Jan 24

2023 2024

Happy New Year! Are you over it yet?

Bah humbug to that, I say. This is going to be a great year! For a time. We’re in control of our perceptions about things from there. So, I say to you, have a great 2023 2024. Happy new year. Peace on earth, good will toward man. Additionally, here’s to food in your belly, spare items when and where you need them, and minimal downtime of your internet connectivity.

Let’s look at some photos I took last week, which will be the official wrap up of last year, here, on the official keeper of such things.

(, the official keeper of such things — since 2004.)

I’ve come to think of this as the daily commute of the Canada geese. I don’t know why they’re still around here. Shouldn’t they be flying south? Instead, it’s just to the southwest in the morning, and the northeast each evening. Maybe they’re doing test flights or getting in the base miles.

So there I was in a Mexican restaurant, washing my hands, and I saw this by the door. At first, I was amused by the name of the product. And then, I chuckled at the location of the can. That gave way to appreciating the accidental photo composition, which was quickly replaced by wondering why I was doing all of that before dinner.

I went to the bank, a branch, or possibly just a company itself, that never gets visited. The one teller was surprised to see a person walk through the front door. It was all solid and old and quiet and vacant. But I liked this chair.

Same seat, from the other side, just so we can admire the craftmanship of the upholstery.

The branch manager was a young woman, swift and certain and equally surprised by seeing a human being in her workplace. It struck me as a nice place to spend a part of a career.

I wonder if the chair was comfortable.

In my life, I have traveled some, I have not seen every place and every thing. So this is probably in error, but: I’ve never seen these colors of winter anywhere but in the ancestral haunts. They’re limping through a severe drought just now, and so the clover is a mystery, but the grass is always like this in the winter, and the leaves are always like that this time of year, curled, desiccated and showing no hint of their previous beauty. Here, though, it always just feels like a pause between seasons rather than an end of one. I don’t know why that is.

I saw this house one night. I don’t know the story of that pig, but you get the sense it must be important to someone inside. There’s just the one, and they carefully spotlit the thing.

I believe this one was taken the same night. We were standing in the driveway talking to the neighbors when I looked up.

I haven’t done a lot of running this year because, well, I’d rather ride my bike. Or swim laps. Or do most any other thing I can think of. And so the running has been minimal. I did a two-mile run in the neighborhood, and late in the week we did the dam run. My lovely bride likes the dam run, an out-and-back that we do on most every trip back to the valley. You park in a park’s parking lot, run a mile over a long bridge, then up a hill for three-tenths of a mile, and then work your way along some beautifully maintained TVA trails, until you get to the Wilson Dam. We run halfway across the dam, and then turn back. Here you’re looking back at the bridge, the Singing River Bridge, from the dam.

That route gives you a 10K. I haven’t run a 10K since last December, in Savannah, because see above. With that in mind, given the cool air, the late hour, and the unambitious mist that couldn’t turn itself into a real rain, I told my lovely bride that I would run with her until I couldn’t. And then I would trail along, and double back when she met me again. So there we were, still together at the dam.

And there she went, back across the dam and back toward the car. So I just … kept on running. Caught her, passed her and then we wound up finishing the run together, victorious yawp and all.

That night, I believe it was, my mother suggested Chinese takeout food. We went to pick it up and, there on the counter next to the register, were these two boxes. For some reason, the idea of buying fortune cookies by the batch amused me.

When we got back, I passed out the food and my lovely bride quickly pronounced the little soup chips to be the good ones. I’m not sure how she knew that while they were all still in the baggie, but she was correct. And they were better, and less expensive, than the cookies.

We saw this in the airport on Saturday night in Nashville. Sunday morning, after weather elsewhere delayed our plane, we got back home long after 2 a.m. But we got back. The night before last, then, I made it to bed at about 3:30 a.m. After a week of almost getting on a regular sleep schedule, establishing a routine that would approach a normal person’s sleep schedule, I am immediately back to this.

But the art dangling from the ceiling was cool. We looked at that wondering what it was made of, and how many different sorts of places you could install that. (Not many.)

Last night, we did a thing we weren’t able to do before Christmas. We went to one of the charming nearby small towns and walked among the lights and looked at the store fronts along a half-mile stretch on Main Street. We drive through it from time to time and, daylight or at night, it is perfectly charming. But, finally, we walked and lingered and enjoyed. Lots of antiques, two book stores, three chiropractors, boutique clothing, rental spaces, restaurants and so on. Perfectly charming. It only took us six months to explore it a bit.

