Life through lenses

Do not look at the sun! I think we might have heard that before—like a bajillion times when we were growing up, right? On Monday, much of America will be standing outside on a hot summer day looking up at the Great American Eclipse.

Not looking at the sun is good advice because, no shit, solar staring is worse than running with scissors. Fortunately, there are special glasses—with super-dark lenses—so that all of us gawkers can be protected from the sun’s blinding rays.EclipseGlasses

So super-dark lenses will save the day. But it’s just one day. And only one type of lens.

Looking through lenses is nothing new. I’m convinced that we look through lenses—our own customized set—every day, nearly all the time. Unlike eclipse glasses, though, there’s no frantic search to buy these lenses. I’m talking about looking at life through lenses of bias: our preconceived opinions and beliefs. And just like corrective lenses in eyeglasses alter our perception of objects, lenses of bias alter our perceptions of life.

The notion of these life lenses came to me, oddly enough, at a baseball game. A bunch of baseball games, really. I gradually understood that two honest people could witness the same event—say, a play at home plate—and perceive two different outcomes. A fan of the Yellow Jackets, whose player is barreling down the line and sliding into home, will believe with all his heart and mind that his guy slid under the tag—safe! At the same time, a Bearcats’ fan, whose catcher is protecting home plate, will genuinely believe he witnessed the tag being applied before the runner’s foot reached the plate—out!

How the two fans react to the call—silent disappointment or full-fledged rage—depends on other personality factors. But how they mentally processed their perception of the event is based on bias. And there’s nothing evil about it; each entered the ball park that day wanting his respective team to win.

I’ve seen a similar bias play out—again, oddly enough—on HGTV’s “House Hunter” shows. A couple is looking for a house, and one of them is, say, “budget conscious.” We know this because they mention the damn budget at least a dozen times during the episode. Now, I understand these shows are somewhat manufactured, but I have to believe they have at least some connection to the actual house-hunting situation. Why else would a dude shun the house with a home theater and the one close to work and instead pick the one with the shitty siding? Because it fit the budget, and he’s viewing every house through budget lenses.

(As HH fans know, the oft-stated bias can also be “close to the beach,” “my man cave,” “a white kitchen” or “all bedrooms on the same floor.”)

Another place I’m seeing life lenses affect perception is in the political arena. And while I think a series of lenses are in place, but there’s usually one overriding issue—or one demographic—that serves as the first filter. If a voter, for example, believes that women are unfit to be president, it will alter that voter’s perception of everything a female candidate says or does. Similarly, if a voter’s No. 1 issue is allowing same-sex marriage, that voter will view every candidate through that lens first and regard other stances as secondary factors.

This concept has helped me understand how voters I know to be good human beings can support a candidate who is widely recognized as ill-prepared or saddled with what I believe to be disqualifying flaws. But the issue of competency—or the bias against those flaws—is not as strong as that voter’s bias for something else that candidate possesses, whether it’s opposition to taxes or support for raising the minimum wage, or bias for a particular background or style.

In the controversy over Confederate statues, I have to think it’s another lens we look through when we evaluate the appropriateness of those monuments. This isn’t uncharted territory for any American citizen. What biases did each of us have long before the Charlottesville clash—or New Orleans’ removal of statues, or the debates that have cropped up across the country? In some cases, the lens is political: “I’m taking sides with the leaders of my party.” But in most cases, we either stand against the symbols of racial oppression—Rebel flags and Confederate monuments—or we’re OK with them.

And then when Charlottesville or New Orleans or Lexington, Kentucky, happen, different people—with different life lenses—view the same event but reach different conclusions.

There’s one more thing. An eclipse is the obscuration of light when the moon blocks the sun. A similar eclipse is common in today’s news-gathering process. Most of us have sources of news and information we prefer, and we block out the light and, often, the truth of other sources. If you find yourself shout “fake news” at reports that run counter to your political beliefs, you’re often not wearing lenses; you’re wearing blinders. And that’s a whole ’nother essay.

I’m not trying to tell you I’m right and you’re wrong—about Confederate statues or Donald Trump or the play at the plate. I’m just reminding you of the existence of bias, or preconceived beliefs. Being mindful of life lenses not only helps me understand the actions and words of others, it also helps me understand—and even to search to clarify—my own motives and beliefs.

The only thing I’m sure about is that you absolutely need eclipse special glasses—with super-dark lenses—to look at the sun on Monday. And that the Yellow Jackets’ runner was safe at the plate.

