My ‘Seven Bridges Road’ weekend

‘Sometimes, there’s a part of me…
has to turn from here and go’ 

It was a dark time in my life on all fronts – love, friends, money, comfort – all of it seemingly gone. It was 2008-2010. Those years blend together for me as the worst of my life.

I lost friends, had no money, hadn’t found my strength yet – my job was tiring and thankless, my future dark and agonizing. I was a few years removed from my mother’s death, and still not OK with it (probably never will be). Friends I’d had for more than 20 years were falling by the wayside. Everyone I knew was getting married or in committed relationships, including my roommate, who moved out amid all this. He owed me tons of money, money I desperately needed to keep my house from being foreclosed on and my car from getting repossessed. I often wrote one check on payday to Reasor’s, the big grocery store chain in Oklahoma, writing the check as much over for cash as they’d allow. That way, I had food and a little bit of cash for whatever. I’d pay my bills after that, and usually, my money for those next two weeks would be gone.

I didn’t have money for going out much. Fortunately, I had a cool job that let me go to concerts for free sometimes. Or I’d get tickets to something through the newspaper or friends. Looking back, I got by on the kindness of strangers many times.

Near the beginning of my dark period, a messy relationship had ended, much to my angst and chagrin, and I just kind of gave up on everything. It’s like I went into hibernation for three years, only emerging to go to work or a Drillers baseball game (tickets were around $6 – good, cheap entertainment and usually cheap beer too… there was healing at those games too, but that’s another blog.)

But one weekend, after feeling like all I wanted to do was run away and join a band of itinerant welders, I had a bit of free cash and some credit left on plastic. So I rented a small travel-trailer in Tahlequah, my exodus spot for the last 25 years. I went alone and told no one I was going except my brother, who still lived in Tahlequah, should I need reinforcements or a bear-trapper. I made a CD, packed a notebook and books, and drove to Tahlequah for a secluded weekend – it was pre-summer, so no one was at the lodge where I stayed. I was hopeless, which was a new feeling for me.

But then I drove to Tahlequah.

I’m not going to say it was like some elixir that magically cured what ailed me. That took time. But that day – that trip down Highway 10, a sacred place in my heart – will stay with me forever. Now I know it was a trip filled with magic, one I reflect back on often.

That CD I’d burned was full of wistful, melodic masterpieces to make me think. I didn’t even know at that time what those songs would become in my heart – a lot of Jimmy Buffett, Beck, Jackie Wilson and one surprise song that I still believe has healing powers: “Seven Bridges Road” by the Eagles.

As I topped a big hill along Highway 10, the CD player in my Corolla ticked to that song. (I’m not a huge Eagles fan, but had realized I liked that song and included it on that mix for some reason.) It starts slowly: “There are stars in the southern sky…southward as you go.” Then that speedy acoustic guitar kicks in, and then Don Henley starts singing.

The money line for me is “Sometimes there’s a part of me… has to turn from here and go… Running like a child from these warm stars, down the Seven Bridges Road.”

That line played as I crested a final hill before Arrowhead Resort in Cherokee County. And it felt like God was patting me on the back. It felt like all the forces in the world were saying, “Welcome to the country. We’ve been waiting for you. Leave your sorrows on the shore and don’t bother to pick them up when you leave.”

That weekend, I listened to that song about 300 times. I stayed in my little travel-trailer and wrote hot garbage that I wouldn’t try to publish even if it meant $1 million guaranteed. (I hate my emo-laden writing. I feel like a wuss after I read it.) I cried, ate a lot, wallowed, rectified, rationalized, drank a lot, slept a lot – and listened to a ton of music, all looking for meaning.

I got over my pain and suffering on that Sunday. I left my BS on the shore, where it belonged. I returned to work on Monday, not completely healed, but wrung out. I felt stripped down, but ready to start building again.

It was the hardest three years of my life. And 2011 wasn’t that great either, but it was the year I finally got angry enough at my situation to look for something else. It was the year ESPN hired me and I loaded up the truck and moved to Bristol-eeeee…

But every time I hear that song now, like I did first thing this morning, I’m back in my Toyota, cresting that hill, listening to “Seven Bridges Road” like it was going to save my life.

I think, in a way, it did.

It will always be a favorite song. And that weekend, though I spent it alone and sad, was a time of great independence and healing – condensed to one weekend, of course. I don’t know why I need to go to the hills when my heart is lonely, but that Julie Andrews was on to something.

I’ve got other places here in Connecticut that fill the void of my nirvana in Cherokee County. The Farmington Trails are glorious, and even paved so I can ride my bike. But nothing can top that weekend in the boggy banks of the pre-summer Illinois River. I think my weekend alone was the beginning of my fearlessness period, one I hope I never exit.

Oh, and one more thing – I still hate “Hotel California.”

 

 

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Filed under Love, Music, Oklahoma, Relationships, Tahlequah, Travel

An open letter to star athletes from a media member (with love)

You have no reason to know who I am – and that’s OK with me. I’m not the story here.

But I am a member of “the media.” I’m not sorry about that, either.