This was on one end of our little walk.

I know this fire company traces its roots back to 1704. (The oldest formal unit in the country is found in Boston. It is only 25 years older.) Given the age, and the prominent placement, there’s a great story behind that bell you can see upstairs. I’ll have to ask around about that.

Tomorrow, I’ll show you what was on the other end of our walk. And, probably, talk about riding bikes and whatever else comes up.

Happy 2024!

May 23

Sitting around the table

We drove all afternoon and into the evening on Friday. We got to my mom’s just in time for dinner, barbecue that we’d picked up in Nashville. The three of us sat at the kitchen table and spooned out brisket and sides and had a wonderful and tasty time of it.

Saturday felt like a good day to sleep in, but my shoulders didn’t feel like sleeping in. I’d lay on one side for a while, get a bit achy, roll over to the other side, get a bit achy, and repeat. But with all of that extra time, from the not sleeping in, I pestered my mom to give me things to do to help her around the house. She doesn’t like to give me things to do, because I’ve come to visit her and not to work, but then she likes the help. Also, having had a full lifetime of learning how, I am good at good-naturedly pestering my mother.

So I vacuumed the pool. Then I shimmied up a tall ladder to change a light bulb. After that we upgraded her security system.

She had some homemade chicken salad, which I requested, and bought our dinner. The way I see it, I was working for my food. Also it kept her from having to do a few things and cemented my status as The Best Child.

Sunday morning we went to church with my grandfather. The sign on the outside says the church dates back to 1939, which is a fairly decent amount of time for that hill and holler. Some of my grandfather’s people have lived up there since the state was a territory, so the church is half as old as the roots. I’ve written about this before. My great-grandfather gave the land to the church. He and his wife attended faithfully.

He led the singing, he offered prayers, he oversaw the Lord’s Supper and he helped run the business side of things. When we were visited, he and I would walk back down the street to his home. We raced the rest of the family, who took the car back. This was a big event for a little boy. Sometimes we won. But, always, my great-grandfather was game for the race, even when we started going a bit slower. Their son-in-law, my great-uncle, is an elder there today. There are still relatives from three different sides of my family tree that attend there.

It’s also getting grayer and thinner. My lovely bride and I were probably the second youngest people there. But they are lovely and inviting people. Always have been. I’ve visited there my entire life. I am a decades-long visitor.

A few years ago they went to a multimedia format for sermons. The preacher can point to his right and show you verses and illustrations from a PowerPoint or a Presi. This is nothing new, but it still amuses me to see it in this particular place. Occasionally they’d put a song on the screen, something that wasn’t in the hymnal. It’s odd, to me, when that happens. The songbook is an important part of everything.

Yesterday, you couldn’t help but notice the three cameras in the back of the building. This tiny little country church is streaming to the web. Someone writes them, my grandfather said, from another country. This tiny little, graying, country church is going global.

The preacher, a man who’s preached for 50-plus years, surely, mentioned the URL at the end of his sermon.

They’re still working on embedding those videos, though.

Today we chatted with a friend in Germany, giving him all of the best Memorial Day wishes, but as a joke. He’s active duty and it aggravates him to no end when people confuse Memorial Day and Veterans Day, as they often do. I was going to let it go this year, but then we heard a DJ in Nashville on Friday make the error, so then I had to incorporate that into the joke.

He’s going to be retired in the next year or two, but I’m sure we’ll still be sending him fake cards on the wrong days. At least he knows they are fake and in a properly sarcastic spirit.

If he wasn’t overseas we’d have invited him over for lunch. We had burgers and ribs and my grandfather came over, so we played dominos. Here’s my partner, ready to score all of the points.

Over the last four or five years, maybe, my grandfather has been teaching us. That sounds like it takes a long time and that we’re lousy students, but it’s a couple of games a trip, so our progress is uneven. My grandfather and my mom are a team, The Yankee and I are a team. They usually win. There’s no end to his joy at trouncing the college kids. And that is what they often do. All this education, we struggle counting dots. Two years ago, as a gag gift I received my own set of dominos and, to his eternal delight, a little solar powered calculator. We still win about the same amount, despite having the opportunity to practice. And, despite that opportunity, I am still very slow, because I am counting and doing math and trying to remember the rules and see the larger strategies and so on.

