Sunday read: The Hammer and the man

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Many years ago, when I was free-lancing for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, my editor asked me to provide the copy for a special section on the Boy Scouts. Most of the article pitches we discussed were fairly low-key, ranging from a profile of a local Scout-oriented exhibition to a talk with Eagle Scouts. But one stopped me in my tracks: Could I call Hank Aaron, a Scout growing up, and get his thoughts on Scouting?

A dirty little journalist’s secret — well, MY dirty little journalist secret — is that making cold calls is a knee-knocking affair. It’s your job to approach complete strangers, and sometimes those complete strangers are celebrities whose gatekeepers can hold you off for the foreseeable future while you pursue your one necessary quote or response. Call Hank Aaron? I was shivering with anxiety.

So it took me some time to get up the nerve to call the Atlanta Braves corporate office, where Aaron was an executive, and ask to speak to him. I fully expected the secretary to tell me that Mr. Aaron wasn’t available, and could I leave a message, and I would never hear back. Why would Hank Aaron want to talk about his boyhood as a Boy Scout?

Instead, she put me right through and Aaron got on the line. I honestly don’t remember much of what he said, only that he was thrilled to say it — Scouting really had made a difference for a black boy in Jim Crow-era Mobile, Alabama — as he regaled me with tales of walking to Scout meetings and taking part in activities. For me, who only perceived him as a taciturn slugger and Hall of Famer, it was interview heaven. I would think about it every time I passed Hank Aaron Stadium off I-65 in Mobile when I traveled from Atlanta to visit my parents in New Orleans.

And now Hank Aaron is gone. He died Friday, in his sleep, at age 86. Hank Aaron, the first hitter listed in the Baseball Encyclopedia, still the all-time leader in RBIs and total bases, barely second in HRs, third in hits (a great detail: if you take away Aaron’s 755 home runs, he still has 3,000 hits), the namesake of the award that goes to each league’s top hitter, the incredibly consistent, classy, coolly understated Hank Aaron — Hank Aaron has passed.

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Snow day

I live in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, right in the path of the nor’easter that plowed up the Eastern Seaboard yesterday. We got somewhere between 8 and 12 inches, the third-heaviest December snowfall the Lehigh Valley has ever seen. That’s pretty horrendous, though actually light compared to some of the earlier forecasts, including one from the Weather Service that warned we could get 1 to 2 FEET.

(And it’s not Binghamton, New York, which got 40 inches. That’s more than THREE feet, if you don’t want to take time to do the math.)

The school system I work for near Philadelphia called a snow day today. Makes sense, even though Philly and near environs got 4-6 inches, because the far reaches of nearby counties got much more. I wouldn’t be going anywhere, anyway. The alley my garage backs up to hasn’t been plowed.

As a kid, snow days mean freedom, but they’re weird when you’re an adult. I barely remember them when I was of an age to enjoy them, since we moved to New Orleans when I was 7, and New Orleans doesn’t have snow days. (Hurricanes and floods, yes.) We may have had a couple when I was in college in Atlanta, and certainly there were a few after I moved back to Atlanta in 1991, but by then I was more concerned with how I was going to drive from A to B in the white stuff if I had to.

Each time, I was fortunate. Even during the 2014 storm — the worst, one that left some of my CNN co-workers stranded for several hours on the highways — I got home in about 90 minutes, a hairy hour longer than my usual commute. And then, well, you stayed put, logged in remotely, and worked.

Today I don’t have to log in remotely, so the day is loose. But given the rest of the 2020 world — Covid, job loss, politics — I feel unsettled. Covid has already trapped us in our houses, so today feels less like a respite than more of the same: more to stew on and chew on, no relief from everyday strains. I tried to do some work on my desktop, but it failed to boot up properly, so even though I’ve backed up most of its hard drive, I’m wondering what I’m forgetting or missing. Sounds like a metaphor. Everything sounds like a metaphor.

And then there are some of the students from the evening GED class I teach. Last night, as the snow came down, a couple of them mentioned that they wouldn’t be getting a snow day. One, I gathered, was listening to my lecture on his phone as he cleared streets; another had to be at work at 6 a.m. to spell a co-worker completing a 12-hour shift. These are the people who truly keep the world turning, as we’ve learned over and over again during Covid. (And, I worry, we keep forgetting, too.) I already had a great deal of admiration for them: Imagine how hard it is to make time to take a thrice-weekly class to prep for your high school diploma while juggling work, children, language issues, and lives. But they’re also the essential workers who allow so many others to work from home.