You see, just like a lot of words that have become victims of overuse, the words “The Media” now have a negative connotation – like the words liberal and conservative. These nebulous, undefined groups of people are placed in these categories, and it’s like signing your birth certificate – it can’t be changed. You ARE THE MEDIA. You’re with us or against us. You’re someone who fawns over us, or you’re a detractor.

The media itself has become a sort of whipping post for athletes. Not that the media isn’t used to it – over the years, it has taken the blame for various and sundry illnesses, conditions, social behaviors and accidents in athletic and news fields. Your kid is a hellion? Media. You don’t like the president, or what he’s saying? Media spin, liberal media, lamestream media. Tired of nearly-naked people gyrating on TV? Clearly all the media’s fault. Your kid saw something violent on the news and re-enacted it? Not the parents fault – it’s the media.

Or my personal favorite: “I’m just here so I won’t get fined.”

Did you ever have to do something that you knew you were going to get yelled at about? Did you ever think, “God, I wish I didn’t have to do this, but my job requires it of me.”

Well, Marshawn, and those he’s inspired with his faux-rebellious “revolution” against the media, guess what – we’re just doing our jobs so we don’t get fired. And we know you hate it, but we have to. Just like you have to lash out because you’re so very tough.

The media, you see, didn’t just decide to cover you one day. The media, your red football for anger lately, has been kicking with you since that first scout saw some potential. The media – or maybe, just one member of the media – saw you one day and said, “Wow, check this dude out. The scouts were right. I’m going to watch him, write about him, do a Sunday package about him.” That reporter, or editor, or columnist, became, in essence, a fan with a pen and forum. You were the new subject line, and we had to learn everything we could about you. FAST.

In fact, Marshawn, when you were in high school, you welcomed the media. You shouted into microphones about winning your high school state title. You beamed with sunshine and light as cameras captured your real feelings about the win:

You were joyous. Funny. A pleasure.

Then you went and got too big for your britches, as we’d say in my home state. And we, the media, had a hand in creating some of that too. But instead of saying, “You know what, I don’t really want to talk about this –can we just talk about the game? Or whatever” you decided to make it personal.

I’m not saying the media is perfect. Heavens to Betsy, no. But in Marshawn’s case, and in those under the cascade of ire that fell beneath him, it seems like you just want a kick dog, a cause, something to be angry at. SOMEONE TO BLAME. I want to remind you of this – we’re people too. And athletes used to say they didn’t care what people wrote, didn’t care what reporters said about them. Something changed, and I’m not sure what it was, other than maybe social media.  Do you like it when you’re blamed for losing a game? Of course not. We hate losing at our game too.

Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, two of my favorite athletes ever, are buying into what Marshawn was selling, and so will countless others. Marshawn, trendsetter and junk-grabber that he is, created a wide-open path of hatred that can easily be trod, with him skipping down the center of the aisle, strewing vitriol left and right like an overgrown flower girl. Others saw how much attention the media gave his antics and thought, you know what, I’m sick of them too. Russ and KD are angry, which, as a fan, kind of excites me. They’re taking on an “us vs. them” mentality, which is sometimes good for the win-loss column. But, as a member of the vile “media,” I am kind of scared by this too.

Selfishly, I want my guys to be the good guys. I want them to be the guys in white hats, not a bunch of Bill Laimbeers (though I’d like to see more Laimbeer style on the court!) I like my media darling KD. I love being able to say, “He’s one of us Oklahomans.”

But they’re mad. And I kind of get it. I really do. Having to sit at a table surrounded by people clamoring to know more about you — that’s got to be hard. Now that I work for the Worldwide Leader in Sports, I understand the push and pull from us vs. them. We swarm, like other members of the media. We are always there, watching you play, following you on Twitter and Instagram, tracking your every move. We say things about you in print that are hurtful sometimes. We write headlines that we didn’t mean (Mr. Unreliable, anyone?) We jump on you when you’re down, and we probably don’t do enough to tell you that you’re doing a good job. Because we’re the biggest dogs on the block, we absorb the most hits. But we’re ESPN, so we can take it. (But it does suck reading bad things about your business all the time on Twitter.)

I am a good empathizer. I can understand how it must feel to be under the microscope your entire career. I can understand how you just really want to be left alone, how you think we don’t know what we’re talking about (agreed, we sometimes don’t), and how you just want to get away from all of it and be by yourself and not deal with any of this.

Now I want you, dear athlete, to empathize a little. Do your part – it’s that simple. Show up, play the literal game, then the figurative one after the game – the media part.

Think about it – you’re a big enough deal that the entire country wants to see you on TV. You’re a big enough deal that people write about you on a daily basis, checking your stats, your trends, your ebbs and flows, EVERY SINGLE DAY.

You’re a big enough deal that kids, adults and grandparents wear your name on the back of a T-shirt or jersey TO CHURCH.

Now, if we, the media, ignored that, we’d be sucking at our jobs. Most of us are just as competitive or fiery as you (though not in as good a shape, we admit.) We want to be good at our jobs. We want to get a scoop. And some of us don’t do that in the best ways.

