Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Grand Slam Giveaway Revisited

Interesting story on CBS last night about Denny's Grand Slam Giveaway and other similar instances of corporate kindness. Bottom line: it pays to be nice.

But I already knew that. In January 2003, Outback came to Afghanistan. It was the best meal I had during an entire deployment, and the gratitude I felt for it was hard to describe, especially considering that the folks who prepared it had no choice but to live our lives for a few days. For them, I expect it was an adventure. For us, a taste of home and, however corny you may think it, a reminder of why we were there. I still prefer Outback when I want a salad, steak, potato, and black bread. And not needing an armed escort to get the Bloomin' Onion to the table doesn't take a thing away from how great it tastes.

By the way, pay attention to the end of the video to learn when Denny's is going to do it again. Take a friend.

Watch CBS Videos Online

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Into the Wild

Let me say up front, I can't speak for the book (I haven't read it), but the movie was easily one of the three best I saw last year.

But I'm not here to review either. This post is about my brush with that world. On the way from Charleston, SC, to Cumming, GA, last Friday, I stopped for gas in Columbia. As I filled the Jeep's tank, I noticed four young people sitting on the curb of the gas station. I think I knew without being told that they were looking for a ride. The next time I glanced at them, the sign you'll see in the photo below was obvious. I was already considering giving them a ride when Susie made eye contact. "Are you headed west on I-26?"

Whether by necessity or purely by choice, as in the case of Christopher McCandless, the four of them are living the life that movie dramatizes. It was an interesting couple of hours. I took the photo when I let them out just before the I-26/I-385 split and sent them on their way with a little green to buy dinner. They were on their way from Savannah, where they'd joined the biggest St. Patrick's Day celebration in the US, to Asheville.

The story deserves better telling than the short shrift I'm giving it here, but hey, I'm doing some traveling of my own--in the space of ten seconds earlier today, I crossed from Colorado, to Utah, to Arizona, to New Mexico about three times each.

I did not stop to set my watch going in and out of Arizona.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Reruns: If It Works for the Networks

Then maybe I can make it work here.

If you remember Monday's post, and if you're keeping track, then you know I'm only on line 5 of a 13 line itinerary. And travel plans keep shifting. No rental cars available at Charleston Thursday (I failed to account for spring break), so I drove, yet again, from Atlanta in order to teach my classes Friday (in just a few hours actually)--after which, I'll drive back to Atlanta, so that I can fly to Colorado on Saturday. I'll need a break to recover from spring break.

A number of new readers have joined lately, so I thought I'd suggest a few older posts worth returning to, especially if you're still working on figuring out just what this "Doc" guy is really all about. One of these days, I'll put together a "Greatest Hits" list (read: my favorites, whether they were hits or not). Meanwhile, here are a few I'm not ashamed of.

If you're new to They Rode On and you're here because you like to read the more contemplative things I write, then any of those above you haven't seen yet should be worth your time. Enjoy.

How many more do I need for the book deal? ;-)

Monday, March 16, 2009

Where am I?

I will need a GPS wristwatch to keep track of where I am for the next few weeks. Here's the sleep schedule I'm now beginning, offered to beg forgiveness in advance for light blogging:

  • Charleston, one night, with four happy college kids in a normally lonely dwelling
  • Cumming, Georgia, two nights
  • Charleston, one night
  • Houston, three nights
  • Charleston, one night
  • Cumming, one night
  • Colorado Springs, one to four nights, depending
  • Ouray, one, two, or no nights, depending, but looking less likely
  • Colorado Springs, one night, maybe
  • Cumming, one night, maybe two
  • Pittsburgh, one night
  • Cumming, one night
  • back to Charleston
I'll blog when I can. Forgive me if I don't.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Lotus Eaters

Rhythmic, gentle rain,
Heart heard, ear to chest--sleep's soft,
Seducing soundtrack.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Facebook: Networked Time Travel

I've had a Facebook site for years. I have daughters. With one in college and one in high school, I found it prudent to have both MySpace and Facebook sites, to be among their friends, and to remind them now and then of some of the pitfalls of our digital age. The day they are either one uncomfortable with my visiting their sites will be the day I know I need to worry. Until then, I consider it a privilege. It's like being asked along when the one daughter's college crowd, home for the holidays, invited me to visit the hookah bar with them. Having photos of that posted on one of their Facebook sites was another matter. But they're smart kids--the brightest in their class--and they were quick to discreetly remove those when asked.