When all this is over — snow, Covid, the endless doom of 2020 — I hope we all remember.

A tip of the cap to Major League Baseball

Image from AP via Spectrum News 1.

I had my doubts.

When Major League Baseball announced its 60-game regular season, I thought it was a mistake. It was one thing for the NBA to enclose itself in a bubble to keep Covid-19 at bay; MLB, with its larger roster and teams traveling all over the country, seemed doomed to fall to the disease.

And in the early going, it appeared that I — and many other naysayers — were going to be right. In the first few weeks of the season, several series were postponed due to the virus, and several players were afflicted. A few, including the Braves’ Nick Markakis, said they would sit the season out. (He came back, but not without a scare.)

But now, with the championship series in the books and only the World Series left to play, the sport has marked more than 47 days — that’s close to seven weeks, taking us back to August — without a positive Covid test.

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It’s too darn hot

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I have grown weak.

Thirty-four years ago, just after graduating college, I moved into an un-air conditioned apartment in Decatur, Ga., just outside Atlanta. That summer, Atlanta had a record heat wave in which the high temperature topped 90 degrees for weeks on end. Dozens died of heatstroke; even by Atlanta and Georgia standards, it was brutal.

But we made do. My roommate and I had two, maybe three, box fans, which we’d place against the window screens and turn up full blast. I slept on top of my sheets. I ate a lot of ice cream and drank a lot of icy root beers. We attended Braves games in a half-empty Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium and laughed with our friends at the antics of Omar Moreno and Ken Oberkfell. I spent that summer working as a front desk clerk at the Hyatt Regency downtown — suit and tie required — and tried to stay in air-conditioned comfort as much as possible.

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John Lewis, 1940-2020

Image via Politico.

I don’t have much to add to the many obituaries and tributes about Rep. John Lewis, the civil rights leader and public servant who died Friday at the age of 80. (I like the headline on the BBC’s: “civil rights champion.” Yes.) His achievements are many; his legacy is secure.

This was a man who braved hostile authorities and racist mobs to participate in the Freedom Rides in 1961. His group’s bus was firebombed in Anniston, Alabama; he was viciously attacked in Montgomery. He spent time in Mississippi’s brutal Parchman Farm Penitentiary for daring to use a restroom.

And still he continued.

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Should there be a baseball season?

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Opening Day — Major League Baseball’s Opening Day — is one of my favorite days of the year. Though spring has technically begun a couple weeks earlier, Opening Day feels like the season’s true arrival, complete with lush green fields, upbeat crowds, and the smell of peanuts and popcorn. It is a time of beginnings.

There was no Opening Day this year. It was canceled by Covid-19.

Still, after months of arguing over money, it appears that there will be some semblance of professional baseball after all. If all goes well — and, so far, the jury is out — MLB will kick off a 60-game season on July 23.

I’m kind of dreading it.

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Todd plans, God laughs

I’m typing this on my phone, so forgive the lack of links and polish.

The reason I’m typing it on my phone is that I have no wifi. Even if I did, I wouldn’t be able to type it on my easier-to-type-on iPad because I can’t find it. I think I left it in my overnight bag back at the hotel — this after checking the room at least twice to make sure I wasn’t leaving anything after a week’s stay. 

I should back up. I’ve moved to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, to take a job with Lutron, the lighting control technology company. My last weeks in Atlanta were hectic and anxiety-ridden, not least because I was leaving a place I’ve called home for most of my life, and also because — despite being quite conscious of my decisions — realizing how little control I had over the situation, emotionally and otherwise. I was at the mercy and schedule of movers, realtors, bankers and Georgia State University, where I was teaching. About all I could do was make sure the cats were squared away, keep my wife (away on a fellowship) informed, and hold on. 

Time was going to move whether I liked it or not.

So I gave my final, I let the movers do their thing, I closed on the Atlanta house, I picked up the cats and headed north. I had decent weather and the cats were well behaved. I got here last Saturday and checked into a Staybridge Suites in advance of my first real week at Lutron. (I actually started in March, but knew I was headed back to Atlanta for six weeks.)