But we, really, aren’t a “we.” Behind all of it, we’re people, writing about people. Sometimes writing about people makes people mad. But you move on – and you should too, athletes. Move on – read something else. Pay no attention. Quit saying you ARE paying attention in the media scrum. Comments like “You don’t know anything” and “You’re just the media, I hate you” don’t do much for me, and make you look small in my mind. Plus, it creates a hostile workplace for us. More and more athletes will join this crusade against the media, when really, they should just weather the storm and keep moving. And fans are joining in now too. The same fans who will buy our papers by the dozen when they have your face emblazoned on the cover, hoisting some sort of trophy over your head. They’ll love us then. For the moment – the ever-fleeting moment.

Because guess what? Just like our non-athletic asses will someday be dragging the floor, yours might too. This “blame the media” thing won’t fly if you’re not performing. It just won’t. It will look weak. Marshawn’s antics came from a catbird seat – he’s at the peak of his game now. We just sit in awe as he slashes and burns his way to the end zone (and in my case, turn around in disgust when he grabs his business. I mean, come on, it’s gross) and can’t say much else to him, because, well, he’s a stud. Same can be said about many athletes today who are angry at the media.

 

But we have to report about them NOW. Someday, we won’t. Someday, their stars will fade. Someday, when their knees have been surgered too many times to count, they might see what we were trying to do – build around the excitement of THEM. Of that moment. Of that One Shining Moment. We were giving them a moment – THEIR moment, that they earned. Do you want future fans to look back at you and think, “Why was he such a jerk to the media?” Maybe you do. And that’s your bidness.

I don’t blame you for being annoyed sometimes. Super Bowl week, during the whole Marshawn situation, I tried to get to the bottom of who assigns these guys to talk, who enforces them to come to the podium, if it’s part of their contracts. Well, it’s not an easy answer. It’s a little of this, a little of that. Media participation is included in contracts, as well as mammoth TV deals that give teams and leagues huge amounts of cash to play with and millions of eyes watching. Deciding who has to talk to the media  involves the team, reporters, publicists, and the league itself, as well as the league’s union and Collective Bargaining Agreement. The league and team don’t come to the media’s defense during the Blame Game, even though they, too, have a hand in sending athletes to the podium. But they sure don’t mind letting the media be The Fall Guys. I can’t say I blame them. Pretty smart move, actually.

So just like you, the athlete, think you’ve got it all figured out, look around – is it really JUST us that’s doing all this to you? And in the grand scheme of things – considering that there are starving people, kids being killed, etc. – is it really THAT big of a deal?

I guarantee you, any – ANY – athlete struggling to come up would trade spots with you. Why not enjoy, endure and excel? Be the bigger person. Channel your inner David Robinson.

DeMarco Murray, or St. DeMarco as he is known in Norman, Okla., said it best during Super Bowl week. I can’t find the exact quote, but it went a little something like this: Yeah, it kind of sucks. But it’s an obligation. I’m lucky to be here. I can do this and I won’t be any worse for the wear (unless I say something stupid out of childishness.)

I guess what I’m saying is, lighten up, guys. You have won the Life Lottery. You make billions in your career to play a game. Just talk to the media, play your game and WIN. Then they won’t have much to say to you, except WOW GREAT JOB.

I am bothered by how many athletes are turning against the media. I want us to get along. I want us to be able to tell your stories, and I want you to be able to tell us how you feel, or how the team feels.

We are not evil lying manipulators  — well, not all of us. We are literally the narrators of the game – the ones who write what you just saw and try to give you some context surrounding it.

We just want to get along with you, share the arena with you and the fans. Most of us – not all – but for the most part, we just want to do our jobs.

We’re just here so we won’t get fired.

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under ESPN, Haters, Kevin Durant, NBA, Politics?, Russell Westbook, The Media!, TV

Why I’m Mad at Kanye West: February 2015 edition

I don’t pay a lot of attention to celebrities. I have met my fair share, especially in the last four years, and what I realized is that most of them – MOST – want to be treated like regular ol’ people. I’m very good at treating people like regular ol’ people, BTW. I find it much easier, as my simple brain can’t discern between night and day, much less “who’s famous-est” and “who’s cool right now because of some dumb YouTube video.”

Beck lists Cain's Ballroom in Tulsa as his favorite venue to play -- I've seen him three times there. (It's my favorite place too!)

Beck lists Cain’s Ballroom in Tulsa as his favorite venue to play — I’ve seen him three times there. (It’s my favorite place too!) He clearly has the best taste.

But Kanye can kiss my, in the words of Della Reese, ENTIRE ASS.

Kanye, once again, shot his mouth off when it wasn’t necessary, angry that Beck won Album of the Year at the Grammys over Beyonce (who, honestly, doesn’t need him to speak for her, but that’s a whole other sidebar.) Hey Kanye – you know how sometimes your team doesn’t win in sports? Sometimes, your team endures a painful loss – because the other team was better at that moment. THAT’s what’s going on here – Beck created a masterpiece that Grammy voters agreed was the best of the year. Kanye, who just like his wife is seeking for everything to either be handed to him or placed IN HIM via surgery, can’t take the time to listen to Beck and realize that, maybe, just maybe, the voters were onto something.

The whole things smacks of some sense of entitlement that Kanye has. And it smacks a bit of some sort of weird belief that the voters were racist in some way.

