A Hall of Fame kind of day

Image may contain: 6 people, including Chip Ridewood, people smiling, people standing

I had the amazing good fortune last week to induct my late parents, Theodore and Dorothy — Dorie and Dottie — into the Interboro school district’s hall of fame outside of Philadelphia. 

It’s a heck of a thing, and a supremely proud moment for my family to see Mom and Dad immortalized — which is what a hall of fame does, after all — in such a way for their decades of helping to make their town, Prospect Park, a better place.

My nephew, and their first grandchild, Chip, nominated them for the honor, and the committee — which judges nominees’ resumes without names on them — elected to enshrine them this year along with a beloved former Interboro teacher and two former students who have gone on to great things.

Speaking of elections, my brother and sister chose me to speak for my parents and deliver an induction speech during a morning assembly at the high school for the senior class.

It was difficult in one way because the kids didn’t know my parents — Dad died in 2008 and Mom four years later — and you’re not sure how many wanted to even be there in the first place. Although it was an hour out of the classroom . . .

But I’m pleased to say they were an attentive and respectful audience, and that it was a blast for me to be back on a stage where I performed in the senior talent show 43 years (!) ago. That was back when we were the first class out of the “new” high school, and back when Dottie and Dorie still had 30 more good years to serve and build their community.

Anyway, I tried to bring them to life as best I could with my words. Here’s what I had to say:

“Good morning seniors! Good morning Interboro!

I’d like to thank alumni president Claire Reilly, the alumni officers and the board of directors for the work they do with the Interboro Hall of Fame. It’s important and inspirational work. Congratulations to them, and congratulations to today’s and the previous inductees.

I’m thrilled to be here accepting this incredible honor on behalf of my family and my parents, Theodore and Dorothy Robinson. Or as they were known by everybody, Dottie and Dorie.

My dad died in 2008, my mom in 2012. So let me tell you a little bit about why they are being honored today as hall of fame members of the Interboro community. 

My dad lived in Prospect Park his whole life; he was literally born in a house on what’s now Lincoln Ave. My mom moved here from Maryland as a child. They were graduates of Prospect Park High School. My dad served in the Navy in two wars and delivered mail in Prospect Park for 37 years; he knew who lived at every address in town, and they knew him. He and my mom loved the borough and each other through 60 years of marriage. 

But living in one place a long time isn’t why their grandson Chip nominated them for the hall of fame, and it’s not why the hall of fame committee selected them. It’s because they were completely INVESTED in this one place. Because they got INVOLVED in making this one place wonderful for everyone, over and over again. 

It’s because they worked to make their community special, without ever making that work seem out of the ordinary. It’s just what they did and who they were. They knew the secret, which isn’t really much of a secret: You live somewhere, you participate, you build relationships that last a lifetime. It’s a simple formula that creates lives of loyalty, friendship and love.

And people truly loved Dottie and Dorie. 

The list of my dad’s volunteer service is ridiculously long. 

  • He co-founded the Prospect Park Youth club and actually helped build the clubhouse with his neighbors. Later, he was a baseball coach and even the groundskeeper. 
  • He was commander of his American Legion post.
  • For years, he was president or parade marshal of the Fourth of July Association, planning the parade, the games and activities and the fireworks. A huge job.
  • At church, he sang in the choir, was a trustee, cut the grass, took out the trash, shoveled snow, played ping-pong with the minister — and along with my mom was the custodian. 
  • For all this, Prospect Park honored him as its Citizen of the Year in 1999. That was a joy of which he and Mom, and we, were justifiably proud. 

My mom was a 4-foot-11 ball of fire, Dorie’s unwavering support and our family’s rock. She never drove a car, so she either rode with my dad or she walked . . . all over town, rapidly, her tiny feet flying, often in trademark pink sneakers.

At Prospect Park Elementary, the kids knew her for more than 30 years as the “playground Miss,” monitoring the playground at recess after lunch. For her, going to school every day was a delight that was contagious, and at 4-11 she truly seemed among her people. 

Over her years there, she especially enjoyed meeting the children of people she first knew as children. An injury forced her to retire late in life, or else I’m sure she’d have worked into her 80s.

Very active at church as well, she cleaned the pews, shoveled the snow with Dorie and was a deacon. And when election days rolled around, she could always be found across the street at Witmer Field in the youth club clubhouse, working the polls with her neighbors.

