sites tells me there was a Sylvester McDaniel Swope (1852-1923). He was a preacher in Talladega, which is about 90 minutes away today. It was a little different in his day. But Sylvester had a son in 1877, Arthur, who married Addie Lee Heard. Arthur is buried here in Auburn, so maybe these are the right people. (There were 31,000 people in the county and about 1,600 in the town at the time. How many different Heards and Swopes could there have been?)
The first gas pump was four years away and the year before there a total of 37 party line phones in town. Those tidbits, and this picture, come from Logue and Simms’ (1981) incomparable pictorial history.
That map is from 1903, when College Street was still Main. See that empty spot at lot 34? I think that’s where this Heard & Swope marker would go in in 1905. You can count the front doors today and it makes sense, for the most part. But I’m not sure what Heard and Swope were building. Yet.
It took almost three years, but ol’ Harvey Updyke proved the only thing he’s ever been capable of proving, that spirit goes beyond a football game, that a place is more than a jersey, and heart is more than a scoreboard.
Saturday was the big day, the last roll of the old Toomer’s Corner oaks. It was orchestrated and planned and monumentally huge. (The Auburn equestrian team, which just won a national championship of their own, will get the final honor.)
Thousands upon thousands of people were there. They stood chest to back and shoulder to shoulder and that crowd jammed the corner and the four roads. Everyone had a great time, coming away with that old familiar feeling: this is a family reunion.
For some people it was a refutation of a malignancy of misguided fandom. For others it was an excuse to have a party. For all, it was an opportunity to hear what comes next. Now that the old oaks are coming out of that spot, ending a run of about 75 years, there is plenty to look ahead to.
But Toomer’s Corner always taught me to look back. You didn’t get too many rolls dropped on the back of your head as a freshman before you learn to always be on the lookout. In a way, this too was an opportunity to look back at the fine spirit of something we’ve long enjoyed.
I’ve written about this for The War Eagle Reader and for the Smithsonian and a few other places. I’m always trying to capture this feeling, share the sense so that those who aren’t lucky enough to be there can find their place in it too.
The problem is that whenever you do this, it always comes off as hokey and cheesy. How do you explain this small town thing? This silly little thing that amuses us, that we look forward to, that we’ve lately lamented and, Saturday, celebrated beyond comparison?
The best way to understand a culture is to figure out why the important things are important and why the small things are important. To ask yourself why these things are so is to find all of the silly answers. In this case, it is the celebration of a victory, which started either to emulate the old telegram system that used to send home news of games from far away, or a spontaneous celebration of the joy of having too much toilet paper. There are several theories and apocryphal stories about how and why this began, but let’s be honest, it is just fun. The tradition started out as rolling the trees after big road wins. Today this is a way to continue the game, the event, the championship and the celebration of a moment after the moment is gone.
It is the place where we say “Meet me at Toomer’s Corner,” which means a whole lot more than ‘See you there.’ Town and campus come together here, the corner where everything meets, where we make the 400 yard march from the stadium to the place where we celebrate some more. You see old friends, make new ones and take pictures in one of the happier, more laid back places you can be. This is where the chants and cheers don’t stop, where the players come to join their classmates, alumni and fans.
Toomer’s Corner also taught me to look down. My favorite thing about rolling Toomer’s has always been watching the tiniest Tigers. College students often yield to children in this place where parents let their little ones actually play in the street. They have the run of the place. They’re flinging rolls, they’re turning themselves into Charmin mummies. They’re climbing on the gates, up the surrounding trees and receiving the gift of extra rolls from the big kids.
The picture above was from the 2010 national championship. That was the last time I rolled the corner; that was a memory, a fine one to end on. We make our memories, but we make them for others too, that’s what is happening when Toomer’s gets rolled. These days I catch rolls to give to children, the younger the better. It is more important to me to build their memories.
I like to take visitors, because if you can’t write about Toomer’s Corner and make sense of it, you surely can’t tell someone about it. You simply need the experience. I taught my wife how to throw a roll of toilet paper. She figured it out just in time for the 2010 SEC championship.
