Annual “20 under 30″ issue highlighting 20-somethings making great strides in the city for The Memphis Flyer
Jan. 24, 2013
These young people have graduated from their teens with a sense of responsibility beyond their years, and it is driving them to do good, to leave Memphis a better place. Within their ranks, there are advanced college degrees and long hours spent learning and perfecting a craft. The members of this group can dribble a ball, carry a tune, cook a meal, tell a joke, take a picture, book a show, raise money, raise awareness, and raise us all up if we put ourselves in their capable, young hands.
Each is an ambassador for our city. They are giving their best to make themselves and their community a better place to live and to visit.
News of violence and scandal can make the future seem bleak, but we can rest easier knowing that these 20 men and women are a part of that future. Keep an eye on them and watch what they can do when they put their minds and hearts to it … (read more)
“Because I Said So” column from The Commercial Appeal
Aug. 16, 2012
Last week, I scattered my four kids like comet tails and left them with their various teachers at their various schools. For the older kids, this is old hat, they’re pros who have been at this for years. They may not like it — in fact they don’t — but they understand the routine and joined the countdown to the launch of another Memphis City Schools academic year.
But then there’s Genevieve. She’s the youngest and the most spirited, some will say. A challenge, her parents say. Things did not go well that first morning of first grade. There was a lot of clinging and tears, and even some desperate pleas for her sentence to first grade to be commuted. Alas, I left her there in the capable hands of Mrs. Armstrong and the whole Richland Elementary crew.
I came home, walked the couple of blocks back, and turned on the Internet to see that NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity had landed safely the night before. Space exploration fascinates me, and I was enthralled watching video images from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, as the rover touched down and the scientists went crazy with exultation.
That celebration was rightly deserved. Those people landed a buggy on a planet 35 million miles away with more ease and less drama than I had landed my daughter in a first-grade classroom two blocks away. Granted, they’re rocket scientists and I’m only a parent, and parenting isn’t rocket science. Or is it? Maybe when scientists come upon a complex theorem that becomes easily proven, they say, “Well, it isn’t parenting.”
Adam Steltzner, a mechanical engineer with the laboratory, said the rover’s landing “is the result of reasoned engineering thought.” Reasoned thought is as unnatural to a 6-year-old as space travel. When told that school can be fun or that it won’t last so long or that her friends will be right there with her, all she can imagine is an endless expanse of black sky, a vacuum of loneliness.
Upon re-entry into the school’s atmosphere, while dodging other children and supply-laden parents, my daughter began to break apart, the heat from
the classroom too much to bear; the promise of another school year built up until not even her protective khaki jumper could withstand the pressure and she exploded in a barrage of tears. And what could I do? I’m helpless. I’m a parent. I’m ground control, yet I failed to keep her grounded in any sense of safety and serenity, while floating there among her friends and siblings.
They call it the “seven minutes of terror.” That’s how long scientists had to wait upon Curiosity’s entry into the Mars atmosphere before they found out whether their rover was intact on the surface of the planet. It takes us about seven minutes to walk to school in the morning, but I had to wait seven hours to find out that Genevieve did eventually compose herself, that she acclimated to the foreign surroundings of first grade and that her own curiosity about it all proved to be stronger than her home’s gravitational pull.
A publication of the Mississippi River Corridor – Tennessee
Project writer responsible for all editorial content of this 32-page magazine. Stories written include: the Memphis Blues Trail; American Queen Steamboat Company, Ingram Barge, Buckaroo Hatters, Unique Museums of the Corridor, Sustainable Shelby, the Hatchie River, Mississippi River Trail and Chisholm Lake Store.
Because I Said So column for The Commercial Appeal
June 7, 2012
I’ll tell you how much longer we have. We have about 500 more words to go.
That’s right, it’s time for our annual family beach trip. It’s the one-year anniversary of finding out how well this family fits into a minivan loaded with beach toys, snacks, DVDs, CDs and a few clothes. Our destination this year is Grayton Beach with its eclectic shops, laid-back environment, funky cafes and, of course, the white sands of the Florida Panhandle.
I sit and write this now on the front porch of Grayt Coffee House with my daughter, Somerset, and her friend, Meredith. It’s morning of the first day, and the sun is filtered through the leaves of gnarled water oaks, a musician from Atlanta and his family just introduced themselves and their dog, Annabelle, and joggers pass by at a leisurely vacation pace.