Beach run micro-trilogy

A family vacay to Crescent Beach, just south of St. Augustine, gave me the opportunity to resume my running regimen. My mileage had steadily decreased to zero over the past half-dozen years, but the road to fitness would start in northeast Florida. I ran every morning during our mid-July week at a beachside condo. (Good thing, as I enjoyed a dose of key lime pie most every night.) On those hot runs, when I wasn’t thinking about dying, I thought a lot about the beach.

TidePoolMmmmm … beach

What is it about the beach that makes it so longed-for? I think it starts with the image. We love looking at water, whether it’s a creek, lake, fountain or river. And the bigger the expanse of water, the better. The ocean, of course, stretches forever on your right, left and to the horizon in front of you.

Then add motion. A placid lake is gorgeous, but an ocean’s constant motion is mesmerizing. Crashing waves. Shimmering seas. Rolling—always rolling.

And when you involve the other senses: the surf’s methodical pounding, the aromatic salty air and the sea breeze on your face, the beach is flat-out intoxicating.

Steve Spurrier’s house

Do you think about buying a vacation home when you’re at the beach? Of course you do. Realistic or not, owning a place at the shore has to cross your mind as you lounge by the pool or stroll along the surf.

I have those vacation-home dreams while I run. As slow as I am, see, I get an extra-long look at each beachfront home. Some are cottagey and cozy, others are more modern. All windows and beams. I like the ones painted in pastels, with wide porches and a few Adirondack chairs. But if I were to ever buy a beachfront house, I’d want one with more bedrooms than my family needs because, as I’ve learned from watching House Hunters, your friends and relatives are going to visit you, like, constantly. So I’d need sort of a big house.

But not like Steve Spurrier’s.

The former college football coach is, according to my son’s friend who lives here, building the enormous house a couple of miles north of our condo. It sticks out like a sore castle. And I don’t like it. I don’t like Steve Spurrier, is the thing. While he was aw-shucks and easy-going during interviews, he was relentless and cruel as a coach, making his Florida Gators routinely run up the score on Kentucky. I mean, he was probably thinking more about his team’s progress than his opponent’s ineptitude. And maybe it was nothing personal, but still … he didn’t have to humiliate the boys in blue.

On the morning of my longest run of the week, I found myself approaching the Spurrier spread. The massive structure was visible from way off, but I had never reached it on earlier runs. As I was plodding along that day, though—and picking a spot for a turnaround point—Spurrier’s house was maybe only 10 minutes away. It would be easy to use it later, when I drove into town, to measure the length of my morning run with the car’s odometer.

But I decided against it. “Hell with him,” I thought. “I’m not going to use that damn guy’s house as my running goal.”  So I turned around a few houses south of Spurrier’s palace.

When I turned around I saw two guys sprinting toward me at full speed. One was 20 or so, and the other might have been his dad, and they were flat-out flying across the sand, huffing and puffing from the effort. They blew by me in an instant, and I could tell by the sound of their footsteps that they immediately eased off the gas; their sprint was over. Twenty yards later it hit me: They were using me as their finish line. “Race you to that fat guy!” was probably what started their sprint.

I was glad I had turned back home—toward the speedsters—and deprived them of a target. I know it was nothing against me personally. But still, who needs that humiliation?

Slogging another 20 yards up the beach, it hit me: Maybe just being inside Steve Spurrier’s territory brings out the butthole in everybody.

Beach boy

Each day’s run was rewarding, but for the absolute best beach run of the week, I was a spectator.

If you’re familiar with beaches, especially the wide, flat type I’ve seen in the Carolinas and—this week—in north Florida, you know that the tide has a dramatic influence on the amount of beach that’s either exposed or covered by the ocean. When the slope of a beach is extremely gradual, as it is here, a little bit of incoming tide travels a long way up the beach toward the dry sand. Similarly, a receding tide backs away quickly, leaving a tightly packed sand that can triple the amount of beach that’s available for sun tanning, bicycling and strolling.

Even a flat beach isn’t perfectly flat, and a slight beach bump will retain a bit of water as the tide ebbs. These tide pools typically run in narrow fingers parallel to the shore, as pictured above. They hold water for 10 or 20 minutes after the tide has abandoned the sand that surrounds them. Just “up beach” of a tide pool is the hard sand that makes the best running surface … unless you’re a little kid.

Trying to beat the heat, I ran early in the morning, but not crazy-early. Folks would have arrived at the beach to shell or stroll. And of course, families with little kids would have already been up for hours.

