Friday, December 08, 2006

Coldest you've ever been?

Well, THAT was a nippy little jaunt to get the paper out of the front yard at 6 this morning. It got down to 18 in Charlotte and 16 in a couple other towns in the area.

I'm a Southern boy -- we played softball Christmas Day one year -- so I don't have that much experience with really cold days. But I do remember one.

Ten years ago I was headed to Chicago for a story and I stopped somewhere in Indiana farm country to get gas. The next day, in Chicago, the wind chill would be 18 below. This night was something like that.

But I thought: I'm just gonna be out of the car for five minutes. No need for a hat or gloves or anything.

Why yes, I am a moron.

In that five minutes my eyeballs almost iced over and my ears almost fell off and my hand just about stuck to the gas nozzle.

It took a while for me to get warm again. Like, April.

So: What's the coldest you've ever been? Add your deep-freeze stories below. I fully expect to hear from the Minnesotans in the house. Try not to start every post with "That was nothing..."

Monday, November 27, 2006

Post-Thanksgiving thanks

Some things about Thanksgiving you can appreciate in advance -- getting together with family, leftover turkey on the weekend, whispering about what to get the spouse/parents/in-laws for Christmas.

But some years the best parts are the ones you didn't expect to appreciate.

This year I'm thankful to my wife's parents for never turning on the TV all weekend, because it spared me from the Panthers game.

I'm thankful for having to get up early Saturday morning to let the dog out, because that meant we got to see the deer in the woods. This was without a doubt the greatest event in our dog's life that did not involve treats. He is on point now even when he's asleep.

I'm thankful for the traffic jam outside of Asheville, because it got us on the back roads and off the interstate. It turns out that downtown Canton is sort of lovely.

I was thankful for old copies of the New Yorker, little kids showing off their new bikes, sandhill cranes chattering on their yearly trip south, and the good sandwiches at the only restaurant open weekends in downtown Dayton, Tennessee.

And of course I'm thankful for all of you who have already responded to Project Joy, my drive to provide Christmas gifts for Mecklenburg County's foster kids. If you're interested, more details here.

Thanks for thinking of us.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Clarifying Panthers story

My column today was about a group of Iraq-war vets who were treated to a tour of the Carolina Panthers' operations at Bank of America Stadium. Along the way they met some players. In the column, I wrote this:

The Panthers had the day off but four players showed up -- safety Mike Minter, defensive end Mike Rucker, fullback Brad Hoover and linebacker Chris Draft.

A few readers took that to mean that the other players blew off the event. Not the case. The fault was mine, for a badly worded sentence.

I called the Panthers' offices to double-check. Riley Fields, the team's director of community relations, confirmed what I had guessed -- most of the team didn't even know about the event.

The staff asked only a few players to come -- mainly, players who had helped with other military-themed events. Fields said the team didn't want a big crowd because the tour was intended to be intimate.

My apologies for not writing that better. Now back to our regularly scheduled discussion of the Dallas game...

Friday, October 20, 2006

Tats for tots

If you're thinking about a Christmas gift for the young'uns on your list, you can stop looking now:

The Gr8 TaT2 Maker

And note the recommended age bracket: 6 to 12 years. A guaranteed hit at those first-grade birthday parties!

Boys, remember: The tribal tattoo around the bicep is so five years ago. Like, when you were in diapers.

And girls, don't get a tattoo with your boyfriend's name. Kindergarten romances almost never last.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Never seen THAT on a truck before

Thursday night, driving down Sharon Amity Road, a pickup truck passes on the left. I glance over -- then do a bug-eyed double-take.

There was a guillotine in the back.

A guillotine.

Call 911! Get the license plate! Run him off the --

Oh. Right. It's almost Halloween.

At least I hope that's what it was about.

The whole thing made me think of this record, which scared the crap out of me when I was a kid. I can still hear the creaks of "The Unsafe Bridge."

What Halloween stuff used to give you the creeps? What still does? Add chilling, thrilling memories below.