I’ve had the good fortune to take my mother a few times. She gets in to it despite herself. A few years ago we treated my step-father to his first football game and his first trip to the corner.
My in-laws came down for their first game in 2010, a quiet non-conference game which was unlike anything they’d ever seen up north. Rolling Toomer’s is unlike anything you see most anywhere, too.
Family, friends, everyone comes away impressed, and that’s after those cream puff games. “You have to remember,” I solemnly tell them “that the degree of rolling Toomer’s Corner is directly proportional to the importance of the win.” They imagine and wish they were here on those nights when covering great distancesyou can find the toilet paper covering great distances
One night I popped a flash on my camera as people rolled the corner and I could see the tiny cotton particulates of celebration floating in the air around me, two blocks away from the trees. That’s a fervor.
Toomer’s taught us to look forward, too. This is just the tip of the experience, but all of Auburn has a way of growing into you. The farther away you get, the more deeply it ties itself to you. The longer you’ve been away the closer you hold it. You’re just starting something here, but you’ll carry the place forever.
Below are the gates. The men that put them in place were staring down a world war, and some of them would go off and find themselves fighting it in the next year. But first they had to finish things up here, and the class of 1917 had to build that entryway. (The eagles came later.)
Saturday we learned that, in the new plan for Toomer’s Corner, the gates will stay in place. And that’s maybe the best news of all. For all that Auburn can be it is important that we always remember who she was before us.
Here’s why: what she was defines who she’ll be. What we become is dictated in some way by what we were. I think of Auburn as an instrument of potential, but as Toomer’s Corner regularly demonstrates, it is also about spirit and heart.
I wrote, two years ago, the day we learned this day was coming, “Auburn and her family are stronger than oak and more sturdy than history. We’re going to say “Meet me at Toomer’s” for generations yet. The power of dixieland is going to be just fine.”
Saturday went a long way toward proving that right, but it is no prophecy. The clues are all around.
We’re all little dots in the immediately famous helicopter shot. We are all the central players in the more narrow perspectives we hold on from the ground. We’re all in those moments from years ago, frozen in other people’s photographs. I always study those pictures with wonder. Where is that woman now? What does that guy do these days? We’re all in the photographs yet to come, too.
There will be more trees. There will be more times when police officers playfully stand there and let the kids roll them, more times where people watch and dance from the windows across the street. Someone is always going to be willing to shimmy up the poles that hold the traffic lights in place. There will be more parents and college students and guests all delighting in the fun silliness of the thing.
At the biggest moment any of us could imagine, I was fortunate to stand under the old trees with my beautiful, talented wife — who I turned into an Auburn woman in the course of a single tailgate, who later joined the faculty — and celebrated a national championship with thousands of friends:
That’s a great memory, but not hardly the best. And Saturday, we were reminded once again, that this has never been about the trees, but about all of those people, our people.
We held a big committee meeting today and held interviews and selected next year’s student media leaders. This is always a great day because our most motivated students come forward and share their ideas and answer a few questions and we try to make sure we pick the right people, and there are so many fine choices for most of those jobs.
I haven’t been to this meeting on a day when the sun wasn’t shining and the people in the room weren’t pleased to be there. Some of the elements of what happens in that meeting are among my favorite things about being at Samford. I get to watch highly-placed people in the university thinking about the best possible thing for a particular student. To be a part of that is to realize you are in a great place, surrounded by people there for the right reasons. That’s a fine thing to know.
Made it home in time to enjoy dinner with our friends Barry and Melissa, who were in town for meetings and things. We’d just spent the weekend with them and others in Louisville, but now they had their sun, who is a huge ball of 5-year-old energy. We saw Dr. Magical, who made Matthew, who is awesome, a balloon. He likes Angry Birds so …
I mention the Boston scanner and listening to that last night. I stayed up until 3 or 4 a.m., late enough to not be sure. I fought my eyelids for a good long time and then when the officers decided to tighten their perimeter and wait until daylight it seemed a good time to get some rest. So I had about three hours last night. And when I woke up they’d turned off the streams to their scanner chatter for security reasons.
