Monday, March 24, 2014

How well I remember

Isn't it funny that, as we get older and accumulate more and more memories and experiences, certain things stand out more than others?

I'm reminded of this as there is a certain area of my home area of Lexington, Kentucky that's undergoing some dramatic changes.  Most of these are in the form of demolition of some longstanding businesses, like Turfland Mall, Lexington's first enclosed shopping mall.  Turfland was opened in the mid 60's and was anchored by a McAlpin's department store and a Montgomery Ward's, too (if you don't remember Monkey Ward's, just think "Sears" and you'll have a pretty good picture of what they were about).  It boasted the biggest movie theater in town way back when, a "Cinema on the Mall."  The Blue Boar Cafeteria, a local dining spot that was well attended in a couple of locations in its day, was also part of that mall.  Now, all that's left is a Staples office supply store and a Home Depot.  They're tearing the rest down to make room for a medical office plaza.

Across the road was the Springs Motel, which existed for a LONG time.  A good friend had his wedding rehearsal dinner there twenty-odd years ago.  I used to have lunch with clients there, too, as well as to attend an association meeting once in a while (complete with rubber chicken for dinner).  That's gone, too, replaced on the corner by a CVS pharmacy.  It had fallen into disrepair and could not compete with newer chains with more modern convenences and, undoubtedly, lower upkeep and operations costs.

The corner on the same side as Turfland was the location for the old GTE building, where regional telephone operators handled and connected calls.  GTE gave way to Alltel and then Windstream some time ago, and that building had been vacant for a good while.  Out with the old, in with the new.

In the midst of all of this reminiscence I happened upon Turner Classic Movies' airing of the mid-50s gem "Marty," starring the durable Ernest Borgnine as the lovable but unloved title-character butcher.  Picture, actor, director and screenplay all won Oscars that year.  I mentioned to my wife that I was struck by much of the dialogue, people talking about being "sore" about something or other, and whether or not college-educated women could be trusted or taken seriously.  Great movie, even if it shows its age a bit.

Here are a smattering of other things I remember for one reason or another:

My parents bought their first and only home when I was nine.  Their mortgage payment was $108 per month.

My father actually complained out loud the first time he bought a new car whose retail price exceeded $5000.

Whatever happened to soft drinks in returnable bottles?  Wasn't that MORE environmentally responsible than aluminum cans or plastic bottles?

When I was a kid, Lexington had ONE pizza place and ONE Chinese restaurant.  But even then, there were probably a half-dozen McDonald's.

Wal-Mart used to be the store that would open in towns that were too small to have a K-Mart.

Sears was a catalog store, but you could buy appliances, yard equipment and tires there, too.

Any time I needed a new tube for a bike tire, or any other bike parts, my mom would take me to Western Auto.

I grew up in a small town with a Kroger, a Super Valu and and A&P.  The town is bigger now but has fewer grocery stores.

There were three banks, all of them were locally owned and operated.

When you went to the doctor, you paid for the services that were rendered.  Insurance was only if you had to go to the hospital.

I suppose my kids will be able to do the same thing when they get older, and I can only imagine what my grandchildren will recall in the same wistful way.

Now, if I can only remember where I put my keys....

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

It happens every spring

Friends, I come before you bearing good tidings and warm wishes, particularly the latter.  I won't belabor the obvious point about our endless winter, but to say that we can only hope the worst is behind us.

No, I wish to talk about spring, and the renewal it brings in so many respects.  More immediate of what happens this time of year is the NCAA men's basketball tournament, or, as it's commonly referenced, March Madness (and God help me that I didn't use quotes or a trademark or whatever).  It officially started list night with some "First Four" games, which used to be called "play-in" games.  Ultimately, the tournament, which once upon a time involved only 32 teams, now involves 68 and I fully expect it will be many more teams in the next few years.  After all, what other event draws the television audience over a three week period than this event?  More teams means more games, more ratings, and larger rights fees, so it'll happen.

And I also will not use this space to decry the process through which teams are selected and seeded in their various regional brackets.  Kentucky has underachieved all year and wound up an 8 seed, other schools overachieved and were ranked higher, but not always.  Should be fun to see what happens from here.

The other major area for renewal, and one that has a longer lifespan each year, is, of course, baseball. Teams are right now going through spring training (which used to be much more necessary when players had to have offseason jobs outside of the game, instead of spending the winter lifting weights and working out) and from what I'm reading, there's a certain "Groundhog Day" effect to it now, repetition, same place, etc.  So players, coaches, managers and writers are anxious for real games to come, which will occur in about ten days.

Let me share something poignant that was written about baseball by the late A. Bartlett Giamatti, former commissioner, National League President and president of Yale University.  I always come back to this quote each spring, and I think you'll see why:

“It [baseball] breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall all alone. You count on it, rely on it to buffer the passage of time, to keep the memory of sunshine and high skies alive, and then just when the days are all twilight, when you need it most, it stops.”

Wow.  I love to write, but if I could write that eloquently, well....of course, Giamatti was a professor of comparative literature....

But it's true, isn't it?  And true of a lot of things in life.  I've often thought that baseball is a bit of a microcosm for life.  You'll win some, you'll lose some, but it's how we play the game, in a manner of speaking.