Well, Kanye, let me help you a bit with this homework – BECK LOVES BLACK PEOPLE AND BLACK MUSIC. On his second album, “Stereopathic Soulmanure,” Beck included the line “Better not let my good gal catch you here,” which I didn’t recognize in 1994 when the album was new. Years later, when I was getting into roots rock and the Delta Blues (from which we all owe a huge debt of gratitude for CREATING MUSIC AS WE KNOW IT!) I was listening to “Ain’t No Tellin’” by Mississippi John Hurt and realized Beck was quoting that song, which is as old as the hills. And that’s just ONE song that illustrates that Beck cherishes and embodies all music styles and folds them into his style. That’s called Respect, Yeezy. Something you lack.

Quit looking for racism when it’s not there, K-West. It’s in plenty of other places – perhaps you should freedom-fight outside the music business, you know, where it might ACTUALLY AFFECT CHANGE. Do something that matters to real people and maybe you won’t be such a joke.

I realize I’m a weirdo music historian. And I do music homework for fun in my spare time. But a little bit of homework, Kanye, never hurt anyone. And it might make you sound just a touch less ignorant.

I want everyone who hasn’t heard of Beck to stop what they’re doing right this minute and listen to these songs, in no particular order:

  1. “Loser.” Because if you’ve never heard of Beck, you should start here.
  2. “New Pollution.” It’s fun, funky, beautiful and approachable. Just like Beck.
  3. “Nobody’s Fault.” Sad, raw, completely heart-wrenching. Perfect for heartbreakers and those who feel they’ve wronged someone: “Treated you like a rusty blade/A throwaway from an open grave/Cut you loose from a chain gang/And let you go.” One of my dearest friends cried every time she heard this song – she said it’s how she felt when she killed a houseplant.
  4. “Get Real Paid.” OK, you like synthetic beats and fast, funky, proud-shit songs about money and chicks and stuff? This is for you.
  5. “Girl.” Ever been so in love you’re sad about it? This song came out when I was going through that exact thing. Beck’s conflicted masterpiece about someone you shouldn’t be with!

That’s a good start, though I’d say give every album, including “Morning Phase” a try – despite what that idiot Kanye said. It’s gorgeous. And completely different from Beyonce.

But guess what? Beyonce and her ilk have dominated the charts and awards shows for the last decade. So maybe a bit of a “Sea Change” (see what I did there?) is occurring in music?

I don’t have anything against Beyonce’s brand of music. It’s not my cup of tea, though I do like a few songs. To me, it just lacks reality. Singing about money, fame and fortune just doesn’t do it for me. Mostly because I don’t really want any of that in my life. To me, Kanye wants to perpetuate a really artificial type of music that doesn’t connect with real people anymore. He’s creating more shallow people who are materialistic because they want to be like him. How can you connect with real people when you live in fame and money and don’t ever get out of your own shadow? How can they not see that you’re just a selfish prick?

I am all about women being famous. And I love that Beyonce has done a lot of good for girls with her fearless attitude. But there’s room for others, Kanye, in your little world. Quit talking until you realize that. And Bey, please stop being seen with this A-hole.

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Filed under Fun!, General Nonsense, Music, Women

Happy Birthday, Erin McClanahan of the Clan McClanahan

Yesterday, for the first time in 20 years or so, I didn’t make a phone call. I didn’t call someone who’s birthday fell on Jan. 18 – though I usually got that wrong, as another one of my best friends, Trey, has a birthday on Jan. 16, so I always got them mixed up. I usually had to call Renae, my life organizer and Best Good Friend, to get it straightened out.

erinmeBut yesterday I remembered clearly.

I didn’t sit around and mourn, mostly because my life allows for so few opportunities for a social life, I took it up on one and spent the day with girlfriends watching football games at a sports bar. I honestly think Erin would have preferred that – not to discount those who mourned him yesterday. He would have expected that too!

But regardless of the fact, he was there, in my mind, his birthday kind of like that song you don’t want to hear that’s playing over and again in your head.

Erin would have been 42 yesterday. My Erin. One of the most special people that ever walked the earth, who didn’t walk it nearly long enough, was born on January 18. He had legendary parties for his birthday – or I think they were for his birthday. We had a lot of parties. Perhaps some were for special occasions. Most, it seemed, were for us to just be around each other. Looking back, I think Erin knew he had to jam as much fun as possible into his life, because maybe he kinda knew – like my mom did – that his days were numbered.

On Friday of last week, on two separate occasions, I made comments about “my last meal,” kind of offhand comments about food I like. I thought, “I wonder what Erin would have wanted his last meal to be.” Probably a “fish-o-filet, heavy on the tar-tar” from McDonald’s. Or really, anything from McD’s. He’d want his grandma’s chicken and dumplings. He’d want beans and cornbread, Indian tacos, chicken casserole – something like that.

Because try as you might, you could not change Erin. You couldn’t get him to stop eating McD’s. Ever. It was his favorite post-bar treat. It was his favorite breakfast. For someone who took pride in his appearance and worked to make sure he wasn’t gaining weight, he sure liked to wolf down the McDonald’s.