One morning I trotted slowly—always, slowly—toward a family that had set up chairs and an umbrella, and each of them was engaged in a different project. Mom was wading in the surf, no doubt trying to detect rip tides; Dad was working to drive the umbrella deeper into the sand, making their day camp hurricane-proof; sister was picking up shells: coquinas and chipped cockles; and baby brother was on the run.

Maybe one and a half years old, the boy was motoring close to Dad as I drew near the family, but then he veered off in my direction. Rather than face certain death by entering my path, he headed for a tide pool. When he hit the warm, shallow water, he found beach bliss. Kicking up big splashes with each step, the boy gave a long, “EEEEEEEEE!” as he ran. The look on his face was that of delighted surprise … sheer joy.

The tide pool would soon dry up, of course, and the kid’s vacation would soon end. Mine, too. But for that one moment, happiness took over the lives and strides of two runners on the beach.

So long, farewell

It was an odd farewell lunch. Odd but nice. And rare. You know how these goodbye things go when a co-worker is leaving the job. Awkward. Always awkward.

The farewell act comes in three main varieties. No. 1, the going-away guy or gal ismissyou somebody you didn’t know that well, and it’s awkward to say all the mandatory things about getting together soon and staying in touch—when you weren’t together or in touch the whole time you worked at the same place. Or, No. 2, you did know her … and you didn’t like her. Then you have to conceal your glee that she’s going. Worse, you have to say you’ll miss her. And you won’t, see.

The third possibility is that you really did like the person, and you’re honestly, deeply sorry that she’s leaving. She was your top go-to for office dirt and for commiserating about the boss. An actual work friend, right? And that lunch is awkward because you really will miss your friend, and you’re afraid you’ll get all weepy at a work event.

Of course, there is a fourth option: A co-worker is fired, and a manager stands beside the fired guy as he’s gathering his personal stuff from his desk. The manager is making sure the guy doesn’t steal paperclips or jam client lists down the front of his pants or delete master files using his computer. And all this is taking place right beside your desk. You fake like you’re getting a personal call on your cell just so you can get the hell away. Now that’s awkward.

Those are all work farewells, but non-work goodbyes are just as awkward.

Long before I was married, I used to travel with my buddies to the beach—spring break, of course, and even during a few springs after college. We’d inevitably connect with a group of girls and sort of run around together for the week, meeting at the beach by day and the bars at night. And we’d get to know each other in that intense way you do when you’re thrown together and every day is fun and crazy. And then it’s time to go home.

We’d always make the usual goodbye promises about staying in touch. This was long before email or smartphones, and everybody knew that staying in touch was a long shot. But that’s what we’d say. And then, after that—one hundred percent of the time—we’d come to the final farewell, and one person or another would say, “Well, good luck.”

I mean every time, there’d be that “good luck.” I’d always think, Good luck? Like, in life? Good luck for the rest of our lives? That’s one hell of a parting wish. I mean, that’s a long, broad expanse to cover with a two-word phrase. It got so that saying goodbye to beach friends was awkward, because I would start dreading the “good luck” thing days before it was time to go home.

All farewells are just damned awkward. Except for the lunch I started to tell you about earlier. My boss, who’s a very nice lady, offered to take our department to lunch at an excellent restaurant in honor of a departing colleague. She was one of those Variety 1 co-workers. I barely knew her, so saying we’d have to stay in touch would have been, well … you know. But I didn’t.

Because she wasn’t there.

At about 9:30 on the morning of her last day, the leaving lady had to pick up her child from daycare. A fever, probably, or perhaps a fistfight. At any rate, she sent a reply-all response to the email reminding us about her farewell lunch, and she told us all … farewell.

With no goodbyes hanging over our heads, no thinking about the lies we’d have to tell about getting together soon and staying in touch, lunch was delightful. In fact, I told some colleagues later that I’d like to go out that way, too. Everybody could just go to lunch on my last day, but I wouldn’t burden them with my presence. Of course, there’s a name for that situation: dead co-worker.

To put that plan in gear, I’m going to go ahead and encourage all my colleagues to come to my visitation—after they have lunch together—and they’ll need to say something good about me to my wife and kids. And then, when they get to my casket, each one can lean in a bit and say it softly: Well, good luck.

Graduation, rhythm and anxiety

I didn’t expect to experience anxiety over somebody else’s graduation. Granted, it’s my two sons who are graduating this year—one from college and one from high school. Same day, actually. Nine hours apart.

