A Time in September

Tuesday, September 11th, 2012

High in the sky on Wi-Fi enroute to Dallas from New York City in a brand new plane of the American Airlines fleet. Walked out of 590 Madison Avenue at 3:20pm, cab immediately pulls over, arrive LaGuardia at 3:45, no wait at TSA, snappy walk to my gate to receive a window seat on an earlier departing flight, gate agent holds door while I visit the men’s room (wouldn’t share this if it were not so incredible), board plane, flight leaves LaGuardia on time. Sort of expecting to have a seat next to Rod Serling of Twilight Zone. Compounding my sense of the abnormal is that my trip from Raleigh to NYC began in a similar way with beautiful weather, no inconvenience with TSA at the Raleigh airport, an early arrival at LaGuardia by nearly 30 minutes. It’s as though nature or life or the gods remind us once in a while of how things were or could be or even should be so that we are able to appreciate how far we’ve fallen in the execution or decline in the standard of delivery of contemporary goods and services.

My munificent fortune contiuned with the overheard comment that there must be seats at the US Tennis Open Championship Match because the rain delayed this match from Sunday to Monday and not all ticket holders could make the rescheduled event which was supposed to begin as we were supposed to land. Since we arrived early and the Billy Jean King Tennis Complex is nearly across the street from LaGuardia Airport, I took a cab to BJKT instead of to Manhattan. At the tennis complex, one of NYPD’s finest informed me that scalping tickets is illegal in NYC and that my chances of finding a good ticket would be at the south end of the facility. I walked around with a certain look of hope, I suppose, cause an older man looked me in the eye and said ‘I have one for $100.’ A quick check of my travel bag by security then into the tennis park where I heard the player introductions meaning that I left Raleigh at 2:20pm and sat in my seat at the U.S. Open at just after 4pm. At times this past summer, I’ve waited on both Raleigh and LaGuardia runways for longer while awaiting scheduled take-offs.

How was the Murray vs Djokovitch match? Exciting, even thrilling; long at over four and one-half hours. Up for grabs until Murray’s 3-0 lead in the 5th set and for certain his victory when the Joker (respectfully described) pulled-up lame at 3-5. After Murray’s courageous start began with victories in the the first two sets at 7-6 and 7-5 (first set required 90 minutes and a 12-10 tie-breaker). Down 1-5 in the second set, Joker rattled off wins in 16 of the 23 games to even the competition at two sets each with Murray rescuing 2 games in the second set after the Joker tied the set at 5-5. Despite my awkward accounting of the match, the fifth set began after a 7-6, 7-5, 2-6 and 3-6 history meaning the Joker won 23 games to Murray’s 19. You could look it up and in the end the games were split 25 for Joker and 25 for Murray. Oh yeah, they each scored nearly the same number of total points over the 5 sets. Unlike basketball with its quarters and baseball with its innings, in tennis it matters when you score your points.

For tennis fans, both players struck nearly twice as many unforced errors as winning shots. A rare occurence at the professional level. I doubt if the boxscore will record for posterity that the third opponent of this championship match was the weather in the form of a prevailing north to sound wind. It’s consistent strength in one direction was an obvious handicap for both players and an inhibitor for the player serving or receving serve or hitting a shot at nearly any time from south to north. Consequently, there were many long rallies of safe and conservative shots where the players tried to gain advantage by changing spin, height and pace without often attempting angles or put-aways. As the British Golf Open enjoyed American weather for its late July tournament (mild and windless), the US Tennis Open swapped for customary British Open conditions: windy, prevailing and mentally exhausting. Had to be an advantage for the Scotsman Andy Murray. Good on him. The Joker was a generous and complimentary finalist. The crowd favored Murray and appreciated the former champion’s caliber of play.

Two moments that I’ll remember for a while: the presence of Sean Connery in the audience. When feted with the 007 theme song, he looked to the Jumbotron screen, seemingly surprised to see himself, then smiled broadly, lifting his US Open Panama hat in greeting to all and deftly, debonairly and with the savoir faire and comfortable sense of the moment that one would expect of… you must agree, he’ll always be James Bond.