Again, I think it’s because he knew. Live it up, he told himself. He wasn’t a teetotaler. In fact, his partying ways had a direct hand in his untimely death.

But I’m not sure, looking back, if Erin would have wanted it otherwise. He certainly didn’t try to change, even when he knew he was sick.

That’s not why I started writing today – I’ve spent the last several months since Erin died in this weird place where I forget every now and then that he’s gone. I think that’s a product of working where I do, the place that occupies my mind most of the time. It’s when I’m alone at night, when the dog is sleeping and the cats are satisfied, when the email is tended to and the laundry is put away, when I’ve forced food down my throat (eating has become a chore lately, but that’s a blog for another time) and I’m in the twilight of my evening, when Erin comes to me in my memory. It’s usually something funny. I have adopted so many of Erin’s phrases that I don’t even think about them being his sometimes. I think of something funny that happened at work and how I’d like to tell Erin.

Now, grief is no new thing for me, which I think has made Erin’s death different for me. You see, losing a parent kind of sets you up for anything. You can’t imagine anything hurting like that – until it does. But it’s a different hurt. It’s familiar, so you can deal with it better, but it’s a hurt tied to memories of a different kind — not the same as a memory with a parent. Erin is in most of my fun memories — memories of driving back from Tulsa on New Year’s Eve and stopping by Denny’s in Muskogee on our way home – I went to the bathroom, and when I came out, Erin was sitting on the bench with a black family, hooting and hollering, the whole family laughing. He was trashed, but they just thought he was funny. Memories of long road trips and his helping me pick out a house to buy. (We drove all over Tulsa with a Bob Dylan mix of mine playing. Toward the end of the day, he looked at me and said, “I don’t think I can take anymore Bob. I’m sorry.”)

erinnaeme So, so many memories. And I’m grateful for them. I wish he was around to make more – God, I wish that more than anything. I hope he knows that. But I’m so honored to have the memories I do. Erin, this person I couldn’t do justice with an explanation if I tried – he loved me. I loved him. We were true friends – he and Renae, Kathalene and I – his Tahlequah sisters. He had a million jokes for each of us, had a million nicknames. We were his girls. NOT his HAGS, for God’s sake, because Erin wasn’t that kind of gay guy. He was just a guy who happened to be gay, and he was the first gay person I knew well EVER. Because I loved him, and because of my wild, different, perfect group of friends, I was fortunate enough to get to know gay people as PEOPLE first. That’s why I have a hard time understanding why anyone would have a problem with gay people, or any people for that matter. Erin got mad at comments that he “chose” being gay. It had driven a wedge between he and his father — “Why would I choose that? Why would anyone?” he’d say. Erin taught me that we’re all in this together. We just have different soundtracks.

And on that note, Erin’s actual music soundtrack was way different than any other gay guy (or straight guy) I knew. He loved the Grateful Dead, James Taylor, Loretta Lynn, String Cheese Incident… so many more. He knew all the old gospel songs and often imitated his beloved grandmother’s hand clapping when he sang them. Oh, and he sang beautifully – really – and shared it with anyone who asked.

I loved Erin. I will always love Erin. He and I had a few bumps along the way – common for roommates who lived together for so long – but I haven’t thought of any of those days since Erin died. Another thing I’ve learned about grief is that it allows you to see the absolute best in people – and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I want to remember Erin for that laugh, the simplicity with which he lived his life, his style, his jokes, his homemade noodles…

Side story, Erin and my mom had this special relationship. I’m not sure why, but my mom adored him. When they met, they had a long conversation about the importance of cleaning the top of the Dawn dish liquid bottle. And from then on, Mom always asked about him and they sometimes just talked on the phone when she’d call me at the house. I hope they are telling jokes together with his grandma and my Nana in the Great Beyond. I hope he’s wearing an oversized flannel coat, a beautifully laundered and delicious-smelling T-shirt (the boy had some sort of magical powers with Downy) and comfy jeans. And Minnetonkas.

I hope he never, ever stops laughing.

I love you Erin. Happy birthday. You’re in my heart forever.

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Filed under Family, Friends, Love, Tahlequah, Tulsa

Today’s Song: “Dancing in the Dark,” Bruce Springsteen

Lemme tell ya’ll little story ‘bout a girl who is me… a poor journalist, she was broke to a T. But then one day, she was pissed off, to say the least, so she applied for jobs and she moved to the big east… Connecticut that is, ESPN… lots of insurance… She is: The Connecticut Hillbilly! (cue the banjoes.)

Yes, that’s how it felt to move to (cue “Immigrant’s Song”) the Land of the Ice and Snow, but before I got to that place, I had to realized my life need changing.

So back up. And cue the Bruce Springsteen.

When I was growing up, I HATED Bruce. I mean, I thought his style was the most corporate, jingoistic crap you could imagine. I thought he was all-pro Reagan, anti-progression, etc. – even at 10, I had this streak in me, I remember. But later, I realized Bruce was 100 percent Sympatico with my beliefs of the power of the working man, the beauty of compassion and the wonder and mystery of small-town life. He’s exactly who I wanted to be when I grew up – but I didn’t know it then.