But why am I feeling anxious? My boys have made excellent plans. Both will stay in Kentucky: Steele at law school in Louisville and Clay at Centre College. And look, Kentucky isRouseBros2015Cropped familiar territory. My wife and I raised our sons in the town where I grew up, and both boys went to my high school.

Where we took different paths was athletics. They both played baseball; I played trombone. And I think it’s the damn baseball thing that’s eating at me.

I did play baseball, you know—Little League in fifth and sixth grade. How I spawned two varsity players, I don’t know. (And I’ve been asked—seriously.)

My boys never showed major-league potential, but both played high school ball each spring, plus summer ball and fall ball. Over the past 15 or 16 years, we just fell into the rhythm of the sport.

I took them to practice. I threw with them in the back yard. Mary Beth and I went to their games. We drove to towns and cities and dusty fields throughout Kentucky and surrounding states. And we did all this with other baseball families—players and parents—for hours and seasons and years.

I can write a book about baseball; I really can. I’ve actually outlined its chapters. It won’t be about the actual sport. It’ll focus on the lessons I’ve learned from being in the rhythm of baseball: the games and the players, the hopes and frustrations, the wins and the disappointments.

Staying flexible is the most important lesson I’ve learned. The game itself is traditional and often plodding, but living it day-to-day is a daggone crapshoot. Coaches seek greener fields, better results and more promising players. Schedules, rosters, lineups and locations change at the drop of a mitt. Each season brings a different cast of characters to the stage.

And rain threatens, as do cold April nights and easy-bake July days.

But I settled into an unsettled rhythm. Baseball was always predictably unpredictable. Reliably fickle.

During Steele’s high school days, we plugged along as a so-so team for years—until the week we won the state title. In baseball terms, that’s like bunt, walk, bloop … GRAND SLAM! I know about baseball terms, see. I told you about that book.

But baseball isn’t only about the bloops or the weather or even the games. It’s about the people. They provide harmony to the rhythm. Not always in tune, of course. They were often loud. But funny. Or obnoxious. Yet enjoyable. Mostly. But sometimes irrational. Occasionally ugly. But mostly caring.

It’s a full damn orchestra, for sure.

And with Clay leaving high school, there’s no more high school baseball. The orchestra is disbanding. The rhythm of baseball will halt.

Life will go on, of course. I just don’t know where I’ll pick up the beat. Thus my anxiety about somebody else’s graduation.

But hey, I’m flexible. Right?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Worth Crying About

Yesterday was a full day for me: full of activity, full of special people and full of emotion. I cried, but only once.

The day began for Mary Beth and me with a trip to a state university with Steele, my oldest son. Steele is likely going to law school in the fall, and we attended an event for accepted students. The faculty and staff were impressive, and they gave Steele a lot to think about, wherever he ultimately attends.

Back home in Woodford County, we met my other son, Clay, with his prom date at a scenic site. Along with four other couples, the two posed in front of a scrum of parents snapping pics with smartphones. The kids were clad in impossibly elegant tuxedos and gowns; the parents wore jeans and athletic wear.

Then we were off to Lexington for a college reunion. My wife and I are both graduates of Transylvania University, and while 1980 is my year, I also affiliate with the Class of ’81. As a transfer student, I endured orientation with these people. Besides, they throw a tremendous party, and together, we conjure up and repurpose memories of our youth.

Did I cry? Almost at one event and undeniably at another.

The prom pic-fest has never done much for me, and while I am routinely overwhelmed to see Clay edging into manhood, the prom thing doesn’t move me.

The reunion thing does. There were a lot of hugs and back-slaps, but also, I had a moment with one person. I’ll keep the details private, but I must tell you that reaching out to reconnect can generate a powerful impact you might never have anticipated. I nearly cried.

Where I shed real tears was at a luncheon of strangers. At the law school’s last-ditch recruitment event, I was seated slightly behind Steele as we turned our chairs to face the speakers at the podium. When Steele reached up to swipe his bangs a bit, I focused on his hair and his head. Sounds weird, I know, but he was right in front of me.

I found myself staring at the whorl of hair on Steele’s head. It’s always been there, of course, even when it was the wisps of a newborn. And when it was baby blond, right beside my face as I carried him onto playgrounds or upstairs to bed. It was often covered up through the years by caps, either the baseball or graduation kind. And soon he’ll graduate again and move on. And move out.

Nobody saw me cry, I hope. With my napkin, I faked a mouth-wipe and edged up to the tear ducts. It’s not rare for me to get a bit choked up, but I don’t normally get overwhelmed by the progress of life and loved ones. I did yesterday, though.