Mom and Dad would be astounded by their new home in the Interboro hall of fame, and they’d probably be a little perplexed as well. They were of a different generation, modest and unassuming. They’d wonder, why the fuss? 

It’s because community servants like they were are too few and far between today. And it’s gratifying to know that, thanks to this hall of fame, their example of how to live a full, engaged life will be timeless. 

Seniors, I hope this is your main take away from today’s ceremony. If you give in life, you get back in precious and countless ways.

We are so very proud.”

And so we are. So we are.

Born to . . . get this old

I remember as a kid, learning I shared a birthday with Lucille Ball. Lucille Ball is one of the all-time greats. I thought that was kind of cool. 

I have other “famous” shares: Andy Warhol. NBA Hall of Famer David Robinson (no relation, haha). Former First Lady Edith Roosevelt. Is that a typo? No. Edith (not Eleanor) was the second wife of Teddy Roosevelt, but she was First Lady from 1901 to 1909.

August 6 is most famous, though, for the atomic bombing of Hiroshima in 1945, the first use of the weapon, long before I was a gleam in anybody’s eye. (Nagasaki was nuked a few days later.) There’s little doubt that makes August 6 among the most infamous dates in world history. So, as Caddyshack’s Carl Spackler says, I’ve got that going for me.

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However it was calculated, and the estimate changed over the years, Hiroshima’s death toll was around 170,000, split roughly among those who died immediately and those who eventually died from the radioactive exposure.

On that pleasant note, here’s some other stuff that happened on this date, both in the olden days and while I was busy aging into the debacle you see before you: 

  • The Constitutional Convention began debating the first draft of the Constitution in Philadelphia in 1787. I am born in the same city less than two centuries later. 
  • Henry Sullivan of Massachusetts in 1923 becomes the first American, and third person overall, to swim the English Channel. He completed his 27 ½ hour journey the night of the 6th in Calais, France. 
  • I guess there was something in the water because, oddly, three years later to the day, Gertrude Ederle, 20, of New York became the first woman to swim the Channel. It took her 14 hours and 34 minutes, swimming from France to England. New York City threw her a ticker-tape parade. I swim a mile in a river or lake to start a triathlon. No parades are forthcoming.
  • And then . . . ! Marcus Hooper became the youngest person, till that time, to swim the same damn Channel in 1979. He was 12. This Channel fixation with Aug. 6 is weird. 
  • A cool baseball thing here, ‘cause I love cool baseball things: Denton True “Cy” Young made his big-league debut on Aug. 6, 1890. 1890, people! Pitching for the Cleveland Spiders, Young three-hit the Chicago Cubs for the first of his 511 career victories. The Cy Young award has gone annually to the best pitchers in baseball since 1956. Young died in ’55.

  • The Beatles’ album “Help,” the group’s fifth, was released in the United Kingdom in 1965. It included “Ticket to Ride,” “Hide Your Love Away,” the title track and “Yesterday,” by any and all accounts one of the greatest pop songs of all time. I don’t know, but I’d guess that, with Paul McCartney still touring at 77, “Yesterday” has to be the most performed song in the history of recorded sound. Who’s with me? 
  • Speaking of great music, when Jon Stewart did his last “Daily Show” four years ago today, the final guest was a surprise. Stewart said a poignant thank you and farewell from his desk, then the camera shifted to Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, unannounced, ready to crank up to full throttle. They played Stewart off the air with “Born to Run” as the floor in front of the band became a huge dance party for Stewart and his staff.

That was boss.

A passing, and a lasting moment in time

I hate that this will make consecutive posts, albeit two months apart, about death. But I feel moved to comment briefly on the passing of Joe Miller, a college baseball teammate of mine at Widener University a very long time ago. 

Joe, who recently died in Florida at age 64,  was the son of my Widener coach Harry Miller, a legend in amateur baseball in Delaware County outside Philadelphia. The Millers were a rich baseball family, and Joe was a good enough outfielder and hitter out of high school to go play Division I ball in North Carolina. Later, he was a draft pick of the Houston Astros and played in the minors.