Moment two of my personal highlight reel will be filed under ‘just like you and me no matter how different they are’. At the bitter end of the evening, after the photographers were gone and the presentation tables folded and carpet rolled-up and carried away, after the final on-court and television interviews, Andy Murray gathered his tennis bags to head for the locker room, walked to the edge of the court with only a left turn to near seclusion, then stopped and dropped his bags at this intersection in front of less than 25 fans cheering and beseeching him. He nearly emptied his tennis bag, removing towels, wrist bands old and new in their packages and tee-shirt or two (I think). He shouldered his bag of now only racquets and showered the handful of fans with these momentos. Reminded me of throws or beads from a Mardi Gras float. The better part for me was his obvious delight in rewarding those who were the final assembly of his on-court well-wishers. Like his brave match, he gave them nearly all he had and could.

I’m a Federer fan. Andy’s victory will extend for a bit Roger’s #1 ranking giving us acolytes further hope for a modest postponement to his understood eventual retirement. Murray’s victory last night allots each Grand Slam tournament to a unique victor: Djokovitch in Australia, Nadal at the French, Roger at Wimbledon and Murray for the US Open. Despite the vicissitudes of the game and, especially this particular tournament, such seems fair and just about right in proper acknowledgement of their talents.

From the Blue Ridge Mountains to the Mississippi River

Friday, September 16th, 2011

COMING APART After 9/11 transfixed America, the country’s problems were left to rot. by George Packer Download NYer PDF

I grew-up in New Orleans and my wife grew-up in Mount Airy, North Carolina. We sometimes amuse ourselves during cocktail hour by reciting the differences in our social and cultural circumstances, always marveling that we found enough in common to want to marry. We could never imagine that a New Yorker article would connect our hometowns.

We both moved away from our hometowns for a reason and we remain attached to each of these spots on the map: one on a river and the other at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The troubles of our hometowns were a long time in coming and will take a while to fix. Certainly, such is the nature of civilization: people try, succeed and fail in one location then move to start-over in the next. Right now, we’re all caught-up in something that seems much larger than us – is the population too large? do we use too much gasoline? is the government to blame? – where we’re not sure what to do or even if we’ve hit the bottom yet.

I wonder if our nation’s decline is represented by these two uniquely charming locations or are their declines better represented by America’s?! Certainly New Orleans is not the city that it used to be – and probably never was any way. Its mythical gentility and creativity was perpetrated while those in authority neglected nearly every fundamental civic responsibility. Katrina washed away this veneer.

The folks in Mount Airy have made do since they settled the area prior to the American Revolution. They display a strong sense of self-reliance coupled with a short horizon to the world at large. As I think about it, this is pretty much the opposite of how New Orleanians have seen themselves and their world.

Now both communities share the understanding that as any semblance of reliable, centralized leadership is in dangerous short supply, self-reliance in the day to day is how they will have to survive and to re-construct a future for their friends and families.

As a 14 year old water boy, my wife’s great-grandfather walked from Virginia to Gettysburg in 1863 for the battle. Wounded on the third day in the North Carolina attack adjacent to Pickett’s charge, he was paroled and returned home. He wore his uniform in the annual town parade into the early 1930s. New Orleans surrendered early in the war with barely a fight, never considering itself actually a part of the American South. My money’s on Mt. Airy. Meanwhile, here’s a cut from a recent David Letterman show where the Preservation Hall Jazz Band joins with the country-gospel Del McCoury Band performing I’ll Fly Away. Hope springs eternal!

9/11/2001 Time Line. The parallel realities.

Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011

Link here. Thanks to Kelli at BTIS.

Pearl Harbor + 67, pt 1: all leaders one step forward

Sunday, December 7th, 2008

I watched the Army-Navy game yesterday from a pub in Chapel Hill owned by a grad of West Point. I wasn’t much of a naval officer and probably less of a mid. I wanted so much more from those situations and realize that being in the service is more about service than personal benefit which comes and has come to me much later. Ironic is that I am now the VP of the local alumni association. Enjoyed thoroughly the exaggerated behavior of the some 200 West Point and US Naval Academy fans. Even though Navy favored and proved to be too much for the cadet team, a satisfying time was had by all as we are connected by so much more than an athletic rivalry. I wonder if America at large felt this way before; we could sure benefit now from such a sense of respected connection despite our selected differences.

Curious to me that Pearl Harbor was not mentioned yesterday. Iraq, yes; the country’s injection into WW II, no. Perhaps the parade of catastrophes from 9/11 to Katrina to Iraq to the Mortagage & Banking crises have us so reeling that 67 years ago, regardless of how our reaction to that event shaped our destiny for the next 50 years, may as well be 1767. Our mettle is being tested again. I hope that many of those Academy types are available to lead the way.