The good people of the great city of Boston have a lot to be thankful for. Their police, and the feds and other municipalities who were involved in all of that performed admirably. Today, too, we found a link to a still-active scanner feed for about a half hour before dinner and it was the same thing, even as they were drawing close, and even as they realized they had their suspect contained.
And so when they announced, when we were at dinner, that they’d caught their man, and started pulling out of town, the road lined on either side with neighbors who looked like the Celtics had just won a championship, when the SWAT team took to their loudspeaker and told the people of that neighborhood that it was their pleasure to be there, that was a beautiful site.
Here is the scanner chatter as they caught their man. “Neva betta” indeed.
There are, already, at least two sites taking donations to collect money to buy the Boston police officers a beer. That seems fitting.
YouTube Cover Theater: Where we irregularly celebrate the talent of the undiscovered, who take their guitars and their computers and show off their song stylings to the entire world, by showing off people covering popular performers. It is a testament to all of the talent that is out there that ought to be acknowledged, and only gets mild notice. We do this by picking one musician and finding people who are covering them. This week’s featured artist is Colin Hay.
This version of I Just Don’t Think I’ll Ever Get Over You is by the U.K.’s Kieran Smith, who is a music teacher, it turns out:
Australian Jace Leckie’s cover of Beautiful World has only been watched 62 times, which is a shame. It is a chill cover of a terrific song:
Here’s a guy sitting at his desk, just strumming out Maggie. No big deal:
Guess it wouldn’t be Colin Hay without some Overkill. Monica Brentnall is handling it. It really needs some more views:
And, finally, a bit of Colin Hay himself. Another great song, Waiting for My Real Life to Begin:
Hope you have a great weekend. Let’s all celebrate it like we’re in Boston.
“I get chills thinking about it now,” said White. “When you see a young lady go through what she went through and not just recover to lead a “normal” life, but to also get back to where she was as an athlete, there are no words to convey how it made me feel.”
There is video. And that’s the second cheerleader with a prosthetic I’ve seen now. Perhaps there are others, but they all suggest the same thing; we live in the future.
You can grow from any story you write, but this one even more so. We made two nice friends out of the deal, Adam Hallmark, who was my source, and his significant other. Not bad for an afternoon spent writing in the recliner.
I’m listening to the scanner feed from Boston tonight. I miss scanners. But this is not the night to miss them. Apparently a significant portion of the country had the same idea. There are reportedly more than 80,000 leaning in to their computer speakers after the terrible shooting at MIT, the carjacking, the chase to Watertown “definite hand grenades and automatic gunfire” and whatever horrendous thing comes next.
Here is a map roughly approximating tonight’s events:
People listening in are learning that police work isn’t often like what we see on television. Maybe this terrible thing will end soon.
I presented a paper this morning titled “Hail to the Chief: Comparative Presidential Face-ism on Online News Sites.” The abstract reads:
Past research demonstrated that visual displays demonstrated varying facial prominence, known as face-ism, among varying subjects with respect to race, gender and prominence. This paper compares the face-ism score of President Barack Obama on prominent news web sites in the early days of both of his terms. The analysis is timely and relevant as the nation’s first African-American president comes to power and constitutes one of the few studies on face-ism online. Results indicated that facial prominence of the president yielded a moderately low score on the face-ism scale which suggests that the editorial choices are reflective of stereotypical scores with respect to race rather than his powerful and prominent position.
Or words to that effect, anyway.
There are numbers in that paper, which is a great way to start a Saturday morning.
In the very next session The Yankee and I presented a paper we creatively titled “Can You Tell Me How to Get to the Virtual Watercooler? An Analysis of Election Night Conversations on Twitter.” We looked at hashtags and what was going on under #Election. She discussed the theory, I talked about more numbers and then read some of the interesting examples from our case study.
These things happened over the course of the evening’s election coverage. In more than 11,000 tweets with #election in that period between the polls closing and the end of the immediate coverage we found:
2,992 @ symbols (Conversations.)
205 RTs (Sharing others’ tweets.)
2,487 links (Sharing media.)
21,447 any # (Indexing attempt or punchline.)