But by the time I got to Widener, a small Division III program, as a freshman for the 1977 season, Joe had transferred in to play for his dad. I only got to play with him that one year, but what I saw in Joe upon meeting and watching him immediately shocked me into the reality that I’d better get to work. Because if men of his caliber – and he was a strapping specimen – were what I was going to encounter in Division III, I could get swallowed up if I didn’t knuckle down. 

Work ethic turned out to not be a problem; I wanted to play pro baseball, and I became a gym and fieldhouse batting-cage rat. Trying to become as good as Joe Miller was motivation, ultimately unfulfilled, but the effort alone helped me become a four-year starter and a 14th-round draft choice of the L.A. Dodgers after my senior season.

I’m proud of those latter achievements. But I still marvel at how good that first Widener team was, with my skinny butt at second base surrounded by Joe and a slew of upperclassmen I knew I couldn’t let down. 

I (mostly) did not . . . but the memories of that season are still flavored with  angst, as happens in sports, or hell, everywhere in life. 

We, the Pioneers, won our conference and actually entered that ’77 postseason as the top-ranked squad in Division III. Our regional tournament, for the chance to reach the D-III World Series, was held in Wooster, Ohio over the Memorial Day weekend. We practiced before piling into our vans for the long drive from Chester, Pa., and a bad-hop ground ball broke my nose toward the end of that practice. 

I got it immediately set by a local doctor – I still shudder at the ridiculous crunch of cartilage as he pressed it back into place. They stuffed my nose with cotton, and gave me a little taped-on protective guard to use while sleeping and playing.

And yep, we played well. I think we lost our second game in the double-elimination tourney, but we won our way back to where we and Marietta of Ohio, a D-III power at the time, were the lone survivors. That meant we’d have to win twice on the final day to advance.

With the looming presence of Joe Miller in center field, we took care of job one, the first victory. But when the second game was tied in extra innings as dusk approached, on a field without lights, the umpires suspended play. I remember us and our fans/parents loudly protesting that decision — we felt the momentum was ours. But we were ordered to return the next morning, Memorial Day, to decide the game.

I remember making an error somewhere in that second game that helped Marietta tie the score. That felt bad. I felt worse when, in the bottom of that first restarted inning, we gave up a home run and lost the game. I collapsed into the arms of our first baseman, also a departing senior, even before we left the field.

I write all this to say Joe Miller, who went on to make a career of mentoring troubled youth and addicts, and those first college teammates obviously had an indelible impact on me. They helped set the course of my ensuing years as a developing athlete and baseball player.

In that context, it was surreal for me to see Joe’s obituary, and sad to learn Harry and Doris, still alive and living in Florida, now have to bear the pain of outliving their son.

I honor Joe’s memory and the too few days I spent in his orbit. 

A very good boy

It made me happy to see Ollie take a walk in the backyard on his final morning.

It was sunny and warm, at least for a little bit, which was good because the chill didn’t agree with his aching back and arthritis-afflicted legs. Ollie cautiously felt his way down the carpeted ramp we’d installed for him over the back steps almost immediately upon moving in to our new home 13 months ago. And then he was into the yard as in healthier days, sniffing and peeing and snacking on wisps of grass as he liked to do.

I stood with him, talked to him softly, scratched his ears, and after a few minutes he hobbled back toward the ramp, letting me know he was ready to go in. I helped him pad back up the ramp, nudging hind-end muscles reduced lately to little form or function, and we stepped inside to share the last of our time together.

Ollie gave out, is about all I can say. I had him for 9 ½ years, my first dog in my then-51 years of life. He was at least three years older than that, though, the shelter only guesstimated his age at 3 back then. My wife kids me for reporting Ollie’s age as 12 since 2016. It doesn’t really matter, because in any event, his body was failing. He was a yellow lab, a large one, and you know the hip dysplasia and rear-end atrophy and spinal nerve issues are coming for elderly yellow labs, as they came for Ollie.

He was tough, though, God was he tough. Unbelievably so. Inspiringly so.

It hurt me a year ago to see Ollie, poking about outside with me on a windy day, lumber down our long driveway woofing at the mailman. A misstep, or perhaps just the day’s stiff breeze, knocked him over. One morning last July, after a hectic holiday weekend at the house, he awoke on the floor next to my bed a shocking mess of urine and feces. He spent the day in a trance. All hope appeared lost. I called the vet and, through halted breaths and strangled words, made the appointment. But the next morning, Ollie was up and around and aware, ready to eat. It was as if that bad day never happened.