Friday, October 06, 2006

The church of Snoop Dogg

I love it when churches try to be hip. Last night I saw this sign in front of New Hope Missionary Baptist on Hawthorne Lane:


The song reference is a couple years out of date, but it's still pretty cool to use a pot-smoking ex-gangster as the path to spiritual enlightenment.

Add your favorite church signs below. And this is also a little out of date, but if you've never run across the Church Sign Generator, prepare to enjoy yourself.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Looking for Pavilion memories

I'm headed to the Myrtle Beach Pavilion this weekend -- Saturday is the last day it'll be open before it shuts down for good.

For those of y'all new to these parts, the Pavilion is an amusement park that was the main attraction in the old days of Myrtle Beach. I've talked to Charlotteans who used to get up early on a Saturday, drive down to the beach, spend all day at the Pavilion and get back home as the sun came up on Sunday.

So is anybody heading down there for the going-away party? And does anybody have a story about the Pavilion? Reminisce below.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

A city full of questions

On Wednesday I asked readers to come up with the most important question facing the Charlotte area right now.

I picked the ones I liked best for my column on Friday. (You can find that Friday in the paper or at

But I got more good questions than I had space in the paper. Here are the rest of the questions that came in. They're listed basically in order of when I got the e-mail or phone call. I edited a couple for clarity. In a few cases, people added comments; for the purpose of this post I stuck to the questions.

Here we go.

When will the parents of CMS students take full responsibility for their child's behavior and academic achievement?
-- Frank Leister

When will we realize it is more important what we give to rather than receive from religion, our families, our friends, our jobs, sports... life?
-- Alex Coffin

Why does Charlotte continue promoting and spending taxpayers' money on projects that have failed in other cities?
-- Sara Webb

How can we protect our watershed property so that we'll have good water to drink?
How can we manage our resources better to provide for schools where they are needed?
Is there a way to set up fees for developers so that the schools will be in place when the population explodes?
-- Nancy Blythe

Will Charlotte implement a growth management strategy that paces growth concurrently with the infrastructure components (roads, schools, parks) that are necessary to accommodate our new growth?
Will we preserve the quality of life for our existing residents and for the residents that have not yet moved here?
Do we want to just grow or will we grow in a quality fashion with neighborhoods that will stand the test of time?
What is Charlotte going to do to create great neighborhoods that will stand the test of time unlike most of the cookie-cutter, tree-less, shoe-boxes that are being built by the thousands throughout most of Charlotte?
Other communities are taking a more proactive approach on addressing these issues, isn't it about time that we do the same before it is too late?
-- DanoPlan

Does honesty matter?
-- Fern Shubert

Who are we now?
-- Nancy Holt

How about the complete disregard from the powers that be here (council/school board/commisioners/mayors office/law enforcement) to listen to what the people want, instead bulling through whatever they "think" is best for the city?
-- Terry Roberts

Am I my brother’s keeper? (Genesis 4:9)
Who is my neighbor? (Luke 10:29)
-- The Rev. Nancy Allison
(full disclosure: Nancy is pastor at Holy Covenant United Church of Christ, where my wife and I are members. -- Tommy)

What city do you want for your children? For everyone’s children?
Is having a soul important? If yes, what’s the state of ours?
Should money determine your civic worth? Can we expand the definition of good citizen?
Who can afford to live here? What happens when those who can’t leave?
What is the real value of diversity and education and what are we willing to do to succeed at both?
-- Tressie Cottom

What does it mean to say: "I am a follower of Jesus"?
What does the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution mean in declaring that two of the five purposes in establishing the Constitution are to "establish justice" and "promote the general welfare"?
-- Dave Smith

What five things will we as a community agree to do to ensure that every Mecklenburg child has the same odds we had of living a healthy, well-educated and relatively comfortable life?
-- Sjohnclt

Why do so very many commentators, when interviewing interesting guests, feel their own comments are much more important and constantly interupt and take over the answers?
-- Sandy Howie

Wouldn’t it be great for Charlotte to join the other national cities in USA that have on their own adopted the Kyoto Accord?
-- Sally Knauth

We -- and many other metro areas -- are tied in a Gordian Knot of interrelated challenges to equitable participation in our local economy and society. What specific additional investment of public and private dollars will leverage the most effective early impacts at untying this knot, building real momentum toward stronger participation in the Charlotte economy for those now on the fringes or just left out?
-- Roger Coates

What changes do we in Charlotte need to make now so that we don't become another Atlanta?
-- Connie S.