And I think I may never leave.
Instead of packing up in a week to find out how much sand we can squeeze into the van with all of our other belongings, would it be unreasonable for me to just stay on this porch and wave at the people passing by as though I were the business’ mascot, or a sunburned and sand-flecked cigar store Indian?
Do my kids expect more of me?
They expect me to make enough money during the year for this trip, though they have no concept of what a vacation like this costs. They expect me to drive them 980 miles round-trip, though they have no idea what it costs me mentally to have them whining and pleading for stops behind me, and asking me that same question again and again (only 220 more words to go now). It’s a week in which they expect me to build a sandcastle, throw them in the surf, slather them in sunscreen and grill supper.
Nobody expects me to stay on this porch for the rest of the week. Or the rest of the summer. Or, if it’s not a problem, the rest of 2012.
Do they really expect any more from me?
My concern is that they may all want to join me on this porch where I sit beneath a handmade metal wind chime with the word “serenity” stamped into it. They and their snacks and their toys and their DVDS and sandy beach towels.
As we get older and have more and more kids, the agenda for vacations is filled less with what we want to do and more of what we have to do. But we also find that what we have to do while away is more fun and, in some ways, more meaningful than what fills the responsible days at home.
Planning and building that castle, jumping in the waves with my youngest on my back, pointing out constellations in the pitch black night and spending a morning lounging on the front porch of a sleepy little coffee shop with a few kids is what they expect and, it turns out, just what I expect as well.
This porch is the perfect place to start a vacation. We’re here, kids.
Because I Said So column for The Commercial Appeal
May 10, 2012
Every parent needs to get away from time to time. We need to step out of our role as caretaker and the crushing weight of responsibility that comes with it. We need time for ourselves, time to clear our mind, a change of scenery. We need silence.
However, a weekend on the Florida coast or a Caribbean island might not be available to all of us. A trip to New York or San Francisco might interfere with soccer games, homework projects and sleepovers.
So what I do is, when I’m sent up to the Kroger on Sanderlin for a necessary dinner item or forgotten lunch staple, I take a little time just for me and stroll around the store. I sight-see and explore for things like fruits I’ve never seen or a new flavor of toothpaste. Perhaps I’ll run into someone I know or just sit and watch the lobsters for a bit.
It is the saddest vacation available in the Frommer’s travel guide.
There are times when a special item is needed and Kroger becomes a layover before traveling on to Whole Foods. This is the closest I come to visiting a foreign land. The foods there are exotic, the people concerned and the ambience organic. I feel, while walking around that store with no children tagging along, as free to range as their chickens.
There are other vacation packages available as well. There is the obvious choice of the hardware store. The aisles of Home Depot and Lowe’s are populated by fathers who have “run up to the store for a minute” for a box of nails or “a bracket for that thing I’m working on.” I see them wandering, clutching a roll of duct tape like it’s luggage and admiring a 12-amp reciprocating saw as though they were browsing the duty-free between flights. A trip like this could take an hour; in the spring, when the garden center is in full bloom, an hour-and-a-half. Bracket For That Thing I’m Working On would be a good name for some sort of VIP lounge if those companies were so inclined.
The trick, of course, is to buy your ticket early. Not too early — don’t look too eager — but claim it just before your spouse has the chance to volunteer picking up that pack of toilet paper or a head of garlic. It’s why I always offer first to travel to Gibson’s Donuts. It’s just something, I tell my wife, that I want to do for my family. I’ll get the dozen donuts and then get one just for me and a cup of coffee. It’s 10 minutes of “me time,” 20 if that train at Poplar, blessedly, delays me.
The trip home from any of these excursions should be a long, circuitous one. I’m the one you’re stuck behind and cussing as I meander just below the speed limit to take in the changing leaves or the progress my neighbors are making on renovations. I know they’re renovating because I see them at Home Depot all the time. The escaped parent finding himself alone in the car does not care about gas prices. He is not concerned (at the moment) with the environment. He is alone and at peace with the windows down and the dulcet tones of NPR to keep him company.
Being able to spend quality time with family is a gift we all should cherish. Being able to spend a few moments away from the kids and the television and the responsibility is like an exotic trinket from a far-away gift shop.
