Breakaway finds success going the extra mile

Small business spotlight for The Memphis Daily News & The Memphis News

Aug. 13, 2012

Breakaway Running is a small business with the steady, even stride it takes to endure for more than three decades.

Begun in 1981 by a handful of area running enthusiasts as an outlet to get their own gear and to accommodate the legions of Memphis runners, the shop has come full circle, having recently been bought by Barry Roberson, the shop’s first manager.

“The whole reason the store was open, those guys felt there were a few needs not being met and they loved running and I love running,” said Roberson, who has spent the past 19 years in real estate before delving back into the business of running. “We’re probably more runners, and always have been, than business people.”

Business minded or not, the store has prospered and grown over the years, moving locations in 2008 from a large house at Union Avenue and Belevedere Boulevard, where Roberson lived on the second floor in the beginning, to another Union location down the street. Further east, they’ve been at various locations with the current home being on Germantown Road.

“The trails are the reason we moved out there in Germantown,” Roberson said, referring to the nearby trailhead for the Wolf River Greenway and off-road trails. “That’s just proven to be great.” … (read more)



Facing the new frontier (high school)

Because I Said So column for The Commercial Appeal

Aug. 2, 2012

Around this time in 2003 we started going to Downtown Elementary School. (This is how parents talk: “We” go to Richland Elementary or White Station Middle or Downtown Elementary. I haven’t sat in a formal classroom setting since the late 1980s, but no matter; at some point it just becomes simpler to explain our kids’ activities as a collective.)

Nine years ago we began school when I dropped my oldest son, Calvin, off for kindergarten. I’d been taking him to day care every single day for years and it had not gone well. Those mornings were full of screaming and clinging and pleading and teeth gnashing, by the both of us. I had little hope that day one of kindergarten would be much better.

But something happened that day and I don’t even know if it was him or me or his new teacher, Mrs. Porter, but I got lucky. She and I stood talking for longer than normal due, no doubt, to my need for reassurance. The point came when Calvin seemed to grow so tired of standing around listening to us with his oversized backpack and overwhelming curiosity weighing him down that he wandered off by himself to find his assigned seat. There were no tears and only a wave of his hand in farewell. Thus began his educational career.

That little boy who surprised me that day with his courage and initiative and impatience with long-winded adults will walk into his first day of high school next week. I won’t be there with him because that’s just not how it’s done at this stage and age. There will be no reassurance from his teacher (for me), no handholding, no oversized backpack. All I can hope is that we’ve done a good job through these first nine years of school, that he’s taken to heart the lessons taught by Mrs. Porter and Mr. Scott and Mrs. Erskine and Mrs. Brenneman, and all of the other wonderful teachers who have influenced and guided him over the years.

I try not to write too much about my 14-year-old here; he deserves his privacy. It’s a shame too, because in that hour he’s not sleeping or eating, he’s really quite engaging and funny. But this milestone deserves mention as it is a momentous occasion for our collective, it’s the next big adventure in parenting.

As a student at White Station High School, Calvin will be dealing with a workload he has never known; with the constant reminder that every test, every grade, every club joined will have bearing on his college career and then his eventual career. Mixed in with that, there will be peer pressure and driving permits and proms and the whole high school caste system to negotiate. He will face growing pains unlike those that have propelled him to his nearly 6-feet tall.

It’s a time I wouldn’t wish on anyone, and yet I’m willingly sending my child into that roiling, bubbling gumbo of uncertainty.

We begin high school next week. Wish us well.

Permanent link to The Commercial Appeal


Former Memphians join in ‘scavenger hunt’ to uncover bygone Memphis for website

Feature story for The Commercial Appeal

July 29, 2012 began its cyber-life as a website for the alumni of Memphis Tech High. Begun by Gene Gill, a 1951 graduate of the school, the content soon outgrew the parameters of its yearbook-like platform. More specifically, the historical aspect of the high school, which dates to 1913, took on a life of its own, and with it, an interest in all manner of Memphis history.