How do we get parents -- single or married -- rich or poor -- black, white, green or yellow, to take "primary" responsibility for raising and helping educate their children?
-- Jerry Fulmer

Are we in the US, for the most part, not all illegal aliens?
If we were born rich instead of good looking, would we be where we are this morning?
-- Jim Sigmon

How can Charlotte preserve land use without completely restricting development so we can attract new business?
-- Andy Silver

How do we handle immigration, legal or illegal? Should we embrace people of all nations who want to be here and are willing to work hard for low wages, or should we dismiss everyone who is not just like us?
Are we prepared to furnish the infrastructure necessary for our growing population, or are we just going to complain about it instead of putting our money where our mouths are?
How can we control crime, starting with black on black crimes?
-- Shirley Knack

Will it take another revolution to make the "Upper-Class" realize that "Let them eat cake" ultimately will work no better for the United States today than it did for France in the past?
-- Michael Watson

Who is my brother?
-- Lamcg55

Why doesn’t the paper print more moderate viewpoints in the letters to the editor?
-- Jack Berryhill

-- Why don’t we have some toll roads to pay for our very, very much needed expansion of I-485 and I-77?
Terri Coggin

Will voters in Charlotte and Mecklenburg County continue to put people in office who take away our freedom, liberty and property rights?
When will the leaders arise who will "let Charlotte be Charlotte" rather than try to be Atlanta, Portland or Nashville?
When will a newspaper arise with an editorial staff that uses Adam Smith rather than Karl Marx to guide its editorial positions on issues?
-- Bill Reeside

How can Charlotte get huge numbers of indviduals to feel intrinsically bound to one's neighbors -- so that a tidal wave of compassion and optimism and enthusiasm is created -- such that everyone through his or her gifts/passions wants to empower other individuals to live more and more fulfilling, peaceful, productive lives, thereby creating more and more healthy schools and communities?
-- Dorrie Gibson

(This is Tommy again... Got more questions? Care to answer any of the above? Post below.)

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

A day on jury duty

Had to go in for jury duty the other day. They bring in maybe 100 people and put them all in a waiting room until a judge asks for a group (anywhere from a dozen to 30) for a jury pool. My name never got called. Went in at 8, got dismissed at 4:30, the check (12 bucks!) is in the mail.

Three things you might not know about Mecklenburg County jury duty:

-- They show movies! On two big-screen TVs! The day I was there featured a battling-with-mental-illness twin bill: "A Beautiful Mind" and "Radio."

-- If you're still there in the afternoon, you get free popcorn to go along with the movie.

-- If you'd rather skip the flicks, there's a quiet room where you can read, knit, doze, etc. That's where I spent most of the day.

At one point, somebody in one of the movies let out a horrifying scream that we could hear all the way in the quiet room.

There was silence for a moment. Then a guy one row behind me said: "Oh, no. They killed a juror."

Jury-duty humor. You can't beat it.

Add your tales of jury service, civic duty and long hours in waiting rooms below.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Ranking the songs about states

My column in Wednesday's paper (look for it at is about state songs -- not the official songs, but songs ABOUT states. The song that might play in your head when you're on your way back home.

(And before we start: "New York, New York" is a fine song. But it's about a city, not a state. Same goes for "New York State of Mind.")

Here's the top 20. Comments open below -- feel free to add to the list, disparage my picks, argue about the best version of "Jersey Girl," etc.