And I might again today. Maybe when I think about that little blond-haired boy. Or that conversation at the reunion. Or maybe when I look at those prom pictures.

Yikes. Life is worth crying about.

Traffic Jams Are for Creeps

Traffic jams. You could say the phrase is positive, because when you’re stuck in traffic you have extra time to listen to your favorite jams.

TrafficBlogCarsBut don’t say that. Sitting in traffic jams is a losing proposition. You lose time at work. You lose family time. And sometimes, well, you lose your shit.

I can’t eliminate road rage and traffic jams, but I can put a dent in reduce the time we spend in snaky, snarly lines of traffic. Disclaimer: I need every driver in America to read and obey this essay.

That’s a lot to disclaim, I know. But I do have an answer, which, like most solutions to life’s problems, I learned in my years as a baseball dad. Cap-tip here to my friend David Couch, perhaps the most complete baseball coach either of my sons ever had. (David coached my second son, Clay, when he was 9. Clay, not David.)

Coach Couch told his Reds that when they’re in the field, playing defense, they should move forward with each pitch. Just a little. Not a lunge or a lurch, but a subtle move. Take small, almost unnoticeable steps. Creep toward the batter.

By making tiny shifts toward the plate, Coach Couch would say, you are ever-so-slightly building forward momentum, and if the ball is put in play, you’ll already be in motion. Your first step to the ball will be quicker because you started it before the ball was struck. If you have to stop or go the opposite way, you can, because you weren’t lurching or lunging. You were only creeping: employing subtle movement toward your target.

And your target as a driver, ladies and gentlemen, is the other side of the intersection before the damn light turns red.

In a perfect world of traffic, all of us would react immediately to the green light and go—fast. With each driver accelerating quickly as the light turned, the entire column of cars would, as a group, rocket forward to the desired cruising speed. Traffic lights would be perfectly timed so we would all achieve rapid (but safe) advancement.

But our traffic world is far from perfect. And one significant problem is that the drivers in front of you react slowly to the green light. They might have been texting or dozing or zoned out, and they don’t notice that it’s time to go until a few car lengths open up in front of them. And you know what would fit nicely into those empty car lengths? More cars! These drivers are dawdlers, and every dawdler that gets a late jump creates more unused space that delays the drivers behind them.

Also slowing you down are fainthearts. Overly cautious drivers, fainthearts intentionally allow space to build between themselves and the car in front. They remember well the drivers’ manual that prescribed ample stopping distance as a defense against certain death on the highway. Of course, you’re not on the highway with its high speeds. You’re in city traffic. Doing 4 mph.

According to my complex traffic models and scientific calculations, these unnecessary gaps between vehicles decrease traffic flow by 28 percent. Admittedly, my traffic models and calculations were created in my head while I was sitting in traffic.

It’s fair to say, though, that by eliminating the needless spaces that drivers create—either through inattention or fear—more cars could get through an intersection. Maybe yours, too. It’s that 28 percent inefficiency I seek to correct, which would make drivers more likely to get to work on time and get home sooner to their families (and Netflix), and less likely to become road ragers.

One common action is no help at all. Often I’ll see dawdlers snap to it and give it the gas, quickly eating up the 30 or so yards of slack they created with their negligence. But for the rest of us to catch up, we must similarly rocket forward, and as we discussed earlier in our perfect-world scenario, that ain’t happenin’.

So you must creep. Just like a second baseman on Coach Couch’s Reds, you’ve got to creep forward as the pitch is thrown—or, in this case, as the light loses its redness. If everyone is creeping, you’re all on the move sooner. You’re not rocketing, but you’re advancing. And as you advance to, say, 5 or 6 mph, then you can allow a little space between you and the guy in front of you. It’s more efficient to cede space on the move than from a dead stop.

It’s all part of my 28 percent plan for improvement. When everybody creeps in traffic, more of us can get through the light. We’ll get to work or home sooner. And your jams? Just play “Life Is a Highway,” “Shut Up and Drive” and maybe “Hot Rod Lincoln.”

Fight Fire with Pliers

“Did you break down?” my son asked as I entered the garage. Then he saw the fire extinguisher. “Oh! Did the DR mower catch on fire?”

“I don’t know,” I answered calmly. “Maybe.”

I mean, what is fire? If it’s shooting flames, then no. If it’s a lot of smoke and some smoldering bits of stuff, then yes, the DR caught on fire.