The work was fine. But I also closed on my Bethlehem house, a twin built in 1907. It’s been well cared-for, but you still can’t compare it with a modern residence built in 1992. We had an amazing and large kitchen in Atlanta; here there’s barely enough cabinet space for glasses and plates. Our master bedroom had plenty of space and an adjoining bath; this four-bedroom place has one bath, total. (We’re planning/hoping to add a second, but see the title of this post.) We chose it for location — it’s walkable to downtown — and knew what we were getting, but still …

Anyway, aside from the mountains of boxes, the house has taken on a smell. The next-door neighbor says a skunk must have gotten under the porch, or maybe he got in a fight there. Either way, the stink ranges from annoying to bad. I called a pest control guy, but he can’t get here until Friday. I’d open the windows, but the skunk mating (presumably — apparently this is the season, and if the female doesn’t like the male …) has coincided with a cold snap.

Meanwhile, I can’t find the green bag that contains the iPad. I could swear I threw it in the car, but I don’t see it in the house, and I put everything down in the same area. There’s a possibility it’s buried, but I’ll bet I left it — which means, goodbye, iPad. (Yes, “Find my iPad” is activated, but it only works if it’s online, which it’s not.)

And then there’s the endless unpacking. I haven’t even started on the books yet. I swear this time I’m going to get rid of most of them. Moving is hard enough without toting around dozens of boxes of books you’ve read — or may never read. I’ll let the libraries take over.

Anyway, I’d say things can only get better, but I’m Jewish, so I’ll assume nothing. (Next steps include changing my car license and registration, but Pennsylvania’s car registration rules are onerous — a non-laminated Social Security card? I’m lucky I know where my SS card is! Fortunately, not with the iPad bag.)

The cats are enjoying things, though. And they’re a joy to watch. And next week Sarah will be here — as will the ISP guy. 

Incidentally, isn’t it time we make internet as easy a utility as water or electricity, in that you just call and they just switch the name?

Addendum, Sunday, 11:01 a.m.: I found the bag! It was, indeed, buried — and in a corner where it hadn’t been before. Yes!

A not-so-Trivial conclusion

Trivia at Manuel’s Tavern, late 19th century. That’s me on the right.
Time only goes forward, but memory goes backward. So, as the days count down to the arrival of the moving van, I’ve been trying to look forward — packing up books, throwing away paper, making preparations — while attempting to avoid a confrontation with my emotions, which are mulling over the past.

It’s been largely pointless.

I’ve been in Atlanta for 26 years, not to mention my formative college days, and emotions come with the territory. I want to be upbeat as I open the new door — it’s an adventure, right? — but I’m all too aware of the one swinging behind me.

So it’s with some dread that I approach Sunday night’s Team Trivia at Manuel’s Tavern, my final show.

I can’t overstate how much of a rock Trivia has been. I arrived back in Atlanta the weekend of April 20, 1991 — almost exactly 26 years ago — and one of the first things I was told about was this “trivia game at Manuel’s.” So I spent that Sunday evening with (in my memory) my old Emory friends Tim and Alec at the Tavern. We won, too.

A year later I was hosting, and I’ve been hosting ever since.

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Au revoir, Atlanta

Image from Atlanta magazine.
I came back to Atlanta in spring.

It was April of 1991, and I was still recovering from wounds inflicted by pieces of a broken heart. (I write this with apologies to my girlfriend at the time, who succeeded the one over which my heart was broken; she was instrumental in reawakening my soul, for which I’m eternally grateful.) Atlanta was where I had gone to school in the ’80s and stayed for a bit, working at a downtown hotel, feeling rich from the regular wads of tips I made as a bellman (which, in reality, probably added up to less than $15,000 for the year — but my share of the rent was $162.50 a month) and hanging out with friends from college. Some were figuring things out. Others had yet to graduate.

Four years later, some had left and returned; others had never gone away. I needed a place to start anew. I had $500 to my name and bills for many times that amount, but I felt comfortable in Atlanta. It seemed to fit.

And so I loaded my life into my car and drove back down I-85 into its hopefully welcoming arms.

Twenty-six years later, I’m getting ready to leave. I have a new job in the Lehigh Valley of Pennsylvania, and though I’m looking forward to it, I can’t say it’s been easy to prepare.

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Atlanta has world-class traffic

Downtown Atlanta
Image from

News item:

To no Atlanta commuter’s surprise, the metro recently ranked among the top most congested cities in the world, according to a new report by transportation analytics firm INRIX.

According to INRIX’s 2016 Global Traffic Scorecard, Atlanta ranked eighth in the world for congestion with the average commuter spending 70.8 hours in traffic each year.

Good to see that, along with having the world’s busiest airport, the Region Too Busy To Invest In Mass Transit also has some of the world’s worst traffic. We are an international city after all!

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