20. "Indiana Wants Me" (R. Dean Taylor). A nice cheery song about a fugitive who'll never see his family again. I promise, it gets happier from here. (Jim Nabors doing "Back Home Again in Indiana" would make the list if you ever heard it outside the Indy 500.)

19. "North To Alaska" (Johnny Horton). Possible marketing lyric for McDonald's: Where the river is winding / big nuggets they're finding.

18. "Pennsylvania 6-5000" (Glenn Miller). OK, it's more about the telephone exchange than the state. But we have liberal rules around here. Don't wanna wear pants? Fine with us.

17. "My Own Private Idaho" (B-52's). I'm going to go out on a limb and say it: This is the best song ever written with "Idaho" in the title.

16. "Louisiana, 1927" (Randy Newman). There's a flood. People get wiped out. The government doesn't seem to care. Sound familiar?

15. "Mississippi Queen" (Mountain). Mississippi queen. You know what I mean. Somehow that's all that needs to be said.
Honorable mention: "Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man," the Loretta Lynn / Conway Twitty duet that would've taken care of both states.

14. "Rocky Mountain High" (John Denver). The only artist to put two songs on the list. If he had lived a little longer, he would've come up with the great Delaware song, I just know it.

13. "All My Ex's Live in Texas" (George Strait). Honorable mention: "Yellow Rose of Texas," "T for Texas," "Texas Flood," and Lyle Lovett's great "That's Right (You're Not From Texas)."

12. "Ohio" (Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young). A whole protest movement summed up in three minutes.

11. "Jersey Girl" (Bruce Springsteen). Tom Waits wrote it, but Bruce made it his. I believe it's the last song on his live box set.

10. "Moonlight In Vermont" (lots of artists). This was a standard among the vocalists in the '40s and '50s -- Sinatra, Nat King Cole and Rosemary Clooney all gave it a try. (I found a great version once on a CD by R&B singer Walter Jackson.) Trivia fact of the day: Every verse in the song is a haiku.

9. "Blue Moon of Kentucky" (Bill Monroe). One of the holy texts of bluegrass -- although (sacrilege alert) Elvis does it better. In fact, the King owns the daily double in Kentucky music -- just pair this one with "Kentucky Rain."

8. "California Dreamin'" (The Mamas and the Papas). Barely the best in a really strong field. Honorable mention: "California Girls," "Hotel California," "California Love" (Tupac in the house!).

7. "Rocky Top" (The Osborne Brothers). This sort of violates the rule -- Rocky Top is a part of the state, not the state itself -- but once you've heard the University of Tennessee band play this 47,000 times in one football game, you can't pick anything else.
Honorable mention: "Tennessee Waltz," "Tennessee Stud."

6. "Take Me Home, Country Roads" (John Denver). Every once in awhile I refer to the Unholy Trinity of music: Diamond, Manilow and Denver. But in a weak moment, I'll admit that this song is pretty damn beautiful. West Virginia should be proud.

5. "Hawaii Five-O." No TV theme has ever sounded cooler, with the possible exception of "Jonny Quest."

4. "Oklahoma" (from the Broadway show). The main thing you notice about this list is that the upper Midwest gets no love. Would it have killed Rodgers and Hammerstein to call their musical "South Dakota!"? It's even the same number of syllables!

3. "Sweet Home Alabama" (Lynyrd Skynyrd). Actually, Skynyrd was from Florida. But they had a lot of Jack Daniels on the tour bus back then. So it sort of makes sense. And either way, that's one killer guitar lick.
Honorable mention: "Stars Fell Over Alabama," "Alabama Getaway."

2. "Carolina In My Mind" (James Taylor). Hard to believe this song came out almost 40 years ago. Either James Taylor recorded it when he was 6, or we're all gettin' old.
Honorable mention: "Carolina Girls" ("best in the world...")