I didn’t know that until a few years after my mom’s death, when I found myself surrounded by people who weren’t good to themselves, or who had gone on with their lives, settled down and started raising families. I was broke – I mean, BROKE, emotionally and financially — and was living in a house I should never have bought, with friends who had other ideas about life’s meaning. I didn’t know who I was anymore, really. I just knew that I’d worked too hard, and felt like I was entitled, to more. And that I couldn’t relate to people I’d related to before… partying wasn’t as fun anymore, I’d had my heart broken by death, love and everything else, and I was just tired of everything.

Getting over that entitlement was a good first step, but acknowledging that I needed MORE from life was a better one.

So it was maybe 2008 or 2009, and I had started to understand the whole Bruce Springsteen appeal, but I hadn’t had my “I LOVE THIS MAN” moment yet—but was about to. I was in my bathroom, getting ready to go out. I had the music player on Shuffle. “Dancing in the Dark” came on, ushering in memories of Courteney Cox dancing with The Boss on stage in the 80s video. I’d picked up along the way that “Born in the USA” was about the least-patriotic song ever, and that Bruce was about as far from corporate jingoism as I was. So I let it play, thinking, “wow, maybe I like this song more than I remember.” As I applied mascara, leaning over to look in the mirror, I really listened:

“Message keeps getting clearer

Radio’s on and I’m moving ’round the place

I check my look in the mirror

I wanna change my clothes, my hair, my face

Man I ain’t getting nowhere

I’m just living in a dump like this

There’s something happening somewhere

baby I just know that there is

You can’t start a fire

you can’t start a fire without a spark

This gun’s for hire

even if we’re just dancing in the dark”

And it was like it was a whole new song. I was old enough, wizened enough, experienced and enlightened enough to GET Bruce. I also got really into Bob Dylan at that time, but that’s a blog for another time. Working, living, heartbreak, love, desire, loss – those are all anthems in both of those troubadors’ life’s works. And I’d finally lived enough to understand. And the message WAS getting clearer. By the second – and I always dance around my house, which I found a little coincidental. I wasn’t aging, really, but I didn’t know who I was anymore when I looked in the mirror, so CHECK. I wanted to change everything, but didn’t know how.

But then came the guitar solo, and with it, a call to action:

“You sit around getting older

there’s a joke here somewhere and it’s on me

I’ll shake this world off my shoulders

come on baby this laugh’s on me

Stay on the streets of this town

and they’ll be carving you up alright

They say you gotta stay hungry

hey baby I’m just about starving tonight

I’m dying for some action

I’m sick of sitting ’round here trying to write this book

I need a love reaction, come on now baby gimme just one look”

If I’d stayed on the streets of Tulsa, they would’ve carved me up alright. The last straw was when a woman I was working for (doing way too much for a part-time PR person, let me tell you) treated me like a dog, calling all my hard work into question. I let her make herself better by tearing me down. So I needed a love reaction — and that reaction was self-love and self-confidence. I’ll show you, I thought — and I meant it.

Then I went home that night and applied for every job I could. And now I live in Connecticut and work for the Worldwide Leader in Sports.

I didn’t leave right away, but the night I heard that song while getting ready to go out and probably drink too much, Bruce Springsteen broke through. And he was the spark that started the fire for me, the one that told me to get my shit together, to forgive those who hurt me and forget those who refuse to admit they’d hurt me, to shake the world off my shoulders.

My life changed that day, a little. Through the next few years, I lost friends, some forever. But for the first time in my life, I’d found ME – and I still didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life, but I was willing to let go of the reins long enough to look around, and gave myself enough credit to believe a dream might come true.

Working at ESPN has been a dream – and a nightmare sometimes, but just a short one that’s worth it. I’m not sure I would’ve realized the dream if A) my mom hadn’t died and changed everything and B) I hadn’t lost so much in the way of love, money, friends, etc., C) I hadn’t embraced my faith and D) If I’d elected to hit skip when that song came on.

“Dancing in the Dark” was at least 30 years old when it changed my life. And I seriously doubt it’ll be the last time a Bruce lyric has that profound effect on me. I’ll never doubt him again.

 

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Today’s song: “America,” Simon and Garfunkel

I’d love to know why this song hits me the way it does. Perhaps it’s my unbridled patriotism – you know, the stuff that conservative types say we  free-thinking progressives don’t have. Well, I have it in spades. Acres and acres of spades. I don’t think I’ve ever made it through a National Anthem dry-eyed. In Concert Choir in high school, we performed the U.S. songs of military service as a huge flag fell behind us. I was probably the only kid on those risers looking down, tears dropping quickly onto the stage.

I’m a sap, yes, but a proud sad.

The intricate, fine-filigree beauty of Paul Simon’s lyrics here just slays me. And now, in this climate, with bombs blowing up elsewhere and cops shooting kids nearby, we should all go look for America.

The America we dream of. The America that just says, “Hey, you know what? Your way isn’t my way, but that’s OK.” The America that sees black, brown and white as merely an abundance or absence of melanin, which makes pigment. An America that doesn’t split hairs on its original amendments, and does what’s right to protect the many, not the few. The America that doesn’t shoot people first and ask questions later – even if that person is doing something illegal.