Two months later, on a fairly warm but hardly dangerous fall day, I left him on the roofed porch with water and a fan while I was out for a couple hours. When I returned, I found Ollie stretched out in the yard, comatose, his chest heaving, tongue dangling, eyes empty. I picked him up, placed him in the van and dashed to the vet. They rushed him to the back, took his temperature – 108. 108! The vet said, “You have to make a decision.”

I said please try to save him.

They saved him.

After some hours, we all went home, with orders to let Ollie sleep, keep him comfortable. We set him up on blankets in the laundry room. Ten minutes later, I’m in my office, and there comes the familiar sound of dog nails on the wood floor . . . heading my way . . . Ollie on the move.

We tried meds and water and laser therapy to try to mute Ollie’s pain, maybe to slow his degeneration. It might have worked a little, I don’t know. All I know is Ollie slowly lost bowel control, and that this strong, once-great athlete could not get up on his own if he lay down on any uncarpeted surface. Recently, he’d stand at his food bowl or in the mud hall, and at any second – thud. He’d be down, his legs unable to support him in that moment.

Saying goodbye to Ollie, watching him drift off on his blanket by my bed, was a hard and terrible thing. In that, I know I have the boundless empathy of untold dog – pet – owners. As the kindly vet sent Ollie to the peace and rest he deserved, I played my guitar for him through my tears, a repetitive little melody that felt soothing and right. It was another bond we shared. In our old house, I’d play the piano in the living room, and without fail, wherever Ollie happened to be in the house, he’d make his way to the landing on the stairs, lie down and listen.

Oh, Ollie. My partner. My companion. My friend beyond compare. My sweet, sweet boy.

Thank you.

Staying out there

I am thrilled to be in Distinction magazine twice in this latest edition – once for a story on artistic director Tom Quaintance and the Virginia Stage Company, and again with a quick review of a little gem of a restaurant, Clementine’s at Riverview. 

The link to the VSC story is here.

(I’ll link to the Clementine’s story ASAP when I can find it online. :/)

The more I do it, the more I appreciate my opportunities to stretch into new areas and challenge myself as a freelance feature writer. I still enjoy following and writing about sports, although not as much as, say, a decade ago. But back then I would have never foreseen myself diving into the guts of a theater-company’s comeback, profiles of Eastern Shore artists or the ins and outs of making bourbon in Virginia.

This new direction has been great so far, and I look forward to treading more different turf as 2019 unfolds. I’ve said this before, but I also plan to post on this blog much more often, touching on this and that and hopefully keeping my wits and writing chops sharper in between paid assignments. 

A new goal, by half

I’ve pulled the trigger, so to speak, on running my first half-marathon.

I sort of can’t believe it. Actually, no sort-of about it. As I often tell friends, there is no way I pictured myself as an endurance runner, biker, swimmer, endurance anything ever in my lifetime as recently as two years ago. That kind of torture-your-body stuff held no appeal for me. Zero. But once I accidentally fell into doing triathlons – my first was a sprint in Santa Cruz two years ago on a whim to accompany my daughter – it gradually, to my surprise, became serious enough that I now pay a trainer every month to design workouts so I can get stronger and compete better within my age group. I am down that rabbit hole, in other words. 

By that relation, then, my physical stamina has improved to where the thought of a six-mile run no longer intimidates me or my knees; I actually look forward to them. (Who IS this stranger?!) But only recently have I considered stepping up to race twice that distance (plus 1.1 miles).

Among the many things that training consistently, really for the first time in my life, and confidently have taught me is to not be afraid of new challenges. Respect them, for sure, and protect myself from injury always. There is nothing I dread more, except hitting a fly-over-the-handlebars pothole, than a foot or leg injury setting me way back and canceling all the conditioning gains I’ve made. At 60, lengthy rehab processes are not welcome.