1. "Georgia On My Mind" (Ray Charles). Hey, I'm from Georgia -- what did you expect me to pick? Where I came from, we just called this the national anthem.
(But still: what a song, right?)
Honorable mention: "Midnight Train to Georgia" (GREAT song), "Rainy Night in Georgia" (really good song), "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" (OK song), "The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia" (um, let's just move on to the comments now...)

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Wusses of the (music) world

Blender magazine came out with a list of the 25 biggest wimps in music history. (Warning: Link includes a bit of R-rated language.)

We bring this to you today because of the Carolina angle. Somebody you know (and many of you love) sits at the top of the list -- our own James Taylor.

I wrote about JT back when I was the Observer's music writer, saying I was starting to enjoy him as I got older. I don't leap to change the station when he comes on anymore.

But I can't argue much with this.

Add comments, make impassioned defenses, and nominate other weenies below. (How did Seals and Crofts not make the list?)

Monday, July 24, 2006

Home from Lebanon

In case y'all missed it, the Charlotte family I wrote about last week made it home from Lebanon. The story is here. (My colleague Tim Funk, who works in our Washington bureau, hustled to Pennsylvania on Saturday to interview Julia Blevins-Mercabi and her family.)

A few bits that didn't make it into the story:

-- Julia and her family wanted to thank the Marines who helped them in Lebanon and flew them on a helicopter to Cyprus. The family had several frustrating days trying to get out of Lebanon, but the Marines were helpful and generous.

-- The plane home had a three-hour layover in Ireland. It was late, and most of the airport was closed, but Julia and several others went looking for pay phones. But all the phones took euros, and -- having just come from Lebanon -- nobody had euros. So Julia couldn't call home.

-- Julia and her husband, Mazen, had to leave most of their luggage behind -- all they took was diapers, wipes and milk for their 15-month-old daughter, Mona-Kate.

Lots of us wonder what we'd take along if we had to grab a bag and go. When you have a child, there's not much doubt.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Update on family in Lebanon

In today's paper I wrote about a Charlotte family that was visiting Lebanon and got caught in the fighting there. (The story is here.) Julia Blevins-Mercabi; her husband, Mazen; and their daughter, Mona-Kate, have been trying to get out of the country.

This morning at 11:30 (about 6:30 p.m. Lebanon time) I got an e-mail from Julia Blevins-Mercabi. I'm just going to reprint it here. Add comments below.

OK -- today was pure HELL! At 1:30 AM the Embassy called us and told us to report to the Northern Beruit port at 11:00AM because we were going to take a ship to Cyprus. We took a taxi to Beirut and went to the assigned area as scheduled. It was chaos. People were told to show up and their names were not on the list so they were turned away after waiting hours in the heat.

Our names were on the list so we went to a holding area where we went through a security check, a processing station, and we were assigned a bus which would take us to the ship. At 3:00 PM our bus arrived. We boarded the bus and a representative from the embassy said "Sorry. You all are not going to Cyprus today. We had some medical emergencies and we had to take them to the ship. We will drive you back to the highway and you will have to find your way home. But tomorrow you can go to Cyprus by helicopter". The ship had not even left yet! If there were medical emergencies why didn't they use the helicopters for those people? People were livid. Some had traveled 3 hours on dangerous roads just to get to Beirut and paid jacked-up taxi cab fares -- only to hear "Sorry, come back tomorrow" like it was nothing to get there.

Everyone was on an emotional rollercoaster. First hope and relief that they were going home and then pain, anger, frustration. Do you know what it is like to get dropped off on the highway in and out of Beirut? That is like getting dropped off on I-85 with everyone speeding and being told to fend for yourself. I mean, how were they going to do that? People had babies, luggage, and no cell phones. Did they expect everyone to hitchhike or walk? The people on the bus started screaming at the embassy staff. Eventually the embassy staff took us to a hotel next to the embassy. They promised us that tomorrow they will take us on a helicopter to Cyprus at 8:00 AM. They told us to report to the embassy at 6:00 AM. Everyone started screaming at the embassy staff and they gave us all promissary notes that we will be the first to go tomorrow.