I am a moderate politically. I believe in working hard and earning your pay. I believe in caps on Welfare, Disability and other funding. I believe in my brother’s plan – if you’re on unemployment after two years, you’re put to work in the military – not on active duty, necessarily, but in civilian roles. Something. Anything. That small job might lead to a career in something. I know my career has saved my life — maybe it would work for others. Put repeat drug offenders to work in the fields. Something useful that didn’t cost taxpayers as much and might result in a well-adjusted person coming out, looking for that freedom that we all crave.

But I also believe in helping people who have nothing and working within communities to spread positive messages about ALL walks of life. I believe in ultimate civil rights and freedoms. Love is love, and love yields love. And what it yields – a child who is gay, or a child who isn’t what you thought they would be – deserves all the freedoms of the others.

So before I go off on yet another tangent, back to “America.” Something about these two broke wanderers, traversing America in the back of a bus with a belly full of cheap food, brings out the Kerouac in me, my inner rambler (a persona I have seldom lived out, due to my fear of my inner civilization breaking down). Two people in love (or something) head out on their own, making jokes along other passengers… romantic, in an odd, wistful way. It encapsulates the “lost” feeling of youth, the place you are at when you realize you have no roots, and aren’t sure where you want to put them down. The place when you realize so many others are lost too –

 “Cathy I’m lost I said though I knew she was sleeping
I’m empty and aching and I don’t know why
Counting the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike
They’ve all come to look for America
All come to look for America.”
 

 David Bowie sang this song for “The Concert for America,” after 9/11. It was so poignant to me then, and I didn’t know why. I now know that its timing was perfect — we were lost then, and have become lost again. We need to find our common ground, our peace, before we become a nation torn asunder. We need to realize that zealotry in any way– saying your way is the only way — is akin to the Taliban or Isis or whatever the hell else is out there. We have to work together, and we’re not.

I may never know all the mysteries of why this song evokes all these feels. But I love it, and won’t question it too long. I’ll just listen, and wish for peace, justice and prosperity for all.

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My terrible day of flying: A complaint letter

So I rambled on an on about this yesterday on Facebook. I’m not First World enough to think this is the worst thing that can happen to someone — but I am alarmed at how quickly customer service has fallen off, especially in the airline industry. I sent this letter to US Airways, the Philadelphia Airport and the mayor of Philly. Any suggestions as to where else I should send?

Yes, I was mad — but more than that, I was exhausted. Imagine if I was in bad health or elderly… how are they treated?

So here goes… what you are about to read is 100 percent factual, as I am terrible at lying.

Aug. 19, 2014

Dear US Airways and American Airlines:

I will preface this note with this – I am an agreeable, hopefully easy-to-get-along with person. I am not a travel newbie, and I don’t expect to be treated like a princess. I am usually quick to come to the defense of airline employees because my family is full of them and I understand that travel customers can be difficult.

That being said – I am absolutely floored with how I was treated on my trip home from Seattle on Sunday, Aug. 17 into Monday, Aug. 18. It was, by far, my most awful day of travel EVER. And I’ve flown a lot, since I was 5.

I was in the mountains with no cell phone service, but occasional WiFi. I checked my American phone app to see that my original flight home, an 11:25 p.m. flight out of SeaTak, had been canceled and replaced with a 12:45 a.m. US Airways flight with a stop in Philly. I had booked this trip in First Class to get some rest – I work at ESPN and work weird hours, so I was hoping to sleep in comfort. My First Class ticket was not to be a bigshot, but to sleep — I paid for a First Class ticket round-trip. I saw that I was booked in coach now – I wasn’t happy, but figured someone would help me out when I got to the airport.

Once I arrived at SeaTak, I checked in at the US Airways desk. A girl named Ana D. checked me in. I tried to explain to her that I was in First and ask her what I should do about that, but she just kept referring me to American Airlines, telling me I was in Coach now and that was that, and not offering any help other than that. Actually, she just kept pointing to the AA desk – not even offering any words of help or encouragement for how I would be repaid for the First Class portion of the trip I purchased. She replied by making me pay for my bags – YES, she made me pay for my bags, which were part of the First Class package I’d already bought. In fact, that had a lot to do with why I finally bought the First Class tickets. I was traveling for my sister’s wedding and had a lot of stuff with me. Ana D. didn’t offer any help, just told me I had to pay if I expected the bags to get back to Hartford. What was I to do? Again, she just pointed to the AA desk. I tried to stop there and ask for help, but the line was so bad, I guess due to problems in the DFW area.

So yeah, I was angry, but I tried to let it go – I knew I’d take care of that once I got home. I boarded my flight and tried to relax in my now exit-row seat in Coach with no reclining seats or neck rests.

The plane sat on the runway for 45 minutes. Something about a baggage handler crashing into a plane and there being a shortage of people to load the plane. OK, fine. But I better make my connection that you guys laid out for me – with nary a spare second.

Of course I didn’t. When I got to the end of the tarmac in Philly, an agent handed me two standby tickets and told me to go try to make the plane. I did not. I ran across three terminals to get there, and when I got to the gate, I asked if I could board. “That plane left five minutes ago,” the agent sneered at me. Almost like she was laughing at me.