But back to the topic of Facebook itself. You can find a good academic discussion of it here, or you can sign up for an account here. But the main point of this post will take less time to make than the intro itself. It's been made before elsewhere multiple times, but I'll say it for yucks anyway: if you have any stock in Classmates.com, sell it two years ago. Facebook is free. I've connected with more classmates via Facebook in the last week than in the entire existence of Classmates.com. That is probably true of the two networks as a whole. Classmates was a decent idea, just never worth the money. Facebook, on the other hand, figured out how to make free, pay. And therein lies the secret of their success.

It will flourish for a bit and then eventually settle into a more sane background hum for most of us, but during its current explosion, every day is like a class reunion of sorts. While the college kids still own the Facebook network in some ways, the current explosion of membership is being fueled by those kids' parents and everyone between. And for us, a lot of those friend requests are invitations to remember something we thought was gone forever: our youth. When you get a note from someone from whom you've not heard in 30 years, the face you attach to that note is his or her younger face, and with it, all those younger emotions that surround it. You can keep your mafia wars, your green beer, your time-wasting competitive Facebook applications of every variety. I have enough to do meeting my day-to-day obligations already. But those aspects of the service based on genuine human communication with people I care about, once cared about, or should care about--those I will steal the time for.

For it's better than stealing time. It's more like reclaiming it, if only for a bit. It reminds us, this time travel of sorts, that the things we liked best about ourselves before life chipped and dented and hardened our souls are still there within us. The person we were then is as ever present today as the person we would become was in every second leading to this now. I am never quite sure which way the memories flow best or how much of each experience is the result of the other. Is this pleasure all built on the recall of that, or is that pleasure as firmly founded in the destiny of this. Was premembering then as important to the moment as remembering is now? I think so. I think Merlin knows so.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Snapshot: Two Falls

Eighty degrees in March is not a thing I'm accustomed to, nor the rattling of these leaves across pavement, a rattling that is like a second fall. Charleston's trees, like huskies it seems, shed twice a year or in shifts. And so, my mind and memory are lost this morning. The patio door stands open and the sounds themselves are conflated, conflicted, and confused. The birdsong wakens the sleeping neuron repositories of all the southern springs I've lived and all those I've missed in other lands and climes, but those leaves . . . those leaves, whatever they really are, my mind knows as the sound of water oaks' sheddings driven like horizontal cataracts down Stephens St as I sit in my Spitfire in my driveway in Goldsboro with the top down and sip dry sack sherry in the manner of that Falstaff whose discretion was no form of valor at all and listen to JT's Dad Loves His Work and have no inkling yet of the choices good and bad that will take my life from that more timely autumn to this second fall that is like, in so many ways, a second spring too, not outside that patio screen so much as within. And within, all time present in every moment, old ties renewed touch better selves only dormant. A squadron of phoenixes. And always, gratitude for and comfort in the harbor that exists, away from this harbor town, but within always. Days, and there again and whole.

Monday, March 9, 2009

On Eyewitness Testimony

I watch the news most mornings while I breakfast. On Mondays, it's 60 Minutes. This morning (last night's show), it was an episode with a segment that matters a great deal to a very good friend. If you have time, and if you have interest in our justice system, you may be astonished to learn just how unreliable eyewitness testimony can be, and why.

Watch CBS Videos Online

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Spend Some Quality Time with Random Thoughts

Busy weekend unplugged. At the DZ yesterday and this morning--spent the night in the bunkhouse. I'm gettin' too old for that.

Jumped three times yesterday and made what was probably the only load this morning before the winds picked up. Last night's excitement was the ladder truck coming out to get a jumper out of a tree. The jump before that, she was with me. She landed in the middle of the student pit and I have the video to prove it. Her jump on the sunset load was her final checkout jump. I don't remember there being a "tree landing" block on the A-license card, but if there were, she could check it off now. :-D She was bruised but still smiling!

When the winds canxed us today, I left early to swing by and say hello to my mother on the way back to Charleston. Watched a little of the race and heard the best line of the day. Originally, it was going to be the sole content of this post as the Quote of the Day, but then I was afraid of what it might imply without some backstory. At any rate, here it is, as heard during a commercial break:

"Spend some quality time with Viagra dot com."