At the hotel we waited an hour and they still did not have room for us, so we came back to Tripoli. Now tomorrow I have to go through the whole thing again. Can you even imagine what that is like? So tomorrow we will trek back to Beruit at 4:30 AM and hope that luck is on our side.

I do, however, want to say how fantastic the Marines were. They were so kind. They brought us water and food, had a shaded area for us to sit, and helped people load their luggage onto the buses.

Now I am going to call my mom because more than anything I worry about the emotional toll this whole ordeal has had on her. Then I will go to bed because I have a big day ahead.

Hopefully I will see you all soon!


Thursday, June 22, 2006

More on David Race Bannon

(For those of you wondering who David Race Bannon is, read my story today about the Charlotte man who claimed to be a hit man for Interpol.)

In researching this story, my bookmarks list on Bannon bulged to more than 40 pages. He's all over the Web. Here are a few key sites for background and more information:

Bannon's Wikipedia page is here. (Wikipedia isn't always accurate -- for example, it lists Bannon as being born in 1964, while public records say 1963. But most of this entry appears to be correct.)

Samuel Browning's hyper-detailed investigation from is here.

Interpol's statement is here.

The statement from the Jefferson County (Colo.) district attorney's office is here.

The Amazon page for "Race Against Evil" is here. (Note that the newest reviews talk about his arrest.)

Thursday, June 15, 2006

A truckload of Bimbo

One of the benefits of becoming an international city is coming across those little quirks in language.

And so twice in the past week I've ended up behind trucks painted with big, happy signs advertising:

Bimbo bread.

Surprisingly, Pamela Anderson has nothing to do with this product.

Turns out Bimbo is a Mexican brand that has been around since 1945. They specialize in white bread (it's sort of the Wonder bread of Mexico) but they also make doughnuts, pound cakes and so on. Their mascot, which is featured on the trucks, is a cross between a Care Bear and the Pillsbury Doughboy.

You can find out more at, a site that has surely disappointed legions of teenage boys.

Seen any other brand names that almost made you drive off the road? Add your favorites below.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Things go better with...

Now this is the kind of academic research I can get behind.

It's a map that shows the generic name for "soft drink" in different parts of the country. The Midwest is big on "pop." The Northeast likes "soda." My cousins in Texas always said "sody water." (They always drank Dr Pepper.)

In the Carolinas, what I hear most often is "drink." (That also comes up big in the informal N.C. poll.) But in Georgia, where I grew up -- and where Coke was invented -- we call everything "Coke."

This makes for some strange conversations if you don't know the lingo. Here's a typical moment from my house when I was growing up:

"I'm going to the store."

"Could you get me a Coke?"

"Sure. What kind of Coke you want?"


So what do they call soft drinks where you come from? What do you hear down here? And what's the weirdest term you've heard?

Comments, debate, and references to "bellywashers" below.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Wrench... drill... Ryan Seacrest?

Some guys came over Wednesday to do a little work on the house. These are guys who sweat for a living.

At one point they were debating back and forth, so my ears perked up. I figured they were deciding whether to go with the hand wrench or the ratchet.

They were talking about who’s going to win “American Idol.”

My wife and I have never latched onto the show – we tend to obsess over one TV show at a time, and this year it’s “24.” The good news is, you don’t have to watch “AI.” Everybody else watches it for you.

I haven’t seen a minute of it this year but I know it’s down to Taylor and Katharine, and Taylor is the better singer but Katharine is more polished, and no way either of them are better than Chris.

On Thursday I’ll pick up on the ending by osmosis. Or maybe I'll just get the guys to come back and do some more work on the house.

Speaking of “24,” I screwed up bigtime Monday night – I set the VCR to tape from 9 to 11, not knowing the final episode ran from 8 to 10.

No need to offer tapes -- got one. But along the way I found out that we might be the only household in America without a digital video recorder.

TiVo is tempting, but we don't need more TV in our lives. So here's a question for those of you with DVRs: Since you got one, do you watch more TV, or less?