That’s a long way of saying I stopped pondering signing up for a half-marathon in Richmond in five weeks and actually committed to the 13.1 miles the other day. (Dee, a strong natural runner despite her denials, will join me there for the 8K.) Longtime runners and endurance racers will scoff at my little proclamation, and that fact that I admit to being a little afraid of it. Trepidatious? I’m pretty sure seven miles is the longest I’ve ever run at one time; I pokey-poked out that distance sometime last year. But wonderfully amid all that, I have discovered a new-found belief in myself as a (competitive) athlete that I thought was long past. It brings me back every day. I train with gratitude for being able to run, ride or swim (with relative little pain at this point) in the first place. I find satisfaction in a new identity and a physical relevance that makes me happy.

Advice I’ve found online, as well as from my coach, cautions me to focus on completing this first half without a time goal, to not let the adrenaline of race day and a too-quick start ruin my run, to more than anything breathe in the scene. Accept as its own reward the act of stepping up to a challenge and staring it down.

So yes, I hope to keep my wits and keep it real, firm in the faith that this half is just another next step toward keeping me whole.




Boss of Breweries

I love the variety of stories I get to do now as a freelancer here and about town. This one, for Growler magazine, just came out. I learned everything there is to know about building craft beer pubs and manufacturing plants! OK, I learned almost nothing about all of that. But I DID learn a lot about Randy Thomas, who actually does know pretty much everything there is to know about the aforementioned beer-building subjects. And what he doesn’t know, Thomas figures out on his own. FigureItOut. FIO. Some of us are way better than others re that ability. Thomas is inspiring in that regard.

Anyway, here’s a link to the story. Hope you learn a thing or two 🙂 .



Curtis Strange, no longer the Open answer

A little golf talk here.

Brooks Koepka, a very good professional golfer, just won the U.S. Open for the second year in a row. This is a simple sentence that is more than it seems, because going back-to-back at the Open is a devilishly tough chore to accomplish for a number of reasons. The event moves each year is the main one, unlike the Masters. The United States Golf Association is notorious for its lunacy of monkeying with whichever course is in play to keep the winning score at or near par. Getting to peak performance level 365 days later is another reason.

It’s just hard, OK, even for the world’s best. In any event, very few men have won the U.S. Open in consecutive years. Koepka has pushed that list to seven, adding a name for the first time in 29 years.

You might have heard the last to do it was Curtis Strange, who was born in Norfolk, raised in Virginia Beach and went on to a world golf hall of fame career. Strange was a fierce, almost crazed competitor. He brought remarkable intensity to his job, fire that burned and flared and was impossible to sustain into his golfing twilight more than a decade ago. Now a broadcaster, Strange actually was the first media member to interview Koepka after his Sunday round, which was an interesting twist.

Interesting because Strange, at his zenith, had a far and wide reputation as being one of golf’s biggest jerks. It drove him to greatness as it drove away people outside his circle. The irony of him now making his living in the media is delicious. Strange’s arrogance followed him into his broadcasting career, never so much as when Strange, while still an active player, interviewed Tiger Woods as Woods launched his career in 1996. The “you’ll learn” interview. Watch it here and cringe. (Right or wrong, Strange has always stood by his remarks as being representative of fans who were incredulous over Woods’ own youthful confidence/arrogance.)

This is all to say I actually always liked Strange in my few dealings with him as a sports writer.

I came to writing about golf late in Strange’s career, when his mellowing, believe it or not, had begun. I’m pretty sure my first dealing with him was when he played the U.S. Open at Pinehurst in 1999. I remember he was paired the first two rounds with Jack Nicklaus, and that one of his sons carried his bag. Strange missed the cut but was patient and gracious as he discussed the thrill of working with his son aside Nicklaus.

I interviewed Strange multiple times later on; when he came to Portsmouth to do a clinic at the Bide-a-Wee course he’d redesigned years earlier. I have a photo of he and I talking on the range. When he was the Ryder Cup captain in 2002, a losing one, but whatever. I prepared to cover that Cup at The Belfry in England, but alas my employer pulled the plug. :/ I WAS sent to Naples, Fla. to cover Strange’s senior tour debut in 2005, when it seemed apparent his heart wasn’t in it after enduring some personal struggles. That sense turned out correct; Strange was an indifferent senior player for only a few seasons. And once more to Florida in 2007 to write about Strange’s induction to the hall of fame.