I love my DR mower. Officially, it’s a field and brush mower. You walk behind it and it chomps up big weeds, small trees, used cars and new bicycles. I think I read that DR stands for “Done Right” (painfully lame), but I think of it as “Destructo-Rotor.” It plows a damn path.

Only today it was on fire. Or nearly on fire, as we discussed. I had generated a good deal of smoke with the DR once before, when the weeds I was cutting got sort of tangled up in the engine and began to smolder. Today, though, it wasn’t weeds. It was a mouse house.

When the DR started smoking, I pulled from the engine area charred pieces of grass, shredded paper and what looked like insulation. A mouse’s nest. That part of the engine is marked “CAUTION HOT” and it was. After I fried the fingerprints off two fingers, I went to the garage and fetched my No. 1 tool of all time: needle-nose pliers. (Full disclosure: I am ignorant about tools and engines, even when fire is not a factor.)

And I grabbed a fire extinguisher as well. Better safe than seared-ey.

Extracting the smoldering bits of mouse house went much better with the pliers, but the smoke was still rising. I decided to gamble on blowing hard into the engine block. Best-case scenario was blowing out the fire, something I routinely did while trying to start a fire in the fireplace. Worst-case scenario was supplying air to a few sparks that needed only oxygen to become a full-blown blaze. And the gas tank was close by.

I checked to make sure I could reach the fire extinguisher. What’s the correct technique for using one? I tried to remember the directions. “Sweep the left” went through my mind several times, until I realized I was confusing fire-fighting advice with the order from the evil sensei in “The Karate Kid.”

“Sweep the leg.”

Did I have a problem with that? No, nor did I have a roaring fire. After a few rounds of blowing and plucking out scraps of the mouse’s nest, the smoke ceased. I then returned the fire extinguisher to the garage—briefly explaining its role to my son—and went back to mowing.

Maybe I should have let the DR cool off awhile longer or maybe waited to take it to a repair shop. I wasn’t worried, though. I had kept the needle-nose pliers in my pocket.

I love the beach. I love the beach.

That’s from a song my sons “wrote” when they were little kids on vacation years ago. It’s more of a high-low chant, really. And while there’s certainly nothing profound about the phrase, it hits the spot for me.

I’ve been going to the beach regularly since I was two. And my time in Naples, Florida, was such big part of my life for the next 20 years, I will one day write a novel set there. Or a screenplay. Something bigger than a blog, you see.

I just returned from Tybee Island, outside of Savannah, Georgia, where we traveled for a week of baseball with my son’s U16 team. Because of thunderstorms and waterlogged fields, though, we played only nine innings the whole time we were there.

Baseball is, as I say far too often, reliably unpredictable. Unchangingly changeable. Steadfastly erratic.

Knowing that, we baseball parents were wise to stay at the beach, even though the games were all to be played some 30 minutes away in Savannah. Because unlike baseball, the beach is certain. Oh sure, it rains at the beach, too. But we wait out the rain delay and go back and play. Or swim. Or walk. Or sit. Or snooze. Or we watch others play, swim, walk, etc.

Tybee gets a solid 9 on the people-watching scale. The beach is wide and flat, providing ample space for hundreds to set up for the day. Some bring elaborate beach tents, while others simply show up with a towel. We saw one lady dragging chairs from her hotel’s dining room to the water’s edge.

The beach was crowded, but not overcrowded. It was humming with activity, and the tune was snappy. I read a book in five days, but I could have read it in two were I not so distracted by other beachgoers. Not interrupted. Distracted. Tantalized. Irresistibly drawn to the skintastic spectacle of people at the beach. Getting tan. Getting exercise. Getting drunk.

And having fun. I watched a little girl run from the lapping waves then turn and chase them back to sea. I saw couples produce paddleball sets and families setting up bocce ball games. Our baseball boys went from throwing a ball around in the surf to throwing each other around, and then they took turns driving a bicycle into the crashing waves.

God, I love the beach.

I ran at shore’s edge a couple of mornings, and it’s a whole other vibe when the sun is just starting its journey. As it crests, so does the crowd. More squeals from kids, more shouts from parents and more tunes from boomboxes. Or whatever blasts music these days. In my day, it was D-battery-powered players blaring out beach-town radio stations.

My beach experience has evolved through the years: I went from chasing waves and sea gulls to chasing Frisbees and girls. And now I chase memories and dreams.

I see sunburns and remember my painful shoulders. I see college guys and remember my idiotic youth. I see bikini girls and remember the eternal quest.

And the dreams are for real. I think about what role the beach might play in my future, when my wife and I take vacations with only each other. And maybe sometimes with my sons. And their wives. And families.