We win one or two here or there. The goal is to get to 500 points. He’s doing this math, two or three levels of it, really, in his head. My mother is crunching the numbers in her head. I am pointing at dots and mouthing words, “26, 27, 28 … ” For a good long while this amused him. Now, I think, he just wishes I would get better at it and hurry up and put down my bone so he can score 35 points with a simple flick of his wrist. Probably he’s going to put a time limit on me. That might not be a bad idea, actually.

I am the butt of a lot of jokes while we are playing dominos, but I earn them, and I own them. Once, he sent me a video of him counting dots, fiddling with his dominos, dropping them on the table, counting more dots. It wasn’t trash talk, it was trash gesturing. Without saying a word, he deconstructed my entire game, such as it is. He was completely absorbed in the tiles in his hand, and he only looked up at the camera at the very end, to smile. How can you not love that? Plus, my being the punchline makes him laugh, which is one of the all time best things.

Occasionally things break our way in the game, and we’ll win a hand. Today, for the first time ever I think, we won two games in a row. Also, late in one hand I found myself understanding the dominos that were still in play. I may have to count the dots, but I am learning to count tiles.

I resolved to get my dominos and start practicing even more.

Feb 23

I want a Montezuma University Medical College t-shirt

Sorry for the abrupt Friday post. I was apparently tired. That night I went to bed early, feel asleep reading and slept the whole night through. I woke at an, well a normal time for a Saturday morning, I guess. But that meant 12 full hours of sleep. Felt great on Saturday! So good that I was still awake at 4 a.m.

Ahh, the biorhythms.

Bookies are now taking action on when I’ll wear down this week.

Let’s start off with the reason why you showed up on Monday, the site’s most popular weekly feature, the check in on the kitties.

We’ve had some periodic morning sun, lately. And whatever the number of times is required to make something a habit for a cat has been met.

Now, they are waiting, each day, in this spot. The sun isn’t always poking through the clouds, but they’re here on this carpet, on spec. Roll back the curtains, people, there might be some sunlight.

Being cats, Phoebe and Poseidon will lounge in it indulgently as long as they can.

So the cats are doing well. Their biggest news is that Poe got in a scuffle with his sister and she marked his nose pretty good. It’s healing well, which is good. His pink nose is a big part of his charm.

Though I did not ride on Friday because, ya know, sleep, I’d like to think I made up for it a bit.
I got in 40 miles on Saturday. I had six Strava PRs, including two climbing segments which I will never be able to equal. Mostly because I was chasing my lovely bride.

We took another ride on Sunday, and I ticked 33 more miles into my legs. It was slower, but steady, I guess. Never felt like I could accelerate. Couldn’t drop The Yankee, but I surely did try. Somehow I took 6:09 off my best time up a cat 2 climb. I am not a climber. Even though Zwift gave me the polka dot jersey on Saturday.

And then, the weirdest thing happened this evening. I decided to spin out an easy recovery ride. Then I forgot about the recovery part, I guess. I set three more Strava PRs, and took 1:26 off another climb.

So it is shaping up to be an interesting year on the bike, I suppose. Or a perfectly average year, who even knows.

The 2023 Zwift route tracker: 66 routes down, 58 to go.

(If you’re following that little tidbit, you might have noticed that the math has changed here. Turns out I was using a slightly outdated route list. Four new routes were added since last November, so there’s your mathematical inconsistency. This list is accurate, until Zwift adds the Scotland routes in March. Basically, there’s plenty still to do, hopefully most of it before I take the bike off the trainer and start riding exclusively outside again.)

The hardest part of having a couple hundred books waiting to be read is trying to decide which interesting thing to choose next. I solved that problem yesterday. Instead of grabbing one book, I selected the next three. And I’m starting with the great Willie Morris and his memoir, North Toward Home.

There aren’t many memoirs that appeal to me for a variety of reasons. But Willie Morris, above talking about one of his ancestors, is in a different category. If I could write like anyone the boy from Yazoo City, Mississippi would be on the very short list.