“I called Gene and said, ‘The Tech site is dying on the vine … but we’re getting all these hits on the little portions that we have regarding the historical side of Memphis,'” said Dave French, a co-founder of the historic Memphis site and a 1969 graduate of Tech High.

The school site (, while still active but no longer updating, is the dusting of ashes out of which arose a Phoenix or, more precisely, a Memphis, in all of her past glory. On the new site, there are photos and a wealth of information accompanying them on movie theaters, schools, restaurants, hotels, parks, entertainment venues, department stores and train stations, among many more. Yearbooks from area schools, event programs, diplomas, postcards and other marginalia can be found as well.

French recruited longtime friend (and 1969 Immaculate Conception graduate), Maureen Thoni White, to help with the research and scanning of photos and books. For the three admittedly novice historians, the site is a labor of love; there is no money made from it, nor are there any plans to monetize it.

“It’s full of useful information and is well done,” said G. Wayne Dowdy, manager of the history department at the Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library and author of several books on Memphis history, including “A Brief History of Memphis.” “It may not be a ‘scholarly’ website, but then again it doesn’t pretend to be. In my opinion, having a group of passionate collectors post information on Memphis’s past is a valuable contribution to our understanding of the city’s history. Plus, it’s valuable when history is presented in a fun — even when the subject itself is not fun — and accessible format, rather than a stolid, academic one. In many ways, history, particularly local history, is too important to leave solely to historians.” … (read more)


Don’t worry kids, Dad is watching whether you want him to or not

Because I Said So column for The Commercial Appeal

July 19, 2012

Hang on: My kids want you to watch them do something.

They want you to watch them jump in the pool. They want you to watch them swim across the pool. They want you to watch them jump rope, climb a tree, play a drum, eat a peach and act a fool.

Nothing happens with these children unless someone else is watching.

Did I do this? Did I instill this need for attention in them? Or did they miss the point of George Orwell’s “1984”? The constant surveillance of Big Brother was supposed to be a bad thing, kids. (“Hey, Dad, watch me misinterpret a theme in classic literature!”) Or perhaps it is Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook and his culture of “look at me, I’m doing this right now” that has infected and inflated their egos.

I’ve heard a lot of talk recently about “helicopter parents,” those parents that hover over their children, noticing every move, nudging them in the right direction, keeping them as safe as possible in the dangerous world of play dates and roller skates. Is this helpful or ultimately detrimental to a child’s well-being and sense of autonomy? I have no idea. You raise your children the way you see fit, and I’ll raise mine by shouting commands from the sofa in my office.

But then they find their way into my office. “Watch me tie a shoe. Watch me count to 100. Watch me spill this milk.” They advertise their every anticlimactic activity in a manner even more irritating than television promos during sweeps week. It’s as if Dave Brown was going to not retire every single evening at my house.

I don’t recall this need for attention as a child, though it’s possible I begged my parents to watch me struggle with my Stretch Armstrong, become more and more confused by my Rubik’s Cube, or watch “The Six Million Dollar Man” again.

I know I don’t do it now. You won’t see me saying to my kids, “Hey, watch me come up with another metaphor. Watch me Google up a thesaurus.”

I suppose we parents all hover to a certain extent. It’s become part of our buckled-up, helmeted, surveillance-heavy society. But I try to mitigate it. I send the kids outside to the backyard, down the block and to the park in an effort at encouraging them to do things on their own.

I know they’ll go off on their own one day, far away to live their own lives. And they won’t travel like helicopters then, but like jets feeling the need to get away. Or more accurately, as teenagers they’ll ease out of the driveway onto a Memphis city street in a 26-year-old Volvo with no air conditioning and a missing taillight, and whispering to themselves, I’m sure, “Please don’t watch me. Please don’t watch me.”

But I will be. Left there in the driveway, finally landing after a lifetime of hovering, I’ll be there hoping they call soon to tell me what they’ve been up to.