I think the last time we spoke was in 2011 at Congressional outside D.C. when Strange, with ESPN at that time, analyzed Rory McIlroy’s U.S. Open victory for me for my column. In all those times, I never recall him directing a cross or impatient word toward me. Sarcastic, yes, but all in fun. My former colleague Jim Ducibella, for instance, who was at Augusta when Strange blew the Masters, can’t necessarily say that. Shudder.

So Curtis is through as a running footnote to history, at least as the U.S. Open is concerned. Some applaud, but I never begrudged him his time on that stage. However you regard Strange, a yearly curtain call for such rare achievement seemed fair by me.




Dig it? Unfortunately, yes.

We finally got the fence completed in the new, big backyard so the dogs can roam around to their heart’s content. There are trees, flowers, lots of grass and fresh air to sniff. The openness has even put a spring in Ollie’s step. He trots a bit across the expanse now and then, bad hips and all. It’s heartening to see the old boy romp that way again, if only for a few seconds at a time.

The guilty party.

What could be wrong with that picture?

Well, where Ollie seems just happy to be out there, Atticus, the Australian shepherd/collie mix, has a mission in life. And that’s to protect. Protect and chase. Protect, chase and, oh yeah, to dig, dig, dig. To specifically find and dig up the mole that burrowed a tell-tale tunnel in a particular part of the yard.

I open the door to the back and Atticus bolts down the steps and sprints to that area over by the tree bed. Nose to the ground, he bloodhounds and frantically searches for a sign that any mole or vole might be in his reach. The slightest hint provokes the deepest, hardest dig, dirt and grass flying from beneath his paws as if they are threshers.

Unless I am standing there as well, in the role of playground monitor, in a matter of minutes the holes in the mulch and the twisting cavern in the yard, which I’ve repeatedly covered over with a rake, are back, as bad as new.

The unfortunate unintended consequence is that, if and until we come up with another solution, Atticus is reduced to bathroom visits to the yard before repairing to the deck and screened porch, where he can wander but also be confined to the premises.

The moral: Dogs will be dogs, diggers will dig, and what in the sad hell are you gonna do?



The time gone by

Yep, I still have this blog. I’ve ignored it, which I hate, and which also is ironic because I’ve had more to write about in the last few months than probably the last couple years combined. Here’s the update, for those of you keeping score of my life, ha.

Sold house. Moved to Williamsburg. Traveled through (another) part of Europe. Got engaged in the Eiffel Tower, you bet. Traveled to Vancouver. Ran a triathlon in Boulder, Co. and visited my awesome Coloradan son. Helped my then-fiance, the incredible Dee, pack up and move to a great, new house the next street over. Carted so much to the dump. Kept a slew of local tradesmen in business at the old house due to cracked pipes, no heat, drywall and paint needs, electricians for swapping out light fixtures. Ch-ching ch-ching. Fell down a slick dog ramp one frozen, oh-dark-30 morning. Took my breath away. Felt lucky I didn’t get a concussion or worse. And oh yeah, got married before about 160 family and great, great friends two weeks ago.

Hired one of the best party bands I’ve ever seen, BJ Griffin and the Galaxy Groove, out of Virginia Beach, and threw one of the best wedding parties I and many of our guests had ever seen. BJ even let me sing a song with the boys (and lady). Jesus, was that a blast! Thank you, thank you, thank you, BJ.

Got hammered at the after party, endured a bleh-bleh drive to Richmond early the next morning, but totally enjoyed our first trip to an all-inclusive Mexican resort in Playa del Carmen. A note on that: until late in our trip, we had NO idea a ferry in Playa del Carmen had recently been bombed and that cautionary bulletins were issued about being careful in PDC. Glad we didn’t know, for sure. Ignorance totally contributed to our bliss.

All around that, I got to write some very cool stories, among them: a Q&A with golfer Marc Leishman, a piece on the PGA Tour Champions coming to Richmond, a feature on three Eastern Shore artists – MamaGirl Onley, Moe Spector and Clarence “Black Elvis” Giddens — that I loved.

Now, we’re into high school baseball, where as a head JV coach I’m trying to wrangle some semblance of baseball skills from a group of kids with a wiiiiiide range of ability, to say the least.

God, am I lucky. Touched. Blessed. Grateful – to be loved, to love, to parent, to coach, to write, learn, live and run.

Ain’t it all grand?

Why yes. Yes, it is.