And don’t forget that novel I told you about—the one that might be a screenplay instead. I’ll title it something clever, but if you read between the lines, you’ll see “I love the beach.”

Play Ball! (… any day now)

Baseball can teach a kid the value of dedication, when hard work and regular practice boost performance. It can teach a kid the value of discipline, where controlling your emotions results in cool, steady decision-making. And baseball can teach a kid the value of teamwork, where sacrificing personal glory results in greater team success.

The sport saves its biggest lesson for parents, though, because over and over, baseball teaches us the value of flexibility. As in don’t-make-any-plans-for-eating-or-sleeping flexibility.

I suppose the parents of kids who play indoor sports—basketball, swimming, volleyball, bowling, etc.—can arrange their lives with confidence, knowing that only the most catastrophic weather events will cause the game to move to a different day or time. You can nicely wedge a game into a well-planned schedule of work, meals, Netflix and sleep.

But baseball can string you along for days. On call. On edge. And this weekend, while the rest of America is celebrating Independence Day, we’re chained to our cell phones. We’re imprisoned by rain clouds.

It’s raining outside this weekend, and dang it, that’s where baseball is played. Football and soccer are also played outdoors, along with, say, pole-vaulting, but with those sports, you can muddle on during a rainstorm, pausing only for lightning, and continue play on a soggy field (or foam pad). But baseball, for all its eye-black bravado, wimps out after only a quarter-inch of rain lands on its manicured infield. (Note: Outfielders are on their own. For all baseball cares, outfielders can use swamp buggies and airboats to retrieve balls and return them to the infield.)

My son’s summer travel team, the Kentucky Rockers, is entered in the Supreme National 16U Ultimate Baseball Championship of All Times. (You pay extra for each word in the tournament title.) The 96 teams from at least that many states (right?) were scheduled to play on 15 ball fields in and around Louisville. Each team would get five games of pool play, which means playing all the teams in your pool, and the results would determine which teams advance to the elite eight* championship bracket, with tournament play determining the Supreme National Champion (etc.).

Unfortunately, we’re having a little trouble getting the tournament off the ground—or more accurately, keeping water off the ground so we can play the tournament.

Our first game was on Wednesday, when the mighty Rockers defeated a team from Ontario 2 to 1. I missed that game, electing to go to work and earn money for new baseball pants, which routinely get torn and stained with embarrassing brown skid marks. Had I known the Canadian showdown would be the only sure thing during the five-day extravaganza, I might have skipped work.

We were scheduled to play our next two games Thursday morning, then one Friday, and another on Saturday to set the stage for tournament seeding. Since that victory over Team Canada, though—and I write this on Friday afternoon—Louisville ball fields have received anywhere from a half-inch to 2.5 inches of rain.

Remember what I said about a quarter-inch ruining a field. The rain has made a mockery of the schedule. “Haha,” the rain said, using the text lingo of today’s youth.

Even on a good day, baseball has lots of standing around.

Even on a good day, baseball has lots of standing around.

The Rockers have been re-scheduled no fewer than 17 times—on an ever-changing series of fields—but we have yet to leave the house. You have to stay close to your car and baseball equipment, see, because makeup games are being scheduled every few minutes. With 96 teams, that means 1,318 players are on hold, as are 4,310 immediate family members—not counting 1,809 grandparents—and untold numbers of umpires, scoring officials and hotdog cookers.

I signed up for tournament text messages, so with each cancellation, rescheduled game, subsequent cancellation and further rescheduling, I get a text. In just the past hour, I got 43 dings. The tournament director has two bloody stumps where his texting thumbs used to be.

His latest message: “Saturday schedule being built as we speak. DO NOT go home.” I assume he is speaking to the parents from Canada. Those of us who live close to Louisville haven’t left home since Wednesday night, as I said.

Without baseball, there are other activities we might have enjoyed this Fourth of July weekend. There’s a patriotic concert in Lexington, fireworks in Midway, a street party in Versailles and a 5K run in Frankfort tomorrow morning. Heck, I might even have purchased hot dogs of my own and conducted a “weekend grill-out,” something I did before summer baseball took over our lives.

We set all of these things aside years ago, though, knowing that as a baseball family, we are subject to the whims of weather and the artful assignment—and reassignment—of game times and sites by a beleaguered tournament maestro. And that’s OK. That’s what we signed up for.