Permanent link for The Commercial Appeal


Family health issues can be impetus to get healthy

Health & Fitness story for The Commercial Appeal

July 16, 2012

Ken Hall took his mother to the hospital last year for complications from congestive heart failure and kidney issues on the same day. While there, she was diagnosed with diabetes, a disease his father had already been diagnosed with. “It occurred to me that my dad’s taking insulin shots twice a day, now she’s going to have to start, I’m next,” Hall said. “It’s like a time bomb.”

As a proactive measure at the beginning of the year, Hall, director of communications for Leadership Memphis, set out to lose 20 pounds by his 50th birthday in February. His mission was accomplished by cutting out his almost daily fast-food drive-through habit and saying “no” to the Hostess cupcakes. As far as any previous exercise routine, Hall said, he “really tried to avoid it.” But with his new lifestyle came new habits, and working out on the elliptical machine for a half-hour every day was one.

“It was pretty darn easy,” he said of entering this regimen and his subsequent weight loss.

For 40-year-old Heather Griffin, the hardest part of her lifestyle change was cutting out sweets. “I’m a cupcake freak,” she laughs, “so in giving that up, that was more painful than running a half-marathon, actually.” … (read more)


Dad sees library card as ticket to new worlds for daughters

Because I Said So column for The Commercial Appeal

July 5, 2012

On a recent summer day, it came to my attention that my children were bored. This alert was not a subtle one; these are not subtle kids. The two syllables of “I’m bored” came out in the droning, whining tone of one of those French police sirens: “I’mmm bored … I’mmm bored.”

Because the temperature was creeping up toward 100 degrees, I packed up my two daughters and took them to the coolest place I could think of: the public library. Once there, I filled out enough paperwork to either get them their very first library cards or to buy a whole other child.

The proud girls were handed their new cards to sign on the back, and then each stared at the shiny rectangle of plastic as if wondering how to turn it on and download something. I told them that with those cards they could take any book in that building home with them.

And that they could now drive a motor vehicle within the city limits. “Really?” they said, wide-eyed and expectant. No, that’s fiction.

Is there anything we can give our children that is more exciting, more educational, more free than a library card? It is Alice’s rabbit hole, Dorothy’s yellow brick road, a winged Pegasus. That little piece of plastic can teach them how and where to satiate their curiosity, the responsibility of keeping up with the card and borrowed books, and that if they sound the alarm “I’m bored” within earshot of me, that they will be forced to better themselves.

Through the colorful forest of trees, we went into the children’s section of the Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library, that gleaming glass and steel lodge of literature. The girls perused titles, pulled out some books to get a sense of them, put some back and found a few to take home. My youngest, Genevieve, leaned toward oversize picture books with their tales of tigers, bugs, little boys and girls, and fables from far away. Nine-year-old Somerset focused on her folded-up summer reading list from Richland Elementary School.

During summer breaks when I was a child, my mother would stop by the main library when it was at the corner of McLean and Peabody to pick up a stack of books recommended for a boy my age. It was like a 100-degree Christmas for me. I would make my way through the pile, and she would then return them for another. I don’t remember my first library card, but it must have been like being given a license to the world.

Watching my daughters and their growing excitement was especially heartening in today’s world of the Internet, Google and the immediacy of knowledge — some good, some bad.

As they walked among the rows of books, their heads crooked slightly to read the spines, it was like the slowest web browser imaginable. Yet it was a great way for me to learn of their interests and to see where their curiosity, if unleashed in a room full of history, science and stories, might take them.

Will there be other milestones as exciting? Sure. They will both one day receive a driver’s license, be accepted into college and get married. Those will be days of triumph and of excitement, days when boredom will be as forgotten as that overdue library book underneath Genevieve’s bed.

Permanent link to The Commercial Appeal


A grand division

Feature story for Rhodes Magazine

Summer 2012

Last year the joint department of Economics and Business split in two, becoming separate departments: One is now called Economics, the other, Commerce and Business—in part because of the steady growth of each. The sheer size of the faculty and student body was such that, managerially, one department was becoming unwieldy.


Any liberal arts institution prides itself on a wellrounded education. It’s an education that is made up of literature, history, science, religious studies and the humanities. At Rhodes, the study of economics is increasingly gaining favor among students as a major of choice.