This is a third edition of his memoir, the first run was in 1967. The language can be problematic, particularly in these early stages of the book. The kid that would become a not-quite-singular progressive voice from the South grew up in those small towns and visit those hollers and delta swamp lands and live it before he could wrestle with desegregation and coming of age in a time of deep and lasting change. We’ll get to that later in the book, I’m sure. First, there are rich memoir moments, like the nearly universal nature of the southern church experience. There was much nodding along. Two generations later, and a state to the east, there are many similarities.

And, here, his first time in a Catholic church.

I recall my first visit to a Catholic church, but not as clearly as all of that. The story goes like this.

The town was founded by a coal man, a Methodist and a Democrat, in 1886. Henry DeBardeleben was the ward of one of the state’s first industrialists, and inherited, or otherwise acquired, much of his assets. The quintessential New South industrialist, DeBardeleben decided to create a town near the booming Birmingham to exploit the local iron and steel resources and their dirty, important, industries. One of his sons continued the family trade, becoming a coal magnate in the first half of the 20th century, but he was an Episcopalian and a Republican. So the DeBardeleben name is important in that region, but the second generation German immigrant’s neighbors, the Italian and Irish immigrants, were the ones that built the first local Catholic church.

There was a 50-room hotel, which first appeared at the New Orleans World’s Fair in 1884. For 10 years after DeBardeleben bought it and had it moved to his new city. He lived there for a time, in the hotel, the former headquarters of Mexico’s delegation to the World’s Fair, on the 10 acre lot. The railroad marked one border, a local creek tributary, today little more than an oversized and running drainage ditch, marked another. For 10 years the Montezuma was a hotel, for three more it was Montezuma University Medical College, then it burned, in 1899. That’s where the first Catholic church in the area held their services. Today there’s a pharmacy, a closed foundry and low income housing in the hotel’s footprint.

Just before the fire, the church got their own land from the city, a choice spot, just in the direction the city would grow and thrive for the next few generations. They built a frame school building, then replaced it in 1912 with a modern brick building, the first of its kind around, and there they thrived for decades.

I went to mass there once with an elementary school friend and his family. My friend was the oldest kid. He had a brother and a sister. Both of his parents were educators. They had the first remote control I ever saw. We were friends until I changed schools in the 5th grade, and eventually grew apart. But he’s still there, working in medicine or some such. I wonder if he still goes to mass. The parish he grew up in was a full, ornate building. I remember the colors being rich and dark low, and growing lighter as you looked toward the ceiling. I am sure the room was smaller than my memory. There were the solemn processions, the costumed finery, the purification and sanctification of the incense, the call and answer, both joyous and monotone. All of it different. All of it interesting. None of it mine.

The church stayed in that spot until it burned in 1989. A century between fires. They still have a convent on that block. There’s a halfway house and a law firm there, too. The local board of education is across the side street. Across the way today there’s the “Opportunity Center,” and the Homeless Education Program.

The church built their new parish four miles away, again, in the direction where the city was still (somewhat, somehow) growing. Last Christmas they celebrated 30 years there. I bet I’m the only person who has found a vague, passing, unintentional, similarity between the Montezuma and their current building.

I’ve been to one or two other Catholic services elsewhere. I saw Catholics before a mass praying for Pope John Paul as he lay dying. I even watched mass at Saint Peter’s Basilica. Those last two I can remember clearly, but I was an adult by then.

I think that’s the problem I’d have writing a memoir, and the pure genius of Willie Morris. Look at all he gives us in a half of a paragraph. Look at the space I filled up in 600 or so words.

Also, there’s the issue of memory.

Nov 22

An apple, a bike, and some venerable newspaper departures

Another day, another new kind of apple. This is the Cosmic Crisp — a cultivar of the Enterprise and Honeycrisp varieties. It is another product of Washington state, and also Washington State. The producers say it has the perfect balance between sweet and tart.

It was firm, it was crisp. The skin had a tartness, but the flesh had a nice, mild sweetness. There was a little spice to it, which seemed to come and go, so every bite was something of an adventure.

I didn’t want this apple to end, and how often do you say that about produce? So I’m glad I bought an extra for another day.

I went for a bike ride this evening, which means I can get a new shadow selfie. Let’s check in.

Looking good, shadow self, looking good.