Right. I didn't know you could have that meaningful a relationship with a web site. I'll just leave that there and head to bed. I'm still jet lagged from springing forward. That's my excuse and I'm sticking to it.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Beer Pong Herpes

My mid-term exams contained objective portions that allowed me to grade with other media playing in the background, thus the earlier CBS news post. From there, I moved on to more serious news sources and stories like the one below. I frequently give people a hard time who forward things to me without first exercising some due diligence. This piece is about what happens when news "professionals" are guilty of the same thing. It's four minutes long, but worth it. Clear out some space because you're likely to be ROTFL.

I Want An Office In This Building

Life should have some fun in it.

Watch CBS Videos Online

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Bulldog Basketball

The Bulldogs won again last night.

With the victory, the Bulldogs improve to 20-11 on the season and 15-5 in conference play. Ed Conroy, one of 10 finalist for the Hugh Durham National Coach of the Year award, led his team to the school’s second 20-win season. Les Robinson led his 1979 team to the program’s first 20-win season. With 20 wins, the Bulldogs have become one of the most successful teams in school history.
As I read the recap of last night's game--which earned the Citadel team the number two seed in the Southern Conference tournament--I noticed that three of the seven players mentioned by name are my students. So are another four on the roster. That means that, in all, more than a third of the Citadel men's basketball players are my students. And they're good students to boot. Lucky me. Lucky Citadel. I'm already a fan of most of my students, but I may have to become a basketball fan too.

Snow Day, Inside and Out

Life is about choices, about balancing what we want with what we need, what and whom we will be near with what and whom we will miss.

Missing my daughter in Colorado is a constant ache, a dull throb like that of a tooth that you walk around with your tongue over to protect. It might be different if she had reached the age to fly the nest and left for college, but instead, the nest disintegrated around her, and with all the other changes in the world last year, her father retired from one job and came to South Carolina to take another. Being apart was a given. Where I would be was the choice--somewhere in this country, or in another land, half a globe away.

But there is balance. That throb of missing one daughter is constant, but on the other side of the scale, I am in the same time zone with almost everyone else that I so dearly love. I see her older sister every few weeks, one way or another. I even see the younger every six weeks or so, sometimes more often, sometimes a little less. There is Facebook and MySpace and text and e-mail and video messaging, but bear hugs and butterfly kisses don't quite translate through those things.

What brought all this on today was seeing photos in The Salisbury Post of the snow in the neighborhood of my childhood home. Those photos reminded me how glad I am to be here, in the South, on this side of the world where most of my heart resides. Originally, that had been the topic I intended to post. Funny how the truth outs itself. The joy is pure and transporting, and instantly balanced by the throb of an absence that will never completely fade, for either of us I expect. I look at the scenes of snow, think of the gray skies covering a world that seems to light itself from the bottom up, and think, "She'd like this . . . but her head would be awfully cold today." (That would be because she took part in a benefit for cancer at her school, and is now sporting the hairstyle of Natalie Portman in V for Vendetta.)

I drove back from Georgia through that snow on Sunday night and into Monday morning. It's the first time the Jeep has been in 4WD since Colorado, but it was in that mode for well over an hour during that trip. I chose to come the southern route, through Athens and Augusta on US-78 rather than through Greenville on I-85 and I-26. It was, so far as I could tell from the news yesterday, a good decision. Though the major shutdown of the interstate appears to have occurred slightly north of my route, it could just as easily have been me out there stuck for seven hours. Surface roads don't have that problem. You can always go around. But stuck on an interstate is stuck. And by driving late that night, I avoided the only real obstacle a 4WD Jeep Grand Cherokee outfitted with fresh, new tires would face: other drivers. In all, the alternate route and snow together added less than an hour to the trip, and was, actually, rather beautiful.

As for what inspired this post, you can see a gallery of photos from readers of The Charlotte Observer here. (The Salisbury Post is closer to home and has better photos, but is too worried about their copyright to post images of sufficient quality to even be enjoyable on the gallery. "Buy this photo" teases one button on their site. Well, if I could see it, I might be tempted, but . . .)

Here are a couple of the better ones from the Observer. Enjoy.