120 #Florida or traditional abbreviations
157 #Ohio, or OH
67 #Pennsylvania or traditional abbreviations
All of which is to say that, with the framework of social identity theory — your self-conception realized through your perceived membership in a relevant social group — we can see how formerly passive television viewers and newspaper readers are now not only taking active roles in conversation, but they are using primary identifiers to organize themes, which suggests a fair amount of implications for audience fragmentation, political activation and raises questions about “unofficial” hashtags, harnessing those results and forced versus voluntary interactivity.
Mostly, I enjoyed reading the tweets that we captured for the study. Here are a few I shared with the audience. These are direct quotes:
Dear Todd Akin, I do believe you suffered a legitimate defeat #inyoface #Election #legitimaterape
I feel like you should have to be 21 to vote. Some people just vote for the coolest name #YouDontKnowAnything #Election
The tone of PBS’s election coverage is basically Suck it Romney — Big Bird wins! Hilarious! #Election
Who at #NBC decided to put an #Election results map on the ice rink? Was Jack Donaghy involved in this?
This whole #Election tracker business turned our civil governance process into the highest stakes Fantasy Football game ever played.
I don’t tweet much.. But I hope @JohnKingCNN shuts up… You are so annoying.
Damn this girl on ABC is too fine! #Election
i used to have faith in my countrymen. now that i know my countrymen can be bought w/ phones and biRTh control, not so sure…#Election
Interesting dichotomy: Obama strong in swing states, Romney strong in states that snap their fingers out of time. #Election #Dems #GOP
Romney of Massachusetts might have won this. Romney of Tea Party, 47%, Ayn Rand, Benghazi blather, false Jeep ads… Not so much. #Election
Tuned into Fox News and was surprised to see that they harnessed the power of time travel and brought in Ben Franklin to cover the #Election
But #Romney holds firm in Cayman Islands and Switzerland. #Election
Obama 2012 campaign just announced it will unleash drones over Pakistan to celebrate re-election. #Election
i want to create a burlesque number called “the exit pole.” #Election
Another panelist talked about the making of this ad for Dale Peterson, former candidate for agriculture commissioner of Alabama.
That’s a real commercial. It was produced for the web because Peterson didn’t have TV money, but it was an instant hit online and the money started rolling in. Before long he went from five percent in the polls to pushing 30 percent. But he did not win in the Republican primary, despite his huge online following. The entire case study is an interesting exercise in aggressive, low budget politics.
So we go through all of the presentations and then the respondent, our old friend Dr. Larry Powell stands to discuss each of the presentations. He talks about how each of these studies are important and offered his suggestions for where the research should go.
For each paper he also offered his fake gift. One rhetorician received a copy of Ronald Reagan’s RNC acceptance speech, so that he might give it to Mitt Romney, for example. The author of the Dale Peterson work received a can of cashews.
Everyone in the room from Alabama is now all but rolling on the floor for, you see, Peterson has recently been arrested for shoplifting, twice. The second time he was dining on cashews.
For our paper Dr. Powell pointed out that The Yankee and I met in his class. That he served as advisor on both of our comps committees and now we are married.
“I think I’ve done enough.”
In the afternoon The Yankee was a member of a panel titled “Political Entertainment Television and the Framing of Choices and Consequences in the 2012 Presidential Campaign.”
Here she is now:
She talked about The Daily Show’s Indecision 2012 which was, I feel, the presentation that really brought the panel together.
So after that it was time for another very late lunch. We learned that three of the four sandwich shops within walking distance were closed. You’re in the middle of the downtown entertainment district on a Saturday and all the small places lock up at 3 p.m. Some business model. Back to Potbelly Sandwiches, then, and then back to the conference so that I might run the political communication division meeting. It is my penultimate responsibility as the division chair.
All went according to plan. Things moved along, I printed too many agendas, made a joke no one thought was funny and we conducted the business of the division. The Yankee was elected as the vice chair-elect of the division. That means she’ll program two divisions of presentations in a row, mass comm next year and political communication the year after that. That’s service to academia, for you.
Dinner was just about the strangest, most surrealistic, hysterical thing possible. Also we sang along to Carly Rae Jepsen. And I played the drums. There were drums at dinner and that was the part that made the most sense of all.