This ride was my third ride since The Yankee crashed in September. I think I’m finally getting back to being able to spend some time in the saddle again, just in time for the season to end. But you take what you get in a place that has winter — and you wonder why you subject yourself to such a thing. Anyway, just three rides in six weeks gave this one a distinctive “your ride is hard, but good, and you don’t know if your lungs or legs are burning more and you’re amazed at how well you just got over all three hills and then realized you weren’t on the third, but just topping out on the second hill” feeling.

It was a 22-mile ride, over the usual roads. I was just racing the sunset, and I’ve done these roads enough, and I’m slow enough to do the math, so I know exactly when to get back before it gets dark and spooky outside. And, today, that means 22 miles. Actually it meant 21, but I snuck in the last mile cruising around in front of my closest neighbors.

And do you know what? I’m going to go for another ride this weekend.

Let’s do something different. Let’s check in on a social media account I started a long time ago.

This has been an inevitability since 2010 or so, in keeping with the evolving ecosystem, so it isn’t surprising. It is still sad. It is still unfortunate.

I worked for the predecessor of AMG for four years, from 2004 until 2008. and it’s parent, Everyday Alabama, were in a huge growth phrase. Those three papers were in a growing pains phase. Each of those papers were still dailies, and their newsrooms were filled with brilliant and talented print journalists. Some moved on. Some retired. The ones that could cross the philosophical divide that argued against being strictly a print journalist stayed on, with some success. They went to an online-first model in 2012, well after I’d returned to academia, and now the next phase is upon us. These are the three last dailies in three of the state’s four largest cities. (The state capital’s Montgomery Advertiser is owned by Gannett, a lament for another day.) I grew up reading The Birmingham News and The Huntsville Times, and the Press-Register is a paper that inspired us all as journalism majors.

The News debuted in 1888, The Times launched in 1910 and the P-R traces its roots as the state’s oldest paper back to 1813. Just as the newsrooms have lost a lot of institutional knowledge in the last 20 years of change, the three cities are losing the last of their civic center, good corporate neighbors, a vast trove of history and a lot, lot more.

Alabama Media Group has had its successes, and their newsroom is growing. There are some talented people there, still. As the product has changed, though, so has the work.

I was, perhaps, among the last groups of print journalists trained by journalists who were themselves directly inspired by Woodward and Bernstein, hard-writing scribes who cut their teeth on civil rights era coverage. I was trained by some of those people as a watchdog journalist and that was an amazing education. (The difference between me and them and some of my peer group is that I was more interested in the journalism than the medium — and that has been an important distinction at various parts of my career.) This is where we get to the hammer-nail part of this conversation.

Part of the problem with those newsroom cutbacks in the aughts and teens meant that more and more local government got less and less coverage. It is hard to be a watchdog when you’re not in the room, you can’t be familiar with the ins and outs when you’re not in the room, and if no one is on the beat, no one is filing the stories or the FOIA requests. Eventually, the locals notice the reporters aren’t there anymore, and they start acting like it. Sunshine is a disinfectant, and offers a fair amount of accountability, but without that … what are we left with? There’s a level of granular coverage that has gone missing that won’t come back in this model, and the people are the losers. The truth of that is obvious, even as these business moves reflect consumer appetites.

And how is all of this going over? Let’s just look at the quoted retweets.

A former colleague:

A friend who runs a nearby hyperlocal paper.

Another of those former colleagues, one who moved on to greener pastures.

I could write several hundred more words on this before delving into the highly technical, but maybe the point is already here. Some things will be gained; a lot will be lost. I suppose entropy and progress have always been that way.

Sep 22

What do you know?

I was right.

Much like yesterday, this is also where we spent this afternoon.

I spent the morning at a bank, because somehow a simple task required the full morning. This is fun, though: the woman on the other side of the desk, is my step-cousin-twice-removed-in-law.

Yes, that’s a thing. I’ve just typed it into existence because there’s a chart and I have verified the information.

It reminds me of something a professor once said about hometowns and mobility. His general premise was that if you stay in that place, and your family is from there and you marry there, you’ll likely find yourself with someone in your own clan. Well, I’ve never lived here, but all of my people are from here and they married people. All it took, in this case, was finding out her husband’s name. That man’s grandfather was the brother of my step-grandfather’s grandfather. We’ve never met at reunions, the banker and her husband, but we know about the summer stews.

Small bank, smaller world.