Because for all the inconsistencies that baseball delivers—from rain delays to wrecked weekends—it’s an experience that consistently delivers enrichment to our lives. For every minute that we juggle schedules and checkbooks to meet the demands of baseball, we spend an hour watching our sons ply the tools of baseball: dedication, discipline and teamwork.

So yeah, we’ve got to stay flexible, but our reward is just around the corner. It’s only Friday, and there are still two days of baseball awaiting us this weekend.

Oh wait—a new text just arrived. The tournament will be extended to Monday.

(*I use “elite eight” only conversationally here, as that term is copyrighted by the NCAA for use in its basketball tournament, AKA the road to the “final four,” which is also copyrighted. It’s sort of the “super bowl” of basketball. “Just do it.” “Coca-cola.” Any other copyrights I can infringe upon? “This sick beat,” anybody?)

My One-time Tour

Equus Run

My one-time tour for Bluegrass visitors included a stop at Equus Run Vineyards.

I put on a tour operator hat this week, and while it wasn’t a perfect fit, the experience was enormously gratifying.

When a conference for public relations professionals in the travel and tourism industry scheduled a landing in Lexington, Ky., I knew I had to be part of it. I’m the PR guy for the LEX-based National Tour Association, which is composed of people from tour operator companies and the places that tour groups travel to.

Like anybody, I’ve organized a group to meet for dinner. But tour operators orchestrate complex trips. Along with those dinner reservations, they’d also book air and hotel reservations for the group, plus transportation and a week full of activities.

I know what our members do, of course. I read and write about it all the time. But until this week, I didn’t know how they feel.

I joined PRSA, the organization holding the Lexington conference, so I could attend the event and become a more complete PR professional. (Note: It got me up to about 7 percent complete.) But I also wanted to use the opportunity to repay a friend from New Orleans, where my association held our big convention earlier this year. Tara orchestrated a parade of local media to cover our event, and she also starred in a seminar I led that would have bombed without her.

I promised Tara that when she came to Kentucky, I would introduce her to my home

Shaun (in blue) answers questions as visitors emerged from a horse barn.

Shaun (in blue) answers questions as visitors emerged from a horse barn.

state. The guy I called to fulfill my promise was Shaun Washington, tour guide extraordinaire. He knows the Thoroughbred industry, has incredible access to the farms and is a natural storyteller.

As long as I had a tour guide and a comfy van, I figured I would include more visitors. It was my first PRSA event, though, and I didn’t know anybody. So, like a tour operator forming a group, I had to do some marketing. I sent out a few emails to conference attendees from cities where my association will soon hold events. I gave them plenty of notice and promised them a good time and a great tour. No response. Oh, and it’s free, I added. Still … no replies.

As we got closer to the conference dates, I asked mutual friends to assure my invitees that I was not Random Man luring innocent victims into a van. Most of the mutual friends played along, I guess, as a few conference-goers emailed that they would possibly join the group. Of course, after they arrived in Lexington and had bacon and eggs beside me in the morning (and Bourbon in the evening), they realized I was legit. And they told a few of their friends. I told them all to gather in the hotel lobby at 5:15.

I began worrying at, oh, 12:15. I hadn’t been as nervous since my wedding day. What if nobody comes? What if word spread and everybody comes? What if Shaun doesn’t come? These people were nearly strangers, but I felt an enormous sense of responsibility. I had promised a great tour … what if I couldn’t deliver?

Shaun showed, of course, and he delivered a fantastic experience to the sixteen folks who risked joining the Random-Man Tour. As we cruised beside lush Bluegrass fields, my guests listened to Shaun’s tales. At KatieRich Farm they swooned over the foals and mares Shaun enticed to meet us at the plank fences. Many of them took their first sip of Bourbon from a chilled bottle I brought along. (I took cups, too, BTW.) We were close to Midway, Ky., and when we worked in a visit to Equus Run Vineyards, the smiles just multiplied.

Including a smile of my own. I am never happier than when I make others happier, and with the help of Shaun and Equus Run, I hit the happy jackpot. When the tour concluded, Tara and my new friends expressed their true appreciation for the land and lives that make this part of Kentucky a special place. They enjoyed their authentic experience.

I was filled with pride of place, but also, I felt the immense satisfaction that comes with meeting new people and enriching their lives. It must be like that for tour operators every day. And as much as I enjoyed the warmth of success, I don’t think I could tolerate the chills of uncertainty that lead up to it.

I am enthralled with the group tour experience and more appreciative than ever of the people who work to cultivate and orchestrate travel experiences. Sign me up for the next tour … just don’t expect me to lead it.