Cover story & photos for The Downtowner Magazine
From the 21st floor of Downtown’s One Commerce Square, many of Memphis’s iconic structures are visible. To the north stand Morgan Keegan Tower, the Hernando-DeSoto “M” bridge, and The Pyramid beyond. To the south, there’s The Peabody hotel and Peabody Place office towers. And just across Main Street, where the trolleys rattle and clang, is historic Brinkley Plaza.
In mid April, a new icon begins working its way upriver from New Orleans to dock near the historic cobblestones at our city’s front door, changing the landscape, resetting the scene of when our ancestors arrived, and reminding us how we got here.
On April 26, the steamer American Queen, the signature ship of Great American Steamboat Co., will arrive for ceremonies befitting royalty … (read more)
“Because I Said So” column for The Commercial Appeal
Oct. 27, 2011
My 10-year-old son enjoys the occasional slice of toast for breakfast. I recently had to stop him at breakfast when we were down to our last. “Don’t take that bread, Joshua, I need that for lunches,” I said. And then I watched, aghast, as he turned and tossed the slice back into the pantry on top of the bread bag. We had a talk about that.
I tell you this, not to embarrass him. Not only. But I want you to understand that, though he may at times live like an animal, he is not so wild, and I want you to understand my trepidation when it was time for our first Boy Scout camping trip last weekend. He was very excited about the trip in the weeks leading up to it. Joshua, however, is the great indoorsman. He appreciates his sofa and his iPod and his remote control. He’s fond of his bedroom with its four solid walls and soft mattress.
And he comes by it honestly. I haven’t been camping in 15 years.
The first basic need a father wants to provide for his child is shelter and, to this end, I did what our forefathers must have done when they set off for the untamed western territories, I put a notice on Facebook that I needed to borrow a two-man tent.
Tent in hand, I wanted to make sure I could set it up all by myself. Not that Joshua would be unwilling to help but, well, you remember the bread in the pantry?
Having set it up in the backyard the day before our trip, I called him out to see where he’d be spending the following night. His reaction: “Where’s the rest of it?” He got his sarcasm badge … (read more)
Feature profile for The Commercial Appeal
Oct. 16, 2011
To hear Emil Henry tell it, climbing the Matterhorn at 55 years old wasn’t so difficult. There was little training, only to be tested on skills, endurance and altitude sickness; it wasn’t even a life’s dream.
“As tall, high mountains go, it’s probably the easiest of all the high mountains in the Alps now,” Henry said of the summit that has seen 431 deaths, 58 in the 21st century alone.
Researching and writing a biography of Edward Whymper, the first person ever to scale the 14,690-foot mountain, however, became a monumental task of endurance, travel and expense. And a challenge he wouldn’t give up for anything.
“It turned out to be the most enjoyable occupation of my life,” Henry said of the book, “Triumph and Tragedy: The Life of Edward Whymper” ($18.31).
Henry, now 82 with three children and five grandchildren, began life in Memphis, growing up in Chickasaw Gardens before going away to a boarding high school in Pennsylvania and college at Yale. He joined the Navy during the Korean War, spending three years on a destroyer in the Pacific Ocean, and then went to Vanderbilt for law school.
After practicing law in Memphis for five years, he was appointed to the Federal Communications Commission in 1962. When the chairman resigned only eight months later, Henry was appointed, “at the ripe old age of 34,” chairman of the FCC by President John F. Kennedy … (read more)
“Because I Said So” column for The Commercial Appeal
Oct. 13, 2011
When I was 13 years old, I took a road trip to Naperville, Ill., with my aunt Carol. She was returning home from a visit and didn’t want to make the drive alone with the Great Dane puppy she’d impulsively adopted while in Memphis. I wasn’t much help on that drive, I’m afraid. I had no license and was put in charge of the puppy and the music. There was one cassette I liked and we listened to one side, and then the other, for more than 500 miles. I fed the dog Doritos.
Carol never complained.
At some point she was pulled over for speeding and had me lie down on the back seat. “Sorry, officer,” she said, “I guess I was paying more attention to my nephew, who’s feeling sick, than the speed limit.” There was no sympathy and she got the ticket anyway, along with a bit of karmic justice when the puppy threw up all over the back of the car 10 minutes later.
As trips go, it wasn’t the farthest I’ve traveled. It wasn’t the most expensive or tropical trip. There is little glamour in Naperville, Ill. But it was an adventure nonetheless, and the bonding experience was immeasurable … (read more)