This doesn’t go on your permanent record. Be honest.

UPDATE: OK, I watched the last five minutes of "Idol." Was Taylor, like, overcome with emotion or something? Because based on that five minutes -- I don't know how to say this delicately -- the guy can't sing. Please tell me this was just an off moment. Fantasia would've wiped the floor with this guy.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Long-distance dedication

I'm way past the target demographic for KISS-FM. But I still check in once in a while, and every year there's a Top 40 song that gets me totally hooked. Something like OutKast's "Hey Ya!" or Kelis' "Milkshake."

This year it's "SOS" by Rihanna. (View a video clip)

If you haven't heard it, turn to KISS -- you'll hear it in the next 15 minutes. The young'uns out there just like the song for what it is. But we chidren of the '80s love it for a different reason -- it's based on a sample of the Soft Cell classic "Tainted Love." (The little two-note riff that sounds like somebody banging on a pipe, or maybe a submarine going under? That's it.)

When I hear those two notes, I'm in my buddy's car back in high school. He had been through a tough breakup with a girlfriend. For months, the only song that played in that car was "Tainted Love."

Songs carry us back all the time. But has a sample ever carried you back? Stories of love, longing, laughter and loss below. (Jeez. I sound like Casey Kasem.)

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Flying the coop

Driving out on Wendover Road today when I saw this sign at a street corner: LOST COCKATIEL.

You don't see that one every day.

(Plus I had just seen a bumper sticker that said MY PARROT IS SMARTER THAN YOUR HONOR STUDENT. It's been a birdy day.)

It reminded me of my favorite lost-pet story: When I was a little kid in Georgia, the folks across the street from us had a pet python. We discovered this when one of them came over to our house to notify us that they had lost their pet python.

A day or two later, some guys came to that house to deliver a sofa.

Guess what they found.

My mom can still see the delivery guy sprinting from the house, faster than Carl Lewis.

Add your lost-pet stories below. Points taken off if your dog ran off to rescue a little boy from a well. That wasn't your dog. That was Lassie.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

The last-gate blues

Lots of airline adventures this past weekend. US Airways lost my wife's luggage on the flight back from Kansas City -- we ended up standing there by ourselves at baggage claim, like the kid at the end of "Sleepless in Seattle." Meg Ryan never showed up, but my wife's suitcase did -- about six hours later. Did you know they have somebody bring your found luggage to your house? The woman was very friendly. I hope we never see her again.

The other thing I noticed, as we hustled through the airport to catch the flight out of Charlotte (we were a little late to the gate), was that our gate was the absolute last one at the end of the concourse. And when we got back, we ended up at the absolute last gate at the end of ANOTHER concourse.

It seems like every time I fly, the gate ends up being the one at the far end. I walk by people sitting peacefully at the gates along the way, but I never see anybody get on a plane there. I'm thinking those people are airport employees taking a break in those seats, because they know all the actual passengers have to go down to gate E-64.

I'm going to call this the Law of Terminal Frustration -- no matter where you're flying, your gate is always the one at the end of the concourse.

It goes with the two other rules of modern life:

  1. The Grocery-Store Theorem: The line you're in is the one where the customer in front of you can't figure out how to work the debit-card machine.
  2. The Law of Interstate Congestion: When there's a lot of traffic on the highway, whichever lane you're in automatically becomes the slowest. (The Midas Corollary: The car you get stuck behind is always blowing exhaust like a coal plant.)
Any other natural laws along these lines that we should get on the books? Scientists really need to look harder at this instead of, you know, finding planets and stuff.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

A long view of Charlotte

Last night a guy named Matt Lassiter taught me more about Charlotte in two hours than I've learned in years.

Lassiter is a University of Michigan professor who recently published a book called "The Silent Majority: Suburban Politics in the Sunbelt South." He spoke at the Levine Museum of the New South to a crowd of a couple of hundred -- they kept dragging in chairs to handle the overflow.