I'm roughly halfway through the Ken Burns "Baseball" miniseries from the early 90's, as I watch the entire set every spring to get into the mood for the game (the fact that I do so on my treadmill means it really is MY spring training!).  As I watch this masterpiece, I'm struck by how baseball has never lacked for characters, good and bad, drama, and many, MANY emotional highs and lows.  Just like life, I think.

I have no objection to anyone who disagrees with my surmise that baseball and life bear close comparison.  But for those who feel at list somewhat as I do, it's going to be a great season, isn't it?

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

It's been more than 40 days, right?

Friends, the weather just keeps on throwing us curve balls here in central Kentucky.  Monday and yesterday we enjoyed what the TV weather people have taken to calling "abundant sunshine" and temps in the 60s and 70s.  Today, however, is a different story, as it's raining buckets, is in the high 50s as I write this and due to fall all the way into the 30s by late afternoon.  As the saying goes, if you don't like the weather, wait a minute and it will surely change.

On a very serious note, I cannot imagine what may have happened to that Malaysian airliner that seems to have disappeared in flight five days ago.  Television reports have shown some of the press conferences that Malaysian officials have held and some frustrated family members have pelted these officials with bottles and other objects, clearly because they just don't know what happened.  I fly somewhat frequently for my work, but not over open water, so I'm grateful that I've never faced anything like this as either a passenger or as a concerned loved one.

Back to lighter topics....the Kentucky basketball team, which has often played like anything but a team during the regular season, will try to retool itself in the Southeastern Conference tournament later this week.  Coach John Calipari says that he and his coaches have made a small "tweak" to the offense that should pay dividends, something that should have been done a month ago.  Bottom line, if these kids don't elect to play for each other, they won't advance.  But as a fan, I hope that they do.

The Cincinnati Reds are slogging through spring training in Arizona.  And "slogging" has less to do with weather and more to do with the fact that they have lost far more games than they've won.  To be fair, these games don't count, and managers are playing just about everyone to see how they perform. But at some point, as the Reds get closer to the team they'll have for the regular season, this would become a source of concern.  And I just read that a number of pitchers are experiencing "dead arm" syndrome, which makes sense, since they don't throw nearly so much during the off-season as otherwise.

I've been using a week off from work to accomplish a few things here at home.  Cleaned out the garage, some yard work, fixed a couple of things, etc.  Also have had time to prepare a couple of decent meals, which is a good thing!  Nice to have some spare time for a change!

About the only downside to this is that we finally had our repair guys come and take a look at our washer.  After plunking down some money about a month ago for a new drain pump, we now find that the washer needs a new motor.  Seven years old, and it's already beginning to disintegrate before our eyes.  And what's worse, there are still more moving parts that could require replacement.  So we're in that grey area--do we fix it or buy another?  Hate it when that happens.

Hope the weather isn't treating you too badly this week!



Friday, March 7, 2014

Just warming up

Good morning, all....happy to report that most of the five (yes, FIVE) inches of snow that fell on central Kentucky Sunday night and Monday morning are gone.  I have an intimate knowledge of how much snow fell since I shoveled my own driveway and sidewalks Monday morning when the snow had stopped, and then did the same for my elderly next-door neighbor.  Goodness, I'm really tired of snow and ice and cold and......

But, as I said, it's warming up, it's going to top 50 degrees here today and we're due to have several days in a row of weather that is pretty common for our area.  And that is indeed VERY good news!

Did you know that today and tomorrow have been deemed the "National Day of Unplugging," wherein people are encouraged to disconnect from their various online devices and thereby gain some relief from the stresses of life?  I'm all for disconnecting from work when I'm off (as I will be next week, coincidentally) but the way we all seem to work now makes it very difficult to completely unplug.  So I suppose the best I can commit is that I'll try not to pick up my iPad every fifteen minutes to see if I received a message, tweet, etc. for the next day or two.  Of course, I'm here now, and writing this online, so....

And we all need to "spring forward" by advancing our clocks by one hour on Saturday night, as we'll enter daylight savings time for the next several months.  Not wild about losing that hour of sleep, of course, but there are many pluses to DST, in my mind.  Not the least of which is being able to schedule a golf game after 1:00 PM and being able to complete the round before darkness falls.

I love this time of year, because now we're about a month from "real" baseball games that count.  Reading more and more about my esteemed Cincinnati Reds and their progress so far in spring training.  Spring really must not be far away.

And it's almost March Madness, too.  I'd bet Kentucky Coach John Calipari is feeling a different kind of madness right now, since his uber-talented team is not performing as the pre-season hype promised that it would.  They're just kids, after all, and Cal knows this, and fans do, too, but that doesn't stop the expectation machine from working overtime, particularly here in Kentucky.  The next hurdles are a regular-season-ending away game, then the Southeastern Conference tournament in Atlanta next week.  So I suppose we'll see if these guys grow up in a hurry, or play to their age and experience level.

Anything good on at the movies?  The last two I saw were released last fall, "Gravity" and "Captain Phillips," both nominated for Best Picture Oscars but both lost to "12 Years a Slave."  Just wondering.  This time of year seems to be a little thin for good new movies!

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to step outside and catch a few rays....

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