“Rhodes offers this classical liberal arts education and, on top of it, you add courses maybe in economics, accounting, finance and business, which makes our students very, very attractive to the market,” says Marshall Gramm, department chair of Economics.

“It provides a different way of thinking, a different way of analyzing people’s decisions and business’s decisions, and I really enjoy it,” says Alex Petraglia ’12 of his major in Economics … (read more)


A new program: Political Economy

Feature story for Rhodes Magazine

Summer 2012

The past academic year saw a new interdisciplinary program in the Rhodes catalogue with the introduction of Political Economy, a major that explores important ideas that are the foundations of economic and political systems throughout the world. It is, basically, the study of economics without the math. It brings a more philosophical approach to how and why markets work—or don’t work.

Political Economy is the perfect storm of five different departments coming together: Economics, Political Science, History, Philosophy and International Studies. Others, such as Psychology and Greek and Roman Studies, contribute courses as well. According to the catalogue, “The program and the associated major will study the many ways that politics, principles and economics interact in the formation of policy choices and actual policies. It will further look at the impact of political and economic choices on the prosperity and well-being of those who organize their society under various systems.”

The program is supported by program founders Thomas Garrott, chairman and CEO emeritus of National Commerce Bancorporation; Fred Smith, president and CEO of FedEx Corporation; and founder of AutoZone, J.R. (Pitt) Hyde III … (read more)


Bugs not peskiest pests of summer

Because I Said So column for The Commercial Appeal

June 20, 2012

There are bugs in my house. I’m not ashamed of it; it’s inevitable this time of year. Those of you in the South understand that when the weather turns hot and sticky with humidity, when the nighttime temperature fails to dip much below that of noon, a whole new phylum of life will emerge from the ground to invade our homes. And those of you from elsewhere certainly have children now broken free from the chrysalis of elementary school and know what it’s like to find half a Pop-Tart where you weren’t expecting it, or a casually discarded pizza crust beneath a piece of furniture to create a sort of vermin vending machine.

So, yes, there are insects in my home.

But the true pests this summer are the smaller children who find it necessary to tell me about every single cockroach, spider and beetle they come across as if they’re conducting a silverfish census. With the intensity and focus of a trained pointer dog, they are able to pinpoint a bug’s location from two rooms away.

The kids are mortified by them all — gnats, weevils, wasps, cicadas, bees, flies, ants, daddy longlegs and damselflies — regardless of size or the ability to fly, leap and scurry just to attack them. So this infestation of junior entomologists comes into my office like a swarm of locusts, breathless as though they’ve barely escaped with their lives, to tell me that — gasp! — “There’s a cockroach in the kitchen!”

And this is what really bugs me.

I’m expected to rouse myself from where I lie on the couch in my office with my eyes closed, working, and take up a magazine or flip-flop to dispatch a spider. Because my duties around here include getting that one thing down from that top cabinet, changing the light bulb in the closet and killing any insects scouted by the children, I have to get up and go hunting.

In the interest of staying on that couch, I’ve suggested that they name the arachnid, that the cricket or moth become a new pet, a best friend of sorts. They have yet to buy into that plan, such is their fear of the bug and their utter disbelief that it is now on the ceiling.

Am I happy to share a house with the occasional insect? No, of course not. Would I be happier in blissful ignorance of every bug that scampers beneath the piano? Definitely.

It’s all good training for the kids eventually to become the worst census takers ever as they can’t discern one bug from another. The six-legged visitor making its way up the woodwork, as far as they can tell, is the same one they saw last week inching its way across the back door threshold.

Granted, it could very well be the same one from day to day. There are those times when the alarm is sounded that I simply walk into the kitchen for a fresh cup of coffee and tell them I took care of it. Instead of risking life and limb, and a perfectly good magazine, to climb on a chair and smash it against the ceiling, I just wink and tell “Jiminy” or “Charlotte” to have a nice day.

Permanent link to The Commercial Appeal