He studied Charlotte along with Atlanta, Richmond and several other Southern cities to see how they dealt with the big issues of the past 50 years -- mainly, growth and integration.

A couple of revelations (or at least they were to me):

-- Charlotte was one of the most integrated Southern cities 50 or 60 years ago, before several key decisions -- mainly zoning laws, and decisions on where to put the interstate highways -- pushed black families into the same neighborhoods.

-- The language used by Charlotteans in the battle over school integration in the '60s is exactly the same as what we use today. Lassiter dug up quotes from old newspaper stories and interviews. Some people wanted their kids in the school closest to home; others wanted diversity, and wanted their kids to have a shot at the schools with the best facilities. You could've stuck the quotes in any schools story today without changing a word.

-- The most interesting point: He gave Charlotte credit for at least still talking about the direction of the schools. He said most cities (including Detroit, where he lives) gave up long ago. White kids make up less than 10 percent of the population in a lot of big-city school districts. Governments create separate suburban districts, or parents send their kids to private schools or just move away.

So are we beating our heads against a wall? Or is the conversation still worthwhile? Comments, debates, arguments below.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Remembrance of pit-stops past

Had some relatives in town the past few days. A couple of the guys are NASCAR fans so we rode up to the speedway, then stopped by the Hendrick Motorsports complex nearby. The race shops there include the ones for Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson. (If you speak Racin', that would be "the 24" and "the 48.")

There's also a fairly cool (and free!) museum. But the one thing that sticks with me was a box on the counter in the gift shop:


There were 20 or 30 of 'em in there, all with chipped yellow paint. Could've been from one of Gordon's Daytona wins. Could've been from a minivan out in the parking lot. The sign didn't say.

I'm thinking about a tearful moment, three or four days after a funeral, a family sitting around the dining-room table. There's a gentle thunk on the table, followed by a moment of silence as everybody stares at the thing in the Ziploc bag. And then somebody says: OK, y'all. It's time to decide who gets Daddy's lug nut.

So what's the most bizarre souvenir you've ever seen for sale? What's the weirdest one you've ever bought? And more important: What's the souvenir that still has some sort of hold on you, even now?

Comments, stories, tearful revelations below.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Have a seat

Picture your favorite table, the place where you have the best conversations. Maybe it's a corner in the back of a bar. Maybe it's your regular spot at the diner. Maybe it's at home in your kitchen. Comfortable chairs, cold beverages, interesting company.

You talk about anything, everything, and when the night's done you realize you never once looked at your watch.

That's what I want this space to be like.

Every so often I'll throw out something to talk about -- a story that's not quite a column, some chatter from life in the city, little flakes of things that move me in some way.

Feel free to help steer the conversation. I'm not sure where this is going. That's what makes it fun.

Let's get started.

April is such a great sports month -- the Final Four, the Masters, the start of baseball season. The time when gifted athletes do things they'll talk about in their rocking-chair years.

But the quasi-jocks among us, the ones who never made it past church-league softball -- we have our stories, too.

Here’s mine:

Mid-1980s, Panama City Beach, a club called the Spinnaker. We’re drinking some kind of watermelon punch that comes in a bucket, and we’re sitting on the top deck, three stories off the ground. Below us, maybe 75 feet out on the beach, there’s a garbage can.

I take a hunk of watermelon rind and aim for the can. Thunk – right in the bottom. High-fives all around.

But a fluke. Right?

Couple minutes later, I break off another chunk of rind and say Watch this. As soon as I let it go, I can tell it's way off to the right -- but then the wind kicks up off the waves, and the rind arcs left, a celestial curveball.

Dead center of the can.

Applause from the bar. Bragging rights for years. I can still close my eyes and see it, except now the trash can is 200 yards away, and orchestral music swells in the background, and I am played by Brad Pitt.

So how about you? What's your one semi-shining moment? Don't be shy -- we'll accept everything from bowling to horseshoes to Madden. (Not Asteroids, though. NOBODY could whip me at Asteroids.)