I seethed, but went to the gate for my next option, an 11:30 flight to Hartford. This was the only semi-pleasant experience I had that day. The girl working at C 23 was a bit short at first, but I could tell she honestly wanted me to get on the plane. The flight was, of course, oversold. (This has got to stop, by the way – it’s not fair in the least.) Still, this woman, whose name I didn’t get but I wish I could praise, was nice enough to at least push for me to get on. I didn’t get on, but this agent told me about the other options and at least seemed concerned. She was the ONLY person in Philly (besides the Chick-Fil-A guy, who was so nice), who helped me. She small-talked with me, which goes a long way in stressful situations. She rolled me onto the top of the Standby list, which was much appreciated.

So feeling better and a bit hopeful, I had some lunch and proceeded to C17 in Philly, where the 1:30 flight was coming out of. Mind you, by this point, I’ve been up for 28 hours straight, thinking I’d get a nice comfy ride In First. I wait for the agent to come up, and it’s a helpful woman I see in line, but she vanishes, replaced by the coldest agent in the lot, a girl with long braids and an attitude the size of Dallas. She called my name and I came to the desk. She didn’t like where I was standing, and rolled her eyes at me, shouting, “COME AROUND.” I moved a few feet over and she raised her voice again, “COME AROUND.” I mean, we’re talking a few feet here. But since she was in charge, she got to yell at me. I asked her what she wanted me to do, and she said, “You know what? Forget it.” And ripped up my ticket. Yes. You read that right.

I begged and pleaded, telling her I was sorry for saying whatever I’d said to offend her. Her braids obscured her nametag, sorry. She ignored me and gave the seats to someone behind me. Another agent standing near her — I could tell she felt badly but couldn’t do anything about it. She said, “There’s a spot open on the 4:10 flight, I’ll try to get you that one.” The other agent heard her say that and gave that spot to the next person in spite. She was awful.

So, defeated, near tears (I had a sick dog at home who needed me) and exhausted, I went to Customer Service in Gate C25 for help. WHAT A JOKE. A woman named Valerie N. looked pleasant enough, so I opened with my sob story and asked if there was anything I could do to at least have some hope of getting on – maybe through American, elsewhere, something – since I didn’t miss my flight due to my mistake, I expected a little bit of a sympathetic ear.

Valerie talked to me like I was inconveniencing her, and like I was possibly the dumbest human being in the world. She asked me, “So you’re coming here asking how I can help? How do you expect me to help?” and I said, “I was just looking for a little hope, I’ve been up 30 hours.” And she said, “Here’s some hope. You might get on a plane.” I was furious, and tried to put it in words she would understand. I asked again if there were any options and she just rolled her eyes at me again. I asked if she had kids and knew what I was going through – she said to me – “My kids are adults.” And went back to work. I walked away, nearly in tears again, completely blown away by what was going on.

So I went to the gate for the 4:10 flight. By this time, I was completely drained. I waited for the flight, didn’t check in or say anything. The flight was in C31. I witnessed a male agent tell a woman that she was on a flight, but he could take that away from her easily – which he did, and it created quite a stir in the gate. I got on that flight because I smiled and kissed the agents’ behinds.  That’s what troubled me most about the whole day – the feeling that these agents relished holding all the power, enjoyed saying no to customers, and willfully worked against getting anybody home. They got off on making us cry. THAT’s bullying. I’m a tough person – but imagine if someone not used to that had gone through this. They’d be mortified.

It felt a bit like they were the Ticket Agent Soup Nazis – “I don’t like the look on your face. NO FLIGHT FOR YOU.” It’s shameful.

I got on, got home to Connecticut, and was greeted by friendly gate agents – no problems there at all. The flight staff, on the entire day’s flight, was great too. But Philly is a dark, dark place and I’ll never go there again. I’ll also never willingly fly US Airways again, but I know the merger will take care of some of that. Shout-out to the baggage crew too, who got my bags to Hartford, where they were safely waiting for me. A friendly baggage agent smiled and helped me get my bags. I thought New Englanders were supposed to be “The mean ones.” Philly is the city of brotherly love, right?

I have a stack of boarding passes going nowhere that the agents issued, I guess just to get me to shut up.

And I also realize they can’t do anything about the corporate policy of overselling flights – but they could do something about how they treat CUSTOMERS who spent THOUSANDS of dollars to fly on that plane. We are not inconveniences. We pay your salary. We should be treated as such.

***I expect a refund or travel voucher for my time and for my lost First Class ticket, and a refund of the $60 I had to spend checking bags that Ana D. charged me. *** But more than that, I expect you to do something about this. I expect BETTER of an airline with the American flag on it. I expect you to fix the problems in Philly by talking to whoever’s hiring these people and telling them to be as rude as possible or not disciplining those who are. It was a disgrace.

And again, I realize you’re going through a merger. That’s a tough situation. But the customers shouldn’t have to bear the brunt. It’s not fair, and obviously, it’s not working.

Please (never heard that yesterday either) let me know if I can help in any way. My email is sarah.hart@espn.com, and my number is 918-630-5376.

Thank you.

Sarah Hart

 

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